Bike Tour Episode 01: Everyone Starts Somewhere

And so, let the diaries of my bicycle tour begin…


And so, let the diaries of my bicycle tour begin…

April 25th, 2015

Getting Started

I spent the night at Hannah’s house. Jonmarc and Shannon ran a bit late, but it was okay as I was still loading all my maps to my GPS navigator.

01-bike-rack

As we drove off, Garret messaged me about taking bear spray. It was a last minute detour South before heading to Yucca Valley from North Escondido, but the group was accommodating and we met him in the parking lot at Dick’s Sporting Goods just in the nick of time. Then coffee. Starbucks. Snacks.

We finally headed north.

My stomach was all butterflies and I was all jitters. I wasn’t ready for this. Yet, I was as ready as I ever would be. It was the moment of truth. I was really taking off to cycle from San Diego to Salt Lake City (more or less).

02-on-the-way

I am sure I was more than annoying with my exclamations of nervousness the entire way there.

2 short hours later, we were pulling into a small parking lot next to a cluster of Joshua Trees, across the street from the 7-11 in Yucca Valley.

Everything came out of the car. We loaded the bikes.

My heart was racing.

03-load-bikes

I ran into a lot of issues with my kickstand. It hardly supported the bike on its own, and was entirely useless when anything was loaded on the racks. Hannah kept having to hold my bike while I prepared everything.

We were almost packed and ready when I realized I hadn’t even taken out the GoPro - not that I knew how to use it, anyways.

Hannah snapped a photo of Jonmarc and I. He was joining me for the first 2 days. I was afraid of how annoying it would be for him to go slow enough for me to keep up — he had less gear, and was in better shape to begin with.

04-heading-out

Biking to 7-11 across the street had me out of breath. How would I bicycle almost 700 miles when I couldn’t even get myself to the other side of the road?

Maybe this was a mistake.

No matter.

After finding out I missed legit cowboys trotting by on horseback while I went to the restroom, we mounted up on our own wheeled rides and took to the East. Onward, past Joshua Tree National Park, on to 29 Palms. A short 23.2 mile ride.

I got a wobbly start with strong winds hitting us on the side. At first I thought I had balanced my bike poorly, or maybe it was the uneven ground, but through some quick experiments it definitely turned out to be the wind.

The ride was beautiful, and only had a few short ascents that I worked my way through, slow and steady.

I was gaining confidence.

We made a short break to snack at a lonely grocery store near the town line. A wandering older man came up to us with his guitar and told us some stories of other cyclists he’d met on his own travels, and played us a quick tune as we headed out.

Not much longer and we found what seemed to be a main stretch of town. We wanted real food. BBQ sounded perfect. We stopped at a small place called The Rib Co. which served us up giant portions and probably evened out all the calories we’d burned on our way there.

Making Camp

So we headed out, with our bellies full, ready to find somewhere to call home for the night.

My legs were about ready to quit at that point, so slowly making our way through the neighborhoods while searching for a spot was a bit torturous. I couldn’t have known that what I was feeling was nothing compared to the coming days.

Jonmarc spotted a bridge over a dry creekbed.

“Let’s go there! We can be bridge trolls for the night!”

No sooner had we agreed to check it out and make our way towards it, it started sprinkling. The warning only lasted a few seconds before the raindrops turned into small hail, making us start sprinting as fast as we could towards the bridge.

My bike was so heavy that as I got into the sand, it all started sinking. I was half hauling, half dragging, always cursing the whole way there until we were finally safe under the bridge.

05-bridge-trolls

And so we set up for the night.

My partially broken tent pole that had been working in all my prior tests suddenly decided that it didn’t care to work anymore, and continued cracking to the point it was not allowing me to set up the tent. Jonmarc assisted me in removing the broken section, which meant the tent could still be assembled and largely work as intended.

Jonmarc slept on the spare tarp I’d brought.

06-jonmarc-tarp

I had my tent with the rain fly on in case it kept raining or hailing and made its way far enough under the bridge.

The winds that night were strong, around 32-35mph. The rain fly made so much noise and kicked so much sand into my tent that I was hardly able to sleep. I put my neck gaitor and a bandana around my face so that it wouldn’t get in my eyes or mouth.

It wasn’t until I woke that I realized it was probably because of the rain fly, and I could have removed it, and that the sand was only coming in right where my face was… so I could have moved at least.

But, I guess that’s how you learn.

Ride Stats

  • Start 1:45PM
  • 1:58:47 moving time
  • 4:00:12 elapsed time
  • 23.2 miles
  • Avg speed 11.73mph
  • Max speed 27.24mph
  • 1038 calories burned
  • +229.7 feet
  • -1532.2 feet

April 26th, 2015

07-camp-panoramic

We woke up around 4:30am and started the day with rehydrated breakfast that Jonmarc had brought along. We split a bag of granola, milk, and blueberries as well as a bag of scrambled eggs and bacon.

Not as bad as you might think.

I already knew our upcoming ride had a huge incline at some point, and I was eager to get to it and get started so we could be done sooner than later.

Our morning went slower than planned. We didn’t actually move out till about 6:20am.

08-morning

There was a quick pit stop over the hill at Denny’s for the rest room, then a gas station for Jonmarc to pick up sunglasses.

Then off we went into the empty desert, leaving any semblance of regular civilization behind. About 10 miles out, I started feeling something odd on the back of my bike. A quick glance didn’t tell me what the issue was, so I hoped against hope it would resolve itself.

No such luck.

Jonmarc was able to see from behind me that the rear rack had popped off on the right side at the hub of the tire. Closer inspection showed the screw was long gone, and most of the rest of the connection screws on the rack were loose.

After a moment of panic, I remembered I had some paracord. From the looks of things, the rack could be lashed together to the bike frame with that.

After I painstakingly unloaded everything off the back, Jonmarc helped me hold everything tight while I roped it together, tied the knot, and melted the ends of the rope to avoid fraying.

Everything seemed to work. I tightened all the loose screws and reloaded the frame.

So far, so good. Only time could tell if it would hold.

We made a pit stop at a restaurant that looked like it might be in operation to try and reload on water. I knew we were nearing the incline and I wanted to be ready.

It was 8:40am and the restaurant didn’t seem to be open until 9am, and there was no one around to ask for water. I found a hose on the side of the building and was shocked to see my 2L camelback was already almost drained. I was happy we’d stopped to refill.

09-the-mountain

A little more biking and we reached the foothills of the mountain. We spent a while attempting to ride up the small incline at the beginning, faltering, barely able to make headway against the wind, and I’d already taken to walking when I saw Jonmarc tumble and fall before he could unclip his shoes to catch himself.

We decided to just walk it. At that rate it was actually faster anyways.

By the end I was only being able to move a quarter of a mile at a time. I was constantly winded, my calves were aching, and the only thing that kept me moving was the promise of an incredible downhill the rest of the way to Amboy. I drank and drank and drank. I snacked on food and ate my electrolyte gummies.

I tried to stay positive.

Even switching to pushing Jonmarc’s lighter bike partway up the hill only sped me up a little.

The desert has a way of tricking you into thinking you’re almost there, when really you’re not at all. The top of the hill was ever looming, ever looking as if you were about to reach the peak, and yet there was still more to go that you could only see just as you reached where you thought was the end.

Yet, we finally reached the top. It took probably about an hour and a half to get from the bottom to the peak, about a 4-5 mile stretch.

The downhill was slight at first, but finally grew steeper. But the winds were strong. We were able to go fast, but it was still work to keep up a good clip. My bags caught the wind like giant sails.

The end of the hill came all too quickly and we were faced with a long stretch of flat. It felt good to have made so much progress in such short time, but we were back to working hard and getting hardly anywhere.

It was eventually time for lunch, and my first time to test out my kitchen gear.

The wind was so strong that it was hard to get a concentrated flame on my pan, so the water never really boiled - but I was able to cook the ramen anyways. Jonmarc had another one of his reconstituted meals and seemed to enjoy it.

Towards the end of lunch Jonmarc got a text from Hannah, “I just passed you.”

Rude, she didn’t even stop to say hello!

We still had another 10-12 miles ahead of us going only 4-5 miles per hour.

“Does she know she’ll be waiting a long time if she doesn’t come back here and at least carry some of the gear in?” I asked Jonmarc.

We tried to reach her again but the reception was spotty. Finally Jonmarc got a message through, but we didn’t hear back for a while.

So we pressed onward.

It was slow and difficult. My legs were already feeling wobbly from the mountain, and pressing forward only seemed to come in small bursts before I would need to stop and stand. The wind kept pushing me into the sand, causing me to fishtail and nearly fall several times. I was simply tired.

Finally we heard back from Hannah — she was coming to help!

After brief deliberation, Jonmarc and I both felt we had put in good enough effort that day to call it and just rest while we waited for Hannah. We were hoping there was a way to fit both bikes in or on the car.

So we rested.

10-friend-bikes

IMG_0404

And then Hannah arrived!

She had a bike rack that Jonmarc was able to make work for our bikes, so we all hopped in the car and drove off to Amboy.

“You guys smell like homeless people,” Hannah said once we were all in the enclosed space. “Oh, and here!” she handed me a shiny new kickstand. It seemed good and solid.

We pulled into the town of Amboy. It turns out Amboy has only 8 people living in it. I was able to find bathrooms and snacks there in the historic cafe that mostly served as a gas station and sold historic items. The kitchen had closed long ago. Thankfully, they had a Juan Pollo outside where we loaded up on Gatorade, hot dogs and chips.

After assembling my kickstand and making sure everything was in good order, I had to make my goodbyes with Hannah and Jonmarc.

IMG_0403

They drove off, and I was alone to set up camp in the abandoned building off to the side of the historic cafe and motel on the great American road: Route 66.

11-camp

Ride Stats

  • Start 6:22AM
  • 4:52:45 moving time
  • 8:29:36 elapsed time
  • 35.7 miles
  • Avg speed 7.31mph
  • Max speed 29.95mph
  • 1633 calories burned
  • +1371.4 feet
  • -2690.3 feet

Episode 01: The Video