I got up just before 3am this morning and with the help of my brother-in-law Paul, made my way to Baltimore’s Thurgood Marshall Airport. While it would have been more convenient to fly out of Ottawa I would have needed to change planes twice to get to San Diego. Each time my bike would need to be unloaded, handled by the gentle folks at each airport and carefully placed upon the next plane. I could not foresee a good outcome for this procedure and given that I could fly for about one third of the cost out of Baltimore, my choice was clear.
At the airport my wife Chris helped me drag my bike and other gear into the terminal and with a quick check in and an even quicker but emotional goodbye, I was through the gate and into the loving arms of the TSA. After removing nearly everything but my smile, scaned and probed, I was deemed safe enough to fly. High winds from a nor’easter threatened to delay the flight but aside for a bumpy takeoff we were away clean and on time.
Things went smoothly on the ground in San Diego despite TSA opening my bike box for inspection but neglecting to replace the nylon straps I used to keep it secure. Fortunately, Alaska Airlines lived up to their reputation for handling sports equipment in a careful manner. The Airport Shuttle (airportshuttlesd.us) was there within minutes of knowing I was ready with a full sized SUV and a friendly driver. Definitely the easiest way to get bike and gear from the airport. While I waited for my room to be ready I un-boxed my bike and got everything put back together without a single hitch or damage. I am ready to roll come Monday morning.
I arrived two days early just to be sure there would not be problems with either my flight or my bicycle. When it takes you many years to be able to do something like this and you spend countless hours training, it is better to be cautious. Fortune smiled and I now had a couple of days to spend wandering. Today I decided to give my bike a test run over some of San Diego’s many bike routes. While not as bike friendly as Vancouver, it still is ahead of many North American cities.
After a quick spin and a few wrong turns to find my Sunday afternoon meeting place, I cruised down to the waterfront and followed a multi-use path into the downtown. San Diego has an impressive downtown but having seen my share of tall buildings, I opted for a look at the harbor. Front and center to this interesting area is the now retired USS Midway.
Commissioned right after WWII she was the largest ship in the world until 1955. She saw service in Vietnam as well as Operation Desert Storm where she served as the flagship. After a 47 year career she was retired in 1992 and now serves as a museum and tourist attraction.
Standing along side the Midway is a giant testament to a classic photograph from LIFE Magazine. The original kiss happened thousands of miles away in Times Square on VJ Day and was published a week later in LIFE. It looks great in front of the Midway even if it is 2700 miles off course and the ship is from a different era.
Further along is another interesting display of public art. Bob Hope was famous for many things, his comedy, his movies and his variety show on television but he is far more loved for the work he did entertaining the armed forces of the US. From the beginning of WWII onward, Bob Hope enlisted a cadre of other entertainers to lighten the spirits of service men and women defending his country. He headlined 57 performances over 50 years in every conflict from WWII through the Persian Gulf War. For his service he was names an Honorary Veteran by an act of Congress in 1997.
Our group assembled today at the Point Loma Hostel. Some had already been here for a few days and had established relationships. Along with a few others I arrived in the afternoon. The group spans about two decades of ages and all have a good deal of cycling experience. A very friendly and welcoming bunch. After some get acquainted conversations and checking out each other’s bicycles we relaxed and waited for our official beginning at 4pm.
Cammie and Kelly, our tour leaders from Adventure Cycling, arrived right on time and after a brief meeting fixed a great dinner for the group. As we go through the weeks we will all take turns exercising our culinary muscles. Later we sat down for our daily map meeting to go over tomorrow’s route. The evening ended with a toast to fellowship, friendship, a safe and interesting ride and an epic journey.
Dale, Pete, Annette, Jim, Cammie, Kelly, Barb, Bill, Jorge, Marianna, Kevin, John and Alan will be my companions for the next 54 days. I look forward to the adventure we will share.
After a hearty breakfast with about three time the calories I usually consume, it was time to pack up our gear and head down to Dog Beach for the ceremonial tire dip into the Pacific. It is aptly called Dog Beach as it is an off leash beach specifically for dogs and their human companions. I managed more than a tire dip with an incoming wave providing a free wash of the sand from my cycling shoes. While I truly like free things, upon sombre reflection, I could have done without this one. Pictures were taken a toast made and we were off to Alpine California, 45 miles away and 2000 feet up. Add to that 2000 feet the normal hills along the way and there was between 3200 or more feet of actual climb today.
The 13 riders stayed mostly together with the hills spreading us out quite a bit. Given my recent history I decided to obey my cardiologist’s advise and NOT try to be the first one up the hill. At least that is my story and I will swear by it. The route saved the best climb for last with a nice five or six mile long hill that I was sure would eventually end at the Pearly Gates but only made it as far as Alpine, CA.
The tribe is mostly gathered with only Cammie, our sweep today and Marianna on her recumbant bike to still come in. Bill and Barb are tag teaming dinner and snacks are already on the table. I should sleep well tonight.
Today was all about the climb with the added attraction of a strong headwind. While long, the climbs would not have been too bad except for the strong headwinds and the wind tunnel effect made by the rock cuts. Our distance was a relatively short 45 miles but it seemed longer.
After a quick breakfast made by Bill and Barb Samose, we packed up and were off. We had to make a short trip on Interstate 8 due to the lack of another route but it was quickly back to Old Route 80 and a lot of steady climbing. The nice thing about 80 is that there are some places to stop along the way. In the community of Pine Valley a lot of us stopped for second breakfast. I opted for a nice slice of pie with ice cream.
Refreshed, it was back to the uphill grind. I would like to say the wind let up but that would be a lie. However, there were some really great downhill grades to partially make up for it.
After the last big climb it was mostly a long downhill grade into the community of Jacumba Springs and a real treat, a stay at a resort with actual rooms, restaurant, pool and laundry! Jacumba Springs is tight to the Mexico border, so close you can see the wall. I wonder who paid for it? (the wall, that is)
Our ride today began with a fantastic 10 mile downhill glide on Interstate 8! Bikes are allowed on an Interstate highway whenever an alternative route does not exist. Best of all, this was a new portion of that Interstate with smooth paving and long swift glides through massive rock cuts. It made up for the previous day’s climbs, almost.
At the bottom we passed from the mountains into the Imperial Valley, home to massive desert farming operations. Along the way I met a farm worker and asked what the main crop was. He explained that macaroni was their primary export. They plant it in the early spring and it is harvested sometime around the end of August. He went on to say that once the harvest is in nearly every town in the valley has a pasta festival, usually around Labour Day. Hundreds of migratory workers are employed in the harvest since the plants have to be shaken by hand to dislodge the macaroni. However, times are changing and more and more farmers are using a new machine to do the labour intensive task. At first I thought this farm hand may have been pulling my leg but I remembered seeing a documentary on the CBC television network a few years ago that talked about the spaghetti harvest so I knew he must have been telling me the truth.
I think he must be from Calaveras County.
I also passed a very interesting power generation plant. Back when I was a kid we had an expression that went, “ If BS was electricity, you would be a walking power plant.” Well now that I have actually seen a BS power plant I am fairly sure that it would be difficult do scale one down to a personal size.
This evening it was my turn to cook along with fellow rider, Jeorge. We made an epic chicken stir-fry along with Waldorf salad. Both were set upon by our fellow bikers like a pack of hungry wolves.
A long ride today, close to 90 miles. We were not trying to prove that we are iron men and women but the plain truth is that there were no places to camp along the way. The one stop was in a one shop town known as Glamis. Here we were able to tank up for the next 40 miles of black top with no food or drink to be had. Fortunately it was only a desert.
The journey was a long winding road through desert country and past the chocolate mountains where it is said that chocolate chips are mined. The road was crazy narrow for about 30 miles with no shoulders and heavy truck traffic. The truck drivers are a good bunch always giving us plenty of room as they zoom by. I wish I could say the same for some RV rigs and nearly every passenger vehicle. Nearly every rider had some nasty encounter with a rude vehicle driver this day. They do not seem to realize that we are doing all we can by wearing highly visible clothing, displaying reflective triangles and flashing lights and by getting as far onto the shoulder as we safely can even though the law entitles us to ride using a full lane of the highway.
Our stay tonight is at a nice campground with the nicest washrooms and showers so far on the trip. Pizza for dinner!
The big event of the day was finally leaving California and crossing the Colorado River into Arizona. We had to walk our bikes across a foot bridge and then get onto Interstate 10 for the first of two times this day. Every day I seem to find something abandoned along the roadside. Two days ago it was a fully functional flashlight and yesterday it was a nearly new hose nozzel. Today I claimed a nearly new bungee cord but the find of the day went to Cammie, one of our tour leaders who found a flower display and an unopened six pack of work gloves.
Compared to yesterday, today was an easy 62 mile ride. Once again we had to use the Interstate due to the lack of an alternate route. The nice part about this is that they really smooth out the hills on the Interstate. Along the way I took a picture of the husband and wife team that are part of our group. Bill and Barb Samose are a great couple and it has been a pleasure to bike with them so far.
Once off Interstate 10 we hit the town of Quartzsite where I spent some interesting time in a rock and mineral shop and had an interesting conversation with another heart attack survivor from San Diego who now lives in Quartzsite. We were told there was an interesting place here called the Reader’s Oasis that featured Phil, a naked piano player. A few of us check this out but since I have already seen a naked piano player I decided to visit the Dorothy and Todo Ice Cream Shop instead. They had a $4.00 malted milkshake that was fantastic! Also nearby was the Desert Garden RV Sales and Park and home to a great collection of vintage cars and other machinery. The most unique of these was a Lear Jet strapped to the top of a truck.
The time zone change caught up to us so even with an easy ride we were fairly late into the KOA for the night; however, the bonus was that we had an extra hour of daylight. Tomorrow is is on to Wickenburg, AZ home of the Wickenburg massacre. The ride will be a fairly boring one down a long straight stretch of highway with lots of desert for company. I may not post anything but we shall see.
A fairly grey and dull day’s ride today. The terrain was fairly easy but with the cloudy weather and sameness to the scenery it was just a matter of keeping the little wheel spinning the big wheels until we got to Wickham. The two photos say it all.
After a rainy night in Wickham, it was time to pack up wet and head for the greater Phoenix area, namely, Mesa where we were to spend the next two days. Along the way I caught up to Marianna, one of our group, on her recumbent bicycle. Marianna is a real trooper and gets stronger every day using her unusual bike to make some serious climbs.
Once the sun came out to dry away the clouds the day seemed less dreary and it was around this point that I came to Happy Road which seemed to fit my mood so I snapped a selfie to celebrate. A little further along the early morning sun along with some lingering clouds gave the distant hills some nice shadows that I thought to be photo worthy.
The ride into Phoenix was mostly downhill, although the route through this metropolis was at times difficult to follow. Travelling on nicely paved roads winding through suburban neighbourhoods was calm and relaxing as was the area’s many bike paths; although, they could stand to install a few directional signs on the maze of intertwined paths. Along the way I passed Ottawa University: It seemed out of place somehow.
Our stay for the next two days was at a nice motel with kitchenettes but a somewhat out of the way location. It was great if you needed something for your car or motorcycle but few services for machines made of meat. My roommate Jim and I decided to take in a spring training game on Monday and it was interesting to watch some established players and some hopeful new talent play the grand old game.
Monday was a restful day to clean up our bikes and wander about. After a nice dinner at a Sizzler, it was time to pack up and get ready for an early start tomorrow. It is going to be an tough 82 mile ride with nearly 9000 feet of climb. We can do this.
There is nothing like 84 miles of riding with 9000 feet of hills to climb to make you realize just how tough this group has become. Add to this a complete lack of so much as a pop machine for over 50 of those miles and we are a hard core group of bicyclists.
Our day started early in Mesa with nearly everyone up and gone by 6:20 am. After snaking our way through the outskirts of the metro area, it was on to Usery Pass and our first climb of the day. It was only a small taste of things to come.
The scenery was fantastic being some of the best vistas so far. It almost made up for the body breaking climbs that we made to pay for them.
The high point of my day, literally, came at around 40 miles in. While it was the highest climb of the day; unfortunately, it was not the last. After one more serious climb and a number of lesser ones, we came out of the wilderness and onto the oasis known as Jake’s Corner. After 50 plus dry miles it was nice to be able to bolt down a cold drink or two…or three. From there it was on to Tonto Basin and a well earned night’s sleep.