a week in the life of world biking.

update 46: seven days on the road

22 September  2009

Total distance cycled: 64,143 kms/ 39,856 miles

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru


friday, san francisco to santa cruz, 133 kilometers
Windy coastal road ahead.Ed, a fellow cyclist from London, rambles out to see us off.  Ed's also on his way to South America, and along with us has been crashing at Cyndi's place in San Francisco.  Cyndi has actually gone off to stay with a friend and has left her home in the hands of we three itinerant bicyclists.  Her friends think she's slightly crazy to trust complete strangers alone in her home, but she figures most folks on bikes are pretty harmless.  "What are they gonna do?  Slip the TV into their panniers? Come on--bikers don't want extra weight." 
We bike out past Golden Gate Park passing loads of commuters on bikes heading downtown to a day behind the desk in the Financial District.  We're headed out towards the fog shrouded Great Highway heading south towards Santa Cruz.  The beach is crowded with early morning walkers and joggers and further on I spot a police car out on the sand.  There's some kind of bust underway.  Some transient types with big, battered backpacks and scruffy dogs are being handcuffed and frisked.  The locals avert their eyes and pretend not to see anything, but I stop to gawk from a distance.

One of the many roamantic lighthouses that dot the coast.This stretch of Highway 1 is narrow, windy and dangerous.  We climb and plunge and dive into the bushes when giant trucks scream by.  Further on the traffic peters out and finally we take notice of the invigorating salt-tinged air and dramatic views of bluffs plunging down to the beach and postcard-worthy vistas of the Pacific.  It's spectacular riding past romantic lighthouses and tiny towns all the way to Santa Cruz.  

Our hosts for the evening are Paula and Chris and we're at their front door knocking but nobody's home.  We ask around at the neighbors and are told that Paula and Chris moved out months ago.  A quick phone call reveals that they have indeed moved and forgot to update their address on the Warm Showers web site.  I'm tired and getting cranky after 7 hours in the saddle and the locals out walking their dogs just stare at us dumbstruck when we ask for directions.  "What, you haven't got a GPS?  Sorry, I have no idea where Brommer avenue is."   Finally we flag down a cyclist who points us in the right direction.

Paula's busy putting the finishing touches on an apple crisp when we roll up and my crankiness disappears.  Showers can wait and we dive into a dish of authentic Italian pasta and Eric mellows out with a glass of wine.  Chris and Paul regale us with tales from their cycling tour in Turkey and it's way too late when the conversation drifts off and we give our weary bodies a rest.

saturday, santa cruz to monterey, 79 kilometers
It's cool and foggy when we set off and we get lost in the tangle of busy urban roads leading to highway one.  Luckily we spot two local cyclists who lead us down a series of dusty farm roads through the back country.  We've left the coast for a moment and pass by fertile farmland where strawberries are ripening in the fields.  Our guide insists nobody will mind if we snatch a few, so we pull over and start picking.  Simply delicious.  Fresh (and free!) strawberries in late October. What a treat.  We're in vegetarian heaven with farm stalls overflowing with avocados, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, pumpkins and a thousand kinds of exotic squashes.

More hills ahead,Our cycling companions are much faster than us, with our 80 pounds of luggage, so they push on ahead and we're left to get lost once again.  Soon our stomachs are rumbling and we're in luck.  No peanut butter sandwiches or potato salad for lunch today.  On a lonely patch of land sits a brightly colored van serving up authentic Mexican cuisine.  We're the only gringos in sight, and after ordering up bean burritos and tacos we plop down in the dust next to the farm workers in cowboy hats and wrangler jeans to await our meal.  Suddenly a sedan screeches up and out steps an Indian family, straight from the sub-continent, judging from the saris, sideways head bobbing and lilting accents.
"Madam, tell me please, what is the spec-ee-ality of this establishment?"
"Uh, we've got tacos, burritos, ..."
"No madam, the SPEC-EE-ALITY. "
Eric intervenes,  "The burritos, sir. They're something like masala dosas.   That's what you should order."  And they do, before returning to the dignity of their automobile.  No squatting on their haunches like the rest of us.

It's a dreary day for cycling, so we pop into the local library for a bit of internet surfing and before you know it, half the afternoon has slipped by.  Our destination is still some 40 kilometers away and it's a toss up between cycling in the dark (Eric's preference) or cutting the day short and staying in Monterey (my inclination).  I win and Eric resigns himself to a stroll through the tourist traps of the Monterey fisherman's wharf before we pitch up at the local park.
There are plenty of other cyclists camped out in the park and we exchange tales at the picnic table while whipping up pasta on our multi-fuel stoves.  A British couple is aghast at the state of the American highways (very third world-ish) and horrified at the tasteless concoctions shops try to pass off as wholesome bread.  

sunday, monterey to plaskett campground--big sur, 104 kilometers
The California coast in all its glory.Just after 6:00 AM the alarm starts buzzing.  Eric fires up the stove for coffee and and porridge and I start to strike camp.  Shortly after 7:00 we pedal off, amazed that there's been not even a stir from the other cyclists.  It's a glorious day to be on the road and the ride through Big Sur ranks as one of the best in the country. We whiz through Redwood canyons and peer down at shimmering waterfalls rushing out to sea and then we huff and puff up yet another steep climb only to be blown away by the vista at the top.   Tourists slow down to snap our picture as we agonize up the hills and some stop to congratulate us on our strength and endurance.

Joseph and Star out for a ride.Mid-morning we cross paths with Joseph and Star.  They're headed south for the winter and, apart from the dog, Joseph's main load is a 25 pound bag of dog food he's been lugging around since Portland.  "Star really likes her sausages.  Had to make her run a real long way yesterday so she'd work up an appetite and eat some of the dry stuff.  I'm getting real sick of hauling it clear across the country."  They are a happy pair and already living the life of two-wheeled transients for many years.

It's a satisfying day on the road.  We reach camp early, cook up more pasta and hot chocolate and I dive into my latest book,The Best American Travel Writing 2007, before drifting off to sleep.

monday, big sur to san luis obispo, 118 kilometers
The road finally flattens out.  I am thankful and vow never again to cycle the coast of any land, no matter how beautiful the roads are rumored to be.  I'm ready for the endless vistas of the desert where there's not even a hiccup in the highway.  Mid-morning as we're flying down the road we spot three cyclists creeping forward in the opposite direction.  We stop to chat and from their accents I know they're German.  
"Ver can ve find vater?"  
"There's a settlement just up the road," I explain.  
And they look relieved but still quite perturbed.  
"The vind," they sigh in unison.  
Oh yes, the wind.  In fact, they are they very first cyclists I've seen headed north.  I wish them luck, but can't help chuckling at their misfortune. Hadn't anyone told them which way the wind blows?  

a dinner party in our honor!By 4:00 PM we're lounging around the kitchen table at the home of our Warm Showers hosts, Tom and Nancy. Tom has been following the blog and I'm slightly uneasy knowing that he knows so much about me.  He promises not to fire off any of the usual questions about the trip and I regret having publicized my impatience with trip interrogations.  For the record, 99% of the time I love talking about the trip.   I am thrilled that people are interested in us and what we've set out to do.  I seldom tire of recounting our story and, in fact, that is the very least we can do given all the generosity and support we have experienced.   So, sorry folks if I sounded ungrateful in last month's update.  I'm not.
Our amiable hosts have planned a dinner party!  Fine china, wine, good conversation, delicious food and a special apple torte for dessert.  We are in heaven.  

tuesday, san luis obispo to charissa plains, 88 kilometers
"Bakersfield?  Why d'ya wanna go to Bakersfield?  There's nothing there.  It's hot and dusty and full of red necks"  
That was the usual reaction when we mentioned our intentions of leaving the magnificent California coast to head inland.  Tom, Nancy and friends were perplexed by our decision.  
"Well, once you make it up the grade, I suppose it won't be so bad," Tom assured us.  "The Grade" had a foreboding ring to it.  We tackled the steep 13 kilometer stretch in an embarrassing 1 hour 32 minutes.  At the top we refuelled with chocolate-chip cookies.   Not just any run-of-the-mill Chips Ahoy type chocolate-chip cookies.  No, these cookies had come all the way from the famous Cuban baker Porto's in Glendale.  A parting gift from Tom who had picked them up on his last train run down south.   I swear they are some of the tastiest cookies I have ever had the pleasure of devouring.  Eric even fell for it when I told him there were only four cookies in the box--two for him and two for me.  Heh, Heh Heh--no need to wonder why the shorts are fitting so tight.

Our ride to Bakersfield was anything but flat.  Hills beyond hills with mountains lurking beyond.  And the wind. Hissing and howling and nearly hurling me to the ground.   Surely, I was being punished for the schadenfreude towards the Germans. 

Just out in the middle of no whereApart from a few scattered cattle ranches, there isn't much out there.  Where will we sleep?  How will we re-supply on water?  Our most pressing questions as usual.  If you've been following along for a while then you've come to expect the next phrase.  Everything turns out alright.
After of miles of nothing, a school suddenly looms on the horizon.  The bus driver is just locking the gate, but of course for us she'll open up.  She's seen us on the road.  Thinks we're slightly crazy.  Biking to Bakersfield?  Nobody does that.  We spend the night camped out under an enormous star-filled sky at the Carrisa Plains School and dream of the desert ahead.

wednesday, carissa plains to bakersfield, 120 kilometers

All the tourists are back at the coast.At 5:15 we're awoken by the vroom, vroom of the revving engine as Donna warms up the school bus.  It's freezing cold and I wonder aloud at all those coastal dwellers who tried to dissuade us from heading inland due to the heat.  

They might have been wrong about the climate, but they were spot on about the red necks.  Later that day the road narrows and the shoulder disappears and we're forced to ride in the traffic.  Eric has a mild altercation with a truck driver and fortunately it doesn't come to blows, but shortly thereafter the sirens start to scream and there's a highway patrolman pulling us over.
 "There have been reports of bicyclists riding in the middle of the road.  That wouldn't be you, would it?"
"No sir, we ride to the right."
"Alright then, you stay safe and enjoy yourselves."
Whew, off the hook again.

Bakersfield is a case study in urban sprawl. We cycle past a backdrop of gated communities and strip malls for almost an hour before we run into our couchsurfing host.  Francine is out riding her hot pink retro trek bike complete with basket and bell and immediately I know this is someone I'll like.  She shows us the way home, tells us to hop in the shower and when we reappear, all shiny and clean, dinner's on the table.  Bakersfield may not have crescent shaped beaches or pounding surf, but in this California backwater we've found a kind spirit.

thursday, bedroom to bathroom to kitchen in bakersfield, .02 kilometers
And on the 7th day we rest.  Francine is a born nurturer and we wallow in laziness as she buzzes about the kitchen spoiling us to the max.  All the delicious home cooking we've indulged in while pedaling around America  has more than made up for the thousand meals of rice and beans while in Africa.  We are traveling through a land of plenty and fast forgetting what life is like for the 5 billion people living in the developing world.  Time for some simple living.

What's life been like for you over the past week?  Please share, inspire and entertain.  And check out the books below.

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