Somewhere Over the Moonbow Lurk the Badlands

“Badlands, you gotta live it every day
Let the broken hearts stand as the price you’ve gotta pay
We’ll keep pushin’ till it’s understood
And these badlands start treating us good” – Bruce Springsteen

I ran around like a madman this past Saturday night getting all of my gear together for the big ride I had planned for Sunday in an area of Anza-Borrego State Park known as the Borrego Badlands.  It’s crunchtime as I prepare for the Rovaniemi 150 and I’m starting to get a bit frazzled trying to fit everything in on a daily basis: training, working, eating, shaving, bathing.  Sometimes something has to give.  Lately the less important things like shaving and bathing have been relegated to a backseat on that list.

I should probably also add sleep to the to-do list.  The alarm went off at 3:45AM Sunday morning and I promptly rolled out of bed, tripped over a cat and headed out the door toward the nearest purveyor of fine coffee that I could find… which at that hour is the local 7-Eleven.  So much for “fine”, but it’ll do – give me convenience (and shitty coffee with surly service at any hour) or give me death.

Caffeine delivery system in hand (I refuse to call this stuff “coffee”), a light rain began to fall as I made the drive out to Borrego Springs on twisting 2 lane roads.  It sucks to have to drive to a ride but I was in search of sand to ride the fat bike and the desert is a great place to find conditions that replicate riding on snow.  The rain storm had me a little concerned as the last thing I wanted to have happen was to be caught in a flash flood somewhere out in one of the canyons, but the forecast had called for clearing skies. With my motto “In meteorology we trust” I snaked through the citrus-scented fields of northern San Diego county under cover of darkness.

As I headed past Lake Henshaw toward the town of Ranchita, the full moon broke through the clouds between bouts of spitting rain.  As advertised, the storm had begun to break as I neared the desert.

Rounding a bend in the road I was confronted by something I’d never seen before – a pale arc sprouting from the open rangeland.  This was not a commonplace ring around the moon, but a full-blown ghostly rainbow!  I couldn’t make out any colors in it but there was no mistaking it was a rainbow of sorts, the likes of which I had never seen.  I pulled to the side of the road to get a better view but darkness quickly returned as the clouds devoured the moon in their death race toward the desert looming beyond.  The apparition faded into the night as quickly as it had arrived.

I drove on as night slowly faded into day and left the clouds to sulk over the mountain peaks that guard the desert floor.  After descending the tortuous path of Montezuma Grade, I assembled my gear beside the road and thought about the pale rainbow I had seen.  What sort of omen could it be?

With my gear all packed and my camelbike (not to be confused with a Camelbak) laden with a day’s worth of water I wandered off into the Borrego Badlands.  The sun returned from far-off travels and slowly cloaked Coyote Mountain in the majestic purple robes of a nomadic desert king.  With nowhere to hide from the sun at most hours of the day conditions (and the light) can be harsh in the desert, but dawn is always a magical time to be on the move out here.


Within a few miles my fat bike and I silently chuckled as we read the warning sign placed at the entrance to Inspiration Point Wash.  We’ve become close these past few months – no need for words.  It looked like we had found what we sought down here in the Badlands, somewhere over the ghost rainbow.

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Moving steadily against the invisible flow of water in the wash we pedaled upward toward Font’s Point.  The rains had spilled over the mountain ranges at some point during the night so the sand was damp and moist.  This was going to be a great day on the bike – I could feel it as clearly as I could feel the sand being thrown up onto my drivetrain from my wheels.  My gears began to grind a bit here and there from the sticky sand but I ignored it and pedaled harder – really putting my feet to the grindstone.  Let’s rack up some miles!


Now that I’ve been home for a few days I’ve had a chance to research and consider the ghost rainbow that I had seen.  I have found that moonbows do indeed exist but are a rare creature.  Enough light has to be reflected from the sun by the face of the moon to produce a visible effect, so the moon must be full or at near-full.  In addition to having rainfall to act as a prism (as with a rainbow) the moon must be low on the horizon and behind the field of view.  If you take all of those conditions into account you can see that they are a rare sight indeed.  I’m fortunate to have caught a  glimpse of one.

What they don’t tell you is that they may be a harbinger of doom – or at least some minor form of doom.  Back riding up the wash that day I’m not sure what happened to my drivetrain, but as I stood to hammer for a bit my chain sucked massively, spun around the wheel and ripped the derailleur off my snazzy (somewhat) new 9:Zero:7 frame that I had won in the prerace raffle at the Arrowhead 135 last year.  Game over in an instant, just like that.  I’ve been riding my bulletproof steel Pugsley for so long on routes like this that I hadn’t picked up a spare derailleur hanger to bring along on with the new aluminum fat bike.


A trailside singlespeed conversion ensued followed by an offering to the drivetrain gods of the Borrego Badlands.  Not wanting to tempt fate any more for the day or get stuck and have to walk for miles, I rode back to the car and began the drive home.

Sullenly driving through the Lake Hodges area rainbow alley was putting on quite a show.  But rainbows are a dime a dozen, it’s the moonbows that are truly unique – and perhaps dangerous.

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2 Responses to Somewhere Over the Moonbow Lurk the Badlands

  1. jpcoffin says:

    You truly have a way with words, Mr. McDonald. I enjoy your adventures vicariously.

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