The plateau at the top of Black Canyon Road after climbing out of Cedar Canyon on the way to Mid Hills campground

Bicycle camping in and around Mojave National Preserve 2006

Day 2: Kelso Dunes to Mid Hills campground

38.37 miles, 5:03 hrs, 34.3 mph max, 7.5 mph avg

Elevation: 2500 to 2800 to 2123 to 5500 feet

I reach the road into the campground. Mid Hills was one of my favourite areas out here before the brush fires. The entrance kiosk where one signs in has burned and is no longer there. I pass campsite number three, where I have stayed previously. It also burned, so I keep on going.

Looking across part of Round Valley toward Table Top Mountain, from near the junction of Black Canyon Road and Wild Horse Canyon Road on the way to Mid Hills campground

The area is odd in that some campsites have been completely burned and devastated, while others nearby were left untouched. The still-intact campsites that I pass are mostly occupied.

At the high end of the campground, I reach an unburned campsite with a very nice view of the valley below—elevation about 5500 feet. This will be home tonight, surrounded by pinon pines, junipers and stubby banana yuccas.

The first thing to do is to put on a sweater. I'm no longer staying warm by pedalling, and the wind up here on the mountain is cold! I decide not to change into long pants right away, but I'll probably need to soon.

I'm completely pooped and unpack a few things so that I can set up my tent. Suddenly, I receive my first visitor, Bonnie, from the next campsite, which is almost invisible from here. She watched me ride up the campground road past their campsite and is offering me freshly homemade soup.

Entering Mid Hills campground, most of the campsites that one first sees are burned out, including site no. 3, where I camped during past bike trips here

Bonnie tells me that her group passed me on Cedar Canyon Road a few hours ago on the way up here, so she knew I was "that cyclist" when I rode past their campsite five minutes ago.

She's a bicyclist also, so I'm excited, but just not quite ready yet to be social, with exhaustion setting in after the long ride. I tell her that I'll drop by shortly, once I've set up camp and have recouped a bit of energy. As a cyclist herself, she knows exactly what I'm talking about, and I'm glad that I'm not left feeling asocial!

I slowly get my tent set up and unpack some other items. I hear someone approaching and it's Bonnie's husband John, inviting me over "next door" for soup!

OK, OK! The sun is beginning to set, I grab my flashlight for later use and we walk over to their campsite. A wonderful social evening begins as we sit around the kitchen table in their camper, as exhausted and almost asocial as I feel at the moment. Two bicyclist couples are camping at this site together, though they're not bicycling on this particular trip: Bonnie and John, and Jeff and Lucy.

The 10-ton bike is happy to have its saddlebags removed when I arrive at a campsite at Mid Hills campground

They're all older than I and have more bike touring experience than I'll probably ever have. Jeff biked to work for many years, like I do in San José now. John grew up around south San José orchards near where I work, which today is mostly ugly fake-smart-growth office parks and suburbia designed to repel anyone not driving a car—a San José development specialty.

They have great stories about their bike trips in Europe, where I've never been, particularly about riding resolutely in rainstorms in Ireland even when the weather refused to cooperate with their travel plans.

They're curious about how I ended up bike touring out here in the Mojave Desert, which they hadn't thought of doing, so I talk about that too. I think we're all inspiring each other to some degree tonight, which is probably the best thing that could happen between people who don't know each other.

View from campsite at Mid Hills campground toward Cima area, with Clark Mountain way over in the distance

They offer me a glass of wine, which I almost accept, but I'm afraid to drink it so soon after all of today's exertion. Their pasta-and-sausage soup is excellent, and even though I'm still hungry after two bowls of it, I just can't eat more. They'll be leaving early in the morning and have other food to eat, so Bonnie packs up the leftovers for me to take "home."

Bonnie also gives me a few cans of Kern's fruit drinks, some kashi energy bars that she didn't like much, and some firewood that they didn't use. I'm really looking forward to having a campfire tomorrow night!

I walk up the road in the darkness to my campsite and crawl into my tent. If I were staying up any longer, I would change into long pants immediately. Instead, I put on a pair of sweat pants that I brought with me (but thought I wouldn't need) and crawl into my sleeping bag. It's chilly, so I leave my socks and t-shirt on as well.

Banana yucca and pinyon pines at Mid Hills campground

It has been windy for a while, and every now and then a big gust blasts against my tent, making a lot of noise on my tent. Then all goes silent again. The strangest moments are when I hear a gust of wind blowing overhead that doesn't actually blow through the campsite. I heard several of those last night at Kelso Dunes as well.

I'm having a hard time falling asleep, partly because I'm so physically tired, partly from the shock of the cold air up here, and partly from the excitement of the evening get-together with the cyclists "next door."

The peace of the surroundings is broken when two guys arrive late at the next campsite. The campsites here are spread out enough that they're largely invisible to each other, and there's a gulley between me and the new arrivals further over.

They're not especially noisy, but sound really travels in such a quiet environment. The voices stop and they turn on the radio for 15 minutes so (while having sex?—I'm jealous). Who would normally want to listen to radio while camping in a quasi-wilderness environment?

I unfold myself (ouch) and crawl out of my little dome tent to put on its outer shell for a little a extra insulation. I didn't need to do this last night in the warmth down at Kelso Dunes.

My home at Mid Hills campground for the next two nights; the box in the foreground contains some firewood from the burned trees in the area, donated by the park to visitors

Back in the tent, I'm really appreciating my brand-new 15° sleeping bag, which I found too hot last night. I bought this as a precaution in case of unexpected cold, knowing that the higher elevations out here can be unpredictably cold, even at the end of April.

I don't ever want a repeat of that night that I spent out here in the Keystone Canyon area five years ago where my sleeping bag was so inadequate, and I so cold, that I couldn't sleep much.

I draw the hood of the sleeping bag around my head and tighten the drawstring. I feel better now and drift off.

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