Grand Canyon to Mexico
The Almost Across Arizona Bicycle Tour
26 September - 3 October 1985
This was the very first bicycle tour that I ever went on after I had been riding locally by myself and then with an informal club since about May 1984. One of the other club riders had ridden Grand Canyon to Mexico 1984 and he talked me into doing it; convinced me that I was in good enough shape to make it and provided a lot of encouragement. I kept no journal nor did I take any pictures while on this tour but I still have the Grand Canyon to Mexico Bicycle Route maps and descriptions that I have used to prepare this much delayed journal.
26 Sep: Phoenix to Grand Canyon
I met the bus and trucks at some pick up point in Phoenix and was transported to Grand Canyon Village. The materials that I received after registration had provided me with a list of motels where the organizers would deliver and pick up luggage. I made reservations for all of the overnight stops that we would be making along the way. The registration fee included camping but did not include motels, that was on your own, and included some meals.
27 Sep: Grand Canyon Village to Cameron, AZ
Distance: 56 miles
"The park road along the canyon's east rim plays peek-a-boo with vast canyon scenery and then drops 3,100 feet in 30 miles between Desert View and Cameron, through the starkly beautiful Navajo Country." I remember this first day as an easy ride along the east rim of the Grand Canyon with a few stops along the way at some of the overviews. Just as I was arriving at Cameron it began to sprinkle which made me even happier that I had a room and would not be in a tent. When I made all my reservations I had indicated to the organizers that I was willing to share my room and I told the desk clerk this also when I checked in. there was one problem however, I had no luggage. I asked the baggage truck driver about it and he confessed that her must have missed it so he drove me back to the motel and we pick it up. Upon returning to my room I found that I had other baggage in the room so assumed that I had obtained a room mate to share costs. After I had dinner I returned to my room and found that my room mate was actually two people, husband and wife from WA (I think). I was a little taken aback but decided that if the arrangement was agreeable with them then it was OK with me. Note: I saw this same couple again, but only one time, in Australia in 1988 on CalTex Bike Ride.
28 Sep: Cameron to Flagstaff, AZ
Roads: US89, Wupatki Nat. Monument Park Rd & US89/Santa Fe Av
Distance: 71 miles
"Turn south on Hwy 89 at Cameron, climbing for the next 20 miles until you reach the turn-off for the U.S. Park service road to Wupatki and Sunset Crater. The park road is 36 miles long, downhill at first and then uphill to Bonito Campground, near Sunset Crater visitor center. Just beyond the campground, turn south and rejoin Hwy 89." The highlight of this day was a downhill soon after turning onto the Wupatki Nat. Monument Rd that allowed me to reach 55 MPH. This was the first time I had ever gone that fast on a bicycle and it was a rush! The other remembrance was the gale force winds that we then had when we turned south from the Wupatki Nat. Monument; they were so strong at times that you were stopped in your tracks. I also remember that my room was in a hostel in old downtown Flagstaff and I had told the baggage truck to keep my stuff until Payson (but my memory may be wrong).
29 Sep: Flagstaff to Payson, AZ
Roads: US89/Santa Fe Av, AZ89A/S Milton Rd, S Beulah Blvd,Lake Mary Rd/FH3 & AZ87
Distance: 95 miles
"Lake Mary Road (also known as Forest Highway 3), a 58-mile highway, runs through alpine meadows and forests. Along the way you'll see Mormon Lake, Arizona's largest natural lake, and, if you're lucky some of the thousands of elk that populate this high plateau. Hwy 87 includes the thrilling decent off the Mogollon Rim, at one point plummeting 1,000 feet in five miles. There is a three-mile climb into Payson." I don't remember much more that this description from the handout except rain started about the time we had dinner. The dinner this time was provided by some local service club in Payson and was outside in the rain which made me very happy to have a room once again - don't think I had a room mate.
30 Sep: Payson to Globe, AZ
Roads: AZ87, AZ188 & US60
Distance: 85 miles
"There is a bit of everything to test cyclists' abilities along the 85 miles between Payson and Globe. This route has a long, steep descent, a lung-wrenching climb, 14 miles of dirt road and a narrow, one-lane catwalk across the largest masonry dam in the world." The only thing that was left out of this description was the very heavy thunderstorm that caught me about 10 miles from Globe. I and another cyclist waited out most of it under the roof of an abandoned gas station but we did get wet. After it slacked off and we began to ride again there were places where we bicycled through 6" of water flowing across the road. I think I had room mates this night but I'm not sure and also think I remember that the organizers had to rescue a few riders that had gotten soaked and were suffering from hypothermia.
1 Oct: Globe to Tucson, AZ
Roads: US70 & AZ77
Distance: 97 miles
"Although Northern Arizona has the high country, it doesn't corner the market on wildly plunging mountain roads. South of El Capitan Pass, Hwy 77 drops 3,000 feet to Winkelman. The first part of the descent is very steep and even faster than the ride off the Mogollon Rim. This is Arizona's mining country. You'll see evidence of this activity in several places along this route. The last big climb along the Grand Canyon to Mexico route is a 2,200-foot grunt from Mammoth to Oracle. The Tucson metropolitan area is 26 miles from and 2,000 feet below Oracle. So this part of the trip goes fast." That is what I remember about this day, fast descents. As I was coasting down that first steep part doing 45-50 MPH I looked in my mirror and saw another bicycle about 1/2 mile behind me, a minute or two later I looked and it was a tandem that was maybe 100 yards behind me and a moment later they went by me like I was stopped. I caught up to them on the climb to Oracle and they told me they had been doing 65 MPH down that grade.
2 Oct: Tucson to Nogales, AZ
Roads: (Tucson) US77/Oracle Rd/Main St, W Speedway, N Grande AV/S Mission Rd, W San Xavier Rd, Old Nogales Hwy/Bus 19, Continental Rd, W. Frontage Rd, I-19, @ Agua Linda to Chavez Siding, E. Frontage Rd, Santa Gertrudis/Pendelton Dr, Rio Rico Dr, E. Frontage Rd/Bus 19/Grand Av & Cross into Mexico
Distance: 76 miles
"Tucson is the largest city on the Grand canyon to Mexico route and the crosstown route is the best compromise between directness and carnivorous traffic. Just south of Tucson is San Xavier Mission, one of the best examples of Southwestern mission architecture. From San Xavier the route runs through the lush pecan groves and rolling ranch land of the Santa Cruz Valley. The final 28 miles of the route include the Tubac Presidio and Tumacocori Mission, You'll ride through the Rio Rico area or take a combination frontage road and freeway route, depending on whether the Santa Cruz River is flowing rapidly." I remember very little about this last day except that I was sick during the night and did not feel like riding in the morning. The crosstown route did not apply to us, we gathered as a group on Oracle Rd and had a police escort with no stops all the way to San Xavier Mission. (Note: Do NOT take the route that I have given above as a bicycling route, it is not, and is only my best guess at what the police escorted route was.) I don't remember the exact route because I was sick and trying to ride with the group at a faster pace than I really wanted to ride. I think it was in Tubac that I got off the bike and was laying down when another rider stopped and asked me if I was OK. I probably said something about dying and he told me that a lot of people had gotten sick during the night. He then encouraged me to ride in his draft to Nogales and not quit. We rode across the border to a restaurant for the ride end celebration but I don't remember much celebrating - I got back to my motel somehow and must have slept the night away.
3 Oct:Nogales to Phoenix, AZ
This was just a bus ride back to the pick up point in Phoenix. I don't remember if I stayed there overnight or then drove back to CA that same day.
Epilogue: I started thinking about the trip over the next weeks and over that time the bad things that happened; the rain, heat or tough climbs or being sick seemed to fade away. It wasn't long before I started thinking that I wanted to do another tour and this motivated me to keep riding and get in better shape. I'll write about that in my next bicycle trip page!