April 27th, 2015
April 27th, 2015
It was Monday. Rest day. I woke up by 6:30am, which was sleeping in late since I had gone to bed around 8pm the night before.
A few hours after Jonmarc and Hannah left I was suddenly struck with a deep sense of doom in my chest. My phone wouldn’t hold reception. I was thinking of everything that had already gone wrong. What would I do on my own? What was I even thinking? How was I going to make it all the way to Salt Lake City without getting myself killed?
I was distraught. It would be relieved when my cell signal came back, only to return in full force as the signal was dropped once more.
I finally had enough reception to speak with Kat. “You got this, Anne. If anyone can make this work, you can,” she told me. At first when I tried to begin conversation with her, words caught in my throat, I felt like I would suffocate on my own held back emotions. But she got me talking about my plans, and eventually I worked through it.
The old feelings of pacing hallways with insomnia kept threatening to resurface completely.
Breathe. Play guitar.
On rest day I left my gear and tent setup in the abandoned building. I wandered to have breakfast at the cafe, but discovered that the cafe no longer operated as such.
“Do you guys serve breakfast?”
“Nope. We don’t have a kitchen anymore.” Then I noticed the Kitchen Closed sign on an old till behind the old cafe bar. Oops. I glanced around. Hot water in a dispenser. Mini-donuts on the counter.
“What about coffee?”
“Instant, that okay?”
“Yes, that’s still caffeine,” I grinned. I considered the donuts. No price, but the snacks next to them were 3 for $1. They couldn’t be too pricey either way. I grabbed two of the small packs. ”I’ll pay for these too,” I placed them on the counter.
My card wouldn’t run properly. The man waved me away. “Eh, take ‘em. Just don’t tell anyone. Swing by again someday.”
Breakfast is served.
I wandered back to my camp and spent the morning playing guitar, inspecting and repairing my gear, cleaning my bicycle, and tightening up any loose screws I could find. The repair Jonmarc and I made to the rear rack was holding firm. Good.
I took a few self-portraits.
I counted the liters of water I would need to fully fill my bottles.
4 liters ought to do it.
In the afternoon I wandered towards the historic cafe once more. They had cup ramen. I bought two cups — one for lunch, one for dinner — and eight 500mL water bottles. I used a different card this time. It worked.
“Can you put hot water in this one for me?” I handed the cup to the hefty man helping me.
I made small conversation with each of the workers. One in particular didn’t believe there was water at my first desert stop, Kelso Depot. I called ahead. I knew.
I learned that only 8 people lived in Amboy. They had to drive all the way to 29 Palms or farther to get their groceries every week.
I recharged my belongings, except for the GoPro. It was already getting to be 7pm and I needed sleep if I was to wake up at 3am the next day.
Back at camp I refilled my water and packed everything I could before grabbing a few sunset photos and tucking into bed.
April 28th, 2015
Morning came all too soon.
3am. My alarm went off, as expected. I looked up at the sky through the netting of my tent. The stars were brilliant. But, no time to stargaze.
I immediately began to pack. The anxiety in my stomach was a rock that sank lower into my abdomen with every move I made.
It was so dark. My safe haven, my room, my camp. Going away into the bags.
Right, breakfast. The granola was dry in my mouth, I could hardly swallow it. I set it aside as I continued to prepare everything onto the bike.
One last pit stop for the bathroom. 4:45am. Dragging my bike through the dirt to the road. The pitch black road. Even with every light on my bike turned on, you couldn’t see more than 10 or 15 feet ahead of you if you looked very hard.
At first while I rode, all you could see where the stars, coming down to be blacked out in the shape of the surrounding mountains. As I rode on, the contours of the surrounding fauna began to show as silhouettes against the light sand. The outlines of the mountains became more clear.
Eventually, you could see the sunlight creeping up into the sky.
Color began to spread.
And then, you could see the first rays of sun, announcing that he would soon be making an appearance.
My first trouble was that my navigator kept telling me that I was to be turning left. Turn left. Turn left.
But the only things to my left were minor dirt roads. Surely, I had not biked 7 miles through the darkness only to arrive at the road I was to be riding all day long to find it was a dirt path!
Finally, after a small hump in the road, a regular asphalt path showed itself. Such relief.
Already that ride to the junction had been a slow but steadily increasing grade from 1% to 2%. Shortly after I turned onto my path for the day, 2% was creeping up towards 3%. The sun began showing itself through the ridges of the mountains.
The whole morning had been so slow.
The desert stretched for miles. The creeping 3% grade went on forever. I knew it would be 26 miles, but I didn’t know it would feel like it did.
My water was already more than halfway gone and I was barely halfway through the steep uphill. After the uphill, I had another 23 miles to go. I would not make it at that rate.
I debated how little water I should have left before flagging down a passing car in hopes they could provide me with more.
Pedal, pedal, pedal.
5 more minutes, slow and steady. Slow and steady will get you there. 5 more minutes, slow and steady. Slow and steady will get you there.
Legs down. Breathing. Trying to breathe. Pedal. Nope. Legs down. Pause a moment.
Breathing felt so hard.
I soon realized it was just as fast to walk as it was to bike. I told myself I would walk for 5 minutes, bike for 5 minutes, rest.
I walked for 30 seconds. It felt like an hour. No, I had to go at least a few minutes before stopping.
One minute finally passed. One minute and fifteen seconds.
One minute and twenty seconds.
One minute and twenty-three seconds.
Time seemed to be slowing to a halt.
Stop, breathe. Drink water.
But not too much.
I stopped for a break. I did the math. I could technically reach my destination at this rate, but I would likely only get slower, and I would definitely run out of water.
I didn’t feel confident about what was to come.
Car after car passed me by. Mostly trucks. Some family vans. Small sports cars whizzing by. Motorcycles making their way through for a scenic desert route off Route 66.
A camper van.
After passing me, it slowed down. Its reverse lights flipped on. It slowly made its way back to me.
A woman leaned out the window. “Do you need help?”
“Do you have any spare water?” I said weakly.
“How about a ride?”
I didn’t expect that one. I couldn’t sit there pondering my options for too long.
“Um,” I managed to get out. On one hand, they could get me to water. Kelso Depot had water. On the other hand, I could keep painfully trudging up this hill and hope to get enough water from enough people to make it to Kelso on my own. And then again the next day, which would be longer and harder with even farther to go until the next water station.
The woman and her husband made several arguments for my coming with them that I don’t remember anymore. They sounded compelling.
“Are you sure you have room?” I asked, hoping they didn’t and that would solve the issue by deciding for me.
“Yes, we can definitely fit you and your things!”
I felt defeated as I accepted their offer. They seemed relieved that I would no longer be in the heat of the unrelenting sun. It was not even 10am.
Once I was in the car I learned they were from Quebec. Their names were Dominic and Denise, and they had me ride shotgun where I could be next to an open window. I found out Denise had done some serious cycling in her life and she asked me many questions to make sure I had enough of the right gear.
I was enjoying my reprieve when Denise came from the back with sliced watermelon. “Here,” she handed me a slice. Then a second. “This is also for you.”
The juicy pulp was cold and fresh and tasted like heaven.
A contrast to the dry, gritty heat I had been subject to only moments before.
“This is the best melon I’ve ever had,” I told Dominic, who was driving. He laughed and said something back to Denise in French.
Moments later she had an entire plate of cantaloupe ready for me and surprised me with a tap on the shoulder.
“Here, have this,” she smiled.
“Oh…” it looked so good, “You didn’t have to…” but I took the plate and devoured every piece, trying not to waste any of the juice that tried so hard to dribble down my chin.
I chatted easily with Dominic in the front seat and before I knew it, we had arrived in Kelso Depot. They pulled out a map and pointed out Kelso. “We are going to Death Valley and could easily take this other route,” he said, pointing at Cima — farther north in the reserve and close enough to Primm that I could even consider getting there that same day. “There’s nothing here, it would be a waste of a day!” he gestured around us.
I said, “Let me check if they have water there,” and ran inside Kelso. Part of me was paranoid my Canadian friends would leave with my bicycle and all my gear, but I brushed it aside.
A ranger was watering the patch of grass outside the depot.
“Excuse me, do they have water in Cima?”
“Nope. This is it! The water spigot is just down the way, we test it every day and it’s good to drink. Or we sell water bottles inside.”
I smiled and held up my pack. “Just need to refill this.”
I ran over to the water and filled my water to the brim. It had been empty.
I was trying to decide whether to take the ride all the way to Cima. When I returned to the car, they asked what I wanted to do. “Let’s do it.”
Soon we were in Cima. Denise wrote down their address in Canada, their phone numbers, and email addresses along with their full names and signed it with a smiley face and the word “Welcome!” written at the bottom.
“In case you ever come to Canada!” she said, handing me the paper.
We got my bike and all the gear out of the car. “You’re sure you’re okay?” Dominic asked.
“Yes. I just have to load the bike and that takes a good 15 minutes or so. Thank you so much!”
With a few more farewells, I watched them disappear off in the opposite direction.
Now I just had to see how far I could go to Primm. A sign nearby said that the I-15 was only 22 miles away. It was only 10:30am and most of the distance would be downhill. I felt good about trying to make it there.
I loaded the bike. Flipped my GPS back on. Saddled up.
I felt refreshed from the car ride, the watermelons, the additional water, but once more I was on a slow incline. I could keep moving though. There were so many Joshua Trees that I kept stopping for pictures.
Finally, I reached the crest of a mighty downhill.
I zipped along, hitting 26, 28 miles per hour, the wind in my face and flowing through my clothes and making me feel alive. The rush. I could finally look around me and just enjoy the scenery as it whipped by. Endless desert. Clear skies. Brilliant sun.
The hill stopped being so steep, but continued downward. I spotted the only shade I had seen for miles.
It was a good place for lunch.
Hot ramen in the desert wasn’t the happiest choice, but it was good enough for me.
The hill kept me going at a good clip the rest of the way to the edge of the desert. I was getting to the end. Things flattened out. A little headwinds slowed me down but I was able to keep a 7-8mph.
Then I reached the end of my road. Ahead of me was a soft dirt path. Right where it was marked that I should continue onwards.
Paved bike path, my ass.
I tried the bike on the dirt. It sank.
The I-15 was 4 or 5 miles to the left. I looked to the left. A big, giant climb. Much worse than earlier that day. It was already getting to be 2pm. Primm was 12 miles north of the on-ramp, but mostly downhill.
After much debate and a phone call with my mom, the only thing I could really do was go towards the freeway. I was tired and hot. I would be slow. It would probably take 2 hours to reach the freeway.
Then, at least another hour into Primm. It would be at least 5pm before I could even get there.
I looked around as if I could camp. I didn’t really have enough water for a whole night and morning to get me to Primm. There was nothing here.
I wanted a real dinner.
I had to go to Primm.
So I started the climb. I was so happy to reach the top of the hill. It was faster than I expected.
But as I reached the crest, I realized that it flattened and led to another hill almost the same size. Well, one more hill won’t kill me.
No, but the same thing happened again, and again, and again, and I was starting to feel like I had entered a new level of hell. The endless climb. The Almost There that turns into a Never Ending Mountain. I was trudging along, bitter and angry at every truck that passed without asking if they could give me a lift to the top of the hill.
I finally reached the top of one last hill that led to a corner, I knew the on-ramp was supposed to be just around the bend.
I was still walking my bike when a car pulled ahead of me. “Sure, now that I’m at the top already.”
A guy around my age and about twice as heavy as me got out. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah… I’m just headed into Primm. Almost there. That hill was just so slow and I’ve been going all day.”
“I have Gatorade, do you want it?”
I hadn’t thought about how thirsty I was. “Yeah, actually, that would be great. Thanks.”
“I think it’s still cold.”
We chatted for a while about gear, and the weight on the bike, and winds, and other cycling topics while I drank the bottle faster than I knew was possible. I was all but chugging it while trying to maintain conversation. All I could think of was how rejuvenating it was.
The bottle was finished.
It was almost 4pm and I was suddenly aware of the time.
“Well, I should get going though if I want to get to Primm before sunset.”
He wished me good luck. I finally mounted the bike and made my way to the freeway. Thankfully, it really was right around the corner.
Sweet, sweet downhill. It was amazing to me that I could spend 2 hours climbing 4 miles uphill and then speed through 7 or 8 miles in 20 minutes.
Thankfully the lane for cyclists was huge, almost as big as a regular car lane. I flew down faster than I knew was possible. Of course it eventually flattened, leaving me with a mostly flat road for about 5 more miles.
Food. I just kept imagining the Subway sandwich I would order.
One more pedal meant that much closer to dinner.
I was going to make it.
The flat road was easy enough that I could distract my mind from the fatigue setting into my legs. Well, if concentrating on the patch of road just ahead of my tires counted, anyways.
Keep pedaling, I told myself. Keep pedaling. You will get there.
Don’t look up. Don’t think about how much farther there is. You can’t get there until you get to the next rotation of the wheels.
That morning felt like it had been a decade ago. The slow climb up the 3% grade. The burn in my legs. The aching soreness. But my legs had not forgotten.
The monotonous pushing one leg in front of the other was broken by the cars on my left, keeping me on edge. I did my best to tune them out. If only I could stop swerving.
A friendly beep from a motorcyclist. They waved as they passed. I waved back.
Finally I reached the Nevada state line. I stopped for a photo.
The exit was only 1/4 of a mile from there, but in the moment it might as well have been 10 more miles. I painfully made my way off the exit, around the corner, and was thankful to see that the Subway was one of the first things to do.
It was around 5:30pm.
Subway. I pulled up in front of the multiplex gas station that hosted a snack store, Subway, and Starbucks. There went my vision of squatting in Starbucks all the next day.
I started locking up my bike.
An older motorbike couple sat on the benches in front.
“You the one who was just on the freeway?” the woman asked.
“Yep,” I said, trying to give her what attention I could spare with what energy I had left.
“Wow! We were wondering who was crazy enough to be out on the freeway with a bicycle!”
“We gave you an encouraging honk! That was us!”
Somehow that made me smile. “Aw, I heard you! Thanks.” I paused. “Okay, I really got to eat.”
I slowly limped inside and ordered my sandwich. A really, big, sandwich loaded with as many nutritious things as I could manage.
I didn’t like leaving my bike unattended, even if it was locked, so I went outside to eat near my bike.
Another couple was sitting near me on the next bench over now.
The wife looked at me with concern. “Did you bike here?”
“Yep,” I managed to say between bites. I was so hungry, I just wanted to eat.
She continued to ask me many questions about my trip. She was concerned that I was alone. “Aren’t you scared? You should really be scared. If something happens to you… if something happens, you are at the hands of a good Samaritan.”
Before she left, she got up and discretely gave me $20. “Please, make sure you’re eating enough. Lord knows you’ll need lots of food.”
“Please, you don’t have to,” I tried to argue, but she insisted.
As they left, she told me, “May the Lord bless you and watch out for you.”
“Do the right thing,” the husband finally spoke up.
The sandwich was finished. I charged my phone on the outdoor outlet. It was starting to be sunset.
I packed everything up again and went back inside to the lady working at Subway. “Where do you recommend I go if I want to set up a tent and be out of the way where no one will bother me?”
“Most people usually set up behind Buffalo Bill’s Casino. Nobody minds there.”
Getting back on the bike was painful, but I managed to push it slowly across the street. Someone was filming a rap video on the dunes nearby.
A giant parking lot spread out behind the casino. Would I just set up my tent on the lot? That felt like it would draw too much attention. I biked around the perimeter considering where I could stay. Maybe on the small dune in the shade of a tree? No. It would be too prolific.
Finally, in the corner, there was a small triangle of trees where it didn’t seem that there were any tire tracks. This would do.
Every movement was a slow, painstaking process as I unloaded the bike and set up camp.
The memory is a blur.
And then I was finally in my tent, laying on my sleeping mat, closing my eyes. Goodnight.
Ride Stats: Morning
- Start 5:47AM
- 2:46:22 moving time
- 3:51:58 elapsed time
- 14.5 miles
- Avg speed 4.8mph
- Max speed 10mph
- 763 calories burned
- +1400.9 feet
- -0 feet
Add about 1 hour and 3 miles to this, as I forgot to start tracking when I first left.
Ride Stats: Evening
- Start 10:28PM
- 3:41:41 moving time
- 6:16:52 elapsed time
- 31.3 miles
- Avg speed 8.47mph
- Max speed 25.15mph
- 1391 calories
- +935 feet
- -2483.6 feet