Part 3 of chasing triathletes and water through the Coachella Valley

This is also one of a series of essays looking at places we travel through the lens of water, a lens through which we can see the unseen.

At the end of part 2, our athletes were finishing the bike stage of the Indian Wells Ironman 70.3 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Here they transition to the run, which takes them through the Indian Wells Golf Resort. Both Tennis Garden and GoIf Resort are irrigated with water from the Coachella Canal and Lake Cahuilla reservoir, where we swam in part 1. The wide, dry, ditch of the Whitewater River and Stormwater Channel, which we talked about in part 2, runs along the southern edge of both.

The facilities are mown, landscaped, cleaned, and maintained by a small army of Latino workers. The same is true for the shops and offices and the gated retirement, second home, and golf communities that carpet the valley floor. Each day, the gates open, and the workers flood in. Mowing, pruning, weeding and leaf blowing, leaving not a leaf nor a blade of grass out of place at the end of the day.

In his novel The City and the City, China Miéville writes of two peoples who live in two cities occupying the same space. The two peoples share the same roads and sidewalks, but live in different styles of house, shop in different stores, eat different food, wear different clothes, and speak different languages. They are aware enough of each other to avoid traffic accidents and sidewalk collisions, but otherwise ignore each other. By convention, there’s no acknowledgement, no communication or even eye contact between the two peoples.

They “unsee” each other.

I thought it far-fetched, until I remembered this place, and the way the retirees, second home owners, tennis players, and golfers, unsee the farmworkers, landscapers, and cleaners, and vice-versa. Different worlds in the same place. They even drink different water.

I can’t unsee it.

Hope for the future

The event was facilitated by over a thousand volunteers. On the pre-race day, the vast majority of them were high-school kids in yellow t-shirts. They were everywhere, engaged, polite, happy, and helpful. A few times I caught groups of them talking amongst themselves. It would always be in Spanish.

These are the sons and daughters of the farmworkers, landscapers, and cleaners. The percentage of births in America to white mothers has been steadily declining and in 2022 hit 50%. California is ahead of that curve, and its agricultural areas even more so. These kids are the future, and they are not invisible. They are not going to pick our lettuce and clean our toilets for poverty wages. Maybe this is what it will take to bring change to the fields and the trailer parks.

About that race

How did my wife do? After her first on the bike, she was first overall going into the run, with an 11-minute lead over her nearest competitor. The latter is a strong runner and was reeling my wife back in at better than a minute per mile. Over 13 miles, there was only ever one way that was going to end. But my wife’s personal record run, following PRs in the swim and on the bike, was enough for a race PR and second overall. But the drama didn’t end there.

The race was a qualifier for 2024 Ironman 70.3 Worlds. There was only one spot for her age group, and the first-place woman took it. But then there were some extra “women for tri” spots. We had to wait until all the other spots had been handed out before those were awarded. At the end of a long day, with the roadies waiting to pack up the stage, one of those extra spots fell in my wife’s age group, and she took it.

You can look for more travel and water stories this time next year— from New Zealand!


The air is so dry over the valley that vapor trails vanish almost as soon as they form. Occasionally, a west wind blows in enough upper-level moisture that they persist.

Vapor trails across the bleak terrain 📷 John Lovie

I was looking up from my writing nook “when I spotted six jet planes leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain.


Thanks as always for reading or listening. Please join me in the comments, and feel free to share.

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