Te Dejo California Gracias, it’s been a blast!

Riding into Death Valley

Time for Tacos… Time for another border crossing… The USA, I was leaving on day 89 of my 90-day visa waiver. The USA, a land of institutionalised stupidity. But they say it’s the people that make a place and the people have more than made up for the shortcomings in what many may describe as moral, cultural or government values of this huge and varied country. From the outside, it would be far too easy to shun any nation for the media propaganda that proliferates the world and what we hear about the USA is no better or worse than anywhere else. Travelling allows you to experience a country first hand and arrive at your own, if you allow them to be, unbiased opinions.

I have to admit that I arrived in the Lower 48 of the USA with little in the way of expectations. I’d met some great Americans along the way throughout Alaska, Canada and Hawaii, but after visiting the two outlying states the Lower 48, as I’d learnt that they are known, initially stood as merely a blockade between Canada and the more favourable Spanish culture to the south. How wrong I was…

Desert Camping under the stars

On a slight tangent I realised my last blog post was 2 months ago. So much for new years resolutions. At least now after a week off doing solid admin I’ve found a clear head and with my US visa waiver fast running out I’m crossing into Mexico. The new years resolution was to keep a journal and write more regularly. Last year I think I totalled maybe 5 blog posts! I can’t profess to having written something every day but this has been going better than the first months on the road. I’m still entertainingly working on my “Six months on the road blog” – I think that its now just going to be called “Life on the Road”!

Crossing the iconic Route 66

In my last week in the USA I made some great new friends, Odie, a former pro cyclist near enough, and Susanne, who turned out to have an expert knowledge of the Baja Peninsula, were good enough to let me stay with them for the week. Both cheerful, friendly and incredibly relaxed; and with a mountain of advice on the Baja – Suzanne’s uncle wrote the first guidebook to the area back in the 70s! Two people I really hope to see again someday. In between a mountain of tasks I felt I should get sorted, I’d caught up with some old friends who happened to be passing through San Diego, and with that, discussed the ludicrously I’ll reasoned non-presence of other friends – mentioning no names (Pizza Steve).

Southern California has been an absolute blast, a lot has happened since the last time I put any words together. I struggle to write when I’ve got a lot of other things on my mind, be it other tasks, menial jobs or other distractions. I need a clear head and taking a week in San Diego has helped no end.

More perfect nights

I’ve not intended to be in any way disparaging towards the USA, though there are some infuriatingly inefficient concepts here – largescale devout capitalism for example, stop lights for another, illegible all-caps road signs to name but 3 (in Britain we sorted this in the 1960’s with the introduction of the British Transport font despite the staunch opposition of the conservative masses); oh, and how it is near impossible to be a pedestrian here! But my earlier slight insult at the wider level aside, it’s countered by some of the nicest, friendliest people imaginable. I’ve made some great friends in the states and have been glad to have spent so long here. Winter was well on its way on thanksgiving when I sailed into Seattle – the Washington and Oregon coastlines were wintry affairs. California made way for the snow-capped mountains of the Sierras before finally some warmth rolling into the deserts of Southern California – Death Valley, the Mojave, the Salton Sea, the Anza Borrego and on into Mexico. I’m now, 2 months after my last blog, am finding it hard to write anything concise!

Under the Milky Way

Salvation Mountain, Slab City

Salvation mountain was amazing. Pleasant beauty painted on the desert; and since the release of the film Into the Wild now something of a tourist attraction. Also, now thankfully a national Folk Art site so it’s protected for years to come. This was clearly a labour of love.

Visiting Slab City I was starting to conclude that I don’t always get art. But at least I’m open minded enough to appreciate it. I was a lot more accepting than the obnoxious idiot of a biker who passed off the now deceased creator of the ‘mountain’ as a phsychodelic nutcase. I thought that was a bit rude. East Jesus on the other hand, a museum of junk art in Slab City itself was quite impressive – the tyre elephant and the TV wall that I’d previously posted photos of. The TV wall was epic and poignant.

The East Jesús TV Wall

Meeting a slabber named Rico from Puerto Rico, I think he just took the name of his homeland rather than divulging his real name, who had some signs painted outside his cabin. One offended Hera leading her to the conclusion that the owner was a sick disturbed individual. Actually, when he popped his head over the fence, he looked like more a pirate and the quote was a line from Pink Floyd, In the Flesh: “If I had my way, I’d have all of you shot!”

Twilight on the Steppe

From the journal: In the Anza Borrego desert I met Jim who joined me for a ride up the hill.

It’d been a hard day’s spin climbing out of the Anza Borrego desert, a 14mi ascent leading up to the pass through increasingly worsening weather, sweating I was now damp riding and through the cloud hanging over the high ground. This made for quite a cold spell. Dropping down from the pass it soon became clear that the promise of a long descent all the way to the coast wasn’t quite to be. After a long undulating highway I came to a decision point. I got to a junction where did I go right towards the coast north of San Diego or left along the slightly more direct route but with seemingly busier roads. Stopping for a snack and to check the electronic map it seemed there was another route – ascend again, with already tired legs, and pick up the Black Canyon down to Ramona. This was listed as a track on the map but the bike route option on my gps seemed keen to route me down it.

Anza Borrego Desert

What it involved first was a particularly savage climb, the second of the day but at least this time it was only 4 miles, compared to 14 earlier in the day, up to an Indian reserve known as Mesa Grande then turn off on the track leading towards another Indian reserve. I had no idea whether this would be passable, nor even whether I’d be permitted to use it. But riding up the paved road towards the start things looked promising. Not every car was driven by a person of first nation descent and hopefully the road would cut a straight line down the mountain to Ramona before picking up the highway down into San Diego itself.

Black Canyon, one of the best dirt roads for a while

Climbing up to Black Canyon was a bit of a concern. A stiff, and potentially unnecessary, ascent if the route down the Canyon were to turn out not to be ridable. The ascent to Mesa Grande was to prove worth the effort though. Signs designating the max weight limit for the bridges ahead as I turned off onto a fine dirt road and started to descend were comforting. I knew from the altitude profile that there was to be a climb followed by a seemingly steady descent all the way to San Diego. What followed was to turn out to be one of the finest routes I’d ridden in the Lower 48. The descend along Black Canyon Road for endless sunny miles of hard packed gravel.

Joshua trees, in Joshua Tree National Park

A week later as I rolled out of San Diego it was time to say goodbye to the USA and ‘Hola’ to Mexico. I seem to have picked up a bit of a cough during the week off in the city so not really on good form for the cycling but inspired by the idea of getting back into the wilderness and the desert.

Hasta Luego!

Badwater Basin, Death Valley. The lowest point of the journey so far!

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