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.