Southern Tier – California

Rest day: San Diego; March 16 2021

After a very delicious meal cooked by Sheena (margaritas and tortellini- who would’ve thought they would taste so good together?!), we went to bed and slept in to sleep off the past week. In the morning, while enjoying some local coffee, we planned out a few days in advance for the Southern Tier. After a couple hours, we had a plan A, B, C, and D. Tomorrow was the greatest challenge. Getting out of San Diego we knew was going to be a mega climb, the likes of which we haven’t seen since *maybe* the Transam. So we sent out some Warm Shower requests and waited to see what stuck. Based on the responses we received, we had a pretty good game plan for the following week.

So we celebrated with tacos! We ended up at a taco Tuesday hot spot and had our fill of tacos, chips and salsa, and sangria. Frankie’s family came into town and we got to meet them.

The sangria at this place was mind blowing.

Where we stayed in North Park was perfect. Everything was within walking distance and Frankie was so accommodating to our schedule and needs. He has both his studio and house on Air BNB, so if you ever find yourself in San Diego, look for his place. You’ll be super comfortable.


After our taco feast, we returned to Frankie’s and had a very low key night. Sheena hosted a poker night while I just took it easy. That rest day was beyond needed and we felt both physically and mentally prepared for the challenge ahead.

Day 9: San Diego – Pine Valley (43.8 miles) 17 March 2021

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! What a way to celebrate – starting a transcontinental bike tour. Donning our St. Paddy’s day finest, we set out for what we knew would likely be our most physically challenging day of this whole trip.

Not one to miss out on a good celebration, ‘Lil Bessie just had to wear her St. Paddy’s day bow and milk all the attention she could get. And she even got her Santa hat sewed back on!

Frankie joined us for the first 12 miles to our coffee break. He almost convinced us to stay for what is apparently an infamous St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Evidently, San Diegoans take this holiday extremely seriously. Not wanting to get too far behind schedule, we begrudgingly passed on partaking. We said bye to Frankie, wishing him luck on his deployment to the Middle East next week.

Frankie had to actively work hard to be as slow as us.

After we left El Cajon (our coffee destination) we knew we were in for a heck of a day with endless climbs. We took it climb by climb until we got into Alpine in the early afternoon. During that leg, we ran into Christine. From Boise, she is also starting the Southern Tier today with her Surly Shirley. Planning on taking 8 weeks to complete, we no doubt will be running into her a few times this trip.

We had a long lunch break and did some shopping. During the course of our lunch, we spoke to a man who was curious about our trip. We didn’t think much of it – our bikes garnish a ton of attention. As we were heading into the store, he was walking out. He asked us where we were staying. When we said we weren’t entirely sure, but most likely camping, he responded, “Oh no. It’s entirely too cold to do that”. Knowing he wasn’t altogether wrong, we semi-agreed with him. Before we knew what was happening, he reached into his wallet and grabbed some cash, shoving it into Sheena’s hand. Sincerely grateful, Sheena gave it back promptly, thanking him for his generosity. But he gave it right back, he insisted we take it, “treat yourselves and stay safe. I’m a retired Sherrif Deputy in Pine Valley and want you to just enjoy it.” Dave was truly an generous man. That experience was extremely humbling and left us speechless for a decent amount of time.

After our lunch, we were in for another 15 miles of climbing. Only this time we were more anxious because we knew we had to hop on I-8. After accidentally getting on it 2 miles early, we were on the interstate for 6 grueling miles. We hated every minute of it and we were honestly surprised we didn’t get kicked off by a cop. Eventually, we made it off and were only 8 miles from Pine Valley.

After we got off the highway, we stopped to decompress for a few minutes. We discussed our options for the night. Our original plan was to wild camp at a trailhead in Pine Valley. Under normal circumstances, that would 100% be the plan. We love sleeping in our tents and it would save money on a hotel/private campground. However, with the nighttime temperatures dipping into the low 30s that night, we were extremely hesitant to execute that plan. After a brief discussion, we agreed that Dave’s gift was a sign that we should get a hotel room and stay warm. Because he is from Pine Valley and obviously has a lot of PV pride, we wanted to support the local economy. So it was decided. We were going to get a room and spend the remainder of the cash for breakfast at a local cafe.

Might not look like much, but those hills were killer

But in order to execute the plan, we had to get there first. Of course it was a hilly ride with mostly uphill climbs. However (!), we did get an amazing 1.5 mile downhill into town. Crazy how 1.5 miles goes so quickly cruising downhill while 1.5 miles slugging uphill can feel like an eternity.

But we made it! An extremely long day, we were so happy to roll into Pine Valley Inn and Motel. Riven, the guy who checked us in, was extremely accommodating and kind. Again, we have been truly humbled by the generosity and kindness we have received from total strangers this trip.

After almost certainly losing our minds during today’s nearly 5k’ worth of climbing, we had dinner and enjoyed a drink in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

Can you tell we’re slowly losing it?

From the research I’ve done on this trip, most people stop in Alpine due to the severe climb. But given that we have a warm showers in Jacumba, we decided to have a long and sucky day today instead of having an even longer and suckier day tomorrow. Any benefit our knees received from a day’s rest has certainly gone to waste from today’s excessive climbing. My knee certainly isn’t happy and for the first time this trip, Sheena’s knee was crying out in pain. But she’s icing it now and I’m still convinced my will just sort itself out. I know exactly what’s wrong with it, but don’t have the patience to deal with it.

Oof.

Obviously we’re pretty pooped and are very much looking forward to some sleep in our very own beds. Tomorrow has some climbs, but compared to today, it should be a piece of cake!

The patient icing her knee and resting.


Day 10: Pine Valley to Jacumba Hot Springs (36 miles) 18 March 2021

Based on where we ended tonight, riding the long and treacherous day yesterday was worth it. I’ll get back to that later.

We woke up this morning very happy with the decision to get a hotel last night. The morning walk to get coffee in the lobby was freezing and I’m not quite sure if we would’ve made the night had we camped.

The climb out of Pine Valley got us warmed up and woke us up for what was to come. We left later to enjoy the warmth of the hotel room. As we were climbing, another ex-sheriff we ran into yesterday (not Dave) wished us luck on our journey. Though a small town, the locals are extremely proud of their close-knit community.

The day was full of a lot more climbing than either of us were expecting. Sure there were plenty of downhills that lasted for miles (I hit a new record of 44mph), but they felt short lived compared to having to go back up.

The last climb before a 4 mile descent

During the morning half of our ride, we crossed paths with the PCT. Close to the southern terminus, I was pretty happy to see it. Maybe I’ll see it again soon if I ever get around to hiking the PCT.

When your two loves cross paths!


Soon we found ourselves in Live Oak Springs and had lunch with some good people watching. That’s the cool thing about being off the coast. The towns are smaller – much smaller – and we get to see a different way of life. Everyone we met have been super nice and caring, usually inspiring us or cheering us on.

What wasn’t so inspiring or cheerful was our first encounter with dogs. They came out of nowhere and chased us for a solid quarter mile. And I’m convinced they can smell fear and instinct drives them to go after it. They didn’t pay any attention to me, but were attracted to Sheena like a magnet. They would not give up the chase and Sheena was only saved by a motorist honking his horn at the dog. I imagine that encounter was just a taste of what’s to come.

Another tough climb

We have officially reached Mexico. As we approached from the North, we thought we spotted train tracks. As we got closer, we saw that it was actually the wall separating the US from Mexico. It was pretty expansive and went on for miles.

Mexico in the background

We saw plenty of border patrol agents this whole ride, which we expected, being so close to the border. What we didn’t expect was witnessing the detainment of 2 immigrants who entered past the wall. Sheena saw it firsthand and needless to say, it shook her a little.

Sheena found her ride back home to her mother planet


After a few climbs, we zoomed into our home for the night. Our inspiration for riding a crazy day yesterday was a very interesting warm showers host. With great reviews and a name like Desert Valley Tower, we just had to check it out. And thank God we did, not only is it gorgeous, but it’s very quirky. Every time you turn around there’s 5 different things to look at. The owner and host, Ben, owns it and sold tickets for tours pre-COVID. Having to close during COVID, it made Ben realize that at 62 years old, he’s ready for retirement. And that means selling the Tower. It has unique sandstone carvings, peacocks, chickens, and about a dozen dogs. So naturally I’m in paradise. Very charismatic and kind, Ben talked to us about detours to avoid unsafe roads as well as ways around “sketchier” towns we might not want to get caught in.

The views are unparalleled
He just put the RV in “bark”
The tower with one of the many sand carvings
Nothing like a desert sunset

The tower is actually an Air BNB and because it is currently rented, we’re staying in an RV. The renters are really awesome and they invited us to check out the tower, which we were gonna take them up on, but got too tired after dinner. The wind has picked up significantly and we are pretty thankful to be sheltered in the RV. We are definitely ready for bed and what is looking like a much needed and well deserved easy day with miles of downhill coasting tomorrow.

Gotta always climb the highest rock.


Day 11: Jacumba – Holtville Hot Springs (60 miles); 19 March 2021

As pretty as our spot was last night, boy was it windy. Starting around 8pm the winds began howling. So much so that the RV was moving and grooving all night. I laid awake wondering if it was going to sweep the bikes away, right off the cliff never to be seen again. But alas, after being able to catch a few hours of sleep, it was time to get up and get moving. And the bikes remained right where we left them.

I forgot to set an alarm, so we woke up late. No biggie though, cause it was pretty cold out still. So we mosied around until Ben got coffee ready. He took us up the tower and showed us around. We said our goodbyes and were on our way.

We started our day with a 14 mile 2000’ drop in elevation hill that I was pretty pumped about. Only problem is was that it was all on I-8. With high winds (we witnessed the aftermath of a pretty gruesome crash visible from the tower only half an hour before our departure) and steep grade, I was worried something bad could happen. But sure enough we made it down unscathed and it was blissful. Some high gusts here and there, but we were able to maintain good control and really admire the beauty. Which was truly breathtaking. We both wish we set up the Go Pro to capture it. Darn.

Taken on the on ramp of I-8
The tower from I-8 (picture so nice I posted it twice! Or I still can’t figure out how to edit properly)
The final stretch of the I-8 hill


Once we got off of 8, we knew we were in the desert. Not only was it hot, but there was sand and sage brush for as far as the eye could see. We set off through Ocotillo and Plaster City (both with a population of maybe 100) on the worst road in the world. It was barely paved and what was left was all potholes. It went on for miles causing fatigue and mental anguish. It was so rough that it broke my pannier (superglue fix), bounced off my rear light (retrieved) and bounced off ‘Lil Bessie’s hat bell (lost for good). Eventually the road leveled out to a more tolerable surface.

Riding in the desert

Soon we found ourselves in an oasis of 30 miles. We rode past tons of farms and enjoyed a nice flat few miles through El Centro to our home for the night, Holtville.

Ben had suggested we continue just a few miles east of Holtville and stay on BLM land by the “most amazing hot springs in the world”. Given our easy ride and wanting to take advantage of good riding conditions, the hot springs sounded like a great spot to stop. When we got to the site, we decided to eat dinner before going to the springs. When we were cooking, guess who rode by to make sure we got there? Ben! He was in the area and wanted to make sure we were safe before heading home. We were very excited to see him and appreciated the nice gesture.

The springs were pretty busy, but we got a good spot and enjoyed a nice soak after a tough few days. The water was warm and relaxing. A perfect way to decompress before going to sleep.

Our site at sunset
The hot springs

It’s our last night in California! Tomorrow we are headed into Arizona. We’re following a detour the ACA put out earlier this year avoiding narrow roads with heavy traffic. It even cuts out a few miles. We’ll take it! We also decided that because of wanting to spend more time in other places, we are going to cut out the Grand Canyon excursion. It would definitely be cool to ride to it, but we just don’t want to add on another week to do it.

Day 12: Holtville Hot Springs CA to Yuma AZ (45 miles) 20 March 2021

After another windy and sleepless night, it was time to do it all over again. The aftermath of yesterday’s trek over treacherous roads continued to add up. Sheena’s rack cracked and another pannier of mine broke. Luckily, it’s nothing a few zip ties can’t fix.

Desert sunrise

We set out over another bumpy road for a little over a mile then pure paved bliss. With tailwinds and smooth pavement, we were hauling those heavy bad boys at a 13 mph clip. We made it the 20 miles to I-8 in record time, and hopped on.

Enjoying the smooth roads!

As we rode on the interstate, the imperial sand dunes emerged and it was gorgeous. Something I was looking forward to on the southern tier were these dunes. Unfortunately the detour routes us away from riding in them, but we still got to see them from the freeway at least.

Challenging the motorcycles to a race. Vroom vroom!


Unfortunately admiring the dunes was short lived. I-8 turned into a nightmare with raised pavement every 10 feet in the shoulder, acting as jolting speedbumps. I was so frustrated. What use are tailwinds when you have to ride slowly over horrible roads?! Eventually we got off 8, I cooled down and we moved onto Center of the World Road.

Well let me tell you. This road was (shocker) horrible. But at least it was predictable. For a quarter mile it would be tolerable, a few bumps here or there. Then for another quarter mile it was treacherous. Then for another quarter mile it was just downright unbearable. But hey, at least it was predictable. And by my analysis, if the center of the world is molten lava and ungodly hot, then it stands to be compared to Hell. And so, Center of the Earth Road is within the same realm as Hell and I can thereby tell you with certainty that this road is very aptly named.

Not sure what exactly this place was, but our best guess was it had to do with a cult.

Eventually we got back on the 8 (newly paved woo!) only to get off it and enjoy some good riding into Winterhaven. The plan was to grab groceries there before riding up to Laguna (AZ), which had very little service in between. However, while eating lunch we realized that our planning was flawed and following the ACA Route might not be our best option. So we decided that we had some planning to do and wouldn’t be able to do it by riding 20 miles to a campsite.

I had put out a warm showers request earlier in the week to someone in Yuma. I was surprised when he didn’t respond, given the reviews noted a quick response. Sheena tried calling, however, the phone was disconnected. “Hmm, maybe he’s dead” we pondered. A quick google search revealed, unfortunately, that he passed away from a trike accident in June. At 83, Jim led a long life devoted to cycling and helping others. Though we didn’t get the chance to meet him, we know he would’ve been a delight to stay with. RIP Jim!

As we were eating lunch, another cyclist rode by. Sheena instantly recognized him as the mystery cyclist who rode by our tents the night before. Like the dead of night, kind of freaking me out. We were hoping it was Christine, however, it obviously wasn’t. He didn’t see us and went on his way. Who knows, maybe we’ll catch him soon enough.

It’s official, we have one state down! We said goodbye to California and entered into Arizona. May we have tailwinds, kind strangers, and smoother roads ahead.

We made it!


We got a hotel in Yuma and did some planning before devouring some pretty delicious Mexican Food. We have a pretty long day ahead of us tomorrow, so the food coma sure to ensue will hopefully give us some good sleep in preparation.

Our room at the Super 8

One thought on “Southern Tier – California”

  1. Pick up air horns ($7) from Walmart when you get the chance for the dogs. They’re in the marine/fishing section of the store.

    Great write up! Glad to see some familiar spots and new spots.

    Like

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