Day 5: Over the Marl Mountains
That Sunday night at Government Holes was cold, following the Pacific storm's passage. My breath had frosted where I was sleeping. But the damned wind had finally quit, after fighting me back for two and a half days.
I took advantage of the peace to boil up some coffee, and go over my bike. It's good that I did - one rack bolt was working its way out, and would've been gone for good in a couple of miles.
Otherwise the bike was fine. With 2.1" knobby tires, I thought I might have trouble if the wheel went out of true, but it was still good as new, with all of 70 miles on it. The big tires soak up a lot of hard knocks, besides giving me flotation and traction in the sand.
I was en route by 9, and soon stripped down to shorts and a cut-off denim vest. The Mojave Road and Cedar Canyon Road are the same west of Government Holes, running through the gap in the Mid Hills where there's only room for one road.
The graded county road was badly washboarded, bad enough to start a sympathetic vibration at one point. I had to slow down and pick my way around the bumps and rocks, but it was a beautiful day to be out riding there, and I didn't see a single vehicle.
Some of the ranch roads I passed were marked with desert totems
It was an easy ride out of the canyon, and then it was all downhill for the next five miles to the Cima-Kelso Road. A few of those miles are paved, but with some deep potholes here and there.
I stopped several times just to enjoy the view out over the country. To my left I could see the 700-foot Kelso Dunes. Ahead I could see the Mojave Road climbing over the volcanic Cima dome, until it went around behind the Beale Mountains headed to Marl Springs.
With a good road and no headwind I was finally making some time. I hit my cache off Cima Road for water, then continued on, climbing on an exellent firm wagon road.
I finally did see one vehicle, on my way up - a pick-up with 2 friendly young guys inside who seemed delighted to see a loaded touring bike on the Mojave Road. I guess they were headed to Rainbow Wells, north of Marl Springs.
Up behind the Beale Mountains I came across a 10-inch desert tortoise crossing the road, and managed to get a shot before he high-tailed it back into the brush at full speed.
Just ahead was Marl Springs, with a corral, a circular ore-grinding arrastra, and an old cattle trough full of green water and buzzing with bees.
The upper spring is dug into the hill like a mine shaft. There's water in it, protected from the sun, looking clear and cool.
It was about 2 p.m. when I got there, with 5 hours' riding getting me 19 miles. I took a break, enjoying the scenery, then started the climb up over the top of the ridge.
All day long the scenery had been giving me one big kick after another. Up near the top of the climb I came across a beautiful flowering cactus like I've never seen before.
At the top of the ridge I took another long break just to enjoy the view. Westward I saw one mountain range after another, like waves in the ocean.
From the top it's fast riding downhill, starting off with some good rock whoops, then turning into a sandy track where riding was more like skiing. The grade's just right to keep moving at a good speed with little effort - except to avoid wiping out in the deeper sand traps.
I stopped at the mailbox and signed in, behind two motorcyclists who were doing the Road on their honeymoon. They were probably the two I saw tucked in tight on their bikes the day before.
The last few miles downgrade got sandier, but still were easy going downhill. Climbing those miles would be a tough slog.
Off in the distance I could see a big RV parked under the cinder cones. When I got closer I could see it was parked on the wash right opposite my cache #3.
Out there by the old corral it looked as odd as a UFO, solar panels and all. But the people were friendly, though they seemed to think my tale of riding the Mojave Road was a little too tall. We didn't chat long - I wanted to see that my cache was intact. If not, I'd have to ride into Baker for more water before continuing to Soda Lake.
I was in luck. My neighbor's tracks were all over the wash, but the cache was as I'd left it. I'd considered exploring north, up the Aiken Mine Road, to find a lava tube with a ladder going down into it, so I'd stowed extra water in this cache - 4.5 gallons. As it turned out, I only needed 1.5 to top up my jugs, and decided to head straight to Soda Lake after a good night's sleep.
For a 9-hour day, I'd made 27 miles over the Mojave Road - what one can do without a 30 or 40-mile-an-hour headwind. It brought my average day's mileage for the trip up to about 18.
Mojave Road index