Las Vegas, NV to Phoenix, AZ: Vegas and the Wild West

All of a sudden I rounded a corner and I was in the suburbs of Las Vegas, disappointingly I could have been anywhere; the neon doesn’t start so far out.  That said it didn’t take long for me to pass a casino, I resisted the temptation.

My first task was to find where I was staying that night. Helen, my warmshowers.org host in San Francisco, had introduced me to Rocky who had kindly agreed to let me stay with him.  Rocky lives in the north part of Vegas, so I had some city to cross.  Luckily Vegas wasn’t the cycling horror I’d expected and was actually quite easy to ride around.  Even when I managed to get myself lost it wasn’t too bad.

I eventually arrived at Rocky’s where I met his wife Erica and his two cute little dogs and Rocky himself a bit later when he came back from work.  Rocky was a really great host making sure I had everything I needed and even showing me round Vegas’s famous strip.

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Strangely I felt less out of place in Vegas than in San Francisco, possibly because there is so much happening in Vegas I didn’t have time to think about it.

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The strip is really something else, with reproductions of many famous international landmarks and lots and lots of bright lights.
It wasn’t as crazy as I’d expected at all, guess it was of season.

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Many people go to Vegas to gamble, I just wanted a look around really and this I did. While the city is only 120 miles from Death Valley in many ways it was a world away.

The next morning Rocky took me and my bicycle to the bike shop he owns: Southwest Bikes.  While riding through Death Valley the rear hub had started making a strange noise and I was worried this was going the way of my bottom bracket.
Luckily it turned out that a rock had just gotten lodged in the rear cassette and that my hub was fine if a little worn.  Rocky’s mechanic: Tim gave the hub and my gears a tune up and I was ready to ride off happy that my bicycle wouldn’t be failing for another few thousand kilometres… Touch wood.

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Sadly the next day it was time to leave and I got saddled up and began the task of leaving Las Vegas.

This was much easier than expected and I kept to the cycle paths along the cities old canals for the most part.

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That said Googlemaps’ cycle route planner clearly doesn’t take into account the neighbourhoods it sends you through.  I definitely ended up in a shadier part of the city where for the first time on the trip I felt threatened by another human being. A guy who was up to something, turned and looked at me as I rode past, locking eyes and pointing me away from whatever he was doing with an aggressive stare.  As I hadn’t planned on stopping to chat about the weather anyway I carried on.

Eventually I was out of the city getting lost slightly as Google tried to take me down dirt paths in a park.

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The Strip from afar

Once that was sorted it was a really nice ride round Lake Las Vegas, till I reached the area of Hoover Dam.

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Here Google again took me on dirt paths, this time it was easier to follow and very interesting as the route went the same way as the old train tracks that had been used when the dam was built.   It wound through old tunnels hewn out of the rock and dripped with history.

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Then it was time to see the dam itself, this was really great.  It’s a huge man made edifice and it looks very grand in its thirties styling.

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I felt pretty good wheeling my bike across the dam in beautiful sunshine chatting to other gawkers as I went.  I passed from Nevada to Arizona as I went, changing time zone on land for the first time in a while.

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I definitely felt as though I was heading east again now.

After looking over the dam, it was time to continue on. I’d wanted to take a tour of the dam’s inside but they didn’t have anywhere to put my bike and I didn’t fancy leaving it unattended for that long.
So I started riding off again up a hill to continue on my way.  Only continuing wasn’t possible.  The road that went over the dam and connected to the highway into Arizona was now closed.  Googlemaps had stitched me up.  I had to retrace my steps back across the dam and into Nevada again and then head across a new bridge in front of the dam… around ten miles of extra riding in all.

I got back round to Arizona eventually and continued on Highway 93 towards Phoenix.

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The road stated off well with a nice shoulder but as dusk began to creep in the shoulder shrank until it was almost non existent.

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This was worrying to say the least and I concentrated on keeping my bike as close to the edge of the road as possible.  That is until night fell and I pitched up in the scrub a few metres from the road.

Carrying on the next day the shoulder remained terrible until just before Kingman when it opened out again to my relief.

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In Kingman I was excited to find myself suddenly on a section of the famous Route 66, America’s original highway that connected Chicago and LA.

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It was tempting to carry on on this road, seeped in history as it was but I’d have probably frozen to death a few weeks later if I’d tried it.

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The rest of the day I just plodded along, riding on an Interstate for the first time briefly before it changed back to a state route.

That night I pitched up again close to the road just outside the town of Wikieup.  Worryingly my front light had stopped working so I needed to get that fixed, it’d have to wait for now.

Carrying on down Highway 93 it wasn’t long before I found myself riding on to, what seemed to me to be, the set of a western.  Huge cacti were suddenly everywhere and the landscape became rugged and rocky.

To me these Saguaro Cacti were the most amazing things in view.

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They were incredible and felt almost unreal to me.  I found it even more amazing when I later learnt that the big ones were over two hundred years old.

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It felt pretty special riding along seeing the cacti, as though I was seeing a real bit of America.

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I’m surprised I didn’t fall off my bicycle I was gawking so much!

After a while there was a long section of Joshua Trees as well, named by Mormons for the way their arms appear to reach for heaven like Joshua’s did in a biblical story.

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This was definitely one of the most beautiful roads I had ridden and I was sad when it came to an end close to the town of Wickenburg.

In Wickenburg I was lucky enough to meet Jim and David who are friends of my cousins. They looked after me very well the night I spent in town; David showing me around the town and Jim giving me advice on touring from his extensive experience criss crossing the states.

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After Wickenburg it was time to head down towards Phoenix, the largest urban agglomeration in the area. I’d arranged a warmshowers.org host in Mesa, one of Phoenix’s suburbs on the other side of the city.
When I reached the edge of Phoenix, it was only 11am and I was worried I was going to be very early to my hosts.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, the city went on for ever. The suburbs I went through on the edge were pretty but uniform.

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They had orange and date trees but little real personality. Then I hit the cities cycle paths running along its canals. These went on and on with little variation.
I was riding for hours like this, the monotony broken briefly when I rode with Terry. He was visiting the city from California and had decided to cycle across it, I’m not sure why as it was dull.
It was a strange feeling riding here, I felt like my day had finished when I’d reached the edge of the city but here I was hours later still not at my actual destination. It was like riding in slow motion.

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Eventually after about six hours riding in the city I was relieved to reach my hosts: Brian and Katie.
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I couldn’t believe how big Phoenix was, and I hadn’t even finished crossing it yet. The whole country of Luxembourg was a lot less wide.

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