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 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.

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…