Tuesday, June 24, 2014

That's All Folks!

Listen to this famous line?

Just like Mr. Porky Pig said himself, “Ah.. budeep, budeep, budeep….That’s all folks!” My route through the southwest has sadly come to an end.  Riding through the southwest, the sound of the Looney Tune cartoons echoed in my head. “Beep! Beep!” Roadrunner’s sound was on rewind the entire three weeks I traveled through this area.  I spent a good portion of my childhood watching the Looney Tunes cartoon series on TV.  I’m sure many of you can relate.  Growing up I saw one failed attempt after another by Wile E. Coyote to catch Roadrunner.  No matter how “clever” Wiley was, he could never trap his prey.  It was an entertaining and innocent cartoon, at least compared to what is on TV these days.  I don’t remember all the different episodes, but what remains ingrained in my mind 25 years later is the backdrop in those cartoons, that typical southwest landscape.  The rich pastel color palette, the baby blue sky with white puffy clouds, as if made by a cloud machine.  Also in the background were the rich red earthen rocky cliffs and canyons.

Typical southwest scenery, disregard the signs, although they were quite entertaining spaced 5 feet apart!

I had never been to the southwest before and experienced that landscape first hand, but it has always been an area of the United States that intrigued me.  Which part of the country am I talking about exactly?  I cycled through what people refer to as the “four corners”, the northern part of Arizona, southeast Utah, the southwest portion of Colorado, and New Mexico’s northwest corner.  What some people refer to as “just desert” is absolutely beautiful and thanks to Looney Tunes, it felt surprisingly familiar.

Compare to what I saw below....I would say that is Arches National Park

Arches National Park, Utah

The clouds were the first part of the scenery that caught my attention.  I couldn’t get over how perfectly fluffy and white they were resting low in the sky.  In fact, they looked like they had been painted on the sky, just like the ones I saw in Looney Tunes.  I never got tired of looking at the contrast between the stark white clouds and the baby blue sky. In fact the colors in the sky gave the landscape down below a special glow.  Back in the Grand Canyon, someone asked me if I was headed to the “painted desert”.   At the time, I didn’t really know where that was or what they were talking about.  There is a place in Arizona called, but I didn’t actually go there.  However, painted, is exactly the way I would describe the landscape in the southwest, painted with a careful selection of colors.

I felt like I was in a cartoon following Ian here, my riding buddy in the Paige, AZ area

 The entire color palette changes once you hit the southwest.  Pastels are “in” but they are rich pastel colors that bring the desert alive.  The colors are intense and range from vibrant golden browns to earthen red tones.  The greens are more muted and shrubbery is low growing and sparse making for a unique contrast to the red soil.  Of course all these colors change when the sunrises and sets.  I had my fair share of early rising because of the heat.  As you can imagine, I also got caught riding at dusk a few days, which isn’t the safest, but every time it happens I’m always rewarded with the most amazing colorful sunset.  The night’s sky in the desert is crystal clear.   You can see every constellation and the Milky Way. At times, the stars and moon lit up the sky so intensely I had to wear an eye patch in my tent to sleep in darkness.

Sunsets are the reward for riding too late at night
Everyone warned me about the heat passing through this area.  I wanted to be out of the southwest by the end of May, but that proved to be impossible.  My body, however, withstood the test and survived the heat, faring pretty well.  I drank liter after liter of water, as temperatures soared to 105F.  Mostly they hung around 95F, which wasn’t unbearable if you compare the climate to Malaysia where my days were normally around 100F with 99% humidity.  I never stopped sweating in Malaysia; from the moment I started pedaling to the time I rolled up to my destination, I was constantly drenched.  In the southwest, you never sweat!  Well, you do, but as soon as you sweat it evaporates, which correlates to not having to wash your clothes as frequently.  What a treat!

An example of the earthen red that is everywhere in the southwest

Striped "painted" cliffs and sparse shrubbery

I never saw my roadrunner or coyote, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t see much wildlife.  Snakes were my biggest fear, especially in the desert where they sunbathe on the hot pavement or rocks.  Conditions down here can even be too harsh for rattlesnakes.  The most common wildlife sightings were prairie dogs, some luckier than others to still be alive.  They hang out just off the shoulder of the roads, easily entertained by jetting from one hole to another.  Sometimes they are more entertaining than the scenery.  Farming is virtually non-existent in the southwest, so I wasn’t tempted to go illegal fruit picking, but I must say, I missed the company of cattle grazing. 

The true enemy in the southwest is the wind.  I would take rain and even snow flurries over headwinds 20mph and above.  There is nothing more frustrating than going downhill on a steep slope and having to pedal exerting huge effort in order to advance.  The wind is so noisy you can’t hear yourself think!  There is nothing more demoralizing than a relentless headwind, especially when you look at your map and see the road makes no turns for the next 50 to 100 miles.  A headwind along with long days of climbing can get the best of me, but when it becomes a tailwind, I’m the first to take advantage of the speed and distance it allows me to achieve.  I vowed never to repeat a 180km day, but riding through the southwest with a tailwind, pedaling effortlessly yet maintaining a 30mph pace, I had a handful of days of 150 to 200 km days.  Tailwind is basically the only exemption form the saying “You get what you give”.

The wind and the heat creates one other minor problem,….two actually.  First is dry skin and lips.  I’ve never had such dry skin in my life as I have had while riding through the southwest.  Even if I carried a 50 gallon jug of lotion, it wouldn’t be enough to last me a week.  I had given up on my scaly skin until I found the greatest invention in a Santa Fe boutique: a lotion bar.  Yes, it is lotion in the form of a soap bar that you rub on your skin.  It is amazing and works wonders, cutting down on both weight and space.  The other problem regarding my body in the southwest is my nose.  Snot rockets become torpedo launchers when you pedal in 0% humidity climates.  Crusty boogers and bloody nooses are actually quite painful and unpleasant and a saline nasal spray is pretty much useless. Sorry, that is probably too much information, but it is all part of pedaling through the southwest!

Ghost Ranch by day, New Mexico

Ghost Ranch by night, New Mexico

As an Oregonian, my favorite scenery is lush green pine forests and snow-capped mountains and after living in Barcelona, you’d think I would constantly want to be around the beach. I’ve always said that I’m a mountain girl, but after riding through the southwest, I have to admit, I’d be perfectly happy living in the southwest.  Even if I got tired of the scenery, I’d go try and find Roadrunner. Wile E. Coyote could always use some help!

So long to the southwest

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