Tucson, Arizona

In my head I imagined sauntering across the Globe with my bike, lollygagging at fantastic sights as I came across them, and generally having ample time to sit, meditate life and contemplate the vast mysteries of the universe.  However, in reality I have found myself busy packing, unpacking, loading, unloading, planning the next day’s riding, looking for places to stay, things to do, meeting people, and (of course) mostly riding.  This is why I’ve suddenly found myself 2 weeks behind on this blog, although readers would never notice because ‘wordpress’ lets me back-date blog entries so I can also use it as a diary of my travels.  This is why I occasionally like to stay in one place an extra day, just to have time to relax, restock and do a bit of writing.  Such as today (it’s actually 10th March!).


Tucson – a fine city! (should be twinned with Norwich)

So, anyway; Tucson.  After another 6 hour windy ride I arrived in Tucson and found my home for the next 2 days close to the downtown area.  I had completed 7,000 miles on my bike and it was time to get her serviced (she was a little overdue at 6,000 mile service intervals), and so booked her into the local Triumph dealership the next day.  I also needed a new back tyre as it was getting pretty bald.  Of course all the extra weight I’m carrying doesn’t help with economical tyre wear!  I was pleased with the stock battlewings, but wanted to try something a bit more off-road biased, and set my mind on the Heidenau K60 scouts which had had good reports.


Sonoron Desert – one of the largest and hottest deserts in North America

So with the bike sorted, my interesting Tucson guide for the evening was local A&E nurse Diana, originally from N Carolina.  Like many Americans, she had fancied a change from her surroundings and moved across the country for new adventures.  I must admit, I do kind of envy Americans for this – having the freedom to uplift and move to any number of amazing areas in North America without a passport or facing red-tape, economic, language and social barriers (well, apart from Alabama – ha ha).

I can certainly attest that Tucson is a lively night out, even on a Thursday, with a varied, eclectic crowd of people.  We started downtown in the Hotel Congress, famous for the capture of bank robber John Dillinger in 1934, and moved onto a 4th Avenue pub crawl, adorned with ample drinking dens sporting a variety of locally brewed beers, which all add up to a mighty hangover the next day (surprisingly).  Good fun though, naturally.


Saguaro Cactus – can grow to be over 20 meters tall and live for over 150 years – just like me!

Tucson is a beautiful city surrounded by 5 mountain ranges in the Sonoron Desert, which is one of the largest and hottest deserts in North America covering large parts of Arizona, California & Northwest Mexico.  It is the first time I have ever seen the strange Saguaro, the archetypal tall, branched cactus seen in (what I recall to be almost all) Western movies, even though it only actually grows in a relatively limited area.  Saguaros can grow to be over 20 meters tall, 3m in diameter and live for over 150 years, with some side arms taking up to 75 years to develop.

Great for kids too, you can also visit nearby Old Tucson Studios, a movie studio and theme park where you can watch the Gunfight at the OK Coral.  The notorious Tombstone is also close by, where similar family fun can be had with old Western Street mock-ups.


Old Tucson Studios, a movie studio and theme park where you can watch the Gunfight at the OK Coral, and occasionally see a sexy Triumph Tiger 800 XC

From Tucson I meandered up to Phoenix via Tucson Mountain Park and ‘Gates Pass’, which is a wonderful ride through the Sonoron Desert, peppered with all kinds of weird and wonderful plant life.


Organ Pipe Cactus – unique to the Sonoron desert, along with the Saguaro Cactus

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Sedona, Arizona

After a day in the sprawling mass that is Phoenix getting my new tyres fitted (they didn’t have them in Tucson) I set course for Sedona, which is only a couple of hours to the North.  One place I can recommend in Phoenix, if you ever go there, is Scottsdale – lots of nice outside bars & restaurants by the water.


Arriving at my AirB&B accommodation, Sedona – lucked out again!

I’d heard much about the beautiful red sandstone formations at Sedona, and the mysterious properties the purported spiritual vortexes extrude (at Bell Rock, Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock & Boynton Canyon).  Because of this a New Age tourist industry has sprung up, enticing spiritual, cool, hippy and sometimes strange people from all over the world.  I may have been placed in the ‘strange’ category when people saw me sprint up several hiking trails in one day in an attempt to get some great photos to do the place justice.  Alas, unfortunately it was overcast all day and the lighting terrible for pictures (although I did my best!).


Climbing Cathedral Rock (feeling no vortexes yet…)

The first day I scaled Cathedral Rock, Airport Mesa and the ‘Devil’s Bridge’, and also visited Bell Rock and Boynton Canyon, and each offered incredible views.


Amazing view from top of Cathedral Rock (shame about the overcast weather)


On way back down from Cathedral Rock – some bits required bum surfing!

The area also offers some nice off-road tracks, such as along Boynton Canyon – great for testing out my new tyres (they’re great!)


The new Heidenau K60 tyres performing well in Boynton Canyon

However, I am sad to say I did not feel any of the energy from these vortexes.  One theory suggests the measured increase in electromagnetic activity in Sedona can be more easily detected by women (rather than men) because of the higher concentrations of magnetite in their inner ear fluid (the reason geese know how to fly North in the spring).  I knew I should have worn my prom dress and high heels!  (and how do male geese know?)

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Devil’s Bridge – Amazing!


One of many fantastic hiking trails all around Sedona

I had the good fortune to have yet another hospitable and interesting ‘AirB&B’ host during my 2 day stay.  Sandra had been a PAN AM flight attendant for 32 years and lived & traveled all over the world.  She has a beautiful, quiet house in the centre of Sedona directly across from an easy trail leading up to some great views, which she kindly took me up.  She was also my introduction to Biophoton Light Therapy, which theory I found fascinating, like most ‘new age’ therapies, and will continue to study.


My AirB&B host Sandra’s gorgeous balcony – how lucky!


The top of the trail behind my AirB&B host Sandra’s lovely house


And the lovely Sandra!

On my first night I wondered down to the local bar for dinner and a drink (or two), as I usually do, and perched next to me at the bar I heard a familiar accent; “eh up duck, I’ll ‘ave a pint o bitter please”.  Of course, it was Ian from Sheffield (UK) with his unmistakable Yorkshire accent.  After chatting for a while, he and his wife kindly invited me to join them at their table for dinner, so I did.  Turns out Ian has one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever come across; he covers the servicing & maintenance of British built Double Decker all over North America.  It was nice to hear British industry doing so well abroad, and I didn’t know his company (Alexander Dennis) builds Double Decker buses for many American cities such as Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Toronto, Ottawa and Victoria.

The morning of my last day in Sedona the sun decided to come out and totally transformed the wonderful colours.  What else could I do but rush around again on the Tiger taking as many photos as I could before the looming clouds closed in.


The road to Cathedral Rock (in sunshine!)


Cathedral Rock


Climbing Cathedral Rock (again!)

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Half way back down Cathedral Rock


Bell Rock (left)


The ride North to Flagstaff was equally as spectular as anything seen before


San Francisco Peaks – the remains of an ancient Stratovolcano once reaching 15,000 feet above the Colorado Plateau


San Francisco Peaks – The highest summit is Humphreys Peak at 12,633 feet (3,851 m)


As I approached the Grand Canyon’s South Rim 7,000 feet high on the Colorado Plateau, it got pretty cold! The views from the climb were spectacular though

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Bright Angel Trail, The Grand Canyon

When someone tells me I can’t do something, the first thing I look for is a valid reason, and if there isn’t one, I usually try to do it (like most kids – ha ha).  You may call me stubborn or just plain stupid, but I call it a challenge.  And this is probably why I’ve broken lots of bones in my time, and is certainly not a philosophy I would recommend anybody following.  So, when I was told I couldn’t hike from the Grand Canyon South Rim to the Colorado River (at the bottom) and back in one day by the friendly neighbourhood Park Rangers, I decided to investigate why.

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View of the Grand Canyon from the top of the South Rim

The hike is around 10 miles each way, and every year dozens of people have to be rescued from the Canyon suffering from dehydration, exhaustion, heat stroke and hypothermia, and a couple usually die.  Others are caught in hazards such as flash flooding, loose trails, slippery ice, rock-falls and encounters with dangerous wildlife, which is also why they recommend not hiking alone.  Instead, they recommend being sensible and hiking half the trail in one day with a partner and the correct equipment.


My cabin at the Grand Canyon South Rim – Bright Angel Lodge. With a decent bar & restaurant, it beats freezing in a tent! (temperatures can drop to freezing at 6,860 feet in February)

However, after a bit of research, I read that it was possible to hike it in one day, in the right conditions, and being the middle of winter I thought at least the chances of getting heat stroke were minimalised (although not hypothermia at night).  So, at 06:30 I turfed myself out of bed, had a good breakfast, and set off at 08:00 with my spiritual hiking partner and professional hiking attire (jeans and trainers) and a hipflask.  What else could I need?

I must say I expected the first half (the down bit) to be easy.  However, one disadvantage of hiking down in the middle of winter is extensive ICE.  The trail (Bright Angel Trail) starts at 6,860 feet, which is pretty cold in the winter, and all the shaded North facing slopes of the Grand Canyon are covered in snow and ice, and sometimes even the South facing slopes too.


Plenty of snow and ice at 6,860 feet in February!

Now unfortunately my state of the art Merrell trainers have less grip than a pair of ice skates, and would be great for ice skating but not for climbing down icy trails with sheer 1,000 foot drops inches away.  Given my relationship with cliffs and falling off them, there were several heart-stopping moments when I thought I might have been wrong to attempt such a feat in February.  This feeling was supported by the only other 2 people I saw on the trail climbing back up.  “I’m coming back another day with crampons” the bloke said, as his girlfriend almost did the splits like Bambi on ice.


Slippery ice on the Bright Angel Trail for the first 1000 feet or so (in February). Good job I didn’t have any crampons!

Maybe he was sensible, or maybe he just wasn’t an ex-British Mine Clearance Diver (ha ha!).  After all, if you always wait until everything is perfect, you will never do anything.


Luckily the ice had cleared after half an hour or so. You can see the trail zig-zagging away into the distance

Even my limited knowledge of the weather told me ice melts when it gets warmer, and so I decided to venture down a little further (in slippery pigeon steps) in the hope the ice soon melted with the lower altitude and rising sun.  Luckily, a few hundred feet further down the ice was gone, and I shifted into 4th gear for the first time.


Hiking down almost 1 mile vertically down through 12 layers of rock dating back 2 billion years old – cool!

There are many beautiful hikes I have done, but I cannot think of any better one than this.  The Bright Angel Trail drops from 6,860 feet down almost one mile from the trail head to the Colorado River at the bottom, through at least 12 layers of rock dating back 2 billion years old.  These rock layers underwent several tectonic movements over time (particularly when the North American plate collided with the Pacific plate to create the Rocky Mountains about 70 million years ago) which forced the Grand Canyon area up thousands of feet.  Then, relatively recently in Geological time, 6 million years ago the Colorado River and its tributaries set to work carving this incredible canyon out of the tectonically weakened rock layers and soft sediments.  The result is today a magnificent canyon 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide and one mile deep.


Halfway – Indian Garden – local Indian tribes used to farm this land for thousands of years

The hike down was beautiful, but not too difficult ranging from mud (once the snow & ice had melted), sand and rock through Alpine to desert.  There are several rest stops along the way with free water fountains to replenish your supply, meaning you don’t have to carry vast amounts of water.


Approaching the Colorado River

Three hours later I had covered 9.5 miles and reached the Colorado River – Yippee!  Although the view from the bottom was not as spectacular as I had imagined, it was still nice, as was bathing my steaming feet in the very cold Colorado River.

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Colorado River – Yippee!


But now it’s time to hike back up…

After an hour’s lunch-break, where I ate my bacon & egg sannie from breakfast, it was time to set off on the hike back up to the rim.  I must admit I was feeling good and set myself a target of another 3 hours.  However, this really was ambitious as it’s obviously much harder going 9.5 miles uphill than down.  Nonetheless, I pressed on in 4th gear.


The sun was higher on the way back up, so the light was better for photos, but I was starting to sweat more!

By now the afternoon sun was pretty hot, and I had built up a good sweat; I began to understand why doing this in the middle of summer when temperatures can reach 110 degrees F (44 degrees C) really would be very foolish.  I imagine it must be pretty frustrating for the Park Rangers feeding people IVs as they collapse.


Getting there…

I eventually made the top in 3.5 hrs, slowed down somewhat by the ice at the top again, and the steep gradients.  Because I’d wondered around a bit at the bottom, my GPS said 20 miles in 6.5 hours – not bad.  I must admit, it was pretty tiring, owing to the fact that I collapsed on my bed for a ‘siesta’ as soon as I arrived back at my cabin.  I had also developed several blisters courtesy of my stand-in professional hiking boots, which was to be expected.


I was greeted by wild elk at the top with champagne and caviar

To cover my back (especially in the USA), don’t do this unless you have done the correct planning, and you have the correct hiking equipment, and a partner, and it is the right time of year!  However, it is pretty awesome!

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