WanderlustBy Sam Lepore
(see all photos from this trip)
Subject: WanderBlast 2 - Joshua Tree, California
Date: Wed, 29 Sep 1999 21:14:48 -0700

    Hmmm. Looks like this is becoming the "tree" tour. Yesterday, Big Pine, this morning the Bristlecone Pines, tomorrow the Joshua Trees. Oh well, I'll try to branch out a little after that. :)
    Let me back up first. Yesterday I mentioned Sonora Pass is a favorite. Even though I've been over it a dozen times, each time I see something 'new'. Like the sign just before the summit that says "27% downhill grade ahead. Trucks not advised" (Of course that 'not advice' is given where a hapless trucker wouldn't have a hope of turning around anyway. But hey.) That has to be the highest grade reference I've seen, but it is not unusual. On the upslope to the summit, the road rises from the 8,000 feet level to 9,000 feet in one mile ... about a 20% grade.
    It was just before the 8,000 elevation sign that I had to stop for road construction. The flag waver held up 10 fingers, so I shut off and dismounted to stretch and chat. She was a pleasant woman, maybe late 30's with the rugged look of someone who has spent a lot of time in the high country. We talked about the crew, the work done since last winter, and recent weather conditions. I commented that the stream beside the road (which is the headwater of the Stanislaus River) still had a lot of flow for so late in the summer. She turned, looked at it a moment, then pursed her lips, and let fly.
    Hsssst, Phooo! Silence. Sploorp in the creek.
    Um. What do you say to a lady who just landed a lob of lung lube 20 feet away?
    Me: "You sure got some distance." She just smiled.
    A couple of minutes later we found no more to chat about, so I was just enjoying the roadside flowers, when Hsssst, Phooo! Silence. Sploorp.
    I really wanted to ask her 'why the creek?' but my face must have betrayed my curiosity, because before I could say anything she said, "My ex lives 'bout a mile down the creek."

    This morning as I was packing the bike, a man approached to avidly ask questions. He is from Israel and is visiting the West with his wife. Giol used to have a 350 cc bike in Israel but he says the government doesn't like bikes and makes it difficult to own them. Plus, everyone (in his family, at least) thinks you are strange if you like motorcycles - not 'bad' like the image Rich Urban Bikers espouse to, but he says they think you are not good at making decisions if you choose to ride.
    We talked for quite a while about the attitude toward bikes in the US. His wife Michelle said little, but he mentioned she did not like bikes. After a while I asked Michelle if she would like to ride her own motorcycle someday, since it was obvious Giol really wanted to ride again. It would be wonderful for them to ride together ... Her response was "Bikes are not for women."
    Well, that started a completely different discussion. Both were surprised to hear about MSF classes taught for men AND women. Both were surprised to hear that fully a third of my local club are women who ride their own bike. And Giol was greatly surprised to hear Michelle say she might maybe possibly consider it. He simply had never asked her.
    I wonder how the rest of their morning went.

    Route 168 climbs over Westgard Pass in the White Mountains, between the Sierra Nevada and Death Valley. It is desolate and desert. The sign at the turnoff from US395 beats the "last gas" signs I saw earlier this year - and any I've heard of since: Next Fuel Beatty 137 miles. Half way up the gnarly sinuous highway that follows the flow fields of the alluvial fans, White Mountain Road angles sharply upward to well over 10,000 feet where Pinus Longaeva dwell. These Ancient Bristlecones are adapted to a terrain and climate that is astoundingly sparse ... as is the oxygen to breathe. I won't go into Ranger Recitation mode, but for these dudes to get so healthy when the growing season here is only *six weeks long* is something worthy of respect. And some of them have been at it for almost 5,000 years. Definitely worth a visit!

    Not far south along US395 is a simple roadside sign: Historical Place, Manzanar. All that is left of the government run concentration camp used to detain Americans of Japanese descent during the War is the entry road stone guardhouse. It has a plaque on it briefly describing the detention by Executive Order 9066, and ends with the hope that the lessons learned of racism and bigotry will never be suffered again.
    Those lessons may have been learned, but someone still enjoys cruelty. Not 20 feet from the guardhouse the state has erected a sign commemorating US395 as a "Blue Star Memorial Highway, dedicated to the defenders of the country in World War II". This sign is well over 100 feet from the road and invisible unless you stop at the Manzanar gate. Without discussing any of the politics on either side of the detention issue ... I don't think the Blue Star sign belongs where it is. That's cruel.

    By now I have ridden nearly 500 miles through the length of interior California, and it occurs to me that most of California is a wasteland. (I'm talking about the UNinhabited parts, not L.A. :) Man, there is nothing but nothing out here! Just sand and sun. So why is not not surprising that someone would commercialize that rife natural resource? You want to see a marvel of dancin-with-what-brung-ya ? A mile or two north of Kramer Junction (58 and 395) is the Boron Solar Generating Facility. Sometime (in the winter) I have to stop here and see exactly how they do it. There are acres, maybe hundreds of acres of reflecting parabolic troughs that concentrate sunlight on sodium rods which boil to give heat for generation. Just while riding past this field the air temperature noticeably increased maybe 20 degrees on the breeze coming across the dishes.
    That air also felt drier ... so dry, I wonder if Miss Expectoration from yesterday could even hit the ground here.

    Randumb thoughts: Near Olancha is the Federal Prison Camp. Down the road near Atolia is the Federal Correctional Complex. Do they use tents in the camp? Is nothing simple about correction?

323 miles, 5:56 hours
Big Pine CA168, return, US395 CA18 CA247 CA62 Joshua Tree
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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