Day 12 – Climbing into the Mountains Toward New Mexico

Climbing toward New Mexico

The notch in the far distance is the pass--preceded by lots of hairpin switchbacks. Click on any image to see a larger version.

4 April 2011 (posted the following evening). I’m at the Cole Creek Campground in Apache National Forest. Beautiful spot. As soon as I got over the pass from the west, ponderosa pine appeared; it’s great to see a tree again!. So it’s more than dust, gravel, and cactus at this campground, which is just over 6,000 feet in elevation.

Quite a day of climbing it was! I started around 7:20 at my WarmShowers host family in Safford. Over breakfast, I chatted with Mons Larson’s father—that’s the house where I’m actually staying. Real character. He must be at least 80, but is president of the Electric Co-op with 10,000 customers and seven or eight power plants—some coal, some natural gas; he also delivers excess milk to poor people and a soup kitchen. Also, a great sense of humor.

Approaching mountains

As you leave Safford and Solomon, the mountains seem far in the distance. The shoulder along Route 70 here was great--and almost no traffic.

The mountains draw nearer

But those mountains get closer.

Leaving Safford I was on Arizona Highway 70 and 191 and had a nice tail wind (not nearly as strong as yesterday). Fairly soon, 70 and 191 separate, and I headed northeast on 191. The tailwind turned into a side wind, then a headwind, which was too bad, but I made reasonable time approaching the mountains to the east.

There were two significant climbs today. The first was about 1,800 feet, after which two-thirds of that is lost as 191 drops back down to the Gila River and the “town” of Three Way (where I got a few snacks for the afternoon and to add to my gourmet dinner).

Gorgeous country

Beautiful country along the highway here.

Dropping back down to the Gila River

These signs are always encouraging--until you realize that you'll have to make up the lost elevation. Here, I've just passed Guthrie Peak and am dropping down to the Gila River.

Crossing the Gila River

This is quite a bit upstream from my Gila River crossing near Safford. It's great to see a "river" with water in it!

While it warrants a "town" designation on the map, Three Way is really just an intersection with a convenience store. Significantly, they have a water faucet. I stoked up for the rest of today, tonight, and tomorrow.

The second climb is a lot bigger, and tougher. In fact, it may be the toughest climb on this Southern Tier route (though not the highest). From the Gila River at about 3,600 feet, it’s a steady climb—very steep for the last five miles—to 6,295 feet. The last part of the climb has a series of hairpin switchbacks—pretty dramatic.

Toward the pass

Heading toward the pass--a view off to the north.

Apache National Forest

Entering Apache National Forest.

As I was plodding my way up the last stretch (rarely going over 4 mph) the same group of antique European sports cars kept passing me that passed me a couple days ago as I was climbing out of Superior—and navigating that scary tunnel. It must be a classic sports car road rally of some sort. I don’t know my early European cars; I suspect some were Jaguars. The steering wheel was on the right in most of them. Some had an offset vertical fin in the rear.

Looking back to the west

Looking back from the switchbacks that head upward toward the pass.

Antique sports car

At least a dozen, high-pitched, antique European sports cars passed me; I could hear (and recognize) them several miles away. The drivers were clearly enjoying the hairpin curves. Who can identify this car?

Rally cars

These drivers must have been participating in a road rally of some sorts. I wonder if they needed a support vehicle with leaded (or at least non-ethanol) gasoline for the vintage engines? Can you identify these cars?

Here's a rear shot of this group. Photographing fast sports cars really cries out for a digital SLR. It was tough to catch them with a point-and-shoot!

A last look back

A last look back at the switchbacks before I head over the pass and toward New Mexico.

I am particularly pleased to report that my knee feels far better today than it did yesterday! I think raising me seat about a half-inch was a big help. What a relief. I think a rest day in Silver City is still a good idea, though. I’ll be sure to eat some gelatin to help out my knee cartilage, as Mons suggested, and I’ll get some glucosamine, as Jerelyn suggested.

After coming over the big pass this afternoon and checking out the first campground, I decided to bike another five miles to this one—which will get me somewhat closer to Silver City. At one point along the way I heard some loud rustling and pulled over. There were to, large javalinas in the woods, hightailing it for higher ground.

What an odd creature. Javalinas, also known as the Collard Peccary (Pecari tajacu) bears a superficial resemblance to pigs, but they are actually in a different family altogether. They migrated naturally from South America to the Southwestern U.S. fairly recently, and are now quite common in parts of Arizona.

Home away from home

My first use of my new solo tent from Marmot. I was bummed to find that the vibration and rubbing (?) had worn holes in the stuff sack where it was lashed onto my rear bike rack.

It’s nearly dark now. I’m hearing an owl in the distance. Sort of a short hollow whistle. I have a bird guide app on my iPhone; maybe I’ll try to identify it from that. …Well, that didn’t work quite so well; still not sure what it was.

Gourmet dinner and photo sorting

My gourmet dinner of cold beans, wheat thins, cheese spread, a carrot and an apple. And no one to tell me to put my computer away! Of course, the conversation was a little weak!

Well, it’s now totally dark, and bugs are attracted to my computer. I think I’ll retire to the tent and see what that’s like.

All right. I’ve closed up camp for the night, hung the food, brushed my teeth, made my pillow out of my down vest and sleeping bag stuff sack. I’m lying down on my back in the tent (too small to sit up in) and have the computer propped up on my knees. Not too bad really! I’m not sure how cold it’s supposed to get tonight; we’ll see how my summer-rated bag does.

The last thing I wanted to relate was a sort-of bizarre conversation I had after dinner with an old codger and drove up in his van. I had been picking up trash around the campground and I didn’t want to carry it out. Seeing someone arrive in a vehicle, I thought, ah, perfect; I’ll ask if they can take the trash with them. So I walked over and said hello and asked if he’d be willing to cart the trash out (it was all cleanly tied in a plastic bag).

He looked at my like I was from outer space. “You picked that up from around here?” he asked, incredulous. “Bury it, that’s what I usually do. Or burn it.” I mentioned pollution from the plastic and he just looked at me funny. I thought he was sort-of egging me on—fooling with one of them environmentalist. He took the bag and I figured he’d drive it out.

But no, a little while later, while I was writing at my picnic table, I saw him dutifully burning it. I’ve been regretting taking it back from him when he said he’d burn it. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth!

Total miles today 51, average speed 8.6 mph (and that included a long, fast downhill where I reached 35 mph). I’m tired. It’s only 7:45 pm, but a few miles down the road (in New Mexico) it’s 8:45. I think I can call it a night!

I should be able to make it to Silver City without too much difficulty tomorrow. It appears to be 62 miles (from my map). There is some climbing, but nothing like today.