[ Phoenix, AZ ]
Where to begin? So much has changed since I set out from Parker almost two weeks ago.
You’ll notice I’m writing from Phoenix, which wasn’t on my original route. This was the last of several route adjustments dictated by the weather (read heat) and road conditions. At the lower altitudes around Parker, I was caught out in 104-degree weather on three unpleasant, alarming occasions—twice with a dwindling water supply and uncertain resupply opportunities. There was no vegetation or terrain to provide suitable shelter, so I found myself once again improvising what I could—waiting out the afternoon heat for hours each day.
My second day out of Parker, the path I was following simply ended, with no way through. I spent the rest of the day backtracking and searching for a way around. Eventually I reached a wildlife refuge known as Planet Ranch, and met some workers who gave me access to water. The third day I was on a rocky, power-line service road that was about seventy percent unrideable—with grades so steep it was difficult even dragging the bike to the top of each successive roller. (After each heave, I would fully engage both brakes in order to prevent the bike from sliding backwards; often the gravel surface was so loose that the bike slid back regardless, leaving me to repeat the process. It was exhausting and demoralizing.) On that afternoon, sheltering as well as I could, I determined to change my plans.
Rather than pushing forward on the service road (another ~35 miles before I hit a highway and the possibility of water), I returned to Planet Ranch, refilled my water, and spent the next day resting, cleaning the bike, and repairing my leaky inner tubes. I waited until four o’clock to depart, taking an easier, alternate route and avoiding the day’s worst heat—riding until nearly midnight and counting on the nearly three thousand feet of elevation gain to bring the temperatures down to a more manageable range. It worked. I was up at five the next morning, shivering, and on the road again by six, planning to finish my climb before the mid-afternoon heat.
I made it, more or less. Mid-morning I noticed a large group of folks on horseback and a corral of cattle just off the road; naturally I rode up and asked what was up, and could I please take some photographs. They graciously said “sure,” so I spent a couple of hours wandering around while they cut the cattle into groups, branding those that weren’t yet marked and separating others out for market. It was a tableau that would make any rural Texan proud.
On the other hand, the exchange reminded me of what has been missing from this journey since the beginning—the thing that I thrive on whilst traveling the world: constant encounters with interesting people, cultures, and sub-cultures. Human interaction. That has not been my experience on this trip, which has been about vast, gorgeous, remote, inhospitable landscapes. I’m comfortable with that—thrive on it—but only in conjunction with the human element. And so, with that fresh on my mind, I arrived in the one-horse town of Wikieup, Arizona (pronounced “wiki-up”).
After satisfying my body’s need for sweet drinks and savory snacks, I grabbed a room in the town’s tiny motel and started evaluating options—eventually leading me to Phoenix, where I’ve been for a few days, recovering. The plans I’ve made will have to wait for the next post, but the teaser is this: I’m heading back to Africa sooner rather than later.
Addio cari amici,