As always, a journey of many steps starts with one... Having only returned from a wonderful 6 weeks in Cape Town, we had a week at home before setting off again. Travel from Perth via Singapore to San Francisco was pretty uneventful. We had been worried about the "once in a generation storm" which has been dumping a few feet of snow over Callifornia (and wherever else it sets foot) and having arrived now this may result in a change of plans. We will wait and see.
We arrived in San Francisco 07:20 and clearing the US Border was pretty straightforward with our brand new B1/B2 visas. Only stumbling block was the border official who did not seem to think we could stay longer than 6 months, however as we only had to be assessed for travel until we enter Canada end of June this was not an issue. The visa is multiple entry so I guess we will be assessed again when we re-enter the States via Alaska. He did not ask any other questions beyond whether we are retired i.e. means of support etc. San Francisco Airport does offer an area at the G gate carpark for bike assembly, complete with fairly dodgy but workable Park bikestand which was very useful. We had our first glimpses of the surrounding hills and it was cold but clear. After getting the bikes together and loaded up, we headed off a few hundred metres to the BART (metro) to get the train to the Bay. The payment system for both the train and the ferry is the Clipper card which you just pre-load money on via your credit card and add to your Google wallet. On the train we met our first Americans, a vegetarian Texan and his wife who probably weren't typical.
We got off the train at Embarcadero station and had to take a couple of tiny lifts to get to the street which were a little tricky for laden bikes! Both had lift attendants sitting in them which left even less space, however they were both pretty friendly. Another short walk to the ferry terminal we had a 90 min wait for the 13:50 ferry and so we got burgers and fries for lunch at the bustling food market. The area is clearly a popular spot for locals and tourists. It was a clear and crisp day quite beautiful. The ferry across the Bay to Vallejo was really pretty and we are pleased that we chose to stay out here. We had views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Then a 4 km ride to our motel. Long enough for both of us! There's a grocery store right next door to our motel however it did not inspire much shopping beyond rice crispies and milk. After this, we crashed for a few hours, woke up and ate rice crispies around midnight and then slept until 10am!
Across the road from the motel is a small coffee hut so that was the first business of the day. It was a rainy day, cold. We are a little undecided about this weather. We set off tomorrow for Sacramento and then Folsom on Wednesday. There is a large storm forecast to hit on Friday which will bring more rain and by that tiime, lots of snow, and looks to be a bad situation for cycling in. It would be an option to take the train from north of Sacramento to Reno and clear the Sierra Nevada Mountains that way, but it is booked out for the foreseeable future and anyway, it would be a shame to miss the ride. We might just get to Folsom by Wednesday and try and wait it out.
We both had a strange night's sleep, or rather lack of sleep. We went to bed around 21:00 in order to be well rested for our first day, however Mike's brain was churning with images of snow storms and icy mountain passes so I woke around midnight to find him looking at alternate routes. Long story short, we will still cycle through Sacramento to Folsom but instead of crossing the Sierra's just south of Reno into Nevada, we will continue along our current side of the mountains until they run out around Bakersfield or maybe just before and we can head inland from there. Timewise it shouldn't make any difference, we should end up at the Grand Canyon on the same day as on our original route. Friday's storm now looks like it might run all the way to Saturday/Sunday and looms large, and will dump a lot of snow at Lake Tahoe and surrounding areas. It will likely close the roads for a lengthy period which is too high risk. We felt at least satisfied that we had a Plan B which does not involvee catching a train. The Californian Zephyr does run to Reno through Sacramento, however, it shows as fully booked and also as cancelled so we assume they are not runnig due to snow? After this neither of us got much sleep anyway, my mind primarily occupied with the steep little climb we had a few hundred metres down the road!
The sun rose as always and the day was perfectly clear, slight tailwind for us and not even very cold, allthough at 4 degrees maybe we are just aclimatising. We loaded up the bikes and were on our way before 08:00. The steep little climb nearly had us for breakfast! I don't know how I got up it! The bike felt like a dead weight. My chest burnt in the crisp morning air and took the rest of the day to recover. In only a couple of kilometres we joined the Columbus Parkway Cycle Path which is a dedicated cycle road adjacent to the freeway which takes you away from the city and into the rolling hills. There is even a scenic loookout on it with benches which only cyclists would access. Looks like a great camping spot - ha ha! The cycle route skirts the ridge and takes you through vineyards and cattle farms. There is a lot of riding through large suburbs with wide boulevards and houses of the white picket fence variety. It was obvious everywhere that spring is here with blossoming trees everywhere. The riding was good, every road had a bike lane, even though there were often three lanes for traffic. The roads were quiet and all drivers considerate.
After Fairfield you suddenly leave the hills behind and everything flattens out into your typical prairie scene. Row on row of fruit trees complete with bees brought in hives to work their magic. The ground everywhere is littered with petals. We made brilliant time in the second half of the day when the taiilwind picked up. It was great riding!
Davis is a very picturesque uniiversity town on the banks of a stream. Beautiful gardens and many students on bicycles. We arrived a our motel at 15:00 so were happy with our ride today (second motel in a row as there are no campsites within range!). As first day's go, it was a tall order, but the sun was out and the wind was at our backs which felt almost too good to be true.
As the motel provided a light breakfast at 07:00, we had a slightly later start. The ride into Sacramento was flawless, on dedicated cycle lanes all the way. The impressive American River came into view. We stoppped along the river area to eat lunch and met a couple of locals who were interested in our trip.We spent a bit of time in Sacramento as we went to REI to buy bear spray (required for when we enter bear country), and were also hoping an Amazon order would arrive. Mike decided not to replace his Brooks C17 saddle prior to leaving home even though he had bought a replacement after the Australian cycle tour. It was working fine riding to the beach in Perth, but from the first day in the USA it has a dreaded squeak, which was the reason for the replacement being bought so long ago. We gave up waiting at 14:30 and the package arrived about 2 hours later, so will be returned automatically. While we were waiting we met Toby who asked us some questions about our gear in light of an upcoming European cycle tour. It was nice to have a chat and also gain some local knowledge of the Sierra's. The ride to Folsom follows the American River and it is beautiful. All along a dedicated walking/cycling path. Very impressive facility and well-used by many cyclists. We also met Karen who was running and she was interested to hear all about our trip. People here are generally pretty curious and ask questions. It is funny when we say it is only our second day of the trip! We were again fortunate with the weather. The rain cleared around 08:00, which was just before we left Davis, and the sun was out for most of the day. We cycled in more summery clothing, shorts and shirts!
We had planned to camp at the Folsom Lake, but by 17:30 we still had 10km to ride so have camped by a clearing on the river. That is the "price" for spending so long in the city.
We had a beautiful, peaceful night camping on the river. So nice to be back in our tent. It is very snug inside. The morning was a little overcast but lovely and we rode a few kilometres before coming across a great picnic area where we could make breakfast. After this we were on the road into Folsom. We are really impressed that these massive 4- to 6-laned roads always have bike lanes and are easy to navigate. When turning left you always have an arrow so there is no racing across traffic. We made our way to Walmart for some food shopping and then onto another electronics store as Mike needed to buy an adaptor. Unfortunately his Igaro charging system that converts the dynamo energy into power to charge his phone and navigation system had failed pretty much on day 1. We were lucky that the agent for the product pointed us in the direction of a local supplier and we could order a new one to pick up at a campground in a few days. He needed the adaptor as part of the new one.
We had a massive 10% climb out of Folsom, our first of the trip which was pretty tough. Getting onto single lane roads we left the town begin. The road wound upwards with a pretty stream running alongside, however it was quite busy with not much space for cars to manouvre. We have now committed to a route south along the Sierra foothills as the road over the mountains will be unpassable with the storm hitting today. The wind and rain arrived together as forecast around 12.30 and by the time we reached the turnoff to Plymouth these were pretty dire. We abandoned our plan of getting to Indian Grinding Rock campground or the other camping areas south of Willowsprings as Plymouth had a campsite listed, but we weren't sure whether it was only an RV park. Anyway, the route that way was a little easier, but more importantly had a lot less traffic. I was taking strain on the little 8% climb and had to rest a couple of times and even eat.
We arrived in Plymouth and made for the little park to eat and figure stuff out. By this time it was pouring with rain and the headwind was very strong. We called the RV park but they did not take tents. I asked the lady at City Hall if we could just pitch our tent in the park and she said, "Not really alllowed, but if we don't know we don't know". We decided to press on about 25 km to another camping spot and look for a bushcamp on the way. We found one quite soon after setting off, high up above the road cutting which is always a perfect place to camp, but you just have to get the bikes up there. We pushed/dragged them each up on their own with Mike pushing and me pulling (Adeaide's practice in 2021 paid off). Then we pitched our tent on the flat part on top. The night was wild with extremely high winds and heavy rain, but the tent coped well. We should be able to set off around midday when the forecast improves slightly with the wind to drop. It will rain for the next 4 days or so. There are areas around here now on flood watch, mainly due to the heavy snow in the mountains being melted by this warmer rain system so we will have to be aware of this. There is a San Joaquin train which runs from Sacramento to Bakersfield (which is where the Sierra's end and where we will now cross east) which is an option if we need it.
The cows over the fence were quite pleased to see us this morning. This was supposed to be a bad weather day and it certainly was until about 10:00. The wind died down completely and the rain lessened too. We set off around 11:00 knowing that the weather would improve as the day wore on. It was a great ride today. We stopped in Lone for our coffee break, only 12 km down the road. We took the 124 road to Lone and out the other side. This road had an excellent shoulder. We are starting to see which are the good roads to cycle. After Lone we passed the Pardee Reservoir with an excellent view point over the water. The roads were quieter farm roads, the surface superb.
We had a few hills, nothing too long although often steep. The rain stayed away except for a drizzle now and then. We could have continued beyond Acorn, however we wanted just to have a relaxing evening, cook a warm meal and have a shower, our first in three nights. There is so much water everywhere now, often in small towns and villages it is just spilling over the roads and the rivers are getting high. There are a few campgrounds at Acorn, however we spotted a perfect bushcamp and pulled in there. I could collect a bucketful of water just running from the hillside for showering. We used our new Sea to Summit shower bag which comes with a really good shower nozzle so we feel clean and good now! We sat and ate and overlooked some farm fields where a herd of deer grazed and moved closer and closer to us, right up to the fence. The clouds cleared a little.
Good riding today, almost all on quieter roads except for a few parts where we did not have a choice. The J14 in particular was great. Mostly all uppy-downy now through farmland, cattle farms with many cows grazing. Very green pastures thanks to all the wet weather this year, dotted with many Angus cattle. Very beautiful scenery with flat hilltops. We stopped for lunch at a park outside Knight's Ferry and met a friendly crowd of blokes from Sonora. They stopped for a good chat as they were interested in our bikes and the trip. They introduced themselves and one was called Lou (I think), can't remember the other names! It ws good to get their opinions and advice on the roads to Oakhurst. Unfortunately we won't be able to avoid the J49 into Oakhurst!
It was a warm day, around 20 degC which seems unexpected. We thought we would have much colder weather. Lovely temperature, but a strong headwind now (all day). Bit of a climb out of the park and we soon hit Wilms Road which was again a lovely quiet road. There was a sign reading "Rough Road", well if this is the US version of a rough road, then they hold their roads to a very high standard! We are super impressed with the quality of all roads so far. Might just be California! Wilms Road brought us to an intersection with a gravel farm road which was great to ride on. A few km along it, Mike pulled up to a small rock overhang above the road. Perfect to fit our tent in and from our little vantage point we watched a big thunderstorm roll across east to the north of us. It is the perfect campsite!
It rained a lot overnight and we were pleased to have pitched the tent in the little cave as it stayed dry. We were woken around 22:00 by a passing truck/ute/farm vehicle. It drove by once and then a little later I could hear shots being fired, possibly hunting. When it drove by again it stopped, the engine running. Our tent lit up by headlights. Oh man, here we go. We did not poke our heads out. The man called out, "Are you guys camping here tonight?", he sounded okay, chatty. "Yeah," we replied. "Just the one night then? To stay out of the rain?" "Yeah, the rain," we replied. "Okay then," he said and drove off. I felt a little knotted up after this. Mike was okay with it, but it raised the question, "Are Americans okay with people travelling this way in their immediate vicinity? We are a little unsure. We aimed to reach Mariposa today, with the option of a bushcamp earlier if one presented. We have only to reach Oakhurst tomorrow and could split the distance. Mariposa was a 82 km ride. We started the day in the rain with 11 km to ride on the gravel road which was a little slow and sticky.
After this we took the La Grange Rd (J49) to Snelling. This was a great road. I guess it helped being Sunday and quieter. Also we congratulated ourselves on our 07:40 start, only to find out later in the day that daylight savings time started today so actually we lost an hour! After Snelling we joined the J16 and immediately stopped at a wonderful park, again many benches etc. A friendly young bloke spoke to us about our ride and later came over to where we sat having our coffee and brought us warm tamales which he had just bought at a food van in Snelling. These were our first tamales (wrapped in a corn husk, which being rookies we at first tried to eat, and then realised this was just a wrapper) and we really enjoyed them! So kind and generous! We turned off the J16 onto the Hornitos Road. We now found ourselves on a proper cycle touring road, no more uppy-downies like yesterday, just a solid climb, with some downhill. It was a spectacular ride, still through pastures with grazing cows and beautiful green grassy hills.
We see many different birds now, bright blue ones and brilliant yellow ones. As we climbed the high flowing rivers of the lowlands disappeared. It was a good ride. After Hortinos we turned off onto the Old Toll Road. The surface was a bit dogdy at first, and it was at its steepest at this part too, so slow going, but as it wound into the hills, the surface grew smoother and the incline less steep. Overall a 600 m climb to where we are now. The views of the surrounding hills and the water gushing in the valley below were amazing. We caught our first glimpses of snow on the Sierra Mountains as Yosemite is not far away and snowbound, with roads to and from closed indefinitely so high is the snow piled! It is amazing that it is still so warm!
A few kilometres further on we found a great spot over the fence from the river were the old road ran and we could easily find a well-hidden tent spot. We even walked down to the stream on the other side of the road as it cut down under the drain and had a proper, all-in river spa bath! What a treat! The thunder storm has just come through and it will soon be supper time. We are really pleased with the way our "Plan B" route has turned out!
A promising day weatherwise and remained so all day! We joined the Mariposa road at Mount Bullion and were pleased that we had taken the Old Toll Road as remaining on the main drag to Mariposa would have been longer anyway, as well as not a great road to ride with variable shoulder. We stopped for our morning coffee break at Mariposa and sat at a little historic minng information area. We felt a little appprehensive about the climb on the J49, not least as we had been warned against it. Choosing the correct route to ride is a big decision, especially when you are faced with a massive climb. However, the road was perfect really, three to four big climbs, the first was the steepest and they seemed to improve as they went. There were still snow patches on either side of the road and in the meadows alongside. The shoulder was very good, there were often rumble strips but they still left a wide enough place to ride. Generally the shoulder was 1 metre or wider. There were passing lanes for motorists at the steepest points which provides a bit more wriggle room for us.
We were now in the land of the conifer, so above the snowline and the surrounding hillsides were covered in snow. There were two massive descents, one warned at 7% and the other 9%, then all of a sudden there was only 6 kilometres to go to Oakhurst. After 1200m of climbing on a really good road, it went to pieces. The shoulder became cramped or non-existent, the motorists impatient and trucks and vans squeezed passed us at high speed. The trucks/utes are SO loud here. I don't know if they are supposed to sound so loud for a reason, but at home most of them would be classed as noise pollution. We hated these last few kilometres, which is a shame as the day had been so good. All we can say is that you would not want to cycle this road in the opposite direction. The steep descents, especially the 9% one, had very narrow shoulders.
Oakhurst has great shopping options with two major supermarkets where we stopped to stock up. It also has other fast food places like Taco Bell and many other places to eat. Donna welcomed us at the High Sierra RV Park and had our package waiting for us, a new Igaro charger for Mike. She was so helpful and assisted us generously. Since I had spoken to Kathy last Wednesday on our way to Sacramento about having the package delivered to the park, the flood had passed through the park and Donna showed us how all the tent sites had flooded out completely, all grass and even water pipes to individual sites washed away. A 200 year old pine tree uprooted and lying across the river. The stream is still flowing really strongly and another storm is expected tomorrow. Yosemite itself is closed to at least Sunday. Kathy and Donna assisted us with a plug so that we could charge our batteries and phones at our site, Kathy bringing it to us from home on her day off; lovely service with a smile! Then when we had trouble with the app to work the washng machines in the laundry, Donna lent us her washing card and basically gave us free use of the machine (the app wouldn't accept an international mobile no.)! It's a friendly place. Mike got his Igaro sorted out and installed for use so he will have full use of his dynamo again so that the GPS can remain charged while moving. Happy days! We will have a rest day in the campground tomorrow as heavy rain is forecast.
We had a rest day in the Oakhurst campground due to heavy rain and it was the right idea as the day dawned with blue skies today after raining non-stop for about 24 hours. We had good weather pretty much all day except for a couple of hours midday with heavy drizzle. First order of business was the climb out of Oakhurst on the 426 road. This was a difficult 400 m climb as it was quite heavily trafficked and super steep, getting to 11% grade at times. We took a few breaks along the way. Pretty soon we were up in the snow. We turned off it after about 75 min onto the 222 which took us down to Bass Lake in the Sierra Forest National Park which is a very popular summer resort area. We were amazed and excited by the snow which covered everything. The road was clear, but as we coasted down the hill the air hung with freezing mist or something, and it just felt like we had walked into a freezer. We took our coffee break at a picnic site, gingerly dragging our bikes through piles of snow. A first for them! It was beautiful, but we felt a little sad at how commercialised it all seemed. Of course there were no tourists about and it was all closed down, except for maintenance workers busy getting things ready for the season. You could imagine how busy it would be then! But a little too complicated for us!
We rode along the lake shore and then after a while left the park. A while later we stopped at a rest room at a picnic area and met Donny who is the manager of a campsite we were to pass further on, Smalley Cove. He was interested to talk to and offered us a free campspot for the night, but it was only 9 miles away. Our road took us through North Fork and then we took the Auberry Road turnoff with a massive 800 m descent into Smalley Cove. Here we started the second major climb of the day this one around 320 m altitude gain which took us around an hour. It was a fair climb and a nice windy road. We descended into Auberry and then the heavy drizzle started. After this it was relatively easy riding until the turn off to Pine Flat Lake where there was a steep climb. When we took the final turn off to the lake, the road was actually closed to thru traffic, but we proceeded as cyclists do. The road had had some flood damage and a few trees were down but all had been repaired. We expected this to be more of a conservation park, however it was still used as cattle pastures. There was plenty of water about with many roadside rivers as a result of the recent rains. We contuned beyond Trimmer and found a place to camp. It is not an easy area to bushcamp due to many signs saying "Private Property" and "Keep Out", even just on random trees. It ended up being a pretty full-on day as we left at 07:45 and arrived to set up camp at 17:00. Total ascent was 1500 m!
We decided to pack up and have breakfast a few kilometres down the road at a picnic site. There was a little overnight rain but the day looked clear. When we got to the picnic area it was only a roadside pulloff and not worth stopping at. We continued for about 15 km before reaching another camp area which was closed but which had a table we could use. We sat and contemplated today's route. It was around 72 km and almost all uphill into the mountains. It would be a total slog due to the steep grades and tomorrow we would just come all the way back downhilll. Mike found a route all along the flat through farmlands which in the end would deliver us to tomorrow night's campground, saving a day.. It would just mean a long day today. After all the climbing we have done lately, we felt that flat was good! We were also not quite sure if the high country route through the mountains would all be open.
We set off and passed the turn off to the high country we had planned to take. Our new route stretched out ahead through a wide river valley. The entire day was dominated by orange groves and swollen irrigation channels and rivers as the route followed one farm road after the next, intersecting at 90 degrees. We saw so many orange trees full of fruit, cherry trees, vines. We saw hordes of fruit pickers moving from tree to tree. There was so much water about, orchards were flooded and farmhands were pumping it out. It was so interesting for us to see all of this.
We stopped for lunch in the grounds of a university and stopped a few more times to rest. We filled up with water at a petrol station. The weather was perfect all day. At the 100 km mark, we turned up to Lake Kaweah, hoping for a bushcamp. The Horse Creek campsite was closed, a digital message flashed up the roadside. We passed two recreation areas but none were suitable to camp at. Horse Creek Campground, when we arrived, was washed away and in its place lay all kinds of flood debris, as if it had all collected in this section of the lake for some reason. There was a small day use area with toilet, tap and benches which we were happy to camp at. We rigged up our shower bag and I had had my shower when two rangers pulled up and got out of their car, inspecting the area. "It looks like your campsite has disappeared," shouted Mike. "Were you hoping to camp here?" replied one. " Yes," we said. "What are your other optons?" they asked. I pointed at the grass we were standing on in the day use area, "This is!". They looked at each other and one responded, "Seeing as how this here is an unforeseen situation, we will allow you to set up here for the night.". We said thank you and they moved on.
We backtracked from Horse Creek Campsite to the turn off to Lake Kaweah and fell back into a day of oranges, dogs and flooded roadsides. We were criss-crossing through the orchards again, on good roads. We love the views. The high mountains are now very clear to us and completely white in thick snow. We met a local woman who gave us some advice on the roads. They have had major flooding here, but the real damage seems further west than we will travel. We did have one road closure due to a washed out bridge where we had to turn around, but generally the flooding was avoidable. It looked as if we had arrived after much of it had subsided, leaving wide mud flats just off the road.
We had a small climb and descent into Porterville where everything was different. It is quite a busy town and seemingly most if not all the population appears Hispanic. We stopped at a grovery store which was an amazing experience, just seeing the variety of foods and the way they were presented! Amazing, mouth-watering and really, well, to us, Mexican! Obviously over the last two days we have been observing that the labour force in the fruit industry here is Hispanic and all the shoppers in the grocery store seemed to be. They even had a deli counter where they made fresh tortilla! So of course when shopping for "wraps" we were spoilt for choice! I bought a massive, flat, sweet, crunchy biscuit snack for after dinner. Delicious.
After shopping, the road trundled along through suburbia, taco vans and more dogs. Many of the dogs are actually chihuahua's, which did not stop them from chasing us on laden bikes down the road, nipping at our panniers!
We were happy with our 15:30 finish today, our first early one in a while. The campsite is huge, on the lake shores and pretty empty. The lake also shows massive floodwater influx with a wide, dark, muddy fringe of floating debris such as tree trunks and branches. It was great having another fine weather day, we expect rain by Sunday. From here we have to mount our assault on the Sierra's, finally and very overdue. We still have road closures on main roads over the mountains but have picked out a route which should see us in Arizona by Sunday, fingers crossed!
Super keen start to the day clear skies and no wind, not even overnight dew! It was still on the chilly side, most mornings are around 6 degrees C. We set off in fine spirits, this was the day we would climb what is left of the Sierra Mountains (still around 2000 m and put all this uncertainty behind us)! All went well until around 15 km when we ignored a road closure sign and ended up at a washed out bridge. We did this one more time, another washed out bridge The third time we obeyed instructions, and ended up crossing at a bridge on the road to Terra Bella. We were now 20 km out of our way. Nevertheless, we could not resist the lure of warm sugary sweetness and sat at a table outside a supermarket and had our morning tea. Terra Bella is a cute place, complete with roving DJ blaring traditional tunes from his brightly painted vintage car and a man walking about in trousers and a bra, his t-shirt worn as a scarf. A few more kilometres of barking dogs, orange trees and muddy orchards and we were finally out on the open road, now only cow pastures around us, the taunting, snow capped mountains drawing nearer.
As we neared our turn off at Fountain Springs, we saw the sign on the road - road to Johnsonville CLOSED, road to Ponderosa CLOSED. We could get to our planned campsite tonight, but no further. What to do? There is a diner at Fountain Springs and we went inside and chatted to a motorcyclist and also a bloke who pulled up in a 4WD who had made an almost unbelievable detour to get there. After much conversation one thing was clear, we were not getting over the mountains on this road or perhaps any other. Too muddy, too much snow and too many wash outs up there. It felt like the final straw. We had been living in the hope of being able to use this route. There is rain from tomorrow and that really impacts what happens at high altitudes. If it snows again you can forget it. They do not clear many of these roads at all. In our experience now there are maybe 4 high country roads in total over the Sierra's that they focus on keeping clear of snow. We were spewing that we had not tried to get over the 50 route from Folsom, but at the time there seemed too much risk and we would never just wait it out. Actually there was too much risk in attempting that crossing. So instead we feel like we are just completing a tour of California, which has actually been quite enjoyable, but also stressful with the unknowns and constant reroutes.
There was nothing for it but to make straight for the route 65 which would take us to Bakersfield. The way there was straight west through fields of green and one intersection which told us that Terra Bella was 5 miles way! It had taken us 32 km to ride those 5 miles! Anyhow, we had given it our best shot. The 65 road had a good shoulder and we aimed to get off it about 25 km short of Bakersfield to bypass the town. We hoped to grab a bushcamp on the bypass road but when we had a look on Google maps we could see that the entire road was fences and there was no water to be seen, so camping on it was unlikely. There was no camping in Bakersfield, the campsites which would have been available now closed due to the weather and flooding. We booked a hotel on Booking.com for a reasonable price and made straight for that. As we drew into Bakersfield we were met with a major eyesore, a vista of donkeys (the oil seeking one's) sewsawing up an down over a massive oilfield. It was so surprising and unexpected. As foreigners we do not think of California as an oil producer. It is such a diverse state. Isn't it amazing how your day starts out one way and ends another? Anyhow, the hotel was perfect. We are on the ground floor and could actually push our laden bikes through the front doors, down the passage and into our room! That was a first! The hotel has a laundry so we washed our cycling gear. We went out and ate delicous buritos at the taco restuarant next door.
We woke at 06:00 and Mike said, "Should we have a rest day here?". I was definitely in favour of that, however the rainy day looked to improve later and there was a spot on our route we could aim for around 50 km so we decided to make the most of the hotel and check out at 11:00. We made our way through downtown Bakersfield. There was quite a bad smell around. Human waste effluent? The oilfield? Gas? The suburbs we rode through were down at heel to say the least. Usual inner-city stuff. Many shops advertising smokes/vapes and also an unusual number of barber shops! The inhabitants, well, we did not make eye contact. After about 20 km we stopped at a Subway as it was already 12:30 and we figured we better eat. We had decided to take the 178 road to Lake Isabella and beyond until joining the 395 which runs north-south the other side of the mountains. This is a more scenic alternative to the Tehachapi Road. The 178 was open all the way and has a high point of about 1600 m, so should there be snow in the next few days we shouldn't be talking feet, but rather inches. Fingers crossed. So after Bakersfield we are pretty much in the sticks for the foreseeable future. We had some hard rain showers in the first hour on the bike but after eating it was clear.The suburbs of Bakersfield improved as we hit hgher ground and the outskirts. White picket fence stuff.
We had a massive drop down to the Kern Canyon through more orange groves, and the road really suprised us. We had not expected something so dramatic. Steep canyon walls, narrow winding road, river gushing over rocks with massive power and intensity. Also a very strong headwind that seemed to be channelled through the canyon. It was a beautiful ride. There were numerous pull off options (called turn-outs here). We met the very excited Fernando, wearing a cap with 'Melbourne, Australia' emblazoned on it. He and his wife had visited family in Melbourne over Christmas and had seemingly fallen in love with it and with Australia, so much so that he hugged both of us at once! He was driving up to Lake Isabella with his bike to go for a ride. There were people using the road, some motor cycle tourists coming towards us, so back from their Sunday ride, and many people in cars. No large trucks or utes and only one silly person towing a monstrous caravan. Of course the sheriff passed us. They do at least once a day.
We passed two picnic areas and one campsite but had hoped to do another 10 km, however the weather had other ideas and so with rain starting we came across a small clearing we could camp in. We were just setting up when Mike noticed that we were sort of underneath a rocky slope. We have learned to be careful with this due to the number of rockslides/slips we see with the recent rains. This road has suffered badly and a large digital board at the start warns of rocks on the road. Many rockfalls have been recently cleared. So we moved to the other side of a small stream to avoid any rockfall. The river pounds away across the road.
For such a narrow, windy road the traffic sure started early. From 04:00 it was one car after the other, quite busy. We were a bit worried about the road for this reason. However, having got back on the bikes around 07:30 the road seemed to straighten out a bit and we had about 7 km of climbing until we were out of the canyon. And the traffic was a LOT lighter. So we estimate the distance to cycle on the narrow canyon road is about 16 km in total. The road soon became dual carriageway, with a decent shoulder. We were climbing all the way but with a slight tailwind it seemed easier. The views were beautiful as the mountains closed in all around. We noticed that the vegetation was now definitely scrub-like and the landscape rockier. We kept climbing and reached Lake Isabella after 30km. By now the road was called a "freeway". How is it possible that this road, with four lanes ends up in the Kern Canyon with its narrow bendy nature? Seems crazy. The river that raged alongside us last night was now far below the road.
It seemed a milestone to reach Lake Isabella. She is a legend in our books as we have pinned our hopes of crossing the Sierras on her being well-behaved! There have been areas to the north of the lake under evacuation orders with the Kern County flooding, and the US Army has been monitoring lake water levels over recent weeks in case water had to be released from the dam (causing major issues downstream and we expect for the Kern Canyon Road!). There is a decent town at the lake with Subway, Grocery Outlet, Taco Bell etc. We went to Taco Bell for burito's, delicious and filled up with water. We also stopped at the Grocery Outlet for some food. We then pressed on, cycling all the way along the lake shore until we reached the river feeding it and kept going. There are a couple of settlements along the lake area. The riding was excellent due to our now strong tailwind. We stopped at Wheldon Church for a rest and the cows opposite talked to us. We kept going through Onyx (non-existent) and slowly but surely the landscape got more and more barren. There was a large forest of Joshua trees (we think they were Joshua trees anyway), quite amazing trees, very striking. We stopped for lunch before the steeper part of the climb about 14 km from the high point. The highest point of the 178 is 1500m and we had about 500 m to climb at this point.
About 6 km further on we came across a picnic area where we rested, starting to flag. We got back on the bikes aiming to get to the high point, however the adjacent stream was so appealing. You could see that it is unusual for it even to be running, so shallow and wide is its sandy course. A few km further on we found a good place to camp off the road with good access to the river. The swim was cold and a little strange as when you sat or lay down in the water flow, the sand washed out from under you and so you were constantly moving downwards. The swim only lasted a minute or two. Refreshing! The rain which was forecast did not arrive but it does not seem as if rain often arrives here anyway. The tailwind today really made 80 km of climbing quite pleasant.
It was a cold and clear night however around midnight I felt warm and guessed that cloud cover had arrived. It started raining lightly at 02:00, so what do you know, we were wrong about the rain not arriving! The rain grew heavier and we did not feel very motivated to get going at 06:00. It is such a palaver to make breakfast in the tent, but once you get going it is okay. I got up to get some stuff off the bikes and saw that is was snowing now, white flakes hitting the tent. We were on the bikes around 07:45 to complete the remaining 5 or 6 km of the climb to the summit of Walter Pass. We noticed that the surrounding hill tops had much more snow than they had last night. As we climbed the snow lay everywhere and when we turned off to the the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) Trail Head Campsite which is almost at the top of the climb, there was a lot of snow about, covering the picnic tables and clogging up our cleats when we walked around. We wanted to use the restroom and there were a couple of senior locals who had stopped to do the same, and were amazed and delighted to see us on bicycles. "This weather is SO unusual for this time of year!" exclaimed the lady as she took a photograph of us. This is the most common phrase cycle tourists ever here, anywhere. The weather is ALWAYS unusual. We rugged up with all sorts of gear including our Outdoor Research overgloves as we had pretty much finished the climb and were about to start the descent. It is strange riding when it is snowing as so much stuff is falling but you don't really get wet. The road was pretty quiet, a snow plough passed us a couple of times as he scraped the ground nicely for us.
The total descent down the pass was 850 m. What was strange was that as the snow or whatever hit our eyes it was pretty uncomfortable, even painful. We had to stop to put on our sunglasses to save our eyeballs! Going downhill in the wet and the snow we had to watch our speed as we did not want to hit ice or whatever and have a problem. Constantly pulling the brakes a little, hands and feet freezing off and not much visability of the road ahead. We noticed that the snow disappeared as we descended. As we hit the junction with the 395 we sheltered in our bothy and sat on a stone marker to drink our coffee and try to stop shivering while the rain continued. A couple of motor cycle tourists passed us going up the 178. We couldn't quite believe it, we were over the Sierra Mountains! It is quite amazing! 1000 km of riding have brought us here. We joined the 395 and were a little alarmed by the narrow shoulder which grew even narrower, but then within a couple of hundred metres the road became a divided highway and the shoulder grew enormous. We were now just in heavy rain, which we understand. It was strange looking out over the desert vegetation through the driving rain. The trucks passing always went into the left lane to avoid showering us with more water which was nice even though we rode as far to the right of the shoulder as we could.
At the 42 km mark we had a Subway! Hooray, delicious as always. We sat for an hour indoors and when we came out the rain had stopped. Now it was just easy riding along the 395 which is a pretty straight road, admiring the snow sprinkled East Sierra Mountains. We decided to camp at Fossil Falls as the sites had nice tables and there was a restroom and toilets. It is a great spot in a volcanic landscape with amazing mountain views. We had our cold shower from a shower bag and got into many layers of clothes, hoping for our feet to warm up!
Before we crossed the Sierra's we felt that the weather seemed too warm. We even wondered if we had brought too much warm clothing. Well, we at least feel vindicated on that front. Today's maximum temperature was forecast to be 4 degrees C and it was a very cold morning. Clear though, with some cloud about and you could see that more snow had fallen overnight on the slopes. We continued on the 395, still a divided highway with a very wide shoulder which made for brilliant riding. The views of the snow covered mountains and hills so close by were spectacular. We still had a good tailwind. We reached Olancha where we would take a right-hand turn onto the the 270 towards Death Valley National Park. The divided highway ends here and the shoulder narrowed a bit but it would still be decent riding if you continued north along it. There is a petrol station and shop at Olancha with all the treats, candy, cake you could dream of. I have never seen such a selection of treat food in one place. They also made warm food and we ordered a 16" pepperoni pizza which was absolutely delicious and at $17 a very good price in an out of the way spot. Also bought a loaf of bread which, at $5 was eye-wateringly expensive. Swings and roundabouts. At least they sold it!
The 190 was much quieter without truck traffic, mainly tourists. Still a good shoulder. The views across the flatlands towards Lone Pine were amazing as the whole area seemed to be underwater after recent rains. We rested at the end of this road as we were dreading the headwind that we would have turning south.
We had a spot of climbing into the headwind for the first 5 km but it was not too bad. After this the road turned east in increments so the headwind became less and less bothersome. The desert colours are such a change from the emerald green of the hills we rode through in the west. Very dramatic scenery, especially with the white snow topping off the mountains. We stopped at the site of The Joshua Tree, where the photograph of U2 was taken for the cover of their album of the same name. Apparently when travelling through here to get photographs taken, Bono decided to name the album after this distinct tree. THE Joshua Tree of the album cover is no longer, but there are many others to see so we took a photo of a stand-in.
We wanted to make a further 5 km or so along the road as this would take us to the top of the climb, but there was a dragonlike storm brewing to our right which was gathering speed as it breathed ice over everything it passed. The entire route at this point is BLM Lands (Bureau of Land Management) so you are free to camp anywhere. We came across a turn off to the north, a gravel road and shot off down there, convinced that we would be soaked in rain/covered in snow/frozen to the spot in an instant. We had the tent up in record time. The area is very exposed to the wind which was hurtling across the plains so Mike used additional guy ropes on the tent. However, the massive cloud of freezing mist just kept swirling and nothing eventuated until ages later it blew away, only to build up again later. The wind dropped entirely. We don't really understand what happened, but it is good to be dry! Stunning views from the tent site.
Chilly morning, minus 3.5 dregrees C, but we were pretty excited to finish our little climb and then hit the massive descent into Panamint Springs. As has been the theme on this trip, when you set out for the day it might unfold quite differently to the way you had planned! We got quite warm climbing the 100m but dressed warmly for the descent which starts just at the sign for Death Valley National Park and gets more and more exciting as you go. We dropped into Father Crowley Outlook which is a rest area high above a canyon. As we got off our bikes an amazing military display deafened us and we were treated to our own private air show courtesy of a fighter jet which flew really low over us a few times, and was so close doing manouvres that, well, it was really close. You could see contrails just streaming off the body of the aircraft in the tight cornering. It was an absoulte highlight of the trip! There is a signboard up there that tells you that the airforce has maintained the right to continue training pillots in the Death Valley airspace and actually the National Park was developed on the basis that it would. There was a sad story of a fighter pilot who perished when crashing into the canyon doing very low manouvres in 2019, however reassuring all pilots that complete these exercises are highly trained, having completed so much of their training in simulators. There has actually been a lot of fighter jet activity since we crossed the mountains as the Armitage Air Force Base is located nearby.
We had been seeing a few trailers and trucks passing us since the 395, with dirt bikes on the back and had wondered if there was a rally happening somewhere. At the lookout we met Dave who was travelling to Death Valley to do just this, the Noobs Rally is held at this time each year for 3 days with about 200 riders of different levels of experience. It is an opportunity for newer riders to learn from more experienced riders and everyone enjoys going for rides, mainly off road as the largest percentage of roads in Death Vallley are unsealed. It is a big social event and they all camp at Panamint Springs. We then met Will and Joanne (apologies for spelling) from Vancouver who were in their camper van and had driven down for couple of weeks to see the sights around this area. They were so good to talk to and interested in our trip. They recommended RedRock Canyon near La Vegas and Sedona as beautiful spots, which were not on our radar as yet! Thereafter we hopped on our bikes full of joy at the sights which awaited us. The winding downhill road to Panamint is spectacular. It is narrow and twisty and steep and the layers of colour in the rock just reveal themselves the further you descend. We passed 4 000 ft, then 3 000 ft signs so quickly. Panamint was a hive of activity and we could see our road continuing across the flat desert pan up the steep ascent on the other side towards Emigrant Campground. The climb was equal to our descent but would take us much longer......it was a beautiful day.
After checking out the store at Panamint, we took off our warm clothes as we would heat up on the climb. We met Frank who was also part of the rally and had a chat. He was also interested in our trip. Mike had heard a scraping sound on his rear rim, as if the brake was touching and checked it out. It was not the brake however that was causing the major problem, but the flange on his Rohloff internal gear hub was cracked, which caused one spoke to be loose. The flange is the part of the outer casing of the Rohloff hub through which the spokes thread at the centre of the wheel. His Rohloff outer has done about 120 000 km, the inner workings have been replaced at just over 53000 km. Rohloff gear hubs are 99% reliable, however the 1% chance of failure will be catastrophic. The wheel was now unstable and no longer true and there was no knowing how long it would last. The casing can be replaced by Rohloff and can be done in the US however this will take weeks. He needed a new Rohloff and then the Rohloff had to be built into his rear wheel. It's a real problem. Sitting in the remote Death Valley National Park did not help. On the plus side, the views were beautiful and the weather was good.
The General Store had wifi and we were able to use it. Thanks to Elon Musk and Starlight, there is good wifi in places where there did not used to be! We started researching where to get a new hub from. The disappointment was not aided by the fact that we had a brand new Rohloff sittiing in a box at home, which we had decided against installing in Mike's bike. The thing with a major component like the Rohloff is that your are so comfortable with how yours works over many many kilometres, it's kind of "the devil you know" philosophy. Like a really comfortable jacket that you wear season after season and is always perfect. As we ride belt drives (not chains) and an adaptor needs to be attached to the hub, we needed to find a stockist that would do this prior to shipping the hub, otherwise we would have to take the one off his current Rohloff and there is a special tool required for this. It became clear that there were only about three options of places that might be able to handle this for us and they were all far away from Death Valley. I went to ask the general store manager about camping here and was advised that the motorcycle rally had taken over all accomodation so there was none to be had. There is no dispersed camping here so we could ride 3 miles out of the park to BLM lands and camp there. I asked if we could have a bike part delivered to the store and he provided the address for this, but said only UPS would handle it. We went to sit down outside and keep researching. John came over for a yarn and we explained our mechanical predicament. He suggested that we ask Joel who is in charge of the rally as it seemed that a spot could be located for us in the campground. Bella also had a chat to us and reassured us that we could have a place to pitch our tent near their group. Such kind people! The trend was to continue! After a few hours and phone calls, Mike was able to order the Rohloff, belt drive adaptor, new sprocket (as it just seemed simpler) and 32 new spokes from Universal Cycles. He was able to make personal contact wiith another Mike there and it would all be shipped here by UPS on Tuesday. Today was Thursday. This is as the hubs (or hub) themselves are held by the distributor and not point of sale. There are probably only a handful of hubs available countrywide.
Now that that was organised, I went over to the campground to introduce myself to Joel and beg a campspot. He agreed immediately and offered a spot under a pine tree, on comfortable pine needles, right at the bathroom. The other blokes and lady at the registration table were really friendly . We set up camp and were made to feel so welcome.Everyone who passed said "Hi" and had a chat. People offered ideas to fix the hub. Joel invited us to a hamburger dinner with everyone. Greg, who was involved in registration of riders showed us where the showers were and offered us beautiful fresh beef steak for our dinner tomorrow night. Don from Vancouver Island gave us all sorts of dehydrated meals and porridge, his entire reserve food supply so that we could survive our extended stay. We were taken aback at such generosity! Bella invited us to her group campfire that night and we met a heap of her friends, Kaze, Peter, Paul and others. We went to bed quite late but it was a fun evening under the stars.
Waking up on Friday morning Joel offered us fresh coffee made by Greg, and Greg brought us eggs and bacon for breakfast! Too delicious. We have met so many people and all are interested and concerned about us, and also many peeople have offered us suggestion of places to see. It is a difficult thing to have this wait, but a great place to be stuck!
Next update will likely only be in a week (hopefully), when we have the new wheel built.
Serendipity is an unplanned fortunate discovery. However we can't think of our paths crossing with the Noobs Rally as anything other than destiny! The hub failure could have happened anywhere and left us in a real problem situation. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity, interest and friendship offered so willingly by this group. We have learnt to bet on ourselves on our trips and work our way out of a challenge, so it has felt like a really soft landing. We met Americans and Canadians from all over and everyone was, to use an Australian phrase, "a top bloke"! There was such an openness, inquisitiveness and willingness to share information and details of their own lives. We don't know if this is a motor cycling culture thing or a Noob Rally thing or a Californian thing or an American thing, but we have not experienced it anywhere else in the world when travelling. Many people with many years of motorcycling experience identified with this experience of being stuck with a gear problem and there was a feeling of commonality there.
So for 4 days we were guests of the Noob Rally. The spot where we camped was right at the centre of things and also as it was near the bathrooms, a well-travelled thoroughfare for the rally participants. There were around 200 people camping as part of the rally and we met many of them who would stop and chat to us. We had so many great conversations and watched the action going on around us so we were thoroughly entertained the entire time. There is a saying "interested is interesting". People who show interest in you are interesting themselves. It was a two way street. We learnt a lot about motorcycles and the differences between different dirt bikes and the sheer range of routes available in this National Park for people to ride. Like the name suggests, this rally in particular is very supportive of newer riders and it is a level playing field. There are volunteers who help out year after year, but as is so often the case with movements or events that benefit many people, it is one person who has the motivation and drive to make it happen, and in this group that is Joel. He is a father-figure to many of the participants and it is clear in the respect shown to him and the culture of the rally. Some people who have been connected to the rally for years, or since its inception in 2007, come not so much for the riding, but as to meet up with each other as an annual tradition.
We had people offer ideas to fix the bike, take us somewhere to fix it, like two brothers Dave and Rob from Oregon who sought us out having heard about our problem to offer any assistance, even driving us to Oregon to get help with it, basically anything we could think of to help. People offered us chairs to sit on while we are here and campfires to sit around at night. We got photos taken with many of people and we would like to mention people by name which we do at the risk of forgetting and leaving out a name.
So here we are on our new site no. 39 at Panamint Springs for another 4 nights. It isn't the same without you guys! We are wondering, how is it that a week ago we did not know any of these people, and now it feels like we are part of the family?
There are plusses and minuses to life at number 39. A table: plus. No shade: minus. Downwind of the stinky toilet: minus. Line of sight to general store from our tent = internet access in bed: plus. No disc golf hole on site: minus. We are happy on the whole however. A table is worth a LOT! Joel, Matt, Bob and Jim left on Monday morning, closely followed by our neighbours, Chris and Larry. So we are officially now Noobless. Little lump in our throats to see the last of the bike trailers leave the park. However, as Matt predicted, we have made new friends. As a parting gift Joel left us a lamp and a folding chair. I am trying to get Mike to agree to carry the chair on his bike, but no luck as yet.
Some sort of support team set up camp diagonally opposite site 39 on Sunday. There were about 5 people with a huge number of banana boxes of food. Then on Monday afternoon some high school students arrived with massive backpacks and began setting up camp in the bush. We got chatting to them and it turns out that they are 60 students from a school in the San Francisco Bay area who undertake a 26 day hike of Death Valley. This is a graduation requirement. They arrrive in Panamint Springs after 23 days. They are in groups of ten. They carry everything, food for about 5 days, water, shelter. No showers! Even staying here at the campground they do not use the showers. For 3 of the days they live on their own in the wilderness, without any contact with anyone else. We are amazed by their fortitude! I asked them how they were coping without their mobiles and they said that they actually felt better without them! The groups go at different paces, so at first there was only one group here, then another and so on.
Another group of students arrived Monday evening and set up camp in the group camp area. Gabriel was one and came over to chat. They were a group of geology students from Brown University, Rhode Island, here to admire the amazing geological formations over spring break. We have been so impressed with the confidence shown by young Americans. They are happy to approach adults much older than themselves and ask questions and share stories. Gabriel was also a cyclist and had built a bike himself, including wheels with a rear internal hub, and even managed to disassemble AND reassemble an Sturmey Archer internal gear hub, so it could have been helpful having him here when Mike's hub arrives! He was clearly very passionate about bikes and geology and it was great to meet him.
A car arrived after dark when we were in bed and a tent was put up behind us by two very quiet people. We met them in the morning. They were two students from UCLA. They had driven out to Panamint City on Sunday and hiked to another mining ghost town and back on Monday. The hike was lengthy and they had to carry all their gear plus water, which is why they got here so late. I am so sorry, but I only remember one of their names, Chris. Great meeting and talking to them. Once again we are blown away by the confidence of the youngsters we meet. We are also starting to learn more about how uni works over here. This afternoon the wind started really pumping and it looks set to continue tomorrow.
Best news of the day is that Mike received the UPS tracking number for his new hub! Whoo Hoo! He also had an e-mail from Mike at Universal Cycles to say that they thought he would need another tool to ensure the sprocket and belt drive hub adapter were tight enough after the wheel was bult and so he has put this into the Rohloff box. He required no payment for it, even though it retails for $40! Previously after the order was placed Mike went back to him as he had forgotten to order rim tape, and Universal Cycles' Mike also packed that free of charge. Clearly we would unreservedly recommend Universal Cycles for their generosity, holistic outlook and end-to-end personalised service. We keep a watchful eye on the road for UPS. The funny coincidence is that the hub that we are replacing was also purchased from Universal Cycles 15 long years ago, so not a bad life at all.
We got new neighbours last night, Barry and his daughter Tatiana. He is from Anchorage and previously lived in Vasilia, which we were very close to in the San Joaquin Valley. We got chatting this morning and were kindly offered donuts and grapefruit. He was interesting to talk to as he had also done a lot of cycle touring years ago in Australia, New Zealand, south-east Asia, India, Nepal....... and more. He also offered his contact details in Anchorage should we require assistance. We went to the general store to secure a site for Thursday and Friday nights and were able to extend our stay on site 39 for Thursday night and will go back on Thursday to see about Friday. With any luck there will be cancellations due to the forecast rain (!) on those days, so it should be okay. Otherwise we can probaby move to a dry RVsite (like a BIG tent site) for Friday night. The UPS delivery is confirmed for Friday before 7pm and the bloke at the general store told us that this is always 4-6pm as the driver comes from Pahrump. Barry and Tatiana were all packed up to go and as they were planning to do some walking, I asked about what they were going to do today. He said that actually they had thought of staying set up here but there was no campsite available. We said they are absolutely welcome to share ours if they want to, so they may come back here, it would be nice to see them again.
Today is overcast and very, very windy. The view from my little blue chair is of the brave Athenian High School students whose only shelter is very flappy tarps which do not look worth the trouble. How they have lived like this for 26 days is evidence of the resilience of youth. I guess kids not much older than them spent months knee deep in wartime trenches. Apparently they pack up at 3am tomorrow morning and get into a bus here which drops them off 8 miles short of their school which they then run to. As for us, it seems the longer we stay here the lazier we feel. Now that we can access a teeny wifi signal when sitting up in bed or facing the general store, as long as there is not a massive vehicle in front of it, we don't even walk over there anymore. I woke up at 07:30 this morning. We keep thinking of riding to Darwin Falls, a few miles away, but it is too windy now anyway. Our world has shrunk! Our morning entertainment is waiting for the fighter jets which start around 10:00, when they appear to do manouvres here, this morning there were two just above the vallley floor, roaring along. Pretty exciting!
Last night the kids from Athenian were told to pack up their tarps and sleep under the stars as it would make the 03:00 pack up quicker. They accepted this without argument and settled down for the night amidst much giggling and chatting. At least the wind had died down by then; it had been brutal all day. It did not seem long and they were waking up, shuffling past our tent speaking softly, still giggling. The boys were louder than the girls! A big bus awaited them to drive them back to their lives over the mountain. We got a new neighbour before going to bed, Vincent from Singapore. So that makes him a neighbour here and at home! He has bought a campervan and will be driving around the US for a year. He had a great sense of humour and it was lovely chatting to him. Perhaps we will see him again? He was concerned that our diet lacked vitamin C and gave us fresh lemons.
There have been a pair of brothers-in-law camped nearby, Chris and David who we have chatted to a few times over three days. They are dirt-bikers and staying in tents.They are very experienced motorcyclists and have a love of vintage cars and bikes which they build themselves. They want to cross the US by motorbike all on dirt roads! They gave us a bag of apples and some snacks before they left for home.
We received an update about the package which is that it is delayed due to bad weather. This was concerning as we know that part of the 395 road is closed due to avalanche, but later via the tracking we can see it has moved through Sacramento. Fingers crossed it still arrives tomorrow! We had some rain this morning and very low cloud all over, cold with it. A couple of snowploughs arrived during the morning which is never a welcome sight! Now that the cloud has cleared the range of mountains located between us and the Death Valley is covered with snow. There was no snow there before.The campsite is almost empty now but amazingly booked out tonight!
Unfortunately UPS informed us yesterday afternoon that our package is now due Monday. This was very disappointing news and we feel a little downcast. We talked about it last night and decided we would pack up and go down the hill into Panamint Valley where you can turn down a little dirt track to the south and camp on BLM lands. At least this would afford us a different view. We have enough water bags as we know that we will have to carry water at some point on the trip. The campsite was pretty full last night, not packed though. All the other campers here are quiet and considerate (except for a couple in a pale blue old style high clearance Volksie bug who we can't figure out, but still they aren't loud) which makes it pretty pleasant here. Our neighbours last night were a couple from Davis, introducing their two young daughters to the outdoors. They were a pleasure to meet.
So we packed up in a leisurely way this morning and just felt so happy about setting off somewhere new, even if it was only 5 km down the road! Our plan is for one of us (probably me as my bike works properly) to come back once a day, check the internet for the parcel situation. Clearly it would be terrible if the parcel arrived early or something and we didn't know. We checked out Mike's wheel again, but boy oh boy, it has a MAJOR wobble and the flange which at first looked just cracked is now parting company with the hub. It is not rideable anyway unless you detach the rear brake. It just doesn't seem a smart move to try. We wouldn't want to end up with a damaged rim or a damaged Mike.
So we went back to the general store to see about checking in for tonight. Stephanie who works there told us that Brian (the bloke we deal with a lot when we go there) had looked out for us and booked us in, which was great, and a good thing we hadn't just wandered off, having had been charged for it. We will have to go day by day from tomorrow as there are no sites available. She said that we are good campers to have here, always good to have positive feedback!
So we are back on site 39 for a night. We were looking at a dirt road called Harry Wade Road, which you can take out of the south of Death Valley proper, just doing some research. It's only 50km long but can be impassable due to a river and can be very sandy, etc. Harry Wade found this route out when he and his family were part of a huge group of wagons making their way to California from Illinois for gold in the 1800's. The group was stranded having descended into Death Valley after receiving poor directional advice! Quite a few people died. We would love to ride that road, but will check first. When you read stories like this, there is not much to complain about!
Beautiful evening last night, perfect really. We are now pretty much part of the furniture around here, extending a welcome to new campers. Pete, who works in the campsite, is a top bloke! We try to be our charming selves to eek another camping spot for the night. Unfortunately there were a few groups of tent campers who were noisy and pretty disruptive really, until after 02:00 which made for a poor night's sleep, but with not much to do the next day we could not be bothered to be bothered! Bad news on the package is that now, after the THREE DAY delay due to unforeseen weather, we have been informed that the package has been sent to the incorrect facility and this will cause a further delay. It is at Vernon, south of LA so we can't see this being such a big problem. We still hope it arrives on Monday, but are prepared to be disappointed. We went across to the general store at 09:00 to beg a dry RV site. We can't face another night of mayhem amongst these tent campers who are staying the weekend. Pete fixed us up with a site near the road for $20 a night, which is a $10 discount so thanks so much Pete! We booked in for 3 nights. It is site 69 and actually very close to where we visited Bella and friends on our first night (10 nights ago) for a campfire. It has an en suite toilet with slight seepage. We have camped in the part closest to the road and furtherest away from the seepage.
Foodwise we are doing well. If it were not for the kindness of the Noob Rally partipants we don't know where we would be. We are still enjoying a massive variety of food, from Bill's organic, delicious and super tasty care package items, to Don and Dave's instant oat brekky and creamy or exotic dehydrated meals, to Marty's spicy Canjun soups, we could not be more grateful. Our new neighbours are seasoned campers and do not like noise either, so our move has been an improvement. Clay from Wyoming is camping across the way and has lent us a few map books for California, Arizona and Utah. He has an e-bike on fatboy tyres and has gone for a spin to Darwin Falls. Steve, from our old neighbourhood by site 39, from San Diego, offered us assistance also. Dana and her companion, two sites down from us, have two beagles called Rosie and Peaches.
I am still enjoying the little blue lounger chair Joel gave me. It is handy to perch on in the shade. Each day I do a little washing and Mike is ploughing through books. He also laces wheels in his head like some people count sheep prepping for the big eheel build. He says even these silly daily updates are boring him now. Still, we have good, sunny weather, a little overcast today which is for the best. There are some dirt bike riders who have flown in on TEENY planes they built themselves, which apparently only weight 700 lbs each! There was a pair of girls from Quebec whose car broke down and would cost $1 000 to tow to Ridgecrest where the closest mechanic is, 70 miles down the road. They could not afford that so Clay and another chap from Wyoming helped with a temporary fix so that they could hopefully drive it all the way there along the flat.
We tried to call UPS again today, we called yesterday. Trying to get more information or at least speak to a person. Neither is possible. We can only hope to be on our way as soon as possible.
As we are booked onto this site for Sunday and Monday nights, we did not have to go to the general store this morning, which freed us up to go for a bush walk. But then we did have to go, to let Stepanie know that the little toilet near our site has now started to produce a small pond which is not very hygenic. She was appreciative and said she would send a maintenance person to sort it out.
Jonathan and his son Hugo and daughter Amelia came to introduce themselves to us having heard about our bike trouble, etc. They hail from Washington DC and were a pleasure to meet. Jonathan is a mountain biker and cycled across the US 30 odd years ago. They are travelling through this area, having flown into Los Vegas and hired an RV. The light-weight aircraft were refueled at the petrol station and Mike went over to get a photo of the unusual sight. One of the pilots told him that they are air camping from Reno!
Clay came over to see the planes too and gave us some bagels which we ate later with soup. He lives in Wilson, Wyoming and has a sauna, and says we can pitch our tent on his property if we pass through. He is a pretty cool seventy-three year old!
Our bush walk ended up being about 11 km. We walked across the sandy tracks to the dirt track that turns south just before Panamint Valley Road as we may end up camping around there when we eventually leave here. That is sarcasm. 3.0 km down the main road, and after a further 1.6 km down a track, you cross the park boundary on the dirt road, and that is BLM land and you can camp. We were keen to see the condition of the dirt road which was good.
Although it adds about 40 km to the route, we may take Panamint Valley, Wild Rose Road and Emigrant Canyon over into Death Valley instead of the 190 which we have been looking at for 10 days. It seems like more of an adventure. We may not need more adventure.
The friendly maintenance bloke was on our site when we arrived home and has been unclogging the little toilet all day, from 12:00 to 17:15. He may not be finished. Crazy people putting all sorts of things down there which do not belong in toilets. Enough said.
Yesterday was a rough day. The wind absolutely pumped through the campground, blasting sand and dust at everything in its path. We had had no word on the package since 04:00 Saturday when we were told it had been incorrectly sorted. Prior to that the tracking revised delivery date was Monday. By 16:00 we were officially in no man's land re: package. Was it on the way? Was it lost? Would it take another week? Very disappointing and frustrating as there is no way of contacting UPS to ask. Mike e-mailed Mike from Universal Cycles to ask and it does not seem that this is unusual.
By the afternooon we were bored for the first time! The maintenance bloke had been back on our site to continue unclogging the septic tank. We read a lot. So plusses and minuses: we have all the books we could want to read on our kindles, we have enough really good food to eat thanks to the Noobs (running out of sugar, but we have honey), we like site 69, the campground is more like a ghost town than it's ever been, we have internet, water, showers, BUT we could be here until, after Easter? Also, we know what dust does to tent zippers and one is starting to feel dodgy, but we have new sliders if a replacement is required.
Last night the wind died down and so did the temperature! Early this morning, Mike checked UPS tracking - parcel is on track for delivery TODAY. Happy face!!!! So now we are full of all kinds of excitement! We spent the morning getting all sorted to shove off up the mountain tomorrow and also prepping Mike's rear wheel, so removing spokes and hub, and cleaning the rim. We paid for our last night's camping at Panamint and it was good to see Brian again who was surprised to see us still here. We had good meals for lunch and dinner, and a chat to a bloke out here on a short trip with his dirt bikes and fatboy e-bike. We were once again thrilled by the jets chasing each other just above the valley floor. Four o'clock came, then five. We decided to eat dinner so that was done. Around six, I went to the bathroom and coming back to our site, saw a delivery van at the general store and Mike standing next to it. I dashed over the road and he had package in hand. We popped into the store and got Stephanie's attention, waving the package! Then back to the tent. As the nearly full moon rose, Mike got going. I watched on from my little blue folding chair. It grew dark and a little chilly. I popped back to the store to buy a few snacks for tomorrow and said goodbye to Stephanie who gave me a big hug!
In the end it took Mike 2.5 hours to build the hub into a new wheel, have it tensioned and trued, and ready to roll! Brilliant work! We hit the road tomorrow! PS I keep forgetting to say that in the high winds yesterday two large branches tore off from the pine trees at our very first disc golf campsite! Good thing we were not camping there anymore!
We hit the road at 07:15 am. We almost could not believe it! I had to leave the little blue chair and light that Joel had given us behind; no room on a bike for those! Sad face.We had been playing around with the idea of arriving in Death Valley via Emigrant Canyon Rd, which brings you onto the 190 just after the Emigrant Campground but it would add 40 km to the distance to Furnace Creek. This morning we had a slight tailwind which made the direct route, which remains on the 190 from Panamint all the way, quite attractive. However, we were pretty committed to the Emigrant Canyon option (right onto Panamint Valley Road then left on Wildrose Rd and onto Emigrant Canyon), until we turned onto Panamint Valley Rd which is sealed but looks and feels very pebbly and pretty bouncy which will just drive down your speed. Not sure how long the surface will continue like this, but we knew it got worse on the Wildrose Rd. Had it made the day shorter, we may have stuck with it. We promptly turned back and faced the monster climb up the 190 to Town Pass. We have been staring down this road for two weeks, which would either serve to freak you out totally or mean that your mental preparation was perfect. We did not realise how much elevation we would lose before starting the climb. The road drops115 m over 8 km from Panamint Springs to the start of the climb. The surface is excellent and there is a decent shoulder all the way. Conditiions were pretty perfect, no wind and blue skies. The road is beautifully built and the views expansive. We climbed 1040 m with an average grade of 8% and it took three hours. At times it was very steep and these sections of 10% grade would continue straight uphill for some distance. Mainly it was a long climb without respite and tesed our endurance. There was a headwind for the last few kilometres which was not good when trying to keep forward momentum and not weave all over the road. As we climbed it got colder, as we had been hearing from motorcyclists in yhe camp site.The climb is probably ill-advised after sitting around a campground for two weeks! The climb tops out at Town Pass, 4 956 ft. There isn't a rest area or anything there (or anywhere else for that matter) only turn-outs, so we sat in that and put on all our warm gear for the descent. Basically you drop straight down the side of the mountain like a stone through 1510 m all the way to 70 m below sea level. Most people would think that such a descent is great on a bike, but actually it was so steep and so long that you just ride your brakes all the way and your hands and arms become fatigued and quite painful. As you drop into Death Valley it spreads out below you in all its desolation. It is vast and flat and barren. The shoulder on the descent is very narrrow so we were pleased not to have been doing this in reverse.
The descent ends at Stovepipe Wells. We were surprised by how commercialised it seemed. The general store had nothing on Panamint Springs Resort, the bread still cost $6.35 a loaf and I bought one. The place is completely geared up for the tourist trade. We bought our America the Beautiful Card at the ranger station which for $80 gives us acess to all National Parks for a year. We road out of Stovepipe Wells and stopped on the side of the road for lunch. We would say that Death Valley itself is not as beautiful or atmospheric as Panamint Valley. The view from Panamint Campground is perhaps more beautiful than anything we saw today in Death Valley. And the campground, well it puts any campgroundd at Stovepipe Wells or Furnace Creek to shame. We kept on along the flat for over 40 km to reach Furnace Creek. The road was busy, mostly sedans. Furnace Creek looks like an oasis with many palm trees. We met Greg and Victoria, our first cycle tourists. Greg is British and Victoria Mexican. They started riding in Alaska 9 months ago and plan to go as far as Ushaia.
Mike had carried the extra burden in the form of his old Rohloff and various attachments which would be mailed from Furnace Creek post office. This weighed about 5 kg in total so not the sort of thing you really want to be dragging up Town Pass. However, we want to try to get it repaired here. So first stop was the post office, but as it was already just past 16:00 they were closed. We will pop in tomorrow morning. We went to the grocery store which was pretty upmarket and catered more for resort-style holiday makers. I was able to buy sugar, tortillas and fresh bread, but drew the line at a tiny bottle of Folgers instant coffee for $9.
There are three campgrounds at Furnace Creek, two were full but Sunset is never full. It is basically a massive carpark. We chose to camp in the generator free zone. We know how to lean our bikes against each other so that we can lie in the shade they cast. The pay station is electronic which was great, no cash. It is $14 a night, toilets and water far in the distance, but no shower. We used our shower bag and showered in our swimmers after sunset. It was a huge full moon tonight! Amazing watching it rise above the mountains!
We had to stop by the post office this morning and also had a chat to Greg and Victoria who gave us some helpful advice about the Dalton Highway, the road to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. So we only got going just before 09:00. We turned onto the Badwater Road after a short time and stayed on this road until the end of the day. Death Valley revealed herself to us today, with her hillsides cut out of rock of every colour and her endless salt flats. There are many points of interest along this road until Badwater Basin (at 86 m below sea level, the lowest point in US) at which point the crowds dissappear as they don't seem interested in anything beyond this. The road grew really quiet and we had minimal cars pass us, it was a great ride. Flat, and hot! We saw a coyote cross the road and he was quite interested in us! We had considered taking the Harry Wade Road out of the park, an unsealed road from where the Badwater Road makes a left turn to go up Jubilee Pass. It was sandy at the start and would perhaps get worse, so we abandoned that plan.
We decided to ride about 7 km up towards Jubilee Pass which would mean that we would climb 350 m of the 1000. The grade was pretty easy at 5% but I started to feel quite sick after a few kiilometres. It was pretty warm by then and although we had been drinking I had probably not had enough. We had stopped to mix up a hydralyte to help with the heat, but I still felt quite faint and my breathing seemed really shallow, I could not take a full breath. I slowly felt better and we set off again. I was riding in a singlet only to try to cool down. So it was a bit of a slog. Anyway, we got to the first gravel road and could set up camp. For something different we are sleeping under the stars! No tent and there's never any dew here! The moon was full last night so this will be a special Death Valley experience!
It was a lovely night's sleep under a waning full moon and we were back on the climb this morning a little earlier than usual, not having to pack away the tent. After Jubilee Pass comes a very steep (11% grade) very short descent and we stopped after it to look at my back brake which seemed to be touching my wheel and may in fact have been doing so all the way up the climb yesterday. No wonder I felt sick! The climb up Sallsbury Pass was pretty good. Badwater Road is very quiet, barely a car on it and the hills seem to get greener all the time, with many flowers. The grade is around 5%, but it is long and the climb took just under 3 hours. We were both exhausted and our legs certainly felt the effects of the ultra tough Town Pass climb two days ago and yesterday's heat. Whenever we stopped for a rest we spoke about what we would eat at Shoshone!
We descended down Salsbury Pass and stopped at the "Welcome to Death Valley" sign. As we did so, I felt my rear wheel judder to a halt. It felt completely wrong! Mike took a look but could not see anything obvious. As we pulled away I knew that I could not use the rear brake at all so we pulled off on the other side of the road. It had played on our minds that when we set off from Panamint Springs and stopped at the Panamint Springs Valley Road, as I turned my bike around we both heard a "twang" which we had nervously thought might be a spoke but was not so we just put it down to something relaxing or adjusting on the bike, or a stone. The bike felt fine so we left it at that.
As I looked at the wheel now I called out to Mike to have a look at the rim where the valve is. It had failed! The join along the rim had pulled apart. What is going on on this tour? Is it just time for us to start suffering from bike issues? These Andra 30 rims admittedly have been going a long time, but they show zero signs of wear and we have always believed them to be tough as. Was it the long descents that have caused this due to heat build up on the rims? After all, the descent into Death Valley took over an hour! Or is it Death Valley itself? Is it cursed or something?? We could not even summon the energy to feel disappointed. We were anyway hungry and exhausted. That was enough. Mike deflated my rear tyre a bit and we rode the 8 km remaining into Shoshone, with me using the front brake only.
We turned onto the 127 to Shoshone and as we entered the "blink or you will miss it" village, we really liked it. It has a general store/gas station, a post office, a museum, a saloon and grill, an RV park, a hot springs swimming pool, a school (Death VAlley High School), an inn and a few picnic areas. The museum has free wifi which we got onto and Mike set about finding out where we could order a new wheel rim, spokes etc. Can you believe it? He is going to have to build ANOTHER rear wheel? He came across the Bike Hub Store in North Carolina which seemed to have all the right things. Of course it HAD to be Good Friday, so we were thinking that nothing would happen over the weekend, but were then intrigued to see online that the Post Office in Shoshone was open today, but closed on Sunday. I went into the museum/visitor's centre to ask the bloke there about public holidays over Easter. He seemed a bit confused. "What do you mean Good Friday? Like what Catholics do, eat fish and stuff?". I sort of said, "Well, in Australia Good Friday in a national public holiday, like Christmas Day." He replied, "This is America, that's some kind of religious festival." It was unexpected. We would have thought that America would see Easter as an important holiday, as we perceive USA as very much a Christian country. Anyhow, bully for us! Mike called the Bike Hub Store and lo and behold, someone answered! Actually, as it turned out, he had closed the store for the day/weekend, but what happened next is the best customer service we have ever experienced. Brandon, whose store it is, just immediately went about solving our problem. His approach was "let's get you on the road as soon as possible". He was actually at home when he took the call, but said he would go back and get the stuff packaged up, cutting the spokes HIMSELF to the correct length, providing rim tape and spoke nipples, and even a new spoke key (he actually asked if we needed one), and get the package to Fedex for overnight delivery. I had asked the visitor centre bloke about getting something delivered here and he said the post office is one which accepts General Delivery for people, this means that they will hold mail for you for a certain length of time even if you do not live here. We went across to the post office and the lady on duty was absolutely lovely, but thought that Fedex woud not deliver there, but would deliver to the village office next door. We went there and saw ANOTHER helpful person who said yes, they would accept the delivery there, and they are open SEVEN DAYS A WEEK from 8-4 each day! This is unheard of, pretty much a council office open seven days a week! We relayed all this to Brandon who actually put a note on the parcel saying that "an Australian cyclist would be there to receive it". He had such a laugh as he had checked out Shoshone and said "population 22, not the place you want to be stuck in". Although we paid for overnight delivery, as this is Shoshone this means Monday delivery. At least it's not two weeks. It was so amazing to come across Brandon who sincerly made it his mission to help! Mike was left saying, "Hang on, when do I pay you for this?". He was like, "I'll invoice you Monday, we've got to get this thing off to Fedex before they close for the night.".
We went to have a meal at the Crowbar Grill (very good hamburgers) and then to the grocery store to buy more overpriced coffee and creamer in tiny quantities, peanut butter and jam. However they did have hot chocolate sachets at a very low price and also fabulous rye bread, not so cheap but delicious looking! We filled up with water at the public tap, then we set off a couple of kilometres down the road to the BLM lands to set up camp for three nights.
After two days of mostly reading and avoiding the heat of the day, we packed up our camp and set off back to Shoshone. We arrived just before 09:00. The package consisting of new rim, spokes, etc, arrived at 10:00 which was great. Mike happened to be across the road and saw the Fedex truck pull up and the deliveryman get out. So it was as Brandon had written on the package, "an Australian man will be there to receive it"! It felt like it was going to be a hot day and we were keen to get going. We set up our little wheel building workshop at a shady table and benches by the Shoshone Park and next door to an enclosure which is home to two desert tortoises. Mike did a brilliant job on the wheel and it was built, tensioned and trued in about 2 hours. It is the second wheel he has built in a week, so he is hoping that will be it! We hit the road at 13:30 after putting our shirts in a bucket of water to be wet for the ride. It was around 32 degC with a dry headwind so not too pleasant.
The 127 is a good road to ride, it has a decent shoulder and is pretty flat and pretty quiet. We passed the turn off to Tecopa. The landscape up to this point was absolutely desolate. As Tecopa is a ground spring area, there is water about and suddenly everthing was greener. This was the theme of the day, areas of absolutely nothing, just bare rock and then areas of green shrubs and even spring flowers. It was a 20 km gradual climb from Shoshone into the headwind and then suddenly a descent with the most incredible view of the desert, complete with huge sand dunes. All around were mountain ranges. It was magnificent. We stopped every 10 km or so to drink very warm water from our water bottles. We can't wait to get more hydrating salts/mixture to add to water as the water alone does not replace everything you lose in the heat. We stopped for a sandwich by a stream which was running quite strongly and was so good to see. We soaked our shirts again until they were wet. This acts like an evaporativ aircon as it cools while it dries, but it dries pretty quickly!
We stopped a few times in the shade of small shrubs, and drank and drank. The sun set at about 18:30 and at 18:50 we had churned out 70 km and were happy with that for the day. We are camped by the roadside. Under the stars tonight, no tent. It is still very warm at 21:00. We have 20 km to Baker which has a supermarket and a Taco Bell. What more do we need?
We had an early start, the bright lights of Baker were calling. It was a 20 km ride, slight uphill. At Baker we hit Taco Bell for breakfast and we managed to resuppy at the only grocery store in town. It was a bit sketchy but we got all the staples and a couple of meals. We have a Walmart in two days time at Needles.The one thing we really need and could not get is some sort of electrolyte replacement, like Gatorade or Powerade mixer drink. You can buy cold ready mixed Gatorade or Powerade but that doesn't help in 5 hours time. We filled up with water at Taco Bell as well, the staff kindly let us use the ice water on tap. We left Baker at about 9:30 and left town on Kelbaker Rd to enter Mojave Preserve. There is a lot to see in the park, but we chose to ride this road as a handy alternative to get further south to the old Route 66. The road is good to ride, the surface is good and it is very quiet. Also, no commercial vehicles allowed so no trucks. We started climbing immediately and would climb for 40 km through the park at a very gradual 2-3 % grade. It was a hot day, low 30's DegC and slight headwind which we actually welcomed as it kept us cool. Mojave is very beautiful with dramatic mountains rising from the scrub.
The heat took its toll as it always does so that by the time we neared the top of the climb we were stopping to rest every few kilometres. We had plenty of water but by now it was all about 30 DegC also so not refreshing. We eventually hit the downhill to Kelso, which is LONG, 18 km. We are amazed by these descents. Kelso visitor's centre is closed however the building is beautiful, it is the original train station built here. We were surprised to find that there is a working railway here which forms part of the Union Pacific Route. We spent a few hours at Kelso and quite a few trains pulled through, sounding their horns. They were all goods trains and we were seperated from them by a fence so they were only a few metres away. They were impressively loud and large, and very powerful. Kelso has shade from large palm trees, picnic benches, toilets and drinking water available. We had our evening meal there and drank a lot of water. We left full of water around 18:00 to ride a few kilometres down the road and found a camp spot tucked away from the road.
We finally felt that we made progress today. The day started with a 550 m climb passed the Kelso Dunes and over the Granite Mountains. This took a couple of hours. At the viewing site on the other side we met Katy who lives in Seattle and has invited us to stay with her when we get there! We planned today's ride to leave Mojave and continue south to Route 66 (historical route), however this would mean losing a few hundred additional metres elevation which we would have to climb back up again to Fenner later on. We could get on the I40 and head east that way, whch would be slightly downhill for 45 km. No brainer. Cycle touring for us means mixing it up. Now and again we abandon the scenic (and let's face it scenic generally means more challenging) option for the "wind in our hair option". The I40 is a great road to ride. It's a divided highway which we love with a very wide shoulder. It has an incredible number of trucks on it. When you look in front or behind you all you will see is a string of trucks. The road just slid downhill, perfect gentle gradient for all 45 km. The views were huge, of mountain range after mountain range in every direction. The countryside felt very spacious. Far in the distance we could see very long goods trains on the Sante Fe line chugging along.
Luckily it was a cooler day than yesterday and we had some cloud cover. We stopped at the highway rest area just before Fenner where the on site manager kindly gave us cold water for our bottles! There are taps that you can use to fill up water also. We cooked a meal, soaked our shirts in water to cool down and hit the road. As we turned off the freeway onto Route 66, we saw that the road we would have taken to this point had we joined the 66 straight after exiting Mojave was closed due to damage! We did not know where it was closed from but felt very lucky to have chosen the I40!
The 66 was a great ride alongside the surprisingly busy goods rail line. These trains are amazing, some with three engines pulling from the front and then three in the middle or at the end. The carriages are flatbeds carrrying double-decker shipping containers each. They go on forever. We had a lovely tailwind so just cruised along. We stopped briefly at Goff, with its old shool and museum, but it was closed. A few kilometres further on we found a good spot to camp. For the third night in a row we are not pitching the tent and are sleeping under the stars. That's what we tell ourselves anyway. Actually we are just too lazy. We will fall asleep to the sound of the trains and looking at the stars.
It was all downhilll to Needles, all 40 km or so, so that was a great start to the day! We raced down the hill to the Colorado River valley all stretched out, green and slender, high mountains all around. Needles is on the Colorado River and is in California. We had mixed feelings crossing the Colorado River to Arizona. A new state, so that is exciting, but also we had grown to love California and were a little sad to leave. We crossed the flat Mojave Valley floor and had 19 km to ride to Walmart which had us pretty excited. This was the first actual supermarket we had come across since Lake Isabella many weeks ago. The shopping list was written and in I dived. Top of the list was 1 kg of trail mix and 1 kg of Gatorade or Powerade or anthing isotonic. It was so amazing to see the fully stocked shelves wih products properly priced. Happy days! We then had a pizza at Pizza Hut and after 3 hours in town we hit the road. We worked our way out of town east towards the mountains and as always, suburban backstreets help you form an instant impression of life and inhabitants, fair or not. Many flags flying again of all sorts of persuasions. We had not seen that since the western side of the Sierras.
It was a fair climb out of the valley and we were carrying A LOT of food and water. The road which brings you back to Route 66 was pretty busy, bumpy and narrow but at some point we left the town outskirts behind and found the strong southerly wind cooling. We stopped a number of times to drink. The stunning mountains drew closer and closer. Just as we reached the intersection with Oatman Road (Route 66) we saw that many RVs and campervans were parked up on the corner, so we decided to look for a campspot before reaching them. We found an easy way into a sort of river wash which went on forever and once again are sleeping under the stars. We can hear the burros (donkeys) braying in the distance. Hope they don't try and make off ith our trail mix tonight.