Latest update on my purpose-driven cycling journey around the American perimeter.
Thanks to all of you; my family, and friends old and new, for following my adventure and for tolerating my musings. What a wonderful experience, and I’m thrilled I had the opportunity to share it with you. As I’ve contemplated how to compile my “final thoughts” on this section of my journey, I’m thinking the most productive path might be to organize my writings into a few categories of interest, hopefully informing touring cyclists and mildly entertaining the rest.
The folks on this southwestern section of the Southern Tier were, in a nutshell, salt of the Earth. Working people. People who seem to be busy making ends meet. They work with their backs, they drive trucks, they labor in the vast fields, they work in small businesses. They are as demographically diverse as the occupations they hold. They are mostly of anglo, latin, and native american descent, but they are all American. I was amazed, particularly on the Texas-Mexico border in the Upper Rio Grande region, at the number of United States flags I saw being flown proudly over ranches, farms, and businesses. The people are courteous, and often generous. A number of folks, drivers and business owners alike, offered me gratis food and drink for no other reason than their compassion for my efforts. I found the drivers, on the whole, to be courteous as well. I cannot remember a single auto-bicycle incident on the entire trip that was worth noting in a negative manner. If they were able, drivers of cars and trucks alike would provide me with a wide berth, and many would politely honk in passing, just to acknowledge my efforts. The people of this region were certainly one of the highlights of the trip.
If I were forced to describe this region in one word, that word would be “vast”. I love the Southwest, always have. I love the “vastness”, I love the rugged country, I love the contrast of the green valleys against the rocky brown desert, I love the mountain backdrop against the desert floor, I love the little twinge of fear that one gets when the distances between towns is great and the supply of water is minimal, I love the wildlife that can survive in this region, and I love the unique names of many of the towns: Blanco, Sisterdale, Comfort, Vanderpool, Leakey, Comstock, Langtry, Marathon, Alpine, Van Horn, Sierra Blanca, Fabens, Dona Ana, Radium Spings, Hatch, Caballo, Silver City, Buckhorn, Mule Creek, Three Way, Geronimo, Peridot, Apache Gold, Globe, Superior, Apache Junction.
Route, Roads & Terrain
There were essentially four climbs worth noting on the route. Given my starting location in Austin, which is at the edge of the Texas Hill Country, I gave myself very little ramp-up time to ride myself into shape before some challenging days. While this made me a tad nervous, I was a bit intrigued at the “sink or swim” nature of the route I had chosen. The first climb was between Vanderpool and Camp Wood, Texas. Locals call the three hills “Twisted Sister”, and this area is a favorite among the motorcycle crowd who frequent this area on the weekends because of the hairpin curves, ups and downs, and the spectacular views. The second climb was in West Texas between Fort Davis and Kent, and was the first true mountain climb (around 6300 feet) up to the McDonald Observatory located on Mt. Locke. The third major climb was in New Mexico’s Mimbres mountain range and is the high point (8228 feet) on the Southern Tier. The fourth, and last significant climb is a pass at the tail end of the ride between Buckhorn New Mexico and Three Way Arizona (around 6300 feet) in the Big Lue Mountains. The view coming over this unnamed pass into Arizona is mind-bogglingly beautiful. It is simply indescribable and will probably be the single most memorable imprint on my brain for years to come.
The roads on this section of the Southern Tier were as diverse as the landscape. State Highways, Farm-to-Market Roads, Ranch Roads, U.S. Highways and a little Interstate riding were the norm. I was, for the most part, comfortable on most of the roads in Texas and New Mexico. I must say that I was mildly disappointed in the rural highways in Arizona though. Specifically, U.S. Highway 191 out of Three Way Arizona and U.S. Highway 70 through the heart of the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Both of these highways and shoulders were showing heavy wear from the significant amount of truck traffic emanating from the copper mining in the area. The shoulders were typically very rough, rumble strips were sometimes milled across the shoulder, and the traffic was heavy. To top it off, much of the roadbed beyond the shoulders was home to inordinate amounts of refuse, probably caused by the heavy traffic in these two areas. Enough said, other than I remained very cautious through these areas, and my focus was on the beautiful horizon as opposed to the junk left in the nearby ditches.
As I began planning this trip, I harbored a mild concern that the time of year I chose, and the direction I was traveling, were both ill-conceived. As a resident of the Southwest, I understand what late Spring in this area is capable of in terms of heat. Also, the East-to-West direction I chose gave me pause (although apparently not enough to change directions!). A sizable majority (probably at a 3-to-1 ratio) of Southern Tier cyclists are Eastbound given the prevailing Westerly winds. In spite of all this stuff, I chose the Westward direction, and my rationale for doing so was straightforward. As I’ve mentioned before, I like the Southwest, and this being my first really long tour, I wanted to go to an area that excited me. In the end, I’m happy I chose the path less pedaled! There were weather challenges, to be sure!. The coldest day on the trip was in Marathon Texas, where a record-breaking cold front blew in and blessed me with a 24 degree morning ride. There were triple digit days as well, one being in Texas and a couple in Arizona. There were also days when the wind, especially in the mountains, howled “like a big dog”, as Carol sometimes says. However, the wind days, overall seemed to neutralize themselves. I was constantly on the ready to shorten days, start earlier in the morning, etc. because of the possibility of headwind, but all in all it seemed like the wind was behind me or coming across the road as much as it was in my face. Had I known this going in, I would not have fretted about it as much as I did. Many of the days on this trip (April/May) were cool, cloudless, with mild to moderate winds.
Three Things I Learned from this Journey
1. Don’t Buy-In to the Negative Hype about Riding on the U.S.-Mexico Border
I cannot tell you how many conversations I had during the planning stages of my adventure regarding the proximity of the border to my route and the imminent danger I was going to be in. While I was always diligent and watchful during my ride, I must say that I felt completely safe, not only because of the great folks in this area, but by the almost constant presence of the U.S. Border Patrol. There were literally stretches of lonely highway where the only traffic I would encounter was that of a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle, many times coming out of the brush or a dirt road. During one particularly lonely stretch of road in New Mexico, after seeing three Border Patrol agents in a span of five minutes, I rode up to a parked agent’s truck and asked the young officer if everything was ok. He looked at me sort of puzzled and replied, “don’t worry, no one is going to jump out of the bushes and get you today”. My reply, and the end of every conversation I had with many U.S. Border Patrol agents along the route, was simply “thank you for your service, sir”.
2. It’s No Longer About Me…..It’s about the Experience
It seems odd now, but in the months leading up to this journey, and indeed, during the early stages of the ride, my focus was purely introspective. Would “I” enjoy the journey? Am “I” fit enough to make the trip? Have “I” planned appropriately? Am “I” doing the right thing? Eventually, as “I” became lost in the vast landscape and equally vast beauty of my surroundings, my introspection was lost as well, and only “experience” remained. Soon, I was no longer the lead character in a play, but simply a spectator witnessing the awesomeness that lay before me. I would drift to sleep each evening, not really knowing what lay ahead, but having confidence that what lay ahead would be an experience that I would remember a lifetime!
The great American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, authored one of the best quotes of all time, in my opinion, and one which I would wish upon anyone contemplating an adventure, “The way to recover the meaning of life and the worthwhileness of life is to recover the power of experience, to have impulse voices from within, and to be able to hear these impulse voices from within – and make the point: This can be done”
3. Ride, Eat, Sleep, Repeat (and Eat Again)
Maybe you have seen the consummate touring cyclists bumper sticker which says “Ride, Eat, Sleep, Repeat”, obviously conveying the importance of cycling to the person’s life. After this latest tour, I have learned to appreciate this particular recipe for a life centered on bicycle touring, but I would also augment it to read as follows: “Ride, Eat, Sleep, Repeat (and Eat Again)”. I found myself, throughout the tour, thinking about food an inordinate amount of time. Mind you, I ate, and ate well along the way. In fact, I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, in large quantities, and yet I felt food-depleted much of the time. Because I am a vegetarian, I paid extra close attention to protein intake, and supplemented by diet accordingly. Who knew I could eat like a horse, sleep like a baby, and lose 12 lbs along the way! Kinda sounds like Heaven, huh?
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.
I’ll keep this short. Thanks to my bride of 28 years (& 5 days), my three joys (aka Luke, J.R., Will), my unbelievable parents, other family members, friends (old & new), numerous road angels and small business owners along the way, the many folks that commented/emailed/ texted me, and lastly for the rattlesnake (that I’m sure was present) that elected not to snuggle with me in one of the many desert oasis campgrounds.
U.S. 360 Continues
Well, well, well! My favorite part of this post. What’s next on this Journey Around the American Perimeter? At this point, it looks as though I’ll have time this coming Fall to finish the far Western section of the Southern Tier, from Tempe AZ to San Diego CA, and then begin the Southern section of the Pacific Coast Route from Imperial Beach CA (on the U.S.-Mexico border) to Santa Barbara CA. I intend to start in early October 2013 after my oldest son’s birthday on October 4th. Should be fun, and I’ll soon be setting up another journal on this website, so you can follow along!
Until next time,
It’s All Good
Click Here to read my daily tour journal entry on crazyguyonabike.com