28.5 mi / 11.7 mph / 59 ft. climbing
Home: Marquis Villas Resort
The final stage in our traversal to Palm Springs was the riskiest and most-unknown. The Adventure Cycling Route 66 route we’d roughly been following had peeled off north a couple days ago through Cajon Pass, leaving us heading eastward through San Gorgonio Pass on our own. Worse, the mountains funnel the road network until it gets constricted to a single strand, Interstate 10, through the pass. Worse again, Interstate 10 in that section is in the middle of a major construction project.
None of this was a surprise, and I had been using the maximal number of tools and tricks available to me (Strava Heatmap, Google StreetView, Caltrans District 8 Twitter feed, CrazyGuyOnABike, direct knowledge of local WarmShowers hosts) for days to increase my confidence that we could be successful, but until we showed up with wheels on the ground, there would always be a doubt whether we’d be able to make it through, or be forced to turn around.
The first big unknown was where Ramsey St. in Banning ends and becomes the entrance ramp to I-10. The “Bicycles Prohibited” signs that appear on Google StreetView were no longer there, so that was nice (don’t know if that was construction-related or if they were permanently removed), and the expected shoulder remained present, so it was a safe entrance.
Then, before we actually merged onto the Interstate, we looked for a gap in the fence that divided the Interstate from Johnson Ln., an abandoned frontage road, that I had seen on Google StreetView. Luckily it was still there! So crossing over was a lot easier than unloading the bikes and getting them and us across a barbed-wire fence.
So now we were safe from Interstate traffic, but was this frontage road passable? A Google StreetView car had (thankfully!) driven it in 2019, but it was clearly an abandoned road with no maintenance done on it for decades. We saw a couple of fellow nomads (on foot) occupying ground in the early stretch, no hint of cars, and many big eroded cracks that we had to ride around or walk over. And then longer sections so rough that walking was the most sensible way to traverse them.
Luckily we only had to go a mile on it before we gained the option to cross over to an actively-maintained frontage road on the north side of the Interstate, and given the conditions of the first mile, we took the obvious choice to abandon the abandoned road. Now on Seminole Rd., we passed long lines of cars waiting to turn into the Desert Hills Outlet Mall for their Christmas shopping, which was a bit jarring to see because just minutes before it had felt like we had pushed out past the end of civilization and into the wild desert.
But after a mile or two of that, we crossed back to the frontage road on the south side of I-10, now called Main St./Railroad Ave., and now smooth and wide, but still mostly empty of cars or other signs of civilization.
Although we weren’t on the Interstate itself, we got to see its billboards, something we’re not used to. At least 50% of them seemed to be advertising marijuana dispensaries in Palm Springs, but even to our attuned minds, it was oddly-difficult to be sure. The first one said only “Desert’s Finest: Flower To the People. Thanks for making us #1!”. Like, 50% chance that’s a landscaper, 25% chance it’s a flower shop, and 25% chance it’s talking about marijuana. Then “Don’t You Know? FLWR CO. flwrco.shop” Hmm, how many Palm Springs flower shops would really be advertising on billboards? Then “GREEN DRAGON”. That’s it. The only thing on the billboard. It’s a logo font, in green, and the “O” in “DRAGON” is the head of a Chinese-styled dragon. On its own, a Chinese Restaurant seems the most-likely option. But taken all together, you see the pattern of vague hints towards marijuana, without any explicit statements, or even imagery (no marijuana leaves or other standard pot iconography), creating the odd conclusions that they all have to be for marijuana dispensaries. I don’t think I’ve ever seen billboards that do such a poor job of indicating what they’re advertising for! And I’m pretty sure we’ve seen much more explicit marijuana billboards in the past, so I don’t know if the “nudge nudge, wink wink” style is forced by the county, the state, or the fact that the ads are visible from a federal highway? But with such tight restrictions, wherever they’re coming from, I’m not sure what value there is to the dispensary in paying for a billboard at all? I guess it was fun for us to decode their meaning, so maybe the act of solving the mystery creates strong brand-affinity?
Shortly after unknowingly crossing the Pacific Crest Trail (which runs under the railroad and I-10 via their low bridges over a wash), we had our other risky section. The frontage road ended again, forcing us to enter I-10 for the second time, and this time ride it for a couple hundred yards before exiting onto CA-111. The previous riding had increased my worry, because I could see from the frontage roads that the construction work had essentially eliminated the shoulders on I-10, meaning that interstate-riding would have been impossible even if we’d wanted to do that rather than the dodgy frontage roads. And this time the “Bicycles Prohibited” sign was still there at the on-ramp, which is a bit strange, because usually bicycles are allowed on Interstates in Western states in the middle of nowhere where the Interstate is the only road option. We forged ahead regardless, and luckily the shoulder was so huge and wide and not under construction (at that point), so we again never really had to join the Interstate, we essentially connected directly from the on-ramp to the off-ramp. So maybe we were legal? Who cares! We made it!
The entire day of riding was downhill, in perhaps the steadiest long downhill I’ve pedaled. Never exceeding 2% grade, and usually much less than that, and with almost no uphill sections, not even brief rises. And not because the roads were engineered that way, it really just seems that the existing land has that super-flat but slightly-sloped angle built into it. The day’s ride ended with 2 feet-per-mile of climbing, a record-low to balance out yesterday’s record-high 99 feet-per-mile. Never seen anything like it! Unfortunately headwinds meant we still had to work a bit to roll down that hill (or seen glass-half-full, at least we had the downhill to help with the headwinds!)
California Highway 111 had us again riding through more open desert landscape (complete with desert sands!), giving a “we’re really out there” bike-touring feeling we haven’t felt yet, so it was then almost surprising when we returned to the civilization of Palm Springs.
We were a bit early to check into our “resort hotel”, so we stopped at Las Palmas Brewing for a couple beers and a final scuzzy bike-tourer peanut-butter sandwiches made-at-the-table lunch (one advantage of breweries that don’t serve their own food!)
Then finally a check-in to our huge (1000 sq ft., two bathroom!) home for the next week. It looks like a great place to visit with family, work on recovery, and plot our next destination. We booked our room at the Marquis Villas on November 17th, so Palm Springs has been our target for more than a month, and it’s gratifying to reach it as planned. But now suddenly we’re left aimless!