Box Canyon Rd, Mecca, CA
Wind and rain were forecast for the high desert elevations so I slowly worked my way south through the Mojave Desert by way of Tehachapi Pass and into the hotter Colorado Desert. The scent of creosote bush carried on the damp air and ocotillo, yucca and palo verde struggled along in the deep arroyos. The agricultural density of the Coachella Valley in the form of citrus, palm and grape is due solely to irrigation and the industrious efforts of many laborers. The divide is stark between the green and verdant valley and the land east of the irrigation canal supplied mostly by the Colorado River. Near Mecca, a shortcut slices up a Box Canyon toward Joshua Tree N.P. passing through BLM and BIA land. It is a rugged and dry terrain with intricate slot canyons and sandy washes begging for an afternoon of exploration. Having found a haven of free camping, exploration and access to nearby Mercado and Pananderia, I was set for a week. The weather grew warmer with each passing day until I was shirtless in the sun contemplating my water supply. After a cold ride down from Washington and some chilly and windy mornings working down to here, I had finally met the warmth in winter I had been searching for.
I camped at KCL Ranch Campground this time around, mistakenly not driving up to Selby Campground. I had confused the two. Introducing myself to the other campers in the loop, I was invited over to Gypsy and Bry-Dog's site for a drink. The two travelers were of Choctaw relation and heading south from Oregon for warmer weather in SoCal. Gusty winds blew from the SE and their 8 man tent looked more like a spinnaker than shelter. The wind blew the tinny tunes of Jerry Garcia emitting from a cell phone in a cup out onto the great darkening expanse. Sipping rum and cokes, we shared stories of travel, places to see in the future and those left behind.
Heading south down the coast, I enjoyed getting off the hectic highway in favor of more relaxing back roads toward the Salinas River Valley. This growing region offers a year round season and is rich in flavorful and affordable produce. The roadside stands were almost unbelievable in the quantity and variety of produce. Loading up my bag with local fruit and vegetables, I was shocked when the total was less than $5!
The recent storm walloped the Big Sur area with torrential downpours that led to rockslides tumbling down the precarious cliffs. Loose boulders unexpectedly greeted me around each bend and I used the ample pull-offs to allow the hurried traffic to speed past. Nearing Monterrey, a flashing sign announced "CA-1 Closed - South Big Sur". The only other way to get south from here is to head inland and up the Carmel Valley's twisty and much cooler interior roads. I pondered this sign but quickly it was behind me and I plowed on into the late afternoon with hope that maybe I could get around. The sun set somewhere to the west casting an ochre hue over the low clouds. Sea otters frolicked in the angry surf and I enjoyed the view for a moment, not entirely sure if I'd be coming back through this way with the road closed.
The many campgrounds and high-end seaside resorts lining the road advertised camping and lodging for the weary traveler but yet I pushed on as the cover of night fell. Bands of rain blew in from the sea as I fueled up in Big Sur and plodded on southward into the darkness. It wasn't that I hadn't searched for a possible stealth camping site, just that this stretch of California is mostly private and there are very few possible locations to wild camp. Ahead, the orange flashing roadblock stopped me in my tracks. "Slide Area - Road Closed" alternated on the portable billboard where other discouraged drivers stopped and made three point turns to head back to Carmel and around. Noticing lights ahead in the woods, I waited and was surprised when a car heading northbound emerged from behind the cones and pressed on. Perhaps the road was indeed open? Deciding that I could at least find a stealth spot ahead, I went around the cones and drove 3 miles into the wet and winding darkness without passing a single vehicle or house. My handling felt unusually squishy and unresponsive but I chalked it up to a worn out front wheel bearing, besides, I had more pressing issues at hand. I began to shiver with the rain seeping into my gloves and down my helmet into my neck. A wall of white fog enshrouded the road and I crawled along at 5 mph wiping the inside of my visor and the outside of my visor to provide a small window of visibility. What the hell was I thinking riding into the darkness and danger like this? I told my Dad I wouldn't do stupid shit like this and yet here I was, a victim of my own circumstance. Would the police write me a ticket for going around a barricade? I turned around and headed back to the roadblock where a new string of drivers were negotiating the possibilities.
A man signaled for me to come over and in the halflight of headlights, scribbled on a piece of paper and held it out. Realizing he was mute, I gestured that I wasn't sure if it was open. For some reason, I told him to follow me and I set off back up the hill into the night with a late model Toyota Camry hot on my tail, some unlikely pathfinder in this world of darkness and fog. Slowly La Tortuga, climbed the canyons and weaved around boulders which had tumbled into the highway. For miles I squinted into the darkness, hampered by the glare of his headlights only feet behind me. I'd never find a stealth camping spot with a tail-end Charlie. On a long grade, I waved him past and he smiled and honked, taking the lead and quickly disappearing into the night. Not long after, I saw a closed turn off with a concrete barricade, went around it and uncovered a clearing with pine shelter from the wind and rain. It was all I needed and room to set up my new REI Quarter Dome 1 tent for the first time. As I eased into my new fabric house, I felt giddy at my comfort in this wet and cold night. Come morning, there was more rock slide to deal with but for now I was warm, safe and dry at last.
The sun broke through the clouds and over the 3000ft peaks of Big Sur, revealing a cool but sunny day ahead. Feeling something wrong with my rear tire, I pulled over and found a sharp point of glass impaled in the center of my tread. No wonder I was having such difficulty in traction in that dark and wet night from hell, I had a flat tire! I quickly patched it, reinflated the rear and was on my way with the shimmy and spongy feeling completely gone. Damn it feels good to fix things and be back in the twisties again. The sun shone bright on me and I set the GPS for Southern California.
Brief Stop in the Bay Area
A cool and wet weather system was slated to move in to the California coast so I enjoyed the sunny weather while it lasted. With darkness setting in and rain sprinkling the visor, I pulled in to an abandoned service station north of Point Reyes Station, drove the Ruckus past the broken door hanging by one hinge and into my quarters for the night. Wind and rain drove hard but I was pleasantly snug in my sleeping bag beneath the aging roof. Overnight, the guttural yelps and whines of sea lions in the nearby Tomales Bay kept me sleeping with one eye open. It wasn't until morning that I realized there was not a dying drunk behind the building.
During my last visit to the Bay Area, I met Dave and Candy who live on their sailboat Seair in San Rafael. They were kind enough to offer me a visit despite Candy's recovery from a cold. In the warm cabin of their ship, we recalled stories and spent two days relaxing, sipping tea and heading out for delicious local grub. The incessant storm hammered on the deck and hatches overhead and my mind strayed the the little Ruckus parked outside in the pouring storm. I hope nothing gets compromised from all the water.
Later the following day, I set off for downtown San Francisco with darkness setting in as I rode through Sausalito. The rain picked up and with a 25 mph headwind, I eased my way onto the 101. The iconic cables of the Golden Gate Bridge stretched skyward to dissapear in the dense clouds and darkness of night. The mighty scooter struggled to keep 35 mph as city buses, cabs and impatient drivers hurriedly passed me on the poorly lit span. The headwind kept my speed limited yet I gained a short bump in speed as I crested the rise and started downhill toward San Francisco. Slippery metal grates hummed beneath my feet and the steering felt squishy and unresponsive. It was a great relief as I crossed the toll booth and snuck my way through behind another car, making the first right toward the Presidio. Phew.
I met up with Lex, a friend of a friend, who had offered up his vacant apartment in downtown to me. The conversation with him and his girlfriend over pizza was enjoyable and we departed into the night, a small key in my hand to unlock a studio apartment where I'd take the most needed shower I've had in a while! The rain continued through the night and I was happy again to have a roof over my head. Thanks Lex! In the morning, my alarm sounded before sunrise and I packed my gear, prepared a breakfast of pooridge and coffee then set out into the awakening city headed ever south and west.
In May 2014 I quit my job to ride a Honda Ruckus over 69'000 mi and counting. Wild camping most nights and cooking most of my own meals, I keep the costs low and the landscape changing.