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Day 3: Boulevard CA to Yuma AZ - 115 mi / 185 km

Mile 0: No restaurant open for breakfast, so a granola bar and water served as breakfast. Given that a downslope was going to start the day, I didn't want to be going downhill in the dark. So I start out at sunrise:

Yesterday's Hwy 94 was now called Old Hwy 80. I can see my breath in the early light. Given that I was cold at the start of yesterday (and that there would be windchill factor as I went downslope) I put on all my cycling clothes.

In addition to three layers of top clothing (short sleeve jersey, long sleeve jersey and rainjacket) I coat my legs with Tiger Balm to give some illusion of warmth on my bare legs.

On leaving Boulevard it is immediately downhill and my hands go numb from the cold. The rumble strip on the highway shoulder is exceedingly wide, so I opt for the main asphalt for the downhill stretches.

Down into the mists of the Jacumba Valley

And downtown Jacumba, which once upon a time was the place the California rich and famous would come to take advantage of the local hot springs and spas. By 1925 the town had a world class hotel, the Hotel Jacumba. In the 1930s, Jacumba had developed into a top destination and had a population of more than 5,000.

However, the growth of Palm Springs to the north and the routing of Interstate 8 two miles north effectively killed roadside traffic. The hotel closed and was destroyed by fire in 1985, and by 2000 the population was down to 660.

Jacumba is now best known for having The DeAnza Springs Resort, California's Largest "Clothes Optional" RV Park.

Leaving Jacumba - a patch of agricultural land used over the spring/summer for growing watermelons:

And now back uphill. Off to the north I can hear the intermittent drone on Interstate 8.

There's only one way down through the Jacumba Mountain Range, and that's on the Interstate.

One of the landmarks in the area is the Desert View Tower, built in the 1920's by Burt Vaughn, the same man would built the original town of Jacumba.

And the following picture fails to describe the view of multiple mountain ranges in all directions - the white line along the bottom is a four-lane highway with little pinpricks for tractor-trailers. It is where I was going to be very shortly....

Google Earth's view of the imminent descent (west to east) - the highway splits into two to take advantage of two valleys, then rejoins at the bottom. My ride down is lower right:

And what a great ride down. At the top, a sign Elevation 3000 ft. Seconds later, Elv 2000, and shortly thereafter 1000 ft.

I sit upright, with my rainjacket smashed against my body and acting like parachute, to slow the acceleration down the continuous, winding 6% downhill grade. The decision to transfer weight to the back of the bike is clearly the right one - the bike handles great as I do a high speed slalom around broken glass, ripped tires, strips of metal, cracked pavement and fallen rock while sailing down a 3-ft wide piece of asphalt at 30mph.

It is a continuous nine-mile long ride down to the bottom, and let myself roll to a stop and take a look back:

The mountain range I just passed through seemed to made up of piled rock and it didn't appear that much blasting had to be done at the time of carving out the roadway through the valleys - just rearranging a couple of million tons of boulders so that the road had a reasonable grade to it.

Mile 30 and it is only 9AM. Good start to the day, with no ill effects from yesterday's up-hill efforts. Time to get off the Interstate.....

and into the Yuha Desert...

which goes on...

and on...

Mexico to the south:

Mile 45. After 15 miles of scrubby, sandy terrain, a row of trees

A remarkable transition from desert to fertile thriving farmland.....

The whole region is supported by a vast network of canals feeding off the Colorado river over 70 miles away:

resulting in miles and miles of land used to grow all sorts of things - hay, lettuce

One of the more attractive communication towers I've seen - a fake palm tree. To the lower left - those dark lines are high walls made up of hay bales, ready to be shipped off to dairy farmers far away from here.

And into the grim border town of Calexico, Elevation: -1 ft. We are below sea level:

It's interesting how a town can radiate a personality and I've experienced this feeling before in another border town - not a lot of smiling or eye contact. Expressionless faces scan you top to bottom in a nano second, pass judgement, move on. Not a lot of trust and a deeply ingrained scarcity mentality.

I can't find anything good to eat at the convenience store attached to the gas station, and I'm not ready to subject myself to one of those foot-long hot dogs which has been rolling away under the heat lamps at the food counter, so I content myself with a bag of peanuts, a power bar and can of Full Throttle.

Then it's back out onto the road, out through the rest of the irrigated land and back out into the desert.

To the south, the elevated dike of the All American Canal that connects the Colorado River to the irrigated valley i just passed through.

Highway 98 ends and it's the Interstate 8 again. In contrast to the mountain pass which had a sign that said "no pedestrians" i.e. bikes OK, this ramp had signs specifically prohibiting pedestrians and bikes.

But there was no other option:

I had been told by a rider on a previous trip that Interstate travel was permitted when no other means of road was available, but the road sign contradicted this.

So I said the hell with it, rolled down the ramp to join the cars and trucks.

Mile 65. The miles pass slowly, the headwind is a persistent companion, and after the great start to the day, my average speed is steadily dropping, from 16mph over the first half of the trip to 12mph. No hills, but always fighting the wind.

I'm starting to get cramps and spasms in muscle areas that I had never experienced before.

I was pretty confident that I had been drinking enough water. I lick my arm - and it's like licking salt off a dry table, and for the first time, I'm noticing my lips are beginning to crack.

My electrolyte levels are way down, I hadn't had a real meal all day and the sun's heat had been hidden by the relentless wind.

Every five miles or so, a couple of minutes in the shade to drink and stretch.

Mile 80. I'm feeling a bit better after drinking a slurry made of gatorade and eating multiple energy bars, but there is still 35 miles to go. Then this amazing sight: Saharan-style sand dunes as far as the eye can see:

nary a bush clinging to the pure sand. These are the Imperial Sand Dunes and I feel like I'm in Lawrence of Arabia:

However, instead of sheiks in white flowing robes on camels, there are fenced-in areas with ATVs zooming up and down dunes. Thankfully they didn't have the run of the place

Mile 110. I get off I-8. I'm still moving, but I'm going six miles an hour. I'm out of gas, and I'm thinking about tomorrow's 120-mile ride. Terrain still pretty desolate.

I know I'm close to Yuma, I'm back into irrigated land. I'm surrounded by sprinklers spraying their streams of water across the soil, and the wind is so strong that the water is being blown across by road - I'm getting a shower, and water rains down on my helmet and washes salt out of my hair and down into my eyes.

I can't help but laugh.

Mile 115. Finally, the last up-hill piece of work for the day, the bridge/overpass over the Colorado River

I wobble over the top and there is my destination - The Best Western a mere two hundred yards away.

Before entering and checking in, I pull out a face-cloth and, with some water, wash my face and arms and run a brush through my hair.

That cosmetic work didn't help much - I was still viewed as an alien by the two young rather rotund clerks at the counter.

I carry my bike up to the second floor, carefully remove my clothes to minimize any abrupt cramping, put a towel down and roll onto the bed. I pace myself: I watch "Casper the Friendly Ghost - The Movie"; shower, watch more Casper, wash my clothes, watch Casper again, get dressed andwalk down to the Yuma Landing Restaurant.

The evening is in full swing with Monday Football and giveaways ranging from T-shirts to carwashes to free dinners to gas coupons, all announced and delivered by the owner with a foghorn voice and a microphone, and clearly in his element holding court at the bar at the other end of the restaurant.

I work my way through two main course of fish and chicken, washed down with 48 oz of beer and sprite. I then walk over to the gas bar and buy six Liters of water, orange juice, tomato juice and gatorade and make my way back to my motel room, where I continue to drink liquids in front of the football game on TV until I fall asleep.

Things You Need to Know about Yuma

  • Hernando de Alarcon, the Spanish explorer, became the first European to see the site of Yuma in 1540. From 1540 to 1854, Yuma was under the flags of Spain and Mexico, but in 1854 became a territorial possession of the United States through the Gadsden Purchase.
  • 1911 the first plane ever to land in Arizona landed at Yuma (hence the restaurant's name) by Bob Fowler, who was flying a Wright Brothers' modified "Cole Flyer" from Santa Monica on his way to Miami Florida.
  • 1928, Amelia Earhart attends the National Air Race Show at Yuma
  • 1931 Amelia buys her plane and begins her transcontinental flight.

Yuma Territorial Prison - the remains of the gate: With Yuma at the narrowest point of the Colorado River and a gateway to gold rush fever, law enforcement was required. More than 3,000 desperadoes, convicted of crimes ranging from polygamy to murder, were imprisoned in rock and adobe cells here during the prison's 33-year existence between 1876 and 1909.


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