Cycle Across America — Part 90
California: Algodones Dunes
17th November, 1996
What is it Americans have against contours? As well as the truly awful map I purchased back in Blythe I got 2 more maps yesterday. One of San Diego County — from which I’m only 25 miles away — and the other of Imperial County — which I’ve been in since shortly after leaving Blythe in Riverside County. Both are very, very detailed but contours are not something they’re interested in.
It’s turned half-eight so realistically I won’t leave until 10am. First I have to decide where I’m going. A fitter me would have no problem reaching the coast in two days but it’s been quite a while since I’ve been fit. Although my legs do seem to have got stronger since the pains stopped. Or maybe my mind is now elsewhere.
Every day a different problem. Today’s focus is the left pedal. The crank is very seriously cracked lengthways. More than a hair line. When it breaks I’ll be stranded. To get it fixed might take some time and from what I can tell I’ll only be able to get it fixed in San Diego at which point if I’m there already then the trip is over.
So the biggest concern is the immediate consequence of the break. It’s on the left hand side so if I’m pushing — as I will going up any kind of slope — then I’ll fall immediately to the left straight underneath any passing vehicle. Even if there’s no vehicle following — unlikely as the population is now picking up — I’m still going to hurt myself.
Standing up on the pedals to give my saddle-sore backside a break or simply to admire the view is also now quite dangerous. Therefore with safety first in mind I’m trying to pick a route that minimises climbing. There’s only really two options with one of those options having a sub-option.
Narrow twisting roads up mountains with fast Californian drivers strike me as dangerous given that I’m bracing myself for the pedal to break off as every vehicle approaches from behind. Also as I’ve got diarrhoea I think I’ll try and keep today very short.
Just like that joke about a dog in a desert. That was me in the desert yesterday with the trots. Where a tree becomes a symbol of dignity and I become a litter lout without a poop-a-scoop. Didn’t always make it off the bike in time.
What food didn’t make it out that end came out the other. With so little food consumed I started to cramp up somewhat over the last ten miles of the 91. How I made it through the desert on such a long trip on so little food and liquid I don’t know, but perhaps it’s down to hot days in the Wicklow Mountains where I deliberately deprived myself of drink for the experience. Then again having the will power to not drink does not mean your body doesn’t need it.
Fertile and pleasant lands planted with crops and surrounded by mountains until I reached Palo Verde which was 20 miles in. I’d left before 7am but after a painful breakfast and then stocking up with food — most of which I still have — meant I didn’t get cycling until 8am. There were a couple of trips to the bathroom in there too.
The high clouds of the last few days had gone so the views of the mountains were clearer although still near the horizon it was quite hazy. What the clouds deprive you of in terms of light and view they pay back with sunsets. The Southwest is rightly famous for its sunsets. They don’t last very long which makes it all the more like watching somebody paint the sky with a golden brilliant light. Every little cloud positively drips with such brightness.
Used a coke for goodwill and gained access to the bathroom in a saloon in Palo Verde. Three old people all told me different things about the road ahead and the bar maid went on about two deaf girls who had cycled this way a while back. I think she was still talking about them when I left.
And then dunes. Gravel dunes. Close up not at all pretty. More like a building site. The mountains were red, brown, black, grey, blue. It was impossible to capture them through the camera. Then the mountains turned to a beautiful shade of golden red. This was an old pre-Colombian Indian trail from the Colorado River towards the coast. The vultures circling overhead had now disappeared. Time was against me and I was thinking I’d be spending the night outdoors in the desert. Then the road dropped.
I had passed between Black Mountain — and it is — and Imperial Gables. On my right hand side was an enormous mine. The Mesquite Gold Mine. Downhill all the way to Glamis on a shoulder I didn’t have for the previous 20 miles. After going up and down the dunes for so long this was a welcome break.
To my right for the 10 miles down was a fence saying it was a tortoise habitat and that they should not be harassed. You’d have to climb the eight-foot barbed wire fence and find them first. I saw none.
Glamis was a big very expensive store. I watched a man return a bottle of Gatorade in disgust and disbelief at the price. I sat outside unsuccessfully trying to eat. All around me were every kind of dune buggy and related vehicle. Noisy and colourful I didn’t like them. Ahead of me was what looked like the Sahara.
The road goes straight through the Algodones Dunes — the Imperial Dunes. Up to 300 foot high of the purest golden sand. Perfect shapes and shadows with one problem. Those buggys. They’re allowed on one side of the road and they go everywhere there. So many photographs I just couldn’t take. Every beautiful dune scarred by these obnoxious machines. Would we allow boating if it scarred the waters?
I thought it was flat and relatively easy after the dunes but it turns out it was probably downhill because I’m now 113 feet below sea level. Uphill to San Diego so.
Yesterday was one of the most beautiful of the entire trip. Maybe the most beautiful. From the fertile Imperial Valley, to the Chocolate Mountains, to the various types of desert. And yet there was so much pain.
Tired legs, saddle discomfort, general nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting. But all the time in the kind of hysteria brought on by beauty and excitement. A strange kind of happiness that has me near to tears.
I keep remembering people saying it should be fun. But what is fun when you’re on your own for so long? Is it not mixed in with the pain? How do you distinguish happiness from delirium, and all the worry about nowhere to sleep, dangerous vehicles, sickness, the wind, the lack of trees to go to the toilet behind, and how lonely you are? Yesterday was definitely fun.
Unable to eat or drink I needed to speak to someone. Definitely too dependent on the phone. I rang my contact back in New York. Spoke for half an hour. He understands about cycling so I could talk through the problem regarding the pedal with him and the kind of day I’d just had. I needed to.
Ironic that I have to pay for an expensive motel because I get a fridge, a microwave, a toaster, and a coffee machine, on the night of the entire trip when I can least eat and drink. I also have a VCR, but why would I use that when I have CMT?