Part IV: Another Hill Workout at Joshua Tree National Park

The Cholla Cactus. To touch  or not to touch?

The Cholla Cactus. To touch or not to touch?

Zero shade.

It’s almost noon.

Maybe this was bad planning.

But I left at 9:00am…

34 miles shouldn’t take this long.

Deja vu.

I’m trying to get a little bit of shade from the fence while I eat lunch and rest. It’s Friday, day three of my trip, which means I’m on the move to my next campsite at Jumbo Rocks. It’s blazing hot out. I’m wearing the long sleeve USA biking shirt I won in a raffle. I grok why cyclists wear this stuff but it still is one of the worst fashion statements ever.

If I didn’t die getting into the park, then this can’t possibly kill me. Right?

Two small panniers, a small backpack, and all this stuff. Did I buy too much food?

Two small panniers, a small backpack, and all this stuff. Did I buy too much food?

My tent had the soft glow of first light on it. I should start out early just in case. There’s another big ass hill I have to climb to get to the other side of the park but I only have 34 miles to go. Packing up all my gear takes me a little longer than expected due to changing up my original configuration. No more heavy water bottles in my hip pack, only the camel back, food for the afternoon, and cameras.

Regardless of my new packing job, the back tire has gone flat over night. Do I change out the tube? I already fixed this one on the first day, so it should have been good. Take the wheel off…check the tube…no air is escaping it. Huh. Perhaps I’ll just keep checking it as I go.

Bike is packed with everything for the second time and I’m off on my second long haul of the trip. The ranger station just flipped the “open” sign so it’s 9:00am. The weather is absolutely perfect for biking. A little nip to the air but the sun is nice and warm. Being on my bike again feels great even though my legs are still struggling a bit. They eventually stop complaining and find their groove again.

It’s weird…I can see the road going up ahead of me but it feels like I’m biking down hill. Oh well. It’s beautiful out here! One of my friends said the rocks were alive. From what I can see and feel, I believe him. Their presence pressed on mine, feeling like two goliaths meeting and I was in the middle. I started thinking that they chose to be where they were instead of what geology says. I believed that if I sat long enough, they would start talking to me.

No, I didn’t have any drugs on me. I didn’t even have beer. I definitely wasn’t delusional anymore from my first day.

That’s how alive the rocks in Joshua Tree feel.

See those mountains? I'm headed from them in the Pinto Basin.

See those mountains? I’m headed from them in the Pinto Basin.

Photos can not capture the beauty of the desert. It is raw and unyielding. It beats you down with heat and sun mercilessly. But while you’re trying to hide from the sun under a boulder or next to a fence, it shows you the budding red on the ocotillo or two small lizards that think your backpack and you are the best playground ever. The desert forces you to stop so you can see it’s beauty, otherwise, you miss it completely.

Stopping is what I did a lot of.

Especially after lunch. I had stopped at the Cholla Catcus Gardens (about mile 20 of 34 and at 2200 feet) around 11:00am for lunch and to rest a bit before tackling Wilson Canyon. The Pinto Basin had been a beautiful morning ride but it had taken me down to about 1760 feet and my next destination was at about 4400 feet.

Note to self for next desert tour: Bring an umbrella. Taking a much longer walk in the Cholla Cactus Garden would have been nice if I could have escaped the sun for a wee bit. I had heard that they glow at sunset, but at the end of this day, I would decide that it was a sight for when I return with a car. Hundreds of cacti waiting to make someone into a pin cushion beamed like white angels of death under the blistering sun.

At noon, I started my way up the last 14 miles. I had no idea it was 14 miles, nor that I was climbing 2200 feet of elevation in that one chunk through Wilson Canyon. Which was a good thing. Sometimes knowing what you’re up against is worse than being ignorant of it. Instead of counting the miles down and getting discouraged that I was going a turtle’s pace, I appreciated seeing the landscape or watching the cyclists out for their daily ride bomb the canyon (with a touch of envy of course). I would peddle anywhere from 100 meters to a quarter-mile, stop, drink water, rest for 10 minutes, eat a few nuts or dried fruit, and start again.

Elevation gain? What elevation gain?

Elevation gain? What elevation gain?

My stop by the White Tank Campground was one of those moments that made me think, “Yep…there are definitely strange people out there”. I was alone at a point of interest, resting next to a rock and getting a touch of shade when a guy walks up to me out of nowhere and starts talking to me asking where I was headed and if I was alone. My Spidey sense was on red alert: I’m camping at Hidden Valley (lie). Friends are meeting me tomorrow to tour the park (lie). Not sure which way we’re biking tomorrow (lie). Only here for a couple of days (lie). As we’re talking, I starting nonchalantly rifling through my pack, pulling out a bag of nuts but secretly palming my pocket knife. As much as I believe the world has more good than bad people, I’m not stupid. Maybe he sensed me being slightly stand-offish or it was the presence of another car pulling up but he decided to continue on his way. I noticed his car and license plate, making a mental note of it just in case I saw it too frequently the rest of my trip. He came back for a second and tossed me an orange. Normally, I’d be okay with it, but the top had been plucked off. Hmmm….I think this is turning into a snack for a chipmunk. Stranger danger, kids. Always be aware.

Anyhoots, that was life from noon until 5:00pm when I arrived at the Jumbo Rocks Campground to find the camp sign being flipped to “full”. The next campground was about 6 miles away, I had no clue what the road ahead had in store, or even if that campsite was full too. So I did what made sense. I went in regardless and looked at the campsite tags. Fortunately, there were open sites, the last inhabitants having just left that day.

Legs still wobbly, I decided doing a little walk about the rocks would do my muscles some good and give my brain a little candy by watching the sunset on top of these stone beings.

It was similar to the movie City of Angels, where the angels would all congregate and watch the sunset. Most of the higher rocks had people siting atop them, watching the last rays of the day fade into shades of pink, purple, and night.

Just as the campfires started to roar with laughter and stories, the last rays of my consciousness faded into dreams.

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” ~ Crowfoot quote

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” ~ Crowfoot quote



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