Safford, AZ to Sanderson, TX: No Country for Thirty Something Cyclists

In Safford I was fortunate enough to be staying with the Larson family.  They were kind enough to put me up for a couple of nights so I could rest my legs while a storm blew through.

The Larsons were Mormons which was quite interesting for me as I’d never knowingly met a Mormon before. In fact most of the information I had regarding this denomination came from a South Park episode, which I hesitated to mention or indeed recommend.

Mons, who was the Warmshowers.org host in the family, was kind enough to read me some scripture to help explain about Mormonism when I asked. Fascinating.

I also got to watch the preparation of some Mexican Tamales, a dish I hadn’t heard of before. Trying them was delicious.

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Mons was a great host and it was astounding to hear that he thought he’d hosted about 400 people in the past four years. That’s a staggering number of people to have come through your home and look after for no more than thanks.

The next day the weather cleared up and I headed off towards New Mexico, which would be my sixth state on this trip.

As I rode I had a choice between the scenic mountain route or the less scenic plains route.  Given I couldn’t feel my toes most of the morning I went for the plains in the hope it would be warmer and quicker.

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There really wasn’t much to see, it was pretty in a sere way but changed little except for distant mountains or the occasional rise.

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The road went on and on. Punctuated by the small town of Duncan.

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I was having to listen to music to fend off boredom.

Then I cleared the gradual climb I’d been on and was in New Mexico ‘land of enchantment’ (probably TM).

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Suddenly I could feel an incredible tailwind and I was flying along through flat fairly boring landscape.

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I stopped in at Lordsburg hoping to be able to buy some yogurt for dinner. Unfortunately it was a bit of a ghost town and there wasn’t much on offer and certainly no yogurt. I’ve spent a lot of time in America trying to find this most elusive of dairy products.

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So off I went again cruising down the interstate. Crossing the continental divide on the way.

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It was getting dark

My map suggested there was a rest stop ahead and it wasn’t wrong. So I decided to camp there on some decidedly rocky ground. At least I was camping somewhere I was pretty sure I was allowed to and with a slight wind break from a picnic hut.

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The next day I carried on, again with the wind, meaning I was well ahead of schedule. This left me with a decision as I had a Warmshowers.org host in El Paso which I would reach about eight hours early if I kept on as was.
So I made a change of plan and decided to head down to Columbus on the Mexican border and really ride from one end of the USA to the other.
The road to Columbus was pretty uninspiring and when I reached the town I carried on through to the border.
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I was tempted to nip through and have a look but was a bit nervous it might look suspicious and they wouldn’t let me back through.
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I’d been to Mexico before anyway.
Heading back in to Columbus I went to find a Warmshowers.org host I’d found last minute: Francine.
Francine lived in a very interesting place she had dubbed the casas de estrellas or houses of the stars.  She’d built, or was in the process of building pretty much all the habitations there.  Her power was purely solar and she lived a very simple life with a few pets.
I was going to be sleeping in a half finished dome that was open to the sky. This meant I got to sleep under the stars and on a clear night in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico it was really beautiful.  If a little chilly. Well by chilly I mean freezing.

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I was happy as I had been wanting to sleep under the stars properly for a while.

The next day I made for El Paso. This has to be one of the most boring rides I’ve done. There was pretty much nothing for 65 miles, just me and the road and some distant mountains.

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Oh, I saw a herd of cows at one point… A highlight.

Thankfully I eventually made it to Texas.

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Where a bit more was going on. Even if that seemed to be very very dubious advertising.

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What a waste, this could have been advertising beer

In El Paso I was hosted by the Bach family. They were incredibly welcoming, hosting me and two other couchsurfers at the same time. As the Bach’s were Jewish they were celebrating the first night of Hanukkah and were kind enough to explain this to us guests. This was very interesting and it was touching to be included in their family for the evening.
Embarrassingly some elements such as the Dreidel were again things I only knew from South Park.

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The following my morning I headed off deeper into Texas, following along the Rio Grande to start with. I also got close to the Mexican border again.

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As can be seen this is definitely not an open border…
El Paso is strange as it is in effect one city split by the border, Ciudad Juarez being the Mexican counterpart, something like Berlin during the Cold War.

It took me a while to break free of El Paso and I passed through some native American tribal lands that were pretty much part of the city on the way out.

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At the start of the day I had a pretty strong crosswind but as the day went on and gradually turned more easterly this became an incredible tailwind and I was zooming along as though someone had strapped a rocket to the back of my bicycle.
I made far better time than I expected shooting along on Interstate 10’s frontage road past the town of Sierra Blanca until I’d done just over a 100 miles and the light was fading.
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I found a great camping spot under a bridge right beneath the Interstate. I am really starting to be able to sleep anywhere as the noise of trucks driving over didn’t even begin to disturb me.

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I woke up very early the next day riding into the sunrise.

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The first twenty miles of riding saw me pass into a new timezone, I thought America only had three, turns out they do in fact have four, and reach the town of Van Horn.
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After this town it was pretty much hours and hours of attempting to ward off boredom. The scenery barely changed at all and I had a headwind to make things even worse.
On the plus I can now name all fifty states of the US and managed to get quite a bit of reading done on my kindle as I rode.

There were some sights on this long lonely stretch of road. Including Prada Marfa, an art installation designed to look like a real shop. The idea clearly being to locate the artwork in one of the places least likely to have a Prada in America or possibly the world.

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There was also the giant dirigible baloon thing, or Tethered Aerostat Radar System which the border guards use to prevent drug smuggling into the US.

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This was pretty much the only thing of interest for about two hours of riding. That and the pretty clouds.

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It was miles and miles of this:

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At least when the sunset it was truly spectacular and I could see exactly what people mean when they say the sky was on fire.

That night I would arrive in Marfa and then pass straight through it in order to find somewhere to camp. Marfa and its environs are famous for mystery lights that have variously been ascribed to willo the wisps or UFOs but it turns out are probably just car headlights.
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I had one unexpected visitor myself when I saw a wild dog or coyote outside my tent while I was preparing dinner. It seemed more curious than scared of me, which was a bit worrying as I prefer my wild animals to pause, allowing me to take a photo and then run away in fear so I don’t have to be nervous about what they are going to do.

Thankfully nothing tried to eat me in the night and I woke before sunrise again.
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It was freezing, literally. My tent fly had ice on the outside and inside where the condensation had frozen. I began the day with four layers on as well as two pairs of socks.
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Luckily once the sun came out it warmed right up and I actually finished the day in short sleeves.

Similarly to the day before this was another long day of riding through similar scenery. Unlike the day before it was less monotonous. Today the landscape felt more epic and seemed to sweep out to the horizon. It may be because today there was a slight downhill gradient and there wasn’t the headwind that I had before so I was feeling cheerful.

There were also a couple of pretty towns to see on the way: Alpine and Marathon.

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Also I had picked a destination that I wanted to reach so that I could have a rest day after riding almost 600 miles in six days which gave me a target to push for.

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I was also feeling again that I had ridden onto another film set – it seemed like I was riding through the set of No Country for Old Men, with the beautiful open lands punctuated by strange mesas that broke up the monotony. I love that film and the landscape is very much part of what makes it so great.

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When I arrived at Sanderson the small town I was going to spend a couple of days at, I checked the net and unsurprisingly wikipedia said that some of the film No Country for Old Men had been shot in this area, which was interesting.

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