Day 40 – Imperial Sand Dunes, CA to Ocotillo, CA (74 mi)

We woke up after a not particularly restful night of sleep. Our neighbors spent the evening flying a drone around our campground and the whirring noise over our heads made it hard to sleep. Moreover, they blared loud music out of a speaker directly facing our tent. Just after midnight, I finally found the energy and the nerve to crawl out of my sleeping bag to ask them to turn down their music. They were incredibly gracious and immediately turned off their music completely, which made me regret not asking earlier.

Despite the lack of sleep, we woke up early because we wanted to get some miles under our belts before the full intensity of the desert sun. To our surprise a line of four ice cream trucks arrived at our campground before we left, despite it only being 7am. Apparently ATVers like their ice cream early.

Carsten and I had an extremely hot ride today. We spent most of the day biking through the monoculture fields of Imperial Valley. The scenery wasn’t particularly interesting, but we entertained ourselves by chatting more than usual. Having heard back from all of his schools, Carsten has to decide what college he wants to go to in the fall. He asked me to tell him all about my college experience. We also spent time discussing western water rights. In the west water rights have some backwards incentives. One being the use it or lose it clause. This means that farmers have little incentive to save water for fear that their actions will actually cause them to forfeit their rights the following year.

By midday the heat began to really get to me. I convinced Carsten to take our midday break in a basement pub in a tiny town, featuring said pub and a convenience store. We both downed glass after glass of ice water and an entire cheese pizza and large turkey salad.

Further west open desert once again took the place of agricultural land. We had skirted south once again, so we could see the border wall to our left. As we biked Carsten and I noticed flags every hundred yards or so. Unsure what the flags were, we went to investigate. They demarcated the location of emergency water for migrants put, out by a nonprofit organization. We spent some time discussing immigration. I told Carsten some of the things I had learned from an educational trip I had taken to the border in high school. The thought of crossing this barren desert by foot with the constant threat of border patrol put us both in a slightly somber mood.

Around this time we passed by a cyclist heading east, whose bike was piled high with gear. He slowed his bike and signed something to us. I don’t know any sign language, but I presumed he was indicating that he was deaf as an explanation for him not stopping to chat. After signing, he blew us a kiss, which Carsten returned. I was humbled by the feat it would be to cycle cross-country as a deaf man.

Tonight we are staying at a small RV park run by an incredibly kind, elderly couple. They set us up inside the RV parks rec room and gave us cold lemonade made from their very own lemons.

Day 39 – Ehrenburg, AZ to Imperial Sand Dunes, CA (71 mi)

Today I drove Andy to the airport in Phoenix for him to fly back to New Jersey. Carsten, Nalani and I were sad to see him go. The last few days represent the first trip that the four of us have done together. We hope to have a chance for another sibling trip in the future.

Carsten and Nalani had the scariest biking conditions of the trip thus far. The road was narrow without much of a shoulder, and the traffic was heavy, fast and comprised mainly of RVs and trucks. They comforted themselves by buying ice cream sandwiches towards the end of their ride.

As I drove west the landscape changed abruptly. The shrubs and cactuses disappeared, replaced by windswept sand dunes devoid of vegetation but crawling with dune buggies and all terrain vehicles. The map that we are using for this trip indicates the location of campgrounds but gives very minimal information about said campgrounds. This means that we rarely know what to expect. Some evenings we are pleasantly surprised by a RV park with a pool or game room. Other days we find ourselves at fairly rundown RV parks.

Tonight’s campground was perhaps the most unexpected of the trip thus far. Campground, however, might not be the best descriptor, for there are no sites and no picnic tables. Rather there is a series of large gravel parking lots with occasional pit toilets. Clusters of RVs claim their area by placing out orange traffic cones, so that off roaders don’t come too close. We, of course, are unprepared for this campground for we lack traffic cones, a table and an ATV.

I arrived at the campground before Nalani and Carsten and drove around for a while searching in vain for an area conducive to tent camping. The entire time that I drove, I could faintly hear the familiar jingle of an ice cream truck. Ever since I was a young girl, I have had a minor phobia of ice cream trucks. The combination of the barren dunes, the ice cream truck music, and having spent my drive listening to a novel about a kidnapper gave me a strong case of the creeps, so I sat in my locked car until Carsten and Nalani arrived.

After they arrived and successfully pulled an April fools prank on me, we set our tent up as close to the prius as possible for fear of somebody accidentally driving into us in the middle of the night. We set our coleman stove up on the ground and ate dinner, leaning against the side of the car for support. All the while, the two young boys of the neighboring RV continually rode their mini-off roading motorcycles too close for comfort, shooting sand in our direction.

Shortly after we finished eating dinner, a man came by selling beef jerky. A short conversation revealed that he grew up in South Bend and he proudly rolled up his sleeve to reveal a fighting irish tattoo. We briefly had fun exchanging South Bend stories and he generously gave us two free bags of beef jerky, but quickly our conversation deteriorated when it became clear that we held very different ideas when it came to racial issues in the United States. We argued briefly, but then parted ways before things got too ugly.

Day 38 – Wenden, AZ to Ehrenberg, AZ (63 mi)

Today Carsten was the sag wagon driver for the first time. He wanted to spend a day with Andy. Nalani and I were excited to have one sister biking day, but as we rode we both kept forgetting that it was each other instead of Carsten with us. I would say something expecting Carsten to respond and be thrown off by Nalani’s feminine voice.

Towards the end of the day, I made a slight map reading mistake. I thought our campground was just west of the Colorado River in California when it was really in Arizona. Nalani and I crossed the stateline and took all our usual border crossing photos, just to realize fifteen minutes later that we needed to cross back into Arizona. Nalani suspected that my mistake was purposeful so I would get the opportunity to cross into our final state by bike.

Tonight we really lucked out with our RV park. They only charge $10 for first time campers and possibly have the best amenities of any RV park we’ve stayed at, including a pool, a ping pong table, and pool table. The park is also incredibly alive with birds.

We spent the evening playing ping pong and pool. Carsten and I came out victorious at pool, despite my only hitting in three balls, including one for Nalani and Andy.

Day 37 – Wickenburg, AZ to Wenden, AZ (48 mi)

We are now biking in the full intensity of the desert sun. Carsten and I had our lunch break today in a drainage tunnel under the road because it was the only thing around that afforded any shade. Cyclists who bike this route in the summer tend to bike at night rather than contest with the sun and temperatures well into the 100s. I reapply sunscreen frequently, but still have trouble not getting burnt. By the end of a riding day my hands are usually bright red; I now understand why so many cyclists wear riding gloves.

Tonight we are staying at a county park that is centered around a golf course. The park has some watered trees, so we were able to hide for awhile in the shade. Andy has taken on the role of trip photographer. He makes the rest of us pause at cooking, dishwashing, etc., so that he can adjust us according to the light and best capture these everyday trip moments.

After dinner, we decided it was time for a sibling poker tournament. Andy fell in love with poker nearly 15 years ago on a family vacation in Utah and poker has been a family staple ever since. By age six, when other kids were learning go fish, Carsten could already play a mean hand of Texas Hold-em. We didn’t pack any poker chips on this trip, so we used risk pieces instead – we bet miniature cannons, raised one cavalry, or called with our infantry.

 

Day 36 – Phoenix, AZ to Wickenburg, AZ (51 mi)

Carsten and Nalani biked today, while Andy and I spent the day together as the sag wagon drivers. Andy and I started our day by summiting Phoenix’s North Mountain and then drove on to Horsepitality RV Park and Stables in Wickenburg, AZ.

Carsten and Nalani texted that they were still a few hours away, so Andy and I spent the afternoon walking in a dry river bed to downtown Wickenburg, which boasted numerous wild west themed shops and restaurants.

In the late afternoon, Carsten and Nalani arrived at the RV park. Today marked the finish of another map panel, so we went out to homemade ice cream in waffle bowls before making dinner.Once again our site as tent campers in an RV park was the grassy area next to the restrooms. This grassy area was larger than last night’s, however, so even though we felt on display we didn’t mind it too much.

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At the summit of North Mountain. 

 

Day 35 – Tempe, AZ to Phoenix, AZ (19 mi)

After a morning spent chatting over coffee and eggs, Carsten, Nalani, Andy and I said goodbye to our parents and continued our trek towards the pacific. Our destination for tonight – an RV park further west in Phoenix’s extended urban area – wasn’t very far. Carsten and I pedaled the distance, while Nalani and Andy stocked up on food.

Tonight’s RV park is not well setup for tent campers. Instead of simply giving us a regular RV site, they had us settle into a small grassy area next to the bathrooms and laundry. It is nice to have grass to sleep on, but we are also in the middle of the park’s activity. A number of campers walked right through our area to access the laundry facility and one man stood, observing us unabashedly while he waited for his laundry and smoked a cigarette. Every exhale sent a billow of smoke into our midsts. For the most part, however, we managed to ignore our lack of privacy and enjoy our time together as siblings.

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Carsten and I leaving the Airbnb where we spent Easter weekend together as a family. Carsten has taken to riding around on his back rack, terming it “recumbant-style.”

Rest Day 2 – Tempe, AZ

Carsten, Nalani, Papa and I started our day by going on a hike in Phoenix’s South Mountain Park. With over 16,000 acres, it is the largest municipal park in the United States. A Jack Rabbit scampering across the trail in front of us reminded us all that this is Easter Sunday.

Phoenix, located in the heart of the Sonoran desert, gets an average annual rainfall of only 8 inches, meaning that most of the areas we hiked through were gravely and only sparsely vegetated. But the harshness of the climate made me only more impressed by the species that still manage to hold on. My favorites were the Ocotillos, which look like giant bouquets of orange flowers, and the century-old Saguaro Cactuses.

In the afternoon, we picked Andy up from the airport and finally our whole family is together. Andy is currently on spring break and will come along with Carsten, Nalani and me for our next few days of biking.