Home Page
Previous Day #10 - 2011 Bike Across USA Main Page - Next Day #12

Day 11: Safford, AZ to Lordsburg, NM

Biked 70 Miles (Hitched Ride For 5 Miles) - Three Flat Tires, Robert and Racing For Cancer Team - March 2, 2011

Bicycle Tire

So Much Gone Wrong

I knew there would be a day (or two?) like this. So much went wrong, although admittedly things would finish with a wonderful fairy tale type of ending.

Changing Flat Tire #3

At this point in the story, I had five inner tubes. Five was my ideal number to carry at all times, and anytime I'd encounter a bicycle shop, I'd buy more to replace what I used.

On this beautiful morning, I began to fix yesterday's flat tire outside my room at the Best Western Inn. Again, I had difficulty fitting the tire on the wheel, particularly the squeezing in of that last part of the tire with the inner tube hanging out. I had such a hard time that the gentleman (adjacent photo) who was sweeping the stairs helped. Once it was set, I was so happy that I handed him the tire and snapped a picture. Nice guy. :)

The man resumed his work, and all I had to do was pump my tire, but it wasn't accepting air. It looked like the nozzle was bent. When I tinkered with it, it broke off -- either I broke the nozzle or it was defective from the start.

Whatever the case, I had to start all over again. If the cleaning guy would have seen me, I would have felt so embarrassed. This time, at least I fit the tire and inner tube quickly and successfully inflated it.

So, this experience had me down to three spare inner tubes.

Mount Graham, AZ
Photo: The beautiful view of Mount Graham (elev. 10,720 feet) as I traveled east from Safford.
In Safford, I saw Robert, the cross-country cyclist whom I met yesterday. We decided to ride together and were riding nicely in Solomon, AZ.

Flat Tire #4

Then it happened. Another flat tire in the front wheel. Ugh! I fixed the flat. I was now down to two spare tubes. Robert stopped with me and didn't seem to mind waiting.

Flat Tire #5

We biked for a mile or two, and then it happened again. Another flat. Front tire. "What the hell is going on?" I shouted.

As I did earlier, I searched the outside and inside of the tire for anything that could be causing the flats. I saw and felt nothing.

Robert suggested thorns on the shoulder could be the culprit. "Really? Just tiny little thorns?" I asked. I didn't know what to believe. Then he showed me my back tire. (Adjacent Photo) Look at all the pricker thorns on it! Immediately I swept them off.

Again, I went through the flat tire fixing drill. This time, I put some air in the inner tube to give it shape, so it would be easier to fit in the tire. But somewhere in the process, I pinched the inner tube. It was done. I was now down to one inner tube.

I was frustrated and not thinking straight. Assuming I could fix this tire without any hitches, I'd have zero spare inner tubes remaining with the nearest bike shop in Las Cruces. Robert and I discussed my best strategy. Because I was suddenly screwing up like crazy with fixing these flats, I asked Robert to do the job and he generously did. There he was airing my tire with his pump in the adjacent photo.

By the way, I did not have a patch kit with me. I've never had success patching old inner tubes. Not to mention, it always seemed more convenient to use a new inner tube. They only cost about $5 to $6 each at an average bike shop. But today I felt the brunt of my anti-patching ways. I did hold onto two of my punctured tubes just in case, for Robert had a patch kit and said he might be willing to patch one if needed.

East Arizona Desert So onward we went into the east Arizona desert, and I definitely biked with Robert. At this point, if I got another flat tire, the possibility that he might use his patch kit to repair one of my tubes was my only resort. It would be either that, hitchhike to Las Cruces or find a local who happened to have a spare inner tube for a standard 27" road bike wheel.
Cross-County Cyclist
Cross-County Cyclist

We passed the junction of Highways 70 and 191 and continued east toward Lordsburg. After cycling on much of my old route three years ago, this final stretch toward Duncan, AZ and the New Mexico state line be would new territory for me.

Robert said he originally planned to travel northeast on Highway 191, which ascends Tollgate Canyon before descending to Three Way, AZ. Then he'd have another massive climb into New Mexico toward Mule Creek, NM. Because I did that route on my first cross-country tour, I warned him about all the climbing, and he opted to stick with my route. He'd bike to Lordsburg, a much flatter ride that avoids much of the mountains, and at Lordsburg, he said he'd go south and ride on relaxed roads near the U.S./Mexico border to El Paso. My plan was to bike straight east from Lordsburg on Interstate 10.

Robert and I had a lot of time to talk and I got to know him better. We talked about his successful engineering career and his love of motorcycles. We also have mutual experiences visiting foreign countries. One thing that stuck out was our discussion of the scenic Mountain West. We both agreed: There's nothing like the wide open vistas of the western USA. Whether it's mountains, the desert or some secluded canyon, there always seems to be something magnificent to look at. Most people in the world don't have that luxury.

I captured a number of pictures of Robert, including one from behind. I can't believe he carried that large backpack! And yes, he said it was rough on his back.

Duncan, AZ Eventually I coasted ahead of Robert by a few miles. My speed was greater, and I didn't feel the need to rest as long as he was. But we agreed that if I had problems, obviously I could stop and he would catch up to me. Worst comes to worst, we would meet in Duncan, AZ.

The road climbed. Only 19 miles to Duncan. A pass exists between Safford and Duncan. The ascent wasn't terrible, but it was a workout.

Low on Fluids

I must confess to another error. Although I ate at the continental breakfast offered in the motel, I didn't stock up on food or extra drinks. All I had were my two full water bottles. I figured I'd buy something in Duncan, AZ, but I didn't realize that was the only town with services ... and it was 40 miles away! I just didn't think things through.

In retrospect, I wasn't desperate, but I still had a lot of anxiety about being dehydrated in the desert. The sun was out. The temperature was in the 70's - that's not bad, but when working out hard on a bike, it feels hotter. The lack of shade didn't help matters. And I was running low on water.

When I saw this sign indicating Duncan was 19 miles away, I winced. Oh dear, I'll be out here for awhile. Don't panic, Steve. Just ride.

Arizona Desert The desert became more desolate. Prettier too. It's too bad that I was anxious about running out of water and having a flat to enjoy it. :p)

Patty and Tom - Racing For Cancer
Racing For Cancer

I continued riding on a gentle ascent. At the top of a hill, an SUV was parked on the shoulder with a man in cycling gear who was pulling his bike off the rack. It was another cyclist!

I pedaled hard to approach him. "Do you have any extra inner tubes? I'm willing to pay you," I asked. Immediately he went into his truck and gave me two tubes for free. How kind.

Another Cross-Country Cyclist With a Mission

Meet Tom and Patty. Tom Vossman is the founder of Racing For Cancer, a charity connected with the sport of auto racing that does great work around the matter of cancer. Tom lives in Houston and his employee Patty, lives on the east coast. Tom's dream was to bike across America and with the help of Patty as his full-time SAG ("Support and Gear"), his mission was to ride 2800 miles in 28 days. He started in Long Beach, CA near the same time as me, and he would finish in St. Petersburg, FL. His charity's website is www.racingforcancer.org.

Tom suggested we ride together. Of course, I was all for that. It turned out we met right on the the pass between Safford and Duncan, which meant we would enjoy a lot of downhill riding. Another plus: With a SAG slowly moving behind and protecting us, we cycled on the smooth tire indentations inside the road's lane. Hardly any vehicles were out there and it didn't seem like a big deal for any vehicle to pass us on this isolated two-lane highway.

Dropped Camera On Highway

Yes, I meant it when I said so much went wrong. Everything was going fine as we biked, when I decided to take more pictures of this experience of riding with yet another cross-country cyclist. I pulled out my camera, turned it behind me and attempted to capture a photo of our SAG when ... I dropped the camera on the pavement! Oh Lord, no! That did not just happen! Immediately I stopped. So did Tom and the SAG. I grabbed the camera feeling like an idiot: Get with it! You ran out of inner tubes. Now you dropped your camera. These people think you're a buffoon!

I inspected the camera. It turned on. I snapped a sample picture and it still worked. I breathed a sign of relief. The only damage was the cover for the battery and memory card on the bottom, but tape would easily fix that.

Tom and I resumed our cycling. Again, we got into a rhythm. At one point, I joked to Tom about me being a Licensed Professional Counselor. I said, "You know, I'm a therapist. Since you're being patient with me, maybe I can be helpful to you. Want to talk about something? Go ahead. I'll just shut up and listen." Tom laughed.

SAG Wagon

Flat Tire #6

Then it happened for a third time. A flat tire in the front wheel. All of my flats had been in this stupid front wheel. This time, I was speeding at about 16-18 mph in a smooth wheel rut on the road, when there was a sudden pop in the tube with a quick high-pitched whistle. My tire was completely flat within seconds.

Disgusted, and already upset that I had slowed Tom once, I asked if I could place my bike on his truck's rack and ride my way into Duncan. He agreed.

So the next picture I took was from the passenger seat of Tom's SUV. What a horrible string of luck!

By the way, it's funny how 16 mph seems fast on a bicycle, but feels like a "crawl" while in a car!

The consolation: I conversed with Patty in the SAG, another likeable person who didn't make me feel like a burden whatsoever.

As we drove behind Tom, I nervously looked at her odometer. Oh please don't be a lot of mileage into Duncan! The purist in me was upset, but what could I do? Thankfully it was only five miles before we arrived at the Stage Stop.

Duncan, AZ
Duncan, Arizona

Thank heavens for the Stage Stop, one of the only stores in Duncan on the main road. I bought a bunch of drinks and drank, and drank, and drank.

The teenage girl behind the counter was stunned that I was biking across America. Two "local characters" with cowboy hats inquired about our bikes as they pumped gas in their trucks. Duncan seemed like a dusty and old western desert town stuck in time. :)

Steve Garufi

I inserted a new inner tube with one Tom gave me, and Tom used his powerful floor pump (conveniently stored in the SAG) for easy inflating.

There I was holding my wheel with my small portable pump. It was a confounding morning, but I sensed everything would be okay. For the remainder of the day, I would have no more flat tires. :)

As we got ready to leave Duncan, it occurred to me: What about Robert? We had loosely agreed to meet in Duncan, but I didn't have Robert's phone number and had no way of contacting him. He was probably still a long distance out from Duncan. I felt bad, but I couldn't pass up this opportunity to ride with Tom and utilize his SAG if I had more trouble.

I trusted Robert wouldn't be offended, and ultimately, I'm sure he figured that I took care of myself somehow. Then later in the evening, upon checking my voice mail, I got a message from Robert. (I forgot I gave him my number the day before!) His message said he was in Duncan and planned to camp in the area. He gave his location, in case I needed help. What a guy!

New Mexico State Line
We crossed into New Mexico, and of course, we had a short photo-op at the state line. :)

Racing For Cancer
Patty smiling through the windshield at the New Mexico state line.

Southwest New Mexico
Are you the type who doesn't like people? I encourage you to consider living in southwest New Mexico between Duncan, AZ and Lordsburg, NM. We didn't see any people or structures for miles!

Tom Vossman
A great shot of Tom riding in the wide open road. :)

Duncan, AZ to Lordsburg, NM

Tom and I departed Duncan, crossed into New Mexico and got into a groove as we rode into southwest New Mexico. It seemed like our speeds were in the same range. We also enjoyed a relatively flat ride throughout this region.

We biked for 36 miles that afternoon, and we did a lot of talking side by side. We exchanged basic information about where we started our tours and how we traveled across the southern California desert. (Me: Indio to Blythe via I-10; Him: Highway 62 through Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms to Parker, AZ). He seemed impressed that I was carrying everything with me and had no formal support. We talked about Colorado. I live there; he frequently vacations and dreams of retiring there.

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one." ~C.S. Lewis

Now, if there was any doubt that I had made a new friend today, it was gone when we discussed one similar aspect of our pre-ride planning. Both of us received a "too good to be true" offer of a free RV to support us the entire way. In each case, our offers fell through.

His story: A supposedly wealthy guy, upon learning of Tom's bike plans, stated he'd lend his RV. He even said that his employee, a driver, would drive the RV and stay with him throughout his tour. What an amazing offer! A few times the man insisted it would not be a big deal and he'd be happy to help. Well, as the time approached for Tom to coordinate logistics, he called this man, who suddenly wouldn't answer his phone. He left repeated messages, but he never got a call back. It turned out that man was only talk; no RV or a driver came out of it.

In a scramble to make his ride happen, he transformed his SUV into a SAG, and convinced his administrative worker Patty to drive the entire way with him.

My story: After biking across America in 2008, I always thought I'd like to do it again, but poor finances were a huge barrier. I would daydream about it, make some comments to friends, but that was it. Then in October 2010, I received an email from an old friend, a guy my father's age. He told me he's retired now, with his main hobby being RV'ing. He said he heard I wanted to bike across America again and shared it was his dream to drive his RV across the country. He made me an offer: I could stay in his RV every night (to save huge amounts of money from lodging) with my only cost being 50% of our food, and he'd take care of all other costs. We'd go together and he'd slowly follow me as I biked across the nation. What a deal! How it fell through: In December, my RV guy informed me he shouldn't have made the offer. He said he was far too "starry eyed" and that he grossly overlooked his dire financial situation. Once he gave details about how bad his finances were, I couldn't believe he made the offer in the first place!

Personally, I faced the dilemma of whether to go. I had already told many that I was biking across America, and I didn't want to go back on my word. But I couldn't possibly do this with my pathetic financial state. That's when friends encouraged me to raise money to fund my ride, and despite some ambivalence, I went through with it. I estimated the total cost to be $5000, and pooling the money I put in and donations from others, I raised all of it five months after this grand adventure had ended.

As we shared our stories side by side on our bikes, we laughed and consoled each other.

I felt worse for Tom. "At least my RV guy had the guts to contact me," I said.

Tom told me about his family, his children and a house he's trying to sell. We discussed the stresses of life and other things.

We also talked about cancer. The doctors didn't give my father much time when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June 2008, and he died in November. I told Tom about how glad I was that my Dad was alive to see that I had biked across America in February-March 2008.

That's when Tom asked for my Dad's name, which is Robert Garufi. He said he'd dedicate today's ride to my father, and he'd put that on his website. A simple gesture, but something hit me. I nearly teared up.

Diet Snapple Steve Garufi and Tom Vossman Tom and I continued to bike well. About five miles ahead, we saw a crest in the road with a radio tower. We agreed that when we got to that hill, we'd stop for a Snapple.

Ah the sweet conveniences of having a support vehicle! Tom had a cooler with ice and handed me a Diet Peach Snapple. Talk about a drink that hit the spot on a long desert ride!

Tom's Daily Video

As we drank our Snapples, Tom made his daily video. Notice how dirty my face was ... that was from the grime of fixing all those flat tires and touching my face a lot. Good grief! :p)

Nice video, Tom! :) All of his videos can be seen here: www.youtube.com/racingforcancer.

Lordsburg, NM

Lordsburg, New Mexico

We enjoyed a slight descent into Lordsburg on some of the smoothest roads I've ever experienced in my cycling career. And then we made it ... Lordsburg, New Mexico.

Hampton Inn Earlier, Tom asked where I stayed most nights, and I told him the cheapest motels I could find. Then, as we approached Lordsburg, he made a generous offer: He wanted to buy me a room at the Hampton Inn where he and Patty were staying. (Tom and Patty always had seperate hotel rooms for themselves.)

I hemmed and hawwed. "I don't know what to say," I answered.

"How about if you just say 'yes' and leave it at that?" he countered with a smile. I obliged.

Talk about being so stinkin' blessed. God surely had his angels working for me that day.

Corner Cafe After washing up at the hotel, all three of us went to dinner. A local suggested the Corner Cafe, a Mexican restaurant.
Chips and Salsa Patty, Tom and Steve LEFT: My goodness, they don't mess around in New Mexico. The salsa that came with our chips had some kick to it! :D

RIGHT: A shot of Patty, Tom and myself. I hate how I look in this picture, but c'mon, I can't complain with everything that happened today. :)

We had enjoyable conversations and ate a lot of food. We also discussed tomorrow's itinerary: We'd both be cycling east on Interstate 10. My goal was Deming (60 miles), and theirs was Las Cruces (110 miles).

The Hampton Inn was an excellent hotel. Feeling goofy and happy, I snapped a picture with my cell phone of my nightly ritual of washing my jersey and socks in the sink. :)

ALSO: I invite you to read my book about my first trip in 2008.

Previous Day #10 - 2011 Bike Across USA Main Page - Next Day #12


Copyright © www.BikeAcrossAmerica.net - All Rights Reserved