What a spectacular experience !
The sky was breathtaking! There was thunder and lightning and the world appeared to be coming to an end. In the desert it was like a match going on between the forces of the elements and I was smack-dab in the middle of it all!
The colors were as intense as hardly ever seen before – a first-class natural spectacle of the universe!
But let’s not put the cart before the horse!
LAX Airport. Welcome to the United States – probably the most attractive American president the nation has ever had greeted me with a warm wide grin. The picture, however, was made during the initial phase of his tenure, because in the short time he’s been in office, he’s become an old man.
So here I was, once again in America, and I was really happy about it.
I arrived in the country by plane with a Chinese airline and, to my huge surprise, the speaker announcement for incoming visitors was actually in Chinese.
The signs were even bilingual – English and Spanish. What’s going on here? Have the Americans suddenly become cosmopolitan and have they begun to show some understanding for other nations?
The tall, cute official, with whom I had to leave my fingerprints, impressed me with small talk in an extremely likeable way. He wanted to know what kind of bicycle he should buy. I couldn’t believe how smoothly everything went there.
Above all, what was far more important to me, is that he spoke English as his mother tongue.
I was finally surrounded by people with whom I could carry on a conversation – I could ask them questions, and they are much closer to my own culture. I was doing flip-flops inside with each tall grown man that I saw. Finally, there were no longer any small, dainty men. Finally, there was something for my eyes to be happy about again.
Deb, a super nice lady from South Pasadena, waited in the crowd for me holding a sign with the name “Heike” on it and came towards me with a huge grin; she hugged me and said: “I’m so happy to finally meet you. How do you pronounce your name?”
It’s a question that will probably accompany me to the end of my life. Anywhere other than Germany, Heike is simply a very strange name, especially in the English-speaking world.
In Australia I was always Heike – the biker or the hiker. And everyone thought it was funny, besides me. Well, no worries.
Deb was put into contact with me by one of my most loyal fans, Ron, from Arizona, and she invited me to stay with her until I was over my jet lag. That took quite a while.
We strolled through the streets, went shopping, chatted and had a really great time together.
In my memory, Los Angeles was something completely different than it appeared to me this time. In comparison to the mega-metropolises of the large Asian cities, LA seemed more like a huge village. But it is as diverse as London and New York.
There, the Bob Marleys and Ray Charleses of the world walk right past you. The skateboarders are always underway there and the city is filled with countless Mexicans and Asians. Hobos lie along the streets and luxury cars park right next to them.
Everything is mixed in a potpourri of colors and cultures and, in the end it is clearly a representation of nearly every nation in the world.
There are vegan shops in front of which you are reminded to bring your own shopping bag, international products, vegetarian restaurants, etc. California captured my heart immediately.
For $8 I allowed myself the first haircut since I was in Laos. The Chinese woman who cut it could not believe how matted my hair was.
“Don’t you have a comb?” she asked me. I could have broken out in laughter, because I actually really don’t have one. Eventually, she just cut nearly everything with a typical Chinese “I don’t care” attitude and I was finally able to see out of my eyes again.
It hadn’t rained in LA in 2 years – until I came; then, in the afternoon it gushed, like water was being poured from huge vats.
Martin, a bike tour blogger from Hamburg / Germany, was coincidentally also in LA, so we met in a small cafe for lunch. It is really nice when you can meet someone personally that you’ve had contact with for a long time and share thoughts. A nice bloke.
“Angel’s Crest Trail” was the first hurdle of my cycling trip through the United States. It was hot. Really hot! To top it off, it was terribly dry. I was not really over my jet lag yet, so it was really difficult for me to ride in the mountains.
The green, wet mountains of Japan had suddenly transformed into barren, brightly shimmering rock walls. Within a short time I had been transported to a completely new world and now I had to get used to everything all over again.
The first night I camped in a hidden place in the forest. It smelled so wonderfully splendid as I had always kept in my memory of the USA. The forests here simply have an intense fragrance, quite unlike anywhere else.
I was really in a good mood. It was just beautiful outside here. I cooked something delicious to eat, watched the stars, listened to the sounds of the forest and was totally happy again, to be back in nature which I love so much.
There are black bears in the area here and when something large lumbered close to my tent, it made me a little uneasy; although, from the sound, I figured it could easily be any hoofed animal.
Nonetheless, I lay awake the first few hours and listened carefully. An infinite number of leaves and branches fell from the trees, but in the end, I didn’t hear the animal anymore.
On the entire length of the “Angels Crest Trail” there is only one watering hole and I had already passed it the night before. I had filled my bottles with 7 liters of water, but that was already almost all gone. Because of the extreme drought this year in the area, the rangers had even turned off the water taps in the official campsites, so I was searching in vain for water.
In a secluded campsite, I was hoping to find some water when I met Mary .
Mary was underway on a “mission from the Lord” like the Blues Brothers, and at this deserted patch of earth, 1500 meters above sea level, she had taken up the task of talking with Jesus and was spending time there with her Bible.
Can you guess who appeared? Of course! Joseph – like he was ordered – because Joseph was the Ranger in the region. He gave me two of his water bottles and regretted that on the stretch that lay before me all the way to the summit at 2500 meters, there would be no more water. We both knew that I will never make it, because it was already over 30 C and I still had 1,000 meters to ascend ahead of me.
Regardless of the situation, he was a savior in time of need and Mary thanked her Lord several times for his appearance.
Not even 3 kilometers later, Joseph showed up again and brought me two more bottles of water, which he had gotten quickly from a colleague. Simply super nice!
I camped in the woods again and, while I was cooking my meal, I spilled everything on the ground. So, I shoveled the noodles into a pile and put a large stone on top of them. The next morning, the stone had been moved, the noodles were gone and tracks were visible on the ground – but no bear tracks.
After arriving at the summit, the trail went back down in eternally long curves next to barren boulders returning me to the desert plane.
Past Cajun Junction I rode on the “Rim of the World” highway and had to face many more curves and had to climb many more meters in altitude.
At a 7-Eleven, I pushed my bike between two parked cars. A huge dog jumped at me from one of the open windows barking loudly. Out of sheer fright, I let my bike fall which, unfortunately, fell against the other car and left a huge scratch in it.
The driver of the damaged vehicle immediately jumped out of the car and yelled, “hey, you scratched my car.” The windows went up in the other car and the lady at the steering wheel looked like she wanted to start her engine. I immediately ripped open her car door and said to her: “You’re not going anywhere.”
At first, the woman acted totally innocent, but in the end, she relented and agreed to pay for the scratches. Neither one of them asked me if I had been hurt myself or whether the bicycle was damaged.
With the words “God bless you” she dismissed me.
I felt a little uncomfortable, because the area had a few very strange people around and I didn’t have a good feeling about camping off-road anywhere near there. So I looked for a campsite and found one where I would have had to pay a ridiculous fee of $30 for my small tent. So I simply camped in the forest near the campsite and felt safe there.
Halloween – the decorations in front of the homes and in the shops were really funny. Inwardly, I was hoping that I can find somewhere to share in the Halloween festivities.
Soon, the trail wound steeply downhill in endless serpentine curves back into the desert again.
It was dreadfully hot – so horrendously hot that it was almost unbearable.
Private property! No trespassing! Keep out!
There was one of those signs at every corner, in front of every house, and didn’t really give me the feeling that friendly people lived in those houses.
The question “Why do Americans have so much fear?” was going through my head all day long. Everywhere there were fences, thick doors, barking dogs – I thought to myself “where in the world have I landed?”
It was getting dark, but the endless line of fences blocked access to any wilderness areas and where I could camp. In my distress, I pushed my bike slowly past a “no trespassing” sign hoping that I wouldn’t be shot immediately.
I went up to a mobile home where I could see someone – a woman. She was a compulsive hoarder (we call them Messies in Germany.) The lady really lived surrounded by trash – poor people, like I had already encountered before.
The whole area was run down and shabby.
Her neighbor in the mobile home next to hers was completely annoyed when we knocked and asked if I could pitch my tent on the grounds. “Well, OK!” In the end, I had a safe night and rode on the next morning.
On the way to my first warmshower host I was suddenly nearly overcome with the heat. I was dizzy and looked under a Joshua tree for shade. I had had enough to drink, but it was just terrifically dry and exceedingly hot; my skin was completely dry and nothing cooled me anymore. I was honestly concerned that I might just keel over at some point.
In desperation, I tried to stop a car, but no one stopped. After a while, a car returned and the people gave me ice-cold water which I immediately emptied onto my head and soaked all my clothes with it. They also gave me a cooling pack which I put on my neck, and after a while I felt better.
The next few kilometers I pushed my bicycle in the direction of the warmshower host. Graig, who had given me super directions to find his property. It was a very large place; of course it was fenced in with a tall fence and only accessible with the code he had given me.
There was a small cottage inside where I was allowed to stay for three days while I waited for the heatwave to pass by. Craig lived many miles away from the place, so I never got to see him.
Once again I was amazed by the hospitality of some of the warmshower hosts.
Finally !!! A storm came up and everything cooled down.
In the Joshua Tree National Park, I enjoyed the colors and shapes in the sky, the rocks and the Joshua trees – a feast for the eyes and simply beautiful! A thunderstorm in the desert is just something very special.
I met some Germans – tourists – and along with them, I met Daniel and Miriam, who came with their car from Central America. They allowed me to camp on their campsite and supplied me with yummi food. Among other things, there were pancakes with Nutella.
Wow! “Heart, what more do you want?”
Passing through “29 Palms” I headed north. The desert here was secluded and dramatically beautiful and I felt again the immense freedom that I always experience when I’m out in the vastness of the wilderness.
Behind a bush, I could hardly get any sleep all night because a sandstorm got on my nerves and kept me up half the night. In the morning there was sand in every corner – in the tent, in my panniers, simply everywhere.
I finally arrived in Amboy and to my surprise, I was on the legendary Route 66 – but I’ll say more about that the next time.