We’ve been on the road for just over a week now. We’ve ridden through the Anza-Borrego Desert, the Colorado Desert, and the Mojave Desert. I’ve been in desert before, but to my memory, only in India. The image I had of deserts was sand dunes as far as the eye can see, with intermittent trees and man-made shade structures. Here, each desert has proven to be radically different from the last.
In the Anza-Borrego Desert, we rode on roads that traversed canyons, rising far above hundred-foot craters into the earth. We contemplated how easy it would be to rob a village and hide out in the canyons, cowboy style. (I promise we didn’t actually do that.)
In the Colorado Desert, we found out that we were in the “low desert”. Low desert life seems full of hardships that are foreign to the east coast–high winds toppling semi-trucks on the highway, sandstorms that you have to keep driving in even though you can’t see the road, and flash flooding when the sky suddenly opens up. Vast rewards, though–desert cactus flowers bloom with the rain, and the bright white sand against the mountains is a postcard picture you don’t see often.
The Mojave Desert here is “high desert” and is marked with Joshua trees. These aren’t actually trees, we learned, but actually cactuses that contain interesting personalities in their leaves and skeletons. They’ve got bark like trees, pointy cactus leaves that will cut you like a knife, and twist and bend depending on how many times they’ve bloomed in their lifetime. They exist primarily in the Mojave Desert and give the landscape a forest feel, despite the dry desert heat.
We have immensely enjoyed the incredible variety of environments that crossing California has shown us. Winding roads take us up and down mountains, back and forth across desertscapes. We have primarily utilized google maps’ biking directions to help us find our way–but it has led is to some unexpected places. A few days ago, google directed us to a service road through a windfarm. “No trespassing” signs were posted; the road was gravel and dirt, and there was a locked gate to prevent entry. We ended up going 10-15 miles out of our way to Palm Springs, spending 4 hours in a coffee shop to figure out directions, and eventually decided to ride 1 exit on the freeway to get where we needed to go. We learned a valuable lesson–trusting google is sometimes not the best way to go, check street-view for all of the directions, and having a charged cell phone with GPS is a great tool.
We have had only positive experiences with strangers, even strangers who are authority figures. The guardsman for the windmills found us riding circles around them and gave us a set of directions to avoid crossing a mountain. A sheriff asked where we were going; we worried that he would tell us the road we were about to take was prohibited for bicycles; instead he gave us a wave and said, “Good luck!” A man jumped out of his pick up truck quickly to give us cold water from his cooler before the car behind him started honking. When we entered a tiny, 40-home town with gravel, dirt, and pot-holed roads, a couple driving an ATV stopped us to chat and explained that the Pacific Crest Trail runs through their tiny town and there’s a friendly campground for hikers up the hill.
We spent last night with my family in Irvine. When my cousins Allysha and Bruce saw that I was biking in their neck of the woods, they facebook’d me and invited us to stop by and stay with them for a night! Allysha and Bruce are my “California cousins”–most of my extended family lives in the tristate area, but Allysha and Bruce have grown up on the West Coast. We haven’t spent too much of our lives together, so when I realized how close Irvine was to our route, I knew I had to stop by! Anne and I arrived last night. We stayed up late chatting with Allysha, Bruce, and my Auntie about life in Irvine, orange groves, fresh fruit, and gardening. (It seems like everything grows well in California!) It has been such a pleasure to catch up with my family on the West Coast and enjoy the comforts of home, even when away from home!