Arizona to California

We knocked on the heavy wooden door of the Red Agave Inn, clutching a couple Wilderness Voyageurs brochures. When we left Marble, Kasia asked us to scout out a new bike tour in Arizona, so we’d been researching cycling routes and B&B’s in Sedona for a week. This one looked really nice online, with a big cozy common room and chic modern-southwestern furniture. 

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A balding, white-haired man in a dress shirt and slacks cracked open the door. Then he stood across the space, blocking the entryway with his body.

“Can I help you?” He asked, looking us up and down.

“Um, hi,” Montana said, introducing himself. “We work for a bicycle tour company, and we’re looking at lodging for a trip in Sedona.” He extended his hand. The guy looked at his hand like it was full of dead fish. Montana let his hand drop. 

I felt ridiculous in my thrift shop jeans and t-shirt. 

“I’m sorry,” the man said. “We don’t take mountain bikers.” 

“Oh,” Montana said. “Well, this is a road bike tour. It’s for adults.” Adults who look just like every other retired citizen in this town.

“No, we don’t do big groups,” he growled. “We only have a few rooms.” 

Actually they had the perfect amount of rooms for a 12-person bike tour, but he wasn’t listening anyway.

“Uh, well thanks anyway.” 

Get the dirty hippies out the door. We don’t like their kind around here. We walked back to the Rabbit fuming. We’d even parked it around the corner from the Inn to increase our credibility. 

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Sedona wasn’t exactly how we’d remembered it. We’d visited once, right after college. Montana had been invited for a mountain bike press camp held at once of the inns close to the Red Agave. He’d spent the week riding awesome desert singletrack around the gorgeous red rocks and eating tacos at good Mexican restaurants. It was a mountain bike paradise. 

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Coming to Sedona on a trip not funded by the bike industry was a little different. The trails are still great, but it turns out the entire town has a no-dirtbag ordinance. If you want to camp in Sedona (and you don’t own a giant fifth-wheel trailer) you have to drive 10 miles out of town. In the winter, all the National Forest campgrounds are closed, so you have to rough it out in the ugly desert far away from the red rocks. In town there are no hostels, cheap hotels, or public showers. And the population’s median age seems to be around 500. People like us were few and far between. We felt pretty out of place.

The Red Agave was it. We’d finished our trip-scouting duties, rode some singletrack far beyond my skill set, and it was time to move on. 

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We wafted to Black Canyon City to camp out at the Black Canyon Trail parking lot.(http://www.bikepacking.com/routes/black-canyon-trail/) The BCT was our first-ever bikepacking ride, back in 2014. I remembered it as a really tough, long, chunky ribbon of trail through the Saguaro desert. Riding up and down those crumbly hills slowed me down to a crawl, and we only covered about 20 miles a day. At the time, it was the hardest trail I’d ever ridden. 

Montana wanted to get a beer at the Javelina Saloon. As we walked in, two crusty barflies swiveled on their stools to stare at us. We sat down, ordered a Coors Light and a water from a barmaid with cigarette breath and leathery Arizona skin. The regulars went back to their frosty glasses and gossiping about their neighbors. 

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We rode a few miles of the Black Canyon Trail. It was still pretty hard. After two days riding the chunky rocks and living in the dusty parking lot, we got tired of the harsh desert. We repositioned our camp chairs into the tiny pool of shade, chasing the coolness around as the sun moved through the sky.

“Let’s go to California!” Montana said. 

“Really?”

“Yeah, let’s go. What else do we have to do right now?” 

California! Land of sun and surf and grass. We were going, in our Rabbit! Finally our cross-country trip would be complete. 

We packed up the Rabbit again and drove into the Arizona sunset. 

Soon after sunset, we pulled into a parking lot near Kingman, Arizona. CLUNK. Oh no. 

The steering felt bad. Montana turned the wheel around nervously. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Oh damn. There was a Volkswagen repair shop in Kingman. Gingerly, and very slowly, we limped our broken Rabbit to the closest garage. 

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For a whole week we stayed in Kingman, waiting on the Rabbit’s next costly repair. Turns out the steering rack broke - probably thanks the week we spent driving back and forth on bouldery roads to our desert campsite in Sedona. 

We camped out at the local KOA, not the cheapest campground in Kingman, but the one with the best showers. Montana worked on his skateboarding, and I jogged back and forth on the Kingman bike path. The local KOA residents were all folks of a certain age, snowbirding to Kingman from Michigan or other parts north. They peeked at us through their camper curtains and made tentative conversation in the KOA laundry room. Not too many people car camping here without a car. 

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One week and a big chunk of money later, our Rabbit was road-worthy again. We drove out of Kingman as fast as our tiny wheels would roll, along Route 66 toward golden California. 

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We drove on 66 over the mountain outside of Kingman, and down a windy switchback road. Traffic slowed down on the other side. Maybe an accident? We crawled along, then came around a bend to a little town. HISTORIC OATMAN. People in Harley gear and various national park t-shirts ambled across the street. A few scruffy burros walked up to a couple on the sidewalk and nudged their palms for hay cubes.

“STOP!” I yelled. I needed to meet a burro.

After a couple of prospectors struck a $10 million gold find in 1915, Oatman’s population soared to 3500 in one year.  For ten years or so, the gold mines were booming. Till a fire in 1921 destroyed most of the town and the mining company went out of business in 1924. Things in Oatman are looking up now, because so many people are driving and riding Route 66. The biggest attraction seems to be the burros. Almost every store sells “burro feed,” and some of the stores have signs declaring NO BURROS INSIDE.

The burros were everywhere. Fat burros strolling in front of cars. Skinny burros laying on the sidewalks. One burro with “NO PET” painted across his fur. We met a few, and watched a fake historical gunfight.

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Just five hours later we were in Dana Point. California! We set up our tent at a California state park half an hour from the beach. It had grass and trees, families on holiday, and some beautiful double track roads to ride. We laid down in the grass, loving the moisture and the clean sunshine. 

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It was good. We finally made it across the country.