Rudy is quite the strutter and walking him reminds me of a Chase Bank commercial I once saw.  Take a look:

My German lessons are going well.  The weather is warm and sunny.  We are healthy.  What can I say?

It’s not exactly scenic but it suits our purposes.  We have taken up residence in a traditional trailer park in Tucson for the next month.  Gone are the natural vistas of the national parks and the wailing of coyotes in the desert wash.  We have traded them for the sewer connection and the electrical grid connection of the Crossroads RV Park.  Our primary motivation for this conventional setting is the availability of the nearby University of Arizona.  With so much time on my hands I have once again taken up my German studies.  

In my never ending, penny-pinching quest for the best deal, I stumbled upon several foreign exchange students at the university who will willingly tutor me in German conversational skills.  The alternative was to employ the Berlitz school in Phoenix but that worked out to $80/hr which seemed a bit much.  In a classic “cut out the middle man” strategy I get the real thing for a small fraction of that – $20/hr.

Mary is pleased with our present circumstances because it provides her with unlimited nearby shopping opportunities.  Should she wish to exercise, there is a fitness facility on the corner.  Two miles away is the connection to the bicycle path that encircles the city.  If anyone is suffering here it would be Rudy.  He has to be walked on a short leash lest we incur the wrath of homeowners who don’t appreciate dog turds in their front yards.  (Mary has adopted the new-fangled practice of “bagging” dog turds but I prefer the traditional natural approach of natural decomposition.)

Tucson is a very bicycle-friendly city.  While the university campus is a full four miles from our trailer park, there is a nearly traffic-less bicycle route the whole way.

I was pleased to discover that Tucson is populated by numerous orange trees, the fruit of which no one seems interested in harvesting.  They let the oranges fall to the ground.  “Fresh fruit going to waste!” I thought.  Not wanting the fruit to go to waste, I “havested” a few oranges.  Now I know why no one else does.  These things are more appropriately called “orange lemons!”  Tart!  Sour!  And don’t tell me they’re not ripe.  They’re bright orange and falling to the ground.

Wish me well in my German studies.  Hoffentlich, ich werde mein nachste Post auf Deutsch schreiben!

Tucson claims to host the world’s largest gem & mineral show and I can believe it.  There are enormous tents and convention halls all over the city filled with dazzling displays of rocks, gems, and fossils.  We spent and hour strolling through the 22d Street show and were duly impressed.  After admiring 2-ton geodes and entire dinosaur fossils costing tens of thousands of dollars, I settled for the five dollar pyrite chunk in the photo above.

Our current pastime is biting off 20-mile sections of the 130-mile paved loop trail that surrounds the city.  We did a section yesterday and another today.  Yesterday we nearly bit off more than we could chew.  We rode a mere 26 miles but the temperature hit 90 degrees (a Tucson record for this date).  Mary’s face was beet red from overheating near the end.

The temperature was a more tolerable 80 degrees today.  We rode past the Pima Air and Space Museum but the best attraction was a thrilling aerobatic display over Davis-Monthan AFB that we witnessed from the trail.  The ground beneath our feet shook as the F-22 Raptor poured it on and climbed from just above the airfield, straight up and out of sight.

My View

In more down-to-earth matters, Rudy has a front-row seat from his perch on the front of my bike.  His bat ears, like radar antennae, never stop rotating, sometimes independently, scanning the surrounding countryside for vermin of all sorts.  The ground squirrels and roadrunners that scurry through the trail-side brush present an almost too tempting lure to him.  He wants to leap out of his bin and give chase so I have had to tether him for his own good.

Strolling through the desert listening to a good audiobook or bouncing along dirt roads on my moutainbike are fine activities – up to a point.  I’ve been doing that for a month now and I find myself looking around for something a little more constructive; something that might leave my imprint on the earth’s surface – more of an imprint than a bicycle tire in the dust.  Ajo, Arizona, the small town we’re camping near offers some tempting opportunities.  The town is now a shell of its former self.  Until 1985 the local economy was fueled by an enormous open-pit copper mine, the tailings of which form a man-made mountain on the outskirts of town measuring several miles long and several hundred feet high.  When the mine closed, hundreds of homes were abandoned and can now be had for bargain prices.  Most of them are non-descript bungalows but a few show enough promise that Mary and I got to thinking “What if we bought one of them and fixed it up?”  

I’ve got a little experience with putting houses together so the technical aspects would not be beyond my skill level.  We could swing it financially.  The house pictured above is listed for $42,500.  We both think it would be fun to take a shell of a house and bring it up to modern standards.  Would it be a wise investment?  My guess is that it would.  Ajo has warm sunny winters – just the thing for northern snowbirds.  Summers are less appealing – hellish, in fact, but that’s of little concern to the snowbird crowd.

We are not the first people to see Ajo as a diamond in the rough.  Other people have done what we are considering.  Some sort of commission was assembled  about ten years ago and it was decided that Ajo should aim at making itself into a Mecca for artists – another Taos.  Modest steps in that direction have been taken.  The town has an attractive downtown square and the architecually stunning former school has been converted into artists’ apartments but on the whole the town’s business district shows many of the signs of being on life support.

After toying with the idea for several days, Mary and I have decided not to take the plunge.  The main reason is logistical.  Ajo is too far from Chelan.  Lugging my tools down here, the 4000-mile round trip, the distraction of overseeing two widely-separated operations, vandalism during our 9-month absence each year – too much to worry about.  It was tempting but it looks like it ain’t gonna happen.  

Gotta run.  My mountain bike is calling.

Nine months of the year Quartzsite is little more than a collection of filling stations along Interstate 10 near the California-Arizona border.  But each winter its population swells from several hundred to many thousands as RVers from all over the US and Canada stream south to enjoy the bountiful sunshine and cheap living it offers.  

Blessed with flat terrain and a gravelly surface that holds down dust when the wind blows and doesn’t turn muddy after the occasional rain, it is the perfect landscape for vehicles of all shapes and sizes.  Some genius at the Bureau of Land Management has put together an amazingly simple program (Long-Term Visitor Area (LTVA)) that seems to work to everyone’s benefit.  For the modest fee of a few dollars per day RVers get uncrowded parking, fresh water, and sewage and trash service.  The BLM pockets a tidy profit of several million dollars per year (a government program that makes money!)

LTVAs, incidentally, offer the curious a sort of sociological experiment.  What kind of community do you get when you pluck several thousand middle-class, over-fifty couples together in the middle of nowhere?  No crime for one thing.  No trash for another.  Not a great deal of socialization either.  People here are friendly enough if you approach them but few people seem to go out of their way to congregate or exchange more than a few friendly words.  Past a certain age, the company of strangers holds limited appeal.

Territoriality also seems to crop up with surprising regularity.  Everywhere you look, former and present RVers have gratuitously gathered rocks and outlined “their” space on the desert floor.

Quartzsite has its own radio station.  Whether it bothers to transmit a signal during the summer when the town is deserted I’d be curious to know.  But now it, most appropriately, it dredges up exclusively, oldies from the sixtys and seventys – not surprising when you consider who the audience is.  I enjoy it.

The disparity between the summer and winter populations seems to present a dilemma to the cellular telephone service providers.  During the peak season when the big RV show is taking place, late January, the signal is overwhelmed and service is slow.  I have to wait until late at night, for example, to send out my blog post.  The show ended yesterday and the ranks are thinning so, hopefully, this post will make it out during daylight hours.

We too, will be leaving.  It should come as no surprise that RVers tend to be a restless bunch.  If they were content to stay in one place they’d be sitting on the couch at home.  Always curious what is on the other side of the distant mountains, we’re thinking of heading east toward Tucson.

Not a cloud in the sky today – beautiful, right?  Wrong!  The wind is so strong it could rip your pants off and even though it’s 59 degrees outside it feels like 39.  At least we’re not in a tent and riding bicycles (something we know a thing or two about).  Then again, the wind is coming from the north so we’d make great mileage  if we were pedaling south.  

It’s a great day to appreciate our trailer’s shelter.  We have our big windows facing south to catch the ample sun’s warmth so after the heater took the edge off last night’s 34 degrees we have been able to get by on solar radiation alone.  Even so, when Mary baked a loaf of her award winning bread today, the added heat from the oven was welcome.

Trailer-bound because of the wind, I have foregone my usual bicycle adventure for the day.  I was also unsure if Rudy was up to his 5-mile run because of an accident last night.  I was awakened in the night by Mary’s loud accusation “Did you fart?!”  I was at that moment speechless, not only because my sleepy thoughts were so disorganized but because, having been asleep, I was unsure as to the truthful answer to her question/accusation.  For once, however,there could be no doubt that the dog, not I, was the perpetrator:  a steaming pile of fresh dog shit awaited us on the living room rug.  Rudy, apparently, got into something yesterday.

We have been in Quartzsite for several days, waiting for the start of the big RV jamboree.  Motor homes are all around us in every direction, as far as the eye can see, thousands of them.  The big tent opened for business yesterday.  It’s probably several acres in area and filled with hundreds of vendors selling everything from sewage pumps to snake oil.  Despite the variety of offerings, we didn’t see anything we couldn’t live without except a jar of Dead Sea salt mixed with various emollients which is guaranteed to heal cracked skin (my only physical flaw, bald head excluded).  We shall see.

Mary has developed an infatuation of late with Class B+ motorhomes and we have looked at a lot of them here.  They are the little ones with multiple slides.  This would probably be the place to buy an RV if one was in the market.  Hundreds and hundreds of them from many vendors.  I have had my hands full as the voice of reason reminding Mary what a nice setup we already have with our fifth wheel.  The other night we had a rain storm and wind while we were snug in our trailer watching satellite TV.  A “grass looks greener on the other side of the fence” situation if you ask me.  But then, who’s asking.

I talked Mary into baking some of her award winning Dutch oven bread using the little gas oven in the trailer.  She was doubtful but the results are spectacular.  If anything, these loaves are better than the ones she makes at home.

Rudy’s exercise routine continues to evolve.  It’s current manifestation involves me on my mountain bike with Rudy out front tethered by one of those recoil leashes.  I was hesitant to try this arrangement because I thought I might run over him but he so loves to run that he stays well ahead with constant tension on the leash.  If only he were a little bigger he’d make and excellent sled dog.  I take him on a 5-mile run and then take him home in my bike’s basket.  He doesn’t seem to tire but the rocky road is hard on his paws.

By the way, we got the results back from DNA My Dog.  We just had to know what his pedigree is so we had his DNA analyzed.  Somewhat surprising.  He’s 75% schnauzer and 25% dachshund.  I don’t know how that accounts for his bat ears.  And his long legs certainly didn’t come from a dachshund.  I think he looks like a miniature husky or a black fox.


Rudy, aka Rudebaker, aka El Vampiro, is an energetic dog who needs his exercise.  Toward that end, we have acquired several devices.  One is the green plastic rod (Woof Cycle Bike Trotter) seen above which attaches at one end to my bicycle and the other end to Rudy’s collar.  When the rod isn’t being used to tether Rudy, it flips up out of the way.  I only need to check on him once in a while to make sure that I’m not dragging him in the dust.

When he looks like he needs a break, I put him in the plastic bin on the front of my bike and he’s quite content to ride along taking in the sights and smells:

Not a whole lot going on here.  Not that we’re complaining.  We’re still content to just be out of the frigid cold in Chelan where we hear it’s in the single digits.  Sixties and seventies here and mostly sunny although this morning was cloudy.  

A typical day for me includes a long morning walk with Rudy out through the desert and an afternoon ride on my bicycle.   Mary cleans house and reads and takes a shorter walk to the garbage dumpster.  Two days ago I rode a 25-miler into Yuma where I joined Mary at the laundromat.  The route took me through the irrigated fields along the Colorado River where they grow a s—load of lettuce – thousands of acres.  Peaceful country roads. They were picking and I stopped to watch:

The lettuce in the foreground is the waste!

There are many places in the middle of nowhere where small groves of orange trees are seemingly abandoned.  I suspect they are the remnants of former large groves.   Farmhouses often have several citrus trees.  The point is, no one bothers to pick the fruit!  The oranges eventually drop and rot.  I guess they don’t deem it worth the trouble.  Out of nothing more than compassion, I stopped and filled my saddlebags.  Such plenty.

In a few days we’ll mosey north to Quartzsite where the annual RV jamboree is held.  If nothing else, it’s fun to see the latest RV technology and extravagances.

Yuma Camp Site

On the road again.  We’re just outside of Yuma, Arizona on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.  Forecasted to reach 70 degrees today and sunny which is just what we came here for.

We had planned to depart Chelan on January 2 but bad weather to the south blocked our way.  It looked as if we would have to cool our heels for at least another week and we had resigned ourselves to the wait but on Tuesday, Jan 3 I noticed that the  forecast for southern Oregon/Northern California had changed.  It was calling  for a break in the weather on Thursday and Friday.  After that, a massive snow storm was to come ashore and create travel havoc for another week.  We would have to thread the needles, run the gauntlet (take your pick), to make it through.  We hurriedly loaded the truck, hitched up the trailer and headed south.  If our timing was right, we hoped, we would hit the Siskiyou Pass about noon on Thursday and (hopefully) have a snow-free highway.

The same weather system that was causing the clear skies over the Siskiyous was composed of polar air that dropped the temperature to near zero.  Portland, Oregon which is near sea level and normally temperate was only 19 degrees when we camped at a rest stop Wednesday night.  The parking lot was a solid sheet of ice and deserted all night – kinda creepy.  Our RV batteries were unusually low on charge because the solar panels had been covered for months by a tarp so the heater fan was too feeble to power itself through the night.  Result: a very cold interior to our trailer.  It was so cold that Rudy (our dog) was allowed the rare privilege of sleeping on our bed with us.  We drew the line at allowing him under the covers which is where he tried to insert himself.

Oregon was sunny and frosty.  The Willamette Valley had a rare snow cover.  Quite beautiful.  Sure enough, the highway surface was snow-free through the mountain passes.  Hats off to the road maintenance people.  It was obvious from the overturned semis on the roadside that the previous night had been a snowy mess but the roads had been scraped clean by the time we passed through.  Threading the needle, indeed.  Redding, CA, which has traditionally greeted us with temperatures in the seventies on our winter migration was only in the forties but that was good enough for us after our frosty passage through Oregon and Washington.

Reports are that the big storm is dumping several feet of snow on the mountains up north so we made it just in time – which only adds to our sense of relief.

Pedaling over mountains is a part of many Adventure Cycling routes but it is the heart and soul of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride (GDMBR.)

Spanning the United States, north to south plus a Canadian addendum, it follows the Continental Divide down the Rocky Mountain chain. It is a rare day when a Great Divide rider does not conquer at least one major climb.  Since hills are many bicyclists’ least favorite parts of a ride, it is perfectly natural to wonder “Who would want to tackle a 2600-mile ride that seeks out hills (or rather, mountains) to climb?”

Well, for starters, my wife, Mary and I. Last summer we rode the Divide from the Canadian border at Roosville, Montana to the Mexican border at Columbus, New Mexico. At 65 and 66, respectively, we’re not exactly broken-down geezers (yet) but neither has anyone ever called us athletes.

Lief & Mary near Salida, Colorado

Several near misses with speeding vehicles along paved highways was the reason we first considered the ultra-low traffic GDMBR.  Cars are few and far between along the mostly dirt and gravel roads the trail follows.  Gorgeous scenery and moderate August/September temperatures further enticed us.
Already feeling nostalgic for last summer’s ride (but not nostalgic enough to redo the ride on bicycles) we cruised a section of the trail this summer on a motorcycle.  Because of our increased mobility on the motorcycle, we encountered a considerable number of bicycle riders – many more than we did last summer because then we were moving at roughly the same speed as everyone else .  Here’s what we learned about who rides the GDMBR:

More Europeans than Americans.  Of the roughly thirty riders we encountered between the Canadian border and Steamboat Springs, Colorado, about two thirds were Europeans.  In addition to Americans, we met riders from Netherlands, Norway, England, France, Belgium, Italy and Canada – all of whom, by the way, spoke English well (even the Canadians!)

As you might expect, the most common subgroup was young men.  But approximately one out of five were female and about the same fraction were old enough to be retired.  Most of them started at the Canadian terminus of Banff and were riding the trail north to south.  While we started our ride last year on August 18, most of the riders we met this year had started in late July which seems to be a more popular starting date than our later one.  Our recommendation to prospective riders is to pass through Colorado in September like we did, however, because the Aspen trees were brilliant that time of year.

We were surprised at the percentage of riders who were traveling alone both years – roughly thirty percent.  Because many of the stretches of the GDMBR are far from human habitation (especially the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming), I imagine a rider would have to be extremely comfortable with keeping his own company on those lonely stretches.  Nevertheless, some of the most buoyant personalities we met were riding alone.  Tim from Dallas was bubbling with enthusiasm when we stopped to talk to him sixty miles from the nearest habitation in the Great Divide Basin.

Tim in the Great Divide Basin

Semi-retired and in no discernible  hurry, Tim had been meandering down the GDMBR from Banff since June 28 when we met him on August 9.  Although quite sociable, he seemed to revel in the Basin’s solitude.   “I’m lovin’ this!” he exclaimed when we asked how he was doing.   He told us that the most gratifying aspect of his ride had been the warm reception he received from people along the way – how differently people respond to a man on a bicycle than to people in cars.  “Would we even be talking” he pointed out “if we were in cars?”

Although we consider ourselves accomplished bike trekkers, having completed four Adventure Cycling trans-continental rides, we were humbled by several of the riders we met, including Jan Petter from Norway, who had ridden through Europe and was on his way to Banff from the southern tip of Argentina when we met in Grand Teton National Park.  From Banff, he plans to continue riding through Asia.

But even Jan Petter failed to impress us as much as a seventeen-year-old boy from Austin, Texas named Sam who we met near Lima, Montana.  Riding alone, he hoped to make it to Banff in time to return to Austin for his senior year of high school!

We also learned that few riders strictly adhere to the GDMBR as laid out in Adventure Cycling’s detailed maps.  Side trips to visit friends or places of interest, jumps to avoid unpleasant stretches, and curtailments to meet deadlines are commonplace.

There is also the issue of burn-out.  Once the initial euphoria of a new adventure has passed, no one should be surprised that some riders get discouraged.  We saw it in the faces and speech of several riders.  Anyone setting out on the GDMBR thinking the entire ride is going to be one extended lark would be well advised to think again.  Completing the ride needs to be a goal in itself because inclement weather and fatigue are certain to make portions of the ride more chore than thrill.

Mayumi, Sue, and Erika outside of Rawlins, Wyoming

Take the trio of Mayumi, Sue, and Erika that we met climbing a hill south of Rawlins, Wyoming.  They were all that was left of fifteen women who had responded to an ad in Adventure Cyclist’s “Companions Wanted.”  Even Sue planned to leave the group at Frisco, Colorado.  Erika, a genetic scientist and Mayumi, a retired information technologist, still seemed gung ho.

So who rides the GDMBR?   All kinds of people.  You certainly don’t have to be an athletic young man.  More than a few riders concurred with me when I observed that a successful completion is more of a mental feat than a physical one. If you want to meet interesting people, exercise your thighs, gawk at great scenery, and pack your memory with unforgettable experiences, perhaps you, too, should consider riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride.