Howdy from the Arizona boonies!
Here, below, is the weekly blast of photos and journal highlights from the road.
Special thanks this week to all the lovely people who have been so kind, Amy Christine, William Powers, Dale Durham, Aja Durham, Rhonda Rettig Walkosz, Neil ‘Studge’ Rees, Olympia Mihailidis-Rossi, Doug at Rambling Roads RV Park in Hope and Rosalio and Anna and all at the Coyote Cafe in Aguila, and those who have inspired me, including the amazing, unstoppable Tony Mangan.
Phew, was I happy to see this moon-dappled signpost for Hope yesterday evening.
It started out as one of those ordinary, hot, trudge the miles sort of days.
I dodged traffic, took water breaks in the scant shade offered by cacti and mesquite, got suncream in my eye and snapped shots of the desert.
The day before I’d clocked 27 miles and I was more weary than usual. The road was pot holed, uphill, grinding. By the time I reached tiny Vicksberg after 20 miles I was cooked, my blood fizzing.
To my dismay, when I reached the campsite it was closed, its gate padlocked and laced with barbed wire. NO TRESPASSING!
Nearby a dog was howling, it sounded angry and lonesome.
I approached a nearby mobile home. I waved at a man on his porch but he rushed inside, latching the door. This blue bandanna look is really not doing me any favours. Admittedly it is now full on dark.
A car cruises slowly by. I push my cart towards it. The driver shouts: ‘Hobo!’ and screeches off, the passengers swearing and laughing.
After they have gone all is quiet bar the howling dog. This is not good. For the first time on the journey I am gripped with fear. I am too tired to think straight, in a funk.
I consider camping in the bush. Unlike the remote, pure Mojave where I camped before this is tarnished desert, pockmarked by beer cans, smashed glass and old tyres. The whole place feels tense and woebegone.
I decide to move on. It is 3.5 miles to the little hamlet of Hope, where there is a church and an RV park. I wolf down a pack of sweaty M&Ms, very fast, one by one, like a child. I strap a headlight to my cart and one to my head. I walk fast, adrenaline now pumping.
The moon is full and a cool breeze is now on my side. No traffic. I’m fired and focused, back in tune, yomping with glee.
It’s a truly beautiful night. A firefly shoots up, enjoying its moment of glory, like a star being born. I laugh at myself for my flash of misguided terror back in Vicksberg.
Hope is now a couple of miles away, all will be fine…
On this trip you never know what’s round the corner. Walking, you can only cover 15 to 30 max miles a day, meaning you have to take what the road throws at you: you have no option to drive on an extra 50 miles, pedal another 20.
Tonight, after 23 miles, I trudged into Aguila. In the tiny neighbouring towns, Aguila gets a bad rap. The general consensus: ‘Watch your back, buddy, it’s a rough place.’
Admittedly, it does look pretty chewed up in parts – mobile homes gone to seed, some boarded up stores – and walking in at dusk was not the best idea.
I finally fell on The Coyote Cafe right at the end of town. The moment I stepped in, I knew all would be fine. It’s a small, intimate place filled with smiles, laughter and wonderful, cheap home cooked food.
I chatted to a couple of Oregon snowbirds (who live in cold climates and head south for winter) and some hearty fellows who work on the local melon farms.
The lovely Rodriguez family who run the cafe – Anna, Roxanne, Miguel and Rosalio (sticking tongue out) – said I was welcome to camp there, and come in for breakfast at 7am before walking off again tomorrow.
It’s amazing how quickly anxiety can vanish with a few friendly faces. I often find the places I fear the most on my journeys, or have the harshest reputations, prove to have some of the kindest people: diamonds in the rough.
We are all terrified of the unknown, of fearful gossip, but the reality is often much more benign. Thank you all at Coyote Cafe for your smiles, your generosity and the blow-your-socks-off tacos. Delicioso!
Talking of coyotes, I saw my first one on the edge of Aguila. What a beautiful beast, stealthy and silvery, like a large fox. It stopped on the highway, cocked its head, and then skittered into the half light.
Another unusual site: vast hay meadows stretching across the high desert. Goodness knows how much water it takes to irrigate meadows like this on such parched land, especially as they are cropped all year, and what damage they will cause in the long run.
But, the sweet smell of hay did spark fond memories of home…
As I walk further east the cacti seem to get bigger in size and number.
The landscape shifts so fast, from bone dry expanses of sand and scrub, to cotton fields, then pistachio orchards and hay meadows, then back to desert – sometimes parched, sometimes lush, occasionally verging on jungly.
I feel so lucky witnessing this big skied magnificence everyday. Yes, it tires me out, frazzles and scares me, but it also fires me up, bewitches and and awes me. I love it.
One great thing about the desert becoming less empty is that I can find shade (bliss) and duck behind vegetation to answer calls of nature.
In the really washed out, sun blasted stretches (photo) there was nowhere to hide. I might as well have had a neon sign blazing: ‘Haha, this lobster-hued Brit is pretending to admire the view, but it’s bleeding obvious he’s having a pee, and as he’s over 50, he’ll take ages. Honk at the fool.’
Having a rest day in the lovely old cowboy town of Wickenburg today, having clocked up 112 miles this week.
Wickenburg was first a stop on the Santa Fe railway, then boomed as a gold rush town. So many little towns died out after the rush ended but Wickenburg has thrived as a ‘roping’ hotspot (cowboys lassooing cattle in pairs: one the head, the other the hooves). It’s also known for ‘dude ranches’ where city folk pay to live as cowboys for a while – and, it’s full of therapy centres: ‘Any addictions, we’ll sort you out,’ one local joked. ‘Drugs, gambling, sex. Not sure about walking though, think you’re beyond help with that.’
On the way here I passed two blink and miss it towns, one called Hope, another Gladden. Both made me smile. On the map, there’s also a place called Love, but the sign was nowhere to be seen. Now a ghost town. Maybe love don’t live there anymore. Ouch.
I’m ever hopeful I’ll find it later down the road though…
Big thanks to all of you who donated to the three charities this week – Belinda Gallop-Iliffe – it honestly gives the causes, their wonderful staff and my knobbly legs such a boost. Muchas gracias!
Thanks for reading. See you somewhere down the road…