I panicked and started worrying about the condition of the roads. It was only about 30 miles along a relatively level path through the dirt roads of Carrizo Plain to Hwy 33 on the other side, but it would be over 80, over numerous high ridges, to go back through California Valley and Simmler and to the east on large, paved roads. If the rain kept up, it would make the dirt roads impassible.
So, in a rush, i gathered all of my things and dressed in my most rain-appropriate gear (not rain-proof, of course, as everything is wool and the only waterproof clothing i wear is the socks). This was complicated by the fluid dynamics inherehent in my little sheltered system. The picnic table, which took up most of the room underneath the shelter, made it difficult to maneuver there. Since it was only partially beneath the shelter, it also tended to communicate rainwater to all of the otherwise-dry areas. I would have been better off without any shelter at all, rather than this illusion of shelter. Indeed, i was much more at ease as soon as everything was packed up and i was actually out in the rain.
I'm not sure whether it was the noisesome tin roof of the "shelter", my panicked state of mind, or just a change in the weather, but the rain seemed barely more than a drizzle once i set out. The roads, though crappy to begin with, were scarcely affected by the new precipitation. The dirt road back down to Soda Lake Rd., the main road through Carrizo Plain, was not so bad as i had remembered the previous night. Soda Lake Rd., itself, was paved at this point, and for a short distance down to the south.
When Soda Lake Rd. turned to dirt, it was not so bad at first. It was rather like biking on the fire roads through Upper Campus at UCSC, where i had squatted for a number of years. Unfortunately, i was unprepared for the effects of 25 miles of such roads, on a loaded fixed-gear bike.
The rain was light and intermittant, and therefor not so much to deal with. The scenery in these conditions was actually quite nice. I saw a few Pronghorn Sheep and Tule Elk. But for the most part, i saw ripples in the dirt surface, large rocks jutting out of it, and learned to anticipate the particular cadence and quality of rattling associated with each type of dirt laid down. When i would look up, the world looked eerie and out of focus and trying to guage the weather was made more complicated by the fact that the clouds, indeed everything i looked at, appeared to be receding into the background whichever way i looked--an optical illusion produced by staring at the constantly approaching road.
My bones were rattled, bringing to mind the nickname ("boneshaker") of the old penny-farthing high-wheeled bicycles, from an era when cyclists were still the major advocates of road building. I wondered whether my poor bicycle was going to make it through this experience. I was only able to travel at about 8 mph because of the road quality, which i think would be agonizingly slow for a cyclist of any skill or experience level. It was also not good for my knees, as i had to ride at an extremely slow cadence because i was riding fixed.
I stopped after a while at the entrance to KCL Campground. KCL stands for Kern County Land, although i believe this was actually San Luis Obispo County. There was an ancient water wagon there at the entrance, with the sign. There was also one of the few trees. I sat there underneath the tree for a moment, eating Lara Bars for breakfast, assured that i no longer needed (or would be able, even if it were necessary) to rush through the dirt road section of the area before it washed out. Munching on my breakfast, i caught sight of a Kangaroo Rat hopping adorably across the road. This put me temprorarily in a better mood.
Despite my efforts to remain in good spirits and to remind myself that these sort of trials (and perseverance through them) are part of what makes bicycle touring such a wonderful experience, i was inconsolable. As i had at least once every day previous while on tour, i thought to myself, "I can't believe i'm actually doing this," although the implication was obviously quite the opposite from previous days.
But, there were other bright spots. For one, the pavement came back some 7 or 8 miles sooner than i had expected, shortly before reaching the Traver Ranch. I stopped there for some three hours, first to check over my bike. Several bolts had rattled off entirely. One of them was holding my brake lever in place at the fulcrum, but this had little effect on its functionality and could wait for quite a while before being repaired. The other bolt was one of the main bolts holding my rack on. I'm not quite sure how my rack even managed to stay on, but it had, wearing through part of the new paint job on my bike to reveal bare metal. Luckily, i had a replacement bolt for this (several, actually). As the weather was drying out, and the sun even shone on occassion, the caked dirt that had gotten stuck in my brakes and stays had dried up and could be removed rather easily. I spent some time cleaning up after what struck me as a sort of mud facial for my bike.
With that taken care of, i explored around the Traver Ranch, which had been set up by volunteers as a display of dryland farming equipment from the 20s through the 50s. This was vaguely interesting. The grey cinderblock ranch house had been boarded up and fenced off, presumably to protect it as bat habitat. I couldn't help myself (partly because i was beginning to think about shelter for the night) and went in to explore. The place was not particularly well secured. I saw some old piles of bat guano, but nothing that looked recent. There were a lot of birds nesting in the place, though. There were still a few soft chairs left, probably where they had been positioned for decades, as well as a radio cabinet. The roof was in poor condition and the carpet was torn up in places. Bat guano, rat feces and bird shit was everywhere. All in all, not a pleasant place to seek shelter. To make it even less hospitable, there were bullet holes covering the wall opposite the shot-out windows facing the road. In general, the monument was littered with shotgun shells. In any case, the place started to give me the creeps (in part because of a lack of explanation of what happened to the family that had lived there, irrespective of their farming implements), so i made haste to skee-daddle.
I walked around a bit to see if there were any other places around that could serve as a shelter, but found only very decrepit wooden buildings and stone foundations with nothing above. On one hill-top, i looked south down the road and WHAT THE FUCK! It's dirt! Indeed, i had been lulled into a false sense of security by bad maps and portions of road that were paved for no discernibly good reason. The official map showed the paved and dirt sections of Soda Lake Rd., but failed to include the short paved section upon which i had taken my leave for three hours, so i thought i was simply back on the pavement for good. It also did not indicate the location of Traver Ranch for reference.
Oh well, back onto the dirt for another 7 miles. This was perhaps the hardest part, not just because of the disappointment of having thought it was all over, but because this is also where there were the steepest inclines and, oddly enough, heaviest traffic. At an extremely slow cadence going up steep hills with a lot of weight, my knees were really feeling the pain. And apparently this was rush hour on the plain, which made things particularly difficult because i generally had to ride on all parts of the road to avoid large rocks, large holes and huge washboards--this on top of the fact that i couldn't hear traffic approaching from the rear with all of the rattling.
But then a vehicle passed that put my tribulations into some perspective. It was one of those cattle trailers. I don't think there were any cattle or horses in it, but just the thought of those poor animals being jostled and rattled and tossed around in that thing made me feel petty for fretting over my present situation, not least because i was at least responsible for putting myself in it in the first place.
Not long after this, i did finally reach the pavement for good. And very shortly after that was the summit at about 2900', and the ranch structures of Hanline Ranch just on the other side of the summit. Since it was the top of the hill, i decided to try again to get some reception on the weather radio. Still no luck. The ranch looked pretty old, with fence poles made of sticks and rough-hewn lumber, so i thought it might be abandoned and decided to take a look. There were fences and a locked gate, but the notable absence of any No Trespassing signs, which are, as far as i can tell, de rigeur in these parts. But there was also some newer infrastructure, including a modern water tank (although the indicator showed that it was nearly or completely empty, and perhaps not actually in use) and recent-looking electrical hookups. The structures were mostly old, delipidated wooden buildings, but one barn had newer eaves and corrugated roofing. The electricity in the barn was all old, and clearly disconnected. The new hookups didn't seem to actually go anywhere. There were a few dessicated cow patties lying around, but few and far between. The barn was clean enough, except for a few bits of rat feces in the feeding trough, so i decided to hang out for a bit and get a feel for whether the place would work well for the night's shelter.
I made some dinner of amaranth with olive oil and "italian herbs". I also made some matÈ for the morning, as i was planning on making my exit as early as possible. I ate the amaranth, but determined that the olive oil had been rancid, and probably even when i bought it, which is why i nearly wretched when gulping it down in Monterey, and why it kept nearly coming up throughout the day. Into the "trash to pack out" bag it went.
Still lacking proper utensils, i made the amaranth nice and runny so i could practically drink it. There was cell phone reception, probably from towers across the way on Mt. Pinos, so i talked again with Adrienne for a bit, although i had to break off the conversation abrubptly at one point to do a #2 that kinda snuck up on me. I ran around the ranch trying to find a place to do it and a rock with which to dig the hole, all while bent over in what i'm sure would have been a hilarious posture to anyone who might have been around to see it. Such a possiblity required a significant stretch of the imagination, however, as i'm quite sure there wasn't a soul for miles.
My bowels evacuated and everything but my sleeping gear packed up for the morning, i enjoyed the view and smiled as the hail rapped a noisy staccato rhythm on the metal roof.