Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Days 53 - 56 11/15 - 11/18 - Fremont to Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur, CA

I don’t mean to take the people I meet for granted but, it seems like meeting people and saying goodbye very quickly is the way of the road.  Oliver, Helena, Will and Kat have been my cycling family for the last 3 days and they are already gone. 

I liked them all a lot and I feel kind of selfish for staying behind while they all went on but, I think being selfish at the right time is part of the road too; everyone has to ride their own ride.  Helena and I were the 2 Americans that are still touring from our cross-country journeys. 

Oliver, Will and Kat are all from the UK but, Oliver has been traveling alone around California for a little bit now.  Will and Kat haven’t been back to London for over 2 years now.  While we all rode at our own paces, we ended up at the same campsite at the close of each day and seemed to get along like we’d known each other for a long time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Days 49-53 - 11/11/16-11/15/16 - Time Off in Oakland/Fremont

The continuation of my exploration of the bay area led me to Oakland, a 60 mile ride from Vacaville.  I was headed to visit a friend, Dalton but, stopped for a night in Oakland to stay with Mari and Nikko from Warm Showers.  I got to their place just after dark as I finished a half-loop around Lake Merritt in the middle of the city.  Mari made an incredible pot full of rice and veggies, then we had a spliff for dessert. 

In the morning, we made pancakes with an excessive amount of toppings: apples, bananas, plum jam, chia seeds, granola, pomegranate and real maple syrup.  And a spliff for dessert.  I had planned on riding the 30 miles to Fremont where Dalton lives but, he took his bike on the train and met me in the city.  I rode uptown to get donuts and back to the lake in the time it took him to get there.  We rode around the city into the night, got some dinner, got some coffee and then took the train back. 

I had to carry my loaded bike up and down too many stairs on the subway but, we eventually made it back to Dalton’s place.  Him and 2 other doods live in a warehouse that Dalton dressed up to make liveable.  He put up some walls and made a loft and hung a bunch of art and it makes for a beautiful space to live.  On Saturday we got into some psychedelics and took the train back into the city.  We circled the lake, following the strings of lights that added a warm glow to the sidewalk and a geometric pattern to the fluid water that would ripple and distort any time the wind blew or a duck went swimming past. 

We made a massive loop around Oakland, passing by political protests and the swarms of police that would attempt to control the crowd later, ended up at a bar where some other friends met and shared the sacred hours that make up Saturday night. 

After leaving Dalton’s, I knew it was going to be another couple of weeks before getting off the bike again.  I knew I would be crossing over into the area they call, “Southern California” and I was so stoked about that.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Days 36-49 - 10/27/16-11/10/16 - Time Off in Vacaville, CA

Is it even considered a bike tour if I spend as much time off the road as I do on the road?  Life sure has been different since I started heading south compared to my 3 months of riding west.  Feel free to call my journey whatever you want, I’m into the phrase, “Exceptional Bumming”.  Labels are silly anyways.  I spent this time with one of my best friends from home, Adrian and his lovely girlfriend, Cierra and their 2 crazy pups, Jackie and Lulu. 

A lot changed in the time I wasn’t riding: the transition into holiday season, we set the clocks back, a terrible human being became the president, and weed became legal in California AND Massachusetts.  The world was not the same place when I finally got back on my bike but, can the world really be the same from one minute to the next?  No, not even one second to the next.  What a trip it was to ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to see Adrian waiting for me.  I had spoken to him that morning from Olema and then proceeded to ride 35 miles down the coast and over a mountain in the cool, gray haze. 

The weather told me it would rain that day but, I somehow managed to make it all the way over the bridge before any drops fell, I’ve been a lucky boy out here.  Just over a year ago, two friends and I flew out to visit Adrian; at that point, it had been a couple of years since I saw him last and probably too long since I had spoke to him over the phone.  I’m bad at keeping in touch but, I’m trying to be better. 

The last time I saw Adrian was last winter when he came back to Massachusetts for a week around Christmas time.  What a strange thing to only see someone a small percentage of the last 5 years and still remain such good friends.  It’s crazy to think of all the time and all the places we spend and visit in a lifetime and there are people out there, carrying out their own adventures in remote places and when you get together, it’s like encountering a part of yourself in some shared history with another person. 

Even though Adrian and Cierra had their jobs to tend to, the 3 of us still got to spend some time together, cooking, going out to eat, and watching movies.  I even took Adrian out for a 35 mile bike ride, his longest ride ever and he didn’t even hate me by the end of it.  We have a good streak going in terms of visiting each other. 

I hope it continues and I hope one day we live less than 3,000 miles away from each other again.

Days 29-35 10/21/16-10/26/16 Burlington Campground to San Francisco, CA

Vin, Nelson, and I parted ways in Myers Flat, a tiny town along the Avenue of the Giants, just 4 miles south of the campground.  Although I’m heading south, I rode the 4 miles north to Burlington so I didn’t have to ride 50 miles to the next state park on my first day on the bike in 10 days.  I saved the 50 mile ride for day 2!  Back at Burlington, the place I spent 2 nights with Will, Martin, Lau and Flo, I settled into the hike/bike site all by my lonesome.  Clementine, my bike, needed some love, a little wipe down and some lube on her chain.  I found the tube bulging out the back tire where some threads were visible; I must’ve hit a sharp rock on the dirt roads on the way to the farm, there was quite the gash.  I did my best to fix it but, I knew a new tire would be my best bet in Garberville.  Burlington seemed like it would be pretty empty but, as the sun went down the campsites started to fill up.  I called my mom and spoke to her for the first time in quite a few days – not much cell service up on the farm. 

While I was recounting my tales and updating her on my lonely situation at the campground, I turned and something hanging in a tree caught my eye: when I was with my old bike gang, Flo made a dreamcatcher from thread and sticks and it was still hanging in its austere beauty, catching the remainder of the afternoon light.  I felt a sense of being home, what a trip.  After the phone call, after cleaning Clementine, I saw a couple small swarms of bikers enter the campground.  They set up camp at the first H/B site, not even seeing me down the road.  That was fine, I was too tired to socialize; I hadn’t done that in a while, there’s no normal conversations on the pot farm, I probably would’ve started talking about shits if I talked to them that night.  It wasn’t ’til the following night that I spoke to the massive group of 10 at Standish-Hickey State Park.  Before then, I enjoyed my first real ride back on Clementine. 

The abrupt shift from vegetative pot trimmer to touring cyclist wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be although, it still wasn’t very smooth.  A midday coffee in Garberville after I swapped out my new rear tire helped me make it all the way.  I didn’t bother to learn everyone’s name that night, no need to overwork my fried brain but, eventually became familiar with Jana, Brandon, Brendan, Kane, Goun, Cass, Colin, Ross, Sander, and Kay-Lee.  Somehow, I was the only American.  Sander came from the Netherlands, Jana from London and everyone else from British Colombia, Canada, kind of a funny coincidence.  Much like any large group of traveling cyclists, these riders found each other, for the most part, and stuck together on the road.  Brandon, Brendan and Kane started together as did Cass and Colin, a young couple hoping tp make it down to South America.  Everyone else got added on.  Ages ranged from 21 to 37, Ross being the grampa, towing his surfboard behind his bike.  That was quite the site, especially considering some of the windy weather we rode through. 

At times, Ross had to hop off his bike and push it for fear the wind would blow him and his board off the road.  As kind and inclusive as these Canadians were, I felt like a total outsider, like some guy following the group (there was no other route to take!).  Maybe it was my own mental block that prevented me from being warm and friendly in the beginning, too burnt out from the pot farm, still re-acclimating to bike-society, maybe because I was the only American; I think it was mostly me missing my own gang from before.  Although I had these feelings in the beginning, they didn’t prevent me from getting close and enjoying the company of all these great people.  I enjoyed many a doob with Brendon, Brandon and Ross.  Brendon and I were even handed a bag of pot from a stranger.  That happened to me another time when I was alone but, I was happy to share the story and the bag of weed. 

Life was kicked up a notch over the next few days – more wind and rain was headed our way, there was no avoiding it no matter how fast or how far we pedaled.  We woke up in the rain at Van Damme State Park, ate in the rain, packed up in the rain, and got on the road.  We never left all at once, small groups trickle out and it works the same way when we get to our destination.  This particular day, we were aiming for the KOA in Manchester.  By the time we got there we were all soaked, shaken up from having the intense wind gusts push some of us right off the road.  Jana said the wind lifted him right off his seat and forced him off the road where his bike tumbled a bit further throwing his panniers and bags into the wet brush. 

He was safe and continued through the aggressive headwinds and crosswinds that held most of us to an 8 mph pace.  I say with certainty that this was the most intense weather I rode through.  Tired, cold, and wet we sprung for the nice cabins some KOAs offer.  It’s always nice to be able to dry things out for the following day, even when the forecast predicts more rain.  But we dried out like kings and queens and utilized the hot tub and the hot showers at the campground.  The sun teased us in the morning, shining brightly through the clouds while we loaded our bikes and hit the road a few sets of wheels at a time.  I felt lucky with 8 dry miles before the wind and rain found us again.  We weren’t getting blown off the road like the day before so I considered it a good day. 

Kay-Lee and I stopped in Gualala as a checkpoint for everyone to meet back up.  By the time we were all in the cafe, the weather was about to be at its worst, around 2:00pm.  Half the group wanted to get a place to stay while the other half wanted to press on for another 20 miles to the next state park.  I knew I still had some momentum and so did Brandon, Brendan, Kane and Sander.  But somehow, Brendan and I didn’t end up at the same campground as the other 3 boys; in fact, we didn’t even arrive at the campground at the same time, just ended up the only 2 people at the campsite in general, not even anyone hanging out in their car or camper, just us and the rain and the massive spider in the sink of the restroom.  Even before I really got to know this group of cyclists, I knew San Fran meant different things for everyone. 

For some, it was the end of their trip, others, a place to stop and catch their breath for a few days, and others, it was just a name on the map to pass through.  For me, San Fran was the start of another break from the bike.  Maybe knowing my time with these other cyclists wouldn’t last very long, I subconsciously didn’t allow myself to get attached.  Or maybe my social skills really did take a blow from being up on the hill for 10 days straight.  Looking back now, I’m kind of glad the last 30 miles of my ride to SF were done alone; I’ve hit a couple major milestones in the company of others but, it felt nice to be by myself going up and down the cliffs along the Pacific, climbing up towards the ocean and then careening back inland where the road hairpins and whips you back out to the sea for another ride.  Then seeing the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge, weaving in and around the tourist foot traffic on the bike path over the bridge, and seeing one of my best friends waiting for me on the other side…sometimes riding with others takes you out of the moment while riding alone can really intensify an experience.  When I left the pot farm, I was wondering what getting back on the road would be like, if I would meet up with any more cyclists or if it would just be Clementine and me, just like it was only Ginger and me for many, many miles on the way over from Massachusetts.  I feel so lucky (like I do so much lately) that I met the people I did, even if we only spent a week together.  I might not have weathered the weather so well if I didn’t have friends to get my ass kicked with. 

That sure is an interesting aspect of behavior, togetherness vs. solitude.  Some people I’ve met say they could never embark on a trip like this by themselves.  I think a lot of people have that feeling about life in general.  The idea of a “better half” is embedded in peoples brains but, I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I’m missing something.  And at the same time, once I rode with another person, I finally saw the benefits, the allure of having someone to ride with, to see things with, to survive overnight in a shit-town like Wanblee, South Dakota with, someone to share the inexplicable beauty that finds you on the side of the road.  What is this desire to connect?  I feel it just as much as the desire to be alone.  Both are great, if not necessary in doses.  Humans aren’t meant to live one specific way for an entire lifetime, at least I can’t, at least I don’t think I can.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Days 17-28 - 10/20/16 - Up on a Hill....Back to Burlington Campground

Note: names and locations have been changed to protect the innocence and dignity of some individuals

The road to Dunkin felt like a road I shouldn't be on.  Not like it was busy or dangerous, it was quite the opposite, nearly deserted.  I rode through some nice redwood groves on the opposite side of Wiggly Worm River for a while until the road started to slope up.  For 12 miles I climbed upward, winding up switchbacks on the neglected road that carried me past many dirt roads stemming off the main vein, either leading to intense inclines or declines far into the pines where I'm sure people are doing things they don't want other people to know about, hence the "No Trespassing" signs and my feeling of being where I shouldn't be.  But I pedaled on, I was meeting Jim at 3:00 and I didn't want to make him wait for me.  After riding up for 12 miles, the next 8 were all downhill.  However, the road was so rough and curvy I had to ride my brakes the entire way into town.  "Town" is a loose term.  The road spat me out in front of a market with a gas station with at least a dozen hippies smoking spliffs and cigarettes, probably looking for work or waiting on a ride to the next farm or just smoking spliffs and cigarettes.  I sat on the bench, away from all the hippies and waited for Jim. 

I'm glad I was early because so was he.  We broke down my bike, loaded the car he borrowed to come and get me and headed into the hills.  I would not have made it up the next road on my bike, it was steep and rugged, and steep, insanely steep.  At the top there was one of those roads that lead into the abyss of pine trees and this is where we were going.  Bryan met us at the top of the hill with the quad.  I rode my bike, trying to keep  up while him and Jim sped along to the farm.  We passed through a couple gates on our way.  I got the top of the hill tour, the good places to pitch a tent, Jim and Wilson's cars equipped with tarp overhead, the outdoor kitchen consisting of a double burner and a mini grill, a few coolers, a few storage bins for dry food, a fire pit, and a sink with a shower head for the spigot. 

And just before the road continues down the steep hill to the rest of the farm was the trim room, a large, maybe 12' by 12' army tent filled with Delilah, Armando, Elfinah, Tish, Arnie, and Tequila.  There was a small patch of weed plants next to the tent, the tip of the iceberg.  Hundreds of other plants were scattered about at different sites along the windy road but, I didn't see these until later.  We got to trimming.  Jim was my teacher.  He showed me how to clear the leaves away to reveal the beautiful, hairy buds that we're all so accustomed to smoking.  It was easy to know what the finished product should look like, I've seen enough weed in it's final form.  It was a struggle to acquire the finesse to trim quickly and efficiently, I kept wanting to double check my work and make sure I got every leaf; Jim and Wilson call this competing in the prettiest nug contest, they don't have to be perfect they reassured me. 

It took me a couple days to get a good pace going.  In those couple days it seemed like everyone left but me, Jim, Wilson and Tequila and it was like that almost up until I left over a week later.  Trim room conversations are in their own category when it comes to socially acceptable discussions.  The afternoon I got there, Tequila was telling the tale of when she broke an ex-boyfriend's dick during sex.  Half the room was in stitches as she was telling it.  The other half didn't understand all the details because half the room spoke Spanish as their native language.  Luckily, Tequila was able to translate for them.  I feel like I've known Wilson for a year now but, I met him for the first time up on the hill.  Him and Jim met up a little over a year ago, I don't remember where or when but, it seems like they've been living out of Wilson's car, rock climbing, and trimming pot together ever since.   I'm stoked I finally got to meet him.  So it was the four of us trimming for a couple days on Lieutenant Dan's Farm.  When you sit in a small room with the same people for 12-15 hours a day, you really get to know each other.  I'm not talking about the usual, "Where are you from, blah, blah, blah….."  We talked a lot about shitting. 

There's no toilet up on the hill, just a nice shovel to dig a hole and a roll of TP.  I nearly died laughing when Tequila said, "When I go to take a shit, I'm terrified I'm going to dig up someone else's shit."  It's a genuine concern.  Jimmy and Wilson have been up on the hill for over 30 days, that's over 60 holes with 60 shits, the probability of digging up shit just gets higher and higher.  That's not all we talked about though, we're not savages.  Lots of times we all just shot the shit with music playing in the background.  But other times, we all sat quietly, listening to educational podcasts, story-tellers, even local radio programs that broadcast political and world news.  Sitting and listening to people speak is something that calls back to the 50's, pre-TV. 

How nice it is to listen, not get sucked into a screen, just carry on with work while a voice attempts to shed some light on something you never even thought about.  As much as I've enjoyed living under a rock my whole life in terms of world news and politics, it felt so good to listen in on Democracy Now, the news source broadcasted over the airwaves right in Humboldt County.  It's also funny to hear the commercials and the sponsors, all stores dedicated to pot growing.  It's ironic to think I lived on a hill for 10 days, completely out of cell phone range, and I felt more plugged into the world than I ever have before.  The threat of weather was present from the start of my time on the hill.  I don't know what day I got there, when it started to rain or how long it rained for but fuck, did it rain.  It blew, too, the wind, that is.  The whole storm experience while living outdoors was one for the books. 

We all added some extra tarps to our tents, an added barrier against the elements.  Luckily, day two of the storm was a bit of a lull, we needed it.  None of us did an amazing job tarping our tents so most of us were drying all our stuff above the mini propane heater in the trim room.  I used to hate the idea of getting into my tent all wet, getting water on my sleeping bag and pad, waking up damp.  But why?  I asked myself.  There's always time to dry things, always a way to reset before things get worse.  For most of us anyways.  Just before the storm hit us, Hurricane Matthew ravaged Haiti, killing hundreds, leaving survivors with no food or water.  Our situation on the hill did not seem so bad in comparison, even when the tarps in our outdoor kitchen collapsed, caught the wind like kites and melted into puddles where we found them the next morning.  Life goes on.  With all the added water, trim camp became swim camp and we welcomed it, even taking shits outside in the wind and rain.  Before the storm actually hit, Wilson took his phone out to the tree up the road, the only place on the hill with cell service, and downloaded the three part audio book, The Golden Compass. 

Although it was written for kids, maybe preteens, we enjoyed every minute of escaping into this other world while the rain hammered down on the soft, trim tent roof.  We laughed as we picked out parts that might allude to something more "adult" than the average 12 year old picks up on.  There were days when we listened to nothing else for 10 hours, just immersed ourselves in the story that bloomed in all our hazy heads, forgetting what world we're in.  There was one night after dinner, the rain ended earlier in the day and the sky was clear for the first time in five days.  The moon had not risen yet.  I walked past the trim room where light was pouring from the rectangular windows, I walked to the edge of the hill and looked up at the stars.  I could smell the subtle skunkiness of the pot plants in front of me, heavy with water from the rain, bowing down from the weight, full of the magic that is released when dried and smoked, magic like the clear view of the stars above, the faint streak of the milky way spanning the entire slice of open sky above from the tops of the mountains in front of me to the tips of the trees behind my head.  I thought time was tough to keep track of on a bike tour but, nothing will compare to the loss of time on the hill.  The 10 days I spent there could've been 72 hours or a whole month.  The sun eventually came back out and we worked a couple days in the sunshine before I packed up my tent and got a ride off the hill. 

Tequila needed a ride down to the next town so Jimmy and Wilson took the day off as well and the four of us re-entered civilization.  I did not smoke that morning but, I never felt so stoned and confused buying groceries in the store with dozens of other people around me.  It's amazing how different living situations, time and sensory deprivation show us how malleable the mind is, how loose and fluid reality actually is.  We're all in different glass containers thinking we're seeing the world and life through a clear and unaltered lens.  The truth is, we're all delusional, from the folks in cubicles on Wall Street to the dirty hippies shitting in holes, smoking spliffs and living up on a damn hill.

Days 16, 15, 14, 13 - 10/8/16 - Honeydew, CA

I might be missing a day, or I might be adding a day, I'm not sure at this point.  It doesn't matter much.  It's an emotional day.  I parted ways with Flo, Lau, Will and Martin to head back up North to work on a farm with Vinny and Nelson.  I wouldn't have broken up the gang if I didn't think this would be the only time I get to hang with Vin.  I'm also excited to kill some time and make some money.  I'm not trying to spend more than a week in the hills but, who knows. 

The five of us took a day off at Burlington Campground yesterday.  Will wasn't sure if he was going to stop and work with his cousin for a couple weeks.  I was also waiting to hear from Vin.  And we were also just resting beneath the redwoods, not much of a rush to get away from these beauties.  We woke up slow yesterday, all of us.  It was cold, no excessive amounts of dew, it was dry, cold and dry and we loved it because it wasn't wet. 

Blue came over, a bowl packed, ready to hit the road.  He's an old-timer, 64 years old but lookin' like 70 and talkin' like he's 17, a real nice dood.  We convinced him to hang around another day although, he didn't come on our hike with us to Founder's Grove.  It was a short walking trail, just four miles from the campground. 

We took turns reading the information from the pamphlet like we were on some school field trip.  We learned about how the trees are all part of one big system, how they share nutrients and how even dead, fallen, decaying redwoods are as much a part of the system as any of the other trees; there's something to be said of that, living things are just trying to live, we ought to be helping each other do that but, I guess humans aren't always as smart as trees. 

The five of us didn't arrive at Burlington Campground all together the day we first got here.  Will, Martin, and I rolled in mid-afternoon after we had eaten some blackberry popsicles we got from a roadside fruit stand along the avenue which happened before we stopped for lunch under the giant trees in one of the many groves along the road.  I was worried that Lau and Flo got separated from us and that we wouldn't share the experience of riding through the avenue together. 

Just before the sun completely disappeared from the sky, the two French Canadian girls came rolling down the road, yelling to us at the campsite as we were prepping the fire; our group was still whole.  It's such a beautiful, unparalleled experience to find like-minded, crazy people on the road that are equally excited to ride with you as you are with them.  Friendships blossom fast, bursting open with sparks and colors like throwing a whole package of roman candles onto a campfire at once, all shooting and popping in unpredictable directions, striking this and that, illuminating familiar surroundings in beautiful and strange ways never before imagined.  And then it's gone, dark again, smoke covering everything, and you're alone.  That's how I felt when all my friends went South and I back North. 

But nothing is ever over until it's over and can anyone really ever say anything is truly over until they die?  That's almost claiming ability to see the future.  I know the road works in its own way that doesn't necessarily correspond with the nature of time; it's very possible I'll see all my friends again on this trip, just as much a possibility of never seeing them again. 

Everything comes down to the flip of a coin, seemingly random but, the forces that send that coin up and bring it back down are part of the same system, guiding objects up in the air down to the timeline of events one way or another with careful intent or distant apathy, who can tell?

Days 12 and 11 - 10/5/16 - Elk Prairie State Park, CA

Just outside of Crescent City is Stout Grove, an old growth forest where there are mighty redwoods up to 2,000 years old.  We couldn't pass up the opportunity to see these massive creatures.  From the church, it's about a 16 mile round trip, a trip we wanted to do early so we could get on the road to ride to the next town. 

A little behind schedule we got to the sign that read, "Stout Grove 4 Miles" at the threshold of where pavement became gravel.  It didn't take more than three seconds for us to stop in our tracks and stare straight up at the towering redwoods.  We knew it would be a slow 4 miles to the short walking loop that is Stout Grove. 

We stopped and stared many times, smoked beneath the shelter of the trees –"these trees are tall, we have to get high"–the five of us crawled inside a tree and had plenty of space to stop and dance and then crawl out like clowns coming out of a tiny car.  Lau and Flo turned back before we got to the end but, Martin, Will and I rode to the grove and then continued the journey of foot. 

The journey became more intimate.  We walked on the soft forest floor made by thousands of years of pine needle build-up; we walked on the remnants of fallen trees, cut down trees, and got our faces up to the gnarled knots and twisted burls in the trunks like we were wandering through some museum of modern art. 

We high-tailed it home, Will actually skidded off the road he was going so fast, and got their much later than planned.  We still had 30 miles to cover with a couple massive hills to get over. 

The sun came out for us, a beautiful afternoon to ride through.  The hills were indeed massive, winding up endlessly next to more redwoods and the downhills did not disappoint.  It was a ride through a magical forest, a preview of Avenue of the Giants, the scenic route I drove through last year with Nick, Vic, and Adrian.  At that time in my life, I never thought I would be back over here a year later on my bike. 

Life's funny that way.  I feel like that trip happened last week.  Time is so fucked in my head; it's lost its linear nature, every experience is new while still calling back to the past causing this strange overlap in my mind like everything is happening all at once.  If only everyone could live outside of time for a while.  Now, the morning after, we're all still hiding from the rain in our tents.  I just saw two deer, a mother and her child while I was taking a leak outside. 

They were so close but did not seem afraid, just kept eating the cold, wet leaves.  Who knows if the rain will let up but, there's no rush just yet so I guess we'll smoke a little and see what happens.