Bicycle Touring from San Diego to Las Vegas via Death Valley

Bicycle Touring, USA Add comments

Lived and written by Luis Omar Lopez & John P Morgan Jr

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DAY 1 – San Diego to just south of Temecula (71 miles)

Written by Omar:

We didn’t start on our bikes until late around 10 or 11 our first day and soon as the noon heat began to hit we began the hundred turns and out of the way miles of straight-up straight-down hills it takes to get out of the city and towards the desert while avoiding major freeways. I saw a homeless man carrying his sleeping bag 10 miles into the ride and realized I’d forgot to pack mine. I decided not to turn back and instead hoped some cheap solution would pop up. We felt our first pains early and stretched ass-to-ass like turtles on our backs on the sidewalk for the benefit of everyone else stuck in traffic. We got a few happy honks and then kept going, stopping at every McDonald’s on the way to steal free Powerade, we moved inland then backtracked towards the coast across Del Mar, then back inland again for good, climbing a long uphill through Escondido to Old Highway 395 that runs along the side of the 15 North. John began breathing hard and soon couldn’t swallow any water so we stopped at a 7-11 for a break and using webMD via his iPhone John self-diagnosed himself with EIA (exercise induced asthma). In the parking lot two girls ran into a car backwards pulling out of their spot. The stout troll in the hit car got out in a rage, cursing the world first for his bad haircut, his shitty flat-top that made him shorter and fatter, and then for the 3 inch smear on his maroon 1995 Saturn. It was good theater and we rode off again until after dark trying to reach Temecula but ended setting up camp in a burnt out patch of dirt between the freeway and some golf course and all night the semis croaked their Jake brakes over our tent and down the hill to Temecula. I wore all of my clothes and borrowed John’s silk liner bag and was warm enough.

 

 

DAY 2 – Temecula to San Bernardino (79 miles)

Written by John:

With the morning light we found ourselves in a Tim Burton movie. All the trees were black and leafless and the patch of dirt we had slept in was really a patch of ash.

It was a long downhill to Starbucks where we took over an outside table to share our only spoon and bowl for mixing up some granola with Powerade stained water and chunky peanut butter as a milk substitute. While hunched over the aluminum bowl of mush, an as-seen-on-TV California blond came strutting out of Starbucks, locked my eyes and wished me a wonderful, wide smiling “Hello…” then paused for a response to which I responded with a blank stare as she kept her gait and exited with “…have a nice day.”

“Have a nice day!” I called to her swagger.

Hmm…maybe it’s the dirty sweater cyclist thing…??

“Hey Omar, do you want to just stay in Temecula today?”

It took us forever to get up the 79, passing lots of small insignificant desert towns.

We stopped in one outdoors shop that had no front door and shared space with a real estate office to buy a sleeping bag for Omar, but seeing as he was already on a relatively tight budget of fourteen cents per day, he opted instead for the “Space-Material Emergency Blanket”which was nothing more than a ten square foot sheet of Reynolds Wrap folded into a silver brick the size of a bar of soap.

“You’re crazy dude. You don’t even have a sleeping pad and now you’re going to sleep on the ground wrapped in that thing?”

“Yea, these things are warm, Ellie and I slept in Yosemite in the snow in one and we were fine.”

“You’ll look like leftovers.”

At a Vitamin Shop we bought some Accelerade and flirted with the cute girl at the counter who didn’t know where Rhode Island was. We road on again along the straight and long long long 79 with a sweet tailwind that pushed Omar ahead of me until he was too far to yell for with the pump, tubes and patches in his bag and I got a flat right next to a Mexican guy setup with a taco cart in the parking lot of some commercial buildings and a custom wheels shop.

Omar wiggled away into the heat on the horizon. The taco guy was convinced I had stopped for him and he didn’t speak English so everything I said he assumed had something to do with the tacos he was sure I wanted. He was waving his spatula around speaking to me in Spanish and I was wishing I hadn’t quit the Spanish audio course when I decided not to ride into Mexico. Omar was gone for about 15 minutes and the tent over the taco cart was the only shade around, so finally I ordered a couple chicken tacos when just then he rolled up assuming I was so damn hungry I had stopped to eat without telling him so that he could realize it ten minutes later and double back into a headwind. We ate tacos in the shade, drank warm Powerade, fixed my flat and rode on.

It was so freaking hot that day. Tailwinds are great for making good time, but when you’re going 20mph with a 20mph tailwind, there’s no breeze to relieve the scorch of the sun. I ran out of water and was getting dizzy, so we stopped at a random house on the highway. I knocked on the door and a little girl answered.

“Hi. Can I use your hose for some water? I ran out…” I said pointing at the spigot by the door.

“Yeah, OK” she said snapping the door shut and peaking at me through the window treatments.

Steep climbs before a long downhill into the ass-end of San Bernardino passing abandoned lots, bail bondsman offices and defunct tire shops. At the extreme north-end of the city, literally a block from the foot of the mountains, we reached the home of Lettie – a spunky 50 year old couch surfer. We showered, drank Lettie’s orange juice and traded stories about our travels until her striking young daughter Desiree arrived home from work to drive us for more taco’s and tell us of her obsession with London.

Desiree slept with Lettie in Lettie’s bed and I slept with Omar in Desiree’s bed which had fresh non-girly sheets on them courtesy of Lettie. I was already used to sleeping close to Omar as we’d shared space in the children’s book section while we were both living at Shakespeare & Co bookstore in Paris, but it was strange being next to him on a big comfy bed in pink room with posters of boys on the wall, a life-sized cutout of Marilyn Monroe staring at us and the sweet fragrance of perfume in the air. Although the thoughts only lasted minutes.

 

DAY 3 – San Bernardino to Hesperia (44 miles)

Written by John:

It was late morning in a flash and we were back in the kitchen drinking more of Lettie’s orange juice and eating our granola with her real milk. It was a short ride from there to the foot of the first serious mountain range we’d have to cross. Automatically I pulled into the first McDonald’s I saw. It needn’t even be said anymore as we’d stopped at so many already. We’d park the bikes, Omar would pull out his bent and dirty, super-sized plastic McDonald’s cup, I’d pull out my iPhone to check my email and he’d go in to fill up and buy a hamburger. Then he’d come out and we’d drink Powerade and then we’d take turns going back in for more until my water bottles and his Camel-Pak were filled.

“Shit, I forgot my iPod at Letties” said Omar, standing there with his cup of Powerade.

“I’m not going back man. I’ll wait here.”

I sat in the shade waiting for him and thinking “Damn, this kid is forgetful. I wonder how much stuff he’ll lose before the end of the trip…”

The view during the 3000 foot climb was amazing. After only a mile we could see all of the flat suburban grid that is San Bernardino. The road snaked itself through thin forest up the mountain and we followed it with blue skies above. A car would pass every few minutes, but for most of the time it was just us and the sound of our tires crunching over the sand and sticks on the dirty shoulder.

It’s funny pedaling uphill all that time. You’re going slow enough to have a conversation, but your heart is pumping so much blood to your legs already that you can only spare the oxygen for a handful of words before you’re lungs start to heave. So we kept to our thoughts, which went around and around with the pedals.

The sun got awfully hot during the second hour. I started to wonder if I’d really be able to handle the heat of Death Valley. After 90 minutes I really started to struggle. We were taking breaks more and more often. At every sign of shade or turnoff we pulled over to rest.

“How far was that…one mile?” Omar asked.

I clicked the mode button on my odometer to show the distance, which I’d hidden so I wouldn’t have the watching water boil effect as we climbed.

“Nope, just four-tenths….”, I replied.

And then, three miles before where I calculated the summit to be, I came around a bend ahead of Omar and saw the a bunch of buildings and a sign on one of them that said “Summit Pizza”. I started pedaling feverishly, burning up all the energy I’d been saving. I looked back to see if Omar had realized I’d started pedaling like a mad man. He had and was pedaling wildly too.

The challenge was grueling, but we took it well knowing this was just a small test of what was to come.

We locked the bikes outside a small family owned cafe and sat down for a long lunch and then ordered the all-you-can eat soup…over and over again.

“I wish I’d tried this while I was in France…” said Omar with his face in the bowl.

“You’ve never had French Onion?”

“Nope.”

“Weird…”

I watched two hippies outside milling about near our bikes while I spooned food into my mouth and felt the nutrients digest out of them and travel straight into my legs.

We ate about eight servings including all of our last because after we had ordered it and then tried to cancel and the home-schooled, attractive, yet socially awkward 19 year old waitress told us they had just cooked a new batch because we had unexpectedly eaten all of the French Onion soup.

Written by Omar:

Coming down the North side of the mountains was plunge-climb-plunge-climb with mobs of mosquitoes catching up to our faces during every slow climb and though I spun a goddamn tornado out of my low gears it was never enough to outrun those thirsty bugs not until a last series of drops and ess curves that proved my brakes we worth nothing. On my last turn I saw myself slide off the road and into the dirt on the edge over a wooded cliff and somehow I stayed on my bike while I skid in all directions for 20 feet before ending up on the road again. John asked what I saw when my life flashed before my eyes and I told him I didn’t see or think anything I just kept myself from falling and I thought maybe should I ever get that flash I would know it would be be that flag that its too late. Then, I laughed since I still hadn’t bought a helmet and after this what could ever come along that I would need one.

The rest of the day was easy rolling past Lake Arrowhead and some fun invisible yokel did some bird calls and yelled to John and me from up in the trees, “Hey!….What’s going on?” and I yelled back, “I don’t know, I’m riding a bike!” and that was good enough for him. A long giant road during sunset into Hesperia and we stopped at Starbucks to eat our granola and think of a place to sleep. The girl behind the counter was afraid of me I don’t know why, I scared her when I asked her for a spoon and she jumped backwards into the coffee maker, the rest of the night she gave wary side glances from across the room, seemed like she wanted to make sure I wasn’t creeping behind her. It frustrated me having to deal with so much fear and having to tiptoe like a Frankenstein out of politeness so I decided to go all the way when the place was empty right before closing I killed the silence and asked her, “Hey do you have a lawn?” She asked, “A lawn?” and I repeated, “A lawn! Like with grass!” and she murmured a confused yes and then she tried to hide herself inside of the cash register. “Well could my friend and I pitch our tent in your lawn?” She went into the back and never came back out until John and I were outside loading our bikes and she locked the doors to the café and watched us hatefully through the glass. I hadn’t skipped a please or a thank you and I wasn’t even wearing my horns that night. She was just some weird weird bird who is afraid of the ground and afraid of the sky and is praying everyday that her branch doesn’t break.

John and me ended up chaining our bikes behind some strip mall and climbing the fire ladder to the flat gravel roof on top of some dentist’s office and we hauled all our bags up in one two-man donkey pull using some carabiners and rope and we were set for the night. Semis throughout the night and some long train that sounded like a whirlwind and a real rough wind blowing but just above our heads and it was like going to sleep inside storm without rain. It felt good to sleep above everything and hear it all going on just below, all the rigs and the itinerant desert graveyard traffic all unaware of the two men sleeping right above them. It was good to be tucked away in the middle of everything but unseen, and it was good to sleep amongst people and buildings but still have a giant unbroken sky of stars for a roof. I used my foil emergency blanket that night and slept in all my clothes again and I rolled around the grit of the roof that night like a fetus over sandpaper.

 

DAY 4 – Hesperia to just south of the Red Mountain (78 miles)

Written by Omar:

I woke up looking over the sunset and morning traffic. When I looked over at John the first thing he said to me was “I’ve been up since 4 in the morning. I’ve slept 3 hours and that iced chai from last night is still in me. Let’s go!”

Written by John:

Sleeping on the roof and not getting caught was exhilarating and I was wired. This was the closest I’d ever been to living the life of a secret agent. I was picturing Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible as I hopped over the roof ledge and climbed down the ladder to hang for a moment on the last rung by one arm a with my feet dangling a few feet above the ground before dropping with a thud that made me worry someone might of heard us. I scurried quickly around the side of the building leaving Omar to deal with whoever might come to see what the sound was. When I came back around with the bikes, the coast was still clear.

“Hey, where are my sandals?” I asked Omar.

“I don’t know…when is the last time you had them?”

“They were strapped to my bike when we ate lunch at the summit yesterday.”

“Maybe those hippies grabbed them?”

“Ahh sheot! They must have. They couldn’t have fallen off, they were clipped in. Bastards. Hippies love sandals. Man those were nice ones…”

I’d been wearing a broken pair $4 red Old Navy flip-flops for two months before I sprang for some nice sandals at Berk’s in LA.

“Now I have to wear my cycling shoes for the rest of the trip…” I said, already missing the comfort of changing footwear in the evening.

We stocked up with food at Albertson’s, both left a stink the Subway bathroom, and Omar jammed a foot-long meat menagerie into the heaving bag on the back of his bike.

Another long rolling East to West traverse across Hesperia before cruising north on a flat 395 with another beautiful tailwind for miles and miles.

At a truck stop intersection creatively named “Four Corners”, we sat down in another Subway where I ate a fresh 6” and Omar ate half his smushed and soggy foot long meat ménage à trois.

It was so damn hot after lunch and only getting hotter that we agreed hitchhiking 10 or 20 miles North would be a fair idea so we hung out for another hour but all the people we asked either said a quick no or just jumped back in their car and peeled out. It was even hotter still when we got back on our bikes.

We didn’t make it to Johannesburg by nightfall as we had wished, so we walked our bikes off the road a couple hundred feet and camped in the desert where there were billions of stars and the milky way spilled brightly from one horizon to the other.

In the tent, we did shots of Accelerade to ensure our incredible gas-passing remained in full-effect and split the remaining half of Omar’s wet-pressed foot-long meat monstrosity. Beyond the texture, it was actually pretty tasty.

 

 

DAY 5 – Just south of Red Mountain to Ridgecrest (10 miles)

Written by John:

“Shit, Omar…you were right.”

”What?”

“We shouldn’t have walked our bikes through the desert…I’ve got a flat.”

We pulled seven hundred thorns out of our tires and spent an hour fixing tubes before two guys in a massive, glimmering red pickup packed for a fishing weekend pulled over.

The driver hopped out full of positive energy.

“You guys OK?”

“Yea, we were just fixing a flat..”

“All right, sure you don’t need anything?”

“Nah we’re good…”

“All righty then..” he said turning back to his door.

“Actually…” I shouted, “we could use a ride North to make up for lost time.”

“Hop in!” he shouted back excitedly.

The fishermen hoisted our gear on top of their tackle boxes and coolers and then off we were with AC rushing between our ankles and hopes for how far they’d take us passing through both my and Omar’s minds. I watched the red dot glide along the map on the GPS and listened to the driver talk business into his handsfree while the passenger chatted with Omar.

They dumped us at the top of a massive downhill and we waved them goodbye, glad to have made up the lost time and ready for a warm glide down into the next valley.

We hopped on, clipped in and started rolling. Omar’s rear tire made one full rotation before it exploded with a snap and hiss and then we were back on the shoulder with the bags open, tools out, bikes upside down and a wheel off.

Written by Omar:

This guy shows up on a moped and stops to see if we’re alright. He looks like an extra out of Mad Max with his blond dog-hair and the first thing he tells us is that this very morning the Apocalypse has begun. Banks going under and the Russians rallying their nukes and food riots breaking out in all the major cities, this guy Marty says we did not show up on his doorstep in the middle of the nowhere by chance. John and I decide to play the part of willing converts so as to get a ride into town, we tell Marty how we agree God must’ve put us here to find out “the Truth” and arm ourselves with Bibles and Marty agrees, says carrying Bibles will stop us from getting flat tires. He goes home and comes back with his truck and the preaching begins.

It only takes a ½ hour to drive into Ridgecrest, Marty crams it full of his conspiracy theories and his hatred for established religion. He says none of the churches preach the real word of God whose real name is YHWH so he’s set up his ranch as a retreat from the world to study the Bible for the rest of his life and there he’ll be when Armageddon comes down and he’s so happy he says that its finally come, he’s been waiting for it his whole life and now he finally gets proven right, I wondered how long really into the end of the world would he be so happy that he’s right.

We get to T.J. Frisbee’s bike shop and it looks like the bike shop in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. We unload our bikes and bags of gear and John and I feel like we’ll be all set from here on out and we’re ready to say thanks to Marty and stock up on supplies and keep going. But I realize I’ve lost my personal bag with all my money, my emergency blanket, Motrin, toothbrush and a borrowed iPod and I must’ve left it on the side of the road. Its another brainwashing journey with Marty for me while John stays to get his bike fixed and buy food.

Written by John:

“How much water do you think we’ll need to ride from here to Death Valley?” I asked the teenage bike shop clerk.

“Aww geeze, probably eight gallons.”

”Eight gallons, damn! There’s no water stops between here and there?”

”Nope, there ain’t nothin out there. Nothin.”

“How the shit am I going to carry eight gallons of water and all my gear over a mountain range?” I wondered.

I rode to the supermarket and bought 4 one gallon jugs, the most I could carry, as well as a bunch of cliff bars, some rice and pasta and a carrot.

“Where the hell are these guys?” I thought when I got back to the bike shop. I was sure they’d be waiting for me as I was gone about an hour and it’d taken us less than a half hour to get into town from where Omar left literally everything he had brought with him besides his pants.

The shop owner Steve was finishing up putting the thorn guars in my tires. He was nice enough to offer to do the install for free.

“Hey Steve, have you seen my friend?”

“Nope. Half hour turned into an hour and a half huh?”

“Yea, I guess so. When they come back, can you tell them I’m over at the Burger King?”

”Will do!”

Written by Omar:

“We’ll take a shortcut,” says Marty and for a second I believed him that a shortcut would be a shortcut. Perhaps on paper we might’ve driven a shorter line, but he took me through 2 ½ hours of man-made desert back roads bumping along at 5 miles an hour, showing me dozens of abandoned gold mines and emphasizing over and over how easy and hopeless it would be to fall in and get stuck in one. Then he drives me to the trailer setup on his ranch asking me a hundred times to stop in and have some much needed tuna for protein but I tell him I am farting enough with protein shakes alone.

We get to the spot where he picked us up and the bag isn’t there anymore. “Maybe a crow picked it up and flew away with it,” says Marty, “I seen them taking off with big things before… like rabbits.”

Back across the shortcut I’m angry at having lost what few things I brought and my brains and my eyes and lips are all dried up from not drinking anything out of Marty’s paint buckets of water and I don’t have the heart to stay in character and pretend to care anymore. Marty goes on and on about looking for a righteous woman to marry, winning over Satan’s temptations on occasions that floods have washed up half-naked women to his doorstep in the middle of nowhere, the benefits of a heavy-tuna diet, the classic “rock and roll is the devil” and the parts of his life spent as a Jehovah’s Witness and as a God-hating drummer. The funniest thing Marty said was, “You know, I’ve always had this one beef with God though… I always think, aw how come when you sent Jesus you had to let him get put up on that cross? Why couldn’t he’ve been it? I mean why did he have to do this to me I mean, we could already have had Armageddon and the Kingdom of God could be in place now and I would get to live in Paradise on Earth instead of… aw… I guess its okay…”

Getting back to Ridgecrest John asked us what took so long and Marty joked that we’d stopped off at some bar but John saw my face and knew what had really happened. Marty left us each with a Bible, John and I each tried nonchalantly to get the other to throw them away, then we both confessed that though neither of us was religious we couldn’t get over the stigma bred into us of defiling the Bible, instead we left them on the table at a Burger King. We washed our hands of the entire situation like two Herods and I told John what Marty had said to me walking in the street just before he left, which explained a lot about our evangelist chauffeur.

“Marty you eat a lot of tuna don’t you? How much do you think you eat a day?”

“I don’t know, I guess I mostly eat when I’m hungry.”

“Doesn’t tuna have a lot of mercury in it? I think you’re only supposed to eat so much of it or else it’s bad for you.”

“You know I’ve heard that…”

“Well how do you know you’re not eating too much mercury? How do you know whether the fish you’re eating is full of mercury or not?”

Marty stopped and thought very hard before putting forth his diamond of logical reasoning…

“Well I guess it would depend on whether the fish I was eating had mercury in it, or not.”

…and then he smiled at the sky and started walking again, so so content with having answered yet another of the world’s riddles.

Written by John:

“Do you know we’re going to have to carry 8 gallons of water into Death Valley?” I told Omar.

“Eight gallons??!”

“Yea, the kid at the bike shop says there are no water stops.”

“Ahh…fuh-cack!”

We went back to buy Omar some spare tubes to replace the ones the crow’s flew off with, and feeling like a regular by then, I walked straight into the back room to talk with Steve again.

“Hey Steve…”

”Yea?!”

“Hey, do you know if there are any water stops between here and Death Valley?”

The teenage clerk I’d asked the same question of before eyed me from behind a bike hung on a rack that he was working on.

“Ah, sure. There’s one every 30 miles or so.”

“Oh yeah?”

The kid went back to the bike.

We ran bungee cords through the plastic handles on the six water jugs and slung them over our bikes and then road into a furious head wind to the police station where Omar was hoping some desert Saint may have turned in his bag of cash, iPod and things. No dice and characteristically, they weren’t very nice. Then one of those plastic handles that attach under the cap (the kind which when carrying a water jug by always feels as if is about ready to give way) snapped and the jug went flying off Omar’s bike, skidding across the police station parking lot. It was obvious we couldn’t head out of town like that, so back we went towards the bike shop in search of another solution.

Omar had room to add panniers to his bike rack, but the cheapest set was well over $100. Quite a price just to carry water. Brainstorming.

“How about we the reusable shopping bags at the market?” Omar suggests after I finish giving Steve the bad news.

“That’ll work…if you’re clever!” said Steve, birthing a catch-phrase for the rest of the trip.

Before we even made it to the market, we got the idea of using shopping baskets instead as they’d fit way more stuff, but neither of us had the immoral aptitude of a homeless person to steal blue plastic shopping baskets from a supermarket.

“What about milk crates?”

We circled behind the building and found a small pile of milk crates by the back door of a doughnut shop. It was as if they’d just dropped from the sky at our request like the garbage can or phone booth in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Less than an hour later we had two milk crates harnessed to Omar’s rear rack using some rope and a piece of wood I snapped off of a pallet in the K-Mart parking lot. This setup made Omar’s bike look like it had two fat wings, but it was solid and could hold four gallons of water no problem. We were ready to go.

In the ecstasy of our success, up we looked over the plaza parking lot to a red setting sun. It was dusk and despite our valiant efforts and determination, we’d still only pedaled 11 feet that day.

It made more sense to spend the night in Ridgecrest, so we leaned our bike’s against the wall of the doughnut shop. After being turned down by the Asian doughnut-rista for a place to relieve ourselves, we brought two glazed doughnuts and went back outside to lie on the pavement, eat the sugar and talk about our time in Paris, the girls’ we’d been with and where we’d go next as darkness came and the heat began to reside.

A strong wind came with the nightfall and it pushed us around the parking lot we were starting to feel at home in. We parked our bikes next to a thrift shop, so Omar could go inside and look for a used helmet. He was in there for awhile and I started to worry he might have bumped into Marty again, so I went in after him. When I found him, he had a light blue youth small helmet strapped to his head and was busy charming the two attractive African girls working there, while his cheeks bulged through the straps and 90% of his head was visibly unprotected.

“What do you think?” he asks me.

“Dude, it’s way to small. It looks like a yamaka attached with zip-ties!”

”No it’s not, I think it fits good!”

“Hah! Maybe you could return it at K-Mart and get a new one.” I said half-jokingly.

“Yep, you can do that. But you didn’t hear it from me,” said one of the thrift store workerss.

Omar paid his $4 and back outside I found the wind hand blown my bike over and from the distance travelled, judged that it must have done a full flip.

Twenty minutes later Omar walks back out of K-Mart with a brand new boxed adult helmet and a story about he used the skills I’d been teaching him to hypnotize the Customer Service clerk into letting him return a used helmet without a receipt and best of all, of brand they didn’t even carry.

“I just kept staring into her eyes and telling her ‘It doesn’t fit and it gives me headaches. I just don’t want to have headaches anymore….’”

Seeing as Omar had no wallet or money since the “Marty incident”, I bought us a Dominoes pizza for dinner and we sat to eat it outside at our now favorite urban oasis; Starbucks.

Omar noticed a bike outside probably belonged to the tall cute red-headed barista. When she came outside, I tested his theory by asking if it was hers and taking the credit for noticing I then began to tell her the story about our day from the flats in the morning to the fishermen to the exploded tire to Marty to the bike shop to the lost bag to the missing Omar to the bike shop to the water jugs at the police station to the bike shop to the doughnut shop and milk crates to the thrift shop and kmart and Dominoes and then to her. We end up talking with her for her entire break. Tall and thin and in Omar and my fine opinion being a likely candidate for modeling career, Jessie’s also an artist and is training to do the century ride in Death Valley. She tell us she rides 140 miles a week (supposedly not enough for her to feel justified in having a piece of pizza) and drinks enough water while riding to drown a whale. Before we left, she kindly brought us a bag of Starbucks snacks for our trip.

We setup camp a couple of miles out of town to be in good spot for the morning. We shared some Accelerade and opened the bag of treats Jessie had given us.

“Oh wow, she individually wrapped the snacks!”

“Awww….”

“Awww….”

 

DAY 6 – Ridgecrest to Panamint Springs (74 miles)

Written by John:

You ready to go?” I asked Omar.

Yup”

Oh shit…” I said, looking towards his bike.

What?”

“Your tire’s flat…”

Aahhh fuh-sheeeet…really?”

“Hah…no, just kidding! Let’s go…”

Written by Omar:

Three things made up this day for me…

Half an hour of nonstop downhill riding through Mars for breakfast riding alone through red rocks and heat and holding my breath pretending I was on another planet arriving in skeleton egg-fart Trona to feast on Jessie’s pastries.

Written by John:

I’d been to that sorry town before. It was the egg-farts that reminded me of it. But last time I was in a car with my now brother-in-law who at my request nervously weaved our economy rental car through the neighborhood so I could steal some images of the people there. I wish I’d had my camera that day on the bike tour when we stopped at the gas station for some shade and lunch so that I could have taken a picture of the large Mexican woman caked in face makeup who was working there. Her breasts were the biggest I’d ever seen. They took up the whole cashier vestibule. Incredible.

At the counter there was a bowl of apples the size of plums and a single mango the size of a pineapple. I bought the biggest mango I’d ever seen over the miniature apples and asked the massive breasted woman if there was a place we could fill our water bottles with drinkable water. Her and the man spending his paycheck on scratch ticket after scratch ticket both resounded a confident “Yes” while pointing outside to the garden hose snaked across the pavement.

“Is it drinkable?” I asked smelling the egg-farts and questioning their understanding.

“No” they said.

“Then why would I put it in my water bottle?” I asked accusingly.

They stared at Omar and I blankly and then the man looked back down towards his gray stained fingertips that held his unlucky penny and went back to scrapping away at the Mega-Truck-Millions lotto card.

Written by Omar:

Burning in the desert all the rest of the day a horizon apart from John loving the long long nothing and vacuum of the land and leaving behind a good portion of my troubles in the sand just pedaling and pedaling on top of pedaling and pedaling and giving myself up into smoke underneath the Sun and losing a lot of pains and flying too fast for them to jump back on me.

Written by John:

“It’d be nice to have a sweaty shirt and then stop in the shade,” I thought. The heat and the hot wind dried the water off you as fast as it came out of you. I kept riding and riding and looking back to see if Omar was still behind me and then forward for shade, but all there were were bushes too small to sit beside, though as the miles passed I began to picture myself curled up next to one….with just the right position I may have been able to get most of my body out of the sun for a good ten minutes at a time.

Written by Omar:

Ending the day in a freezing dining room where some lifelong waitress feeds me a pound of French fries and a gallon-mug of beer twice the size of my brain.

Written by John:

I had the Salmon and for twice the price of Omar’s beer I drank an apple juice the size you get in an elementary school cafeteria.

Before bed we light up the stove at the picnic table by our tent which was pitched in a dirt parking lot dubbed the Panamint Springs campground. I had been promising Omar soccer ball sized explosions emitting from my stove as, curiously enough this was the actual warning language used in the Instructions Manual, and plus I had actually witnessed it the last few times I’d used it. Maybe it was the wind or the fact that I didn’t way over-pump the canister, but there was no explosion at all that time.

Unimpressed, Omar mixed up some Accelerade while I cooked way too much pasta and canned turkey chili that we tried to fit inside us anyway as the climb the next morning would be the biggest challenge yet. We couldn’t fit it all though.

When we laid down in the tent, I could hear the Accelerade doing something strange to all the food in my stomach. Normally I wouldn’t like that kind of activity happening inside me, but seeing as I was in the middle of some super-human adventure, the chemical reactions seemed somehow appropriate.

 

 

DAY 7 – Panamint Springs to Furnace Creek (58 miles)

Written by John:

Woke up at 5am, on our bikes by 6am. Record time. The sky was clear. The air was a delightfully cool mid 60 degrees. There were three miles of downhill before the twelve mile climb. Good to get the blood flowing. We carried 6 gallons of water….me with two strapped to my rack and Omar with four in his wings for balance.

Written by Omar:

It was hard for me to tell whether these hills were harder or not than the San Bernardino mountains. I loved them more though because of a magical stretch of climbing where the road lined up directly with the Sun up into it, and I remembered the story of Gilgamesh where the road of the Sun is in complete darkness and I laughed because here I was pedaling into the eye of the Sun and I couldn’t see a thing either, I had to look at the ground the entire time. Then of course I tried to explain it out of breath and delirious mumbling it in spurts to John as if he had been inside my brain the whole time and he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

Written by John:

I had no absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Almost everything Omar says is a little odd, but I can usually pick up what he’s sayinig, which I think is one of the things that have made us such good friends and which is what I thought about as his mouth moved up and down spewing out all the stupid thoughts that cycle through your brain when you pedal straight uphill for hours and hours directly into the quick rising sun on your way towards the center of one of the hottest places on earth.

And it was heating up. You could literally feel the temperature change with each new breeze.

Written by Omar:

18 miles of downhill into an oven. I do not want to try and describe it besides like falling from hell on a mountain top, down into heaven in the valley, but where heaven is hotter than hell.

Written by John:

Nobody understands what 18 miles of constant downhill is like. Especially coming after a climb like that. I would definitely put that 45 minutes in my top fifty life experiences. The road rounded over the top of the mountain and tipped gently downward. The turns were long and wide. The pavement was so flat and smooth, noticeably smoother as my tires were silent even with the speed. The wind was behind us, so the breeze in our ears was quiet as well. The bikes just rolled and rolled and rolled and there was nothing out there in the desert ahead of us. It was early and only a few cars came, so most of the time it was just us, alone.

I stood high on my pedals and leaned forward, so that I was up over the handlebars and raising my chin high, the bike disappeared from my periphery. I was floating seven feet above the ground. I was flying. I felt my cheeks widen and my mouth open and that just made me smile even wider.

“Freedom isn’t an idea, it’s a feeling” I thought. “This is freedom.”

The mountains rose behind as Death Valley swallowed us in, cracking and chapping our lips, burning our skin, making our clothes so white and stiff with salt that by the time we reached Furnace Creek Resort we were stripped down to just out matching black spandex bike shorts and sneakers, which were a set of new Specialized cycling shoes for me and a pair of old spray-painted gold Nike’s for Omar. I’d been to Furnace Creek before too, but this time, without the petrol and the freon working for me, I saw the place as a real oasis.

We had enough energy left to befriend everyone at the resort check-in and turn “no available room” into a deluxe room at 50% off the normal $200/night rate.

Written by Omar:

I was so glad John sprung for the room. The rest of the evening I lived in the pool and read and practiced shitty slight of hand. I had a hamburger and a pizza and a beer in the same day. I watched the Simpsons. I read the Gideon’s Bible and I slept in a bed.

 

DAY 8 – Furnace Creek to east of Pahrump (87 miles)

Written by Omar:

I slept too much.

Written by John:

The beds were comfortable, so we took advantage of it.

When we opened the hotel door at 10am, it was already damn hot. We climbed for ages out of the valley, a long gradual climb. Less physically challenging and more Zen-like then the day prior. Still hot though. Hot, hot, hot. Lots of stops for water, sunscreen and Chapstick which I found myself sloppily applying in wider and wider circles until I was practically painting my face with it.

Halfway to Pahrump we stopped in a town called Amargosa (which means bitter) and talked to 50% of the population – four. We bought ice cream cookie sandwiches and flirted with the bleach blond 18 year old Samantha who lives in Pahrump, works in Amargosa at the historical theater/hotel/snack shop and wants to study in Vegas to be an nurse.

There were so many flies inside the hotel that we had to go outside to eat our ice cream cookie sandwiches. Samantha’s boss, a large older woman, told us she had never left California and teased us for not pedaling all the way to Vegas in one day. The other resident repeatedly encouraged us to visit the Gentleman’s clubs and brothels in Pahrump in that way that could both be taken as a joke and a serious recommendation.

Pahrump sucks for cyclists. We rolled into town on a shoulderless road and almost got run over by carnival trucks.

By 3pm it was too hot to ride anymore so after eating sandwiches at a Quizno’s we spent three hours in the AC watching Derren Brown videos on my laptop.

At sunset, we started out of town at the start of a wide shoulder.

Then Omar got a flat and my new pump broke, so I yelled and I threw it hard into the air. It was quiet for a moment before the pump whizzed by my head and smashed back down right beside me. Not a very good toss. Then some guy and his girlfriend appeared out of thin air right in front of us asking hurriedly if we were OK. I was confused at their urgency.

Haven’t they ever seen someone working on their bike before? Man, this town really does suck for cyclists.

“We heard someone yell…” said the guy.

“Oh, yeah sorry, that was me. The pump broke. It’s the second one. I just bought it.” I answered.

“Oh.”

Then they told us the prior night a truck had flipped over in their front yard and the driver had died. I watched the cute girl standing there while fumbling with the tire and a third mini backup pump.

 I wonder if she’s his girlfriend?

He finished telling his story.

“Have you ever seen a dead person before last night?” I asked him.

“Yea” he said.

“I mean, not at a funeral?”

“Oh…No, I guess not.”

“Was it weird?”

“Yea, kind of.”

And then he want back to cleaning the office building at night with that girl who I guess was probably his girlfriend.

We rode some 20 miles uphill in the pitch darkness on a decent shoulder along highway 160. Omar had had his safety lights and headlamp inside the bag he had left on the highway so the only light left was mine. I rode behind him so that my flashing tail light warned oncoming traffic and far enough to the right so that I was able to shine my headlamp ahead of him without casting his shadow directly in his path. When I got lazy and dipped my head or turned the wheel, Omar would suddenly be riding in pitch blackness and then I’d hear him hit the rumble strips so I’d jerk my head or bike back into alignment. We were trying to reach the summit before going to bed, but we didn’t make it. So we camped off the side of the road next to a fence on the hardest ground on the planet, which was ten times harder for Omar because he was still sleeping directly on the earth with no sleeping bag. I can rough-it pretty well, but compared to Omar I was travelling in luxury. I thought a few times about offering him my sleeping pad or bag, but I kind of enjoyed respecting his hard-core-ness.

 

 

DAY 9 – East of Pahrump to Las Vegas (38 miles)

Written by John:

Hey Omar…”

Yea?”

“Evidently carrying our bikes off the road last night didn’t save us from the cactus thorns…”

“Aaaaahhh sheeeot!”

“Yep, both tires…:

Oh, come on!”

“Yep, sorry dude….becaaaauuuuuse I’mmmmmmm…… JUST KIDDING!”

Ten more miles of constant uphill after waking up. We didn’t stop pedaling once until the summit at 5500 feet.

Another long downhill into red rock canyon. In itself it was amazing, but we were already spoiled from the downhill into Death Valley and plus there was a headwind that kept us from fully enjoying the gravity. At the first gas station on the outskirts of Vegas, we tore off Omar’s wings and threw them in a stinky dumpster and dumped some of our water weight on our heads.

We rode then through flat-as-a-lake Vegas from the far south to the far north end where my good friend Harry has been living for years and is now trying to escape from. Harry was at work, so I climbed in through his back window and opened the garage doors. Being inside of a house was a bit surreal. I felt awkward and out of place as we stuffed our stiff stank clothes into the washing machine and then showering it all off I felt comfortable and normal again.

We took a city bus to the strip. My cycling shoes clicked on the clean floors at the Rio Hotel & Casino and I wished I had my sandals.

Since his wallet and money was still somewhere in the California desert, I paid for Omar when we arrived at the entrance to the infamous Carnival World Buffet.

I felt the burn in my legs as we slid into the booth. I rubbed my cracked lips together and looked at how brown my skin had turned. I looked at Omar. His face was tired, yet it glowed of achievement.

“Remember what the people in Hesperia said?” I asked Omar.

“Yea, and the people in San Bernardino…and Marty…and those guys at the bike shop…”

“Everyone thought it was crazy.”

“It was crazy…but it was awesome.”

“True.”

“We can’t stop here you know. This is just the beginning.”

“I like that. Let’s do something crazy and awesome every year.”

“Definitely, we have to now.”

“Definitely.”

We spent over four hours dreaming up our next adventures over seas and down rivers. We stuffed ourselves with every kind of food imaginable and drank juice after juice brought to us by our Thai waitress Sariwon (Sally-One).

“Khob koon krub Sally one! Isaid excitdely, “We’ve been here for a long time huh?!”

“OK! You wah maw on-juice now?” she replied, totally dodging my question.

“I don’t think she’s impressed,” Omar commented as she walked off.

“Yea well, maybe this is routine for her.”

And maybe it was routine.

But the past nine days certainly hadn’t been.

Not for me. Not for Omar. And not for most anyone…

8 Thoughts on “Bicycle Touring from San Diego to Las Vegas via Death Valley”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Thank you both! I was talking with John about this post before he headed to London and was excited to hear that it would be posted soon. True to his word here it is. John you picked not only someone who seems to love to travel as much as you but also someone who has a great writing style like yourself. Enjoyed the metaphors and how descriptive the story each day was. Again thank you for posting this. I look forward to your future travels together and the posts that come with it.

    Kevin

  2. Mike Says:

    What a trip! Enjoy the experiential writing in these posts.

    Mike

  3. Darren Alff Says:

    Sounds like you had a great bike tour. When are you going to do your next one?

    PS – I liked the part where you woke up in the morning and you had a flat tire. That’s a horrible way to start the day, but you it sounds like you go through it! Good job.

  4. Pamela Messore Says:

    John – great adventure – and it is thru your writing that I went along with you and Omar – keep travelling, keep writing, and when you can, keep pedaling – we’re all there with you, dude!

  5. Katie Says:

    nice.

  6. Jake Burke Says:

    Glad to see you are getting a lot of exercise and staying fit. Keep at it my good friend!! Thanks for the dailing help to Thailand!!

    Jake~

  7. Faye Dawson Says:

    Sheeeat Johnny P!!!

    That was so vivid I was tasting, smelling, visualising, touching, hearing everything you guys were.

    You have a gift for writing which enables the reader to be partaking in every sensory experience as if I were right there with ya.

    It was touching in parts and in other’s I was pissing my pants.

    Human interaction is the rich colours of paint on this world’s palette.

    I’m inspired to get my ass on the road again.

    Thank you x

  8. Sarah Says:

    I like Omar looking like leftovers in his foil blanket.

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