Part V: SoCal
The ride downhill along the beautiful Kern river was most enjoyable. Yes, I had a bit of head wind- we don’t want to make this too easy, do we?!
I stopped for lunch at Kernville Brewery for a chicken caesar salad and a blonde beer. My first salad in a while. Met a nice young couple with a three-month-old baby named Dot and a golden retriever named Lucy. Lucy helped me get my golden retriever fix. I miss my Monty. I am having an easy day and will hopefully find a nice campground; regroup, recharge, fix my damn stove and ride into the southern part of California. Looking at the map ahead, there is no way I am done with climbing.
I am drinking coffee that’s really just black, tasteless liquid and it smells of last night’s miso soup. The sun is pleasantly warming up my muscles and bones. I am alone in a deserted campground, but the morning symphony of the birds is keeping me company. After I finally got the stupid stove working and heated up the water for coffee and oatmeal, I managed to lean on a loose board on the table. Down goes the stove and the pot of boiling water on my leg. The words that flew out of my mouth are unpublishable. The temp got down to 40 last night, but I stayed reasonably warm. I had to put my down puffy and sweatpants on in the middle of the night.
I called my mother for her birthday and it was so great to hear her voice. Everyone was gathered in their living room for the celebration. I could just see them all.
As far as technical difficulties, my second map on Garmin from here to the border magically disappeared. I have a backup on my I phone but I haven’t figured out how to use that yet. I hope it works. Dealing with technology has been my biggest challenge. Just when I think I have things figured out, something else happens. Luckily I still have time before crossing the border where I will be in a lot more rugged terrain.
So, I heat up, or better yet, burn a now three-day-old egg burrito and pack up my gear, which is a process in its own. I pack slowly and methodically. I call it packing meditation. At the moment I can’t find my one and only bra - yeah, I know, hard to believe. FYI, I am still using a fork for a comb. I can’t find a place that will sell just one stupid comb. Everything is in a pack of three or more. How many combs does one have to buy, for crying out loud. Do we have to have ten of everything? Ahh, the bra revealed itself under my Thermarest, which is where I looked twice before. Third time is always the charm. Speaking of gear, I still find it difficult to comprehend how much gear I can actually pack on the bike. Here is a list of some, if not all, of it:
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV1 platinum tent
Thermarest Corus HD 45-degree F quilt
Thermarest NeoAir pad
Thermarest Trekker chair
MSR whisperlite International stove
Primus titanium pot
Light Camelback pack to carry food and extra water when needed
One solar charger
One Ubio Labs power bank
Tear gas red pepper spray
Goratex light rain cycling jacket
Millet down puffy
Two riding chammie shorts- one SWAT bib (which is the only one I’ve been wearing but don’t worry- I wash it every two days)
One silk/ Merino wool T shirt by Janus
One hoodie zip Merino wool by Sherpa
Two pairs of Merino wool socks
One lightweight riding jacket by Sugoi which I alway keep at ready
One pair of specialized stretch riding shorts in charcoal gray
First aid kit
Bike cleaning and repair kit
Garmin Inreach mini
6 Voile straps
a mix of bike packing bags and rack systems: Baryak mule mounting bars for Salsa anywhere cages on my front forks
Ortlieb bar bag
Ortlieb 15 l waterproof stuff bag for tent and Thermarest and down jacket which I attach to Salsa bar cage
Ortlieb accessories bag that sits on top of the other two in the front where I keep miscellaneous things like Heed powder, Recoverite powder, notebook, some food etc
Salsa bar cage
Nuclear Sunrise seat bag and small bag mounted on top of frame along with small Orlieb bag for nick nacks like chargers, cords and GoPro Hero 6, sunscreen, lip balm
Two Nuclear Sunrise grab bags, one for water bottle with drinking hose attached; and one for GU and bars and nuts
Custom-made Nuclear Sunrise frame bag for all my bike tools, pump, first aid kit and whatever food I can stuff in
Two water bottles holders in the back with zip ties and they work great so far.
Last but not least, besides water bottles (at the moment 3), my reading glasses which I cannot live without.
In the town of Isabella Lake I stop at a coffee shop to have a proper cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich and, of course, get WiFi so I can deal with loading the route I am missing. After an hour with Lee from Garmin tech support, we finally pair my phone and Edge 1030 and manage to load the missing map. My mood is lifted and I take off following the purple line. My Garmin starts beeping that I am off course while prompting me to make a U turn. What the heck!? I look at the map again and it is stuck in the direction from south to north. You dumbass! I sit in the park under a tree as it is 80 degrees F and try to load a new map to no avail. The hell with it. I ride following the map backwards. It works, but everything is in reverse and Garmin keeps yelling at me. I ride through the small town of Bode. I pass a gun shop and wonder which school will be the victim of the next shooting in this gun-obsessed country. If you simplify American politics, it comes down to two things at the end of every election: guns and abortion rights.
I climb out of Kern Valley, leaving Lake Isabella behind. The wind is at my back, two red tail hawks are circling looking for their daily meal and I climb looking for shade in trees that hang over the road every once in a while. I am in a completely different environment now. High dry desert. I reach the top and pass through a perfect V, wedged between two mountains finishing a 1350-foot ascent for now. I check to make sure no straps hang off the bike. I deeply inhale the clear air around me and saddle my Beast. He loves to go downhill, as do I. We have some pretty strong headwind though. At another pass, out of historic town of Havilah, after which the road was so steep I had to zig-zag back and forth, I see what might be a general store or a restaurant. When I get to it, I was disappointed. Just a fenced-off house. I stop to take a picture when around the corner came barreling the biggest, most ferocious pit bull. The chain stops her just before the fence. Holy crap. My heart is in my throat and I scramble on The Beast and take off. That was not a friendly place. We fly downhill with the dogs (there were actually two of them) barking after me and I can hear them for a long time.
Across the flats, I battle some strong headwinds so when I reach the base of the next climb, I pull over at a corral with two miniature horses and baby cows. I was going to have a shot of GU and some water that I’ve been starting to savor.
A car pulls to the house across the road. Out comes a young woman. I hear her talking Spanish to someone in the house. I run across with my water bottle and ask for some water. The girl doesn’t speak much English but she says;
“Yes, yes, water- no, problem!”
I switch to Spanish and when she goes into the house for water, I meet the father who works for the rancher. They have 50 horses and guide multi-day tours into the mountains. Estrella comes out with three bottles of water while the mother calls out to ask me if I want a taco for the road.
“Por supuesto que si! Gracias señora!”
In the meantime, while the mother is preparing food inside, Estrella, who just had a baby six weeks ago, and I chat some more. I tell her where I am going, what I eat, where I sleep. She tells me they are from Michoacán; I tell her that I am riding to Mexico. Her baby daughter’s name is Amber. I go back across the street to put the water on my bike. She follows me with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich and a bag of fruit. Oh dear, I try to explain that I don’t have much room on my bike. But I can’t refuse such generosity. Then the mother comes with another bag full of snacks. They insist! Somehow I stuff two hot slices of pizza, something wrapped in paper, a cup of instant soup, string cheese, yogurt, and some snacks I’ve never even seen before. I hug them and wish them the happiest of lives. I don’t know if I’ll be able to repay them but I can certainly pay it forward. They wave me off with wishes of safe travels. I am so filled with gratitude that I fly up the hill.
I stop a little ways up because the emotions overcome me. These are those rapists and murderers our president wants to send back; my friends. These same people are hardworking; they’re family-loving people that clean and cook and build and run this country quietly, behind the scenes. This country was built and is continued to be built on the shoulders of immigrants from all over the world. I am an immigrant. I worked every job that came my way, from painting houses, bussing tables, working cleaning boats in shipyards, sandblasting masts; you name it. All so I could finish college.
It’s getting late so I am starting to look for places to pitch a tent. As I have a signal, I talk to Jim on the phone as I ride, yes, you guessed it, uphill. It looks like Caliente is just five miles away and downhill.
I literally ride into the sunset. There were clouds on the horizon as the sun set behind them and painted a bright orange line outlining the top of the clouds. It looked like a Renaissance painting; all that was missing were a few of Raphael’s fat cherubs with bows and arrows.
I’ll be in Caliente in no time. I am loving riding the steep serpentine downhill until I come around the corner and almost run over a cow. I slam on the brakes while the cattle is all over the road. They are staring at me, not moving. My headlamp mounted on my helmet reflects in their eyes and they look like they are possessed. They are as black as night. I start moving slowly, observing how they will react.
“Good cow, good cow, stay where you are!”
I talk to them in a calming voice, hoping my red jacket won’t excite them. Two of them, a mom and not-so-small calf separated by the road, start running. I keep riding slowly, hoping they’ll stop and get away from the road, away from me. There is a turn in the road and a car is coming fast from the opposite direction. I was certain the car was going to hit one of the running cows. Luckily, all ended well. I ride slowly and just a bit down the road, a rancher on a quad came to corral the cattle into a gated pasture.
It’s the time of the evening when bats are darting in all directions feeding on insects. Their echolocation system is precise, so there is no worry they’ll ever run into you. The first sliver of the moon keeps playing peek-a-boo from behind the hills depending if I am ascending or descending the hills. I should be hitting Caliente by now. I keep riding, but come upon nothing. It is now completely dark and my track is taking me on a quiet, lonely country road. What is going on? Jim is calling me and of course he’s concerned, as am I. I am looking for places to pitch the tent. I keep riding, climbing for another thousand feet until the track actually takes me onto HW 58. Huge semis fly by me. I am on the phone with Jim, Jenna, and Brett and they are looking at maps at home. The closest possible stop is Keene, which is still 10 miles away. No big deal in a car; big deal on a bike. The road climbed more; I am tired but finally reach Keene, which consists of a coffee shop and a fire station. I almost fall of the bike at 9:30 at night and set up the tent under a tree behind the coffee shop. I change my sweaty clothes, climb into my sleeping bag and unwrap the white paper the Mexican mother gave me. Half a breast of fried chicken- best damn chicken I’ve ever eaten! And wait, there is more. For dessert I eat a juicy-sweet poached pear they gave me that I carried all the way in a plastic cup. Tears of exhaustion and gratitude flow down my cheeks as I try to get comfortable on my pad. The whole night it felt like the trucks and nearby trains were coming right through the tent itself. Temps got down to 37 and I was really happy when the Keene coffee shop opened at 7 am.
53 miles, 56K of climbing, and more then 10 hours in the saddle makes it a long day.