|Look at all that green wilderness area. I had originally thought I would ride to the Salton Sea, but then I saw the forecasted temperatures for the desert and decided I stick to the green wilderness areas....|
First off, I would like to say this is the map of part of the area I rode that day. You can see Santa Ysabel and Julian in the top left corner, and Ocotillo in the bottom right. Look at all that beautiful mountainous wilderness area! I couldn't wait to ride more alpine mountain passes that dropped down to a little desert in Ocotillo, then head west along the border, literally a stone's throw from our Mexican neighbors.
After I left Julian and headed east on the twisty road out of town, I kept my eyes peeled for the right hand turn off for the Southern Overland Stage Route. I thought it might disappear into the forest to the south of me, but as I rode and rode, there were no right hand turns. Eventually I dropped out of the mountain area into the desert and pulled over on the side of the road. I had missed my turn somewhere. Digging my phone out of my tank bag, I quickly realized I had no cell service. Shit.
For those of you who don't know, I do not have a separate gps unit. Somewhere between being too cheap and a technophobe, I have convinced myself and everyone else that I just like maps better. The truth is, I really do have a deep affection for maps--I always have. But being smart about going out and riding like this would mean actually carrying one....
Anyway, I turned around and rode back up the mountain, searching for my turn off. I rode all the twisties carefully while keeping my eyes peeled for anything that would be labelled Southern Overland Stage Route or Sweeney Pass, which the rode later becomes. As I get back to the outskirts of Julian, I still haven't found the road. I pull off into the parking lot of the high school and drag my phone out one more time. I sarcastically think to myself, "Wouldn't it be funny if I just had to go another mile from where I had stopped to find the turn off--hahaha," and nearly pitch my phone across the parking lot when I discovered that was the truth of the matter.
But that didn't make a lot of sense, due to the fact that when I pulled over, I was already in the heart of the desert, and I was going to have to ride another two miles or so to get to the turn off. I sat on my bike, looking at the map in front of me, trying to decide if I should turn around and ride that damn section for THE THIRD TIME, or if I should go a different route. Eventually I make up my mind to keep on with the route I had planned. I wanted to ride the Southern Overland Stage Route, dammit! You know, like my forefathers and shit. (Well, not mine. My people came to the east coast from England and Sicily in the 20th century, but you know what I mean.)
So I ride that section of road for the third time. I'm now so familiar with it, I'm leaning heavily into curves and would have given those sport bike riders a run for their money. I drop into the desert, pass the place I pulled off the road, and about a quarter of a mile later a sign tells me the turnoff I'm looking for is about two miles away. This would have been a face palm moment, but the full face helmet gets in the way.
|All of the signs on this road look like this. It's an historic route, and just riding it to say it's been ridden is completely disappointing.|
|This is the Great Southern Overland Route of 1849--I'm guessing it didn't really look like this when stage coaches rattled over it. That is the road I was hoping for--this is not it.|
I turn onto the road I'd been searching for, and 40 or so miles later, I have learned my lesson the hard way. Just beacause the iMaps picture shows green and says wilderness area, that doesn't mean there are trees. Or grass. Or anything green for that matter. The temps rose to well over 100 degrees, and I actually pulled off the road at the hot springs thinking even if I got in the water I would cool down. It was closed. You know why? Because it's the stinking desert and no one in their right minds go out there during the summer!!!
Sand, cactus, sand, and yuccas whizzed by as I rode, thinking there was no reason to stop. I can appreciate the beauty of the desert, but after a few miles of it in searing temps, I get over it. After the road turns into Sweeney Pass, and I know I am fewer than ten miles from Ocotillo, I notice a small drop in temperature. It's really small, but I can totally appreciate it. As I ride around a bend, I see the valley laid out before me, and there are windmills as far as the eye can see. So then I think, "Oh goody, wind."
This is bound to be my riding day from hell. But as I rode into the forest of windmills, I actually had to stop and admire them. They are amazing up close--beautiful feats of engineering with elegantly designed lines to make the most of what wind they can catch. AND THEY'RE HUGE!!! I cannot overstate this fact. Huge. With lifted spirits, I continued through the forest of giants and pulled into a roadside cafe/bar/ice cream place next to the freeway's single exit for Ocotillo. There were a few cars and trucks, four motorcycles with New Jersey license plates (eeeeee...fellow travelers!), and now my Thumper. I pulled off my jacket and helmet, dumping them both onto the ground in the shade, grabbed my wallet and headed inside in my tank top and KLiM pants that make me sound like a little kid walking in snow pants.
|My stop in Ocotillo. Jimmie Johnson won the race, in case you were wondering. For the record, I wasn't.|
|Three of the fours bikes from New Jersey. You know, ridden by the guys too good to converse with me.|
I walk into the mostly enclosed bar, the second entrance of which is blocked off with yellow caution tape, to see two young boys playing pool, several TVs with the Nascar race on, and maybe nine or ten adults, including the bartender. The one woman in the joint, a grizzled woman who could have been 40 or 70, who I can only assume is a local, turns and looks at me, and says, "Lady, you've just walked into a scene!" And she throws her head back and, I kid you not, cackles.
I glance around as I make my way to a stool, noting the bottles of cold Gatorade in the coolers. Wondering what I'm going to encounter, and deciding, "Who gives a shit? I'm a big girl and can take care of myself," I ask for a Coors Light and a Gatorade. To be honest, the bartender was a nice guy, and nobody else paid attention to me. At least, not that I noticed. The Coors light cost $1.25 and the Gatorade was $2.00. I also got a bag of chips.
I realized the four guys immediately to my right were bikers, and as they were leaving, I said hi, and asked if the bikes with the New Jersey plates belonged to them. They were all somewhere in their fifties, with the exception of the one guy who was probably twenty years older. The two furthest from me smiled, the little old man seemed to not have heard me, and the guy next to me claimed ownership in a fairly gruff manner. I said something to the effect of that being a long trip, and asked if they were all friends or family or...? He looked at me and said they were blood brothers, then turned his back on me. Fucking shut me down. He made it clear that no matter how anyone felt about the matter, they were not going to talk to me. I don't know if it was because I was a woman, or if it was because I was on a BMW and not a Harley, or maybe he thought my pants were too noisy. I don't know, but since I don't know, I'm assuming it was all of those things. Rude.
I drank one Coors Light and two Gatorades. I was totally gonna have to pee on the side of the road somewhere later...
The ride home from there was along Old Highway 80 and 94. There are a few areas of these highways where the road runs right along the border--Mexico is just on the other side of the giant wall. On highway 94, just west of Tecate is an immigration checkpoint. I've been through it before, and it's sort of a pain in the ass on a bike. Traffic crawls, and this is not really a spot to go around traffic to the front of the line. In the past, I have been through on a Monday, and there is little traffic and a short line. They typically let me pass right through without stopping also. This time, it was a Sunday and there was a lot of traffic. It was hot, and about two hundred yards from the checkpoint, my temperature light came on. I turned off the bike and was fully annoyed until I finally got to the checkpoint booth and became more annoyed. They actually stopped me and walked the dog around my bike. Like somehow I was smuggling the tiniest Mexican into San Diego in my top case. And don't say they were looking for drugs. This wasn't ATF, or whatever the drug division is called now. This was immigration, and if we know nothing else, we know federal government agencies do nothing more than what they are strictly told and paid to do. On highways 80 and 94, I counted 22 separate immigration trucks or SUVs I passed, that were not part of the checkpoint.
By the time I got home, I had filled my tank twice, I was hot and tired (probably didn't smell like roses either) and my butt was sore. It was a good day's ride, and I was reminded of what lay ahead of me for my return trip to Denver at the beginning of July--hot deserts. I crawled into bed after a shower, and as I picked up my book to read, something flew into my ear. I leapt straight into the air, simultaneously screaming like a little girl and swatting at my own ear. I looked down at the black thing lying on my white comforter and there he was. The beetle from Julian. At some point when I had finally turned my back on him, he hitched a ride all the way through the desert with me. He even made it through the immigration checkpoint--way to go lazy immigration dog!