December 26, 2014 | Posted in:Musings
The other night we were the beneficiaries of some more fantastic AZ hospitality as we were invited to sleep inside a small family-run winery. We get a lot of questions on our trip, mostly about how much our gear weighs (no idea) and how many miles we do per day (30-50), where we’re from (you should know that), etc. While hanging out with the owners of the winery we were asked a surprisingly new question, and one that inspired me to think.
“What has surprised you on your trip? What sort of changes have happened to you that you weren’t expecting?”
I had to think for a second, but my main response was that we were surprised to have become much more in touch with the moon. With all the camping we do, we have gotten very well acquainted with the lunar cycle. I had very much expected to spend a lot of time looking at brilliant starry nights, but I hadn’t thought much about the moon before starting this trip. I was surprised to find the opposite to be true. There is so much light pollution everywhere these days that the brilliant splash of the Milky Way I recall from childhood has been rather elusive. The good ol’ moon also tends to inhibit stargazing where the light pollution doesn’t exist, not to mention clouds and cold nights. However, the moon is all-important as its light, or lack thereof often dictates how late we can ride (full moons mean we don’t have to worry about setting up camp in the dark) and where we camp (deep dark nights mean we can be less hidden in stealth situations). A moonlit desert is also quite the work of beauty. When we “discovered” through observation that the moon rises about 40 minutes later each day we couldn’t believe this wasn’t basic knowledge to us. But of course, as children you don’t think about it as much. The moon is either out or not. Some nights are lit up and others are pitch black, and sometimes you see the moon during the day. Once I got to the age where I might think about it, I was living in cities where it is not much a part of life and never camping long enough to watch an entire lunar cycle.
In addition to the moon, you also gain a much greater feeling for the weather. Wind suddenly matters so much more. A 7 mph wind can mean an incredible or a torturous day if it’s SSW or simple S. In fact, we stayed put on Christmas Day because a 20-30 mph wind would have been blasting us in the face all day long. You start to feel every little current of wind, even when you are not riding. In the desert, where we have been riding the past two months, you can notice slight variations in humidity and know immediately that your tent will be sodden come morning. These aren’t really new things. Centuries of farmers would laugh at our “enlightenment”, but it is new to us.
Being a cyclist outside most of the day, you start to notice many other small things you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, such as the creaking clunking noise the highway guardrails make when expanding in the morning sun. The abundance of life in seemingly empty places is also startling, and the variety of insects is simply incredible. Luckily we have been able to mostly avoid the biting kind, but all sorts have been sighted from weird beetle things to walking sticks; mantises; all sizes of grasshopper from super fatty to itsy bitsy; bees galore; flies of all shapes, sizes and color; moths and butterflies filling the desert with color; dragonflies and so on. Then there is the wildlife. A bicycle is like stealth mode animal attack. They can’t hear you until you’re right on them, and then when they do see you, they often have never seen anything like it, so they stare curiously. You get a lot of up-close views of birds as you flush them out of their bushy hiding places next to the roads. There were a preposterous amount of mice on the ride from Tucson to Douglas, which explains the nighttime sock caper. I heard the tiny crashing as they ran deeper into the grass almost every 100 feet, although I never once actually saw one of the sneaky little punks. Thanks to the healthy population of rodents, huge hawks are prolific along the roads of southeastern Arizona and they never ceased to put on a wheeling show as we passed.