Middle of Nowhere
‘You guys are in the middle of nowhere’ exclaims the customer service call centre employee over the phone. This ‘middle of nowhere’ is actually Navajo County, Arizona, where we have been without mobile signal for a couple of days. ‘The nearest cell tower is in a place called Flagstaff’ she adds. Luckily for us, Flagstaff is our next destination, but that doesn’t mean we are in a rush to get there. This stretch of the North American Epic has taken us through some of the most extraordinary landscapes and communities that have felt like anything but ‘nowhere’.
South of Moab, the iconic rock formations of Monument Valley were an appetiser for the bigger attraction of the Grand Canyon a few days later. Standing boldly in the desert between Utah and Arizona, the valley has featured in countless Western movies. Film critic Keith Phipps once said that ‘Its 5-square miles have defined what decades of movie goers think of when they imagine the American West’. It is true that there is a distinct deja vu about the place. The countless images of John Wayne, as well as a numerous souvenir stores and valley tours, make the area feel like an amusement park. However this is the real deal. Cycling alongside the huge rock formations makes you yearn to ride a horse across the plains into the sunset. In a sense we on two wheels are not too different from those who travelled slowly across the land years ago, but we fortunately have a few more comforts this day in age than they did! Despite the busy highway close by it is possible to find a spot away from the road, and sit in silence for a few minutes with the great red rocks standing tall above you.
Without question that star of the week was the Grand Canyon, which was a first time viewing for many people on the tour. Riders spent the afternoon dipping in and out of the different view points along the southern rim of the canyon. Each offering a different vista and a glimpse into the mysterious caverns hundreds of meters below. It is an overwhelming visual assault. The initial impact of the size is quickly overtaken by trying to break down and understand the flow of the river, or the composition of different rock formations. Everything seems to blend together, with no start or end point. It is a maze of mesas, gorges, and cliffs, creating a complex visual tapestry. Like Victoria Falls in Africa, the modern Western name for the canyon is much less exotic than the native Hopi name of ‘Ongtupqa’. We have been spoiled with mountains on this journey from Anchorage to Mexico City, but the Grand Canyon has really been in a league of it’s own. It is difficult to comprehend how long the formation of the canyon has taken – thousands and millions of years in the making. It is one of the few things we have encountered that moves slower than we do!
There are now only a handful of riding days left in the U.S.A and the crossing into Mexico will be a big transition from what we have experienced so far. Riders speak excitedly of Baja California – our first opportunity to see the ocean! However everyone will be leaving with fond memories of our time in the States. From northern Montana to southern Arizona, the journey has provided epic and impressive scenery day after day.