I'd set up tracking service with my Spot device, and set it up to follow me on Spot's service and something an inmate here had set up--WhereAmIRiding.com. Unfortunately they both only show tracks from the last 7 days, and I knew most of the stuff would be gone by the time I got back. Strega is working feverishly to be able to show past tracks but as of now still hasn't got it working--I'm sure he'll get it. But at the very last minute I'd learned about spotwalla which keeps all tracking data, set it up literally hours before we left and somehow missed the last verification step. It wasn't until 10 days into our trip that I was able to go back and fix it, so the first week, so far, is lost in cyberspace as far as tracking goes. So here's a BaseCamp map of Day 1's track.
The track is orange, and you can see the magenta route I'd prepared. Notice how as we neared San Jose, the track heads northwest instead of south? That's when the gps seemed to lose its mind...I pulled over and paged through the route step by step...it was trying to get us back home. No idea what went wrong, but from this point on I never used routing again.
OK, enough on technology failures...
The night was cold, and I was just barely warm enough. First night sleeping in this combination of gear, and it took a few days to dial everything in. We had done a lot of research and chose the tent and sleeping stuff based mostly on compactness and quality. Son had already tested it a few weeks earlier during a climbing trip to Joshua Tree and we knew the bags were going to be the weak link. We had chosen synthetic Marmot Cloudbreak 30's--Marmot has a great reputation for quality, the synthetic fill seemed the right choice because of our exposure to damp conditions (and budget), and the bags stuff down to a package that's about an 8 inch cube. They make a 0 degree bag, but it's about 50% larger when compressed.
The test had shown it was barely warm enough in freezing temps, so we added a Thermolite Reactor bag liner. While we knew we'd be camping in freezing temps the first week, the majority of the trip was going to be in semi-tropical weather and the only thing worse than a bag that's not warm enough is a bag that's too warm. It worked out very well. This way we'd be able to add the liner when cold and remove it when warmer--just like the layering approach to staying warm.The bag liners are very thin--we just left them in the bags when packing--and don't look like they'd make a difference but they do.
For comfort we used Big Agnes insulated air mattresses. I've never been able to sleep comfortably on ensolite pads or thermarests, and they are incredibly bulky. The BA air mattresses solve all the issues: comfortable as a bed, insulated, and they pack down to a package about the size of a roll of tp. Perfect.
This photo from backcountry.com shows the relative sizes of our bags and pads...
Anyway, we woke up early New Year's morning to a clear and cold day. Our water was frozen, our bikes were covered with frost, and we decided to quickly pack up and get going to our next destination--the promise of our first hot springs of the trip. We made coffee (Peet's of course), ate a clif bar, and packed. I think it took no more 30 minutes and we were back on the road, faceshields frosting over, mirrors coated with ice, and smiles on our faces. We rode south on 25 heading for Clear Creek. This lonely stretch of road is one of my favorite places--green fields, rolling hills, low mountains, a few scattered ranches, and more or less deserted. Of course, no photos. Gear lesson number 1--a GoPro type of mounted camera would've been really nice to have. I'm not a big fan of videos in ride reports, but a few stills as you're riding would be a great addition. For some reason once I get going it's really hard to stop, pull out the camera, click, put the camera away, and start up again.
As we roll down the grade and slow for the Clear Creek intersection a HUGE bobcat sprang across the road directly in front of me. It was a beautiful animal, clearly a bobcat, but looked like it weighed close to 50 or 60 pounds. I could see the unique face and bobbed tail...really wish I could've got a photo of that.
We stopped for a few minutes at the entrance to Clear Creek.
Son and I have great memories of riding enduros at Clear Creek, and it's very frustrating that it's been closed to off-road riding. There's simply no good reason for it, and I'm hopeful the closure can be overturned...
We continued on south, towards Coalinga. As we wound out of the mountains and onto the edge of the Central Valley through the oil fields we noticed what looked like the Eye of Sauron (via google image search)
Chevron has built a 100 acre array of mirrors that focus the sun onto a small area high up in a tower to generate steam that is then used to help recover oil. (photo via google image search)
The photo doesn't give any sense of how bright the collector is--it is painfully bright, and as you approach it your eyes can't help but look at it...weird stuff out here.
We made it to Coalinga, hoping to find a cafe, worried that being New Year's day nothing would be open. Whew, Perko's was open. We pulled in, frozen, and tromped inside. Slowly thawed out, ordered big breakfasts, and drained cup after cup of hot coffee. As we headed out to the bikes to move on it started to rain. And then hail. Crap. Oh well, let's ride. By the time we'd made it out of town the rain stopped and as we headed south and east it gradually warmed up. In order to save time we cut south down I-5 for a few miles and then headed east towards Bakersfield and Lake Isabella, our destination for the day. The little 250 did just fine, holding a steady 70+ mph in 6th gear despite the 50 tooth rear sprocket.
Stats for the day:
We made it to the hot springs area and set up camp.
Rock climbers were nearby and Bryn joined in while I talked to the locals to get the lowdown on exactly where these mythical springs were located. It's kind of a sensitive issue, so I'll just say it is close to Miracle Hot Springs, on a dirt road along the south side of the Kern River.
Here's a couple clues, and a thank you to the Stewards of the Sequoia.
Not too hard to find if you keep your eyes open. We made dinner--chicken/garlic sausage with sauteed peppers and onions on french rolls, some oranges and cookies, and hot tea. Nothing could beat that meal...put on our headlamps and headed down the trail for the pools.
No photos again, but it was a pretty magical place. Pools were built into the edge of the river fed by the natural hot springs. You're sitting in the hot water, hearing the Kern river rushing by your feet, watching the stars fade as the moon rises. We met an amazing assortment of people while we were there, everyone full of stories and experiences from the oil derrick worker showing us iPhone photos of his beautiful Columbian bride (just hadn't quite figured out how to get her to the US) that first evening to a very thoughtful and gracious Native American couple who were traveling nurses and had lived some fascinating experiences who we met the next morning. It was a great time. We felt very lucky.