Day 10 – Congress to Sedona
“No, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath… We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?”
~ Donald Miller – Through Painted Deserts
Today is my last full day of riding by myself. Tomorrow is a rest day in Sedona with my friend Dale, then the following day I meet up at some point with my friend Dave to complete the ride back to Colorado. My days of solitude on this trip are over after today.
I expected to enjoy the solitude, but I’ve frankly enjoyed it more than I’d anticipated. The desert amplifies and highlights solitude. The simplicity and solitude I’ve found riding across these deserts has moved me in a way that’s beyond my expectations. I’ve found a peace inside myself that’s a little deeper than the already wonderful peace I knew.
How does the desert do this? I’ve always enjoyed time on my own. In solitude I’ve been able to discover the things within me and about me that make me what I am today. Time alone has always wrapped my mind and my soul in a way that opens me up to myself.
But this time alone through the desert has been teaching me a new dimension to solitude. It started the morning I rode out of Twentynine Palms to cross the Mojave, and I stopped after 20 miles or so to take in water and food. Leaning against my bike with the low morning sun on my shoulder, I felt something around me that needed my attention. As I delved toward this thing in my mind, I realized that the thing that needed my attention was the silence around me.
I could see for tens of miles in most directions. Even when the land was rising in one direction or the other, it rose in a way and with a constancy that accentuated the immensity of the openness around me. The silence, together with this vastness, was stunning.
I’d started to see bits of this on previous days of riding as I was moving into the Mojave, but that moment east of Twentynine Palms was the first time I put my finger on the sensation. It was truly overwhelming.
The new dimension this vast silence added to solitude was externalization. I think most solitude has allowed me introspection in the past. It has wrapped me up in the inescapable arms of self-ness, and has helped me learn and see more internally.
The solitude I’ve been discovering and experiencing in the desert is a different thing. The arms of awareness that wrap themselves around me are much larger, and they wrap themselves around both me and the vast silence that surrounds me. In this way, I’m not alone with myself, I’m alone with the desert around me.
I’m swallowed by the desert around me. The arms of solitude pull the desert through me and me through the desert. Is it introspection still, or is it something different? Maybe extrospection?
It’s an awareness of myself in a large context. It’s learning about myself in a wider classroom. I’m a piece of a powerful wilderness around me, a wilderness that’s merciless in its deadliness and profound in its beauty at the same time.
It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.
I’m aware of this at some level as I listen to the sweet sound of my well-oiled chain bounce off the buildings in Congress as I roll out of town. The eastern horizon shows early light. As with nearly every morning, I reflect again on how much I enjoy this hour of the day, this sweetest moment of the day, when it’s just me and the wonder of the world around me.
I calorie-up at a little c-store at the edge of town where highway 71 ends at highway 89, then ride northeast on highway 89. The first 5 miles or so is open and big, allowing me to enjoy the glory of the growing light around me. Traffic is pretty light as I climb the gentle grade, and I can see that in front of me is some more serious climbing. By the time I hit the steeper grade, I’m warmed up and ready for the work. The highway up this grade is fantastic for the cyclist – it’s two traffic lanes in my direction, with a decent shoulder.
As the sun breaks the horizon and begins to warm the desert around me, I’m glad I’m making this climb in the cool of the morning. It’s a beautiful climb, and I wonder if there must be some times when the road is pretty busy to justify all the empty and well-maintained road around me. I’m delighted to have it!
Cresting the climb, I ride down through the little town of Yarnell, where I contemplate breakfast, but decide to wait. I stop at a little c-store in Peeples Valley, and would probably eat breakfast here if a place presents itself , but that doesn’t happen. I’m not worried – Prescott can’t be that far up the road…
In my mind, the climb I’ve just made has put me up on a plateau, and the ride from here to Prescott will be pretty flat. I’m thinking I’ll just have a late breakfast in Prescott. The wind is down, so really, it should be an easy ride…
Things turn out a little bit differently. From Peeples Valley to Wilhoit I drop down for just a bit, the start climbing again, though at a gentle rate. By the time I reach Wilhoit and see climbing continuing in my future, the wind has picked up and is pounding across me from the right. I see no evidence of a real diner, but know I need to stop and fill water bottles. There’s a little grocery on the right as I come into town, so I stop here and pick up an armful of food and some liquid.
Outside, a group of guys are sittin’ at a picnic table in the shade. They’re guys my age and older, and I figure they’re probably retired. I wander over and ask if I can join them while I eat my armload of food, and they seem eager for some new blood at their table.
I know a lot of cyclists stay pretty aloof from the people around them as they cycle. All the spandex and crazy jerseys we wear make us look different than anyone else on the planet, and we reinforce that by what we wear. I’m able to turn off self-consciousness in most cases, (it’s a blessing.. and a curse… as Mr Monk would say), and just ignore what I might look like. So in this case, walking up to a bunch of normal looking guys sittin’ round a table in the shade in a rural setting is something most cyclists would avoid, and these guys might even be a little in shock by this spandex-clad thing with an armload of food walking over to them.
Either way, we sit and chat for quite a while. I enjoy the conversation, and learn quite a bit about these guys. Generally, they’re retired or trying to retire, and I get the impression they live in trailers close by. (That ultimate of redneck cabins, the Double Wide…) I ask about the road that lays ahead of me, and am pretty amazed at the different stories I get. Seems few of them have ever driven the road I’ll be on today, but one old fella talks a lot about these big climbs and valleys and more climbs. I figure he must be wrong – that’s just not how I’m picturing the road in front of me.
While I know I should head down the road, I’m really enjoying this time chattin’ with these guys. After 30 or 45 minutes, the conflab breaks up, and we shake hands and head our separate ways. They’ve got stuff to do, and I’ve got a little riding in front of me. Surely, once I climb this little bit over to Prescott, then I’ll be done with the climbing for the day, and can enjoy a nice gentle slope down into Sedona. Surely the one guy is confused about all that climbing between here and there…
After a few miles of climbing, it’s a nice descent down into Prescott. The mountains I’m in are very similar to home in Colorado, and they feel very comfortable to me. It’s much cooler than it’s been. Much, much cooler. I’m really enjoying the day.
I stop in Prescott at a little bike shop called Ironclad Bicycles, and get a new chain put on. I’m a little nervous about not having a spare chain with me, so by having this new one put on, I have them give me a couple chunks of the old one and several pins, and feel much more secure about the remote possibility of a chain breaking. The guys at the shop are super friendly and super helpful, and we chat about touring as they get my bike done pretty quickly. I ask them about the ride over to Sedona, and their directions are pretty involved. The one thing that stands out is that they’re telling me I have another pass to cross, and that the territory between here and there is always brutally windy.
Hmmm. Maybe the old guy in Wilhoit knew more than I gave him credit for… Still, it’s probably not as windy or steep as the guy is making out…
This is a funny little oddness to the way my brain works. I get a picture in my mind of the way things are, and I’m very slow to give that picture up – even in the face of strong contrary evidence. Especially when I like the picture I’ve got in my mind! This morning, I started out with a picture of the ride in my mind. I have lots of first-hand evidence from folks who live here and drive and ride these roads that the picture in my mind is wrong. Yet, I’m hangin’ on to this picture…
I don’t think it’s just me. I think this is a tendency of the human mind. As the dawn of modern thinking was breaking across the middle ages, the Church was convinced that it had an accurate picture of the universe in it’s collective mind. There was this firmament above and this firmament below, and the waters above and the waters below, and that’s the way the universe was constructed. Galileo and others came along with this crazy science and mounting evidence that maybe things were built differently than we’d been assuming. Rather than think through this new evidence, the Church found it much easier to simply threaten to turn Galileo over to their famed inquisitors, at which point Galileo wisely chose to recant his heretical notions.
Of course, since my own traditions come from that very same church, I choose it to pick on. But religions throughout history have been really good at this – hang on to old constructs at all costs. Resist new ideas. Resist any challenge to the accuracy of the picture they’ve got painted in their minds.
It shows up every day in our political landscape. Our economy is probably the most obvious place, but we could choose many examples. Economics is pretty simple really. You stay solvent by taking in as much (or more) money than you spend. Yet, we’d like to think we can have the wonderful modernity around us and not have to pay for it. Politicians in the 80’s began to foster and feed this vision, promising they could reduce the taxes we paid but still maintain the modernity we enjoy. We loved it, and collectively turned our back as those politicians stole our Social Security trust fund blind and ran up a crippling debt. We now either have to pay the bills these yahoos have run up, or tell the world we’re just freeloaders. We either pay back the trust funds we stole from, or let our parents and grandparents fend for themselves after promising for generations to take care of them.
Pick any issue, though, and I think we’ll see that there is a “standard narrative” that paints a picture the way we want to see it, and there’s a body of objective evidence that should make us question the standard narrative.
I call myself “conservative”, and I guess this is how we should apply that word. If we boiled down the difference between the conservative mindset and the progressive mindset, it really comes to this, doesn’t it? My conservative mindset wants to “conserve” the shape of things I have in my mind, while the progressive mindset wants to look forward and “progress” to some new shape of things.
Not that one is right and one is wrong – a nice balance of the two mindsets probably creates the most reasonable and livable world. If the world were run exclusively by the progressive mindset, we’d fly headlong into every new notion that came along, and lose the wonder and wisdom of tradition and stability. If the world were run exclusively by the conservative mindset, we’d find ourselves devolving rapidly toward another “dark ages” where we cling to old visions and pictures that simply don’t work any longer.
What is conservatism? Is it not the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried? ~Abraham Lincoln
A conservative is one who admires radicals centuries after they’re dead. ~Leo Rosten
Conservative, n: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal who wishes to replace them with others. ~Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
As I sit at a diner in downtown Prescott, I begin mentally to prepare myself for the possibility that I’ve got tougher riding in front of me than I’d imagined. Prescott is an interesting little town that does a good job of preserving a flavor of the old west, and I enjoy the feeling downtown.
Riding out of town, I’m a bit confused by the difference between what the signs say, and what I’ve programmed into my GPS as a route. I choose to follow the GPS, so have several miles of nasty traffic before turning off on Robert Road, which my GPS says is the route I should take. When I stop and ask for confirmation of my route at a gas station, I find out that lots of cyclists follow this route, so I must be OK, though this is apparently not a particularly safe area, judging by the bars on all the windows and doors…
After connecting again with highway 89A, the description the guys at the bike shop gave me start to make sense. And indeed, the wind is brutal across a long gentle rise that leads to a climb that steepens as I go. I’d guess the total climb up to Mingus Pass to be something between 5 and 10 miles, and it’s really quite pretty. It’s hot, and I stop a couple times to take in water during the ascent. I remember the guys at the bike shop said the descent was long and steep, so I’m looking forward to a little reward after the climb.
If you’re making this ride, be sure and plan to find safe places to stop just after you crest the top to admire the view out across the broad plain to the northeast – it’s truly stunning. As for enjoyment of the ride down, that’s pretty much out of the question, as the road surface is not good, the road is narrow, and it’s quite steep. I’m on the brakes for so long that at one point I actually take a break and pull over to the side just to rest from the braking. I’ve never had to do that before, because I’ve never been on a descent like this where there’s simply no section of road where you can let go of the brakes and ride for a while.
Eventually, I come to the little town of Jerome. Coming down into town from the top, it reminds me a lot of riding in the mountains of Italy, the way the buildings and homes are built into the mountainside as you switchback around them on the narrow street. I have an immediate, strong, and pleasant memory of a long ride my son Ian and I took one day in northern Italy, as the town reminds me a lot of a town we rode through that day.
Jerome would be a great place to stop and rest, maybe have lunch. It would, in fact, be a great place to plan on stopping for the night. It’s an old mining town that they’ve done a great job of restoring into a quaint little touristy place. I’ve been out of water since the top of Mingus Pass, and I’m a little worried about where my next place to get water might be, but a lady on the sidewalk assures me there’s a gas station a couple miles down the road, so I keep going. From Jerome it’s a wonderful glide on good road down to Clarkdale, where a gas station awaits. I drink a tremendous amount of water, and fill my bottles, before continuing on the road down into Cottonwood.
At Cottonwood, the elevation hits another low point, and I start a climb for the last 20 miles to Sedona. While I gain about a thousand feet, I have a wonderful tailwind, so it feels like flat ground or better. I’m over 100 miles now for the day, and the temperature is up over 100 for these last many miles. I’m really tired and worn-out, and ready for the day to be over. But of course, the closer I get to Sedona, the more spectacular the scenery in front of me becomes, so I stop often to take pictures.
I arrive bone weary at my friend’s doorstep in Sedona 13 hours after starting my day 110 miles or so back down the road in Congress. After a shower and lots of liquid, I’m feelin’ great and Dale and I have a wonderful supper together, in preparation for a day of rest tomorrow. The day’s been long and hot, with way more climbing than I expected, but I’m delighted to see Dale, and looking forward to time together tomorrow.