As I wrote on the bikepacking discussion board, it felt as if locals take you on their best neighborhood rides - for 400 miles. This was the inaugural event, so there was much uncertainty about how long it would take, but some fast riders who pre-rode the loop took 4-5 days and these were long days, although not in racing mode. So a time limit of 5 days was set.
We met Thursday evening at Brendan's bike shop in Idyllwild, probably about 40 people from all over the country, including Alaska, Florida, and exotic places like Kansas or Idaho. Jay Petervary from Idaho (who two years in a row set a new record on the Canada-Mexico Tour Divide) and Ezter Horanyi from Colorado (in the green puffy sweater below) were the expected front runners among men and women and lived up to their expectations, with Jay just needing 2 days and 2 hours to finish (eventually a dozen of us finished in under 3 days/72 hours, 14 more between 3 and 5 days).
Jill Homer and Katherine Wallace, Katherine was preparing for Tour Divide later this year, which she finished faster than I was last year. At this point, Jill still held the women's record on Tour Divide, but Katherine was a few days faster (and Ezter did set a new women's record in under 20 days).
Here are Brendan and Mary shortly after we really started
As you descend, there is a spectacular view (but also intimidating) of the desert, although the picture doesn't do it justice.
Much of the intial riding in Coyoto Canyon, once you really are at the bottom in the desert is not a trail, but finding your way across a wash. Deep sand, of course.
One of the biggest surprises: In the middle of the desert, you suddenly hit a swampy jungle. Yes, water, totally overgrown, all that is missing are crocodiles jumping at you. It is a very short stretch, but no less impressive.
And in no time, we're back in deep sand, although more on something that looks like a road, and now for the rest of the day.
The day ends on a long climb and pretty much everybody stopped somewhere there for the night or at least for a few hours. I was really exhausted as I never do very well in deserts, so I had targeted 100 miles and stopped as soon as I got there, somewhere between 11 and midnight. As I found out the next morning, a lot of other cyclists were spread around there for the night as well. This is the Fishcreek Wash climb before it gets dark: