Day 3: Lanfair Valley

I was up at dawn, with the west wind still roaring down the canyon like to take a man's hair off. It was too windy to risk a fire for coffee - I could get one started easily enough, but stopping it might not be so easy. I only had a mile to the summit of the range, so packed up and got to it.

That little mile was the only really tough test on the trip. The road was steep, and so rocky even pushing the bike I was half-carrying it over the stones. The wind was pushing me back hard with every gust. Conditions fought me every step of the way. I seriously considered turning back, and going with the flow of wind and gravity.

This is where the appetite for adventure is essential. I wanted it - it was just over the top of the hill - and if this was the price of admission, I'd pay it. It took me an hour of gut-busting work to make that mile, but then I was over the top, and looking over a wide valley with a good road crossing it.

Even better, out of the canyon the wind was far less pushy, and I could make decent headway across the valley.

My copy of the Mojave Road Guide is dated 1986. A lot has changed since then, as the National Park Service took over when Mojave National Preserve was created, and the desert ranchers have been moving out.

I was supposed to make a right at a cattle guard. I saw the tracks of the heavy traffic turning right, but no cattle guard, so I kept going straight across the valley. No matter - the roads cross some miles ahead, and the road I was on was quite good, not to mention all mine, and passing through some beautiful high-desert country. I paid the price on that first nasty mile of the day and I was sure getting my money's worth already.

I got back on the Mojave Road when the trails crossed at Road Mile 36. It was good clean 2-track climbing slightly up the valley and getting into the Joshua Tree elevations.

There are plenty of abandoned properties away out there. North and south I could see abandoned mobile homes and vehicles standing open and vacant.

But they're not all abandoned. South of the road I saw a home with a US flag flying high in the breeze. A few miles further, I pulled aside for a break and a swig of water, and a local gent in a little yellow pick-up came up the trail behind me.

He lives out there, and was just making a little Saturday morning store run, probably a 70-mile round-trip to Needles and back. We yakked for quite a while - he had a lot of interesting stories about finding artifacts from Indians and early settlers, who tried homesteading the valley early in the 20th Century, when there happened to be a few years with enough rain to raise some crops for the market.

He offered me a ride to Rock Spring, but I was enjoying the pace and silence of my own ride, and we went our ways.

A mile or so on, I was passed by half a dozen big adventure touring motorcycles, then hit a stretch of trail that was totally churned up. I took an alternate, parallel route in better condition, and met a few of the bikers coming back after taking that route by mistake.

One guy on a KTM Adventure 950 nodded at my bike and said, "Now that's impressive!" I laughed and nodded at his and said, "So's that!" They got back back on the proper route, and I followed mine out to Lanfair Road.

When you're driving in sand, you're constantly climbing out of the hole you make in it. The deeper it is, the more power it takes, and the engine on my bike'll never amount to much. Even with 2.1" knobby tires there was a limit to what I could ride through, especially uphill, when climb is added to climb. But the forgotten back trail I was on was good and solid.

On Lanfair I turned north to get back on the Mojave Road, and find my first cache. I was good on water, but short on food, and praying the cache hadn't been busted.

The route west of Lanfair was badly churned up from traffic, the coarse pink sand deep, dry, and loose. It'd been in much better condition when I'd scouted it the week before - damp and firm - before the Easter holiday began.

Not a problem, though - the cache wasn't far, and Cedar Canyon Road makes an excellent parallel alternate route.

I found the cache just as I'd left it, and immediately went to feasting on energy bars, corn chips, and jerked beef. I had all good intentions of making more miles west, but got stuffed and fell asleep for 2 hours in the sun, sheltered from the wind by a thick stand of yuccas. What to do but eat some more, enjoy the view, and loaf the afternoon away?

It started to sink in that I could do this all day, camp out, and do it again, day after day. I was sure getting my money's worth.

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