Trip Log – Day 197 – Scottsdale, AZ to Tempe, AZ

to PhoenixNovember 18, 2015 – Sun, 65 degrees

Miles Today: 39

Miles to Date: 10,142

States to Date: 26

My hosts, Janice and Stew, are long time Scottsdale residents who suggested I visit Pablo Soleri’s studio, only a few miles away from their home. Soleri was an architectural darling back when I was in graduate school. His writings about ecological architecture and constructing Arcosanti, a self-sustaining city in the desert north of Phoenix, were visionary.

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Unfortunately, they still are. Soleri is now best known for his beautiful bells and wind chimes, which craftsmen devotees still create by hand at his Pleasant Valley Studio. As I strolled through the fascinating but weird place, I couldn’t help but think about my question. Soleri had great insights and ideas, but he dealt in the future, promoting ideas untethered to contemporary reality. Forty years on, his devotees are still hawking bells to finance construction of a conceptual city. I’ve always been more interested in tomorrow, which is always a direct outgrowth of today and starts from where we are.

IMG_5329I left Soleri’s fantasy world to grapple with a hard reality that all tour cyclists fear – motorhomes. I’d sent an interview request to Camper World, one of the largest dealers along Mesa’s RV mile. But sales people and managers hot pototoed me until I stopped bothering trying to get any perspective on the RV industry and just enjoyed touring the models. Van conversions are nifty but feel like camping. Small motor homes, in the $100,000 range, have plastic laminate partitions and dingy showers. If you want top of the line, with extensions to make your ride twelve feet ride when parked, luxury leather sofas, and a full French door refrigerator, the list price is $405,000. From now on, when these behemoths storm me down the road, at least I’ll know I’m being unbalanced by a whole lot of dough.

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Since today was my last riding day for some time I indulged in Golden Corral Buffet, two hours of pretty good food that, cumulatively, constituted a pig-out. When I couldn’t delay any longer, I rode my bike to Landis Cyclery, checked Surly in for a major overhaul, changed into street clothes, caught one bus, then another, transferred to light rail, and got to the airport.

IMG_5334Everything was smooth until I reached security. The TSA agent analyzed my bike lock and decided I couldn’t carry it on. At $25 each way, it was hardly worth checking. I considered locking it to an airport bike rack, hoping it wouldn’t get hacksawed off in my absence, until an Information agent offered to deliver it to the bike store for me. Glenda and I became fast friends. I learned all about her grandkids, her daughter-in-laws spending habits and growing up in Pennsylvania. Even though I was separated from my trusty Surly, Glenda proved to be yet another bicycle Samaritan. At least I hope so. I won’t know for sure until I return to Phoenix and see if my lock found my bike.

IMG_5335A misplaced bike lock is the lame cliffhanger to this chapter of my journey, a journey that will never grace the silver screen because my mishaps are dramatically trivial compared to the goodness and light I have experience everywhere.

This is my last Trip Log until I return to Phoenix in January. I hope readers will continue to enjoy profiles and responses. And if you haven’t contributed your thoughts to my question, make that your end-of year resolution. How will we live tomorrow?

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Trip Log – Day 196 –Scottsdale, AZ

to PhoenixNovember 17, 2015 – Sun, 60 degrees

Miles Today: 26

Miles to Date: 10,103

States to Date: 26

Lifestyles of the rich and famous! I loitered all morning at my hosts’ house, overlooking the pool and golf course in the backyard. Madeline was gracious to let me stay so that I could take my radio interview on Nature Bat’s Last from her house instead of having to find a quiet place for my call-in on the streets.

IMG_5302Afterward, I took off to explore Arizona’s tony neighborhoods and was not disappointed. San Francisco, New York, LA, even Seattle may have higher real estate prices, but they can’t match the pizzazz that Scottsdale’s and Pleasant Valley’s immense lots and sprawling homes deliver. True, some houses are ill proportioned; you can’t make a successful 10,000 square foot statement by just pumping up a 2,000 square model and adding a string of garages. But many of the residences are architecturally striking; with corrugated metal, weathered steel and crisp stucco that fits the desert well. Although the scale of these low-lying mansions is conspicuous beyond reason, I appreciate that most people in Phoenix don’t succumb to the California penchant to grow lawns where they don’t belong. The gravel, sand, and native plant landscaping is terrific.

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IMG_5312I wound my way to the Arizona Biltmore, Frank Lloyd Wright’s lavish 1920’s resort. Everything about it is classy. The staff was very accommodating to a guy who clearly wasn’t registering for a room; the valet kept a personal eye on my bike. The Biltmore turned out to be one of my favorite Wright buildings, beautifully conceived and exquisitely executed. It may be the best example of his two dominant aesthetic ideas, as it was built toward the end of his Prairie / Usonian work and at the beginning of his larger scale, surface ornamented work.

IMG_5313The Biltmore plan and massing grow out of the Prairie tradition, albeit with a Southwest sensibility, while the wonderful use of decorative modular block precursors his work at Marin County and the Guggenheim. In addition to the great architecture, there are cool photos of Clark Gable, Rita Hayworth, Bob Hope, and other glitterati to cement Biltmore’s cultural status. Every President since Herbert Hoover has stayed there.

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IMG_5301On the way to my second Scottsdale host, I stopped at the Barry Goldwater Memorial. Though he doesn’t merit a Presidential Library, the affluent citizens on this area have erected an elaborate memorial to their favorite son, which includes two marble paths with inlaid bronze letters. Problem is, the quote about the natural beauty of the West is banal, while the one about preserving our nation’s security is fearfully bellicose. Like all of us, Goldwater reflected his origins. In his case, individualism and emphasis on private property led to a logical preoccupation with security. I am glad to be rolling along with everything I need and little that anyone else wants.

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Trip Log – Day 195 – Sun City, AZ to Scottsdale, AZ

to PhoenixNovember 16, 2015 – Clouds, 55 degrees

Miles Today: 48

Miles to Date: 10,077

States to Date: 26

imgres copyWhen I was a pudgy seven-year-old with a girder & panel construction set and a binder full of house plan sketches, Del Webb was on the cover of Time Magazine. This meant that Del spent a week in the center spot on our coffee table. I read every word in the five-page spread about the master developer who built casinos, museums, missile silos, and, ultimately, turned raw desert into an entire community dedicated to adult play. Despite building Las Vegas’ Flamingo Hotel, the LA Museum of Art, and our country’s first enclosed shopping mall, Del Webb’s boldest stroke was Sun City’s curved streets lined with pastel cottages. It wasn’t the houses so much as the idea. Retirement wasn’t an end; it was a beginning; another opportunity for Americans to reinvent themselves. I studied the photos of grey-haired men playing shuffleboard and the big-haired women laughing at bingo. I didn’t know anyone like them, but I liked the idea of escaping my childhood home of too mucimages-4h noise and too many stairs, of living in perpetual sun with a pool and golf course in my backyard. I didn’t know then that swimming makes me claustrophobic or that I’d never break 140 in golf.

Three years later my grandmother, recent widow, became the first resident of Leisure Village in Lakewood, NJ, a pastoral gated community with lakes and pools and ceramics studios. In no time I stretched the limits of my bicycle adventures and rode ten miles from Toms River to spend the afternoon with my beloved grandmother and her newfound friends; all single women. A world of flowered print dresses, root beer floats, and afternoon bridge that I adored.

images-3I’m almost the same age as my grandmother when she joined the active retirement community she lived in for 28 years; the longest she lived any place in her life. In the past 55 plus years we’ve all come to consider retirement a distinct phase of life, a phase that gets longer every year. Sun City, and the thousands of other 55 and older communities across our country, played a significant role in shaping that view. Of all the ‘Utopian’ communities I’ve visited – Oneida, Seventh-day Adventist, Chrysalis Cooperative – none has had as broad an impact on how we live today, and tomorrow, as Sun City. Ironically, Del Webb wasn’t trying to do anything utopian at all. He was just trying to make a buck.

IMG_5296I spent a leisurely morning with my Sun City hosts Trudy and Larry. Larry had to leave for a 9:10 tee time. Trudy was around until Ukulele club in the afternoon, followed by her first ever voice lesson and a small group for dinner. I pedaled through acres of winding streets of single story homes to interview the Director of the Sun City Visitor Center. Like everyone who works in Sun City’s seven recreation centers or eight golf courses, Paul Hermann wears a loud Hawaiian shirt. Who knew Trader Joe’s stole their uniform concept from a retirement community?

I visited the Sun City Museum, located in the first model home. It was boxy and small, not nearly so spacious as my youth envisioned. Still, the midcentury modernity appealed to the times: 100,000 people visited Sun City on opening weekend and Del Webb sold 12,000 houses within the first year.

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I pedaled east along the Arizona Canal Path, through Glendale, Phoenix, and Paradise Valley into Scottsdale. I left the over 55 crowd behind and stayed with a group of PA students in the their 20’s. The weather was unseasonably cold and overcast. The sun finally broke through very late in the day. Odd that it never shone in Sun City.


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Trip Log – Day 194 –Wickenburg, AZ to Sun City, AZ

to Sun CityNovember 15, 2015 – Rain, 55 degrees

Miles Today: 38

Miles to Date: 10,029

States to Date: 26

I arrived in Sun City in the rain. Which only goes to proves that wherever I go in this country, the weather is off kilter. The ride was easy and uneventful, which is the best one can hope for on a day more akin to New England spring than Arizona autumn. No matter, because I arrived at my hosts’ safe and on time, took a warm shower, enjoyed a great meal and even better conversation, toasted surpassing my 10,000 mile mark, and watched the Arizona Cardinals snatch victory from the Seattle Seahawks. Sorry to be fickle Seattle; my allegiances move along with me.



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Trip Log – Day 193 – Quartzite, AZ to Wickenburg, AZ

to WickenburgNovember 14, 2015 – Sun, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 94

Miles to Date: 9,991

States to Date: 26

The distance was great but the road was smooth and oh, so straight. The sun was bright but not hot, the breeze benign. The rises steady, the falls gentle. The little towns harbored quirky Western charm. Except Aquila, which is too poor to enchant. Coyotes and quail, snakes and jackrabbits crossed my path. Cacti and thistle spread out for miles cottonwood and sage lined the washes.

By midafternoon my legs churned mechanically. My mind drifted from the pavement. I thought of everything and nothing. It’s a Lazy Afternoon spun in my head. The miles clicked by.

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Trip Log – Day 192 –Yuma, AZ to Quartzite, AZ

to QuartziteNovember 13, 2015 – Sun, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 76

Miles to Date: 9,897

States to Date: 26

There is no way to champion the wind. It must be accommodated and respected. Seventy-five miles with a moderate grade through gorgeous desert could be pleasant. But when you’re facing the prevailing wind the entire day, all you can do is plan for a slow-go and endure.

IMG_5249Fortunately I planned well. I was up before down. My couchsurfing host Michael made the most exquisite breakfast. I was on the road by seven, before the sun peaked over the mountains. The only malady I’ve had this trip has been a persistent scratchy throat, the result of so much air rushing through me. I try to ride with my mouth closed, but my throat is still coarse at the end of each day. This morning, after two days in the desert, my scratchy throat turned into a full-blown cold despite ten hours sleep. I had runny nose, clogged head, and whisper voice. Fortunately, it wasn’t flu – no achy legs – so I pedaled off.

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The light breeze from the north turned into a steady wind by nine and a flag stiffening current by ten. The invisible force came at me strong and consistent, but I kept moving. I hit the halfway point at noon and sat for ten minutes on gravel in the sun, downing a bottle of water and finishing off a bag of trail mix. Ten miles further on I came upon the day’s only services – a seasonal burger and ice cream stand. I enjoyed my first date shake and rested with the proprietor, a man of many stories. Feeling the sun begin to descend, I pulled myself away for the final thirty miles.

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I reached Quartzite at five. Surely one of the oddest places I have been. Quartzite’s a tiny town along Interstate 10, but in winter the population swells to a hundred thousand with snowbirds who camp inexpensively. In Yuma, a place to park your RV for a winter month costs several hundred dollars, which includes the social center, shuffleboard, and a pool. Folks park their RV’s in the desert around Quartzite for an entire season for $125. They aren’t connected to anything. Freelancers refuel generators and empty sewer connections. You make whatever community you want. Closer to the freeway, RV’s sit on paved lots, like a drive-in theater, with posts for electricity. No trees, no green; just a field of concrete for motor homes.

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Quartzite is just coming alive this time of year. Portable buildings and big tents will become hardware stores, vape shops, even gun permit stores. Snowbirds flock south, Quartzite swells, and next spring it will contract again.

IMG_5268I stopped at Love’ Country Store before heading to my Super 8 for the night. The place has absolutely nothing country about it, but it’s a fascinating view of Interstate America. Traveling families, gangs of guys, homeless people in cluttered cars. I decided to celebrate my success in navigating the wind, and soothe my scratchy throat, with an ice cream dinner.  Excellent choice.

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Trip Log – Day 191 – Brawley, CA to Yuma, AZ

to YumaNovember 12, 2015 – Sun, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 86

Miles to Date: 9,821

States to Date: 25

California must allocate highway funds from north to south, as there seems to be no money left for paving near the border. Or perhaps, after being in California for a whopping fifty days, the state simply didn’t want to let me go, so the asphalt uprooted all over the place in protest. Regardless, I bumped along farm roads to get out of the Imperial Valley, careened over cracks in Old Highway 80 where it acts as frontage road for Interstate 8, and bounced on a terrible shoulder along the freeway when the frontage road disappeared.


Despite lousy roads, everything else was great. I had a nice tail wind in the morning, and a manageable cross breeze when the wind picked up and shifted. I am enthralled by the surreal desert landscape. The kids riding buggies over the dunes looked like little bugs climbing about the massive sand hills. The channels from the Colorado River are such deep blue against the tawny land. There’s much more water here than the parts of California fed by the Sierras. All that rain I witnessed in Colorado got here before me.

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IMG_5244I was happy to get Yuma, not only for the better roads, but because its time for me to move to a new state. Some differences are immediately apparent. Arizona is much less expensive than California, from gasoline to real estate. Yuma is also more transient. Whether fixed homes (sitting 2” off the dirt on thin slabs), modular houses, mobile homes or RV parks, many people call Yuma home only a few months a year. Some snowbirds had already tickled in, but most will not roost until January.

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