February 6, Geoff speaking
Ups and Downs
Kathy knows that camping is not high on my good times list, but on this road warrior adventure with hardcore Barc it was the right thing to pitch the tent in Pine Valley after Day 2, even if the site was on gopher-infested land. Barc was more concerned with the security of our belongings--shady youngsters about, looking for bike bags, no doubt--so our all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner down the road a little was one serving only, truly the early bird special ahead of an early night in the bags at 6:30 pm local time. What we had not factored was that the overnight low would be about -9C, so we slept fitfully, as we had not layered sufficiently. Won't be fooled again....
Day 3 was our third and final day of climbing in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and my goal for the finish was to sleep in warmth near a TV with the Super Bowl. As luck would have it, Jacumba had the requisite environment, plus the healing waters of a spring-fed hot spa. The nearby landscape also featured The Wall, which we had on our right for several miles along the Mexico/US border, which of course gave us both a warm sense of security and insulation from illegal aliens. A fellow at the bar tried to engage me in anti-Trump talk, but fearing a ruse, I did not engage. This was wise, as another group in the bar were so moved by Fox's pregame coverage later on that they were moved to applause at contrived nationalistic moments. Jingoism in situ! the game was fun too, even if I lost a $1 bet, but the bonus of being in the West was that the game was done by 8:00 pm or so, thus giving us time to recover from Lady Gaga's exertions at halftime.
Day 4 (today) was the ride to Brawley, our resting place for the evening after our first 100km+ day, but onewith an asterisk. After some modest climbing for a few miles after breakfast, we rode down over 3000 ft and ten miles on a fast, wind-sheared Interstate 8. As planned, Barc was ahead of me, and we had agreed to meet at the exit halfway down featuring a sign that said "Bikes Must Exit." Somehow I neglected to note this sign as I hurtled across the ostensibly dangerous overpass, teeth gritted, watchful for potholes, and generally avoiding death. Now I was ahead of him, and his thoughts were consumed with the thought that should he be incapacitated, and I unaware he was behind me, oh what would happen? Our joyful reunion near the bottom of this piste featured strong language and general outrage on Barc's part, an interesting reversal of our 1983 adventure when Barc biked onto the elevated M road on our way to Heathrow: think of Montreal's Metropolitan highway, but less safe. At the time I coined the term "minor intellect," which Barc was misguidedly pleased to re-apply to me today. The "asterisk" I added to our century ride today is that 16 km of it was a fast descent with no peddling, and 75% of the rest featured a strong tailwind of the sort that had Professor Marvel packing up his wagon in Kansas. Yes, tumbleweeds too, but perfect.
My last word on today is that I have now seen romaine lettuce picked in the fields: those elastic bands we see around heads of lettuce at Maxi are actually slipped on directly in the lettuce field by the labourer who cuts the head from its roots. As we rolled through Brawley, it was pleasing to cross Cesar Chavez Boulevard. He and migrant workers generally work harder than than cyclists on tour, even if tomorrow's ride through the desert is 120km. I have said a small prayer for another tailwind. Adios
Barc here. It’s a pleasure to chat with you again. We are at the Coco Palms Mobile Park, south of Palo Verde, awaiting the arrival of our host John, who promises exquisite barbeque of a texture and tenderness unknown to 99% of mankind. Let us not pretend otherwise, tonight we are 1%-ers and, while my aged riding partner fumbles with our bike map, issuing staccato bursts of outrage at slights known only to him, I’m practicing looks of elistist disdain consistent with our temporary status. Funnily, I seem to have a knack for it.
With respect to recent events involving long descents and missed exits, no harm actually came from the potentially tragic blunder. Let us put it behind us and remember that it is best not to dwell on the relative powers of siblings. Brother Geoff has described the experience as best he can, and we can ask no more of him; that would be unfair and… mean.
Today’s 63-mile ride from Brawley was, like yesterday coming out of the mountains, a remarkably pleasant wind-assisted effort. Had we set a world speed record, which we surely did not, our time would have been disqualified. That’s why we didn’t set a world speed record. Today’s highlights included crossing the ten miles (10 miles wide but 400 miles long) of Algoma Sands National something-or-other, a truly Saharan expanse of sand dunes and powersport enthusiasts drawn to sand dunes. If you squinted both your eyes and credibility, the dudes in the distance, standing on the crests of massive peaks of sand, adjusting the testosterone throttles on their berserker machines, could have been named Lawrence; there was even a train.
Changing gears, and regarding my personal fitness level for this trip, I may have made a slight miscalculation. My unshakeable conviction was that no matter how out-of-shape I was, no matter how pathetically soft and squishy and stiff and clunky I felt, I could never be as feeble as my ancient desk-bound retiree brother. Oops. Five days of riding has convinced me that I may not have to wait for him quite as often as originally planned. He is… doing… rather well (he said, choking out the words). Let us hope that my natural athleticism and brilliant physical powers will shortly reestablish the natural order. Sigh… First Trump and now this… Can we take nothing for granted?
The next day…
A hot, sunny day saw the intrepid duo chug chug chugging from Palo Verde, California to Quartzite, Arizona. Crossing a state border is a pretty big deal on a bike trip. It felt so special the first time, I backed up and did it again, triggering a playful scream of frustration and annoyance from my brother. He’s so funny.
Except when he’s… truculent. This morning we were at a highway intersection and Geoff had stopped to look at the map, his front wheel protruding a foot or so onto the two-lane highway. A large RV was bearing down on us from behind and I said to him, in a rare note of fraternal concern, “You might want to move a bit.”
In a tone of voice remarkably like the petulant, stubborn, entitled schoolchildren with whom he spent his professional life, he replied “No. I don’t.” Denial of reality is currently in vogue in the United States. Perhaps my brother had an alternative fact that he hadn’t shared, one not involving an immoveable object meeting an unstoppable RV. Yowza.
But, like the missed “Bicycles Must Exit” exit on the harrowing interstate descent, everything turned out okay. The RV driver was paying attention and did not smush my brother. I did not have to tell his wife Kathy that Geoff died taking a stand that was important to him. Question: If bad decisions pass without negative consequences, do they become good decisions?
Blythe Spirits, Geoff Speaking
As much of southern California is desert, the patchwork of green fields in the Imperial Valley is in stark contrast to the sand and stone everywhere, and speaks to the continual need for water from overtaxed aquifers to keep this land arable. One of my favourite movies, Chinatown, features John Huston's Noah Cross going to criminal lengths to buy up desert near L.A. ahead of the water getting there. That tale was set in the 30's, so I wonder who made the real estate deals in this valley (and others like it) decades ago, who controls the water, and how long it will last.
Never mind, our water bottles are full, and on Day 5 we passed through real desert east of Brawley around Glamis, not to be confused with Macbeth's land, but right out of T. E. Lawrence. This Glamis (allegedly a town, but really a whistle-stop) is a mecca for dune buggiests, who were scurrying bug-like over the dunes. Unlike TV commercials, we saw no scantily clad young people catching air, but Buddy and Gloria were taking a break at the tables outside the store at Glamis, allegedly the t-shirt capital of the world. their RV was no doubt nearby. I might have bought a souvenir, but Jabba the Hut was at the cash and scared me. That "no washrooms available" was the sign outside is suggestive.
We had another friendly tailwind for our 100km through the dunes and rolling highway, with an early arrival at our first "warm showers" host, a network of kind souls who offer a bed, campsite, and/or food for a nominal fee to cycle tourists. Barc had built up my expectations of meeting Nancy, a massage therapist, great cook, and Haight Ashbury survivor. Sadly, she was on assignment, so her neighbour John was our host. A friendly soul, he provided a tasty meal for us in his trailer packed fully with mementos of all sorts. Now I like to hang on to things, but John has dusty treasures from every stage of his interesting life, and was pleased to provide the back story to many. We camped on Nancy's deck next door, a happier experience than Pine Valley thanks to the comfortable temperature and lower altitude. Even the howling coyotes did not disturb our sleep.
Day 6 began with a great run through the Colorado River-fed fields between Palo Verde and Blythe. Two highlights:
A) Meeting David, a solo cyclist who has been on the road for weeks escaping his personal ghosts in Mississippi. Having foresworn the advertising world and the perfidy of certain women, his ride was an extended cleansing of the soul. His ironic sensibility, as suggested by his Conway Twitty cycling club shirt, and his amusing tales of the road were a happy diversion for us.
B) Barc pointed out a crop-duster flying over fields in the near distance, but no dusting was occurring. As we approached a dusty crossroads, I had a brief Hitchcockian moment of alarm, but the plane did not buzz us. False alarm.
Our brunch in Blythe was in the fantastically retro but genuine Courtesy Coffee Shop, built in 1964 and staffed still by its original waitress. Such one-off restaurants are generally our preferred stopping points for the one non-picnic meal of the day, a nod to Barc's belief in the sanctity of eggs and bacon.
Half the day's trip done, the remaining 40 km featured our anti-climactic entry into Arizona (one state down, six to go) as we crossed the Colorado River, a long uphill grind on the interstate, and the slow descent into Quartzite through a wilderness of RV's camped in the desert. My key role in this trip is to advocate for comfort, so the Super 8 is our friend tonight: the biker's special. We'll see if their bacon-less breakfast measures up to my brother's high standards. Adios.