Doing nothing

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I decided to stay over in Williams and take a real day of rest – not walking around for hours, neither riding a mere 30kms just to go to a movie theater. Both of which can’t be done here anyway πŸ™‚

Actually, there are certainly nice tracks in the Kaibab forest around town to stroll around and even have a picnic. The surroundings look very pleasant. As for walking around in the city, the main street can be paced back and forth in 15 or 20 minutes. The contrast with Seligman is striking, it is a real, living city center with lots of active shops and restaurants.

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So I was left with a full day of doing nothing, an insurmountable challenge for me. I can’t stand around doing nothing, or sitting or lying. More often than not, I do several things at once : watching a movie, checking the web, eating something, etc. Many usual activities denied here. If I end up doing nothing I always become stressed and tense, unable to simply appreciate the present moment. I’ll have to confront it during the course of the trip.

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Over this day, I was able to occupy myself. Eating is very easy, and that was a needed change in my regimen. Yesterday evening I finally had a first real American steak, complete with mashed potato and corn : it was excellent, and a stark contrast to the usual fast food / salad. Of course the price was also a noticeable contrast ! I continued indulging today in pancakes, tacos and chicken.

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I also visited the multitude of souvenir shops on the street. I fail to report how many variations of the Route 66 badge can be bought. Just as so for variations on shirts. Many items smell “made in China” a lot along the memorabilia. There is also a number of Native American trinkets, all with certificates of origin. Many of them are attractive, original or beautiful. However, I’m a tourist who can’t buy anything that needs to be carried over : a loss for the local community. I like their pottery a lot, and some of the dreamcatchers too. Sadly most shops forbid pictures.

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Kokopelli, the sacred dancing figure

Eating, non-shopping (except for food actually), reading, and trying to plan ahead constituted my whole schedule. On this last point, I was unable to efficiently spread the 300kms/180mis to Page in more than 3 days. That will make for long rides – but I will ride alongside the Grand Canyon ! Page will be my last stop in Arizona before crossing over to Utah. I will not take the proposed route on the map, in order to stay closer to civilization a bit more.

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Williams

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Another day, and the last, on Route 66. Another very very slow day, even slower than yesterday. But I finally arrived at Williams, where I will turn north towards the Grand Canyon.

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It was the first day with a complete overcast, and even a somewhat chilly temperature : barely 20C/66F. But that also meant no heat, and no aggressive sun (though I still managed to get small sunburns). But anyway I left early.

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The road from Seligman to Williams is for the first half on the old Route 66, up and down on small hills on a large plain, and, after Ash Fork, joined with I40, and a steady rise to the foot of the Bixler moutain. At this point the forest starts to appear again, which was a welcome change of scenery from the desert.

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So I started early, and was not going too fast. But the road was more or less going up, and I went through a pass right before a nice ride down to the interstate, a few miles before Ash Fork. I saw my first prairie dog and a few rabbits, as well as a squirrel (perhaps the first one since California, at least not in a roadkill status). On the highway, one of the trucks passing me was in the final process of a blowing wheel : the driver stopped to see the damage and went on, I saw him again at the gas station by Ash Fork. Business as usual now. I did a real stop there, a full ten minutes for which I’m not accustomed. But I was getting tired already.

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And the second half was a real pain : I walked half of the way to Williams, so that my average speed is abysmal in the end. It took me four hours to ride a short distance. Sure it was going up, sometimes sharply, sure the infamous headwind was back, as expected, but I couldn’t get myself to attack the simplest slopes. Either the mind, or the body, was failing. Either way the mind was unable to push the body further. I wasn’t too worried about the average speed, I knew uphills were part of the menu today, but I’m more worried about the coming days. There will be less and less occasions to do short rides.

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I thought maybe I should do more days of rest – but I had a forced one at Kingman three days ago, and another one in Vegas a week ago (even if I’ve been walking 4 hours along the Strip). Maybe it’s the accumulated fatigue – I’m closing in onto 2000kms in less than a month. I’m thinking also I might not eat enough, and have few reserves left (I’ve lost quite a few pounds). I don’t feel hungry in general, but I should eat more than a burger or a salad. That’s easy enough to correct, if that’s the source of the energy I’m missing. I’m drinking too much coke, which is short term energy only. It’s great at the end of a ride, but useless for the next day. I might also miss some willpower after a tough week : long rides in the desert, mechanical issues, heat…

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I was pondering all that while walking up to my destination, and the sun finally broke the clouds when I entered Williams. The city is small but very active, as you have to go through to go north to the Canyon. Lots of shops for Indian stuff or Route 66 memorabilia, lots of restaurants, lots of motels… A true tourist city !

As I’m about halfway through this state, and to regain some spirits, I awarded myself the Arizona flag ! With its shining star, it could be a good alternative for a North Korea type of regime πŸ™‚ I don’t think I’m gonna get any discount in the state now !
Oh and I finished the map I did to join LA to the next map from the adventure cycling association – another map down, and a long one at 880kms/550mis. Took me almost two weeks.

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Seligman

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I did a small ride today, still along Route 66, but a very slow one. That was the slowest day since the start, actually. The main excuse would be the headwind on most of the way.

I started at about 8am, leaving the Hualapai lodge, the only and quite expensive motel in Peach Springs, but one of very good quality. I was even offered my dinner yesterday evening – I had a simple meal of a soup and a milkshake.

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The first part of the trip was a climb up the plateau that would be the rest of the journey. As I learned in Lompoc, starting with a difficulty is not very good and breaks the spirit.

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The plateau itself is really nice with a lot of small trees, and, in the distance on the left, the first hints of the great canyon gorges. The road goes almost straight to them, so that I was getting slowly, oh so slowly, ever closer to them.

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Slowly as, after about the first half, a relatively strong headwind countered my progress. The wind is really the most depressing force when riding a bike. You lose a lot of speed, and even so to the cost of a lot of efforts. In a straight line no apparent progress is made. Heat is easy to circumvent, by leaving earlier, but wind is too erratic to take into account. I downloaded an app with detailed wind forecast, but it’s mostly aimed at seafarers, of course. Being forced to stop to rest every couple of miles was bringing me down.

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Along this disheartening part of the trip, where once again I was feeling my resolve melting, I came across the first cyclist since Los Angeles (although I saw one going the other way by Boulder City). Steven had been on the road for a couple of years now, after he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given 18 months to live. He has been touring the country ever since, working to get money to push further. He didn’t carry a lot of water but it was ice cold in an isotherm bottle.

After a while I arrived at Seligman, which in all appearance, save for the 10 motels along the road, seems to be just as small as Peach Springs. I won’t get to see much bigger cities for some time, though Cedar City should be quite large with more than 20k people.

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Oh a bit of trivia on Seligman : the town is the basis for Pixar’s Cars, as the traffic almost disappeared when the interstate was opened. The pictures I take from streets and such don’t give a good view of a place, be it Seligman or elsewhere. Many shops are closed, many houses abandoned, there isn’t much left and cats roam the streets. But under my powerful gaze they are forced to drop to the floor.

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Peach Springs

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Yes ! I was able to go back on the road today, and do a complete trip to the very small Hualapai tribe town of Peach Springs on Route 66. It was very hot (up to 36C/97F), but it was that or another day in Kingman.

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Just a bit after 8am I was at the Bicycle World shop in north Kingman, and in an hour everything and more was fixed ! The bent axle was straightened, with added fender washers (small metallic disks) to spread the weight of the trailer, as it had damaged the bike and that was going to get worse. All tubes have been replaced by ultra-thick, self sealing tubes, with an added liner, an anti-puncturation plastic band that goes inside the wheel. My rear view mirror was fixed (it had been broken a week ago when the bike crashed again to the ground). And a complete check on the bike chain, brakes and handle has been done. With everything done so fast, I knew I had a chance at leaving today – I was back at the motel just before 10am.

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When I left Kingman I was extatic ! I did 13mi/20kms in half an hour ! I knew of course that I was going to ride in the heat of early afternoon, but I was set to go !

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Route 66 aimed straight for the range of mountains in the north-east, slalomed between them and joined a large plain with bumps until Peach Springs. The views are once again breathtaking. I also enjoyed the carrion crows circling me from time to time πŸ™‚ Or maybe they were just the local huge crows.

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Oh and I was able to experience why there is so much crap on the roads. After I left Kingman I was passed by a sort of pickup with a trailer and a small metallic structure inside. I noticed it because it was making a lot of noise, probably the structure was not strapped very well. An hour and 20kms later, I saw a lot of wheel bits on the road, when they usually are on the shoulders where I have to avoid them. A couple hundred meters later was said trailer, left on the side of the road, with a blown up wheel. So it does happen : wheels explode just like that.

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At the exact middle of the trail, I stopped at a mini mart, with a bus of retirees, whom after a minute I discovered to be French. I didn’t engage with them however, and they didn’t either. Typical me.

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I stopped and walked most slopes up, as the heat was going up fast, and I didn’t want to pass out of exhaustion. I drank two liters of a reasonably hot water (at room temperature) and was spared hallucinations mostly. A light breeze here and there, and a few clouds helped alleviate the pressure of the sun and the heat. Still, in the last long line, I started counting down the miles again. I wouldn’t have lasted much longer.

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Tomorrow I’ll start much earlier, at the usual 7 or 8am.

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Memorial Day

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Well for the first time since I started three weeks ago I stayed in the same place. There are two bike shops here that could help, but this Monday was Memorial Day and they were both closed. So I was left with waiting until tomorrow.

I realized that while waiting at the first bike shop early this morning. This federal holiday was today and not yesterday. So I went back to the motel – a mere 10mi/16kms trip for another super-extended city. Kingman hosts less than 40k people all in all, but on a territory larger than Paris (the actual Paris without the metropolitan area of course). Must be a nightmare for all utilities (water, power, sewers…).

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As Kingman styles itself the heart of Route 66, and I’ve been using for a few days and a few left ahead, let this note talk about it πŸ™‚

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I realized before departing that everyone knows this road, but few know why. It’s more a myth than history : the conquest of the west, the adventure, the American spirit…

It’s one of the first established highways in the US, in 1926, and could be considered the first road to cross the country (the railroad had done that much earlier, 60 years before). Almost, as it connected Chicago to Los Angeles, so not quite exactly the east coast. It has been used a lot during the Great Depression for people to move west. However, it has mostly disappeared now, covered by more recent highways.

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I’m going to use it again until Williams, where I will turn north for the Grand Canyon, and then cross it again somewhere in Missouri.

Next episode tomorrow morning – I doubt everything will be fixed so that I can depart before another day though. As long as I have books to read I should be ok πŸ™‚

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Kingman

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Today’s ride was tense. My bike was quickly turning into the raft of the Medusa, and I had to get back to civilization fast ! Fortunately I did more than half the way to Kingman yesterday and got there without any other issue – or so I thought.

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Still, I was watching the distance left more often than usual, counting down into 30 miles, 40 kilometers, etc, then into the 20s, 10s, until I was in Kingman. The road itself was not especially impressive : I was in a big plain surrounded by far away moutains, and was aiming the whole time for a pass between them, on an almost perfectly straight road.

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I stopped a few times along the way, as the tension was being transferred on my back, and then on my bum. At one of these stops, a car stopped behind me, and a lady named Melanie engaged conversation, and offered a tshirt of her making πŸ™‚

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Getting closer to the city, the road swerved left and got into a moutain range, up then down, and that was it. Kingman looked pretty dull, and mostly empty, as it was almost noon. But I got farther, into the newer part of the city.

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At this point I noticed that the bent axle was getting loose ! I don’t imagine it *could* get away while I was riding, but I don’t want to find out and lose a wheel because of a bump on a fast downhill. And when I stopped for the day, what else did I find ? The trailer wheel was flat again ! Twice in a row ! Three flat wheels in five days. And the culprit was either a very thin nail, or another bit of staple. It’s apparently useless to avoid the larger items on the road.

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There are two bike shops around here, however closed on Sundays. I’m going to have everything fixed, have the anti-puncture band that goes between the wheel and the tube added and do a full check before moving further. I never thought I would have so many technical issues in the entire trip, what with a brand new bike and trailer. And I did only a quarter of the total – hey still, it’s another achievement, 1000 miles πŸ™‚

While I was trying to sleep I got thinking into this bent axle, and I’m a bit suspicious on the link between a flat wheel and such a problem. It could have worsened it for sure, but I remember having some difficulties setting up and removing the trailer for some time. It could be due to the bumpy road before Baker, some misuse on my part, or my bike balance. It’s totally unstable, with the front fork turning left or right on its own for any reason. If left against a wall, it will crash to the floor. It did so quite a few times with the trailer attached, which could have put some pressure on the axle. I’ll check with Bob, the company that makes this trailer, what could be the reason.

I’m grateful that these are only technical matters though. Apart from minor scratches and a few sunburns, I’m in good shape. I also got a morale boost buying some Jack Vance books on the Kindle – and remembered he died a year ago today. This evening I’m gonna drown in chocolate, Lyonesse, and no GoT episode :p We won’t see the guy win or lose against the other guy. Another week to wait and then planning a stop in a motel with hbo ! Probably in Page then, end of the Arizona leg.

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Jack Vance, my favorite fantasy writer

Somewhere in Arizona

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Another day of adventure ! Although mostly technical ones. I left Nevada and entered Arizona. For the first time in the trip, I didn’t have a clear stop planned ahead – and it’s very unusual for me.

After Las Vegas, the next big stop would be Kingman. I thought maybe I would stop at Boulder City, but it’s very close to Las Vegas (25mis/40kms), and that would mean 75mis/120kms left for Kingman. Quite a long stretch, with nothing in between. I could do a camping stop in the wild, but then why stop at Boulder ? I could do the stretch in two days to reach Kingman, stopping… somewhere.

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So I departed with this idea in mind, doing half the way today, and the rest tomorrow. I’m clearly not used to so little organization, but it’s a challenge I have to meet πŸ™‚

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Leaving Nevada was much easier than leaving California. It’s only when I started leaving Las Vegas than I saw some ill-defined bike lanes, and after Boulder it’s a long way down to the bridge that crosses into Arizona. No one to try to retain me a minute longer. I couldn’t see the Hoover Dam from the bridge, but the view on the lake Mead was impressive.

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And then, Arizona ! The Grand Canyon state, with mesas and moutains immediately. A total departure of scenery once more, and a desolate place all along road 93. I walked up a few slopes, the sun was not too aggressive, and I was making good progress. I stopped at a view point to see the Colorado river (which is responsible for the Grand Canyon) in the distance.

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Going back on the road, I noticed a sound from the back of the trailer, like plastic rubbing against the wheel. There was nothing, so I continued. But the sound grew more intense, so I looked closer. Flat wheel again ! On the trailer wheel this time. I really got to get out of the highway shoulders, there is too much crap left around : nails, screws, glass of course, a lot of wheels bits and pieces, cables, bottles… Do people just throw away all that ? Oh and quite a few places where a car burnt – I got used to seeing such traces in the east of Paris. Do they burn cars instead of towing them ?

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So, flat wheel. I had a spare tube for this wheel, that I’d never thought I would use during the trip. But I was close to the point where I would stop, there was no place with a shadow around to do the replacement, and as I’m stupidly stubborn, I thought it could wait.

So I did another 13mis/20kms with the trailer wheel flat. I saw a sign for gas/market and even a RV campground a bit further ! I pressed on.

I finally reached a restaurant / shooting range, where I was told the campground was closed – damn ! I started replacing the wheel tube, when I understood that I should have done that much earlier : the bike rear axle, the one that was going loose a couple weeks ago, had been bent on one side ! It was complicated to simply take the trailer off, tighten it back, and hope it would wait for a bike shop ! It needs to be unbent or replaced, but that’s not a standard part – and neither is the tube itself, being very small. Got to hope there is even a bike shop in Kingman ! If it breaks, I’m in deep trouble.

When I was groaning over all this, a bus with Chinese tourists stopped at the shooting range, and I was the attraction once again πŸ™‚

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With everything back in place, all 4 water bottles refilled, remained only the question of where to stay. There was an abandoned building on the other side of the road, and a guy from the shop told me I could jump the fence, as it belonged to the same guy owning the shooting range, and it had been closed years ago. So I did just that – not totally wild camping, but very close !

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Las Vegas : the Strip

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Today I only moved a couple miles east, mostly to avoid staying in the same place twice, and also to get closer to the Strip, the 3mi/5kms of boulevard that IS Vegas. All the casinos are here (but one, I think).

Having little to do in the morning I’ve waited about noon to have lunch and then move. I wanted to try the In’n’Out burger that was totally packed yesterday evening. They offer only three burgers : plain, cheese and double. It was still packed for lunch. The fries were great but the burger quite basic. Anyway, I want to try all brands while I’m here πŸ™‚

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I went for a walk along the Strip and back in the afternoon, and again at night, to see the lights and play a bit of blackjack.

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This place is totally surreal. It is probably capitalistic chaos at its best. “As long as it sells” is the only motto here : everything is entertainment. Of course there are the casinos & hotels, each of which has its own block and theme : medieval, Paris, Venice, egyptian, treasure island… With the theme comes the shape & color of the building, where the only constraint is to get you to the gambling level. They each have their own shopping center of course, with luxury shops mostly (no convenience store), plus movie theaters, restaurants, fast foods, tourists shops… And it continues in the streets themselves, with people in disguise, and others handing out call girls cards every 10m. “Girls direct to your room!” You can’t be more specific than that.

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And all of it is a joyous mess, without any logic : a huge building is followed by a string of one-level mini shops, then another huge hotel. The sidewalk can be extremely large, and then completely disappear. You cross the streets with the usual crossings, or you must enter a building, take the escalators and use a bridge over the traffic.

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After a couple hours, and at night, this surreal feeling melts away : it is all a big show aimed at attracting money by any means. Overall after one day here I ache to go back to a more natural environment πŸ™‚

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What about the blackjack ? Well my 60 bucks disappeared presto πŸ™‚ I didn’t get rich tonight πŸ™‚

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Las Vegas

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Short ride from Primm to Vegas, but not so easy psychologically. Long, straight roads with no one in sight, average speed makes for a lot of time to think and mull. And then Vegas, another strange city.

A long night of sleep helped me get back on the road. Back in the I15 for exactly 20kms/13mi to Jean, then a backside road to Vegas. After the great ride to Baker, I was thinking maybe I could skip one day and go to Vegas directly – but experience proved otherwise. So there was only 60kms/38mis left, a three hours ride.

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But long and straight roads seem to take a toll on the mind : there is no clear objective, you don’t feel like moving forward, and there isn’t much around. Probably Kansas will prove even more difficult.

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For one long hour I was left alone in my thoughts, wondering what the hell I was doing here ? And the answer came back as a terrifying blank page, or perhaps a dark abyss that would be looking back at me. I think this is why we crave company, or the instant gratification machine that is internet, where you can evade the void. You don’t have to think about your life, its meaning and what you should do or should have done. When I come back with no answer for my presence in the middle of nowhere, I am left with the only option : to keep on going, which may also be a meaning for life, for want of a better one.

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This is also why I like to see hilltops or turns in the road : they appear as small steps forward. Up to now I can’t get around the rest of the trip, it’s way too big. I haven’t really done a quarter of it yet, and this one part is easy materially. I see Pueblo, after the Rockies, already as a great achievement. But that’s at least one month from now.

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Fortunately the road twists and turns again, and I begin to see the outskirts of Las Vegas. But then the desert is back, and then another part of the city, and again. This is really a strange place. Whole blocks (1 square mile each), or parts of blocks, are left empty. It’s like they don’t care about distance here either, but they don’t have enough people to populate it. All that’s left are shopping centers, a couple of miles apart, like in a bad Sim City layout.

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I’m in the middle of Las Vegas here

When I arrived, I had a few errands to run, notably finding another spare tube. I didn’t want to search for one hour for a sports shop like I did in LA, so I went directly to the nearest Sports Chalet. Distance : 10kms/6mis ! And of course, no straight street from here to there. But I indeed found everything I wanted, and had the chance to finally experience a Walmart ! Not as classy as Ralph’s or Target, but certainly bigger. I also awarded myself the Nevada flag πŸ™‚

I’m not sure I’ll go out tonight, as I’ll stay in central LV tomorrow as well. Then I will be back on the road to avoid the return of crushing heat.

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Primm – Nevada

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A ride in the desert – the hard version ! Today I finally quit California, even if she tried very hard to make me stay. It’s been a very tough ride, but I entered Nevada, with Primm and it’s three casinos right at the state line. I crashed in the first one.

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Greg warned me about it. There is a slope, going to Vegas, that is used for car testing. Well I saw it firsthand. It took me three hours to extract myself from the Baker dip. Yesterday when arriving (merrily and happily carried downhill with a tailwind), I barely noticed the way out. It’s indeed a very long, steady, uphill slope. I didn’t realize how much it was going up until I saw an “elevation 4000 feet” sign. That was more than 3000 feet / about 1km up over 20kms or so. A 4 or 5% grade, not so frightening, but I walked the last couple of miles as I was feeling all of my energy going down the drain (especially after my first short night on the trail, 4 hours instead of 8-9). Going so slow for so long is a test of the mind, much more than a physical one.

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Baker still in the distance

During this climb I was subject to the “everlasting hope” delusion, that the top you see is the end of the slope. Then you reach it, and it keeps on going. You see another top, and you feel like “ok this time this is the end”. But no. Still going up. 3000 feet up is three times the Big Sur, but on a much longer slope. That was the slowest day since the Big Sur (11mi/17km/h), right after the fastest one.

So I finally got Baker out of my sight, reached the top, and… What happens when you are at the top ? You see the next climb in the distance of course ! Apparently shorter, but still steep. The desert is supposed to be flat no ? It’s clearly not so around here, even if it keeps on being beautiful.

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Down and up again

I forced myself on enjoying the way down, and the views, and finally cracking the 13mi/20km/h speed I had never passed up to now. At the bottom of the slope, and exactly halfway to Primm was a rest area.

I was already feeling in a biblical revelation, where you have to suffer long before you can maybe get a small reward (a snickers from a vending machine), when an Asian lady came up to me and offered compliments, a grape and a banana. She was going to see her kids in Vegas. I almost expected her to say “Go forth and plant these seeds in the desert, and lo ! They shall nourish your people for forty generations.” πŸ™‚ For sure I was quite the attraction at the rest area – I haven’t seen a bike in a hundred miles.

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The next slope was a bit easier and shorter, still, the top, aptly named Mt Pass, was at 4730 feet, or around 1600m. Or exactly 1600m higher than I expected to ride in the desert. But sometimes it’s better not to know in advance.

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Mama likes to read that

The first signs calling for a 10 miles downgrade were a blessing. But after a few minutes, the bike started wobbling like crazy : flat tire ! Apparent culprit : a staple. I avoided a lot of crap on shoulders, way more than you would believe, and I got beat by a stupid staple. A testament to the durability of the tire material. Anyway, I had everything needed for a replacement of the tube, and was back on the road in half an hour or so.

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Of course now there was a strong headwind where a tailwind had been planned (but unseen) the whole day πŸ™‚ But I returned to the plain north of the Mojave Preserve, always beautiful when you’re not suffering uphill, and saw Primm like an oasis in the desert, as well as three huge solar panel fields.

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So I have an achievement of crossing a first state line, and a second one as I pooped in the desert πŸ˜€ Avoid DelTaco.

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