Bicycle Touring Through Joshua Tree Nat’l Park: Part I

WHY am I doing this to myself?

That was the big question on Wednesday night as I did probably *the* stupidest thing I’ve ever done thus far. Kids, since I am not a trained stunt double, do not do this yourself. Do NOT bike on a highway at night. You’re wondering how this came to pass…

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Airport janitors love me

It’s about 10:45am on Wednesday morning in the Palm Springs International Airport. My bike is finally all together and loaded up. Shawn, an airport janitor, was kind enough to give me two bottles of water and take the bike box to recycling for me. Being a good-looking woman has once again worked in my favor and I am super grateful for his kindness. The whole time I sat there in the airport fiddling with the bike, people would ask me what I was doing. All older people. I like to think their blessings and well wishes helped to keep me safe that night.

As I roll out of the airport, the to do list in my head says I shouldn’t waste time.

It's a warm weather dream come true!

It’s a warm weather dream come true!

First stop is Palm Springs Cyclery. The ride there is wonderful in the 80 degree weather and sunshine. It gives me a good feel for what I’m going to be biking in all day, which makes me excited to get started. The guys at the shop are helpful with giving me a little info about biking to the park. It solidifies my decision to go the southern route. I pick up some Stinger gummy packs and they tell me the best route to get to Trader Joe’s. It’s about 11:30am as I begin peddling to stop number two.

It’s freaking hot but I’m still loving it.

One large bottle of water, a gummy pack, and 14.5 miles later I’m at Trader Joe’s. There is nothing like riding a bunch of miles before picking up food and water to drive the point home of being cautious of what I buy. My legs feel the weight of my panniers already and I start feeling a little nervous. I shake it off because there’s no turning back now. Besides food and water, I also buy a sandwich. This is the last meal I’m going to have for about the next week. I bought cherry tomatoes, 3 avocados, bananas, and cheese but everything else was either a nut, beef jerky, or dried fruit.

This idea came from Neil (the new bf) and his stories of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this past summer. In order to go as light as possible, not having a stove, pans, and dishes makes a difference. It also means there’s no wasting time cooking or cleaning. All I needed was a knife which is standard for my camping trips anyway.

After repacking everything so the food is happy, eating lunch and letting my Dad know what route I’m taking and my time-table, it’s time to get on the road. It’s now a bit after 2pm. Again, I get a little nervous because the daylight is quickly disappearing and there are a lot of miles between me and my campsite. About 57 miles. Oh boy. It might take me 5 hours…maybe…

I check Google maps for my route and it gives me what looks like a road that runs parallel to Interstate 10. Score! Happy to not have to deal with huge trucks ripping past me settles my nerves a bit. I still might be biking after dark but that is what happens when I dilly-dally. The next 3 hours are the set up for disaster.

This is where the fun starts.

I’m following the directions and they take me to an industrial area of town. Not a problem but the traffic is such that I have to hop onto the sidewalk. That’s when I hear it. The sound of something puncturing my tire. Poo sticks, it’s a goathead. I pull it out and hear the air escaping my tire above all the traffic. I’m hoping that maybe it isn’t so bad.

About a quarter of a mile later, all the gear is off the bike, it’s upside down and I’m taking the back wheel off to repair the flat. This whole scene takes about 30 minutes from unloading, repair, and re-loading the bike. Thirty minutes of sunshine lost. I get a little more nervous as my legs start peddling again but it wears off as the miles start going by.

Finally, I’m out of the city limits and am trying to find this turn that google maps wants me to take. That little nervous feeling comes back. I take a turn that looks like the right one. Here we go with gaining elevation. Something doesn’t feel right but I keep peddling. About 3 miles down the road, it turns into dirt instead of pavement.

No…that can’t be.

Oh no.

I am forced to turn around and go back. This just became an 8 mile detour with decent elevation gain. My legs are tired and my spirit is starting to crack a little. I stop at a gas station that is right next to the on-ramp for I-10. It’s about 5:00pm. There’s maybe about an hour of sunlight left and about 30 miles, I think. Now is not the time to sit around and ponder what to do but I do need to make a decision that isn’t going to kill me.

Thirty miles.

I can do that in maybe 3 hours, right? I’ve gone from Boulder to Longmont in 45 minutes and that was about 17 miles. Yeah, I have extra weight and it’s all uphill, but I can do this. I got this one.

The view would have been great if it wasn't for the 18 wheelers.

The view would have been great if it wasn’t for the 18 wheelers.

I don’t think uphill is a good word for that section of road. It makes it sound easy. There are signs that tell truckers to turn off their air-conditioning while going uphill so they don’t over heat. Don’t get me wrong, the view of the valley at night is beautiful. I just wished that 8 trucks wouldn’t go by every 10 minutes. At least the shoulder was about 5 feet wide the whole way and there were enough emergency call boxes to make nice resting areas that felt kinda safe. Just kinda.

It’s not easy to keep going when all you see are the tail lights of vehicles going up. Yet once again, I knew there was no turning back to find a hotel for the night. The distance I had gone on the highway put me just past half way there. The only option was to keep going.

I wanted to just camp out behind the sign.

I wanted to just camp out behind the sign.

It’s about 9:30pm. I’m finally off the highway and on the road that goes into the park. It’s pitch black because the moon hasn’t come up yet. I let Neil know I’m safely at the park entrance but I have 8 more miles until the camping area. I don’t know if my legs can do it especially when all I see is the road going up. So tired of hills. I take a break to pee because that hasn’t happened since leaving the airport at 9:30am. Instead of getting back on the bike because my butt and my legs hurt, I decide to walk. It felt good to use my body a different way. With all my bike lights on and my headlamp, I start my march that takes me out of cell range.

It’s deathly quiet with the exception of the wind. I start singing songs from when I was in high school with Lisa. We’d always be walking around at night and singing together made the dark feel not so scary. I was doing well until…what was that? The strange feeling like I’m being watched comes over me. Ah poop. As I turn to look behind me, my head lamp catches 4 pairs of eyes closer to the ground than mine and about 30-50 feet back.

This is not a good sign…

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