Sunday, March 21, 2010
I can't help but occasionally step off the main route and take some scenic detour through the mountains that will be so much shorter as the crow flies. But of course the flying crow doesn't have to worry about the state of those roads, the mountains on route or the limited options on getting supplies. I loaded up 4 days worth of food and considering I had the best road maps available of Mexico, I decided to check out its back roads. I know well enough at this stage that a secondary road in a developing country can be somewhere between a quarry entrance and a farmyard trail in Ireland. I left Torreon in a south east direction and after 3 days on dusty corrugated roads that shake the living daylights out of me and shake the blots out of the bicycle, I finally arrived out on highway 54 at San Tiburcio. In all, less that 40 vehicles passed me on these back roads. The locals were friendly and welcoming. Tourists are a rare sight in this part of Mexico. I saw a few ranch workers do their farm work from the original off-road mode of transport - the horse. The 'Luck of the Irish' certainly wasn't with me on St Patrick's Day. I got 3 punctures that day. That's a record for 1 day. The villages I passed through varied between abandoned and almost abandoned. Mini tornadoes spun down the road in front of me and each evening I camped up in Joshua tree forests while the sunsets were filled with the howls of the coyotes. I'm back on the main road now and in the town of Matehuala. I reckon I'll hit the Caribbean in a week or so. I can't wait.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
While the initial plan was to bike across the United States from California to Florida,- plans change. I look forward to returning to America sometime but at this time I'm more drawn to venture south towards Mexico. I'm presently camped up in a small forest about 30KMs north of the city of Torreon in North Central Mexico. The trees are full of the sounds of small birds singing. I'm 10 days in Mexico now and this time has been spent pedalling across the Chihuahua desert. You've probably never heard of it. I'd never heard of it before I'd arrived here. As it turns out, the second largest desert in the North American Continent happens to be named after one of the smallest dogs around. Its been 10 days riding across a long, arid, mostly flat plain through this part of Mexico. Since leaving the United States, I've faced a brute of a headwind which has gradually turned to become a favourable tailwind that is directing me towards the Caribbean. Each desert night is very cold and I wake to find my water bottles frozen. But as I journey further south, the afternoon sun is consistently gaining strength. Between 1 and 3 in the afternoon, I'm sheltering under some bridge;-chilling in the shade and sipping hot tea. Not really viewing any over whelming sights. Not really over indulging in the Mexican food (as I find it too spicy). Instead, just using the time to reduce a distance between this desert and the warm tropical Caribbean Sea awaiting. It has been another glorious sunset as the birds conclude their evening symphony. The sky fills with stars but it quickly becomes much too cold to pass the evening lying out on the ground staring above. Instead I retire to the sleeping bag and wake with the sound of the them birds singing again. Pack up the sleeping bag. Roll up the mattress. Fold up the tent. Boil up the pot and after a breakfast of tea and musili, I'm ready for another day of pedalling down that road.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Highway 93 south from Vegas may just be the most boring road in the world. Apart from passing over the Hoover Dam, which is just outside Vegas, the journey south was a long, straight, flat desert road. The days are getting longer. The cactus are getting bigger and many of the towns I'm passing are abandoned and given some of the craziest names. The town of Santa Claus www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Claus,_Arizona with its boarded up windows , all covered in graffiti and children's swings still standing in back yards. Then there was the appropriately named Nothing www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nothing,_Arizona . I didn't risk going in here as a sign outside warned 'KEEP OUT - BIOHAZARD'. I pedalled on down the road and before reaching Surprise www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surprise_arizona , I passed Bagdad www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagdad,_Arizona . Neither of these last two towns were abandoned, but in all I must have passed almost a dozen abandoned or close to abandoned towns during my time in America. There's something really chilling and eerie about seeing relatively new homes and business just boarded up and left for the desert to take.
But highway 93 eventually got me to Phoenix, Arizona. It took 6 days of pedalling so I was due a rest day. The lovely owner of the HI hostel here, Sue, was completely bonkers but in the best way possible. She enjoyed hearing tales of this long bike ride and as I checked out, she offered me free accommodation just to stay on. But I'm ready to leave America now. I'm excited about getting down to Mexico. America has been great, but as a cycle touring destination it lacks the excitement of what Europe and especially Asia has to offer.
Getting from Phoenix south to Tucson was going to be a bummer. I had 2 options;
1. Take the interstate highway which is a massive motorway that connects the 2 cities as the crow flies. Unfortunately bicycles are prohibited.
2. Take a big detour through the back roads of the Sonaran desert mountains.
I was making great headway on option Number 1. The long conveys of fast moving trucks acted as a great tailwind and I was flying along at 30+KMH. In fact I was half way to Tucson before the Sherriff arrived with flashing lights. Considering I was only in Arizona a week, he accepted I was unaware I was making a traffic violation. After a bit of a chat about Global Cycle Ride, this friendly officer decided to give me a police escort down the interstate for a few miles where I could make an exit and follow the railroad all the way to Tucson. This was great. I haven't had a police escort since Iran. As I pedalled down the Interstate freeway with the beacons flashing on the police car preceding me, I wondered what the passing traffic were thinking. Could they be witnessing the ultimate low-speed pursuit.
In America everything is bigger. The food portions are bigger. The people are bigger. And their trucks are seriously bigger. They look great-loads of chrome and a sleeper cab the size of a caravan. But whats the point?? The whole idea of having a bigger engine is to pull a greater weight, but they still work under the same weight restrictions as the trucks throughout Europe ie. 8 ton per axle. And so the point of these great big trucks must purely be; to look good. With fuel 3 times more expensive in Europe than here, it makes you wonder when is America gong to realise that the global gas tank is in the red. I'm looking forward to the day when we're all back on the bicycle. I'm ready for it anyway. For the record, this bicycle has travelled 19,000KMs on less than a cup full of oil. 10-4 Good-Buddy
From Tucson I visited Saguaro National Park. Not only is this home to many species of cati, it also contains rattlesnakes, africanized honey bees ('Killer' bees) and mountain lions. I even saw a few other cyclists here. America has 58 National Parks and the few that I have witnesses have been just excellent.
Leaving Tucson on the road south seemed more like leaving a Mexican town rather than anywhere in the U.S. Most signs were in Spanish and the choice for tacos exceeded the choice of burgers. Arizona is a difficult state to get across on a bicycle. I was already on a warning from being caught on the interstate and if I was caught again, I'd be fined. Basically, I'm trying to cross the state from north west to south east without using motorways and it seems impossible to do so without occasionally using back road dirt tracks. To use the dirt tracks is difficult for 2 reasons;
1. We're presently getting a lot of rain here. And dirt track turn to mud in the wet. Mud is a nightmare on the bike. It makes it impossible to cycle and difficult to push.
2. I'm just 50KMs from the Mexico and I'm running parallel with the border. This region is very heavily policed due to smuggling and illegal immigration. The last thing I want is rude awakenings from my campspots from border patrol police or those they are chasing.
Last night the ground seemed to almost shake with the sound of thunder and the lightening was spectacular. But today was mud, mud, mud. When I finally found a hotel, they wanted $130 for the night. I wouldn't spend that in a week in America so it was back into the wet tent for another night. Its only 60KMs to Tombstone and I know there is a cheap hostel there.
Yesterday I waved down a pick-up at a dirt track cross roads for some help with directions. I could clearly see a hand gun on the passenger seat. He was a helpful but nervous guy. "You need to watch yourself round these parts. Them hills are full of drug smugglers." But he gave excellent directions and even offered to chuck the bike in the back of the pick-up and give me a lift to where I wished to go.
And so I've finally made it to the town of Tombstone in south east Arizona, the famous site of the O.K.Corral www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunfight_at_the_O.K._Corral .Tomorrow I leave the United States and begin my journey into Mexico.