72 Hours in the Rabbit Hole- Day 1

 71 hours, 58 minutes and so much more 
I left Monday after delaying the start a full day… which would’ve been a move up in the first place. I had the opportunity to see the Pixies live at Pappy & Harriets… a barnlike venue in Yucca Valley described as a “hipster honky tonk”. The chance to see Pixies was worth shuffling my days, I figured. But duty called, and it turned out I didn’t have much time to spare. A guy can only have so much fun.
Jump in
Higher Grounds Coffee Shop, the starting point of the ride.
Higher Grounds Coffee Shop, the starting point of the ride.
I left the house around 4 am Monday morning, stopped by the very closed coffee shop for the obligatory SPOT turn on and called the start of my ride at 4:20. I rolled off in the cold & dark, down the route into Garner Valley. Dave See, my riding buddy, happened upon me along his commute some 10 miles out, just before my first turn off on to dirt near Thomas Mountain. He pulled his car alongside and gave me a shot of enthusiasm with a pumped fist & raised cup of coffee.
A very red sun rises over Anza.  Day 1
A very red moon sets over Anza. Day 1 at daybreak
I lingered a bit at the top of the first climb near the Speed of Light Reflector, which is an artifact left over from scientific experiments of the 1930’s. The setting moon was red and fat on the horizon. Commuter traffic was building on highway 371 below, I noticed the motorists seem to zip around a bit quicker when that first hint of civil twilight breaks. Just like the critters rustling around in the bushes.
Descending into Coyote Canyon, the day matured. Pines and Pinyons gave way to Creosote Bush and Ocotillos. Lizards scurried on rocks and sand, warming in the low yellow sun. I settled into solitude for the long haul across the desert. By the time I reached the Ocotillo Wells General Store a number of hours later, I was deep enough within my own head that I could barely hold conversation with the resident desert socialite. A chatty blonde girl with a pack of cigarettes, legs dangling over the arms of her plastic chair.
Summer is coming early
The route jumps deep into the Anza Borrego desert from Ocotillo Wells. Soft sand, churned by Jeeps and dried by intense sun and too few rainy days. Southern California has been in a drought of historical significance. Desert dwellers from Borrego Springs to the Imperial Valley can see it in the vegetation, and even in the ground they walk on. Prior to my ride, I had talked with Carter Taylor, from Brawley, who told me of the recent changes he’d witnessed in his home turf: the wind had been busy moving dry sand, and the firm layer of “crust” was thin and fragile.
I stopped briefly at the mouth of Fish Creek wash to air down my tires and give myself a pep talk. I’d been feeling pretty good on the bike to that point and decided to press into the ride with effort, to make my mark on the ITT right there. “Effort” is a relative term on a hot day in the desert. It is nothing at all like effort in the hills, or effort on the flats. Effort in the desert for me means holding a sustainable exertion for a long time, with few stops. It takes a constant self-diagnostic check of breathing (don’t get too deep) and pressure on the pedals, combined with a carefully reading the sand for firm spots and avoiding the impossibly soft ones. The margin of error is razor thin. Get breathing too hard, hit a soft spot and be forced to push… and you’re done.
Getting settled in the desert.
Getting settled in the desert.
I started off during the day’s peak heat, a temp in the mid 90’s. The sand in wash was soft, as predicted, and the steady breeze came through the valley like a hair dryer blowing on my face. Forward progress came from about 80% pedaling, 20% pushing and walking.
I kept at it with businesslike effort, running calculations in my mind for arrival times at various goals that day. I was anxious to get to the shade beneath the tall rocks near the Wind Caves, a few miles up the wash. By the time I got there, I’d spent about 2 hours straining in the heat since leaving the store in Ocotillo Wells. My stomach had knotted up, and my energy level was quite low. That “effort” in the sand- and the focus on time goals- was a mistake. I sat in the shade for quite some time reevaluating the situation, and decided to walk at a slow pace until the heat broke.
I walked for hours, stomach distended and head hot. When I allowed myself to ride it was at a creeping pace, barely turning the pedals. The push up Diablo Drop Off, a deep silty grade up a steep hill, was particularly heinous. I took three breaks on the way up, covering less than a quarter mile in probably a half hour.
By the time I reached Arroyo Tapiado the sun had relented, and I finally had gravity on my side. I pedaled at what turned out to be a more reasonable “effort” for the rest of the day until I reached Highway S-2 around dusk.
Blood Moon
Mark puts on a laser show
Mark puts on a laser show
I pulled up to the Agua Caliente General Store in the dark and located doorbell: a tethered ingot of steel the visitor whacks against a hanging oxygen tank with the bottom cut out. Mark, the store owner, welcomed me into his home for the evening and immediately provided for my every need: a home made turkey sandwich and cold Dos Equis, which he described as “clean and refreshing,” and he was right.
It was the night of the Blood Moon eclipse; cause for celebration. We stayed up a while, visiting and enjoying the night sky outside his compound, which is equal parts health food store and repair shop. Mark put on a laser light show against the nearby mountains and we related stories of tourists and the state of the world.
I laid back in a hammock below a large Ocotillo, rocking in the gentle breezes. I listened to a symphony of frogs from the nearby spring, and lingering notes of wind chimes in the air… I drifted off to sleep.

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