Thursday, 31 October 2013

Day 24 - Here I stand.....

I thought I would start todays blog last night as im not sure what state im going to be in, should I get to the pier in 1 piece. So to make sure I say everything I wanted to say and risk boring you all, the first half of this blog is reflection of the journey the night before.

Part 1

First and foremost this ride has been for the people whose names are on my prayer flags. They are family, friends and people I have never met but all have been tied to me and shared every step of this adventure with me. They are (in no particular order) :

Dave Spragg
Mitch Dooley
Stevie Collins
Vera Collins
Peter Collins
Peter Sirett
Marija Milinkovic
Eric Ray
Gordon Wilson
Anne Wilson
Tom Lloyd Twitchen
Hazel Rolf
George Rolf
Richard Tankard
Irene Burns
Kamila
Laura
Sue Jones
Melanie Sykes
Harris Shryock
Darren Clark
Viv Pugh
Norman Winn
Mickey Collins
Scott Weten Kemp
Kelly Lick
Frances Catt
Ken Owens
Ladda
Reuben Graham
Mike Peters
Monica Thompson
Irene Wyeth
Damien Blake
Tinie
Gwen
Denise Falcus
Irene Mulloy
Henry Mulloy
Annabel
Sam
Mandy Setterfield
Judith Brown
Sara Williams
Urszula Smith
Jean Kavangh
Una Quinn
Jill Yates
Celia Wilson
Melvin Wilson
Paul Wilson
Jean Ford
Sandie Ford

I described this journey in the beginning as solo and unsupported, and in so much as I have been physically alone, it was by no means unsupported. I cannot name everyone who has commented on my blogs or donated as I would wish to, but special thanks go to (again in no particular order):

My family - Thank you for your support of all things crazy
My work mothers - for putting up with me and messages of encouragement
Mickey for his phone calls when I have been low and general motivation, you are an official legend
Mike and Jules Peters and family for the inspiration, encouragement, and music!
Dave Spragg - for friendship
Emma Dunne, especially for phone call when homesick
Beki and Randy - for friendship and support
Joe Silva- for being awesome and the support
Kelly dooley creek - for organising help and support
Louize and Mark Evans - for shorts and showing me the Grand Canyon
Monica Thompson - for letting me crash unexpectedly
Faith - for taking interest In a stranger and the journey
Buscot ward - for cake eating, climbing the stairs, support and helping to provide a great place to work
David Vieira - for kindly donating the gig venue
Helen Simons and family - for welcoming me and helping getting me organised at the scary beginning part
Rob Rushing - for sharing, support and swabbing fun!
James Chippendale - for your enthusiasm and support.
Sophie Franklin - for being the best kind of best friend.

Everyone who has sent messages of encouragement, support, inspiration and donated... could not have done it without ya x

So thats the Oscar Speech out of the way.....

Together we have raised over £3800 and hopefully more from the gig..
I have cycled over 2300 miles, burnt 96000 calories (at best guess), renewed my faith in humanity and made new friends.

My favourite part of the ride (excluding the finish) has been sitting at the edge of the painted desert, breathing the air and listening to the wind.
My worst day is a toss up between headwind day in New Mexico and headwind day in Arizona.
I have learnt that I can keep going long past the point where I thought I was done for.
I have had 2 real scrapes with injury or worse but have siezed many many opportunities to really live.
My fingers do not work properly and my foot is screwed up.
I have lived every minute, breathed every breath and taken in every heartbeat along the way

Love Hope Strength Foundation together with delete blood cancer swabs people for the bone marrow donor list to help save lives... if you have enjoyed this blog, please consider Getting on the list - it takes 5 mins and you could help save a life... please go to www.deletebloodcancer.org.uk to get a home kit!  If you have not donated to the ride and feel able to contribute, please go to www.justgiving.com/Route66LHS and help get the total to over £4000!

LHS was founded by Mike Peters of The Alarm and James Chippendale. Both are legends and Mike never ceases to amaze me with his boundless energy and enthusiasm. He is my inspiration and his music has kept my pedals turning round day after day. Huge thanks to them and Jules Peters for allowing me to be a small part of the whirlwind!

Finally,  please note that anyone could have done this... YOU could have done this... you can do anything you want to, you just have to make the choice...

Part 2

It was kinda wierd packing up this morning, knowing that this would, if all went to plan, be the last day of this journey.  I had everything ready to go for the moment it got light as wanted to get through the pass before traffic got really bad.,
As I set off, the usual heavy legged feeling was there, but I tried to tell myself that they had felt like that every day at the start. I was still worried about my back tyre, convinced I had a slow puncture but it felt ok, but I was cursing myself for not changing the inner tube as a precaution.

I followed the frontage road, looking for the freeway entrance that would then take me through the hills and when I found it, hopped on. The first problem of the day struck... the shoulder was closed for two miles and by closed I mean walled off not just coned off, so I was actually in a lane... not a good plan at all... if I was to survive today, I had to find another way. I pulled in at the works entrance snd chatted to the foreman, who directed me to a side road that had just been retarmacked, saying that it led back to the mojave freeway, which cut through the hills surrounding LA and is the only way through. Result ... smooth, fast, all good. Didnt last long though and before long I was back on the freeway.

Mojave freeway has steep descents of 6% where lorries are advised to stop and check their brakes, and there are frequent signs for escape lanes for the lorries... none of this boded well.  To top it all off, the shoulder had bumps every 20 meters. So there I was, standing up on my pedals to be seen better, being shaken to the bone, brakes on to keep my speed reasonable and hoping that I would live to see LA.  Fortunately all the drivers seemed to be taking the warnings seriously and for the most part, drove sensibly.  It was still a hell of an adrenaline rush though.

12 hair raising miles later,I was directed off to the old route 66 road... and it was a true pleasure to cycle... dropping down through the hills in a reasonable road, quiet with just a goods train for company. I really enjoyed it. The road then wound under the freeway to a lovely rural community. Then it was onwards, waiting at the tracks for the train to pass the crossing, and up to the old route 66.

I was burning by this time, the sun was beating down, and I was starting to get stopped by traffic lights which was slowing me down. As my legs had warmed up, the pace had improved and I was struck by the wide roads, with proper bike lanes (UK take note, they didnt stop after 50 meters) and spanish looking villas with immaculate sculpted gardens. The workmen were out with the leaf blowers and hedge trimmers and it was very pleasant to cycle through. 

Up to this point I had been concentrating on not getting mown down, so I hadnt really thought about where I was and how close I was, this was the first time (of several) that it hit me smack in the face.... oh nope, that was the bees or wasps on this part of the road who werent concentrating on where they were going as I got torpedoed by several of them, so much so that I made a concerted effort to keep my mouth shut as I cycled along... I could see the headlines... "charity cyclist dies after being stung at the back of the throat by a wasp with a misguided sense of direction"!  Fortunately the wasp/bee storm was over pretty quickly and I started dropping down through the various towns in the suburbs of LA. 

I liked these places, particularly Duarte, fortuna, Claremont and Arcadia, each with their own personality and feel to them. I thought that if this was LA, I could see why people liked it here. 

The road ran on and crossed over the freeway. A motorbike drew up alongside and asked about my ride, so I explained. He commented on how thin my tyres were,  then wished me a safe journey.  20 or maybe  30 seconds later, there was a clang of something metal, a pop and a rear puncture. I actually laughed at the timing of this and without too much concern sat down at the edge of the road and replaced the inner tube... 45 minutes this time (you may recall it was an hour last time) and as I had been making good progress, I thought I would still be fine for time.

I phoned Beki, just to update on progress and then went on my way, still feeling pretty good. It wasnt to last... as I dropped even further down towards LA City center, I got cut up by a bus and then my front tyre went flat!
REALLY??? It felt a bit like everything was trying to stop me getting to the pier today. So once again, I sat down and repaired the damage. The main problem being that this was my last inner tube and one more puncture had the capacity to ruin everything. I kept the old inner tube in case I needed to patch it up, and although this one took 30 mins to mend, I was now looking at a very long afternoon with 62 miles minimum to go.

As I reached the centre, I was struck once again by where I was and choked back the tears, telling myself I wasnt there yet!  Then a right turn onto Sunset Boulevard and a long drag up to find the turning for Santa Monica boulevard and my path to the pier and the end of the ride.

It was starting to get late and I was getting concerned about what time I would get to the pier,. With punctures and traffic lights I was now looking at a 6pm arrival. I began to get frustrated with the lights as I was stopping very frequently and couldnt hold a good speed because of it. I was aware beki and randy were waiting for me, and didnt want to cycle in the dark much!
I asked some 'cops' on bikes how far and they gave me news of at least 2 hours, which nade my heart sink. 19:30 arrival in darkness beckoned.
I continued on, turned into Santa Monica blvd and got my lights on as starting to get dark. Then the wierdest thing happened... I stumbled upon a zombie, then a vampire, a ghost... the road had been closed for a halloween festival so I spent a few happy minutes dodging pedestrians instead of cars and laughed at the random event on this ride which made the day. It was by now pretty dark and I was fairly nervous, especially as the cops had warned me about the large amount of drunk drivers out on the road.  I cycle in the dark at home obviously but it is completely different doing that in a strange city. I stopped at some lights when a cyclist pulled up alongside, asked if I was ok (musta looked petrified lol) and where I was headed. He then offered to cycle with me to the pier. Which made the last 6 miles much nicer... 2 bikes are better than 1, especially when 1 knows the city and therfore I finished up at the entrance to the pier, alive, unhurt and safe. So grateful to him for doing that...

So I was at the pier entrance.. phoned beki... "we are waiting at the sign on the pier" came the reply... only another 200 meters to go... up the slope and down the other side... to a chorus of cheers and clapping! Beki and Randy had rounded up a load of random english people to see me to the end! What a lovely thought!

No tears... even I was surprised given my recent affliction of crying at every emotional moment. But I was shaking quite a bit...

Big hugs from beki and randy... how absolutely fantastic to be able to share this moment with some friends.
Then it was photo time, although I had ruined all photo plans by arriving in the dark, which made it tricky. With the help of a flashlight provided by a cop, I have a record of me at the end of the road, with the flags!  (I will take photos of the individual flags and names at the gig tomorrow night.)
A phone call from friends on a night shift completed the day!

Food, at an English pub (to help with my homesickness) then to the travel lodge and facebook catch up.
I plan to blog about tomorrow, so the journey is not quite done.

I wondered about how to finish off todays blog, there seemed only one fitting way:

With Love, Hope and Strength.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Day 23 - Give me Love Hope and Strength

I was pretty knackered this morning... 2 tough days in a row had left me physically exhausted... not having the chance to catch up with friends had left me mentally low. I knew I had a long day and having had breakfast I checked my tyre again... it had needed blowing up quite a bit yesterday and I thought I might have a slow puncture. Once again this morning, I inflated it, wondering whether to just change the inner tube but as it seemed to be holding, I set off. It was fairly cold but with my wind jacket on, and the usual uphill climb I got very warm pretty quickly.
The next place along was Newberry Springs, 25 miles down the road and I took the interstate after being advised that the Route66 highway was pretty bumpy until newberry springs when the road condition improved. For once I did not have road envy, as the interstate shoulder was smooth. I wasnt sure whether I was going slowly because of my back tyre, the slight headwind or the uphill gradient. Probably a bit of all three, but it seemed to take forever to reach the town.
On the way, I noticed that the desert was becoming sandier, with less rock and brush and tried to distract myself by letting my mind wonder. This is what I like about cycling, it leaves the mind free and thoughts roll through like the wheels rolling on the tarmac. Also it distracts from any discomfort you may be feeling. I thought about my family, friends, how fortunate I am, how I might feel if I get to the pier tomorrow... a million different shards all splintering in my head.

Eventually Newberry Springs came into sight and I stopped to eat, hoping that wifi would be available... nope, no catch up.
After this the next 30 miles to Barstow were tough but at least I was on the old route 66, actually cycling through the desert, seaching (in vain) for snakes and spiders.  It was a nice road, with only the occasional car passing. At one point I was directed to the other side of the interstate, but having consulted my off line maps, decided to continue on this road, only to find myself at a checkpoint for a marine corps logistics base... I could pass, but they would have to search my bags... dont think so... so turned round and jumped back on the interstate! I saw a few lizards running away from my wheels here as well, which made the detour worthwhile.

I got to Barstow quicker than I thought I would and although it was fairly busy (since Ive got used to quiet country towns) , it was quite a nice place and suddenly it hit me that I was in california and tomorrow (hopefully) would be the end! More tears (got to stop that) as I realised how far id come, and how close I was....

I found a starbucks and oh joy of joys could finally catch up with home... all the messages of support buoyed my mood no end and by the time I set off again, the remaining 40 miles of the day, seemed a mere hop and my legs felt light again.... this is how important the support has been to me, how it has kept my legs turning round and got me to the edge of LA. Without it I would have ground to a halt long ago!

Those final miles were on the Route 66 road and I had been prewarned that it had been freshly tarmacked (thanks faith), so I knew to be careful. Thankfully it had bedded down a bit, and there wasnt too much loose gravel around.
I stopped at the bottle forest, a colection of bottles, mounted like branches on poles, topped with all kinds of recycled items. The owner came out and told me that he had built it over 14 years... it really was a work of art and well worth stopping for. The last 15 miles were reasonable, winding up, before dropping down into Victorville.  I made my way to the motel I had been recommended (up a hill of course) and the manager kindly upgraded me to a suite, after discussing the merits of Sidcup where he had once lived! So I sit writing this in luxury lol.

I then had the pleasure of the company of two lovely people, don and kimberly, who took me out to dinner. It was lovely to meet them and I hope to see you at the gig on friday! Thankyou!

So another day done, one which saw the power that Love Hope and Strength from friends can have to a knackered, leg weary, slightly homesick cyclist.... Roll on tomorrow...

Day 22 - Try to stop me, I will carry on...

Thanks to Dave for the inspiration for todays blog title and the song which kept me pedalling today.

This is my second version of this blog as I had no wifi last night and then technical issues with blogspot so this version is with 24 hours of hindsight.

You may remember that I had a torrid time on day 21, which led me to crawl in to oatman after dark, thankfully welcomed by monica and her family for which I am very grateful. I hadnt seen any of oatman in the dark so before I set off we had pictures in front of the painted wall.
It was lovely to meet a fellow alarm fan but once again I turned my eyes westwards. Because of the shortfall in mileage, today I had to cycle 114 miles as there is NOTHING between needles and ludlow except desert.
Thankfully the winds had died down and as monica had told me, the road to needles was good downhill most of the way. It was pretty cold and my legs didnt feel as though they belonged to me after yesterdays battering,  but as it was easy for the first 23 miles, I didnt notice the screaming yet!
I was disappointed not to see any of the donkeys that roam wild but i did see a roadrunner as it sprinted across my path, and before anyone asks, no unfortunately he was not followed by coyote!

So I stopped in Needles for a second breakfast,  knowing that this was it, until I got to Ludlow. At the subway there, I met 2 lovely women, who showed an interest in my ride and wished me well for the journey. I also stocked up on sugar for the remainder of the day. Then the hard work began. I finally saw the Colorado river, and here,  calm and serene, it showed nothing of the immense power that carved out the Grand Canyon. I realised that I had entered california,   there was no fanfare,  no grand entrance and accordingly no emotional reaction to entering my 8th and last state, very low key.

The next 40 miles were tough, uphill most of the way and pain all over. My mood was low and even if a den of rattlesnakes had stood up and applauded my effort, I wouldnt have noticed,  i was so wrapped in my world of hurt.  I was going very slowly and didnt really notice the scenery, though I did occasionally glance at the mountains that surrounded me. And so it went on, and on and on.  I despaired of making it to Ludlow and mentally prepared myself for spending the night in the desert. Then my ipod died...... things could not have been worse
Then with about 40 miles to go, I remembered the song lyrics that Dave had reminded me of.., Try to stop me, I will carry on, try to oppose me, I will prevail. A wave of determination came over me and the legs started working better... the next 20 miles were better, as I wavered between despair and determination. Im not telling you this to gain anything, rather I want to show that even when you think you cant do any more, or continue any further, you can... whatever it may apply to in life and anyone can do it.

So the final 20 miles,  determination won, and I put my head down and tried to time trial my way to the end. The mountains were beautiful in the evening light and as the sun started to dip behind them, the desert shone with a purple hue, with the outline of the mountains behind. I continued to push my legs beyond what I though I could as painfully the amount of miles left until Ludlow crept downwards. Aided by (finally) some downhill and a slight tailwind, it was just getting to the point where I couldnt see the road, when the turnoff arrived.
Now hoping that the motel was open, I crawled over to it, it appeared shut! Fortunately some kind soul directed me to the gas station, where the keys were held. I was informed that there was no wifi, but they kinda had me over a barrel, so I had no choice but to accept.
I missed updating fb and catching up with everyone from home, but 114 miles done, caught up to schedule again and I had prevailed - just.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Day 21 .... From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows....

Sticking my feet out of the door from breakfast was enough to tell me the weather had changed.... specifically the wind was up. A second longer look outside gave me the sinking feeling... it was strong and was most definately not a tailwind. At least it wasnt cold.. but having learnt my lesson the other day, on went the gloves and windjacket anyway and with that I put my head to the wind.

I had plans for the day... to cover 100 ish miles to the state boarder and not least meet up for lunch with monica, a likeminded alarm fan who had been in touch via facebook once she heard my journey was going to take me through her hometown....

Arizona had other ideas. Once again a state had decided not to let me go easily... either that or this was so I had truly earned santa monica pier. So Arizona let the headwinds rip. The first 30 miles to Kingman were without doubt the worst I have ever experienced on a bike. Worse than new mexico. Initially I managed 8 miles per hour but as the hours went past 6 was the best it got. The scenery... nope cant tell you much about that as my eyes were fixed to the tarmac and my teeth were gritted. When I did look up it was into a haze of dust thst the wind had kicked up. The first 10 miles were either into a headwind or a sidewind, so vicious that several times I was almost blown off my bike.
These conditions had the advantage of making me forget the small problems from yesterday. 
It is herevthat I will introduce you to the concept of catch up miles becsuse for about 5 miles I was lucky enough that the road turned, turning the sidewind into a tailwind for a brief, hopeful moment. Catch up miles are where you have bedn going slowly for some reason, be it bad road surface, headwind, or gradient. Then for a period of time,  conditions improve. This is where you must go down to the drops, put your head down and put as much effort in as possible to go as far and as fast as possible before the conditions change for the worse again. So for those few delightful miles, I was racketing along at 20 mph... didnt kadt and because I knew the route, I knew I would be facing this headwind for the rest of the day.
The last 10 miles of this stretch, into kingman, I could barely reach walking pace (you know its not great when the tumbleweed is hurtling straight at you) and was getting mouthfuls of dust that had been kicked up. I must have looked so wretched that a kind lady in her truck, offered me her condolances (she had done some cycling) and offered me a lift into town. I explained why I couldnt, at which point she apologised that she didnt have any food or drink to give me... This encounter boyed my spirits for the next 5 mins, by which time I was back to shouting obsceneties at the wind. The sign for macdonalds was a welcome sight, even though it must of taken me 15 mins to cover a few hundred yards, so strong was the wind at this point.  I sunk into a dennys, absolutely exhausted. Every fibre of my being had just about reached breaking point and then stretched beyond it. More than that, I couldnt see how on earth I was going to get to oatman, where monica lived, before dark, never mind the border.
I phoned monica, trying to convert a plan a to plan b in my head. Now monica and I had never met, but without hesitation, she offered me a bed for the night if I could get to oatman, as there is no motel there. I was so grateful for the offer, as it meant I didnt have to stop in kingman or put any other plan in my head, into action. If I stopped at oatman, I would be a little short on mikes but not as disastrously as it could be and with a better day tomorrow, I might make up time.
I knew it was the right decision when a kind gentleman told me that the winds would be better tomorrow.

So having eaten, and some determination restored, I set off again, knowing that the next 30 would probably be as bad... I wadnt disappointed. I knew thanks to monica, that I had about 20 miles of flat before a steep climb over the pass. Which would have been fine, if the wind hadnt continued to gust, (apoarently up to 55mph).  The road wasnt great condition either, which didnt help, and I continued to struggle onwards, hitting the lowest I had felt this entire trip.  I keot the pedals turning, occasionally stopping to try and admire the view. As got closer to the mountains, the desert floor got more rockier and less sandy than previous, and I kept my eye out for interesting creatures, even hopping off my bike and going back to photograph a (dead) snake!
Losing the will, I made it to the foot of the pass. The climbing was ok, and once in amongst the mountains, I was somewhat shrltered from the wind... but it was all taking too much time and sunset was fast approaching.
The road wound up the side of the mountain rocks, no barrier in many places so was being extra careful. About half way up I stopped at a gift shop (lol) and met geaorge the manager,  who was kjnd enough to give me a coke and offer me a chair,  but not before calling me crazy!
I only sst for 5 mins, aware time was ticking on and pushed on. The road was stunning with mountains towering to either side, but as I finally reached the top, the sun was dropping behind the horizon.  Downhill catch up time right... eerrr nope. The gradient was steep, I had my brakes on full and was picking my way round the u turn bends. By this time it was getting hard to see, so eventually as night fell, I got off my bike.

I knew oatman wasnt that far and it was becoming dangerous to continue on the descent. So I walked the final 2 miles,  until I saw lights in the road, and monica calling out my name. Man was I grateful!
Monica turned out to be a bubbly kindhearted person, who made me feel so welcome in her home, and along with her children and her husband, deserves a medal for just accepting a stranger into their midst for the night. Not only that but I got to see all their pets, includjng loads of small frogs.... very cool.
As I write this I am knackered and desperate to sleep, knowing it will be another long day tomorrow.. the forcast is supposed to be better tho and I remain hopeful. So another day done, catch up hopefully tomorrow, then just 2 more days of this crazy adventure!

So I hit the lowest of the low, but maybe for good reason, cos I got to spend time with monica and get to know her, instead of the quick coffee planned... fingers crossed for tomorrow... nite all

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Day 20 - The road has a power that creeps into your soul...

0600 Bloody freezing... ok not Texas panhandle freezing but not far off it. Sunrise hasn't happened yet and am all packed and ready to go, but have to wait until 0630 and diner opening time.. bit frustrating but im dying and I mean dying for a cup of coffee. This morning I woke up at 0430 to give me enough time to get the last things packed,  catch up with fb etc ... I was so tired, not sure this day off malarkey has done me any good as I feel out of sync with everything and my body has decided that it quite liked doing nothing for a day or two!
So there I was waiting for this diner to open, knowing that my day consisted of two parts... 40 miles to Seligman on the interstate, then leave the interstate to take the loop of route 66 up to Peach Springs.

It was all downhill from now right! Having had breakfast the first climb of the day was up and out of Williams. I felt a tinge of sadness leaving this place, the only place I have stayed in this long, but glad to be back on the road... I had missed the whirring of my wheels, the exhilaration of descents and even the struggle of the climbs. As soon as I started out, something was wrong... not a puncture this time, but the feel, the balance of it. Its difficult to describe to non cyclists, but its like when you think there might be ice on the road, and you dont quite trust your car as much in the corners or when braking. Sometimes it happens for a bit when you get a new bike and it handles slightly differently,  not so you could explain how,  it just doesnt feel the same. Perhaps id packed my panniers slightly differently or maybe the weight of souvenirs was unbalancing my bike... it felt skittish, which is ok going slowly uphill....

..... but not so great on the first downhill of the day (I know I know,  never happy right). It didnt help that as promised this was a long downhill section, with a steep gradient and that somewhere in the recesses of my mind I was thinking about the overturned lorry a few weeks back.  I had a choice, just go with the hill and get it over and done with or go really really slowly. I chickened out and went slowly, brakes on close to full.  Now any cyclists out there laughing at me... its one thing to descend at 50 mph on a light road bike, another with a stable loaded bike at 30mph and quite another prospect altogether when your bike feels unstable on the flat!
So I went down at about 14mph, half speed basically,  and not only that but the descent absolutely froze me, and now we are talking panhandle frozen. In the space of about 15 miles I descended close to 2000 feet and by the time I got to the bottom I was shivering uncontrollably.  Ok so I should have probably put on my gloves and windproof before the descent, not after, but you live and learn and frankly id been pretty scared so was happy with the living part!

As any cyclist worth their lycra knows, what goes down, must and invariably does go up and passing up through Ash fork on the way to Seligman, I was actually relieved not to be descending. Ash fork is a very small town, with 1 monument to Route 66 that i saw, and that's pretty much it... so before long I was again on the interstate,  climbing slowly westwards. Fortunately the sun had started to heat up the day and with every foot I had descended it got noticeably warmer so that soon I was pretty warm.

The other advantage of descending is that I could once again sing along to my ipod... it has been a pretty good judge of how high I am.. above 6000 feet, cant sing and cycle... below is all good, unless you happen to be some poor passer by!
This invariably cheers me up, loudly singing along to drunk and disorderly and another country etc.
Seligman appeared very quickly.. it had taken me just under 3 hours to cover  40 miles, which with picture stops isnt bad.

Seligman is apparently where Route 66 began and is basically a street full of gift shops and cafés proudly displaying the route 66 logo. I stopped in the Roadrunner cafe, happy because it was just 11 am and I had already done half distance!

I got coffee and a snack and wandered round the gift shop... to my delight saw nothing I wanted to buy, either for myself or someone else and left without adding to my pannier weight. I also didnt stop at any other shops, except to take a picture of the roadkill cafe, where apparently they will cook any fresh roadkill you bring in....

So onto the old route66 road, and to my surprise it was in good condition but, yup, you guessed it, it went up and up, and up. Not steeply but climbing nonetheless but given that I wasnt stressed about making it to peach springs before dark and the scenery was so pretty, none of this mattered. Basically this part of the route kinda follows the rim of the grand canyon and it is reasonably close, but what made it so good to stare at was the shining golden colour of the desert grass that set off the bright blue sky. Every now and then at the top of a small descent i would get a glimpse of the valley I was heading towards with more mountains in the distance. The air was fresh with a slightly cool breeze and I was pretty happy with life. Scary descents long forgotten, I was getting the feel of this different machine and gaining more confidence in it on the short descents....

I didnt take many photos basically because it would have been pretty much the same photo, but hope they give an idea. Whilst I was cycling along, every 10 to 15 minutes a car would drive by, often with the driver turning to look at me mouth agape... I find this really funny, dont they ever see people on a bike? It got me thinking about my mode of transport though and why I love it so much, and why I cant understand why people think its crazy to cycle across the usa. These people in their cars are often on their mobiles, or just gazing at the road ahead, oblivious to the work of art that surrounds them... okay, they might get to stop at all the tourist attractions, but why pay to see something when you are surrounded by beauty (grand canyon the exception) and even if they do occasionally glance out of their side window, do you really appreciate the view as much if you cant breathe in the fresh air and smell the fresh grass... I dont think you can, and finally i think it goes back to my previous blog statement of nothing worth having is easily won... I know how much more I appreciate a view across a valley if I have put in the effort to get up a hill to see it!

Now today has been a pretty easy day right?  Only 80 miles, some downhill and no wind... well that would be correct if it wasnt for the other problem. At the risk of embarrasing some of you, I feel it is only right to share the bad bits as well as the good, and the following is a fact of life for cyclists... chafing... not good. Couldnt sit on the saddle for more than 5 mins in the last 20 miles, which led to more stops and the last 10 miles took twice as long as they should have. Maybe this is why professionals have 3 week long grand tours and not 4. It wasnt a huge problem today with such short mileage but the next 2 days could be long anyway without having to deal with that...oh well, just have to see how it goes I suppose!

I pulled up to Peach Springs at 1530, to find the one and only place to stay... hulapai lodge, which cost an arm and a leg.. even with the armed forces discount they gave me.. still it is a nice room, good early breakfast, a fitness room opposite my room... which led me to thinking.... more about that possibly later!

So another day done and after 2 rest days, fantastic as they were, especially thanks to louize and mark, the road has crept into my soul and im glad to be heading westwards on it once again.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Rest day 3 - I breathe the air...

A good friend, Mickey, said to me about today 'live every minute, breathe every breath and take in every heartbeat of scenery'. I hope I did and will try to describe the experience adequately but I fear I will fail...

But first start at the beginning...
I woke up early as usual, keen that today would live up to the expectation. I had everything ready, water, cameras, prayer flags, first aid kit (well it would be typical of me to have come this far and then trip over the edge) and waited for Louize and Mark to come and pick me up. I used to work with Louize and they had moved out here a year ago. On hearing about my trip they had offered to be emergency contacts and we had arranged to meet up. They had kindly offered to take me on a day trip to the Grand Canyon, the point I had been cycling so hard to get to on time to enable me to have a day off for a visit.
Whilst waiting I caught up with facebook, read, played bejewelled,  anything to keep me occupied. I felt like a child again, who had woken up too early on christmas day and had to wait to open presents!
Slightly before the agreed time, message of we are here, filtered through and I went out to greet them, in my cycling shorts no less. (My shorts were not fit to wear any more due to having no backside to them whatsoever!) I find it difficult to say how fantastic it was to see someone (technically) from home. Almost as good were the shorts, (and I have just had an oh shit moment as I have realised, in the excitement of the day, I forgot to give them any money for. Louize I will pay you back!) which fitted perfectly and are going to be great to cycle in.

I took them to the diner in which I had breakfast yesterday, and felt almost like a regular. I probably spoke to much and babbled on, due to the fact that I havent spoken to too many people since being on the road and it was soooo nice to see them. We argued over the cheque,  I lost that one, before heading to the car and settling in for the shortish drive. It would have taken me most of the day to get there by bike, but the miles whizzed by, with me still talking 19 to the dozen! Sorry guys!

Before long we pulled up to the park entrance, I won that one, and we drove through to the car park... the weather was glorious, bright blue skies, sun but not too hot, mild breeze... couldnt have been any better. I briefly popped into the visitor centre but seemed funny to be standing there when just outside I could go and see the real thing. We strolled over and suddenly there it was....

It was funny, it didnt hit me at that moment really, but there I actually was. After all these miles....
The first thing I noticed was the beautiful colours in the rock, like the painted desert, perhaps more green in the colours. This stretched down and down and down to the canyon floor, which had more deep gashes in it, presumably where the rivers run, though you couldnt see them.  It was so big, the mind cant really comprehend the scale. Between the south rim, where we were and the north rim, were many individual peaks jutting up creating mini canyons within the whole. A sense of the millions of years passing as this canyon was carved out could be felt in your bones.
Now as I was a tourist too, what im about to say is slightly hypercritical, but we were surrounded by people and I think that is why it didnt have the initial impact that the painted desert had had on me.. we decided to head down into the canyon on the bright angel trail, which starts off as a reasonably minimal gradient but gets steeper as you go down... it was here that we gradually lost the crowds and descended to a more peaceful place. Here is when I found it hit me, where I was, the significance of how far I had come and more importantly what it meant to me to be taking the flags here.
The flags,  on which there are now many names on, have become tied to me and this journey. Many of the people whose names are on these flags, I have never met, but they have become tied to me now as we have shared this journey together.  Some are of family who have supported me in this crazy wonderful adventure and some are friends. All are important to me, and I never realised how much until now.
I have carried the flags tied to my bike up until today, when I took them off and carried them around my neck. I was petrified of them blowing away or falling off and continuously was checking that they were safe. I found a good spot and took photos of the individual flags with the words Love Hope and Strength.

With every step down into the canyon I felt more and more the enormity of this place, it dwarfs everything and everyone in it and around it. The walls start to rise up above your head and the drop below still seems a long way down. The strata in the rock mark the passing of millions of years and yet we have barely touched the surface of exploring this place.
I feel pulled downwards, even as I know we must turn back sometime, the trail pulls at my soul, calling me to lose myself in the trees and the rocks below. One day I am determined to come back, with a tent, and keep descending, maybe cross to the other side on foot, but today I must turn back.....

We went slowly back up, it was steep, I was not wearing good walking shoes and the altitude made itself felt. In fact I was wearing the kind of poor quality footwear I often criticise others for wearing up mountains. On top of that I had jarred my injured foot and it was now hurting again. However none of this could take away the magic of this place and when stopped, and the gaze turned once more to the view, it was like seeing it for the first time again, like a reminder that it was still there.

We eventually crested the top and after a well deserved coffee, decided to walk along the rim. At one of the viewing points I stood on a rock with my hands held high, facing the canyon for the photo below. Wham ... it's hit me then, where I was and once again another little piece of me broke away and remained at that spot.. not literally obviously.. dont worry!

The sun was much lower in the sky now, casting shadows in the canyon,  giving a greater sense of depth and perspective. If possible it made it look grander, more ancient, more timeless than before. Breathing in the fresh air, smelling the pine that surrounded us amd fixing my eye on the view to imprint every moment on my brain, before the bus drew up to ferry us away and back to 'civilisation'.

It was time to go back to Williams but it was not with regret for I am certain that I will come back here to explore and discover more...
We soon found ourselves in an oddly quaint restaurant,  with a Swiss chef where I got pasta for the first time in this trip and is of note mainly for the exquisitely prepared apple strudel!

Too soon it was time to say goodbye to Louize and Mark, and face forward, westwards, to LA and the final phase of my journey. I once again had a pang of homesickness for family and friends but restlessness to get going on the road. In williams I have found kindness and friendship and thanks to louize and mark have had a day that will be cherished in my memory.....

So as I prepare for tomorrow I ask that you keep sharing this blog, spreading the word and donating if you feel you can. Your support will propell me the final 500 ish miles as it has carried me to this spot.
If you donate dont forget there is time to add a name to the flags for the final leg to Santa Monica Pier and help support the fantastic work of Love Hope Strength Foundation.. www.justgiving.com/Route66LHS

Mickey's words ring in my ears as ones to continue to live by and as I turn my eyes to the road tomorrow, I will start with a breath of the fresh air around me.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Rest day 2 - Life can be beautiful sometimes

Part 1
Second rest day and it was a bit wierd waking up ... (without alarm at 0600) with the knowledge that I didnt have to pack up and get on the road. What the hell was i going to do all day? Well I had some ideas but I wanted to wander around williams, pick up some more presents,  find an atm, sort out my stuff,  catch up with facebook and then see how much time I had left in the day. There was no breakfast offered at this place as far as I could see so I pulled on my shorts, which are on their death bed and wandered down to the diner ....
Sitting at the diner, listening to 60s classic rock and roll hits, drinking coffee, was when I felt myself relax into the day. I had thought of finding something big to do, maybe go to the bear park a few miles out of town, but as I sat here, it was quiet and I felt the need to rush around dissolve into the ether... why not take it a bit easy?

Before I relate about my walk around town, I feel the need to write an obituary...

In memory of black shorts: served their purpose well, eventually worn down untill all that was left was a waistband and pockets.. protected modesty for as long as able and new venting system worked well in the heat of the day...

So long, you may be thrown away but never forgotten

Replacement arrives tomorrow!

Having had a great breakfast I wandered up the main street. Williams is a small town and it was pretty quiet this morning, the sun was already shining brightly and I felt so pleased to be here, already beginning to feel the excitement of what tomorrow will bring. The main street of williams is split into 2 one way streets, next to the railway line that transports people to the Grand canyon. I toyed briefly with the idea of hopping on the train but dismissed the thought as soon as I had it... I really wanted to see the Grand Canyon for the first time with friends and felt it might spoil tomorrow if I went there now, besides all good things come to those who wait, right?
I went into the information centre to ask about where I could comfortably cycle within a few miles of here, to keep the legs going round . I was very glad I did. I saw a t shirt, with the following written on it...

Advice from a canyon
Carve out a place for yourself
Aspire to new plateaus
Stand the test of time
Dont get boxed in
Listen to the voice of the wind
Its ok to be a little off the wall
Reach deep!

It struck a chord with me.. it kinda sums up this journey... needless to say I bought it, which set the tone for the rest of the morning lol.

I also met a lovely lady called Jan, who was very helpful in advice about where I could cycle, some stuff on the route coming up and suggested I head over to williams newspaper office to tell them about my bike ride and Love Hope Strength Foundation!
I duly did this and spent 15 minutes chatting to a reporter about how I became involved with LHS, what the charity does and about the bike ride... fingers crossed it will help spread the word!

I continued my wanderings, in and out of souvenir shops... by the end of the morning I think I will need some more panniers, every shop I went in I saw a good present for someone! I was even more happy with how the day was turning out after a visit to Addicted to Route 66, where I met several nice gentlemen.  Jeremy (hope I have his name right) the shop manager, was very interested in the ride and the charity and we were joined in chat by Al, who had some great insights! When I told him that my friends were worried about me getting killed by an axe murder he said that they neednt worry because around these parts, 'we just shoot them'!

Now in Tulsa I was somewhat surprised to learn that people just walk around with guns, here they most definately do, because al pointed out that he was carrying his gun.
On learning how cold I had been on the texas panhandle he said that people said 'the only thing between the panhandle and the north pole is a barbed wire fence and sometimes even that has been knocked down'!
He was a real character and provided insight into americans and permits to carry weapons, for example here in Arizona, you dont need a permit as long as you dont plan to do any crime with it... it was very wierd for me to try and understand the gun culture that exists here but trying!

Meeting these two people once again made my day... I spent at least half an hour chatting and it was a pleasure to meet them. They also told me that there is a lot of downhill (once id climbed up out of Williams of course) which further fuelled the belief that I might actually make it.  In some ways it feels as though I have, as Williams and the Grand Canyon have been such a big aiming point for me, I have now definately crossed the highest point, and have reached a big target actually on schedule.
I have to keep reminding myself that I still have over 500 miles still to go until I reach santa monica pier.

Also in this shop was a picture of James Dean with the quote
Dream as if you'll live forever
Live as if you'll die today...

Finally from this shop, ive seen the world's largest rocking chair, and now ive seen the world's largest Route 66 sign lol... another to add to my collection.

I spent the rest of the morning wandering round, in and out of souvenir shops, as you do, stopped myself from buying the John Wayne loo roll - its rough, its tough, it doesnt take the crap off of anyone! But added to the weight of the next 500 miles - its all downhill from here, more weight is a good thing..... ?
One of the shops I walked into, Native America, had some beautiful handicrafts made by native americans and it was here that I met 'Sam, I am' who was clearly passionate about the art and crafts in the shop. It was lovely to meet you Sam and I definately will be back one day!

Eventually I ran back to my motel, mainly in order to avoid spending more dollars. I wrote this half of the blog now, while eating hersheys (not tired of it yet) and deliberating what to do with the rest of the day. My choices, a short cycle to the Kaibab national forest,  to keep the legs going round and stave off the restlesness I am starting to feel, or to the bear park, or just download a film and chill out.. what do you reckon?


Part 2

i was sitting writing the first part of the blog , when there was a knock at the door and a message to phone Sam at the Native American store, i had left something behind.. cursing myself for being careless, i rang the number she had left, spoke to sam and arranged to drop by on my way out on my bike ride... yup thats right, on my day off i had decided to get back on my bike, mainly to keep my legs in tune for sunday and not sieze up. So about half an hour later, i pulled back up to the store and went in, asking sam what i had been stupid enough to leave behind. Her response surprised me... 'you havent forgotten anything but I wasnt sure you would come back and I wanted to give you something'. With that she pulled out several beautifully made necklace/wristchains and asked me to pick one. She explained that they were ghost beads, traditionally given to Navajo children to provide protection from evil spirits. I was so touched by this gesture, yet again a complete stranger had shown generosity and kindness of spirit. This journey has reinforced my faith in human nature, my belief that most people are good and Sams gesture epitomised that in full. I immediately had them wound round my wrist, which is where they will stay (until i go back to work), hopefully serving their purpose.

once i had said thank you and goodbye to Sam, i set off to 4th street, where Jan had suggested i go on a cycle ride. My bike was unencumbered by paniers and my rucksack was light. I felt freer than i have on this ride yet, with possibilities opening up as the road stretched out (and of course up) in front of me.
once i had cleared the houses, a lake with a dam came into view with mountains towering above. The evening sunlight poured down onto the surface of the water, but i kept going, keen to at least put a few miles in today. The road wound up through a pine forest and i was mainly alone on the road. The only sound was my wheels whirring round, the crickets and the birds singing in the evening warmth. I could smell the pine trees which flanked the road and felt somewhat like an intruder on this peaceful scene, like i was disturbing the air through which i rode.  I kept onwards and upwards until a couple of miles later, the forest opened out into a golden coloured meadow, shining in the rays of the sun. I stopped still and stood there, breathing in the clean, fresh air, letting it invade my senses.  
Eventually i turned round for 2 miles of freewheeling back down to the lake, where I hopped off my bike and set myself down on the shore. The sun was starting to dip behind the mountains and the water was dazzling and rippled  in the slight breeze. I had found yet another place on this journey where i could have set myself down forever, it was that enchanting. I sat here, reading my book and watching the sun go down until i got slightly cold, so set off back to town. Before long i found myself in a pizza house, yes Chris Summerrill, a pizza house and eyes bigger than stomach ordered a medium size pizza... once again i was unable to finish so boxed it up and went back to the motel... one stop at the fudge shop (sorry mum, couldnt bring any back!) and then sitting writing this.

tomorrow i get to see the Grand Canyon.. by all acounts it will take my breath away... but surely even this sight will not compare to the kindness and friendship shown by strangers that i have been lucky enough to receive today.

Life is definately beautiful

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Day 19 - Nothing worth having is easily won : Walk on and be strong

The day began like many others on the road, early start, breakfast, feeling good after the last 2 days that went so smoothly.  My foot had stopped hurting when I walked and my knees didnt cause me to groan when I got up from the breakfast table... so far so good.
Once outside, it was reasonably warm, relatively speaking, due to the cloud that had sprung up overnight. It was a bit dreary looking but there was no rain and more importantly no wind.
As soon as I started to cycle though, it quickly became clear that I had either left my legs behind in windslow or sent them on ahead to williams, as they werent keen on pushing on, up out of windslow and towards my rest days. I also had a possible detour for today, should I think I could make an extra 12 miles and as I groaned up the first hill of the day, I wondered whether it would be a good idea or not.
My detour was about 20 miles away and as I once again headed towards the shadowy outline of the mountains, the cloud and a bit of mist made them seem more mysterious somehow and had dampened the bright colours of the desert scrub to pale imitation yellows, reds and browns.
I reached the turn off point for the detour and made the decision to go for it... and almost immediately regretted it because I was now heading into the wind, going south on a road that was as up and down as anything I had yet encountered. My legs were screaming at me to give up and do the sensible thing of turning round and heading back to i40.. but I pushed on, given that I had already gone 2 miles and it would be for nothing if I didnt reach my goal... so I continued with the bad idea, cursing myself loudly with every increase in gradient. Eventually I reached my destination, to find a hill so steep that even my lowest gears bought little relief.
I had arrived at the meteor crater! Once at the visitors centre, I paid an extortionate amount, especially since it had only cost me $3 to get into the painted desert, and was offered the lift....

Bit of background for those that dont know...
For a leadership course at work I had to lead a change in the workplace... somehow I managed to get a climbing the stairs to work scheme approved, and managed to persuade many (but not all) to take part and climb the 6 flights of stairs to work for 6 weeks...
So knowing what kinda comments id get from many of my colleagues if they knew id taken the easy option, I climbed the stairs, grinning to myself as I did so... now they would have no excuse good enough (amelia parker take note!)
At the top, I walked to the rim of the crater and stared down... I had thought it was going to be big obviously, but it was Big!  The statue of liberty would easily fit in it, it is so deep. It was pretty impressive....
I was naturally on a time limit and really there is only so much time you can stare at a big hole in the ground... so soon it was time for me to set off again, knowing that I had 6 miles before I was back on track again. This 6 miles was slightly better, being slightly more downhill but with my legs misbehaving, it took a while and a lot of effort to get back to the interstate.
I had thought to myself that it was only another 38 miles to Flagstaff and I could do that by 1pm or so... how wrong I was!  Because I had lost quite a few feet since the continental divide, it was now time to regain them.. the road went up and up and up. My legs were gone and with them my head was on the slippery slope to following them. I was in a world of hurt, my foot, which had recovered a bit was now complaining vociferously, the sun was coming out, making me really hot and bothered, although the new venting system in my shorts was working a treat! The mountains were looming larger and the desert like floor was passing me by without so much as a glance because everything hurt. My backside was not liking any position on the saddle and I was constantly shuffling around to try to get comfortable, to no avail. It was not the most pleasant 38 miles I have ever done and I began to wonder whether I would make williams by nightfall.

Despite the pain, I was still dodging debris, even bits of grass, when I took a closer look.... stick insects everywhere! I stopped right next to one, picked him up, named him Sid and got him to pose reluctantly for a photograph.  This done, I released him and set off, now painfully aware that as well as dodging debris and crickets, Sids friends would also have to be avoided. Just as well I was going so slowly. For at least 5 miles this took my mind temporarily of the pain.

During this time I also entered the coconino forest, which made me laugh, because their version of forest was slightly different to ours... basically slightly taller scrub bushes!

Then Sids friends were no more and I was back to my bubble of pain for company. I couldnt even sing along to my ipod as due to the increase in altitude that made me out of breath. After what seemed like days I reached the sign that heralded Flagstaff at 2pm... needed food... so stopped at a subway for a pizza.

I felt a bit self conscious walking in... I could hardly walk for a start, my shorts were now more of a waistband with pockets and I have wierd tan lines... quite a sight im sure, yet once again I encountered nothing but kindness and generosity from everyone. They gave me a free pizza and coffee and asked all about the ride.  I had been hoping that a short sit down and food would help me to recover sufficiently to make the last 30 miles... I kept telling myself that after flagstaff I would be on downhill trend to williams and it would be better..

I rolled, slowly, through Flagstaff,  which is nice enough but had nothing that jumped out at me, until I saw a cycle shop....
On the downhills I had had a brake rubbing issue, had adjusted the brakes but was still plagued by the noise... this meant it could be a spoke issue and they needed to be tightened to true the wheel. I could do this, I have the tool but its difficult without a stand to rest the bike on... so I swerved right into the shop, where the kind man adjusted it all, tightened the spokes and then refused payment! Result!

Of course I had to climb out of Flagstaff and the rest hadnt made things any better... I probably could have walked up the hill quicker,  but the pedals kept on turning and I gratefully rejoined the interstate. Still climbing up and up though, hardly noticing that I was now going through actual forest, tall pine trees on either side and the late afternoon sunshine pouring through the trees. Had I been in a good place head wise, I would have thought how lovely it was. Eventually I reached a sign proclaiming arrival at the Arizona Divide at 7335 feet. No wonder it had hurt, but did that mean I was going to get my reward for the effort....

I did for about 3 mins as the road plunged downwards on smooth tarmac. Gripping the handlebars at speeds of 31 mph on a loaded bike was fairly adrenaline filled and for those few minutes, everything was good again. I could appreciate the beauty of the view (didnt take a photo, would have ruined the reward!)

I tried desperately to continue the impetus on the uphill sections but my legs felt like stone and soon was back to crawling along...
It was generally better though, with more flat and down than up, but a new problem had arisen... the shoulder had become so broken up, it resembled a dried lava field, and battered my bike about badly. This made me slow down even more, damaging my bike or getting a puncture would have been the last straw at this point.
So the last 30 miles were slow progress, however I had relaxed about getting to williams before night fell and as a result started to enjoy what I was seeing... the pine forest on either side of the road was being lit up by the evening sun, the clouds were turning red and purple with the sunset and it was the nicest one I have seen since I have been here.

The relief when I got to williams was so high but once again, there was a sting in the tail of the day.. the road stretched up and over the railway in one last test of the legs. By now it was close to dark and I was desperate to get to the motel... but which one had I booked last night? I hoped I had remembered correctly when I drew up to the door but to my absolute dismay there was a sign with the words closed and a number to ring. When I did, I was directed further back down the road but fortunately it wasnt far.

I collapsed into a decent room with almost no energy left,  in fact I found it difficult to turn the door handle I was so tired!

I have blogged a lot about effort and reward, and it occurred to me that I needed another tough day, in order to truly earn and appreciate my 2 days off in williams and my Grand Canyon visit... which is the thought that  has stayed with me for most of the day. I really feel that I have earned every minute I spend in the canyon and it will mean so much more because I have worked hard for it. The same applies to everything in life, I think....


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Day 18 - All cards are marked and all fates will collide : Keep on Rocking in the free world

I opened my eyes this morning, looked at my watch and thought, oh shit!
It was 7am and I had overslept. Normally im just putting my feet in the pedals at this point and my plans for the day were already going awry!
It is testament to the practice I have had that I had packed up and had breakfast in 45 mins, desperate to be on the road... I was on a tourist mission today and the painted desert and petrified forest were my aim.

Just as I was putting on my helmet, I glanced through the glass windows to the lobby of the motel and caught sight of the clock... it was 6:55. Laughing to myself at not realising that once again I had gained an hour I set my feet on the pedals and set off.
The first thing I had to get past today, was the closed off bridge that led to the westwards I40 and windslow, my destination for the day, only 91 miles away! I walked tentatively up to the workman and begged to be let across, knowing that if they didnt let me, I would have to go east at least 10 miles in order to cross over. Once again, all worries were fruitless as I was not only let across, but personally escorted, and then wished a safe journey!

So set in my way, I pedalled for the customary half hour... my legs felt reasonable, despite the chill of the morning air, and once again, the breath of the wind was on my back and the sun was shining.  I soon warmed up but didnt stop long enough to discard layers as I wanted to cover the 20 miles to the petrified forest and painted desert national park quickly enough to spend some time there. I made really good progress, all the while watching out for another tarantula appearance (for barney sullivan and sarah kumari especially). The scenery started to change quietly, turning from scrub to more desert like red sand with mounds of rock sticking up from the ground. These rocks got bigger and more numerous but still nothing like that of the google pictures. Before I knew it I was at the exit for the national park and swung in... photo opportunities taken at the sign marking the entrance, I then made my way into the visitor centre. 
At the centre I took the opportunity to stamp my passport with stamps for both the desert and the forest and got chatting to one of the park wardens about the cycle ride.  Displayed were some of the petrified wood chunks, wood that was buried and turned to stone over many millenia and I then discovered that to see the wood in the park I would have to cycle towards the end of the loop, which was 28 miles, and then back again... too much time... but I could cycle to the viewing points a few miles away.. so I did. The painted desert jumps out at you, you go along the road, wondering where it is, go round a bend and stare out over a canyon, the walls of which are layers of colourful rock stretching down and down below you to the valley floor. I will try not to make up any superlatives (shamazing being one I will not use) but instead describe what I saw and leave the rest to your imagination...

The valley floor was a maze of dry rivulets, curving through a pale red sand. These rivulets were surrounded by pale green scrub, creating a patchwork effect.. this stretched out round smaller mounds of red earth and whiter rock to the edge of the canyon, where it met the rock walls. These walls had coloured layers of brown, grey, white and red stone, which stretched up to the point where I was standing. On the far side this contrasted with the golden scrub grass of the plains which was glowing in the early morning sunlight. I just stood and stared for what seemed like hours until I collected myself and started photographing the 180° panorama. Eager to escape the 'crowds' ( about 5 people)I got back on my bike and went to the next viewpoint.  Here I sat on the wall, listening to the sound  of the wind, and watching the crows hover on the thermals, deafened by the silence and overwhelmed by the peace.. no tears (yet)!

I was caught up by the crowds and having got a few photos standing on top of this creation of nature, being conscious of the miles still to cover, tore myself away, and freewheeled back to the visitor centre. On exiting, I was nearly lost to this place, as the park warden mentioned something about hikes down to the floor and a back country camping permit... I almost asked where I could leave my bike!

Head ruled the heart though and I made my way back to the interstate, shaking my head in disbelief of the experience I had just had. Some of the visitors had just driven up in their cars, snapped a few photos from inside and driven off again... what a way to miss out!
Before I left I bought supplies for the day at the gas station and whilst there bumped into Marty, who had unfortunately lost a family member to leukemia recently and donated to the ride... thankyou.

My bext waypoint was the town of Holbrook, another 20 miles or so away... but once again this flew past, with music and the rock walls to keep me company, not all downhill, but at a good speed nonetheless.  I arrived there in time for lunch and stopped once again at Dennys.
Here, probably because of my appearance... torn, dirty shorts, wierd tan lines, helmet dented hair... I was asked about where I had come from, whst I was doing so took a few minutes to spread the LHS word. After exiting the restrooms, I discovered a gentleman called Bob, who had clearly waited for me. He had overheard my conversation and wanted to know more. On top of that he also donated to the ride... another kind act to a total stranger. I shook his hsnd and set off again, through Holbrook to rejoin the interstate. I felt totally carefree, relaxed about making the last 60 miles in time as the conditions were perfect. This meant I stopped frequently to take photos and gaze out at the view. Of course with every stop, I scanned the ground for movement in hope, but it was not to be today.

Marty had warned me that I would be climbing up to 7000 feet, he seemed taken aback that this did not worry me, until I explained that I had already passed 7295 feet at the continental divide. So the road wound gradually upwards, but not in any way that remotely troubled my legs... it was at this point that I was reminded that I was on an interstate when a lorry veered onto the shoulder, but onky briefly but it served as a reminder to stsy aware.

During the  next 30 miles, there were consrant billboards inviting me to go andcsee the worlds largest petrified tree. I ummed and ahhhed about whether to stop again,  but found I couldnt resist,  having seen the worlds largest rocking chair and here comes the story in the title to today's blog. I drew up to the tree, took some photos and touched the ancient stone for luck. I then wandered in to the  shop. Here I met two more lovely people, Angelena Tracas and Jsnice Boeman, who seeing that I had arrived by bike, gave me a can of coke and asked about the ride. I was telling the story of Love Hope Strength Foundation and how I became involved, when I stopped and listened. On the radio playing was Keep on Rocking in the free world.... Now for those unfortunate souls who have not been introdeced to the music of The Alarm, this song was recorded by Mike Peters, the founder of the charity, and The Alarm in the 80s.... it was part of the Raw Album that my dad had given to me to listen to when I was a teenager... it was the song that had begun this journey.. in so much that it led me eventually back to The Alarm and to Love Hope Strength years later. All fates will collide... it appeared in thar moment that they had. I dont believe in signs really, but this is as close as I have ever come to thinking that this journey was somehow meant to be. Needless to say, my eyes started watering, (a bad habit lately) and my hands shook slightly as I tried to explain myself. It seemed I had come full circle.. it was very wierd but it is a moment on this journey that will stay with me!

I rejoined the interstate with about 25 miles to go until Windslow... it went along quickly as I was staring into the distance.  Stretching out in front of me was the road, shimmering in the heat, and above that an outline of mountains... these were the mountains of The Grand Canyon and it seemed that I was being drawn towards them, even as they were whispering my name.

I arrived at Windslow, pitched up at a Best Western and set about organising a few things for rest days in Williams, a starting point for many on the visit to The Grand Canyon. I phoned a friend again, snd it was with great delight that I have organised to see the canyon with Louize and Mark evans, who are also bringing me my much needed replacement shorts. A helicopter flight seems to be out of the question at present but I have decided to let my other rest day go where it will take me, although out and about is not in doubt, doing what remains a mystery....

So this evening now has become one for admin, washing clothes, booking my hotel in wiliams and generally sorting shit out so that I can make the most of my 'rest days' and see some more of this great state.

My card has been marked and all fates collided today leaving me astounded once again!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Day 17 - spiritual regeneration every single time we breathe

Well last night and this morning saw me mending stuff! Yesterday, I forgot to mention in my blog that I had been having severe trouble unclipping my feet from the pedals. For the uninitiated  basically I have metal bits on the bottom of my shoes that click into the pedals and to unclip, before you get to a standstill preferably, you have to twist your foot.
My left foot hurts severely whenever I do this so I have tried to use my right foot, which is fine until it stops working. Basically throughout the whole of yesterday, both feet took turns to refuse to unclip, no matter how hard I twisted or pulled.... this, as you can imagine is not ideal, especially for unplanned stops, and the risk of ending up on your backside is a very real one. So I spent most of the latter part of the day, cycling with one foot permanently unclipped, which destroys power transfer from your legs to the pedals.... right thats the technical part done... basically they were broke so with advice over fb from chris summerrill and fortunately a spare pair of cleats, I changed them... only by getting on my bike could I assess if that had solved that one!

This morning saw me with needle and thread, trying to sew my shorts back together... hmmm, lets just say my mum's needlework skills did not rub off on me!

So once again, an early breakfast, which saw me chatting to another trucker, only this time he was telling me how dangerous the interstate was and how people do get killed. Well yes, but if I had worried about that too much, I would have never set foot on my bike. Nevertheless, his words were ringing in my ears when I set off.

I was a bit stressed this morning, I took too long to pack up and my planned point of stoppage seemed not to have anywhere to stay, meaning I had to cycle further than planned, fine but I was now late in setting off.. I had asked the receptionist what the road was like... upwards until gallup, then good from then. I did take this with a pinch of salt though!

So off I went, having first checked unclipping... it worked hooray.... aiming to get to Gallup by middayish, 60 miles away.  Naturally the road climbed up out of town  but once again, the gradient was ok.  I had seen the weather report before I set off and knew temperatures were close to freezing so had my gloves and jacket on already. And boy was it cold... my toes went numb after 10 minutes, even with the climb.  I cycled for about half an hour at an easy pace, to acclimatise the legs for the rest of the day, then stopped to take my usual morning picture. The sky was clear, no wind again (what had I done to deserve 2 days in a row) and once at the top of the climb, I reached a plateau of scrub with some rugged outcrops of rock in the distance, which the morning sunshine lit up. The railway was running beside the road and it made me feel as though I had been transported back in time, however briefly, to the day when the railroadhsd been the main means of travel across this vast country.
In the 60 miles to Gallup, I considered what to write in this blog as it looked as though the day was just going to be an a to b day, with nice scenery but boring to read about... I came up with road debris as a topic... of which I have become quite a conisseur. Apart from dead animals (and a deer, an owl and a cat can be added to the list now) most of the debris seems to have flown off lorries, wheel rim, bits of tyre, hooks, bungees and rope, all seem to be flying off at a great rate, which led me to wondering whether I would be unkucky enough to get hit at some point... thinking Massa in F1.
I hopped off the interstate on to the frontage road, and am so glad I did, because I met another crazy fool, I.e another touring cross country cyclist. This was the first one I had met since I started and we swopped road stories for a while. So nice to meet someone else travelling the road and this was one of the incidents that made this day the best one since starting! I told him stories of large crickets and he in turn told me about tarantulas, perhaps slightly surprised by my gleeful reaction.
Shortly after this, as I was dodging debris, I saw movement, swung my bike round it and registered 8 furry legs and an unmistakable, live tarantula. I was so surprised, that I kept going, before thinking that I should have stopped to take a photo. But by the sounds of it, I should see a few more, but this was another piece to add to making up a great day.

The day was not without its difficulties,  and this section of hard shoulder was stony, gravelly, bumpy and generally more suited to a mountain bike. It was complete fluke that I didnt get a puncture, and although frustrating to be bumping along next to a smooth bit of road, I decided it was definately safer to remain where I was, rather than chance the main lane.

I stopped a fair few times to take photos, before reaching Gallup at around 1pm, in time for a cup of coffee and some food at Dennys and a chat with the lad who was serving me about bike trips and his dreams of one day going on a long one.
Gallup itself was quite a large town and I decided to cycle through to see any Route66 markers, of which there were none, the older part of the town was pleasant enough, but once again, nothing yelled out at me to stop and take a closer look. I was soon on the interstate, rolling westwards again and remember thinking to myself that it felt like I had broken the back of today's ride. Gallup is also home to what seemed like hundreds of prairie dogs, at least that's what I think they were.. and as I passed they dived for the safety of their burrows whilst leaving a head poking out to observe the ongoings!

Once out of Gallup, the scenery changed again. I was surrounded by rocky cliffs, rising up on either side as the road threaded its way round and through and ever upwards.
Even more spectacular as it went on, I lost myself once again to it. This majestic landscape continued as the miles disappeared under my wheels and once again I wish that I could describe the immenseness that dwarfed everything that man had made around it, enough to do it justice, but I cannot find the words.

Then I reached the continental divide, officially the highest point on this road at 7295 feet and the point where I began to feel phase three starting. From now on, the road would inexorably slope down to the pacific ocean. Thats not to say that there wouldnt be any more climbs to overcome, but rather I was now on the homeward straight. I was sooo chuffed, I went and bought a souvenir!

As I span along, the mile markers were counting down to the state border and here I have to give people that do not know me well, insight into me, in order to give more meaning to what follows..... I tend to keep my emotions inside me and deal with them quietly ( I think thats a fair assessment of myself)... I dont like outbursts of emotion, it can make me angry with myself. I dont criticise others who do, but its just not me.

So that said, I continued along, counting down to mile 0. As I approached the boarder I had to choke back tears, that were threatening to blind me (not good whilst going downhill at 25 mph). The surroundings, the passing through the continental divide and the approach to my 7th state after over 1500 miles once again overwhelmed me. This was the point where I started to really believe that I might actually make it to the pier and justify the faith that has been shown in me by family and friends.

Just before I reached the state line, my hard shoulder ran out and I ended up going through the lorry weighing station, receiving waves as I did so. Made me laugh.
The Arizona state sign... another way point on this journey that has been filled with them. One more step closer to home....
Once into Arizona,  the rocky outcrops and cliffs receded into the distance, leaving a large plain of grassland and scrub bushes. 25 miles to go and my legs were infused with energy as the end of the day approached.

Arizona didnt make things totally easy and there were a few stiff climbs to negotiate on now tiring legs, but with plenty of time until sunset, I wasnt concerned and took my time. I sped past the ititial stopping point with the knowledge that by keeping going, I would for the first time this trip, actually be ahead of schedule. The petrified forest is coming tomorrow and with those extra miles done, I can look forward to some extra time to take photos there.
Those last 6 miles hurt.. and I do mean hurt! Over 220 miles in 2 days. Not wholly surprising. Also in the back of my mind was the worry that I hadnt seen an advertising billboard for the motel, unusual by this point. But relief came with three miles to go... wifi, shower and a bed awaited... if they had a room!

They did and I crawled into it, before changing and heading to the restaurant.... ate food, feel sick... have eaten too much today.

Whilst I was eating I was simultaneously reading a book about a woman who dared to dream big, and by big I mean massive. For 5 years she walked around the world in memory of her husband whom she had lost to cancer. Her story and others like it show that anything is possible, for anyone... you just have to let go of the fear in order to live.

So today I begin to believe...

Monday, 21 October 2013

Day 16 - I refuse to break.....

Last night I had to phone a friend for a favour.... my shorts have given up before me and lets just say, the only thing keeping me modest is the fact that I am wearing cycle shorts underneath! Thankfully she is kindly going to get me some for when we meet up, so thankyou Louize!
This morning when I woke... for some reason I had a huge bout of homesickness. Wether it was reading email and posts from family or friends or just because I had been physically and emotionally depleted yesterday, the fact was that i spent most of the morning thinking about different people at home and wishing they were here to see this place with me.

Anyway, after breakfast, I set off early, determined a) not to finish in the dark b) to catch up the lost miles and c) to get past albuquerqe before lunch... that place will haunt my dreams I swear. The morning was crisp and cold but looked like it was going to be sunny and although I hadnt dared to believe the weather channel, the wind was light to non existant! Bonus... but I wasnt going to take any chances... weather can change in the blink of an eye... so I set off with purpose. The climb out of Moriarty hurt as my legs hadnt warmed up and although gradual, I was steadily gaining a good amount of height.
It at least kept me warm and I had left off my long fingered gloves and waterproof jacket. I got to the top of the climb in a good time and started the descent...
It was long, winding, and dropped down a magnificent mountain pass and I thought that this was reward for getting up there.

My fingers hovered over the brakes as it was pretty steep in places and didnt want to take any chances.
I rounded a bend to find flashing lights so jammed on the brakes and slowly freewheeled past a lorry on its side, which had overturned and then slid along the barrier, so that the cab was in a ditch. This shook me up quite a bit. I have a particular dislike of lorries anyway due to being hit by one in a car on the m25, but this accident was pretty recent and it made me think that if I had been at that spot at the wrong time, I would have had no chance.  It reminded me that no matter how careful I am being, shit luck could always happen! I didnt really enjoy the rest of the descent, partly cos of the lorry but also i was bloody cold. I didnt stop to take pics, which was a shame, but just wanted to get the hell outta there, and to a nice warm cafe.

I eventually got to the bottom and pulled off at the first exit, found a macdonalds and got a hot coffee which made me feel better. I set off pretty quickly as wasnt yet at albuquerqe (which I need to put behind me and then can stop having to spell it).
When I did get to that place, I didnt hear any fanfare as I felt would gave been fitting. I have been trying to get here for three days, and I was sick of the place before I had even seen it.

As it was it had one main street running through it... the 'famous route66 nob hill' but apart from a bike lane and downhill to the centre, had nothing really worth stopping for. Paid in spades for the downhill on the way out but was so pleased to be leaving albuquerqe (last time of spelling that!), that it didnt matter. And once again, the view from the top, as well as the 'you are now leaving' sign made it worth it. 
On leaving, the scenery changed. Before there were scrub bushes and grassland but now this became sandy and fewer green shrubs.. more desert like and in the distance and to the sides rose escarpments of red rock, signalling the passage towards Arizona and canyonlands.
The road was up and down from here on in but in contrast to the preceeding 2 days, I was getting just reward for the uphill toil, downhill at speeds of 25mph and upwards, where the legs and arse got a bit of a break.  Once again I became lost in the view and thoughts of home. As i said in my earlier fb post, I am enjoying the adventure, but miss family and friends and feel lucky to have that to miss.
It was also at this point that I regret using up the superlatives too early in my descriptions as New Mexico is breathtakingly stunning. Everywhere I looked, there was a mountain in the distance, rising up from the desert like floor to a perfect blue sky. It was at this point that I managed a flag photo, because I felt that this was a place for a fitting tribute to the names on the flags.

I was in good spirits, it felt like the big part of the day was done, yet I still had 70 miles to go for plan A to work. The trouble was that I kept stopping to take photos wanting to imprint this place on my mind, the way I felt it had imprinted on my soul. Some places are like that... if you are lucky maybe more than one... in my case Switzerland and Poland and now New Mexico. All share a ruggedness in their beauty which I could appreciate.

Eventually I reached what I thought was my plan B point, but the time was good so decided to eat, only to discover that it was the next casino/hotel that was my plan B, and actually I was still 25 miles from plan A. Considering I had been motoring on the flat and downhill sections, this was a slight disappointment so i set myself a time limit to be back on the road. I reasoned that barring incident, I could easily do that in 2 hours which would be half 6 arrival. I sought local knowledge as to the gradient of the road.  The reply... well theres a big hill in about 4 miles but once that it done you should be fine!

When I set off again, I should have realised that when a car driver says big hill, a cyclist would have added the word very! However I set a good pace up it as it wound round the edge of one of the hills. Then downhill all the way... errr nope. Again a car drivers view very different, but gradually I saw the miles count down on roadsigns. At about 11 miles to go I was hit by a slight headwind and the sun was starting to fall.
I was also battling with 2 things... aside from the usual road debris I was also dodging what initially looked like scorpions but on closer, slower inspection turned out to be massive locusts/crickets. Then whilst trying not to squash them my left eye started stinging... suncream in the eye is not fun and for several miles I went along with one eye shut or blinking furiously to try and clear it. Amusing maybe, but not when you are on your last legs, and lorries are passing close, and the glare from the sun means the road is not easily seen! I was reluctant to stop but did so, cleared my eye and readied myself for the final push... Easier said than done after 103 miles of up and down. So it was more of a crawling pace that saw me into Grants and to the motel 8 that was waiting with beckoning doors.

Once settled in, I had a lovely phone call from work, which made me smile and cut through my weariness so thanks for that guys!

So I am now, for today at least, back on schedule and spending the night where I was supposed to. It was a mammoth day but today I have refused to break and been rewarded but end the day as I began, slightly homesick and feeling lucky!