Southern Tier: San Diego to Phoenix, AZ

Leaving Point Loma hostel is hard. I meet a Dutch cyclist, Tina, during breakfast. She just completed the same route as me, solo. My eyes almost pop when she begins to tell me how a dog bit her leg in Oregon. She has done the Southern Tier with a van supported ACA tour a few years back and she liked the western part more than the east.

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San Diego bike trails lead me slowly out of the urban sprawl. I pay a short visit to the exhibits at the Mission Trails Park Center which talks about the foot trail that missionaries used during Spanish rule. Alpine is my lunch stop. I strap a box of burritos to my rear pannier and push forward to Ma-tar-awa RV park inside Viejas Indian Reservation. I sleep without the tent fly and watch the stars on a cloudless sky.

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Next day the climb continues and reaches 4000 ft, two times. Most of the route follow “Old Highway 80”, passing through Pine Valley, Live Oak Springs, Boulevard. And the descend begins into Yuha Basin through the In-ko-pah Gorge. This is a narrow road and I have to use I-8, no other choice. After a 7-mile downhill, I’m in Ocotillo, a town of nothing. I look for water and finally find a hose at the firefighter’s building. There is one open ‘cafe’, but all it has is beer.

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S80 is in bad shape and my bike rattles on cracked asphalt. Plaster City is a big factory, I assume some kind of oil or cement related product. When I reach Seeley it’s almost dark and I decide to keep riding until I reach El Centro, the first big town. The heat disappears and it becomes a pleasant ride in the evening until a dog decides to chase me. He is almost beside me when I yell at him and turn my wheels towards him. He is either scared or tired; goes back to his owner. With the help of the adrenalin I soon reach El Centro, go right into a McDonalds and look for a motel; it’s across the road, awesome.

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After passing the farms around El Centro and Brawley it becomes truly a desert. This area is called North Algodones Dunes. At Glamis there is a park where people can camp and drive on sand; what a thrill.

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Temperatures rise above 100F. A police car stops when I am wetting my bandana; “Are you OK?”, yes, “Be safe!”. I ask for water and fill up my bottles at one of the border patrol stations. An Icelandic couple stops with their car when they see me coming their way. They had done a bicycle tour in 2011 and now retracing their steps. They take my picture and promise to send me a copy; I never hear from them again.

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To see Palo Verde’s green farm fields is a joy after so much dry and dead scenery. Colorado river water is spread out in canals like a spider web around here. I wonder what happens at the Mexican side. I camp at a newly created county park, with flush toilets and cool drinking water near the river. I still dine on leftovers from my giant fried chicken pieces from El Centro.

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Zig zagging through green fields, the road leads into Blythe, the last town before Arizona. I stop at a small corner store at Ripley. An old couple is running the store. They both sit on wheelchairs when they are not at the till. The old man shows me a contraption called “swamp cooler”: a rectangular box with straws in it and a fan attached to one side. Water drips slowly on straws and the fan blows into the box to create cool and damp air.

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Colorado River defines the border. On Arizona side I take I-10 and quickly arrive at Quartzsite, a town with an interesting side note: Hadji Ali, an Ottoman camel driver imported here in the 1800s. Keeping on I-10, a nice rest-area appears with drinking water and wall outlets. When I’m eating my lunch and charging my phone two friendly people show up and chat. One of them lives in Phoenix and offers to host me when I arrive. I plan to call a friend from Vancouver who lives in Scottsdale, but if that doesn’t work out, then I have a backup.

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When it gets dark I climb out of the highway and find a flat surface to pitch my tent. The traffic on I-10 keeps chugging along all night. Next day my route takes me out of I-10 into S60. The highway is in perfect shape and the traffic is light. I go into a cafe near Vicksburg to have a decent breakfast. While leaving the owner chats with me and asks if I need any water. Apparently, there is nothing much until Wickenburg. She was right. On the way I go into a “Centennial Park” to ask for water and the lady says the tap water is not good and offers to sell me a few bottled ones. When I decline and try to leave, she gives me a small bottle for free — thanks.

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The wind is behind me and the road is perfectly straight east of Aguila. I think about staying at a motel in Wickenburg but prices seem too high, so I keep going. The traffic east of town becomes surprisingly busy. It must be S93 joining S60 a few miles back. Once again I’m riding almost in the dark, looking for a spot to camp. Nothing shows up until I notice a “rest area” sign. Technically I’m not supposed to camp in here, but I have no choice. I spend the night on a bench in my sleeping bag; fortunately it’s dry weather.

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Before entering Phoenix I contact Diane who lives in Scottsdale at this time of year and receive a warm welcome. Following the Arizona Canal Path and various bike paths through urban areas I reach D&D’s beautiful house. The next day Diane takes me to two museums, first to Heards, a native culture and anthropology museum and then to the Musical Instruments Museum. The second one is filled with instruments from all over the world collected in a three year period; you can listen and watch samples as you walk by the exhibits for each country.

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The next morning I will be leaving, so back at home I decide to clean the chain. When I get closer to the rear wheel I notice that the rear rack joint had been cracked. I jump on the bike and ride 6 miles to the closest bike shop to buy a new rack and get it installed. A bit shaken but happy, I make it back home just in time to go out for dinner with my hosts. When he learns I was cleaning my chain, David suggests I try his favourite lube so we put it on. I try to shift gears to spread the lube — it doesn’t work. Oh-oh. I don’t have time or skill to fix an STI shifter. Bike shop closes in 15 mins. We load the bike to David’s car, three of us jump in and hurry through the rush hour traffic to the shop. The mechanic takes a look for a few seconds and figures out the cable has snapped and replaces it in 10 mins. Good job! I thank him profusely and three of us are on our way to a nice dinner in David’s favourite Italian pizza joint. Nice ending to a frantic day.

6 days, 428 miles.

st1View the full route

Date Destination Miles Duration
2014-10-22 Ma-tar-awa RV Park, AZ 44 05:19
2014-10-23 Crown Motel, El Centro, AZ 88 08:52
2014-10-24 Palo Verde County Park 81 07:28
2014-10-25 Roadside, Quartzsite, AZ 55 05:12
2014-10-26 Rest area, Wickenburg, AZ 94 08:09
2014-10-27 Diane & David, Scottsdale, AZ 67 05:45