Part VIII: The Way Back Home

I remember flying through the valley but it’s more lush. Flowers that I hadn’t seen on this trip were blooming. The bushes looked green instead of brown. It was still desert, but different. I dip into what looks like the Pinto Basin and then hug the mountains until I see him. He holds out his arm and I settle myself on it. He speaks kindly to me in a language I’ve never heard but oddly I understand. His face is a mix of Mayan and some other Native American. We’ve been here before…

Often I dream of flying. I’m usually a very large hawk or an owl in these dreams and meeting up with an Indian man. I’m never quite sure if he’s a medicine man but I always feel like we’re looking for something.

Waking from this dream, I notice the sky not being so dark. It’s probably about 6:00am. The dream weighs heavy on my mind and I lay there so I can commit it to memory. I dread climbing out of my cozy down sleeping bag, knowing what I must do today.

Leave paradise.

Sunrise over my camp.

Sunrise over my camp.

Breakfast, pack, check the tires, load the bike.

My heart hangs heavy as I start my journey back to Palm Springs. The only motivations for biking a decent speed are the possibility of a hamburger and definitely a shower, though it isn’t that motivating. This road is familiar to me since I had biked it on Sunday to grab supplies. Once I get out of the town of Joshua Tree, it’s unknown territory amidst cars and large trucks. So what do I do? I lollygag through the rest of the park.

 

Do I really have to leave?

Do I really have to leave?

That thing is HUGE, like bigger than my hand huge.

That thing is HUGE, like bigger than my hand huge.

You'll always be in my heart, Joshua Tree. You were my first.

You’ll always be in my heart, Joshua Tree. You were my first.

After having biked I-10 at night, I was hopeful that route 62 wouldn’t be worse.

I started to wish I had taken I-10 again.

Route 62 has a lot of local traffic: cars, small trucks, the occasional semi. The down side is that on many parts of the road there is very little shoulder and it’s in super crappy condition. The super downside is the areas you want a shoulder, there is NONE. For example going down all the hills…there is no shoulder, there is a super strong head/side wind, and it’s curvy with concrete dividers. Even if you hopped the divider to get to what could be a safe spot, there’s no land to step on. It’s pretty much a cliff.

I had the fear of death on I-10 but at least there was a 5 foot shoulder the whole way. Route 62 scared the living bee-jeebus out of me.

When you crest the hill, the shoulder magically disappears as you gain light speed in a head wind.

When you crest the hill, the shoulder magically disappears as you gain light speed in a head wind.

Normally, I would take a food/water break. I took “get my nerve back up” breaks instead.

With the worst of route 62 behind me, I found myself looking at Palm Springs and the massive wind farms that preside to the North of the city. Almost there! Wait…what’s that sound…

With the little bit of shoulder I had and being careful to keep one eye on traffic, I start searching my bike for a strange whirring sound. Turns out, I lost a screw on the bottom arm of the bike rack so the rack itself was resting on my back tire. Fortunately, I had brought with me the extra screws for my clipless sneakers. It was a perfect fit. No MacGyvering it with duct tape and zip ties!

I exited Rote 62 onto Pierson Blvd, then took North Indian Canyon Drive all the way into the heart of Palm Springs. Civilization again. It was much hotter down here than in Joshua Tree. Exhausted, hot, and smelling horrendous, I arrived at my Air BnB hosts’ house. After dropping off my stuff, I hit the local bike shop to pack my baby up and get her shipped back home to Denver. With that done, I can relax.

Thank you to the bike dudes at Palm Springs Cyclery for all your help!

Thank you to the bike dudes at Palm Springs Cyclery for all your help!

Shower then food.

It was the weirdest thing. Even though I had a good burger, it just wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be. I found myself wanting a salad instead. I guess that is what happens when you eat nuts and fruit for a week straight.

I can’t remember what time I fell asleep. I just remember laying on the bed, which was so comfortable it became uncomfortable, thinking, “How the heck do I assimilate back into my normal life after this? Is it even possible?”

Not really.

Part VII: The Hidden Valley and Rock Climbers

I might have to put my fear of spiders in a temporary box so I can learn how to rock climb.

Definitely envious.

The sun is starting to set and there’s still tons of climbers all over this little valley finding routes up small rock behemoths.

At one part of my life, I was learning how to climb but my chosen profession soon made it clear that destroying my hands was not acceptable. Sometimes I listen to what “they” have to say too much. I should have just done it. Next lifetime…

It’s Monday and I took the day nice and easy. Tomorrow I’ll be making my way back to Palm Springs, another 60+ mile day. Sleeping in until 8:00am felt weird. This is going to be one of the last times I pack all this gear up. I’ve finally got it down to a science. It makes me sad to think this is my last day in Joshua Tree but trips like this wouldn’t be as awesome if they went on forever. The realization of impermanence spawns awe and gratitude, even if only for a moment.

See you later Jumbo Rocks…I’m off to Hidden Valley!

The air is still crisp at 9:00am which is a good indicator that it’s not going to be beaming ass hot like it has been. It’s a short 10 mile jaunt so I made a few stops along the way.

I wasn't fast enough to catch the guy climbing on the rock. He was like Spiderman!

I wasn’t fast enough to catch the guy climbing on the rock. He was like Spiderman!

Did you see Sick Sex? All I could think about was the line about steamed oysters.

Did you see Sick Sex? All I could think about was the line about steamed oysters.

 

Thank you Mr. Cyclist for taking the only photo of me on my bike!

Thank you Mr. Cyclist for taking the only photo of me with my bike!

After setting up camp, I decide to check out some of the local hiking at Barker Dam(1.3 mile loop) and The Hidden Valley Trail(1 mile loop). Both of these are easy strolling trails that are pretty flat and take you through some of the rock formations. Barker Dam was first on the list:

How do they always know where I am?

How do they always know where I am?

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Barker Dam. Weird how humans build stuff in the middle of nowhere.

Barker Dam. Weird how humans build stuff in the middle of nowhere.

This was my favorite spot. I think I sat here for 2 hours just thinking.

This was my favorite spot. I sat here for 2 hours just thinking.

Then I scooted off to the Hidden Valley:

I can climb a BURRITO?!?!

I can climb a BURRITO?!?!

Can you find the climbers?

Can you find the climbers?

Tree

Hidden valley

HiddenValley 2

 

After leaving the Hidden Valley Trail, I couldn’t help standing in awe of what Mother Nature had put before me. It took 4.54 billion years for this moment to happen on the Earth. It’s taken 38 years for me to be standing in this spot. I am so very, very tiny in this universe. We all are.

Use your imagination...dinosaurs traipsing across the valley.

Use your imagination…dinosaurs traipsing across the valley.

So why do we think our problems are so huge? Why do we continually war over things that do not matter? How can the human race be so arrogant and almighty and destroy this planet by our own greed and ignorance? How the hell do we get the 7 billion people on this planet to step it up a notch on overall enlightenment? Are we doomed like the dinosaurs, to eventual extinction via the universe/mother nature squashing us or by our own hand? How can humans NOT want to protect something so amazing as what I’m looking at? Billions of years, boiled down to one moment, a moment that is no more than a grain of sand out of all the sand on the planet. A planet that will outlive us, more than likely, in a universe that will go on long after humans and the Earth are gone.

Wouldn’t it be bad ass if dinosaurs were running around here?

For the first time in decades, I wished I had a tab of acid or some mushrooms so I could sit here for a few hours in undisturbed awe as the sun set and the stars came out. Don’t get me wrong, it’s surreal enough on its own, but sometimes the extra little kick is nice.

The campsite felt so tiny when I returned. Thoughts of my return to so-called civilization distracted and saddened me as I ate my last dinner of avocado, cheese, nuts, and a tomato. Tomorrow is a big day. Sixty plus miles back to Palm Springs.

Sleep did not find me easily that night.

 

Part VI: The 46 Mile Grocery Trip

Do you think I could get another pin into Denver?

Do you think I could get another pin into Denver?

Sunday.

It’s said that God rested on this day. He may be resting, but I’m definitely not.

As I sit in the Park Rock Cafe and charge my phone and GoPro, it slowly dawns on me there are no grocery stores in the town of Joshua Tree with the lonely exception of an organic store. The closest is about 5 miles. The 23-ish miles I just rode to get into town weren’t so bad considering they were mostly downhill. An extra 10 miles and then back uphill to Jumbo Rocks does not sound like fun times.

Note: The signs in the park at Jumbo Rocks says it’s 23 miles to the town. The question once I hit the park entrance was, where does the town begin? Did the town start at the park boundary or some other odd spot on the road? And how many extra miles from the park entrance (if it was 23 to it) would I need to go to find a grocery store? As it turns out, it’s 23 miles to get to the information center right smack dab in the middle of town and next to route 62. Be aware that Map My Ride’s initial route to town takes you on Queen Valley Road which turns into dirt/gravel from pavement, though it knocks off 3 miles. 

You may be asking yourself, why the hell did she leave the park and go into town? Didn’t she pack enough?

Well, yes and no.

What I did not anticipate was the energy being sucked out of my devices from the cold nights (I started sticking them in my sleeping bag at night). However, I had planned on Sunday being grocery/water fetching day. I knew I would only be able to carry so much water so why waste calories trucking more food and water around when I could just hop into town.

If I had known what my first day biking was going to have been, I probably would have loaded up. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t. It was the most relaxed biking day I had the whole trip. Easy cruise into town with one pannier and backpack and hit the coffee shop, the park’s gift shop and organic store (expensive but organic). In addition, I found the post office (I needed stamps for postcards. I don’t buy chintzy souvenir crap. It’s wasted beer money.), the alcoholics’ liquor store, and an overpriced hi-uppie coffee shop.

Hi-uppie: noun. a person that is a combination of hippie and yuppie. They have both sensibilities which create the most annoying mishmash of patchouli/sandalwood, tree-hugging laid-backness with high irritability if their $9 coffee order doesn’t come out exactly the way they think it should as they drive off in a brand new, macked out Touareg with Save the Earth and jam band stickers on the bumper. 

Swiss cheese, a couple of avocados, bananas, and pears, a tomato, an orange, dried papaya, strawberries, two bottles of organic beer, and a second coffee in my system later, I’m headed back up to the park. I figure stocking up on water at the entrance is the better idea since the hill into town looked like it was the worst part of this upcoming 23 miles.

That was the best decision I had made besides waiting until 1:00pm to get moving again.

The trek from town to the park entrance kinda sucks. It’s steep-ish rolling hills all the way (though it looks like one big hill). The upside was bumping into two other cyclists on their way back to Jumbo Rocks that had come into town for brunch. The lady was living in Estes Park, CO, while the gentleman was visiting her from Belgium. We chit-chatted most of the way and they invited me to stop by later that evening for dinner and relaxing by the campfire.

It's only about 5 miles from town to the West Entrance. Those 2 red hills are the worst parts. Especially when all you want to do is drink the beer in your pack.

It’s only about 5 miles from town to the West Entrance. Those 2 red hills are the worst parts. Especially when all you want to do is drink the beer in your pack.

Once into the park, the ride was so easy I started singing songs as I biked. The afternoon became cooler yet the sun was still strong and warm. The worst part of the day is 11:00am to 1:00pm. It’s just so horribly hot.

It’s 3:00pm and I’m back to my campsite. After a much needed nap, I take a bit of a walk around on the rocks again. The sun is fading to orange as a large group of spandex-clad cyclists go huffing up the road. I yell out to the stragglers, “Get it!! There’s cold beer at the end!!!” One sits up on his bike, shakes his hands in victory at the air, and with a huge smile on his face yells back, “YES!!!”

The benefit of traveling alone is meeting new people. As I walked the camp roads looking for the biking couple, I strike up conversation with an older couple out for an evening stroll. They’re snowbirds from Canada, as are many of the snowbirds in Joshua Tree and Southern California. According to them, Mexico is too far and it’s warm enough for them here. Huh. Go figure.

The biking couple had moved to another campsite, to which I had been redirected, to let a large group of older hippies all camp together. Apparently, this group comes to JTNP once a year to see each other and party like the good old days. I hope that I’m that kind of bad ass in my 60’s.

The campfire was just starting to roll. It was wonderful to have company for an evening, sharing stories over a glass of wine and pasta. I never appreciated pasta as much as I did that night. They shared stories of how they met doing a trans-American bicycle tour, how small the touring community is (apparently there’s a pair of Portuguese twins and an Irishman that tour a lot), and some tips on touring. They were on a month-long road trip and biking wherever they ended up.

There’s always more good people out there than bad.

I still sleep with my knife close by, just in case. I’m a cute girl… can you blame me?

 

 

Part V: Ryan Mountain and Jumbo Rocks

This one's for you Duzer!

This one’s for you, Duzer!

I love biking in the morning.

The air is crisp as the sun slowly starts to warm me. It’s only 4 miles to Ryan Mountain from Jumbo Rocks Campground. Most people on this Saturday morning are still sleeping. It’s 7:00am and the sun is already making me feel toasty as I pedal. I have a lack of tolerance for crowds when I’m in nature which is why I’m already headed to Ryan Mountain.

Saturdays = crowds.

As I swing into the parking lot, there’s only two cars. Score! I strip off a layer of clothes, long johns and my thermal shirt, and replace the biking plates on my sneakers with the rubber bottom they came with. Yes, I’m weird enough to keep that because I like my stuff to stay nice even though I’m told it’s not necessary, on top of not wanting to sound like I’m tap dancing up the mountain.

Water: check. Nuts and fruit: check. Cameras: check. Excitement: check.

Even after the 34 miles I did yesterday, the old gams feel up to the challenge of the 2.8 mile loop. Wait…that’s it? And only 1000 feet of elevation gain? I guess it’ll be a nice warm up for any other hiking I do today. I couldn’t help but giggle when I read the information sign: The moderately strenuous hike takes about 2-3 hours. Does that include hanging out at the top?

I <3 signs.

Apparently, Mr. Cates never visited Colorado.

About 45 minutes later, I was at the top. That includes all the moments of me fooling around with cameras and taking pictures, admiring the scenery. I’m not a strong hiker back in Colorado, but apparently the drop in elevation has made me into Wonder Woman.

What I found at the top was breath-taking. The 360 almost made me weep. Maybe because it was so starkly beautiful. Maybe it was the odd congruence of this single moment representing my whole life and this spiritual trip that I was biking. Maybe it was the absolute surrealness of the landscape and my imagination saying that dinosaurs should be seen traipsing across the valley.

I vote for option D: all of the above.

Starting on the trail!

Starting on the trail!

I'm a sucker for a cool looking tree.

I’m a sucker for a cool looking tree.

Kinda reminded me of the Flatirons in Boulder.

Kinda reminded me of the Flatirons in Boulder.

At the top! Just a wee bit higher than Denver.

At the top! Just a wee bit higher than Denver.

To the northwest and Hidden Valley.

To the north and west and Hidden Valley, where I was eventually heading.

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To the south and east and Jumbo Rocks, where I had come from.

If you are ever in Joshua Tree National Park, make Ryan Mountain the one trail you definitely hike. Go in the morning. Besides it being beaming ass hot already at 10:00am (that’s when I started my descent) you also beat the crowds. There were tons of people on their way up as I bombed back down the mountain in 30 minutes. Make sure you wear decent sneakers. There’s a lot of gravel/sand on the trail and covering large rock steps. I saw a few people almost go down due to slipping.  Also, the early morning gives you a bit of shade. Once it hits noon, there is zero shade on that mountain. There’s also a false summit so keep hiking until you see the summit marker.

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch some of the big horn sheep hanging out. I did. I heard a pair of Frenchmen behind me (not part of the wildlife in JTNP) so I called them down to where I was and pointed out the 4 sheep just chilling in the morning shade near the summit. After talking with them, my one idea about the French was solidified. If you’re from anyplace in France except Paris, they ask you what you think of the French. The correct answer is: I like the French but Parisians are snobby.

The ride back to Jumbo Rocks was much easier than I was expecting. It was pretty much downhill to Ryan Mountain but that grade wasn’t grueling to get back up. There’s just this one part of the road that looked like I was going uphill yet I was gaining speed without peddling. You’ll find a bunch of spots like that throughout Joshua Tree. It’s the weirdest thing ever and just adds to the mystery of the place.

Back at the batcave, most of the campers were out for the day by 11:00am. Lunch, a quick little nap, and I was ready to explore the rocks. I wore flips flops (should have worn sneakers but it was way too hot) and headed off to see what this Skull Rock was all about.

No lie. It does look like a skull.

There was a dad trying to get one of his kids to be a booger. Good parenting skills.

There was a dad trying to get one of his kids to be a booger. Good parenting skills.

Remember how I had said that the rocks were alive? Well, they are. The rocks in different areas feel a different sort of alive. The ones to the south in Cottonwood and in the Pinto Basin have a quiet giant feel. The ones at Jumbo Rocks practically scream out to you “Come play on me!!!”. Hidden Valley rocks are majestic yet welcoming. And the ones closer to the West Entrance have a very chill hangout feel, kinda like they smoked a lot of pot and are telling each other jokes.

I spent an afternoon/evening exploring Jumbo Rocks and didn’t even see a quarter of what was there. It’s a massive rock labyrinth. Since I was alone and didn’t want to pull an Aron Ralston, I carefully bounded over and around the rocks, finding neat little niches, flowers just blooming, and large happy cacti. Once in a while I would take a break and soak up the heat from the rocks or watch some rock climbers getting it.

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For all the Utica, NY peeps, imagine a statue of the Virgin Mary in the cove…

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As I returned to my camp, the next door neighbors invited me to join their fire for some smores. Hells yes! We spent a pleasant evening getting to know each other. They were a father/daughter combo out on an adventure from Seattle while she took a semester off college. With a belly full of marshmallows, I bade them good night and safe journeys (they were leaving in the morning). I drifted off to sleep with thoughts of my next expedition.

My legs might hate me again tomorrow night…

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

 

 

Part III: The Lost Day at Joshua Tree National Park

Maybe I slept so well all day due to the zen raking someone had done.

Maybe I slept so well all day due to the zen raking someone had done.

It’s so bright.

I must be dead.

Oh wait…there’s a drool puddle.

Does that mean I went to hell?

As my eyes adjust to the sun lighting my tent up, my body yells profanities in protest of even moving an inch. I awoke in the same position as I had fallen asleep. Screw the rangers. I’m not getting up until I have to.

When we last left our heroine, she had set her tent up in the picnic area and fallen asleep around 11:38pm.

Time was irrelevant. All I knew was my body hurt like nothing I had known before. When I say body, I mean my whole body, toes to top. I fell in and out of sleep a bunch of times until I finally decided that I should go pee. Putting my sneakers on when I’m trashed is much easier than it was that morning. Nothing wanted to work. I wondered if babies learning how to walk felt the way I did those first few steps.

Once I gathered myself a bit, the hard decision of packing it all up and searching out the actual campground was made. I sat on my packed up bike for about 20 minutes debating how much I had in my legs and if it was enough. As it turned out, the campground entrance was about 300 feet from where I was. Doh…

The campsite I picked was right across from an older couple that were also bike touring. They had been on the road since last June and biked from Maine. Since the weather wasn’t warm enough yet to head back, they were just burning some time in the lower parts of California. Their plan was to eventually head north and cut across Utah so they could visit Salt Lake City. They asked what the road was like coming in (they were leaving that way) and wished me well with, “Be careful. There’s not a lot of us out there touring.”

After setting up my tent, I go against every muscular fiber in my body and head to the ranger station to check in. Why am I abusing myself like this? I could have just paid for my campsite and then tomorrow when I’m on my way to the rest of the park, stop in and get my park pass. NOOOOooooo…I just have to do what’s right. My body hates me. It really does.

I peddled all the way there and back (about 2/3 mile) in the absolute lowest gear I had. My legs almost didn’t make it back to the campsite. The promise of sleeping for the rest of the day was the only motivation.

Which is all I did that day besides eat, drink water, and get up twice. One trip to pee and the other to pee and brush my teeth. The latter was around 8pm but it was worth every achy step.

As I stood outside the bathroom, brushing my teeth and staring at the night sky, a big, bold shooting star goes streaking across the darkness. It wasn’t one of those quick flash ones. It went slow and had a sparkly trail. I took this beautiful occurrence as a good omen for the rest of my trip.

It better be a good omen.

I’m going back to sleep.

Part II: Bicycle Touring Through Joshua Tree National Park

Thirty-seven Year Old Woman Gets Eaten By Coyotes While Bicycle Touring

Don't pee near signs at night. The wildlife will track you down.

They need to add: Don’t pee near signs at night. The wildlife will track you down.

At the very least, I would be going back to nature. It wasn’t really the way I thought or hoped my existence would end. Much better than getting hit by a bus or accidentally shot while hiking. Though it’s probably quite painful, it seems a much more honorable way to die. I think about these things. To die because of becoming part of the food chain or massive heart attack at a ripe old fart of an age sounds good to me.

According to the police report, she seemed to put up a decent fight and took out 2 of the coyotes with her pocket knife but apparently they overwhelmed her. She probably did not have the strength after biking from Palm Springs. 

The only thoughts in my head were:

  1. Oh fuck. I’m way too tired for this.
  2. My friend’s text to me earlier that day saying “have a good death”

Four sets of eyes stared back at me as they crept a little closer. My pocket knife was open and ready for action as I kept walking with the bicycle. Maybe they smell the beef jerky? Oh wait, I peed by that sign…sorry, I didn’t mean to mark your territory. Just passing through, I promise.

I finally stop walking after a quarter-mile and stand with the bike to my back. If an attack from behind happens, it might give me a little protection, maybe even confuse the attacker but I am not walking the whole way being tailed by this bunch. Screw that. I’m going to fight tooth and nail and take some of them out with me.

Three of them stay back about 50 feet while one trots closer to me, all the time hiding in the bushes on the side of the road. Those eyes get about 20 feet away from me and I start yelling at it, which does nothing but get my adrenaline pumping even more. Oddly, I’m not even scared. I’m too tired to be scared. It skirts from one bush to another and I finally get a good look at my Grim Reaper.

It’s a fox.

A big, beautiful, bushy tail waves at me while it checks me out from behind a leafless bush.

“Holy crap. You’re just a family of foxes. Okay, I don’t care if you tail me any more but, damn, you freaked me the fuck out. Don’t do that.”

Talking to the foxes made me realize I was so exhausted I was starting to lose it mentally. Keep it together, T. There’s not much farther to go. Right…

The rest of the way I kept looking behind me. All those horror movies that I never should have watched are trying to crowd my mind and freak me out. The nice part about being absolutely exhausted is I stopped caring. That’s when all the really mind-blowing enlightenment happens. When you are stripped of your ego and the civilized world is the moment you are actually alive. The moment when you are fully human. You are raw in each moment, aware in a way that we don’t experience everyday. It’s hard to hold onto. I think I understand why people do “extreme” sports like RAAM or running the Leadville 100. It’s not the so-called runner’s high that makes it addictive because at that level the high runs out pretty fast. It’s what happens to the inside of you when there’s nothing left and you keep going.

I had no clue how close I was to the campsites when I finally crested that incline. The road into the park, just like the highway, kept going up. I stopped for a moment to rest since it looked as though the road was going downhill. The moon had come over the mountains at the same time. Off in the distance, coyotes start howling and yipping.

Great. Just what I needed.

Does this motivate me to start moving? Nope. They can eat me for all I care at this moment. That moon was stunning and I’m just going to enjoy it.

I hop on my trusty steed and coast down the road until I see a sign for the ranger station. Woo hoo! Following that is the camping sign. As I take the turn for the camping area, the road starts to go up again. I have no idea how close the sites are and my legs are giving me the final “eff off”. The executive decision is made to set up my tent in the picnic area. I’ll move when either I wake up or the rangers wake me up. At least there’s other people around here somewhere.

I crawl into my sleeping bag with my knife still out. You know, just in case those coyotes come after the beef jerky packed in the pannier in my tent. My phone says it’s 11:38pm.

That was by far the longest day of my life. Eighty-two miles long.