The howling winds of Tehachapi hadn’t really started howling when I broke camp and set off for Palmdale, 40 miles hence, but they were blustery enough to turn the giant wind turbines that ringed the entire area. Nothing could have prepared me for the happy surprise of climbing one short bump and then descending with a huge tailwind.
For almost thirty miles.
But before that happy occurrence occurred, on the bump I passed a pick-them-up-truck with its hood open and pulled onto the shoulder. A huge guy sat dejectedly in the front seat.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, but the truck is fucked.”
“No idea. Maybe the battery. Or the alternator.”
“Anything I can do to help?”
He thought for a minute, then his wrinkled brow melted into a warm smile. “No, I already called Triple A. But you know what?”
“It’s really nice of you to stop. I been here for an hour and you’re the first person so much as slowed.”
“I didn’t figure there was much I could do; mostly wanted to see if you needed me to make a call or maybe you were having some kind of medical emergency.”
“No, no, I understand. It’s just really nice of you pal, especially loaded down with all that stuff. Kind of makes my shitty morning into something tolerable.”
“Hope you get going soon,” I said, and started off.
“Thanks again!” he shouted. Moral of the story? Always stop. It’s only going to cost you a few minutes. This is one of the big differences between touring and fitness cycling, where everything is times and oh-so-important, where stopping wrecks your workout, whatever that even means.
Over that bump it was nothing but big downhill and/or big tailwind all the way to Palmdale. I stopped at a grocery store for my second breakfast and to stock up on dinner supplies and Oreos. I checked my watch and was amazed. “I might make LA tonight,” I mused, even though it would be a massive effort and last past sundown. The only obstacles were the 10-mile climb up Angeles Forest Highway, the descent to Angeles Crest, and then the 7-mile climb up to Highway 2. Over that I’d be able to drop into Pasadena, find the bike path, and be home by six o’clock, seven at the latest.
Leaving Palmdale, though, the heat kicked in and the road kicked up. I had a steady ten-miles of rolling, windy riding, all trending uphill until I got to the Angeles Forest turnoff, which was closed. Big barriers but no cops, and a sign that indicated all of my destination intersections were also closed.
“Fuck it,” I thought. “I’m going.”
I toiled for about seven miles up the highway, getting more dehydrated and hungry as I went. But I got a water refill from a utility truck that was working on the power lines, and more importantly, intel. “Can I get through to Highway 2?”
“Yeah, only barricades to ride around. No cops. You got it.”
That gave me the mental push I needed, and then, at Aliso Canyon Road, there was a barricade and a cop. “No can do,” he said.
“But I have to get to Long Beach. And I can’t ride on the freeway.”
“You can drop down here to Soledad Canyon. That will take you to Santa Clarita and from there you can take surface roads either to Pasadena or through LA. But you can’t go through here.”
It was fitting that the closer I got to LA, the more impasses I hit. I descended almost exactly the same way I came, made the left on Soledad Canyon and started the 20-ish miles to Santa Clarita. Incredibly and happily, it was downhill and tailwind, but before I went more than a few miles I spied a KOA Kampground sign.
I wheeled in, got a PCT hiker space for $15 bucks and a tub of Chunky Monkey for $7, pitched my tent in the blinding heat under a shade tree, and called it a day.
So damned near. So damned far.