Miracle in the Desert

I was sitting out on the veranda of a coffee shop in Alpine and could not help eavesdropping on the conversation at the table next to mine. “The best bird of the day for sure was the Lewis’s woodpecker,” the lady said.

“Oh yes, for sure,” the other lady agreed.

I could not help butting in. It’s not every day that you hear people talking about woodpeckers over coffee. I asked them about their find and they lit up.

Then I asked, “How far is it?”

“It’s not far at all,” she said. “It’s about 15 or 20 minutes down the freeway and then…”

Of course 15 or 20 minutes down the freeway is nothing at all in a car but it’s quite something on a bicycle. So I told them I didn’t think I would be able to go see it today. They were both very good birders and immediately provided me with the details necessary for distinguishing a ladderbacked from a Nuttall’s woodpecker.

This is the kind of thing that happens when you eavesdrop and pedal around random places by bicycle.

After much consideration, I decided to forgo Mexico and instead to head north. I have stopped cooking and now simply eat whatever I can find at the supermarket, which is basically everything. It is so much easier to finish the day with a sandwich and some fruit than to have to cook dinner from raw ingredients. I miss the taste, but don’t appear to be missing much in the way of nutrients.

Milk, sandwich, fruit, jerky, dried fruit, and some other essentials seem to provide most of everything that I need.

Leaving Alpine I headed for Descanso. It was warm and hilly. After a while the road went up and then it turned into dirt. As I was standing by the roadside snapping a picture, a group of riders zoomed down. But then something unusual happened. Instead of continuing downward with their zoom, they turned around and came back up to see if I was okay. It is the only time in my sojourns that a passing cyclist going downhill has stopped, turned around, and climbed back up in order to check on me. It’s a good feeling. Cyclists are people, too!

Turns out that we both knew Sam Ames, and they were prepping for the upcoming Rock Cobbler on April 10. I told them to be sure and tell Sam that they had seen his crazy friend Seth out in the middle of nowhere. They said they would, and they also provided me with excellent intel on the road ahead.

After Descanso I turned north onto California 79 and began climbing and climbing and climbing, which was a bit of a bore because I had already been climbing since I left San Diego. After several miles I came to the Rancho Cuyamaca state park. Fortunately it was closed and the campground had been shut down. There was a sign that said “next campground 5 miles.”

I was highly unenthused at the prospect of pedaling more miles more uphill to another campground that might or might not be open. So, I skirted the fence and entered the campground. I went down by the creek and set up camp. It is so stupid that campgrounds are closed to cyclists. But then I recall John Forrester’s description of our society as one that is subservient to “motordom” and it makes sense. Bad sense, anyway.

The following morning I sneaked out of the campground and headed towards Julian. Unsurprisingly the road went up again for about 14 miles, and then a couple of miles of downhill. Julian was infested with PCT hikers doing their best imitation of the Southbay crowd as it readies for departure on the Donut Ride. There was much preening, much pridefulness, and a lot of enthusiasm about the upcoming beatdown. Some would finish, most would quit. Just like the Donut!

I got peanut butter and fruit in Julian and continued on. Happily, the road was steeply downhill for the next 6 miles. Less happily, there was a massive headwind the entire way. The road continued downward and the wind continued faceward. I was planning to make Ocotillo Wells and call it a day, 33 miles or so from Julian. From there I hoped to make my way up to a buddy’s place at Joshua Tree over the next couple of days.

I was unhappy to find out that the route out of Ocotillo Wells can’t be ridden on a bicycle, which meant I had another 50 miles of riding in the desert before I could get back on track. There is a single store in Ocotillo Wells, and in the middle of the desert, guess what? Water is expensive! $3.50 for a small bottle. I bought two and was grateful, drank a quart of milk, ate another sandwich, and decided that I would ride until I found the right sized ditch with a twig or two of shade in which I could wait out the rest of the day.

My phone had little charge left and my auxiliary battery was dead. My hopes for finding power in the desert were zero. That’s when on the left I spied a giant pavilion with toilets, water, massive shade, and most incredibly of all, electrical outlets. That worked.

Of course there were the obligatory “no camping” and “closed” signs everywhere, but I simply treated them as invitations to come in, set up camp, wait for the sun to go down, and try to get the jump on tomorrow’s miles and tomorrow’s heat.

END


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