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Dustin Garrick, an associate professor of water and development policy at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, has started an initiative called Water Cycles Expeditions and recently led a group on a five-day cycling trip in Southern California and Arizona. The journey took riders from Joshua Tree to the Coachella Valley, and beside the Salton Sea, which is fed by water draining off farmlands. The cyclists also rode next to the U.S.-Mexico border, stopping to see the area where the last of the Colorado River dries up in the desert, becoming a sandy riverbed fringed with vegetation.
“It was really a profound experience,” Garrick said.
Bicycles allow people “to get on the ground and get close to the issues,” he said. He values that perspective as a water researcher, and believes it also helps those who are interested in learning about water sources and challenges.
“The bike brings what I call the bike’s eye view,” he said.
Isabel Jorgensen, a doctoral researcher at the University of Waterloo who grew up in Southern California, said pedaling by the Salton Sea “offered a slower pace to really examine the landscape, both natural and human.”
Jorgensen studies saline lakes, among them the Salton Sea. She said being on a bike helped her notice the shift in desert vegetation as they descended toward the Salton Sea and also gave her a closeup view of Slab City, where people have erected makeshift homes near the lake.
She said cycling provided a different perspective than by car, in part because the group rode into strong winds and dust.
“The sheer force of the wind on the high wind days was knocking our bikes back and even out from under us,” Jorgensen said. “It blew dust everywhere.”