109.45 miles, 4,370 feet of climbing
Today was the most critical day of my trip. If there was a day when I was going to quit, this was it. This was, by far, the hardest day so far and the hardest I hope to have.
This was my 12th day of riding, which meant I as very tired. I just wanted to get it out of the way so I could rest.
At the end of yesterday’s ride, my front tire felt a little soft. I had realized that I hadn’t checked the pressure at the start of the ride, so I filled it up and got everything ready.
I got up at 4 a.m. (my time, so that was 3 a.m. in Page). I wanted to get an early start and beat the heat. As I was taking my bike out to the truck, I realized that the tire was soft again. Sigh.
I changed the tire and had a heck of a time putting the tires back on. I was running Grand Prix 5000 hoping the lighter weight would make it easier to ride 1,700 miles, but 5000s are insanely difficult to put on the rim. I know that there are people who change them with ease by hand. I’m not one of those people. I have a large blister on my thumb from trying and failing to change my tire without levers.
As I was putting the accidentally punctured the new tube with a tire lever. I took it back off and patched the hole. I put it back on and put another hole in the tube. Once again I patched the hole.
By now I had enough of the Grand Prix tires so I pulled out the Gatorskins I usually use and put them on the front tire. I pumped it up. There’s always a moment when you’re filling them where the tires will snap onto the bead. As I pumped them up there was a snap. Annie, who was holding the wheel said, “The tire popped out!”
Before I could release the air pressure, the tube exploded like a gunshot—just outside the hotel at 4 a.m. We waited, wondering if any lights would come on or if the cops would show up. None did. I found another tube that I had patched but seemed to hold air and put it on. Finally. Fourth time’s the charm, right?
We loaded up and drove to Bitter Springs to start the ride. It was only an hour and a half after we had originally scheduled. Looked like I was going to be riding in the heat.
But when we got to Bitter Springs, I took my bike off the rack and discovered that the tire was flat again. I was out of tubes and ready to give up. We had passed Kelly’s truck just before stopping, so Annie went to borrow a tire from James, Kelly’s husband. Meanwhile I had a meltdown on the side of the road.
Finally I was able to get a tire on that kept air in.
And I started the ride. The fatigue had been building up so I took some caffeine to keep myself going.
I should probably stop here and mention that I grew up in Grantsville. In the 1980s, Grantsville had a feral dog problem. People from Salt Lake who didn’t want their dog anymore would drop off the animal somewhere around town assuming some farmer would adopt the animal (or that’s what my mom told me). It’s how I got Cougar, a small dachshund mix that wandered onto Dad’s place when I was six.
Not all the animals were adopted and a large feral pack formed, attacking livestock and some people. I grew up reading letters to the editor about the problem. Mayor Brown and the police department took a hard line and started killing the strays—and any dog whose owner was not readily apparent. This led to a PR problem and editorial cartoons.
That’s a really long way to say that I was concerned about today’s ride through the Navajo reservation. I’ve heard a lot about the feral “res dog” and was afraid of being attacked by a pack of dogs.
Literally one minute into the ride, a pack of dogs crossed the road ahead of me. I stopped the bike and waited, hoping they wouldn’t notice me. But I was wearing a blinking hi-viz vest and had a flashing 900-lumen light on my bike.
The dogs started barking at me and running toward me.
I yelled for Annie, hoping she could bring the truck up, but a glance over my shoulder said she was too far away. There were half a dozen of them and they started fanning out around me. I started screaming “No!” “Go on!” and “Leave!” at them and started throwing rocks. I was nowhere near hitting them (they weren’t that close yet) but after a couple of minutes the dogs started leaving.
So I got back on my bike and tried again. The first 20 miles were a slow uphill. I pedaled my way along when I heard biking. I saw two dogs in front of a Hogan on my right. They started running after me. Shoot. Again.
I took off up the hill, Pretty soon I was doing 18 mph—uphill. The dogs kept coming but by the time they reached the road, I was 50 yards away and sprinting hard. They gave up.
A few miles later, a dog appeared in a driveway in front of me. It started barking and coming out. By now my fear and frustration over the tires had boiled and grown inside of me. The dog picked up its pace. There seemed to be no way out. I reached for my tire pump. If this dog was going to bit me, it was going to pay for the privilege. I let out a guttural roar and got ready to fight. I surprised myself with the sound that came out. The dog pulled up short and blinked. Then he turned and went back into the yard, probably thinking to himself, “I don’t know what that was, but I don’t think I want to fight that level of crazy.”
That was the last dog problem.
At mile 20, I started heading downhill. My average pace of 13 mph picked up. I enjoyed the next 30 miles despite the understated sign “Rough road next 34 miles.” I started picking up my pace enough that I thought I might be able to swing over for a quick visit to the Grand Canyon with my family once I got to Cameron.
That is, until the winds started. The last few miles into Cameron were some of the most punishing I have ever experienced. My progress slowed to a crawl. When I reached the truck, I watched Annie’s ballcap blow off her head and she had to chase it for 20 yards before she got it back.
I changed my kit, ate, and got back on my bike. I took my headphones with me. They’re the bone-conduction kind, which means I can hear what’s going on around me, but I really needed my motivation playlist in these conditions. I had 48 miles of climbing and with this wind, it would probably take me several hours.
Annie and the kids went to see the Grand Canyon, and I continued my long slog. The good news was that with the heavy cross/headwinds, things stayed moderately cool, especially with my cooling layers on.
It was a long, hard afternoon. The winds finally died down and some scattered rainstorms moved in. I climbed up into the Cochino Forest. The trees were blackened from recent wildfires. I finally reached the summit and descended into Flagstaff. One thing I love about Flagstaff is the smell of pines.
I started counting down the miles. When I had eight miles left, I got ANOTHER flat tire. Since it was the only decent tube I had left, I pulled out the slowly leaking tube that had been on my bike in the first place. I put it on, knowing that I could eke out the miles before it went flat again.
Once I reached my planned destination, I continued on another half mile just to say that the difficulty of the ride hadn’t beat me.
But I have never been so glad to be done with a ride. And at least I can take a rest tomorrow. After two weeks we have now gone
I’ve had a few people ask about why Kelly and I don’t seem to be riding together.
The truth of the matter is, we’re not. During our practice ride, it became obvious that we ride at very different paces. It’s difficult to reconcile these differences because Kelly needs to ride slow enough that the pace is sustainable day after day. I need to ride fast enough that I can get off my bike and provide some relief for the saddle sores that have plagued me since the last few weeks of training.
So we each ride our own pace and see each other occasionally. We did try to start together. We’ll try to meet at the Mexican border on Thursday. I am happy to report that Kelly seems to be feeling better and has been able to do each day’s ride.
2 comments on “Ride 89 Day 12”
Shem, what an amazing experience! Thanks for sharing. You and Kelly are my heroes.
Glad you made it to Flagstaff. Sounds like Monday will be through Sedona to Prescott? I think the 89 from Flagstaff to Sedona is one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the country. I hope you enjoy it.
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