From the motel in Payson we set off at 5:20 am beneath clear a sky. The early morning was cool, and we wore shell jackets, along with the usual polyester shirt and shorts. Asking around, someone had told Jenny that the road to Mesa had a large shoulder all the way, and that the town of Sunflower, midway along the 80-mile jaunt, had a grocery store. The road began with virtually no shoulder, and this persisted for several miles. We continued on the hope that a shoulder would soon begin. Which eventually it did.
The road began descending at the standard 6% grade, and at one point we happened on what looked like an overgrown burrowing owl sitting on the shoulder ahead. We braked to a stop, right in front of what turned out to be a barn owl. Obviously it had been hit, or at least grazed, by a passing vehicle, for it did not fly away from us. It was in a stupor, and after a few long moments it flew away - but only to the other side of the road. So at least it's wings were not broken. I approached it again, and gently encouraged it to fly farther away from the dangerous road. Which it did, but again only 20-feet. But at least now it was safely off the road. So we left it to recover, and continued on our way.
The descent was long and we used a lot of brakes, as we did not trust our bikes at much over 20 mph or so. Obviously they were not built for speed, and we were not inclined to experiment. So we had to stop a few times to allow the wheel rims to cool. At each stop we found them hot to the touch. I could see the advantage of disc brakes, as they would not heat the rubber tires and tubes.
The country we passed through was very interesting, with mountains and deep valleys. But we had to focus mainly on the road's shoulder immediately ahead, because it was littered all along the way with broken glass and shreds of blown tires. These pieces of tires were ubiquitous, and because they contained steel wire they were dangerous to run over because the wire could puncture a tire. Several times we found bits of wire embedded in one of our tires. As the morning wore on the traffic increased, but the wide shoulder allowed us to essentially ignore the traffic, and zone it out.
The town's grocery store proved an illusive figment of the fellow's imagination; at least we did not find it. But since we were making excellent progress we counted it no major loss.
The way was not all downhill, however. Several long uphill stretches presented themselves, and one of these in particular was 4.5 in length and so steep we had to walk most of it. This is when the day's heat started getting to us, because when walking, the breeze was zilch. At least with the completion of each uphill push, we were rewarded with a downhill coast. Unfortunately, the more downhill, the lower the elevation and the more oven-like the temperatures.
By mid-afternoon as we were nearing the Verde River, Jenny started complaining of feeling sick and needing to get out of the sun. Yet we could see civilization looming ahead, and I felt it best to press ahead, as I hoped we would soon reach a store with cold drinks. And cold is what we needed to combat the heat. She was gasping and saying she wanted to stop in the shade, and I felt her symptoms were psychological. Later in the day I would learn how wrong I was about this.
Jenny bravely persisted and before long we did indeed reach a convenience store. Stepping inside, we were hit with the cold, air-conditioned atmosphere, and knew we had reached heaven. We bought and devoured a number of cold drinks, but had to sit outside in the heat while drinking them, as the place had no inside seating. I consumed two large cups of soda on ice, and because of the high sugar content, this soon proved a big mistake. So did the hot dog we split between us. By the time we peddled away I was feeling ill.
We continued SW along the road for about 5 miles, and my ability to carry on diminished with each mile. Just beyond the turnoff to Gilbert road I began having difficulty staying on my bike. And once again Jenny was telling me that she needed to find shade. Yet there was no shade anywhere. I laid my bike down by the side of the road, and at Jenny's suggestion I sat down. But the ground was like a frying pan, so I stood back up. Then I began feeling like I was drowning, going under despite my best efforts to remain afloat (conscious). This caused me to nearly panic, because I knew that if I fainted onto the hot ground it would burn me or at least worsen my condition enormously. And looking around I could find nowhere - as far as the eye could see - to lie down out of the sun.
The odd part was the traffic whizzing past, ignoring our plight. Perhaps from the air-conditioned comfort of their cars, the drivers didn't imagine it possible that someone outside could be literally dying of the heat. Perhaps they thought I was staggering around drunk.
I gathered my resolve, mounted the bike, and we peddled a short ways back toward the junction. Right away I spotted a culvert beneath the road that I had not noticed earlier. I steered the bike down the embankment, laid the bike down, and then removed a few tumbleweeds from in front of the culvert. Then I crawled about six feet inside, and laid down on its the sandy bottom. The culvert was corrugated steel pipe about 3-1/2 feet in diameter, and unfortunately the metal was very warm but not hot enough to burn like the ground outside. And it protected us from the killing sun.
Jenny retrieved our foam pads from her pack and we lay on those, for the insulation from the ground heat. The pads were quite thin, but they certainly helped. Fortunately we carried a bottle of ice water, and this I placed on my head. The culvert's interior was far from cool, but at least it was not deathly hot like outside. So we lay there for over an hour, as our body temperatures slowly returned to the operating range. And it wasn't until after the first half an hour that I could begin to properly focus my eyes.
Lying there, I realized that Jenny's earlier plight had not been psychological. She was in the initial throws of heat exhaustion. What fooled me is that at the time I felt fine. But now I did not, and nor do I think that my bout was psychological. Still, there were a few good lessons. One, don't underestimate the heat. Later we learned that the temperature was about 112 degrees. And when feeling the need for a rest in the shade, don't ignore that. To ignore that feeling can lead to heat exhaustion and a collapse into unconsciousness. And I now knew that this can be fatal, and many people must have died in just that way.
We could remain in the culvert only as long as our supply of liquids lasted. And these we needed to consume, to help cool our bodies. So after about an hour, there came a point when we needed to evacuate the culvert and press ahead to a source of shade and water. So we decided to follow Gilbert road south. This had very little shoulder and much high-speed traffic, and I doubt whether the frustrated and aggressive drivers realized that we were occupying a small part of their road, not for recreational purposes, but for our very lives. But we peddled at a good clip, and in about an hour reached an area of stores. There, we pulled into a convenience store, went in and bought cold drinks, without sugar this time.
Now late in the afternoon, the day was beginning to cool, and much refreshed we peddled a few miles east along McKellips road, then south on Country Club to Main street, where we took a room at the Travel Lodge. Right away we plunged into the swimming pool, but oddly the water was too warm for comfort. And undoubtedly it was heated only by the sun.
More to follow ...