I opened my eyes this morning, looked at my watch and thought, oh shit!
It was 7am and I had overslept. Normally im just putting my feet in the pedals at this point and my plans for the day were already going awry!
It is testament to the practice I have had that I had packed up and had breakfast in 45 mins, desperate to be on the road... I was on a tourist mission today and the painted desert and petrified forest were my aim.
Just as I was putting on my helmet, I glanced through the glass windows to the lobby of the motel and caught sight of the clock... it was 6:55. Laughing to myself at not realising that once again I had gained an hour I set my feet on the pedals and set off.
The first thing I had to get past today, was the closed off bridge that led to the westwards I40 and windslow, my destination for the day, only 91 miles away! I walked tentatively up to the workman and begged to be let across, knowing that if they didnt let me, I would have to go east at least 10 miles in order to cross over. Once again, all worries were fruitless as I was not only let across, but personally escorted, and then wished a safe journey!
So set in my way, I pedalled for the customary half hour... my legs felt reasonable, despite the chill of the morning air, and once again, the breath of the wind was on my back and the sun was shining. I soon warmed up but didnt stop long enough to discard layers as I wanted to cover the 20 miles to the petrified forest and painted desert national park quickly enough to spend some time there. I made really good progress, all the while watching out for another tarantula appearance (for barney sullivan and sarah kumari especially). The scenery started to change quietly, turning from scrub to more desert like red sand with mounds of rock sticking up from the ground. These rocks got bigger and more numerous but still nothing like that of the google pictures. Before I knew it I was at the exit for the national park and swung in... photo opportunities taken at the sign marking the entrance, I then made my way into the visitor centre.
At the centre I took the opportunity to stamp my passport with stamps for both the desert and the forest and got chatting to one of the park wardens about the cycle ride. Displayed were some of the petrified wood chunks, wood that was buried and turned to stone over many millenia and I then discovered that to see the wood in the park I would have to cycle towards the end of the loop, which was 28 miles, and then back again... too much time... but I could cycle to the viewing points a few miles away.. so I did. The painted desert jumps out at you, you go along the road, wondering where it is, go round a bend and stare out over a canyon, the walls of which are layers of colourful rock stretching down and down below you to the valley floor. I will try not to make up any superlatives (shamazing being one I will not use) but instead describe what I saw and leave the rest to your imagination...
The valley floor was a maze of dry rivulets, curving through a pale red sand. These rivulets were surrounded by pale green scrub, creating a patchwork effect.. this stretched out round smaller mounds of red earth and whiter rock to the edge of the canyon, where it met the rock walls. These walls had coloured layers of brown, grey, white and red stone, which stretched up to the point where I was standing. On the far side this contrasted with the golden scrub grass of the plains which was glowing in the early morning sunlight. I just stood and stared for what seemed like hours until I collected myself and started photographing the 180° panorama. Eager to escape the 'crowds' ( about 5 people)I got back on my bike and went to the next viewpoint. Here I sat on the wall, listening to the sound of the wind, and watching the crows hover on the thermals, deafened by the silence and overwhelmed by the peace.. no tears (yet)!
I was caught up by the crowds and having got a few photos standing on top of this creation of nature, being conscious of the miles still to cover, tore myself away, and freewheeled back to the visitor centre. On exiting, I was nearly lost to this place, as the park warden mentioned something about hikes down to the floor and a back country camping permit... I almost asked where I could leave my bike!
Head ruled the heart though and I made my way back to the interstate, shaking my head in disbelief of the experience I had just had. Some of the visitors had just driven up in their cars, snapped a few photos from inside and driven off again... what a way to miss out!
Before I left I bought supplies for the day at the gas station and whilst there bumped into Marty, who had unfortunately lost a family member to leukemia recently and donated to the ride... thankyou.
My bext waypoint was the town of Holbrook, another 20 miles or so away... but once again this flew past, with music and the rock walls to keep me company, not all downhill, but at a good speed nonetheless. I arrived there in time for lunch and stopped once again at Dennys.
Here, probably because of my appearance... torn, dirty shorts, wierd tan lines, helmet dented hair... I was asked about where I had come from, whst I was doing so took a few minutes to spread the LHS word. After exiting the restrooms, I discovered a gentleman called Bob, who had clearly waited for me. He had overheard my conversation and wanted to know more. On top of that he also donated to the ride... another kind act to a total stranger. I shook his hsnd and set off again, through Holbrook to rejoin the interstate. I felt totally carefree, relaxed about making the last 60 miles in time as the conditions were perfect. This meant I stopped frequently to take photos and gaze out at the view. Of course with every stop, I scanned the ground for movement in hope, but it was not to be today.
Marty had warned me that I would be climbing up to 7000 feet, he seemed taken aback that this did not worry me, until I explained that I had already passed 7295 feet at the continental divide. So the road wound gradually upwards, but not in any way that remotely troubled my legs... it was at this point that I was reminded that I was on an interstate when a lorry veered onto the shoulder, but onky briefly but it served as a reminder to stsy aware.
During the next 30 miles, there were consrant billboards inviting me to go andcsee the worlds largest petrified tree. I ummed and ahhhed about whether to stop again, but found I couldnt resist, having seen the worlds largest rocking chair and here comes the story in the title to today's blog. I drew up to the tree, took some photos and touched the ancient stone for luck. I then wandered in to the shop. Here I met two more lovely people, Angelena Tracas and Jsnice Boeman, who seeing that I had arrived by bike, gave me a can of coke and asked about the ride. I was telling the story of Love Hope Strength Foundation and how I became involved, when I stopped and listened. On the radio playing was Keep on Rocking in the free world.... Now for those unfortunate souls who have not been introdeced to the music of The Alarm, this song was recorded by Mike Peters, the founder of the charity, and The Alarm in the 80s.... it was part of the Raw Album that my dad had given to me to listen to when I was a teenager... it was the song that had begun this journey.. in so much that it led me eventually back to The Alarm and to Love Hope Strength years later. All fates will collide... it appeared in thar moment that they had. I dont believe in signs really, but this is as close as I have ever come to thinking that this journey was somehow meant to be. Needless to say, my eyes started watering, (a bad habit lately) and my hands shook slightly as I tried to explain myself. It seemed I had come full circle.. it was very wierd but it is a moment on this journey that will stay with me!
I rejoined the interstate with about 25 miles to go until Windslow... it went along quickly as I was staring into the distance. Stretching out in front of me was the road, shimmering in the heat, and above that an outline of mountains... these were the mountains of The Grand Canyon and it seemed that I was being drawn towards them, even as they were whispering my name.
I arrived at Windslow, pitched up at a Best Western and set about organising a few things for rest days in Williams, a starting point for many on the visit to The Grand Canyon. I phoned a friend again, snd it was with great delight that I have organised to see the canyon with Louize and Mark evans, who are also bringing me my much needed replacement shorts. A helicopter flight seems to be out of the question at present but I have decided to let my other rest day go where it will take me, although out and about is not in doubt, doing what remains a mystery....
So this evening now has become one for admin, washing clothes, booking my hotel in wiliams and generally sorting shit out so that I can make the most of my 'rest days' and see some more of this great state.
My card has been marked and all fates collided today leaving me astounded once again!