Sunday, April 20, 2014

4/20/14 Desert Creosote, Trucks, Winds, and More Creosote

After a fairly restful night in the Inyokern park, broken only by the squeaking barks of local small dogs, we set off again on our bikes.  Traveling through the desert is not the most exciting of activities.  Battling a vicious headwind, we biked through miles upon miles of sagebrush and creosote. Our journey was brightened by beautiful desert wildflowers that had managed to push their way up through the roadside dirt, small towns with abandoned buildings, the occasional functioning gas station, and a giant snake in the middle of the road which was promptly run over by a car.  When we reached our destination, Kramer Junction, we ate giant and delicious veggie burgers at a roadside joint called Astroburger. Realizing that we couldn't camp at this giant intersection of highways rushing with rumbling trucks, we biked back into the desert and camped among the creosote.

The next day was possibly the most epic of our entire trip. We started off on Helendale Road, finally off the main highway. Unfortunately, our road of choice had been paved many, many years ago and was now filled with pits, rocks, and sand.
That Terrible Road, Helendale In the Distance
We followed this road (probably the worst I have ever biked on) through bumping, rolling hills for 13 miles to the town of Helendale.  And what a strange town it was.  In the middle of desert wasteland we found picture perfect suburbia, fountains and lakes. Was it real? Back on pavement and again facing a grueling headwind, we continued through abandoned ranches and mines bustling with trains, trucks and odd machinery. In Apple Valley we found a piece of paradise, a small rectangle of green grass with trees, picnic tables, and trash cans-a perfect little park! It was here that we rested happily and ate lunch (round 1). 16 miles down the road we had lunch round 2 at our favorite Mexican place in Lucerne Valley: Adelita's.  Burritos the size of your head for $5- how can you beat that? Our day culminated with an ascent from the desert to Big Bear Lake.  This road is pretty grueling, 16 miles uphill of consistent 8% grade with sections up to 16%. Despite fatigue, with the help of some sour gummy worms and lots of positive encouragement we made it to the top of the pass just as twilight turned to night.

That night and the next day we spent resting at a friend's house next to Baldwin Lake and today we made the final bike ride over Onynx Summit, back to our home in the mountains.  It was a picture perfect day, and the ride was a piece of cake compared to the rest of our trip. As we rolled in, our friends gave us a round of applause and some hugs- a much appreciated welcome home.

Our one week journey contained more surprises and challenges than either of us could have expected, and I'm glad it did.  What a glorious adventure it was.  I feel much better prepared, both mentally and physically for our trip. Who knows what awaits us in Alaska.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

4/16/14 Holy Bejesus, It's Happening Right Now

Just finished my first full day of bike touring! Before you say, "Congrats! When are you getting to Argentina?" I have to get something off my back.  I fell.  There, I said it.  I got it out of the way now while we're training in California.  Scrapes and bruises are all part of the plan.

Our training trip hasn't been quite what we expected, but it certainly has been incredible.  Some friends dropped us off on Saturday at the Onion Valley trailhead in the Eastern Sierras.  We locked our bikes up behind a big boulder and crossed our fingers that they would still be there in a few days, then we hit the trail.  With snowshoes and ice axes in our packs, you know, just in case.  Within ten minutes we were postholing in three feet of snow.  The trail was lost, to be gained a few days later on the way back.  "So that's where the trail goes!  Oh, and look at our tracks up that steep hill over there.  Huh."  The cold continued that night with a snowstorm, but we were unfazed.  The snow in the morning is much firmer, a pro of those freezing nights, so the going was much easier.  We managed to sidehill the steep, snowy slope to Kearsarge Pass, ice axes in hand, and gained the pass by noon the next day.  We had hiked four arduous miles in roughly seven hours.  We reevaluated the original 80-mile plan and decided to spend the next two days around the Bullfrog Lake area, what would turn out to be two days of ineffable beauty, numbing cold, and another nerve-wracking traverse of Kearsarge Pass.  I wish I could post a picture that sums it all up, perhaps the one of Tam standing next to a trail sign, the usually torso-high placard barely visible in the snow at her feet!

The road we took down out of the mountains, the Onion Valley road, was one of the most incredible rides either of us had done.  It took us from snowy spires down to the desert, the floor of the Owens Valley, in about thirty minutes.  I did my best to redirect my eyes from the incredible views to the road, and I guess I succeeded because hey, I'm still here writing this, but believe me it was tough!  We spent the night next to a burbling rill at a campground in Lone Pine and woke up early to hit the road to Inyokern.  All went well, except for the afore-mentioned crash and the heat.  I know it's only April, but good lord was it hot!  90, to be exact.  The contrast of having been snowshoeing just a few nights before was not lost on us.  Upon arriving in Inyokern, our final destination, we immediately went to the store and split a quart of ice cream.  In case you're curious about the nutritional value of our little snack (I was), the numbers for each of us came to 900 calories and 120% of our saturated fat for the day.  To that, I give a half-sarcastic YUM!  Unlike Tam, I at least waited a few hours after that to have dinner.  She was still hungry.  And this is after two days of biking.  I'm actually worried about how much food we're going to consume daily throughout our Alaska-Argentina trip.  But it's hard to worry about anything right now while I'm watching the sunset in this park in Inyokern, this comfortable patch of greenery among the harsh desert world.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Kings Canyon!

It seems silly to think of a 9-day trip as preparation, yet that's where our minds are.  We have exactly one week for spring break, and we're going to spend every hour adventuring!  First we will backpack/snowshoe in the wilderness of Kings Canyon National Park, and then we'll bike back home to the San Bernardinos.
The view south from Forester Pass at 13,000something feet in Kings Canyon
I'm somewhat apprehensive about the snow conditions at high altitude in the Eastern Sierras.  After basically no snow during that cold season when it's supposed to snow, it's been a wet spring.  Feet of wet snow might be a problem.  We also don't know if it's going to be icy, though it's a real possibility that we'll face some powder, some slush, and some ice.  We debated bringing full snow gear but decided against it.  I'm not going to hike 80 miles in snow boots with heavy crampons and an ice ax and snow pants and gaiters.  Ain't nobody got time for that.  Light and fast is more our style, and we'll bring snowshoes just in case.  I asked my Magic 8 Ball how it would go, and it said that wet feet are in my immediate future.

Most of this week, when not working, has been spent readying our gear.  Tam installed new front caliper brakes on her bike due to a broken part on her old ones.  I prepped my bike, the good ol' Long Haul Trucker, with a new bike computer (complete with a fancy cadence sensor that I don't really need and might just cut off soon) and a new saddle.  Enter apprehension.  I've never ridden on a hard saddle, but with my old (and somewhat cushy) one my legs would always fall asleep.  Which is a problem when you're, you know, powering yourself with your legs.  So I got this new saddle, and I'm about to ride 240 miles on it without testing it out.  I would ask my Magic 8 Ball about how that's going to go, but I'm thinking ignorance is bliss on this one.