We woke to a sky with threatening looking clouds to start day 7 of our journey. It's amazing how quickly you can make breakfast and get packed when rain is threatening...
Our destination today was Joshua Tree National Park, about 225 miles away.
This is one of the top climbing destinations in the west, a place my son finds as intriguing as I find Death Valley and he was really looking forward to showing it to me. We head south on highway 127 through a part of California that not many people visit. Names like Ibex Dunes, Silurian Valley, Avawatz Mountains. A dry rocky sparse country, beautiful and stark.
The clouds start to break up, there's patches of sun, we ride on without feeling too cold and fill up the bikes in Baker. We've got all our layers on, grip heaters running full blast, and I feel like an alien as I clomp into the gas station's bathroom surrounded by people wearing shorts and t-shirts driving their heated and defrosted cars. We cross I-15 and continue on down Kelbaker Road through the Mojave National Preserve. About a mile into the Preserve we see a sign warning of "Tortoise Crossing." Never did see a tortoise though.
The road climbs up to about 4000 feet and as we descend down towards Kelso the skies turned grayer and the air got colder. By the time we hit Kelso we were both starting to shiver. Kelso is the Park headquarters, housed in a newly restored building------the best part is that a motorcyclist named Mike has taken over the old Kelso cafe and it was open, and warm, and he had hot coffee.
We stayed there for close to an hour, talking with Mike about riding, the history of the place, and warming up. An oasis in the cold desert. We were only about halfway, so back on the bikes. We climbed up another 4000 foot pass-Granite Pass--and dropped down again as we crossed I-40, down close to sea level where it was sunny and warm. I felt good and warm enough to actually take a photo as we turned onto Route 66.
We rolled through the desert surrounding Twentynine Palms, stopped for groceries in the town of Joshua Tree, and then headed up into the park itself. We found a place to camp--the park was packed full of climbers, the first campground was completely full--and set up camp after spending a good 30 minutes trying to decide which spot was more wind protected. The wind was gusting and swirling so much we finally just gave up and picked a site next to an occupied camp with a good supply of firewood. We had developed into pretty good campfire moochers--fellow campers seemed to feel sorry for us or something and we almost always got invited to share their campfire. Made dinner and sure enough, our neighbors invited us over, a couple of rock climbing brothers around my son's age, and they spent the evening debating routes and techniques and trading best "I almost died" incidents. They had a great time. I was tired and headed off to bed early--a long day. It was windy and I could see the stars slowly fading off in the western sky as clouds started to build. Fell asleep wondering if it was going to rain.
At some point in the night I could hear the sound of rain--------still blowing pretty hard-------as I listened closer, I thought it sounded a little off; too, well, too soft-sounding for rain. I'd gone to bed that night pretty cold, but was sleeping warmly by wearing basically every layer I'd brought: wool socks, 2 layers of long johns, my riding pants, synthetic shirt, riding jersey, fleece and parka liner, fleece neckwarmer, and wool cap. My riding jacket was over my legs and feet on top of the sleeping bag, and of course using the synthetic liner. It worked.
As the dawn broke I decided to look outside to see if what I suspected was true.
Yup, it hadn't rained at all.
I yelled over to Bryn to take a look outside. His reply--"This is AWESOME!!!"
He thought it was pretty funny, but about halfway through packing it didn't feel awesome. It was dang cold.
Despite the cold, it was a pretty spectacular morning. Clear and calm, the sky was pure blue.
The snow had filled our stoves left out on the table overnight, our camelbaks were frozen, so for the first (and only!) time we didn't even make coffee; had lara bars for breakfast, and then discovered another gear issue. I hadn't taken the time to isolate our grip heater connection with a switched source--we had simply connected them directly to the battery. Which works fine if you remember to turn off your grip heaters at the end of every ride. Unfortunately Bryn had left his on, all night, and the new battery was now dead. In the snow. We talked our campfire sharing neighbors out of their jumper cables, got the DR jump started, and started riding cautiously down the snow covered road.
The sky was clear and the sun was quickly melting the snow as we rode. The bizarre thing was that no more than 5 miles down the road, still at over 4000 feet elevation, the ground was bone dry--hadn't snowed or rained at all.
We just got lucky in our little slice of heaven.