With the temperatures still beeing under - 5 at 9AM I am breaking my "early start motel rule" once again. I have a second birthday call with Ilma and her family instead and continue eating. I get going at 10:30AM.
I am facing a bit of a dilemma today. The next 125km [kind of what I would ride in the time given] will be a very gradual climb up to 2400m - an altitude where I don't want to spend the night. With a 2500 calorie dinner currently running through my blood stream and an outrageous 2000 calorie breakfast in my stomach to be released into the very same stream over the course of the day, I am confident to ride without much stopping. However, 140km would be a stretch...
I leave Winslow after a photo stop at the Route 66 sign. I take a farming road that is supposed to be a short cut. Turns out it's super confusing, I take wrong turns and even end up at a locked gate that is between me and the road I have to go on.
I am incredibly lucky. The owning farmer just drives by after me assessing my situation for 5 minutes. He takes it pretty cool that I [unintentionally] trespassed his private property and even suggests to leave the gate unlocked so that I can re-enter tonight. I respond that I am not coming back.
"So where you headed then?" - "Ehm, just heading to Safford for Christmas and on towards Argentina afterwards!" He shakes his head. "Well, good luck to you then!" [Having roughly one third done, I am slowly getting more confidence with vocalizing what I am shooting for, for the better part of the trip I was just referring to "south"].
All that took a while, more than 1.5 hours to be precise, so we have an awesome new revised plan. Just pedal along and hope to end up in the lowest altitude possible.
I continue my way on State Route 87 through the same grey, yellowish grassland of yesterday and after 30km take the turn towards a gravel road. I will travel through a mixture of public and private lands and even have to sign into a book at the "entry" of the road. The good thing is that camping is fully allowed in the area.
Very quickly the road turns into a pretty gnarly one. First rocky [no, not gravel, loose rocks], later on some of the deepest washboard I've seen so far. As speeds go down below the 10km/h I am happy with my revised plan.
It is completely lonely and all of the sudden the landscape changes. Trees! Not the bushy small trees, real trees. It must have been in East Oregon when I last saw some proper trees. The air is filled with pine scent. I enter the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. It's beautiful. I did not expect this.
Well, as stated before I try more and more to just go and see, instead of researching and expecting. I am reminded on my perception of Monument Valley a few days ago. I really don't want to play it down, it was great! But the feeling entering this forest, which is basically a pretty standard forest, plays in a whole other league. Such a pleasant surprise. I take my time. The rough road takes my time. I take my time to constantly cream my face with sunscreen. Over the last couple of weeks I actually used more sunscreen than ever. Despite the cold temperatures I hardly saw any clouds since I left Boise except for two bad weather days. At 2000m and after only 70km I pitch my tent at sunset. It's a shame that my pot is already filled with oats that I prepared this morning. It would be the perfect occasion to finally make use of my wood burner again and cook a nice meal. It's oats instead for dinner. I am rather confused what temperatures to expect tonight. Winslow will get again - 10. However, the towns on the other side of the forest are getting much milder temperatures. Since the vegetation here is so drastically different than around Winslow I am hoping for a mild night.