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Palm Springs Summer in Winter
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by Hank and Rob Dahlstrom

Summer in winter? What better way to make it through the D.C. winter than to vacation in a warm sunny place during the coldest months? My husband and I have decided this is an ideal prescription for the winter doldrums. This year, because Rob, an avid cyclist, was turning 60 in February, a cycling vacation seemed most appropriate. We decided to try the Palm Springs Getaway because of our love for the southwestern desert and the promise of warm weather.

We were greeted at the Palm Springs airport by Evan Trubee, owner and director of Big Wheel Bike Tours (soon to be Big Wheel Tours). Rob knew Evan from Peddle PA's Penn Central tour some years ago when Evan was on staff for that ride. Evan's business in Palm Desert includes bike rentals and guided biking and hiking trips for groups and individuals. His two guides, who alternated driving the sag wagon for us, were extremely knowledgeable about the area. During the van rides to the cycling start points, they were able to launch forth about the history, geography, and natural history of the Coachella Valley and the deserts that we travelled, interspersing their educational lectures with anecdotes and sometimes-amusing jokes.

That evening we met the other three riders on the tour over a delicious dinner at Evan's brother's exclusive restaurant. Dinners during the week continued to be at various local restaurants that offered fine cuisine. We lunched at picturesque cafes along the bike routes several times, and on other days picnicked in parks. A choice of hot or cold breakfasts was available every morning at the hotel before our 8 am pickup. All food was included in the cost of the tour. But the best treats were the yummy, homemade (by Evan and his wife) chocolate chip cookies available every day during the tour.

The first day also happened to be the Tour de Palm Springs. We joined 6,600 riders on a wonderful tour of the towns and outlying desert. We chose to do the 55 mile ride rather than the century since we had not ridden much during the past cold and snowy months. The high school band and a number of dignitaries gave us a great send-off, but the cold desert morning air made us anxious to be on our way. After wending through the town, we climbed gradually to Dillon Road, then followed its gentle hills for about 17 miles, getting about 900 feet above town, before enjoying an extended 5-mile downhill back into the valley. With three sag stops there was plenty of food, water, and support. We arrived back early enough to check out the displays set up in the high school courtyard and to watch a demonstration of stunt bikers doing their tricks.

Sunday the four of us were ready for more! Gary, an attorney from Denver, had fallen and dislocated a finger doing the century on Saturday, so he took a day off. However, he was able to ride for the rest of the week. Starting from the hotel in Palm Desert we rode up the 5 miles we had come down the day before, stopping to tour an oasis, and then turned back onto Dillon Road. We followed the route taken by the century riders the day before, heading further south down into the valley and up the other side before pedaling back to our hotel for a relaxing dip in the hot tub. As was true for most of the week we started with leg warmers and jackets, but quickly stripped down to short-sleeved jerseys as the sun rose higher in the sky.

Monday, with two additional riders for the day, we began our ride near the West Entrance Station to Joshua Tree National Park. The stronger riders started at the entrance, while the rest of us opted to skip the initial climb and begin with a "flat" ride though the high Mojave Desert. At this higher elevation the air was chilly, and most of us kept our jackets on until we reached the bottom of the 7-mile, 1500-foot descent down into the low Colorado Desert. The scenery was spectacular and included two very different desert ecosystems. We finished the ride by peddling down through Box Canyon on a little-used road that winds through tall rock formations, dropping another 1500 feet in 12 miles.

Tuesday we were scheduled to try some mountain biking in the higher elevations of the Santa Rosa Mountains using mountain bikes Evan provided. Gary decided not to risk another fall and biked on his own in the valley. Because of our inexperience with mountain biking, Mary Lou and I chose a fairly easy, short ride in the Pinyon Flates at an altitude of 3,000 feet. Rob and Julie opted for a longer ride that included a climb from 4,400 to 6,800 feet and then back down. They met ice and snow at the higher elevations, but swore the downhill made the difficult climb worth it. However, we all agreed that we had come for the sun and warmth, and we did not want to return to the mountain for a road ride through the "Alpine wonderland" scheduled for Friday. One of the advantages of this small tour was Evan's flexibility. He scratched the planned Alpine ride and provided one at lower elevations instead.

Wednesday the van carried us to the Salton Sea where we began our sixty mile ride out S22 to Borrego Springs and back. The terrain was fairly flat except for a climb into the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. As usual the ride was amazingly scenic-distant mountains framing the rough desert landscape, amazing rock formations, desert flowers emerging from the hard, dry earth, ravens soaring overhead in the vast blue cloudless sky.

The following day found us riding along the other, eastern, side of the Salton Sea, past agricultural areas and through the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. We stopped several times to enjoy the view and to check out the migrating waterfowl that depend on this stop along the Pacific Flyway. Eventually crosswinds cut our ride short, but we drove to the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge where the group was kind enough to allow me a little birding time.

On our final day I sagged because of a bum knee, but the others enjoyed up to seventy-five miles of changing terrain through agricultural fields, desert hills and Box Canyon (one of our favorite places) with lunch near the Patton Museum at Chiriaco Summit. While riding in the van, I talked with Bruce, our guide and sag driver, about the birds and flowers of the area, found a Canyon Wren nest, and tasted my first "date shake." (This area is where 98% of the country's dates are grown.)

Difficult as it has been to come back to the frigid weather of the northeast, we have great memories of the beautiful southwestern deserts and even a bit of a bike tan on our legs to keep us going until the spring cycling season arrives.

more Ride Schedule

B * 23/27 (MH) * DC * 6:00 PM * Downtown Breakaway * Mitchell Park (MIT)

BB/A * 27 (MH) * DC * 6:00 PM * Downtown Breakaway * Mitchell Park (MIT)

Featured Members
Linda B. KolkoLinda is the C Ride Coordinator for MD & DC.
Matthew BirnbaumMatt was the Chair of the Club in 2015 and 2016.