The Gratitude Tour: A Synopsis

OK, let’s start with some basic statistics, to provide a bit of perspective. My cheap bike computer registered 3,400 miles upon my return home. At one point I compared its odometer to some highway mileposts and determined that it was about 2-3% optimistic. So I’ll say I rode “a little over 3,000 miles” this trip, or maybe 3,200 miles in total. This would make it the second-longest bicycle tour I have completed; in 1976 I rode 3,700 miles around the greater Pacific Northwest, including about 1,100 miles of the original Transamerica Trail during its inaugural year.

I was in the saddle with the wheels turning (that’s what makes the computer register) for around 135 hours. My average speed was about 9 1/2 miles per hour when I started out across Oregon with Donovan, and rose to nearly 11 mph by the trip’s end. My top speed was 45 1/2 mph, coming down a steep hill on the Oregon coast.

My $150 Craigslist special 1997 full-suspension Trek mountain bike was so poorly suited to touring that it drew questions from knowledgeable cycling geeks and even became the butt of my own jokes. I had to completely change my plans mid-tour or I would have ended my trip soon after it began. The bike will never be used for touring again!

The trip in brief: I left New Mexico on Saturday, July 5th and arrived home on Wednesday, October 22nd, for a total of 112 days. I usually camped and cooked my own meals on a backpacking stove. I stayed with Warmshowers hosts perhaps a dozen times, each a warm and rewarding stay. I also stayed with a dozen or so hosts through professional connections I had made in the solar industry.

I left Santa Fe on Amtrak, with both bike and trailer boxed up with my gear inside, arriving in the Bay Area Sunday evening. I spent one day at the big Intersolar exposition in San Francisco, talking shop with fellow solar geeks and writing off the train fare as a business expense.

Johanna's extended family, including the wacko in the green t-shirt.

Johanna’s extended family, including the wacko in the green t-shirt (and my wife Johanna in blue shirt to my left) .

I then headed to Yosemite with Dick Kamprath, my father-in-law, for a family gathering at Wawona with my wife Johanna’s extended family. This was the first time I had come to Yosemite as a typical tourist; always before I avoided the crowded Valley and headed to the high country, but I enjoyed this new way of being there.

This collection of rock people near Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley was human-created, of course. The ranger with whom I spoke disapproved of it, but it fit with the Valley/tourist energy of this visit to the park.

This collection of rock people near Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley was human-created, of course. The ranger with whom I spoke disapproved of it, but it fit with the Valley/tourist energy of this visit to the park.

After a few days in Yosemite and a couple more in the Bay Area, I successfully hitchhiked with bike and trailer up US 101, CA 199 and I-5 to Albany, Oregon. My bicycle touring began on July 19th, and about here is where I begin the blog. After a day checking out old haunts (I lived in Corvallis/Albany area in 1977-1982) and replacing a broken freehub body, I rode east across Oregon with Don Yoder, about 320 miles or so. It was on this section that I determined that my original idea of continuing into Idaho and bikepacking Adventure Cycling’s new Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route was a dangerously foolish plan given my bike, equipment and timing, and changed plans instead to do a Pacific Coast road tour.

I hitched back across Oregon and up north of Seattle. After visiting several PV manufacturers, I spent about two weeks in the San Juan Islands, being wined and dined by fellow solar bozos. I then rode from there down the coasts of southwest Washington, Oregon, and California to around San Luis Obispo, which is roughly half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. I then attempted to hitchhike across the Central Valley of California and the Mojave Desert to New Mexico, but ended up taking buses to Gallup. The final portion of the trip was a ride from Gallup to home.

The touring in the San Juan Islands of northwest Washington reprised a tour I led there as a community college class in 1980. The tour down the coast as far as Santa Cruz essentially repeated a tour I had done forty years earlier – “half a lifetime ago” as I told those I met along the way – when at 23 I was in a very different stage of life. The last portion of the coast route, from Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo through the Big Sur coast, I had ridden even earlier, in 1971 as my first-ever bike tour.

I naturally developed a few “elevator speech” answers to strangers’ questions questions about what I was doing. Here’s the one that’s the core of it all: in response to “Why are you doing this?”, which I was asked frequently, I answered: “This is my gratitude tour. I’m traveling to celebrate three things in my life for which I’m hugely grateful: First, I’m grateful to be celebrating retirement from the solar company I founded in 1997, the success of which allows me to take this time in my life away from working; second, I’m grateful for being alive, after having successfully gone through radiation and chemotherapy for cancer 2 1/2 years ago; and third, I’m grateful for being healthy enough at 63 to be able to do this wacky travel adventure. That’s it in a nutshell.”

Some people found this to be highly inspirational. When someone would tell me that they imagined doing something like this someday, I would encourage them to join Adventure Cycling at www.AdventureCycling.org for $40/year ($33/year for 60+ old farts like me). Their magazine was so full of tour stories, bike and gear evaluations and how-to articles that for me it served as a source of inspiration to actually make this happen.

So for now, that’s the trip in a single blog post.

And Finally Home

Another ghost bike: Jamie Quinn, killed in 2007

Another ghost bike, found along the Old Route 66, aka the I-40 frontage road east of Albuquerque: Jamie Quinn, killed in 2007

Each time I have encountered a “ghost bike” memorial along the road I have photographed it and posted it here. To me this is an important, indeed necessary, ritual. Beside honoring the memory of yet another cyclist killed while riding, it serves to remind me that at every moment death rides with each of us, and we must live as fully as we can while we can.

To recap the final days: Nathaniel met me at the entrance to UNM and we rode to his on-campus dorm room, where I spent the night on the floor. As I told him, I could easily have gotten a nearby motel room, in typical parents’ fashion, but I would much rather sleep on his floor and eat in his cafeteria – in short, to see his world as much as he lives it as possible. I also promised to swap him my tires for his when he next comes home at Thanksgiving, as my Awful Touring Bike will be returned to its intended incarnation as Fun Old Mountain Bike and will never need its wonderful Schwalbes again. Ever.

After dinner we met my daughter Emma and her boyfriend Sam, but the visit was short as she was off to an evening class. I spent the evening just hangin’ wit’ my homie, and sleep came easily on the same air mattress that has sustained me all these months… (but which appears to have developed a slow leak and will need to be exchanged; the main benefit of REI’s high prices…)

I headed east out of Burque the next morning, taking up the right lane on Central Avenue, which is the old Route 66. All gentle climbing up toward the Sandia mountains, I suddenly found myself riding with a friendly road warrior on a fast, modern carbon Trek. Mark Aasmundstad is a bicycle activist recently relocated from Phoenix who blogs fervently at www.bikeyogi.com. I later read there that he even wrote about riding with me on his blog: “Yesterday I decided to slow down in Tijeras Canyon to say hello to a cyclist who was toting panniers and hauling a touring trailer.  His name is Allan Sindelar and he was just finishing up the last leg of his gratitude tour that took him down the Oregon and California coasts.  He founded Positive Energy Solar about 20 years ago and built it into an award winning million dollar company.  Wow, a renewable energy pioneer, flesh and blood hero!  Allan was celebrating his retirement and a rebirthing of things to come.  Here’s his blog about the trip:  http://sindelarsolar.com/  What a good life and happy soul.  Tremendously inspiring.”

When he learned that I was heading up the Turquoise Trail, Mark told me about an alternate route up the big climb that avoided the traffic of NM14. We rode together, and he led me to Gutierrez Canyon Road. What a delight! It felt as if the climb was half as much as I had expected, and we talked easily the whole way up. When we parted at the top (Mark was riding to the 10,600′ top of Sandia Crest) I had the distinct sense that I had encountered an angel-in-flesh, who happened to come by at just the right moment to pass on a gift and then continue on to the next small-miracle opportunity.

Once at the top and back on NM14, I made one more stop. In early 2012, while I was driving daily to Albuquerque for radiation treatments for my tongue cancer, I one day stopped at a home with an older diesel Mercedes than mine with a veggie oil fuel bumper sticker on the back. I struck up a conversation there with Jim Ruzicka long enough to learn that we shared three common interests: we had both converted a diesel Benz to run on waste vegetable oil; we both had done extensive bicycle touring (I saw two beautiful Rivendells in his garage); and we had both experienced tongue cancer. He had survived my cancer nearly twenty years ago, although unlike me he had had major surgery, which changed his neck’s appearance noticeably. My encounter with Jim that day had given me strength and encouragement that I’d make it through my treatment and continue to enjoy life for years to come, which is of course what’s happening.

So I stopped in to see Jim and his wife Peer King. I was pleased to find them there, as I had stopped while passing by several times in the ensuing years to find nobody home. I wanted to show Jim that I had made it through my treatment, and was indeed living fully, even touring as he had. We even talked of touring together in the indefinite future. I found it very satisfying to be able to share my thriving after my cancer treatment with a man who had experienced the same.

Atop the last hill on the Turquoise Trail before coasting home

Atop the last hill on the Turquoise Trail before coasting home

The last mile, with home in the background

The last quarter mile, with home in the background

The last twenty miles or so were all familiar territory, and I was soon coasting down to my rough dirt road and home. Johanna and the dogs were walking on our road and greeted me. All felt a bit unreal: I had really arrived at the end of my bike journey.

Once she recognized me, Luna was all greeting

Once she recognized me, Luna was all wags and licks.

Please check back soon, as I will be soon adding two more posts: the first a synopsis of the trip, with a few statistics to put it all in perspective, and the second an acknowledgment of some of the many people I met along the way who gave of themselves to help make the trip a success.

Following Old Route 66 into Burque

A bridge on pld Route 66, built in 1936. "Safe Load 15 Tons"

The Parker Pony Truss Bridge on old Route 66, built in 1936. “Safe Load 15 Tons”

A closer view of the Santa Maria Mission church, easily visible from I-40.

A closer view of the Santa Maria Mission church, easily visible from I-40.

The interior of the very traditional church, photographed through a window

The interior of the very traditional church, photographed through a window

I have lacked a decent New Mexico road map, so leaving Grants I depended on Google Maps’ route mapping for cycling, and that turned out to be a mistake. I followed the old Route 66, which paralleled the interstate highway. In the tiny town of San Fidel I stopped to photograph a sign for “Geezerville” and ended up talking with the gezer himself, Doug Johnson. He lamented the lack of safe shoulders for the many cyclists who passed by, and I told him about Adventure Cycling’s current work to create a Route 66 bicycle route and maps, and suggested that he consider making his now-closed antique shop into a hostel or waystation for cyclists. He was excited by the idea and the possibilities. Before I left he insisted that I wear his fluorescent dayglo flagman’s vest while on the roads to Albuquerque, which I did with the promise to mail it back once home.

The White Arrow Garage on old Route 66

The White Arrow Garage on old Route 66

Doug Johnson at home in Geezerville

Doug Johnson at home in Geezerville, San Fidel NM

Rural New Mexico

Rural New Mexico

The Budville Trading Post, built around 1938

The Budville Trading Post, built around 1938

A wide, smooth shoulder and beautiful scenery... too bad it was the wrong road.

A wide, smooth shoulder and beautiful scenery… too bad it was the wrong road.

At Laguna Pueblo, however, I was directed north on “Old Stage Highway 279″. It followed the heavily-used railroad tracks for awhile, so I was miles up the road before I realized that the sun was on my left, meaning that I was heading northwest instead of east. By the time I had flagged down a road crew for directions and ridden back to Route 66, I had ridden 16 miles out of my way.

This meant that I would be running out of daylight well before leaving pueblo land, so at a convenience store I approached a tribal police officer getting gas and asked for help. His offer was quick and easy: head a few miles farther to Mesita and camp in the police station’s parking area. That’s what I did, after yet another four mile overshoot and double back. I set up my tent behind a utility trailer, with a yard light illuminating my tent enough to see by, and was left alone there.

In the morning I discovered that I had picked up about two dozen goatheads in my tires from riding across the parking lot. I pulled all of them out of the tires, and none had punctured the tubes. These (German) Schwalbe Big Ben tires are the finest I have ever ridden. After 2,500 miles they show little wear, are consistently round and even, and are very comfortable. The little trailer tire had about three goatheads. all of which eventually punctured the ordinary tire and needed to be patched.

Laid-back Nathaniel and I at UNM. He rides and loves my old 1987 Schwinn Cimarron mountain bike, as it rides very capably around campus and town but looks so funky that it's unlikely to be stolen.

Laid-back Nathaniel and I at UNM. He rides and loves my old 1987 Schwinn Cimarron mountain bike, as it rides very capably around campus and town but looks so funky that it’s unlikely to be stolen.

From Mesita I rode 22 miles on the shoulder of the interstate, as there was simply no alternative route. This wasn’t a problem – the shoulder was wide, smooth, and safe, just boring. Finally I dropped down “nine mile hill” on Central Avenue, the old Route 66 into Albuquerque, and rode to the UNM campus, where I met up with oldest son Nathaniel.

Back Home in New Mexico

Along the highway in the land of the Navajo

Along the highway in the land of the Navajo

A second "tractor" at the same ranch gate. Look closely - neither is a real tractor.

A second “tractor” at the same ranch gate. Look closely – neither is a real tractor.

I bought a bus ticket to Albuquerque but got off the bus in Gallup. I want these final four or five days of riding to be the roads home across New Mexico, until I roll down the rough dirt road to my home. This will form a final closure to the trip, and help me return to the pace and consciousness of my home state. The route will be interesting, too. After three days of peaceful rural roads with little traffic, once I reach Grants I’ll be on old Route 66, paralleling I-40, and even riding on its shoulder for some miles where there’s simply no alternative route.

After stocking up on provisions at La Montanita Natural Foods Co-op in Gallup, I headed south on Highway 603. The road passes through a patchwork of state land, Navajo tribal land, and private land. I had that morning called former business partner Mark Drummond, and when I told him where I was he encouraged me to contact his sister Vicky and her husband, as hey live in this area. Knowing how little sleep I had gotten on the bus, I did. I had met them at each of the last three years’ “24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest” bicycle race, so they knew who I was and offered their hospitality.

New Mexico's open beauty is so welcome.

New Mexico’s open beauty is so welcome.

image

I climbed about 1,000′ in elevation in the 27 miles I rode yesterday to their home, and 51 miles today. I was surprised when I realized that I hadn’t felt the effects of elevation at all. While I live at 6,600′, I had essentially been at sea level for the last two months. The bus took me from about 1,500′ in Las Vegas to 6,500′ in Gallup, and I climbed from there. I had expected to have lost my acclimation to the higher elevations and to be more easily winded while climbing, but it never occurred.

Yes, we have our own version of highway road kill.

Yes, we have our own version of highway road kill.

Tonight I’m camping at a small, fairly primitive (meaning no hookups, no lights, and pit toilets) campground at El Morro National Monument. El Morro means the headlands, and is a location where a deep pool of water has historically been an oasis on a historic east-west travel route across what’s now New Mexico. It had that oasis feel for me, too – on a bicycle, i’m traveling at a similar pace to early travelers before automobiles increased our range. Water is scarce in this country, and distances are greater than along the coast.

The climb to the 7,890' Divide was long and gentle, and allowed a fast 15-mile coast toward Grants on the other side.

The climb to the 7,890′ Divide was long and gentle, and allowed a fast 15-mile coast toward Grants on the other side.

The climb up to the Divide was long and gentle, and the reward was the best 15-mile fast descent with tailwind of the entire trip.

The climb up to the Divide was long and gentle, and the reward was the best 15-mile fast descent with tailwind of the entire trip.

I feel so good about being in my home state again. The energy is so different than where I just left. The land is more beautiful, the pace is slower, the people are friendlier.

They say "a man's home is his castle" but this is ridiculous. Seen in San Rafael, NM.

They say “a man’s home is his castle” but this is ridiculous. Seen in San Rafael, NM.

i rode over the Continental Divide at around 7,890′ and had a lovely long coast past El Malpais and toward Grants, NM, the deadest town I have yet encountered. The next two days will be along the old Route 66 into Albuquerque, where I’ll see my older kids Nathaniel and Emma, both students at UNM. Then one more day from UNM to home.

Leaving Las Vegas: Whose Idea Was This Anyway?

The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas .

A close-up of the building. Brain Health, huh?

A close-up of the building. Brain Health, huh?

En route to Barstow I determined that I was more likely to be able to hitchhike out of Las Vegas than Barstow so an extra $20 to the driver landed me in Las Vegas at 9 pm. I found a cheap room, and headed out toward Boulder City and Hoover Dam, figuring that I could easily catch a good ride when traffic was moving slowly across the old dam. Right.

I rode up a long, gentle hill out of Las Vegas to Boulder City, the town created to build Hoover Dam in the 1930s. At a bike shop there where I stopped for guidance, I learned that a newish bridge bypassed the dam, bikes weren’t allowed on it, and the climb out of the canyon was 2,000 feet. I found a decent hitching spot and gave it my best, but after several hours it became increasingly clear that a ride was highly unlikely: all the traffic was local, or semis, or jacked-up macho pickups (often pulling jacked-up macho power boats) or little rental cars. I was pretty discouraged, and eventually gave up and headed back to Vegas. I figured my best (and last) hope was a bus from there to New Mexico, hitching be damned.

Fifty-six miles of riding this day and I ended up right where I started. I stopped at the Greyhound station, where I learned that indeed, any bike must be boxed to be carried on the bus, and yes, they sell bike boxes at the station, and no, they had run out and had none. I stayed the night at the Las Vegas Hostel, heading out in the morning to locate a bike box. Of course, the catch-22 is that the only way to carry a bike box is by bike, but I was able to strap the large box to the trailer and return it to the station, leaving it for later use and purchasing my $125 ticket. (I got the 5% senior discount only after showing my ID to the agent who didn’t think I was old enough to qualify as an Old Fart.)

The Bellagio fountain on the new strip

The Bellagio fountain on the new strip

A roughly 80 kW PV array in front of the new Las Vegas City Hall.

A roughly 80 kW PV array in front of the new Las Vegas City Hall.

Yes, everything is a bit askew, much like the city.

Yes, everything is a bit askew, much like the city.

I wandered the downtown and the strip for the afternoon, limited to riding, as Las Vegas isn’t a town in which to leave a fully-loaded bicycle locked up in public. To me, the highlight was Cleveland Clinic Event Center designed by architect Frank Gehry, known for his wacky and creative buildings. I’d like to know where he gets his acid.

Kiss, I giss, on the old-town "Fremont Street Experience"

Kiss, I giss, on the old-town “Fremont Street Experience”

Your intrepid blogger after three-plus months of riding

Your intrepid blogger after three-plus months of riding ready to return home.

I returned to the bus station at 6:30 pm, disassembled the bike and trailer and made two neat, heavy parcels. The bus left at 8:30, with a transfer in Flagstaff at 2:20 am and arrival in Gallup, New Mexico at 6 am. I’m now writing this in a wifi coffeehouse in Gallup, having had little sleep. But I’m in my home state, with about 200 miles left to ride. I could have ridden the dog into Albuquerque, but wanted to complete this last stretch across Nuevo Mexico.

 

One Hundred Days on the Road

Wild turkeys strolled through our campsite.

Wild turkeys strolled through our campsite.

A closeup of a large, beautiful bird

A closeup of a large, beautiful bird

Sunset at Morro Rock

Sunset at Morro Rock

From San Simeon I continued down the coast through Cambria and Cayucos to Morro Bay State Park. This was another gold-standard park, well-maintained with showers, a large and quiet biker/hiker section and even a golf course. The showers were in operation, too: At Plaskett Creek campground the toilets worked but the sinks were shut off, and at San Simeon State Park all of the bathrooms were locked and rows of porta-potties brought in, all due to the sever drought and mandatory water restrictions. As the day’s ride to Morro Bay was short at 30 miles or so, I used a laundromat to wash everything, as I have done every few weeks or so; usually I hand-wash a few items as I go along.

Shane with his tent, touring setup and cat trailer. The cat was inside the tent.

Shane with his tent, touring setup and cat trailer. The cat was inside the tent.

I had mentioned meeting Shane, a bicycle tourer traveling with his cat, back somewhere around southwestern Washington. I was surprised to see him again in Morro Bay. It turns out that while he has been traveling up and down the coast for 18 months or so, it’s not his “home on the road” and he was returning to his home town of Grover Beach that day.

A low pass near San Luis Obispo. Check the elevation.

A low pass near San Luis Obispo. Check the elevation.

Riding into San Luis Obispo completed the main Pacific Coast part of the journey. I stayed the night at the collective home of ten twenty something’s, one of whom I had met in the food co-op on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands. With the Monday morning dawn came my 100th day since leaving home, and the first day of the final stage of the trip, the return to New Mexico and home.

And so far this has proven to be quite difficult. I enjoy hitchhiking, especially with a bicycle for speed and efficiency. Add a trailer, though, and it’s a different story. Most vehicles can fit a bike, but few can fit bike, full bags and a trailer – it takes a pickup truck or similar and a driver willing to take the time to load and unload. By mid afternoon I had made only about 50 miles, and was on a lonely two-lane highway headed east. Most of the sparse traffic was semi trucks, who don’t stop for hitch hikers, even obviously friendly and interesting ones. I eventually just began riding, as that would for sure get me to my destination eventually. Climbing a long hill at sunset, I made camp near a hidden pond and trees, completely private with not a light in any direction, yet with the distant sound of the trucks climbing the grade all through the night.

Maria

Maria

I slept well, and was treated to a 15-mile downhill with a strong tailwind, a cyclist’s rare delight. I stopped to remove a jacket and casually stuck out my thumb. The car stopped, and I ended up with a ride into Bakersfield with Maria, a 50 year old saintly Mexican grandmother with an abiding faith in her God and a desire to help anyone as she could.

From Bakersfield I found my way to the far eastern outskirts of town, setting up my rig and thumb on the highway heading out across the desert. After two hours with no luck and little prospect of a ride, a California Highway Patrol officer stopped. He asked for my ID, assured me that hitchhiking is illegal in the entire state (I thought it to be so only on freeways) and pulled out his ticket book. Once he learned that I was functional, friendly, and not looking for trouble he softened and tried to help but had no ideas. I clearly was not going to follow my original plan, though.

I rode back the six miles or so into downtown Bakersfield, stopping first at the Amtrak station (buses only headed south to catch the Southwest Chief east out of LA; the next one leaving at 2 pm tomorrow). The difficulty with the train is that both bike and trailer must be boxed up and checked, and that’s very hard to do when the bike itself is my transportation. I then rode to the bus station, where a bus was just then loading for points east, to end in Las Vegas. The driver looked over my load and figured that yes, it would fit in the luggage bins beneath. So I quickly bought a $31 one-way ticket with senior discount to Barstow, out in the Mojave desert.

Riding Down the Big Sur Coast

Looking north on Highway One with the Bixby Creek Bridge in the distance

Looking north on Highway One with the Bixby Creek Bridge in the distance

And south from the same location

And south from the same location

My last entry was posted from a coffeehouse in Carmel before heading down the Coast Highway through Big Sur. This rugged coastal area has little or no cell service. Three evenings later I’m at San Simeon State Beach, another hiker/biker campground, having ridden through the rugged central California coast. Still no cell reception…

This image shows the steepness and ruggedness of this mostly undeveloped coast.

This image shows the steepness and ruggedness of this mostly undeveloped coast.

Another shot of the Coast Highway carved into the mountains.

Another shot of the Coast Highway carved into the mountains.

Today is Friday. On Wednesday I rode 35+ miles into Big Sur proper, camping at Pfeiffer Big Sur SP. With hot showers and receptacles nearby for recharging, it remains a gold standard among California state parks. The next morning began with an 1100′ climb out of Big Sur, and miles along steep, narrow Highway One down the coast. Thirty-five miles later I camped at a US Forest Service campground at Plaskett Creek, where I had camped decades previously, including once around 1970 when my dad met me there.

...touring on single speed, fixed-gear bikes...

…touring on single speed, fixed-gear bikes…

I shared the space with two impressive cyclists from San Jose, who were traveling with minimal but adequate camping gear on fixed-gear bikes. One was even a custom frame, built with touring geometry but without gear-changing capability. The two riders were traveling light but making much better time than I. The fixies were their preference, for their simplicity and for the challenge.

Today’s ride was also only about 35 miles, but the next campground was an additional 30 miles further, more than the day will provide. Tomorrow I will ride into San Luis Obispo, and my arrival represents a sort-of-official end to this main leg of the tour. I once (1969-1971) went to college here in Cal Poly’s Mechanical Engineering program. Touring up and back down the coast that June with a fellow student was my first-ever bike tour.

Caught by a German tourist at 32 mph

Caught by a German tourist at 32 mph

The friendly German tourist emailed me the photos he took.

The friendly German tourist emailed me the photos he took.

I don’t particularly want to ride through Southern California at all. Instead, it’s time to go home. Following a rest and restock (R&R) day in SLO, I plan to hitchhike across the Mojave Desert and Arizona to New Mexico, to complete my tour by riding home, probably from near the NM state line.

I spent a couple of evenings sharing campgrounds with a man of 69 who is touring down the coast on an “E-bike” – a touring bike with a substantial (48V 12 Ah) battery pack and an electric assist motor built into the front hub. He’s being sponsored by the manufacturer of the bike to blog his journey. Even with all of the climbing and dropping along the coast highway, he told me that with careful use of the electric assist he consumes only about half of the stored energy in a day’s riding. He plugs into receptacles in the bathrooms of most state parks at night.

I’m 63 and able to complete my tour under my own muscle power now. But I want to be able to continue to ride and tour well into my eighties and nineties. Through the natural physical decay that comes with aging, a bike with electric assist may well allow me to keep riding long after I’d have to hang up my shoes otherwise.

Monterey Bay and Cannery Row

Worth stopping for... a healthy, mature nopal rowing out of the top of an old Monterey Cypress stump

  Worth stopping for… a healthy, mature nopal rowing out of the top of an old Monterey Cypress stump

 

Brussels sprouts as far as the eye can see

Brussels sprouts as far as the eye can see

From Santa Cruz I rode slowly around Monterey Bay, remembering old haunts from four decades ago. So much remained familiar, just more developed, with more bike lanes but also many more homes and much more traffic. I was close to Watsonville before the homes turned to fields of strawberries, lettuce, artichokes and Brussels sprouts. I camped at Sunset State Beach, which borders a huge industrial farming operation, and the tractors were out well before first light.

The next day I continued to Monterey, but on a whim rode up the driveway of an old rural farmhouse outside of Watsonville where a woman friend of that time had lived. To my surprise she was still there and remembered our times together. Now 74, Berta had lived alone in that same lovely old rented farmhouse for 51 years. While sharing condensed versions of our life stories from a front porch that still looked out over miles of commercial strawberry fields, we watched a bobcat stroll by the garden and slip into the trees.

I rode on, taking the scenic route around Elkhorn Slough rather than the coast highway. I had seen the bird life in this estuary in July, when I came up the Pacific Coast on Amtrak’s well-maintained Coast Starlight route, and could now see it close up.

I spent two nights at the Veterans’ Park in Monterey. This is a city-run park, rather than a more common State Park, and is the published biker/hiker camp site in Monterey in the Pacific Coast route maps. I took an extra day specifically to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, considered one of the finest in the world.

Sea turtle, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Sea turtle, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Pacific tuna

Pacific tuna

Jellyfish

Jellyfish

image

Until I reached Santa Cruz, I had been following the route of my first long tour of forty years ago. Indeed, “I’m repeating a bicycle tour I took half a lifetime ago” became part of my “where I’m coming from/where I’m headed” introduction when meeting and greeting other tourers. The Big Sur coast, south of Santa Cruz, however, is a repeat of my first-ever tour. In June of 1971 I had just dropped out of college. Scott, another Cal Poly student (who hadn’t dropped out) and I rode the coast and back.

I write this in part because of a strong memory of an evening on Cannery Row in Monterey, where the Aquarium is located. Today Cannery Row is heavily redeveloped as a tourist destination, with restaurants and shops and bike rentals. In 1971 it was far less developed: Steinbeck’s 1945 novel of the same name had made it famous, but many of the old canneries were still just empty shells.

Scott and I found our way into one of these abandoned canneries and made our camp for the evening. After dinner we walked down to a coffeehouse where a live folk duo was playing music. We enjoyed their music so much that when they finished playing at midnight we invited them to join us in our cannery to continue the evening. They came, and we together found our way to a crow’s nest on the roof of one huge old building – my guess is that this is where someone once watched for the fishing boats to come in with their catch. We spent the next couple of hours singing Cat Stevens songs, while the full moon played over the harbor, before they went home and we went to sleep.

As best I can recall, this is what's left of the cannery where we sang "ooh, baby, baby, it's a wild world, it's hard to get by just upon a smile."

As best I can recall, this is what’s left of the cannery where we sang “ooh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world, it’s hard to get by just upon a smile.”

I appreciate having a completely flexible schedule. From the day I began planning for this bicycle tour, I haven’t set a date to be back home. When asked, I have spoken vaguely of “a few months”, and it has already turned out that way. I left home on July 5th, so I’m in my thirteenth week and not home yet. I was also deliberately vague about my planned route, as turned out to have been smart: I quickly learned that my planned ride of the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route was naively and dangerously unrealistic. Completely changing my planned route and itinerary, I ended up riding these paved roads down the Pacific Coast.

The Big Sur coast is next. I’m not sure when I’ll next have wifi or cell service to post here.

Can o’ Screws- er, Santa Cruz

The fresel lens, made in 1875, that shone for about 100 years at Pigeon Point Lighthouse

The fresnel lens, made in 1875, that shone for about 100 years at Pigeon Point Lighthouse

A second memorial o a cyclist killed by a car. This was a hit-and-run driver on 4/4/2012.

A second memorial o a cyclist killed by a car. This was a hit-and-run driver on 5/4/2012.

I lived in Santa Cruz in my early twenties, from 1972-1977. I was nowhere near ready to grow up and the town didn’t ask it of me. I was immature, self-absorbed, single, countercultural and quite sexually active. Indeed, as I look back on those years, it’s likely that my base of tongue cancer of thee years ago, which had the “marker” that indicated it was of the same type as develops into cervical cancer in women, was an STD that took 30+ years to develop, and thus may have been contracted in those heady days here.

So yesterday I simply rode about 35 miles from Pigeon Point into and then around the town, obserrving what had changed and what remained. The day was absurdly hot: the high here was 96 degrees (in the shade, for reggae fans), too hot for serious riding. The Loma Prieta Earthquake, which occurred 25 years ago today, fundamentally changed the nature of the downtown area, by destroying many of the old iconic buildings. Certainly there was more of what I recall: more people, more development, more cultural (and highly commercialized) hipness… and certainly I felt twinges of longing for that carefree, irresponsible stage of life. But I’m half a lifetime removed from that time, more reflective now than seeking experience, and my adventures are now of a very different nature.

Maryam (R) and her housemates Tyndall (L) and Joselyn

Maryam (R) and her housemates Tyndall (L) and Joselyn

I stayed with a houseful of wonderful Warmshowers hosts, Maryam, a UCSC college senior living with housemates. Maryam had ridden solo up the coast to Orcas Island this summer and was now looking through Warmshowers hosting to repay the generosity she was shown. She peppered me with questions about this town’s character when I lived here, which led to far-ranging talks about cancer, suicide, planetary survival, human kindness and motivation… a delightful evening.

A shared iPhone photo of last evening's fireworks...I forgot to bring my camera

A shared iPhone photo of last evening’s fireworks…I forgot to bring my camera

Then that evening my arrival in town was celebrated with a fireworks display! — not. Last evening was actually the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Santa Cruz wharf and pier. We walked a few blocks to the Boardwalk and sat on the beach as the fireworks began. This was most likely the best fireworks display I have ever seen: The launch point was only a couple of hundred feet away, so all of the pretty colors (!) were right over our heads, and just kept on and on for close to an hour.

On the Way to Santa Cruz: Pigeon Point Lighthouse and Hostel

I expect to see water hauling signs in New Mexico, but not along the coast.

I expect to see water hauling signs in New Mexico, but not along the coast.

After riding only about twenty miles, I came to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and International Hostel. I have been curious about modern hosteling, so decided to stay for a night to see what it’s about. For $31, I had a bunk in a shared room. There were two other cyclists staying here, who were day travelers from the urban Bay Area; otherwise the travelers were in cars. In the evening, guests sat in the shared living room, mostly keeping to themselves.

The lodging was perfectly comfortable and functional, and would be a good respite during a rainstorm. Otherwise, camping at hiker/biker sites and with the occasional Warmshowers host is a more enjoyable option for my needs and tastes.

The Pigeon Point Lighthouse. It's the most iconic of all of the lighthouses I have seen on this trip, with its tall tower and shelter for the "wickies" who once kept the light burning.

The Pigeon Point Lighthouse. It’s the most iconic of all of the lighthouses I have seen on this trip, with its tall tower and shelter for the “wickies” who once kept the light burning.

Another perspective of the lighthouse

Another perspective of the lighthouse