Some extracts from Kate’s Carbon Cycle Journal
(Journal entries are in date descending order starting 19th June 2006. Click on the + symbol to show blog entries.)
30th – 31st July [weaver_showhide]
Chris’s first cycling day!!! and first time he’d cycled with loaded panniers, ever. i cycled behind him leaving missoula, watching the wobble and remembering wavering round the hotel carpark in el paso. the temperature dropped 20 degrees today, which was great for chris, as he’s not a fan of heat, but left me feeling distinctly chilly. 80 degrees, yikes, where’s that fleece!! spent the next couple of days heading north on highway 83, camping in national park sites, invited for “smores” by a neighbouring family out for the weekend (marshmallow, graham’s crackers and chocolate melted in the campfire, so delicious you’l want s’more) and chatting with bikers at a viewpoint. beautiful black harley’s with seats like armchairs, backs stacked up with camping gear. they do thirty to the gallon. ” with gas prices so high, it’s the only way to travel”. one group lived in alaska and trucked the bikes south every summer, then road home by a different route. “it’s how we recharge”…. the bikers are great, always friendly and almost always wave. we are part of some two-wheeled fraternity on the road…..eating bagels in the morning, a big eggy breakfast meal somewhere on the road and tortillas in the evening. chris is amazed how much more i’m eating. be interesting to compare the energy embedded in, say, 3000 calories with a day’s worth of harley davidson petrol . . . [/weaver_showhide]
29th July – day off!!! [weaver_showhide]
Back in Missoula, rocky continues to mystify. rescued from bike shop, who say the mechanic, the chief mechanic and the shop owner have all worked on him – and yes the front deraileur is near impossible to set up. however they’ve put a larger bottom bracket in and that seems to have helped. this makes no sense to me. but i left the shop with ALL GEARS WORKING so whether it was luck or logic i’m happy…..later we met up with micheal deme from adventure cycling, an organisation that helps people plan long distant cycling trips, publishing route maps and giving advice. their aim is to put adventure back into people’s lives and they have an incredible 43,000 members… a goodly number of whom i’ve encountered as my route crossed one of theirs. interestingly many cyclists are intrigued that i’m not on any ‘official’ route but have made up my own. with the help of local beers – moose drool, trout slayer, summer sunshine – we discussed cycling, climate change, the next election and hilary clinton’s chances of being president of the USA [/weaver_showhide]
28th July [weaver_showhide]
We spent the night in a bunk-bed in the dorm and crawled into action at the 5am alarm, driving into the park in our little silver sunfire through unmanned gates. We didn’t really expect to see wolves. But the early start was worth it for other reasons. A buffalo, right by the road. Mule deer with velvet antlers picked out in the sunshine. And a coyote who came out into the road behind us and sat down, trying to scent us, inquisitive, tentative. For me, it was like a second chance. cycling through Yellowstone my experience was dominated by the traffic and crowds and I hadn’t really got beyond that. Now we were there on almost empty roads, in the beautiful, hillier northern part of the park with wildlife strolling onto our path . . . [/weaver_showhide]
28th July cont’d [weaver_showhide]
after the wolves we drove back to mammoth and had lunch with marcia, chris, andreas and two of their friends. how great to meet up with marcia twice in a week!! then back to gardiner to meet a friend and neighbour of jim’s. sandy lectures in anthropology/wildlife/photography had spent a summer inteviewing visitors to yellowstone. she found that folk had a strong sense of being on a pilgrimage to yellowstone: but not so much a pilgrimage to wild and wonderful nature as to national pride and the wonders of the USA. we had a really fascinating conversation. i told sandy what i thought i’d found so far. first, there are people who really have not heard of global warming (i’m using this term for now because people understand it more readily than ‘climate change’ even if it’s less accurate). that raises a whole lot of issues around communication and the media (that old baddy, fox news again!!). second there are people for whom climate change is just not on their radar screen in relation to other day to day issues. third are the people who think it’s real and that it matters – but, either genuinely or tendenciously – believe that it’s a natural phenomenon and therefore that there’s not much we can do about it. and finally, even the people who think it’s happening, that it matters and that human activity is contributing to it are very very rarely making connections with their everyday lives, lifestyles, choices about trucks, flights, food, etc. one of sandy’s comments was that the myth of the wild west is still alive and strong – part of the american dream is that we can all head west and exploit boundless nature and that this is the manifest destiny of the american people. and this is a view not readily compatible with cutting back on carbon emissions or with sustainable development in general . . .
On the road to the pass, sure enough, a group of people with binoculars and telescopes as jim had said – the wolfwatchers. We parked and joined them. At first seeing nothing except an open hillside and distant forest. Then, look! Over there! Just by the creek-line…could just pick out tiny moving shapes. With binoculars, wolves!! five or six adults, and about the same number of pups. the pups dark, adults silver-grey, some charcoal, playing and roaming in the valley. We watched them lope leisurely across the hillside, stop and play-fight. We watched an adult pick up an old antelope leg and the pups follow. This to a wonderful commentary from the gentle-mannered and highly informative warden, rick. “folks, we’ve got two black pups in the telescope, anyone not seen the wolves through a scope yet?” “folks we’ve got a female in the scope, probably 141, the sister of the alpha-female..” the wolves have been given numbers rather than names by the researchers – on grounds that the names would be anthropomorphic and the school-kids involved in the project would get too attached to animal with names – and rick knew each one. At one point, a group of pups and a young adult some distance from the rest of the group started to howl. The group responded. Wolf cries across the valley. Incredible sound, not all fiercesome as the myths suggest but wild and evocative and full of subtlety. A real highlight of the whole trip. [/weaver_showhide]
27th July [weaver_showhide]
Another carbon dilemma. Give up on the chance of meeting someone who we’d learn a huge amount from, or use an engine?! We went the engine route, hired a car and drove back to Yellowstone to catch up with jim halfpenny who I’d missed on the way through, skimming back over miles it had taken me hours and hours to cycle. Catching up on each other’s adventures. Chris’s had included ricocheting bullets when a lad at the back of the greyhound from Vancouver to Missoula opened fire (for no apparent reason) on the driver (who was encased in bullet-proof glass) . . . Welcome to America!!
Jim halfpenny, early 60’s? bearded, took us to dinner in gardiner at “the only restaurant that serves salad” and told us about his work. Jim is known for his extraordinary skill in tracking, and as a wolf and bear ecologist, amongst other things. And for years he worked on the 2nd longest running climate study in the world, on the slopes of the Colorado rockies. Yes, there is evidence of climate change, he told us. During the 30 years he worked on the project, the climate changed beyond any natural parameters since the last ice-age. In parallel, they observed changes in, for example, the migration and nesting dates of birds, emergence of butterflies and pollinating insects, bears hibernating and emerging from dens, flowering and berrying in plants. And they saw changes in the distribution of species in relation to altitude – trees higher up the slopes and the high alpine flora more marginalised on summits. Jim is convinced that climate change is underway and of its impact on other species. But he is pessimistic about our response to it. From the national parks point of view, for example, he thinks it is seen as just one issue amongst many, with no special priority. Climate change is lumped in with other special interests, such as brucellosis in the buffalo or the reduction in elk numbers. “fewer elk can make a difference between the kids of a hunter going to college or spending that semester working in the gas station . . .”
Jim took us back to the headquarters of “a naturalist’s world” where he runs courses on animal tracking and ecology. A feast of a place, drawer after drawer of plaster of paris hoof , paw and foot print casts, photographs and wonderful series of stills from videos of bears and wolves. Upstairs, a teaching area, tables, computers and two small dorms. Outside, a balcony from which we watched a vivid sliver of moon and a single planet. We fantasised about coming back for a winter wolf-ecology course, tracking wolves on skis, steam rising over snow amongst the Yellowstone geezers. Jim was very much involved with the wolf re-introduction in Yellowstone. The wolves came from Canada rather than America because they were more suited behaviourally – similar prey species to the ones they’d find in Yellowstone. They released 13 wolves in two packs in 1975/76 and now there are around 200 wolves…. A wonderful success story. For jim, the wolf is the ultimate wild animal and he loves the fact that they are back, on aesthetic grounds as much as anything else. And he thinks there are strong ethical reasons for replacing a creature we humans exterminated from this area. Not everyone agrees of course. Some ranchers and hunters blame the wolves for reduction in elk numbers and there is still a lot of misunderstanding about their alleged ferocity. If you want to see wolves, he said, go up towards dunraven pass. Look out for the wolf-watchers by the side of the road. They’ll be there early. 5am start would be good . . . [/weaver_showhide]
24th – 26th July [weaver_showhide]
i swear montana, if you’re travelling south to north, is all downhill…..restored my confidence which had been beginning to flag after days of feeling too tired too soon. if it’s not 105 degrees, or a 5000ft climb or 90mph head-wind i can still do those miles!! the 30 miles out of big sky were horrendous. death valley! narrow, virtually no hard-shoulder. lots of heavy trucks (as in lorries) many with truck-length trailers and all driving as if on drugs or working peace-rates or both. reminded me of the bus-drivers on the road into bogota, all going totally flat-out and leaning at crazy angles. only this was worse. a sign at the beginning of the worst section
proclaimed accident reduction measures in effect – but what they were or whether they were having any effect was not at all evident. white metal crosses marked where they’d clearly failed. i didn’t feel fear, exactly, more an acute awareness that this was dangerous. and a determination to stay in one piece, focussing hard on listening to what was coming up behind, difficult given the noise of traffic coming the other way. the one that nearly got me was just coming up to a bridge, metal barriers on each side, narrower than the road, no shoulder at all. on some instinct i pulled over just before it and a double length truck blasted past, not slowing at all, missed me by inches even tho i’d pulled over.
i really think it would have smashed me into the metal if i hadn’t pulled over. stood for a bit absorbing, then cycled on, totally focussed on staying alive. the road widened out at gallatin gateway. a sign said pottery and award winning cinnamon rolls, 5 miles. Sat in a swinging chair drinking latte from a beautiful mug swinging gently in one of those setaside moments of peace while the highway blasted past just across the lawn. on a tiny road in the outskirts of belgrade a black subaru slowed alongside. ‘kate!” i looked into the car. it was marcia, a friend and housemate from fort collins days. i hadn’t seen her for 18 years and there she was! extraordinary coincidence – she and her husband, chris, and son, andreas, had just flown into bozeman and were heading for yellowstone on holiday, had taken a wrong turning when they’d past me.
marcia said, look, a woman cycling alone. then, that looks like kate! yes, yes, said, chris and turned the car to humour her…. we sat on some grass and tried to catch up 18 years…. weird and wonderful encounter. several days of big mileage, feeling that it was time to meet up with chris – resolved that my time alone on this trip, which has been such a great experience in so many ways, is about over – suddenly impatient to get to missoula, our meeting point. chris was arriving from vancouver by greyhound. our romantic reunion was to be co-ordinated by text message. since he’d made such a huge effort to join up with me i decided to shorten my route by missing a scenic section and doing 75 miles on the shorter, interstate route to ensure arriving in missoula early evening……i arrived at 7 ish, very hot, very tired after blasting the interstate in a headwind. my back derailer had mysteriously packed in in a way i couldn’t resolve there and then and i rode most of it with one gear, (a high one) stopping to turn the bike upside down if i needed a low gear for steep sections. no message from chris. i’d sent several, increasingly plainstaking. ‘ am taking the shorter route, see you soon, where are you by the way?
…’ ‘ am 16 miles away, where are you….? am here, where are you….? sat in a cafe and tried to figure out what could’ve happened. my best guess was that chris’ phone was flat. but if he was off the bus, why hadn’t he used a landline? if the bus delayed, wouldn’t he have borrowed a phone? if here, surely he couldn’t have been kidnapped in missoula?? eventually, nineish and still no word i decided to head for the greyhound station. went out to the bike. back tyre flat!!! so ended up driving to the greyhound station in a taxi and checking into the motel opposite, feeling extremely disconsolate. finally, just after i’d forlornly met the 10.40pm, chris-less greyhound, my cell-phone rang. chris! his (canadian) cell phone had stopped working after he’d crossed the border – but surreptitiously so that it appeared to still be sending messages. and he’d cycled 20 miles out on the scenic route to meet me, sitting by the road until dusk, assuming i was out of range in the mountains somewhere…..
a brief discussion about whose motel room was the nicest. i lost. stuffed my things back into panniers and the bike back into a taxi . . . [/weaver_showhide]
22nd – 23rd July [weaver_showhide]
through teton national park into yellowstone, which i realised when i arrived i’d confused in my head with yosemite, wondering where half-dome was going to arise on the skyline…. durr. gears playing up again and pannier rack loose on top, needing the one allan key i don’t have. stopped at a garage to borrow one. the mechanics came out to watch. You started where?! you’re going
where?!! are you on medication, or what?! odd couple of days. mostly cycling through trees i couldn’t see beyond on roads with no shoulder and lots of traffic. it’s hard not to come to hate traffic if you happen to be biking here. and not just because of the occasional idiots. one blasted his horn and shouted ‘get a car’ – as he revved past. for the first time i put up a finger and wished him (and some of the rv’s that have shaved my legs today) a recurring flat. what kind of a crazy culture are we that we put fences around ‘special’ bits of nature and then come in cars in such huge numbers that we we threaten the very places we treasure? occasional views through the trees. one of the tetons across jackson lake, looking more solid in morning light, patches of snow in the in the sunshine.
(grand teton is something over 13,000 feet). then a spectacular canyon with (i think) snake river hurtling through the bottom of it and a forest of dead trees, grey, branch-less trunks, on either side. a sign explained this as a legacy of a forest fire in 1988 that had leapt the 500ft canyon
putting human-man fire barriers well into perspective. sat on a wall looking down into the canyon watching a swallow – a voilet-green swallow assuming females have different head-markings from those on my card (i need some more sophisticated bird id!) – emerald green back, buff head, white tummy, flat-ended tail. what is it i feel watching these birds? a sense of peace, and spirit-lifting. And an anger/protectiveness at the ways we threaten their worlds and lives. as i sat a raven landed on top of a dead tree next to me,
then flew over my head and landed again. as he sat he stopped croaking and made a noise i hadn’t heard before – lowering his head each time – like wood knocking gently on hollow wood. knock. knock knock. at old faithful, a big and disorienting site with bad signposts (‘food’ eg, appears and then disappears before you’ve actually found any), i found my way to the main geyser. a steaming mound and a huge ampitheatre crowd. nothing happened. streams of people left. (how did they know something was supposed to have happened?!) powerful landscape with or without old faithful actually errupting. steam rising in wisps and billows from the pale ground. must look amazing in winter with snow. back in wyoming, on one of the worst head-wind days, i’d been battling up a long hill into a hot fierce wind when a maroon car pulled along-side. the man driving asked, would you like a gatorade? i was in a wind-blasted bad mood. no thanks, i said, i’m fine. how about some cold water? i was low on water and what i had was heated in black plastic water-bottles to just short of boiling point. yes please would’ve been a sensible response. thanks for asking, i said, but no, i’m fine. and watched the car pull away and disappear in seconds. same physical space, totally different experience….some time later i reached the top of the hill. an orange bottle of gatorade sat right in the middle of the hard shoulder. i had to laugh. i stopped and examined the bottle. luke warm, unbroken seal. it had to be him. i drank it. as i was leaving yellowstone a car pulled along-side. ‘did you drink the gatorade?’ maroon-saloon man! he pulled off the road. mike, specialising in ‘golf-art’ and travelling a lot. he’d known exactly what mood i was in and that i’d needed a drink really. ‘i’ve put you in my book’ he said. and then that global warming is a ‘pile of crock. for every scientist that says it’s happening there’s one that says it isn’t’… ‘i’ll put you in my book’ i said, and we parted after i’d accepted a bottle of cold water. left the park and reached west yellowstone about 3.30 ish. refueled in a great bike shop/cafe, used their high pressure pump, chatted about the road ahead and made the first of a series of ‘go-for-it’ decisions, aiming at big sky, montana, 50 miles away. set off with a sense of relief at being out of yellowstone park (which i’m sure i didn’t do justice) and headed out with hard tyres and high spirits into montana.
4pm ish, 50 miles down, 50 to go….landscape opens up, lush, river, distant hills, beautiful. first 15 miles a blast. then a climb. Clouds gathering. thunder. looked less ominous when took sunglasses off. occasional blasts of rain and the smell of water on hot tarmac.
at one point a line of cars with hazard lights on. assumed a crash. but no, a distant, dark, heavily horned moose. when you stop the crickets sound like static electricity in the grass. opened into a really gorgeous valley, wide, lush. the gallatin river. Wooded hills on each side. and the river going the same way as me…. a flashing moose-warning sign, powered by solar. stopped to photgraph it and a mosquito bit my underarm. montana mosquitos seem better adapted to flying in the wind (which is a breeze by wyoming standards). cruised past various good looking places to stay determined (for some reason) to get to big sky, which turned out to be largely a building site full of future ski resort developments. no campsite. a friendly local warned me against continuing – the trucks are especially bad and the road narrow ahead. ended up in a characterless hotel way beyond my budget but what the heck. 9 pm, 104 miles and the shower was absolutely great….. ate a tortilla, wrote journal, recharged phone and camera, washed underway and made various phonecalls. motel stops are busy! in the middle of talking with chris i had such a powerful premonition that i was going to be hit from behind by a truck tomorrow that it completely derailed me from what i was saying. [/weaver_showhide]
20th July – one of those great days! [weaver_showhide]
woke feeling rested from day off and ready to go. barb and don, from florida, swinging gently in suspended wooden seats in front of their cabin, took photos and gave me a bag of walnuts. “we couldn’t think what else to give you”…. cycled out of dubois via food mall for tortillas and bagels and the post office. then couldn’t resist the bighorn sheep interpretive centre. odd to think of sheep as a wild animal somehow! these guys evolved in asia a few million years ago and crossed over on ice bridges, getting stranded in north america when they melted. lots of information about how drastically we humans reduced their numbers and how we’re now trying to rectify that. very optimistic about this being an age of conservation after an age of unthinking environmental impact. hmmmm.
finally got going for real just after 10. glorious easy riding. about an hour later, brought to a halt by a man with a stop sign. road works. a tiny dog in a flourescent vest stood on her hind legs at his feet. the man and the dog – a poodle chihuaha cross and a great hill-dog – took me and rocky across 14 miles of gravel in a truck. really sorry, but we can’t let cyclists thru….a gift of 14 miles and not cheating, fine by me!! another hour or so of riding, steady climbing up the togwatee pass. just thinking, i could do with a cafe, when one materialised around a corner. the chef wore a huge, multicoloured chef’s hat. he made me a huge salad and commented on the hotter than usual weather. my opening! is it global warming? no, i think it’s the sun. the sun is putting out more heat. plus, anything we’re adding to the atmosphere came from the earth in the first place. oil was always in the ground combusting and causing emmissions. what do you think caused the end of the last ice-age, cave-men smoking too much dope?? mulling on this i cycled on up the pass. a longish – 10 miles? climb. flowers everywhere, lilac lupin-like flowers, brilliant yellow flowers and masses of violet daises. the road flanked by huge meadows running up to trees climbing the mountains…a creammy-yellow butterfly flew alongside for a while, >then overtook. the only thing marring this idyll was the swarm of black-flies that accompanied me as i climbed. too slow to get away from them they landed with ease and took chunks out of me with a distinct preference for my left thigh, cycling shorts no barrier whatsoever. bill had mentioned black-flies. do they bite? bite? they drill into you. by the time you realise they’re doing it it’s too late. and the itch afterwards makes a mosquito bite seem like a pleasant sensation. not a bad description.
at the summit, a tiny lake set against the mountains. wandered about taking photographs of flowers. the road stayed high for miles. meadows and mountains. stopped at a vista-point and gazed. would be so good to stay up here. more and more I want to BE in these wild places rather than continuously pass through them. started the intermittent descent towards moran junction. suddenly, around a bend, the most spectacular line of jagged, spikey mountains in grey silhouette across the far horizon. the tetons. one of the most stunning sky-lines i’ve ever seen. cycled towards them for miles, dipping in and out of sight above the trees. just before moran junction, stopped at a service station. the woman inside gave me a hard look. yes? what can i help you find? in a tone that suggested strong suspicion that i didn’t really want anything except to bring my undesirable presence in out of the heat. but they had real ice-cream….i stood against a wall outside in the shade with a double-scoop of almond-fudge and huckleberry, exchanging greetings with motor-bikers coming in for gas. one of those brief times when the snagging and clutching of ordinary life just lets go and you are there, out of the mainstream, free from any “next we must do…s”, just in that moment and at peace.
at moran junction, a stunning ox-bow in the river with the tetons behind. deaply peaceful sense. a place to come back to. turned north into teton national park. next camping, colter bay village, ten miles. arrived there suddenly tired and hot and a touch sun–dazed. colter bay village was a huge complex with rv site, campsite, gift shop, food mall, launderette and showers. lost my way to my designated tent site and by the time i’d put the tent up and gone back to have a shower they’d closed for the night. had a tortilla, put my stuff in a bear box and retreated to the tent. camera card full. went through all the pics looking for deletable ones. the pictures of the tetons are all foreground. the mountains themselves have vanished, like ghost mountains or grey rainbows. [/weaver_showhide]
20th July [weaver_showhide]
now at dubois, Wyoming. Crawled in last night at 9pm after hours of headwinds reduced me to 5mph and then just as the wind-dropped – and hence the mozzies emerged – a backwheel flat and no spare tube, 8 o’clock at night and still 20 miles to the campsite!
woke this morning ravenous and headed for the cowboy café for breakfast. Noticed an internet café amongst the wooden shop-fronts of this great little one-street town. By the time I’d fixed inner-tubes and tweaked gears (don’t even ask about the front derailer!) it was lunchtime and the wind was up. Want to keep moving. chris is now on the same continent and we hope to meet in Missoula about seven days cycling away, headwinds permitting. On the other hand, am still feeling distinctly wind-blasted (and look it too). At the campsite office they told me there’s live music practically next to my tent tonight. That settled it. Day off!!! Blog-catch up, food catch-up and then off to tackle togwotee pass tomorrow [/weaver_showhide]
15th – 19th July [weaver_showhide]
headwinds would be a constant theme of this section! this shouldn’t be read as complaining – but it is rather hard just to ignore them. From gould through riverside, walden (as in thoreau), rawlins and up into the ’empty quarter’ a huge section of vast wyoming plain with very few human-inhabited stops on the way. Silver-grey sage-brush scattered across pale sandy soil for hundreds and hundreds of miles. Hot head winds and many highspots. Grandma’s café, unexpected and open at lamont. Line of trucks outside, all men inside, like ‘old dog’ café in annie proulx’s that old ace in the hole. An unlikely to be fulfilled fantasy about ice-cream as I approached muddy gap and a gas station with a super friendly ex air-force man, ice-cream? We have home-made gelatto!! He studied local history, and told me of the mormon parties that were stranded here one winter having set out from the east too late. Split rock, a little further down the road, used as a navigational aide by the pioneers crossing these plains in covered wagons, the mormons fleeing persecution with handcarts, the fur-traders and the pony express, amongst others. The information sign included a photo of an old advert for pony express riders “wanted, wiry young men, not older than 18, must be expert horseman and prepared to face death daily. orphans preferred.” I rode off looking back at split rock and across the huge plain, the sweetwater river winding in the distance. Incredibly powerful place and incredibly moving to think of people crossing it in covered wagons, let alone pushing handcarts.
At lander I managed to watch a section of the tour de france -bliss! – especially as it was being shown in another microbrewery, this one called, for reasons I never discovered, fishcow. Alp d’huez, where I watched Armstrong overtake basso the year that alp d’huez ( a ten mile steep climb) was a time-trial. Awesome stuff and makes me feel like my trip is a breezy holiday.
Met many cyclists on this section, which is part of the trans-america route. One told me he’d met a cyclist in Colorado pulling a sea-kayak, heading for Alaska! “It’s just the way I get around”. another, fred from Michigan, said he was doing the 4,300 mile route for the third time. Inspiring stuff. On the other hand, there is the traffic. Not so heavy across the empty quarter but at times, especially on interstate sections, you really realize how much freight is shipped about in this country in huge trucks. And how many people ship themselves about in vast RV’s, often towing smaller trucks (which would look large in Europe) behind them. This trip is making me more radical. After aspen I think I reached the view that we simply shouldn’t be allowed to use resources and expend energy as much as we like, for any purpose we like, limited only by our own wealth. More and more I’m coming to the view that (relevant) resource consumption should be rationed and that part of the problem is the way we prioritize our freedom of choice in these, lifestyle/energy expending areas, over the protection of the earth. [/weaver_showhide]
9th -14th July [weaver_showhide]
wonderfully waylaid at bill and steph’s, way beyond generous hosts (and old friends from 88/89 when we were all students at fort Collins). Bill collected me from estes park “it’s still raining, flash-flood warnings, don’t argue” and regaled me with stories of when the big Thompson canyon flooded and chunks of the road (amongst other things) were swept away. I wasn’t going to argue and later steph and I re-rode that section on pannier-free bikes in the sunshine, miles of downhill, the river alongside like a living thing, curling and waving around the rocks; a huge brown snake, white markings constantly changing. Crossed the 1000miles mark on that summer-holiday day-ride! The trail-ridge road downpour had made the news. Not constrained to trail-ridge either. Part of the road from Socorro was under four feet of water, Albuquerque had roads closed. Near Westcreek, the Rocky Mountain News told of flash floods escaped by Charlotte Ferguson, amongst others.
Ferguson, 68, said she scrambled up a hill near her home Saturday morning as rescue crews prepared to bring her across the rushing creek. “I climbed the hill with my .38 and my curling iron” she said, noting that the gun was for protection against bears and the curling iron was with her simply because she had forgotton to put it down.
We visited an Excel Energy wind-farm, a stunning site with the huge, almost silent blades turning against a huge sky on a vast plain grazed by buffalo. Amendment 37 in Colorado requires energy companies to produce 10% energy from renewable sources by 2010. less than one percent USA energy currently comes from wind – but the manager of this site, ken, was optimistic that this would rise to 10- 15% in the next decade. He knew each windmill, and its mechanical gliches, in detail and talked at length of the complications involved in keeping them running. (Click here to see a short video of the wind farm, if you only get sound, wait for it to finish and then try pressing the play button again, these things can be fickle.)
From there we went to New Belgium brewery. What an inspiring story! Started after a bike ride through Belgium prompted the owners to experiment with their own beer brewing. From selling the results out of the back of a car, the brewery now employs 275 people in Fort Collins and is hugely successful. Back in 1992 the staff voted unanimously to switch to wind energy and absorb the extra costs themselves. The plant is still 100% wind-powered, its delivery fleet runs on biodiesel, employees are given a “fat tyre” bike after a year and many ride to work on them, and there are constant innovations to improve energy efficiency. We had a great guided tour from chris, who’d worked there nine years, followed by a serious tasting session. Mmmmmm! All in the interests of global warming research of course. See the New Belgium Brewery website here. (The ads are particularly diverting, says the web guy, who also says you might have to resize the browser window, or you can find the link on the Links page.)
In between all this, bill and steph fed me a constant stream of blueberry pancakes, French toast, lasagna and home-made pizza, provided washing machine and computer and bike mechanics – and bill escorted me to the top of Cameron pass when I finally dragged myself away, struggling to find a gear that would allow him to ride slow enough to ride at my pannier loaded speed – it took us all day and we parted company on the top, bill for a two hour descent in the dark back towards Fort Collins and me for a shorter swoop down to the campsite just beyond Gould, grinning and mulling on the wonderful generosity of old friends. [/weaver_showhide]
4th – 8th July [weaver_showhide]
appened to be cycling through the small town of buena vista just in time for the july 4th parade. streams of people, horses, trucks, dogs, all sorts of groups from the hill-billy music reunion to the league of women voters, all throwing sweets to the crowds, kids scrambling in the sunshine. great atmosphere! then on to an almost deserted campsite high in the hills above twin lakes, at the foot of independence pass.
inpendendence pass was great – long climb but felt much stronger than i did on wolf creek. no doubt starting first thing rather than towards the end of a long day helped, as did the awesome views. 12,095 feet and mountains all around!! who knows, i might even be getting fitter. then a long, chilly descent in pouring rain into aspen, which is truly gruesome and gave me the heebies. a monument to consumerism, excess wealth and status based on possessions.(a woman on the summit did warn me, “aspen has become one big shopping mall. and there are women with high heeled shoes!!”)i scooted out the other side as fast as i could and went to visit the rocky mountain institute. headed up by amory lovins, it does a huge amount of work on energy efficiency and is optimistic that we can tackle global warming without having to make major lifestyle changes. hmmmmm
the final big pass (for now at least) turned into a bit of an epic. trail ridge road, one of the most spectacular roads in the world in terms of mountain scenery (allegedly). it started to rain at the foot of the climb and many many hours later i reached the summit in the rain equivalent of a white-out, with accompanying head-wind. 12 thousand feet and absolutely no view! worse, even after the summit, the road kept rising! by this time i was stopping every few minutes to rest, slumping over the bike and found myself talking to the road (always a bad sign) ” just go down! please, just go DOWN!” my breath was making an odd choking noise that i didn’t seem to have much control over and my face ached from the wind, cold and trying not to wimper out loud. finally the road did go down – thank goodness!! – for about 25 miles of cold wet descent into estes park where i arrived way beyond drowned rat state. definitely a motel night. bill pointed out later how ironic it would be to get hypothermia and frostbite on a global warming trip. very funny. he also tells me that there has been a drought here since last september so it seems churlish of me to complain about the rain. whether the drought had to break on the day that should have included some of the most spectacular scenery of the entire trip is another question. [/weaver_showhide]
2nd – 3rd July [weaver_showhide]
left susan’s after a great few days – horse-riding! Conversation! Food! Hot-springs! – reluctantly, on the 2nd july (“stay just one more day! come rafting with us!”) and, reunited with credit cards thanks to chris in uk, base-camp manager extraordinaire, headed off towards salida. never trust the locals when they say you’ll have a tail wind. (gary and patti, nb!!). sheltered from a monsoon like downpour in a great little museum in saguache that used to be a jail. Eclectic mix of furniture, clothes and household goods from the early 19th century plus a rock collection, a few Indian artifacts, a gun collection (including a tiny ‘ladies’ colt that belonged to a mrs evans who foiled a stage-coach hold-up with it) old spurs and saddles and a collection of different kinds of barbed wire. In the old jail itself, the men’s cell was a truly grim metal cage with four bunk-beds in a tiny space. -no-body ever escaped. The woman’s cell was no larger, but had a chest of drawers and a mirror! then battered on over poncha pass in a relentless head-wind, crawling into poncha springs just before dark. next day i zipped into salida to sort out a mobile phone – cell phone here – that actually has reception. left salida at 6.30pm!! you don’t even want to hear the story. suffice to say, never try to get a USA cell-phone with a european credit card unless you have a LOT of time and patience. i owe my cell-phone to a stranger called deirdre . . . [/weaver_showhide]
27th June – 1st July [weaver_showhide]
woke hungry! ate the cinamon roll. beautiful ride smelling of hot pine and sage to pagosa springs where had huge plate of heuvos rancheros and looked at indian jewelry. a good job that no credit card as i rather fell for an inlaid silver bracelet – just what i need! – at a mere $400. off up the valley to wolf creek pass. weather change! clouded up. then rain and headwind. by the time i got to the sign that said, summit, 8 miles, i was already tired. and head very much in the wrong place. kept looking at the mileometer and wanting the climb to be over. about half-way up the weather cleared up and mood improved but the last couple of miles i really could’ve done without. reran the fred whitton challenge ride in my head to try to silence ‘are we nearly there yet thoughts’. then worked thru scottish towns by the alphabet. (got temporarily stuck on ‘o’ and then utterly stuck on ‘q’). five hours to the top and crossing the continental divide for the second time. cheered by an information board that told me that model t fords used to take 2 days to do it…. arrived at susan’s well after 8pm after cycling down the valley towards a chunk of rainbow, watched by occasional mule deer
…. susan and I last saw each other in 1989! These days she has a husband, three kids, three dogs, four horses and a cat. Truly wonderful few days catching up and getting to know each other again. Susan has been an environmental activist for years and talked a lot about how demoralized people were after bush was elected the second time – not just by the outcome but how it was achieved. (one small example: apparently the del norte – a democratic strong-hold – ballot-box and votes were found in the janitor’s office). Where do you go to indicate dissent when the democratic system becomes so corrupted? What do you do when all possible avenues for voicing concern lead to a blank wall? She said that many environmentalists had temporarily lost heart and energy and pretty much given up. Amongst her friends, the information issue came up again. You have to know where to look to find it, they said, global warming is not discussed in the local papers or on tv. Fox news cited as a key culprit. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon here for people to be modifying houses and living in a low impact way – though for a range of reasons. Susan and kevin’s house -more like a sculpture than a house- was built over years from recycled materials and includes an indoor climbing wall, fantastic carved wooden legs and feet framing a stairway and wonderful metal buffalo sculptures.
Offsetting the Carbon Cycle
Climate Care have sent me the break down for offsetting the carbon emissions from the trip. The total came to 8 tonnes of CO2 but this hides some surprises!
The return train journeys to Gatwick were 0.4 tonnes. The return air flights were 6.4 tonnes.
Ferry from Anchorage to Vancouver 0.3 tonnes
Hotels 0.4 tonnes per person per night!
3 months camping 1 tonne.
All this should be set in the context of an equitable ration of carbon of 1
tonne per person per year. This is each person’s share of carbon emissions set at a level that would not cause climate change and based on a current world population of 6 billion.’ [/weaver_showhide]
26th – 27th June [weaver_showhide]
back to santa fe in tom’s plane rather than the neighbour’s, a beautiful little twin-prop turbo. rocky sat in the aisle quite comfortably with the panniers belted into seats. flight back was fabulous. huge desert vistas, near ship-rock at the meeting of colorado, new mexico, utah and arizona. flying higher – 21 thousand feet – smooth and nausea free! tom took the plane off auto-pilot once we’d reached cruising altitude and let me fly it (well, steer it anyway). easy enough to keep on the compass bearing but of course you have to think about up and down as well… the plane climbs a thousand feet a minute so it’s unnervingly easy to drop or climb into somebody else’s airspace before you know it. tom let me do the runway approach before taking over to the sound of air traffic asking if we’d seen the coyote on the runway, a tiny buff figure against the long asphalt strip.
goodbye to tom, and the off up airport road. various cell-phone related errands in santa fe and out onto the big, hot wide road, an absolutely glorious fast run, slight tail wind, gorgeous heat, 25-30 mph almost all the way to espanola. stopped at the only source of food, disencouragingly called ‘dandy’s burgers’. inside, a suprisingly large selection of vegetarian food due, as i learned from a turbanned fellow customer, to espanola being a centre for sikhs and a huge sikh pilgrimage.
i’ve learned that the fastest way to ensure a change in weather conditions is to let the thought, at this rate i’ll be at such and such by so and so a time, slip into your mind. as i was thinking, at this rate i’ll get way beyond today’s destination, the wind changed, the road inclined uphill and we were back to the 7mph slog. the sky darkened and the wind blew harder. at abiquiu, where georgio o’keefe lived and worked, i sheltered in the tin moon gift shop, looked at some extremely tempting paintings and chatted with the dutch owner who runs the shop and also writes local walking guides. rain hammering as i left and the air distinctly cold. cold! another chunk of miles and a wild camp, or a motel night? i rode back to the abiquiu inn and rather sheepishly checked into the last of the cheaper rooms. feeling wimpish, but glad for the early stop, warmth, shower, time to catch up. at tom and rosalind’s ”d written a blog update, hit send and watched it disappear. gone. here, i talked my way into using one of the front-desk’s computers and rewrote the same section. hit send…. and watched it disappear. ‘your session has expired’… vanished. aaaagh!! so from a blog point of view i am still in el paso.
breakfast next morning very busy. full of people saying things like, i need you to fly me out on the 3rd so i can deal with issues on the ground in mongolia. i talked with a young woman in the queue. the crowd was a film crew, working on ‘the dinosaur hunters’ about uncovering dinosaur fossils.
on the desk at check out, light-weight, laminated brochures of new mexico birds. perfect! bought one and cycled off, stopping on the bridge just outside abiquiu to look at extraordinary rock vistas. a maroon subaru pulled up. the man from the tin moon jumped out. you’re still here! i checked your website… he took a photograph of rocky and i on the bridge and left. i turned to take the view in the other direction – and the battery on the camera announced itself totally flat. damn!!! just spent the whole night recharging the cell-phone that has no reception. from then on the scenery was the most spectacular so far. the chama valley, big khaki river and lush strip of land around it, then up into extraordinary rock landscapes. flat-topped mesas and huge buttresses rearing out of pyramids of loose rock. stripes of cream against dark terracotta and salmon pink, all thickly sprinkled with scrub. thousands of wheeling birds my brochure allows me to identify with confidence as cliff swallows.
was just thinking, goddamn! i need a way of recharging my camera battery, when the ghost ranch information centre came into view, right by the road. ‘this is going to sound a bit odd, but could you do me a favour….?’ they let me plug my charger in, no problem, and i spent a happy hour or so exploring the centre, dedicated, not to georgio o’keefe as i’d assumed, but local natural history. i learned how aspen survive forest fires, lead the new growth and provide shelter for young conifers and habitat for hundreds of birds and insects. i learned that rattlesnakes give birth to fully formed snakes that hatch from eggs while still inside the mother – and gawped at a HUGE stuffed specimen that looked more like a boa constrictor. quite a lot of material about the need to take responsibility in relation to how we use resources, to support nature conservation bodies and how the future of the local ecosystems depends on our decisions. nothing about global warming as such. as i left this morning, a group of women on tour – yoga in the morning and georgio o’keefe in the afternoon – told me they thought the al gore film was fantastic. but that most people ‘are in another world’ and not engaged with the issue at all. or, given how much the government rubbishes the issue, think, why should i do anything about it? or think that someone should do something – but at government rather than individual level. just then the film crew turned up for lunch. i cycled off with great good-will from the staff – paula even gave me her home phone number in case i needed help for any reason – wondering why an educational conservation site might not even mention global warming and thinking about what would encourage us most a individuals to take responsibility for global warming in our own lives and decisions . . .
miles later in a very small town i stopped at the shop cum bar, very hungry. the only substantial food was burritos, and they were all chicken or beef. bought a twix and some gummy bears and a tiny packet of ‘string cheese’. chatted to the three elderly men in the bar. heading for del norte? don’t go over wolf creek, chama pass much more direct, and easier. shortly after, i ran into roadworks, the road surface removed. a single lane thick with gravel. just as i was thinking, hmm… an official roadworks truck pulled up and offered me a lift. 8 miles of deep gravel? – sure. rocky in the back on top of road signs. their job is to rescue cyclists, remove other things that might obstruct the traffic and put the marker barrels back up after the local lads knock them down each night. heading for del norte? oh definitely, wolf creek pass, much more direct than chama pass….
crawled into chama after miles of headwind. stopped at a gas station to ask about local camping. but then discovered i was 49 miles short of pagosa springs – which should be the beginning of tomorrow!! can’t do 49 miles and then wolf creek pass. early evening by this time, and not thinking straight. tired and nothing but sugar all day. here again, only junk food or beef burritos. bought one cinammon roll (why one?!) and forgot to refil water bottles. and then headed towards cromo (‘a wide spot in the road’ according to the roadworks truck-driver). the headwind eased and the road opened out and starting turning into colorado – huge meadows, open spaces, big hills in the distance, evening sunshine, bird song. a sign said i was crossing the continental divide at around 7 thousand feet. i suddenly remembered passing the sign about 17 years ago, cycling in the other direction. 17 year old memories unexpectedly came back. a cowboy had been riding the fence line alongside the road and we’d exchanged banter about whether he’d exchange his horse for my bike.
started looking for potential camping spots but most of the small roads gated and locked. finally reached cromo, very tired. tiny rv site with one rv and two harley davidsons whose owners told me i should be able to find tom in the trailer. no sign of tom. no intention of going any further. put up my tent – on grass! then i did find tom, a large man with huge round face and curly hair who told me how his grandmother had died in february and the family were gathering to cremate her now. (really? in june?!). he said he didn’t cater for tents, no facilities. but to stay anyway. beautiful clear, cold night, big stars. decided to save my only food, the cinnamon roll, for morning, crawled into the beautiful warmth of my down bag and fell asleep to the sound of whiperwhool wing-beats in the dark. slept like a log. [/weaver_showhide]
25th June [weaver_showhide]
wonderful couple of days. great evening at neighbours’ yesterday. when we arrived at john and anne’s, just us and them. i was imagining a sit-down formal dinner. then another couple arrived, then a car-load, then another. cars kept arriving. soon the house was full of three generations, wandering inside and out, drinking beers, cokes and margheritas. i spoke with a geologist specialising in hazardous waste retraining as a nurse specialising in anaesthesia. (an anaesthetist with a geological time-frame, what a thought! let me put you to sleep for a hundred thousand years….). his view on global warming was a) climates have always been in flux and this is just another flux and b) in any case talking about global warming isn’t a good way to get people to act differently. it’s too big and distant. focussing on the geo-political situation and the desirability of energy independance would be much more effective. i spoke with a solar astrophysicist who’d been studying the sun’s output since 1970. we can’t blame the sun’s output for global warming anymore, he said. it’s now certain that the output has been constant for the last 30 odd years. and yes, i certainly believe global warming is happening. i spoke with anne who showed me her little black and white cat panda’s two kittens and told me a bear had eaten all their chickens bar one last night – and had a go at the hummingbird feeder. (bears? already? goodness!). best of all i spoke with heidi. small and slender, skin tight jeans, beautiful boots, pink and white shirt and white cowboy hat over a long pale plait, large blue eyes with a calm, grounded sort of look. heidi has a very large ranch in utah. in the summer she rides the ranch checking on cattle and fences, sleeping out for five or six nights at a time and then coming back for an occasional bath before setting out again. a real cowgirl (cowperson?!) – and a grandma! what an inspiration. (being a cowgirl is a long-standing fantasy of mine, tho its never sat entirely easily with being a vegetarian). we talked about arabs versus quarter horses (she uses quarter horses), how travelling in an rv cuts you off from so much of what you are travelling through, and how useful dogs are. “they make for lazy cowboys but take the pressure off the horses. they’re about 5% useful: most of the time the cattle are chasing the dogs rather than the other way around.” tom and rosalind told me later how heidi on form was an extraordinary dancer, known, amongst other things, for tap-dancing on tables and throwing truly wild parties which people would cross states to get to. and she invited me to come and visit! oh my. somehow i must find a way to make that happen.
tom and rosalind totally spoiled me – wonderful food! company! a bathroom! – and made me feel completely welcome. rosalind and i sat on the deck and chatted. an amazing and truly lovely person. tom i visited mesa verde. tiny stone dwellings built into overhanging cliffs, curved and striped in beautiful pinks and oranges and buffs. it took about 80 years to build and was only inhabited for about 100 years. nobody really knows why they left. chris thought it was a drought. tom had heard a theory that the children got rebellious and took to cannibalism! (but how would we know that?!). we sat on a rock with a view across the canyon to the spruce tree site. talking non-stop since santa fe, catching up on the last 12 years, friends, work, travel, family. then issues. the death penalty – tom very much opposed and worked for a while with the nun who made ‘dead man walking’ – politics, hilary clinton’s chances of presidency (slight). on global warming tom thinks that economics will drive a huge change in lifestyles in the next decade or so. oil will peak and become vastly more expensive, with all that entails. jobs will increasingly be outsourced internationally, leaving fewer jobs in the usa. and china will play a huge role. overall, the usa standard of living will drop – and people will live more efficiently, in terms of energy and other consumption, as a result. but no way, in his view, will this be lead by individuals taking the initiative and acting on ethical and environmental concerns. [/weaver_showhide]
24th June [weaver_showhide]
great hospitality from jonathan and mela, including a wonderful bed outside under a car-port-like structure illuminated with fairy lights. lay in bed listening to the crickets and watching the sky light up with distant lightening. and MARMITE for breakfast!!!
was hoping to meet up with an old friend, tom buffalo, in a few days time. last minute change of plan – tom would come and get me today and take me to mancos in sw colorado for a day off. tom leases planes. he said he’d pick me up in one. i said, tom, i’m on a global warming trip, i can’t let you collect me by plane. he said, now let’s get this in perspective. we’ll talk about global warming later. see you at the airport!
the airport was three miles away which left time to visit the bike shop. after various flats i wanted to borrow a foot pump. discovered slime!! you inject slime into your inner tube, and heh, punctures become self-sealing. awesome! also spent some time with the mechanic sorting a range of minor gliches that added up to the front derailer not shifting into top. rocky has some highly-strung components that are taking my mechanical skills to new limits. slowly.
at the tiny santa fe airport, we passed ‘million aires’ and some hangers and on to the beautiful buff adobe-type reception building for private planes. a whole nother world!! er, can i bring my bike in? of course madam. so rocky and i waited in cool luxury. tom arrived. huge hugs and ‘god damn!’s. haven’t seen each other for 12 years. then, ok, compromise, i’ve bought my neighbour’s plane, it’s smaller and uses less fuel… tom borrowed the staff car and we went into santa fe for lunch and a wander around the beautiful old part of town. he told me how much these streets and shops have changed – more tourist focussed – and took me into galleries he knew from a previous career in dealing in indian rugs. some of these are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars now, literally. seems somehow obscene, given how the indian people were treated, to have their banal artefacts elevated so highly by the same culture that persecuted them.
back at the airport we squeezed rocky into the back of the tiny cessna and took off over santa fe. cycling on the road, you think, mm, this is pretty deserty, but you don’t really get a sense of the scale. in the air, you think, wow, it really IS a desert i’ve been cycling through! suddenly see for hundreds and hundreds of miles of dry land, scrub, empty water courses. and hundreds of tiny square patches that are gas wells. by this time the afternoon storms were building up. bumpy clouds. i don’t travel all that well in small planes. tom let me take the controls and only by focussing fiercely on the horizon and on keeping the wings straight did i avoid using the bin-liners we’d scrounged….landed on a grass strip, met by rosalind, tom’s wonderful wife who i hadn’t met before, and walked up to their ‘trailer’ – a beautiful, spacious white-painted house with a wooden deck and patio under tall shady trees looking out across a hayfield to distant mountains. lovely lovely place. [/weaver_showhide]
23rd june [weaver_showhide]
finally left the double-day, waved off by hotel staff, back out into albuquerque lunchtime traffic. attempting to follow directions to avoid busy roads “i live here and i wouldn’t cycle on that…” cost me at least an hour when “cut thru university” turned out to mean a road called university rather than the university itself. which certainly wasn’t conducive to cutting thru. finally ended up on the road i’d been warned off only to find it was the one i’d cycled in on. didn’t wish to provoke fate by ignoring the advice of cycling locals but i guess they typically haven’t just come off the interstate.
heading for turquoise trail, gorgeous section of road between albuquerque and santa fe. big desert vistas, big blue sky. hot but not oven-like. quiet. a canadian couple photographing flowering cactus at the top of a hill handed me a huge glass of orange and perrier. ravens flew alongside.
the town of golden barely existed but madrid certainly did. decidedly funky houses, several sporting anti-iraq war banners, feisty atmosphere. and busy!! street and cafes packed with people. the main street was hung with banners proclaiming the madrid chile festival. this was no quaintsy folksy event tho. there was the occasional chile in evidence but mostly there were rows and rows of machinery parts. and, as i left, a HUGE open space packed with trucks and an immense sound system clearly gearing up for later. i didn’t stop. friends of friends were expecting me in santa fe and given the late start i had to blast to get there. but it was more than this. there’s a sort of resistance to stopping that i can get into, almost a laziness, easier to keep moving and stay on the surface than to engage. and, in addition, there’s a dilemma at the heart of this trip and madrid – a town that’s a law unto itself i was told later – became a symbol of it. do i keep focussed on the final destination – anchorage – and keep moving, keep the miles up, or do i make time to engage with the many many inviting things i encounter on the way? and, if necessary, let anchorage go? for now, i’m focussed on anchorage and madrid will always remain an intriguing opportunity – music, feisty people, big outdoor party, a rather wild night – that i didn’t take up . . . [/weaver_showhide]
23rd June, ’06 [weaver_showhide]
sumptious eggs benedict breakfast and then walked across the plaza to the mayor’s office. 11 floors up, huge views of albuquerque, a suite of open plan offices interspersed with sofas and enormous chinese vases. over 200 ‘cool city’ mayors across the USA have basically said, the hell with bush, if he isn’t going to do anything about global warming then we are – and committed their cities to reaching kyoto targets, and often significantly beyond. i’d just figured out how to use the new digital recorder and rather nervously prepared a ton of questions. but mayor martin chavez – short grey hair, very calm, focussed, casual dress (“i’m going fishing later”) – started by asking me about my trip. then barry “my energy man” joined us. then one of the mayor’s aides put her head around the door to say that someone from the alburquerque tribune was here. before i knew it i was being interviewed by cary from the tribune, various people on the conference call system and someone from the local radio station. the aide was mouthing, “tell them how important the issue is”, a dog barked in the background and a photographer was snappping all of us. so my first digital recording was mostly of myself. finally i got to ask the mayor some questions. his vision was very much top down and technology focussed. cleaner energy, greener fleets, energy efficiency. lifestyle changes? “yes of course. but we don’t need to go back to the caves.” (i think this meant, lifestyle changes? not really). are the mayors making a difference at federal level? “oh yes. environmental issues in general are going to be a major issue in the next election. al gore is having an impact. the usa is really going to come on board in relation to global warming – and then it will lead the world. then it will be a force to be reckoned with . . .”
the mayor was asked what he thought about my trip. “well, i think the dr is a ripple on a lake. a ripple that will turn into a tidal wave…” the barking dog in the background turned out to be the mayor’s dog, dukes, a gorgeous, sane, happy, black, grey and spotty retriever cross. dukes was a rescue dog that featured in a spaying and neutering campaign. i warmed to the mayor even more after meeting his dog. dukes bought a ball and dropped it at my feet. throwing it seemed less than wise. barry said, oh just chuck it. if we break a vase we’ll just get the chinese to send another. not sure how serious he was but i don’t think he was entirely joking either. barry described himself as &bquo;a republican, but the greenest person in the building&bquo;. we went to his office and chatted about all sorts of things. his reservations about biofuel – “it releases huge amounts of carbon in the harvesting, not like we do it with a man and an ox, and it takes up habitat and agricultural land”. in relation to cars, he favoured hydrogen. and the energy for the reaction? “solar”. it was barry who told me about the interstates and fighter planes, about how ornery kids get if they watch tv and eat sugar . . . [/weaver_showhide]
Thurs 22nd June (pm) [weaver_showhide]
cycled into Albuquerque. Outskirts and roadworks for miles and then suddenly, downtown! Many usa cities don’t really seem to have a downtown but alburquerque certainly does. Swanky high rise hotels and offices, a pedestrian area, funky looking restaurants. I wanted to clean up a bit before meeting the mayor and not be miles away across the other side of town in the morning. This is tricky in a plush part of town on a tight cash budget without a credit card. But Chris, base-camp manager extraordinaire, had managed to persuade a hotel across from the mayor’s office to let him pay for my room over the phone from the UK (normally they are keen to see the credit card). So I arrived at the double-day hotel. Certainly madam, your room is on the 9th floor. And the bike? Just take it with you. So rocky and I rode upwards in an elevator full of people squeezing past his panniers to get in. I love it!!! And room 916 was a gorgeous cool haven. Had one of the best showers ever, fixed a punctured inner tube while reclining on a lounge chair and then read about cool city mayors propped up in a vast, vast bed . . . [/weaver_showhide]
21st June [weaver_showhide]
Bought a packet of tortillas and some monterey jack cheese on day one – has been my main food all week, bungied on top of the pannier rack for ease of access. The cheese has melted and re-solidified so many times it’s puddle-shaped. I’ve stopped in some great cafés too. The pepper pot – a long room with ceiling fans and all the blinds down. Walls covered in ornate silver crosses, old lp’s, landscape paintings, photographs of tractors and a 1963 newspaper headlining johnson sworn in as president. And a christmas tree covered in red, white and blue stars. The buckhorn bar featured benches with inset metal moose, reindeer antlers covered with baseball caps, a piano with a stuffed mountain lion on top of it and a tv playing continuous country and western videos. On each table, a copy of GQ magazine front page in a menu stand: “20 hamburgers to eat before you die. Buckhorn burger voted #7 in America”… Huevos rancheros is my mainstay in cafes – has to be one of the best vegetarian biking meals ever. Beans, potatoes, eggs, tortillas, cheese and chili (green or red). Chile is a big thing around here. Many signs advertise chilis for sale – ensuring, in this baking heat, that you are hot inside as well out. Vast portions of course; you begin the meal with great relish and then about half way through a sense of almost despair creeps in as you realize no way can you eat it all. Usually I’ll get a doggy bag and strap that to my pannier load too for later . . .
Sometimes people just ignore the bike but mostly they ask where I’m going and what I’m doing. I’m finding I feel a little shy about plunging into global warming discussions – need to find a way around this given the nature of the trip! – but when I do bring it up so far the main response has been in weather terms. It’s hotter, people say, and drier and windier. And there are big fires in Arizona that is making the air smoke-hazy. Do you think the changes in weather are because of global warming? I ask. &bquo;Hell, honey, I sure think it’s mother nature&bquo; – a trucker at a rest stop, white vest, smart cream pants and cowboy boots – not an atypical response. In outlying new mexico I talked with people who hadn’t really heard of global warming, and just changed the subject. I think there really is a section of the usa public who aren’t in denial about it, they genuinely don’t know. Elizabeth kolbert writes about how unlikely that is given the information overload, but when friends later told me about the republican dominated ‘fox news’ and it’s dominance as an information source for many people it seemed much more credible. So there’s a challenge… How do you reach those people who don’t read broadsheets/go to al gore documentaries etc in a country with some truly awful mainstream media? [/weaver_showhide]
Monday June 19th [weaver_showhide]
Leaving el paso, by bike, heading north!! By the time I’d gone into town to post stuff home (including heavy but crucial spanner for replacing pedals) and faffed with panniers and gear, it was almost exactly 12 noon. The ever-helpful holiday inn express receptionist took a photo – white skin, white shirt! – and I rode rocky round the hotel car-park thinking, oh my!
Can I really do this? Felt unnervingly heavy and wobbly behind. Plucked up my courage and headed out into the lunchtime el paso traffic. And yes, it was like riding into an oven. The road out of town was uphill and infested with traffic lights ensuring as many wobbly hill-starts as possible. Wasn’t at all sure I could make it the two miles to the bike shop let alone another 50 or so that day. Don’t even think about anchorage. At crazy cat’ bike shop I used their foot pump and skulked inside pretending I might buy something until the air-con got my temperature down to something functional. Then headed off for real.
The outskirts of el paso turn into heavily irrigated farmland. Pecan orchards, a polo pitch (!), a field of alpacas, clipped out like bizarre, long-legged poodles. Beautiful horses, lots of them, quarter horses, thoroughbreds and a few arabs. When the rio grande comes close to the road you can see hundreds and hundreds of swallows hunting above the coffee-coloured water. Gradually farmland gives way to more deserty country. Huge vistas of dun-coloured hills and ridges scattered with almost green scrub.
Those first few days, the heat was intense. I have cycled in heat before and relished it but either this was hotter ( I think it was around 110 leaving el paso) or I’m losing my tolerance (getting older? Surely not!) Occasionally I crossed the road to stand in the shadow of a tree or a truck for a couple of minutes. When you stop, you can really hear the bird-song. Once a couple of squirrels watched me from a hole in a house-wall. Camping in national parks, Elephant butte’ and truth or consequences. The campsites are designed for rvs and so pitching the tent on rock-solid ground has been interesting, especially when it’s windy. It stays hot until well into the night. The down sleeping bag has stayed in its stuff sac, and I use ear-plugs so I can ignore the flapping fly-sheet half-tethered to rocks and panniers. The mornings are beautiful tho &squot;yes, even I have been inspired to get up at 6am&squot; bird-song, rabbits among the cactus, huge blue sky and cool cool air.
I had to keep the mileage up for the first week, in order to be in alburquerque for thurs pm to meet with the mayor on Friday morning. Leaving truth and consequences I cycled into a head-wind on an up and downy road. Struggling to make 7mph. Aaagh! Came to the first section where I had no choice but to join the interstate. Revelation! The interstate irons out the ups and downs, a benefit lost on its car traffic but much appreciated by cyclists. (I later learned that the interstates were built in this way so that fighter planes could land on them during the cold war). On this stretch, I came close to having to flag down passing trucks for water (I’m carrying 3 bottles as standard and then on long stretches an extra couple of litres bungied to the panniers). Arrived at a rest stop just in time and was handed ice (first) then water and a doughnut by a family traveling to las vegas. The friendliness and generosity of people I’ve met so far has been just lovely. This was also the rest stop where I saw an RV towing a Hummer. [/weaver_showhide]
19th June, El Paso [weaver_showhide]
Just about to set off!! i suspect it will feel a bit like cycling into an oven. very un-English, and i can’t wait.
El Paso is more Mexican than American, hot, signs in spanish and people speaking spanish everywhere. downtown el paso looks like a set from a western, only substitute clothes shops for bars. on sunday, the clothes shops are all open, but cafes are closed. as are the bars…..ideal when you’ve managed to choose a base-camp hotel that has no restaurant! (tho lots of ice)
talking to a man from san antonio in one of the airport queues. he told me about ‘retail kidnap’ in mexico and that the temperature in el paso would be 115 degrees, that i would find absolutely no shade, and that santa fe would be little better. seizing the opening i asked, “how much of an issue is climate change in these already hot places?” “oh, you won’t have a problem with that until further north”, he said,and paused. “tho the evenings can be a little cool…” by the time i unscrambled my brain we’d been called to our separate check-in desks. i think the moral might be to use the term ‘global warming’…
adventures so far include me somehow losing my wallet between leaving the plane and passing through customs, and rocky losing some teeth. satish kumar writes about the various challenging things that happened to him on his walk from india to russia (delivering peace tea to world leaders) as opportunities to learn… so now is my opportunity to learn how to do without credit cards for a bit! and how to keep my bum-bag shut. (fortunately i had a lot of cash and my passport somewhere else or life would really have been tricky). rocky came out of his box minus four teeth on the front triple gear sprocket. given how stuffed with foam and padding the box was i can only think that the ‘fragile, do not drop’ signs inspired the baggage-handlers to hurl with great force. amazingly, the top gear still seems to work even minus its teeth. (charlie did say it was a tough piece of kit, but still). even so, since there is a bike shop- crazy cat – on my route – think i’ll stop off on my way out. tho without a credit card and on a $50 us a day budget my replacement options are limited!
as for environmental matters… am already remembering what a contradictory place this is. el paso buses are plastered with ‘running on clean natural gas’ signs as they jostle for space between the trucks and hummers. breakfast (which the hotel does provide) comes on disposable plates and the air-con in every room (its too cold!!) can’t be turned off….
camping this evening so at least that won’t be an issue! [/weaver_showhide]