Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Day 94 to 96 – to Phoenix, USA

23 to 25 June    Kms travelled – 23,799

I was really starting to get confused with the changes in time zones.  We´d already been across a few zones getting to the US, but to date the time changes had been resigned to international border crossings.  Having to change zones within a single country, somehow was causing more confusion to my electronic gear and my body clock.  Well, that was my excuse for the later than planned departure from El Paso!

It was still pretty early, however.  But as we left the city on the interstate I was already sweating and being buffeted by the swirly breeze that sought to squeeze through the city´s surrounding hills.  And it was still 5:00am!  Then it was onto the plains and calmer skies as we made some progress across New Mexico´s desert landscape.  I recorded a number of warning signs dotted along Interstate 10 highlighting the poor visibility in the area due to dust storms, and prayed that the wind would stay down until we had passed through the area.  Despite Idris and my somewhat grubby state, I had no wish to be sand blasted clean by the increasingly hot desert. 

I made a decision at Lordsburg...   well, that is not entirely true...  I made a decision about 10 kms after Lordsburg when the Interstate took a 90 degree left turn and exposed our side to the increasing wind.  But it wasn´t so much the side buffeting that caused me to pause (as we had been through worse), but rather the sight of a car and trailer around 300 meters ahead of me being flipped over twice by a gust that was channelled through a gap in the small hills that accompanied the road.  Luckily the driver was OK and once that was settled and emergency services on their way, I decided to retreat to Lordsburg and take the more scenic, older, and somewhat slower western highway (70) through the Apache reservation.  An inspired choice as while it added a couple of hours to my travels that day, it took me through some lovely green valleys, rolling hillsides and out of the way country towns that would have been missed in the midst of head down interstate driving.

As noted, the road also took us through the San Carlos Indian Reservation (a bizarre name for the home of a people that were traditionally neither Spanish speaking or Christian).  And this was pretty rough country.  It wasn´t rough on either Idris or I – we had good roads to travel after all.  But I couldn´t help thinking back to how this land would have been in the days when the reservations were imposed on the Apache.  The landscape was undulating, but seemingly without water or means of irrigation.  Consequently, plant or animal life was not immediately apparent.  No doubt the Apache were able to scratch out a life here, they did after all, but it must have been hard without access to modern technology and resources.  I couldn´t help thinking that they really did get the rough end of the stick, and perhaps this was justified motivation for some of the disquiet we have read about in US history.  That aside, it was nice to see them still here and I had an interesting chat with a couple of locals at a drinks stop just before exiting their lands (near a first nation owned casino complex which now provides much needed income and employment for the area). 

The road (60) took us onwards through Globe and some nice riding into the Tonto National Forest.  Now I couldn´t help giggle at the name.  Sorry, I know it is an Indian name as you will recall from the Lone Ranger TV series of years gone by.  But tonto also means stupid in Spanish – and I couldn´t help wondering if Hollywood knew that fact when naming the masked stranger´s sidekick? hmmm.  The main reasons for my giggles on entering the Tonto National Forest were, however, the apparent lack of any meaningful tree coverage!  There was an interesting display of medium sized shrubs and some nice rock formations – in fact the whole area was very pretty in a stark sort of way – but where were the trees?  A stupid forest indeed!   (I later discovered that most of the trees are further to the north).

The road down to the desert plains was great, and if anyone is in the area and seeking a good place for a road ride you could do a lot worse.  In fact, given the volume of bikes that passed it seemed to me that this was a favourite run for Phoenix based bike riders.  Because it was towards that big city we were now heading as the true heat of the Phoenix desert hit home.  I have never ridden in anything like it.  

Perhaps the city is well named as some sort of animal rising from the furnace-like desert in which it is placed.  I have previously described riding in hot countries as something like riding with a hairdryer blowing in your face – at least the Spanish lowlands in mid-summer can seem that way.  The only way I can describe that last hours´ ride into the Phoenix city suburbs was like riding with my entire body inside a fan oven!  I had to stop twice to take on fluids as I felt myself dehydrating by the minute, and it was only with relief that the GPS led me straight to my cousins’ home.

Catching up with family is always a pleasure, but particularly so when they are family members you haven´t seen for over 20 years.   It was also great to meet Maggie, Delany and Gracie for the first time (the latter having just celebrated her birthday – and who´s party I had crashed on my arrival).  They were cool enough to let me crash at their place for a few days much needed rest and recuperation.  Needless to say I had a great time chilling by the pool and enjoying the benefits of lovely air-conditioning.  Access to a washing machine was also a blessing, as my whole set of gear was starting to repel even my own somewhat numbed senses. 
Many long chats and talk of days gone by ensued, as I was treated to some fine hospitality.  And even Idris made a couple of new friends!  I was in much need of a rest day, not having had one since Guatemala, and I couldn´t have asked for a better place to recharge.  

I very much hope that Mrs Pat and I will have the opportunity to return the kindness shown in the not too distant future.  Thanks all.

Thought for the day
I was about to post this entry a few days ago with a very different thought for the day about our roots, family and how they always provide a much needed tie to who we really are...   when I was struck into inaction by some horrific and shocking news.  A friend fell while riding on his holidays in Texas, and died.  This larger than life character was hugely supportive of my journey and my cause.  I valued his friendship.  His intelligence, humour and genuine kindness will be truly missed.  It is hard to find any meaning in such events. 

Not surprisingly, this tragic loss made me pause for thought.  It made me think more carefully about those ABRs who I had heard had lost their lives during the course of this trip.  The couple who went down on Patagonia´s tricky Ruta 40 early in the year, and the very experienced overlander hit by a wayward truck near the Bolivian capital.  Plus the rider who´s time only recently ticked out on the Dawson Highway in Alaska.  You hear of these losses while on the road, but almost subconsciously put the deaths to the back of your mind.  My friend´s death, however, reminded me that we could be called at any time, and that we should seek to live each day in the best way we can.  He did.  He was one of the best.  He was one of the good guys.  He was not an overlanding ABR tackling extreme conditions, but a loving father and husband on holiday with his family.  My heart goes out to his wife and daughters.  Rhinestone I salute you.

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