“Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god” – Aristotle
The sheer weight of stars threatened to bring the night sky crashing down onto the desert floor. How can light be so heavy? From the Laguna Mountains in the distant west to the nearby hulk of the Santa Rosa’s to my east, 180 degrees of the Milky Way’s whirling teeth smiled from horizon to horizon over the flat plain of the Borrego Sink while I pedaled beneath the incomprehensible mass of the desert night. For all I knew there may have even been a planet or two suspended in the milk up there, but there was no time to stop and look as I was no wanderer. I was a man on a mission.
For years I’ve wanted to ride this section of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in the early morning hours and watch the sun rise over the land. Today was the day I finally set the alarm clock early enough to get it done. I’m not sure what quirk of personality allows me to think that a solo ride in an isolated area like this in the wee hours of the morning is fun, but the further I rode away from the protected cove of Borrego Springs the stronger the wind became and the less I questioned why I was out here in the dark. Despite the stinging sand that was beginning to flash in the rays of my headlamp like snowflakes in a snow globe, the ride felt right. Sleep and stinging eyes be damned I was happy to finally be riding through the desert night.
The wind had been calm as I descended into the desert near the town of Borrego Springs, but as I moved away from the mountains and out onto the broad valley floor it began to increase with intensity as it funneled down through Coyote Canyon from the north. Squinting into the distance I noticed a low smudge on the horizon in the direction I was headed. It could mean only one thing: a minor sandstorm was brewing out in the Badlands. I reached the turnoff for Inspiration Wash and headed deeper into night.
Just as I had suspected, a minor ground blizzard of sorts was blowing as I pedaled across the track that cuts through this section of sand dunes. The sand hissed jealously beneath my tires on the breath of the wind. Thank you five inch wide tires for floating me through the unconsolidated sand in this area!
I knew from previous rides that this is an area where the washes run across the land like the goals and dreams of youth. Some flame out abruptly as immediate dead ends. Others wind slowly for miles before petering out at the foot of the mountains far from where they started with retreat being the only escape. Try as they might, few cut all the way through the Badlands with Inspiration Wash the only one that leads to the other side of the desert in this region. Where there’s a will there’s a way and Inspiration had somehow made it happen. I needed to follow Inspiration.
As luck would have it somewhere along the way I had made a wrong turn. I rounded a corner and the walls of the wash closed in around me while the sand blew into my eyes. Crap, a dead end. Time to retrace my steps back to that left I took into the unnamed wash when I should’ve gone right. That’s life for you I guess. Soon I was back on track and as I slowly gained altitude the surroundings began to look familiar again. This time I had found Inspiration. After a few miles of slow climbing I reached Inspiration Point and sat down in the dirt to wait for the sun.
Sometimes I get questions from people asking me if I’m ever lonely on some of these rides I take. In fact, I have no doubt that if someone had come around the corner at this moment and seen me they probably would’ve exclaimed “wow, that sure is a lonely looking guy sitting over there in the dirt all by himself”. From his viewpoint my seeming detachment from the world might declare me a wretched figure lost in the vastness of the badlands. But though I might have been a little cold, solitary and chomping on a Clif Bar for breakfast I was definitely not lonely. Loneliness is imposed by others. Being lonely requires a feeling of terrible isolation, of estrangement from a world that exists in only black and white. I had chosen to be out here. I was not lonely.
I was here to experience glorious solitude. The scene deepened with a richness that played across the fissures and arroyos of the badlands as the sun began to rise from behind the mountains. While the wind continued to howl up here on the ridge at least the windblown sand was no longer a problem as I had risen above the worst of it, drawn as I was to the purpling of the sky as if by osmosis. The dessicated land watercolored in the pastels of dawn while my shadow, though faint at first, gradually sharpened and lengthened across the world with the rising sun. In an apparent contradiction, I had ridden Inspiration to Solitude rather than the other way around – though they both were clearly feeding off each other here in the soft light of dawn.
Solitude is a rare and beautiful thing in this world and I was fortunate to have become a part of it, yet somehow still watched it from afar. Life is full of contradictions, beautiful contradictions. With my batteries recharged by the solitude I continued on to Font’s Point and took in the view. Mission accomplished.