Previous Day #3 - 2017 Bike Across USA Main Page - Next Day #5

Day 4: El Centro, CA to Yuma, AZ

61 miles - Holtville, CA; Cycling on Interstate 8; USA and Mexico Border Fence; Arizona State Line - February 12, 2017

Steve Garufi


The older I get, the less I like pictures of me.

Instead of making a boring smile, I mushed up my mouth and came up with this selfie. I guess this is my "tough bicyclist" look. :)

Holtville, California

Holtville, California

Holtville, California

John and I rode out of El Centro early. We arrived in Holtville around the 14 mile mark.

The elevation in Holtville is just 13 feet, an amusing number considering I lived at 8100+ feet for nine years in Buena Vista, Colorado, and then at least 6000 feet for another 10 years.

Holtville seemed like a nice town in Imperial County. I was impressed with the stately palm trees in the town square, and they were having a festival of some kind.

Leaving Holtville, we passed this sign: 48 more miles to reach Yuma.

Sheep Ranch - A Facebook Live Video

By Day 4, my followers were coming to expect Facebook live videos. When I saw this group of sheep, it felt right to make one. The video went for 11 minutes, and what I didn't realize was these videos use a lot of my cellphone data. Oh well. :) Anyway, it was a happy morning and the riding was easy so far.

Interstate 8 Sign We took California State Highway 115 east to Interstate 8, and that's when the biggest adventure of Day 4 would begin.

While it is usually legal to ride a bicycle on this section of Interstate 8 between El Centro, CA and Yuma, AZ, it was prohibited due to extensive reconstruction of the roadway. Cal Trans, the state department in charge of the roads, has a page right on their website stating that they would provide a free shuttle for bicyclists seven days a week between 7 a.m. and noon -- as long as they called (760) 337-1759 one hour ahead of time to make the arrangement.

Well, when I called first thing in the morning from El Centro, no one answered. The phone rang and rang; there was no voice mail. I called a few more times during the morning, but no one answered. So, when we arrived at Interstate 8 at about 10 a.m., we were at an impasse. I called the state police and got Sgt. Alvarez, a friendly officer based in El Centro. After we told him about our situation, he stated that we should ride as best and as safely as we could, and if that meant riding on the shoulder of the Interstate, then we'd probably be OK. He noted the general principle of using common sense with safety, and of course, as a bicyclist of many years, I was in complete agreement with that.

Orange Fruit

Still, John and I weren't sure what to do. We were discussing our options when a gentleman in a Ford Tempo pulled over. He was a local and we told him about our dilemma, but he didn't have any advice for us.

He did give me an orange though, which was generous.

Road Closed Ahead

John and I discussed our situation more. There was the Evan Hewes frontage road that goes for miles on the north side of the Interstate, but a sign noted that it was closed three miles ahead. So that wouldn't work.

Honestly, I can handle many kinds of adversity, but I didn't like the possibility that we might "get in trouble" or otherwise be pulled over by cops. Sure, we got an indirect OK from an officer by phone in El Centro, but it didn't feel like a guarantee.

By the way, perhaps I should have called Cal Trans days or weeks ahead of time to verify this shuttle offer, but I didn't. Maybe deep down, I didn't want a shuttle helping us anyway. That's cheating! I wanted to ride every mile of this route.

Interstate 8 Construction


We decided to ride up to the bridge over Interstate 8 to see the highway and think more about it.

Both lanes of traffic were reduced to one on the south side of the roadway, and the entire north side (the eventual west bound lanes) were under construction.

I was looking at those empty westbound lanes... and John was too... and then John, being the courageous and adventuresome guy he is said, "Let's ride on those lanes! There's no cars. That's the safest way." My heart shouted in agreement! I was excited. He was too. So we worked our way down to those westbound lanes under construction.

It was fun. It felt a little scandalous. Really, we didn't think we were doing anything too terrible, and I'm pretty sure law enforcement would have understood our decision. However, the uncertainty of it all made us feel gutsy.

I got a shot of John giving me a fist bump gesture. :)

Crack in Pavement We only went a mile before we were forced to get on the shoulder of Interstate 8 eastbound.

We were riding well, although large cracks like this every 15 feet were irritating.

Interstate 8 California We continued cycling on Interstate 8, knowing it was possible the police might pull us over. Still, we had no other choice.

We did notice the frontage road directly north of the highway, but there was a barbed-wire fence to get over, and it didn't seem prudent to cross both lanes of traffic and the median to try to climb over it. Plus, we'd have to lift our heavy bicycles over the fence!

So onward we went. We just figured if we were questioned by police, we'd politely tell our story about Cal Trans not answering their phone and my conversation with Sgt. Alvarez.

The sun came out for an hour, and here's a shot of John applying sunblock on himself.
Highway Call Box By the way, we opened a call box, and there really is a phone in there. Fascinating!

Interstate 8 in California

Interstate 8 California
For me, it was a tougher day. There was a crosswind. The smoothness of the shoulder varied between average to below average. It was difficult to maintain a decent speed.

For about six miles, all vehicular traffic (for both directions) was detoured onto the two-lane frontage road. So we had the shoulder all to ourselves with no cars! :)

At exit 151, Interstate 8 gets within walking distance of the U.S. and Mexico border.
USA Mexica Border Fence

USA Mexica Border Fence


U.S. / Mexico Border Fence

Three photos of the U.S. / Mexico border fence.

At this point in my life, I have never been to Mexico. I have only pressed by body on fencing like this in other areas. Two years ago, I made a videos of the wall in Nogales, AZ and just outside of Nogales.

The border fence at Exit 151 on I-8 ...

Duners Diner Across the highway was the Duner's Diner, a happening bar & grill with a general store.

We spoke with an employee who said the owners come down to southern California to run their business from November through April, and then they head north to run a similar business in Idaho from May through September.

I bought two Gatorade drinks and was ready to take on the remaining miles to Yuma.

Imperial Sand Dunes, CA

Winterhaven, California

The riding became wearisome. The crosswind grew in intensity. I could never maintain a decent speed in the 14-16 mph range. (It seemed like I was always stuck around 8-10 mph.) The bright sun bothered me too.

Adjacent are two shots of the Imperial Sand Dunes that you can see from the highway.

Felicity, California

Felicity, California

Eventually, we got off the Interstate when we had access to the frontage road.

The road was bumpy and crumbly. I had to go slow. It seemed like Yuma would never be in sight. John's bike had wider tires that were better able to handle the bumps. He was at least a mile ahead of me.

When I reached Felicity, I thought the mountain to the south was pretty.

Center of the World Plaza, CA I rejoined John. At the entrance of the Center of the World Plaza, we met two tourists from Germany. They were trying to get a picture of themselves and I offered to take it for them. We got to talking -- they had a car rental and were exploring many parts of the Southwest.
Yuma, Arizona

John and I continued on frontage roads until about one mile from the Colorado River. There was a final one-mile stretch of Interstate 8 that seemed like the only option for bicyclists to travel on. (My smartphone mapping system showed no reasonable alternative routes.)

Right there, as we stood on the bridge and were considering hoping on I-8, we saw a police car and John waved him down. He asked if it was OK to ride on this stretch, and at first the officer said "no" and that we'd need a shuttle.

-John told him about our unanswered calls to Cal Trans all morning.
-John told him about our conversation with Sgt. Alvarez.

It seemed like he believed us. That's when the officer got on his phone and tried to call Cal Trans himself ... with no one answering. He made other calls trying to get any shuttle to transport us, but to no avail. We felt vindicated! Ha ha. :)

So this officer allowed us to ride on the shoulder to the next exit (at milemarker 166), where we'd get off, ride on the nasty and crumbling Araz Road in Winterhaven, and then enter Yuma.

You are welcome to stay connected with me on my author page.

Arizona State Line
The Joy of Crossing Into a New State. :-)
Yuma, Arizona
It was a challenging day. The wind. The stresses of rough roads and the Interstate. The pains of getting into shape. All this made crossing into Arizona more gratifying. In four days, I'd gone a total of 200 miles, and even though the width of California isn't lengthy, you can't help but get a psychological boost and feel like you're making progress. :)

Previous Day #3 - 2017 Bike Across USA Main Page - Next Day #5

Other Resources: Steve's Book About 2008 Trip - 2011 Trip Journal - Steve's Help & Advice


Copyright © www.BicycleTrip.net - All Rights Reserved