Mojave Desert Winter Tour
28-31 December 2003
The original plan was for me and my riding buddy Dan to take the train to
Flagstaff, Arizona and ride the old Route 66 to Victorville, California in the
six days between Christmas and New Year's. We even had the logistics
worked out well - Dan would board the train in the Los Angeles area with both
bikes as baggage, while I would leave a car in Victorville and board the train
there. Unfortunately, both of us were not feeling well enough to ride the
day after Christmas, so we had to scrap the Route 66 plan. Dan quickly
came up with an alternate plan for a four day tour that could be done a couple
of days later, giving us time to rest beforehand. I had felt better by
then, but Dan did not, so I did this tour solo.
Day 1, Phelan to Mojave, 73 miles
I stayed eight miles up the hill in Wrightwood (elevation 6000 feet) the night before, as
there are no hotels in the high desert town of Phelan (elevation 4100
feet). Starting the ride from Wrightwood would have been nicer, but the
morning temperatures there were in the low 20s and the roads were a bit icy, so I
thought it prudent to drive down to Phelan and start riding from
Looking toward Wrightwood from Phelan
California Aqueduct crossing Highway 138
It was a nice gradual downhill headed west on 138 toward Palmdale with little
traffic so early in the morning. I then took a detour north to 165th
Street East and 170th Street East and then west on Avenue J (County Road N5) to
avoid most of Palmdale and Lancaster. After a quick lunch in the outskirts
of Lancaster, I did some more zigzagging along the grid to get over to Sierra
Highway, which is between the Antelope Valley Freeway and the railroad
North on 170th Street East
West on Avenue J (County Road N5)
I had Sierra Highway to myself most of the time as most through traffic would
use the freeway. Unfortunately, the road surface got a little rougher
after crossing the Kern County Line, although it was still a good ride.
Then after Rosamond it was a gradual uphill into Mojave - and of course, the
desert winds really pick up at the end of the day. The freeway ends before
Mojave, so the Sierra Highway (14) becomes the route through town. Most of
the people driving through town had skis and snowboards on their roofs -
obviously in transit between Los Angeles and Mammoth Mountain.
The Sierra Nevada mountains start to come into view
Man, there is nothing out here!
One of the small towns along the way
The two-legged kickstand is useful for fixing flats and other repairs
I had no problem finding a reasonably priced motel ($30). I had enough
to do that night, having to buy some blue threadlocker to fix a handlebar
rotating in the stem, as well as patching a tube from a flat earlier in the day.
Day 2, Mojave to Ridgecrest, 59 miles
I got an early start today, hitting the road by 7:30. Although the
early morning temperatures are in the 30s, starting early is a big advantage in
the desert because there is usually no wind at that time. After an initial
downhill out of Mojave, the road went uphill as it went through Red Rock Canyon.
Red Rock Canyon (not to be confused with the one near Las Vegas)
More of Red Rock Canyon
After Red Rock Canyon, I saw a cyclist riding the other way after I had just
finished up having an early lunch. I didn't expect to see any other
bicyclists on the tour. John from Santa Maria was doing a ride from Mojave
to Independence and back. His girlfriend had dropped him off in Mojave so
he could go riding while she drove out to Utah to visit family over the
holiday. He said he saw another cyclist on an expensive road bike that was
traveling light with only a small handlebar bag and was supposedly sleeping
wherever he could, including abandoned cars.
John had mentioned to me that he was going to tell the folks at the Red Rock
Ranger Station that there was a motorist with a broken down car a few miles up
the road. The motorist was still there when I passed by. I let him
borrow my cell phone but I had no signal. Soon thereafter a Kern County
Sheriff's car had coincidentally passed by, so we flagged it down and I
continued on my way.
Just before the junction with 395 there was the turnoff for 178 to
Ridgecrest. I was surprised to see that there was a bike shop in Inyokern,
so I stocked up on a couple of tubes just in case. From there it was all
downhill to Ridgecrest, at the bottom of the valley at 2200 feet. After
178 turned from east to south, I could feel a stiff headwind, as the storm
clouds were moving in.
I had flatted again in Ridgecrest, this time due to a pinch flat from
yesterday's use of dollar bill as a tire boot. After checking into another
$30 motel, I called the bike shop in
town to see how late they were open. Although they were officially closed
they were nice enough to let me in through the back door since I would be
leaving early the next day.
Although it was a short riding day, I wasn't feeling too well afterwards, so
I was cooking up possible alternate plans to shorten the ride distance and/or
finish it early. In any event, I knew an early night's sleep would help.
Day 3, Ridgecrest to Barstow, 81 miles
I still wasn't feeling great this morning, but I figured I'd start riding,
and if worse came to worst I just could turn around and go downhill to
Ridgecrest. Luckily I felt better once I was moving, so I was able to
stick to the original tour plan.
It was 40 degrees and raining hard enough out of Ridgecrest for me to have to
put on my raingear. As I climbed out of Ridgecrest the temperature had
dropped to the mid 30s and the rain had turned to a light snow! Once I
made it to 395 I could see the dusting of snow in the desert, although none of
it had stuck onto the road. Soon thereafter the precipitation had stopped.
Early morning desert snow along US395
US395, approaching the climb to Johannesburg
Except for an interesting diversion through the old mining town of Randsburg,
it was a straight shot down 395 to Kramer Junction. After a quick lunch at
Subway, it was another straight shot on 58 to Barstow. The last time I had
been on 58 was fifteen years ago driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas.
Since then much of 58 has been widened to a four lane expressway with a 10 foot
shoulder. It might have been a boring ride if not for the wind blasts from
the trucks pushing me along!
Highway 58, somewhere between Kramer Junction and Barstow
Highway 58 returned to a two lane road just west of Barstow. As I got
closer to Barstow I could have turned onto Old 58 but instead took the longer
route by turning south on Lenwood Road and east on Main Street. This way
went through the old downtown Barstow before headed towards the newer hotels and
motels down by the I-15 freeway. I found a hotel (for - guess what? - $30)
on the border between the
old and the new.
Day 4, Barstow to Phelan, 58 miles
Today was another early start with the temperature in the low 30s. I
headed west on Main Street, partially retracing my steps from yesterday.
After passing through downtown Barstow again (along with the !@#% potholes),
Main Street became the National Trails Highway, which was the 40 mile long old
Route 66 route to Victorville. Old Route 66 saw little traffic, as most
through traffic uses the quicker and more direct I-15 freeway.
Old Route 66 between Barstow and Victorville
Although today was the lowest mileage day, it was uphill all the way, with
Barstow at 2100 feet, Victorville at 2700 feet, Hesperia at 3200 feet, and
Phelan at 4100 feet elevation. In particular the section between Barstow
and Victorville seemed hillier than it really was. This was probably due
to the poor condition of the road, which somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for an
otherwise nice rural ride. Meanwhile, the temperature had gone over 50
degrees for the first time in the tour.
After 40 miles, the rural portion of Route 66 gave way to D Street in
"old town" Victorville. I turned right on 7th Street, and after
going through downtown I was in the land of strip malls and the like. I
topped off my tires at the bike shop on 7th Street and left my bike inside while
I walked across the street for lunch.
Joshua Tree in Hesperia
From 7th Street, it was a left turn onto the frontage road (Mariposa) along
the east side of I-15. The grade from Victorville to Hesperia seemed imperceptible.
From there, it was a right turn on Main Street, which became Phelan Road after
crossing 395. Phelan Road is one of those straight roads that looks flat
but is really uphill (900 feet elevation gain in 10 miles), and the afternoon
high desert headwinds were starting to kick in. Fortunately, I made it
back to Phelan before the worst of the headwinds to complete the tour!