Across Continents

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Night to remember

Within the hour the wind had strengthened considerably. The noise clearly audible above the sound of the television. Chilling. Yet the air wasn’t noticeably cold. Cool perhaps. But hardly penetrating. Its greatest menace its unrelenting buffeting. Compounded by darkness.

I’d reached the small dusty town of Ocotillo a short time earlier. Found a small motel. Just four rooms and a collection of tired trailers. Mine was simply furnished. Painted breeze block walls. An electric heater. Small armchair, a split in the cushion. Stained carpet. Curtains drawn to help keep the penetrating wind out.

But none of this really mattered. I was indoors. Finally. Bringing to a close a night truly to remember. At sunset I’d decided to ride for Ocotillo. Twelve miles on the shoulder of the Interstate highway east from San Diego but downhill all the way. Reckoned I could make the descent before it was properly dark. Not an attractive prospect but the least worst choice. The alternative wild camping in the bush close to the heavily patrolled Mexican border.

A few miles onto the Interstate hit by gusting gale force winds. Brought to an abrupt stop. Unable to ride, struggling to keep the bike upright whilst gingerly rolling her down the grade. Trucks and cars charging past down the slope. Uncomfortably close. By now quite dark, the wind lending an unsettling, eerie dimension. The only glimmer of compensation my bright rear red light, reflective jacket, pannier panels and a generous shoulder.

I’d have accepted any offer of a lift to get me out of there. But nobody stopped. Ten miles or so Ocotillo, maybe a little less. Nasmith’s Rule. Two and a half miles per hour. Four hours. Gone six so feasible I’d reach the town by ten pushing the trusty steed. Worse case scenario, hopeful the wind would ease as I descended. For now grateful the wind was buffeting rather than chilling. And it wasn’t raining. Below the lights of traffic weaving down the steep slope. Others struggling with the climb on the largely parallel uphill carriageway.

Sometimes the gusts would ease. Only to return a few hundred yards later, their ferocity undiminished. I knew to be cautious. Similar experience in China’s Gobi desert. But conditions did eventually improve, albeit slowly. Freewheeling short sections perched on a single pedal, poised to dismount if hit by sudden strong winds.

Eventually back in the saddle, the lights of what I presumed to be Ocotillo almost touchable, finding I couldn’t pedal. Stopping once more on the shoulder to discover my chain had slipped off the chainring. Five minutes to fix. Head torch on. Release rear wheel quick release to free the chain and refit to the sprockets. Steady and stoic for I knew the night would soon be over. And it’d taken my mind right off hemorrhoids. Never fun on a leather saddle.



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