Tuesday, 21 May 2013

California Part 5 - on knees, motels and why my tent hates me

Yesterday was the first day back pedalling after resting my knee - kind of a make-or-break day. It also turned out to be something of a bastard, both for heat and climbs - I totalled some 6000 ft of steep climbing over the course of the day (Lake Isabella to Golden Hills), which puts it up there with the harder days of the trip. The day's ride was dictated through necessity, there really isn't much between the towns down here, and camping options are non-existent in most places: there's simply nothing to hide the tent behind. I'm now in Los Angeles County, which is pretty hot and barren if not officially a desert.

The hot, high and dry Sierra Nevada of Southern California

A touching mural for a motorbike accident at the side of the Caliente Bodfish road

I'm now drinking 6-8 litres of water per day plus coffee - I got a bit stuck for a refill of water yesterday but found a hosepipe in the garden of a shut cafe and sterilised the water I got from that (tasted kind of funky but still good). I'm practising what I call the camel technique - rationing out the water carefully throughout the day until finding a sure refill point, then downing a litre or so at once. My mouth is almost always dry from the dust so finding a sure refill (diner, grocery store) and drinking all your spare water in one go is a lovely feeling. I start the day with 3l at the moment, but will increase that to 4 or 5 if necessary.

After about 60 miles last night the left knee started tweaking again. The velcro on the new and expensive strap I bought for it has also helpfully cut into and strained the ligament behind the knee cap. I checked my maps straight away and called the nearest motel, which was 4 more miles uphill. I could maybe have made it to a campsite but it would have been more uphill and dark before I got there. The motel was relatively cheap, friendly, authentically dirty, the guy on the desk knocked the tax off the bill and called me in the morning to let me know coffee was in the office. He was chuffed he guessed I was from London, although I think that is his standard guess for anyone from the UK. He wanted me to use my stove to cook dinner outside in the parking lot, but after some testing with my awesome folding silicon travel mug and the microwave in my, I managed to rustle up coffee, chicken Top Ramen Noodles (leading brand of supernoodles!), oatmeal, and tea in the microwave using my mug. A cockerel woke me up, he was strutting round the parking lot when I left in the morning.

Portable travel alarm clock

Today was downhill the flat after some climbs this morning, no tweaks from the knee thankfully. Some good wild riding, the route took me up over the Tehachapi wind farm which was spectacular, turbines as far as the eye could see, literally hundreds of them. The wind was gusting up to 25mph today, and gave me prod in the back downhill. I was freewheeling along, glanced at my computer and found I was doing 51.7mph! While my load is bitch to haul uphill, it pays me back on the downs. I took a photo of the max speed while at a standstill, for the record.

Those with sharp eyes may wonder what the red thing is mounted next to my light - this is pepper spray. Some of the hillbilly roads have dogs off leashes that could be a problem, nothing has tried to bite me yet but this is just in case!

I got a puncture on a hot flat stretch after turning into the wind. I'm interpreting the puncture as punishment for wasting a few minutes on the following vanity shot. I wanted a photo of my new orange t shirt while it's still clean, fresh out of the bag bought for $5 from a Family Dollar store.

There was no shade to fix the puncture in so I had to get on with it in the glare midday sunshine, eating jerky and tortillas to cheer me up. A passing trucker shouted something at me from his cab window and proceeded to throw me a cookie after I gave him a big thumbs up.

I'm becoming quite superstitious lately, changing inner tubes is one of the only bad things about this bike, it's just hard, hard work. I tend to offer up little prayers to the landscape around me after fixing a puncture, asking for there not to be a pinch puncture from the swap. I've prayed to redwood trees and barren southern California mountains, and they have been good to me (I always remember to be thankful afterwards!).

Tonight sees my tent still packed away in my big red bag for the second night running - sad, useless and resentful. I got into Palmdale about 7pm and had to decide on either finding a room or cycling another potentially hilly 10 miles out of town to find somewhere to camp. In the pre-knee-injury era I'd have missioned off into the unknown but I'm playing it safe for now, especially as my knee was hurting again last night.

I'm in a Holiday Inn room, which is too big and expensive for my needs (about twice the price of a motel room). I've learnt a lesson from this and have downloaded a few budget motel finding apps for my phone. If I think I'm going to struggle for camping in the evening, I'll try finding a Starbucks or Mcdonalds and get on there wifi to get motel addresses. Towns where I can't camp usually have both.

But rest assured I'm keeping it real in the Holiday Inn room. I just at a tin of refried beans with tortillas and a big beer for dinner, and washed it down with all the complimentary coffee, real followed by decaf.

Slightly battered and worn but keeping on!

I'm going to wash my clothes in a bathroom in a minute and I'm taking the small packs of sugars and creamers with me tomorrow.

As for the knee, it seems relatively happy if I keep the cadence high (spinning my legs faster on a lower gear than usual) and if I can limit the number of hills I go over, so being more disciplined about ending the day once a planned mileage has been reached. I'm happy to ratchet up the credit card bill on motel rooms if it keeps the trip alive. I'm also tempted to find a good bike shop and check my options for swapping over the front chain rings to lower the overall gearing. I'm going to have to take it one day at a time.

I should hit the Los Angeles forest tomorrow and hope to wild camp for 3 mights to even out my spending. I'm hoping for real trees and shade not just cacti and scrub, but looking forward to finding out either way!


  1. Dude, the stuff you’re writing is riveting reading. It’s a real bummer your knee is causing you so much trouble, but the mental strength you’re finding is going to stay with you forever, and you’ll come back a weaker, wiser man. I’d wager you’ve done more living over the last 2 months than anyone who’ll read this. Keep pedalling your dream. Chris

    1. Thanks my man, will do just that! Few days rest for the knee in Las Vegas right now, staying with some really cool friends of my Sister and her soon-to-be hubby's. The knee got infected where the strap cut me up, but that's almost sorted now. Back in the saddle soon!

  2. Hi, glad your knee is a bit better, and you're having a good time still. I was just thinking about last year, and you showing us the map of where you were planning to go! Hats off to you, and that you are still there!
    Btw I hope its OK, I just sent you a small early birthday present I still have your bank details...x

    1. Thanks Em - received with very many thanks! Life is kind of easy right now in Vegas but planning the next stage which is looking pretty awesome as I head east x