Thursday, 24 October 2013

Day 19 - Nothing worth having is easily won : Walk on and be strong

The day began like many others on the road, early start, breakfast, feeling good after the last 2 days that went so smoothly.  My foot had stopped hurting when I walked and my knees didnt cause me to groan when I got up from the breakfast table... so far so good.
Once outside, it was reasonably warm, relatively speaking, due to the cloud that had sprung up overnight. It was a bit dreary looking but there was no rain and more importantly no wind.
As soon as I started to cycle though, it quickly became clear that I had either left my legs behind in windslow or sent them on ahead to williams, as they werent keen on pushing on, up out of windslow and towards my rest days. I also had a possible detour for today, should I think I could make an extra 12 miles and as I groaned up the first hill of the day, I wondered whether it would be a good idea or not.
My detour was about 20 miles away and as I once again headed towards the shadowy outline of the mountains, the cloud and a bit of mist made them seem more mysterious somehow and had dampened the bright colours of the desert scrub to pale imitation yellows, reds and browns.
I reached the turn off point for the detour and made the decision to go for it... and almost immediately regretted it because I was now heading into the wind, going south on a road that was as up and down as anything I had yet encountered. My legs were screaming at me to give up and do the sensible thing of turning round and heading back to i40.. but I pushed on, given that I had already gone 2 miles and it would be for nothing if I didnt reach my goal... so I continued with the bad idea, cursing myself loudly with every increase in gradient. Eventually I reached my destination, to find a hill so steep that even my lowest gears bought little relief.
I had arrived at the meteor crater! Once at the visitors centre, I paid an extortionate amount, especially since it had only cost me $3 to get into the painted desert, and was offered the lift....

Bit of background for those that dont know...
For a leadership course at work I had to lead a change in the workplace... somehow I managed to get a climbing the stairs to work scheme approved, and managed to persuade many (but not all) to take part and climb the 6 flights of stairs to work for 6 weeks...
So knowing what kinda comments id get from many of my colleagues if they knew id taken the easy option, I climbed the stairs, grinning to myself as I did so... now they would have no excuse good enough (amelia parker take note!)
At the top, I walked to the rim of the crater and stared down... I had thought it was going to be big obviously, but it was Big!  The statue of liberty would easily fit in it, it is so deep. It was pretty impressive....
I was naturally on a time limit and really there is only so much time you can stare at a big hole in the ground... so soon it was time for me to set off again, knowing that I had 6 miles before I was back on track again. This 6 miles was slightly better, being slightly more downhill but with my legs misbehaving, it took a while and a lot of effort to get back to the interstate.
I had thought to myself that it was only another 38 miles to Flagstaff and I could do that by 1pm or so... how wrong I was!  Because I had lost quite a few feet since the continental divide, it was now time to regain them.. the road went up and up and up. My legs were gone and with them my head was on the slippery slope to following them. I was in a world of hurt, my foot, which had recovered a bit was now complaining vociferously, the sun was coming out, making me really hot and bothered, although the new venting system in my shorts was working a treat! The mountains were looming larger and the desert like floor was passing me by without so much as a glance because everything hurt. My backside was not liking any position on the saddle and I was constantly shuffling around to try to get comfortable, to no avail. It was not the most pleasant 38 miles I have ever done and I began to wonder whether I would make williams by nightfall.

Despite the pain, I was still dodging debris, even bits of grass, when I took a closer look.... stick insects everywhere! I stopped right next to one, picked him up, named him Sid and got him to pose reluctantly for a photograph.  This done, I released him and set off, now painfully aware that as well as dodging debris and crickets, Sids friends would also have to be avoided. Just as well I was going so slowly. For at least 5 miles this took my mind temporarily of the pain.

During this time I also entered the coconino forest, which made me laugh, because their version of forest was slightly different to ours... basically slightly taller scrub bushes!

Then Sids friends were no more and I was back to my bubble of pain for company. I couldnt even sing along to my ipod as due to the increase in altitude that made me out of breath. After what seemed like days I reached the sign that heralded Flagstaff at 2pm... needed food... so stopped at a subway for a pizza.

I felt a bit self conscious walking in... I could hardly walk for a start, my shorts were now more of a waistband with pockets and I have wierd tan lines... quite a sight im sure, yet once again I encountered nothing but kindness and generosity from everyone. They gave me a free pizza and coffee and asked all about the ride.  I had been hoping that a short sit down and food would help me to recover sufficiently to make the last 30 miles... I kept telling myself that after flagstaff I would be on downhill trend to williams and it would be better..

I rolled, slowly, through Flagstaff,  which is nice enough but had nothing that jumped out at me, until I saw a cycle shop....
On the downhills I had had a brake rubbing issue, had adjusted the brakes but was still plagued by the noise... this meant it could be a spoke issue and they needed to be tightened to true the wheel. I could do this, I have the tool but its difficult without a stand to rest the bike on... so I swerved right into the shop, where the kind man adjusted it all, tightened the spokes and then refused payment! Result!

Of course I had to climb out of Flagstaff and the rest hadnt made things any better... I probably could have walked up the hill quicker,  but the pedals kept on turning and I gratefully rejoined the interstate. Still climbing up and up though, hardly noticing that I was now going through actual forest, tall pine trees on either side and the late afternoon sunshine pouring through the trees. Had I been in a good place head wise, I would have thought how lovely it was. Eventually I reached a sign proclaiming arrival at the Arizona Divide at 7335 feet. No wonder it had hurt, but did that mean I was going to get my reward for the effort....

I did for about 3 mins as the road plunged downwards on smooth tarmac. Gripping the handlebars at speeds of 31 mph on a loaded bike was fairly adrenaline filled and for those few minutes, everything was good again. I could appreciate the beauty of the view (didnt take a photo, would have ruined the reward!)

I tried desperately to continue the impetus on the uphill sections but my legs felt like stone and soon was back to crawling along...
It was generally better though, with more flat and down than up, but a new problem had arisen... the shoulder had become so broken up, it resembled a dried lava field, and battered my bike about badly. This made me slow down even more, damaging my bike or getting a puncture would have been the last straw at this point.
So the last 30 miles were slow progress, however I had relaxed about getting to williams before night fell and as a result started to enjoy what I was seeing... the pine forest on either side of the road was being lit up by the evening sun, the clouds were turning red and purple with the sunset and it was the nicest one I have seen since I have been here.

The relief when I got to williams was so high but once again, there was a sting in the tail of the day.. the road stretched up and over the railway in one last test of the legs. By now it was close to dark and I was desperate to get to the motel... but which one had I booked last night? I hoped I had remembered correctly when I drew up to the door but to my absolute dismay there was a sign with the words closed and a number to ring. When I did, I was directed further back down the road but fortunately it wasnt far.

I collapsed into a decent room with almost no energy left,  in fact I found it difficult to turn the door handle I was so tired!

I have blogged a lot about effort and reward, and it occurred to me that I needed another tough day, in order to truly earn and appreciate my 2 days off in williams and my Grand Canyon visit... which is the thought that  has stayed with me for most of the day. I really feel that I have earned every minute I spend in the canyon and it will mean so much more because I have worked hard for it. The same applies to everything in life, I think....