The last time I wrote, it was also cold and this has generally been the theme for the past couple of weeks. I made my way through the Mojave Desert and after a steep climb, descended a very chilly 1,500m into Death Valley dipping down below sea level. The scenery was like everything in America, very big and dramatic. I saw a sign warning about coyotes, scorpions, black widows and rattlesnakes but thankfully the only wildlife I saw were some slightly sinister looking blackbirds. Death Valley also contained some of the hardest ground I have tried to camp on requiring me to use piles of rocks rather than pegs to hold it up and as the wind picked up I was relieved that it remained upright and provided protection from those blackbirds overnight. The following day after a long, steady climb out of the valley, I crossed into Nevada. The only reason I realised I had crossed the state line was because someone had scrawled very lazily across the tarmac 'Nevada'. I arrived in the very forgettable town of Pahrump and set about finding a place I could sleep. I pulled up to a Best Western Motel and enquired about camping in the RV park which it also managed. No tents allowed. A few seconds later an Australian chap on a bicycle pulled up and before we had even told each other our names had agreed to split the cost of a room for the night. Peter cooked us dinner in the room on his little gas burners as we shared details of our trips as we were both heading in the direction the other had just arrived from. After making the most of the buffet breakfast we headed our separate ways and I set off towards the most cringe-inducing city in the world.
I arrived in Las Vegas I was greeted by none other than Elvis Presley himself as he conducted a wedding ceremony in front of the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. As I rode along Las Vegas Boulevard I started to understand why only a third of Americans have a passport as they can just come to Vegas and see the world along just one street. You can visit The Sphinx and an Egyptian pyramid, take a gondola through Venice, visit ancient Rome at Caesar's Palace and you don't even need to go all the way across to the other side of the country to visit the Statue of Liberty. As I passed The Bellagio, The Mirage and The MGM Grand, I thought back to Ocean's Eleven and after arriving at my hostel I hatched a plan for a casino heist, cycle tourer style. With a group of folk from the hostel and a hostel guide, we headed off in the back of a van onto a secluded rooftop car park and slid into our first target, Wynn Casino. Our plan was simple, if a little unambitious. We were to walk in there, sign up to their players card and play $10 free casino money on the slots. As soon as the $10 was through the machine I walked out of there with $9.63 in my hand of the casinos money and to rub their noses in it, drank the free beverages that the waitresses collected for us. We moved onto the next casino and this time I came out with over $13 more in my pocket. By the end of my time in Vegas, without risking a cent, I had enough to pay for a night's accommodation and to enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet. Who says the casino's always win!
After having my fill of bright lights and tackiness for for a lifetime, I jumped on my bike and made my getaway heading to the Hoover Dam, crossing over the border into the State of Arizona. At this point, my GPS let me down slightly suggesting that I could leave the highway, ride across the dam and rejoin the highway on the other-side. After climbing up to the top of the far side a gate blocked my path with a rather threatening no trespassing sign persuading me to add 15km to my day by back-tracking and riding up to the highway on the Nevada side again.
I spent that night tucked away in a dry river bed on my new Thermorest. When in Vegas I finally decided to replace my sleeping mat which had been punctured since I was in China! I had made a number of attempts to repair it but it was on the seam and a flat piece of fabric isn't great for dampening the effect of an inconveniently placed rock or providing an insulating layer. The following day I rode into Kingman and started rolling along Route 66. I started realising how much I was enjoying America as everyday I was experiencing something new and interesting, despite often having to wear just about all my clothes in order to keep warm. The next day I rode on my first Interstate and then headed up to by the most incredible place I've been to this whole trip, The Grand Canyon. After quickly putting up my tent to secure my spot at the campsite at the National Park, I rode to the rim and nearly fell off my bike when I first saw it, and not just due to the ice and snow on the track. The smile that came across my face didn't disappear until long after I had ridden along the rim, watched the sunset, and was settled in my sleeping bag with my breakfast and water bottle inside with me to prevent me repeating the mistake of having to eat partly frozen cream bun I had made a couple of days previously.
I would loved to have spent more time at the Grand Canyon but heavy snow was forecast so I set off early heading past Bedrock and Fred Flintstone, and across to Flagstaff where I am currently situated. I passed over the highest point of my American section of this trip along a very quiet road with just the occasional, random snowman watching me struggle into the wind and watching the clouds starting to gather overhead. So now I sit waiting for the drier to finish its cycle and the weather to pass sufficiently to ride again.