It’s a strange this how we get used to a certain way of life. After 11 months of travelling with Karen, and the last five of that having al but just each other to talk to due to our lack of Spanish, it was just the way it was. So saying goodbye to Karen as she headed back to NZ was an interesting experience. On one hand I was loosing my riding buddy…but on the other hand I only had to worry about myself. No thoughts, consideration or concerns for anyone else. It’s a bit hard to get the head around.
We had been staying with our previous warmshowers hosts, now our friends Diane and Mike, in San Diego. That first night alone they were heading out for dinner so I got to couch up and catch a movie, any movie…whatever movie I wanted. No consideration…it doesn’t come easy.
But I can’t stay in San Diego forever. The trails are calling.
So the plan is to ride the SoCal route to Big Bear then stitch a route through the San Bernadino and Sierra Nevada ranges to Tahoe. My excuse is it’s a training ride. But in all honesty it’s my ride to make as hard or as easy as I like. I didn’t do a very good job of the easy.
Leaving San Diego turned out harder than I though. The day dawned wet and didn’t look like clearing anytime soon so procrastination was in order, not help by Diane and Mike who kept suggesting I wait another day. It wasn’t until lunchtime that I finally hit the road. After grabbing last minute supplies the single track and dirt started. I was surprised it came so quick and it was so good. I wanted to get some miles in so skipped the first suitable camp and pushed on. Only problem with that plan was the next suitable wild camp was well after dark.
The SoCal threw up more surprises as it went. Some good, some not so good. Climbing over the Cuyamaca mountains was stunning. It was green and lush with the vegetation changing with the elevation gain until I was riding sweet single track through high alpine meadows.
The wildlife was pretty cool to. Given the extent of everything being regulated to within an inch of its life in the States there were plenty of animals about (unlike Central America where everything’s been eaten). Deer were grazing, a pack of five Coyotes crossed the track in front of me, a bobcat slinked into the bush as I came around a corner.
This wasn’t to last though. It was time to drop into the desert and nothing lives down there…except a few strange people. And I’m sure they get stranger the longer they stay.
Dropping into the desert also meant dropping into the heat. And it was hotter than hell. I’ve always liked desert riding for some reason. It’s just a brutally harsh landscape that ironically has been carved by water. The only bit not to like is trying to ride the often unridable deep sand…oh and the unrelenting heat.
But there are some wonders as well like the sculptures all around Borrego Springs. Apparently some guy decided to build these things and dot them around his land. The biggest I saw can only be described as the Loch Ness monster of the desert. At over 50 metres long it was pretty impressive.
This creativity certainly held my interest more than the shambles that is Slab City.
But Slab City is a whole story on its own. Let’s just say one guy went there circa 1975 to find his salvation. Over 25 years he lived in a truck and built Salvation Mountain as a sort of temple or shrine.
Anyway that attracted other people that saw Slab City as a freedom. The last free place in America they say…except for all the signs saying don’t do this and don’t do that. Needless to say these people appear to be either escaping something or trying to find something. The pessimist in me says without much success.
And then there’s the Salton Sea. At 80mt below sea level it’s not the healthiest looking body of water and it’s not even meant to be there. It was created in the early 1900’s when an irrigation canal failed. They thought it would dry up. It didn’t. But surrounding the Salton Sea is the most barren desert I’ve seen, well except for the massive expanse of irrigation cropping lands that seems incredibly productive. For half a day I rode alongside the canal that feeds this land. Turn out it’s from the Colorado River which is a long way from the Salton Sea.
So after three days I get to leave the low desert and climb into the high desert that is Joshua Tree National Park. But first there was the gauntlet of American Culture to run. This was in the form of a road that is used by the locals as in informal shooting range. All five km of the roadside was covered in empty cartridges. When I say covered I mean at least an inch deep. Any homeless guy could make some good coin recycling all that brass. So I passed five groups of people out there shooting there glocks and assault rifles at targets made of either silhouette humans or manikins. And safety was definitely not a consideration. These guns were being waved all over the place and there wasn’t a holster in sight. Just madness.
But then there was the peace solitude of Joshua Tree, well until I hit the main tourist rod into the park. What an amazing place. The granite boulder rock formations are just stunning and distracting.
The plan was to stay in Joshua Tree for the night and explore some more but it’s still desert, just a bit higher, and there’s no water so I made the call to push onto Big Bear Lake. After all it is meant to be a training ride.
So that means climbing out of the desert and back into the forest. As I get higher it gets colder until finally all the layers are in for the 10pm descent into Big Bear. Arriving that time of night meant I was lucky to get a bed but I found a hostel that had a bear of a dog fittingly called yogi. He was beautiful.
Turns out I was due a day off and with snow and rain forecast it couldn’t have been timed better. Hard to believe that it’s only three days between being below sea level at 40deg and being in the mountains at 4deg.
So what was the first week of going it alone like. Strange kind of sums it up. There’s no one to talk to, no one to make decisions with and no one to share the adventure. On the bright side there’s no one to complain when I fart in the tent or want to push on that extra couple of hours. And I’m not being subjected to coffee breaks, although Karen thinks I secretly enjoy those…hmm not so much. But all in all I miss my adventure buddy (aka wife) and would much rather Share the journey.