I find myself wondering why I’m seeing so many California license plates and then I remember I’m almost in California. Right.
I’ve left Route 66 and I’m navigating my own way across the desert to Joshua Tree National Park. Just before I begin a 90 mile stretch of desert with no water and no services, the road gets that icky Jell-O feeling which means I have another flat tire. My seventh flat tire (actually it’s still the fifth one) ends with me throwing out the inner tube with the goopy tire sealant and putting in a fresh tube. While I’m taking care of the problem, I meet Jay. He has just completed a short tour of the area on his fat bike and provides local expertise: teddy-bear cholla cactus spines are very bad for bike tires. He offers to hide his beer while I take his portrait but I ask him to keep it real.
The desert is arid but in December, daytime temperatures are mild. There is no shortage of plant and animal life all around me. I marvel at the adaptations they have all made to survive in this harsh climate.
I spend a quiet, restful night in the desert just off a side road between Vidal Junction and 29 Palms. The sky is filled with stars and it’s quieter than it has been on any night during the whole trip.
The following day, my planned 2000’ ascent and 90 miles to my reserved campsite in Joshua Tree National Park turns out to be a 5000’ ascent which I cannot manage. The winter solstice is two weeks away and I’m simply not getting enough solar assist. I present my case to the park ranger at a closer campground and he lets me spend the night in a campsite which they keep in reserve for hard luck cases like mine.
The night does not go well. The prize for worst burrito of the trip goes to the one I got in 29 Palms: ten trips to the pit toilet in the early morning hours at the dry campsite in Joshua Tree National Park and then five or six more at the motel where I check in to recover.
Riding on, I finally spot my first goat head thorn in the California desert, coming out of Yucca Valley. It’s clinging to my trailer tire but doesn’t appear to have pierced it. Gradually and inevitably, the high desert landscape turns into the dry California savanna that I’m more familiar with it. There’s no obvious point when it happens.
In Temecula, an ultralight hiking enthusiast hosts me for two nights while I continue to recover from food poisoning and wait out the rain before making a final push for my winter pit stop in San Diego.
The first 5400 miles (8700 km) serve their purpose as a “shakedown cruise.” For the most part, the equipment and rider performed well under demanding conditions.
I take a six month break to wait out the winter and to work on my 100+ item To Do list: improved crosswind performance for the trailer, windproof kickstand, new drivetrain components, lower gearing, bigger tires with custom 3D printed fenders, repair failed solar panel, rework electrical wiring, modify heated insoles and gloves to run on the bike’s electrical system, improved electric immersion heater for cooking, etc.