Saturday, February 20, 2010

Snowy sunset

We got snowed in this afternoon. It started as we crested 7440 feet
heading south from Gila Cliff Dwellings. If the roads clear, we'll
head to a pass through the Black Mountains that tops 8000 feet.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Silver City Refuge

Today we rode 42 mountainous miles, yesterday we did 71, for a grand total of around 770.

We crossed our highest pass yet at 6355' on our way into Silver City.  I had previously made contact with a couple on the Warm Showers list who have been generous enough to host us for the evening.

I had to explain the Warm Showers list to my then-girlfriend Karen the first time I told her some girl from the Warm Showers list was coming to stay at my place for the evening.  It's an online network set up to give touring cyclists potential contacts throughout the world - possible offers of shelter, laundry, warm showers and, if you're lucky, food.

Our current hosts, Patrick and Eileen, live in an original adobe brick house built in the 1930's, a few blocks away from downtown:

That's Patrick's grandmother's spinning wheel against the wall.

Upon our arrival in Silver City, we cleaned up and Patrick took us out for lunch and showed us around town.  The main street from the town's early days when it was a working silver mine is now a 50' deep ditch that the locals call the "Big Ditch".  Rain and floods over time slowly washed out main street, until eventually there were numerous pedestrian bridges crossing over.  The wall of water that smashed into Silver City in 1895 destroyed much of main street, and the remaining businesses began using their back doors for entrances.  Main street is now one block over, and the curbs on the street get as high as 2' or 3' to accommodate the water that still floods the town.

Silver City has survived the closing of the silver and then the copper mines by transforming into an art mecca.  There is a food co-op, several gourmet coffee and deli shops, lots of arts and crafts shops, and an active downtown restoration and revitalization effort.  There are even two bike shops in a town of 10,000!

For dinner Patrick and Eileen served us spaghetti with home made sauce, and for dessert Patrick made me a nice espresso to go with the blueberry pie from the local deli.  It sure it tough out here on the road.

In Your Face

Title suggested by Adam.

It was an inauspicious start, Adam took a little spill on the tricky
streets of Bisbee, not a hundred yards after leaving Shayna's front
door, tearing off a small, unimportant part of his knee. Unimportant,
but it's absence has been rather painful.

We spent the last two days since leaving Bisbee beating into a strong
headwind, cutting our average speed in half. It's been grueling,
demoralizing work. At least when you're climbing uphill, you get some
great views and a ride down on the other side. After twenty miles of
fighting twenty mph gusts, you stop to rest, you look like you're in
the same spot, flat and sandy with lots of yuccas, with distant brown
mountains on the horizon. Then you realize you could turn around and
go back the same distance in a quarter of the time.

Just east of Bisbee is a giant pit mine, inactive since the seventies.
Shayna told us that with the current high price of copper, there are
plans afoot to reopen it.

This thing is huge! A mile long, and at least 1000 feet deep, it
boggles the mind. My camera phone does not do it justice, I'll post
some better pics when we get to a computer. In this one, you can just
make out the buildings on the left for some scale.

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!

Crossing the Old West

Dwight and I have had a great ride across an area of Arizona that is
about as old west as can still be found. We departed Tucson for good
on Friday morning and headed south east along the Old Spanish Trail,
which took us to Colossal caverns. We have decided to take it a little
easier and see more of the sites.

The caves were a worthwhile stop. We signed up for the tour after a
lunch of peanut butter on bagels. Our guide, Travis, let us stash our
bikes behind their office. He then took us through an amazing cavern
system with several features that I hadn't seen before. There were
several formations of cave ice, a layer of sediment that forms and
solidifies, then stays suspended when the water leaves.

After the cave we headed back into the mountains toward Sonoita. We
made it about 60 miles total and stopped when we found a flat spot in
the national forest.

The next morning we woke up to see snow covered peaks to our south and
an unknown amount of hills between us and Tombstone. We stopped after
12 miles for some Internet and breakfast. After our break, we turned
east and headed to Tombstone.

Tombstone was the least old west place we went because it tried too
hard to relive the times of Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral. We did feel
like new cowboys riding into town as we pedaled down the middle of the
old historic distric.

After lunch, we decided to keep going the last 22 miles to Bisbee.
It was about 1600 and we expected about an hour and a half of
daylight. The first half was a nice downhill that allowed us to keep a
nice pace. When we got to the bottom of the valley, the bridge over
the creek had an Arizona survey marker that indicated the elevation
was 4624 feet. Six miles later we rolled into Bisbee at 5300 feet. It
was one of the more strenuous sections of our ride.

Bisbee is a great town. It is a lot more what you'd expect out of the
old west because it has allowed itself to evolve while still
maintaining its charm.