28.29 Miles; 5,466 Feet of Gain; Silverwood Lake, CA to Table Mountain, CA
Janna and I woke up to the heat of the desert as the Sun hit our tarp. Even in the early hour, it was blazing down hard and threatened a scorching day. Janna hadn't slept well, understandably, given the uncertainties about whether we'd be able to get a chain today with Don and Karen's help. They told us last night that they wouldn't be over until around 9:30 because they needed to pack up their RV, and we needed to make sure the bike shop in Hesperia was open. Thus, Janna and I leisurely, though anxiously, tore down camp until Don and Karen showed up. We didn't want to leave our gear unattended, so it was decided that Janna would ride down with them to Hesperia herself while I stayed behind to clean gear and be a watchdog over it.
At 9:30 am, Karen and Don rolled up in their RV. They seemed excited for this adventure of helping two cyclists on a tour. They offered to take Janna's bike with them to Hesperia just in case anything else needed taken care of. We were worried about getting dirt in their RV but Karen mothered us in the best of ways that such things didn't matter and they wanted to help/take care of us. Don and I fit Janna's bike in the RV and they were off. The high for the day was predicted to be 102 degrees F where we were riding. Normally, I'd want to be off super early to avoid the worst heat, but there was nothing to do but sit back and sit in the shade of desert trees as morning ticked by.
I passed the time by looking ahead to the next three days. We had a campsite up high planned for tonight, but we were looking to camp low the following day in a National Forest campground that seemed to be squatting in a desert canyon. I had just enough reception to take a look at the weather forecast and I noted that nearby Palmdale looked to be well over 100 degrees; the campground would probably be close to 110 degrees due to its location in a canyon. That sounded awful for sleeping or even just being alive. The big open Mojave Desert stretch was coming up immediately after. All signs were pointing to record heat and wretched camping therein. I scanned Palmdale, that large California city sprawling north into the desert, and found a cheap Motel 6. It was real cheap, like mind-blowing; and it offered air conditioning. I quickly recalculated our miles and thought it might be better to bike all the way to Palmdale tomorrow, adding on some 15-20 miles, in order to get some AC and a better night's sleep. We'd get a solid resupply option and it would set us up the next day to leave sometime after midnight for a big desert crossing. Starting from Palmdale would be a real advantage for making that big nighttime ride more doable.
Janna was back by about 10:30 am with Don and Karen. They all exited the RV laughing with success as Janna produced two 9-speed chains. It turns out that the shop had almost nothing left in inventory except these 9-speed chains. The luck was palpable and pleasing. I got to work getting one on her bike and one stashed away just-in-case. Don and Karen hugged us goodbye and left on their RVs, only to show up 15 minutes later again to make sure we were okay; they were super caring. We all took some photos together and agreed to meetup this fall (Which they did! They came and stayed with us at the Canyon that September!). Now they were truly off and Janna and I were left to clean up some grease, pull out an early lunch, and finally pack up with a feeling of success under our feet. Between her near-exploding chain and my warped brake caliper, the mechanical issues seemed behind us (and more than we ever had go wrong on any single trip).
We left the campground at 11:30 am and pushed out onto the highway edge as 90 degree temps were in full-earnest. The crystal blue of Silverwood Lake stood gorgeous amongst the dry, June, desert hills. We knew today was going to be hot, but it felt more desert-like than we anticipated. A hot iron of atmosphere invaded my lungs with every inhale followed by water loss on the exhale. We had too briefly considered today's route with assumptions we'd climb back up to elevation and a greater cool. Instead, today turned about to be about 90% crossing of high Mojave Desert mountains. Some traffic picked up along Highway 138 as we inched across a valley. It was sweltering and we both kept taking frequent breaks at any dirt pullouts to drink water and calm our heart rates. A quick weather check revealed it to be 100 degrees.
But then we rounded a corner and there stood the next massive range of Mt. San Antonio and the Angeles National Forest. The mountains were mad-beauty against the desert lowlands. We descended to Cajun Junction at Cajun Pass as the traffic-choked I-15 cut below us with innumerable lanes are filled with semis and commuter traffic between San Bernadino and the desert yonder. This is a classic PCT stop, and an important one for us as too as we pulled our bikes under an overhang at a 76 gas station. Markedly color than the 100+ temps around us, we ducked inside to use the restrooms and grab some cold drinks and snacks before heading up Lone Pine Canyon Road. The gas station was absolutely packed with travelers off the interstate, and I kept a quick eye on our rigs outside. We spent maybe 40 minute there before we agreed to push on lest the temps continue to rise and we stay at this low point. It was time to climb up the Angeles Crest and hopefully obtain some cool.
Large sandstone monoliths stood starkly out from the desert (Mormon Rocks) while copious active rail tracks buzzed with trains. But we took a left and started up Lone Pine Canyon Road were the traffic precipitously dropped off and the grade intensely became steep. Notably, we would end up gaining over 4500 feet of elevation in 17 miles. That was crazy steep. But the immediate desert beauty and lack of vehicular pressure were immediately welcome. There was nothing to do in 100+ degree F heat on an intense climb than sit in the biggest cog and grind away the miles ever so slowly. I was sweating hard but looking around in wonder at the grasslands filled with arching yucca blooms. We turned the corner on a small descent that curved us upwards for the big continuous climb.
And climb we did. Up and up, I couldn't believe how steep it was. The elevation change was bringing some small respite, dropping the temperature below 100 degrees F. And those yucca blooms all mallow-yellow and cream against the unbridled blue sky. I kept turning around to look back at how high we were climbing. I could not longer see Cajun Pass; the photochemical smog of LA was distant and smudgy on peaks far out. Around me was quiet desert scrub and all-encompassing sun. Lone Pine Canyon Scenic Route was living up to its namesake. It was like we had the entire area to ourselves, completely siloed away from the busy metropolis just a range or two over. I absolutely loved it.
But I was absolutely also feeling the heat. As we climbed, those same fears about rhabdo crept back into my brain. I keep thinking: "Am I drinking enough? What color was my urine? When was my last urination event? Am I balancing salt well?" And the higher and more intense the climb, the more I could feel the high temperatures burning through me to the core of my bones. I stopped more and more frequently to give the quads a rest from the burning churn. Janna began to remark she was feeling off from the heat and exertion. I was getting downright nauseous. The climb continued beautifully and relentlessly.
Suddenly, a pocket of pines appeared at a bend in the road. I stared incessantly with promises to bathe in their shade and eat some food. Janna got their first and down a liter or so of water. I pulled up, laid my bike down on the shoulder, and then just walked over to sit beneath their boughs. We took some salt pills, reapplied sunscreen, and I started eating some dates for sugar and potassium. My stomach soaked it all up. But that triple digit heat and intense climbing had already gotten to me - I was battling a sub-migraine and constant feelings of vomiting. We continued climbing and then suddenly, were back in a multitude of woodland expanse that spilled us past cabins baking in the high-elevation sun and into the heart of Wrightwood. It was here that we officially merged with the Angeles Crest Highway/HWY 2.
The town of Wrightwood turned out to be exactly what I needed. Even up here at 6000 feet, it was in the low 90s. But, they had a great grocery at Wrightwood Fine Foods where we parked our bikes and walked in the temperature AC of the store to resupply for both today and tomorrow. I downed three ice-cold Gatorades, and Janna the same. Then, we started slowly pedaling down the city center where a sign for Bigfoot Bowls caught my eye. I had a sudden urge for intense calorie consumption, especially some great vegan food. We rolled up, got some more cold drinks, and ate some tofu/rice bowls with soy. It also exactly what I needed to battle off the migraine, settle the nausea, and give my legs what they needed from the climb. Plus, it was now in the late afternoon which meant that even with the sun shining in our eyes while riding, its bite was so much less worse.
We pedaled out of Wrightwood down the pine-lined Angeles Crest HWY where we passed through the village of closed-up Big Pines (nothing was open from COVID). Our intended camp for the night was at Table Mountain Campground, a USFS campground located off-route up another steep 1-mile-several-hundred-feet-climb. At this point both of our knees were cooked. Instead of pedaling, we got off our bikes and pushed our bikes up to the campground located at 7000 feet finely nestled in the pines. I loved this campground. It was all-respite and oasis from the desert surrounding us. With our last bar of reception while in Wrightwood, Janna and I had seen that a massive "Extreme Heat Warning" got blanketed over our entire area starting tomorrow. Temperatures were to be well above 100 degrees, closer to 115 F in areas for the next five days. This was all corresponding with our upcoming biggest desert crossings. It had my stomach in knots for fear of the heat and my health. We made a decision that we would start transitioning to some significant night riding and flip our schedules to make it work. Janna's assuredness and cool head became the rock I leaned on in my fears of the weather conditions to come. But tonight we had the mountain all dark and calm as cool air blanketed us, making us chase our jackets. I sat up as black ink sky befell and the world of LA twinkled with millions and millions of lights in the cityscape below, thousands of feet down our coming direction.