Sunday, September 14, 2014

Glass and Bones of Canyon de Chelly

You could ride into the Canyon if your brakes fail - ha ha
I made a quick ride down to the first Pull-out of the Park, Gentle Readers of This Blog.  Mornings are now cold - at times in the high 30s and low 40s.  But as the soon as the Sun comes up over the mountains, things warm steadily.   Since I got a much later start, I thought just a quick spin down to Mummy Cave would be perfect.  The Titanium LeMond Arrive has sat idle for a few weeks - I've intended to take her out after work - but it's been too rainy.

So while I had a few cups of coffee and a bit of breakfast, I let the Sun start up the Day.

Needed long-sleeves this morning
Still cool, I wore my old long-sleeve yellow jersey.  All my Navajo friends and co-workers are harvesting their corn fields this weekend.  Yellow would be an appropriate color for today.  Thing was that all the flowers and bushes and growing things were in bright yellow bloom too - so as I rode I felt like was blending right in with the Day!

I sped right into the parking lot of the Mummy Cave Pull-out - I brought money because I wanted to buy a necklace for Little Egypt from one of the Navajo guys I see and talk to who sells jewelry on the sidewalk.  No one was there - I think that means tourist season is over?

Very quite and serene.  The air is clean and the sky brilliant - I walked out to the very edge.  Probably about a mile to the other side, and easily 600 to 900 feet down.  Sitting quietly I hear the echos of ravens, and sometimes a whirl of wind.  Below where I'm sitting on the edge is Mummy Cave.  I'm not sure when, but when early tourist were here (over 100 years ago) and looters, they found people buried in the ruins - the Anasazi or Ancient Ones.

Further south from here, and about a mile away in this same Pull-out is Massacre Cave.  Spanish soldiers were chasing some Navajo circa 1800, and a group of women and children were hiding in a cave on the cliff.  The Spanish couldn't get to them but they did fire at them for several hours at the cave's entrance - bullets ricocheted into the cave from off the wall and that killed most of the people.  Their bones are still in there according to the people (who do not disturb the cave) and mentioned in a book I read about the rock art written by Campbell Grant in the 1970s.

Click to see bigger image
 Some tourists did arrive as I was walking out of the trees from the edge with my bike.  For a second they looked puzzled - did I ride up from the bottom of the Canyon or something?  No way?  I told them I was enjoying a quiet spot, and riding back home.

There is a nice lookout that you can walk around on with a railing.  I would not venture too close the edge because the rocks can be loose and a fall would be fatal.  Still I see tourists, mainly European, with their little kids, sitting on the edge of the Canyon with their feet hanging over.

Glass and Bones
It had been only last week that this pony was hit by the car - now mostly the pony is skeleton covered by hide and white ribs showing.  Glass and bits of plastic still litter the road.  Navajo Police most likely dragged the pony over into the ditch.
Pony Fast Bike
Riding home, the wind came up and I had a fragrant tailwind of cool canyon rain and pinion trees.  It seemed like a large grey rain cloud followed me up the road to see where I was going - it keep me cool as I climbed.

Dave Glasgow, Tucson, Arizona
I had a photo of Dave on my phone from my Labor Day visit.  I had tried for several months to reach Dave with calls, and I even sent him a few postcards.  Finally I got some information from my friend John.  Dave had had a spill in Saguaro National Park - a serious bike crash - and was slowly recovering from a broken leg, broken ribs, and a head injury.

Dave was able to meet John and I for an evening meal, which really cheered him up.  We insisted he eat - he looked very thin - and the owner of the restaurant, the Indian Oven, who was a friend of Dave's brought more and more and Dave got his appetite and ate hardily.

John had told me that he had seen Dave a few weeks before, and he looked in really bad shape.  I called and left messages for Dave, letting him know I was driving down to Tucson.  He did leave me a message while I was pumping some gas on my drive down, and told me he got my messages - that he'd been injured - and that it was very hard for him to reach his phone.

Anyway, it was good to see him and although he's older, he's still a force of energy and enthusiasm.

Okay, thanks for stopping by the blog!

Cheers!  Bruce

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Ride on a Rain Cloud

Cruising down the mountain to Chinle
Saturday was more like In-A-Funk Day.  After my Tucson trip, I had a ton of work at the office - and the eight hour drive back Monday evening was long and I was very tired.  Saturday I actually finished unpacking all the shit I brought down to Tucson - mostly tools and house-cleaning supplies.  I had tons of laundry to do, as I worked outside in the yard, had to dig a few holes for trees I planted.  I suppose I was just exhausted.

But as you can see, I'm flying down Hwy 64, the road that runs along the Park Boundary, and quickly will be rolling into the Park HQ at Canyon de Chelly.

Listening to "Sunday Morning Baroque" on the Public Radio out of Ignacio, CO
As it was only 45 degrees (actually felt colder) I waited for the Sun to come up and warm the air before I took off.  I made some coffee and got ready for my 50 mile ride down to the Visitor Center and back.

Really just a beautiful September morning.  Not hot and not cold - just right.

Pony on the road
There was no traffic at all, Gentle Readers of This Blog.  Only a few ponies, but not near the road which is where I like them!

I always see this Lizard every time I stop for water.
As I was coming down about 40 MPH the last few miles into Chinle and the Visitor Center, a cowboy in a truck came up behind me, but he slowed so I could take the whole lane.  That meant I could really stomp the pedals, and I flew into the Visitor Center like an arrow!

While I was riding down, I could smell hardy Navajo breakfast cooking on the fires in the houses and Hogans - I was getting super hungry!  I made a quick turn and went down to the Sacred Canyon Lodge to get breakfast at the Thunderbird.

But you know, I didn't pack my Debit Card - I only had a few bucks.  Really messed that up!  I just had a Cliff Bar and sat under the big Cottonwood Trees by the Trading Post.

The Navajo women working at the Cafeteria let me come in and fill my water bottles with ice!  I told them I had forgot my money, but I'd stop in next time!

Usually there's some traffic on the road right by the Park HQ and Visitor Center, and I usually don't ride down to the Thunderbird - but I did stop to take two quick photos for you.  The HQ you don't see because there's a sharp turn and it's tricky when you stop.  I know how the T in the road is but it always bewilders tourists.

I zoom over the bridge here on Chinle Creek as I'm coming down the last few miles into the Park.  Navajo friends told me they have seen water from the Canyon take out the bridge before!  It happens every so many years they say!

Hard to imagine the Chinle Creek raging with water from the Chuska Mountains up where I live, crashing through here and wiping out the bridge - that I'm riding over right now!

The Climb back up to 7200!

 I'm actually feeling pretty good - climbing and making quick work of the first five miles back up to Tsaile and The College.

Tsaile Peak appears about 20 mile North as I climb Hwy 64

Leaving Chinle's hot and dry sandy rocks, and now feeling the cool green of the Defiance Plateau, I'm done with the hard part, Gentle Readers.  Rain is forecast for today, and I feel a cool and strong tailwind, a tailwind that will help me up the road as I ride on the Boundary of the Park.

The Rain is Coming
As I was coming up the road, probably about five miles out from my descent down to The College, there was glass and chunks of plastic on the shoulder, and you could see up ahead where someone had gone off the road into the mud of the ditch.  Then the smell hit me - there was a dead pony.  It had been hit by the car.  A horrible smell - man o man!  I recognized the pony as well.  I hate to say it, but I think it was Star's mother.

I had seen just for a second, a small herd in the trees as I came down.  I looked for them coming up the road by never saw them.  Just the dead pony as I said.  I was sad.  But I sure hope the people in the car are okay.  I saw my friend Foster this week, and he's finally doing better after breaking his ankle when he hit a pony earlier this Summer.

I was starved!  I made some more coffee and fixed up a Randonneur's Breakfast for myself.  I am going to Haskell in few weeks to the new President's inauguration - I'll see Little Egypt and Rico, who is back from Germanland.

Cheers!  Bruce 

Post Card from Tucson

Le Tigre on McCain Loop
Over the Labor Day Weekend, I made a trip down to Tucson, Gentle Readers of This Blog.  I want to let you know that Triple B Ranch was dark for about 10 days due to technical considerations - but that is no longer the case!  Work, as you know all to well, keeps me busy and I'm just getting to this post - gosh!  a week later!  

Anyway, went to Dog Mtn and stayed in my house there.  I still have, and will continue to have ties to Tucson and plan to keep the place there up and ready for my use and Little Egypt too.  I got lots of yard work done, bought a few things, like a bed for me to sleep on rather than show up at midnight to stay with my neighbors!  

Yeah, it's a eight hour drive down from the Rez to Tucson.  I was lucky as I had a ton of comp-time built up, and then a colleague said she'd cover for me for my shift - so I was able to leave The College at 3pm and get a good start Thursday afternoon.  That gave me Friday to work at my place, Saturday too, and then Sunday to ride with Le Tigre!

Old Main renovations are done!  
We start at 6am and wish we could have started earlier even!  Expected temps would be 104, so you got to ride early and get done before you get cooked!  Le T and I met up and soon we were on our beloved U of A Campus - cool and quiet and a chance for my Old School Chum and I to catch up on things!

Corner of University Ave and Euclid
We're on University Ave, just through the Main Gate and on our way soon out of town.

UV arm protection - white is the new black?
So now all the Cool Kids wear these UV arm protectors - need one for my head because I get sunburned through the vents in my helmet - also the sunscreen starts to run down and into my eyes.  A very thin UV beanie might actually do me some good, mes amis!   

Sporting my Team Mooney Jersey!  
Hard to believe it has been ten years since school, riding with Stef, Le Tigre, John, Cathy, Dave...  I wanted to wear my Team Mooney Jersey once again in the old haunts.  It still fits, and I can still ride these mountain roads with the likes of young and ever-so-strong  Le Tigre!

Gates Pass
So here we go up Gates Pass.  I have to say I can still do this route - maybe even a bit better because I'm thinner, and I've been living at 7200 feet.  But I have to tell you, I'm accustom to much cooler mountain weather - it is HOT even at 6:30 a.m.  

Pull-out at top of Gates Pass
Had good times with all my friends here, Gentle Readers of This Blog.  We see other riders and it's all smiles and waves!  This is the place to ride, and like Ryan said, this is really the most beautiful part of Tucson.

What a great visit!
Le Tigre makes quick work of Gates Pass.  I enjoy the ride too, and I am struck by the beauty of  this place.  It really is remarkable, mes amis!  The land and the view and the plants are magical - I hope you get a chance to feel it for yourself one day.  

I think that's why cyclists are drawn out here - this is really a most sacred and special place.

Sand and gravel on McCain Loop
As you know, McCain Loop is the best place for fast rollers in Saguaro Nat'l Park, West, and Tucson Mtn Park.  Lots of rain so sand and gravel are on the road.  You have to be careful - lucky for us most of the sand and gravel were swept off.  You could be going really fast here, and other places on the Loop, and run across unseen sand - don't want to crash out here!  Just take in the air and sun and sights!

Le Tigre, Old College Chum from University Days
I had my camera ready for The Wolf.  If you know my blog and my Tucson Days, you know The Wolf is a legend - the Guardian of the Park.  The Spirit of the Road.  The One Who Rides Forever so the World is Right.

Le Tigre had told me that he had not seen him for quite some time, and I was worried.  As always, he "appears" and I get that quick photo.

This time on McCain Look he did not.  I was a bit heartbroken.  I really needed him to be on the road today, after everything that had happened to me -  all the strife and pain we went through to make things right again.  Little Egypt and I had to face some real nasty people who tried to cheat us - but we prevailed, Gentle Readers of This Blog!

We did not see The Wolf
Le Tigre, always watching out for the Old Dude (me?) got me talked into stopping at the Visitor Center (on the West side of Saguaro Nat'l Park) to get water.  They put in a new fountain for hikers and cyclists, and it was ice cold!  

As we pulled out and went on our way for the Home Stretch of our ride - THE WOLF APPEARED!!!  Oh I was so happy!  I waved and said hello, as did The Wolf with a bright smile and friendly way!  

All is Right in the World...  Thank God that The Wolf Rides in Saguaro National Park.

Picture Rocks Rd, in Saguaro National Park, West
Le Tiger took me on Picture Rocks Road - a road I loathe.  It is narrow and dangerous, and the people that live out here on the margins of the Park are red necks and haters.  I couldn't believe we were out here, and I have to say I was just wanting to pedal hard and get the few miles over with.

This is a road for the Brave at Heart - and really that is not me, not here.  But traffic was light, and drivers courteous and they gave us room.  Le Tiger took off while I fumble for my camera to try to get a photo of 'em on this little black ribbon of Hell and Heaven in Saguaro Nat'l Park.

Afterward, my old friend and I were cruising down the bike path back to car - laughing, talking about our lives and hopes and how much our boys have grown.  I am certainly older - Le Tigre, as always, slim and healthy (Vegetarian Beer Drinking Tucson Cat) ha ha ha

Hey I'm glad you checked-out my blog.  I hope you enjoyed your time off and got to ride!

Cheers!  Bruce

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Star of Canyon de Chelly

This is my weekend ride down to the Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center and back - right at 49 miles and some change.  I had wanted to ride a few times during the week, but we had quite a bit of rain.  So going out this Saturday morning, the air was cool and had a sweet pine smell from the wind coming off the Chuska Mountains.

I got down to the Visitor Center pretty fast.  I roll in, drink up a water bottle, have a Cliff Bar, and then re-fill or top-off the bottles.  A young family pulled up and were on their way into the Visitor Center - it's the Park HQ - the young woman looked me over and said, "I don't see any panniers..." kind of in a puzzled voice.  "I teach and live about 25 mile up the road, at the college." I replied.  "Oh!  we were wondering because, like - where did you come from?"  

Like I've mentioned before, I'm seeing a lot of horses out near the Boundary, inside and outside.  Like all the ones I see, they tend to be leery of the bike - this time, this young colt stood defiant (still staying by mom) and the bright white spot on his forehead really stood out.  So I called to him, "White Star, my young friend!  I'll see you again soon!" 

I can see the road that winds in to Antelope House Pull-Out a few miles from the hwy as I ride back up.

After Antelope, I'll have eight miles of steady climbing until Mummy and Massacre Cave.  

This is the spot where you can see Black Rock from Hwy 64, to the East - click the image to make it bigger. 

I'm looking forward to getting home, and starting up the coffee maker, mes amis!

On the way back, I have two short, but tough climbs before the contour of the land levels out for a few miles. After I get up this one, I'm about two miles from the first pull-out, which means the work is about done.  

This is my landmark for the first Pull-out when I come down from Tsaile.  This is a pretty place, and I'm glad they chose it right where the Mummy Cave Pull-out begins.   

Still have to climb have of this 11 miles, but I'll get some tailwind and downhill!

The Home Stretch!  The College is about six miles from here - Tsaile Peak is another seven miles from Tsaile.  I sure have covered some ground today, and I'm happy to be riding and back with my blog!

Thanks for coming along for the ride!  Cheers! Bruce

Ride to Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly

A Major goal!
Today I asked a Navajo friend, "Why do the Park Rangers always tell me the road is too narrow, too muddy, dead-ends, and too dangerous?  When you're telling me it's fine?"

Because they think you're not a local...

"Oh you don't want to ride up Hwy 7 to Spider Rock Pull-Out.  Too steep - and too narrow.  All the crazy tourists not looking where they're going..."

When I drove up to Spider Rock Pull-Out in early March, just after a fresh snow,  I saw the challenge ahead - I'd have to climb from the Visitor Center up about 1600 feet to the Pull-Out.  The road was narrow with no shoulder like the Rangers said, way steep - and more people lived up here.  The burly Navajo guys drove big Ram trucks fast and pulled horse trailers - the Navajo women drove big trucks too, but were on the cell phone.   It was freezing and there were no tourists yet - but I was told they would be arriving in droves pretty soon.

I was buying into it, trying to talk myself out of trying to ride up here.

But somehow, something happened to my body - I got faster, and I certainly got thinner.  I don't know and can't explain it, but things felt right with me.  After seven or eight months my head cleared, blood was flowing - and now I felt like I'd gotten my lungs up-graded.  I knew the road down and back, and now when riding back up the mountain my chest didn't burn to the point where I felt I would explode.  My rides, always tough, conditioned me to ride to the lay of the land - and one with the road and wind and sun.  I felt powerful.  It is a pretty fantastic feeling, Gentle Reader of This Blog!

Feeling good!
I just decided to do it - ride to Spider Rock Pull-Out - and then back.  It would be a long one - 80 miles or more.   

I got everything ready the night before so I could just hop out of bed and saddle-up.  Tires aired up, water bottles filled, and bike clothes laid out.  This is so before I'm awake and somehow talk myself out of this , I'll automatically be dressed, etc - so there is no turning back.  I've learned to drink a big glass of water before I go, that way I don't drink up my first water bottle too soon.  If I eat just about 200 calories, or a Cliff Bar, that seems to do the trick so I'm not starving after about 30 miles (Eat before you are hungry.  Drink before you are thirsty - Old French Randonneur Rule)

So - I am charging off, and spinning down the road!  I make quick work of Benally Hill - just got to get up the Hill.  It is very tough but, like I said, my body seems to be prepped, and I get up okay - because one thing I know, I will fly down the other side of the hill at 40 MPH. 

The South Rim Drive of Canyon de Chelly
I want to tell you that I flew down the road and felt good passing the first Pull-Out, Mummy Cave.   There's just a little climb, enough to make you have to work hard, just about a mile after this first Pull-Out - then the rest of the way down, after this 12 mile dash, the road is all down-hill to Chinle.  There's no traffic, and I can see behind me cause I have my little mirror, so I ride in the road in the smooth groove of the pavement - I speed along even faster!  

The ponies in their stalls at the top of the bluff didn't even see me this time!  Not even one of the dogs barked at me.  I sped around Dead Man's Curve like a missile, and sailed down, and then over the bridge at Chinle Wash - then right into the Visitor Center Parking lot.  19.7 MPH average speed.  Holy Shit but that was fast.  Because there's no water and no place to take a pee if I'm going to Spider Rock, I take care of business.  I eat a Cliff Bar and then-

This is when you have to be careful; it's the first mental trap.  First, I'll be going into the unknown.  My brain says, "Hey let's do some breakfast, then see how we feel, okay?  This is gonna be hard, man, so you need to like, fuel up.  Take it easy."  but my body, my heart, lungs, legs are running hot, and my blood feels like high-octane - "The Power"  I was telling you about.

Snap that bike shoe into the pedal with a sharp jab, and that is the signal to press on and ignore the temptation to slow up and go for donuts.

Taken on the trip back down, when it's easier
Okay so it is very hard even just starting out - and I am using everything to get up this road.  You go up one hill and you climb and it curves, but the curve is just another climb.  This is brutal on your mind and body because both realize at the same time, "Whoa - Holy Shit."  If you were driving by and saw me I'd probably look like I was dying.  But I have to say, that believe it or not, that bit of Power did not fail me - and instead of suffering - I was holding my own, and riding strong.  The guys in the trucks waved at me and smiled.  I respect those Navajo Bronc Riders and Bull Riders - so when they give you their nod of approval, you can't let them down.

As things were starting to meld and I realized I was okay, I felt like I was about to reach some kind of cosmic revelation - that I was actually "In Beauty."  

But I'm over 50, still weigh too much, and there is only so much left in my engine - I'm getting tired.  The road is getting long.  It is steep - and it's getting hot.  I get blind-sided by the next mental trap: I see the sign for Spider Rock Pull-Out - I'm almost there.  But as I get closer, I see that it's Sliding House Pull-Out.  I have about ten more miles to go.  It's demoralizing because as I reach that sign, I know I am burning up all the fuel and energy and enthusiasm I had on the way out.  It's the Slog.

Now it's just pedal and focus.  Don't give up - drink water and don't make the mistake of shutting down because you didn't drink enough.   This time is a long and tough time and I know you know it - it lasts longer than it needs to - but you know it and you know you just have to ride it out, mon ami.

Finally - finally I start to see Black Rock.  This is a mental boost because I know where I am - I have studied the Park map and Google Maps this and that - and I start to see or think I see Tsaile Peak,  Tsaile Peak and Black Rock together.  This I must tell you is only a fleeting sight, as in a car driving you might miss or have only a second to see it - but on the bike - having to work for every step, and then feeling the spot where the sight will soon fade - well.  Take a quick picture.  Take the picture after taking a mental note of the how it felt and what it meant.  For me - three and a half hours of riding my bike just to know this sight is possible. 

Black Rock from the South Rim
You must know that from the sight I just described, I still have to ride to the Spider Rock Pull-Out, and it is like four or five miles to go - and the toughest part of my ride so far.  I just want to get it done so I can turn around.  I am really pretty much cooked and I've ridden 55 miles.  Does that mean I have to ride 55 miles back?  That's the brain getting all nervous - you just have to let those thoughts pass and not take hold.

Made it!
The last few miles to Spider Rock are the toughest, like I said.  In a car it would be nothing - but for me after all the climbing - I'm beat up.  When I do get to the parking lot, it's quite and still, and I take moment to think about it - wow I did it!

About two minutes later the SUV with the mom and dad and teen-age daughter, that I saw when I was getting water at the Visitor's Center, pull up and they get out.  Mom and daughter walk past me and try hard to act like I'm not there.  Dad sorta realizes I've ridden all the way up here, and he's like, "Holy shit, dude.  No way."  

I hear people speaking French.  They have climbed over the look-out barrier and are right on the cliff's edge, where it drops down 900 feet, to photograph Spider Rock.  A young teen-age girl comes back to their huge SUV parked in the parking lot, and she sits in the back seat and pouts.  Probably something like "It's just another fucking canyon - can we go now?" 

Black Rock, and Tsaile Peak back there.  Spider Rock just under the trees
If you were out here in this country, driving or even biking like me, you would see a vast distance covered by Pinion Trees, never realizing that the huge canyon lies eight to nine hundred feet below.   Tsaile Peak is about 12 miles from Black Rock, and Black Rock up there is about 10 miles or more from where I am at Spider Rock.

Riding back from Spider Rock to the Visitor Center will be fast - so fast that I thought I could slow up a little and take in the sights!  The Canyon is beautiful and breath-taking for sure!

Once I make quick work down to the Visitor Center, and Chinle, I refill the water bottles and start climbing homeward, back up Hwy 64 and the Park Boundary to the Chuskas.

I have to say that halfway up, I rode into a cool grey storm cloud - and a gentle rain fell just enough to cool me off.  Thank God!  That was Heaven sent.  For the last few miles, the sun was out again and my clothes dry again, but by this time I was coasting down to The College and to my trailer.

Cheers!  Bruce