Monday, January 12, 2015

posted on 1/12/2015

California 2014

Grants Pass-Cave Junction, 4th September 2014

I remember recently reading how much Greyhound buses had improved their reputation and were no more something to avoid like a plague. After my experience last night I am left wondering how bad they must have been in the past. On the positive side I must say they are very comfortable, with nice leather seats and a usable wifi which is not often the case in buses that advertise offering this service. On the negative side the list starts with the incredible timetables which seem the result of a rushed plan by someone suffering from acute ADT. My destination was on a major route linking Los Angeles and San Francisco to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. First surprise was to find out that my only option was to take a 8:45 pm bus arriving at Sacramento at 10:45 and allowing me a convenient connection with a bus that would leave a 2:45am! These crazy night times lead to the second negative point. As very few sensible people would ever contemplate taking a bus with such timetables, one can imagine what kind of interesting and colourful travellers turn up at the station. It was a great compilation of mischiefs, drug addicts, alcoholics, serial killers and a minority of normal looking people in which I would include my very self! The cream of this bunch seemed to head right up north in my direction so no wonder my journey companions turned up to be a very distilled version of that mess; a mental institution on wheels! A get two for one obese guy that thought it was fashionable to wear a bathrobe as coat, a fidgety and shaky man probably having withdrawal symptoms, a pretty drunk Spike Lee look alike, a man constantly having conversation with his invisible friends, three name it! One character in his sixties I thought was particularly over dressed for the occasion and out of place but at the first long bus stop in Medford he redeemed himself. As we were having some food and drinks from a restaurant I looked outside and there he was in the middle of the parking lot improvising a slow motioned modern dance, entranced as if on a stage until he had to be snapped out of it by our severe driver wanting to depart. Yes our driver was a bit patronising and each time new people got on board he would get on the speaker to remind everyone to not smoke within 20 yards of the bus when we stopped, that during stops if someone was late returning he would not wait , to not keep mobiles on, use earphones with volume down, careful when you cross the car park and so on and on. All sensible stuff to my ears but not to all the liberal hippies at the rear of the bus, moaning lowder as the journey progressed. The first of them once reached his destination took his bag walked in front of the bus as he was leaving showed his finger to the driver and asked him in no half terms to f... o.. ! A huge roar of approval rose from the back rows as the bus set off with a now steaming upset driver too... Made it to Grants Pass where I put the bike together and made the sixty kilometres to Cave junction Lone Mountain campsite. After all that madness it seemed really a trip back to sanity. Had a nice welcome from Jim, the camp host and the further surprise of a dip in the river pond just few meters away from my tent. Final thoughts, Greyhound can be great fun and his reputation is soaring higher and higher.

Cave Junction-Jedediah Smith, 5th September 2014

Left Lone Mountain late as I knew it would be a short day to my favourite campsite. In fact the sixty kilometres were tougher than I thought maybe due to the fact that I didn't find a good place to have a hot meal sit down and rest my legs. Instead I survived on cyclists fuel, bread and peanut butter, bananas, cookies and energy drinks! Roads were quieter than expected and so was the campsite. Just when I thought I will have another lonely night at Jedediah Smith hiker biker site James turned up, one of those cyclists whom don't know where they left from and where they are heading to. Like leaves following the wind, living day by day, seeing where their moods next take them! He was in his sixties full of funny stories and keen on challenges. He had no tent, just a tarp and sleeping bag, he said it was enough while camping in Colorado in sub zero temperatures and yes it was a challenge! He also mentioned that each time he travels to California he gets lighter and lighter as his stuff gets stolen bit by bit. When he's got nothing left he heads back to Virginia. The evening got better as a private party with a three men bluegrass band started playing under the towering trees!

Jedediah Smith-Elk Prairie, 6th September 2014

I remembered this day being a fantastic ride from last year. First exiting the campsite the climb on 199 towards Crescent City is stunning through massive redwood groves. Even more is the last few miles before Elk Prairie. Newton Drury lane is a scenic road off highway 101 and there is the grandest display of massive trees lasting all the descent to the campsite. I didn't meet any cyclists but once at the campsite some had already pitched their tents and more trickled in as the evening went on. It looks like tonight there might be about ten of us. One of them is a girl who is touring with her small dog and has done so since May when they left New Jersey! The dog she said by now knows exactly what to do and as night fell and was chatting with them and asked where the he was she confirmed he had retired to the tent to sleep. Last year in october I remember spending the coldest night here, one month seems to make a big difference and despite feeling fresh it is surely much milder this time around.

Elk Prairie-Avenue Of The Giants, 7th September 2014

I woke up early morning to the camper most dreaded sound, light drops of rain falling on my tent. As I peeked out of my tent a dense fog engulfed Elk Prairie. I decided to set off early as I had a connection bus to catch from Trinidad. On the way out of the campsite gate a huge and extremely grumpy elk crossed my path and as she had cubs nearby I could see she didn't like my presence at all! We played hide and seek behind trees and I was mostly the one doing the hiding! I got trained with bears a bit by Canadians I met along the way but elk? What is one meant to do meeting a grumpy elk? Should I sprint out and risk being chased, should I retreat and risk being chased, my options seemed dire! Just at the right moment a large van was exiting the camp and the lady driving most kindly rescued me and my shuttered pride driving slowly the van between me and the beast so that I could duck behind it and ride slowly on my way. The day went according to plan. In Trinidad I tested again the convenience of a brompton bike. As I remembered from last year, the next fifty miles through Arcata and Eureka being the worse, with lots of traffic and not much in the way of scenery. As I had to gain some ground this was my scheduled fifty miles cheat and it worked a treat. I packed my brompton in fifteen minutes got all my stuff on the bus and was whisked back to sanity in Scotia, the starting place for Avenue of the Giants; the sky had turned all blue and after the coast fog it was a relief to cycle again in a warm sun along one of the most beautiful stretches of road on this planet. Burlington camp where I regretted not being able to stay last year is a great place to spend the night, in the heart of avenue of the giants and where most bikers on this route stop. I pitched my tent and met Menno, a Dutchman who is cycling on a recumbent bike from Alaska to Mexico and Spencer a Canadian who started his trip in Edmonton and is planning to go as far as Ecuador. It was nice to finally get a good chat and share stories of the past few days and plans for the days to come.

Avenue Of The Giants-Standish Hickey, 8th September 2014

Glorious riding day. It started out as a cool day biking through the other half of Avenue of the Giants, another display of enormous redwoods one is constantly staring up in awe. What was a chilly morning turned into a really hot day. It's nice to have met Spencer and Menno yesterday, I got to cycle with them here and there. Once reached Garberville, the Mecca of Californian hippies I bumped again into a guy from Slovenia I had met on the bus. He was with a black blind man and as I asked him if he was his friend he told me an interesting story. He said in fact he had been a couple of days with no money due to some issues with his credit card. He then met this man who wanted to go to Garberville but needed some help as he was blind. He also had terminal cancer and he said meeting him made his situation much more bearable as he thought how hard it would be was he in the same situation. Helping the man it turned out that he got food and motel costs taken care of too! Met other crazy cyclists along the road. Menno introduced me toe these two naive young boys from Quebec who are visiting a bike shop each day as they are riding cheap racing bikes with lots of weight. Their wheels are giving up not helped by their riding style too. Maybe not being very experienced they cycle in bursts, pedalling furiously to then of course crash half way through the day in total exhaustion together with their messed up bikes. Garberville also didn't do them any good as they are coughing like hell tonight having had a few more puffs than they should. To top it all off they are meant to get to San Francisco in three days to catch their flight, something which would probably take a bit of a miracle to achieve. Tonight in Standish Hickey everybody is writing their diaries and discussing plans for tomorrow under the music of crickets.

Standish Hickey-Russian Gulch, 9th September 2014

Another day blessed by blue skies and a hot sun. Today was the climb over Leggett hill on highway 1 and back to the coast. With all the fog I got last year on this stretch of the road I was pretty weary to climb over the hill. In fact at a certain point I could see dense fog behind the mountains and really prepared for another cold and wet ride but somehow it was just a a little scary cluster that soon dissipated. I was really excited to finally see this bit of coast too! I stopped at,the same cafe where I met Max last year and together with Spencer and Menno had a good chat before setting off each one on his own pace to the final destination of Russian Gulch. I realised how fifteen years of internet has turned most people into addicts! Most cyclists stay in campsites with no connections so like the junkies in Garberville looking for weed, we are all pretending to be cycling down the coast but in fact are all desperately searching for a wifi spot! I got to the campsite with Spencer and as Menno didn't seem to arrive we thought he probably changed his mind and stayed somewhere else but in fact at about seven his recumbent came down the steep hill to the hiker biker site with his flashing lights and a large sigh of relief!

Russian Gulch-Gualala Point, 10th September 2014

Today we woke up to a clear sky from the start of the morning no fog in sight for miles which is pretty unusual around here. I started the day with the usual coffee in Mendocino as it happened to be this time but really it was the wifi search again! Soon after starting the ride I met up with Spencer and our speed seemed to match nicely and we ended up riding together most of the day until we reached Gualala Point campground. We cycled fast but it was a pretty gruelling day of constant climbs and descents where it was impossible to find ones rhythm. The fog came and went too many times but this year around it was much better than last year and it felt almost pleasant to cool down after baking in a really hot sun. Villages on this part of the coast are so sparse that I ended up stopping in the same places I had stopped last year. At the supermarket before the campsite we thought we would get a bottle of wine to celebrate our last day ride together but in the end Spencer decided to continue on tomorrow so will be riding together again. As far as Menno is concerned we were hoping he would turn up late but this time he never did so I might not get a chance to say goodbye. Instead Kyle from Montreal turned up wearing jeans and a hood and unusually doing the route south to north. Then after him a couple from Colorado whose knees have given up in both of the and from tomorrow that will take a bus and head back home instead of completing their intended trip to San Diego. Two days left to the stop in San Francisco when I will get a chance to get a day rest, and restore my energies ready for the other half of the ride to Los Angeles.

Gualala Point-Bodega Bay, 11th September 2014

I completed even this stage and will be right on schedule into San Francisco where Fort Mason hostel is booked for two nights and a deserved rest day. Menno had made contact saying he would make it here tonight but all the hills got to him and he stopped just short which means that I won't be able to say goodbye. It was great to cycle with him and as he once said we all got inspired from each other during these few days. Again today it was mostly me and Spencer at times sticking together other times just setting off on our own to then catch up again. Fog was quite thick at times but often there were also breaks of blue sky and hot sun to warm up, much better than the soggy ride I had last year. On top of the biggest hill of the day the sun was really hot and I took the good decision to take out my tent and my clothes to dry and get some fresh air before diving into the fog again. Tomorrow will be by far the longest day so far but will have all day to ride it and won't have to worry about time to pitch my tent as I will have a proper bed and a hot shower waiting for me.

Bodega Bay-San Francisco, 12th September 2014

I made it to San Francisco, at least half way is completed! I left the campsite while Spencer was still tucked in his tent. He was taking a day off so we had already said goodbye last night. I expected a pretty tough day. For once it was about 115 kilometres to cover to get to San Francisco. In Tomales I met once again the Oregon guys we had met the last couple of days. They are credit card touring and staying in motels so they seem to always get a head start on us campers! They said it would be a very hot day to which I said it was great since last year on this stretch of the road I was freezing cold and unable to see beyond arm length, enveloped in a thick fog for most of the day. I had a blue sky all day but the heat was pretty extreme and at times I felt I had to really hide in the shadow and catch my breath. The temperature was a great help at lunchtime in Port Reyes where I bought some lunch at the local supermarket, sat on a bench in a local park and spread out my humid tent that didn't take too long to get dry. People around here are always friendly and a quick stop often means meeting new people and having a good chat and this was no exception. A friendly lady offered her garden lawn as a pitching camp for my tent too but Fort Mason was waiting for me. Three quarters of the road covered, dehydrated and on the verge of a heat stroke I went into Samuel Taylor campground to refresh, drink lots of water and cool down under the big trees. The excitement of the Golden Gate looming ahead made me cover the rest, getting lost a bit in San Anselmo but eventually finding the right way to Mill Valley and Sausalito thanks to local cyclists. Riding the bridge is each time an experience, as if it was the first time I had done so. It is a spectacle to behold, the scenery all around is stunning and with no fog, this time I could take it all in very slowly, with lots of stops for filming and pictures too. I got to the hostel as the sun was about to set meaning that despite all the stops on the way, I had been riding from 8am to 7pm and my bum and legs finally really deserved a day break! After tomorrow I will set off South. I will miss riding with Menno and Spencer but I am also looking forward to the new adventure heading south and after about ten years once again be riding up and down the Big Sur coast now only a few days away.

San Francisco-Half Moon Bay, 14th September 2014

After walking the hills of San Francisco with Henry at the start of my holiday, it was time to cycle the hills of San Francisco with the Brompton. Due to quite a bit of carelessness and not checking properly the city maps I ended up visiting quite a bit of unexpected hills trying to figure my way to Golden Gate park and out of the city. It took me a good hour to get on the right track, just as well that the journey today was not as taxing. Being Sunday I was also in for a bit of a shock as far as traffic was concerned. With another blue sky day and hot temperature forecasted, half of San Franciscans seemed to be heading on my same direction in search for a sandy beach and to get away from the city. So far along highway one traffic had been surprisingly low but certainly today was not the case! Pacifica, the next big town down the coast was another challenge and it was with some relief that I finally figured out my way onto highway one and in the right direction. Despite those hiccups I managed to get to the Half Moon Bay camp in good time and meet some new cyclists at the hiker biker site. There are about ten people staying here tonight, so far I had a chance to meet Gina cycling from Australia and Amy and Victor a very experienced couple of cyclists that impressed me straight away as they pulled out a bottle of red wine and were drinking it in style too, in what seemed proper wine glasses! They have what seems to be a ten men tent and Victor said he likes to travel heavy, unlike me! Amy said he was such a keen biker that he had cycled everywhere in the world and as she put it, they even got married riding a bike through a chapel in Las Vegas! Indeed Victor seemed to be pretty experienced and being a Californian by birth he knows all the roads and camps along the coast. They went all over the place on this trip, leaving Arizona in April and heading towards Mexico next. He also advised on avoiding the last two days to Los Angeles as traffic there gets really heavy so I will have to decide if I will end my bike trip in San Luis Obispo or make it to Santa Barbara. For once it is nice to have enough time and flexibility and see what will come next! The campsite is right on the beach and tonight I was able to take some nice pictures of the sunset and will sleep to the soothing sound of crashing waves.

Half Moon Bay-New Brighton Beach, 15th September 2014

Today ride was really easy compared to what I was used before San Francisco. The hills were much gentler and fewer and for most of the day a sweet tail wind pushed me on real fast. At the start I soon joined Amy and Victor and after having a bit of a chat I moved on as they have plenty of time and are taking easy and short days instead. Their usual parting phrase was 'keep the rubber down' which I suppose it must mean something like ride your bike upright, do not under any circumstance flip over and land on your head...I heed their good advice. My first break for the day was Pigeon Point where the is a lighthouse and around it a few buildings that function as a youth hostel. It looked a really amazing and secluded place to spend the night but It was far too early in the day to even think about stopping. After a long stretch of road with no towns or shops Davenport few restaurants made a good place to stop for a lunch. As I sat at the table there came Gina from Australia. She had obviously thought the same thing and she joined me for a very disappointing ceasar salad! After a cloudy start the fog and clouds had burned off, as they say here, turning the second part of the day into a glorious sunny and hot afternoon. My usual navigation issues in cities meant that it took me a while to figure out how to get to the campsite but speaking to the ore cyclists they all seemed to have had similar complaints and thought they must got here the wrong way! The campsite is great, writing this overlooking the ocean where dolphins and birds are having great fun playing with the wind and the waves. Tonight the youngest cyclists on the pacific coast joined the camp; Jack and John twins about two years old, travel with their American dad and Thai mom on a trailer! Good bunch of cyclists tonight. Jeff from San Diego, Scott from Phoenix Arizona, Gina and it seems we are all heading to Monterey next so will see more of them.

New Brighton Beach-Monterey, 16th September 2014

The plan to take a shuttle ride to Monterey was changed at the last minute! I decided to ride it as I will still make it in time to San Luis Obispo, my final riding destination. Unlike ten years ago when I badly got lost riding through not so pleasant Watsonville this time I got most of the turns right and despite not having been a spectacular route it was better than expected! As I remembered it was farmland galore. Huge expanses of fields that seem to have no end and thousands of mostly Mexican labourers working in extreme heat. I must say I felt a little uneasy cycling and enjoying myself while they were involved in back breaking strawberry picking, their heads covered in hoods to protect them from the sun. Seeing more strawberries than I have ever seen in my entire life, I had to have a basket at a farm. They were one third the price in Monterey and probably twice as sweet too! Monterey is one of those many Californian towns that seem blessed with prosperity, sun, great sceneries, no wonder making everybody who can afford to live here in an extremely good disposition! Spending an afternoon around town, recharging phone, ipad, camera and legs before riding Big Sur from tomorrow where towns are really sparse for about 200 kilometres! Back at the camp I should find some familiar faces of the cycling bunch I got into!

Monterey-Pfeiffer Sur, 17th September 2014

Yesterday, very interesting night at the Monterey Veterans memorial park! I kind of expected it would be; any cool town with good weather and by the coast in California equal a magnet for vagrants and travellers and where would you think they spend the night? The local Hilton and Marriott are on the pricey side so despite the long hike up the hill, veterans memorial park at six dollars is a bargain. The result is a bit of a greyhound experience in a campsite! Apart from Jeff, Scott, the guy with twins in trailer and myself, all legitimate hiker bikers, the rest were practically bums bringing a bicycle along just to be allowed in. I spent all afternoon and early evening downtown sipping nice coffee and watching all the beautiful people go by and when I got back and into my tent it was an interesting night. Jack and John, the twins were taking it in turn to scream and cry out loud and getting the large Monterrey dog population all excited and into a howling contest. A mother with daughter, as I heard later, got upset as on top of that there was a competitive snorer and she decided in the middle of the night to move her tent and of course make it known to everybody that she was doing so! As far as my neighbour goes, until about 11 at night he held the most interesting conversations and although I never saw his face it is like we were childhood friends and I have always known him. No eavesdropping mind you, he was loud enough to be heard over my radio blasting news through my earphones too! To cut it short his name was Howard but on a dating site he went as Steve, divorced with three kids, a girl 17, and two boys 20 and 21. I am not sure if the camp was home for him but he had this hour long conversation from a dating site with a poor girl from Pacifica who by now probably thinks she met the guy of her life. He was a very smooth talker, said to her he was a stage actor, with popular radio shows in LA, that he recently bought a house in Monterey, probably now with a serious roof leaking problem if he had to camp instead...and on and on the fairy tale went! They are meeting soon in Pacifica too, good luck to them! The most disturbing news came later in his conversations with a close girl friend and went something like this: 'you know I am strong man and always go through challenges don't you? How do you think I survived years in jail sharing my cell with those murderers'. Not the kind of thing you want to hear in the middle of the night when it is too dark to move your tent to a different town. In the morning everybody at the hiker biker camp survived, the only common complain was a serious migraine and general lack of sleep. We all had a common goal, getting out of there as soon as possible and ride down the hill fast! After that a brief stop at Monterey Starbucks was a return to sanity and a hot cup of coffee and another sunny day ahead made me really looking forward to the ride down the Big Sur coast. It was an amazing day starting with Seventeen Mile ride, through Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and ending in Carmel all amazingly exclusive places with extremely large houses and perfectly landscaped golf courses. Despite the artificial landscape around, the road was as incredible as I remembered it, always by the coast and with hardly any traffic. In Pebble Beach I was lucky to witness the incredible spectacle of whale watching! Eight humpback whales were feeding on sardines just a hundred meters from the coast and for half an hour I was staring at their majesty and wishing that my large camera zoom was for once just a bit larger. Carmel was a quick stop and I can confirm I still would like to be reborn there if I ever get another chance! On the way out I joined Highway 1, briefly stopped to take a picture at the beach where I once stayed with my tent and continued on with countless stops to take in the views, frame it into pictures and being 2014 a few movies as well! All made even sweeter by the memories of Veterans Memorial that by now was long forgotten and seemed just a bad dream. I reached Pfeiffer Sur State Park and it turned up to be the best campsite I have stayed in so far with fantastic hiker biker reached after crossing a wooden bridge and set in a spacious redwood forest and by a brook! Jeff was there and later was joined by James and Austrian guy for an authentic hiker biker night!

Pfeiffer Sur-San Simeon, 18th September 2014

Extremely challenging day! At night in wonderful Pfeiffer Sur campground I was awoken by a heavy rain fall and it didn't really stop by early morning so I had no choice but to start my day on a pretty damp fashion! After fifteen days of uninterrupted gorgeous weather it came as a bit of a shock. Not only rain but heavy fog prevented me from seeing much of the Big Sur coast for the whole morning and it was so thick that I had to ride with my lights flashing and being really careful descending the steep hills with my small wheels. The afternoon as I approached Gorda and then descended to San Simeon the sky opened up and I was at least able to dry out a bit and take a few shots of the remaining miles along the coast. I stopped at the sea lions beach that I remembered visiting in the past and was much more crowded this time. Once reached San Simeon state park James had just arrived and setting up is wet tent and we both discussed our challenging day! When darkness had descended and we were about to get to sleep, lights flashing appeared; it was the Austrian guy whom by now we thought he would have stopped somewhere else. Went to bed to the news that Scottish voted to remain in England.

San Simeon-San Luis Obispo, 19th September 2014

Today was a really fast ride into SLO! The usual feelings of happiness for having completed my tour mix with with the sadness of starting to realise that another great adventure has come to an end. This time there is still a little excitement left of having a couple of days left to visiting Los Angeles too, a place I have never been to. The ride was about 60 kilometres long but it was much flatter than the past two weeks and a strong wind was pushing me on faster than I had ever expected. My little wheeled Brompton worked wonders again and proved such a reliable bike that rarely goes unnoticed. As I found a hot spot in the sun I took advantage of it and dried my tent before packing it for the last time and again the Austrian guy that by now I feel guilty of not knowing his name appeared and stopped too. We cycled on along Turri Road, the same little road with no traffic, I cycled onto ten years ago. Before I realised it I saw the sign of the city and on the way we bumped into James too, took a final picture with them and then we parted as ey were both heading further to Los Angeles by bike. San Luis Obispo is the pretty university town I remembered; it will be nice to spend the afternoon here stay in the same quaint Youth Hostel and maybe tonight once again, try the famous Pig sandwich at Firestone, the least healthy but tastier sandwich I have ever had!