Two Days in the Desert

The Mojave Desert is 1.6 million square miles of sand, mountains, and sunshine that sits between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and soon we are going to ride across it. By ‘we’, I mean the most foolhardy members of the Rapha North America office, along with a small group of friends. On hearing about our plans, most people shake their heads gently and tell us we’re mad, for all the obvious reasons: there’s little water, lots of heat, and plenty of things that can go wrong.

However, we aren’t the first people to attempt a ride to Interbike – and it just so happens that there’s someone who has ridden it three times, and he happens to work at Rapha San Francisco. As part of our preparations for a desert adventure (affectionately known as Gear and Clothing in Las Vegas), let us introduce Sean Martin, veteran of the Mojave ride.

Why on earth did you decide to ride across the Mojave?

Well, in 2011 three of my friends rode down from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where I was living at the time, and then carried on to Las Vegas for Interbike.

That’s where the idea started – we were inspired by them, as it should be. Riders should inspire other riders, and make them question their limits.

I was kind of the leader of that expedition. I printed some maps, figured out where water might be, and set off. One thing I didn’t foresee was that Google Maps doesn’t always let you know about road conditions, so we got caught a couple of times on the most un-rideable, rutted tracks. We had to hike for a couple of miles, carrying our bikes.

Were you aware of when the road would get better? Or were you just hiking through the desert aimlessly?

We kind of knew that the road would improve when we got near the 15 [the main highway that connects L.A. and Las Vegas], but it felt like we walked for hours. The 115F heat didn’t help, and I thought we’d never see concrete again. But we eventually did, and it was only a little way until we passed a 7-11. It’s worth pointing out that all this happened in the first 40 miles of the first day, and three people out of the original seven had already dropped out.

How do you drop out in the desert?

One guy dropped out while we were still in the city, the next two gentlemen dropped out when were on the Los Angeles crest. They hitchhiked back, and just sat on the side of the road waiting for a car.

But for me and my buddy Greg Garth, the only way we were getting to Vegas was by bicycle. It was the motto – we bought the ticket, so we’re going to take the ride*.

I imagine that this sort of ride isn’t just physically taxing, but a bit of a mental slog as well. Did you ever feel like you were losing your mind?

That definitely happens. At certain points, I just stared at Greg’s butt and thought, “if I just keep staring at his butt for a few minutes, I’ll be that much closer to the end.” Like anything that difficult, there are moments when you question yourself, but those are the moments to dig in and focus on something else for a minute or however long it takes.

So, what is it like in the desert?

You can’t escape the heat. You’re almost completely exposed to it, and you’re often doing sustained, hour-long sections of false flat with no rest. It’s brutal.

But the best part of riding in the desert is the sun coming up. Being on the side of a highway, in the dark, and suddenly the sun just starts peeking and you’re the only two people out there, and no words are needed. You’re looking at some of the most breathtaking visuals ever. And then it gets hot, and you’re just like, ugh.

It’s such a juxtaposition, riding to Las Vegas through the desert. You’re alone, pretty much, looking at all this awesome stuff, but then you’re in Vegas, which is this epitome of what I imagine the rest of the world thinks America is like: the people, the bright lights, and all that, all the noises. It’s a weird feeling to ride your bike though the desert and then arrive in a place like Las Vegas. It’s a relief to see it, for sure, you’re just like, “cool I’m done – I did 300 miles in the heat in 36 hours, and now I’m here.” But also, now I’m here. You also have the cock of the walk thing: you walk around saying, how did you get here. You drove? You flew? Oh, we rode our bikes here.

* Although your faithful interviewer didn’t realize this at first, this is a reference to the gonzo classic, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.