Weather was perfect, sunny, 70-80 degrees, tailwind, cool breeze. The climb out of Payson started about five miles out of town, at an elevation of 4350 ft. Twenty two miles later, I was at 7400 ft. Arizona route 260 out of Payson is a death trap of some renown. A guy in a bike shop that Pam went to this morning predicted that I would say it was the most dangerous road on my entire trip. I will say that there have been none worse. There is no shoulder, usually a four foot drop off of loose rocks into a ditch. There are few guardrails. The road constantly winds to the right and the left, blind crests over minor rolling hills. Combine that with a bunch of tourists from Phoenix who don't know the roads, and an intense climb for me, meaning I'm going slow! I tried to minimize traffic by riding on a Monday morning, after the 9 a m rush was over. Traffic was worse on Sunday when we went to the Tonto State Park, with all the weekend tourists pulling their trailers. Today wasn't really bad, and I never really feared for my life. I only brought one tractor trailer to a dead stop on a steep uphill. He was cool about it though. I got a lot of thumbs up signs while I was pounding up the climb, and no middle fingers up. I'll take that. I had one guy ride his horn from 100 yards behind me until he was well past me. I don't think I even caused him to slow down, but I did fire off my middle finger for the entire length of his horn tirade. I'm not sure which of us felt better about it. But, with that being said, I get that crap so seldom that it really stands out. People are really careful around me, and seemingly supportive of my efforts. In turn, I ride defensively, and try to stay out of the way, and mouth the words 'thank you' a lot, along with a wave.
The climb out of Payson today WAS the steepest of my trip. I've climbed steeper hills for six or seven miles, but I can't remember when. The cool thing was that my legs were like finely tuned pistons, and the climb was enjoyable and painless. A day off yesterday, growing altitude acclimatization, and a tail wind made all the difference. I really think that the lack of a headwind was the most notable factor. When I finally crested the 7450 peak, I looked to my left and saw snow caps in the distance, as well as painted red bluffs, mixed with the ponderosa filled mountains. The spine of the mountain traveled for about ten miles, rolling up and down above 7000 ft. That is when the fun really started.
As I was cruising along, I saw what appeared to be a big dog, run across the road about 150 yards in front of me. He ran down over a hill to my right. I thought, WOW, maybe a coyote! As I approached the area where he ran over the hill, I saw him walking along an atv trail, about 50 ft from the road. I expected to spook him, so I was looking very closely to try to get a fleeting glimpse. The animal stopped in his tracks, looked up at me, and we made eye contact for what seemed like five seconds. He lifted his nose into the air, like he was catching my scent. WOW, I thought, that was cool. I rode on up the road about 50 yards, and glanced into my mirror, and couldn't believe what I saw! It took a double take, and confirmed the animal was up on the road, coming my direction. The hair stood up on my arms, and the flight or fight reflexes in my body took over. I looked again, and he was still trotting on the road, at about the same speed as me. I got chills all over, and my speed increased. The animal kept coming. I was going uphill way faster than I normally would, and my quads weren't burning at all. Finally a car came by in my direction, and I thought 'thank God', that will scare him off. After the car passed, I looked back, and the animal was STILL on the road, trotting about 100 yards behind me, not gaining on me, but not falling back either. At this point I started thinking about how I was going to defend myself. I have my car antenna, but I was thinking about grabbing a rock, or a baseball bat shaped piece of wood. I was looking for my weapon, when he suddenly disappeared. WHEW! Why was he stalking me? Was he hungry! Was he sick? Why was he moving in the middle of the afternoon? Was he aggressive? Was he just curious? Or, did he just want to go, coincidentally, in the same direction as me? What was it, a coyote, or wolf? He was long legged, big ears with a narrow snout, muscular, with grey and brownish markings. Why didn't the passing car scare him? I've had my experience with nature in the mountains, and it shot adrenaline through my body. After an hour on the Internet, I still am not sure--coyote or wolf. About five miles down the road, I came to a country store, and the car that passed the animal was there. I stopped, and talked to the driver, and he confirmed that he did not spook the animal. He said it was the biggest wolf he ever saw, and didn't think a coyote would ever get that big. He also thought we were a little high for a coyote, as they roam the warmer, lower elevations. I just don't know.
I still had about fifteen more miles, and I finished off Arizona 260, when I turned north onto forest road 3, through the Coconino National Forest, towards Flagstaff, instead of Winslow, where 260 was headed. I was about three miles from Happy Jack Rv resort, where Pam was, when I saw ANOTHER animal. It ran across the road in front of me twice, and it was not interested in me. It was in full trot, and acted more like a wild animal should. He ran off into the woods, perpendicular to the road. It looked to be smaller, and scruffier, with, maybe, the same colors. What are the chances of seeing two wolves, or coyotes, or whatever, in the same day? In the middle of the afternoon! I know that I'm gonna keep my eyes open from now on, and I've got to get a different weapon to carry with me on a bike. Maybe a knife. Damn! Welcome to the wild, wild west sweetheart!!!
|On the road again..... going up!|
|Some lovely mountain flowers|
|We won't be "standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona"! (That's from a song Daddy!)|
|We are now in the wilds of Coconino Forest! Just ask Mike!|
|Not sure if this memorial is for a bicycle or motorcycle rider, but they took a heck of a chunk out of the tree!|