I was at the Larson home on the east side of Safford, waking on the couch before the sunrise. He and his parents, Gene and Joy are helping me along on my mission. They made a huge spread, sending Stephen and I off with a belly full of bacon and waffles. These folks are angels.
I’ve been given word that the mountain range a few miles ahead is steep and will present a challenge. Stephen and I go coffee-less from our host home, first stopping at the post office in the rural community. There’s only a few buildings in town.
Stephen mails some things back to France, lightening the load he carries. I sit out front strumming my Outdoor Ukulele. Inside, JoAnna the mail clerk offers us waters and a delicious veggie-fruit smoothie. She’s an angel.
Pedaling over rolling hills and through fields of wild flowers, we arrive at a junction, turning left to face our demons; two mountain passes. I stopped along side of the road, leaning my bike against a concrete bridge. I spend a few moments clearing my mind, and giving thanks for the day. Now I’m a mile or two behind ‘Frenchie’ (that’s what I’ve nicknamed Stephen).
It’s a long gradual climb over the the first mountain pass, reaching about 5000 feet, then descending a steep grade for about eleven miles. Shoeless Jo and I topped out at forty three miles per hour on the downhill, a land speed record for us. I felt like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and The Bandit.
The views were expansive and breathtaking. I wasn’t sure wether to take pictures of the mountains disappearing behind me or to capture those growing larger before me, so I took a picture of this horse instead.
When we pull into the town of Three Way, it’s barely a town, offering just one market at the dusty junction. But it’s all I need. I feast on a convenience store lunch, grab my first coffee of the day and then point east for the most challenging section.
Up ahead are the switchbacks. On a map they look like a smile, but beneath my rolling wheels they are causing aches in my body. My hamstring is tight, my shoulder is burning and occasionally one of my hands will go numb.
For the better part of fifteen miles I’m geared down as low as I can go. Shoeless Jo walks beside me, saving me from towing his forty five pound frame.
In the dry desert, prisoners are hard at work pulling weeds and cleaning up the human litter that scatters the side of the road. We ride by them slowly.
A few clouds provide some relief from the sun that is turning me a golden brown. The sweat is dripping off my nose. Jo’s tongue is long and flops back and forth as he prances along.
As the sun was getting closer to disappearing behind the hills, three cyclist came up behind me, falling into my stride. We ride together for a mile or so before they turn around, heading back to their cars parked a few clicks behind us. I see these riders as angels, coming along to motivate me, encourage me.
Once I conquer the mighty behemoth at 6,285 feet, I stand tall, looking back at the darker sky, and the mountains I’ve passed through, feeling grateful. I continue on, it turns to dark. I find Black Jack Canyon campground not far up ahead.
It’s seven thirty at at night when I light my stove, scatter my gear all over the picnic bench and make my bed. I’m joined by one other camper who’s in an RV. I consider walking over and introducing myself, perhaps enjoying their fire. But after forty two miles of mountain climbing, I’m exhausted and Jo is too.