Saturday, May 12, 2007

Part 13 Lon's Cross Country 1981

Part 13
I reached the summit of Mingus Mountain shortly after sundown. The next 40 miles were mostly downhill to Prescott. I could see the lights of the town across the grassy plains. I rolled into Prescott before midnight. The crew made camp in the parking lot of a supermarket. We all slept about six hours that night. I woke up a sunrise and proceeded through town on mostly vacant streets. I met a local cyclist who was heading out for his morning ride. He knew I wasn’t a local rider and wondered what I was doing riding my bike across town. I told him about trying to set the Double Transcontinental Record. He remembered seeing John Marino come through Prescott the year before during his solo record setting ride. The fellow said he rode with John for a few miles also.

He gave me a water bottle from a Prescott Bike shop. I gave him one of the 50 new Specialized bottles the crew kept for promotional use. We rode together about five miles up the grade leaving town. He warned me about the desert ahead. I told him I had been riding in desert since New Mexico. “No, the desert ahead is hotter” he said. We said goodbye to each other and he coasted back into town. I was alone again except for my leap frogging support car. The terrain and scenery was spectacular with over 50 twisting turns in the next 20 miles. The town of Yarnell sits on the edge of the mountain rim overlooking the expansive flat desert 2,000 feet below. I could look out and see almost 100 miles of sand and scrub brush. I looked for the Pacific Ocean in the distance, but it was still 350 miles way.

As I dropped down Yarnell Grade the heat of the desert increased a few degrees every mile. It was a comfortable 85 degrees at the top. At the bottom it was well over 100 degrees and it was still midmorning. I took the highways of Rt. 71 and Rt. 60 southwest toward Interstate 10. Dust Devil mini tornados danced in the distance for minutes at a time before dissipating and then reforming a half a mile later. It was getting really hot now. The crew had been feeding me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as I rode one handed. Before I could finish a sandwich the bread had become crunchy like toast. I had to chew with my mouth closed because the hot wind would make my dry lips and tongue stick together like licking a metal flagpole in winter. The smell of the desert was a cross between dried herbs and burnt toast. If hot could have a smell, it smelled like this desert.

It was near the town of Aguila that I motioned for the support car to pull beside me. Susan Notorangelo was sitting in the passenger seat and handed me a ice cold water bottle. I told her “You know a woman had never set a transcontinental record under 15 days”. She said “There’s a good reason for that. It’s hot out there”. That was the first seed that was planted getting Susan to start thinking about riding long distances. One year later, almost to the day, Susan would be racing from Los Angeles back to New York on the same section of road across the desert on her way to setting an 11 day, 16 hour Women’s Transcontinental Record.

I eventually merged onto I-10 near the town of Quartzite. The sun was going down and offered some relief from the 110 degree heat of the afternoon. I rolled through Blythe, California on the perfectly smooth blacktop shoulder of the interstate. The heat still radiated off the shiny surface like a pancake griddle. I was counting down the miles to the Pacific Ocean. At the top of every grade I would stand up on the pedals to get a better view of the ocean ahead. I knew it had to be just over the next hill. I rode into the night and was starting to feel as bad as riding to Albuquerque two nights before. My thoughts were divided between anticipation of finally reaching the ocean and self doubt that I could make it through the night. I rode for almost 100 miles that night across the desert. At about 3:00 AM I reached the top of Chiriaco Summit. I started coasting down the grade. In front of me were a million lights of Los Angeles. I had made across the country. It was all downhill from here. I confirmed my observations with the crew. They said “No not quite. The lights are Palm Springs. You still have 150 miles to go”.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Part 12...Lon's First Cross Country 1981

Part 12
I had never been to Arizona and as soon as I crossed the state line I knew I was someplace unique. The landscape and rocks were as different here as New Mexico was different from Texas. As we approached the towns of Sanders and Chambers we were warned by local gas station owners that we were entering Indian Country. The warning seemed more appropriate 100 years ago. I couldn’t imagine people being any different in Arizona than they were anywhere else. We didn’t have any problems with Indians or other locals during our ride across Arizona.

After riding for about 80 miles on the interstate we came to the town of Holbrook. The Wigwam Motel was an area landmark that had been over grown by weeds. The 15 cement tepees were an icon on Route 66 postcards. It would be another 10 years before this motel would be remodeled and return to it’s glory years of Route 66 fame. The next town west was Winslow. This was another town that had seen better days. The one-way divided main street was lined with closed stores and $14 a night motels. The “Eagles” song of “Stand’in On a Corner In Winslow Arizona” was play’n in my head. The highlight was leaving town and seeing the snow capped peak of Bill Humphrey’s Peak 60 miles away near Flagstaff. At over 12,000 feet this mountain is the highest point in Arizona.

The grade from Winslow to Flagstaff climbed another 2,000 feet. The mountain peak seemed to stay in the distance similar to the grain silos in Kansas. It would take me most of the afternoon to finally reach Flagstaff. A local television station wanted to do an interview there. We met just as I was getting off the interstate and heading south on Rt. 89-A toward Oak Creek Canyon. It was a fast interview and I was glad to be off the interstate for a while. I would ride straight south for the next 150 miles through some of the best scenery of the trip. The red rock cliffs and Ponderosa pine forests were a refreshing change from the interstate.

The corkscrew descent down to Sedona was a thrill as I out coasted my support car through the hairpin turns. The cool temperature was just right to need arm warmers but not tights on my legs. I crossed through Camp Verde at 3,500 feet elevation and started the climb up 7,000 foot Mingus Mountain. The motor home had driven ahead and called back on the CB radio about the town of Jerome just ahead. “You won’t believe the narrow streets” they said, “We can barely fit the motor home downtown”. In 1981 Jerome was a run down mining town hanging on my it’s teeth to the side of the mountain. Most of the stores were closed and remembered better days fifty years earlier. I was feeling good spinning up the grade 7% grade. I was feeling better than I had the entire trip. The routine of the crew was smooth and efficient. Everybody felt good about the progress we made today. Tonight I felt like I was on an after dinner social ride. Even racer crew member Jon Royer commented that I was climbing better now than in West Virginia. In the back of my mind I knew my freshness wouldn’t last. It would be dark soon and the fatigue of riding into the night would visit me again.