We’ve just spent two days riding to and through the Colorado and Mojave deserts of Joshua Tree National Park.
With lots of uphill, a fierce headwind yesterday (23 miles/hour with gusts of up to 40 miles/hour) and needing to plan our food and water carefully as there’s no food in the park and only a few places for water, riding was more challenging than usual.
We started the journey from a great RV resort in a citrus grove by the Salton Sea where guests were invited to pick oranges, grapefruit and tangerines. After two days there, I can guarantee that no one in our family will be getting scurvy. Ever. We have never tasted such sweet and delicious grapefruit. The kids were thinking of their grandmas who love grapefruit.
A very kind resident named Ron drove us into Indio the day before our ride to the desert for groceries (and made us freshly squeezed orange juice the morning we were leaving!) Going for lightweight and non-perishable, even in hot desert conditions, we bought:
Whole wheat buns
Pre-made Asian Noodles
(And 5 oranges from the tree beside our tent)
That looks like a lot of food but we ate everything and were hungry on day two. So another meal or two would have been welcome, although I’m not sure how we would have carried it.
Now that we’ve sent home or given away a lot of our books, running shoes and other stuff, Anna Sierra and I had room in our bags for the food. Usually we only carry enough for the next three meals and usually we shop just before getting to a campsite so we don’t have to carry food far.
As we rode out of the RV park, we said goodbye to a delightful family of travelling musicians from New York who we had the good fortune to meet and hang out with during our stay.
Thomas, their ten year old son, won us over the moment we met by filling us in on all our favourite hockey teams. Derek is a Leafs fan. We all like to hear how Ottawa’s Senators are doing. And I like to keep up to date on the Habs so I can chat with my brother-in-law from Montreal about them – especially if they play the Sens. It only took a moment before Thomas’s younger sisters, Ava and Maybelle ran out to meet Anna Sierra. And we parents loved chatting about life on the road together.
The day before we left, all five kids spent the day alternating between soccer on the tennis court and swimming with a bit of ping pong and bocce until it was time for dinner and we all shared Kathy’s delicious lentil stew (with carrots and humous too, of course.)
It’s always bittersweet saying goodbye to new dear friends on the road. I feel lucky we had a chance to meet and I hope our paths cross again someday. Even though it feels like we’re just getting to know each other when we ride away, we all love the open road.
We weren’t sure about riding through Joshua Tree with its limited water, but Ben – our warm showers host in Julian – said people in the desert are really friendly about water. He was right!
After riding past artichoke fields, peppers, date palms and vineyards, we reached Mecca.
(We have ridden through a lot of little towns with awesome names on this trip. In Cuba we rode past Australia, Guatemala, Jamaica and the Republic of Chile).
As we left the town, Derek realized he had forgotten to refill his water bottles, so he asked a man sitting outside his house for some water. Instead of offering Derek tap water, he jumped in his truck and came back a few minutes later with three one litre bottles of water! Although it seemed like more than we needed at the time, we drank every drop before arriving at the Visitor Centre just outside Cottonwood Campground. Here’s the route we took:
There we refilled all our bottles, chatted with the Rangers and relaxed after a beautiful, tiring uphill ride. Anna and Jasper love the Junior Ranger activity books and are always working diligently towards badges by identifying wildlife, searching for animal tracks and getting to know the history of the parks we visit.
At Cottonwood the Camp Host offered to ask around for folks travelling North in the park who might be willing to take some of our extra water to the next campground when he did his evening rounds. This was a big help and we met Frank who was happy to deliver a one litre and a one gallon water bottle to the entrance of Jumbo Rocks Campground, which has no water (about 50 km away).
The next day, just as we were setting out (at 7:48am, not that anyone checks or anything but we did leave at 5:58am once in Cuba) the wind started blowing. Here’s the route we were trying to follow:
After Anna Sierra got blown off the road and into the gravel, we turned back. We later learned these morning gusts were 40 miles/hour!
This was the first time in 6 months we were weather bound. We found a sunny, sheltered picnic table and wrote postcards until the gusts stopped and it was just really windy.
Since the first 25km was downhill or level, we thought it wouldn’t be too bad and probably the winds would stop by the afternoon when we started our 2000 feet of climbing. (Sorry about mixing measurements.)
Anna learned that if she ‘hunkered down’ over the handlebars, she was more stable and we set off, with Derek and Jasper taking the lead on the heaviest bike.
After lunch (almond butter and bagels in the shade of an ocotillo bush) we started climbing with me in the lead. It was slow going, but beautiful as we passed Fried Liver Wash and rode up to the famous Cholla Cactus Garden. We were rising slowly enough that we could see the bright yellow blooms on the cholla.
But then we just kept going up. And up. And up. And I started getting tired. And fed up. And really annoyed by all the people driving by in enormous trucks and RVs who were giving us cheerful, carefree waves, oblivious to how hard we were working to go about 8km/hour.
Finally we decided to stop and take a break. After an hour, we would decide if we were going to camp at the break spot or push on. We would figure out what to do about the water waiting for us at Jumbo Rocks if we couldn’t make it there
After some collective whining (except for Jasper who managed to stay cheerful all day long) and some resting, we decided to push on, into the wind that hadn’t died down at all. At one point I got off my bike and started pushing it up the hill because that seemed faster than biking.
Finally we reached a sign saying White Tank Campground was 500ft ahead! We all found an extra gear and rode the last stretch.
After choosing a campsite sheltered from the wind by the park’s famous giant boulders,Jasper and I walked over to a couple sitting in their van to ask if they could drive us the 5 miles to Jumbo Rocks where our water was stashed. As I explained the situation, and that we couldn’t make it to our water supply, I burst into tears. It’s hard travelling through the desert and not knowing if you have enough water for your kids. Especially when you’v
Dan and Suzanne (who of course immediately became our good friends) were super nice, said they’d be happy to help and that they had bikes in the back and couldn’t believe we were riding fully loaded bikes uphill into a headwind.
After a good night’s sleep, and the last of our oatmeal, we were able to appreciate the incredible rocks we had come so far to see as first the full moon set behind them and then the sun rose over them and the Joshua Trees growing amongst them.
There was only a gentle breeze blowing as we sailed all the way downhill to 29 Palms where Denny’s burgers, clean laundry, groceries, showers and even a soak in an RV hot tub awaited us.
Even though the second day in the park was our toughest riding day of the whole trip, we’re planning to refuel and head back in. The park with its wild trees and random giant boulders is too spectacular to visit so briefly.
We have, however, decided that even though Death Valley is in bloom, if we visit it, it will be in a rental car with LOTS of food and water in the trunk.
With warmest wishes,