Day Two – Few Miles, But Up…and Wet

Getting ready to head out from the Ayers Hotel in Alpine

I thought I was dressed all right for the day's uphill peddle, but that wasn't the case. Click on image to enlarge.

25 March 2011. It was gray when got up this in Alpine this morning. The forecast had indicated a chance of showers. It looked as if it had been gently misting.

Following breakfast, a bit of time on my computer posting a blog from the previous day, and my adventures with the Post Office (see previous post), I was ready to head out. I was under the entry overhang coating my bike chain with this protective lubricant that the guy at the bike shop in Brattleboro said was the cat’s meow. I figured if I was going to be biking in a light drizzle, I should coat the chain first.

The manager of the hotel came out and very kindly brought me a rag to use—and another to bring with me. Really nice guy. I think the hotel caters to bicyclists to some extent. When he saw me taking a photo of the bike, he offered to take one of me (first one here).

You might notice that I’m wearing a yellow windbreaker in that photo. I figured it would be fine for the mist-like drizzle that had started. But as soon as I rode off, the light, misty rain turned to all rain. (I briefly debated turning back and staying a second night.) I pulled under the next available overhang and replaced my yellow windbreaker with my red raincoat, putting the hood up (under my helmet), and with not a little trepidation, rode off into the rain to begin day two.

There was a lot of construction on Old Highway 80 where I was biking. Lines of traffic would be stopped for the one-lane travel. A bicyclist really screwed them up, as they held back cars—but they were very nice (and surprised, I think, to see a biker in the cold wet rain). It was all uphill from Alpine to the pass just west of Pine Valley—from about 2,000 feet up to about 4,400 feet I think. It also got a lot colder. I thought I would be all right in biking shorts, because I’d be working pretty hard—but that wasn’t the case.

Wet and cold under the I-8 overpass

I might have lingered longer under the I-8 overpass just outside of Descanso Junction, but it was too windy. I didn't even take the time to figure out if wet-biking-glove-clad hand was blocking the camera lens! Click on image to enlarge.

The ride took me onto Interstate 8 for a while. I misread my map and got onto I-8 before I was supposed to. Bikes are only allowed on Interstate highways where there isn’t any other route, but there was a West Willow exit and an East Willow exit. I realized that I had gotten on the wrong place when I noticed that the stormwater grates (which were quite active today) had openings with the direction of travel. If I hadn’t been paying attention and run over one, it would have flipped me over. But it was great benefiting from the very modest grades—while the frontage road I had been on was more up and down.

After getting off the interstate and dropping down to Descanso Junction on route 79. I realized I was getting pretty cold, and I was soaked. It was another seven miles to Pine Valley, where I thought I might stay, but here was a restaurant. I pulled in and positioned my bike as well as I could under a partial overhang and fumbled to get out some dry clothes. Entering, I was relieved to feel a blast of warmth.

I positioned myself in a booth right inside from my bike (I had brought in my handlebar bag with most of my valuables). The waitress looked at me like I was crazy (I won’t deny it) and asked if I wanted something to drink—maybe something hot. I said yes, tea would be great. Then I changed in the men’s room, though my feet still in the soaking shoes. I scarfed down three or four refills of increasingly diluted tea and ordered a bacon cheeseburger with fries (no holds barred, here!).

Windmills at the top of the pass

Just before dropping down to Pine Valley I could see how windy is was from this odd collection of windmills and wind sculptures. Glad I was biking with the wind! Click on image to enlarge.

I gradually warmed, but I had really scared myself. It would have been a push to get all the way to Pine Valley (the next town) without warming up and changing into dry clothes. You may notice in the two rain-gear-clad self-portraits with this blog that in the first I have only a thin yellow biking shirt under the raincoat. In the second, I have a long-sleeve wool shirt-jacket. You can’t see it, but in the first (where I don’t look very happy) I also have on shorts. In the second I have on tights under rainpants.

I had brought the right gear along, but I hadn’t had the sense to put in on before I got really cold. Note to self….

At the Descanso Junction Restaurant (where I left a really generous tip), I found the name of the motel in Pine Valley and called to reserve a room—AT&T service has so far been perfect. I had initially planned to go a little farther today, but this was plenty. Only 19 miles, but I was ready to be really warm and really dry!

The ride up another thousand feet or so and then down, down, down to Pine Valley was relatively comfortable, though I was without my padded bike shorts. It showered initially, but then let up enough for me to replace the rain jacket with a bright yellow vest over my wool shirt—less moisture build-up from sweat.

Loaded bike with raincover on the handlebar bag

My waterproof Ortlieb panniers (two of them borrowed) worked beautifully, as did the rain cover on my Axiom handlebar bag. The only stuff that got wet was what I was wearing. Click on image to enlarge.

I was reminded during today’s riding why I had chosen to ride west to east on this trip. I had a strong tailwind all day. You don’t really notice a tailwind when you’re biking, but once when I turned around to check out what appeared to be an inn (cold and just before reaching Descanso Junction), I had to pedal into the wind. That would have been really draining!

Tomorrow, I’ll climb up and over the remaining passes in this mountain range then have a long descent on the other side to below sea level and the desert. While it didn’t reach 50°F today and we’re due for a low of 31°F in Pine Valley tonight, in Ocotillo, on the eastern side of the mountains, the high today was 71° and the low tonight will be a balmy 48°–with significant warming over the coming days. Some clouds, but no rain predicted for tomorrow.

The desert beckons!