I looked up the dry and desolate canyon to the head-wall we were pedaling towards. A staleness overcame the air with the occasional burst of wind, swirling from all directions, as the cumulus clouds gathered along the mountain pass from which we descended earlier that morning. A tall plume of smoke was visible from the ridgeline off to the north, possibly the result of a lightning strike. It was nearly 100 0F and I purposefully sipped water out of my first water bottle, saving the second for the eight mile, 2000 foot descent and 16 mile ride out of Yokohl canyon. I wanted nothing more than to down the water in that first bottle and half of the second. But I restrained. I knew I would need water for the ride, and I started with just two full water bottles. I wish I had filled the third. I just needed to make it over to highway 198 and up to Lemon Cove and there was sure to be a water faucet with my name on it.
The final right hand curve, along the desiccated cattle ranch with just the smallest bit of shade made a perfect spot for lunch. We gingerly sipped our water as we munched our yummy ham, cheese, tomato, avocado, mustard and cucumber sandwiches. We sat for a moment, enjoying the blowing thermals, watching the thunder clouds roll in. A motorcycle came into our little lunch spot and stopped. A young man in his late 50’s (I’m guessing) hoped off and asked “are you touring or just riding?”
Mike lives in the valley and had just purchased his shiny new bike. He used to ride bicycles up Yokohl canyon, before his “ticker” got away from him. “It works just fine, just a little blocked”. He spent his last 10 years teaching his sons to ride dirt bikes. Now they are grown, it is his turn. So he bought himself a V-twin and came up in the hills for a practice ride before the rally out of fresno the next day. A super nice guy who gave us this advice before we headed back out down the canyon: “watch out for suicide squirrels, lizards and rattlesnakes”.
A few claps of thunder boomed in the distance as we took one last conservative sip of our water and started the dry ride into the valley. We did see one rattlesnake and millions of suicide squirrels and lizards just missing Jay’s front wheel.
Highway 198 was both a relief and a disappointment. The ride through the southern Sequoia National Forest and the Yokohol valley had been relatively traffic free. A car an hour might go by with a friendly tap on the horn and wave. Hwy 198 looked like a freeway in comparison with big pick’m up trucks and tourist R.V.s all whizzing by at speeds well above the limit. The traffic came in bursts of tailgating vehicles all trying to get somewhere fast. I took another careful sip of water.
“We’re nearly there, you can drink it all now” Jay said as he put his 1/3 full bottle back on his bike. “Not a chance” I retorted “Just in case there’s no water where we are going.” I too replaced my water bottle 1/3 full.
We reluctantly turned onto highway 198 and were relieved to find a good width shoulder and a slight, but very hot, tailwind. We made Lemon Cove Village, a defunct tiny house village now an R.V. camp within 45 thirsty minutes. “Camp anywhere on the grass” the camp host said making air quotes around the word grass. We paid our money and immediately guzzled our remaining warm water.
We scanned the “grass” and found a nice spot under the afternoon shade of a Jacaranda tree. Just as we finished putting up the tent on the dirt with dried tufts of grass a generator cycled on immediately in front of our camp spot. I knew I would not be able to sleep with a regularly cycling generator in my ears so went off to scout another suitable spot. The camp host thought the best spot was back behind the camp, near the rocks and the old faucet. I wandered back and found a relatively flat area with young jacaranda trees shading the hay carpeted ground and a small faucet with half a red handle. The hay addition was a nice touch to get campers off the dirt. I turned the faucet handle to see if it worked and out came a spray of water. Thankfully, I stopped myself from putting my mouth over the faucet and gulping down as much as I could because I wanted to filter the water first. Happy with the new spot we quickly moved camp to the more remote area around the faucet.
Before we unpacked the bags, I dug out the Platypus gravity filter and removed the dirty water bag. I walked over to the faucet, opened the bag under the outlet and turned on the valve. Water and nearly 100 pincer bugs powerfully shot into the Platypus bag. I think a little yelp escaped as I attempted to turn off the valve at the same time as dumping the water and bug soup out of the Platypus bag. The bugs were determined to stay in the bag as it took several rinses to get them all out. After I ran the faucet for a few minutes, the water came cold and clear. I filtered 4 L and we both drank to our hearts content.
Surprisingly, the in-the-midst of remodeling camp had very nice bathrooms and showers and an adequate kitchen facility. We cleaned up, did our laundry, made a yummy pasta meal and hung out in the common area until it was cooler outside than in. The first cockroach sighting came as we made our way back to camp using our headlamps. The bright beams caught the shiny backs of the roaches as they scurried in the straw. There were enough of them for us to put all of our food in our one bag that seals tightly – and do our best to close up all the others. The bags were placed on top of our bikes for the night and the tent was kept zipped up to keep any creatures out. On my way back from peeing, I glanced over at the faucet and there were, 100’s if not 1000’s of cockroaches all facing the faucet in what appeared to be neat lines like cars at a drive in movie. It didn’t take me long to walk the 10 feet to our tent and zip myself in safely away from the faucet and bugs.
The heat of the day zapped any extra energy and the cicadas lulled us to sleep. Until 2am (or whatever time it was) when apparent drag races were taking place on Highway 198. I kept waiting to hear the inevitable crash. The early morning light was bright and beautiful through the tent roof as there was no need for the rainfly. The Big Agnes Copper Spur 3 has a lovely mesh inner tent that is just like sleeping under the stars without the rainfly. Without the bugs. I scanned the camp for bugs and none were to be seen. Hurray! I grabbed the pre-prepared tea cups and headed up to the facilities. Tea in hand I laid out the tarp and started the breakfast process: Yogurt, granola and bananas in our two Tupperware bowls. I opened the first pannier and yelped again as I looked in to find at least 10 medium sized cockroaches scurrying to get out of the light.
“ Just shake them out” says Jay from the safety of inside the zipped up tent.
“I am” I snarked back “ sorry that I don’t like roaches”.
To top it all off, the yogurt we bought in Springville had curdled (and it had a May 16 use by date) – oops.
I emptied all the bags of roaches and luckily our food bag was safe and roach free. Getting ready to ride, I had to use the faucet one last time. I grabbed my helmet and began to lift it to my head when something on the inside moved. A large roach had taken up residence between the pads and apparently didn’t like being disturbed. I used the trusty faucet to dislodge the roach and give my helmet a good clean.
Lessons of the day:
Fill an extra water bottle on hot dry days.
Don’t camp near a water faucet in the hot, dry desert with straw carpeting.
Grass isn’t necessarily green.
Check the use by dates, particularly on perishable food from markets in remote areas.
Flush the standing water from a faucet or hose before taking a big swig.