Latest update on my purpose-driven cycling journey around the American perimeter.
Well, the desert Southwest is now behind me. Stick a fork in it, hasta luego, goodnight sweet prince, and there are probably some other colloquials I could use. Honestly, while I was overjoyed to finally “dip my front wheel” in the Pacific, I am a bit melancholy at having completed my tour through the Great Southwest. It’s probably worth repeating that I love this region. Having been born and raised on the eastern portion of it, and having spent the better part of my life exploring it, it feels like home when I’m in it. While I’m sure the balance of my U.S. 360 Tour will bring awesome adventure, I’m pretty sure there will not be anything quite like this part of the U.S., and I will surely miss it.
The folks in this most far-reaching southwestern section on the Southern Tier, while probably not as colorful as the Austin Texas to Phoenix Arizona tour, were wonderful people nonetheless. I cannot remember a stop anywhere on the tour where we didn’t converse with the locals. Everywhere we went, there was great interest in what we were doing on our bikes, loaded with gear and water. While some spectators would roll their eyes upon hearing the details of our journey, most were inquisitive and listened in wonderment as we detailed our trip. Notable personalities included a couple of Warmshowers’ hosts (Nancy, Bill & Theresa), and an eastbound cyclist named Matthew that we camped with in Wickenberg Arizona. Speaking of eastbound cyclists, I believe we passed about five in total, fewer than the last trip, but not unexpected given the lateness in the year, and the impending colder weather.
Two places on this tour are worth highlighting, both strikingly different geological regions, and both quite spectacular. The first was the Imperial Sand Dunes in California, near the Arizona border. The sand dune field is approximately 45 miles long by six miles wide, and in a word, is spectacular. It is the largest sand dune ecosystem in the United States, and apparently it is unique on a global scale. The sand is white like beach sand, and the perennial wind in the area creates huge drifts that rival any snow drifts I’ve ever seen. The second interesting place on this tour was the Jacumba Mountain range (pronounced “Yacumba”), east of San Diego, sitting ominously between the westbound cyclist and the tour’s end at the Pacific Ocean. The mountain range begins, at it’s base, literally below sea level and rises to well over 4000 feet, over a 15-20 mile stretch. The elevation gain over such a short period, along with the jagged rocks and no vegetation, creates an inspiring backdrop and a somewhat intimidating obstacle.
Route, Roads & Terrain
On this trip, there were three climbs worth noting, all toward the end (assuming you’re traveling westbound) of the route. The first, and easily the most challenging, was the climb mentioned above into the Jacumba mountain range. The climb starts on Interstate 8 in Ocotillo CA, and finishes in the small town of Jacumba CA. While only 16 miles, the elevation gain is significant (averaging 6-8% grade), but luckily the road and shoulder are stellar. The other two climbs, while shorter, are still challenging and are just beyond Jacumba near the towns of Live Oak Springs and Pine Valley. After Pine Valley, the remainder of the trip is an exhilarating downhill glide into San Diego.
The roads on this section of the Southern Tier were generally good. U.S 60, California State Highway 78, and “Old Highway 80” dominated much of the ride. Shoulders were typically good, and if not, traffic was light enough not to cause too many issues. Easily the worst section of road on the tour was a 20 mile stretch of State 80 between El Centro California and Ocotillo California. In fact, it was possibly the worst paved road I’ve ever ridden. Potholes, pavement cracking, and failing base all proved to be a real pain in the ass. After riding a couple of miles on this mess, we decided to turn around and ride a parallel section of I-8 between these two towns. I would mention that there were “No Bicycle” signs posted on this section of the Interstate, but we didn’t have any problems with law enforcement.
One other thing I would mention is the excellent bike paths on this tour. Our starting point (Phoenix AZ) and ending point (San Diego CA) had a marvelous section of bikeways that were much fun. In San Diego, the Mission Trails Bike Path was the highlight of the city. It bypasses a busy, intercity highway and navigates directly through the Mission Gorge, a beautiful area with magnificent canyons and vistas.
The timing of this trip was well-planned. Given the summer temperatures in parts of the Arizona and California deserts that are well into the 110’s F and beyond, and dangerous Santa Ana winds that typically prevail from West to East, I gave much thought to the timing window for this trip. I chose November because of the cooler (not frigid) temperatures, and typically less wind. One word of caution about the wind. It really is a game of statistics. While the winds are not as easterly this time of year according to weather histories, there were days that we saw howling forecasts. Luckily, we couldn’t have asked for better weather overall. The wind was seldom a huge issue, and the daytime temperatures were mostly mild, with some mid-afternoons on the warm side, and some nights in the desert a bit chilly.
Three Things I Learned from this Journey
1. Logistics isn’t just for UPS
Going in, I knew this tour was going to be a precursor of things to come, at least from a logistical point of view. Given that we had to ship bikes from Austin to Phoenix, unpack them on location, assemble them with tools we packed, ride them to the destination point, find bike boxes, disassemble them on location, ship them from San Diego to Austin, and reassemble them upon return, things had to be planned to an excruciating level of detail. Not to say that it was overly burdensome, but I would say that I learned a TON about logistical details that cannot be overlooked when your tour’s starting point and finishing point are not your home base. I’m not usually an explicit product endorser, but ShipBikes.com, Fedex, and Performance Bicycle Shop all made life much, much easier. If you’re interested in the details to facilitate your own remote tour, shoot me a quick email and I’ll be happy to bore you with the details.
2. Traveling with a Friend: a First, but not the Last
My first tour was somewhat of an independent affair, and I loved the solitude and flexibility that came with it. This time around, a good friend and cycling buddy, Jim, tagged along with me. There wasn’t much risk of conflict or imposition since I’ve known Jim for years, and we are quite compatible as riding and workout buddies. I enjoyed the conversation, the seemingly constant hijinks, and the company. Of notable mention was Jim’s never-ending supply of “performance” food. The guy came to my rescue more than a few times, when I was physically depleted, with a blinding array of protein bars, shot blocks, Goo, and other stuff that would make our local bike shop supply shelf look barren by comparison. I appreciated Jim and would not hesitate to tour with him again. I do also enjoy riding solo, and look forward to a mix of both over the next many tours.
3. When in Rome, Do What the Romans Do – But Not Always
I am not a steak and potatoes man. Actually, I’m a vegetarian, and I do very much enjoy eating local fare and trying new things. But on occasion, I can take that too far. While visiting Blythe CA, I went to a local restaurant, with no recommendation or positive reviews from the locals, to eat a very spicy cuisine that historically hasn’t sat well with me, if you know what I mean. I knew better, I knew my limitations, but I didn’t listen to my better judgement. I woke up the next morning, on the precipice of not being able to ride, and after making an investment at a local pharmacy, at least got to the point that I could consider sitting in a saddle. The day luckily turned out to be a short ride, and the other elements (weather, terrain, etc.) turned out to be non-threatening, so I made it to the destination without incident. I was lucky, and I will remember to be a bit more conservative with local food selection in the future.
A few years ago, as I began to form the basis for my goals related to long-distance cycling, I documented my intent to raise awareness and funding for two high-performing causes, noted below. If you have enjoyed reading this journal, and if you believe in these causes, I would ask you to consider supporting them, even in small way. I’ve provided direct links to the organizations below. I really do appreciate it.
The National Brain Tumor Society, a non-profit organization inspiring hope and providing leadership within the brain tumor community. They exist to find a cure and improve the quality of life for those affected by brain tumors. They fund strategic research, deliver support services, and promote collaboration;
American Rivers, a non-profit organization focused on healing North American waterways by removing dams, setting up “Wild and Scenic” designations which preserve rivers as free-flowing, and working with municipalities to push measures to prevent polluted urban runoff from reaching watersheds.
Thanks to my bride of 28-and-a-half years, my three boys (aka Luke, J.R., Will), my good friend and fellow cycling tourer Jim Hinkel, eastbound cyclist Matthew for his inspiration, and our Warmshowers hosts, who were absolute life-savers (well, maybe not life-savers, but doggone close).
U.S. 360 Continues
So, what’s next on this Journey Around the American Perimeter? I’m so excited about riding on the Pacific Coast Route that I’ve already bought the necessary maps! If my plan holds, I’ll probably tour the section from San Diego CA to San Francisco CA next. I’m convinced the scenery and terrain will be spectacular, and premier camping spots plentiful. I’ll be researching the weather patterns soon, but I’m hoping for a Spring 2014 start. Interestingly, I’ve already spoken to a number of seasoned veterans who suggest riding North to South on this section due to the prevailing winds, so I’m contemplating beginning in ‘Frisco and riding towards Baja Mexico. Keep your eye out for another journal soon!
Until next time,
It’s All Good