I might be at the summit of the road now

Bicycle camping in and around Mojave National Preserve 2006

Day 7: Cima Dome to Tecopa Hot Springs via Excelsior Mine Road

66.5 miles, 5:29 hrs, 28.0 mph max, 12.1 mph avg

Elevation: 5000 feet to 3300 to 5100 to 1325

Happy that I can get back on the bike, I start riding and find that, yes, I'm going downhill! But it's very slippery from all the gravel, and very rough as well. I'm cautious to not allow much speed to build up, in order to keep control of the bike.

This is another one of those "is this a road?" photos

I roll on downwards, and keep rolling. I realize that I'm now beginning the long drop of about 3500 feet toward Tecopa Hot Springs. Suddenly I'm excited to be starting a new ride so late in the day. I forget about the sweat and salt residue that is covering me, and the fatigue from the long climb to get here.

There's no one around anywhere. The solitude is amazing. This is becoming one of those rides that is a mountain-biker's dream and I can't stop.

Rough and slippery, the gravel, sand and ruts in this crude road are creating constant navigational challenges that are accentuated by being on a heavily loaded bike. The saddlebags on the front of the bike add additional weight to the steering wheel as I try to make it respond to the road.

I didn't stop to see what that pile of white stuff is along the road—talc?

The downhill is steep in places and it's a lot of fun. Because there are so many slippery stretches, the sensation is often more like skiing than bicycling. Of course, it's of utmost importance to keep control of the bike at all times to eliminate the possiblity of a crash, which would be disastrous in such a remote area.

I didn't try my cell phone here, but I presume that it doesn't work because it hasn't worked during much of my trip so far.

It occurs to me that there is no way I could ride back up these long, steep and slippery hills. This means that I'll need to find a different route back to Mojave National Preserve, unless I want to drag my bike up the hills. But that's a problem for me to sort out tomorrow.

Just when I'm thinking about how beautiful and remote this area is, I slide around a steep corner and there's a single person standing out here beside the road photographing something in the middle of nowhere.

I'm not exactly sure if I'm where I think I am, but the rough road keeps going down, down, down

I'm taken aback because I haven't seen a car or a person in a couple of hours, so I put on the brakes and skid out in the slippery downhill gravel as I come to a stop.

We chat about the area, what we're doing out here, and so on. He's surveying damage to telephone poles in the area that was caused by a recent brush fire. He says that he passed me a couple of hours ago near Kingston Wash, on the way up Excelsior Mine Road, but I already don't remember passing a car there.

We end up talking about California native plants of all things. He reminds me to stop and smell one of the Palmer's penstemons that are occasionally found blooming along this road, which I haven't done yet.

I tell him that I tried growing that penstemon in my downtown San José backyard, but it didn't like the heavy clay soil and died. On the other hand, desert mallow, which is quite small out here in the desert, and which I expected to die in my garden, has unexpectedly grown into a five-foot bush.

Small mineral deposits along the road, possibly talc, since there are talc mines in the area; should I dig up some body powder?

So many desert conversations to be had, so little time. His work isn't close to being done for the day, so he plans on camping out up by Horse Thief Springs and then returning tomorrow to finish the job. Fortunately, his SUV has four-wheel drive—I wonder if the hill could be negotiated without it.

"Enjoy your visit," and I'm back on the bike heading downhill again.

This is getting steep again. I stop in amazement every now and then, turning back to take a look at the hill I just rode down. This road is so rutted and rough in places that many mountain bikers would consider this a "trail," not a "road."

Bumping and sliding along, this is another road that provides a serious test of my bike's ability (and mine too!) to withstand a lot of shaking and rattling.

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