Now resting on Day 26, I am writing about Day 4 from the fantastic downtown Austin Public Library. Day 4 was 95.74 miles, 5,600 ft of climbing from Alpine to Calexico, CA on 9/30/21.
At 5:30am, my iPhone alarm buzzes underscored by First Aid Kit’s My Silver Lining at the lowest volume possible before it mutes (#StartleResponse !!) and head downstairs to the breakfast room at the hotel. I grab a Yoplait and a banana and coffee to have with my Clif Bar. It looks like there’s a restaurant in Pine Valley, about 17 miles away, 14.5 of which will be a climb of about 2,300 feet. (I don’t know this data exactly before I start. But I know it’s bad from the elevation profile of the map.) I’ll hopefully have a more substantial second breakfast there. I debate whether to take some of the leftover Chinese food with me but I don’t have a way to carry it that is accident-proof. I could shovel some in a Ziploc bag and hope for the best, but decide against it. I’m not mentally ready to have to clean up oily and sun-baked kung pao chicken from the inside of my rear rack bag and off of every item in there, like my wallet, glasses, other food items, extra wheel spokes, and my face mask. Don’t know if I could be mentally ready for such a task at any time. hbu? I leave it in the fridge and add an extra dollar to the tip on the nightstand for whoever will clean behind my bizness. I can’t spend a second more freaking out cuz i’m wasting food. Let’s just go.
It’s on the darker side when I leave, but not so dark that I can’t see, which is good because my front light conks out almost immediately. WTF? I thought I charged it. The wind is in front of me, but it isn’t too strong. I just grind away at the first few miles on the road which runs parallel to Interstate 8. At mile 4, the route continues the climb on I-8 and, like on I-5 just the other day, I turn up the volume on my AirPods to minimize the roaring of the semis.
I’m grumpy about the headwind and long for the gentle uphill push of yesterday’s coastal breeze. It’s always only a matter of time before the pendulum swings the other direction. …Wait, duh. I don’t need a metaphor. The wind changes direction, grumpy fool! Now that I’m thinking about it, a pendulum is an entirely inaccurate metaphor anyway. A pendulum swings evenly back and forth. This is chaos! Unpredictable. Another cyclist said to me recently that it all evens out in the end. Maybe that’s true? (It wasn’t on my east-to-west trips across the gusty Midwest). Does that negate my chaos theory? The end is a long time away so it’s irrelevant now; the moment you’re in is the moment you’re in.
I know today’s ride going to be brutal. I’m anxious (not that surprising) because I really don’t know where I’m going to lay my sweaty head tonight. I’m very anxious, too anxious to do anything but ride. No decisions, no . In examining the map and trying to determine my capacity based on the fact it’s Day 4, much climbing but then a long drop in altitude, the weather (which doesn’t seem like it will be too-too hot, at least at the start), there’s no aha! obvious place to stop for the day. At mile 45 in Jacumba Springs and mile 65 in Ocotillo, there are options including camping, motels, and a warmshowers host who is open to last-minute guests, according to his profile. But I want to go further if I can. Calexico is over 90 miles. Don’t know about that. Winging it. Let’s continue, ok? Go.
It’s downhill on Old Route 80 (two-lane highway, decent shoulder) into Pine Valley, hence the name. It’s quaint. I eat at Major’s Diner which is a throwback diner featuring 1950s paraphernalia, itself already an 80s throwback, i’ll bet. I try to sit outside (wanting to avoid indoor dining in a small town without a high COVID vaccination rate, purely based on snap judgment) but the harried server, a woman with a ZZ Top-length ponytail, is on her own; outside is closed. Oh well. I’ll eat fast. I order eggs, bacon, hash browns, and a biscuit and refill my water bladder with the ice water the zero-nonsense waitress provides. I overhear two couples at the next table strategizing how to avoid vaccine mandates. They commiserate with the waitress who says that the diner can’t hire anybody to relieve her or their overstretched cook, because of “all the government handouts now, no one wants to work.” Hmm. I also purchase a fresh-baked muffin (pumpkin spice! – the other choice is chocolate) for later.
Just before Jacumba, I am struck by a sight that I hadn’t expected: The Wall. Trump’s big, beautiful wall. How long has it been since I gave a thought to that as a reality, as an actual structure? It hadn’t crossed my mind that I’d witness it, even though I knew I’d be riding along the US-Mexico border quite a lot. I’ve already decided that I’m not going to snap/post pics of “Trump Is My President” signs or “Fuck Biden and You If You Voted For Him” banners or confederate flags ffs. Don’t need to give anthropological credence to that shit. But this is different. It struck me, made me immediately defensive, and reignited awareness of political divisions and theatrics. Also: ¡¿Whassup, Mexico?! Yo te veoooooo.
I pause for a spell in dry and dusty Jacumba, drink a soda water, and refill with ice at the fountain the cashier is nice enough to let me have, and eat a bag of Doritos. Maybe I’ll make this a daily thing? I handlebar-confess: I love me some red Doritos, always have but they are a rare indulgence in Non-HBC Life. #transgressive !!
It’s quiet, hot, I’m more calm than earlier.
At mile 51, I have to get back on I-8. DANGEROUS WINDS signs are posted every two seconds. Yikes. I remove Da Brim. Clever-fox idea considering high winds; I don’t want to lose it (it’s not exactly gorilla-glued onto my helmet) now that I’m a convert, having realized how advantageous it is to have my face and neck shaded in 80+-degree, sun-blasting-down weather). I dive, dive, dive, down, down, down for 11 miles, hitting 37 mph (according to my watch later—I am not checking as it’s happening, not with DANGER: EXTREME WINDS signs everywhere)! thrilling, terrifying! The songs I cycle through on this spiral downward into a desert oven (later, when looking at my Garmin Connect data, I learn it’s over a hundred degrees when I hit the bottom) align with my experience: Totally Wired (The Fall), Let Me Fix My Weave (feat. Da Brim Sporty) (Missy), Space Children (LaBelle), Pressure (Muse). That will likely be the fastest 11 miles of the journey.
It’s at this point where I must decide: is it (A) stop now in Ocotillo, or (B) try to get to Calexico, OR (C) for the first time ever camp at the side of the road if I can’t make it to Calexico. I decline to opt for A; I’m still losing some elevation overall for at least the next 15 miles, and the wind—is it possible?—is helping me somewhat (I’m headed east and the wind is coming from the southwest, it seems). Let’s keep going.
I’m really in the desert now. Wow. What a difference. During those 15 miles before I hit the agricultural Imperial Valley (I’m finally out of San Diego County now, in Imperial County), I’m like, no way can I just camp here in the middle of the desert. NFW. Let’s go. I begin to see an orange-blue-orange-striped flag every mile or so which I assume/hope is a water station to prevent people crossing the border (or anyone) from dying in the desert. (It turns out I am correct, check this out: https://waterstations.org.)
Amazing that these survived the Trump administration; they look battered though, so if you care about this issue, maybe think about donating to this cause. I can’t help but flash on that Iñárritu film Babel, where the Mexican nanny and her two charges are abandoned in the desert and ugh she ends up getting deported…because of a rifle and globalization and people’s challenges in communicating with each other…or something. Gripping tragedy porn. Grip.ping! And not happening to me.
At mile 84 or so, the Route 98 flattens and it’s farmland, including fields and fields of solar panels. Brilliant idea cuz the sun is white-hot lasering down on the landscape.
Calexico, pop. 36,000, is across the border from a much larger city, Mexicali (pop. 690,000)—this size differential seems to be common along border towns/cities and, I am sure, the economies and cultures of both municipalities are interdependent. As I hit the city limits, there is an awful, awful banner posted up along 20, 30, 40, maybe 50 feet of fencing that I don’t fully register. Representations of Biden and Kamala and Nancy Pelosi and others depicted with devil horns emblazoned with text to the tune of ‘baby killers.’ Is it antiabortion shit or child-sacrifice shit? I don’t know. It’s some ugly shit. Calexico votes blue so it surprises me. It’s shocking and it’s meant to be.
I Google-map a hotel, any hotel, and I check into the nearest, a Best Western, collapse on the floor, groveling at the feet of the god of AC, clean myself up and walk about a quarter-mile to a Subway the front desk directs me to in a mostly empty strip mall (I do the walk twice because I forget to wear my mask which is both vexing and a relief that i’m in a place again where people are being cautious).
Today is my first big one of the trip—almost 96 miles. On any day, 5,600 ft of climbing is a lot. How is my body doing? I check in. I’m ok. I’m actually ok. Not wrecked or injured. Not overbaked in the desert or dehydrated. I’m good. How is my brain? My emotional state? Hmm. I’m ok. I’m ok.