Charley’s ride across America 33. Rest days and guided tours


Day 67 April 4 0 miles rest day in McDowell park

Day 68 April 5 0 miles, rest day in McDowell park

Day 69 April 6. 50 miles 4:45, rested legs, flat and tailwind- feels like we’re getting fit, end in Gila Bend AZ

Total miles 2649 , 88% finished

Dear friends and family,

We took a couple of days off to recover and hang with Gregg’s friends from Salt Lake, Bob and Annie.

They came down for the mountain biking at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, which is a beautiful spot just north of Tempe. AZ. You need reservations far in advance as it is very popular. Every type of camper was on display here and Gregg’s and mine were the only tents. We picked a good couple of days for resting, as the wind was blowing about 25 the first day and 15 the next. It only dropped to the high thirties at night, so was chilly sleeping, but not bitter.

We are getting a lift through Phoenix to save the risk of pedaling in a big city with lots of retirees driving.

After that lift only about 350 miles to San Diego, for the finish of the trip. I look forward to the completion, but also enjoy the day to day simpleness of worrying only about riding, navigation, and fuel. Life is simple, even if hard.

We’ve passed three tour groups going east in the last weeks. They were all fully supported, which means riders only carry snacks and water, as the sag wagon carries their packs, and will even pick up any riders too tired to keep riding or do repairs and flat fixes as needed.

This is easier riding on light bikes. No time spent wondering about the right choice of roads, worrying about headwinds or plans for lodging. Little need for help from angels.

As opposed to the solo, unsupported ride we both started with. We get ( have to?), decide on which route for safety, be our own mechanic, and find our own lodging. No sag wagon to pick us up ( other than hitch hiking).

And we get to carry 50-60 pounds more on our bikes.

Maybe the solo sounds awful in comparison, but I personally wouldn’t want to skip the planning and navigation and self support. I also think socially it is real different, in that the groups we met were mostly focused on relationships with fellow riders, we are both mostly focused on meeting the local people to learn about them. Also, we give them a chance to be angels when we are in need.

Both types of a tour can work, depending on what you like or even your physical health and fitness situation.

I also have a bias, due to my history of guided tours.

Liz suggested a few years ago that we do another mountain bike trip to Canyonlands right after the tax season deadline. She enjoyed the White Rim trip a few years earlier, so we opted for the CANYONLANDS AND MAZE trip, so she didn’t have to redo a prior trip.

As I was packing for the trip, I purposely put aside my ten essentials of backpacking that I normally carry. The list of gear to bring did not include any of those items and besides, I’m sure the guide would be prepared for us.

Turned out that the ride was quite challenging for us. We were with mostly quite experienced serious mountain bikers. I think there were eight of us clients, plus two guides. One guide would drive the truck with food and our camping gear, the other would ride with us.

As the days went by, our skills increased greatly and we learned to “ lay off our brakes” on the descents. I never had any idea till then how rugged a trail mountain bikes could take.

Near the end of the week trip, we had a hike instead of a ride scheduled. We would descend into “THE MAZE, and hike out the other side, while the truck with gear and bikes  would drive the seventy miles around and meet us at the next camp.

Tim, the riding guide, led the way into the canyon. It seemed kind of macho to Liz and me that he was wearing flip flops, but I thought if it’s something he’s done multiple times, it probably seemed easy to him. It was only a 3-4 hour hike, so we wore small daypacks with just a water jug each, clad in shorts and t-shirts.

They don’t call this rock “ slick rock “ because it’s sticky, but even though the climb down was precarious, we all made it down safely. A couple of hours hiking and we visited the ancient wall paintings and had our lunch.

 Tim was leading us through several canyons that all looked alike to me. He then started to walk deep into one canyon, then another and back his way. We were all perplexed as his path weaved back and forth. He spoke not a word, and soon just sat down on a rock. We asked him if he was lost, and he barely acknowledged that it was true. He then shut up completely and put his head down. 

Our guide was lost. No GPS, no emergency anything. It was now later afternoon on a hot day, but the shadows were getting longer and we were terribly short on water, no extra food, and a dark cold night coming on. One of us clients had just come out of a chemo treatment days earlier and was terribly weak to begin with. This could be trouble.

Very calmly, our group ( with NO Input from our guide) got our heads together. One of the young guys was able to get a lat/long reading on his watch and the shiny brochure from the Park service actually had coordinates on it. With that, we figured the direction we were to go and now, with a quickness to our steps, we tried dead end canyon after canyon, looking for a climb out. 

Finally, after darkness was almost complete and water was gone we found what could be a cairn at the bottom of a climb. It was worth the chance. We were trying to will the light to stay as we scrambled up the slick rock, forming a human chain led by a young woman who was an outdoor leadership and rock climbing instructor. We did pull Tim up last, even though he wasn’t our favorite person this day. He still didn’t speak, but followed behind our exit and climb out.

Once on top, in the pitch dark, someone ( Tim?) ran down a dirt toad to find the truck lit up and waiting for us. Somehow the driver/ guide had called for a rescue and a helicopter was poised to fly ar first light in the morning.

We didn’t have much to say to Tim the next two days. The trip ended at a paved airstrip in the dessert with a 12 seat plane waiting for us. Once in, the pilot free us over the track we biked and hiked. We were all wearing headphones to hear the pilot. Over the MAZE section, he told us that people die down there, it is so dangerous. We all acknowledged to each other using hand signals that we knew that could be true. The pilot had no idea about our ordeal.

Once back to cell coverage, I googled THE MAZE and found it at or near the top of “ most dangerous hikes in America”, and we had a guide with no navigation equipment, and obviously weak skills.

The company must have talked to their legal department before talking to me when I called and asked what they might do for us. They kindly offered a discount on our next trip with them!!!! Can’t wait!

I did notice soon after that Tim was no longer listed on their website as one of their guides.

I sure learned some lessons that trip about trusting others with my life in the outdoors.

Loving your comments.

Sending love,


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