Southern Pacific Crest Trail & New Mexico


Fall 2010


Denis Kertz, ©2010

Day 20: Sat, Sep 25, 2010 - Palmdale, CA to Apple Valley, CA [66.8, 6:29:07, 10.3 mph, 1,314']

I ate breakfast at the same diner across the street and had whole wheat pancakes, which was nice for a change.  I didn't get off until almost 9am.


My destination for the day was Apple Valley and it was an easy route.  I just started on Palmdale Ave where my motel was and that was 138 which is what I needed.  It was a little congested for a couple miles and then it was okay since it was a wide road.  There was about 600 feet of climbing but the gain was stretched out over many miles and was hardly noticeable.  It wasn't fun or scenic riding but it was pretty easy.


The big question was how hot it would get.  It was already comfortably warm at 9am.  There were a few places to stop for food/water early but then there was nothing until the end.  I stopped at Pearblossom for my second breakfast and that was the last service until near the end.


Eventually 138 turned southeast but 18 split off to the east and I took 18.  Road conditions were still good until I hit the county line and then the good shoulder was history.  The new shoulder was about a foot wide with cracks in it.  This would turn out to be an issue later.


The real problem with the very warm temperature was my drinking water was warm too and not satisfying.  I sucked on some hard candy and that helped some but there's no replacement for a cold drink and I spent much of my time dreaming of my next cold drink.


About 10 miles from Victorville I was surprised to see a red car pass me and then immediately pull over on the shoulder followed by a white SUV that pulled behind the car.  That made no sense but I guessed that the parties needed to confer with each other about their route but it was very strange that they chose that location.  About 20 minutes later or so the white SUV pulled along side me at a light and the driver said something about I had caused an accident and he needed to talk to me.  Right after the intersection he pulled over and I stopped.  He said that earlier the red car had stopped abruptly to keep from hitting me and he had bumped into the red car.  So he wanted to collect my contact information which I gave him.  He seemed to think that the red car was at fault for stopping suddenly but my guess is the guy will be found at fault.  This guy said there were some road undulations and he figured the woman in the red car did not see me until the last minute when coming over an undulation and then perhaps did a panic stop.  Otherwise I have no idea why she would think she was going to hit me.  People all afternoon had managed to avoid me despite the narrow shoulder.  At least it looked like it was just minor bumper contact from what I could see although perhaps there was more damage on the red car’s rear end.


As I continued counting down the miles to Victorville and a cold drink I was surprised to see some services at an intersection ahead.  This was the intersection with 395 that I hadn't noticed on the map.  This particular Arco station had my lemon-lime Gatorade as a selection at the soda fountain and I downed a 32oz.  A few miles later I saw another Arco station so I repeated the process.


A few miles later I rode into Victorville and continued riding until I picked up 18 again to Apple Valley.  Apple Valley was a kind of strange town.  It looked like it had 3 separate sections along 18 and the couple motels were poorly located, not near food sources.  I rode as far through town as I could looking for other motel possibilities and eventually backtracked a couple miles to the last motel where I got a room for $55.  Since food was about a mile away I immediately rode to a taco fast food place for a large burrito.


Overall, an easy day with just over 60 miles with very warm temperatures.


Day 21: Sun, Sep 26, 2010 - Apple Valley, CA to Joshua Tree, CA [69.2, 6:48:46, 10.2 mph, 1,757']

I got on the road early and stopped at a Taco fast food place that served breakfast and had a decent 2+2+2.


My goal for the day was Joshua Tree, over 60 miles away.  The main issue was the heat and whether there would be places to stop for cold drinks along the way.  My first stop was Lucerne Valley, 15 miles away, where I had my second breakfast.  Unfortunately, after that I wasn't sure there would be anything until Yucca Valley.  The map listed a couple places but it wasn't clear if they were real places or just dots on the map.


Today's ride was more scenic than yesterday.  It ran down the middle of a very wide desert valley with mountains on both sides.  There was some climbing but nothing really major.


The day was a grind without any place to stop, not even for some respite from the sun.  I did eventually find a spot with some large boulders where I was able to find a shady spot for a short rest.  But the real problem was water – warm water.  I had plenty of water.  It's just that warm water doesn't seem to do much good.  I had hoped that a place called Johnson Valley would have something but it was a couple miles off the road and I didn't feel like taking a detour on a chance to find something.  So I continued the grind.


Finally, after nearly 50 miles I passed by a fire station and I stopped.  I thought I might be able to get my water bottles refilled with something cool but I got something better.  A guy gave me a cold water bottle from their refrigerator.  Better yet, he told me there were a couple places to stop just a few miles down the road, which is what I really wanted to hear.  I guzzled the cold water bottle and moved on.


A couple miles later after a short, steep climb I stopped at a food mart.  First I drank a 32oz Gatorade which took about 4 gulps.  Then I drank a 32oz soda from the soda fountain and nursed that a bit longer.  Then I had to hang around a bit to allow my body to absorb all that liquid.


After about a 30 minute break I rode on feeling much better with only about 10 miles to go to Yucca Valley.  There was some significant climbing in the last stretch but at least I was reasonably hydrated at that point.  The climbing was followed by a steep descent into town with a view of the mountains on the other side and housing spread across the valley.


I stopped once more for another 32oz Gatorade in town and then headed to Joshua Tree, 6 miles up the road.  The road was pretty awful with a rough shoulder.  I rode through Joshua Tree to size up the place, whose existence is to provide services for folks coming from/to Joshua Tree National Park.  After the pass through I backtracked to the High Desert Motel for a room at $49.  It was an okay room that was next to a small restaurant and grocery store.  I grabbed a hamburger meal and picked up a few things for tomorrow where I would be camping in the park.


Day 22: Mon, Sep 27, 2010 - Joshua Tree, CA to Joshua Tree NP, CA [59.2, 6:47:50, 8.7 mph, 2,506']

I got up early to get off to a good start.  I had a good breakfast at the Crossroads Cafe with multigrain pancakes and bacon.  Heading south from Park Blvd I saw the Visitor Center was right near the intersection.  Had I known I would have stopped yesterday afternoon but today I was too early.  I immediately started climbing on the 5 miles to the park entrance.  It was already warm and I was sweating so I could only imagine what the rest of the day would be like.  Basically the route was a fair amount of climbing early, a fairly long descent, and then some more climbing.


The morning was very scenic riding through the park.  It was easy to see how the park got its name.  There were Joshua Trees dotted all over the place.  The Joshua Tree, which is not really a tree but a yucca, was named by the Mormons due to its similarity to Joshua, from the Bible, raising his hands up to the sky in prayer.  There were also a lot of granite hunks that had been carved into what looked like building blocks.  Some of these granite hunks were climbing places where the climbers went when the other places, such as Yosemite, were too cold.


Stopping at most of the turnouts and exhibits the morning was fairly slow but interesting progress.  After about 30 miles I came to the intersection where I could head back to the highway or turn south to my destination of Cottonwood Campground.  Southward bound led me through a steep descent through the Wilson Canyon.  I would have liked to turn the bike loose but there were little bumps due to cracks that forced me to limit my speed.


In contrast to the morning which was reasonably pleasant temperature with a little cooling breeze the descent was hot.  I would have thought the descent would be a little cooling but I could feel myself passing through pockets of hot air.  The descent also took me from the high Mojave Desert of the northern part of the park to the Colorado Desert of the lower part.  The Joshua Trees which were ever present in the Mojave Dessert disappeared in the Colorado Desert.


I descended into the wide open Pinto Basin which looked rather forbidding, at least on a bike.   There were some cholla cactus and ocotillos near the bottom of the descent.


All day I took care to keep myself well hydrated.  The park recommended at least a gallon of water per day and 2 gallons for more strenuous activity.  I had my usual 3 large 27oz water bottles and one 18oz water bottle plus a 2 liter water bag.  I made sure I kept sipping on my water all day and not getting behind.  That was just as well because my water kept getting hotter as the day heated up and it required some discipline to keep drinking warm/hot water.  I ended the day with a large water bottle so everything worked out well hydration wise.


When descending the basin just looked flat.  At one point there was a parking area with a trail sign with a little roof over that provided a patch of shade.  Since shade was very difficult to come by, I stopped and sat under the shade while eating a banana and dreaming of a cold drink.  When I resumed riding it wasn't long before I started climbing out of the flat basin.


Near 4pm I stopped at the Cottonwood Visitor Center and was dismayed to find nothing cold to drink.  All the water was warm and tepid although there was some shade.  The place must close at 4pm because it closed shortly after I got there.  I debated staying a while for the shade but rode the mile to the campground where the water was again lukewarm.


I set my tent up quickly to provide some shade and did my best to feed my appetite with lukewarm water.  Once the sun went down it became pleasant.  I could only hope the temp would drop enough to provide some cool water by morning.


Day 23: Tue, Sep 28, 2010 - Joshua Tree NP, CA to Westmorland, CA [103.8, 8:46:01, 11.8 mph, 1,035']

I was tired and went to sleep at 7pm last night.  It was warm so I just laid on top of my sleeping bag and slept okay.  Later in the morning it was finally cool enough that I put my bare legs in the sleeping bag.


When I woke up around 6am it was cool and very cloudy.  Because of the clouds there was a spectacular sunrise behind the mountains with the sky lit up in red.  I ate breakfast and packed up and left.  The campsite had 62 campsites and there were two couples from Austria in two RVs and two other campers besides myself.


It was all downhill to I10, 7 miles away.  Along the descent I saw movement just off the road and thought it was deer but then I realized it was big horn sheep.  I stopped and walked to the side a bit and saw 4 or 5 big horns bounding up the hill across the way.  They watched me warily so I moved on after a few minutes.  The road looked pretty level but it had to be fairly steep because I was coasting at 30 mph. 


When I reached I10 I continued over the Interstate and picked up Box Canyon Road to Mecca.  This road was downhill all the way to Mecca but not as steep.  It was also a surprise.  It passed through a long canyon which I presume was Box Canyon and was very scenic.  The walls of the canyon were striped every which way, sometimes vertically, some horizontally, and some diagonally with various light colored earth tones.  Some were pock marked with holes like a bad case of acne.  It was a real high light to pass through this canyon with hardly any pedaling.


At the end of the canyon I came upon a view of the Salton Sea, 226 feet below sea level, and a large agricultural area that was a vivid contrast to the desert scenery with its irrigated fields, orchards, and vineyards.  Mecca was a small unincorporated town apparently populated mostly by Hispanics.  Signs in town listed Spanish first and English second.  I stopped at a food mart and ordered two breakfast burritos and a quart of milk, the first cold drink since ice water at breakfast yesterday morning.  Two burritos were too much so I ate one and half of the other and saved the remainder.


Then the fun started.  My destination was Salton City so I headed south but I discovered quickly that the road I was on went down the east side of Salton Sea.  So I backtracked to get to what was 86 except I wanted to cut off some of the distance and avoid some of the main highway.  The road I chose didn't go all the way through but there were side streets that I figured I could take to the main road.  Except the side streets didn't continue through.  So I had to backtrack almost all the way before I took a side street that went through (I could see the traffic at the end).  Except there was a fence at the end of the street.  I debated throwing everything over the fence but there was a path along the fence so I followed it for a bit hoping to find an opening.  The path was through really soft powdery ground and I had to push the bike.  Eventually I came to a spot where I had to throw things over the fence which I did and crawl up to the road on a bank.  This attempt at a shortcut was very wasteful in terms of time and effort but I managed to get on the expressway heading in the right direction.


Then it was a matter of cranking out the miles on a flat road.  The sun had started peeking behind the clouds when I reached Mecca and it became rather warm.  So my thoughts were how far I would have to ride to get a cold drink.  The answer was Desert Shores where I found a food mart and got a 32oz Gatorade, half of which I chugged in one gulp.


After that the next stop was Salton City, 10 miles away.  Along the way I met a motorist along the side of the road who was attempting to replace a flat, actually exploded, tire.  However, his jack had slipped and he somehow had the old tire slipped under the chassis and holding up the front of the car but the jack was stuck.  He had been hoping someone would come along to help and I was the lucky guy.  After some prodding with a 2x4 for leverage he managed to get the jack loose with a little assist from me.  Then he got the front end jacked up, using a long needle nose pliers to turn the jack screw (not recommended).  Then it was an easy matter to fit the spare on and he was off to work.


I continued on and stopped in Salton City at a large food mart for another large, cold soda.  Originally my plan was to stay in Salton City and ride to Borrego Springs tomorrow.  But it was only 2pm so I decided it would be great if I made Borrego Springs today.  It was 28 miles away with about 1200 feet of climbing but it was a better place to stay.  However, after a few miles the road was really bad and I knew it would be an awful struggle to make Borrego Springs today.  So I turned back to Salton City and began looking for a place to stay.  I knew there was a motel which I eventually found but it had no vacancy, apparently because the owners were attempting to sell it.


I ended up stopping at the police department, which I wish I had done initially, and asked about accommodations.  I got the word I would have to either head back to Desert Shores or ride ahead to Westmorland.  Since I was told Westmorland was only about 17 miles and it was 3:45, there was plenty of time on a flat road.  Except I learned shortly from a road sign that Westmorland was actually 28 miles away – amazing that a police officer could be off by 11 miles.  That made it a real grind.  I did really well to make it shortly after 6pm in about 2:20, better than I figured I could do.


The lone motel was nice but on the expensive side at $80.  Fortunately, my AARP discount helped and the place also had a continental breakfast.  After cleaning up I walked to a steak place with the only other option a Mexican burrito place.  I had my first beer of the trip since I ate at the bar and that first cold beer went down really quickly and I knew I couldn't continue that.  I had a grilled chicken meal that was really good and a lot of food.


So the day was a surprise in many respects.  The ride through Box Canyon was outstanding.  But then I managed to turn what should have been a relatively easy 60 mile day into a century.  The good news is making Westmorland would make tomorrow a short day, unless I try to make it shorter with some shortcuts...


Day 24: Wed, Sep 29, 2010 - Westmorland, CA to El Centro, CA [23.5, 2:12:26, 10.7 mph, 170']

I wasn't in any great hurry to leave quickly other than to beat the heat which was projected to reach 100F.  The motel had a rather mediocre continental breakfast but I took advantage of it nevertheless.  Because of yesterday's long ride, I only had 22 miles to El Centro.  After that the next stop was Yuma, another 60 miles, and I had no desire to make this another hard day.


I simply rode 86 all the way to El Centro.  Brawley was only another 7 miles and yesterday I had briefly considered continuing on to it because it had several motels.  When I passed through Brawley I passed by the motel I stayed at in 2004 on my Southern Tier ride.  It surely would have been cheaper than the place I stayed at last night,


The ride was pretty boring – a flat ride through a big agricultural area.  I did start the day at 178 feet below sea level and ended above sea level but the “climbing” was virtually unnoticeable.


When I rode into El Centro I stopped for a leisurely breakfast.  Then I looked for a motel for the day.  There were several very inexpensive motels but I opted for a Motel 6 because I wanted a reliable commodity.  The Motel 6 cost $40 and $3 for internet access.  I discovered the first room I was assigned didn't have working Internet access so I got moved to a different room that worked.


I spent a fair amount of time thinking about different options for my Arizona segment.  Basically, weather predictions called for temps in the 100F range for the near future.  I was already behind my expected schedule and the longer things dragged out the greater the chance of bad (eg, cold) weather in the mountains of New Mexico.  So I was of the mind to basically skip Arizona but the question was how.  The problem was having a bicycle.  Amtrak would have been an option except the bike has to be packed up and that requires baggage service and that wasn't available.  I presumed Greyhound had a similar requirement for a bicycle.  That left a one-way car rental but the problem was that Silver City was the logical end point but Avis and Hertz didn't have a location there.  Paradoxically, Enterprise had a place in Silver City but not Yuma.  Sometimes you just can't win.


Anyway I managed enough research that I figured I could make a decision when I reached Yuma.  And I needed to get to Yuma because Chase was supposed to have a replacement ATM card waiting for me there at a branch location.  Otherwise I might have been able to plan something from El Centro.


The big deal with tomorrow is that it was 60 miles to Yuma with nothing along the way.  So I wanted to get as early a start as possible to avoid as much of the heat as possible.  I planned to eat breakfast in my room and take off quickly in the morning.


Day 25: Thu, Sep 30, 2010 - El Centro, CA to Casa Grande, AZ [68.2, 6:10:26, 11.0 mph, 0']

With the temp expected to hit over 100 I wanted as early a start as possible to get to Yuma 60 miles away.  I woke up a little after 5am and ate breakfast in my room.  It took a while for the sky to lighten so I didn't hit the road until 6:30.  It was still a little dark so I turned my rear blinkie on.


I headed north about a mile to catch the road to Holtville that would eventually bend back to I8 where I would be forced to ride I8 most of the rest of the way.  Holtville was 10 miles away and the first half was a bad road with lots of cracks.  After the intersection with 111 the road was fine the rest of the way.  I didn't really need a drink when I reach Holtville but it was the last chance for any drink until near Yuma so I took advantage of the last chance.


The morning turned out to be favorable for me.  There was some cloud cover and some small standing water suggested it had rained at least a bit overnight.  The cloud cover kept the sun at bay until about 9am but even after that there was spotty cloud cover that kept the sun from hammering down for long periods of time.


Riding an Interstate isn't much fun but at least this one had fairly moderate traffic.  I brought extra water for the trip and forced myself to start drinking early to make sure I kept myself hydrated.  There wasn't much to do but grind out the miles.  The other thing to do was consider my options when I reached Yuma.  I had already decided that it didn't make much sense to pursue my original planned route across southern Arizona.  I couldn't image it being much fun with the heat wave.  Plus I was well behind my schedule so by the time I reached New Mexico it would be well into October and that increased the threat of bad weather in the mountains.


So I figured it was best to skip the Arizona ride and get on with the New Mexico portion.  Ideally I would have like to get transported to Silver City, NM.  Amtrak had a train that stopped at Yuma and Deming which would have been the ticket but neither of those places had baggage service.  If they allowed bicycle roll on service it would have worked fine.  Yesterday I had researched one way car rental and it seemed nobody had one way termination in Silver City.  That made the option termination in either Las Cruces or Albuquerque.  Las Cruces was two day's ride from Silver City so I didn't like that.  Albuquerque meant skipping about half the NM portion but I had been through a good part of that southwestern part on previous rides.  So I decided Albuquerque was my best bet.  It would get me into the mountains sooner with a better chance of good weather and make it less of a rush.


I made good time riding to Yuma and it looked like I could make it before noon.  However, I got stopped by a CHP officer who notified me about two frontage road options as I came within about 10 miles of Yuma.  That sounded good until I got on the frontage roads and their road surface was terrible.  The first section had alternating sections of bad surface and reasonably good surface.  The second section was terrible for about the first half until it ended at another road and was fine then.


This last road was well located.  It brought me into Yuma on 4th Ave which is exactly where I needed to be.  I stopped for a cold drink and then rode south to 16th Street where there was a Chase Bank where Chase had sent a replacement ATM card at my request for me to pick up.  I was happy to get the replacement card and immediately made a small cash withdrawal to be sure everything worked.


After that I headed east and then south on Pacific to get to the Yuma International Airport.  I expected to find the major car rentals represented there and I could see what my options were.  I first tried Enterprise because they looked like they might have an option to get to Silver City but they had no cars so that was no option.  Then I checked with Avis which had no cars.  However, for some reason the Avis agent was able to swing a Budget car rental that would get me to Albuquerque at a not too unreasonable rate of $112 per day.  Budget had a Ford Focus available and I checked it out to see if I could fit my bicycle in.  Since both rear seats folded down I was pretty sure I could slide my bike in sideways and that worked fine after I removed my front wheel.


So within two hours of arriving in Yuma I was on my way out.  It was really strange to be behind a wheel and simply be able to press an accelerator and get speed.  However, it still took a little while to get comfortable again with driving a vehicle, especially a strange one.


Nevertheless I made it out of town without incident.  Right away there was some awesome mountain scenery heading east.  The Interstate passed right through the mountains but in the blink of an eye they were gone.  That reminded me why bicycle travel is so good.  You can't just pass through in the blink of an eye unless you are going down a steep downhill.  And you can stop at almost any time to admire the scenery further or take photos.  With a vehicle that is rarely true.


I headed east on I8 towards Tucson not sure how far I would make it.  It was amazing how the mountains just popped up in isolation here and there.  After an hour I passed Dateland which is what my first riding day destination would have been.  In another hour I passed Gila Bend which would have almost certainly been my second day destination.  So in two hours I had driven the equivalent of riding two days.  It seemed almost sacrilegious.


Eventually I had to decide on today's destination.  I could have made Tucson but I would have been arriving in the dark and looking for a motel and I decided I didn't want that.  So I stopped in Casa Grande, about 60 miles from Tucson.  It was a little difficult finding the motels since the town was a few miles off the Interstate but I eventually homed in and found a place with $29 rooms.  At that rate I was almost afraid to check the room but the room was pretty reasonable for the price.


The motel wasn't well situated for walking to food sources so I ate at the fast food drive in across the street which looked like the only real option, assuming I didn't want to eat at the Holiday Inn bar/grill next door.



Copyright Denis Kertz, 2010. All rights reserved.