Sunday, February 14, 2010

Surprise Mountains and Trail Angels

There's so much to write today!  It feels like forever since my last post, and indeed we have had lots of fun and pain since then.  Adam covered the outline of the past few days pretty well, I'm going to try to fill in with some pictures and a few stories.

Another word of apology - a few people have asked for info on total and daily mileage.  I can guess, but for now, the computer is out of commission again, and we will not be able to get those numbers till we find the correct parts to get it mounted again.

It was great to get back on the road again after Tucson.  We were there almost three full days, and it felt like forever.  The break did give some of our aches and pains a chance to fade a little bit, and we left feeling great and looking forward to the ride.

Coming out of town, we followed the shared-use path beside the river, which actually had a little running water on the eastern end of town.

The caverns were a great stop.  The tour guide was a young art student, with an ironic attitude and a full bag of cheesy lines about the caves he very obviously enjoyed showing off.  "There are stalactites and stalagmites, and here are the stalaglights (motions to indirect lighting features covered with fake rock)".

Shortly down the road from Colossal Caves Mountain Park, we had two good bird sightings.  We think the first one was a Cooper's Hawk sitting on the end of a dead agave blossom:

The second could be a Red Tail Hawk, but I'm not sure.  I'm pretty bad at bird IDs, if there is anyone reading that has a clue, please post in the comments.

From that point on it was a pretty rough day.  The wind was in our face as we headed south, towards Tombstone.  A slight uphill grade began to wear on us significantly as the miles wore by.  Locals in Tucson had told us that there would be a significant climb in elevation to Brisbee after Tombstone, but never mentioned the Santa Ritas, well before Tombstone.

As the afternoon grew old, we hit these mountains totally unprepared for them.  We needed to make it about ten miles to get to National Forest land, where we would not be trespassing as we camped.  The initial estimate of 45 minutes for this leg transformed into a grueling two hour climb into the seemingly ever-ascending mountains.  

Right before sunset, we crossed into National Forest land (I was too tired to note the particular name of the forest, and we certainly weren't stopping for pictures).  The sun was slipping below the hills to the west as we pulled off and stumbled upon a tunnel or culvert built under a high point in the road, which appeared to be constructed to allow wildlife to cross the roadway without risking the traffic.  Barbed wire fences along the roadway herd larger animals to these tunnels for their and the auto drivers safety.

We thought it would be a great place to camp:

Since our first day out we have not pitched the tent, preferring to sleep out under the stars under a tarp.  The dew has been a problem, so in Tucson we ditched our tent and picked up a couple of bivy sacks, and thus saved ourselves a lot of space and weight in the bargain.  For the first night, they worked great, keeping us warm and dry in a sub-freezing night.

Tombstone was a bit of a disappointment.  More like a wild-west theme park than a real city.  We ate at Big Nose Kate's Saloon, where the Kurt Russel version of Tombstone was playing on several flat-screens around the room, as local actors reenacted scenes from the same movie.

Our plan as we left Tombstone was to camp halfway between there and Bisbee, our next destination.  It was only a 20 mile trip, but there is a big climb on the way to Bisbee, one we had advance warning of.  However, as we rode downhill out of Tombstone with the wind at our backs again, and the thought of a warm bed and shower tempting us, we made the decision to try to make the push up the hill and hit Bisbee that night.  It was Saturday night, and we heard Bisbee was a great town to party in.  

Adam gave you the exact amount of gain we made.  Unlike the Santa Rita mountains, this was one long uphill with an ever-increasing grade.  Six miles into the climb, I was wondering if I could make it to the top.  It was after sunset, sweat was pouring off my brow, and my legs and lungs were burning fiercely.  I was seriously considering thumbing down one of the pickup trucks passing us going uphill. 

Unexpectedly, we crested the hill, and rode through a tunnel under the Great Divide, and sped downhill the last two miles into Bisbee, just as the darkness was starting to settle in.  

We rode into a festive downtown filled with couples during an evening art expo and listening to street musicians.   

We kept our eye out for a cheap-looking hotel.  We did not consider the Valentine's Day factor, and there was also a Yoga expo in town.  The first three hotels we passed had "no vacancies" signs.  When we finally stopped and asked, we were told that there were no vacancies in town, and we might have luck in a neighborhood five miles down the road.  Down the dark, cold, hilly road.  

I was going through the list of local hotels on a phone in a The Grand Saloon and Hotel when a young woman named Shayna overheard our plight and offered to put us up for the evening.  This has been the best stroke of luck on our trip so far.  

We had a couple of drinks with Shayna as we got to know each other. Her house is tucked into the hillside, just a block away from down town so we dropped our bikes and gear off at there and headed out for the evening. 

Since then we have been getting the insider's look at Bisbee.  Shayna runs a gourmet coffee roasting company downtown, and seems to know every local here.  She knows a lot of the history of the town, and all the good places to go. 

Today she gave us a back alley tour of the city.  Begun as a mining camp for the local copper mines, it's population peaked at near 70,000 around the turn of the last century, and the current population is around 6000.  It's stacked on top of itself on the steep hills of Tombstone Canyon.  We took the picture at the top of this post from Castle Rock, which juts up out of the middle of the city.  You can click on it for a larger version.

The area is criss-crossed with huge staircases, narrow and winding streets, and hidden vistas.  

While standing on the street taking pictures of a house particularly pointed out by Shayna, we were spotted by the owner of the house and invited in for a tour. It was an amazing yard filled with deep pools, twisted stone arches and, big coy.  My pictures cannot do it justice, and the owner Lee told us that there are good pictures on his website

Now we're relaxing before dinner.  Shayna has promised us rosemary grilled chicken, made with rosemary grown in her back yard.  We'll be on the road again tomorrow, heading east with an eye towards heading north to Silver City in New Mexico.  We'd like to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings, but have to be careful because it can still get snowy there this time of year.  

Since Tuscon we've done about 150 miles for a total of around 600 miles.   We're well into our trip!

Please post any questions you have in the comments.  Most people we meet on the road have all kinds of questions, and I'd like to know what kind of things people are interested in hearing.

Our next promise of civilization is in Silver City, where a  local B&B owner hosts touring cyclists!


  1. Here's my question: how does Dwight stay so clean looking while Adam gets scruffier than a nerf-herder?

  2. Gentlemen. Excellent to read about your adventures so far!
    It's motivating to know you are on your journey exploring our incredible country. I'm curious if how many rugby jerseys Adam has been able to fit in his pack.
    Be well-

  3. Adam is actively cultivating his hippie look, not entertaining any idea of a trim or shave. I have shaved once or twice, when we find a place to stay and shower. I figured one of us should be tame looking enough to interact with the more discerning locals.

    We have not found any rugby jerseys, but Adam is collecting Hash swag as we go. Seems like every little town we stop in has a hash. There was one here in Bisbee, one in Tucson, and we're looking forward to one in Silver City.

  4. I thought about y'all as I climbed up the hills on my bike in North Hills today! ... I would have waved down the truck back in San Diego!

  5. Glad to hear that you guys are staying reasonably safe. I'm enjoying reading the posts - I hope the weather breaks for you soon. What an adventure!