Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Daily Routine in Quartzsite

Wake up. It's 6am, and cold. I'm planning on going down to the tents and looking for work today. Go back to sleep.

Wake up. It's 6:30am, still cold, and I have to pee. Still have some time, though. Go back to sleep.

Wake up. It's 6:45, and I really, really need to pee. Where are my glasses? there, on my laptop. Shoes? Buried under my sleeping bag. Am I wearing pants? Yes. Crawl out, remember the toilet paper. Pee under a bush. Bury toilet paper in my fire pit. Go back to sleep.

Wake up. It's sunny and moderately warm. Time to get up! My sleeping bag smells funny. Should I change my clothes? Naw, they feel pretty fresh. Check to see if the laundry strewn around my camp is dry yet. Probably not.

Go for a short walk, collect firewood and some pretty stones. Take a few minutes to note the progress of various small green shoots which have started growing after the last rain. It smells good out here.

Back in camp, I start a small fire, scrub out my pot with sand, then rinse it with a bit of water. Once the fire is ready, a flat rock goes in the center of the ember and I heat some water on it for oatmeal. Wait a bit. Pick the worst of the ashes out, add oatmeal and anything I find buried in my kitchen bag to flavour it. Read while the oatmeal cooks.

Wolf down the oatmeal like a starved thing. Maybe follow it with some almonds or dried fish. By now the wind has woken up and I'm huddled by my fire. Maybe I should head to town? No, I think I'll stay here and read some more. Fire is warm.

At 9am or so, I wash my face, brush my teeth, pack up my electronics, clothes that need washing, empty water containers, and some soap. My sleeping bag gets unzipped, reversed, and spread out to air. Make sure my tent is staked down securely, the fire is(mostly) out, and no food is left laying around. Kangaroo rats are nocturnal, but you never know...

Watch for the small flock of Quail that I always see near the Dome Rock RV Park, which is about a half mile from my camp. The same guy seems to always be entering or leaving his RV, too. Maybe he just stands in the doorway half the day. As soon as I get on my bike, it's finger numbing cold. The wind is always in my face. That's okay, though; the ride to town is short, curving around desert mountains and old mining claims. I notice something new every time.

Dome Rock Road and the BLM 14-day area. A month from now it'll look like a KOA out there.

The first truck stop before the freeway exit is a Love's. If I ran my laptop out of batteries the day before, I stop here, plug in various electronics, and write for an hour or so. If I don't need the juice, I rush across town for an amazing apple fritter at the bakery on the east end of Quartzsite. I wonder if they save their day-old pastries. One of these days I'll ask and see if I can get some for cheap. On the way back I'll stop by one of the many flea markets and try to memorize the intricate wire-wrap jewelry techniques. Chat with the vendors for a while, maybe call home and insist the Eileen would just love this place, then move on. If I need it, I'll get in line for a shower and swish my laundry around in a wash-tub.

MacDonalds time! Bad food, interesting people, and free wifi. Can't plug in my laptop, that's the only downside. This is the hangout for grizzled locals, truckers, and a few camo-clad survivalists types. Old retired couples from the RV parks come in for coffee, along with families stumbling out of their mini-vans on the way to somewhere else. I buy my daily hot fudge sundae and am reunited with the internet until my battery goes dead.

At some point I remember that I was going to look for a job today, but now it's too late in the day, and there'll be more hiring towards Christmas, anyway.

Leaving MacDonald's, it's probably getting towards dusk. If it's too windy to cook outside, or I have nothing to cook, I might go to Isaiah 58 for a free(Though I usually leave a donation) dinner in the company of all the other tramps, vagabonds, hippies and panhandlers. Eat, socialize for a bit, maybe practice wire-wrapping the stones from this morning, then head out of town. On the way out I'll fill my water containers at Love's. Pro tip: The truck stops have filtered water in their taps. Quartzsite municipal water tastes like salt and iron. Avoid this.

On the way back, I'll look at the mining ruins, the trail up into the mountains, and make plans for hiking up there sometime soon. Before the big crowds come. The ride back reminds me why I'm still in Quartzsite. The wind has finally died down, and now that the sun has set it feels inexplicably warmer. The mountains are a hazy purple, and the moon rises enormous.

When I get to camp I make sure of the last bit of light to gather more firewood. Wet laundry is left out to dry; stuck to the huge saguero, hung from the dead tree. If I didn't already eat, I'll cook some pasta, throw in some salsa and a can of tuna. My pot gets scrubbed out with sand, again, then left to rinse in the morning.

Keep an eye out for the Kangaroo rat that comes over late every night, drawn to the smell of my dinner. Give the critter a few almonds or dry pasta. Possibly get bit for my kindness. Eventually I run out of excuses to be away, burrow into my warm sleeping bag, and read for a bit before dozing off.

Seriously, though - tomorrow I'll look for work.

Kangaroo Rat

This little fellow has been visiting my camp every night at 9pm or so, to beg for pasta and almonds. He's quite bold, and if I put my hand down near him, equally likely to bite it, or try to climb it. I think he's a Merriam's Kangaroo Rat.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Quartzsite, AZ

Thus far, my desert campsites have been pretty cozy. Last night I found a narrow arroyo surrounded by thick brush. A fire down at the bottom, and the heat was held in and reflected. Once the wind died down, I popped out and set up my tent above. No coyotes tonight, though. I've not heard them for a while.

I pulled myself out of bed before the wind got too bad. The check point came up, and I was waved through immidiately. Back into farmland, again, but this time it's nicer. Blue-green fields of Kale, bales of cotton, and the feel of a place where people actually live and work. Palo Verde was a tiny little town. I stopped at a christmas shop/bake sale and talked to an Archaeologist on her way back from monitoring a construction project. She's been looking forward to seeing Quartzsite and Slab City, and regularly drives out into BLM land overnight. Refreshing to talk to someone in California who isn't afraid of bloody everything.

I rode out of Palo Verde and into Ripley craving something sweet. A whole box of those fritters Bob had in Slab City would have been perfect! I saw one seedy-looking little place, with a lively argument taking place out in front, and figured they probably didn't have bakery items anyway. An orange would be really good, too, actually... A few miles out of town, I saw a scattering of citrus trees in a yard. Among these, one limb on one tree was hanging over the fence, within reach. On this one branch on one limb of one tree, was... one orange! I spun around, charged over the dirt shoulder, yanked the orange and fled. Sure, it wasn't a tree-grown cherry fritter, but it was still pretty damn good.

Past Ripley, heading towards Blythe, a truck pulled off ahead of me. By the time I reached it, a young guy in overalls had came out and was waiting for me. Mark offered me some water, then a bag of trailmix. We talked for a bit. He told me his job pays for gas and offered me a ride to Quartzsite. Blythe looked pretty boring, and honestly I was just anxious to get out of California. So, as it turned out, I never rode my bike across the California state line. Train in, truck out. Mark revealed that he was an archeologist as well, working on the same project. He called up Sarah(Archeaologist #1 from Palo Verde) to see if she wanted a lift to Quartzsite.

Mark picked up Sarah in Blythe, which turned out to be a typical truck-stop town. I squished my dirty smelly self in between the two dusty, sweaty archaeologists in the middle seat, and listened to them talk about the strange folks they work with. Sarah had found a dried up dead Coyote at the site and carried it away to pull apart and examine. She offered Mark the skull, who seemed torn between polite refusal and "Oh that's really cool I want that coyote skull!".

Past the Colorado river, the ride through the brownish desert mountains of Arizona was beautiful. We passed by the Dome Rock area, where I plan on coming back to camp. Mark and Sarah dropped me off at a curios shop, and after poking around a bit at the goods for sale, I said goodbye, took a picture, and rode out of town. It was getting dark at this point, so I decided to take the smooth freeway shoulder instead of Dome Rock road, which I've heard is narrow and roughly paved. This turned out be a mistake, as the exit back onto Dome Rock road was six miles west. During the day, I probably could have seen it and just ridden off the interstate, across some sand, and onto the road. For the sake of the air in my tires, though, I didn't want to do it in the dark. So, six miles later, I got off the freeway and found a place to camp, with lights from other campers visible in the distance.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Heading Towards Palo Verde

Not much ground covered today! I took my time and enjoyed the surreal landscape. Tiny footprints are visible everywhere in the sand. On the left side of the road is an area off-limits to vehicles where one can see the slightly-less-disturbed dunes. Rippling sand patches cover the road in places.

The stretch of highway within the dunes is relatively short - maybe six miles. I stopped at a viewpoint for awhile, and watched all manner of ATVs and dune buggies crest the dunes. Soon, the flowing sands became packed gravel, trash, and windblown shrugs. I camped down by an arroyo, half a mile from a border patrol station.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Imperial Dunes

Over coffee, I admitted to Bob that I ignored most of his warnings last night. Maybe he'll take a lesson from that. Then again, he seems like a pretty stubborn old fellow. Good guy though, don't get me wrong. My intent was to take some shots of the Range, the hand painted signs around town, and Salvation Mountain. My battery gave out before I got to the Range. Oh well - next time. I stopped at Salvation Mountain and decided to just enjoy a walk around without worrying about photos - not that taking them stresses me out, but sometimes it's a good thing to just concentrate on remembering a place instead of capturing it.

I ran into a young guy with a big fancy camera climbing around the monument. We ended up talking about Alaska, where he spent two summers working for a cannery not long ago. There is something to think about... After that, an older man approached me and asked if he could interview me. He told me he likes to take videos of himself talking with folks he meets while traveling. I warned him that despite riding for months with a pair of journalists, I'm still awkward on film. It turned out not to be much of a problem - he did most of the talking! His friend took a shot of me in front of Salvation Mountain, to send to me later, since my own camera battery was complete depleted.

In Niland, I stopped for water, power, and some laundry. The Laundromat only had two working outlets, and my phone and camera took priority, leaving the laptop uncharged. I rinsed out my cold weather jersey and shorts in a tub and dried them for two quarters-worth. Another California paranoia encounter here - friedly, as always, with tones of disbelief and concern. This woman was especially shocked that I've not been stolen from or molested. I mentioned Slab City and she recoiled visibly. I'm learning that local knowledage isn't always that dependable. On top of that, no wanderer from Minnesota is going to change a Californian's mind about California. Fortunately, I'll be in Arizona soon!

Most of the day was a ride through more foul-smelling chemical sprayed farmland. The the highlight of the day was the sighting of a small borrowing owl by some train tracks. Finally, I reached the end - a orange plantation, an organic farm(surprised to see one here!), then back to the desert. The wind was fierce, but the faint glimmer of dunes in the distance convinced me to keep going. I camped along Gecko Road in the Imperial Dunes Recreation Area, surrounded by big rigs and sand toys.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Slab City Part 2

This night could have been uneventful. I could have spent two days in Slab City, the experience being in all aspects similar to a stop at a somewhat wacky campground. Instead, I met Bob. Bob lives in a big, spotless trailer in what seems to be the 'Good part of town'. Up here, there is less trash, most of trailer actually have a truck attached. I found this area by following the stream of new, clean vehicles driving down the dusty tracks. Most of the people living up here look to be retired snowbirds from the Northern States and Canada.

Bob saw me dragging my bike by, called me over, and offered me a chair, a glass of milk, and a cherry fritter. His camp was behind the Traveling Pals building(All these clubs, nothing but drama and power struggles, he warned me), and a stones throw from the Oasis Club. He gave me grave warnings against visiting the hot springs, or eating at the Oasis club. A kid came on a motorcycle, ate there, and spent all night puking in the bushes. I ended up taking the now-empty camp of the puking motorcycle kid. it looked like it had at one point been someones garden in a ring of stones. Nice and cozy for a small tent, and the swarm of ants retreated as the evening cooled.

Thanks to Bob's grave warnings, I now knew that there would be a dinner at the Oasis club, and watched for a crowd to gather. People throw up for all sorts of reasons, after all - who is to say it was the food? I paid $4 for a heaping plate of shepherd's pie and a chunk of corn bread the size of my hand. It was delicious. After the meal, people started to gather at the fire pit behind the Oasis. First came Neal, a intense-looking young man in black coat, white bandanna, and his guitar. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Billy Mitchell(To Jeff, Ryan, and Michelle... yeah, that guy). The dude with the hand drum, I never learned his name, nor that of the fiddle player, who was crazy good.

More people came. Jimmy John with a twelve string guitar and a deep, gravelly voice; Jess with her flute. Two more men and a woman with more guitars, a man brushing a mailbox with metal brushes, a bamboo flute that was passed around along with several egg shakers. Fiddle man switched to a harmonica for a few songs. Jess set aside her flute and sang a ccapella, beautifully. Two dogs and a puppy wandered between the chairs. Several decent-sized tree limbs where tossed into the raging inferno in the fire pit. Someone produced a bottle of what might have been peppermint scnapps and passed it around. Spectators crowded around and gossiped over the music.

A big motherly woman named Karen made a balloon hat which ended up perched on Neal's head; her and I chatted with a clean-cut eagle scout of a young kid who turned out to be wanted(for what he never said) in Nevada. He's been hopping trains for years. Folks talked about three old fashioned hobos who came in on the train some years ago, did odd jobs for a while, then left the way they came. Apparently there is a group of gypsies around, but they're up in the mountains now. Not the firing-range mountains, one would hope. All the while, explosions could be heard from that direction.

As the night went on and the musicians became increasingly intoxicated, the circle of music got a bit silly. A dude with dreadlocks showed up during a lull and belted out the Mustache Song. Neal gave a rousing rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. A few bawdy lines of 'The whole world in his hands" and some broken strings later, the decision was made to head down to the hot springs. Yes, someone drowned there recently, but he only floated for a day(Bob told me three!), and it has a high water flow, besides.

I ran back to my camp, stashed my bike and camera, and bundled up for the cold away from the fire. Karen pick me up, along with a middle aged canadian fellow, in her brightly painted van. Neal, Jess, and her friend met us there. The hot spring turned out to be huge and only pleasantly warm. It was, pretty much, a bathtub warm pond. It's also not the sort of place where folks generally go in clothed. I've never de-robed with company before, I admit; I hesitated all of about 15 seconds before doffing my shirt. That is all the time it took for my new friends to throw off their clothes and run for the warmth of the hot springs in a funny little train of lily-white buttocks. To hell with it! Taking clothing -off- on a cold desert night was completely counterintuitive, but the hot water felt amazing once my feet stopped burning. The pool was deep enough to dive into - most of us did. The one warning from Bob that I actually heeded was "don't get water in your ears". An ear infection combined from that kind of water might be a valid worry, after all. I know, I'm no fun at all.

At night, the massive power plant between Niland and the Slabs looks like a brightly lit city. I don't know how much is from the plant, and how much is just bright moonlight, but it doesn't get very dark. The sand looks snow-like and reflective at night. After 20 minutes in the hot water, we started coming out to cool off. In the dry air and breeze, I dried off before my body temperature got anywhere near normal. Standing out bare-ass naked on a freezing desert night, feeling totally comfy. It was pretty cool.

Karen decided she was ready to go, and after warning those staying to be careful("Don't stay in the water too long, don't get dehydrated, and don't leave anyone here alone!"), took me and the Canadian dude back to our camps. On the way back, I felt a bit guilty. I came, I got my Slab City story to brag about, and now I'm leaving. My assessment? Yes, I'd come back, but probably not on a bike with a tent. Niland gives me the creeps, and the ride there from the Slabs is bone-jarring. Small concerns, maybe, if not for the fact I'd have to make the trip often for water. For food, it would be a long haul to Brawley through the Imperial Valley big-agriculture sprawl. Within Slab City, there isn't much for me to do on my own. There is a great community present, but I need space, time, and somewhere to go. I'd need more mobility than my bike can offer, and the clear border of walls around me. Would I spend a winter in the slabs with a van? You betcha.

The Lizard Tree Library

As soon as it warmed up enough to emerge from my cocoon, I packed up camp, said goodbye to Dave(Who suggested I install an emergency parachute on my bike. Just in case.), and set off to explore. I followed signs to the range, the oasis club, wandered up and down rows of junkyard debris, battered old vans, and flashy new RVs. I was looking for the Lizard Tree Library, which is often mentioned by travel writers who pass through the slabs. A spaced out young hippie in a patchwork skirt told me there was a library down by the canal, which had closed. "It's still got all the books, though, and you can go in there. Just look for the sign that says 'Open 24/7'".

I made my way down in the general direction of the canal. Rvs, trucks, vans and garbage petered out until I felt alone in the desolate, scrubby hills. Good thing, since I had to take care of some business behind a bush. Of course, the moment I dropped trousers, along comes a man walking his dog... He pointed me in the right direction; back the way I came.

Eventually, I found it. A battered old construction of plastic and scrap wood. My assessment is that "closed" means "This place used to be maintained, but now it just sits here". Many of the books appeared to have swelled up with the last rain, cobwebs abounded, dust settled in thick layers. Oddly, the stack of books covering the now-dry fountain looked clean and new. Postcards, old posters, and faded knicknacks crowded the walls and shelves.

This place was probably falling apart the day it was built, but it's obvious that someone cared about it. Crayon printed signs indicate what-goes-where, mostly-dead gardens and and colorful rocks line the buildings, quotes are written on the walls, along with a pencil drawing of an owl in a mirror-frame. Even in disrepair it was full of personality - perhaps even more so, with the allure of an abandoned building added in. Hundreds of battered National Geographic issues filled a wall of shelves, and I spent a few hours sitting out in the sun reading, before heading out to find a camp for the night.

A special find for me

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Slab City Part 1

I spent my first day in Slab City with a man named Dave. Dave and a friend where riding out of town on mountain bikes to pick up supplies in Niland. In a classic show of Californian sentiment(Actually he was from Minnesota, but the atitude is infectious), he advised me that Slab City isn't necessarily safe for a woman alone, and invited me to his camp. He seemed like a nice sort, though, and I don't know what the etiquette is on claiming a spot. Can't hurt to stay with a local and learn a bit. Dave's camp turned out to be one of the first within whatever constituted 'inside' slab city, with two fifth wheels and a mostly intact mobile home. "The druggies live down that way. We're all good people here", he told me, gesturing down the street. Then he continued on to Niland, leaving me to settle in.

I paced around a bit, feeling somewhat ill at ease - not threatened, though - then chilled outand heated up some soup. I found a van seat to perch on, wrapped up in my long suffering fleece blanket, and watched folks coming and going until Dave came back. He introduced me to a couple living nearby, and we peeled potatoes for a meal. He asked me to put the peelings under one of his trees, to feed it. "Anything I can, I feed to the tree. It helps out", he explained. While we peeled potatoes and cleaned onions, he told me he was going to DC to build a space ship. Not really a space ship - just a prop for now. He wants funding to build a better safety system for space shuttles and moon landings. His plan is to get a friend to fly him up in a helicopter and he'll test his 'spaceship' by throwing it off the copter with himself inside. Then he'll get the president to look at it. I'm just saying what he said. The man seemed fairly knowledgeable about engineering - maybe it just seems nuts because I don't understand the technicalities?

By the time we finished the big sack of potatoes, it was dark, cold, and I was more tired than hungry. He gave me the key to the big mobile home, and I dragged a mattress into the kitchen to sleep on(The bedroom carpet was pretty awful, and the floor appeared to be giving out in the living room). I'd rather be outside, but Dave's camp is a little too uneven and rocky to sleep comfortably on the ground. Tomorrow I'll go find my own spot.

Today I taught myself how to install a brake cable. It went pretty well. My cousin-to-be, Jeff, had been helping a friend assemble a new bike in his apartment, and from him I leaned the mystical alignment of brake-lever-parts. That came in handy. The new cable doesn't quite fit through the guides for the old one, and makes some nasty grinding noises. A cheap cable is better than a broken one, though, and if it saws through itself I'm only out five bucks.

Riding through the Imperial Valley was... ugly. The fields had a chemical stink. There where no nice little farmhouses or personal touches that make farmland charming. It's all big industry agriculture. Brawley seemed like a nice town, but Calipatria was nondescript. Niland is greasy and creepy on the surface, and I never really got past the surface. It's not all bad, though! I'm heading towards Slab City. I've been both nervous and excited about this for a while. Slab City is a legend in my mind; a heaven for vagabonds, tramps, misfits, and retired folks with big rigs. Along the way, I've head all kinds of warnings against it; don't go there, don't even think about it. The people there are all sick, they'll rob you, you'll regret it...

There is something about California, at least southern California, that I should address. I was first warned in Colorado; "Watch out for California Drivers! They're all insane!". I've heard that the campgrounds are trashy, people in grocery stores are rude, and no one in the damn state can really be trusted. All in all, that's nothing out of the ordinary. In Missouri folks talked bad about Kansas. In Kansas they said Nebraska was boring. In Colorado they warned me about meth houses in Idaho. What is different, here, in California, is that people warn me about... themselves. Californias are afraid of Californians. Go figure. Ironically, people have been pretty friendly. No one is trying to run me off the road, steal my bike, or mug me. The only bad experience I'm having is the incessant need of some people to force their own fears on me. One fellow took it so far I just had to up and take off, leaving him muttering "I'm just trying to keep you safe..." and shaking his head behind me.

So, in sort - California is okay, really. Still, I kind of want to get out of here... Coming up next, Slab City!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Homestay in Brawley, CA

The concrete building did a fairly good job, last night. I could feel some warm coming off it during the night. More than enough to make up for the smell. I waited a bit too long to pack up, it turned out. After I'd already woken up half a dozen time and decided it wasn't quite warm enough yet, the wind decided to pick up. When I say 'the wind picked up', I mean sudden out-of-nowhere with no warning whatsoever 35mph sustained winds. Packing my tent up required some creativity. I did have to chase my tarp barefoot across the sand, but nothing fragile blew away at least.

Ocotillo Wells, flat and sandy.

I forgot to mention this yesterday, but apparently I missed 'town'. There really isn't a town, I guess, but there is a ranger station and some facilities, including water. My supply is a bit low right now, and I could use some juice for my phone. Trying to look ahead on google maps ate up most of my Kindle's battery, but revealed that there might be one more RV park east of Ocotillo Wells. I say maybe, because the official California highway map is pretty useless and I rarely know exactly where I am. This time, I lucked out. A few miles east I found the Blu-in RV Park and Cafe. The Store/Cafe was closed, but there where some power outlets outside. No water, but I had enough to last if I avoid using it to cook or wash. As I went to plug in, though, the door opened and the owner came out to greet a man who arrived right behind me. She invited me in to fill up on filtered water, and offered me a breakfast on the house! Bacon and french toast, nice and thick and sweet. Thanks so much, Marylene :)

Yesterday's damage

When I left the Cafe, the wind had alligned itself with my back and I glided along effortlessly for the next 10 miles or so. I came across a border checkpoint stopping traffic in the opposite direction. They seemed pretty serious - dogs where paces along the line of cars, looking more like highly focused machines than animals. Wonder if there is anything in my gear I need to discard before I run across another one of these... Soon after the checkpoint, I pulled off the road to call the warmshowers host in Brawley and ask if I could show up a day early. He called me a few hours later with an affirmative, but by then I'd slowed down and was expecting to camp in the BLM land before Westmoorland. Jim, the warmshowers host, offered to pick me up in Westmoorland, and I was spared the long expanse of big-agriculture land. Thanks, man :)

It turned out that there was a Walmart in Brawley that carried some cheapo brake cables, so I was spared the trip into El Centro. I picked up some food for the next leg, Jim and I shared a meal of stir fry veggies and rice, and talked about all the crazy touring cyclists that funnel through Brawley.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Into the Desert - Ocotillo Wells, CA

This post was written a week later, so it's a bit more cheerful then it would have been had I written it at the time. After a couple days, I got out of my funk and started feeling good again. I'm not going to write this post as if I where upset, though. It all looks better in hindsight, so why not roll with it.

The problem with enclosing myself in a building overnight is that I have to get out in the morning. No, really. It IS difficult. For one thing, it is hard to judge the time without actually rolling over and looking at my phone. For another, thought the very solid restroom building kept the wind off and retained some heat overnight, it was colder inside than outside once the sun rose. A distant third concern was getting out without anyone seeing me scamper out the restroom door and across the parking lot with a bedroll and shopping bag.

The third concern wasn't a big one. I was way over here, and the campground was way over there. At one point I heard someone drive up, pull on the door, mumble into a radio and drive off. Maybe it was the helpful volunteer wondering where I went to. On the way out of the park, I noticed an odd phenomenon; the trees, huge old conifers, all studded with nuts of some sort. Some are broken, most are not. I imagine some sort of woodpecker or nuthatch must be responsible. I wonder if the nuts left unhatched ever sprout inside the tree trunks.


Today, I finally get to go downhill. With my perennially ailing brakes, that comes with its own concerns. As the ice and a few stray mounds of snow attest, it's also pretty damn cold out. I passed a sign informing me that I was at 4600ft elevation - I had assumed 4000 at the most. Not having a detailed map by any means, elevation is always a guessing game.

Yes, it was pretty chilly.

Great big damn pinecone. These things where falling out of the trees last night, making just about as much noise as a bowling-ball launching machine.

Miles added up appallingly fast after the two day struggle up the mountains, and suddenly - Desert! My first desert! As far as desert goes, the Anza Borrego Desert State Park was absolutely stunning. A great variety of life, color, and texture. Barrel cacti, clumps of yucca, small agaves, and all manner of succulents clung to the sides of lumpy, brown hills and ridges. On flatter terrain, massive agave where blooming. I jumped around like a fool with an old cast off agave stalk and knocked a few flowers off of a fresh one - delicious, like honey, basil and lemon. I could have camped right there since this state park allows dispersed camping(Hey, something good to say about California!), but I wanted to keep moving. Anyway, who is to say this sort of wonderful landscape won't continue all day?

Agave flowers!

It turned out not to - towards Ocotillo Wells, the amazing variety of plant life contracted down to brown and green scrubby bushes on flat gravel. Don't get me wrong! It was still pretty cool and I wouldn't trade it for forest or fields, but it wasn't as spectacular as it was in the park. Arriving on a Sunday, it was pretty quiet, too. Most cyclists wouldn't like that, but I was looking forward to some company in the popular OHV area. So long as they don't run over my tent or run me out for not being a motorhead... anyway, I ended up camping next to a restroom building on concrete. The theory is that the concrete and the building will hold in some warm overnight... My brake cable snapped on the final approached to my camp site, by the way. It's the front one, which is my lame brake anyway. Still, better get it fixed soon. I'd hate to think of the back one snapping on a descent, now.

All that power, and no where to plug in my phone...

So, what is up with the bathrooms, Sarah?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Here I am, writing from the bathroom. I only rode 15 miles, but it was all uphill. So was yesterday. It's getting pretty cold up here, too. There is a bit of snow behind my bathroom. I'm in the otherwise desolate Hiker/Biker campground at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, so I could probably just sleep in here and no one would notice. It's been cleaned up and locked for the season - the camp host opened it up for me.

A stop for delicious California oranges. The lady seems concerned that I wasn't carrying any mace.

I've been feeling on and off a bit uncertain, more so than I expected to be. I had hoped I would be okay on my own. I'm sure I still will be, it's just taking some time. Back in Portland, I felt ready - I had enjoyed every day of company while riding with Ryan and Michelle, but being on someone else's schedule(Of course I always had a choice, but I really -wanted- to keep up), on a preplanned route stressed me out. I worried that I was becoming overly dependent on the route, and on my friends. So, knowing that we'd meet again, it wasn't too painful getting on the train to San Diego.

I enjoyed my three weeks off with my soon-to-be cousin, Jeff, as well. He introduced me to his friends, let me lay around in his apartment and play starcraft all day, got me hooked on watching starcraft tournaments... but I wasn't really doing anything, and that made me anxious. By the time I had my bike repaired and had picked up my mail, I was ready to go. I'm planned on heading back over there after christmas when my cousin moves to San Diego, so it wasn't that big a deal when left yesterday.

So, I was looking forward to making my own decisions, being independent, and not having a schedule to adhere too. Now, being the ass-backwards person I am, I feel at a loss without these things, and I'm looking for inspiration and opportunity. Wonder what will happen tomorrow.

The campsite I didn't use

The "campsite" I did use!