We begin at the intersection of 10 and 83, heading South on 83 toward Sonoita. My guide, a freelance landscape photographer and old college roadie has an idea for a campsite a few miles outside Sonoita. I have no idea how many miles it will be to get there. The thing I know most at this moment is the work in my thighs. They burn with every downstroke. I joke that I am carrying two children behind me. The panniers must be about 90 pounds of weight. Every time I stop, the weight of my bike threatens to tip me over. There is work too in my arms and shoulders, the way I hold the handlebars steady so I keep to the right of the white line. The road is narrow and the speed limit is 50mph, large trucks blowing by at speeds far higher than what’s mandated by the black and white signs.
My tour guide, the boy, says it feels like we’re going downhill. I don’t know how to tell him this: DEFINITELY NOT. NO! But I keep pedaling, looking at the vistas as they pass. This is my kind of slowing down. My obsessive thoughts about preparations, planning, everything going wrong are gone. Instead, there is only the burning of my muscles, the desire to reach the top of another hill for a moment of sweet release gliding down the other side.
The land is brown, prickly pear and leafless mesquite giving way to rocky crags rising above the road, everywhere lumpy hills, leading to the base of massive angular mountain ranges. There are so many mountains I can’t keep track of them all. Signs saying “open range,” and cattle fences of barbed wire. Supposedly illegal immigrants come through here carrying bales of weed on their backs.
On and on and up and up and finally, nearing the end of daylight, we come to an opening up of the land, a massive plane spreading before us, tawny yellow grasses waving in the wind. Hills rolling downward, my legs shaking in relief, joys of coasting. We set up camp at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area at the edge of the Coronado National Forest. The sun is setting over the mountains and I am lighting up my stove, thrilling in the fact that I carried everything I need. Photographer is distracting me with his talking and he’s setting up my tent. I look for his tent…nowhere. I remember I must defend my freedom because it’s not given to me.
Half of me wants him to sleep outside, but the other half of me knows it is so cold and I am not sure I will be warm enough in my tent alone. I finish cooking my dinner. He gets in my tent. Outside, I stand and salute the stars. They are the brightest and most stunning I have ever seen. I crawl in.
Get in on the tour, day two!