We joked at the beginning of this trip that, like the ship of Theseus, we’d slowly repair our bikes with cheap Walmart parts and ride into San Diego on a pair of Huffys. While that hasn’t quite come to pass, a series of unfortunate mechanical issues have forced us to take several breaks. Jim’s rear tire wore down to the pink inner rubber. My rear tire developed a large visible hole, which we booted with a dollar bill. We ran out of patches right before my rim tape, old and brittle, began sawing through tubes. Several trips to Walmart later, we now have two weirdly supple replacement rear tires; a wheel lined with ACE bandage tape; and a pile of slightly ill-fitting spare tubes.
Since we left Phoenix, I’ve been daydreaming how exactly we’d celebrate in San Diego. The first few mechanical issues left me frustrated – each was an obstacle delaying me from my victory burrito on Ocean Beach. But by the third flat, I just started laughing. I realized that anticipation was the wrong state of mind. When you’re trying to get somewhere, every delay is something to be angry about. But if you look at it sideways, it’s still the same trip. How can I be mad that I’m stuck in beautiful Southern California, and I get to dawdle here even more?
The terrain has been varied, which is a delight to me after a month of repetitive desert. We crossed the Colorado river, passed through farmland, climbed the foothills of the Chocolate Mountains, rode up and down the Algodones dunes, and descended into the Imperial Valley. The first thing I noticed was the smells. A few hundred feet below sea level, the air here is humid, and smells thickly like plants or, less pleasantly, like the cattle feedlots dotting the area.
Rural California reminds me more of the rest of rural America than it does of coastal California. I’ve always enjoyed agricultural areas, for the produce, green terrain, and friendly people. We enjoyed a rollicking stay in Blythe at the B&B Bait Shop, sharing beers and gigantic chili dogs with the regulars and two eastbound cyclists just beginning their ride.
These women had just completed what we’re facing: the big climbs between the Imperial Valley and San Diego. Meeting them made me reflect on how we must have changed over the course of this trip. I feel more relaxed – certainly I’m less upset by our bike issues than I might have been five months ago. I wonder if we’ll be changed at all by reaching San Diego, which has been a distant goal for so long.