Wed Sep 17 13:11:54 PDT 2003
Desert Crossing -- Bakersfield, CA
On my way out of Vegas on Friday the 12th, I decided to take one more shot at gambling at the Sahara casino. I went back to the roullette table, expecting to lose quickly and be on my way, but on a whim I bet four dollars on number eight, and the wheel came up eight! I made a few more bets, all losers, but I managed to walk away with one hundred thirteen dollars. It was a nice end to my stay there, and my winnings more than covered what it had cost me to stay in a motel for three days.
It took me a while to get out of town, stopping at various places for food, postcards, etc. I wound up getting out of the city just as the sun started to go down. I found a decent place to camp in the desert and cooked dinner, but I was in an odd mood and knew the next day would be hot, so instead of setting up my tent for the night I just lay out my sleeping bag and slept under the stars for a few hours. At 2 AM I got up and started riding with headlights and taillights ablaze. It was a beautiful night with a nearly full moon and I was riding on a nearly-abandoned road. Much of the time I could turn off my headlight and navigate by moonlight. I had a wonderful time. It was incredibly peaceful, and it felt great to ride in the cool air. Around dawn I arrived at the Nevada border and had breakfast at "Whiskey Pete's," one of the three casino-hotels that stand right across from California. I tried to get rid of some change at the slot machines, but I kept winning. So I took the message and walked away four dollars richer. I guess there's something lucky about leaving Vegas.
As dawn broke on Saturday the 13th, I finally crossed into California, my sixteenth and final state. It was starting out to be a wonderful day. I even had a slight tailwind. Ahead there was a rather steep climb to a mountain pass, but even that can be fun if you have enough energy. By this time I was back on I-15 and got lots of encouraging honks from passing drivers. This is one of the nice things about being on the freeway -- more people pass, so you get more friendly beeps. I counted over twenty in less than half a day.
By the time I crossed the pass my tailwind had picked up even more, and now I was going downhill too, so I just cruised along. But that's when things took a turn for the worse. There was a fatal accident involving a tractor-trailer on I-15, and they shut down all southbound traffic. There was a detour, but it was seventy miles long and I figured I would wait it out at the service station nearby, and probably get to Baker just as quickly.
The all detoured traffic was routed by this service station, and they were doing major business. I'd been told that gas prices are high this summer, but hadn't really paid attention until someone pointed out the prices here -- $2.79 for a gallon of unleaded. This was certainly inflated by temporary demand, but I was surprised to notice that even at other stations the price of gas is in the mid two's. I'm glad I'm not driving across the country!
I tried to nap while I waited, to accomodate my changed schedule, but there was too much noise and bustle. There were also flies, tons of them, and anytime I was almost asleep they would land on me and tickle until I couldn't ignore them anymore.
Eventually traffic started moving in one lane, and I got on my way. It was already late afternoon and I was only looking for a better place to nap. I stopped briefly at a rest area, but there were flies there too, and it was hot. Eventually I decided just to keep going.
I passed the accident site, and the automobile traffic was practically stopped. I passed a lot of cars full of people who cheered and waved at me, a great encouragement. One police officer told me that I wasn't supposed to be on I-15, but I have several reasons to think he was incorrect regarding that particular section -- including a "Bike Route" sign I passed at the on-ramp. I made it into Baker by dark and camped on the edge of town, but not before seeing "The World's Tallest Thermometer." It read ninety-four degrees.
Sunday morning the 14th I set out early, but not before sunrise. I wish I had, because it turned out to be a long, hot, difficult day. There was a tremendous headwind that I struggled against all day long. I was really getting out into the heart of the Mojave desert. I crawled into Barstow around sunset and got a motel. I was expecting a a package at the post office the next morning so I wanted to be able to sleep in. I got a pint of Ben & Jerry's and watched "Wargames" on TV. In the morning of Monday the 15th I met the housekeeper, who turned out to be from Marlboro, MA. She had read my address on the check-in card and wanted to say hello. Her daughter evidently lives just outside of Acton, my hometown.
I went to the post office but they didn't have my package for me, so I set out to take Route 58 out of town towards Bakersfield. Monday turned out to be an even worse day than Sunday, for a number of reasons. First, Route 58 turned out to be no-bicycles-allowed. It said as much at the on-ramp. But it also said "Freeway ends 2 miles," so I figured I could sneak out two miles to where my bicycle would be legal.
I met a couple of hitchhikers and a dog, which was nice, and I offered them some water since I felt like I had plenty. They didn't need any but their dog did. They were headed for San Francisco too. I wanted to ask more about their trip, but they didn't seem interested in talking.
Later, I lost my bike multi-tool. My bag had been hanging open and it fell out.
After I passed a couple of closed service stations and started to worry about water, I approached a fellow with a camper-wagon by the side of the road, and he gave me some. I guess that was payback for giving a bottle to the hitchhiking couple.
Later my seatback mesh started to tear. Really bad news, since without a seat to push against, I can't pedal. Fortunately I managed to fix it temporarily with some dental floss and a tooth threader. Remind me to thank my dentist next time I see him.
Finally I got to Four Corners, little more than an intersection and some service stations, but it was a little bit of heaven to me. The wind had been kicking up again and it was great to stop and sit in the shade. I sat there all afternoon drinking soda and reading, and finally headed out after sunset to camp by the side of the road nearby.
Tuesday the 16th took me to Tehachapi and was similarly rough. There was even more wind on Tuesday than either of the two previous days. I was planning to take a lunch stop at Mojave, but found that highway construction had re-routed the freeway several miles around the town. I decided not to go out of my way to hit town.
I did meet one fellow, Robert, who brightened my outlook a little bit. He was hitchhiking to Bishop, and I offered him some water too, but he said he was okay. He said he was actualy making really good progress. He had been released from prison in Bakersfield that morning with ten dollars and had to make it to Bishop. But God was with him and he knew he'd be alright. As I rode off he made a point of shouting "God bless you Jacob!"
As I rounded the corner of the detour I finally saw why the wind was so powerful. The hillsides to the west were covered with enormous fans, blowing at ful tilt! Edwards Air Force base was nearby, so probably it was some advanced new weather-weapon. Or maybe a power generating plant.
I stopped at a house to ask an elderly lady for water. She asked how I was doing and I said "Not so great, this wind is really rough." She replied, "Oh, this isn't so bad. Usually the wind is much stronger, especially in the evening." Suddenly I had a new appreciation for how much worse things could be. I took off over the hills with renewed vigor, and arrived in Tehachapi by evening.
My first experience with the town was very negative. I stopped at a gas station and asked if I could fill up my water bottles. I was astonished when the guy shook his head at me. I just stood there for a second and he explained, like I was the dumbest rock in the garden, "We sell water." I replied "Yeah, but I just want tap water." He said again, having the nerve to be annoyed, "We don't give away water, we sell water." I left, very pissed off, and filled up my water bottles at the motel right next door.
After that, though, my experience improved. I stopped for a great dinner at a local taqueria and met lots of friendly local folks, all of whom wanted to know about my bike and my trip and so on. I met one older handicapped lady in particular, Carmelita, who saw I was almost done with my paperback and invited me to her book sale, which she was just going to be starting up after dinner. She was really kind, and I wanted to oblige by checking out her books, even though I was skeptical about finding something I'd like. Unfortunately when I followed her directions, I found neither her nor a book sale! I even asked around the neighborhood, and I did have the right house, but there was no-one there! I felt bad just disappearing, but there was nothing else to do. I went on South out of town and camped near the on-ramp to Route 58.
This morning, Wednesday September 17th, I got up early and was treated to a nice long downhill into Bakersfield. A few miles outside of town Route 58 went from "bicycles allowed" to "no bicycles allowed," but I couldn't see any other way to go. I was pulled over in short order, though, by a highway patrolman. He was very kind and told me I wasn't supposed to be out here. "Not a big deal," he said, "I just don't want you to get hit." He gave me directions to get on a parallel road and escorted me to the next exit.
Finally, I arrived in Bakersfield. I was happy to get here, since it means I've finally finished crossing the Mojave desert and hopefully the winds will abate. They've kept calm so far. But as I rode through town I heard a dismaying "Bang!" and my rear tire went flat. Not just flat, but the tire is worn out, so patching the hole won't do any good (well, not much good -- I can improvise). I already wrecked one rear tire and was riding my spare. The package I looked for in Barstow was supposed to have a replacement spare, but I missed it. My seat back is also still in sorry shape. It's incredibly frustrating that I'm so close to my destination and I keep having such difficulties. I only have ten days left to get to San Francisco, but I think I wil have to spend one or two of them waiting here for my packages. It's not such a bad little town, but I want to go!