I did this slow climb up Kelbaker Road ten days ago and it was more exciting then because I hadn't been here in five years. It felt more like exploration than it does now. Today it feels more repetitive, as if I'm becoming a regular bike commuter on this road.
Aiken Mine Road, where the tourists are headed, is a scenic 20-mile dirt-road drive northward through the cinder-cone area to Cima Road
I usually try to avoid repetition on bike rides, even shorter ones, but I didn't manage to come up with a better alternative this time due to my enjoyable side trip to Tecopa Hot Springs.
However, in these huge wide-open spaces, there's always some new feature, some interesting pattern of land or plant material, to look at once you start looking at the details.
I still don't have much energy and the day is certainly getting warmer. I don't think it's as hot as it was yesterday, yet, but I can feel the heat zapping my energy.
I approach the junction of dirt Aiken Mine Road, where a car with a male-female couple in the front seat has pulled over. The male is driving.
I have only seen a few vehicles so far this morning. A couple of them were camping vehicles whose drivers waved as they passed. Out here, even a car passing can be an intimate experience. I ride across the road to speak to them because they look possibly lost.
Heading off Kelbaker Road opposite Aiken Mine Road is the road that descends into Jackass Canyon and the Devil's Playground
They're looking for Aiken Mine Road. I tell them that this is it, even though there's no sign. They have a map, so I show them where they are and how Aiken Mine Road passes by the scenic cinder cones that we can see in the distance from here.
Their English isn't very good, so I try to speak slowly and clearly, but I'm not sure how much they're understanding. I remind them that it will be a slow drive because the road will be rough in places (it's about 20 miles long), but that it will be worth the effort.
The woman in the front passenger seat leans over and asks me if I live nearby. I explain "no, I live in San José and I'm just travelling here."
She asks, "Isn't it too hot to be riding a bicycle?" I chuckle. "Yes it is, but it wasn't as hot as this when I started my trip out here a week and a half ago, and I'm almost finished."
Cinder cone along Aiken Mine Road seen from a few miles up on Kelbaker Road
She is obviously concerned with my well-being, but she would probably find it strange to learn that I am equally concerned with theirs. Part of me wants to discourage them from driving that road, or at least give them some additional warnings.
They strike me as the kind of naive tourists who might not be carrying extra water or food should their automobile break down or get stuck in roadside sand at a location where their cell phone doesn't work, and where hardly anyone passes by.
I wish them well on their sightseeing trip and they head up Aiken Mine Road.
I lustfully look at Jackass Canyon Road, which heads south off Kelbaker Road across the road from the Aiken Mine Road intersection. After a few miles, that road descends into Jackass Canyon and the Devil's Playground area, and I'd like to explore that area one day when I'm carrying extra water (there is no water available down there that I know of).
A probably dead tree with mistletoe growing on it alongside Kelbaker Road approaching the summit at the power lines
I continue my trudge up Kelbaker Road, now at five-six miles per hour. I have a bit of a headwind, which is slowing me further, but I enjoy the scenery around here. Slowly, a few more joshua trees appear in the landscape as I get higher.
I make it to the Kelbaker Road summit at the power lines, at 3800 feet elevation. I think it took me about an hour and a half. I pull over into the summit rest area, if you can call it that, and eat a Clif bar.
I always have problems with bees at this location in warm temperatures. They seem to adore the combination of sweat and sunscreen that coats my exposed surfaces. After a few minutes, several bees are buzzing around me, just as I was expecting. Not a relaxing break!