Sunday, December 23, 2007

Stage 2 - California City to Trona

THE ORIGIN OF PEOPLE (Death Valley, California. Shoshoni)
Part 2 - At the edge of the ocean the woman stopped and sat down. She said, "I will lie on my back and swim across, and carry you over." They started across, the woman carrying him. When they had gone a little way, Coyote moved down on her. The woman dumped him off into the water. Coyote had already decided that, if she put him off into the water, he would turn himself into a water skate ("some little long-legged insect that runs on the water"). When she pushed him into the water, he turned into the skate and crossed the ocean. He reached the other side before the woman.

The barren landscape of the Mojave Desert just blends one hour with the next. Other than sage, the deep, well drained alluvium soils appear to support very few native plant species. Miles and miles of nothing provided little cover for my frequent nature breaks. About ten miles north of California City, the route passes the Hyundai-Kia Motors California Proving Ground site. I gave it only a passing thought. But the smooth pavement of multimillion dollar test track seemed completely out of place.

The slight downhill grade into the Fremont Valley eventually turned northeast along the foot of the El Paso Mountains. Here, the Redrock Randsberg Road grinds through the desert highlighting the first of many dry lakes; Koehn Lake, or what’s left of it, hosts a series of salt evaporators in a little town called Saltdale; You’ve got to wonder just how much money there is salt.

Dropping into Fiddler Gulch near the end of the Randsberg climb, I remember thinking that the cool weather was working in my favor. Nestled between the Rand and Lava Mountains, Randsberg was a scene straight out of a Rob Zombie film. Replaying my copy of The Devil’s Rejects in my head, I got out of there as quick as I could. The Thrasher crew was equally uncomfortable until we left Johannesberg and turned north onto the Trona Road.

At the crest of the Summit Range, a girl in a blue skin suit got an impressive bike change from her crew. I was a little startled by the perfectly executed exchange as she railed down the Trona Bump into the Searles Valley. A short time later Jeff Jaguar Martin and Jo Carmichael on their tandem told me the chick in the blue skin suit was the female solo champion from 2004; Jaguar mentioned that trying to keep up with her might be a bad idea. Since I had seen her disappearing act, I agreed and continued to ride my own 508.

Except for seeing the distant Trona Pinnacles in the evening sun, the rest of the ride into Time Station Two was unmemorable. The only thing I recall was a strange looking bike path between Argus and Trona; I thought about moving off the road and onto the path. After closer inspection however, the rock strewn, gravel imbedded and bump infested trail was more of an off road adventure than I was prepared for.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Stage 1 - Santa Clarita to California City

THE ORIGIN OF PEOPLE (Death Valley, California. Shoshoni)
Part 1 - Coyote had a home. He hunted rabbits to make a rabbit-skin blanket. When he had a great many skins, he started to make the blanket in his house. While he was working on his blanket, he saw a shadow pass the door. He went out of the door to see what it was, and saw a woman running. She had a rabbit's tail on her buttocks. He chased the woman, and she ran toward the west. Coyote ran fast, but could get no closer to her. He chased her to the ocean.

Considering that I’d have no sleep in the next forty eight hours, choking down three boiled eggs and two pieces of bread at four in the morning was not the best way to start the day. Right or wrong my rigid pre-race protocol had to be met; three years of training is a hard habit to break.

I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that I didn’t recognize the person I saw. An almost gaunt figure stared back with unfamiliar eyes. The person in the mirror told me I was ready for the 508. He told me that I would finish. “See yourself at the finish line” he said, “See yourself there, and see nothing else.”

The route for Mountain Section 1 climbs over the Sierra Pelona. The Sierra Pelona Mountains are one of the Transverse Ranges that are still rising out of the earth as a result of tectonic forces along the San Andreas Fault System. The easy climb pauses briefly at Elizabeth Lake (Elizabeth Lake is actually a sag pond in the San Andreas Rift zone) before Johnson Summit exits Porthole Ridge into the Antelope Valley.

Riding across the rolling terrain towards the Tehachapi Mountains was a pleasure. There was a cool headwind that was mildly annoying. But given the scope of the task yet to come, a little breeze hardly bears mentioning. My only significant memories of that featureless spin across the valley were the countless “Land for Sale” signs posted all along the road. I rolled past our support van and asked Desiree if we should look into retirement property; she laughed and told me that she had the same idea. Since I was born in Lancaster it would be just like coming home.

Approaching the Windmills Climb was an awesome experience. The east slopes of the Tehachapi are peppered with sparkling white wind generators and every one of them was spinning. I knew that there was a good reason for choosing the gap between the Tehachapi's and the Paiute's for a wind farm. The narrow valley creates a perfect venturi that down-slopes toward the east; good for windmills, bad for cyclists. I paid little attention to the climb; I was mesmerized by the churning blades spinning at every turn.

After the Oak Creek descent, it was just a quick little cruise through Mojave with a great view of the bone yard at the airport. Heading north out of town we rolled up into the Horned Toad Hills and then pedaled down the gently sloping remnant of an ancient alluvial fan to California City.

One stage down and seven to go.