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Wheels on the bike go round and round 17: The Mojave Desert Wheels on the bike go round and round 17: The Mojave Desert
by Mike Jennett
2009-07-08 09:20:33
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The Mojave, when it came, wasn’t the promised horror.

Hot it was, but the temperature didn’t exceed a moderate 105 Fahrenheit and only two people needed hospital IV re-hydration. Overall, a fairly innocuous day of cycling in the sunshine.


My day began with unrealistic hopes that it might be my personal Nirvana – the first day of cycling all the way from start to finish without van assistance. I imagined pedaling into Blythe on a wave of success but, as it turned out, I rode as a vehicle passenger with Melissa – wife of rider Mark, who’s leaving us at Albuquerque.

The day went thus….

Riders waiting to sign out in the morning talked in a state of gentle anxiety. Karen looked like an arctic explorer and most of the others sported white sleeves and white leggings. It seems that K-Mart’s whites-for-desert-cyclists-section made quite a profit on our group last night. Having made absolutely no change to my usual preparations, I looked exactly the same.

Naturally, I was the last to leave. I don’t know how or why, it just happens that way. I could be ready and willing to go half an hour before everyone else, but I’ll still be last out of the hotel. It’s not a big deal – I just ride alone at my own pace and stop to smell the roses. It’s not a race, as people keep telling me. I don’t know why they say that, since it’s not them that are at the back, but I always agree and they go away smiling.

The rest of the group took a wrong detour (ha, ha, ha, should have slowed down and considered the obvious new road construction) and then several riders suffered flats. Thanks to that divine intervention, I caught up with most of them before they finally left me in the dust. So much for ‘never ride alone in the desert’.

You can’t smell much out there except diesel and sunscreen and not even that much in the afternoon, when the air’s too hot for smells to linger. Whenever the light breeze came my way, a particular odor wafted from the scrub vegetation – maybe what cow dung might smell like if it sprouted flowers.

Contrary to most people’s belief, bicycles CAN use the shoulder of an interstate highway and the first climb came a few miles after joining I10; eleven miles of slog. Eleven miles of torture that never let up. Eleven stinking miles of standing on pedals to change muscles and use gravity assist, then stopping for a sip from the camelback and to drag some oxygen into my starved lungs.

The saddle squeaked with every down-thrust of my right leg. “Ouch, ouch, ouch,” it said and my aching backside understood every utterance. At the 4 mile mark, I almost vomited.

Like a vision, the Crossroads luggage truck appeared ahead, parked on a lay by. An apparition? A hallucination? A mirage? No – Tracy had come to save me. Would I like a ride? Gasping, sweating, red-faced and unable to speak for half minute - saying yes was a no-brainer.

Cresting the summit in air-conditioned comfort was a lot easier than pushing pedals for the remaining 7 miles and then, like a mended animal, I was released back into the wilderness of the Mojave and pedaled to its very heart – Desert Center.

Imagine standing on white sand and bathed in the light from 1,000 floodlights so that, everywhere you look, at least one of them points directly in your eyes. Now imagine trying to take a picture of something by removing your sunglasses and trying to see the LCD screen of a compact digital camera held two feet away, whilst someone pokes a knitting needle in your eye. Now you know why I have no photos.

For the next 30 miles, my aches and pains increased with the mileage. Every part of my body hurt. The sit bones in my bottom felt like they’d been hammered into position and I rode one-handed for most of the afternoon, alternating sides to relieve the pressure on each wrist. The pedals bit the soles of my feet through the solid shoes until they went numb, the sunglasses drove into my nose and the helmet weighed a ton on my head.

Getting a flat takes on a whole new meaning under these conditions. It’s hard to find a puncture with the scream of traffic only a few feet away and even I, who always mend on the fly, understand the need to minimize the interlude. So it was fortunate that I didn’t get any – thank you Specialized, for your Armadillo tires.

By the third SAG, it was all over. After two 3 litre camelbacks of water and two 20 oz Gatorades, de-hydration was not an issue, nor was the sun, nor the heat; my legs had nothing left to give.

All I could think about was a cheeseburger with bacon - American crispy bacon with all the fat and flavor and salt. The kind you can smell a mile away on a cool misty morning at a campsite; and very strong coffee; and smoke from the fire.

Melissa offered a ride directly to the hotel. No waiting around for SAG vans, no stopping every time a rider wants assistance, just a simple, direct ride – in the Hummer.

A vehicle the size of a house that gets 12 miles per gallon and takes an entire lane with no margin for error is a prince in shining armor when you’re exhausted and its owner is helping you out.

I just hope that when the last drop of oil runs out and planet Earth is dry and the souls of all those accountable are taken to task, that there’s a mercy account from which tired cyclists can draw.

It wasn’t until several hours later – after several cold beers with Harry in a Mexican bar that had all the atmosphere of a butcher’s shop – that I noticed a Starbucks on the cue sheet.

The sense of loss was acute.

Note to self: Must stop squirting sunscreen in my eye.

Read more at: www.mikeonwheels.com OR www.wheelsonthebikegoroundandround.blogspot.com


  
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