Leaving Tucson, too soon
The desert dream is alive.
I’m a solar-powered creature at the moment, and Tucson seems like the place to be in January.
I have the data to back this up. Check out this map of average sunlight reaching the ground in January:
As you can see, here in Tucson I’m located close to the peak of solar potential for this month. (It’s about to get a little quantitative — feel free to skip to the next paragraph if putting numbers to things doesn’t improve your day.) The units on this map are kilowatt-hours per square meter per day, so a value of 7 (near the red end of the color scale) means that you can expect seven thousand watt-hours of sunlight to fall on an average 3-foot by 3-foot patch of ground here, every day. That’s a lot of juice! Of course, it’s impossible to capture all of it. A good solar panel is typically around 20% efficient, meaning that if you tracked the sun with a solar panel perfectly throughout the day, you could expect to collect about 20% of 7000, or 1400, watt-hours for every square meter of solar panel you have. My panel is a little smaller than one square meter when it’s unfolded, and I don’t like to sit around and babysit the panel’s orientation, so 1000 watt-hours seems like a reasonable upper bound on how much I could collect in a day here. As I mentioned in post #4, my e-bike battery is 400 watt-hours, and my external battery bank is 720 watt-hours, for a total battery capacity of about 1100 watt-hours. That means a good sunny day can almost completely refill my bike and the external battery!
The upshot is, I haven’t had any trouble powering my life here with sunshine. I’ve taken my bike to get tacos, to buy groceries, and to get to trails. I’ve cooked all of my meals (except the tacos I bought) on my induction cooktop, running off the battery bank. And it’s been easy to just point the panels at the sun, go out for a while, and come back to find everything fully charged. It’s very, very satisfying.
I say I’m in Tucson, but I’m actually pitching my tent at a horse ranch 16 miles northwest of where the Amtrak dropped me off. The ride here couldn’t have been more different from the 16-mile ride from Union Station to Pasadena from post #3. The ride in LA was dark and wet; the ride in Arizona took place on a beautiful sunny morning. The ride in LA had me depressed about the state of bike infrastructure in this country; the ride in Arizona was almost entirely on the “Tucson Loop,” a sort of bike-only superhighway that links top destinations in and around the city. My route in Arizona even took me past a utility-scale solar installation! Auspicious.
This horse ranch turned out to be a great find. I knew I wanted to explore Saguaro National Park while I was here, but I couldn’t find any camping spots near the park, and the ones inside the park were hike-in and at elevation. Luckily, the ranch popped up on Google maps, and when I called to explain my situation, the owner said “Everything’s on your bike? Wow! Yeah, just show up. We’ll take care of you.”
And I do feel well taken care of. I’m set up out behind the “saloon”, a space that reeks of tobacco and is full of guitar equipment and off-color wall hangings. It’s been empty, but it’s not hard to imagine a bunch of cowboys sitting around playing poker in there. My bathroom, which is the saloon bathroom, is home to a Big Mouth Billy Bass (The Singing Sensation), and consequently I’ve had “Take Me To The River” stuck in my head all weekend. Lou, the ranch owner, is a super sweet guy. When I was heading out to get tacos on Saturday night, he offered to make me some tacos instead, apparently worried about my safety on the roads. I showed him how bright the lights are on my e-bike, which seemed to satisfy him. Overall, it’s a great vibe at the ranch. I’m hoping the horse theme continues in Texas.
The best thing about the horse ranch is the riding trails that start out the back door of the saloon and lead straight into Saguaro National Park. My first day here, I went for an amazing run in the late afternoon. I didn’t see a single other human out there; it was just me and the other desert fauna — roadrunners, black-tailed jackrabbits, coyotes, and lizards — all us weaving through the flora of saguaros, ocotillos, and chollas. It was paradise.
It was so nice out in the desert wilderness that I did another big run/hike in Saguaro on Sunday. The weather was phenomenal. This being the desert, the temperature variability is large: highs near 70, overnight lows in the mid-30s. I’ve got a very warm sleeping bag, and I’ve been sleeping in my tent without the rain fly so I can see the stars. It’s super nice.
So, I’m sad to be leaving Tucson so soon. I feel that the whole conceit of this solar-powered e-bikepacking trip has been validated by my experience here. As those close to me will attest, I am not exactly what you would call a planner. Things like “logistics” and “thinking of future Jake” are definitely growth areas for me. But that was actually part of the appeal of this trip: it seemed like a challenge that would help me grow. And I did do a lot of planning, in the end — perhaps motivated by the threat of suffering if I didn’t. This leg of the trip has been so smooth that I am giving myself a pat on the back.
Thanks so much for following along! As always, I love hearing from you in the comments.
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Way to cold call your way into a campsite!
Do you see much battery drain over those chilly nights? Curious about how the energy math works out for cold drain. I wonder under what conditions one preserves battery life by running a small heater off the battery.
So fun to read. I’ve always wanted to go to Saguaro Nat’l park. Are roadrunners as fast as the cartoons? ;)