Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Road Biking Around Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument

Tsaile Peak about 20 miles NW of Canyon de Chelly
This past weekend the temps were expected to get up into the 50's.  I prepared mentally and physically to get on the bike, Gentle Readers of This Blog!  The last time I rode was back in KS when I was home for Christmas - I went out one day for a short ride in the warm sunshine, which real quick turned into cold headwind, so I high-tailed it back to The Little House.  I'd say it got up 50 there in Lawrence for about 30 minutes, and in that 30 I actually felt human again.

KS back for my visit was super frigid cold - colder than up here most of the time....

It has been very cold up here in High Country too.  Lot of snow - then with that Arizona Sun, some melts, but quickly re-freezes.  I have been lucky to not have crashed going back and forth the mile from my trailer to The Library in the ice and stuff, and as you would expect - I put on studded snow tires and the temps raise to the 50's and the snow (well, most of it) melts away

Saturday morning I got all my shit done - laundry, ironed a few work shirts, did dishes, etc as the temp outside rose from like 18, then to 30, then to 45.  About noon I saddled up.  Living in KS and doing brevets there meant I had to get the cold weather gear.  So I had just the right amount of layers, and I was comfortable in the dry cole- and ready to ride out on the Rez.

The Mighty Trek
The car sits unused.  I save the gas.  By the time the car warms up (should I drive to work) which I will report does not warm up, and does not even get hot by the time I would arrive in the parking lot - I could be at work on my bike.  And could come home and have another cup of coffee by the time I walked from the parking lot to my desk.  You heard me say this shit for years, about people I've worked with that live less than 3 miles from their office - and they drive.  This was primarily in Tucson, where the weather is pretty damn nice all the time.



Okay so I am about to roll out on my first adventure.  What I have been told by many Navajo colleagues is that drunk drivers are like loaded guns - and everywhere.  I will not lie that many times riding to work, empties litter the side of the road - even as alcohol is strictly forbidden on the Reservation - and alcohol at the college will end your academic career forever. I was told that you are gone - unceremoniously shown the door - this goes for students, faculty, and staff.

Often when I drive, in the back of my mind, any on-coming car is a drunk driver.  It's just part of the lore and legend here - but a reality that plays out all the time.  What I will do today is only ride from Dine College to the first two turn-outs in the Monument; Mummy Cave and Massacre Cave.  It should be about 30 or so miles there and back.


Those are the Chuska Mountains.  Tsaile, AZ and Dine College where I work and live are at the base and to the right a little bit.  I think I'm about ten miles out, Gentle Reader.  I like the road as there's a wide shoulder, and the road is straight.  People can see me on the road from pretty far away.  There is a prevailing head-wind that today was not too bad.

I will tell you that starting out, I had to climb for about five miles - that was very tough on me.  I could hardly breathe, and I don't know how long I can blame that on the altitude: When I did reach the highest point  of my ride I was at 7,200 feet (I actually only climbed about 1300) but who knows?  It was difficult.  At the top of the hill (Navajo told me they know that hill) my ribs hurt and my lungs where beat up.

Then I got some down hill and mostly flat road into the head wind, but really was wanting to get to the pull-out.  I almost thought I may have missed it (sign below) because the next pull-out would be 10 more miles.  I was not really ready for a 50 60 mile ride today!


I've been riding right along side the Canyon.


Little Egypt and I drove out here on her Thanksgiving visit, but by bike, you can really see and get a feel for the land.  I enjoyed this first view as back there is Tsaile Peak, which really dominates the campus!  Slowly, I'm meeting people at Dine that know the way to Tsaile Peak, by road that I can bike, and have climbed it - one of the faculty is from Chinle (30 miles from Dine College) and is married into a family that lives in the Canyon.  He will take me there - he also knows the roads and has biked himself from Tsaile to Chinle via the back ways - most white people don't know these roads and are not allowed as you can only enter the Monument with a Navajo Guide.  Well, my new friend knows all the rangers, all the families.  I may have a very rare opportunity to actually ride into the canyon to Chinle - but maybe I should not write about that


There is no one around so it's fun to be on the fast rollers in the park - but you have to watch out for horses.  When Little E and I were here, they were on the road - kind of mean and tough looking horses, and depending if they're used to people, or were once pets - if they are hungry they may come and see if they can get a handout - but be careful because they will stomp over you to get to that chip or candy bar.  Best leave them alone.


I could take (and did) scores of photos of this place!  But my main objective is to this time ride to here, and return.  Get a feel for the course and how much time etc.  See how I improve, and of course, go a bit long next time.  Really for me to ride to the Monument's Visitor's Center one-way is 30 miles.  To continue to the other pull-outs on the other side, and then return back to The College - it will be close to 90 or even 100 miles.



Mummy Cave - these were built about 1000 to 1100 AD, and were occupied for about 200 to 300 years.  During cold winter nights hold up in TS - 39 (my little one-room trailer) I read a book by Campbell Grant, "Canyon de Chelly - Its People and Rock Art"

Next I want to read about the geology so I can understand the miles as they pass by the Mighty Trek and I...



It is still quite a walking dream-like movie I'm living - I mean can you believe I'm actually in this country?  Often I cannot, mes amis - I'm doing this and doing that - typical campus stuff - and then Tsaile Peak strikes me - I'm in this Country.


Heading back now and I have a tailwind - oh so nice.  I can look around a bit more, and see the mountains that I live with.  I'm not sure but there's Buffalo Pass that one day I will attempt - its like Mt. Lemmon but probably a bit more dangerous (drivers going fast - drunks - I've been told Highwaymen) but we'll see.


I want to let you know Gentle Readers of This Blog, that one of the things I did while waiting for the warmest time to ride, was renewing my RUSA Membership - Randonneurs USA.  I am going to get back up on that horse - but more about that later.


11 miles of tailwind and a slight descent means I make really good time heading back!


Okay, I have to make one last really difficult and long climb.  Driving by car I did not notice this, but Tsaile and The College are down there I'd say five to six miles off?  The college is off to the right.  Notice the snow still hanging on there on the right.  Just this brief pause for a photo, and then off I go.

I enjoyed this part because it was fast and I was flying, mes amis!  But I was warned because not long before I arrived, a faculty member crashed at high speed coming back to The College.  Some people said he hit a cow, some say a rock - but probably he may have tried to avoid a cow and then crashed.  I was careful because even though this looks like an okay road in my pictures - it is not the best road, so I think said faculty member probably hit a rut or something and crashed.  Poor man - he has not been heard from and will probably not be returning.

Trailer Park

So there's the trailer park.  On the weekends pretty much everyone is outta here - I guess I don't blame them.  It is a tough place to be, and the Navajo staff that live here probably go see there relatives someplace.  

I'll be out on the road if things are good.  Maybe you''ll see me out there - If you are ever out this way, let me know - we'll go for a ride.  I hope to have my lungs in good working order so you don't drop me!  Be safe and enjoy the roads, and as always, thanks for stopping by the blog!

Cheers!  Bruce

1 comment:

Dan Trued said...

What a change! A part of the state you don't hear much about. 7200 feet would hurt, until you're acclimated.

Dan