This ride was a bit of an experiment. Utilizing a little combination of Google maps, local MTB’er information, and luck, I threw together a fun little two day loop circling around Sloan Canyon and including a little California gravel. Altogether it was a pretty exciting, yet painful ride. Wanna hear about it? Here it goes…
The sun crested Sunrise Mountain, pouring early morning light into the valley, just a bit of warm wind whistling in from the North. The weather was optimal and the goal of reaching Searchlight, NV to set up camp that night was within well within reach. As usual, the morning slipped through my fingers, it seems that getting out of the house before 9am is never a possibility.
Thankfully the Fargo was loaded and water topped off the day before this time, so there was no further delay past the normal morning routine. I was out the door and headed south on Hollywood Boulevard’s new protected bike lane towards the Wetlands where I got a little gravel-crazy and added some miles to the route by following the dirt access roads a little further south than the original plan had in store. This was purely unintentional, I was just having so much fun that the target road was completely overlooked until a turn back north revealed that the Wetlands visitor center was off in the distance. Said access roads parallel the bike path back towards the bridge crossing the marsh, I paced a recreational rider for a bit before finally passing on the bridge. There were a ton of Coots hanging out having breakfast in the marsh, I love those little guys. I nearly made friends with one who ran to me on the beach at Lake Havasu, but the little guy decided to break away at the last moment and hit the water. So close, yet so far.
I finally got back on track and cruised through Henderson, stopping at a Del Taco for a couple bean burritos for lunch. I got back on the road and over to climb the remainder of College Avenue before hitting an abrupt end to civilization and the beginning of the real adventure. One thing you might miss if you don’t live in the Las Vegas area is that even though the city is smack dab in the middle of a bunch of BLM land and amazing mountain biking, hiking, etc, that you are looking at a pretty long ride to get out of town to those features. Heck, yesterday I rode to REI and that was 36 miles round trip to the CLOSE location. First world problems, indeed.
I immediately got lost in the dirt bike trails above Henderson. It was like an M.C. Escher work of art. Wherever you stood you could see where you needed to be, yet no matter what direction you go there is no way to get there. It was near-Lovecraftian madness as I broke out my phone multiple times trying to figure out why progress was impossible, even looking at the radar view was no help. The trails up there are basically dirt jumps for motorcycles too steep to ride up, and too loose to ride down. Did I mention that I opted to use my Giro MTB shoes this trip? The route, on paper, looked to have very little hike-a-bike so I figured why not clip in for this one? Spoiler alert: This is my last dirtbagging trip without the lovely convenience of flat pedals. Look for a review of the Crank Brothers Stamp 1 pedals soon.
After sorting out the insane bucket of worms at the beginning of the dirt, things settled into one clear path up over Dutchman’s Pass. Upon cresting the pass, I encountered the usual sight of ATV riders with cameras in tow getting some footage of riding around in the rocks. They are more prevalent than any other form of wildlife out here in the Nevada desert, outnumbering even bird sightings. I wave to them as I begin the descent into further madness. On the map there are two parallel trails, within 10 feet of each other, which head towards the solar power field I am to ride through before turning east to ride up to the highway. I chose the left path, and all of my bad choices became glaringly evident within the first quarter mile. The loose “gravel” path was also full of giant rocks, and about 8 miles of washboard. I have never had a slower ride down a hill in my life. The trail conditions paired with the clip in pedals and the WTB Riddler 45’s I was riding made for a very painful and sometimes treacherous descent.
I finally stopped and jumped over to the right-side trail and was immediately granted a short stay of execution. Things smoothed out and sped up a bit, I have modified my gpx file to make this the correct trail to use, and in no time I was back to slogging through the hyper-baked sand-dust next to the solar arrays. I learned later that I should wear a mask through this area as when the sun hits and reflects off the mirrored panels it cooks and breaks down the sand into finer particles that can ultimately lead to some sort of respiratory disease with extended exposure. The woman who was giving me the lowdown the next day in Nipton has a family member who works out there and was describing the hazmat-like suits they are required to wear when working outside because of the dangerous conditions. I did have a very odd cough that night, odd in the fact that I don’t generally have a cough. It was similar to, but worse than, the cough I get after riding miles of dry dusty gravel. Come to thing of it, I wonder how my lungs have been adversely affected from the years and years of dust inhalation. Time to get a freaking mask of some sort.
After trudging through the fine desert dust of the solar fields, it was time to climb to the climb. You head east on an access road a few miles up to I95 where you begin the 22 mile, 2500ft climb to Searchlight. I wasted a lot of gas getting down from Dutchman’s and through the flat, deep sand to the pavement so it was slow going climbing up to 95. My neck ached, my hands felt like a couple of cracked open lobster claws, and my nether regions…let’s say that the choice to not change saddles from the one that foiled my last long ride was the absolute worst of the worst decisions made prior to rollout. My taint, at this point, was ready to call it quits more than any other of my complaining body parts, yet I drove on as the rest of the day’s miles were paved and I could kind of get my bottom settled in a spot that didn’t wreak too much wrath.
The climb to Searchlight seemed to never end. As I trudged nearer to town the temperature dropped, wind picked up, my muscles (and taint) started to ache more, but the sunset was incredible. I will never complain about a sunset in the desert. It’s always beautiful, even during a taint-ache. I stopped to sit on the side of the highway and watch the sun go down, and decided I should probably get a hotel room and take a very long, hot shower to ease my aches. To be honest, I did not expect a 62 mile ride to tear me up the way it did. At one point I even though I’d be able to bust out a few more miles on Joshua Tree Highway (Nevada 164) to camp out in the amazing fields of those beautiful desert trees.
The final push into Searchlight led me into what can only be described as a Ralph Steadman painting. Odd humanoid creatures roaming streets littered with torn apart cars, trash, and one dirty dirt bagger looking for a roof to reside beneath. A check at both tiny roadside inns revealed that there was no hope in lodging and I would have to ACTUALLY CAMP. I decided to have a quick dinner first at the local McDonald’s, a chain I haven’t eaten at in years, to assess the current situation and maybe get some local tips on the in-town camping situation.
I walked into the Convenience Store/Casino/McDonald’s (practically every business in small town Nevada is a Casino/Something) to the sounds of Foreigner’s “Dirty White Boy” playing in the background. The song was a bit true, although not in the way they meant lyrically, and also a bit offensive in the parlance of our times. The 62 previous miles left me dirty, more of a sunburn-red than anything, and somehow prepared to ingest a couple McDoubles, hoping for the best gastrointestinal outcome, while figuring out where to post up for the night. The food was incredibly good, on the sliding scale of anything with salt and fat would probably taste incredibly right now, and the continuing Steadman-like fantasy world continued to play out before my eyes. I’m going to spare you the details, but know that you probably couldn’t imagine it with your own minds. It was both laughable and disturbing. Mostly Disturbing.
iOverlander, one of my favorite boondocking apps, showed that I was indeed right on top of a place to camp. This gas station/casino/sorry excuse for a food joint also had a large parking lot to the rear to host weary travelers AND there was a little strip of land at the very back which would accommodate a single cyclist and his tyvek home for the night. There were also some dirt trails, according to the radar view map, that led away from the parking lot a ways to a few clearings that looked like they would be good camping spots, but I was tired and opted to stick close. I wandered around a bit and after fighting a Mequite tree for a few minutes, the damn thing was getting pretty handsy with me, I found a little spot hidden from view by a huge camper, some trees, and a cool little boulder to lean the Fargo against. I broke out the handlebar compression sack which contains my entire sleep system, got things set up and laid down to sleep.
End of Day 1.
The Mallets are definitely getting replaced as soon as I get back home. In fact as I lay in my sleeping bag I ordered a set of Stamp flat pedals before drifting off to a windy slumber.
My makeshift handlebar bag situation using two ball end bungees to affix a compression sack to the bars is still working well, although I did experience a few shifting issues because of the bag moving around on the rough stuff through Dutchman’s Pass. I’m devising a small, lightweight “cradle” solution for this which will incorporate the stem/spacer mount light bracket still left on the Fargo from a past light mounting experiment. I never got around to swapping that piece back out, and it may work to an advantage here. The shifting issues were also easily remedied by moving the bag around a bit. I also added the front pouch from my Revelate Sweetroll system for a little added storage, and it was a stellar performer.
The WTB Riddler 45’s are still somehow alive through all of this. They were less-than-stellar on the downhill portion from Dutchman’s, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t designed for such nonsense.
Prepare yourselves for Day 2 of this ride where I visit California for a bit and run into a group of “Confederate Rebels” on motorcycles. lol.