The first time I rode with the Desert Cycling Club, the elites dropped me like a bad habit.
But today, I was hoping to keep up on the money stretch – a gradual 5-mile incline from the floor of the Coachella Valley into the foothills of the Little San Bernadinos. I had a secret weapon: fueled by turkey and stuffing.
We meet at 7:30 at Palm Desert Civic Park. It’s a big crowd of about 100. It’s mixed: young and old; men and women. The female leader announces an A-ride and three variations on the B-ride.
Against all good judgment, I go A . . .
Palm Desert, California is an insanely beautiful place to ride a bike. The roads are wide and well maintained—with bike lanes galore, some wide enough for golf carts.
I did today’s route last Saturday, which takes you through Palm Desert, Thousand Palms, Bermuda Dunes, Coachella, Indio, La Quinta, Indian Wells, and back to Palm Desert.
It’s dry and sunny, with basically perfect weather this time of year. There are snow-topped mountains to the west and south, and a sprawling range to the north that stretches to Joshua Tree National Park—which is larger than the state of Rhode Island.
We head north, spinning reasonably. It’s nearing 8:00, and the B riders have peeled off. It’s in the mid-60s. About 40 riders turn north off of 38th Ave onto Washington. A double peloton stretches out to single as we start to push the pace.
I work my way toward the front and nestle in behind a big guy. I notice I’m about the only guy with hair on my legs. On a bike, that can only mean one thing . . . speed!
Three riders stand up on their pedals in quick succession and break away from us. By the time we make a hard right turn onto Thousand Palms Canyon Road, they’re 20 lengths ahead and the race up the incline is on.
I’m feeling strong. But the pace is only going to get faster. Suddenly I hear a wooooosh, and I’m skidding on a flat tire. I veer to the shoulder, and the peloton is gone like that!
I sit on a rock. This road is a thin scar in a hardscrabble desert. No traffic. Mountains and a clear sky.
I fix my flat, turn my bike back downhill, and spin the 14 miles to Palm Desert. I’m catching a flight back home in two hours . . . but I can’t wait until I can test myself on this route again.