Sharon Hawley

Sharon Hawley
Click on this map to open Michael Angerman's detailed map showing my current location. There, you can pan and zoom.. Thanks Michael

Monday, May 12, 2014

Rising from the Desert

West of Brawley and El Centro lies a windy sand-stinging desert.  It may not sting bare legs every day, but on Mother’s Day strong wind came from the north as I was riding west, driving sand into my right side.  I could not see the sun through clouds of sand.  Shown in the picture on the left, I saw something that might have been a mile away.  In the right picture its form began to materialize.  (Incidentally, you can click on any picture to make it bigger.) 

Its shape finally emerged, and its sign said “USG” which I later looked up as United States Gypsum, maker of drywall and joint compound.  I rested in the wind-shadow of its huge building.  

Ocotillo Motel
After USG, the road turned southwesterly, directing a component of the wind to my back.  Its speed picked up as streaks of blowing sand crossed the road and my legs at forty-five degrees.  It was a great pleasure see the little town I was striving for and to get inside the old Ocotillo Motel, which has terrible reviews on TripAdvisor.  I found it just fine and think some people simply want too much.  

I had a great hill to climb today if I wanted to get above the desert and into the hill country that would eventually bring an end to this adventure in El Cajon.  So I started early, and turned pedals to the turning of wind generators in early light.

The only way out is via I-8, up 3,000 feet, with cars and trucks.  I thought that odd building high on a hill in the left picture was interesting when zoomed in on the right.

I came to Jacumba on Historic Old Highway 80 and peered into Mexico, which in some places was just a few hundred feet away.  That dark line across the pictures is the border fence.  

Who knows the sophistication of the sensors that must be lurking that foreboding fence. They say we need to seal the border, but I can’t imagine anyone getting through this.  

I am in Boulevard tonight, and will ride to El Cajon tomorrow where the trip ends.  This may be the last posting on this blog.  I thank all of you who have followed and wish you good adventuring in whatever form you travel. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A True Oasis

Quartzsite, Arizona, twinkled behind me as I climbed away from it, up a small mountain, heading for California.  The town appeared no larger than a distant galaxy in the vastness of desert space.  Even farther from my tiny reality, starlight glowed from behind hills that are behind Quartzsite.  I remembered climbing them and then coasting into the town yesterday, but now those hills appear impossibly distant. 

It seemed too soon, like I haven’t suffered enough, but suddenly in a broad valley—the Colorado River appeared, and beyond it, California.  I felt close to home, but did not allow that feeling to cause a rush for the finish.  A great desert lies between me and home.

Once in California, the wide floodplain of the Colorado, watered by canals flowing from the River, is green with farms.  The brown rocky desert transformed abruptly by the presence of water.

The town of Blythe came quickly, center for farmers and for travelers on Interstate Ten.  There are no motels between here and Brawley, and the distance is too great for someone like me to ride in one day, especially in the headwind forecasted for the next few days.  Camping on the blazing desert would have been my lot, except for an unexpected pleasure.  

Alfalfa fields spread seemingly to the mountains, cared for by bees, which beekeepers house in white boxes along the roads.  The price for alfalfa hay is very high at this time; I see a lot of smiling farmer faces in the cafes.

A few miles past the dying town of Palo Verde, I turned off the highway onto a dirt road.  Loose sand under my tires was like the dusty tracks you see in western movies.  I pedaled to a small encampment of mobile homes and trailers, standing like an outpost on the otherwise uninhabited desert.  It was here that I met Nancy Mercury.

I was telling my story to a man in a cafĂ© several days ago, bemoaning the day when I would camp on the sand.  He said he has a friend who prefers isolation and solitude, and that she lives near my route, not far from the Colorado River.  When I called, she invited a stranger to stay with her.  Almost as soon as I arrived, she put me in her car and drove a few miles of dusty road to the River, where we relaxed and swam and ate watermelon.

I learned not to talk to her while she drew with pencil a rendering of a bush across the bay.  And later in her mobile home, I saw the walls lined with her art in oil, water color, and pencil.

I slept well that night after vegetarian salad and eggs direct from the chickens.

I got up early as always, and Nancy was up in the dark to make coffee and to see me off.  Good people are still around in this world. 

The ride seemed a little less windy than it was, and the shoulderless road, with its blind hilltops and blind curves, felt a little less dangerous after Nancy.

And maybe I stopped to picture these tiny desert blooms that I might not have noticed without her generosity.

It was a hard climb and a ride of concentration on safety to Glamis, the only store before Brawley.  After the little pit stop for dune buggy enthusiasts, came the plantless hills of sand, driven by wind.  With sand in my mouth, shoes and hair, the stark beauty of dunes will lodge in my mind next to Nancy Mercury as a pleasure worth working for.  

I am writing this from Brawley.  You can see where it is and better visualize the places I have mentioned with Michael Angerman’s map.  Access it by clicking the map at the top of this blog.  It shows each place I have stayed on this long ride, all the way from Daytona Beach, Florida.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Just One More Desert

Sheffler’s Motel in Salome, Arizona

Even a venture as varied and as fraught with complications as this one, has fallen to routine, at least in the mornings.  I rise at 4:30 and begin riding at 5:15, just as the sky has lightened enough to see without a headlight.  So it was that I left Sheffler’s Motel in Salome this morning while the wind was calm.  It would rise later in the day, but this way I rode for two hours without wind.  

Harcuvar, Arizona
Harcuvar, Arizona

Before the sun rose, I saw lights in the distance and soon rolled into the village of Harcuvar, not expecting anything to be open.  And nothing was, only a lighted sign for the KOA campground. 

Shortly after sunup I came the town of Hope, which is a collection of RV resorts that pretty much shut down for the summer.  Someone said that the poor you always have with you, but the rich leave the desert in the summer.  One advantage for me is that motels, in the few towns that have one, are mostly vacant.  

My shadow pointed home after Hope was gone.  Like a carrot on a pole to which I run—to a place where there are things I’m beginning to crave, things besides farm-talk and the craft of roadside bicycle repair.  Am I led like an ox to the slaughter, enticed by what home promises, only to go again on another journey?  But wait, slaughter comes to every ox.  The journey home and the journey away, these are the remaining joys. 

The wind began to rise in mid-morning and rose to a small gale fifteen miles before I came to a safe landing in Quartzsite, Arizona.  Twenty miles from the Colorado River (the border with California), and much farther from any lake, I had to wonder where the yachts were.  It turns out they are trailers which snowbirds have vacated, given names in nautical language, perhaps to attract prairie schooners.  I rest tonight in the Nautilus. 

Quartzsite is capital for rock hunters and traders of stones in the winter, but now it is mostly closed, except for these few sellers of gem stones, fossils and cut rocks.  

He came riding west after I had checked into the Yacht Club and said he is anxious to get to San Diego.  He will go ninety miles today until it’s nearly dark and then camp someplace on the sand.  I can’t imagine it. 

You probably won’t see me for two days.  There are no motels between Blythe and Brawley and it's too far to go in one day.  But amazingly, I met a woman has invited me to stay with her in her trailer on the desert near the midpoint of that distance.  People have been so helpful along this journey, and nobody has been mean.  I am more blessed that I deserve.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Tale of Two Desert Towns


Log Wagon Inn in Wickenburg,
where I stayed
Many a day on this journey I went to bed tired out in a little desert town in West Texas, still a long way from California.  Again and again in New Mexico and Arizona, I rode into small towns like a cowgirl on a thirsty horse looking for a place to sleep.  How small and brave the little towns look, standing there on the edge of vast openness.  

When you do anything enough times, patterns form in your mind and you start to categorize things that probably shouldn’t be categorized.  In the last two days, two towns typify for me trends of many places I've visited.

On the western deserts, towns have risen from the sand because people with needs decided to cluster there.  Miners gathered in Wickenburg, my home last night, because together they could make more money and be happier than those solitary old die-hards who discovered the ores that brought a lot of miners.  Today, miners don’t need Wickenburg, and it might be a ghost town or nearly so, if it had not reinvented itself as tourist destination.  It’s a place where visitors find the quaint old mining lifestyle preserved in a museum and in the historical decor of its buildings.  Visitors like to feel a part of some past. 

A lot of open country separates the little towns.  I pedaled this twenty-six-mile road from Wickenburg to my next example, Aguila.

Closed motel in Aguila
The only buisness still open in Aguila
Aguila didn’t start as a mining town.  It began as a community center for cotton farmers and all the people needed to support them.  Once it was a thriving center of optimistic futures and children happy to walk in parents footsteps.  After machinery came and took jobs and sent people away to find work, the town made an effort to recover.  It tried what Wickenburg tried.  But all the motels and restaurants are now closed in Aguila, and the only business still open is Woody’s gas station and store. 

They provided services that travelers want, but gave travelers no reason to stop.  Today, the cotton plantations have “Keep Out” signs, and nowhere is the story of early cotton farming preserved.  Not even an acre is preserved for harvest by dragging long bags behind you as you pick by hand, and no place for visitors to pick their own cotton. 

So I rode on through Aguila and stopped for the night in Salome, an in-between town which might survive and might die, it hasn’t taken a firm position either way.