Wild Wild West

Imagine riding a gym bike in a power shower, with the water as cold as it will go.

Now tilt your head back and stare into the showerhead letting the water hit your face, but keeping your eyes open. Keep doing this for around 70 minutes, and you’ll have an idea how it was to cycle between Globe and Superior on Highway 60 in Arizona.

It was our toughest day yet by a long way. 611 vertical metres of climbing split across 20km, non-stop ascending, some parts very steep. Either side of the road was sheer rock, meaning there was no shoulder to cycle in, and it was single lane so cars/trucks had to pass you in the same lane.

Around 9km in, the heavens opened. It was a thunder and lightning storm of biblical proportions. Lightning cracking so brightly you could see it in broad daylight. Wind so strong it was hard to go in a straight line. Rain so hard it hurt when it hit you, and so heavy it was difficult to keep your eyes open. The road was so narrow there was no place to stop. No way back, nowhere for a car to pull over to hitch – the only way was on and up.

We ploughed on until the water on the road and the trucks steaming past made it too dangerous to continue. We found a spot to pull over and huddled under a tree for the worst of it to pass.

Eventually the rain eased, and we spun on to the next town called Superior. We stopped to dry off, and wolfed an almighty Mexican meal in a roadside restaurant. Katie hit a pothole on the way down which cracked her wheel rim (cost about $120 to replace) but neither of us cared – we were so happy to get off the road in one piece!

We probably deserved some weather like that after the glorious week we’d had. The previous couple of days had been absolutely stunning, with a strong tailwind. So much so, we decided to take advantage and put in some big days in order to get to Phoenix ahead of time. In three consecutive days we averaged 160 km per day, meaning we arrived a day early – battered and bruised but relieved.

Cycling in Arizona and New Mexico is beautiful. It’s the real “Wild West”, where not so long ago Cowboys and Indians battled in the canyons.

Large parts of New Mexico and Arizona are Apache country. The Apache are the largest of the Native American tribes, and are famous for being fierce warriors – the most famous of which was Geronimo whose name you may have heard. Many of them live on reservations that were first introduced in the late 1800s.

We met Roy in Globe – a really interesting guy, and former Mayor of Superior:

“Back when the reservations were introduced, the Apache weren’t allowed to leave – they were nothing more than prison camps. Hitler in the ‘30s actually researched the way the US Cavalry rounded up the Indians, as inspiration for what he was about to do to the Jews. When that awful massacre happened in Florida at the gay club, news channels were describing it as the worst massacre ever on American soil. They conveniently forgot the massacre of Wounded Knee where more than 250 Native American men, women and children were massacred by the federal government.”

Roy had just come back from a conference campaigning to preserve Oak Flats – a sacred piece of Native American land that a copper mining company wants to mine under.

“The treatment of the Native American people throughout history is appalling and it’s still going on today. This copper company want to mine under Oak Flats, and they couldn’t give a shit about the history of the place, or the fact it’s sacred to the Native Americans. It’s happening all over, you may have seen what’s happening in North Dakota. It’s a similar thing with an oil pipeline.”

This is happening right now.

Roy asked our thoughts on Brexit, we said we thought the whole thing is a total mess. On this, Trump’s victory and the rise of a bunch of right wing parties in Europe he said:

“There is some bad medicine going round in the world at the moment, and some scary things happening. My attitude is all you can do is speak up for what you believe is right, and don’t be quiet about things you think are wrong. That’s why I spend a lot of my time campaigning for the environment, and other causes that I believe in.”

Larry in Deming (New Mexico) had a different view of the President Elect:

“I’m really excited for our new president. America in the world has lost that “fear factor” from other countries. When Ronald Reagen was President, no one would mess with us. He said to Gorbachev (leader of the Soviet Union) “tear down this wall!” (the Berlin Wall) – and he did. No one respects us anymore, hopefully with our new President we’ll get that fear factor back.”

“I guess I just want the world to be a safe place for my kids and grandkids. The thing that really freaks me out is these nutters in ISIS, or those guys in South Korea with their finger on the nukes.”

Larry and his wife Lisa (who we were introduced to by Tomas, another cyclist we met on the road) were excellent hosts to us, and gave us a fantastic feed that powered us 160km the next day towards Phoenix.

In Phoenix we stayed with Ryan and his wife Jenn, both engineers and keen cyclists. Jenn is seven months pregnant. She was telling us:

“I only get two weeks paid leave after I give birth, and then I have to go back to work. It’s not even maternity leave, it’s called “parental leave”, so a man can take the two weeks as well – there is nothing extra I get for being a woman and actually giving birth.”

“I can apply for what’s called “disability leave” which if approved would give me an extra six weeks at 60% pay, then anything after that is on no pay. The max I can take off work with a guarantee of getting my job back at the end is a total of 12 weeks. Anything more than that and I won’t have a job to come back to.”

“I was gutted with the result as Hillary was promising to improve maternity leave. Pregnant woman in the US have some of the lowest employment rights out of any of the developed countries. Now with Trump in charge I’m scared we’ll lose the little rights we have.”

Ryan and Jenn kindly put us up for a couple of nights, then we crossed Phoenix (following the same pencil straight road for 25 miles), to stay at Britney and Jeff’s.

We met Britney and Jeff through Warm Showers (cycling network website), and they very kindly agreed to host us for the great American tradition of Thanksgiving.

They are a serious power couple. Jeff is a fire battalion chief who is in charge of eight fire stations across Phoenix. Britney spent 15 years designing and making video games. She dreamed up the concept, wrote the script, literally made the game from start to finish, then sold the rights to companies who would sell them to gamers.

Britney then became a police officer. She told us some almost unbelievable stories about criminals she’s nicked and dangerous situations she’s been in. She got promoted from police officer to police detective, and is now one of the top crime busters in Phoenix.

Over the last two years she says she’s seen a real increase in the number of attacks on police officers:

“It’s so much more dangerous to be a police officer now than a couple of years ago, I think the stat is that police assaults are up something like 200%. It’s a combination of the riots in Ferguson (in response to police allegedly killing an unarmed black guy), and the media making it into this huge storm. It’s almost like a war against the police force.”

“I also disagree with a lot of the comments the President (Obama) has been saying about the police, and think that has fanned the flames. I voted for Obama in 2012, but voted for Trump this time as I think he’ll do a better job at bringing the country together.”

Britney and Jeff took us to their fellow police officer and ex-marine friend, Jaws (nickname), and Amber’s house for a Thanksgiving meal. They told us the purpose of Thanksgiving is to remember everything you are thankful for, and “eat and drink until you were uncomfortably full”.

Jaws and Amber certainly delivered, and we enjoyed a fantastic spread.  Roast ham, deep fried turkey, mac and cheese and a whole bunch of sides. We all had a great time eating and drinking and generally listening to Jaws, Britney and Jeff’s police/marine/fire stories.

No Thanksgiving would of course be complete without the post dinner entertainment of the AR15 machine gun.

It’s been a fantastic few days being welcomed like family by all these new people, plus having a few days off the bike. We’re now on a road trip in a rental car around Arizona, Utah and Nevada where we’re planning on visiting the Grand Canyon, various national parks, and Vegas.

The last few days have reminded us how thankful we are to be safe, have each other and such great friends and family who we miss back home.

We’re so thankful to be on this trip of a lifetime and to be able to ride our bikes through such beautiful countryside. We’re just having so much fun, and we’re not taking a single day for granted.