Day 62: Welcome to the Desert (Barstow, CA)

Day 62 (2016-10-27): ~75 miles from Big Bear Lake, CA to just east of Barstow, CA. Mixed state highways with a major descending in the morning, desert in the afternoon, and a little bit of I-40 to round it all off.

I slept poorly last night. Enclosed in my zero degree bag I am a roasting turkey but in just my liner the cool night breeze sends shivers through my body. Anyway, the volunteers prepared French toast for breakfast and I happily down two pieces in addition to two pieces of toast and some other snack. I hit the road around 10 and use my new map of the area to avoid the worse sections of Highway 18 through town. Soon I am on Highway 18 on the north side of the lake, heading for Apple Valley.

Downhill today! When I come to a sign for a 10% downhill grade for 1 mile I am ecstatic. I hit 40 mph between the twists and turns of back-to-back switchbacks, constantly accelerating and decelerating as if I am at Le Mans. I navigate the turns like a grandma though – all this weight and low panniers makes for shitty cornering. I cannot imagine how great this would be on an unloaded road bike!

I stop for a beautiful view looking through the mountains out to the desert beyond – where I will be in an hour or two. My host in Victorville messages me to inform me of a death in the family and, although she offers to host still I choose to give them space. I could continue to Victorville and camp at the regional park but it is out of my way – Barstow is straight north. So I backtrack quickly, take a cut-through, and end up on Highway 247 north to Barstow. It’s another 36 miles but it is only noon, not too hot, and I know Barstow has all services for me to refill water and stock up before 100+ miles of limited services across the Mojave.

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You can clearly see the transition from forest to desert happening as the mountains diminish.

Man, it’s so empty! As I ride I can see for miles in any direction with some spots letting me know if any traffic is coming for 5-10 minutes. Mostly not. It’s mostly trucks but overall volume is low and I rejoice in the ability to just ride down the middle of the lane, without heavy traffic or worrying about blind corners. There are no blind corners out here. Shit, there are barely corners. Unfortunately, this also means riding here is a total bore, a mental game. How do I entertain myself for long stretches of nothing while keeping a decent pace? I think I’ll start with some podcasts.

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Nothing.

I quickly notice a change, small but extraordinary. People passing me from behind generously cross over fully into the oncoming lane and, if oncoming traffic is coming, wait to pass. Even when there is a small shoulder I get plenty of space, whereas I am accustomed to people not bothering to move over if I am on the other side of the white line. And it’s not just courteous passing – people driving the other direction are acknowledging me. Drivers of all types of vehicles wave, motorcyclists give me the universal sign of two-wheeled respect, and one trucker even gives me a power fist pump with a huge smile! It’s amazing how such a simple thing, a small act of kindness and respect, [e-word]. This is easily the highlight of my day.

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Oh man, am I moving? At first I don’t realize I am climbing and fear I am bonking hard so I greedily squeeze out a honey tube. But as the grade steepens I look over my shoulder and realize I am higher than I was 10 minutes ago. Okay, I am climbing. Good to know. No trees or switchbacks to indicate elevation – just empty scrubland. By the time I reach the top I am so glad to be there. I’ve climbed very slowly before but it was always on a major climb with trees and, if not a view at the top, at least the knowledge that I accomplished something. This hill just laughed at me. At least it should be mostly downhill/flat to Barstow.

I roll into Barstow after about 65 miles and stock up at Food 4 Less. I realized today I need more and better snacks. I have plenty of meal food (perhaps too much even) but mostly only nutrition bars for snacking. Food is a motivator and I need that crunch, that boost of sugar, or that rich satisfaction to keep my mind from focusing too much on the fact that I am pedaling through an endless sea of sand and scrubs. The reward system works and the variety helps. So far today I’ve had 7 pieces of bread (2 french toast, 2 toast, and 3 just to snack with artichoke dip and hummus). I buy honey roasted almonds, chocolate covered raisins (they will almost certainly melt), crackers, and spanish-style rice pudding for desert tonight. My taste buds are already tingling.

The library here sucks. Renovations leave only porta-potties and the librarian refuses to let me leave my bike in the lobby despite the fact that even the homeless guy outside warned me against leaving anything unguarded in this town. I find another grocery store to fill the water tank and get some Oddwala shakes for 2/$4.00. This will be perfect – a shot of healthy in the upcoming food desert. I ride for about 5 miles until I find a dirt road over the train tracks that (I think) leads to BLM land. BLM is the Bureau of Land Management, a government agency, and camping on their land is legal. I ride/almost fall in the sand for a few minutes until I find what appears to be either an old irrigation ditch or a man-made wash. I take three trips to walk my stuff to the other side where I set up camp in a sandy spot shielded from view by the sides of the wash. Technically I am not stealth camping if I am on BLM land but being by myself, in the desert, without a car of SUV (how most people camp on BLM land) does feel a little sketchy…

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My little camping grotto.

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