Days 79-85: Arizona

I arrived in San Diego on December 10. I'm just behind on posting updates.

Bicycle Route 66” across Arizona is mostly Interstate 40 with few opportunities to get away from the busy road. This suits me just fine as I can focus on covering longer daily distances and get to lower elevations before colder weather rolls in. I ride from dawn to dusk to make the most of the short days. Sunny days, no wind and a westward travel direction make for ideal conditions and I cover 80-100 miles per day (130-160km). Not bad, considering that the winter solstice is only three weeks away. The tilt angle of my solar panels nearly doubles my daily energy harvest compared with a fixed horizontal setup.

I get flat tire number five just as I enter Petrified Forest National Park. Expecting to encounter goat’s head thorns, I put tire sealant goop into the tube after removing the source of the penetration — a tiny piece of steel wire from one of the many shredded truck tires I’ve been passing on the shoulder.

As I approach Flagstaff, it occurs to me that the Grand Canyon would be a quick two day detour. I’ve been there before but it’s been a while. It’s time to have another peek at this particular hole in the ground.

I arrive at the South Rim shortly before sunset. Most epic sights lose some of their power on subsequent viewings. This is not true of the Grand Canyon.

The next morning, I get up before sunrise and ride along the rim to Hermits Rest. The road is free of traffic except for the occasional shuttle bus carrying one or two early risers, much more quiet and serene than the crowded overlooks near the village.

I’m back at the campground by 11. The plan was to ride back to I-40 today but it feels like I’ve rushed this visit so I decide to leave the next morning and spend the day taking in the views. The light changes hour by hour. East and west, the chasm extends to the horizon. The Colorado River that carved all this is looks like a tiny trickle at the bottom.

In Williams, I get my sixth flat. It happens on the interstate. All the air has gone out of the tire and when I pump it up, the white goop inside comes spurting out like arterial spray. I put my finger over the hole to prevent it from emptying out and after a few seconds all seems to be OK. I finish pumping up the tire and it appears to hold air.

In Seligman, the proprietor of a museum/gift shop offers me route advice for getting across the desert to San Diego. I plan to leave Route 66 at the California border because I don’t care to ride through the Los Angeles area again. Twice last year was enough, thank-you-very-much.

Just as I’m thinking that day after day of interstate riding will make for dull reading, a big red 18-wheeler pulls over on the shoulder ahead of me, blocking my way. I slow down to pass but the driver waves me down with two coconut popsicles in his hands. “I though you could use a break!” Jeff has done a bit of traveling himself and keeps a mountain bike in the cab of his truck. We part ways but continue texting for a bit as we each continue down the road at our own pace. It feels surreal after so many days of watching anonymous traffic passing me by.

Several miles before Kingman, the interstate shoulder becomes a rough, rumbly mess. I can’t go any faster than 10 mph (16 kph). It’s been a long day and I’m crabby because this delay means I won’t arrive at my destination until after dark. I’m definitely not in the mood for another roadside show-and-tell when a pickup truck screeches to a halt in front of me.

“Sorry, guys. I’m 90 miles into a 95 mile day and this road has been rattling my nerves for the last hour so I’m in a foul mood…”

“What can we do to make your day better? We’ve got beer! You wanna beer? We’ve got shots! You wanna shot?”

I manage a weak smile. “That’s really kind of you, but…”

“We drove through nine ditches to catch up with you!”

“You did what now?” It’s not making sense to me. Did they see me from the other side of the interstate and turned around to find me?

The man pulls out a $100 bill and is handing it to me. My confusion increases. Maybe they’re shooting a YouTube prank video? I start looking for hidden cameras.

Or maybe I’m dealing with someone who is not of sound mind and body? Without thinking, I blurt out, “Did you just get a cancer diagnosis and you’re giving all your money away?”

He laughs. “No. I’m just a high school dropout. I have a contracting business that’s making me more money than I know what to do with.”

I try to decline but they start sticking the money in the boots I have strapped to the bike. They aren’t going to take no for an answer. The original $100 has now become $200. This negotiation is not going the way I intended.

I’ve heard of this sort of thing happening to cyclists in some Central Asian countries where it’s somehow a part of the culture but I wasn’t expecting it in Arizona.

I laugh at the absurdity of it and get the man to admit that he does this sort of thing all the time… massively overtipping waitstaff and such. He likes making people happy. It’s not as if I need the money but I’ve got to admit that it made my day.

Roadside selfie.

In Kingman, I collect my final “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” song lyrics waypoint, having passed through “Joplin, Missouri”, “Oklahoma City”, “Amarillo”, “Gallup, New Mexico”, “Flagstaff, Arizona” and “Don’t-Forget-Winona”.

Oatman is up next. The route guide description promises a ghost town and warns cyclists not to feed the wild burros who act like they own the place. They have a reputation for biting through panniers in search of snacks. The route is incredibly scenic but the “ghost town” is a tourist trap. I roll through without stopping.

Wild burros ahead.

Note: Most visits to the Grand Canyon require making reservations weeks or months in advance. I was able to drop by at the last minute because it’s the off season and because I was able to stay in the designated hiker/biker site at Mather Campground which is not reservable. If you’re arriving by motor vehicle, you will need a reservation.

7 Replies to “Days 79-85: Arizona”

  1. Good to get this update, thanks for sharing your experience on this trip, I hope to make my own solar Ebike and and trip soon, maybe next year, I started a new hobby that’s keeping me from doing it now.
    Do you have plans for more solar bike building or trips?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well written Mark. I like the way you express cycle touring intuition- the mood weather of the mind when you’re on the road is like constantly changing glasses. From rose tinted, to jade coloured- the day turns sweet or sour as suddenly as a wind changing direction. I’m rating you as better than a crazyguyonabike journal!


    1. Hi Mary! I averaged 71 miles per day (excluding rest days). I’m now five days into the San Diego – Alaska leg of the trip and so far I’m doing almost 80 miles per day. The long summer days are making a big difference.


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