Waking up in a big comfy bed after a long day on the bike is a lovely thing. I wish I had managed to sleep out under the stars, but a bit of luxury is rather nice. However I had a dispiritingly grim breakfast at the hotel to make up for it. The Americans have got a serous problem with disposable plastic everything. Plates, cups, cutlery, all wrapped in more plastic. And the food feels like disposable plastic too. Grim oatmeal, nasty bacon and reconstituted freeze dried eggs. Yum.
I spent some time looking at maps over breakfast and realised that where I ended up is was on the edge of the Mojave desert. It has to be one of the most mind-blowing things about California is the variety of terrain. From the beaches of Malibu, through the urban sprawl of LA, into serious mountains and then into the desert in the course of a day is astonishing. Is there anywhere else on earth you can do that?
I head out into the desert and go for a play on some of the dirt roads. Great fun standing on your pegs, trying to maintain speed and your nerve through the sand, but I’m not massively confident, and it isn’t my bike, so I don’t make it as far off road as I wanted. There is a Hot Springs out here somewhere, but I didn’t get that far. My next stop was Joshua Tree national Park. Joshua Trees are those brilliant desert Yukka plants, that look a bit (to the mormon settlers at least) like they are holding their hands out in prayer.
But of course the other significant connection is that 2017 was the 30th Anniversary of the release of an Album that was so influential that it was part of the landscape of my teenage years. You didn’t like U2’s album any more than you liked oxygen, it was so vast and ubiquitous that it was simply the air that you breathed. But looking back the scale and ambition of that album, inspired by the scale of these desert landscapes was something so significant. I always said I would have ‘where the streets have no name’ at my funeral.
I put on the Album as I roll through Joshua Tree national park which is magical. These crazy rock formations in the midst of an arid landscape have a stark wonder about them. I parked the bike and walked off into the desert, along not very well defined paths and no signposts to find the Wall Street Mill – a ruined, but amazingly well preserved 1933 ore processing mill, surrounded by abandoned early 20th century cars. The dry heat soaks into your bones, but also stops things rusting, and this junkyard is now a national monument – a brilliantly American piece of history.
Now I think the point of adventures is the unknown. Planning is good, but the most memorable stuff is what else happens. I rode on from Joshua Tree along Route 62 past a gas station at 29 Palms, and there was a sign saying ‘Next Gas 100 miles’. I briefly registered it, looked at my fuel meter which said 2/3 full and rode on. The road opened up before me, I’m riding fast and the wind still blowing a gale, and soon I am in the middle of the Sonoran desert. This is just majestic scenery. It is beautiful, but it is also really a kind of no mans land, with abandoned cars here and there, bullet holes in the road signs, broken bottles by the side of the road which look like they date from the 1930’s.
And as I watch the fuel meter tick down I start to realise how far 100 miles is. After an hour or so the fuel light comes on, and I am still a long way from the next town.
Now the reserve tank on my GS at home will get me about 30-40 miles on the reserve tank but I’ve no idea what the capacity of this one is. I’m personally running on a mixture of adrenaline and anxiety. After 20 more minutes I see a sign – 20 miles to go, and I feel like the bike is running on fumes.
Of course it is going to be fine. What is the worst that could happen? It is interesting how your brain comes up with some fairly serious worse case scenarios at times like this. I am as a long way from anywhere in the middle of the desert. I come to the road junction with the 177 and check the map carefully, I can’t afford to take a wrong turn.
Eventually there is something on the horizon. It is a big mobile phone mast, and then out of the haze is the scrappy no horse town of Vidal Junction, and there is the tiny Gas Station. That was a bit stupid of me. Note to self. If in doubt, fill up with gas.
From there I turn north on the 95 and head for Needles, on the border of California and Arizona. If you’ve read The Grapes of Wrath you’ll remember the lovely moment where they first eventually make it to California from Oklahoma, and they swim in the Colorado river. That is set here. Route 66 passes through here, and I found a nice campsite, and then went to a diner for a Caeser Salad, with real actual vegetables for the first time in days and watched ice hockey on the TV before turning in for a quiet night under the desert stars.