Today was always going to be a toughy. It’s hot here, and today was my second-longest day of the trip so far, at around 90 miles. Across the desert. With barely any shade or supply points. I was a little worried about it, to be honest.
I’m writing about it, which clearly destroys any jeopardy or suspense I may try to inject into this post. Likewise, the desert, while impressive, is not especially photogenic, except in a few places.
So I have a choice. A short, to the point, post to reassure those who give a monkey’s that I made it OK. Or something a little different, trying to give you a flavour of what a long, hot day in the saddle actually looks and feels like.
I’m thinking that the latter potentially garners more hero points, so here we go…
The alarm goes off in the dark. 6am. Urgh! I’m dreadful in the morning, or at least until I’ve got some caffeine on board. But with darkness falling again just after 6pm in this neck of the woods, I need all the daylight today. Plus, an early kick-off at least means serious miles before it gets too hot.
Check the weather. 93F is forecast (that’s 34C in new money). In the shade. The road’s always much hotter, but could be worse. Sun-hat or helmet? Stick with the helmet for now, see how it goes. Check The Beast. Mechanically fine, a little air needed in the rear tyre, a little of my bizarre (blue coloured, strawberry flavoured) chain lube to keep things smooth. Water? Two 1.5 litre bottles in addition to the usual two bike bottles. That’s 4.5 litres. Enough? Not sure. Think there’s only one chance to buy more en route. Check my own fluid levels. Drink two kilos of extra weight.
Ablutions. No point in washing with a sweaty day ahead, but gain shiny white teeth and fresh breath, and lose a bit of the extra weight I just put on. ‘Nuff said.
Pack the bike. Rear panniers, front panniers, bar bag. Add the tent, and the high-calorie food I bought last night; bread, plastic cheese, cookies and crisps (that’s ‘chips’ for the Americans). Extra classy and decent calories-per-gram. Good. Still need to eat before I head off, though. And get that caffeine in. Quick sweep to ensure I’ve not forgotten anything.
Somehow, it’s already seven-fifteen. No idea how I take so long to get ready, but I seem to be stuck with it.
Quick calories and coffee required to kick things off. A mile-and-a-half into town to the Golden Arches and a fat boy’s breakfast (well, they’ve got a special on, and two of everything is definitely required). Pop next door to the gas station. Bottle of multi-vit-reinforced water to keep hydrated. Sunscreen application number one (factor 50 – no messing about). Shades replace specs, crash helmet and gloves on. I’m ready, finally.
Seven forty-five. On the road.
Twenty or so uneventful miles across the valley towards the desert. Then a bonus; one last gas station before the end of civilisation. A bucket of lemonade from the soda fountain and some chocolate. More empty calories, which is exactly what I need.
Into the desert. The road’s pretty easy, but the heat’s building already. The sunscreen and sweat mixture is picking up dust and diesel from passing trucks. Lovely. It’s all getting a bit gritty; standard problem, though.
Just after eleven, I meet a couple on touring bikes coming the other way. We stop for a chat, cleverly placed just under the brow of a small hill, alarming oncoming truck drivers for a few minutes as we discuss routes, bikes, and all the usual stuff. They are doing my ride today in reverse, but left long before dawn to avoid the worst of the heat. I’m duly ashamed of my morning tardiness, and a little worried about having to ride through that heat myself. No matter, I’m committed now.
The road starts to rise. It’s not steep, and not especially high, but it rises in waves, due to being built on a dune system. It’s hard to get a decent climbing rhythm, and the sunscreen-sweat-road muck combo is making a beeline for my eyes as my fluid intake comes straight back out through my skin. More stops for food, water and eye-sluicing. Tricky balance; do I want to see clearly, or make sure I’ve got enough to drink?
Around 1pm, I’m hitting the top of the drag. There’s a building, which is the first shade I’ve seen all day. It turns out to house a bunch of Border Patrol agents searching for illegal immigrants. They let me cool off in one of their vehicle-search bays, as long as I stay out of the way. Shade feels good. More water. More sunscreen. And off again. Still wondering why they didn’t check the documents of the only obvious foreigner in the area…
Two-thirty. After another twenty-ish miles of rolling road, sweat and itching road grime, I hit the gentle downhill to Imperial sand dunes. The couple I met earlier told me there was a shop. I stop. Massively overpriced, but really don’t care. An extra litre of water, a Coke, and an ice cream to drop my core temperature out of the red. Third application of factor 50. Half-an-hour cooling off in the shade. Just enough time for a headwind to spring up to obstruct my last 27 miles. Grr… Unpack the Cycling Zen, check the clock (should still be just OK for daylight). Roll out for the last stretch at three.
The sand dunes are spectacular, which makes the next few miles easier. Then it’s back to the grind. Trying to think about other things to deflect negative thoughts about the wind and the nasty sunscreen-dirt muck, which is in both eyes now. Notice that the desert doesn’t smell of anything other than the occasional road-kill victim. The warm pine smells of the Rockies were nicer. I try to pretend I’m still there. I pass sea level (going down), which ruins the Rockies fantasy. There isn’t even a sign, which is a bummer.
Fatigue and heat kick in properly for the last ten miles. And the usual (literal) pain in the backside from a long day’s riding. Stopping every few minutes for water, and to relieve pressure on delicate areas. Racing the falling sun towards Brawley. I’m knackered, but I’m going to make it. Just.
Roll into town at five-thirty. Thermometer shows 97F, still, despite the fact the sun’s nearly gone down. Find place to stay. Shower immediately (ah, the itchy, sweaty, nasty gunk is gone until tomorrow!). Food. More liquid. Consider a celebratory beer (it is Saturday, after all). Decide against (on the basis of dehydration risk). Check wi-fi. Write some bits and bobs. Shortly to sleep.
Tomorrow? Same again, but only about 40 miles; good chance for a lie-in… Then it’s over the coastal range, and a drop to the Pacific. And probably back to normal reporting. This is exhausting just to re-read…
Today in numbers:
Distance – 91 miles (145km);
Hours from start to finish – 8hr 45min;
Hours moving – 6hr 55min;
Average Moving Speed – 13 mph (21 kph)
Climbing – 456m (1496ft);
Max Shade Temperature (conservative estimate) – 100F (38C);
Sunscreen Applications – 3;
Approx litres of fluid drunk – 8.5l
Other Cycle Tourers Met – 2