Today was the day when we should have been at Lucy and James’ wedding in England. Our children were there, many of our friends were there and we had them in our minds all day. The pictures sent to us by WhatsApp looked fabulous and it was clear a good time was had by all. So L & J – congratulations and apologies again to you (and to our great friends Alison and Steve) for missing your big day. We were there in spirit and wishing you well.
Instead of attending a wedding we really wanted to go to, we had by far our toughest day on this trip instead. Bad choices you may feel and you may be right. It rivals the day we had in the UK when we went from Macclesfield to Bradford in the UK – though this was probably a bit tougher.
Places are far apart here and there is lots of wonderful nothingness in-between. The places we could stay (including camping with water) were separated by many miles – and we knew this was a second 70+ mile day – after 76 miles yesterday – as there was nowhere between Duncan (40 miles) and Lordsberg (75 miles)..
We had read the forecast the night before and knew that it would be very, very different to yesterday for 3 reasons. First, and mainly, the wind had inconveniently turned 180 degrees around and instead of pushing us along (as it had yesterday), it would be against us all day with a steady 10mph and gusts of 18mph. Secondly, yesterday we finished up 1500 feet below where we started. Today we had a major climb, a descent and then a gradual climb ending up 1500 feet above where we began. Thirdly, this was a second long day in a row – no recovery time and so some measure of creeping tiredness was inevitable.
The day started really nicely. We were on the road before 7 and it was calm. The road out of Safford was quiet, no wind and was flat. Were the cycling Gods in our favour and the forecast would be proved wrong. We doubted it but dared to hope – dashed of course.
The road soon left the irrigated fields and went out into the wilderness. This is not a rich area – not subsistence farming but our impression is that there are very few jobs in farming these days and not a lot of other economic activity to drive a local economy. Land seems cheap, plots are large and there is not much reason to keep things looking good. So most yards had abandoned cars, rusting agricultural machinery or a variety of other discarded objects. It all left the feeling that there were lots of people left behind – many flying “Trump 2020” flags. That may seem harsh and we did see one Biden flag – but only one all day.
The road started climbing (as predicted) and the wind got up and was against us (as predicted). It made for slow progress but we gradually gained amazing views of the valley were climbing out of. We started at about 2900ft and topped out this climb at 4,400ft – not steep but we climbed against the wind for 27 miles. Traffic was light and there was no farming except, strangely, at the very top where there was a cattle farm. Maybe there is a water source there.
On the way up we stopped to examine a historical monument – put up in 1936 to two settlers who were said to have lost their lives in the 1850s “bringing law, order and stability” to the area. They were killed by Indians when they pursued the Apache after 45 of their horses had been stolen. I have no doubt that, if the plaque were erected today, the message would be very different and might reflect that there was order in the valley before the settlers arived – and in fact it was their disruption of the established order that had held sway in the area under the control of indigenous peoples that led to the conflict. The plaque may just have told us more about attitudes in 1936 than what happened in the 1850s.
We slogged on to the top with the wind more of a challenge than the slope, and then descended to the little town of Duncan. Here we had “breakfast” at a very traditional diner – cheese omelette, bacon, hash browns and coffee. By now it was midday and we took our time as we knew the next section was equally tough because the wind was due to increase.
Eventually we had our fill of coffee (endless refills is a US tradition we strongly support) and went back on the bikes after chatting to a couple of locals who were bemused, impressed and worried for us in equal measures. Bizarrely, we ended up talking about Shakespeare plays at the RSC because the elder man had taught English in High School but had never been to England or seen English actors in a Shakespeare play who were steeped in the language. Makes us realise how lucky we are to have Stratford as an accessible evening out at home.
The afternoon passed in a blur. We crossed into New Mexico and battled the wind every turn of the pedals – with us in an alternative reality as we counted down the miles. The road was straight and largely flat as far the mountains on all sides, and so the landscape was almost unchanging. I took most of the lead and Bernie had to concentrate to stay in my wind shadow – a two person peleton across the high altitude plains. This was real cowboy country – and we even saw cattle – but we were just focused on getting there. Eventually we arrived – about 6pm and collapsed.
Today was Lucy and James’ day and we offer them love and support and hope they have a long and happy life together. For us, it all felt a long way away from them but for us getting there was a minor achievement; but there was no time to celebrate because we were too tired.