Author Archives: Jesse Dare

The Penultimate Day on the Missouri

I arrived in Three Forks, MT a little before noon to meet the owner of a storage facility.  Before the meeting, I scoped out the area to find the best way to get the canoe and all of the gear to the water.  The Jefferson River runs just north of the storage facility, but with no public access until further downstream.  The Madison River public access is two miles east of the facility.  Both access points were similar distances.  Do I drop the canoe and gear at one of the rivers, drive to the storage facility, leave the truck and walk the two miles, or is it best to unload at the storage facility and carry the gear the two miles.  This was my dilemma.

When I met the owner of the facility, I was surprised when he said that his land   was adjacent to the Jefferson and he would let me drop the canoe there and then give me a lift from the facility back to the water.  That is exactly what we did, with only minor difficulty.

We drove to his back pasture as close to the water as possible before parking and unloading.  The river was maybe 200 yards from where we parked; through thick, tall grasses, through a gate, and across a deep ditch.  It took four trips to get everything to the river.  I packed way too much stuff, probably not, but it seemed like so much more than I take on the bike. 

Everything stowed, it was time to shove off.

I managed to paddle eight miles that day.  I was on the river for about five hours, so you can do the math.  I could have walked that distance in less time.  I enjoyed the short time on the Jefferson.  The water was only a foot or two deep and clear enough to see all the moss covered stones as I flew by. Along the edge of the river were large carp hiding in the shallow weeds.

Walking the canoe.

I had a couple of hours of sunlight left and intended on going several more miles but the wind had other plans. It was blowing so strong that I couldn’t keep the boat straight in the water and eventually was unable to make forward progress, so I got out and walked. I stopped next to railroad tracks and found a flat place to set up camp. My tent was set up under a tall embankment which I hoped would buffer me from the noise of the trains that came by every two hours.

Dinner consisted of a Gatorade and a bag of vegetable korma. Should’ve known then something was off when I poured most of the dinner in the river. As I sat there adding foam cushioning to the seat I felt a wave of despair pour over my body like it was injected into my bloodstream. My thought was, “How can I feel low while listening to Harry Potter?”, so that is what I did until falling asleep.

Missouri Headwaters

It has been nearly two years since my last post.  Since then, I took the Morgan down the Mississippi transferring to the Atchafalaya and then getting on the ICW.  This landed me in Pensacola, where my engine stopped working.  There we have been, unable to get it running.

I found a teaching job and worked to put money back into the adventure fund, while completing projects on the boat and trying to figure out the engine.  It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I got the engine pulled out and to a mechanic, who informed me that I needed a new one.  So, it is time for a vacation.

On my bucket list was to float the Arkansas River.  Having seen the headwaters of the Arkansas, I knew that meant many miles of walking in dry river beds.  When I set out on the Morgan, I had considered taking a smaller boat from Lake Ouachita, following the Ouachita River to the Gulf of Mexico.  I considered that again, but wanted to go bigger.  That is when I learned about the Milk River in northern Montana. 

The Milk River meanders its way North across the Canadian border, following the border West for a couple hundred miles before going South.  It feeds into the Missouri and empties into the Gulf.  For the past few months I have been gearing up and outfitting a canoe that could comfortably make the three to four month journey.

Up until a few days ago, the plan was to drive across the border, drop the canoe and gear, drive back across the border, leave the truck in storage, walk back across the border and have a local guide drive me to the river where the canoe would be stashed.  I made it to Kansas before realizing I had left my passport at home (Arkansas).  Options were to drive back and get it, have it mailed to Montana, start south of the border, or choose a completely different river. I chose a completely different river. I am now in Bozeman, MT and the plan is to drop the truck at a storage facility in Three Forks, MT, which is only 0.9 miles from the Jefferson River. The Jefferson River, Madison River, and Gallatin River are the three forks that merge to form the Missouri River. I will now be floating the Missouri headwaters, which so many people advised me to do in the beginning.

The Arkansas Locks

As I said before I have no experience with anchoring.  I spent the night staring out my little windows checking for familiar landmarks to make certain I had not moved.  Several times I slid the hatch open and popped my head out just to make sure.  After initially anchoring I googled apps for anchoring.  What I found was, My Anchor Watch.  When you drop the anchor you start the app.  It tracks the movement of the boat using GPS.  I learned quickly that you have to correctly set the distance the boat is allowed to swing, otherwise the alarm will go off each time the boat moves..  Below is an image of my first night.  It turns out, I anchored in an eddy and did circles all night. 

My plan the next morning was to get up early and get to my selected anchorage in Little Rock before dark.  I put on what dry clothes I had and made ready to leave.  I go forward to pull up the anchor, leaving the engine idling in neutral.  Once the anchor was up and stowed, I thought, “that wasn’t so bad”, and then, “sorry for doubting you Kenny”.  With that brief thought the current caught the boat and securely planted it in three feet deep water.  The draft of a boat is the distance from the water line to the lowest point of the boat.  My draft is 3.5 feet.

How to get unstuck without getting into the water? Grabbing a dinghy oar I try pushing off the semi-hard mud.  This had no effect.  Next, I hopped in the dinghy tied a rope from the stern of the dingy to the bow of the boat and tugged.  The dinghy went side to side like a dog playing tug of war with a wall. Maybe setting another anchor would do the trick.  I grab the anchor and take it out into the channel and drop it.  Once back on the boat I tug on the anchor rode only to find that the anchor is firmly set and the boat is not moving.  Time to get in the water. 

Super excited about getting in the water.

At this point in the morning it was around 50 degrees.  I strip and squeeze into my full length wetsuit.  I then slowly climb over and down the back rail and squat on the back step mentally preparing myself for the shock.  To my surprise, the water was warm.  It felt great!  I alternated from pushing the bow free then the stern free.  The whole time my depth alarm was letting me know that I was still in shower water with a high pitched “beep, beep, beep”.  After probably 15 minutes of me wiggling the boat off of the shallow bank it was free and now coasting down the river with me clinging to the rub rail at the bow. 

I had anticipated this.  Remember the anchor?  It was still set and ready to catch the adrift boat.  Now I simply had to pull myself along the rubrail to the stern where I could climb up the ladder.  I then pulled up the anchor for the second time, rushing back to the tilller directing the boat into the channel before it could get stuck again and headed into lock 9.

Side note: I am currently docked at the Berwick City Dock in southern Louisiana.  It is now 4:00 AM and I have not been able to sleep.  Someone just now boarded my, boat grabbed my dinghy bag and made off with it. There will be no sleep tonight. End note.

I will not go into detail on every lock because I can not remember them all.  At this point they have all blurred together.  Before entering a lock you hale them on vhf channel 16, they usually respond and direct you to their working channel, usally 14.  From there you tell them your boat name, direction, general location, and intention.  Some of the operators are amazing.  They respond quickly and maintain contact with you throughout the locking process. 

The best operator I had was at David Terry Lock, number 6.  I radioed ahead letting the operator know I was coming.  “Terry Lock and Dam, Terry Lock and Dam, this is southbound sailing vessel Colibri.” He immediately responded and we switched to channel 14.  I told him I was 1 mile north of the dam requesting to lock through.  I got in the habit of asking, “how does the traffic look”, to that he said he had a double approaching and it would be about two hours before I could go through.  I responded that I would be holding at a small lake up river and standing by on channel 16.   A “double” is a tugboat pushing so many barges that it takes two trips through the lock to get all of them through.  As I waited the operator kept in contact with updates on the barge’s progress.  While I waited, I installed a new vhf radio, hardwired into my system.  I now have long range capabilities.  As soon as the barge was moving the operator called me back letting me know that he was switching the chamber around and it would be ready when I got there. 

After radioing ahead the gates would either be open or the operator would have to switch it.  This means closing the downstream gate, filling the chamber to the upstream height and then opening the upstream gates. A long horn blast gave me permission to enter the lock.  I would motor/float into the chamber choosing which floating bit (post) to tie onto.  This may be easy in those fancy party barges, but not so in my sailboat.  I watched one party barge pull up to the side as if he was at a drive thru window, loop his line around the bit, and just sat there.  I believe the difference is in the hull shape.  Party barges having straight sides make this much easier.  My sailboat widens out from the back and then tapers to a point at the front.  The Colibri does not back straight either.  As soon as I throw it into reverse the rearend will start swinging in one direction and the bow in another.  After ten locks I feel pretty good about it now. 

Approaching the floating bit, my speed is 1 mph.  This may seem slow, but, I have to clamber out of the cockpit and make ready at the line to loop it around the bit.  Problem with this is the boat will not track for long without a hand guiding the tiller.  The timing has to be just so.  On one attempt I missed the bit.  I waited too late to get on deck and then the boat began veering off course leaving me with a large gap between the wall and the boat.  Once the line is around the bit I had to stop the boat.  The line is anchored to the boat at its widest section.  If not careful when stopping the boat, the boat would pivot around that center point slamming the bow, in my case the anchor into the wall.  This happened twice before I got smart and tied a fender to the anchor mount. Once tied off the work is not finished. Unlike that party barge captain who just sat there once tied off, the sailboat wants to pivot around that wide point. I have to be diligent and make sure neither the bow nor stern hit the wall. The solar panels are mounted on the back and overhange the side of the boat several inches. When the boat pivots around to the stern the solar panels are what catch on the wall. On one occassion the corner of one panel got caught in a groove in the wall as we were descending. This put much stress on the structure holding the panels . So much stress that it pulled loose three of the supports leaving the panels to sway.

Once at the final water level the downstream gate will begin to open. I had a sigh of relief each time I saw the light streaming through the gate. As a teaser they crack the gate open just a little for a moment, pausing, before slowly opening it the rest of the way. Now is when the fun begins. I mentioned in my last post the raging waters downstream of the dams. All you can do is hang on and try to hit as many of the waves as possible head on.

Casting Off

I finally did it! I finally left the safety of the marina.  The Outhouse Yacht Club or whatever it is our group of sailors at the Russellville Marina call ourselves would be quick to tell you that the Morgan, my Morgan, never leaves the dock.  This is true. Like most things, there are different classifications of sailors.  For the last five or so years I was classified as a liveaboard.  Liveaboards are easy to spot because they usually have so much junk on their boat that it would it be impossible to take sailing. 

I am now making the transition from liveaboard to cruiser.  The key difference in a liveaboard and a cruiser is that the latter actually goes places.  So, here I go.  If you look at a map you will see that Lake Dardanelle is situated on the Arkansas River, which flows into the Mississippi River, which we all know goes to the Gulf of Mexico.  From New Orleans, where the Missippi flows into the Gulf you can follow the coastline East and then South until you hit southern Florida.  From there the options are limitless.

It has actually been a week since I set off.  To be honest, it has been two weeks, but the first time I left I only made it five miles down the river before my engine quit running.  After a day of troubleshooting I tucked my tail and headed back to my cozy slip.  With the help from many of our “yacht club” members, family, and friends we diagnosed the problem to be either dirty fuel or a leaky fuel line.  After emptying and cleaning out the diesel tank and then replacing all of the fuel line it has not acted up once. 

The day of my second attempt was a cold and rainy morning.  Ryan, a fellow endurance traveler, came bearing donuts and coffee to see me off.  The donuts lasted until lunch time, but the coffee did not make it passed the first dam.  When I came to the Dardanelle Lock and Dam (Lock 10) there was a row of gulls lined up along the long wall approaching the gates.  One might say they were there to see me off.  In my mind they were there to watch as I crash my boat into the side of the chamber wall.  I did not, but the solar panels did take a beating, scraping down the concrete wall as the water level slowly droppe.  This would become my greatest challenge once in the locks.

Having been raining the last few days, you can imagine that the water was up and running. I tested my speed capabilities before leaving and found that at 2000 rpm I can motor at 5 mph.  Any faster than that will indicate that I am in moving water.  Upon leaving the safety of the lock I motored along the long wall which separated the outflowing water from the somewhat still water of the lock.  What I saw ahead of me was white water rapids, but with no similar orientation.  The result was a rodeo.  I clung to the tiller and watched as my junk both on deck and below was thrown around.  This, included the cup of coffee.

Once I regained control of the boat and we were again moving in a straight line I attempted to settle in for the two weeks that I estimated it would take to get to the Gulf. Because I still had so much junk on deck it was difficult for me to see from the recessed benches in the cockpit so I placed my icechest atop the bench. Perched on the icechest I had a great vantage. Unfortunatley, this also exposed me to the wind and rain. I must have made three wardrobe changes that first day.

Lock 9, at Morrilton, was where I planned to stay the night. I had actually planned to stay on the down river side of the lock, but I followed a barge down from Russellville and it took two hours to lock through. By the time it was my turn it was nearing dark and I was exhausted and chilled to the bone, as they say.

I found a spot along the southern side of the river where the river had cut into the bank creating a small pool. I motored slowly up into the area checking my depth as I went. It was 10-15 ft deep the entire length. I set the anchor at the tip of the inlet and let the current pull me back until the line was taught. This being the first time I have ever anchored I was extremely nervous. Contrary to popular beliefs, I research and read about everything I attempt. I will rarely bring up a subject unless it is something I have studied a good deal on. According to the books and videos, when anchoring with all chain the standard is to use a 5:1 scope. When anchoring with rope you use a 7:1 scope. This means that for every one foot of depth, you deploy five feet of chain or in my case seven feet of rope. I anchored in ten feet so I used my entire length of rope, just be sure. Another recommendation is to back on the anchor using the motor. Setting the engine in reverse I gradually brought the rpm up to 2000. I did not move. I then settled in for what would be a very long night.

Calling it Quits

After stepping off the train in La Junta I found a place to sleep for the night. The next morning I took off East on Highway 50. I was making good time, stopping every 15-20 miles to get a cold drink and made it to Lamar, CO around 5:00 that afternoon. I had an early dinner at a park along the Arkansas River. I sat down in the ankle high water to cool off and couldn’t help but think about my plans to float the Arkansas from Colorado to Arkansas, uncertain what kind of boat I could get in this shallow water.

From being in the sun all day I could feel my stomach churning the way it does from heat stress. I had already picked out a place along the river to set up camp, but opted for a motel instead. I chose the nicest cheap motel in town. The owners were very friendly. They greeted me with cold water and fruit and when booking my room gave me $10 off the already low price, because of my handsome looks and blue eyes.

The next morning I got a late start and only made it 20 miles down the road before filling up again on water. I went to a local park to hide from the already 97 degree heat. In the back of my mind I have debated going home for a few days. The desert really did a number on me. It sucked the water and will from my body. This morning I had already decided to scratch going North and head straight back to Arkansas. It is only 700 miles away, so about 2 weeks ride. After sitting in the park for an hour, I decided I was finished.

I started looking for ways to get back home. First, the river! Could I find a canoe or kayak that would hold me and my bike? I had been searching for one on different online markets ever since boarding the train. The best I could do is an inflatable raft from Walmart. Next, jump back on Amtrak. Unfortunately I would have to wait nearly two weeks to be able to get the bike on the train. Something about all of the cargo space being taken. Next option is to ship the bike and hop the train. Closest shipping center is 100 miles away. Not too bad. Another option would be renting a car. Nearest rental service is 100 miles away and would cost about $400. Last option is buying a van.

I have been wanting a van for some time. When I first moved aboard the boat I was considering buying a van instead. When I bought my new car, I was considering buying a van instead. I could buy a van here and simply drive back. It would save me at the minimum $200.

On the train ride I finished listening to “Into the Wild”, by Jon Krakauer. Anybody who has ever gone off on their own has probably been compared to Chris Mccandless. The book, unlike the movie, is the author’s investigation into Mccandless’ life. The author compares Mccandless to himself and other adventurer types. Mccandless spent a lot of time in southern California and in the same territory that I crossed. Reading (listening) to the book as I traversed it made me feel more connected to his story. There are many paralells between Mccandless and myself. If you are familiar with the book, I will let you draw your own conclusions. However, the most important difference is our relationships with our families. It is that relationship that I think sent him over the edge. When my dad offered to come get me, a 21 hour trip, I accepted.

It is over for now. My body and mind need rest and A/C before I take off again.

Out of the Desert

I was urged to write, but everytime I sit down to do so I am unsatisfied by what comes out. I prefer to reflect on the events before putting them out there for the my tiny world of facebook friends and family to read. It could be that I felt defeated and wasn’t ready to admit it openly. Here is an abbreviated version of the last few days.

After getting dropped off in Fenner, I spent the night behind the gas station. I was camped along side three other cyclists, possibly the same ones from the earlier that day. They were already in their tents when I set up and long gone when I woke up the next morning. I packed up, refilled all of my water bottles, then set off. I was a long days ride from Laughlin, AZ, where I would take my first day off. I didn’t get far due to the strong headwind, and possibly my dehydration the day before. I was carried back to the gas station where I elected to take my day off. When the temperature got above 100 degrees I had had enough and started looking for ways out. With the help of my justifiably worried parents, I caught a cab to a hotel casino in Laughlin.

I spent two days at the hotel. I was there to escape the heat , so I couldn’t understand why so many people were out on the beach or near the pool. As most people question my sanity, I was questioning theirs. I spent most of my time in the room, only coming out for food. Getting food meant walking through the tar dripping casino, which made me feel nauseous.

Feeling less rested and more anxious, I left on the third day. I rode West for one mile until I could cross the small, dry creek bed that separated California to Nevada. I then rode the three miles to cross the Colorado River, separating Nevada from Arizona. Bullhead City was 15 miles up the Colorado River. I played it safe and stopped at a McDonald’s just before leaving town. After a bagel and a large tea I rode to the next stop, just 5 more miles up the road. It was a gas station with palm frond canopies in the back. I worked on my last blog post there before working up my nerve to start the 10 mile, 3000 ft climb to the top of Union Pass. Not to be confused with the much higher Union Pass I climbed last year.

I remained in my 1st gear for then entire climb. The highway was littered with empty and full water jugs of all kinds. I later learned that a local man collected, filled, and deposited these bottles along the highway for overheated vehicles. I thought they were for me! At one point I even thought my Dad somehow convinced someone to leave the bottles so that I wouldn’t get dehydrated again. I put this out of my mind after seeing 100s of the bottles. They were not just water jugs, but old oil, laundry detergent, anti-freeze, and even mayonaise jars. I chose the actual water jugs to drink from and was happy to have them.

After over 2 hours of climbing I finally made it to the top, but at a cost. I was feeling sick. I drenched myself using one of the gallon jugs. This plus the wind did the job and actually chilled me. After coasting the 7 miles down to the closest gas station my clothes were dried. I enjoyed a few beverages and the A/C while plotting the next stage. I was not yet in Kingman proper, but the residential overflow. Kingman was still about 15 miles away and over Coyote Pass. I coasted through the scattered trailer houses and RV parks to the base of Coyote Pass and then crept up the 1000 ft climb.

Still feeling sick I booked a room at a hotel and went straight there. Later that night I decided to take another day. Apparently, I wasn’t over the heat. Looking at the map and trying to decide what to do, I decided to escape. I was over the heat, the sand, and the lack of water. The morning after my rest day I booked a rental car and then a train to Colorado. Using Google Maps I looked for yellow. Light green on the map is usually a city park or cemetary. Dark green is a national forest or other public lands. Yellow is desert. I went just far enough West to get out of the desert. That put me in La Junta, CO.

I took the rental truck to Flagstaff, AZ and waited there for my 4:37 AM train departure. They just happened to be having a music festival called Hullabaloo. Flagstaff was full of bicycles, vegetarian restaurants, and long haired hippie looking people. Seemed like a good place. I sat outside the fence of the festival for a long while before deciding to go in to check it out. I was hesitant to leave my bike locked up out of sight, but I did. There were micro breweries, food trucks, vendors, live music, dance floors, and bump’n jumps for kids. I lasted about 20 minutes before returning to my bike on the outside. The music was good, but better from my solitary perch.

The music stopped at 9:00 and that’s when I went to the station. I rolled the bike inside and was immediately told to leave it outside. So, I set up camp outside. I stayed there for a few hours, but the frequent freight trains drove me off. At midnight I stripped the bike and dragged my sleeping pad into the station to spend the rest of the time. I was immediately told I could not lay down or sleep inside the station. Where else was I supposed to go? I walked the perimeter of the station and found a little cubby and layed down there. And then, at 2:00 AM the station attendant woke me up and said I couldn’t sleep out there either. I reluctantly went back inside, sat on a bench, and forced myself to stay awake. Besides, I could sleep on the train when it got there. But, the train was two hours late.

I Broke

I broke in more than one way today (May 28th). The day started with me packing up from sand parking lot in Ludlow. From Ludlow, I was 28 miles to the the next water stop in Amboy, Roy’s Motel and Gas Station. From there it would be another 40 miles to the next water stop in Fenner. I could either ride to Roy’s and stop for the day, or continue on to Fenner.

Despite my lack of sleep I was feeling good. I was only two days ride from my first zero. Ludlow to Amboy was flat and I had a strong tailwind. It took me just over an hour to do the 28 miles. I was at last using my 10th gear. I knew I had a strong wind behind me, but did not realize how strong until I stopped moving. I passed the road leading to a volcanic crater and thought I would check it out, since I made such good time. I turned the bike around and tried pedalling the 100 meters back to the turn-off, but gave up after struggling to move. I turned back around and coasted to Roy’s gas station.

Inside, I refilled my one bottle and Roy told me I just missed my friends. Confused, I asked what friends, and he said the three cyclists that just left 15 minutes ago. So I took off! I had the wind and plenty of energy and was determined to catch them.

The wind has proven to be either friend or foe and can change sides on a whim. Not 5 miles from Roy’s and the wind changed. The 12 mph wind that was propelling me forward was now ceasing my progress. It also felt like someone flipped the switch from fan to heat. I went through two bottles of water in no time. It was now 100+ degrees, I had two bottles left and had 30 miles to go.

This is where I found Chambless, an abandoned RV park and ghost town. The RV park and local store were both fenced off with “No Trespassing” signs, so I found a shade tree and patch of sand. The Weather Channel said it would cool down to upper 90’s after sunset. I would wait until then to ride the 30 miles. It also said I would have a 10 mph tailwind. I set up camp and got comfy.

For several hours I laid in the sand either listening to an audio book or checking the weather and maps. Not much else to do when it is that hot, now 106. Occasionally I would drag my camp further East to stay in the shade. Thinking I was alone in the middle of nowhere I stripped down and changed into my shorts. Only 4 more hours until sunset, and down to 1 bottle of water.

I can’t remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the gunshot, but I do remember jumping up and grabbing my shirt and camera. With no real defense, all I could do is record whatever was about to happen. Here comes a man in a side-by-side wielding a shotgun. He was dressed in a long sleeve button up shirt, buttoned all the way to the top, and a cowboy hat with an old t-shirt stuffed under and hanging over his neck. He was headed straight for me. He put the gun down, looked me over, and then said some things I couldn’t really understand. I walked over to him and introduced myself.

His name was Henry Enrique Mojave. He through in about three more names, but all I could understand was Henry Enrique and I named in Mojave because of the desert. He cleared room in the side-by-side for me to sit down, so I did. He then started to tell me his life story. It was hard to keep up from the secret service for Reagan and the 5-star chef of the movie stars, to the singers and mob in Las Vegas. He dropped a lot of big names and I was uncertain whether he led such an amazing life or if he was just crazy.

All of the sudden he says something about shooting and eating horned vipers and then takes off, with me with him. He wanted to show me his kill. We drove along the fence row until we came upon a twitching hare. He then takes me back and continues bouncing around from story to story. He hands me a cold Gatorade that was rolling around in the floor and then pulls out a cold beer from what looked like his back pocket. Just as he started, he suddenly stops talking, lowers his glasses and then removes them. He looks at me with a stare that sent chills down my back. He continues his stare for several moments until I asked if everything was alright. He then blinked and said that he’d been told that he has eyes like the devil. What was I supposed to do or say in that situation. I couldn’t say, “no, they are quite lovely”. So I said nothing and took a sip of the Gatorade. To ease the tension I asked if there was a place I could fill up my empty bottles and he came out of his trance and directed me to a spicket. He said nobody would bother me if I dropped his name. And then he left me.

I grabbed my bottles and headed in the direction of the well before he could come back. I was carrying 5 Liters of water, which would turn out not to be enough. I spent the rest of the day laying around unbothered. It occurred to me to stay the night there and wait for morning, but it was not supposed to get any cooler during the night and tomorrow would be even hotter. Besides Henry, I made another friend in Chambless. It was a small bird that stayed with me. He sat perched on the fence and tree near by. I broke up and tossed him a handful of pumpkin seeds, but he never went for them. Not long after that, I see him leave and then come back with a small lizard in his mouth and then drops it nearly on top of me. I did not eat the lizard, but felt I should have. Instead I took it, thanked him, and then buried it out of his sight.

With “plenty” of water and the sun going down, I packed up and got on the bike. The promised wind had abandoned me and I could feel the heat as I stepped out from under the shade. I had a 3.5 mile climb nearly straight up to start. Three and a half miles doesn’t seem like much, but I ended up walking a lot of it and by the time I was at the top I had one bottle left. I don’t know how long it takes for dehydration to set in. I do know that I am prone to it. With the final bottle gone my lips were already cracked, my tongue and throat felt like sand paper and I could feel a slight prick in the base of my skull. This is the same prick I have felt in the past in similar situations.

Only 20 miles to go, still climbing, but my pace has slowed to a crawl. Not wanting a repeat of last year’s heat exhaustion, I start looking for a ride. I sign up for Lyft and Uber with no luck. I then look at firestations, but the nearest was two hours away and not answering. So I finally call the highway patrol. They too were two hours away. The dispatcher asked if I needed a paramedic, 2 hours away, and I told her not yet. All I needed was a bottle of water and maybe a lift to the nearest gas station. I could still think and I knew I could make it to the gas station and Fenner, but didn’t know how bad I would be when I got there.

The stretch of road I was on was blocked off from normal traffic, due to bridges being out. I was the only person for miles. I got lucky when a family headed to Las Vegas were taking a short cut. I spot lighted them and stood in the middle of the road. I thought for a moment that they weren’t going to stop, but they did. The man gave me a bottle of water and helped me load the bike in the back of his already full pick-up. I sat awkwardly in the back, holding down the bike, as we flew down the highway. I later read the sign that said warned of a large fine for unauthorized vehicles on that stretch of road.

He dropped me off at the Fenner gas station and was off. I grabbed two Gatorades and a turkey sandwich out of the cooler and set down in the air- conditioned cafe. I have never tasted mayonnaise so sweet or lettuce as refreshing. I called everyone to let them know I was ok and then set up my tent in another patch of sand. The Mojave won.

First Leg of the Mojave

Sorry I’m late on posting. I spent too much time in the sun and haven’t felt very poetic.

Barstow to Ludlow was my first real test of the desert heat, and it kicked my butt. From Barstow I had a decent downhill until climbing a massive hill before dropping back down to Ludlow. What you may not on the elevation map below is the wicked hill just outside of Barstow. I found away around that hill, but when I took the route I was met by a guard at a military base. They had claimed an entire section of a highway, forcing unsuspecting cyclists to climb a mean hill.

The rest of the morning is a bit of a blur, so here are some photos.

I was riding on old Route 66, which parallels I-40. The old road in some places has a new slick black top, but it is mostly a beat up patchwork of a road. I spend most of the time jumping from smooth patch to smooth patch. At least it keeps my mind busy. On one stretch of some road at some point this trip I was riding a road with grating for water run off. Usually the grating is perpendicular to the road or in a cross pattern. After going across a dozen of them I lost focus and came up to one with not a cross section or perpendicular grating, but parallel grating. These were wide enough that my front wheel would have dove right in. In that split second I bunny hopped and cleared the two foot grating.

Back on Route 66, 30 miles from Barstow, I was ready for a break. It was already in the upper 90’s and supposed to get hotter. Only shade out here is under the palm trees around the occasional house. Off to the left I see the palm trees and then the small buildings at an oasis. It was a rest stop on I-40. Not finding a road to get to the oasis I treked across the burning sand (it was only about 100 meters) until I came to a fence. A fence that stretched the length of I-40 for who knows how far. The fence was tall enough that I couldn’t just toss my 30 pound bike over. I chose a direction and started walking along the fence looking for a hole I could squeeze through. Eventually, the chainlink turned into barbed wire. Barbed wire I could get through. I took the bags off, slid them under and then did the same with the bike. Parked along the road were a line of 18 wheelers that I hope weren’t watching the crazy cyclist hop this fence.

Inside the fence I had shade, a restroom, and potable, non-potable water with the aid of my filter. I chose a spot, spread out and enjoyed not being in the heat. It was still 100 degrees out, but I was in the shade. I had to relocate once due to the rest stop workers congregating and smoking near me.

Tired of just laying there in the heat, I packed up and left. Once again, I had to walk along the fence until it turned to barbed wire and then cross. This time I didn’t mess with sliding under and just picked up the bike, panniers and all, and lifted it over. I made good time getting to Ludlow. It helped that the last few miles were downhill. I got to the gas station there just before 8:00. By 9:00 I was setting up my tent in the corner of the sand parking lot away from the big trucks and RVs. The wind pulled my stakes right out of the sand, so I ended up using the bike and panniers to stake out the tent. I also had to sweep the ground good to remove all of the glass shards, wire, and bottle caps.

Descending from Cajon

The night before I decided to do a load of laundry, which consisted of my shirt, shorts, and bib. It had been three days of wearing the same clothes and I thought it warranted a cleaning. To wash the clothes I fill the bathtub with warm water and dump in a bottle of shampoo. After swishing it around a bit and giving it a scrub with the soap bar the bath water turned a mucky brown. Drain the tub, rinse the clothes, soak, and rinse again. Hang dry in front of the the A/C.

The closest bike shop didn’t open until 10 AM and was only a few miles away, so I got a late start. Studying the area the night before I came across the California Earth Institute. Not open at the time, but I got a glimpse of some of their buildings from the road.

The first bike shop did not have my spokes, but recommended another bike shop in Victorville. This one, I called first before going there. It was several more miles down the road, but in the general direction that I was heading. I got there about 1:00 and the owner said her mechanic just went to lunch and probably wouldn’t get my wheel fixed until 2:30. Not much I could do but wait. She recommended a burger place in the same shopping center and described it as “the bomb”. Burger joints and me don’t usually get along, but this place truly was “the bomb”. I got a handmade veggie burger with a portabella mushroom and avocado slices, and a full plate of breaded zucchini. I could only finish the burger and wrapped the zucchini up for dinner. I stayed there blogging until nearly three when the shop text me.

Forty miles to go and it was nearly 4:00 before I got on my way. It was mostly downhill with the occasional mound to cross and I had a strong Westerly helping me along. This section of Route 66 was full of contrasts in means. I saw two plywood and tin settlements that reminded me of the temporary housing near construction sights in China. Other properties had two story victorian homes and lush green lawns. I got caught by a tourist trap not too far down the road.

The highlight was the Bottle Tree Ranch. I got to speak to the owner and artist who had been there for 17 years. He said that he and his father would collect bottles and scrap along the route. When his father passed he inherited the collection and started the Bottle Tree Ranch. As I stood there talking to him I noticed a humming bird zipping around and he said he had just put out fresh water in their feeders and they were hungry. He also said if I stood real still I might catch a photo. I crept to where a few feeders hung, ready with the camera to catch the birds. Four sometimes six were playing around the feeders, but mostly on the other side, until a pretty red male dared to come to my side. He didn’t seem to mind me standing just feet from him.

It was a cool 70 degrees, but the sun was mostly on my left side and I could feel the burn on my skin. I stopped a couple times to re-apply sunscreen and finally decided to use the UV sleeves I brought: one on my left arm and one on my left leg. I must have looked odd to the occassional car going by.

Between the wind and descending elevation I kept an easy 15-18 mph pace. I stayed in my 9th gear for most of the day. Besides the few mounds, which I sweated up, I only had to pedal every minute or so. That was mostly just to keep my legs from cramping up from sitting too long.

I flew into Barstow about 7:30 and as soon as I crossed the city line I was stopped by a cop. I must have been speeding, because that was the only law I could have broken. The cop just wanted to make sure I wasn’t lost and wanted to check out the touring rig. He was a fellow cyclist! He said he would ride West into the wind and then let it carry him back home. Leaving him it was just a matter of finding a place to stay for the night.

Broke Down on the Second Day

I wasn’t actually broke down, but I was close. I knew I needed to get to a bike shop for a longer chain, which I thought would fix the problem. After just a few miles I stopped to adjust the derailleur and the derailleur hanger cracked. It did not snap in two, but it was barely hanging on. I called the closest “upscale” bike shop and told them the issue and he said they could fix it. It was 35 miles away. For fear of the derailleur falling off, I did not shift the whole way.

Not riding for nine months made those 35 miles a struggle. My legs were heavy and refusing to pedal. I was in and out of traffic, jumping from bike lane to road to bike path trying to angle my way over to the shop. I did get some GoPro video along the way.

I usually stop after 15-20 miles to sit and rest. McDonald’s is one of my favorite places because of the $1 drinks and free wifi. Getting to the McDonald’s I passed a CVS and thought I would grab some sunscreeen, but it was closed down. Outside was a fellow cyclist with no helmet and spandex, and using a black trash bag as a pannier. He asked me where people ride bikes with pink bars, a helmet, and sandals. I told him I was from somewhere in the East. I got to McDonald’s, locked my bike up outside and ordered my $1 wifi. As soon as I sit down to write I see someone outside near my bike. HE FOLLOWED ME! I was staring straight at him as he did something below the window and out of my sight. I go get a refill to keep a closer eye on him and see he is now locking his bike unnecessarily close to mine. He sees me and I wait and watch him dig through his pannier for an old McDonald’s bag and then enters the building. He heads straight back to the bathroom. I immediately go out and check to make sure nothing had been tampered with. Was I being paranoid? When I came back in I see the female manager perched outside the men’s restroom. I assumed to escort the man out. That’s when I asked if there was a safer place to leave my bike and hinted towards bringing it inside, but they would not allow it. So I left.

I rode most of the way on one bike path. It was next to a drainage ditch and not too scenic. The homeless were of course camped out there and occasionally I would see other real cyclists, but for the most part just me and the homeless.

At the end of the bike path was Route 66 Highway. I finally found it! My bike shop was only 1.5 miles down Route 66. After being sluggish all day, I found my second wind. I rode straight in and unloaded on their couch. After a rest I had lunch at a Thai restaurant and then grocery shopping.

The bike still not finished I sat back down on the couch and talked to a college kid that raced for the shop. I also took the time to find a place to stay. All of the motels were a couple miles South and the National forest many more miles North.

Leaving the shop I headed South, but first, I called Wyndham because there website was not working and asked to make a reservation. I was just checking their prices compared to the other sites I use. With Wyndham and IHG I get points, but IHG is too expensive. The cheapest hotel I could find was a Travelodge, regular $70, discounted with to $60 and discounted with Wyndham to $55. Plus, I get points. And, it had breakfast! I make the reservation and ride the 2.5 miles South.

When I get there I ask the front desk worker about my reservation, just like normal, and he says he does not have it. I check through my email looking for the confirmation number, but it is not there. The Wyndham app is still not working, so I call them. Tell them the circumstance so I get the reservation number, give it to the hotel worker, and nothing. He still can not find it. After an hour and a half of being on the phone with Wyndham then Travelodge, they still can’t get it sorted out. Both Wyndham and Travelodge can see my reservation, but the hotel guy will not honor it unless it is sent to him. Travelodge says he can book me in another hotel 10 miles down the road, but I’m not about to ride another 10 miles. The last option was to pay full price and get reimbursed later. The hotel guy then tells me he needs $40 cash deposit to stay there. I don’t have cash! We work it out, charging the extra $40 to my credit card, refundable.

I will most likely not be using Travelodge again. Also, the wifi didn’t work! Bike works though and my room has a sex mirror.