A Quick Sidebar

Hi there everyone!!  I hope you’re all well.  I just wanted to tell you all this:  Since my bike trip is being paused right now while I raise more money to continue I have started a different blog for my ramblings OFF the tour.  This way I’m not filling up your inbox with blog posts that have nothing to do with biking for those of you have followed me based on my bike tour.  I’m adding the link to the latest post and I would love to have any and all of you come and follow THAT blog if you’re interesting in hearing what I have to say.  Hope to see you on that side!!

http://thesemomentsoftruth.wordpress.com/

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Spiritual Warriorship

To be a spiritual warrior,
one must have a broken heart;
without a broken heart
and the sense of tenderness and vulnerability
that is in one’s self and all others,
your warriorship is untrustworthy.
~ Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala.

I just recently came across this quote and found it so beautiful I have hung on to it.  I wonder when I read it, however, if having a broken heart automatically makes you a spiritual warrior, or if there’s more to it.  I say this because while I know my soul has grown strong and healed a lot in the past two years, but at times it shakes like it would like to hide under the bed.  I try to hide this by hardening myself to emotion a lot of times.  I avoid anything that will make me feel something, be it books, movies, or songs.  Alternatively, things that shouldn’t make me cry will leave me sobbing brokenheartedly.  My mom tells me I have a gentle heart and that’s why I’m affected by things like this.  I don’t like showing my emotion over certain subjects but I also used to cry at the drop of hat when my heart was hurting.  I used to be embarrassed by that, as if there’s something wrong with crying.  I know that there isn’t and that’s just who I am, but I’ll be honest that it doesn’t mean I don’t still keep my distance from emotional subjects.  So have I become a warrior?

Two years ago today I said goodbye to one of the most important people in my life.  In the end of August 2012 my Grandma passed out at my Aunt Cathy’s house.  Upon further testing it was discovered that she had a tumor on her brain.  A surgery was scheduled to remove what they could of the mass.  The day or so before the surgery I Skype-chatted with her, in case things didn’t go well in surgery.  Up to this point I didn’t REALLY realize the seriousness of the situation.  After surgery my mom called me right away to let me know that Grandma has pulled through it and they had gotten almost all of the tumor.  The doctors told her that she had at least 6 months to live.  Six months seems like it could have been forever but for me it might as well have been the next day.  To this day I honestly don’t know why I didn’t call her every single day after that to talk all day long.

 I got the phone call on Friday September 26, 2012 that Grandma had stopped eating and communicating and basically if I wanted to see her before the end I had like 12 – 24 hours to get to Illinois.  I of course booked the first flight I could get and afford to take.  The next morning my boss drove me to the airport (so thankful) and I landed two hours later in Illinois.  My Aunt Kim picked me up and we headed to the nursing home where Grandma was being cared for.  As we walked hand in hand towards the building she warned me that Grandma looked a little different.  All I could notice was that all the trees in Illinois had changed colors already and in New York we were still green.  We walked down the hallway and into my Grandma’s room.  I actually wasn’t sure what to expect and remember feeling shy and slightly terrified (not of her, but of the reality of what was happening).  Kim told me that Grandma’s skin gets dry so I could rub lotion in for her, and then she went for a coffee, leaving us alone.  I couldn’t even bring myself to look at her face, I was so in shock.  I took her hand and started rubbing lotion into them.  They were so soft, just like I always remembered and immediately I started to cry silently.

After a minute of just watching me, Grandma said ”No, no, no, don’t cry.  You’ll make me cry and I don’t want to be sad about this.”  I said “But, I LOVE you, I love you!”  Couldn’t she understand?  I had to cry, she was leaving me and I was never ever going to see her again.  I don’t believe in heaven so when she was gone we would never talk again.  She was quiet for another few minutes as tears poured down my face.  She finally stopped me rubbing lotion in, and squeezed my hand.  ”I want you to be happy, Maria.  Just be happy in your life.”  Happy?  How could she think I would ever be happy again?

I was exhausted after a night of no sleep so when Grandma said she might nap I crawled into her hospital bed with her with a blanket under my head for a pillow, cuddled up to her and cried and cried.  She reached over and patted my arm in a way that was so familiar it hurt my heart.  I fell asleep, eventually and woke up a little while later.  Grandma had decided she was going to eat some food and the nurse was going to clean her up a little.  Kim and I went to the nearby nail salon to buy some pink polish so I could paint Grandma’s nails, something we had always shared.  When we came back she had a ton of food in front of her and was eating it all.  I got to work filing and painting her nails, and then my nails so we would match.  While I was painting her nails she kept saying things like how beautiful she would look in her casket, to my horror (I was still trying to deny that this lively, chatty woman was dying).  She told me about her guardian angel, a large black woman with orange and purple colors.  Today, I have a changed view of guardian angels and thinking back to this I am so thankful to her angel for letting us have that whole day together, making a few last memories.

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My sister arrived shortly after this and I gave her some time to spend with Grandma.  After this my mom arrived and we went to the cafe to sit and have lunch.  The other big news of the day was that our cousin, Matt, was proposing to his girlfriend, (now wife!) Valerie that night, so we were all waiting to hear about that.  He had a big romantic thing planned in front of the big fountains in Chicago and it was supposed to be perfectly beautiful.

Back in the room Grandma seemed to be living it up, eating Chinese food, bratwurst, beer, cheese and crackers, nuts, jello anything she wanted she could have and eat it she did.  We (my sister, mom, aunts and cousin David and his girlfriend (now fiance!) Cheri,)  all sat around with her giggling about stories from when she was younger.  The subject changed from shaving, smoking pot and terrible cooking.  The news arrived that Val had said yes, as we assumed she would, so we (the cousins) were planning to get together in Chicago (about an hour away) to celebrate with Matt, Val and their friends!  Again, today, I wish I had stayed back and spent time with Grandma but my sister has repeatedly told me that she knows Grandma wanted us all to be together.  It was the first time in twelve years that the four of us had all gotten together at the same time.

That night was a bit of drunken blur, memories coming in at interesting times: cheers to Grandma! Crying at the dogs in the humane society window watching us walk past, and getting sick in a gas station (I think) and being pissed that I didn’t redeem myself after that last time I drank with David and got too drunk haha.  It was a beautiful night full of a lot of love, tears of joy and sadness and hugs all around mostly from me.  My cousins like to joke that they have no doubt of how much I love them because after two beers I insist on hugging them and telling them I LOOVEEE YOU SOOO MUUUUCCHH over and over again.  Hey, it could be worse.

The next morning we slept in a little, hungover, and then drove back to the nursing home.  That day Grandma was not awake.  She was in a lot of pain and not conscious.  It was a day spent facing the inevitable and watching fall leaves blow outside her window.  That night, sleeping on my Aunt Cathy’s couch I cried myself to sleep, knowing I had to go back to New York the next day and it would be literally the last time I ever saw my Grandma ever again.

Bright and early we headed to the nursing home.  Again, she was not awake at all, she was getting a lot of morphine for pain and was breathing loudly and laboriously.  At 11:30 the pastor arrived and we started chatting with her.  During a pause in talking we noticed that the harsh breathing had gone silent.  We all stared at Grandma waiting for the next breath.  5 second of silence and another breath.  Silence.  Silence.  Silence.  Another breath.  She opened her eyes, her beautiful blue eyes, that always sparkled when she laughed, but there was nothing in them.  It was very clear, like nothing in real life had ever been clear to me before, that her soul wasn’t in her body.  We all started comforting her and everyone was telling her it was okay to go and be at peace.  I had my face in her neck and was screaming inside my head for her to please not leave me, please please not yet.  Was it selfish of me?  Probably.  But I can’t change how I felt.  Finally the breathing just stopped, she was gone.  11:42 AM.  I had spent all weekend crying silently, not wanting to upset her, but now that she was gone, she was really gone and I couldn’t stop the loud sobbing, I couldn’t even breath.  I honestly thought I would choke from crying and not being able to breath.  I didn’t want to let go of her hands and her neck, because she was still my warm Grandma.  If I let go, the next time she would be cold.  As my other cousins arrived we sat around Grandma’s body and told our favorite memories of her. i I eventually had to leave to go to the airport and return to New York.  I was given a moment alone with her and while I was hugging her a nurse walked in to pick things up.  I remember the fury I felt with her at being interrupted saying goodbye to my Grandmother.  She couldn’t know, obviously, she was just doing her job, but I will never forget the level of anger at her I had.  In retrospect, I know I was projecting my anger and pain on this nurse, who thankfully, realized what was happening and left.

My mom and sister drove me to the airport and I cried all the way through security, in the bathroom and onto the plain.   Flying home there was a full moon outside my window the entire way.  I landed and took the bus from the airport to Grand Central, where my friend Rachel met me and hugged me while I lost my shit in the middle of the sidewalk at 11pm.  I have never been so grateful for a friend to just hold me and cry with me.  I eventually took the train home and went to bed.

The following week I was a zombie.  I would wake up crying, go through work motions, and then cry in the shower, not eating and cry myself to a dead sleep at night.  I had no idea what to do with myself with the knowledge that I could no longer call my Grandma up and hear her voice.  Everything was dull colored and depressing.  No more visiting her in Florida, watching her flirt with her church friends, show off her new bathing suits, enjoy chocolates together and hold her hand.

That weekend was a three day weekend and I had to get away.  I had to have a place where I could just sit and stare.  So I went to Rachels.  Friday night I arrived at Rachels around 8:30 or so and we went to sleep at 9. I woke up with a start around 2:30 am.  Now, Rachel has a cat named Raskol, and he is….rather noisy.  I knew I needed to get back to sleep before Raskol realized someone in the bedroom was awake and began his nightly antics.  I clicked shuffle play on my ipod and put on my headphones and of course the song that came on was ”I Will Always Love You”  by Whitney Houston, a version which my grandparents would often sing to each other (Grandpa badly, Grandma adorably) in the car when we would visit when we were younger.  I changed the song immediately and lay back down.  I was suddenly overcome with the knowledge that if I didn’t sit up RIGHT THAT SECOND I was going to have a panic attack.  I sat up and took off my headphones.  My head was spinning, like when you’ve had too much to drink, despite having nothing to drink, and I couldn’t see a damn thing.  Despite this odd blindness, I knew without a doubt, 100% that my Grandma and Grandpa were standing together at the end of Rachels bed, smiling.  I couldn’t SEE them I tried and tried to rub the stars out of my eyes, but I couldn’t see anything, but I knew it was them and I could feel their love, I could feel their smiles.  After a few minutes I laid back down and instantly fell back asleep.

The next morning when I woke up I felt like a new person.  Or rather, the old me.  I could smile, the colors were bright again and the sun was shining joyfully.  To this day, I don’t know what happened that night, like exactly.  But I do know that it was real and I know it because of the drastic emotional change in me the next morning.  I woke up feeling so loved and happy that I don’t even want to try to make it logical.  I still don’t know what I believe but I believe in Grandma and Grandpa at the foot of the bed.  Since then many things have happened to continue my belief that I am being watched over by my Grandma daily in many situations, where bad things could have happened and should have, but didn’t.

This brings me to my initial topic:  being a spiritual warrior.  I know it was a long way to get here but continue to bear with me please.

I spent the following year asking myself what my Grandma had meant by ”be happy”.  Wasn’t I happy?  I loved my job so much, the kids I cared for were my heart and soul every day.  I had made friends and had a steady paycheck.  So what would she say that for?  I was happy, right?  As time went by I realized that I was not in fact Happy.  I was happy but not with a capital H.  I was satisfied, comfortable and content.  But my soul wasn’t singing every day the way I think it was supposed to be.  As I began wondering what I needed to be doing to bring myself that happiness the idea of the bike tour was presented to me.  When I officially started making plans with Tom, the man I was supposed to tour with, the excitement I felt for the future, for the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted and rely on no one but my self, proved to me that I needed more from my life.

When I would try to explain this to people many didn’t understand how the idea of going ”for a bike ride” was going to help me grow up, or fulfill myself and I had to just let it go.  Not everyone is made to understand.  I set out looking for a SOMETHING with the label happy on it.  If it was a place, a person, anything but I knew it was physical.

Looking back in reflection on the first leg of my bike tour I have come to a realization.  I couldn’t be looking for SOMEthing to make me happy.  I had to be looking for ME to make me happy.  I needed to learn to stop relying on other people to make me feel worthy, to feel loved, to feel needed.  When I started to need MYSELF every day to feel worthy, to feel able and needed, things began to change in me.  No one but me was going to get me up this hill, no one but me was going to push me through this wind, no one but me was going to set up my tent, talk with hosts and strangers, and no one but me was going to hear the wind whistling by me as I blew down the hills I, ALONE, had worked so hard to climb.  Through all of this my Grandmother showed herself, in the yellow butterfly that has followed me through from Texas all the way to San Francisco, in the orbs that will show up in moments on photos when it couldn’t be the sun glare, in moments of great emotion, like when I first saw the majestic Saguaro Cacti on the mountainsides heading into Phoenix.  She is with me all the time, I talk to her all the time and I definitely pray for her help when I need her.  I also told her she was ruining my makeup this morning as I cried while writing this blog.  I know she has put me here at this place at this moment to further understand how I need to be strong on my own.  Yes, I still have moments of breakdowns, when my heart longs to hear her and hug my family so badly that it hurts and I feel short of breath with wanting.  But I also know that however long it takes me to heal from the grief, I can never thank her enough for giving me the push and confidence down the road to finding myself and my soul.  I think I can say I am a spiritual warrior, because to admit my weakness has to be a strength needed to be mighty.  And I am a small biker in the world but I am learning to be big and strong in my heart and soul, and that’s a step, isn’t it?

I heard this song during a movie this weekend and it really hit me powerfully.  Here’s the link, I’m sure you’ll know why.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YLEaRPffEg

January 2010, Maria and Grandma

January 2010, Maria and Grandma

Phoenix to L.A.: Holy Shit It’s Hot and Let’s Make Big Decisions PART TWO (of three) [Leaving Blythe-L.A.]

Okay so I left off talking about how I had planned to stay until Tuesday to get a ride 40 miles outside of Brawley.  This would save me the two-three day journey through the desert where I wasn’t sure I’d be able to carry enough water.  I spent the next 4 days befriending all the regular visitors, swimming in the canal, feeding the ducks and turtles, meeting other cyclists passing through and catching on my reading!

Remy, also from New York!

Remy, also from New York!  He’s soaking his feet in warm water.

There was this one dog there who had a very special trick he’d do every evening.  If you gave him a dollar he would take the dollar into the bait shop where he’d trade it in for a cheese stick.  He would then bring the cheese stick to you and you got to feed it to him.  I could not get enough of this haha.  He’d get allllll worked up and excited if he even saw you take out a dollar and then he’d bark at you until you gave him the dollar. At one point during the week something horrible happened.  So okay, you remember the photo of my tent set up.  I’m on a dock.  One day I’m walking back to my tent with my ipod and I somehow managed to trip on the one bench on the dock.  I go flying off the dock into the water and as I’m falling the first thought in my head is ”oh shit my ipod”.  I land hard, sink straight to the three feet of mush at the bottom.  I surface with a gasp and immediately I toss my ipod up into my tent.  I then have to swim around trying to figure out how the fuck I’m getting out of this pond.  The edges of the pond are littered with large fallen sticks and just walking out is literally not an option.  I’m dragging myself around the edge of the dock trying not to think about what little creatures are living there.  I got as shallow as I dared and then had to pull myself up onto the dock (not an easy task when wearing a flowing dress), and roll across the dock to get up.  First priority was to get my ipod into some rice.  I immediately took it out of it’s case and put it into some rice.  It took about 15 minutes for me to realize that MY GLASSES WHERE GONE.  GONE. MY NEW BEAUTIFUL GLASSES THAT I LOVE.  I went back to the pond and dragged a net through the area where I fell over and over and over.  Unfortunately it’s mostly muck at the bottom so the glasses were just totally gone.  On top of all that the wind had been blowing winds between 40 and 60 mph for the past three days and that continued another two days so by the time the wind died down who knows where my glasses where.  I was and still am, devastated. So the morning dawns when I’m supposed to leave.  Wayne and three of his friends where going to Mexico for the day.  We loaded up Evelyn and headed out.  About halfway there Wayne asks me when exactly I need to be at my mother’s house (May 20th..ish).  At this point that’s still like 2 and a half weeks away and I’m only about a week’s journey away.  Here’s how that conversation went: Wayne:  Well, you know you don’t HAVE to leave just yet, you could stay another week Me: Hmm….really?! Wayne: Yeah definitely!  Do you want to just stay? Me: Yeah, I’d love that! Wayne:  Do you want to just go down to Mexico with us?  Do you have a passport? Me:  Yes!  That’s sounds great! So I went to Mexico! We went to the dentist, walked around and then went down to the bar and had a couple beers before heading back!

Los Algondones, Mexico!

Los Algodones, Mexico!

We returned to Blythe much to the surprise of the people still at the bait shop who all thought I was leaving that day.  I unpacked and re-set up my tent.  The rest of the week passed pretty much the same, and just as entertainingly, as the first few days had.  That Saturday I was combing through Facebook when I saw that my cousin David had posted that he’s driving to L.A.  I knew he lived in L.A. but didn’t think he’d be driving through.  I dismissed it thinking he’d likely be there soon and wouldn’t be near me.  A few hours later I saw that he had a posted a photo of him standing next to a saguaro cactus.  I knew he had to be coming through from Phoenix area so I sent him a facebook message asking him if he would be going anywhere near Blythe.  David messaged me back saying they were about 30 minutes away from Blythe!!  I couldn’t believe it!  I hadn’t seen David or my Aunt Mary in years and it was just such perfect timing!  So anyway, they drove through and we had some juice together and chatted for about half an hour which was really really nice!  Eventually they had to be on their way since they needed to still get to LA so off they went!

Yay for family visiting me in Blythe!!

Yay for family visiting me in Blythe!!

The following day Trish, John, Destiny and Scruffy were coming to visit me all the way from Phoenix!  They arrived around 11:30 or noon.  I showed them around where I had been staying in Blythe and then we headed off to KMart because I had a flat tire and needed to buy a tube.  Destiny, Trish and I wandered around the Kmart for about half an hour browsing, I bought the only tube they had in my size and then we where off!  We went for lunch at a place that everyone had been telling me was delicious and THEY. WERE. SO. RIGHT.  It was sooooo good!  I had nachos with lettuce, tomaaato, sour creaaam, oniooons, guacamooole etc on top and it was just amazing.  After lunch we heading over to this little beach on the Colorado River.  John and Scruffy (remember Scruffy?) decided to walk around and explore, Trish wanted to use the pool at the park we were at, and Destiny and I decided to brave the current of the Colorado River.  Terrifying by the way.  Now the way this park was set up was that there were two areas to enter the water.  There was the beach entrance to swim in, and the marina entrance to have your boat in.  Unfortunately for us there were like 5 other families there (the beach entrance) and they ALL had a BOAT anchored right near the shore.  So there wasn’t really too much room for us to swim that wasn’t right on the edge where the drop off into the strong current was.  As I’m sure you can imagine this involved lots of screaming and panic while the boat-owners stared on in drunken fascination.

Eventually we went back to the bait shop where I had been camping.  Destiny and I swam in the canal there which was much more fun and less scary.  Afterwards they had to leave because they were all driving alllll the way back to Phoenix!!  We said our goodbyes and hugged and off the drove.

Destiny and I in Blythe, CA

Destiny and I in Blythe, CA

The next day I was told that I no longer had a ride half way as I had thought due to a change of plans.  I immediately started packing my belongings up and planning to depart the following day.  I called my host in Palo Alto, about 20 miles away and was ready to go.  The next morning I left bright and early and it was already ROASTING out.  After my debacle previously practically passing out at a gas station I’ve been extra vigilant of temperature highs for the day.

So off I rolled and let me tell you, it was the BEST.  The entire day was flat, there was a nice breeze and I wasn’t dying of heat.  I got to Palo Alto without any issues.  It was field upon field upon field of different crops.  What I really loved was at the end of the rows was a honeybee hive, so the bees could directly be around for pollination etc .  It was very cute.

Beehives

Beehives

I rolled up to the post office where my host worked and she gave me directions and a key to her house.  I was to continue on down the highway and then turn onto a dirt road.  This dirt road turned out to be sand and hard core gravel.  I biked about a mile slipping and sliding the whole way, as it was getting hotter and hotter and nothing around me but dryness and desert area.  All of my water was gone except one bottle which was HOT.  My mouth was so so dry and I was getting dizzy.  I passed a few houses on this VERY remote little road but couldn’t find her house.  I finally managed to get a signal on my GPS and discovered I’ve gone 3/4 of a mile TOO FAR.  So I sadly roll/slide/shuffled my bike back through the sand and made my way to her home where I immediately drenched my head in water.  I get inside and just sit down to recover.  Later, once my host returned home we went swimming in the river where it was nice and cool.  She made a delicious dinner and I went to sleep.

The following morning I was on the road bright and early for what I knew would be a difficult day.  The plan was that I would bike 40 miles into the desert, The Imperial Sand Dunes, where they film movies like The Mummy and Star Wars.  It’s the largest stretch of Sand Dunes in California and let me tell you it is sandy.  I would camp by one little store at an intersection/town called Glamis.  I needed to conserve my water in the event that the store was not open and I wouldn’t be able to buy any water from them.  Needless to say I was very very nervous.  This was the big stretch that I had been dreading since Texas.  As a slow biker this was the most treacherous stretch of road, with the most danger, not from animals but just nature in it’s extremity.  Here’s an idea:

Palo Alto, then Glamis, THEN a host in Brawley

I  completely soaked my shirt in cold water before heading out and not twenty minutes later it was totally dry and I was sweating.  The road that I was riding on had absolutely no shoulder at all and in many parts would drop off into horrible little cliffs that I would never survive if I fell on my bike.  Many portions were so steep that I had to walk my bike and hope that I didn’t get hit by a truck coming over the hill a high speed in the middle of the road, since it was a two lane ”highway”.  Finally around 2pm I took off my helmet.  I never EVER take off my helmet but I couldn’t even breath I was so hot.  Just having my helmet off cooled me down several degrees and I could keep going.  I didn’t even have any air to hum along to my music, which normally is what keeps me going.  Every few yards I would have to stop and pour water on myself.

It was at one of these points where I had stopped, I had my eyes closed and I was pouring water on my face.  I opened my eyes and a man was standing in front of me.  I screamed so loudly that he looked shocked himself.  I took off my headphones, realized he was a border patrol officer or whatever they’re called and apologized for screaming.  I then couldn’t stop giggling because of the look on his face when I screamed.  Here’s how the conversation went:

BP:  What are you doing???

Me:  ….biking?

BP: But like what are you doing out HERE biking?

Me:  Biking to Glamis, camping then continuing on to Brawley.

BP:  Glamis is another 20 minutes from here, I’m going in to Brawley right now, would you like a ride?

I pondered this thought for a few seconds weighing whether I wanted to stick it out and try on my own or accept this ride.  I went with the ride because I was dying and I had already used half my water.  He asked me for my ID and if I had any weapons.  I had to give him my knife and Halt! spray before he let me get into the vehicle (after we loaded up my bike).  And off we went.  He ended up being very funny and great company.  Apparently as he was walking up to me he was calling out to me and when I didn’t answer he thought ”oh great, a crazy person in the desert” and then on top of it screamed in his face.  I started laughing all over again.

Eventually we got to Brawley, he dropped me off and I called my host.  He was very gracious in my short notice, having been expecting me days afterward.  I rode my bike to his house where I was introduced to his wife and son and dogs. It was a Friday.  The following day he was showing some of his photography at an arts festival up in Idyllwild, CA (I had never heard of it).  I planned to depart the next morning but in the morning when I was talking to his son I decided I’d stay for the weekend and leave Monday.  We drove up to the art festival and it was SO INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL.  The whole way up the mountains was incredible.  I got to see mountains, lakes and forests.

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Idyllwild, CA

En route to Idyllwild, CA

Then when we actually GOT to Idyllwild it was ADORABLE!!  It was such a little artsy town, full of art shops, book stores, psychics and best of all THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL.  Do you remember my entry where I talk about Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and how she inspired me by walking the Pacific Crest Trail?  Well Idyllwild is one of the stops on the PCT!!  I was SO excited to see the trail walkers and the signs welcoming them.  I could only imagine the journeys they were on to walk the PCT.

Idyllwild and the Pacific Crest Trail!

Idyllwild and the Pacific Crest Trail!

All around the town of Idyllwild were these little deer statues painted beautiful colors.  I was obsessed with them!! 1530355_670949469620081_4495236426643139355_n

Deer Statues!! Magical <3

Deer Statues!! Magical ❤

And of course, there were puppies to be loved upon and photographed.  😉

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PUPPIESSSS!!!!

PUPPIESSSS!!!!

As planned, I departed on Monday heading for Julian as my next host stop.  The plan was to bike to a Ranger Station on the edge of the Anza Borrego State Park/Desert.  I didn’t really realize the extent of the word ”DESERT” just yet but I’ll get to that later.  There was supposed to be a little store just before that where I could buy some more food and more water if I needed it.  Then I would bike the 20 or so miles up to Julian.  I say up because Julian is on a mountaintop.  A mountaintop that I had been warned about by several other bikes.  Apparently it’s like straight up winding road for 20 solid miles.  I figured if I got into trouble I could just camp.  (Big mistake thinking that).

The Plan

The Plan

So off I traipsed.  The first part of the day wasn’t bad!  It was nice, flat land no hills, no difficulty.  I passed the infamous Salton Sea which I had been really excited to swim in until I learned that it’s totally toxic and wildlife dies in it.  I urge you to go to this website and find out more about it because it’s horrified environmentally and a sad/scary situation.  http://saltonseamuseum.org/salton_sea_history.html  So I just biked right past it.

The toxic haze of the Salton Sea.

The toxic haze of the Salton Sea.

I had to go through a border patrol stop where I chatted with the guards and we looked over my map.  He was from Illinois (that’s unrelated to anything) and told me that Ocotillo Wells (my store stop) wasn’t too far, about ten miles away.  So on my way there the sand is blowing all over the place.  Nothing to see but sand for miles around.  Low traction and wind.  To add to this an enormous black bug decided to dive bomb me REPEATEDLY over a one mile distance.  I thought I was going to lose my mind every time I watched him circle me and then come diving down.  It was a HUGE bug and I have no idea what kind.  Eventually he lost interested, thank fuck, because I don’t know what I would have done if all day I had to dodge him AND bike through sand.  This was what they meant when they talked about the desert.  As I got closer to the Anza Borrego Desert little shrubby bushes started popping up but it was nothing but loneliness all around.  I was so hungry and so thirsty but I didn’t dare eat into my last Clif bar just yet, I knew I would need something for dinner AND breakfast the next morning.

Anza Borrego Desert

Anza Borrego Desert

I finally reached my destination store to restock on food!!  ….And it was closed down.  Not just closed but closed DOWN.  NOTHING THERE.  I started to panic.  I had one Clif bar left.  ONE CLIF BAR.  It had never even OCCURRED to be that this little shop would be closed!!  I called my sister, debating whether I should camp there or keep going.  Since it was only about 11am I decided I would keep going because the alternative was to roast in the desert.  And when I say desert allow me to elaborate.  Emptiness and silence.  Utter silence.  Every mile there was an emergency telephone I assume for stragglers.  It was intense.  I stopped for a break in the shade of a sign stating I was officially entering the Anza Borrego Desert State Park.  Thank you, I’ve realized this.

Purely by accident did I happen upon the Ranger Station I was looking for.  I assumed the sign ”Ranger Station Road” meant what you think it means and decided to risk going down this random ass road.  About half a mile down the gravel road a large Ranger Station opened up.  I went inside the museum (yes, the museum in the middle of the desert) and asked the Ranger if I could please please pretty please camp there that night.  He said I was welcome to of course camp wherever I wanted to.  I went out and set up my tent in the shade of a little pavilion picnic bench area and then went back inside and called my hosts from Julian to let then know what was going on with my food situation.  Ben told me the next day he could meet me at the bottom of the mountain, about ten miles from where I was camped.  This sounded ideal and I felt much better having a plan.  Surely I would have enough fuel to go ten miles.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park Ranger Station

Anza Borrego Desert State Park Ranger Station

Ranger Station Museum

Ranger Station Museum

That night I saw my first coyote!! I was sitting outside my tent on a block of cement pouring water on my head to cool down and I see a movement out of the corner of my eye.  It’s a cute coyote!! He didn’t even see me at first until I clapped my hands for him to shoo and then he scampered away right away!  Once the sun sank down things cooled off to a comfortable temperature.  I went into my tent and analyzed my food.  I ate half the clif bar because I was STARVING and saved the other half for breakfast.

The next morning I woke up bright and early and planned to leave around 9 am.  I was meeting Ben at a campground at 11am so I gave myself 2 hours for ten miles, MORE than enough time!  I got up, ate my half of a Clif bar and hit the damn road.  Before I knew it the time was already 10:45 and I had only gone about 7 miles.  I was SO exhausted from not eating a good breakfast and having no energy to pedal, plus hills and winding around were starting leading to the mountain.  I could SEE the campground way waaay in the distance but it was so far.  Because it was in the middle of freaking nowhere there wasn’t any cell reception to contact Ben so I pedaled on slowly.  Someone actually stopped their car and asked me for directions and I was like are you out of your damn mind?  Why would I know where shit is when I’m on A BIKE in the desert?  Hungriness makes me a grouch, I can’t lie.  Around 11:30 a white truck pulls up to me and Ben leans out asking if I’m Maria.  We load up and I collapse in the truck.  I wouldn’t have made it up the mountain that’s for damn sure.  It was incredibly steep and long and winding with absolutely NOwhere that I could have pulled over to camp like I had planned.

Ben lives with his girlfriend Delaney working at a retreat center that is INCREDIBLY beautiful.

The view from Ben and Delaney's home =)

The view from Ben and Delaney’s home =)

Hiking around the retreat center and up the nearby mountain.

Hiking around the retreat center and up the nearby mountain.

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They were so so so nice and filled me up with so much delicious organic food, much of it locally grown.  I was sleeping in a yurt with a bathroom and shower in it along with beds.  It was just so beautiful and peaceful.  AND NICE AND COOL because we were on top of a mountain!!  The following morning I woke up early and got out just in time to see a few deer grazing outside!

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Morning deer!!

Morning deer!!

Everyone at the retreat center was beyond friendly and curious about my trip.  They had great stories to tell and advice to give.  Ben and Delaney especially were very encouraging to me.  I was stalling for time still because my mom and her husband wouldn’t get to their house in California until the end of May and I still had about a week to go so I was staying with Ben and Delaney for a couple of days.  The next day I decided to go right into the town of Julian and explore.  It very cute and quaint with little shops and restaraunts.  I also ate the famous Julian Pie which everyone along my way had told me to eat and it was delicious.  I met a few dogs (German Shepherds!).

Julian, CA

Julian, CA

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….To be continued…

Phoenix to L.A.: Holy Shit It’s Hot and Let’s Make Big Decisions PART ONE

Where did we leave off?  Phoenix.

Monday morning dawned bright and early, and hot as hellllll!  I had packed my bags up the night before so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it in the morning.  When I came downstairs Trish was making me a delicious breakfast!  John, Trish, Destiny, Scruffy and I ate breakfast together outside.  Afterwards I went to put on my shoes and remembered that I had taken the cleats off of them so I could go hiking.  This was one of the things I liked about my shoes, they’re versatile.  However, I had lost one of the screws I need to put the cleats back on.  John rustled up a screw that fit alright thankfully.  I loaded up my bike and said my goodbyes to everyone!  Trish got on her bike (she was going to bike with me for about half an hour) and we were off! I was heading to Wickenburg, AZ which was about 40 miles away.  It was supposed to be relatively flat most of the way which was extremely grateful for.

By about 9:30 the temperature was already soaring in the 90’s and I was sweating profusely.  The water I had frozen the night before had all melted and was hot in my bottles.  I reached my mid-point around 1130 where the highway turns north up to Wickenburg. There was one spot where I was able to refill my bottles, although the owner of the establishment really didn’t want to let me, but I think he knew the alternative for me was bleak. There is NOTHING between that spot and Wickenburg.  I decided to rest there a moment to eat the delicious sandwhich Trish had made for me for lunch.  =)  While I waited I called a church in Wickenburg and they told me I could camp on their property.  I felt much better knowing I had somewhere I would be able to rest that night.  It’s always a big stress off my shoulders knowing I won’t have to panic when I get to town over where to camp.

A few miles down the road I found an old tractor repair shop and went to use their restroom.  Two big dogs got up and were growling and barking and were just plain not happy to see me.  I talked to them calmly through the whole ordeal and just plunked myself down on the bench outside the shop.  (There wasn’t anyone opening the door so I figured I would rest in the shade for a moment before continuing on).  While I sat there the doors slowly starting subtly sniffing me from afar like I think they thought I wasn’t noticing them sniffing and getting closer and closer.  Eventually the tails started to wag and the y approached me nervously.  I put my hand out and slowly and the smelled my hair and then decided I was alright and would I pet them please?  We sat for a few minutes before I decided I had to move on.  They followed me around back to the bathroom and were waiting for me when I came out!

After that the road was pretty empty for the rest of the day.  It was so so hot.  I think it was 97 that day.  To some people that’s not bad but I’m not used to the heat and it always has affected me and this day was no different.  I would pour water on myself and be totally dry in minutes.  I finally rolled into Wickenburg and spotted a Shell station.  I went into fill up my water bottles and immediately was so lightheaded and cold I knew I was going to faint.  I sat down in the middle of the store and everything was fuzzy and I could feel my heart beating in my ears.  It’s not a pleasant feeling, let me tell you.  That was when I turned my phone on and saw a voicemail from the church where I had planned to camp, they were only a mile away.  They told me that they actually could NOT permit me to camp there but that there was a fairground about 6 or so miles away.  I knew, KNEW that there was no way I was going to make it any farther than a mile.  The girl at the Shell station overhead the entire conversation with the church director and when I hung up the phone and panicked she says ”you know you could just camp out back here if you’d like”.

I was totally floored because it had never occurred to me that she would let me do that.  I agreed because I had no other options and she was nice, very good company.  I sat in the Shell station for the next few hours because the sun was still blazing hot and there was no shade whatsoever.  Finally about 6:30 I went out and set up my tent and then went back inside because it was still SO FREAKING HOT.

Have you ever seen a Sprite this big and only for this price?

Have you ever seen a Sprite this big and only for this price?

That night I slept very strangely.  The gas station is a 24 hour stop so there are a lot of lights on.  I kept waking up and thinking it was morning because it was so bright outside.  Finally in the morning I was up and off because I only had 30 miles to go that day.  I was going to a town called Aguila.  I had to go a little early because the wind was forecasted to kick up in the afternoon.  It was another day of flat biking and the heat wasn’t as bad as it had been the day before.  When I got into Aguila I passed a big group of tourists with their van following them, which was cool.  I was directed to a little church down the road so I headed over there.  No one home.  A man across the street waved me over to his yard and said he used to sell bikes and I was welcome to camp on his property.  So I sat with him and his friend for a few hours chatting.  The neighbor took me to see his horses down the road, which was super cool.

 

Hello Pony.

Hello Pony.

When I got back to where I was camping that night I passed a girl who had seen me when I was at the grocery store buying a banana.   She invited me in for a chat and introduced me to her friend who lived in the town I would be stopping in the next day.  I asked him if I could stay on his lawn and he said sure.  He told me that he worked in the local grocery store in that town (Wenden) and when I got to town I should stop there for directions to his house.

That night I slept…oddly.  Every time I would move the dog on the fence I was up against would bark, thinking I was an intruder and then the roosters would start going off.  Around 2am they wouldn’t stop until morning.  In the morning I packed up and departed.  It was great, windless riding on flat land all day.  I rolled into the town and stopped for a bathroom at a little shop.  They told me there was a campground less than a mile away I could use, across from the local library.  I thanked the women and continued on my way to the grocery store.  I then met the young man, who didn’t actually work at the grocery store. He was hanging around out front.  This should have been my first red flag, but it never occurred to me to be suspicious.  He told me he liked to just sit and people watch.  I said that I had heard of a campground and that I might just go there.  He said that I could do that but it was rather dangerous in that area because of rattlesnakes.  I said okay, well I think I’ll head over to hang out at the library.  (It was noon and 100 degrees out, I was not going to people watch under the hot Arizona sun for 6 hours).  He nodded and said okay, but there’s a mountain you have to get up to get there.  I stared at him.  ”Really?”  He nodded again.  I decided I wasn’t going up a mountain in the hot, hot sun so I guess I’d just chill there.  So we sat there for about an hour, literally, just staring at people driving by.  I asked the guy, I believe his name was Rene, if I could charge my phone at his house.  He said he didn’t have any electricity but that his sister lived next door.  (Red flag #2) He continued to say that his parents had given him the house as a fixer-upper for free as long as he repaired it.  We decided to go to his house.  It was close and as I drew closer I started getting truly apprehensive.  The trailer had no doors, no windows and no furniture or anything.  NOTHING.  There was one chair in the house and apparently a bed in the far room.

As I sat in the one chair I started texting Kerry about how I was nervous.  As I’m typing that out Rene calls to me:

”So, do you have a boyfriend?”  I’m immediately on alert.

Me: No

Him: I see.  Do you do one night stands?

Me: Uh no. (texting furiously to Kerry)

Eventually he goes to the far bedroom and falls asleep.  I set my tent up outside to establish that I am in no way planning to sleep inside the trailer.  Five o’clock rolls around and a woman and seventy children pull in to the property next door.  I decide to ask if she is Rene’s sister and traipse over.  Immediately I am met with a look of suspicion and an attitude of irritation and annoyance.

Me:  Hi…are you his sister? (pointing to the trailer where Rene is sleeping)

Girl:  Whose sister?

Me: …the guy next door?  He told me you were his sister

Girl:  …There isn’t supposed to be anyone there, that property is abandoned and I don’t have any brothers.

Me: *horror* uh…okay… (My mind begins racing as I decide what I should do next.  Obviously this woman doesn’t want to help me at all but I need to find out what is going on).  Well he told me that you were his sister, do you know who owns the property?

Girl:  Yes I do, I was just going to head over there and ask them what was happening.  I will let you know.

Me: Okay I’ll…just… go back…to my tent and WAIT.

Girl: Yeah, you do that.

I walk back to my tent and am texting furiously with Kerry trying to decide if I need to leave immediately or if this is all one big misunderstanding.  My heart is racing and I’m watching the sun begin to sink.  I know that the campground is still an option but if there’s a mountain to get up then I’m truly concerned about reaching it before sundown.  Not five minutes after I sit back down the girl returns and says ”I figured out what you were saying, that’s my brother but we’re not close and he’s not supposed to be here.  That isn’t his property and there isn’t supposed to be anyone on the land.”

I’m thinking to myself what the hell, you just told me that you didn’t’ have any brothers.  So I approach the fence separating us and I say “Okay, as a woman to another woman, what would you do if you were in my position?”

She backs away and immediately says ”Oh no, I am not going to get in between whatever is going on between you guys”

I’m like ”There is nothing going on between us!  We met yesterday”  Like, why the hell can’t this girl understand that I’m the victim in the entire situation.

Again she repeats that she wants nothing to do with anything going on in this ”agreement”.  I go back to my tent and think it over.  I also have been texting with Trish who poses this question for me:  “Do you feel safe?”  Which at this point I do not feel safe and I don’t trust this guy.  This is finally enough for me to realize that I need to get the hell out of there. I have never packed my tent and belongings so fast in my entire life.  All while trying to be as quiet as possible so I don’t wake up this guy, who is apparently still asleep in the trailer.  I pedal away as fast as I can, thanking my stars that the campground is apparently 12 minutes biking away.  The more distance I put between myself and the trailer the better I am feeling.  I also realize that I’m on completely flat ground.  I’m biking through a beautiful grove of trees and the ground is flat and the landscape is lovely.  NO. MOUNTAIN.  I begin to realize that this creep ass of a guy had been planning from the very beginning to get me alone and do who the hell knows what.  I arrived at the campground and was greeted by a wonderful woman named Sally who invited me in to watch television with her.  She also told me that there isn’t a huge rattlesnake problem at the campground because they don’t like the gravel.  Another lie the guy told me.

The lesson I took away from this terrifying experience was STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR EVERYONE.  My issue had been that I didn’t want to insult this guy in case it turned out he really was on hard times and was repairing the trailer.  But I kept telling myself that and ignoring the fact that I was FEELING that he was not right.  The feeling that says something is a little odd and I’m not overreacting.  I learned this very, very important lesson, I feel like, in the best way possible.  Where the point truly was made without me getting hurt or killed.  From now on I’m kind of an asshole to any men that say anything that I find even remotely inappropriate.

The following morning I departed for Brenda and biked all day through beautiful land.  I passed lots of saguaro cactus that were flowering and adorable.

Saguaro! =)

Saguaro! =)

More Saguaro!!

More Saguaro!!

Look at those adorable flowers

Look at those adorable flowers

I arrived in the tiny town of Brenda around 1pm.  I had been told by many people to stop for lunch here so I did.  Brenda is a tiny community on Highway 60 that is said to be a ghost town on the west side and was a popular tourist attraction in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.  It was named after the daughter of a couple in 1928, Brenda.  Interesting enough, I knew none of this until after I had already left.  Today it’s a town mostly supported by the RV parks and local grocery/deli (which was incredibly delicious).  However I was met with no after no after no when I asked if I could CAMP at these RV camps.  Tents are not allowed.  When I mentioned this to the girls who run the store they told me I could just go right outside of town and camp on the public land without any problems.  So I hung out in the restaurant all day.  As the sun began to sink I said goodbye and biked off to where the entrance to this publically fenced area of land was.  When I got there, however, I discovered that the fence was closed and locked.  I was not going to cross a closed and locked fence.  So I called the girls and asked if they could offer any advice.  They told me to come back and I could just camp on the store property which was AMAZINGLY generous of them.  I am very very grateful to them for this.    I apparently camped right next to the ghosty area.  I was in a graveled area that clearly had been used as camping area previously and I felt very safe.  I walked down and watched the sun set with relief at another safe night of sleep.

Brenda, TX sunset

Brenda, TX sunset

The next day before departing I checked Couchsurfing to see if there was a host in Quartzsite, a town that I had hoped to stop in.  I couldnt’ get a hold of anyone but passed an interesting page about a guy who was walking across America through Quartzsite.  So I had another day of absolutely beautiful scenery while I was biking.  Like after the difficult days of mountains I couldn’t believe how lucky I was getting with beautiful, relatively flat lands.  It was beautiful.

Incredible

Incredible

Sometime in the morning I biked past someone walking on the same side of the road as I was but in the opposite direction.  We nodded at each other and a split second after I passed him I knew he was the guy from Couchsurfing.  I turned around and went back.   I asked if he was on there and he said yes and introduced himself at Nate.  We stood there talking for about half an hour sharing stories and laughing.  Nate is walking to Washington D.C. to raise awareness on the way that veterans are being treated after active duty.  Often I think of Nate  and how he is walking and if he walks then I can bike because damn, the desert is HOT.  (If you’re interested in reading his blog his website is http://www.NateWalks.com)

Nate and I talking about bears

Nate and I talking about bears

It was blazingly hot, as usual.  I had been biking early mornings in mid 90 degree weather and was strangely entertained when I realized that hair on my arms was turning golden from being in the sun all day every day.  (Don’t judge me it was fun).

Look, gold!

Look, gold!

When I passed through Quartzsite (where I stopped for lunch) I called the host in Blythe who I had called a week before and e-mailed only to realize the e-mail never sent.  I knew I was going to make it there that day and wanted to confirm I had a place to camp.  I finally got ahold of them and was told to come on by.  I wasn’t sure at all what the situation would be like but that was the plan!  The closer I got to California the more excited I was getting.  As I crossed a big checkpoint to get into California I was, again, overwhelmed by a feeling of great accomplishment.  I had made it to 4 states!  I was in California!  It seemed very appropriate that I should enter California and immediately see everything green, growing, alive and water everywhere.  The Colorado River greeted me prior to entering the state and after 3 months of traveling through drought and dusty states I was ready.

'Nuff said

‘Nuff said

 

After I crossed into California I missed the turn off that would take me away from the interstate, which is illegal to bike on in California.  I had one mile to bike before the next exit and I hoped the entire time I wouldn’t get stopped and ticketed (although I also hoped that if I did they would be understanding).  I took my exit and headed up to the B&B Bait Shop which was where my hosts were apparently located.  While heading there I knew that the mountains I were seeing in front of me were called the Big Maria Mountains.  I had been looking forward to biking near them for as long as I had been mapping this section of my trip out and as I realized I was biking directly towards them I got more excited.

Big Maria Mountains!

Big Maria Mountains!

I got to the Bait shop and pulled in.  Immediately a man named Wayne walked up, welcomed me, told me he’d gotten drunk waiting for me and here have 6 beers on me.  This seemed glorious after a nice hot day of biking, after all it was about 5pm.  Wayne showed me into the bait shop and introduced me to the people working there and a few of the people hanging out around the shop.  He then walked me to the pond in the back of the property and said that most of the cyclists would camp on the dock there.  Wayne said I was welcome to shower and that he would talk to me after I got set up.  I asked him about the canal that I had to cross to roll into the driveway of the property.  He said I could totally just jump in and swim in it, that current would just float me down to the bridge where I’d just have to hop out.  I did just that.

My Set Up, with the Big Maria Mountains in the background!

My Set Up, with the Big Maria Mountains in the background!

20140426_135314 20140426_135816 20140426_135932The water was FREEZING COLD and so glorious I could have stayed all night.  However, the canal was very deep and a little terrifying because I had no idea what kind of critters swam in it.  Because of the strong current I had no control and just had to relinquish all to the water carrying me.  So it was exhilaratingly scary.  Afterwards, I took a nice shower, washed all the dust off of myself and went to visit with people.  There were a lot of people there and everyone was so friendly.  Apparently this was a little community of people who daily would come and drink beer together and just chat and share stories.  Some of them had grown up together and some had stumbled upon the shop in their travels and continued to return.  Some of the men I chatted with where hysterical.  They would tell stories and bounce exaggerations off of each other so amusingly that I laughed much of the evening, a refreshing thing after a week of stressful evenings.  I mentioned to Wayne that I wanted to look over a map with him about my next route through the desert.  Darcy, one of the women who worked at the shop told me that she works at a border checkpoint along the route of where I would be going.  The highway I planned to bike on is notoriously treacherous and dangerous.  About 90 miles through the desert with no stops for water, low visibility and literally no shoulder with drops offs into canyons.  I asked if she might take me some of the way so I wouldn’t’ have to camp multiple days in the desert (I was worried about how much water I could carry) and she said yes, she could.  After some chatting Wayne told me he was going down to Mexico on Tuesday (it was Friday) and that if I could stay until then he could take me until he turned to another highway, then I’d only have about 40 miles to bike before hitting the next big town.  I immediately was in.

And this is where I will leave you guys for tonight.  I am at a library writing up this blog and have run out of allotted computer usage time.  I’ll try to get back here tomorrow and finish up the last month of journey.  Enjoy!  I leave you with this photo.  I’ve had a few people ask me what my tent looks like from the inside and here it is!!

The inside of my tent!

The inside of my tent!

 

 

 

A small tribute on a birthday

This is not an ordinary post, I have a large one coming but this one is special.
Today would have been my grandmother’s birthday. As many of you know she is who inspired me to follow my dreams search for my happiness and travel in whatever way I could.
I thought as a tribute I would share a few stories about my grandmother with you all.
My grandmother is who introduced me to loving makeup. Whenever my grandfather and her would come to visit she would always bring me her Estée Lauder samples of lipstick and eyeshadow to have and I immediately put on the lipstick and my grandfather would announce that it looked like my mouth was bleeding. My grandmother would then say “you look like a doll.”

My grandmother was the kind of person who saw how beautiful someone was no matter how ruffled they might appear on the outside.
Anytime I would introduce her to any of my friends, for years and years and years after she would always tell me what a wonderful friends I had and how beautiful they were.

I loved holding hands with my grandmother, she would always call me her cuddle bug.

When I was little I was a very picky eater. I remember one week visiting my grandparents and going for a picnic where grandma had made sandwiches for us. Mine had mayo and I hated Mail. I had to eat my sandwich but I swore I would never eat mayo again. Now I love mayo and could drink it from a bottle.

I would often go visit my grandmother if I had vacation time or for holiday. The last time was when my sister and I went down the Christmas before she died. The Rihanna song shine like a diamond had just been released and seemed to be playing every five minutes. My sister and I kept saying how annoying it was but by the end of the week it seemed to be our theme song. We often tell each other now that hearing that song reminds us of that week. It was entertaining watching my grandmother with all her church friends and everybody flirting with one another and joking and seeing her being happy.

The weekend before she died I flew from New York to visit her. I have been told that I might not make it in time to see her before she died but I made it and she somehow had one more lucid day where she just seemed normal. I painted our nails matching colors like I always would do when I was little and lay in the bed next to her snuggling and napping. One of the last things that she said to me was when she gave me some of the best advice I have ever gotten. She told me I needed to be happy that was all she wanted from me was to be happy and be a good friend to my friends. I remember listening to her talk to my mom and aunt about her belongings and silver in her home. She said do what you want with it it doesn’t matter and that really stuck with me. The realization that at the end it doesn’t matter what you have it doesn’t matter all of the belongings that you have accumulated and how much they’re worth. To be told that all through life is one thing, but witnessing it is different.

When I cried she said, “don’t cry you’ll make me cry and I don’t want to be sad about this.” I don’t know when I could ever stop being sad about losing someone I thought would never leave but I do know that by following her wishes and advice I have been launched into a different direction of life that I never imagined heading in. I feel her around me when the wind blows, when I see little butterflies following me, and when I see spring flowers because we both agree that was our favorite season. When I accomplish major milestones I feel like I can confidently say she’s proud of me and what I am doing.
I wish that we could celebrate her birthday together every year but that’s just not the case so I will continue with my journey however it may take shape and know that she’s following me every step of the way.

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Dear new friends:

Hi friends, old friends disregard this but ill continue to post this for the new viewers. If you are on a mobile phone in the upper right corner you will see four little white squares. If you click on it you’ll see the facebook page and donation link. The facebook is updated
every other day or so where the blog is updated every few weeks. :). Hope it helps!

Albuquerque to Phoenix. A LOT of adventures, disappointments and joy.

To start with I’ll say most of these photos if you click on them they’ll enlarge to full size.

It has been SO long, I know I know I’m getting worse at this.  I think it’s been like a month…I don’t even know what day it is anymore haha.  So, the last time we chatted I was in Albuquerque staying with Bill and Karen!  During mapping out my next set I had been told by several people, Bill and Karen included, that I should visit a place called Acoma Pueblo just west of Albuquerque and about 15 miles south of the interstate.  The problem was that I couldn’t stay at the pueblo plus I would have to pay for entry which was like 25 dollars and I couldn’t do it.   I was disappointed but accepted the reality and moved on.

March 20-31

On March 20th Bill drove me out to Cubero, NM where I was going to start my next portion sleeping at a rest stop.  According to http://www.freecampsites.net it’s legal to camp at any New Mexico rest stop.  Well, when we got there THE REST STOP WAS CLOSED. CLOSED.  Who does that?!  So we began shopping around, which is what I normally do anyways.  First we went to the RV Camp across from the casino and were told we had to go into the casino hotel and ask them if I could camp there.  I was told no in several different ways and finally got the information that in the next little town, San Fidel, there was a church.  We drove over there to the church and the nun living on the property directed me across the street to the school.  The administrator was the owner of the church.  His secretary called him to ask and then informed me, to my great excitement, that not only could I camp on the land but that there was a trailer I could stay in since no one was living there.  I set up camp, said my goodbyes to Bill and began exploring.

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My view from my trailer

I wandered over to the school where there was wireless I could use to download a few books on my kindle app.  That was when I met Tina!  She comes out of the school and I thought she was someone I’d been told about named Felicia so I said “Are you Felicia?”  and she goes “….uh no….who are you?” HAHA!  I explained who I was and she was immediately very kind and friendly.  She asked me if I had been to Acoma Pueblo and I explained the situation.  She then tells me that she is from Acoma and her family has a house on the mesa and that if I’m willing to stay an extra day she could drive me up to the pueblo the next day!  Of course I said yes, it was very exciting and I knew my grandmother had had a hand in this.  So the following day I took a nice shower, relaxed and waited for Tina to pick me up around 4:30.  We were going to a movie being shown at the Acoma City cultural center called Reel Injun, a film showing the evolution of the portrayal of Native Americans in film over the course of time.  So Tina picked me up, we picked up her sister and headed to Acoma.  On the way there Tina asked if I wanted to just crash at her home afterwards so we could just hang out and relax and I’d get to meet her family.  I said yes that sounded fine.  Driving down into the canyon to get to Acoma (also known as Sky City) was INCREDIBLE.  I wasn’t prepared for it to be so beautiful!

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There were also cows wandering since it was the Acoma Reservation so the cows were just free to go where they pleased =)

We went to them movie which was incredible and informative if you’re looking for a good movie to watch I highly recommend it.  If you click on the words just now it takes to the IMDB site for it.  Aynway, so after the movie we drove up to the pueblo on top of the mesa.  It was incredible, simply incredible.

 

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It was already dark however so we decided I would stay another day and we’d go back tomorrow during the day.  We went back to Tina’s house and I got to meet one of her daughters, her nephew and all the little dogs they have outside their house who were so so sweet.

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LOOK at the heart on that nose. just. look at it.

So the next morning we woke up, went over to Tina’s mother and step father’s home to shower and have breakfast.  From there Tina and drove back to the mesa where we CLIMBED TO THE TOP!  CLIMBED!  Yes, and it was AMAZING!  I had never seen anything like that, had never been up so high freely like that.

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We then came back down and drove up so we’d have a car to drive around the pueblo in.  Tina showed me her family home and we went out on the roof.  Many of the families from the Acoma Reservation have a home on the top of the mesa.  Tina explained to me that if there’s ever an emergency they go up there, that they hold ceremonies and parties up there for celebrations as well.  It was amazing.  There is no power or running water either which you don’t realize what a big deal that is until your inside a dark house with one window.  The houses (most of them) are made with mud and straw.  Tina said that some of the newer stucco models are most updated but that this look isn’t authentic like the mud and straw.

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See those stairs up on the roof? We climbed up there and stood on the edge. My dad would be horrified.

Acoma was beautiful.  It was everything I was told it would be and so much more, I think because I got to experience it with Tina to show me and explain as opposed to just a guide, which ordinarily is required for access to the mesa.  Tina showed me all the different things that are tradition and normal for her family and their ancestors and I’m so happy I got to learn about them from her =). By this point in my stay with Tina, we had become friends.  We drove back to the trailer and collected my bike and belongings and brought them back to her house so I wouldn’t be imposing on the church trailer any longer and could just stay with her.    I ended up staying two more days!  Monday night she made me fry bread which is my faaaavorite!  I’ve always loved it!

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So.  On Tuesday Tina drove me to Grants, NM where I stayed in a church rec room which was great…until about 10pm where I swear to you all that it was haunted and things came out to play.  I was the only person who was supposed to be in the building and yet I was hearing thumps and footsteps practically right outside my door.  I was video chatting with my friend Caitlin for comfort and even she heard the noises.  I was utterly terrified, I can’t even explain.  I didn’t fall asleep until about 2:30 am and made poor Caitlin stay up until 3:30 her time on the east coast.  She is great friend haha.

The next day is titled Worst Day in my one line a day notebook.  I started the day great!  Light breeze no animals or problems.  I stopped for lunch and when I came out the winds had blown my bike over.  This should have been a warning but I thought I’d be fiiiine.  Oh how wrong I was.  The wind was blowing so loudly that I couldn’t hear ANYthing.  This would have been fine except that this meant I didn’t hear the PACK of dogs barking until I was surrounded by them.  I screamed and stopped my bike.  As soon as they heard me scream and stand up they backed off and ran back to their property, thankfully!

I was biking along Route 66 and determined to keep going, however I really hadn’t encountered winds from the side like the ones I met that day.  They were blowing from the south and kept blowing me off the road and because there was no shoulder, only gravel afterwards, off my bike.  After the 8th time I decided it was time to start walking.  The dirt and dust was blowing all over and I was particularly grateful to have my goggles on.  I had initially wanted to make it to the town of Thorough (sp) but I was about 10-15 miles away.  I had jerked a muscle in my groin after blowing off and not being able to unclip my shoe in time to step down.  I came to a bar/liquor store and dragged myself in.  The woman behind the counter was everything except useful.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Me:  Hi, I’m biking across the country and was wondering if I could camp behind this property (it was a huge field by a train tracks)

Her:  I’m not the owner, sorry.

Me:  Okay, do you think your boss would mind?

Her:  Well, sometimes he let’s drivers sleep in the lot because they’re exhausted.

Me: Uh…okaaay.  Do you have a number I could reach your manager on?

Her:  We’re not allowed to give it out

Me:  Okay, can you call him and then I’ll ask him?

Her:  He doesn’t like to be bothered.

Me:  Great.  Thanks SO much.

I was so frustrated because just my appearance spoke volumes at how exhausted I was.  I was clearly not just bullshitting this woman into letting me camp there but she didn’t want to go out of her way at all to help me.  I understand if you have a boss who is terrible and you don’t want to risk getting in trouble but come ON!  I finally slowly rolled my way around the building to the lot next door.  There was a section of grass and mud that looked the best so as I was very gingerly rolling across the broken glass I resigned myself to having to camp there.  As I was unloading my tent from my bike I heard a truck pull up.  A woman gets out of her truck and calls out to me “You can’t camp here”  I looked at her in defeat, “I have no choice, I have nowhere else to get to”  She repeated, “You cannot camp here.  It’s too dangerous. Where are you going?”  I told her about how I had meant to make it to the next town as I’d confirmed with a church there that I could camp on their property and she was like ”Get in the truck, I’ll take you.  I can’t let you camp here.”  So she drove me to the church and dropped me off.  I found a little corner between three walls so the wind was only coming from one direction which was perfect.  I was totally hidden and protected from the wind.  I set up my tent and collapsed.

I woke up in the middle of the night and peeked out of my tent for whatever reason and discovered about an inch of snow!  AN INCH!  Poor Evelyn’s tires where covered in snow!!  And of course I hadn’t put up the tarp over her because it was so windy and clear when I’d fallen asleep…of course.  In the morning when I sat up I stretched and realized that my leg was actually hurt.  What I thought was just a little pull that would be gone by morning was not gone and was still very sore.  I could barely walk much less pedal.  I staggered into the main offices of the church where they were amazed that I had camped out.  After all for the first time there was still snow on the ground even at like 9 am!  Usually if I encounter snow then it’s gone by the time I wake up and exit from my tent.

It was arranged that I would be scooped up by LeeAnn my host in Gallup.  For lunch the church secretary Delrae (AWEsome name) took me over the school with two other friends to eat in the cafeteria.  It was very cool to see the school and eat school lunches (again).  That afternoon LeeAnn picked me up and we headed to Gallup.  That night we went out for a drink with her boyfriend at a local bar called The American.  The next day I slept in and walked around a little bit.  That night LeeAnn and I went to a karaoke bar and sang which was fun.  All night there was a guy hitting on LeeAnn asking all these ridiculous questions.  At the end of the night when he realized he wasn’t going to get her to go home with him he started complaining about the line for paying his tab.  “What’s stopping me from paying me bill?  I could just walk out and they’d never know”  I turned and looked at him with zero emotion on my face and said “….because it’s wrong?”  I was floored at this guy being a jerk just because he wasn’t getting what he wanted.  Not only that but he had barely said three words to me all night and suddenly we were talking now that LeeAnn was having a conversation with someone else?  No.

The next morning LeeAnn, her boyfriend and I went to the Gallup Flea Market which was actually fantastic.  I got a little bracelet and a little pair of beautiful earrings that I’m wearing now.  I really wanted some that weren’t dangly that I could wear all the time and not worry about and since these were only like 4 dollars I wasn’t going to freak out if one of them fell out.

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See? Simple and cute!

After the flea market LeeAnn dropped me back at the apartment where I made Jamaican stew and she went to get her hair done.  During this time I also had a minor panic attack.  It wasn’t going unnoticed by me that I seemed to be still having trouble and getting ride after ride after thing after thing went wrong for me.  I decided that I was just going to give up when I got to LA.  I started making phone calls to anyone I knew in the LA area who I thought might be able to help me out.  I figured I could just get to LA and get a job doing something like waitressing or cleaning hotel rooms…anything.  I basically called everyone I was friends with and panicked on the phone to them.  I had also discovered that I was getting altitude sickness.  I realized it on the night I first arrived in Gallup after we got home the bar and I had a debilitating headache that was keeping me awake all night.  The night of karaoke after two beers I could FEEL that horrible headache coming back and I immediately started drinking as much water as I possibly could to keep it at bay.  I had noticed the shortness of breath in and before Albuquerque but then nothing much until Gallup.  I started plotting the easiest way to get out of the higher elevations.  Train?  Bus?  Car?  My host in Flagstaff informed me that they were basically at the same elevation as Gallup so I wouldn’t be much better off by heading to them.  The Grand Canyon, my next planned stop, was even higher up so that was out of the question.  I felt like a horrible person because I had been staying with LeeAnn for three days at this point and usually the general idea is to staying one night or so and move on.

The following day I arranged with a warmshowers host I’d been in contact with previously but due to lack of signal, hadn’t been able to reach, for me to go to their house that day.  I loaded up my belongings and bike and departed.  I went down the curb outside of her apartment and my rear tire blew.  Great way to start this shitty day.  LeeAnn was great enough to just drive me the 8 minute drive over to their house.  Chris and Jackie were great.  They took me hiking up in the Cebola National Forest.  Hooowwwwever as soon as Jackie and I started on our trail I realized that I was in big, big trouble.  The headache was back.  The farther we got the worse it got.  Soon I couldn’t even lift my head because the movement and the sun was excruciating.  I couldn’t even breathe and the farther we went the more my entire body throbbed.  Jackie kept saying I could go back but I had no idea where I was (and I KNEW there were mountain lions in this forest) so I wasn’t about to strike out on my own to try and find the trailhead.  Finally after a couple hours of hiking which if it wasn’t for the alititude, I’m sure I would have LOVED, we were back in the car.  That’s when the nausea hit me full force.  All the way home I just kept saying I could NOT throw up in a strangers car.  When we got back to their house I passed out on their couch for about an hour and a half desperately trying to calm my stomach.  I woke up and ate a slice of pizza and then really, went back to sleep.  I just lay there in agony, and I know I sound like I’m exaggerating but it was horrible.  I hate being nauseous, plus the headache and soreness on top of it all.  And then I threw up and it was horrible.  Jackie came out and gave me some crystallized ginger candy and ginger tea which seemed to help a little.  I also remembered that I had anti-nausea pills from when I had dizziness in January.  So I took one of those and fell asleep.

The following day I slept until like noon, literally.  When I woke up I started making phone calls to take a bus to Phoenix.   The problem was that to take the bus I would have to box up my bike which wasn’t the problem.  The problem was that in all of Gallup there were no bike boxes to be had.  The one bike shop didn’t have any and the bus terminal AND Amtrak didn’t have any either.  I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to bike to Phoenix, altitude illness or no.  Jackie and Chris helped me out looking over the map and deciding on the easiest, quickest path.  Another thing I’d been doing while there was going through my belongings and deciding which things I didn’t need to use and could ship ahead of me to my Mom and Jack’s house.  By the end I had everything whittled down to my two rear bags and my basket.  Because of weight issues I had it distributed between all four bags but lemme tell you, it made quite the difference.  I was all packed up and ready to go that night.  I knew I had an early morning and had to beat the wind.  I was determined to beat some of the wind which starts up around 11 or noon.  It was an early night for me.

April 1 -10

Tuesday morning I got up at 5:30 am.  I took a shower and ate breakfast with Chris and Jackie.  Then I packed up my bike and was off.  The first ten minutes was a solid roll down the hill which was great.   Then a few climbs.  It wasn’t too bad until about 10 am when the wind started.  I’d gotten to blow down some great hills so I had a little fun that day.  But I eventually got to a stretch of road that was just horrible.  Not because it was uphill but because the wind was blowing so hard.

DISCLAIMER:  THE FOLLOWING STORY IS A LITTLE HORRIFYING.  If you don’t like toilet stories scroll on by.  Otherwise enjoy my misery.  I wasn’t going to tell a single soul, but then I told a few people and they agreed it should go in the blog.  So here you have it:

So, as I’m biking along I realize that I need to pee.  This is nothing new and unusual.  What was new and HORRIFYING was the knowledge that I also had a tummy ache and had to poop.  There was NOTHING between where I was and the Zuni Pueblo about 30 miles away.  …Nothing but trees that is.  After about half an hour or debating I came to terms with the fact that I was going to Freedom Poop.  I didn’t have a choice.  I then spent the next 30 minutes biking and scoping out the best hiding place for said Freedom Poop.  Who knows how long I’d be there, I needed to be hidden.  Unlike peeing in the wilderness which takes a second and who cares who sees your butt, I really didn’t want to have an witnesses.  I found a spot, parked my bike hiked around to investigate and decided it was perfect.  I went to my backpack to get my wet wipes and make the discovery:  I had packed them somewhere else while rearranging everything.  I couldn’t wait to hunt through all my bags for a tiny bag of wet wipes so I kept digging in my backpack for anything that might suffice as a wet wipes replacement.  Nothing.  That’s when I noticed it.  My bag of flour tortillas and one tortilla left.  I had had them since Texas and it wasn’t getting eaten any time soon.  I made an executive decision that this would have to do.

You have not experienced hysterical humiliating laughter until you have used a tortilla to wipe yourself because you don’t have wet wipes.  It turns out that tortillas aren’t really made for wet wipe replacement.  Don’t get me wrong, they got the job done but you have to be very careful.  Thankfully it didn’t fall apart at any important times but I will always be prepared with wet wipes from this day forward.

So anyways, I get back on my bike feeling much better and full of humor.  The wind is making a habit of being really strong and then dying down repetitively.  So I get to bike for 15 minutes and then have to get off and walk.  As I’m entering Zuni Pueblo the wind REALLY starts up.  It’s blowing so hard that the dirt is actually hurting me as it slams into my legs, arms and cheeks.  I’m so grateful for my ski goggles that I use when it’s windy, or going down a really fast hill.  Without them I would have been blinded, surely.  (Maybe a little dramatic sounding, but true nonetheless.)  I biked through the pueblo and stopped at the cultural center just for a bathroom and directions.  The children in the community were putting on a show for their families with cultural dances in all their regalia.  It was adorable and beautiful!  No photos allowed without a permit so I just watched and enjoyed.  I also got a piece of cake and a cup of juice!  The women at the center gave me directions to the church I was trying to find and I headed over there.  Once inside I spoke with the priest and plead my case.  He introduced me to a girl who of course I can’t remember her name (again, so sorry).  She gave me directions to an indian christian reform school down the street.  I headed there and they let me sleep in the school which was nice after a long dusty day.

The next morning when I woke up I knew I was in for a long day.  The next town, St. John, was 55 miles away.  Which is 2 days for me.  I knew I’d be camping along the road one night and that was okay.  I decided that as long as I got halfway there I’d be fine.  HOWever, the wind had other ideas in mind for me.  That day the wind was SO powerful that I walked my bike literally the ENTIRE day.  I walked for 8 hours and make it 14 miles.  Not bad for walking all day, but I wasn’t pleased that the next day if I wanted to get to St. Johns I’d be biking 41 miles or so.  The exciting thing about that day was that I crossed into Arizona, which I’d been determined to do on my own.  No rides, nothing.  I stopped and took an exhausted nap leaning up against the Arizona State sign wrapped up in my blanket from Caitlin.

ARIZONA!!

ARIZONA!!

When I woke up about half an hour later I got up and kept walking.  I walked another 4 miles and as the sun started going down I began looking for where I was going to camp.  I somehow managed to find the PERFect hiding place.  It was off the road about 20 feet.  I stepped on a prickly pear walking up to it, which sounds terribly painful and it was but I was just grateful that it was me and not Evelyn’s bike.  I hadn’t even known to be looking down for cactus and wouldn’t have even noticed.  Two little pine trees had managed to grow in such a way that there was a clearing between them but their branches grew horizontally towards each other so the clearing was hidden.  It couldn’t have been more perfect for me, because I wanted to be hidden from cars in either direction.  Not only that but it was blocking the wind coming from the West at a mighty speed, so I wouldn’t spend the whole night freezing and listening to my tent blow.   I wiggled into the clearing, praying for no poisonous caterpillars falling, and dragged my bike in with me.  I set up my tent and was so so grateful to just collapse inside where it was quiet.  The next morning when I woke up at 6 am THE WIND WAS ALREADY BLOWING.  There was another weird noise that I was hearing too and when I unzipped my window I realized what it was:  tiny hail.  It was snowing and hailing.  In Arizona.  I was not pleased.  I had already decided to just stay in my tent all day and not go anywhere because what was the point if the wind was blowing and it was SNOWING.  After an hour of this I got bored and cold after being awake for a little.  I finally got out of my tent, packed up and determined to just hitch a ride, rolled up to the road.

No one was stopping for me.  After twenty minutes of trying and me just shivering in the wind I figured I might as well bike a little and this turned out to be the best decision ever.  I climbed an enormous hill and literally, the rest of the day was pretty much downhill.  Majorly down hills.  Like…I cannot even explain.  I’ll show you photos instead!!

Okay I just went back and it turns out I have no photos of that day, which is odd because I swear I took a zillion.

Never mind I found them on my other camera.  Okay here you go:

 

Do you see that ROLL of downhills?

Do you see that ROLL of downhills?

Not only were the hills glorious and many the scenery was just gorgeous.  It was so beautiful seeing canyons in the distance and giant walls of rock.  The entire day was made up of this beauty.

See?  Beautiful.

See? Beautiful.

So anyway, all day was glorious.  My legs felt great (as they should after two days of walking) and the wind was great.  I knew that I had to make it to St. Johns that day.  It was 39 miles away from where I started and I had to do it.  I was so so happy all day long, waving at people driving by me, some of them would wave back and some of them wouldn’t.  I had one truck that the guy and his buddy just stared at me and kept going.  I didn’t think anything of it until hours later as I’m climbing a hill and the same truck passes me going in the opposite direction as before, (so they were heading to St. John too) and they see me sweating and huffing and puffing up this huge freaking hill and start honking and wave and cheering from their car.  It was great haha.  When I got to the top of the hill I passed the St. John City Limits and I had a brief moment of overwhelming joy.  I was so so proud of myself and the fact that I had bike so far in one day after the past few horrible horrible days.  Days where it seemed like everything was going wrong and I thought I had surely made a huge mistake on this trip.  I talked in my last entry about how I was getting nervous and I was right on the money.  The stretch of biking from Santa Rosa to Gallup (basically all if New Mexico) was full of a lot of feelings of defeat and uncertainty.  In Gallup I felt sure that I was going to quit my trip and just give up altogether because what was the point if I was going to keep getting rides every time something bad happened.  I really needed to have a good day and that was this day.  All through Texas I was seeing this little yellow butterfly and I liked to think it was my Grandma keeping my company.  The butterfly reappeared on this day and it was just what I needed to keep believing I could do it.

That night I ate dinner at a restaurant in St. John called ….crap now I can’t remember it.  If you guys are reading this comment the name and I’ll edit this post so I can add a link.   Anyway, the women in this place were fantastic and sweet and just what I needed after my day of hard work.  My lips were so chapped and split they were bleeding but I didn’t even care.  I had made it to St. John!  I was directed to the fair grounds in town where I could camp and that’s where I met Kay and her dog!  Kay runs the RV park out by the fairgrounds and that’s where I camped that night.  It was perfect!  Her dog was so sweet (after he met me)  and well behaved in his little golf cart.

 

Kay and her doggy =)

The next day started off well, however towards the end of the day my legs were crapping out on me.  They were sore from the day before, having never gone 39 miles before on this trip.  By 2:30 I was again walking my bike.  A woman stopped me and asked if I needed somewhere to stay that night.  I agreed to go with her and she said to just follow her car.  So we crept through a town called Concho.  At one point a dog suddenly was racing at me growling ferociously and stopped inches from biting my ankle as soon as I put my feet on the ground.  I seems as though as soon as they realize that I’m not a monster, I’m a person, they are okay.  But as soon as my foot goes back up to the pedal they growl again.  It’s very interesting.  Anyways, after that Joan (the woman) told me we could pack up my bike into her car as she and her husband lived off an unpaved dirt road.  They had a beautiful home.  They grew pretty much every produce imaginable, every fruit tree I could imagine eating from, they had a vineyard, they had a pond with koi etc.  Joan made an AMAZING dinner for us of pesto pasta, homemade bread and salad from the garden.  Rich, her husband is a potter who makes amazing pottery, so I spent an hour or so in the pottery shed watching him throw plates and bowls.

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Their dog, Buck, a very VERY sprightly 12 year old.

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Apple trees!

That night RIch took me out and showed me a bunch of constellations in the sky which was great!  The next morning Joan took me to Show Low which was where I would have ended up yesterday if I’d kept going.  Again, it was a great day.  There were a lot of hills to climb but also a lot of downs to roll.  So I worked hard that day and my legs were up to the challenge!  I knew I would be camping in the forest that night I just didn’t know where exactly.  I was on a stretch of road that had nothing at all in terms of little towns or anything.  I passed a little RV camp around 5pm but it was closed which was probably for the best, why should I have paid to camp where I could have camped ANYwhere in the woods for free.  I found a trailhead into the woods around 5:30 and started in.  Picture this.  There was quite a few forest fires a few years back and it burned a lot of the woods.  So I biked about a mile off the road until I reached the trees.  I was really excited to camp in the ”real forest” with tall tall trees.


SAM_3082As I found a tree to lean my bike on and started unpacking my tent I made an interesting discovery.  I was about to shake out the footprint that goes underneath my tent so I was scoping out the ground for flat area with little to no pricklies.  I looked around a realized that there were some awfully large paw prints all over the place.  Upon further investigation I discovered there was also pretty big poop all over the place.  I didn’t have any 4G service at all so I texted my sister, Kerry AND Caitlin (a backup and a backup for my backup) to google this forest and find out about it’s wildlife and if there were bears I needed to be attending to my food appropriately for.  My sister’s text goes ”You better hang that shit up.”  Caitlin goes “I don’t want to alarm you BUT…” and Kerry goes “Ahem, according to Sitgreaves National Forest website: _____Insert Lots of Bear and Mountain Lion Warnings Here____

I packed my tent back up and rolled back down the road until I was practically in view of the highway.  I dumped out all of my bags and sorted through everything separated anything that smelled like ANYTHING into the odor proof bags, ate my dinner and packed that away too.  I then walked my food and water bags about 100 feet away from my tent and hoped that was far enough.  I have a wasp spray as well that if you spray a ring of it around your tent it’s supposed to help deter snakes and scorpions who can cross it but don’t like to.  So I didn’t my ring around my tent and got in.  I then watched the sun set from inside my tent.  It was really gorgeous but as you remember, my debilitating fear of bears was taking away from my enjoying it.

Sunset from my tent

I was so scared that night.  I know a lot of people think I’m being silly but I can’t help that I’m terrified of bears.  I can’t help it and I’M SO SCARED OF THEM OKAY?!  You know when you’re so tense that your muscles hurt?  That’s how I was until about midnight.  I couldn’t fall asleep because I was so scared.  Every noise was impending brutal bear-death.  I heard coyotes howling on the hill right next to me and it would have been totally adorable if it wasn’t RIGHT THERE on the hill next to my tent.  In the morning when I came out of my tent, alive and fully put together mind you, there were coyote paw prints aalllll around my tent.  Clearly they’d been checking me out.  I packed up my shit as fast as I could and got the hell out of there.  I knew that night would be the same as the last.

I’m biking along doing alright, but going slowly.  There are a LOT of ups and downs.  It wasn’t bad though, I wasn’t dying.  Around 3:30 or so I’m biking along bopping to my headphones, which I HAVE to have on to focus or else the sounds of cars makes me nervous and twitchy.  Suddenly, the same way with the woman on I-40, there’s someone next to me, and just like last time I screamed loudly.  It ended up being another guy touring!!  His name was Spence and he was biking from Florida to the California coast between San Diego and L.A.  He goes ”Hey I’m camping at the Canyon Point Camp Ground, do you want to camp with me?  It’s just down the road!”  I was thrilled to meet another tourist.

Me:  Sure!! Where down the road!

Spence:  Just up there a few miles.

Me:  Where up there a few miles?

Spence:  Like ten miles down the road

Me: …….ohhhh. Ten miles you say?

I don’t think Spence fully understood just how slow of a biker I am.  It was 3:30 though so I figured I could make it there by dark.  I told him I would be there, and it would be late, but I would be there.  He pedalled on.  Now I was in big trouble lol.  I had to make it to this camp ground come hell or high water.  It was only 10 miles.  ONLY TEN MILES DAMMIT.  Up and down and up and up and up hills.

This was the never ending mountain up.

Finally at 5:30 and with 3 miles to go I see Spence coming BACK towards me down the road.  When I got to him he announced the camp was closed and he knew if I’d had to climb the last few hills I would not be pleased.  So we decided to just go into the woods and make our camp there!  AND WE MADE A FIRE.  Which was glorious because the temperature dropped pretty fast.  Spence had food to share and I had bread and fudge to share so we pooled our food together and it was deliiicciiioouus.  We stayed up chatting and being warm by the fire until it was late and we were exhausted and retired to our respective tents.  I was still nervous about bears but we were close enough to the road that I was less nervous plus with the campfire I felt a little better.

Spence’s tent is the kind you have to hang up on two trees. It was fascinating.

Fiiiiiirre!

 

The moon was so bright that night but I didn’t even realize how bright until I took my headlamp off with me to use the bathroom before bedtime.  I clicked it off and suddenly everything was bathed in light.  I was like where the hell is that light coming from!? It was the moonlight!!  I couldn’t believe how well I could see.

The next morning when I woke up it was still chill so I STARTED MY VERY OWN CAMPFIRE.  CYNTHIA, CLYDE AND CLARA BE PROUD.  I was super proud of myself for being able to start the fire.  It certainly helped that everything was dry as could be.  That day I was hoping to get to a town called Payson.  It was about 39 miles away but I had a Warmshowers host there.  I hadn’t’ planned to be there so soon so that was kind of exciting that I was making such good time.  I asked ahead of time and they said it was fine if Spence stayed with them too.  Spence and I agreed to meet at the McDonalds in Payson where we were going to use the wireless.

THIS

WAS

THE GREATEST

DAY OF BIKING

EVER.

We were biking along something called the Mogollon Rim.  We were going down mountains at 6% incline so fast I could smell my tires burning and we had to be entirely in the car lane so we could stay in control.  Cars had to go slowly too so everyone was very careful and aware of their surroundings.  If you’d like to see how fast click the followign link.  It starts getting good after the 1 minute mark or so.

https://plus.google.com/104575099804430544301/posts/CvPSbCBgfVc

So it was basically an entire day of that.  I passed into the Tonto National Forest and like I said before, the Mogollon Rim which was INCREDIBLE.  It was so beautiful!

Mountains!

Mountains!

Mogollon Rim =)

Mogollon Rim =)

Tonto National Forest and Mogollon Rim

Tonto National Forest and Mogollon Rim

I passed Spence at one point because he had stopped to help a woman fix her broken down car.

Very helpful.

 

As I was passing through what I called the pre-town of Payson I started getting really really hot.   If you’ve ever passed out you’ll know what I mean when I talk about that kind of cold feeling you get when you’re about to pass out.  I was getting that hard core as I was going up the last 2 miles of mountain before the McDonalds.  I kept stopping and pouring water down my shirt because it was cooling me down in the breeze but I was so scared I was going to pass out before I got there.  BUT I DIDN’T.  I MADE IT.  Spence got there about 10 minutes after I did.  We sat for about an hour cooling down and just being happy that we made it.  Spence knew he would, me not so much =)  Then we headed over to our hosts in Payson who welcomed up, let us shower and do laundry and then made us DELICIOUS vegetarian mexican..ish food.  I’m not entirely sure but it was so delicious.  I wasn’t too smart that day and didn’t put on enough sunscreen so my back was definitely burned and I was hot hot hot that night.  It took me awhile to fall asleep because I was hot and it was quiet.  I was used to the wind blowing my tent and animals calling.  In the morning Spence and I said goodbye before heading out on our route.  While we were taking the same route we knew we were separating today.  I was making my trip into a 3 day ordeal where Spence was doing it all in one day.

Touring buddy

We had one section of downhill for about 5 miles where we both stopped at the same time, took some photos and that was that!

 

More mountains!!

More mountains!!

From that point on it was all downhill.  Figuratively.  Not even one bit up hill.  At about noon time my legs had decided that they were no longer participating in this game.  I was in lowest gear, would go about three yards and have to stop.  It was terribly, terribly hot and I was exhausted already.  I passed one section with a downhill for 3/4 of a mile and that went by way too fast.  WHILE I was very slowly rolling down this hill is when I saw my first Saguaro Cactus.  Saguaro Cactus grow only in very specific areas of the southwest and all through Texas I had read that I ”would not see any Saguaro while in Texas or New Mexico” so to see it towering at least a hundred feet above my head on a mountain side was one of the most profound moments of my trip to date.

I stood still and stared up at that cactus full of excitement smiling enormously for several minutes before dissolving completely into tears.  I felt as though I was finally reaching a milestone of such worth that I could say “Look Grandma, look at the traveling I have accomplished so far.”  I’m sure I looked like an absolute nut on the side of the highway sobbing brokenheartedly.  I felt almost like the pain of my Grandma dying was new as the first day.

My first Saguaro Cactus

My first Saguaro Cactus…it’s WAY up high, I’m all the way zoomed in

Eventually I was able to go on  for a short time before I began walking.  My legs were exhausted.  A police officer stopped me and asked if I was okay.  I asked how far away Sunflower, AZ was.  He says “It’s at mile marker 217.  I looked at the mile marker:  227.  Ten miles away.  Great.  Thanks officer.

FOUR hours later it’s about 98 degrees out, I’ve been applying sunscreen to my back every 5 minutes (more because the spray is nice and cool than for protection) and I’m still walking and I pass mile marker 226.  The sun is low, like low enough that it’s going to set soon.  I realize that the nearest trailhead is one mile away and it’s basically an uphill climb and there is NO way I could even walk there in time before it’s dark.  I have stopped at a section along the highway that leads to a fence.  Picture a canyon and mountains rising up from all sides.  I was in the bottom.  Yea.  The highway goes back and forth with no off ramps for miiiiiillless.  I rolled up to the fencing behind which was a kind cliff/…mountain…thing.  I can’t explain well.  I shimmied underneath the barb wire fencing and started exploring.  I called my sister and with terrible signal ordered her to not hang up on me unless I hang up first for SURE.  I then explored down in an empty waterbed of some sort now inhabited by deer, ants, coyotes and who knows what other prints I saw.  I was torn because I was TERRIFED to sleep here.  I’d been seeing ”watch out for the wildlife” signs since I had entered down into this section of the mountains.  WHAT KIND OF WILDLIFE?  This was a section of land that people didn’t normally come to so I couldn’t blame any animals that would chance upon me if they reacted, after all I was encroaching on their territory!

After I discovered I was standing on an enormous anthill (both the ants and the hill were huge) I decided it was time to hitch a ride.  I crawled back under the fencing, still on the phone with my sister, and tried for a solid 15 minutes to get a ride.  Finally a man in a pickup truck stopped for me.  I hung up on my sister and ran to his truck, explaining the situation.  He agreed he could take me to the next highway intersection (since he said Sunflower has really nothing).  He chatted with me about the different types of cactus that I was seeing and told me about the jumping cactus, which I’d never heard about.  When we got to the intersection of the highways I got out, and he got out.  Immediately we both smelled something rotting.  He says to me, “I can’t leave you here, that dead animal will attract predators from all over, especially bears”.  UH. YEAH. NO.  TAKE ME WITH YOU.  I managed to get ahold of a warmshowers host in Mesa which was where he was heading.  On the way there he pointed out the Superstition Mountains as well.  I got to see an AMAZING sunset.

He dropped me off with Bill and Gerri in their little senior community and it was FANTASTIC.  They were the sweetest couple not to mention some hardcore cyclists.  We agreed that I would stay there the following day to relax, then make the last push of 50 miles or so to Trish and John’s home, Kerry’s aunt and uncle!!  I was so close!!  So the next morning Bill and Geri went for a bike ride with friends ”a short 50 miles or so”.  I went down to the pool and swam for a few hours.

Then I walked to the library a got a few books to read, then I went and showered and just relaxed in the air conditioning.  When they got back we had a little lunch and then went down to happy hour.  There was a band playing and Gerri and I tried to figure out why the drummer was wearing a black shirt in this heat and who she was married to in the band.

Gerri and I

That night I packed up all my belongings and went to bed early.  I had an early morning ahead of me and a long long day.  I HAD to make it to the Muir’s house.

Early Thursday morning I got up and departed.  And it was amazing. AMAZING.  Totally flat the entire way and for the most part I had a bike lane of my very own!!

My own lane!

The city of Mesa is pretty hardcore about their cyclists.  It was fantastic!!  I really loved seeing orange trees everywhere I looked!  And beautiful green trees with pink flowers on them.  I biked until 12:30 pm when I stopped for lunch.  I’d been biking on roads and along canals.  It was incredibly beautiful.

See the oranges?!

See the oranges?!

Shortly after lunch I got my first flat since Gallup.  The front tire blew out.  The sun was blasting down full heat.  I spied across the street from the canal I was on a house with a big tree.  The woman in the house was just happening to walk across the front yard so I called out asking if I could maybe change my tire in the shade of her tree.  She said sure so up I rolled.  Much to my amazement and joy she was having work done on her house so there was a pressurized air hose available to use!  My tire was changed in five minutes and I was off!  I was 4 miles away from Trish and John’s house when THE SAME TIRE blew out AGAIN!  I stopped, changed the tire but once it reached it’s air level it immediately deflated.  I was pissed.  I called Trish and she had John come scoop me up.  I felt so mad at myself for not being able to make it.  I knew it wasn’t my fault but I had been so determined that morning.  John told me it’s the cactus needles in the tires that makes it go out so repeatedly!  He said a local bike shop could put some stuff in my tires so they wouldn’t be penetrable by the cactus needles…and a lot of other things for that matter!  I got to their house and this was on the front door:

How sweet is that?

So I am officially in Phoenix!  I’ve been here for almost a week just basking in the sun, the pool, the fun and most importantly the love that Trish, John and their granddaughter Destiny and Trish’s brother Gar are giving.  And of course their dog Scruffy!  He takes a little to warm up but we’re officially friends. They make it very difficult for me to leave. ❤  We’ve had lots of adventures!  I went hiking with Destiny on Saturday (a VERY short hike), celebrated her 13th birthday with her, we went out to karaoke twice (you know that that’s my favorite!)

How I spent my entire first day relaxing =)

John and Trish at karaoke

Destiny and I at karaoke

SAM_3146 SAM_3151

 

 

Friday evening I got to see an old high school friend who I hadn’t seen in eight years…since high school!  We met up, walked around Target and had a beer in front of McDonalds…sounds good to me! It was really wonderful to reconnect and catch up on things.  I love when you see someone and the friendship is like no time has passed.  I also saw a sweater at Target with BICYCLES ALL OVER IT!

Eddie and I

Sunday we drove to the Grand Canyon and Sedona!!  Trish and John felt that I really should see it since I couldn’t go as I’d planned so we spent Sunday up there and it was IN.CRE.DIBLE.  It was just so beautiful.  The squirrels there are shameless.  There are really no words to describe the Grand Canyon, so here are a plethora of photos.

SAM_3155 SAM_3194

SAM_3179

This guy was just chillin there watching everything below him chirping happily. What a fatty.

 

YAY!

In my socks lol

On the way back from the Grand Canyon we drove through Sedona and it was just as beautiful!!  So much green everywhere, along with the red rocks and everything was just gorgeous.  It was amazing, magical and everything I had hoped for!  Little babbling brooks, people wading in the rivers and little new age shops everywhere!

Sedona overlook =)

The little brook

Trish and Destiny in the backyard of this crystal shop

Practically a postcard.

Just before Sedona we stopped at a canyon called Oak Creek Canyon (I…believe) where we took this photo:

I also bought a necklace made out of Blue Goldstone by a Navajo woman there.  I couldn’t walk away from it.  When I asked her what it meant she said it represents Tranformation, New Beginnings, Adventure, and Safety on Trips….CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT!?  Meant to be, honestly!

The picture doesn’t do it justice, it glitters in the sun so sparkly.

Today was Easter.  We enjoyed our last day together as I depart tomorrow to continue on my journey!  It’s supposed to be a high of 98 degrees!  EARLY MORNING FOR ME!

I’ll be honest with you all, getting from Gallup to Phoenix was, I felt one of my most successful stretches.  I did a lot of legwork and felt really accomplished because of it and while at times I felt defeated like the evening in the canyon when I hitched a ride, I knew that these were things I couldn’t control and were out of my power to change.  I felt my grandma with me when I saw that cactus, just as I felt her when I was at the Grand Canyon, those first few moments of seeing it.  Meeting a new friend on the road was a great experience (I just spoke to Spence tonight and he just flew back to Florida last night!!  Yay Congrats Spence!!)   My next stretch will be difficult, a LOT of mountains but I feel much better knowing my tires have that new rhinodillo material in them to keep them strong.  Which, actually, reminds me that I need to get new tubes in case I do get a flat.  I hope all of you are well and I will talk to you next time!!

I’ll leave you with this sign that’s behind every toilet at the Grand Canyon: