Day Fifty-Eight

Cottonwood, AZ to Prescott, AZ

Once again, I didn't want to get out of bed today. I was stiff and tired, obviously in need of a rest day, but I wanted to get one more day of riding in first because Friday's weather was supposed to be iffy.

Last night I called the Primrose Inn, the only motel in Chino Valley, to make a reservation. They were booked full, so I had to plot an alternate course. I could have ridden all the way to Ash Fork, but that would be an 80-mile day. My topographical map showed that I would be doing a lot of climbing on the road to Jerome, so I decided that it would be better to go 40 miles to Prescott instead, even though it meant I would have to backtrack a few miles to continue to Ash Fork. Besides, Prescott, once the capital of Arizona Territory, would be a good place to take a day off and see the town.

After riding two miles to the edge of Cottonwood, I turned left to follow SR 89A to Jerome. The road started heading upward immediately. For four miles, I struggled up the side of the mountain to Jerome. I noticed an extraordinary number of motorcyclists riding past me. I must have seen at least 100 of them today.  I finally reached the city limit sign. It said the elevation was 5,000 feet, which was 1,500 feet above Cottonwood. Then  I saw something that scared the heck out of me. Switchbacks. Steep switchbacks. The last few miles hadn't been easy, but this was quite a bit tougher than the climb had been so far. I dropped all the way down into first gear. As I reached the end of the straightaway after the second switchback, I saw something even worse--the road got even more steep. This was getting ridiculous. I couldn't imagine how vehicles had gone up  a road this steep early last century when Jerome  was a booming mining town. I was able to pedal for about 500 feet at a time before I pulled over, panting so hard I thought my lungs would burst. To give an idea of how Jerome is built on the side of the mountain, there was a 1,500-foot difference between the highest and lowest buildings in the town. When I finally reached downtown Jerome, there were lots of tourists wandering around, and lots of motorcycles lined up in front of the bars. At the switchback at the end of the downtown district, there was a guy in front of the fire station on a mountain bike. " Hey, you made it! Way to go!" he said.

" Thanks. Boy, is this wearing me out!" I replied, and he smiled knowingly.

I was so revved up about getting through Jerome that I made a grave error--I didn't stop to refill my half-empty water bottles. I thought there was going to be a place at the edge of town, but there was not. In fact, the town ended rather abruptly, and there were lots more switchbacks ahead. It looked like I would have to turn around and go back to town, but the last thing I wanted was to have to climb the same road again. I already felt overwhelmed by the ride up to Jerome, and the road kept rising further than I could see. I couldn't imagine how I was going to make it to the top of Mingus Mountain. As I approached a scenic overlook, I had an idea. There was a  motor home parked there. Most RV drivers that I had met were friendly people, and most probably had water to spare, too. I'm normally a much more self-reliant person--I have a hard time asking anyone for anything. However, this was not a normal situation for me. I pulled into the scenic overlook to take some pictures, and I talked to the two women who were traveling in the RV. They said they had come from Southern California, near San Diego. Considering that this road banned trucks over 50 feet, it couldn't have been easy to maneuver a motor home through all those switchbacks. One of them was making a videotape. She turned the camera on me, then panned up and down to show where I'd been and where I was going. Then I coyly asked if they might have some water to spare. They gave me two bottles, and I was extremely grateful.

When I went back to my bike, there were two older couples looking out at the amazing view. I talked with them briefly. As I was leaving, one of the men said, " Stay in shape." At the time, it struck me as an odd thing to say instead of " good luck." However, a few miles down the road, I decided that it was a good piece of advice that was meant to last far beyond this trip.

I was back on the twisting, turning road going ever-upward. Traffic was significantly lighter than below Jerome, but there were still a lot of motorcycles.  At this point, I had been pedaling uphill for six miles. Every time I looked ahead, I could see cars moving along another switchback somewhere above me. It seemed like it would never end. I asked myself why I hadn't plotted a different route. If I had stayed in Camp Verde last night, then ridden across to Prescott on SR 69, it wouldn't have been anything like this. Even if I had ridden north to Flagstaff, I would have had a more gradual climb to 7,000 feet. This was just brutal. Seven miles. The vegetation gradually changed from desert shrubs to pine trees. Eight miles. I had to be insane to be doing this with such a heavily loaded bike, but I discovered that insanity no longer motivated me--I was used to it.  Nine miles. I thought about going back down that mountain, spending another night in Cottonwood and heading to Prescott by another route on Friday or Saturday. It would be so easy to just make that U-turn and roll down. Ten miles. I stopped often, even though there wasn't much of a shoulder in many places. I just couldn't keep it up for more than half a mile or so at a time. Eleven miles. A brief downhill came, but it only lasted a quarter mile. Twelve miles, then thirteen miles. I was down to my last bottle of water, and I was feeling so disheartened that I wasn't even taking pictures when I stopped to rest. I just put my forearms down on the brake hoods, slumped over the handlebars and gasped for air. Fourteen miles. The only good thing I could imagine was that I'd be nearly halfway to Prescott by the time I finally got to the top--if I ever got to the top. My legs were sore, and for the first time my back was hurting, too. I was straining every muscle to will myself up that mountain. Fifteen miles. As I stopped for another break, a couple of motorcyclists came by headed downhill. " Two more miles, two miles," one shouted as he passed. Oh no, not two more miles, I thought. It was good to know there really was an end to it all, but I calculated that my current pace meant another 20-30 minutes of pedaling uphill. I didn't know if I could do it. Soon I passed a sign for Mingus Mountain Recreation Area: 1/2 mile.

It turned out that the road to Mingus Mountain Recreation Area was at the summit. Why the biker told me it was two miles, I'll never know. Maybe he was just mistaken, or maybe he figured I'd be happy that it wasn't as far as he had said. I don't know, but " two miles" was awfully demoralizing compared to the half mile that it really was. I stopped at Summit Park, hoping to refill my water bottles. Alas, there were only picnic tables and pit toilets. After 16 miles, I had reached the top, at 7,023 feet. Now I had a long downhill, but not nearly as long as the uphill had been. The sign to the west said it was seven miles downhill, whereas the sign to the east said twelve miles (actually that was just the distance to Jerome--it was another four miles down from there). Although I had climbed 3,500 feet from Cottonwood, Prescott was less than 2,000 feet below. Leave it to me to pick the hard way.

Because of the speed-limiting switchbacks, I was able to descend at about the same speed as other vehicles. In fact, only a handful of cars passed me on the way down, compared to who-knows-how-many on the way up. That was a good thing since I often  needed to take the whole lane on the way down.  Just a few curves after I started heading downhill, I saw a bicyclist climbing toward me on a road bike and waved. Mingus Mountain would have been plenty challenging on a road bike without all of my extra gear. I actually descended pretty well this time, if I do say so myself. I was starting to get a little more experience with these mountains. A strong wind kept my speed manageable so I didn't have to use my brakes too much. That wind would bedevil me for the rest of the day. I wasn't too happy about two surprise, unsigned cattle guards on the way down, but I didn't have any trouble with them. After climbing for three hours, I came back down in an incredible 20 minutes. The road eased into a long, gentle slope down toward Prescott Valley.

As the highway leveled out, it hit me. Every great journey has some kind of defining moment, a sort of climax. It's the thing that distinguishes a journey from a mere vacation. It cannot be  planned ahead of time it just happens. I suddenly realized that climbing Mingus Mountain was it. There would be plenty of other challenges, to be sure, but if I had to go home at that point, I would have been satisfied.

When I finally reached Prescott Valley after another 45 minutes of riding into the wind, I pulled into the first mini-mart I saw. Scanning the shelves and coolers, I settled on a ham & cheese sub, along with a Coke and two liters of water. I collapsed  on a picnic bench outside and wearily peeled the plastic wrap from my sandwich. Words cannot describe that sandwich. It was the most wonderful thing I ever tasted.

Completely replenished, I headed toward Prescott. Near the western edge of Prescott Valley, I saw an " Adopt-A-Highway" sign for " Ted Nugent World Bow Hunters." I pulled up to a stoplight and noticed a penny on the pavement. When I reached down to pick it up, I found another penny and a dime. It was amazing how many coins I would see on the shoulder of the highways across the country. I wondered if I was the only person  who didn't routinely toss coins out of the passenger window. Anyway, as I waited for the light to change, a car pulled up with a familiar guitar solo blaring on the stereo. Wait a minute, I know who that is... it was  Ted Nugent's " Free For All!" I wondered if it was just a coincidence that this song was playing on the radio as he drove that particular mile of adopted highway, or perhaps that guy always plays a Ted Nugent tape on that mile of road. The latter sounded like something I would do.

The last few miles of SR 89A were four lanes to the SR 89 junction. All traffic was channeled onto a ramp down to a stoplight, but   it was obvious that eventually a bridge will be built over SR 89. After I turned left, I still had another five miles to ride to Prescott. Although the wind still blew in my face, the fantastic scenery of Granite Dells kept my mind off of it. Huge granite rocks towered over SR 89. These awesome rocks were especially striking in the orange light of the late afternoon. As I negotiated a series of hills,  it seemed to take a long time. When I finally made it to Prescott, I felt like I had ridden much further than 44 miles.

For some reason, I'd had a craving to eat at a Country Kitchen for the past few days. I was sorely disappointed tonight when I finally went to one. The service was lousy, and the food wasn't much better. They didn't score any points with me when the waiter informed me that I could only get one free refill with my Coke. Virtually all restaurant chains offer unlimited refills these days. I opted for a glass of water in lieu of paying for another Coke. The Country Kitchen lost big points when the waiter brought out a cup of ice water that couldn't have held more than eight ounces. Excuse me, I'm a touring cyclist. Please bring me a bucket, not a thimble!

Totals for the day: 44.26 miles in 5:28:51 for an 8.0 mph average.

Click here to see today's photos.

Copyright 2002-2013 David Johnsen. All rights reserved.