Day 2 started in the serene desert predawn, concluded with waves crashing at the Pacific Ocean.
I popped up from the hammock in front of the Agua Caliente store in the dark of night, aware that I could easily drift off to sleep again, but excited to make progress. I’d spent 7 hours at the store, recovering from digestive problems in the desert heat… and spending some time getting into a proper adventuring headspace with Mark. Despite the long stopover I felt a sense of pride to be rolling at the early hour. It was almost 4am.
I gathered my gear and clipped in, took a moment to look about. A few sodium-vapor lights buzzed overhead near the Caltrans depot adjacent the store. I rode off into the darkness, lights off, feeling courageous on the move. My tires hummed and gears clicked in the desert stillness.
Nearly an hour passed before I saw the day’s first set of headlights on the horizon. I turned on my headlamp to be seen- so bright it took my eyes a moment to adjust. A rattly diesel passed in the opposite direction and I saw the day’s blue light creeping over my right shoulder.
Oriflamme Canyon. It’s a bitch.
A rocky dirt road rising from the desert into a mountain range- abruptly. I don’t know the stats, I just know it sucks.
I was happy to get an early start up the climb, so that heat wouldn’t be a factor. Frequent but businesslike stops for robot food (Hammer Perpetuem) and nuts got the job done quickly enough. By the Sunrise Highway I felt good. Limbered up with a happy belly.
The singletrack through Indian Creek trail had me buzzing; zigging and zagging, moving with the flow of the trail. The stuff every mountain biker rides for. The bike, the trail, and I had all come together for a jam session only I could witness and appreciate. Damn right; it’s a beautiful day.
“Expect it all to be a climb” became my mantra. I focused on the pressure in my legs, maintaining what I came to believe was my “all day” exertion. No matter what, I would not exceed that exertion, I told myself. Even if the trail gained a few clicks of grade for just a moment, I would resist the temptation to “just crank up that hill” and instead would shift down into the granny gear… or walk.
I came to love the 3×10 drivetrain. I used every bit of the granny gear, even though I felt plenty strong enough to send it in the middle ring. It would pay off later, I believed. “expect it all to be a climb. expect it all to be a climb”
I managed a 19 minute turnaround at my pit stop in Descanso.
In that time I drank a can of soup, stocked up on nuts, a banana, and water. I aired up my tires for the relative hardpack of Viejas Grade, and alternating asphalt & heavily used single track ahead, between Alpine and San Diego.
Peak heat hit shortly after Alpine… “expect it all to be a climb” meant I slowed way down. Living the commitment to sustainable pace. Low pressure on the pedals, but with mojo rising as the ocean came into view. The heat broke by Sweetwater Reservoir and once again I felt the thrill of single track, on the local trails at the outskirts of the city. I raced along with a single speeder, a guy with no shirt, earbuds hanging out from under his helmet. He cranked hard up the steeps, and I chased with everything I had in my legs. The thrill of the hunt felt great, if even just for a few minutes.
I came by a group of 3 mountain bikers huddled over a bike laying in the trail. I helped them fix their flat tire, using my own patch kit. They were fairly new to mountain biking.
“Where did you start from?” one of them asked.
“Way back out that way” I replied, attempting to dodge the question. I wanted to get rolling again.
“Where, exactly?” asked the girl in the group.
“Aqua Caliente… out in the desert.”
Jaws dropped. I told them about the ride, the route, and some resources they could look in to if they wanted to give bike packing a whirl. They said it was cool to hear their local trails were part of the big route. I was glad I took some time.
I stopped at a Subway sandwich shop outside a Navy technical school in San Diego, just after dusk. Busy place, naval students in their 20’s- some maybe their teens- buzzing about. Some in uniform, the more privileged in their “civvies.” All of them better smelling than me. A couple of them made small talk with me, surprisingly none of them asked about the bike leaned outside the door, tail light blinking, aero bars and various odd accouterment hanging off the bars. Surely it looked as odd as a martian spaceship to them.
Past Point Loma, up and over the aptly named “Hill Street” and down to the Pacific Ocean at Sunset Cliffs. Past sunset. Waves crashing, interior lights on at the gorgeous houses, folks settling in for the night in their little slice of paradise. I settled in for a little slice of paradise myself- some lonesome riding through a crowded area, and maybe a beer later, curled up under some trailside shrubbery, I thought.
But Cliff Clermont had another thought.
Cliff was Spot-stalking me that night while out and about at work on a road construction project. The work was delayed, and his timing for a visit was much appreciated. We had a couple rounds at the Silver Spigot, a bar that offers Bud Light on tap… or nothing.
After a couple rounds and some philosophical wrestling of the cycling world’s problems, I made my way back on to the bike for an hour or so more. I found a soft spot in the sand, waves crashing some 30 feet away and called it a night, listening to the sound of the ocean at my feet.