Saturday, June 26, 2010

Grand Canyon Bicycle Tour, Days 8 and 9

I on the 8th day (Saturday), I woke to a warmer morning than I'd had farther north, but it was still cool and pleasant.  I packed up my gear and stopped by Josh's campsite for a cup of coffee before heading out.  My plan was to take NM-173 to Aztec rather than sticking to the original plan of going through Bloomfield, and then on to Farmington via NM-516.  I had been told that, while the terrain is more hilly, there is less oil traffic that way.

Right after leaving the state park around 9:00, I rode down the afore-mentioned dam.  Shortly thereafter, I saw a group of turkey vultures around a carcass - it was like a scene from a nature documentary, but difficult to photograph at that distance with my point-and-shoot camera.

Turkey vultures near NM-151

The Navajo Dam community, at the junction of NM-511 and NM-173, has some services as well as a bed-and-breakfast, but I didn't have any need to stop.  The ride to Aztec was pretty difficult, with more of the steep, rolling hills that I'd experienced the day before.  I came to the conclusion that, when laden with touring gear, I prefer long climbs over shorter, steeper ones.  The rollers through this area don't give the body enough time to adjust and fall into a good rhythm before the climb is over and you're descending again.  And the descents are always too short.

The desert along NM-173

The road goes ever on and on

Shortly after the junction with NM-575, a valley opens up and the climbing is essentially over.  I more-or-less coasted into Aztec and took a left onto US-550.  I stopped for lunch at the Aztec Restaurant, which boasted home-style cooking.  It was good fare, and I probably ate more than I needed.  It took a while for the food-induced drowsiness to wear off.

Traffic on NM-516 to Farmington was pretty heavy, and there wasn't a great shoulder.  But it turned out to be a very flat and quick ride.  In Pagosa Springs, I had been referred to the Cottonwood Cyclery, which I soon found right on the main strip as I entered Farmington.  I spoke to one of the employees there to get more information about where to stay in town and what to expect when riding through Arizona.  I then doubled back and got a room at the Super 8 motel, situated in an area with plenty of shopping options.

I had been asked before my trip started whether I would be staying at any motels along the way, or if it was going to be all camping.  My response was that I wasn't laying down any rules for the trip.  I would use motels if I needed to, or if I felt like getting a break from camping.  In this case, the decision was driven by both.  I had decided to take a rest day, and the motel offered enough comfort to get sufficient rest.  Also, I had developed some saddle sores and an aching hip.  The pool and hot tub at the motel gave me some much-needed recuperation.  And there aren't any campgrounds that I could discover in the Farmington or Shiprock areas anyway, so there wasn't much choice but to stay in a motel.

Farmington was the first town where I got a cell phone signal from my carrier, and I finally got data service.  I was able to catch up on the news and talk to my family a bit more than usual without racking up more roaming charges.  I got a microwave meal and some scotch from the grocery store and just relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Real beds feel so good.

The next day, Sunday, I walked to the Zia sporting goods store to see if I could find an extra water bladder to ensure that I was well-prepared for the remainder of the journey.  Even though I expected to be able to refill my water pretty frequently, I didn't want to take any chances.  There is also a Big 5 sporting goods store on that road, but Zia unsurprisingly turned out to have better camping equipment.  The walk turned out to be rather farther than I would have liked for a rest day (8 miles or so, round-trip), but it was nice to be off the bike and using different muscles for a while.

The motel provided a complementary breakfast, but on my way to Zia, I became quite hungry.  I thought I was going to stop at a fast-food restaurant for whatever egg-and-meat-on-bread offering they had, but then I saw a sign.  It was as though the heavens opened up and a ray of divine inspiration shone through the clouds: Golden Corral All You Can Eat Breakfast Buffet.  It was 10:30, so I didn't have much time until they switched to the lunch menu.  I made the most of the time I had and finished about four plates of food.  It was great.

Aside from that, Sunday involved sitting in the hot tub, watching stupid movies on television, taking inventory of my food, and making preparations for my departure the next day.

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