At Borrego Springs: Salton Seaway - Looking Back With 2020 Vision, Part I - CycleBlaze

January 6, 2020

At Borrego Springs: Salton Seaway

The day gets off to a frustrating start, leaving us both feeling a bit like inept clowns.  After eating breakfast in our room, we go out to the whale to extract the bikes and check out Rachael’s tire.  As soon as the door closes behind me, Rachael asks if I have the room keys.  Dumbly, I look at the car keys and see they won’t do, so the day begins with a trip to the office to announce we’ve locked ourselves out.  Later, only by lucky accident do we avoid pulling the same stunt again.  I wonder how often you can go to the office to ask for a new key before they just toss you out on the street?

As expected, the tire is completely flat.  I take her bike outside and lean against the wall in the warm morning sun, and set to work.  Within minutes I realize it’s almost too hot just sitting here, even in early January.

I closely examine Rachael’s tire, and find the stub of a thorn protruding out.  That must be it, I think.  Then I see a second, then a third.  One of these must have penetrated the tire and created a pinprick hole in the tube, but I can’t feel it on the inside from any of them.  

This must have happened at our lunch stop.  We’ll have to start taking much better care when we have to take our bikes off the pavement.  If we have another flat any time soon, I think we’ll go to a bike store and have our tubes slimed.

Removing or replacing Schwalbe Marathons from 20 inch wheels is no fun, really.  They’re a very tight fit.  Once years ago, late in the day in France, I was completely unable to remove Rachael’s flattened tire and the levers snapped.  We had to flag a car down to drive her and her bike back to our hotel in Foix.  They spoke no English, and Rachael’s conversation with them was pretty much limited to repeatedly saying merci. 

I’ve gotten much better at this most basic of tasks by now, especially since I’ve started carrying the industrial strength Pedros tire levers, so I’m always able to get them off now.  Pedros are so thick and sturdy that you can really pry on them and they won’t bend or snap.  

So, it’s an annoyance that after I remove the tire, change the tube, and replace the tire, I discover that the replacement won’t hold air.  It flows out as soon as I stop pumping.  Damn, the tube must be bad; or maybe I pinched it when replacing the tire.   Fortunately we still have one more spare, so I go through the whole process again.

The new tube won’t hold air either.  It’s not the tube, it’s the pump.  I disgustedly toss it in the trash and get the spare pump, which works just fine.  Ten minutes later, both of us frustrated and a bit snappish with each other, we finally make it out the door; and one last time, we nearly lock ourselves out of the room.

I’m still amazed that Rachael completed yesterday’s climb with a half-flat rear tire. It left me with a frustrating start to the day, changing the tube twice before realizing the pump was failing.
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Bill ShaneyfeltPunctures are likely due to goatheads... Western cyclist's nightmare. Treating tubes with slime works for them, but patching a larger hole can be a nightmare. Another drawback of course, is the increase in weight of the wheels. Tire liners work too, but can work through tubes and puncture them.

Best is to avoid them. Sticking to pavement is best. They are also usually de-horned by passing vehicles near the pavement, but a few feet off, and it is the absolute worst because they thrive in the disturbed soil that is watered by rain runoff from the pavement. Be vigilant!

https://www.slime.com/us/blog/goatheads-a-thorn-in-your-tires-side.php
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7 months ago

A hundred yards from the room though, we’re both fine.  It’s beautiful out, the open road beckons us, and Rachael pedals along with delight and feeling strong again on her newly filled tire.

It is amazing to me, now that we’ve completed it, that we nearly missed taking today’s ride east toward the Salton Sea.  We had several candidates mapped out, and this one was pretty low on the list really.  I think I was thinking that it might be busier than it proved to be and it’s a ride we’ve taken before, when we left town and continued on east.  We finally settled on it partly because of the amazing descent driving in to town yesterday.  We’ve decided we want to take up the challenge and bike up there tomorrow, but we should find an easier ride today before doing it.  The ride east toward the Salton Sea is the easiest choice around.

It’s a brilliant ride.  After leaving the outskirts of Borrego Springs, the road generally follows the line of the mountains to the north of the basin, angling up a low saddle through about ten miles of barren desert.  For most of the time there’s no one else in sight or sound, and it’s intensely still.  Other than the desert plants there’s not much evidence of life today unless you look closely at the ground and see the ants everywhere.  Occasionally a crow will fly overhead; once, a tiny lizard zips across the pavement in front of me; and once a hawk dips toward the sun, too far off to recognize.  Quiet.

The stills don’t quite capture the magic of this ride for me.  The video comes closer, I think: 

Video sound track: Desert Song, by Yshai Afterman and Itamar Erez

The first eight miles out of town, on Henderson Canyon Road, are especially quiet.  I think I was passed by only a single car until finally coming to the junction with S22, the Borrego Salton Seaway.  At the junction there’s a development of sorts, with dozens of mobile homes sprawled out in a large, dusty lot.  And, on the S22 we start encountering a bit of traffic.  It’s so thin though that it’s still very quiet - just you, the bike, and the land.

And, as usual, Rachael has gone on ahead while I stop to take pictures of the ocotillo and the mountains.   We ride separately for the first half of the ride, meeting up after she’s turned back at the agreed upon point.

Leaving Borrego Springs. The town lies in the Anza-Borrego Desert, a flat, low elevation basin surrounded on three sides by mountains. Here, we’re headed due north, still within the city limits.
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On the outer apron of Borrego Springs, looking west.
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Some of the surrounding mountains are intensely colorful, highlighted with reds and greys. Long walls of palm trees shelter parts of the town, presumably to provide shade or a wind break.
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Leaving town.
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The road east, toward the Salton Sea about thirty miles away. This is the only way out of town that doesn’t face a dominating range.
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The road to Salton Sea doesn’t cross any mountains - the high point is only five hundred feet above town - but it certainly puts you up close to them.
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Some documentation for the tour. We were here.
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After dipping through this low wash with its warning of flash flooding, we start climbing the low saddle separating Borrego from the basin of the Salton Sea.
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Ocotillo is the most visually prominent plant in this part of the desert. It’s my favorite desert plant - an odd combination of scruffy and graceful.
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Bill ShaneyfeltAlso notice the dark green larger bushes nicely spaced... Creosote bushes are quite interesting. Some believe the oldest living organism... older than even the famous bristlecone pines. The wood is considered by some experts to be one of, if not the densest wood known. I like to use it to make knife handles because of its lovely golden color and its ability to polish to a shine like plastic.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Clone
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltI love the creosote too. It’s one of the few plants I recognize with confidence over here. That and the chollas. I hadn’t heard though what a primitive plant they are though. What a great thing to know!
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7 months ago
Bill ShaneyfeltThey make great firewood too! burning down to really long lasting coals. But don't make the mistake I did when we first moved there... I used a creosote stick (crooked as they are) to roast a hotdog. That cooked the chemicals out of the wood into the hotdog, and even hungry as I was, I only had one bite... A lesson as a 10 year old that is as clear today as it was over 63 years ago!
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7 months ago
Some of the ocotillo are in bloom, giving a bit of color to the generally grayish scene.
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Andrea BrownI was here in March of 1995 during a super bloom and it was astounding.
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7 months ago
Near the top of the divide, we get a last look back across the Anza-Borrego Desert, toward Borrego Springs. The town is about ten miles behind us now, in the greenish smear off to the left near the base of the mountains.
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After crossing the divide, the road starts steadily dropping toward the Salton Sea, still 20 miles away.  It’s a gentle descent, maybe 2-3%, but the land we’re dropping through is hardly gentle.  We’re falling through a grey, bone dry, lifeless, forbidding badland of severely eroded cliffs and ravines.  In the distance, the thin blue sliver of the Salton Sea is sandwiched between these badlands and the mountains further to the east.

As I’ve been biking, I’ve had an eye out for any shade that we might use as a lunch spot.  It’s a surprisingly warm day, and there isn’t a spread of cover from the blazing sun.  I saw one scraggly tree beside the road some miles back, but that’s it.  It really wouldn’t do to be out here on a bike too far out of winter, I think.

We meet up at a vista point, find a nice, cozy flat rock to share, and eat our lunch staring at the awesome but desolate scene around us.  We’re not quite alone here - there are a few campers parked here, maybe supporting folks off on an ATV adventure on the dusty roads fingering off into the ravines.  But it’s quiet enough.

Over the top of the low divide, it’s a slow thousand foot drop to the sea, which you can see ahead. The next several miles are especially dramatic as we descend through intensely eroded badlands.
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The ride stops here, still about ten miles from the sea. There’s no chance of shade anywhere for miles around, so we just sit on a rock and study the badlands while we eat lunch. Even in early January it feels quite warm out. I don’t think I’d want to do this ride even a few months later in the year.
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Looking west to the Salton Sea and the next range beyond. The near edge of the sea is still eight miles off as the crow flies, and a thousand feet below us (and we’re only at elevation 800’ - the surface of Salton Sea is 234 feet below sea level).
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A closer look at the sea. Actually, its best look is from a distance like this. Seen up close, it’s quite a weird place.
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Another look at the badlands above the sea.
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The ride back goes quickly.  We ride together, stopping only a few times for road shots and once for a relaxed drink of water.  And then, a few minutes later, we’re stopped by a high pitched, piercing alarm.  It’s Rachael’s phone, protesting that it shouldn’t be charged (she’s carrying a charging device for it that we picked up in San Diego) because moisture has been detected.  It’s the victim of a water accident - the lid of her water bottle had come unscrewed and fell off while she was hydrating, and water drained on to her phone.

So, an unfortunate mishap to accent an otherwise perfect ride.  She’ll try the hair dryer trick tonight, and hope that we haven’t permanently damaged a device or two.

On the return. There’s not much traffic today, but I imagine it was a pretty crazy road yesterday with all the ATVers returning home after the holidays. Safe enough with this persistent wide shoulder, but I’m sure much more pleasant today.
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Over the top.
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I love this part of the ride. This range is really beautiful, its grey slopes spreading out into the basin in broad eroded fans.
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A new technique for us. Rachael had the brainstorm inspiration that we can see an occasional road shot with me in it by capturing a screen print from one of her videos.
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This is Team Anderson Country. Wide open vistas, dramatic formations, little or no traffic. So many of our favorite rides are in country that looks like this.
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Ride stats today: 43 miles, 1,600’; for the tour: 714 miles, 31,100’

Today's ride: 43 miles (69 km)
Total: 714 miles (1,149 km)

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Jen GrumbyThe video and the last photo both capture the magic of this desert ride.

How great to be out there to enjoy that unique flavor of quiet!
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7 months ago