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The Impossible Route: Day 2 & 3

By: Jake Orness

Stage 2 - Blythe to Hole In the Wall Campground
126 miles and 6800 feet of climbing

Travis opened the van door at 4:30am and a cold blast hit me like a splash of water. The urge to curl up in the sleeping bag was strong. But I’m a morning person, and I was pumped to get shooting so I popped up, threw on ALL my clothes, and got going. Biju had another amazing spread of oatmeal and goodies laid out for us, plus burritos for the day. I ate what I could and packed as many easy calories as possible in the truck hoping it would last the day.

I had driven through Blythe CA a few times in my life but didn't know anything about it beyond being an agriculture town. As it turns out, it was quite a boom town in the 1920s with cotton and cattle, but it never became the empire that the founder, Thomas Henry Blythe, envisioned. It is an unforgiving place with temps ranging from 20 to 110 degrees depending on the time of year. It was closer to the 20 end this morning.

On day two, our major concerns were sand, lack of water, and Tyler’s shoe. It had broken during Stage One while hiking through the sand, so his feet were already hurting. These early mornings would prove challenging for Tyler. He is not a morning person and it took a little longer to get going. After a few nudges and threats about riding in the dark if they didn’t get going, we finally set off. I hopped in the van with Travis, while Dale and Ramy were in the support truck.

 

After a short bit of main road, we met our first obstacle: a herd of sheep. It was an amazing sight in beautiful light as we followed them down the road for about a half mile. The Shepherds seemed to be as entertained with us as we were with their routine. Many of the sights suggested to us by the CABDR site were out of reach for bikes, so we decided to divide and conquer. Dale and Ramy went right to search for the Intaglios: ancient figures that have been incised on the ground. Travis and I stayed with the riders. We would meet back up in the town of Rice at the “old gas stations filled with shoes”. That sounded… interesting?

As we approached Rice, we were relieved to re-join Dale and Ramy. There are no guarantees when navigating over long stretches of sandy desert. We had moments of nervous disconnect with our two groups moving at different speeds over different routes with different capabilities and spotty cell coverage.

This was my second time at Rice, and I knew the landscape would provide a great backdrop for cycling photos. A portion of the road through the Colorado Desert was wide and well-maintained to handle the salt mining trucks that traversed the area. But as soon as we were past the mining boundaries, things turned to sand which made riding impossible. The area is punctuated with remnants of former use like a concrete structure of undetermined origin now used by locals to blow up stuff and shoot guns.

A few minutes later the guys arrived, and the confluence of positive energy helped us recover from the brink of disaster. They were nearly out of water and we had a decision to make regarding roads. It was a bit like a challenge you’d find on a reality TV show: There are four options that appear to go the right direction. You must choose the one offering the least effort and shortest time. Choose wisely. 

Our first task was to beg for water from a railroad technician who we luckily ran into. Tyler worked his charm and was able to get water and the cheat codes to the challenge. We now had some confidence that we would make it to camp before we got “darked on”, a phrase coined, and used frequently by, Jeremiah. Feel free to use it yourself. It is not copyrighted.

It didn’t take long before the road deteriorated and became another slog of sand. Things got more and more treacherous. Unrideable, really. Frustrations grew. At one point Tyler, the Vegan Cyclist, went on a rant about Chipotle. He committed to the idea of building, stocking, and operating a Chipotle franchise about halfway between the towns of Essex and Rice between the Cadiz Dunes and the Turtle Mountain Wilderness Area. This business plan seemed completely plausible to him at the time, but the rest of us knew it was the worst business plan ever devised. Should we tell him?

Eventually we popped out onto real roads, rolled through a ghost town, and climbed our way up to Route 66. Many sections of Route 66 in this part of the Mojave are closed to traffic due to past floods. Our sprits soared as the road was empty and our map promised us we would have mostly pavement all the way to the Hole-In-The-Wall campground where Biju and Travis waited. After a few miles heading north, we reached Essex, once a traveler’s oasis but now a ghost town with a population under 100.

By this point in the day, Travis had gotten all set-up at camp and rode a bike down the hill to meet up with Tyler and Jeremiah. It was just the burst of energy to help motivate Tyler. Five miles later, however, we were out of water and again relied on luck to help us.  This time, a group of research scientists studying Bighorn Sheep happened to cross our path with extra bottles of water. Yep. Bighorn sheep researchers for the win. With prodding from Travis and the promise of Biju’s meals waiting at the camp, they both turned the pedals until they got “darked on”.

We performed our second ballet around the site: emptying vehicles, editing photos, eating food, showering, cleaning bikes, charging batteries, preparing for an early start, and holding a team meeting for the next day’s ride to Primm, Nevada, on the Cal-Nev border.

Stage 3 - Hole In the Wall Campground to Primm, Nevada
70 miles and 5600 feet of climbing.

We thought this would be more of a chill day through the heart of the Mojave National Preserve, with less sand (please please please!), so our start was just a little later than days 1 & 2. After some breakfast, Jeremiah added a spare tire to his bike and some words of encouragement to Tyler’s, and off we went.

After a long steady climb up Wild Horse Canyon, we were treated to bone-rattling washboard roads and a new foe in the form of a fresh wind. I spent about 30 minutes on the e- bike attempting to get some from the bike shots before giving up and retreating to the truck.

Eventually we dropped into another valley that was protected from the wind. The boys were having a blast as they sped down the road with Joshua Trees to their right and a long straight dirt road stretching out in front. Just when we thought we were making great time, we realized we had missed the turn. It wasn’t horrible. 20 minutes later, they were back on course. This time, in among the Joshua Trees. This section was much narrower with dips, twists, and turns. It was perfect for the Canyon Grails they were riding but not for us in the truck. It didn’t take long before they dropped us completely.

We caught them later and continued north on an empty desert road lined with burned Joshua Trees. This was the site of the Dome fire in August of 2020 that burned 43,000 acres in the largest Joshua Tree forest in existence.

We skirted the Death Valley Mine. It’s difficult to imagine these mines ever being operational. The inefficient technology of the time. The scarcity of water and fuel. The Twenty Mule Teams transporting the ore many miles.  Just mind-boggling.  But fun to ride past.

After the mine, Jeremiah and Tyler were treated to more sand, more climbing, and more wind, while we pushed the limits of the rental agreement for our truck with repeated contact with ground, desert plants, and ground again.

After a short stint, we exited that zone and found both Jeremiah and Tyler with ear-to-ear smiles. That zone was gravel heaven. For them. With Primm in sight, we thought it would be a short final dash to a shower and dinner. It didn’t really turn out that way. Instead, we inadvertently chose the worst of the five possible routes into town and suffered a thousand deaths in deep sand. Why wouldn’t we?

When they emerged back on the pavement, Tyler held no punches and did everything in his power to beat out Jeremiah in a sprint to the finish. Stage 3 was behind them. It was a scenic day and one we will remember, especially when we turn in our rented truck. What will Stages 4 and 5 bring?  Stay tuned. Probably more sand.

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