54.09 Miles; 3,052 Feet of Gain; Palmdale, CA to Tehachapi, CA
The night is long yet short. The Motel 6 we found, the one with bars over the windows and people milling around, really came to life shortly after we turned off our lights. First began the yelling outside. It seems a crowd had congregated in this common spot known to all. People starting banging on our window. Multiple times the door handle jiggled and some strong pushing followed on the locked door. I absolutely did not sleep. This was coupled with the fact that the Motel 6 turned off A/C to all rooms beginning at 11 pm. With the air off, and the nighttime temperature outside still over 100 degrees, the room began to cook.
Janna and I both stripped down. Laid on the bed. Sweating - gotta be over 90 in here. I get up, grab a tepid glass of water. Dump it on my stomach and chest while lying in bed. Just the subtle grace of evaporative cooling to get me feeling able to sleep. The door knob turns in attempt to opening. I shoot awake. Someone bangs on the windows. I do not move from the bed. What small hours of night pass between when I put my head down and when I get up to move is small and rough. I sleep maybe two hours.
The alarm goes off just prior to 3 am. It's time to move. The record heat wave is here, and today is our significant desert crossing. We aim to make the crossing and be into Tehachapi before noon. Before the worst heat. That way, we can find a place to baton down indoors in air conditioning. Plus, that area is at a higher elevation than here. But it's 3 am now so my mind only lives here in this moment. In minutes we are dressed. The bikes are pre-packed. It's time to exit the dark sauna and into the slice of night. I swing the motel room door open prepared for dozens of people fighting and yelling. Sometime recently, they all left. It's just the empty parking lot under dim lighting. Time to move quick then. We roll by the front desk and knock on the window behind bars to hand over our room keys.
Biking through a big city at 3 am is always interesting.
I'm alert despite the quiet outside. I throw a leg over the bike and we push over into the dark. It feels like body temperature outside; weirdly comfortable and alarmingly warm. Janna surges ahead with the potence of importance to get moving. I can barely keep up. Legs churn but my words are slurring and my energy low given two nights in a row with little sleep. I keep toggling my GPS unit on to catch a glimpse of our direction. We're out of the Motel 6 area and into residential-land. Everything is unlit and unworried; the sun is far away. Nary a driver passes by. We turn off a bike lane in a main thoroughfare for an extended slight downhill through city-edge homes where rurality laps and dogs come barking at us behind fence and brick. Houses fall back and we're swimming amongst dark farmer's fields. The wind is absent. I feel fast.
The avenue we're on lacks a sufficient shoulder but there are no cars. I can see the twinkling of core Palmdale behind us. I can also catch the shape building of the desert mountains we cross as the faintest hint of gray discerns the horizons and foretells the sunrise to come. I'm thirsty already in the dry nighttime heat as moisture expels with my breath and sweat. It's a race against the coming sun now. Cover miles, move legs. Crepuscular lighting brings definition and color to the land. Yellow grasses flat fields surround us all crisp and dormant for summer. We pass through the small communities of Del Sur and Antelope Acres. We stop at Antelope Acres Market at 5:30 am which is just opening for the day. We run in and I find the drink Electrolit (the first time I've heard of it). Somewhat similar to a cross between Pedialyte and Gatorade, I buy some and start chug two bottles outside.
The sun is now above the horizon. It's an orange colored mass filtering through the only clouds near the horizon anywhere in the sky. I can feel the temperatures rising. We pedal on across the hot low Antelope Valley towards a rising land mass called Willow Springs Butte. We pass it and continue straight as Tehachapi Willow Springs Road begins a slow ascent. Janna and I have covered a solid 20 miles now before the sun has even risen meaningfully. The fields next to us become punctuated with creosote and the first Joshua trees found in this stretch. Telephone poles rise up as we pass Willow Springs Butte and begin earnestly seeing the Tehachapi mountains rising as desert peaks in the distance. Massive farmer's fields intersperse across the Mojave, all fed with massive water sprinklers. The straight road we've been coursing finally takes its first gradual turn in miles shifting us with a stare to the northwest. Before us lays a valley angling up to the mountains and thick with Joshua trees. We both hike down a dirt road crawling along the base of a butte to find some privacy to relieve ourselves away from the highway.
On towards the Tehachapi Mountains. The road really begins to gain some grade as a significant headwind hits our faces. The combined duo of these aspects brings our pace to a crawl. A herd of wind turbines stands busy in the distance. The constant face-push of headwind duly explains their location. There are literally hundreds of them. Hundreds upon hundreds standing white and stark against the brown jagged tumblescape of mountain come to bow into the Mojave. Joshua trees grow dense and large with craggy arms spiked and swirling. Despite the 90+ degree heat at 8 am, I finally find a core of energy and push strong into the combatant wind. The wind dries me. I drink to compensate, but measure carefully what I take. Ads for a camel ranch dot the roadside. This is summer desert riding.
We're funneled into a narrow cut in the face of the Tehachapi Mountains. The road really gets steep. The traffic has picked up. The wind turbines all face the direction we're heading. Which only promises a smack of wind as the mountain funnels into us. I literally crawl upwards in my granny gear. Somehow, we've gain a couple thousand feet. It's still desert, but the fear of the low desert subsides a bit. The wind turbines multiply. We're all in it together. Turbines and me both chewing wind.
An initial was crested whereupon we entered valley set high with currents and even more turbines. We passed by a ranching outfit where a couple of Border Collies gave us weak chase but strong barks. It was getting hotter by the minute, with 106 degrees projected down in Palmdale. Just past the ranch amid the multitude of wind catchers comes a grade so steep that I no longer can pedal even in my easiest gear. Best just to get off and walk while pushing the bike. Janna is ahead of me grinding away regardless. That is, until I walk up and pass her on my hike-a-bike. She laughs as I begin to gain serious ground ahead of her by merely walking. That does it. Off the bike and hike-a-biking on the shoulder of the highway as well. We walk until the wind turbines grow scarce from their cluster and we stand at the crest of the Tehachapi Mountains along this stretch while a rolling carpet of summer-dead grass stretched down before us.
The downhill is as welcoming as the sudden cessation of headwind. We swing a left on Highline Road which affords one last glimpse back into the mountains cloaked with wind energy. The shoulder is wide and smooth. A quick righthand turn on a stellar bikeway takes us along a paved path into the outskirts of Tehachapi. Janna and I ride into town on Tucker Road; it's only 11 am. We are right where we wanted to be by this time as the sun is scorching above, but less so now that we are in the high desert at 4000 feet in elevation. It's then that we get a call from the campground we planned to stay at just a few miles off-route outside of town: they are actually not taking tent campers and hadn't realized it until now. Stuck in a sea of private property, we know camping is not going to happen. Janna pulls out her phone and finds a Best Western Plus just downtown with a room for like $50 - a perfect place to wait out a scorching day in A/C right next to food options. The cheap price is compensation for visiting this town in the off-season heat of summer.
And the city is absolutely lovely. Honestly, a glorious trail town full of historical sites. It's super walkable, pedestrian/bike friendly, and accessible with groceries and restaurants. Plus, there's a bike shop. We bike onwards towards town. No sooner had five minutes passed then a car passes us, stops, turns around, and pulls up. Turns out it's a Warmshowers host who is checking on us. They give us beta on the area but decline a stay at their place because our hotel did not have free cancellations. They tell us there is a great breakfast place ahead which is all we need to hear to get us moving. We pull up to Henry's Café where the hostess has us put our bikes next to a second entrance door she says is closed. We eat a great breakfast basking in the glow that comes after worry gives way to success. Suddenly, we hear a giant crash outside. The same hostess that had us put our bikes specially over next to the unused door had herself chosen to walk out the door, forgetting our bikes were there, which led to them smashing over. I run to my bike to find my derailleur bent and brake levers misaligned. She says, "Hope those aren't expensive," before immediately running to her car and driving away.
It takes me the next 30 minutes to realign and fix everything as best as possible. It's frustrating.
That resolved, Janna and I make our ways over to the local Vons to get some groceries. It's about 90 degrees at midday so I'm sweating hard. We pull up our bikes next to a group of 6 PCT hikers. They are stoked to see our setups and agree to watch our bikes while we head in to shop. They're just setting in the shade of the overhang eating their own recent purchases. Janna and I take our time in the store to grab a combination of fresh fruits/veggies and stuff for today/tomorrow. And I find a ton of Pedialyte. I chug a bottle immediately. I buy a second one for later today.
Back outside, the PCT group is examining our bikepacking touring setups. They ask us a ton of questions about travel by bike. We ask them how their thru-hikes on the PCT are going with the heat. We all agree it's miserable. They have the luck of hiking high higher on the mountain ridges and vegetation cover. Janna and I eat our food and end up connecting in conservation with Kate (Voodoo) and Shannon (Princess North Star) - a couple who have done other thru-hikes and were now attempt a thru of the PCT. They met on the AT, got married, and were doing all the major long-distance trails. We exchanged contact info and agreed to get dinner together later. Janna and I left the PCT crowd to head to our hotel room. We were given the green for an early check-in to avoid the day's heat. I leave Janna to run to the local bike shop (gotta see if they have a brake caliper) but find it's closed. No matter, time to take a long shower and lay in the cold. We take a long nap before evening rolls in. Shannon and Katie text us about dinner and our two groups grab some excellent local Thai food. Shannon and Katie ask a bunch of questions about our bike setups and what does/doesn't work. Hiker midnight is coming and we're all exhausted so we pack up and head back to the hotel where we watch Indiana Jones before falling asleep. It's agreed - we will start before 3 am again tomorrow until this giant heat wave leaves the area.