Excerpts of the journal from the handwritten section in Arizona as I begin the final stretch of the trip from the Phoenix area west to the coast:
Today I made a promise to my legs. I’ll never put them through anything like this again.
If I keep this promise - and I always do when it’s to a person, so I guess I should when it’s to a pair of legs - that means categorically no Africa, no Australia, no Asia, and no Latin America. Pain. Today was agony. The most painful day of the whole trip.
For the first time since the crash, I considered considering stopping.
[The rest of this post, is continued below the fold]
After 3 hours sleep for my last night in Tempe, I was called when my host was going out at 6.30 as requested. That gave me the time to pack, eat some toast, drink some tea and say good-bye to the kids. My host returned in time to say good-bye just as my guide Mark arrived on his bicycle.
Through a collection of footpaths, cycle paths, and lesser trafficked roads we made our way through downtown Tempe, downtown Phoenix, and out to the Buckeye road. Freed from considering direction etc. I just looked around. We cut through by the school and the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There I met Mark’s wife. She wished me Godspeed and I pointed out that I didn’t wish to go that fast.
Downtown Tempe with all its coffee shops and trees is not unlike the Plaza in KC although it all looks very new just like the rest of Tempe. There seemed to be a lot of concrete as we made our way to Phoenix. We had gone through ASU and Mark pointed out the centre for Performing Arts, a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Right through the centre of downtown Phoenix. It was a treat. In terms of size not unlike KC but so so much cleaner. I was thinking this was probably because for most of the year it’s too hot to be outside and create dirt. It gave it a futuristic feel.
The buildings were fabulous, modern and old. There was an Art Deco small skyscraper that reminded me of the tunnel vent in Liverpool. Looking around at the imaginative modern building I was thinking how great it must be to be an architect as you have that perfect blue canvas of the sky to work against. Everything was so crisp on another perfect day in The Valley of the Sun.
Even the streetlights were modern wonderful constructions. A kind of pale pink with metal chrome elements and bronze coloured parts capped with a wide hat. Even if they don’t work they look good. We could see the new baseball stadium being constructed. It’s an all new franchise that they’re getting a team in with. I asked was that a roof they were putting on. Mark said it was a sliding roof which would be open most of the time except for when a game was on, and then they’d close it and air condition the entire stadium. And I thought Croke Park was impressive.
Then past the basketball arena and turn out of town a bit. We stopped at a church. It was being renovated and Mark knew the pastor. He wanted me to meet him We walked over the temporary floor boards and before he even heard my name he shook my hand. Actually he didn’t shake it at all he just squeezed it ’til it hurt. I tried a manly grip back but didn’t have that kind of strength. At the Buckeye Road I left Mark as he wished me the Holy Spirit to protect me and keep my legs healthy. I wondered how dishonest I was being given that I was considering strongly not going his route from here to Gila Bend and onto Yuma etc.
On my host’s advice I had taken 4 Advil with breakfast rather than wait for the pain in the leg to start. That made sense but worried me because if the pain now occurred I had played my hand.
The pain did come back while I cycled with Mark but it faded again so I thought the tablets worked and Mark’s route was now a runner. But after 15 miles - 1 after I left Mark - the pain came back like a bolt.
I had to get off and sit on the ground. It made my mind up. I would stick with my route as it followed civilisation more and was safer with legs that were about to pack in. North on 27th Street to Grand Avenue. From here it was north-west. Twice I had to stop again. After the 2nd time I had gone 21 miles and a Denny’s was in view. So I ate and tried not to worry.
The north west of town out by Glendale was the poorer part of town and there were fewer white people around. It was the first place that everything was not so clean.
I kept stopping every couple of miles and limping around and sitting down. Then I assumed that there was a pain barrier and tried going through it but I couldn’t. I grimaced a lot and screamed out loud a fair bit. I simply had to acknowledge that if my leg cannot bend then I can’t cycle anywhere.
Before California, before the 5,000 mile mark, I might well have to consider stopping. I did a lot of pedalling with one leg but it’s trickier in traffic. I reckoned I looked like a frog with one back leg.
Somewhere near Sun City I went into a shop and bought some more tablets. Time to change brands. CVP I went for. Two tablets of 500mg each. Within a half hour, having gone 35 miles so far, the pain eased and I could pedal. With the exception of a 4-mile stretch later it was not too sore all the way to Wickenburg.
I know Gila Bend would’ve been a nicer cycle but I had to play it safe. Out of Phoenix US 60 had a shoulder and was built up a lot of the way with motels dotted along it. After El Mirage and Surprise there was no more civilisation. Palm trees dwindled. It was a scruffy desert with the low Hieroglyphic Mountains to my right and the White Tank Mountains - also low - to my left.
Wittman was 18 miles short of Wickenburg so I stopped at a Mexican cafe for an enchilada and some ice tea. Surrounded by kitschy Mexican parrots and paintings I was the only one there and the 4 people who manned it - all very friendly - just about managed to look after me.
Unnoticeably I had climbed 1,000 feet from Phoenix to Wickenburg. I entered the town through what seemed like a small canyon carved by the Hassayampa River. Some of the rocks to my side were obviously volcanic in origin.
Straight to the Chamber of Commerce to establish what lodging, if any, was on the road ahead. She couldn’t help me but a woman in there overheard me and said she had passed motels in Salome that day. I felt safe and sought out an ATM to add to my 3 dollars of cash. After a milk shake - yuk, that was a mistake - I checked in to this nasty little motel. It was okay, I had had such a good time recently that I wanted to stop having fun. That happens.
Wickenburg, Arizona is the oldest town north of Tucson. It is one of the nicest I have been in although very touristy. A lot of antique stores and gift shops. Wooden western buildings in the Old West sense. Hassayampa means ‘beautiful waters’ though ‘beautiful sands’ is more appropriate now as it’s only a great big channel of soft sand. There’s a legend that if you drink from it you are lost to truth forever.
The Desert Caballeros Western Museum closed as I arrived in town so I did a lot of window shopping instead and some of the ‘walking tour’ on bicycle. The town is named after Henry Wickenburg, a prospector and farmer who founded the town in 1863. He was a native Prussian.
The buildings are nice. The Chamber of Commerce is in the Santa Fe Railroad depot of 1895. The Garcia School 1905 is a red brick school house now a bank. The old town hall and jail is now a youth centre but without the bars. They are now in the present jail. The jail tree is the Mesquite tree that outlaws were chained to from 1863 to 1890 before the jail was built.
I rang home. It was midnight there. I brought the family up to date on Amtrak plans and my leg problems. Drinking tea after dinner in the Country Kitchen I wrote a letter card to the people I stayed with in Omaha. It was a good town to walk around at night but very few people here. Now I must contact friends at home. Dad tells me they have a child - the opposite of the one they already have - so it’s a boy.
Read more from my Cycle Across America
The excerpts forming Part 75 were written in Wickenburg, Arizona on the night of November 12, 1996, and morning of November 13, 1996.