Camping On The Erg

Hank – We really enjoyed our stay with Steve and Janet and the extra day was nice but we had to get back on the road. Kathy weighed her bike and panniers just for the heck of it. She was surprised to learn her loaded bike tipped the scales at 90 pounds. She thought about that during the first few miles and then asked where the nearest Post Office was. She decided to reduce some weight by mailing some stuff to our friends in San Diego who we’ll be staying with. She pulled 12 pounds of stuff out and mailed it off in Winterhaven, CA.

Since we quickly crossed into California, our 36th state, the rules for riding on the freeway changed. Essentially, if there’s a frontage road available then you have to get off the freeway.

One road appeared to have been built when the Joad family rolled into California during the Dust Bowl and hasn’t been touched since. Five miles of buckled, cracked, and occasionally patched asphalt that will shake anything off your bike if it’s not firmly attached.

We passed on checking out the History of the World etched in granite at the Center of the World mainly due to laziness. We didn’t feel like making the effort to ride or push our bikes through two inches of pea gravel. I don’t think we missed anything.

We arrived at the Imperial Sand Dunes and sat in the shade at the closed ranger station. Dune buggies and sand rails occasionally drove into view. A number of RVs were camping out and there was room for many more. The camp host said we could pitch a tent. This is a fee area and he said you buy a permit about six miles back up the freeway at the Chevron station. It’s $35 for a seven day permit and there is no single day permit. I told him I’ll chance spending one night here for free. He said that’s what he would do. He also told me this was the first time in his eight years here that he’s seen anyone on bicycles come in to camp.

While walking our bikes to a large bush where we could set the tent up in the shade we met our neighbors, Ken and Jill. They are from London. They’ve been coming to the U.S. for 13 years, travelling all over in a small RV. They store the RV in Yuma when they go home.

We also met Ken from Portland, Oregon who asked if we’d like to go for a ride in the dunes. Ken knows a lot of other drivers, and he drives himself but his vehicle had a busted hydraulic line, and he loves to introduce new people to dune riding. I was cool with that so Ken got Mark from Coos Bay, Oregon who took me out in the dunes for a fun and sometimes terrifying ride. At night the dunes are very deceptive. You crest the top and it seems like the far side goes straight down for hundreds of feet.

Mark drove me to the section of the Plank Road that’s on display. It consisted of 8′ by 12′ sections set one after another for seven miles. When the sand shifted and covered sections then a team of horses were used to move the planks back on the the top of the sand. Crazy!

(By the way, an erg is another name for a sand sea. The dunes here are the largest erg, or sand sea, in North America. Their claim to fame also includes being used in one or more of the Star Wars films.)

When I got back to camp I joined English Ken, Jill, Portland Ken, and Kathy at a bonfire. (If people have the same first name then they get another moniker attached so everyone knows who they are. We didn’t get to meet Beer Bob.) We got to know each other better and shared stories of our travels with each other. Again, we meet the nicest people.

Kathy – It was unfortunate but we had to leave Janet and Steve this morning. They offered many times to drive us up over the mountain pass that we will hit in a few days. Although we appreciated their offer we passed on it and will be doing a lot of climbing in a few days as we make our way to San Diego, California. Just so you know, I might be regretting that decision as we start climbing.

Today we rode 37 miles in sunny mid 70s temps. We had good road shoulder areas on and off the freeway for the most part. We did have about five miles of frontage road that was pretty rough but we got through it. We had some elevation but that will really increase over the next few days.

We got to the sand dunes and eventually pitched our tent. We spent the evening chatting around a campfire with new friends that we just met. They are really nice people. It’s been a good day. We said goodbye to our friends Janet and Steve, we road without any issues, camped at a primitive site, and met more good folks in this great country of ours.

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  1. Oh that frontage road doesn’t look so bad, just the same as the North Riverside Aubrey White road between 7 mile and the downriver road with exception of the between the sewer plant and the rifle club entrance. (recently re-paved)


  2. Fun times playing in the sand.


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