Glorious desert

While I reach personal bests and whole new levels of low, Arizona brings giant grasshoppers and California brings giant snakes. 

My day started with instant coffee and a supermarket breakfast burrito. My gear had dried over night and the storm had disappeared, so I left Williams on a good note. It was a short ride on the interstate, before I turned onto a southbound highway going to Prescott. I was now in grasshopper land: thousands lined the road – dead, alive, or somewhere in between. Their erratic and random jumps had them hit my shins frequently, which was a little disgusting at times, as some of them were the size of mice. I fought my way through this swarm of kamikaze insects and made it to Prescott, which is a very nice little town surrounded by beautiful forests and lakes. 

My hosts for the night were Mishael, Kait, and Matt, who let me crash on their couch. We watched the TV debate and laughed about Donald Trump. I went into town to explore a little the next day and eventually decided to stay another night, which also gave me the chance to do some overdue laundry. When I finally left Prescott, it was through scenic forested hills, with the road leading me further south.

After a while of riding through rolling hills, I reached the edge of a plateau. It marked the end of the forest and the beginning of yet another desert. More importantly though, it was a fantastic and speedy descent, which I paid for a few minutes later, when I noticed the piece of wire that had punctured my front tire. The tube I replaced had actually travelled all the way since Scotland, although this was the end of its journey.

From Congress, I headed south west towards Aguila. The puncture had cost me some time and it was getting close to dusk. Still, I periodically stopped and took pictures, as I was now crossing a beautiful stretch of desert with a wide range of different cacti all around me. I managed to reach my destination just before sunset and pitched my tent in the local park. Aquila is a small farming community and almost entirely Spanish speaking. I was lucky enough to catch the weekly market and its Taco truck. It wasn’t easy to sleep though, because it stayed very warm until well after dark at this elevation. Better than shivering through the night at the Grand Canyon though. Or being in a locker room with Donald Trump.

The plan was to aim for the Arizona-California state border the next day, which was about 130 km away. However, somehow that day everything went so smoothly that I had travelled more than 100 km by noon, which called for celebratory lunch in Quartzside. I crossed into California at Blythe, and turned south from there. 

The map I had showed a bike camp, so I pushed past massive fields and pastures to reach this. Once again, my planet was being unhelpful and constantly rotated me away from the sun, so that I got there with almost no light left. With close to 200 km, it was the longest I had ever cycled in a day. The bike camp turned out to be a somewhat dodgy trailer park at the end of a sandy dirt road. Apparently one of the former inhabitants used to host cyclists. The manager, John, was happy enough to let me sleep on the porch of one of the trailers, and I got to use the shower in his own messy abode. The people I met were friendly, if a little sad, but I was happy to leave the next morning.

More desert was on the cards for that day. However, the landscape was now brown, hilly, and almost devoid of any vegetation. The ride was challenging, as it was rarely flat. In the afternoon, I was traveling through massive sand dunes, reminding me of the Moroccan Sahara. It was quite fascinating to see how diverse the deserts in the area could be. Beyond the dunes lay the town of El Centro, which seemed like a natural place to stay for the night. Motels here were inexpensive, and so I treated myself to a room.

After a decadent and calorific breakfast, it was desert time once more. I was now below sea level, which meant that there was more up than down to reach San Francisco for the first time on this trip. I didn’t have to wait long for the ‘up’. The scorching afternoon sun saw me struggling back up to 1000 meters of elevation in what was one of the toughest climbs of the journey. I reached the village of Jacumba and decided to call it a day, although I had planned to go further. The local park made a good camp spot with a view of the Mexican border, and I went to sleep under the watchful eyes of a giant metal snake.

The benefit of the elevation gain was that it cooled down to reasonable temperatures at night, and so it was nice and pleasant to cycle the next morning. While it was still an arid environment, there were now large oak trees to provide some shade. It was a short but beautiful ride that day, with a coffee stop in El Campo.

And then I entered Mexico.

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