2023 Desert Pilgrimage

Day 5, Homeward Bound Tuesday, February 21, 2023 

Three Rivers to Merced 

Expanded Meaning or Personal Transformation?  

You be the judge… The final leg of our Pilgrimage was approximately 190 miles over a variety of terrain beginning with the winding Sierra foothill roads, CA-198 and CA-216, to reach the straight and narrow roads, CA-245 and CA-201, of the San Joaquin plain.  We traveled across the valley floor through the small unincorporated towns of Woodlake and Elderwood, Seville and Yettem, Calgro and Oriosi all breaking up the monotony of thousands of acres of orchards all aglow with lemons, oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits hanging heavily on the verdant foliage of late winter citrus trees nearing harvest. 

Citrus orchards near Orange Cove

Dams and reservoirs hold back the waters of the Kern, Kaweah, Tule, St. Johns, Kings, and San Joaquin Rivers of the southern and central Sierra to sustain the powerful and abundant agricultural interests in the region.  Small hard scrabble rural farming communities of Lemon Cove, Orange Cove, and Navelencia identify the namesake agriculture of the area.  

Let’s eat

Orange Cove was our brunch destination on this and a previous desert pilgrimage.  Stopping at the El Monterey because El Bukanas was closed, a local patron recommended the carne asada.  Pete took her advice as I opted for a huevos, tocino, papas, arroz y frijoles burrito.  If ever you happen to find yourself in Orange Cove, CA, we highly recommend El Monterey, a family owned and operated restaurant for authentic Mexican fare.  And across the street, where else but in Orange Cove might you find a Blacksmith posing as a Machine Shop? 

A future brew pub?

I use Google Maps, Rever, and Scenic apps to plan these trips and use them as nav guides while underway.  They work fine as long as you’re within cell service range. Sort of. I have a Garmin Nuvi as a last resort if we’re out of range of the nearest cell tower or in the midst of a Google Maps fail.  Google Maps is fine for planning but I find it unreliable when riding, especially as we prefer back roads to the Google algorithm’s insistence on finding the fastest route from A to B.  By the time three or four options are offered and you “start” your route, the app sets about providing unsolicited “reroutings” that invariably have you traveling in circles.  What to do short of getting out the GPS?  The last resort: Apples or oranges?  Apple Maps to the rescue!

I had dismissed Apple Maps after less than stellar reviews were given upon its launch, but that was back in 2012 and I’m sure Tim Cook has long ordered the kinks straightened out.  So, to make our way through the Public Land Survey System sectioning of eastern Tulare and Fresno counties into large square tracts of land intersected by countless country roads transecting quarter sections, we needed reliable data to not get lost and perish in the ice-age storm that was forecasted to wreak havoc on California travelers in the coming hours and days. Worst case scenario, I’m sure we could have subsisted on oranges and tangelos until CalTrans cleared the drifts of snow impeding our progress.  

Alas, Apple Maps delivered clear and concise turn-by-turn directions to make our way through the labyrinth of groves and orchards in the eastern San Joaquin Valley, and suburban wilderness of eastern Clovis, saving CalTrans the effort to rescue us.  CA-180 took us through Minkler and Centerville to N. Academy Ave skirting the suburban backcountry of eastern Clovis. With a zig on CA-168 to E Shepherd Ave, we zagged on N Willow Ave before making our way back into the foothills heading north on North Friant Rd to, yes, Friant, home of the Friant Dam and Millerton Lake.  

Stopping at the Shell Station for hydration and nalgas relief, we met two cyclists, of the pedal variety, presumably stopping for the same reason.  After the standard conversation starter where I declare my preference for twisting a throttle to pedaling uphill, though in truth I like climbing on the Seven, we were invited to join them on their Saturday group ride that begins in Covis up to Friant and winds through the hills above.  That would require that Pete and I actually ride in the hills, something we haven’t done in several months of riding the flats. I guess the twisting throttle conversation entrée was a Freudian slip of sorts…

As we prepared to depart Friant I insisted that Pete show us the way home.  Riding the flat straightaways yielded to the undulating twisties of the eastern Madera foothills.  CA-145 (Rd-211) took us to O’Neal’s where we intersected with CA-41 to Coarsegold.  From Coarsegold it was Raymond Rd (Rd-415) and Rd-613 to Ben Hur Rd.  

The photo is of a rock wall visible from Ben Hur Rd we’ve seen on many hill rides on our bicycles.  

And now for some history:  

Quick Ranch Stone Wall, near the town of Mariposa and made of uncut stones, was built in 1862 to enclose 640 acres of the Quick Ranch. This wall is one of the most completely documented Chinese-built stone fences in the state, as the result from the ranch being in the same Quick family since in 1859. Because of the completed documentation, we know for certain that the Chinese built the wall and that this wall can be taken as a prime example of Chinese stone masonry technique. Most of the Chinese workers came from Mormon Bar, and this site shows one of the great contributions of Chinese Americans to the development of California with their stone masonry skills.  (exploreapaheritage.com)

After a brief stop to admire the Quick Stone Wall, stretch, and contemplate the brewing storm clouds, we set about on the last 45 mile leg of our 2023 Desert Pilgrimage, the final stretch of Yaqui Gulch Rd to CA-140 and be-it-ever-so-humble, home sweet home.

Bringing it Home

SoBe and Dakota

I began this post by describing it, somewhat in jest, as a pilgrimage with a lofty characterization as:

A [pilgrimage] journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about one’s self, others, nature, or a higher good through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.

Now that I’m back to the “daily life” grind of chores, including documenting the ride, and the delightful company of my family and companion perras SoBe and Dakota, I can say that my already expanded life gained a bit more meaning through the experience of meeting new friends, others; experiencing nature, the foothills and mountains of the Sierra and Death Valley and the Mojave; and the higher good of the friendship in my travel companion Pete’s company.  
My wheels are already spinning as I will give this trip a few days before committing it to the archives as I anticipate and plan for the next, and maybe best tour: to immerse myself in the California spring superbloom between a niece’s wedding in Atlanta in March and the beaches of Maui with my beautiful wife, our youngest son, his lovely wife, and adorable daughter Aubrey in May.  Toodle-oo!

Post Script

It’s now April and the super bloom, nourished by unrelenting winter’s rain, will be full-fledged in the coastal mountains of California. Mountain passes, now buried in snow, will likely be closed until early summer before the migration of the bloom moves upslope. Our “Desert Pilgrimage” followed the January atmospheric rivers as we ended our ride on the cusp of the late February and March weather that has caused great flooding throughout Central California and record snowfall in the Sierra. Vernal pools have begun to form their concentric rings of varied species of CLF’s (colorful little flowers).

I chronicled the 2019 super bloom in the post, Super Bloom on Two Wheels https://wordpress.com/post/sisyphusdw7.com/352 just prior to the explosion of the Covid pandemic. I’m excitedly planning to revisit the tour with the exception of an infamous descending decreasing radius turn on Lake Nacimiento Lake Dr where just about one year ago, a moment’s inattention resulted in a tale I will consider avoiding repeating…

2023 Desert Pilgrimage: Day 4 Panamint Springs to Three Rivers

Monday, February 20, 2023 

Panamint Springs to Three Rivers 

Different Direction, Different Sights, Same Mistakes

Departing Panamint Springs and Death Valley for Three Rivers, our first and final night’s destination, we retraced our route back to Ridgecrest where a veggie omelet at a packed Denny’s took waaaay too long to arrive at our table.  A single server with a Presidents’ Day crowd was the issue.  After thanking the wearied waitress who apologized several times, we left, appetites sated. 

Deciding we likely had enough fuel to get back to Lake Isabella and wanting to make up time, Christopher Columbus here zigged when I should have zagged leaving Ridgecrest heading south on US-395.  After about 30 miles or so I realized we were headed to Victorville and not Walker Pass.  Embarrassed and now distracted by a flashing low fuel indicator, we turned tail and headed 30 or so miles back to Ridecrest to correct my directional error and fuel up.  It was at the gas station that Pete reminded me that we, rather I, made the very same navigational error when we departed Ridgecrest on our last Death Valley pilgrimage.  Hmmm.  Lightning strikes twice, again… 

Morro Rock

This time we hoped to make up the mileage faster than when we funorkled our way two days ago to Panamint Springs late, only to find a full campground.  Three Rivers didn’t have the Death Valley attraction this time of year, especially as the weather was changing and winter storms were headed our way so I wasn’t worried about any no-vacancy.  

We decided to skip Kernville as the Gunsmoke and Petticoats revelers were still in full revelry.  Heading back over Alta Sierra from Wofford Heights we skipped stopping at the crowded Saddle Sore Saloon in Glenville.   

Meadowfoam and fiddlenecks along Yokohl Rd

Once down on Yokohl Rd, the hillsides presented emerging blankets of spring color with patches of meadowfoam, fiddlenecks, lupine, and poppies leading the bloom.  The increasingly menacing skies foretold the oncoming late winter storm with apocalyptic warnings of gusting winds, rain, and snow that compelled our hasty departure from the mountains.  Even at that we saw a couple of intrepid bicyclists who were uphill bound for a Washington’s birthday cycling challenge.  

We had planned to stay at the Sequoia Campground and Lodge just as you enter Three Rivers on Sierra Dr, however, the entrance was blocked with a sign indicating Campground Closed.  It looked abandoned.  In checking their FB page, the last post was from 2021.  Perhaps it was the summer fires smoking out the tourists, Covid, or the recent heavy winter rains that appeared to have flooded the campsites since there did appear to be lots of flotsam strewn about.  

After setting up camp it was back to the Totem for a delicious meatloaf sandwich dinner and a bundle of wood for a campfire.  Calling it an early evening, we retreated to our tents after fighting to get somewhat wet firewood to burn to our elevated Smokey Bear, smokeless campfire standards.  

We awakened the next morning to a saturated campsite unlike the frosty morning three days prior.  After drying the gear as best we could it was time to get on the road back home.  First stop, Orange Cove for brunch.

Coming up: 2023 Desert Pilgrimage, Homeward Bound Tuesday, February 21, 2023 

2023 Desert Pilgrimage: Day 3 Death Valley, Amargosa, & Rhyolite, Sunday, February 19, 2023

The WeeStrom and Kawasexy

Death Valley, Amargosa, & Rhyolite

On Seeing Things for the First Time, Again

The next morning, sunrise beckoned as did a visit to see a man about a horse.  That’s when we first heard a gawd-awful, shrill, please-put-the-beast-out-of-its-misery noise coming from the direction of the Scout camp.  After about twelve bars I recognized:

I can’t get ’em up

I can’t get ’em up

I can’t get ’em up this morning;

I can’t get ’em up

I can’t get ’em up

I can’t get ’em up at all!

And tho’ the sun starts peeping,

And dawn has started creeping,

Those lazy bums keep sleeping,

They never hear my call!

(Repeat, ugh)

Good morning Panamint Valley

Pete and I usually ride from point A to B to C and call it a day.  On this tour we decided to spend two nights in Panamint Springs, using the extra day to refresh the sights and sounds around Death Valley we’ve grown to enjoy.  

After the August 5, 2022 flash flood

Hopping back on to CA-190 we headed towards Stovepipe Wells over the highway that was previously closed due to the “1000 year monsoonal flood” back on August 5, 2022 (above).  It appeared that any damage to the road had been repaired and evidence of the flooding had been cleared.  I remember watching YouTube videos of travelers who were making their way out of the park over the damaged roads after the flash flood waters had receded.  Death Valley is WRECKED @SufperfastMatt… Gnarly. 

On this 2023 President’s Week holiday, the entrance to Death Valley National Park was crowded with vacationing travelers.  Stovepipe Wells was teeming with activity as was Furnace Creek.  Our plan was to make our way to Death Valley Junction to see if the Amargosa Hotel restaurant was open and perhaps check out Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View along the way.  No way!  Cars in the parking lot to Zabriskie Point spilled over to parking alongside CA-190.  We figured Dante’s View would likely be the same.  Maybe next time we’ll choose a non-holiday week.

Passing Dante’s View Rd I noticed some buildings on a mountainside that I had seen in the past figuring they were some sort of mining operation.  I just learned, according to the Death Valley Conservancy, that the structures are from a mining operation, “begun as Lila in 1907 which produced colemanite for the Pacific Coast Borax Company. The town was named by its owner William Tell Coleman, after his daughter, Lila C. Coleman. Soon after its completion, the community of Lila C became known as “Ryan“, in honor of John Ryan (1849–1918), who was General Manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company and a trusted employee of “Borax” Smith until his death in 1918.  The Death Valley Conservancy writes: “Ryan was a luxurious mining camp by any standards of the day – with electricity, steam heat and refrigeration it also boasted a school, a hospital, post office, recreation hall/church (shipped down in sections from Rhyolite) and a general store.”    

Ryan now (Wiki)

“After borax production had stopped in 1928, in an effort to increase revenues on the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad which had carried the borax ore, Pacific Coast Borax converted the miners’ lodgings into tourist accommodations and gave tourists visiting Death Valley trips on the narrow gauge rail line into the mine. The Death Valley View Hotel operated full-time from 1927 until 1930, the year the Death Valley Railroad ceased to function. After 1930 the hotel was used as overflow accommodations for the Furnace Creek Ranch and Inn through the 1950s.”

Ryan, or Lila, then (Death Valley Conservancy)

While Ryan is closed to the general public for safety and historic preservation reasons, the Death Valley Conservancy offers occasional public tours. Tour participants can be selected by signing up on the Death Valley Conservancy’s website, https://www.dvconservancy.org/ryan-camp/.


Our next stop was the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House.  I’ve shared previous stops on earlier posts about the history of the hotel.  We were hoping to have lunch at the Amargosa Restaurant only to find it was a victim to Covid.  According to the hostess, the hotel fills nightly and reservations are recommended.

Can’t quite read this sign from CA-127

The Amargosa Opera House under the fullness of sunlight

We met a couple of fellows on KTM thumpers who were touring the area following off-road trails on their navigation who were from San Diego.  Apparently their tour was not for the faint of heart as the conditions of their ride can best be described as gnarly.  They were hoping for a tour of The Opera House, which was made famous by Marta Becket, an eccentric American actress, dancer, choreographer and painter. She performed for more than four decades at her own theater, the Amargosa Opera House where in 1967, due to a flat tire, she discovered this theater in Death Valley Junction and decided to stay until her death in 2017. 

Lobby of the Amargosa Hotel

The shady veranda of the Amargosa Hotel

Here’s a film by Poppy Walker, Dust Devil, that captures the essence of Marta Becket:  Dust Devil (YouTube).

Opera House interior (The Desert Sun 2017)

From Wiki: When the town of Amargosa was booming due to the Borax mining business, and its position at the terminus of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, about 350 people lived in the town. The hotel served as a very nice place to stay for both company executives and visiting investors, who were met at the train with white-gloved valets after a long and hot train ride. In addition to the hotel rooms, the cafe and a restaurant within the hotel, other rooms were bunkhouses for workers, an infirmary, a general store and what is now the Opera House, which was mostly used for showing films. A large gas station and garage across from the cafe was the only location in the area for repairs of trucks hauling borax out of the mines, in addition to passenger car repairs. When the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad ceased to be economical in 1942, the tracks were torn up completely and sent to Egypt, where the railroad was set up again to aid the Allies military effort in Egypt. Once the railroad stopped, the Opera House, Hotel and about 250 acres of land changed hands many times, until Marta Becket arrived on the scene.

The Opera House Under a Fool Moon, 2019

The photo of the Opera House at night was from our October 2019,  Riding Under a Fool Moon, tour began on Friday, October 13, from Merced to Mammoth. From Mammoth it was a frosty night ride after a late afternoon stop in Panamint Springs. The idea was to ride under the full moon to Beatty, NV and spend the night at the Atomic Inn.  It’s doubtful that you’ll ever need reservations for the Atomic Inn, but I would recommend the Inn for your next stay in Beatty.  From the website:  Miss Cindy wants a sweet roll or carrot cake!  Anyone stopping in Seligman, AZ at Westside Lilo’s bring her one, and receive a substantial discount!!

Andy in 2019, ailin’ not alien at the Atomic…

Worth a stop when next you’re in Beatty, NV


After a surprisingly appetizing grilled chicken Greek salad brunch at Mel’s, we headed west on NV-374 to Rhyolite, a ghost town that began in early 1905 as one of several mining camps that sprang up after a prospecting discovery in the surrounding hills. During an ensuing gold rush, thousands of gold-seekers, developers, miners and service providers flocked to the Bullfrog Mining District. Many settled in Rhyolite, which lay in a sheltered desert basin near the region’s biggest producer, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine. 

You can learn all about Rhyolite in my very own YouTube video:  Rhyolite, Nevada with Tom and Pete.

Some snaps of Rhyolite

Camp and Großes Biers Beckon

Home sweet home with an en suite…

Why do Pete and I enjoy these trips so much?  It’s because we get out into the world on a vehicle that demands attention to the terrain, through which that attention demanding road runs. It’s that we get to see new places, meet new people, and enjoy an experience you just don’t get any other way.  All of which contributes to that notion of a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about one’s self, others, nature, or a higher good through that experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, a pilgrimage, after which the pilgrim returns to his daily life of dirty laundry, household chores, YouTube motorcycle videos, and planning for the next, and possibly greatest, ride. Oh yeah, and the reunion with our enchanting families!

On this afternoon we struck up a deeper conversation with our neighbors, Mike and Marissa from Toronto.  After obtaining that it was okay to address them Canucks even though they weren’t from Vancouver, we learned that Miike was a paramedic-firefighter and Marissa was a marketing consultant who were, like our encounter with the Montreal fellow in Three Rivers, escaping mid-winter Canadian temps for some early spring desert chill.  Their camp setup was an incredibly swagged out Jeep Wrangler rental featuring a Roofnest pop-up rooftop tent and a custom-built trail kitchen that included a portable stove, a sink with 2-gallon water tank, a foldable countertop, an electric/powered cooler and a solar shower with a 2.5-gallon water capacity. 

Mike and Marissa, Canucks to the core

They generously invited us to share their post dinner campfire and so after another fine appetizer of Simply Nature MultiGrain Tortilla Chips it was off to the Panamint Resort Restaurant for a breaded cod sandwich and großes bier, “bigga-beer”.   After a delightful laugh-filled evening of conversation with our new Canadian friends where we shared stories of adventures and families that both entertained and informed us, we turned in.  

Around midnight the first braying of feral donkeys near our campsite began.  The group of spiritual women retreaters who were camped next to us awakened, startled at first, but after one of them suggested that the sound was that of an elephant, proceeded to giggle for the next hour or so presumably about their “wilderness” experience. 

The next morning, reveille was sounded for the second morning, this time recognizable by around the eighth bar, after the first three bars of You gotta get up, You gotta get up, You gotta get up this morning.  The leader of the scout troop from Chino camped in the adjacent group site later apologized for the novice buggler’s rendition.  I thought it was full of character, not unlike the braying of the mules the night before…  

After packing up we bid adieu to our new friends inviting them to check out sisyphusdw7.com and should they ever return to California to visit Yosemite, to message us so that we might host them on their journey, perhaps accompanied by the child they intended to have… Awww!

2023 Desert Pilgrimage: Day 2 Three Rivers to Panamint Springs Saturday February 18, 2023

Where Tom and Pete find themselves in Panamint Springs

2nd Installment of the 2023 Desert Pilgrimage

Three Rivers to Panamint Springs

Lake Kaweah

Two Wheeled Backroads

There were a couple of backroad options for the day’s ride and so we selected a new route, Yokohl Drive to Springville.  New for me, but not for Pete who 20 years earlier took the same road Death Valley bound with his late pal Steve Walstad.  Kind of a tribute to a lost friend.

From Three Rivers we headed back on CA-190 through Lemon Cove to Exeter where we had a delightful breakfast at the East Meet West restaurant.  From the “City of Exeter” webpage:  “Exeter is known for growing the sweetest oranges in the world and as the “Citrus Capital of the World”.  How sweet!

Citrus Capital of the World

From the Citrus Capital of the World we took Yokohl Drive headed to Springville.  Fiddlenecks and meadowfoam, lupine and poppies with the backdrop of snow capped Blue Ridge beckoning, we noted a number of bicyclists, kitted out exhibiting an array of fitness levels, heading up to and down from, higher elevation.  It was some sort of organized ride, perhaps a club enjoying this early spring appetizer. The road surface was comparable to Mariposa’s Old Highway 140 we often enjoy on hill rides ourselves, roughly 20% original pavement, 60% patched potholes, and 20% potholed.  At one point in the road, as we began a steep climb, I was glad to have throttle assist and shock absorbers on our two-wheelers.  Check out the street views on Three Rivers to Panamint Springs

Beginning to bloom

I learned the hand on hip move from my granddaughter

From Yokohl Drive to Springville, it was CA-190 to just east of Porterville where we rambled over Old Stage Rd to White River and White River Rd to Glennville.  Glennville lies just west of the Alta Sierra Pass on CA-155 that drops down to Wofford Heights/Lake Isabella.  It’s a very popular road attracting riders from far and wide who congregate at the Saddle Sore Saloon (pics from a 2021 tour).  This tour included lively bike conversations with four gentlemen sitting on the deck of the Saddle Sore, all of whom were of our vintage, riding a V-Strom identical to Pete’s, a Honda NC-750, and a Tiger 850. I think the fourth bike was a Yamaha

Saddle Sore Saloon, Glennville – Note the anti-saddle sore gel pad on the Kawasexy

After exchanging pleasantries, we mounted our steeds as another vintage fellow threw a leg over his Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero bagger, who warned us to be careful of the sand near the summit.  Indeed, the road was sanded and for a stretch, slushy from the melting snow of the most recent storm. Up and over Alta Sierra Pass descending from an elevation of 5,718 ft the road was clear as we headed to Kernville for gas and a stretch.

At the intersection of CA-155 and Wofford Blvd in Wofford Heights, it’s 4.3 miles to Kernville.  Turning, we started seeing cars, trucks, and motorcycles parked on either side of the road for at least a mile from Kernville.  Little did we know as we stop-and-went for that longest mile into town for fuel at the Shell station that it was the 66th Annual Whiskey Flat, Gunsmoke and Petticoats celebration established in 1957 and sponsored by the Kernville Chamber of Commerce.   (https://whiskeyflatdays.com/). Below is a screen capture from last year’s event.  Needless to say, my hands were firmly attached to the handlebars and I wasn’t going to try to take a picture…

No reaching 25 mph in this crowd

Since 1957, this event commemorates the old Kernville of the 1800’s that was named Whiskey Flat. Just a short 3 hour drive from Los Angeles to the Lake Isabella recreation area, you will find the quaint town of Kernville, home to Whiskey Flat Days (50 miles east of Bakersfield on Hwy 178). Just a short 3 hour drive from Los Angeles to the Lake Isabella recreation area, you will find the quaint town of Kernville, home to Whiskey Flat Days (50 miles east of Bakersfield on Hwy 178). Whiskey Flat Days is held every Presidents Day Weekend. It is a leap back to the good ol’ wild west days when the area was settled by gold miners, cattle ranchers and trappers. Join us when Kernville reverts to its old name “Whiskey Flat” for four nostalgic days of fun for the entire family. Parade, Wild West Daze Rodeo, Wild West Encampment, Carnival Rides, Frog Jumping Contests, Whiskey Flat Mayor Contest, Food and Craft Booths, Epitaph, Costume and Whiskerino Contests, Line Dancing, Pet Parade, BlueGrass and Country Western Music, Art Show, Gunfighter Skits, Kids Activities, Games, and much more! Kernville Chambeer of Commerce

All we saw on our fuel stop were impatient drivers ignoring that fact parking was likely unavailable any closer than a mile back, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of beer swilling but good natured, revelers making any low-speed, high-center-of-gravity, Kawasexy manuevers terrifying as we attempted getting into and out of the Shell station dodging likely inebriated pedestrians and distracted drivers searching for noted non-existent parking.  

From Kernville we sailed through Mountain Mesa, Weldon, Onyx, and Canebrake to whip over Walker Pass on CA-178 (el 5,246 ft).  It was chilly, but clear of ice. Behold the east side.  This descent is almost as breathtaking as the descent from Kennedy Meadows over Sherman Pass, just to the north, down 9 Mile Canyon Rd that I have only ridden on my other two wheeler, the Seven Axiom.  Maybe it’s the extra mile that gives 9 Mile Canyon Rd that extra something.  Or perhaps it’s the 56 mile climb to get to the 9 Mile Canyon Rd descent.  Again, on this day, it was nice to have throttle assist.

Close to where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses CA-178

Short sections of US-395 and CA-14 took us through Inyokern to Ridgecrest where we joined CA-178 through Searles Valley, Trona, and Valley Wells on the Trona-Wildrose Rd, past the Ballarat Monument to the Panamint Valley Rd and our destination of the Panamint Springs Resort.

From Ballarat the Barker Ranch is only 21.8 miles

From 1897 to 1917 Ballarat served as a supply and recreation center for miners in the Panamint Mountains and Death Valley. Ballarat springs, cemetery, and remaining ruins of adobe, tin and wood buildings are featured. At its peak the remote outpost boasted 7 saloons, one school, and no churches. 

Seems like a reasonable ratio of civilization:recreation…

Panamint Springs Resort Restaurant sporting 150 beers to choose from

We raced to make the campground at Panamint Springs before sunset.  Upon approaching the campground I had the sinking feeling of approaching the Joshua Tree National Park entrance with “no campsites available” posted in 2021 (https://sisyphusdw7.com/2021/04/29/mojave-moto-spring-2021/). Then, it was our incredible good fortune to have meet Andres and Pablo, two motorcyclists in their 4-wheeled vehicles, who shared their Jumbo Rocks campsite with us.  The frazzled lass at the Panamint General Store where campsite registration is made said she was 100% sure there were no sites available.  Pete and I have been to this campground on several past trips and we’ve never, ever, seen it close to capacity.  In fact a year ago, it was closed in October and had been closed because of Covid since 2020.  

Panamint General $tore

It was at that moment that Mike, the frenetic Bostonian who also worked the counter, was furiously searching their computer database for something that might wipe the desperation off of my face. I contemplated boondocking in Panamint Valley as he seemed to be acknowledging no-vacancy.  It was also at that moment a gentleman behind us serendipitously announced that he wanted to cancel a campsite (#32) that he didn’t need as he and two other gentlemen had their daughters/goddaughters snuggled away in a “glampsite” at the “resort” and since their wives declined to join them, they didn’t need the extra campsite.  Can you believe it?  Lightning in the desert struck twice!  I guess our search for new or expanded meaning about ourselves, about others, about nature, and about higher good through the experience, was manifesting itself.  

This is what campsite #32 at a resort in Panamint Valley looks like

We hastily set up camp and made our way to the Panamint Resort Restaurant for my second BLT where we Pete and I had the opportunity to enjoy großes bier, “big-ga beers,” and thank all of our campsite benefactors who arrived for dinner as well.   

Strolling back to our campsite, our survey of the campgrounds indicated a large group of Boy Scouts in the group site to the east of our spot and a group of about 25 women adjacent to us in REI rental tents who were having themselves a time with lots of chatter and laughter.  That’s when we met Mike and Marissa who had pulled into the adjacent campsite #33, our new neighbors from Toronto for the next two nights. They were spending the following day checking out the Scenic DV’s Greatest Hits and then were off to Joshua Tree. I was proven wrong about what I thought was wine induced merrymaking when I learned from Mike and Marissa the following evening that the merrymakers in the REI rentals were a religious group on some sort of retreat. That and the morning prayer circle gave them away.

You meet the nicest people on a Versys

In addition to the Scouts and Merrymakers other campground occupants included several RV’s, camper trailers, vans, tent campers, along with a few like minded moto travelers, all of whom rounded out the caravansary.  In fact, there were several EV’s sporting about DV and even camping causing Pete and I perplexity as we wondered where they plugged in, in this infrastructure starved expanse.  That is if you don’t include “bigga-beers” as infrastructure…

Mesquite Flats Dunes, home of the Chino Boy Scouts Sand Surfing Grom Championships

As the sun had set, the scouts, though tired from sand surfing the Mesquite Flats Dunes, were merrily chatting away while listening to whatever popular music coming from whatever amplified device brought from home to ostensibly ward off homesickness.  They were outlasted by the adjacent REI rental retreaters whose leaders apparently weren’t enforcing the campground 10:00 quiet rules.

Alas, adult mirth beats adolescent music, homesickness inspired or not, IMHO for violating campground quiet rules… A few distant bleats, not quite brays, from the local donkey patrol closed out the evening’s festivities.

Once the campground became quiet, the wind picked up setting up the percussive flapping of the tent making for a restless night. That’s okay. I was given time to consider our journey thus far, often into mostly known places, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about oneself, others, nature, or a higher good through the experience. Not sure I had met the personal transformation criteria, I wasn’t willing to return to my daily life until I had given another shot at transformation. And not the moment’s inattention transformation from the previous pilgrimage on the Kawasexy…

2023 Desert Pilgrimage: Day 1, Merced to Three Rivers

Where the pilgrimage finds Tom and Pete contemplating our good fortune…

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

To Reacquaint With or a Pilgrimage To?

Preparing for our 2023 Desert Pilgrimage required planning to ensure comfort when we pitched our tents on each of the four nights on this five day late winter tour of the Sierra Nevada foothills, Death Valley, and Western Nevada basin.  We covered some 1,215 miles not unlike how John Steinbeck prepared Rocinante for his nearly 10,000 mile trip of 75 days to reacquaint himself with the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light.  These were his goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.  He took his dog Charley along for company.

Our goal was to take a journey into known and familiar as well as unknown or foreign places we have rambled through for so many years without freezing with Pete along for company. And as a pilgrimage is defined (and noted in the previously published preview of our Desert Pilgrimage on sisyphusdw7.com), we would be in search of new or expanded meaning about ourselves, about others, about nature, and a about higher good through the experience which would lead us to personal transformation.  All this, after which Pete and I, two humble pilgrims a decade-plus older than Steinbeck, would return to our daily lives of household chores, motorcycle YouTube videos, our families and dog and cat friends, and an ever disappointing Warrior’s season following the defeat of the 49ers. 

It’s a good thing baseball season is just around the corner.  You know, hope springs eternal and the pitch clock promises to give me back wasted minutes watching major leaguers tug at their various appendages while mugging at the camera in a paix de dieu between pitcher and batter… Go Giants!

Day 1, Merced to Three Rivers Friday, February 17, 2023 

Merced to Three Rivers

What’s it take to travel 1,215 miles in February on a motorcycle to the desert in the winter?

Pictured is the gear I hauled including the tent, ground cloth, sleeping bag, camp blanket, down jacket, air mattresses (a Thermarest pad and a Klymit Insulated Static V Lite insulated pad), JetBoil stove, fuel canisters, and the now infamous, REI Flexlite chair.  

Infamous Flexlite chair?  Yes.  I manage to tumble over both entering and exiting the chair wherever it is used regardless of slope.  And, no, it has nothing to do with the “rehydration” portion of the rehydration, relaxation, and reflexion ritual observed at the end of the day; the 3R’s we’ve come to perfect as camp has been made, whereupon victuals are scarfed, a fire set, and we sit back to enjoy the canvas of stars and planets and examine the nature of the day’s expanded meaning about ourselves, others, nature, and a higher good made possible by the day’s experience on the motos which would lead, hopefully, to some sort of personal transformation. Oh, and that acrobatic chair entry and exit. 

Maybe my issues with the Flexlite, aside from just enjoying the night sky with a cold brewski and conversation with Pete, may have to do with trying to keep from cascading into a hypothermia-induced inability to think clearly or move well, the result of shivering, feeling very tired, confused, with fumbling hands, suffering memory loss, with slurred speech, and drowsiness.  You know, any five of the seven hypothermia symptoms that mirror typical male geezer behaviors after spending the day on a motorcycle.   Pete doesn’t seem to have the same issues with his Walmart folding camp chair. He’s older than me too.

Absent from the picture are the additional clothing, tools, technology, and other assortment of “stuff” that added approximately 85 pounds of gear in the panniers, dry bags, and tank bag to the 25 pounds of the armored jacket, pants, helmet, and boots worn for protection while riding.  Including my weight, I added 290± pounds to the svelte, 473.6 pounds of the Kawasexy Versys.  I added 61% of the weight of the bike just in my nalgas and gear.  That’s a whopping 864± pounds when you add in the fig and Kind bar snacks.  Given the high center of gravity of the bike and all of the gear, it makes for anxious low speed maneuvers on stable, much less unstable, ground, paved or otherwise.  I do my best to avoid the Flexlite manuever on the loaded Kawasexy.

Our first day of the 2023 Desert Pilgrimage began with an approximately 180 mile day from our home-sweet-home in the San Joaquin Valley, Merced, to the foothill community of Three Rivers, the portal to Sequoia National Park.   

Pine Flat Reservoir

Backroads are our preferred pavé.  Santa Fe, various numerical roads in Madera County, Daulton, Friant, Millerton, Auberry, Maxon, Trimmer Springs (Pine Flat Reservoir pictured), Piedra, Elwood, Kings Canyon, Dunlap, Dry Creek, and Sierra are but a few of the names of the interconnected roadways you can see in the Google Map link. Check out the street view option on the map to see more of the terrain.

We arrived at The Hideaway campground in Three Rivers on Sierra Drive which just happens to be on the Kaweah River; the Kern and Tule rivers nearby. Pete has become the master selfie photographer.  The pic does give you an idea of what an 864± pound Versys touring outfit looks like. I requested that he take a picture of the campsite, me, and my rig.  Pete decided to improve the empty campsite photo with one of his mug in focus, in the foreground… 

We had set up camp after nearly 8 hours of undulating foothill and mountain twisties in a nearly empty campground.  There was a large canvas teepee with a wood stove chimney billowing smoke, a large brush pile, and us–our two tents and two chairs.  As we were making our way to the Totem for dinner and to procure campsite provisions for the night, an SUV with a roof tent showed up.  We don’t mind neighbors. 

Loves us our Totem

Pete had his buuurrrgggerrrr alotment for the trip and I enjoyed the first of two BLT’s.  The Totem isn’t fancy but the food is scratch made with good ingredients and the bar is well stocked with a variety of craft beers and wines.  As with most eateries near a National Park, there were the typical mementoes, camping supplies, bundles of wood, and tire chains for sale.  

All of the patrons were decked out in the latest winter outdoor fashion as we sat somewhat awkwardly adorned in our motorcycle gear.  You know what they say about ATGATT (all the gear, all the time).

A Smokey Bear approved fire

It was now dark and we returned to our campsite to enjoy the “3-R’s” with a cozy fire.  We managed to take up 5 campsites along a shaded rockwall figuring no one would show up this late in the day, but low and behold, a family van circumnavigated the campsites settling on one along a fenceline that wasn’t ideal, however, we weren’t going to cede the campfire that we had set safely away from our tents.  

The family consisted of two parents and two kids.  Dad set up a family sized tent as mom presumably prepared the evening meal as the kids frolicked in the dark twirling their lanterns and giggling.  I started feeling guilty, understanding this expanded meaning of myself for selfishly taking up so many sites, but, since the kids seemed to be having fun, Pete and I decided that our colonization of The Hideaway was meant to be.  And like that our guilt transformed to pride.

Too cold for my nalgas

The next morning we met some of our campsite neighbors.  One fellow from where the RV’s were parked above us who made his way up from the river showed interest in our bikes and revealed that he too rode a touring motorcycle, a KTM 850 Adventure R.  I noted how cold it was and he said that he and his wife, their 6 month old, and 2 year old had been touring the western US on a 45 day tour leaving their home in Montreal as temperatures dropped to sub-zero.  I noted that the morning’s 30 degrees in Three Rivers must have been like a day at the beach and he quipped, “Hey, I’ve already been for a swim in the river.”   

He had that, “Ya know, I’d love to be on my moto touring, but it’s garaged for half of the year because of the weather…” longing in his voice and eyes.  I acknowledged that what he was doing with his family was far more remarkable than anything two retired silverback dirtbags were doing to pass time, thus achieving higher good points for the day.

As we had stalled until the sun had risen enough to dry our tents, I made coffee and we packed the other gear.  The family van Dad stopped by, giving me the opportunity to apologize for having monopolized ¼ of the campground.  He dismissed my guilt by noting that they had a wonderful evening and were looking forward to visiting the snowbound Sequoia National Park and the Giant Forest Sequoia Grove.  With that we bade our neighbors safe travels and set about on Day 2 of our Desert Pilgrimage, 2x higher good points in the bank, and I managed a tumble free Flexlite night, cha ching! 

Stay tuned… up next, Day 2: Three Rivers to Panamint Springs and Death Valley.