Day Seventy-One

Mojave, CA to Bakersfield, CA

The wind let up today, so I had to get moving. I got off to a late start because I was up late trying to get caught up on my daily reports before I forgot the details. I pedaled out of Mojave around 10:00 with 70 miles ahead of me. Jerry had given me a summary of SR 58  to Bakersfield. First I would go uphill for awhile, then after Tehachapi it would be downhill for a long time into the central valley, which was " even flatter than Illinois," he said. For breakfast, I tried one of the oatmeal raisin yogurt-dipped Harvest PowerBars that Jerry gave me. I wasn't a big fan of energy bars in general, but this one was pretty good.

SR 58 was a wide, well-paved road from Mojave to Tehachapi. After a couple miles of riding uphill, I saw a sign that said " Elevation 3000 Feet." Then the road appeared to go downhill, but it was still hard to pedal. It was like I had stumbled upon a " mystery spot." A mystery spot is a roadside attraction where gravity appears to be altered. For example, they have a room where up isn't really up, or a place where one can watch a ball roll " uphill." Of course, it's all just an optical illusion.

The road curved west and the climb to Tehachapi Pass began in earnest. Actually, I was disappointed because it wasn't that hard. Since SR 58 was a freeway, the grade was not steep. I supposed I'd climbed enough mountains by now that it would take something special to impress me. At the top of the hill, there were dozens of giant propellers that generate wind power. In fact, Enron Wind Corporation was based in Tehachapi (it was sold to General Electric a few days after I rode through). After 12 miles, I reached another sign: " Elevation 4000 Feet." Then the terrain leveled out. A few miles later, I exited SR 58 onto Tehachapi Blvd. and rode into town. I rode past a place called the Apple Shed and noticed a mural on the side of the building. It featured a train and those windmills that I found so fascinating. I decided to go in and get something to eat.

I looked around the gift shop first. There was a T-shirt showing the windmills with a caption: " Hey, can those things blow the smog back to L.A.?" There were lots of tempting flavors of jellies, jams and preserves, but I managed to resist buying them. Glass jars are heavy. However, I couldn't resist the cinnamon-sprinkled turnovers. I had one apple and one cherry. The young woman who rang me up looked me over and said, " You look like you've been out in the sun too long." When I explained that I'd been riding my bicycle all the way from Savannah, she got really excited. She asked how much weight I had lost. That question always cracked me up--it's not like I would carry a scale around with me! I told her that the best thing was that I could eat things like apple turnovers without gaining any weight. She warned me to be careful about that when I get home. I'd already been thinking about that. On this trip I had picked up some bad habits, like eating an entire medium pizza for dinner and washing it down with a two-liter bottle of Coke.

I probably could have ridden SR 58 all the way to Bakersfield, or at least down into the valley, but I had other plans. I was going to ride Banducci Road and Comanche Point Road instead. I got onto a different street in town than I had planned, so I went into a gas station to look at a map. To my surprise, there was a huge map painted on the wall that told me exactly what I needed to know.

Only a couple blocks after I turned onto Banducci Road, I began to reconsider my choice of routes. The steep hills more than made up for my disappointment with the climb to Tehachapi Pass. While SR 58 had easy grades, I needed to drop all the way down into first gear on Banducci Road.  I climbed to the top of the Tehachapi  Mountains, then carefully descended the twisty road  into a flat valley of irrigated farmland. Four miles later, the road headed up again. The climb wasn't as long this time, but it was just as steep. This was a really great road for cycling. There was little traffic and the terrain was challenging. I made a mental note to tell my California cycling friends about it.

My raving about this road came to an abrupt end as I came back downhill and a troubling sign appeared: " Pavement Ends." Oh, sh*t. Microsoft Streets & Trips didn't say anything about this. It showed Comanche Point Road, a county route, as an " arterial road." I panicked. For the first time on the trip, I took out my laptop in the middle of the ride. Surely I missed a turn somewhere, right? Hmm, well, I guess this must be the right road. Now what? I could just go back to Tehachapi for the night and try SR 58 tomorrow. Those mountains sure were hard to climb, though. I really did not relish the thought of going over them again. Plus, I was 16 miles past town, and it seemed such a waste to ride an extra 32 miles roundtrip  for nothing.

Well, it didn't look that bad. The road was dirt and fairly smooth. This is why touring bikes have wider tires, I told myself. I started down the dirt road and immediately saw what would be the problem with this route--the downhills. I had to ride the brakes all the way down otherwise I would be going way  too fast around the curves with far too little traction. About half a mile down, I came to a gate. As a Midwesterner unaccustomed to gated roads, I was troubled. Was it okay to go through? There were " no trespassing" signs on several trees. Did that apply to the road, or just the land around the road? Maybe I should just ride back to Tehachapi instead. I rode back to the pavement. When a pick-up came by, I waved him down and asked about the road. He said he didn't go that far down the road, but he thought it might be okay. I wasn't convinced yet. An Airborne Express truck came, and I asked the driver about it. He said he likes to drive backroads, but he'd never been on that one. He recommended that I ask at a nearby ranch. One guy there said he thought there were a lot of gates, but they shouldn't be locked. He asked another guy who said to go for it. He assured me that I could get through on my bike, but it would be slow.

I tentatively headed back down the dirt road to the gate. It turned out that it wasn't locked it was just a chain that kept the gate from opening. I unwound the chain, opened the gate and rolled my bike through. After closing the gate, my arduous journey began in earnest. The road was a little rougher since it was marred by cow hoof prints. Dodging the occasional cow pie, it was only a matter of time until I came upon some cows in the road. Fortunately, these cows ran from me like the others I had seen on this trip so I didn't have to get too close to those horns. Soon a pick-up truck came toward me. Uh-oh, this is the ranch owner and he has a shotgun, I thought. He simply waved as he went by. Phew!

I went through a second gate, and there were half a dozen cows in the road. I had heard that cows are not the brightest animals in the world, and now I have first-hand evidence. Instead of simply scattering to the left or right, the cows ran away from me on the road. I followed them uphill for nearly a mile. Sometimes they would get ahead if I got into a rough spot, but then I would come around a blind corner and they were standing there thinking they had lost me. They started running up the road again. It was like a bad chase scene in a movie.  Finally, they  ran off the road and got out of my way.

The road wasn't too bad except for rough spots from cows, deep drainage ruts and occasional patches of sand. The sand was the worst it is extremely difficult to steer a bicycle through sand, especially when the road surface changes suddenly. There were  two times when I lost control and the bike slid this way and that. With some acrobatics, I managed to keep myself from falling down, but not without jerking a few things out of joint.

As I looked into the distance, I could see the flat, green farmlands of the valley ahead. I imagined how this would indeed have looked like the promised land to Okies who had just crossed the Mojave Desert back in the 1930's. I had a disappointing revelation--my big descent from 4,000+ feet down to the valley at 500 feet was going to be on this twisting, unpaved road. I would have to ride the brakes all the way down. I felt like I was being cheated out of my reward for all the climbing I had done.

Occasionally, the road would narrow to the point where I wondered if I was still on course. This was a big concern because a wrong turn could totally mess up my day. There wouldn't even be anyone to ask to get back on track. Then I noticed that there were markers for underground cables fairly often. I figured as long as I saw those markers, I would be all right.

I only had to go through three gates. After the last one, the road got steeper and more rutted. It was a good thing I had talked to some tough rancheros about whether I could ride on this road because most people would have told me that it couldn't be done. This was a road that I wouldn't have wanted to drive in a car (on the other hand, I wouldn't have had any problem turning around and going back over the mountains to Tehachapi in a car).  This was by far the most difficult, most technical descent I had ever ridden on a bicycle. It would have been loads of fun on my mountain bike, whereas my skinny-tired road bike never would have made it. On my touring bike, it was passable but less than ideal. Earlier in my trip, I might not have had the faith in my bike to handle it.  I would have worried about busting spokes or jarring my laptop. But after 2,800 miles, I knew it could take a beating and come out fine. I stopped often, both to ease the beating my arms were taking from the bumps and to admire the spectacular scenery surrounding me. Whatever my complaints about the road, this was perhaps the prettiest, most unspoiled area I had the pleasure to visit on my trip.

The last few hairpins were especially rough, but I finally came off the mountain and onto a smooth crushed stone road. A mile later, I could see pavement ahead. I had ridden ten miles on a surface of dirt, sand, stone, gullies and cow manure. Just before the pavement began, the smooth road turned into a washboard surface. I didn't deserve this, I thought. After being shaken vigorously, I got to the asphalt. I had 2-1/2 hours of daylight  to cover the last  25 miles to Bakersfield. I decided to go into time trial mode for awhile to make up the extra  time I'd spent riding that rough road. I pedaled hard and strong for the next nine miles. Jerry had warned me about the farm dogs of the valley, and it wasn't long before a few were chasing me. I felt good, so I decided to outrun them. I lost them at 23 mph.

I made another routing mistake today--taking SR 184 north to Lamont. I should have taken an unnumbered road that would have had less truck traffic, but I had assumed that a state route would at least have a shoulder. For the first four miles, there was none. Fortunately, the highway improved somewhat when I reached SR 223. I stopped for water and Gatorade in Lamont.

There was a large Hispanic population in the valley, evidenced by the many business signs for panaderias, carnicerias, etc. At Panama Lane, I headed west on another shoulderless road. Nearing Bakersfield around rush hour, traffic was a little heavy. At Union Avenue I went north to White Lane, which looked like a better road to take west. Not more than half a mile down, road construction started. I was able to ride on the fresh asphalt away from traffic and didn't pick up  much oil on my tires. After the construction ended, I had a bike lane all the way to the Motel 6.

When I said I was riding to the coast, one of the motel clerks said, " Whatever you do, don't ride on 46."

But  my friend Jerry had suggested SR 46.

The other clerk said that her dad bicycles on 46 to the coast all the time.

" They call it 'blood alley'," the first clerk continued. Well, it wouldn't be the first road I've ridden on this trip with a bad reputation. US 70 west of Roswell was the first that came to mind. " On a motorcycle it might be all right, but not on a bicycle. I always send people down to 166 through Maricopa." That was the route suggested by  John, one of the riders I met from California on Route 66 in Arizona. Both routes had good and bad points. SR 46 took the straightest, lowest route across the mountains, whereas SR 166 took a higher, much curvier and likely more scenic route to the coast. I could have taken either one, but SR 166 would have required me to go back south about 17 miles, which would negate the northward progress I'd made today. For better or worse, I decided to follow Jerry's advice and take SR 46.

I fell asleep for an hour in my room. When I awoke, I ordered a pizza because I didn't want to spend time eating somewhere. I decided to try Mountain Mike's Pizza and went to their web site to look at a menu. The Pineapple Chicken Luau sounded perfect: grilled chicken, bacon, pineapple and KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce. I just hoped it wouldn't be disappointing like the similar calzone I'd had in Mojave. It turned out to be a fantastic pizza, tasty with loads of toppings. Too bad their only locations were on the West Coast, and none of them were on the remainder of my route.

Totals for the day: 76.09 miles in 6:57:16 for a 10.9 mph average.

Click here to see today's photos.

Copyright 2002-2013 David Johnsen. All rights reserved.