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.