Stagecoach 400 – Day 3, Anza-Borrego to Anza

SC400 Day 3


SC400 Day 3 - Details

It’s hard to put day 3 into words so this post will be brief. It was the most physically and mentally challenging day I have ever had on a bike. In Morgan’s words, “It was bullshit. Hell on earth.”

(He also said he’d do it again.)

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We awoke to a beautiful sunrise in the desert. The winds had died down overnight but were quickly picking up as we headed toward Diablo Drop Off.

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At the top of Diablo Drop Off

Diablo Drop Off earned its name. It was just a mile and a half into the day and such a steep, rough, rock strewn descent that we a) put our helmets on and b) very nearly had to walk down. Except for the headwind though, the rest of the ride out of Anza-Borrego was pretty smooth sailing.

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You’ve Got Mail!

Once we hit the road, the wind really started taking its toll. Our cue sheet mentioned a usually-open water stop at a small store about 20 miles into the day, but as our luck would have it they were closed on Mondays. And Tuesdays. And Wednesdays, Thursdays, and most Fridays. The sign on the door said to call Mary if you needed them to open, but there was no cell reception.

The store was in front of an RV park (really just a dirt lot). I poked around back and found a shirtless man in his late 40s. Asked him if he knew Mary who owned the store.

“Mary doesn’t own the store.”

“Okay…. do you know how to get in touch with Mary who works at the store? Do you have a phone?”

“There’s no reception.” ::walks away::

So that didn’t work. We ended up filtering well water we found at a hose on the side of the building and hoped we wouldn’t have to drink too much.

The winds had really picked up now. On tarmac we were averaging about 8mph, taking turns in the front trying to block the wind for each other. It was also REALLY HOT already.

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Eventually we passed a stand renting off-road vehicles for driving around in the desert. The owner sold us overpriced water and chips and we dumped the well water. It was very remote.

Finally, after 38 miles and 5 hours of riding, we arrived in the town of Borrego Springs. Borrego Springs is in the middle of nowhere, a town that’s made up of a giant traffic circle with a huge patch of lush green grass in the middle, about 10 stores/buildings along the four spokes coming off the circle, and absolutely nothing but desert in every direction.

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In Borrego Spring we got burritos and french fries, refilled our water, and swung by the grocery store to buy food to carry on the bike.

Our cue sheet told us about Sunshine Market in the town of Anza, 29 miles away but the next point on our route to fill up. It was now about 12:45pm and the sheet said they usually closed at 7. That gave us 6hours and 15 minutes to cover 29 miles, which meant we only had to go 5 miles an hour. That seemed reasonable. Still, with no water between Borrego Springs and Sunshine Market, I asked Morgan to call ahead and ask them to leave water out for us if we didn’t get there quite by 7pm.

As we’d discover, we would not be there anywhere close to 7pm.

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We left Borrego Springs in better spirits, now that we’d had real food, were full on water, and had some time to rest. We were carrying more water than normal, too, after buying some plastic bottles.

The headwinds kept up as we left pavement and rejoined the dirt road heading back into the Anza-Borrego park. I’ve learned since the trip that Anza-Borrego is the largest desert state park in the nation. Which explain how we spent what felt like an eternity slogging through its emptiness.

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The ride into the park was flat, but super sandy. Would have been slow going even without the winds:

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It was also really hot, so we took advantage of a rare creek crossing to dunk our shirts, hats, and shoes in the water before continuing on.

Our clothes were dry within the hour.

It was also around here that Morgan’s nose started bleeding and would continue to do so for the rest of the trip.

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Then the hills began. Unrideable hills. This started what turned out to be ~5 hours of pushbiking, with occasional attempts to ride that never got far, and, in my case, usually ended in a fall.

How ya feelin’, Morgan?

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Then the trail took us through the creek. We’d read about this creek in writeups of the ride before, and everyone talked about how cool it was to bike through it in the middle of the desert. They were heading the opposite direction though, downhill, where riding the trail might have been possible. On the uphill it wasn’t. What it was was more pushbiking.

Morgan and I captured slightly different videos of the experience (in order):

One positive thing during all this was that the 5″x8″ extra heavy duty plastic zipper bags that I had bought to carry my toiletries in also fit perfectly over the third water bottle on my downtube, so I kept all the crap from the creek (and all the sand, dirt, mud from the rest of the ride) off the bottle. I highly recommend!

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Anyway, after exiting the creek we found ourselves in a giant, never ending wash. The rocks were too big to ride, and the sandy areas too soft. We were feeling really defeated around here. At this point it was after 6pm, we had gone about 16 miles in ~5 hours, and it was clear we would never make it to Sunshine Market by 7pm.

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We were also running low on water, had no cell reception, and didn’t know where we were since the cue sheet simply says “Route gets very western for a while.”

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Around 7:30pm, 6+ hours after we left Borrego Springs, we exited Anza-Borrego. I was happy to put that place behind me:

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The only problem was, as we came to learn, we weren’t actually out of Anza-Borrego! We’d simply exited the “Western” section and found a sandy road that continued through the park. The road was also mostly unrideable.

At this point we were worried. I was down to a half liter of water, Morgan’s nose was still bleeding, we’d been on the road for over 12 hours, and we weren’t sure how much further we had to go. It was well after the time we said we’d be at the Market and we had no way of getting in touch with them. It was also getting dark and we were in an unforgiving wilderness pushing 50lb bikes and deliriously tired.

Eventually the dirt road hit a rocky uphill. It was pitch black at this point, but the road was rideable. As long we stayed away from the cliff edge (we were still periodically falling), we should be okay.

The uphill kept going. We alternated turning off one of our headlamps, riding side-by-side with the illumination of just a single light to conserve power. We climbed a thousand feet in elevation, in the dark, unsure of where we were. Eventually I finished my water. Up ahead we saw the lights of a car!

We realized, at 9:30pm, that we were finally getting close to the exit of the park. The road, still rough dirt, smoothed out. We passed a pickup truck that we were sure was the people from the Market searching for us. Or at least someone who would realize these two guys didn’t intend to be out here, on this road, this late at night, and would stop. Instead they rolled down their window and a female voice yelled, “Byyyyyyyye”.

We continued Past a trailer home with a generator. Up another climb. Reflective eyes watching us from the bushes. Down a crazy descent and back up again. Around a few more turns, and suddenly pavement.

We had 0.9 miles to go. It was 10:15pm. We were exhausted.

When we arrived at the park, Earl – who we’d been told would be waiting for us in the trailer that said “See Ya!” – was still up. His wife invited us in. It felt like forever taking off our mud caked shoes, and then we were inside drinking ice water – it was freezing, but Morgan asked for ice water – falling asleep on our feet as Earl’s wife talked about her dead horse and Earl explained that he was sick but it wasn’t too bad it was one of the two colds he gets each year so he’ll be fine he just needs to rest and his wife showed us photos of the horse eating carrots and I didn’t finish my water because I was shivering and Earl talked about the other SC400 riders he’s seen come through and Morgan kept trying to end the conversation and I felt like this was a dream and all I wanted to do was sleep and instead I was in this RV that was nicer than many homes and it was 10:30pm and I thought senior citizens would all be asleep by now and how are they awake and still talking and can I just walk out is that okay?

And we were out the door unpacking in a patch of grass across the street and we cooked dinner and wet-wiped our feet and it was 11:30pm and we had been going for 17 hours and I got some of the best sleep I have ever had.


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