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A Transition in Palette

Posted by on Jun 22, 10:24 AM
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How did the brothers teleport from Kansas to Minnesota? We drove a pickup with our bikes and trailers in the back. Since it was a longitudinal traverse we won’t consider it a cheat. Also, we will have close to 5000 miles upon departure from the U.S. which is about 2000 more miles than the width of the country from Washington State to Maine.

A close friend of ours was to be ordained a priest, so it seemed the best alternative as it would have been nearly impossible, physically speaking, to arrive on time with only four days to make the 520-mile traverse north. Obviously, these miles will not accrue to the odometer.

Painted DesertWithout further ado, my narrative picks up from where it left off at the Grand Canyon just after the savage battle with the black panther.

Don’t ride after dark.

Painted Desert ArrivalTuba City was our next stop on the tour. Just inside the immense Navajo Nation, Tuba city is the first sign of civilization in the Painted Desert on the way from the Canyon. Unless you count the piles of malt-liquor bottles on the sides of Highway 160 as you enter the reserve leaving Highway 89 behind. I have to admit, I was quite unsettled with the idea of Entering HWY 160entering the Nation in the dark and sharing the road with who knows how many intoxicated tribesmen in pickup trucks. But we made good time on this ninety mile leg. It should be mentioned in advance that acquaintance’s comments on our planned 3-night journey through the Navajo Res were in this vein:

“Get ready for a whole lot of nothing.”
“Be really careful! Don’t camp just anywhere.”
“There is nothing there but a few trading posts along the way.”
“You will see some destitute poverty there, but it’s a safe enough place.”
“Don’t ride after dark.”

REDThe scenery on the descent into the Painted Desert was a contrast with what I have seen of deserts so far. Yes, it is sparse and desolate. Yes, sage brush is the predominant vegetation. However, the Flea Marketsumptuous preamble was a striking view of sheer gorges cut into the desert by the “Little Colorado River.” As we approached the Navajo Nation, the topography took on all sorts of lively shapes and colors, including the most brilliant shade of red I have seen. This red soil was Muttonenhanced to a radiant glow by the falling sun, a vision that cannot by done justice by the photos you see here. Purples and khaki sands mottled the desert beyond. If you’re going to live in a desert, it might as well be one as lovely as this!

Quality Inn Tuba CityOur night in Tuba City was spent at the Quality Inn, complements of the management. It is the only oasis in the town. We almost went out for bad Chinese food but the place was closed when we arrived so we opted for Sonic dollar-menu cuisine (and some closing-time freebies) after no luck with urban foraging (big surprise). Yum. Later, ugh. But the hotel was very satisfactory. One does not understand the true value of a shower until they have done some self-supported bicycle touring!

Kneel Down BreadDay two in this land of many colors was warm, comfortable, and sunny to start. After an unexpectedly delicious breakfast of French toast and fresh fruit at the hotel restaurant we packed up and dropped by the weekly Tuba City flea market for some Navajo Fry Bread and provisions for the ride, including home-made banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, and mealy, healthfully-earthy “Kneel-Down Bread” wrapped and baked in corn husks (pictured). I would make a special trip back to Tuba City just for a Navajo mutton sandwich. No joke.

Stray dogs and roaring trucks interrupted our already fitful sleep throughout the night.

MonumentsWe passed through a cold desert thunderstorm to arrive at Kayenta, the next semblance of civilization on Highway 160. It is the portal to Monument Valley, a touristy patch of desert filled with strikingly vertical rock formations with lots of orange. Think quintessential Into the StormUtah. It’s really just a pit stop with a few fancy hotels on the main drag and then a much more bleak development of government housing and stray dogs on the north side of the highway. We tried the hotels but they either had insufficient authority to help us or they were full, Post thunderstormbeing a Friday night. So we were left with two alternatives: camp in some filthy, brushy open space behind the Burger King or set up our tents behind the dirt behind Basha’s Supermarket. After a little deliberation we chose the former. The fine dirt was speckled with sage brush Kayenta campand had plenty of random garbage mixed in, like broken bottles, plastic bottles and bags. Stray dogs and roaring trucks interrupted our already fitful sleep throughout the night. I felt the next morning as if I were a drowsy seven-layer cake of dirt and filth bonded Snack Packtogether by sticky sweat. At the Burger King I relieved some of the discomfort by washing my hair and face in the sink after squeezing through a pathway crowded with French women lined up (if you can call it a line) for the bathroom. Some of them were using the men’s room.

Outside of KayentaA slow day through the desert took us next to Four Corners, the intersection of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. We camped in the alcove of a café attached to a trading post with permission from the friendly owner. Thank goodness, too. The dust storm that Lovelypicked up after we set up shop quickly amounted to gale-force winds that would have likely turned our tents into UFOs with Randall and I as the Martian pilots. Randall and I slept far better than on the previous night and pedaled our way through the warm day and over a Camping in Teec Nos Posmoderate pass (to 8400-feet) into Durango, Colorado. The Ramada Hotel put us up after we tried just about every hotel in town, and boy were we do for showers! Those beds were the MOST COMFORTABLE beds I have slept in on the trip. They advertise the “best sleep in town” for good reason!

Giant CaterpillarsIt should not be left out that I was surprised by the spectacle of a curious creature on the side of the road in southwest Colorado. They appeared to be giant caterpillars lined up, and dead. Each was about 7-meters long. The locals claimed that they had been known to eat slow-moving cattle from time to time. The causing of auto accidents when lazily crossing the roadway is what these giant crawlers are best known for.

SunscreenGreen was the color of Colorado. There was such an abrupt change in visuals between Arizona and Colorado I could not but be struck with a strong first impression. Of course, the roads became much more hilly the deeper we burrowed into the Rockies. In Pagosa Springs the next day we were kindly taken in by the Alpine Inn. It’s owned by a very pleasant Polish family and the town is one of those quaint and mild mountain refuges reminiscent of a European alpine town.

GreenLittle did we know what we were in for the next day. I knew we would start to hit some serious climbing as we worked our way toward Denver, but I did not anticipate that the weather gods would decide spite us with their mighty arms. As we approached Wolf Creek Pass it was easy to see that we were in for it. The darkness of the clouds over the road as it began to climb was ominous. First cold rain, then hail pounded us from above as we cranked up the steep road. Drivers going the opposite direction just stared in To Durangodisbelief that we were tackling such an obstacle in the downpour. By the time we reached the top at 10,800-feet elevation the rain had abated but it was still very cool. Wolf Creek Pass is on the Great Divide of the continent, the “spine” of North America. It used to take a Ford Model T two full days to get over it! I assume that was before it was paved. There was quite a bit of snow at the top and some glacial waters rushing down to meet the valleys on either side.

Our rapid descent took us into the town of Del Norte, through more drenching rain but with the aid of a speedy tailwind.

In other news:

  • The route has changed as you may have surmised by now.
  • We have purchased airline tickets that will from New York City to Paris that will put us in France on Bastille Day (July 14th!).


  1. Thanks, boys, for letting us all share this adventure with you. It’s been a blast so far. May you enjoy nothing but tailwinds across the upper Midwest. I’ll sing La Marseilles for you on Bastille Day (still remember the words 45 years after that French class). lynn & blake

    — the willefords · Jun 25, 02:22 PM · #

  2. Great adventure and you’re not even out of the country yet. Enjoy reading your stories. Best of luck!

    Chris Sandvig · Jun 28, 04:02 PM · #

  3. Nice, I’m glad we are able to entertain. Stay tuned for our adventures in Middle America!

    Andrew Leese · Jun 28, 08:21 PM · #

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures with us…it’s soooooo interesting! We’re praying for you :)

    — Torres Family · Jul 4, 08:31 AM · #

  5. Randell,

    I’ve got stories about Tuba City I can tell you when you get home. The 2 of you are in our thoughts.

    The Beard family of Whidbey Island

    — Thomas Beard · Aug 31, 01:51 PM · #

  6. I just sorta came across your blog surfing the www. Your brief mention about Kneel Down Bread was enough to read, lo and behold there is my aunt selling the bread. We have a face book group at:

    Look us up, and yeah, wise decision not to ride after dark.

    — Steve · Oct 11, 07:30 PM · #

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Last Updated: Jun 26, 11:50 AM

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