I’ve heard from readers, especially people who only occasionally check in, that they really enjoy the recaps. Since I skipped them after leaving the coast, I am going to write up recaps for the rest of my journey. Here is the first one, leg three:
The Deserts of the American Southwest
The third leg of my trip, from Los Angeles to El Paso, Texas, turns me away from the coast as I enter the American Southwest. I forgo the traditional Southern Tier route that roughly follows I-10 out of San Diego in favor of Route 66 to Santa Fe, then turning south through New Mexico to El Paso. It is an easy choice – I really want to see Flagstaff and would rather avoid Phoenix, even if it means the possibility of very cold temperatures in the high desert.
My phone having stopped working as I entered the most remote part of this trip I crossed the low desert of eastern California and climbed into the high desert of northern Arizona with nothing to distract me from the blandest scenery I have encountered so far. Most days I could see for hours ahead, noting nothing but scrubby desert in all directions. Getting over a break-up is a long process, but my extremely limited communication with other people certainly accelerated the process as I retreated into myself, wandering down long branching thought paths to pass the time.
Reaching Flagstaff was an immense achievement, not only for crossing the desert but also for hitting some lows and learning to push through them and learn a bit about myself in the process. I rode Amtrak between Flagstaff and Santa Fe partially for time and safety reasons but also because I did not think I could mentally cope with another week of blistering headwinds and very slow progress. This was absolutely the right decision. Between Flagstaff, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque I had an amazing time in the high desert with some fabulous people. From hiking and mountain biking to olive oil parties and ‘stump,” I certainly found my share of excitement. The only pitfall: the election.
Leaving my amazing host and his friends in Albuquerque was extremely difficult after a week and a half of great times since Flagstaff. I cruised south through New Mexico, continuing to fight headwinds and now frost as temperatures dipped and I once again found myself in fairly remote areas. It did not last tough, and soon I arrived in El Paso, Texas, which reconnected me to the Southern Tier. By this point I am accepting that headwinds are inevitable.
Miles: ~850 excluding about 400+ on the train (2,450 total)
- Jumping in the Colorado River
- Adapting to being alone, with very little interaction with other people, and no phone for entertainment/distraction.
- Reaching Flagstaff after struggling through western Arizona
- New friends in Albuquerque, NM with excellent mountain biking fun, a dance party, and more.
- The presidential election
- Riding in Arizona. The headwinds were relentless, for days. And while Route 66 provides a low-traffic route almost all the way to Flagstaff the pavement is shit in several places.
- Leaving my new friends in Albuquerque. It felt a little bit like leaving home. There were tears this day.
- Endless day from Socorro to Truth or Consequences, NM. This was also back-to-back after the emotionally tough day leaving Albuquerque.
Meal (camp): Veggie wraps on top of a volcano, at sunset
- Once I started riding solo camp food definitely took a turn for the bland. I just don’t have as much motivation to cook for one, especially after long desert days. But even so, sitting atop a volcano in the desert watching the sun set behind distant mountains, eating veggie wraps is a dinner I will never forget.
Meal (bought): Happy Hour at Grand Canyon Brewery & Huevos Rancheros in Hatch, NM.
- $2 beers (everything), a gigantic &8 bowl of chili, and a $0.01 Halloween-themed jello shot. Nothing spectacular, but they hit the nail on the head. Plus there was a fireplace and comfy couch.
- Huevos Rancheros with red chile at the Valley Cafe in Hatch, NM. I’m more of a green chile fan but it wasn’t ready yet. The red was fabulously tasty and the whole meal affordable and delicious.
Riding Day: A long day from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, NM
- It’s over eighty miles on my route through the mountains of northern New Mexico, and what a sight to see! It’s very hilly but I lose somewhere between two and three thousand feet of elevation too, which helps. The sun is blasting out of an astoundingly blue sky. Puffy clouds are drifting lazily across my vision. In the aftermath of the election I hit a down wave, but on this day I felt inspired and determined. Plus, at the end I rolled right into yoga and an amazing time in Albuquerque.
- I did not do a whole lot of camping at established facilities on this leg since there is not a whole lot in this part of the country. The first day leaving the San Bernardino Mountains was a thrill- unexpected host cancellation, long day, first experience in the desert, and a slightly nervous first night camping in the middle of nowhere on BLM land. By the time I reached NM camping wherever seemed perfectly normal.
City/Town: Flagstaff, Arizona
- Flagstaff is a smallish mountain town with a well-established network of paved and unpaved trails that make getting around both easy and fun. Transit is meh, but I easily rode to hiking and mountain biking. There is a college, plenty of bars and restaurants, and all the basics. Plus Sedona is huge for mountain biking and it is only an hour or two south. Summers are warm, winters are cold and sometimes snowy but the weather is generally mild. The biggest downside I saw: lack of good career opportunities. My friends told me it was pretty transient – people come for the outdoors and fun but leave for the job.
Non-bike activity: Colorado River jumping & local bar; Mountain Biking; Catan
- Pretty much upon entering California I said goodbye to freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams. After the first week of riding east I hit the Arizona border and jumped into a wondrous Colorado River flowing amid the desert. It was short-lived, but fantastic. And then I had some beers at a local joint and was offered a place to spend the night. Basically, exactly what I dreamt for this trip.
- Mountain biking in Flagstaff and Albuquerque. First ponderosa pines, then the high desert. So different from the Pacific Northwest!
- Catan in Flagstaff. An unexpected taste of home.
I’ve made the decision to rent a car and drive to Big Bend in order to be able t really experience the park. Afterwards I will take Amtrak from El Paso to San Antonio to stay on schedule, skipping the notorious West Texas. It certainly feels weird for a bike tour but I am not coming all the way down here and missing out on Big Bend!