“See those big black scrawny wings far above, waiting? Comfort yourself with the reflection that within a few hours, if all goes as planned, your human flesh will be working its way through the gizzard of a buzzard, your essence transfigured into the fierce greedy eyes and unimaginable consciousness of a turkey vulture. Whereupon you, too, will soar on motionless winds high over the ruck and rack of human suffering. For most of us a promotion in grade, for some the realization of an ideal.”
— Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, 1968
WICKENBURG, Ariz. — I think I’m getting the hang of bicycling through the desert — and trying not to become buzzard food.
During the past few days in the torrid deserts of southeastern California and in Arizona, I’ve been wearing a long-sleeved cotton shirt, sleeves rolled down and collar turned up, to protect against the blazing sun.
Every few miles, I stop to rest and to pour water over my head, chest, arms and legs. Once the bike gets going again, the resulting breeze quickly evaporates the water on the shirt and serves as primitive air-conditioning.
A rider on an organized, self-contained transcontinental bike ride doesn’t really have much opportunity to spend a lot of money. The cost of accommodations — usually campsites and cheap motels — and most of the food is covered by the ride fee. But a big chunk of my personal spending money has been going to buy fluids. A gallon jug of water, for example, costs $4.25 at Glamis, Calif., in the Imperial Dunes. The same gallon jug costs 99 cents at a convenience store along the road to Salome, Ariz.
Saturday’s ride of 56.09 miles from Salome to Wickenburg took us across a portion of the northern Sonoran Desert along arrow-straight U.S. 60 with some moderate climbing. The temperature for Wickenburg was forecast to be 102 degrees, and there were two places along the way where water could be had: Wenden and Aguila.
I set out at 7:11 a.m. to try to get in a good portion of the ride before the sun became unbearable, tried not to linger too long in the air-conditioning of a convenience store and several times poured water over myself to cool down.
Upon arrival at the campsite in Wickenburg — called the Horspitality RV Resort, I guess because it also stables horses — I pitched my tent, showered and checked e-mail. A woman resident of Salome, who, bless her, happened to come across this blog, sent along some advice on how the locals keep cool. She described exactly what I’ve been doing.
I didn’t try to explore Wickenburg as I rode through because I was focused on getting to the campsite on the eastern end of the town. But it looks like a very pleasant little city whose main attraction is a cowboy heritage and surrounding dude ranches.
One of my favorite writers, Ivan Doig, spent time here as a child when his color-blind, undraftable father worked during World War II in boomtime Phoenix at an Alcoa plant that turned bauxite into aluminum to make bomber skins. (See May 28 blog post, “Dudeland in the Sonoran Desert.”)
Doig recalls on his Web site “our nights in a cabin in the desert outside Wickenburg, Arizona, near a German prisoner-of-war camp, the combination of isolated landscape and the spooky nearness of those prisoners, the heart-racing amplitude of the nightsounds of the desert.”
The author, who revisited Wickenburg in 1991, noted in a memoir Heart Earth: “You didn’t need to be the reincarnation of Marco Polo to recognize that the accommodations along the main street, Wickenburg Way, were there to sieve tourists through, while around the corner along Tegner Street ordinary town life was carried on. Guest ranches were a sideline Wickenburg quickly tumbled to; in a historical blink, Indian territory had given way to Dudeland.”