What a difference a day makes.

I’d been lulled into a false sense of security. With temperatures in the low thirties both of us had been cycling along in T-shirt and shorts all day – of  course we could camp tonight.

I’d declared a week or so ago that I wasn’t camping in sub zero temperatures. I really didn’t feel we had the kit to cope with it and yet, here I was again. We woke up to the tent bulging in on top of us. Despite the guy lines pegging it out the bottom was lifting up two or three inches as the wind tunneled underneath.

Another morning of -5.6. Today, the added factor of wind chill made it feel much colder. And where was the golden orb with warming rays?

We ate breakfast huddled up inside the tent but sooner or later we’d have to brave the bitingly cold outside. I soon decided that full rain proofs, as a wind proof layer, on top of all my other layers, was the only way to go. Even so trying to pack and undo the bag clasps was proving nigh on impossible with frozen unbending fingers. Gid wasn’t managing much better. He’d borrowed my spare buff and was wrapped up with nose and eyes peeking out. He came to help but we had to agree that neither of us could undo my knot of the previous night on the plastic bag covering my handlebars, so ripped it off.

We tried to huddle, whenever possible, in a teepee standing vacant some metres away. Gid had told me hot drinks were available at the site office but getting them was proving difficult. It was too cold to sit outside and tend to our stove.

By 9:15, with not a ray of sunshine in sight, we were in the nearest cafe with a hot Mexican breakfast and tea/coffee ordered. Sitting in the warmth we decided to press on but we hadn’t got far, pedalling into the biting cold and headwind, before reassessing that decision. I suggested cancelling the day on the grounds of it being too cold. Hide in the nearest motel was my idea but Gid was keen to press on. ‘We’re managing,’ he said.

Well, yes, managing, in a manner of speaking. 10kph – Ugh. And our circulation was still moving.

3 hours later feebly, the sun came out but it got no warmer. The services ahead were a welcome sight – shop, drinks machine, restaurant, the lot. Well, no motel, but no objection if we put up the tent out back, then cower in the restaurant for the rest of the day. And, they say, the next service centre, at our turn off the interstate, closed down five years back.

We huddle in the cafe, slurping hot drinks. The News declared 63 inches of snow fell in a storm in Erie, USA. New record. After careful consideration, we buy a Texan hat and a saddle. Key rings.  And another hot drink.

It’s only lunchtime, if we stop now, the next comfy accommodation is much more than a day further on, so that’s two more nights rough camping.

“Where ya goin? Did you come through the fog?” A customer asks us. Fog? Turns out it’s ahead of us. Another joy as we set off.  Headwind still holding us to 10kph.


Ahead the highway pulls alongside a low beige hill, and vanishes. It’s a wall of low cloud. Fortunately it’s not that dense, road visibility is fine but it’s freezing, We start passing bushes loaded with hoar frost. Really loaded. Fog, doesn’t cohabit with wind, and sure enough, the headwind’s gone. So for that matter has the incline. We whizz, toes, noses and fingers still numb.  At 3:45pm the temperature was  -2.5 degrees and dropping by then. I doubt that it got above freezing.

Kent: The cycle route information says “no services”, so did the garage staff. Map shows a few streets. The services are bricked up, the other four buildings are deserted, boarded and/or on their way to ruin. But hey, behind a wooden wreck is a patch of clear land, out of sight, sheltered from the easterly if it kicks up again, even old carpet to sit on.

And wood. Gid, sitting outside to cook, made a camp fire. The first on this trip and definitely a first time ever when it’s needed purely to keep warm.



Our night in a ghost village is not too bad really. Clare slept like a log. Gid was a bit disturbed by all the extra noises a decrepit building makes. And the interstate. And – the trains – HOOOOOOOHH! HOOOOOOOHH! HOOOOOOHH! – followed by about an hour of rumbling and ground shaking as the mile long brute crawls past, shipping containers stacked double on massive wagons.

Next morning – fog’s gone, hoar frost is gone, sun’s shining. Still cold, but the rays warm the day up. By 2pm, climbing into the Davis Mountains, Gid’s shirtless. What a difference!

Yeeh-Ha ! More Western Adventures

Cycling through Arizona and New Mexico has been a bundle of surprises.
The Wild West seeps out of every corner with frequent sightings of Stetson hats shading a rough hewn face, cowboy boots, and decorated belts holding up the faded denims. Straight out of the Western movies holsters and leather chapps are readily available too. Out on the street, the soundtrack is in Español and V8 rumbles..
We had to make a short visit back to the UK, for which we booked flights from Phoenix. This gave us a little spare time before Phoenix. So just before Thanksgiving, we pitched up in Wickenburg, treating ourselves to a motel. On wandering into town, after spending  hours in the fine museum, we discovered we were in the world capital of Team Roping. And, oh dear, rather a lot of souvenir or western gear shops. All closed of course, so we extended our stay. After a curious camping stove cooked Thanksgiving dinner, and a comfy night’s rest, we hit both the town’s attractions. As we’d read online, “heeling” proved a lot harder than “heading”. Well, a steers horns are a fine hook to lasso, whereas it’s hind feet definitely point the wrong way. Maybe half the teams managed both.  Saguaro cactuses adding to the Wild West feel.

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Dotted between Fort this and Fort that are Indian reservations. The Navajo reservation was followed by Hopi reservation and then came the Apache reservation. The latter is probably the biggest reservation we’ve been through. They are quite notable for their lack of development. But unlike the Australian aborigines the Native North American Indians have held on to some of their sacred sites and banned mining on their land. They do run a few casinos though. If you want to see the historical life of these original Americans, you have to visit a museum.
Cycling down through the Tonto Basin we came across the Tonto National Monument Cave Dwellings. Abandoned in about 1450 AD the Apache Indians were the original suspects for driving the occupants out but current opinion is that the Apaches didn’t arrive in the area until 1500 AD.  A little later we cycled over a double peak to reach the Gila Cliff Dwellings set in the Upper Gila River valley.  Claimed to be 80% original it gave a fascinating insight into Indian life back in period around1270 where again, for a relatively short time – approximately 30 years – the cliff dwellings were home to a community. In both cases it’s nothing like “cavemen”: The inhabitants built their usual adobe (mud brick) buildings inside the caves – shady and defensible places –  it seems a sensible thing to do.
Our distances are, as always, influenced by where the next shower is. Here, we are finding that progress is slow with small distances between accommodation or camp grounds followed by unmanageable distances to the next one. Neither of us are that keen on wild camping. We’ve done it a number of times and are always fretful about the prospect of being disturbed; on one occasion receiving advice that we shouldn’t contemplate wild camping in this area as the local reservation residents are prone to excessive drinking and unruly behaviour.  But sometimes we have to stick the tent where we’ve got to. It is, at least, often common and legal, until we reach Texas.
Warmshowers has been a fabulous organization providing a means by which to contact local people who will offer a free bed to touring cyclists. Often, they’re touring cyclists themselves, or were. Making arrangements is naturally a bit hit and miss, but it’s great to have a shower, share a meal or two, natter or go out, and retire to a comfy bed.
Our Safford Warm Showers hosts Hal and Jay filled us in on a lot of local history, and took us on a jeep tour of mountain back roads south of Pima. In an area steeped with history we saw where the Apaches ambushed a wagon train, and where the local Mormon settlers robbed the pay wagon crossing the pass from the south.
The landscapes have been delightful. Sweeping views held in with mountain peaks, at times volcanoes. Blue skies dappled or streaked with white cloud formations provide contrast to the expansive desert and savanna. The desert and mountain plants can be lovely red, whites and purples, beside the expected yellow and green. It looks especially dramatic in low afternoon sun. The short days of winter do make it easier to grab dramatic photos, but they also limit available cycling time, clamping down with dark and cold.

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The temperature has fluctuated radically. Whizzing down the California coast we were frequently nudging into the 30s. We were repeatedly told the temperature was high for this time of year. Further tales suggesting this winter was to be a mild one were warmly accepted. Then, wallop; up a few mountains and the temperature dropped radically. By the time we reached New Mexico’s Gila Cave Dwellings, we’d been over 2267m or 7440 feet. So it was chilly as well as dramatic. One morning, crawling out of the tent greeted us with -5C degrees. On another it was -3C but each time it rose to 20C/70F odd by lunchtime. Then came the big freeze -13 degrees Celsius (9F). My water bottle, filled with fresh water indoors, rattled a couple of hours later when I rather rashly tried to have a drink. I’d already had problems with condensation freezing on the inside of my glasses forcing me to scrape it off in order to see the road ahead. The forecast threatened 2 inches of snow in the first few hours leading to decisions to be made – sit tight, despite our dwindling food supplies, or try to bum a ride out.
Well, the snow came and we sat tight for a couple of days helped out on the food front by our cabin hostess Bonnie who kindly cleared out the depths of her freezer for us, coming up with unwanted meat items as she’s vegetarian. The weather warmed up as forecast, and our escape was to divert down south, off the official route, to avoid the highest mountainous passes and the prospect of more snow.  We end with a rare huge-progress day. From Faywood to Las Cruces was a 143km blast, dropping 365m, pretty evenly, with a tailwind. For a day we believed we were fast! The next day, we crossed the New Mexico/Texas border, marking the one-third point of our USA journey, and a big culture change.