Sunday, June 27, 2010

Grand Canyon Bicycle Tour, Day 12

I woke up in my room at the Anasazi Inn feeling refreshed and optimistic.  I had about 143 miles left to go, but my official plan was to make it to the Kaibab National Forest just south of Grand Canyon National Park.  The next day would then be an easy ride to Grand Canyon Village.  This was not to be.

Mornings had typically been calm, even if the wind picked up later in the day.  But by the time I got on the road, the wind was already blowing steadily out of the west.  It got worse throughout the day, until every pedal stroke was dogged by that incessant headwind.

I stopped at Elephant Feet, a rock formation near Tonalea/Red Lake.  There, some Navajo women had set up tables where they were selling beaded jewelry.  I talked to them for a little while and picked up some gifts for my wife and daughter.  A little way down the road, Tonalea has the only convenience store I recall seeing between Tsegi and Tuba City.

Elephant Feet near Tonalea, AZ

I had hoped to reach Tuba City around noon, but the going was slow and it turned out to be a little after 13:00 before I would arrive there.  Tuba City turns out to be an almost exact copy of Kayenta as far as services and restaurants are concerned.  There was another Pizza Edge there, but on this day, I decided to eat at a Chinese restaurant called the Golden Rice Bowl.  The food there wasn't great - roughly on par with Panda Express - and I got the feeling that I was interrupting the employees' social time.

I talked to my wife for a little bit before getting back on the road.  I was wary of riding farther in that wind, which was a sustained 20 miles per hour when I stopped for lunch.  But my wife affectionately told me to suck it up and get back out there.  Tired as I was, I still believed that I could make it to Kaibab that afternoon.

Leaving Tuba City turns out to be one of the worst decisions of the trip.  The other big mistake was failing to refill all of my water bottles before leaving.  I thought I had enough to make the 26 miles to Cameron.  The wind had picked up even more.  My progress was painfully slow, averaging somewhere around 7 miles per hour.  At one point I had to dismount and walk my bike for the first time on this trip: the wind just made it impossible to control my bike, and I was nearly blown into traffic.

Two hours later, after turning south from US-160 to US-89, I had to stop at a roadside native crafts stand and ask for some water to get me the rest of the way to Cameron.  A tourist customer there obliged me while the Navajo woman working there told me that Cameron was only 14 miles down the road, and I could get water there.  I told her that I knew that, but that it would still take me two hours to get there.  The extra water given to me there helped greatly, and having enough to drink was no longer one of my concerns on that stretch of road.

Junction of US-160 and US-89

The wind, on the other hand, continued to be my nemesis.  It became primarily a cross wind once I got onto US-89.  Through several stretches I was blasted by loose sand blowing across the road.  I had to dismount again, as the sandstorm was blinding me.  And the shoulder on this highway is very inconsistent.  Frequently it is narrow and half-occupied by a rumble strip.  I had to ride in the traffic lane, but the many tour buses and RVs didn't always want to make room for me.  Controlling my bike was a major struggle, and on several occasions I was inches away from being struck by a passing vehicle.

By the time I got to Cameron, I knew I needed to get off of the road for the day.  I think there is an RV park and lodge in town, but I didn't have much hope for there being any vacancies.  So I stopped by the local post office to inquire about churches in the town.  Somehow it is a time-honored tradition for churches to take in bicycle tourists, allowing them to pitch their tents on the church grounds for the night.  The post office was closed, but a local Navajo man came in to check his PO box.  I asked him about churches, and he offered to put my bike in the back of his truck and drive me to the nearest one.  It was only just up the road, but I gratefully accepted the offer.  Once the man figured out that all I really needed was a place to put up my tent, he said that I could have done so in his own yard.

I won't go into detail about exactly which church it was where I stayed - after all, they're trying to run a church, not a youth hostel.  But the minister and his wife were very kind, and I didn't feel like I was able to thank them enough for their hospitality.  I used the hose outside to rinse off as much of the sand from my skin as possible.  When it became evident that there was no place where my tent would be sheltered from the wind, the minister offered to let me sleep inside the church building.  The accommodations there were almost as nice as a motel, but that I had to sleep on the floor.  There was a bathroom where I was able to clean myself up a bit and a kitchen where I was able to prepare a hot supper.

Camping upstairs in a church

Treacherous as it was, I made good progress for the day - about 85 miles.  And even though I didn't quite make it to Kaibab, I had set myself up well for the following day's ride.

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