“Art is what makes life more interesting than art.”
Had the French Fluxus artist Robert Filliou ever gone on a bicycle tourhe probably would have used the words riding bikes instead of art --- though this remains largely speculative and is subject to personal opinion.
As a curator and adventure cyclist I’ve made a habit of using art as an excuse to explore the world by bike. So when I got word that I’d be spending a week at Andrea Zittel’s Wagon Station Encampment outside Joshua Tree National Park I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to plan another exhibition expedition.
Inspired by the remoteness of The Encampment I decided to plan a solo bike tour from downtown Los Angeles that would incorporate various sites of interest in and around Angeles National Forest and the Mojave Desert. Beginning at The Center for Land Use Interpretation’s main site in Culver City I’d ride out to their Desert Research Center using as many trails and frontage roads as possible before heading South to Joshua Tree. The route would take me straight up into the mountains, down to the San Gabriel river, and back up over Baldy Notch and into the high desert with stopovers at the Mt. Wilson Observatory, Bridge to Nowhere, the Integratron, and the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum - among others.
After tooling around LA for a few days I headed out to the mountains and with help from a new friend I was out of the city before you could say smog. Christi and I had met less than 24 hours previous to our departure through a mutual acquaintance and she agreed to ride with me up the Mt. Lowe railway trail to the Mt. Wilson Observatory.
We left Golden Saddle Cyclery around noonish and a few steep grades, tunnels, and gravel trails later we high-fived atop Mt. Wilson before going our separate ways. As Christi made her way home I lingered around the Observatory for a spell before heading out to find somewhere to camp for the night.
Alone atop Angeles Crest Highway I awoke the next morning to the sound of traffic helicopters and coyotes. I was hoping to make it to Sheepshead Wilderness in enough time to hike out to the Bridge to Nowhere before it got too dark, and had I bypassed the detour to Crystal Lake I'd have probably made it to the trailhead before 4pm. But I needed water. I ducked the gate at Highway 39 and screamed downhill to the trailhead.
Three river crossings into the hike I came across a curious group of prospectors. Sixty minutes later I was thoroughly versed in the history of California’s gold rush, but no closer to the bridge. Sometimes you have to give up the ghost. I offered to help them carry their gear back to the trailhead and crashed as soon as the sun set. I'd need plenty of sleep before the next morning's rise and grind up to Mt Baldy, a rough 6000 feet in under 45 miles.
The climb out from the San Gabriel River up to Glendora Ridge Road was crisp, slow, and scenic. Like many other paved sections of the route, it was quite popular among local cyclists. Traffic became increasingly sparse as I continued upward and soon enough my companions were no longer cyclists, but hikers and Sierra Club enthusiasts. The access road up to Baldy Notch is moderate, but relentless.
Standing atop The Notch you get a unique perspective looking out over both forest and desert. Heading east down the jeep track toward Cajon Pass I could feel the heat of the desert creep up into the sub-alpine cold. After careening down the wash I was five flats deep into my evening and threw down in an old hunting camp near Coldwater Canyon.
Out of the woods and onto the highway limped along Route 66 stopping every 2-3 miles to add air to my tires before calling in a favor from a stranger I’d met through a facebook group for touring cyclists. Anita met me in the parking lot of a suburban Walmart with desert proof tubes and saved the day.
After a long day of sand traps and slushies I arrived at CLUI’s Desert Research Station, punched in the access code to the exhibition space and promptly fell asleep on a bench reading about Experimental Aircraft Crash Sites. The station is a part of the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s American Land Museum which consists of a series of satellite locations all across the united states that highlight the center’s focus on "the manmade landscape as a cultural inscription, that can be read to better understand who we are, and what we are doing." I spent the morning exploring the self guided walking tour before heading back south on route 66 toward the Integratron for their Sonic Geometry Sleepover - an experience just as bizarre as it sounds.
I made it out to Giant Rock in time for a disco nap before the rest of the participants arrived. After a quick tour I met up with the group for a potluck and lecture series before my first Sound Bath. I awoke at dawn the next morning and watched the sunrise over the desert before heading south to the Encampment.
The last day’s ride from Landers to Joshua Tree felt like a scene straight out of Mad Max. Just substitute post-apocalyptic cliff dwellings and chrome mouthed hooligans with art shanties anda couple thousand women on motorcycles and you get the idea.
I arrived at the Wagon Station saturday afternoon and after demolishing an entire jar of Kimchi I promptly passed out in the sci-fi pioneer space pod that would be my home for the next week.
Whitney Ford-Terry is a organizer and adventure cyclist whose practice utilizes self-supported bicycle touring as an immersive platform for creating conversations and collaborative projects that investigate our relationship to physical/social landscapes. Whoa, right? This essay is going live while Whitney leads Adventure Cycling's U30 group along the TransAmerica Trail.