Sunday, November 29, 2009

Western Texas

Today, Cynta (the woman that John and I are currently couchsurfing with) asked me what I found most surprising thus far on my trip. My answer would have to be western Texas. Granted, I had a terrible image of what it would be like, and what I was told by many others didn't help my expectations one bit; however, this area has not only far surpassed any expectations, but has turned out to be spectacular in so many ways.

Leaving Van Horn where I last posted, John and I had a fine days ride. However, come dusk and finding ourselves surrounded by barbed wire fencing and locked gates all day, the only spot to camp where we could get out of view of the road was near the train tracks . We picked a spot under a little bridge, set up and enjoyed dinner and conservation under the night's sky. All day riding next to the tracks no trains ran, John joked that they were probably all night running trains. Unfortunately, he turned out to be right. During the night 10 trains passed, each with their bright lights and whistling away, shaking the ground beneath us. If this wasn't enough to keep us from a good night's sleep, what I'd anticipated would happen one of these days finally did: Boarder Patrol found us and gave us a nice 4:30am wake up. I'd expected to be woken up with a gun in my face, but luckily they just had their flashlights in hand. We showed our ID, they asked some silly questions, then left us alone. Not the best night, but could have been much worse.

John's tent by the tracks

Luckily, the next night (Thanksgiving) was a much better camp spot. We stopped early in the afternoon outside of the boarder town of Presidio where I spotted partly built, abandon home just outside of town, the perfect place to spend the holiday! It was a nice change to sleep in a clean, flat area. I made a great Thanksgiving dinner of rice, beans, and veggies and happily got to talk to some friends and family.

Our luxurious accommodations (John joked that even inside a house, I managed to tuck myself behind a bush!)

The next day brought morning rain, the first I'd seen in weeks. We stocked up on food in Presidio fearing it'd be a week before another decent market, then pedaled off on a 60 mile road that followed the Rio Grande along the Mexican boarder. I'd been told this road was hilly, but usually that means no problem; however, this road was HILLY! Nothing long, but constant short steep up and downs making for very hard work.

At the Rio Grande, that's Mexico behind me!

Me riding along the river road

The views were spectacular, riding in the mountains. This was one of the most scenic roads of my trip, totally unexpected! It was also maybe the most difficult riding on the trip. We rode up "Big Hill," only half a mile, but 15 percent grade which may not sound too bad but man it was steep. Many of the hills were similar grade up luckily shorter.

After a hard riding day, we pulled into Terlingua Ghostown where I'd set up a Couchsurfing stay with Cynta. She warmly welcomed us into her beautiful home and after showers we heated up Thanksgiving leftovers so I got my traditional thanksgiving dinner, and man was it good! Cynta says that her couchsurfers always stay longer then they plan on. Well, I'm no exception; I'd planned on one night and now I think I'll be spending four. Cynta is much too amazing of an individual, and this town is too intriguing to rush through. A winter storm also came in this afternoon which hasn't made it too enticing to leave.

Cynta has the warmest, most beautiful spirit. She's an old river guide, having guiding around much of the world. She's come back from being completely crippled and having been given two years to live (this was many years back) to walking everyday and being able to swim again. Although she's still having to live on disability, she uses it as an excuse to put her time and energy towards helping the community around her. When Homeland Security closed off the boarder crossing with Boquillas, Mexico within Big Bend NP, the town was then separated from their source of income, food, medical, etc. Cynta started up a quilting cooperative, teaching the women to quilt, then taking and selling their quilts to Americans to raise money for the village. Due to her extensive knowledge and activism, she is a liaison between the the people and the Boarder Patrol. She's the town historian and reads books over the local radio station every week. I could go on and on about the things Cynta has done and I'm sure I don't even know the half of it. Needless to say, Cynta is a true inspiration and I feel blessed to have this chance to meet her.

Terlingua is an old mining town, I think the second largest mercury mine in the country. When the mine closed down it was abandon. In just the past forty years or so it has been re inhabited, started up by river guides who after guiding down here, moved in. So, this is an old hippie town. For a population of 4-29 in the Ghostown and up to 300 in the surrounding 20 miles, this place keeps blowing me away with all that it has. There are guide services and a bike shop (great news since my bike shorts got eaten by one of the pups and it was going to be a week until I could get a new pair), an art gallery for local art, restaurants, a vibrant music scene, a theater and more. This is also a community unlike any I've ever heard of in the US. They have no government (they had a beer-drinking goat for their mayor), no permitting, can bury their own dead, and take care of every person in the community. They're building an area for housing the elderly in the center of town so that they can easily help them. Just today one of the guy's houses burnt down and the whole community is getting together to do everything they can for him. It's just nonstop how tight-knit and caring this town is. It's the kind of place you dream about (if it didn't get into the 120's in the summer). Even with the tiny section of Texas I've seen thus far, I'd say this town is it's biggest secret, but I've been told to keep hush, so don't spread word too far.

Ruins in the town. This is about what Cynta's house looked like when she bought her property for $2,500.

Over many years and a lot of work, she built her house into this. She has a composting toilet and outhouse, solar power, rainwater catchment. It's gorgeous, extremely well thought out and built and can comfortably hold 14 people!

View in the town, ruins amongst the current houses, some permanent,
others more temporary

My first day off here Cynta was heading to the hot springs in Big Bend NP, so John and I were happy to join in. Cynta took us on a little tour of the park on our way, driving into the basin ( the remains of an ancient volcano's innards).

Inside the basin, looking out of "The Window"

The hot springs were excellent, right on the Rio Grande with Mexico feet away. Even though it was hot outside they felt amazing, especially with the river to jump right into and float down a ways. We arrived early and had the place to ourselves for a little while before the afternoon tourist crowd got there.

Hot Springs

And the crowds rushed in as we left

The unfortunate part about this day was the overzealous, and over sized Russian woman from Dallas (in a too small bikini of course), who accidentally splashed my sunglasses into the Rio Grande. A couple people helped me search, but to no avail. The woman offered me her glasses, but they were cheap tiger print and I knew they wouldn't even stay on my face. Right before the glasses disappeared, Bill and Katie whom I met on the road the day before arrived at the hot springs. Bill was incredibly kind and offered me his aviators. They live in Austin so I promised to give them back when I got into town, thankful for such a kind gesture. People really do just come up and help when you need it!

Bill and Katie

View of the Chisos as we drove out of the park.

For some reason I've never been able to put my finger on, I've wanted to come to Big Bend for years although I knew nothing about the park. Making the trek down here, meeting the people I have and learning what I have, I'm so glad that I followed that feeling. I'll definitely never think about western Texas the same again!

Today was spent relaxing, chatting, and walking around the ghostown. A storm came in this afternoon bring intermittent rain and a cold front. We may get snow tonight and the next two days. I hope to get in the park and hike tomorrow, then take off the next day for the push to Austin. I can't believe it's almost December; soon I'll be getting on a plane to watch my big sister win some more SuperTour races!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Mexico

I'm in the purely magical town of Terlingua, TX staying with one of the most inspiring woman I've ever met. I'll write about this soon, but for now, here are a few pictures for this last blog. I'm off to the hot springs in Big Bend!

Big news! I've made it to Texas (a big state), have entered the central time zone (meaning I really am moving east), and have my first riding partner. but wait, how did all of this come about? Well, i guess terrain might be a short answer, but I'll explain a little more about the last few days.

Leaving Las Cruces, my legs had to remember how to climb as I had my first pass in a few days. Once i remembered that going slow while climbing is normal I was fine (all of this flat has thrown off my perspective). Down the pass, I entered the White Sands Missile Range and more flat as far as i could see.

I made it to White Sands national Monument in time to be told I was too late to camp there. All they allow is backcountry camping 0.7 miles in and 14 mi up the road, but with 1.5 hrs of light left the rangers thought there was no way I'd get there before dark so wouldn't let me stay. I'd counted on this spot so was frustrated; however, they told me i could ride 20 miles to the nearest campsite then come back the next day! Yeah right. I raced into the NM to try and see a little bit of it before taking back tot he road. It really is exactly what you'd imagine: white sand dunes. i felt like I was riding through snow banks. leaving the park a bit unsatisfied (though getting my first fist-pump did put me in a better mood), I was forced to ride well into dark to find an acceptable camp just outside Alamogordo.

White Sands

A cold, early morning brought me into town where i treated myself to the breakfast of pancakes and hash browns I'd been craving. then up the next pass i went, 4300 ft of climbing, but a nice grade and very enjoyable. It topped out at Cloudcroft in the Sacramento Mountains, a touristy, but cute little town. A couple told me it was 90 miles downhill to the next town. I was sceptical, but it was nearly true! I even had a great tailwind pushing me along for awhile so that i barley wanted to stop at dusk. That night i spent in a cow pasture--the only cow i saw was a young calf who spend the night pacing the fence in front of me mooing.

More flat riding a cold mornings took me towards Carlsbad Caverns National Park. A few miles short of the park entrance, i saw a cyclist riding towards me, as we got closer, he crossed the road and we stopped to chat. John is nearing the end of an around the world tour, he's from England and has been riding 2.5 years and over 35,000 miles! After talking for a hour on the roadside John asked if I wanted to camp together for the night, excited for some company and to hear more about his trip i readily agreed. John's much more particular about finding a good camp spot then i am, so I'm learning to take a little more time and have much more enjoyable sites.

The next morning john asked if I'd like to ride together for a few days, so now i have my first riding partner! it's nice to have some consistent company, especially someone who has so many stories from such an incredible journey (complete with English accent and vernacular). this also ending up being good timing as I'd been thinking it'd be nice to ride with someone for a little while and what better place then the desolation of western Texas (also good to have someone else along the Mexican boarder).

Carlsbad Caverns National Park was next to explore. Having turned down a job there a few years back, I was interested to see what I'd missed out on. The caverns are enormous! They seem to go on forever with rooms, passages, and seemingly bottomless holes all over. the stalactites and stalagmites, soda straws and popcorn were spectacular. I tired to imagine what it was like for the first explorers in this cave as they wandered through the pitch black monstrosity-I'd of been terrified! The lighting, paved walkways, and handrails make today's exploration much less mysterious, but at least you can see a lot and enjoy being 775 ft below ground.

Natural Entrance into the Caverns

Inside the Caverns

From the caverns, John and I battled a headwind into Texas. Its great to have someone to trade off breaking wind! it felt good to get into Texas, but strange knowing that I'll pretty much be here for the next two months. the next day brought us into Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We went on a little hike up valley to get some great views of the mountains, walking through nice vegetation, and up to a little slot canyon. it was nice to get on my feet for a little bit and enjoy Texas' highest mountains. On our way out, we met three women just starting long rides of there own; all the cyclists are converging in the south now! then it was out of the hills and back to flat straightaways, though we are surrounded by more hills then I expected.

Yup, definitely in Texas

Hiking in Guadalupe NP

So that's it, we're in Van Horn, TX at the moment and should be down at the Mexican boarder in two days, the into Big Bend. I'm feeling much better about making it to Austin in time (though with three flats yesterday and more thorns last night it could continue to cause me problems). Now I'm just enjoying good company and seeing what Texas is really about.

If you're interested in reading about John's trip, his blog is

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Starting East

After a nice break in Tucson relaxing, cooking, and running errands, I said goodbye to Billie and Ian and continued on my journey. Unfortunately, after riding away I realized that my quads and knees hadn't recovered at all. Two days wasn't enough, but oh well, on I went.

Billie and Ian outside their house in Tucson.

I had a really nice ride out through Saguaro National Park, nice rolling and windy roads. Lots of other very serious looking cyclists out there.

From Saguaro I made my way to Tombstone, a little historic wild west town. In the three blocks preserved and blocked to traffic I truly felt as though I was on a movie set (I did overhear a guy say they were getting ready for a movie shot in Yuma). It was a hopping town with tourists and locals everywhere. Daily gunfights were advertised and all the locals were dressed in authentic wild west garb; leather, guns, fur, and cowboys hats were everywhere. I thought it was hilarious!


Next was off to the Chiricahua Mountains. I'd been told from numerous people that I had to get out there so was excited for what I'd find. The national monument there was awesome. On a road that went up to a lookout from the visitor's center I rode unloaded for once and felt great! The views were spectacular of rock spires and pinnacles everywhere. I walked around a bit and enjoyed scrambling amongst the rocks. What a place, I've never seen anything like it!

View from the road up to lookout.

Overlooking the monument

Having told a warmshowers host that I'd make it to her house on a certain date (which I later realized was a bit ambitious), I had a quicker visit then I'd hoped. However, not ready to leave the Chiricahua's yet (and wanting to cut mileage) I decided to take a dirt road through the mountain range. This is the first time that I've truly gone against advisement. I was told by a ranger that this road was bad, washboarded, rocky and climbed up to nearly 10,000 ft. Now, I try to take all advise with a grain of salt and even though my head was telling me not to go, my gut said do it. So, I set out on a 20 mile dirt road over a mountain pass knowing it could be a miserable mistake. Luckily, my gut was right and though a bit more rocky and washboarded then I would have liked in spots, it was a decent road. The climbing up was very slow, averaging 4 miles an hour and I did have to walk a few small sections, but it was worth it.

Unfortunately I started to have a few troubles starting that night. It was very cold and my stove decided to stop working. I was super hungry so after messing with it for a little while, gave up and ate granola for dinner. I then worked for another two hours trying to get it to work (Mark thanks so much for the repair kit!), and had varied luck. I did manage to cook a bit of quinoa almost all the way before it totally died again. This made me nervous as I was almost out of food that didn't need to be cooked and hoping to stay in small towns another day and a half.

The next morning I made it to the top of the pass and started down the other side. Never having had the heart of a mountain biker, I rode the brakes the whole way (though I gained a little more confidence and speed near the bottom). 3.5 miles into 10 downhill I heard the pop and discovered the gash in my rear tire. Of course, I'd expected a flat on this road, but hoped it would but that bad.

Down the pass

Fun, fun

I fixed the tire best I could and continued down the road. All that day I'd be plagued with flats, three times having to redo everything and having to pump up low tires many more. Once I got back down to the pavement, I entered an incredible valley surrounded in rock cliffs. So beautiful! I even saw what I think was a coatimundi.

Down the valley

Looking back up

I then entered into New Mexico and had lots of flat ground. Wanting to stay on small roads I wished for a little market in the miles ahead and was very pleased to find one as I was down to my last tortilla.

In all of the flat nothingness yesterday, in trying to keep myself entertained I tired singing songs only to realize that I don't know any! I'm completely incapable to remembering lyrics. I can sing one line from a number of songs and that's it, not near enough to keep me occupied for a hundred mile ride. Sadly, the song I did the best with was "Look at this stuff" or whatever it's called form the Little Mermaid, how awful is that?! I may have to break my rule of not listening to music while riding if days like this continue (western Texas maybe?)

Lots of this


Making it into Las Cruces in great time for a century ride I went to bike shops to get new tubes (I was out) and try and find tires. Of course, no one here has 26" tires so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll survive a little longer. Two gashes in my rear and a front that's been on since day 1 does not give tons of confidence. I really need to learn and order online.

Great to have a place to stay. Mary Beth, my host is a warmshowers and couch surfing goddess! Just in the past week she's hosted three others! I'm not sure if she ever has her house to herself. Last night we went out to dinner with her brothers who were in town and another couch surfer staying with another host. Had pizza which was fabulous!

This morning I'm taking way too much time to get out of town as usual. Headed to White Sands NM, then into the "climbs from hell" in the mountains. Hopefully I'll be able to spend some more time and fix my stove so that I can eat something besides pb&j tortillas for the next month!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Two Months in Review

Time always passes us by much more quickly then we (or at least I) can seem to truly comprehend. It's hard to believe that I've been on the road for two months now and pretty neat to look at a map and see just how much ground I've covered in that time. While it feels like I've been riding for a long time, if I make it a whole year, I'm still just at the beginning of my trip.

As I had anticipated, this second month was a bit more difficult then the first. I still haven't had a day where I haven't wanted to get on my bike, but have had a few days where the riding has been more routine then pure bliss. I no longer have the illusion I could live this way forever, and am starting to think a year really is a long time. However, I don't want to come across as negative, I still love riding, still love moving every day and seeing new things and am very happy; it's just that the honeymoon phase may be over.

So what's changed in this past month? While the weather for one. I've had more really cold days and really hot days--I 'm not so good with extremes. I had a stretch for a week or so when I was more in the middle of nowhere and didn't meet or talk to that many people. So, while when people asked the first six or so weeks of my trip if I got lonely, I'd always answer "no," but week seven I guess I started to want a little more company/conversation. This has improved in the past week though, especially here in Tucson being able to spend time with Billie. Another change would be that there have been more days where I haven't been constantly blown away by the scenery around me. I know that now that I'll be leaving the west soon and I'm going to have to get used to this, or learn to appreciate the subtleties a little more. I've had many warnings about how terrible Texas is to ride through-I hope to survive by riding long days and breaking it up with leaving for Christmas in the the middle. I would say that the last major change would be camping, I've had some bad nights in this past month. Although nothing has gone wrong, it's much more difficult to camp discretely in the desert and I've had a few nights where I've been right on the roadside in pretty plain sight which has led to a few uncomfortable and sleepless nights. Luckily I still get some great camp spots interspersed which helps a lot. I guess with these changes, this trip is starting to feel more like life then a vacation, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just more realistic now.

I like numbers and statistics, so I've complied some stats on these first two months.

Two Month Inventory:

Miles Ridden: 3387.9

Flats: 8 (only counts the times I've actually taken the tube out, had many more flats from slow leaks)

Tubes: 5

Jars of Peanut Butter: 9.5

Nights under a roof: 11

States: 6

National Parks, Monuments, Recreation Areas visited: 13

Warmshowers Hosts: 2

Friends visited: 5

Most days between showers: 19

Falls: 3 (all were tip-overs in sand)

Days fully bike free: 4

Fuel: 1 gal (almost)

Night paid for: 8

Days/Nights harassed by coyotes: 3

100+ mile days: 2

Days of rain: 3

Days riding in the rain: 1

I am looking forward to seeing a bit more of Arizona, exploring New Mexico, and getting to Big Bend. After that, it will likely be a race to Austin. I just bought a plane ticket back to Seattle for Christmas, so for the first time on this trip I have a deadline to meet-scary! I actually am a bit nervous about it as I know it's more a a push then I'd like and I'll have to plan my days more carefully then usual. I'm just hoping that I won't let it get to me too much and that I'll still be able to see and enjoy everything along the way this next month. After hearing about and see pictures of friends and family skiing already I am pumped to take a little break from biking and squeeze a seasons worth of skiing into two weeks.

I'll be taking another quiet day or two here, then it's back on the road!

End of Leg 1

I've made it to Tucson! Not only is it incredible to finally have a few days off of traveling, to be with friends, have a house to take over (I plan on baking much of today!), but this also signifies the end of my southern journey; from here its east I go! This is also the last somewhat familiar place I'll be in for a long time. I spent a little time in Tucson a few years back, but have never ventured east of here. The southern states are a complete mystery to me. I'll soon see if all of my preconceptions about them hold any truth! One more big milestone is that today is my two month anniversary; 62 days out now!

Here's a brief run-down of my travels from the last entry:

Although my time in the trees was very short-lived, it was much needed. I loved riding through the ponderosa pines (reminded me a bit of the Cle Elum area), I even found a tiny little lake to enjoy a break at. It had been a long time since I'd seen water and boy did I miss it! However, I was informed later by Gene that Arizona only has one natural lake, so everything I saw was man-made, sad. I did finally get to scrub some of the dirt and grease that had long been caked to my legs, though it was too cold for any more washing.

My first lake and real trees!
With some wonderfully long descents, and a few good climbs, I made my way westward. I made a stop at Montezuma Castle, a very well preserved ruin. Then it was off to Prescott.

Montezuma Castle
I camped just outside Prescott at a very nice closed FS campground at Lynx Lake (another dammed lake).

Hmm, after 18 days without a shower my hair is very stylish! There is a good reason I wear a hat all day everyday.
Riding into Prescott the next morning, I met Ed, a local bike-shop owner in a coffee shop. I stopped by his shop later, though could barely find it as it was literally a whole-in-the-wall. Prescott is a pretty nice town, nice green center square surrounded by shops. However, they did already have a tree decorated for Christmas, hard to believe, especially with the hot weather out here.

Ed in his shop. Yup, that's all there is to it.

Sunsets and rises are spectacular out in the desert!

From Prescott, I rode to Gene and Dawn's house in Phoenix (a couple I'd met biking the Pacific Coast). It was wonderful to see familiar faces and hear stories from the rest of their bike adventure. After nearly three weeks without a shower, getting clean was also much appreciated. Having recently returned from their bike trip, they knew just what I would be craving and were excellent hosts. Dawn made fantastic food, manacotti and salad for dinner and fresh muffins and "monkey juice" (banana smoothie) for breakfast! It was so good to have real fresh food and variety (I'm in a food-rut). Gene mapped out a great route for me to get out of the city and they rode me out a ways the next morning. I was actually surprised at how nice the riding was, not much traffic and a number of bike-lanes, maybe Phoenix isn't as bad as I've always imagined it.

Gene and Dawn as they rode me out of town.

I'd hoped to make it all the way to Tucson in a day, but that didn't quite work out. The ride ended up being about 50 miles more then I expected and the heat got to me. It was the flattest day I've ever seen though! Realizing I wouldn't make it in a day, I stopped for a jug of cold lemonade, and a waited out a little of the heat visiting Casa Grande National monument. There are just so many ruins out here.

Casa Grande NM

I really am in the south: cotton fields! I think these are the first I've ever seen.

I've gotten into the cactus. saguaro and lots I don't know everywhere. It's actually pretty neat looking.
I made it into Tuscon yesterday early afternoon. I found a beautiful, empty house (everyone gone at work) and made myself at home. It feels so good to have a place to relax in and have access to everything I need to catch up on-things do seem to pile up when you're on the road. I'm looking forward to letting my body rest, do a bunch of cooking, plan for the next section of my journey, and take care of my neglected gear. It's so good to see Billie again and be around friends for a little while!

I'll try and get on again today or tomorrow to do a two-month reflection, but it's overwhelming to be on the computer for too long!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Winter (catch-up part II)

OK, hopefully this entry will get me back up to date, or at least close to it.

With the snow flurries in Page, I entered winter weather for a few days. That next day out of Page was by far the coldest yet; I'm sure it didn't get out of the 30's all day-at least it wasn't snowing on me! I rode nearly six hours and 70 miles straight that morning because each time I tried to stop I froze instantly. Once I finally found a gas station I went in and spent at least an hour trying to thaw out and eat. Two people even offered to give me a ride, of course I had no where to get a ride to as I'm not ready tot give into a motel just yet. Luckily I found a decently hidden camp that night where I could relax a little and wait for things to warm up a bit the next morning. Though I didn't get any more snow the next few days, my water bottles were frozen each morning and I spent all day in leggings, booties, jacket and gloves.

View from the road

Disappointed to have missed out on so much of southern Utah, I made my way back in for an abbreviated version of what I had hoped to do. Riding up through Monument Valley to Utah was a treat, wide open spaces with random rock spires and such.

Monument Valley

Then, headed for Natural Bridges National Monument, I rode a quiet back road that turned out to be one of my favorites. Signs warned me of 10% slopes and gravel road ahead; a German couple stopped me to try and disway me from going that way. Stubborn as usual, I just smiled and told them I'd walk me bike if need be. As I rode further and starred at the cliff ahead, I searched for the way up but was clueless. Once I reached the bottom and the road turned to gravel I understood why; it was super narrow and wound in tight switchbacks up the cliff. Luckily it was mostly hard-packed dirt and I was able to enjoy the climb enormously. It gave an incredible view of the valley below and then topped out on a flat mesa covered in juniper with a view of snowy mountains in the distance. I was in haven! This also made for a great camping spot, and being BLM land I even even legal for the first time in quite awhile!

View of the switchbacks

Mesa with mountains

Natural Bridges came next. I saw two NOLS groups-one just heading out and the other part way through their canyoneering sections. From what I'd seen of the area I was ready to join them. Natural Bridges is a small monument, but filled with canyons, three large bridges, and Anasazi ruins. I enjoyed the walks to the bridges and saw some very neat petroglyphs up close.

Canyon with natural bridge

Bridge view

Continuing through southern Utah, I was constantly impressed by the views and canyons that cut around me. I started to fall in love with some of the BLM land out there and am seriously considering moving to the area for awhile (though summers would probably kill me). There is just so much to explore that a trip through, or even a few week vacation, isn't near enough time. Southern Utah now tops my list for places to hurry back to.

Anasazi ruins on BLM land

The morning I slept under the "welcome to Utah" sign off the road, my poor frozen bike. This did not make me excited about mounting it this morning.

Back on the Navajo Reservation and in Arizona, I rode to Canyon De Chelly National Monument. This are is unique in that although it's a National Monument, its still lived in and worked by the Navajo. Cows scattered across the bottom of the canyon and houses were all over the canyon rim. At each overlook, people had spreads of their jewelry and artwork. Being on the Reservation, you can only go to one little area in the canyon, otherwise just to overlooks-you must have a guide to do anything else. I was able to get great views, see some ruins and enjoyed hiking through the sandstone down to White House Ruins.

View of Canyon de Chelly

White House Ruins

Nice cottonwoods on the valley floor

At the grocery store on my way out of Chinle (town next to Canyon de Chelly), I drew a bit of an unwanted crowd-mostly drunk ( I later found out this is a dry reservation). One guy made me sign his t-shirt with "world champion" underneath. From another, I learned that the Spanish built the ancient structuresn south America using native slaves, I should take a train across Russia, then get my commercial drivers licence (a ten wheel will do) to drive to China, the Dali Lama is a thief and China is helping Tibet, that Prince Andrew and another British royal are doing an unsupported charity ride in the US (he hung out in these types of circles), and much more-he was difficult to get away from through had entertaining theories on everything.

Next stop was Petrified Forest National Park. After riding 75 miles there and arriving at 2:30, i was informed this was a day-use park and I had to ride the 28mile road and be out by 5pm. So, although unintentional, this ended up being my first century of the trip (and longest ride ever at 106 miles). Fortunately, much of the last 50 miles were flat and fast, but I still had to race through the park. Two rangers stopped me to make sure I knew I had to be out, one calling me "sir" which I'm getting tired of. I was able to see some nice views of the Painted Desert, some ruins and petroglyphs (from a telescope), but didn't have time to see much of the petrified wood. As a raced out of the park and started searching for a place to camp close by in order to return the next morning, all I saw was flat, grassy land. I thought it would be another one of those nights I've come to dread where I can't hide my tent of the life of me and spend an uncomfortable night with very early morning. However, to me pleasant surprise, right outside the park was a sign that read "free camping" outside a gift shop. This was excellent, though no water or bathrooms, it was a safe, convenient place to camp and even had a picnic table. Having been so log without a table I felt quite civilized cooking dinner that night!

Painted Desert

Back in the park the next morning, I rode to the Rainbow Forest area to see all the petrified wood. In the visitor's center, I met Jonathan. Having been awhile since I'd had a good conversation with someone in person, I was really nice to talk with him and we ended up walking around the area together. The petrified wood is so cool! The colors are unbelievable! Thinking about how this land that's now just grass used to be swamp land with huge trees is mind-blowing.

Petrified Wood

Rainbow Forest Area. (Look, all the woods been bucked already!)

There are some big trees (now stones) there!

Alright, that takes me to Holbrook where I wrote the last post. I didn't bring my camera chord in so can't get pics of this next section so I'll add them next time. I do have to say, I'm back in forest with real trees and it's so nice! I did have a coyote circling me last night that I had to scare off a few times (and with an article headlined "Death by Coyote" that my mom had just sent me, but hadn't had a chance to read yet, made for not the best sleep. The weather is great though and I'll be able to enjoy trees for another two days I think, then back to desert.