We woke to hear a strong wind whirling around our little cabin – causing instant concern. Then we looked at our phones and realised that – to our total astonishment – the strong Southwesterly wind would favour us. Cyclists know wind is 90% against them so this was a pleasant surprise.
We packed up – a now familiar routine – and were off by about 7.15am. We had now left Pacific Standard Time and entered Mountain Standard Time by crossing the Colorado River into Arizona. But all our terribly clever devices still thought we were in PST! They will correct in coming days (we hope).
The route took us onto the hard shoulder of the motorway, I10, which runs from Los Angeles to Phoenix. So the first part was like cycling on the hard shoulder of the M62 except the trucks here are much bigger and the RVs seem even larger. The problem is that there were no other roads over the pass and so it was the I10 or nothing. Not romantic, idyllic cycling (woosh another truck passes by with its draught pulling us all over the place) but needs must. The desert scenery was spectacular but it was difficult to concentrate on the subtle changes in rock colours when trying to stay as far to the far side of the shoulder as possible (but not falling into the briars waiting to cut legs and arms to pieces. The gradient was slight – another feature of US roads. It was between 0% and 2% for a climb of 1000 feet – so long and a bit tedious.
Finally we topped out and left I10, coming round the corner so see the hugely imposing Dome Rock. Here we saw our first collection of “boondockers”. This was not a word that I knew before today but “RV boondocking” is a “thing” here (with credit to Mayo and Kermode on the definition of a “thing”). It fact, RV boondocking is a major thing and we were entering the capital of RV boondocking. It means camping out in the boondocks with you RV – without power, water or any facilities. Power is provided by solar panels (or gasoline), water is purchased by the multiple galleons and people (usually pensioners) come here for the winter months to escape the snow in more northerly states. Hence those doing the boondocking are called “snowbirds”. A whole industry has grown up to service the needs of the RV boondockers and the major attraction of this area appears sand buggying.
One up from boondocking is to over-winter at an RV park in this part of Arizona. We must have passed 40 parks today – all with their plots laid out carefully. Being March, the parks are beginning to empty as people go home, only to return from about early November.
We even met one English couple from Cornwall who had their own RV here and overwintered in an RV park in order to be able to escape the rain in Cornwall and experience the delights of driving sand buggies around the desert.
It is not something that appeals to us to be honest. The people we met were lovely, relaxed and had made their own choices based on their own circumstances which we don’t know of course. Choosing to sit out the winter in the Arizona desert off-grid in an expensive RV is a mindset that we struggled to understand. However, they probably looked at us and struggled to understand why anyone would want to put themselves through the effort (and pain) of cycling day after day when you can see the same scenery from the comfort of the RV cab. Come to think of it, they have a point.
After the first pass we dropped down to the town of Quartzsite – the centre of boondocking support. It had been suggested to us by the camp host in Ehrenberg that we should check out the breakfasts at the Laundromat. We found a building that had “Laundromat” on the roof and also appeared to have a cafe. It turned out to be the largest laundromat we had ever seen – maybe 40 washing machines or more – and with a cafe attached so customers could have coffee and breakfast whilst the washing was being done. We had omelets which were adequate but did not quite live up to the billing.
The town was fascinating for a series of reasons. First, almost everyone was aged 50 to 80. This town serviced those living in their RVs who were, of course, of a certain age. Secondly, the market had the best spread of fresh fruit and vegetables we had seen since the supermarkets of San Diego. Seniors know what they like – and they like it fresh. Thirdly, there were gemstone shops a plenty. This was a market for rare stones recovered from the desert and the trade was thriving. Maybe that is one of the activities for the boondocking Seniors. Lastly, we were told, 75% of the people would be gone by the end of March and it would be a ghost town until November, just serving the occasional passing motorist off the I10. All gave us pause for thought as we ambled amongst the winter-time residents.
After Quartzsite, we rejoined the I10 and did another flatish climb up to 1400ft, and then flew down the other side until we thankfully left the I10 and joined state road 60. The road carried on descending and we sped along, with wind assistance. After a few miles we reached at town called Brenda, where we stopped for lunch at some picnic tables outside the post office. More RV parks here and temporary residents can sign up for a PO box to get their mail. So we had a series of conversations with people as they came to check for post – mostly friendly but gentle incredulity at cycling here at all, and with some conviction that the roads were too narrow for it to be safe. The roads are really wide by European standards but there is this feeling here that it is not safe (or proper) for bikes and cars to share the same tarmac. We have seen that when we have been unable to ride on the shoulder (because it is either non-existent or so broken up it is unrideable, and someone in a Jeep blasts his (and I suspect it is always a “him”) horn for us to get off his road. 98% of vehicles are great, including virtually all commercial drivers, but there are a few others! We reassured the worried grandmas that the roads were as safe as anywhere and far safer than cycling in London (true but not saying much to be honest).
Having left one female named town, we set out for the final leg to another female named town, Salome. For those who cannot recall their bible stories, Salome danced and persuaded an entranced ruler to reward her with John the Baptist’s head on a plate (duly severed). Not a great role model for decision making by either men or women to be honest but there you go – that is what the town is called – subtitled “the place she danced”!
It was another climb, this time up to 1900ft and we finally made it. An indifferent but friendly motel – only marginally more than an overpriced tent space at an RV park – and Bernie cooked up a lovely supper.
More stunning desert scenery all today but our abiding memories of today are about trying to understand the transient snowbird population that come to this desert wilderness to escape the snow.