Two young Apache boys, neither more than twelve years old, made continuous looping patterns around our small group of explorers. They watched our every move, casting curious glances in our direction while attempting to avoid eye contact.
We were deep inside Apache indian territory, more than a week removed from our Southern California departure point. From that oceanside location, we had made our way east through hilly alpine forests, ridden among scruffy desert landscapes, paralleled the flowing Salt River and climbed past steep rock formations and sand-covered landscapes that reached distant horizons in all directions.
For more than a day we had been on the reservation, a place that seemed more populated by coyotes than people. Our riding party stopped for provisions during this midweek day, and that’s where we encountered the boys who were so curious about our intentions.
If this had been 150 years earlier, in this land of Geronimo, the Apache leader and medicine man who led rebellions against government troops and white settlers in the late nineteenth century, these boys could have been part of a scouting party.
“Hi, guys,” I shouted to them as they made the closest circle yet. The older of the two boys responded with a smile, pointed his metal scooter in my direction and cruised towards me. “My name’s Joe. What’s your’s?” I smiled, holding out my hand for a fist bump. “”Khayle,” he quickly replied.
The younger boy, who I was about to learn was Khayle’s younger brother, beelined to our group. “What’s your name?” I asked the new addition to our group. “Kaylipe,” he answered, a bit more reserved than his more confident older brother.
“Where are you heading on your bikes?” Khayle asked. “There are 12 of us and we’re heading to Florida; should take us until late November to make it to the Atlantic Ocean,” I said.
“You’re riding them all the way to the ocean?” his eyes widened in a look of disbelief as he pointed to our bikes.
“Yeah, all the way to the beaches of Florida.” I confirmed.
And just like that, with a shake of his head and a smile, Khayle and his brother were gone, quickly disappearing on their smooth-riding scooters to enjoy this sunny day on their home turf.
Finding Our Rhythm
So much of being able to complete a journey of this magnitude is finding your rhythm. If you’re a cyclist, you know how important it is to find a pace, a cadence to your ride. But our endeavor also involved two months of learning how to live, eat, sleep, shower, shop, perform bike maintenance and many other aspects that many of us hadn’t expected to be as draining as it was. Our daily regiment included rising at 5:30 a.m., packing away our tents and gear, having coffee at 6:30 a.m. and breakfast at 7:00, then changing into our kits to ride, putting air in our tires, giving a final glance at our digital route we were provided and then shoving off.
Once on the road we’d spontaneously splinter into small groups, often come together at a convenience store or restaurant thirty or forty miles into the route where we’d fill our stomachs with food and drink and then make our way to our final destination where we’d complete an often difficult day’s ride of dozens of miles.
Arriving at the new campground or inexpensive motel for the evening, a rotating team of two of us would be responsible for shopping for dinner and breakfast for the evening and following morning. Cooking for a party of more than a dozen is no easy task, especially when it comes to determining a menu, assembling a propane cooktop, prepping and cooking the night’s menu, washing pots and pans and finally loading all the supplies into plastic tubs and putting everything away in our van-pulled trailer so the same series of chores could be completed on the following day.
Finally, we’d gather as a group for a review of the next day’s route, challenges we might face, where access to stores with fluids would be available and a word or two about the following night’s lodging facilities would include. No creature comforts we were used to at home — no television, access to a refrigerator to open for a late night snack, and sometimes, no showers. But we loved it because this was a journey for serious touring cyclists. Not quite as challenging as those who carry their own gear, but definitely in the same neighborhood.
Most of us would be fast asleep by 9:00 p.m. resting for a repeat of the previous day when our route would include riding the hills and valleys for another 50 to 100 miles.
Oh, The Beauty
There’s nothing like being able to fill your senses with all that Mother Nature offers while riding a bicycle at a moderately slow pace. You notice the intensity of the blue sky overhead, birds circling in the valley below, the colors of wildflowers clustered inside cracks of rock formations, tarantulas slowly making their way across the pavement under your wheels and how the state roads wind and undulate like streams of ribbon for miles ahead.
Unfortunately, I had to abandon my attempt to complete my ride of the Southern Tier of the U.S. due to injury. At the end of week two of the 59-day planned route, I lost an inordinate amount of strength in both of my legs after riding two days totaling 150 miles and cumulative 11,000 ft. climbs in the hills east of Phoenix and extending beyond the Roosevelt Lake region of central Arizona. The pain and numbness in my left hip and knee had become more problematic as I continued on the route towards the New Mexico state line. Sadly, I had to return home where I hope to recover so I can do non-touring rides this winter. Medical tests indicate I pinched a nerve in the lower lumbar region of my spine. Physical therapy and possibly surgery should get me back in the saddle in the near future.