Monday, May 12, 2008

Arizona Desert on Bike: Around Ajo

Around Ajo on a Bike or, landing on a cactus

In February, after three weeks at the office without a break, I felt quite burned out and decided that I needed to do something about it. Since the weather in CA was quite rainy, I told my boss that I needed to leave to some warmer and drier climate to warm up and get other thoughts. The decision was quickly made that I would grab my bike and go cycling in the Arizona desert. Since I knew the Organ Pipe National Monument from an earlier visit in 2006, and the weather forecast for that location was favorable, this was where I went.

It is quite a drive from the SF bay area, certainly longer than necessary, but still I felt the need to "really" go away, far enough to escape the silicon valley with all of its "beauties and advantages". Some 10 or so hours later I was in Arizona's finest desert, and the other morning I could go biking in the desert. This was the first time that I took my bike to a desert, and I must say that I was surprised at how un-ridable the thing gets in soft sand. So I got quite a workout, especially since my front disc brake was malfunctioning and was working hard at all times. Since the desert looks all the same and I did not bike along any roads, I was relying on my little handheld GPS to find my way back to the car. This way I did not need to fear same experiences like in Australia, where at times I had no clue where I was.

I spent the second night at a motel which was not worth the bucks, but at least I got to see quite bewildering TV shows. This was especially amusing since I almost never watch TV, thus hearing about 12yr old boys getting 21yr old girls pregnant, or viewing an HBO special about how im-pure other (esp. European) TV stations can get was very amusing (this show had the most explicit content warning label of any show I have seen on US TV).

In the morning I went back to what I came all the way for, namely biking. I had again an unpleasant encounter with a Cholla: I crashed my bike, trying to make a tighter turn than really advisable on this sandy surface. Not being able to free my feet from the pedals in time, I was trying to catch my fall with my left hand, which promptly landed on a baby Cholla. Do I need to say it was painful? This was a similar experience to my sitting on a Cholla a few years ago when visiting Joshua Tree Natl. Park, as I was trying to get this perfect picture of a bush, backing up a bit further, and one more step, until I ended up sitting on a Cholla. Back then my friend spent about half an hour pulling the thorns from my back... This time there was no friend to help me with the thorns. This, and the fact that I had to meet a friend in Yuma later this afternoon prompted me to abandon my desire to further conquer the desert by bike and I returned to my car. I am positive that I had both tires well pressurized when I parked the bike and started to undress; however, when putting the bike into the car I noticed that the front wheel was all flat... so somewhere between the cactus and the car 5m away I must have punctured it. At least I didn't have to fix the tube in the desert!

On the way to I-8, I stopped in Ajo, a small romantic town with obvious Mexican style. My GPS was showing that I was 5 miles away from my location at the main square, so I think I should file a bug report. The train station at the lower end of the square was obviously out of order for quite some time, based on the rusty train tracks, but the building made the appearance as if the next train was just around the corner. When I saw many people at the promenade happily enjoying some ice cream, I thought to follow their example and bought some great ice cream for $2.50. Even though I got the smallest size, it was that much ice cream that I had no clue how to handle it.

I stayed with my friend in Yuma overnight and spent Sunday driving home through San Diego and LA. On the way I was stopped only twice by border patrol, but unlike on my last trip to southern Arizona, this time they never asked me "US citizen" as the introductory question so I had no problem passing through - maybe the car was expensive enough, and maybe the prototypical illegal Mexican immigrant doesn't have a bike with him - who knows...

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