Tombstone AZ: Riding on I-10

I woke up to see 2:21AM on the clock, and never got back to sleep. Keyed up to go, with dreamlike thoughts swirling around my head, I lay in bed sort of quarter dozing, waiting for the morning.

At 6AM I opened my door to find Jesse ready to go. We considered Denny’s again, but instead drove the X5 about 6 miles north of Davis-Monthan AFB to Joe’s Pancake House that got great reviews. It turned out to be perfect – friendly service, local customers, homey comfortable atmosphere, good coffee, and tasty fare. I enjoyed coffee, eggs, pancakes, and grits. Jesse enjoyed coffee and a couple of English muffins and proclaimed hominy a basically inedible food product.

Joe's Pancake House

I was happy to gain permission to leave the X5 parked at the Holiday Inn. Of course, I probably could have left it without permission, but I really didn’t want to get ticketed or even towed.

On the road by 7:15AM, we snaked our way eastward through an industrial park away from the Holiday Inn, and eventually onto Alvernon Way heading south. There was lots of morning traffic but a reasonable bike lane for 2.5 miles down to Valencia.

Eastward on Valencia, we immediately encountered a 6-8 mph headwind coming from the southeast, not exactly a welcome feeling. The road began a gradual 1% climb as we continued east on Old Vail Road and Mary Ann Cleveland Way, with decent shoulder and thin traffic. On the ride back from Joe’s I’d gotten a song in my head that wouldn’t go away, and so I pushed up alongside Jesse and we both started singing Arlo Guthrie’s “Good Morning, America, How Are Ya?…”

Trains and planes near Davis-Monthan AFB
Eastward on Valenica Road

Further east I passed beautiful acreage of prickly pear cacti with ugly signs proclaiming NO TRESPASSING. More music entered my head. “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blocking out the scenery breaking my mind…”

Southeast on Mary Ann Cleveland Way
Do this - don't do that, can't you read the sign?

Up a short steep hill onto Collosal Cave Road. This road offers poor bike passage – no shoulder and moderate levels of traffic aiming for I-10, but fortunately for only 2 miles or so. We ridden 20 miles so far, and stopped at a closed DQ in Vail to take a breather, and to use the rest room at the Quik Mart next door.

DQ in Vail

Jesse had been concerned about getting out of Tucson, and was now relieved that it had been relatively painless. Nevertheless, he expressed a lingering anxiousness, fading but not completely gone. I felt some of the same – after all, this was his first self-supported tour and only my second.

We took a short roll along on the I-10 frontage road, then angled northeast away from the freeway onto Marsh Station Road. There was almost no shoulder but the traffic was very thin. We enjoyed some great rollers surrounded by great views – I really enjoyed this segment.

Eastward on I-10 frontage road
Pretty Marsh Station Road

We stopped at a canyon full of cottonwood trees and a small trickle of water. I grinned at the fact we’d stopped right in front of a sign that demanded, “No Stopping, No Standing, No Parking” Um, guilty, your Honor.

Cottonwood trees
Civil disobedience

Soon we approached a dusty quarry with a pickup truck parked at the top. I rolled over to the edge to find a group of teenage boys all holding rifles and pistols. Yikes! Still, I guess the fact that they sought out a remote quarry for their gunplay was a good sign. With some concern and an ounce of adrenline, we gunned our bikes down the road hoping they didn’t get any ideas for a potshot.

Our steady climbing had already resulted in a 1000’ gain, still into the SE headwinds, and I was already fatigued. Now some 32 miles in, our eastward options on backroads had run out. At exit 289, we cautiously rolled onto the shoulder of interstate 10. Neither of us had ever ridden on the interstate before, and we both had our reservations.

Jesse enjoyed the interstate segment more than he expected. I would say I found it an interesting experience. We certainly covered ground faster – it’s funny how an endless train of 18-wheelers rolling by at 80 mph serves to break up the wind resistance. Still, we continued to climb at a steady 1% and the winds were still headwinds around 10 mph. Taxing.

The shoulders were really wide, maybe 12 feet. As expected they were strewn with debris, gravel, and lots of steel belted tire treads. You had to be especially careful to avoid those – the exposed wires can slice right through a bike tire.

I saw three or four dog (or maybe coyote) carcasses off the shoulder, and mused that at least we didn’t need to worry about dogs chasing us out here.

As anyone who has tried it knows, the exits and entrances are the most dangerous aspect of interstate bicycle travel. The approach time for a car onto a bicycle is especially brief, so the cyclist must be extra careful of exit ramp traffic, as well as manage as short a crossing path as practical. The entrance ramps are even trickier, because the last thing an entering car is looking for is a bike crossing over from the neutral area.

At one interchange under construction, the entire right shoulder and ramp was barricaded, and we had to sneak through and climb up the exit ramp not knowing if we could even get through. Sure, a small inconvenience, but I think working through such minor challenges is part of the joy of bicycle touring.

Blocked ramp and shoulder on I-10
I-10 sign acknowledging bicycle access
Stopped on I-10 admiring the 18-wheel wind plows

Continuing into the headwinds, we finally reached a maxima around 4200’ and all the while I kept thinking, wow, we are working too hard too early in the day. Mercifully, the 3% descent into Benson was a wonderful thing. With our momentum, we continued all the way to exit 303 and onto I10 Business, finding Reb’s Café in the process. Lunchtime!

Reb's Cafe in Benson, AZ

Our cycling wear got some stares in the restaurant – I doubt they get many cyclists there. Of course, it coulda been our naturally handsome figures – who knows? I ordered a green chili cheeseburger with fries and coffee. I’m not really sure why, but the catsup tasted so darned good to me. Is catsup some sort of primary cycling fuel? Maybe.

Lunchtime at Reb's Cafe - catsup for everyone

My knees were definitely hurting, and I knew why. I’d changed out my seatpost a couple of weeks ago, but hadn’t bothered to critically tweak the seat into place, figuring to just micro-adjust it on the road while riding. I could tell I’d ridden too long on it today out of position, probably too high and too forward, and both knees were already aching. Great.

After lowering the seat a generous ¼”, we found AZ80 south out of Benson. Our elevation charts had Jesse expecting an immediate gradual climb, but instead we found probably 10 miles of easy flats and rollers, but still into that headwind.

Nice hazy skies today

Decent climbing finally prevailed for the final 15 miles into Tombstone, ending around 4500’. My knees were still groaning at me and so I took it very easy, gearing down at every opportunity. We stopped for a photo op at a welcoming billboard featuring gunslingers, then chugged up into town. I stopped briefly at a convenience store for a stash of Snickers bars, but walked out after noticing a line of ten people at the cash register.

The final climb into Tombstone
Cowboys and their horses

We rolled through town and easily found the Trailriders Inn. Pricey at $62 per night, but Tombstone is a tourist town and everything is jacked up here. I took a shower and discovered the lowest flow shower head EVER. I mean, this device should be winning environmental awards. It took me 20 minutes just to wet my body (and forget about a shampoo). I decided it wasn’t really a shower – it was more like a virga – I think the flow evaporated before it could reach the ground.

Jesse and I met at 5:15PM and walked to the “boardwalk,” the primary tourist area of Old West Tombstone. It is a neat place and the town really preserves the charm of days gone by. A handful of professional performers roamed the streets in mid-1800 garb. But we also ran into friendly tourists that seemed to be regular Tombstone visitors, duded up in their cowboy attire.

Dinner at the 6 Gun City Saloon. Great atmosphere, tasty cold beers, and nachos with cheese. What more could one ask for after a tough ride? We struck up a conversation with the friendly couple beside us, also from Mesa, and Alabama, and regular Tombstone visitors.

Six Gun Saloon in Tombstone

When our server came, Jesse and I both expressed an interest in dessert, so we ordered a light dinner in order to leave room. Jesse had a bowl of chili and salad, while I had a chicken Caesar salad. We finally ordered dessert, pie a la mode (apple and cherry respectively), but our server soon returned to tell us they were completely out of ice cream. Wah? No ice cream? We mock-protested and offered to run across the street to buy some.

I cancelled my order – the ice cream was just too important – but Jesse was OK without it. Our server soon returned with not one but two plates, and lo and behold there was a scoop of vanilla ice cream on each piece. Seems they’d found it in the cooler in back. What would you call that? A bait and switch. No maybe a “switch and bait.” And delicious!

Room 6-1/2

Back to the room. Only 7:30PM but I was tired! My room (number 6½) was adjacent to the office, and I endured some loud conversations for an hour, cranking up the TV in order to compete. But I figured it would end, and it did. I again found the rodeo finals going on and enjoyed the barrel racing and calf roping. Seemed like the right thing to watch here in Tombstone.

Miles today: 73.3
Climbing total: 3,727 ft (Jesse’s Garmin)
Trip miles: 73.3