Thursday, January 31, 2019

Day Fourteen: The End of the Worst

Day Fourteen: The End of the Worst
Miles: 29.75
Climb: 1025
Ave. spd.: 8.3 mph

The night was a mixed bag, my legs sticky from the effort, too warm, my body humming with residual energy from the huge output of the day before.  I lingered over chores, knowing I had but 30 miles to go. Most of them would test me just the same. I set out after 8AM, dreading more tightly spaced riding and the sonic dragons blowing by.  Suck it up, Buttercup.

The same tedious games of yesterday unfolded soon enough--shoulder surfing, traffic dodging, pedaling hard but this time into the wind, climbing a little, the pavement getting worse and worse, at times a grotesque gatorskin of cracks and fissures one to three inches deep--bounce, lurch, pop.  Ugh. I had a target, though, a marker and gateway to salvation. About 20 miles ahead lay the cutoff to Interstate 10, the monster highway that was bleeding off so many trucks and RV’s onto my road. After a couple of hard hours, I could see the sign, and EVERY truck that passed me took the turn, most of the RV’s, too.  This was it. My Holy Grail, my Stargate. I cranked through, rode a short while and pulled over to eat, savoring the quiet. About 100 miles of the worst riding I’d ever done, was done. And I never had to ride it again. Even though I’d been breathing hard, suddenly it felt that I could really breath.  The ride could only get better after this.

In short order, I was in Hope, hoping to score an orange juice at the mini-mart.  Closed as the pyramids of Egypt. On I pedaled, Salome and KOA bound. In four miles, it was over.  I had an overpriced patch of dirt on which to throw my tent, but there was a shower. Oh, the shower.  After days of such hard work, a shower becomes a religious experience. It is astonishing how much liquid one can take in and pump out through the skin and into one’s clothes.  Off came the grime, the sweat and dust, the diesel fumes and sunscreen. Nothing existed but the cleansing baptism of hot water--sorry about that whole severed head thing, John.  Salome had a way of getting what she wanted.

So I will relax here amidst  the trailers, monster rigs, one or two pathetic little people like me with tents--can you imagine? But there is a beautiful cattle dog to pet. I know there will be some floodlights, there always are, so I did what I could to find some shelter from these midnight suns.  I hope for a good night and light winds tomorrow. The enormous climb up to Prescott is drawing near. Just two more days of riding.  Tomorrow, Congress.

Day Thirteen: Outlaw Triker--Too Fast, Too Furious

Day Thirteen:  Outlaw Triker--Too Fast, Too Furious
Miles: 66
Climb: 1748
Ave.spd.: 11.9 mph--Booyah

Where to begin?  Somewhen in the middle of zombie-dark-thirty, I awoke to the sound of piss--someone, something pissing.  What the what?!  This ain’t right.  I struggle to get out of the tent, into my shoes, headlamp crooked on my noggin...only to find my hydration tube doing the pissing.  A rodent has bitten through the bite valve, and now my hydration is watering the sand. Dang. I close the valve, knowing I can work it that way for the remainder of the tour.  Back to bed, riled up, had to get to sleep. I read more of Tara Westover’s horrendous upbringing, and finally drift off, only to awake at 4:45AM, fifteen minutes before the alarm.  Big day, so let’s get after it.

In the shadowy comfort of my little arroyo,  I stuff my bag, get coffee going and all the rest of the chores.  It’s so warm compared to earlier in the tour. I enjoy the soft darkness, the known contours of my camp, and realize I will miss it.  It’s been a safe refuge from the crazy road out there, but now I have to re-enter that chaos and do battle with the forces of internal combustion and long haul trucking and boomers in mega rigs and, and, and….

I was rolling in earnest before 7AM, a wide, moderate cloud cover  keeping the sun dim, the land under broad shadow. This worked to my advantage as I could use my flashers to warn approaching vehicles of my delicate presence on the roadway.  While the scenery was often spectacular, I had little time to appreciate it. Route 95 had a straight flush hand and was determined to knock me out of the game.

The shoulder, what there was of it, was far worse than I recalled from my previous tour.  But it was the traffic load that had truly shifted, a manifold increase in every kind of vehicle.  The explosive growth of the state and massive boomer retirees in RV’s, not to mention the locals and commercial trucking to keep it all working, meant a sometimes fearsome stream of vehicles roaring in both directions.  I had to be fully on my game. And then the riding got extra special interesting.

Smokey and The Bandit (Triker)...

Pushing hard, gunning for Parker, I see a roadwork ahead sign.  No biggie--just hope it isn’t a pavement. Soon, I encounter cones.  As usual, I slip inside, riding free of the now one-lane stream of traffic, a happy rider.  After half a mile or so, I see the crew replacing railing--perfect. I work around the trucks, keeping a sharp eye for any movement, lights, the usual.  At one point, I have to lift a cone to give me room. The dude working the forklift and his co-workers see me, give me a friendly attaboy! wave, and I move around them.  Then I see the cop on the other side of the road, and he goes a little ballistic--”Really?!” he yells. “REALLY?!”  Well, yeah. What the hell else am I supposed to do? Slip into the lane of traffic with monster rigs and annoyed drivers?   I raise my hands to show that, yeah, this is it. I’m moving fast, but in an instant I hear the pop-whine of a siren, and his squad car moving fast.  I am so busted.  I’m rolling and hear something garbled from his loudspeaker, lights a-flashing.  We both brake at the same time and he skids to a stop behind me, bursting out of his rig like a angry hornet.  

I put on the parking brake and stand up.

In an edgy voice, he says, “You just rode right past me.”  I did not get what the deal was, but, he says, because I’m not in a car, he can’t ask me for ANY ID of any kind, but he does anyway.  I play a little mum. I mean, what the hell is he going to to? He then gets into a track of asking me where I’m from, if I came to Arizona voluntarily, eventually, if not artfully, implying that if I came of my own free will, I should follow the laws of the state.  It is rare when I haven’t been inside the cones in similar situations, and I’ve never gotten such a response--or any at all, for that matter. I explain the obvious:

“It was much safer than trying to blend in with all that traffic and no access to a shoulder.”  He tries to make the point that the crew was using a forklift, moving 20ft. pieces of corrugated metal, and that they could take me out, although when I pedaled by, they were putting in posts, and the crew saw me, but  I quickly assess that logic and my experience are not going to work here. But I do ask him, “Man to man, if you were riding like I am, would you want to be inside or outside the cones?” This stops him for a moment, and he never does answer the question.  I eventually give him some ID. Hell, I don’t have so much as a parking ticket on my record. He takes it back to his car and does a search for a couple of minutes and comes back, and right away, I can see his mood has softened. He’s basically a good guy and looking out for my safety, which I appreciate, even if I know, with north of 10,000 miles of touring experience, I did the right thing.  Then, there is a shift.

“So, how do you like that thing?  Is it easy on your back?”

And for a moment or two, we stand, two men, inside the cone line, and we talk bikes and touring.  He hands me a piece of paper and my ID. “I’m not going to give you a ticket, only a warning. Please, please be careful,” he says, hands in supplication.  I’m touched by the gesture. Then, he adds, “You can stay in the cones from here to the end, but next time, when you come to a work crew, get outside.” Fair enough.  I thank him, and saddle up. He drives back to the work site. The Outlaw Triker rides again.

After taking a breather and inhaling a super venti avec mocha at the Safeway in Parker, ℅ Starbucks, I got down to business.    The stretch between parker and Rt. 72 was going to push me to my limits, true elite, post-doc level intense trike touring--not fun, no sire.  I had to up my game, run my guns. Ride fast, smart and tactically perfect. The shoulder would come and go, appear then vanish without rhyme or reason, throwing me back and forth into the traffic lane of a hyper-busy two lane highway.  Rough pavement, soft or crumbly, littlered shoulder kept me dodging road snakes and diesel behemoths and gargantuan 5th wheels. I dug in and went for it, turned my adrenaline up to a solid 5, my legs to a 10 or 11, my attention to 15. I was Lance Fucking Armstrong slinging pedals on a gallon of EPO.  Fuck yeah! Dodge, pedal, slide onto the shoulder to let the “scissor of death” traffic knot pass, then back on the pavement for more. Go, go, GO! I ate up the miles before they could eat me.

At last I Ieft Rt. 95, losing some traffic, as I took 72. I stopped for lunch only to see a right front flat. This is the one flattened twice before. Understandable. It eats the most shit, shoulder-wise. I was so relieved to be off 95, I wasn’t bothered.  Most of the miles were done for the day and it was just noon. I got this. I peeled the skin, ripped out the entrails and eventually found the tiny wire--snake bite. I took my time and did a meticulous job and got more experience with my new tire changing tools--sweet.  The raging trucks were wearing me down, however. I needed to get off the road.

Zen koan:  Why must one get on the road to get off the road?

Because wishing miles done does not make them go away.  

I got to work.  This was Trump country, no doubt about it--a couple of big displays--”Military, Security, Economy” --”Thank you vets”  “Trump” --then, “Trump and Pence, 8” After a moment, I get it--Trump and Pence for eight years.

Then some more road work.  A Mexican guy holding the Stop/Slow sign said in heavily accented English, “Go, inside da cones.”

“Are there any cops up there?  The last one I met said to follow the traffic.”

“No, traffic be coming toward you.  Stay left.”

Of course.  That was my assessment, too.  I pedalled into the empty left lane as a line of cars vanished going in my direction.  Another line of cars came towards me, opposite lane, then another line followed up behind going my way.  As I got to the work crew laying down material on the shoulder, I paused to wait for the last car going my way, then I slipped in behind, passed the work crew, and re-took the empty lane for as far as I could.  This all seemed to be in line what the officer wanted. The best thing about this second work crew was that it paused the traffic in each direction from time to time, so I was able to “milk the pulses” as I called it.  I cruised along for a mile or so until I saw a line of cars coming--functional rearview mirrors are critical--I’d pull onto the shoulder, let the conga line pass, then bop on down the road, virtually car free. This worked well for a time, but eventually the effect faded.  By then, however, Bouse was in view. I was going to live. The place had a great small market, with a flyer for an Elvis lookalike evangelist, and a neat, cheap, quiet and dark community park with camping, a mile off the main road. Home for the night. Even outlaws have to sleep.

Tomorrow, Salome, and John the Baptist’s head on a platter.

Day Twelve: The Pleasures of Not Riding

Day Twelve: The Pleasures of Not Riding
Miles: Zero
Climb: A few feet--on foot.
Ave. spd.: 1.5 mph, approx.

About fully loaded cycle touring here is an element of hitting oneself  in the head with a hammer: It feels so good when it stops. I lay in the tent until the slothful hour of 7AM but finally mustered the enthusiasm for coffee.  Ah, we be caffinated again. A lounged in my trike seat and let the morning come on, sipped and read. Which reminds me: A good reading list is essential and of the the great compensations of long nights in the tent and rest days.  So here’s mine. Excellent all, and you must all read them.

American Heiress by Jeffery Toobin:  This is the fully detailed story of the Patty Hearst saga.  What a story! I rememberd vaguely parts of the tale from my childhood, but this fills in all the details.  Amazing stuff and a fascinating look back at the early 70’s.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger:  This may be one of the most important books for all of us at this point in history.  It’s short, super readable, and carries insights into how we were as people and how we need to be again.  Read it

Educated by Tara Westover:  Yikes. What a memoir.  She grew up in a crazy Mormon home in back country Idaho with an “End Times!” kind of father, quite nuts.  She didn’t go to school until she was 15, eventually getting a PhD. A page turner, people. Get it.

So I read, I wrote, I did some rest day service and cleaned up the little arroyo that was my camp.  Some jackass of the first order smashed some brightly colored pottery all over the side of the wash.  So I did some duty, and picked up some dog duty, too, while I was at it. Gotta shed some Light on the Forces of Darkness.

Now, gotta go call Jodi and do some more reading.  It’s off to Bouse--rhymes with “house” tomorrow.

Day Eleven: It Was the Best of Shoulders, It Was the Worst of Shoulders

Day Eleven: It Was the Best of Shoulders, It Was the Worst of Shoulders
Miles: 62.3
Climb: 2150
Ave. spd.: 10  mph--exactly.

I don’t suppose any of you have actually been inside Satan’s rectum?  Well, I have. And let me tell you, it’s NOT pretty.

After an acceptable  night at The Six (Six, Six), I motored into the dawn, clear in contrast to the fully cloudy report on the web.  What does the web know? Nuthin’. As I was about to discover. Following Google cycling instructions, I set out across the valley, soon to find my first turn blocked off as a private drive. No problem, easy workaround.  Next, the line turned into full-on dirt and gravel for what would amount to miles of slogging. No thanks, not on a fully loaded trike. Okay, check the dang Google map again--okay, that should work. Still, hit a dead end.  Next, find ANOTHER dirt track, but this one looks good and should connect to where you want to go. Almost, but another jog puts you on “Scenic” Rt. 1, finally, which will absolutely take me to Hwy 40. Phew. Arizona has begun with a challenge.

My path follows the edge of  a national wildlife refuge, a place, ironically, for both preserving and terminating wildlife.  I’m not against hunting, but this dichotomy has always struck me as a little weird. Still, it is an important wetlands preserve, and I’m sure the birds who don’t get shot really appreciate it.

The road is rough chip seal, rolling, moderate traffic.  Not great, but okay. My last memories are from years before, riding with a severe tail wind.  It flew by in nearly effortless joy. Today is a bit more work. Before long, I hit Golden Shores, which I keep calling “Golden Showers” in my head, an homage to an old, obscene Frank Zappa tune.  Long live Zappa!

Then I hit Hwy 40 and begin my slog through The Devils Lower GI.  I stop to take a photo of the fetching view down the Colorado towards striking volcanic needles and roll down to the freeway.  Hmmm…. The shoulder looks a bit dark, not llike the pavement in the lanes.

Then I hit it.

It’s pitted.  It’s rutted. It’s loose.  It’s strewn with lurking road vipers and other venomous debris.  A grade that should yield 7 or 8 mph finds me straining for 4, even losing traction at times.  Good God! What hell is this? I don’t remember such horrors from my previous ride. Could the shoulder have gone so bad in only a dozen years or so?  I’ve got seven or eight miles to go to reach my turn off. What if it stays this way the whole distance? Not-safe--for-work language passes my lips, rest assured.  Now the warning sign, admonition from the on-ramp makes sense: “Cyclists must stay on shoulder.” The impulse to swing onto the traffic lane is overwhelming. Like sufferers in Dante’s Inferno, I pedal within sight, within reach of a devine salvation--smooth pavement--but cannot use it.  The sign should have read: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”  All that’s missing i a three-headed devil dog at the on-ramp to complete the picture.

Sinning and spinning cyclists must learn to endure their suffering, so I resolve to keep moving.  I can do this. The Devil will NOT get his due. Eff the Imp! But as Dante and Virgil descended through the circles, crossed the lake of ice, and climbed down the shaggy flanks of Satan himself, I break a small rise, and there the fetid surface relents, giving way to smooth salvation.  The angels sing, a trumpet sounds--although it’s more like that jazz shredding great Hadi Al Sadoon than Gabriel.

And then my ride feels off, bouncy.  A tire is going flat, the same one I’d patched in Death Valley.  Ugh. Another lash from Beelzebub’s tail. As trucks and cars roar past, I get to work.  Tip the trike, pull the tube. Before long, a road worker pulls up close, his lights flashing, giving me cover as I labored.  I am grateful. He comes over to watch me work. I get the new tube in. I thought it was a good one, I really did. It goes immediately flat.  Another lash. I thank the road crew guy but say he doesn’t need to wait. I’m used to such trevails. He wishes me well and gets back into his truck, leaving me to my troubles.  Okay. A shitty tube. Next! This one is good, and I finally get up and rolling again. I am determined, however, to get a couple of new ones in Lake Havasu. I don’t trust

In short order, I am off the highway and in the arms of Love’s, eating lunch, twenty miles--or so I think--still to go.  On the next stretch, I am doubting this kind of touring, feeling a bit besieged by the sound of cars and trucks. My enthusiasm has ebbed.  For many reasons, bike touring pushes one through a roller coaster of emotions. Just keep pedaling.

I climb steadily and top a shallow summit only to hit a supreme shoulder--wide, glassy smooth, and downhill with a tail wind.  Oh, the pleasure of that. Inhale the speed and miles and smiles. It’s downhill virtually all the way to Lake Havasu. But what the hell has happened to Lake Havasu?  The scale of new development is staggering. Mega-maga malls, McMansions, throbbing traffic. Wow. To my delight and benefit, however, and a result of such growth, I discover a multi-use trail that went on for miles and miles, ultimately taking me far from the core of town and all the way to my destination.  Take that, Satan! Get thee behind me!

There is another minor lash as I negotiate some crazy road work around Safeway, but at last I’m parked in front of the supermarket.  I lock the trike to a metal bench, although it was hard to imagine who might want to pedal off with my monster load. Perhaps the guy I met earlier?  Ratty jeans, shaven head, weathered skin, front teeth missing, mountain bike with plastic shopping bag hanging off the bars, he pulled up beside me at a stop sign, asking in a hyper-energetic voice:  “Trade yah! Oh, that ain’t got no beer holder. No thanks. Whoops! Gotta go!” And he cut off across the road. Well, okay then. Ride well, brother. I have reason to suspect he was one of those “DUI” cyclists, who take to the pedals for certain, ah, legal reasons. One thing for sure, however, I was definitely getting a brew inside this massive shopping emporium that held EVERYTHING I could not find at the crumby stores in the remoter desert locales.

I am surprised at the strength of my response to the displays of fruits and veggies--hooray!  Don’t take to much of anything, Scotty.  Remember, you gotta pedal this stuff down the road, not much storage space either, chump.  As fast as I can,, for time is burning on these short winter days, I get what I need and rush out to my trike to begin the loading process--cutting off broccoli stems, getting rid of boxes, offloading stuff I don’t need or want--like those lousy tortillas I’d been subsisting on for the last few days.  Jam. Pack. Strap. Let’s go, go, go.

I renegotiate the road work upheaval, splashed through the runoff from a broken main, and coast down to the bike shop.  Bonus. They have the 20’ tubes with presta valves, my preferred type, although I can use shraeders in a pinch. The owner even let me fill up from his bottled water dispenser.  The blessings kept coming. I quickly regain the cross-town multi-use path and lay into the pedals. I have a sense for where the park is that I want, but my memory is murky. I THOUGHT I read the map correctly.  But as I climb, somehow it seems I am off course, The Evil One sowing uncertainty. I check the Google map and it appears I’ve way overshot the turn off, like by a couple of miles. Damn, okay, back down the hill.  Wait. A. Cotton. Picking. Minute. Eeeek! Brakes squeal as I stop. Daylight burning, I crank out the phone again and study more closely. Where the hell am I? “Okay, Google.”

“Hi, how can I help?”

“Directions, Sara Park, Lake Havasu, Arizona”

To which, The Google Meister delivers all kinds of links and info on Sarah Lawrence College, back East.  Now, I know Sarah Lawrence is a very fine institution of higher learning, and one of my intellectual heroes, Joseph Campbell, taught there for over 30 years, but it weren’t no BLM park, dag nabbit.  Then I have the presence of mind to spell out the name for the oh-so-literal Google machine.

“Okay, Google.”

“Hi, how can I help?”

“Directions, S. A. R. A. Park, Lake Havasu, Arizona.”

Bingo.  Seven miles, to the south, the direction I’d been heading.  Sigh. Turn around the three wheeled pig and pile on the miles and altitude gain,  up, up, and away in my leaden balloon. It’s really pushing towards darkness, 4:30PM, and I need light to find camp.  As I mentioned, the glorious multi-use path holds up for the entire climb, giving me a car-free, smooth surface away from the mad evening traffic. Thank you, citizens and planners of Lake Havasu City. At last, I break the climb, hit my street, and cross over to the park. I roll by a dog park and down a slope, found a pull-out.  Hmmm...Can I get the trike down into that wash? Will she roll? Go for it. Down into the narrows, ride and push, and in a moment I’ve found a spot, fully hidden from the road, tucked in behind a scraggly half-dead paloverde tree.  Victory!

Quite exhausted, realizing, too, that I needn’t have carried the water all the way up the hill because I could have filled up at the doggie park, I laugh and smile at the coming dark.  I can stop. I text Jodi quickly and get to work. I know, however, that I will not be pushing on the next day. I’d been thrashing the pedals for seven straight days. So on the eigth day, I will rest.  This means, of course, that there is a good chance I’ll have to fight a rain storm into Prescott, but no matter. That’s why God/Al Gore’s family company invented Goretex. I need to be stopped for a while.

I cook my simple meal of pasta, broccoli, and canned salmon, wolf it down in my fashion, though not with quite the astonishing speed of our cattle pup, Patchy, and throw my weary carcass into the tent.  Lights out, folks.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Day ten: In Need of Needles

Day 10: In Need of Needles
Miles: 38.6
Climb: 1375 ft.
Ave. spd.: 11.1

Although all the riding was going to be on Hwy 40, I was not dreading it based on my experience the day before.  A combination of fresh, deep ear plugs, my cap pulled over my eyes, and a layer of hard-worked muscles gave me enough to catch some sleep.  I’ve spent worse nights out.

In the morning, I wandered over to the store to get some sugar for my coffee.  A young woman behind the counter greeted my gaze. I struck up a conversation. “So, when did your shift start?”

“Eight last night.”  Her eyes revealed some of those long hours.  “I get off at eight, two more hours to go.”

I shuddered at the thought. Twelve hour shifts at the Fenner gas station mini-mart.  Good God! I had to ask, “So, how many twelves do you do?”

“Three, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I’ve got kids, and I’m going to college to become an RN.”

“Fantastic,” I replied, so encouraged to hear that she wasn’t simply grinding it out in this edge-of-nowhere outpost.  She talked about getting A’s and B’s, and I gave her a little raised victory fist. Instantly I was back in school, mentoring so many young mothers just like her, diligent, determined, hard-working students.  The nursing students were always my best, and I told her so. It was a sweet if melancholy moment for me, an echo of my former life.

The riding was moderate, journeyman cycle-touring, grades cut for interstate work not climbing the Panamints into Death Valley.  I rocked along at 7 to 8 mph up the steady inclines. At one point, I passed a sign that demanded that I, a pedal powered person, must leave the highway.  Uh, I don’t think so. Sorry State of Kalifornia, but I’m taking the direct route to Needles. The required route meant that I would have to descent Rt. 95, one I had ridden before--narrow, tight, two lanes, no shoulder, with trucks.  I’ll take the 40, sir, and damn the torpedoes. In a couple of hours, I’d cracked the second pass and paused to suit up for a 20 mile descent. And I rolled and rolled and rolled down so far into the great basin of the Colorado, a shimmering ribbon thousands of feet below.  A CHP officer passed me on the way down and cared not one jot that I occupied my little patch of blacktop. He saw what I’d done to that RV’er, no doubt, so he knew to keep his distance.

Finally, in the strange warmth of a desert January day, I left the highway and looked for the old motel I’d stayed at years ago when I traversed this country.  It had changed names, but it I recognized the layout. It didn’t look good. A couple of crusty sorts loitered on a stairway, sucking down coffin nails. I walked into the office and met the clerk, and older man, stringy grey hair dangling to his shoulders, a full brace of teeth missing in front.  It’s fair to say that you’ve arrived at a certain place in life if you’ve lost several front teeth and found yourself unable to replace them. A nice enough fellow, but the aesthetic was pure hillbilly. He showed me the room, $50 “cuz it has a spa.” Hoo. Man. I’d scraped the bottom before on this tour when I tasted the utter degradation, the abject culinary humiliation of SPAM, yes, that stuff, and a can of BBQ Vienna Sausages.

But this motel was too much.  I thanked the man and said I had some shopping to do--which was true--and that if I wanted the room, I’d be back.  I didn’t and wouldn’t.. As I rolled away, in a dim voice, the bloke with the cancer stick asked something about how fast I could go--but I was already too far away.  A night at “The Best Motel” was not in my future.

A quick Google search revealed a Napa auto parts store.  In a thrice, I had my fuel! I would be able to cook for the rest of the tour.  Now where to stay? More Googleplexing. The ol’ standby of Motel 6 was a few minutes away.  Same price as the dive and much, much cleaner. Done. Roll the trike with millimeters to spare through the front door and begin off-loading gear.  Catch up on some emails. Done. Shower time. No. Effin’. Water. Desk said there was a leak and didn’t know when the flow would be forthcoming. GAH!  I needed this shower like life itself. I stewed in my own slime, worked on the blog, leaving the bathroom faucet on as an indicator of when the pipes had pressure again.  An hour later and they were sputtering with life. Sacred ablutions devine. Laundry? Check. Order out pizza? Check. I’m so done. Lake Havasu, Arizona, tomorrow. I’m blowin’ this popsicle stand, yo.

Day Nine: Necrosis Rising, Realm of the Road Snake

Day Nine: Necrosis Rising, Realm of the Road Snake
Miles: 51
Ave. spd.:9.2 mph

Let me explain.  To a road touring cyclist, pavement quality is a constant issue.  It provides moment-to-moment feedback, blessing or cursing your progress, tainting or lifting your mood--at least mine, anyway.  As I mentioned, the old Kelbaker road had signed a pact with Satan to achieve world class status as crappy road surface.  The cheesy chip seal job helped a lot, but it was far from a perfectly smooth, durable surface. As I climbed the big grade to Granite Pass, I could see the old beast lurking beneath the chip, poking through, veiled but hinting at its former decrepitude. As I descended from the spectacular pass, big stone that was off limits to climbers, fell away to the west, and I hit chunks and bumps that told me this road was not long for this world.  The monster was there, waiting.

Part of highway riding, which I was quickly approaching, is dealing with the inevitable “road snakes,” a term I first heard from Jodi during our Rocky Mountain tour.  These are strips and chunks of big rig re-treads that lie in wait along the side of the road, from sweet little garter snakes to humongous anacondas, they lurk and provide obstacles to safe riding--not to mention flats. Somehow, I dodged the worst and made great progress, although most of the shoulder was clear of debris.

Here is a fierce example, the notorious Mojave Black. You can see it curled, ready to strike!

Now, if you want to grab one, do it quick as a snake!  Note my elite reflexes have allowed me to pinch it firmly behind the head so it cannot reach around and bite me.  This one was not going to be messing with me, no sir.

Under a warm sun, I de-layered for a short climb up to the massive, double barreled Hwy 40.  Although noisy because of the trucks, I was immediately gifted with a HUGE smooth shoulder, a rumble strip between lil’ ol’ triking me and the trucks.  It was great riding. I would never want to do a long stretch of such riding--the noise and movement of the trucks is a downer--but for a few hours today and tomorrow?  Bring it on. There was little doubt it was safer than many so-called “quiet” roads where sight lines are poor and shoulders nonexistent. I jammed ear plugs in and spun for glory and Fenner, about 30 miles away.  My secret weapon? Most of it was gently downhill. At times up to 30 mph and rarely less than 10 mph, I chewed up those miles. Booyah.

Still, it WAS a lot of pedalling, and the miles wore me down.  Many, many times the trucks would swing to the far lane to pass.  I was grateful and waved. I even saw several “Share the Road” signs for us cycling folk.  Schweet.

After 3PM, which is becoming my default stopping time, after fighting serious side winds, I climbed into the gusts to land in Fenner, a large gas station complex.  As I pulled close to the entrance, I saw a sign that said “Bike Parking Only.” Now THAT is a sign you don’t often see. But it was true. I could camp for free, out of the wind, water a restroom nearby.  Traffic, a billion watts of fluorescent light, and the occasional rumbling train as well, but, hey, you can’t have everything. I had to laugh. It was one of those classic funky lousy bike touring camps that happen sometimes.  You just gotta roll with it. At least I had some artsy ponds with statues of pink flamingos and naked ladies holding up conch shells. WTF? There was, however, the compensation of beer at astronomical prices. Fine with me. There are so few options out here. My other choice was to backtrack to the closed section of Route 66 and camp out in the open right next to the moderately active train tracks. Ugh. No good choices. Tomorrow it’s a cheap motel in Needles--classic. That’ll do me right. At least I got to talk to Jodi and throw a few barbs on Facebook.  Time now for deep earplugs and an eye cover. Gonna be a long, long night. Sigh….

Day Eight: Eye of the Hare

Day Eight: Eye of the Hare
Miles: 37
Climb: 2908
Ave. spd.: 7.3 mph

A cold and windless night, upper 30’s that felt colder as it snaked into my tent.  I dozed, woke, read a little, back to sleep--the long night syndrome of winter desert touring.  The inside of this tent and I are old friends from many adventures, especially my coast-to-coast ride in 2007.  Almost a hundred nights we spent together. I stretch out on the pad, pull up my book or Kindle, and I’m home for a while.

Out of the nylon crypt before sunrise, this time putting on toe warmers before getting up--bliss. Coffee and tortillas stuffed with cheese will do for breakfast. I will feel the loss of that package for the rest of the trip.  My fault. I should have got it sent off earlier, but I figured a week would be enough time--but no. Gah again. Fortunately, I’ve got just enough coffee and fuel to cook it to see me through to Needles where I think I can resupply.  I cinch, stuff, roll and strap, gape at the clear morning sky and pedaled off shortly after 7AM.

The Kelbaker road--a combination of Kelso and Baker--traverses some spectacular country.  Having pedaled it twice with Jodi, I knew what to expect, but it was still a deep pleasure to pull away from the groaning artery of Hwy 15 with its continuous throb of cars and trucks going to and from Vegas and head south into the preserve--NO commercial traffic allowed.  Booyah.

To those who have not traveled it, any description of the pavement would stress belief.  It was more random cobbles in a cracking grey matrix than pavement, some stones as big as a man’s fist.  It was brutal, slow riding, and I had vowed that I would never traverse this country again. But then Caltrans had to go and pave it.  Well, “pavement” might be a little enthusiastic, for it was really a knobby slather of Satan’s Vomit--chip seal, but it was better--by far--than the rotting, chuck-holed, be-cobbled nightmare of before.  I made slow but steady progress, feeling the drag of the chip seal for sure, but happy to have the improved surface.

A few miles into the ride, I slowly rolled past a dead rabbit, freshly killed--last night?  The ravens had yet to discover it. A smear of blood, smooth white and grey fur, an eye looking up at me, declaring--Your next! Or perhaps a more forlorn--Remember me.  It seemed to follow me into the morning.

Hours of grinding on this 20 mile hill were the work of my day, moving higher into the Joshua Tree zone, that twisted icon of the Mojave.  In the heart of the preserve at a place called Cima Dome one can find the world’s biggest Joshua Tree forest, a thick swelling of fantastic shapes bulging into the sky on the gently curved surface of the enormous dome.

After a long and rough ride down, the old necrotic pavement lurking of the chips, I arrived at Kelso Depot.  Of course it was closed down because of the standoff between President Trump and the democratic congress.  Riding a narrow trike, I rolled the the barrier to check things out. Thankfully, the water spigot was operational even if the bathrooms were locked.  This I could work with. I swung across the road to park in front of a long-closed post office, paint chipped and faded, wood of the door flaking apart from the relentless sun, windows cracked, a classic desert shack.  

It was warm in the sun as I prepared lunch and watched too-frequent cars motor by, coming and going from Vegas, this being an intersection that connects Hwy 40 and Hwy 15.  The reach of that toxic town is immense. Finally, I grabbed my water containers and jogged over to fill up. Just as I was about to return to my trike, “ranger” who is really a cop in green, came up to me and said, “Ah, my water guy.”  He tried, in a nice way, to bust my chops for coming through the barrier, that this was CLOSED due to the “government shut down.” In a friendly tone, he did at least acknowledge that we would have to break protocol because I really needed water.  Human powered travelers get a few breaks. I lingered for a time and about 3PM, motored up the next grade to camp in the creosote jungle. Tomorrow, Granite Pass, Hwy 40 and the dubious glories of Fenner.


Day Seven: Cooking for Baker

Day Seven:  Cooking for Baker
Miles:  65.9
Climb: 1883 ft.
Ave. spd.: 10.6 mph

Up almost an hour earlier than last morning, I wanted to make sure I landed in Baker, nearly 60 miles south with Ibex Pass between us.  I packed, coffeed, got it done as the sky grew teal and crimson to the east, palm trees silhouetted like a cliched pitch for the good life in California.   Shortly after 7AM, the first rays of the sun casting long shadows, I rolled out of Shoshone, south bound again.

My first shock was on the edge of town where the cafe, C’est si Bon, used to be.  We knew it had been closed before, and that in itself was a lesson in letting go, but now I find that every last tamarisk tree that used to cast such beautiful shade and overhang the century old building are completely gone--every stump, branch and needle has been swept away.  The tamarisk, an Asian invader, is known for sucking up vast amounts of water and in some cases removing all surface water from once flowing streams, so it’s open season on them. I understand the impulse to cut them out, but those shaggy, grey-green, salty needled trees have always spoken to me, embodying the desert in some meaningful way.  And the shade and cosy campsites they created were magnificent. More change, more loss. And my dinner guests informed me that the cafe’s owner, David’s son--who did not exist when we first pedaled up to the cafe--is now searching for colleges to attend. Stop it! Ugh. I pedaled on.

Out, out, and gently down to the alkali sinks and runnels, the strangely carved buttes and gullies of the Amargosa River Valley. It’s an enchanting, otherworldly terrain.  The temperatures fell into the mid-30’s as I zipped along, chilled and warmed simultaneously in that way unique to cycling.

Before long, I dug into the gentle grades towards Ibex Pass, at about 2,000 ft  This pass offers the best bang-for-the-buck of almost any stretch of riding when you take it north to south as I was.  Gentle, fast climbing--for a loaded pedal-powered machine, about 6--8 mph--led me quickly to the summit and a surging descent for about eight miles out into the vastness of the Dumont Dunes area and the Henry Wade route out of Death Valley.  Dumont Dunes draw huge off-road vehicle crowds on weekends, so it is crucial to avoid this stretch of road on big traffic days. The Henry Wade route into Death Valley refers to and 1849 caravan that suffered in the valley, and Henry struck out on his own, finding an escape and link to the Old Spanish Trail.  I can hardly imagine traversing the rough, sandy ground with an ox drawn cart in the 19th century. Those people were nuts.

At last I pulled into Baker, only 2PM--winning.  I crank the extra mile or so to the Post Office and go in to collect my packages. Only there are none to be found.  None. No pad, no food--nada. GAH! Effin’ PO couldn’t deliver as promised. The bastards. I get to talk to Jodi at last and too much of it is my ranting about the shipping problems.  I tell her we’ll talk more later, and I run off to look for fuel for my stove--none to be found! Groceries suck in this town, but the Mexican market had a few things, so I loaded up with cheese, tortillas, some tuna and avocados and a few other things.  I wouldn’t starve, but dinners for a few nights wouldn’t be very interesting or very warm. So it goes. At least I had enough fuel and coffee to see me through to Needles, three days hence. I grabbed a big chicken gyro at the Mad Greek restaurant, a beer, and some water and set out into the desert.

Five miles out, the sun low behind me, I pulled off into a shallow arroyo and called it camp.  Early dinner was the perfect inhalation of the gyro, rice, and a tall, cool 805, eaten form the seat of the trike as I watched the sun set.  I was going to live--and well. I called Jodi again then got about my chores, the winter desert chill creeping through the spindly creosote bushes.  Bed and tent were calling. A big day over a major pass and down to Kelso was on tap for tomorrow.

Day Six: Wild, Wild Horses

Day Six:  Wild, Wild Horses
Miles: 59
Climb: 3075
Ave. spd.: 9.3 mph

The night was everything I needed.  The winds died and no one camped nearby with a ukulele.  Quiet. Solitary. I lingered a short while in the bed but finally dragged myself out at 6:30AM.  Severe clear. I rolled out shortly after 8AM, ready for the long climb. Almost always low angle--about 3%--I was able to chug and chug the miles under a perfect sky, even  a slight tailwind. Glorious.

At close to the 2,000 ft. level, I took a break and was caught up by a day rider, Steve.  We chatted for some time about cycling and my route, which he knew well. Another desert rat.  Soon he took off only to tag the 2,000 ft. level and head back down. I was all about up up up.  I needed some extra octane in the tank and opted for Sheryl Crow--like Steve McQueen. Her punchy rhythms set just the right pace.  By 11:30 I’d cracked the pass--cool and clear. I wolfed down a mini-lunch and rolled off for Death Valley Junction, where lunch #2 would meet its end in front of the old Opera House.

I lounged in the warm sun, reluctant to come to grips with the remaining 27 miles, but it was already 1:30PM, so I knew that a 4PM finish time was likely--getting late for this time of year.  

I think, for the first time ever, I didn’t have a raging tailwind so had to actually pedal more forcefully than usual on this gently down-trending line through empty desert.  The traffic was light, an occasional truck or auto. Usually I pedalled alone, no one visible north or south. I stopped once for short rest and revelled in the shocking silence--nothing but a distance crow and a ringing in my ears to mark the passage of time.  I heard the cartilage crunch in my neck as I surveyed the rugged Mojave shimmering in the afternoon light. In the distance a trio of wild horses meandered towards a soaring peak of jagged volcanic rock. I pushed on.

Tired, ready for the end, at 4PM, I did finally roll into Shoshone as the shadows drew long and deep. Camp, shower, quickly as the light faded, then off to the store and the Crowbar Cafe for dinner. For the first time, I used the bike lights to find my way into the main part of town, my flashers blazing into the late January night.

Before heading out to dinner, some uppity RV chump got all up in my grill. I showed him what badass trikers from Bishop can do:

Let's just say that recumbent trikers are a force to be reckoned with.

At the cafe, I encountered Billy and his partner. Billy was a long time cyclist and tourer who was fascinated by my setup.  He’d recently retired as a local fire fighter and was ready to get back in shape. I missed her name, but his partner was a lovely woman and bodyworker.  We all talked around the table as they watched me eat, having already just finished their own meal. I was grateful for the friendly company, one of those random encounters that make cycle touring so special.

I struck out on some items at the store but SCORED the date nut bread from the local grove.  Oh, there is a God, and he/she/it makes this bread to make life wonderful. I will eat too much.  And that’s okay. A big day looms tomorrow. I’m sore and a stiff from the riding. My legs hum and vibrate from the miles, so I think it’s an ibuprofen kind of evening.

Tomorrow, early start, Baker post office for supplies, load up and head out into the East Mojave for a wild camp most excellent. And I’ll get to talk to Jodi! Been on voice lock down for days.  But first, some date nut bread.