The Amtrak bus is only filled to about 1/4 capacity, just as I hoped. I always try to plan my travels during the week whenever possible to get less crowded conditions—Tuesday, in this case.
The experienced driver on this bus is teaching this route to the new driver and I overhear him mentioning that it's rare to pick up someone at the Baker bus stop where I got on.
Abandoned 24-hour gas station in Mojave, California
The bus ride from Baker to Bakersfield starts out nicely. I'm really enjoying zooming through the desert scenery along the freeway while thinking that maybe I'll try riding part of this during a future trip (yes, it's legal to ride a bike on the freeway out here).
I'd like to ride to the Afton Canyon area just outside Mojave National Preserve, and the freeway is the most practical way to reach it by bicycle. I take more mental notes of the landscape out here that I've studied on maps but not yet visited.
Unfortunately, the air-conditioning on the bus is broken and can't be turned off, so it's incredibly cold. It's great after 50 or so miles when the the bus stops at Barstow, so we can get out into the heat and warm up for a few minutes.
There is unexpectedly an interesting food court at the Barstow bus station. I buy a sarsaparilla soda from the root-beer store there, then order some Chinese tofu-eggplant with chow-mein noodles that I take on the bus to eat. It's not quite time for another meal, but I feel like eating again anyway! No new passengers board the bus at Barstow.
A Brinks truck pulls up to Mojave Desert Bank in Mojave, California and does something
After Barstow, the bus stops at the town of Mojave, California, and no one gets on nor off. There's not a whole lot here in Mojave, but there are a couple of restaurants, a bank, a boarded-up 24-hour gas station, and a grid of streets with old houses—a few abandoned, but mostly occupied.
The bus leaves leaves Mojave and returns to the highway. On its way we pass an area with a sign stating something like "Aqueduct City, lots for sale."
There's nothing in Aqueduct City except a big grid of unpaved streets in the middle of creosote bush scrub—not a single house. Bizarre. It looks like a failed development plan from the past that is still hoping to kick off, but at a glance it's hard to know for sure why this looks so forlorn.
Before Bakersfield, the Amtrak bus makes one more stop at Tehachapi, where four guys freshly released from prison board the bus with belongings in small boxes and bags. Two other men also board here, a father-son team, apparently not new ex-cons.
Bike rack on Amtrak's San Joaquin train
Eavesdropping unintentionally on loud conversations between new-ex-prisoners is educational for someone like me who knows nothing about what it might be like to be a jailbird.
One of the guys served four years of a seven-year sentence and is hoping to turn his life around, but is not sure he'll be able to after losing four years of his life to prison. An overly sympathetic guy sitting near him tries to give him some support and encouragement, but it sounds patronizing to me.
My bus arrives at Bakersfield on-time and I transfer my bags and bicycle to the train. The bike rack on the San Joaquin train is wonderful. Unfortunately, not all Amtrak trains are equipped with one.
The train ride northward up the Central Valley passes pleasantly through small towns and cities that I'll probably never need to visit. We pass through miles and miles of orchards and farmland.
Farm land in California's Central Valley as seen from Amtrak's San Joaquin train route
At sunset, I get off the train at Stockton and take the almost-empty Amtrak bus into San José. Unfortunately, the air-conditioning on this bus is broken too and doesn't work at all. It's so hot inside that I'm sweating and wondering how the bus driver could possibly stay awake and be attentive.
We arrive at the quiet San José train station. It takes me a few minutes to mount my saddlebags on the bike for the short half-mile ride home from the train station.
The bus driver, at the end of his route for the evening, looks at my suddenly huge bike, curious about what I'm doing with so much stuff. We chat briefly, then I'm on my way.
Home at last. Or am I?