Bicycling Beauty (Part 2) – My Solo West Coast Bicycle Ride

I always push myself to go a little farther, so after finding a perfectly good place to sleep before Sundown, I decide to get to what I think will be a superior place to rest which happens to be much farther down the road than I realize. So I ride into the night, there are no cars on the road with me. I wonder about being chased by mountain lions and I scan the area around me with my headlamp every now and then. I see a ring-tailed cat cross the road as I come to an opening in the land. With the stars as my light I can see the Eel River carving its way through a valley below me. I can feel the wildlife active within it and around me now that darkness has fallen. Around 9 O’clock, I arrive at the campsite and I stop to find the hiker-biker site. I catch the glimpse of a reflective sticker on a small tent and a head pokes out and says “Hi!”. This person is Theo, a 40-something guy on a solo bike trip from somewhere in Oregon, on his way to San Francisco. He is humble and kind. Somewhere along his journey, he joined up with a 20 year old talkative kid who seemed to be his opposite, but they worked well together as a team.

He greeted me and told me about the available space for us. Alone, I found my own private place, set up camp, and went to sleep in my tent. For the next few days, I would share my ride with him and several others. It was nice to be with others. On my way out of Garberville, my knees were killing me (later I discovered it was because my seat was too low). It was hot and I was climbing. Two young men passed me with glee. This made me think to myself “boys, you have no idea”. I saw them at the campsite that night, as well as all my other new friends including Theo. I loved the look on their faces that morning when they saw me up and out of camp way before they were ready. I was going to give these guys something to work for, since they are so proud. On the first mile I decided to raise my seat. This was a big climbing day up a legendary hill called the “leggett hill”. My friend Theo started shortly after me, and we rode up the hill together. I was ecstatic, singing loud. We saw our Japanese friend who had given me “the best campsite” while I was in Oregon. He said as we passed, “you guys too fast!” with a smile. I left them both in the dust, my smile driving me all the way up to the top. I crouched down as I descended, laughing like a mad woman as I descended the shady, windy road of Highway 1. I didn’t realize I was being witnessed until Theo came barreling past me as low as he could be. Slightly embarrassed but completely elated by this moment I was able to share with others.

The two young boys never caught up to me. I didn’t stop for a break until 40 miles into my day, where I sat still for a couple hours at MacKerricher State Park. I gorged on a sandwich of bread, coconut oil, spinach, avocado, and cheese as I sat by the sea on a log. That evening at Gualala Point, everyone was there. The boys expressed surprise that they never caught up to me. I was pleased to have totally kicked their prideful booties! That evening I watched the sunset at the point while talking to an old couple driving around in a classic cadillac.

IMG_6786

Winding along highway 1 the next day, I see all my friends again at Bodega Dunes. I wander down to the beach on foot as my friend Theo comes dashing by on his bike. I wonder why I didn’t ride my bike? The walk is sort of far. I wander into the dunes and as night falls I realize I am lost. I hike through the dunes for about an hour into some random neighborhood and with a little bit of battery life on my phone, I navigate through the neighborhoods on foot and find my way back to the campground. Everyone was wondering where I had been when I returned. It was nice to know that someone cared that I was missing!

The next morning Theo left early to make it all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge where he would conclude his bicycle journey, and I wouldn’t see him again. I rode the many miles of the swirling highway 1. The climbing was constant and the shoulders were narrow. Not only were the views totally epic, but the riding was equally challenging and truly made me feel immortal. After tackling the windiest and one of the most beautiful sections of my west coast tour, I arrived at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, a sweet little spot set inland in an old oak forest. I shared camp with my French friend from the Eureka KOA as well as the young pair of boys. I conversed at dinner with a woman who was just doing an overnighter from her home in San Francisco. I liked her. She was in her 50’s but I could see a child in her eyes, wild and vibrant as ever. The next day, I rode through the sweet little towns of Lagunitas, Fairfax, and Marin which all had so much character. There were bike paths through marshes, old brick roads, parks full of ancient trees, and lots of other bicycles! I giggled when I saw billboards on the tiny town streets stating “spandex isn’t body armor!”.

After navigating through ridiculous crowds at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge I enjoyed a long, slow ride across it. It was probably my favorite (and safest) bridge I’ve crossed on the entire trip so far. A lot of long distance cyclists stop at this point, because there is a sea of big cities to navigate through south of here. Earlier in the trip I had considered stopping here if it felt right in my heart, but now that I am here, it just doesn’t. I am ready for this trip to go on for as long as it will, because I am so in tune with this mode of travel now and I love the simplicity of my days. I love cycling for a lot of the same reasons why I love long distance hiking. My days consist of feeding myself and finding the next water source. I am moving my body all day long every day which makes me feel like Wonder Woman, and I am exposed to real natural beauty on a constant basis. There is not much else that can provide the kind of calm I feel when I am doing this sort of thing. I just love it.

 

After crossing the bridge, I (unrealistically) think that I have enough time to make it all the way to Half Moon Bay even though it is around three in the afternoon. I ride along the sandy bike path and make my way to some busy highway riding again and then through some fancy neighborhoods. The sun begins to set and I know that I’m not going to make it to my destination. I look in my book to see if there is anywhere else to stay before Half Moon Bay but I find nothing. I texted my mom to let her know what was going on, she is always handy when I’m in a pinch! She gets on the computer back at home and finds a place for me to stay at the Montara Lighthouse Hostel. She even calls him to make sure there is a bed for me there. I am grateful to have such a helpful mom! I had a new destination, but I would still have to ride my bike in the dark to get there. I pray repeatedly as I climb up a shoulder-less, windy road in the dark. I felt like I was living on the edge of being killed by a car coming fast around a corner. I pedaled as fast as I could but still slow enough so I could sustain my speed until I reached the top of the hill. Pacing myself is very important, especially when I am in danger. There was no place to stop and rest on this road, I just needed to get through it as quickly as possible. At last, I reached the top and there was a pleasant detour that bypassed a very scary night time tunnel! The bike path was gated and I had it to myself. I stopped and stood on the hill overlooking the ocean. A hill behind me blocked the sounds of the road, and once again I was alone with the sound of the waves crashing and the stars twinkling over my head. Woo! I made it alive!!

I arrived at the hostel before nine, met the man who had spoken to my mom on the phone, and took full advantage of their laundry facilities, the kitchen, and finally – the SHOWER! I listened to conversations in many different languages in the community kitchen and enjoyed the feel of being with all of these travelers. I shared my room with an older woman who was very intrigued by me, she joked about getting my autograph “for when I am famous someday”. She was very sweet.

IMG_20151013_113023579

On the road again, I stop in Half Moon Bay for a bike check up and off I go, cruising along as I do. I am listening to my iPod all day, feeling ecstatic and enjoying the brown fields against the big blue ocean in the distance. As I enter the outskirts of Santa Cruz, the sun is setting but I have an easy cruise to my planned campground at New Brighton State Beach so this time I intend to ride in the dark, and I don’t mind it because it is almost entirely on bike paths along the beach and through the city.

The beaches at night are still swarmed with people surfing, running, and ocean gazing. The vibes were positive and people were very friendly to me. As I rode through neighborhoods people were tucked into their cozy houses and I loved the feel of the quiet streets and all the people inside having dinner and watching movies with people they cared about. It was so quiet and I rolled through without anyone noticing me.

Arriving at my tent space I find a lot of other cyclists whom I’ve never seen. I suppose they’ve all just begun and/or are on a very short trip. All the people I was riding along with, besides the french man, went home once they reached San Francisco. I chatted with a young couple on the first night of their week-long bike ride. One grumpy cyclist inside his tent growls to us to be quiet. I stay up late doing camp chores and I notice a car that is running in the parking lot. After about an hour I walk by it and see a man asleep in the drivers seat, so I wake him up and tell him his car is on. He is startled and confused, leaves right away.

The entire next day I spend riding through farm land, waving to workers as they stare at this crazy girl riding by with bags on her bike. I enjoyed seeing them, and I think they enjoyed seeing me too. There wasn’t much shade on today’s big climb, so I had my lunch under a bush on the side of the road. I met a couple touring on a tandem, having two people on one bike makes for very fast travel. I spent some time riding along side them and chatting about our trips before they took off ahead of me. They were kind to snap a photo of me in action! As you’ve seen, most of my photo’s are just of my bike – or a bad selfie!

I cruised into Monterey in style… happy and smelly on my bike-house. I ran into my tandem friends before exploring the famous pier and having lunch there. I had plenty of time today because it was a short (40 mile) day. I cruised along the bike path overlooking Monterey Bay on my way to the Monterey Bay aquarium where I spent about four hours wandering around. I felt like a kid again, full of magic and love for the ocean. I was surrounded by glowing jellyfish and sparkly tuna. I laughed at a playful penguin and an otter who couldn’t stop licking his butt hole for the audience. Classy little guy.

As I got my bike ready to head to my campsite, something amazing happened. A woman rode up on a bicycle and I immediately recognize her. Eager to know if my eyes are playing tricks on me, I ask her “what is your name?” she looks at me and replies, “Jamie”. I squeal and wrap my arms around her as she realizes who I am too. She was my best friend when I was four years old. We were friends after that too, but we both moved and weren’t as close anymore. The last time I saw her was when I was ten years old. My mom, brother, and I rode the train to Boulder, Colorado to visit her and her family. The squealing lasted about a minute, then we just smiled and jumped around like “what the hell just happened?! How is this real right now?!” We looked at each other as though we had to be dreaming. After some chatting, I told her I would be in Big Sur for my 28th birthday the following day and that I would be camping at Andrew Molera State Park. She agreed to meet me there! And off I went to go to bed, totally blown away by such a once in a lifetime “coincidence”.

12138373_10153622183535450_3437244679321222206_o

Before departing Monterey, I visited the Monarch Butterfly sanctuary to see the sweet beauties as they migrated south, like me! I decided to take a detour to see the famous “17-mile Drive” where many movies were filmed on the picturesque beaches. I had a lot of fun speeding through the quaint town of Carmel before I departed the busy cities for a few days as I traveled through Big Sur. Not only would I be visited by my friend Jamie on my birthday, but Ted was coming to see me too! We had been apart for something like two weeks and I was excited to see him soon.

I made my camp at Andrew Molera State Park, a walk-in campground that I figured would be less busy than Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park down the road. And since I wouldn’t be using the hiker biker site, staying here made more sense financially. I was expecting Ted that night, but I got sleepy waiting and so I went to bed, a little worried for him. In the middle of the night someone just came into my tent, which would have scared the shit out of me, but I was relieved to know it was Ted. In the morning, we were awakened by the heat of the sun green-housing the tent so we decided it was time to get up. Ted is the sweetest guy I know, and he brought all sorts of delicious healthy food to nourish us on my birthday. He also brought a custom made birthday cake from Schat’s bakery in Mammoth, where he had recently picked out an apartment for us to spend our second winter there. When my friend Jamie came walking up, I was elated to see her again. The three of us sat in the shade while we gorged on birthday cake. Jamie brought a cake, too! We were definitely not short on cake. Plenty of cake to go around. I wish life was always full of cake. Did I mention there was cake?

little-girl-about-to-chomp-down-on-big-chocolate-cake-with-a-funny-expression-on-her-face

After Jamie went home, Ted and I walked to the beach. I collected pretty rocks and we wandered aimlessly, breathing in the beauty of this beach, with our toes in the sand. After sunset, we had dinner at a fancy restaurant down the road and took showers at another campground before coming back to our tent. I was very happy to have my Teddy again, he always knows how to make my birthday a special occasion.

Ted and I say goodbye the next morning, and I ride on down the highway to spend a full day riding through Big Sur, which is a very special place to me. In 2010, I came to Big Sur for my very first solo backpacking trip to the Sykes Hot Springs in the Ventana Wilderness. I have come a long way since that trip…

bigsurme
First Solo Backpack Trip (Big Sur, circa 2010)

Down the road I go, twisting and climbing and gliding on my bicycle. The land buzzing past me. Big blue always in sight. Today’s ride is not an easy one, ever drive the 1 through Big Sur? Imagine biking it! It goes up and down and around for over 60 miles. After Ragged Point, I began the descent toward San Simeon where I would settle in for the night. I really pushed through Big Sur and didn’t take much time to eat or rest, so once at the bottom of the descent, I stopped along the road and hid behind some bushes to relax and have a little snack to fuel the last few miles of the days ride. Always hiding in the bushes on the side of the road! What a glamorous life I lead….

I arrive at my campground by dusk and discover that all water has been shut off (except for spigots to fill water bottles with) due to the serious drought in California. I guess I will take a shower some other time. I share a campsite with cyclists that I hadn’t met yet. A young couple from France who were on their way to Argentina and an American man who had been on his bicycle for three months riding the Great Divide. He was on the last few days of his trip. I saw the French couple again the next day in Cayucos, a cute little beach town. I have spent the past six weeks with the Pacific Ocean (including the last week of our hike on the PNT) and I still had not gone swimming! It has been too cold – but today the sun was shining and the weather was warm and welcoming. I was so tempted but timid to be seen in my undies by all the people on the beach. Loren, the French girl, said a few words that were all I needed to throw down my clothes and jump in. She watched from the beach as I waded into the ocean. The more I travel, the easier it has become to laugh at nothing funny in particular, but just for sheer happiness. This was one of those moments.

Continuing on, I could feel that I was now in Southern California, the days were hot and dry. While riding, I discovered the song “The Well” by Dirtwire and Rising Appalachia (two of my favorite bands) which matched the mood very well. I listened a few times until I knew the words, and sang it loud as I traveled south along the open road. I sing a lot when I ride, no one can hear me (or so I think) so I just belt it out as loud as I can. It gives me such a great feeling!

I passed by Morro Bay and through the city of San Luis Obispo. As I got into town, a huge Sprouts grocery store stood before me like a gift from god. Organic food is quite a treat to find! In my spandex shorts, hairy legs, and messy braid – I walked inside in style. Many people look at me inquisitively. They notice something different, but can’t pinpoint what it is – besides that I must be on a bicycle – because who else wears spandex shorts with butt padding? With a jar of coconut oil, a loaf of bread, fresh spinach, and various chocolate food things I am out the door and on my two trusty wheels.

IMG_20151019_155736143_HDR

After Pismo Beach, I finally reach Oceano. My planned campsite is only a few miles away when I stop to do some laundry. I don’t worry about the darkness outside because I am so close. I warm up some canned soup on my backpacking stove in the laundromat and wear my rain gear while my clothes are in the washer. I converse with a man my age while I wait. He is intrigued and inspired. It is always fun to see people light up when they hear about what I am doing. I am so happy to be an inspiration, to cause people to question what they do and consider following their dreams. I really love that.

I head out thinking I am just a few minutes away, but when I arrive at where my map says the campground is, I find nothing at all. It is ten O’clock at night and I am standing on the side of the road with my bike completely dumbfounded. Where the heck is my campsite? How is it not here? After a while I realize the campground is in fact there, but under construction. It is blocked off by a solid fence, even the sign is covered up. Now what?

Standing there with nowhere to go, I begin to really take in what is going on around me. I notice sketchy people wandering around in the streets and realize I am in a bad part of town. They saw me riding back and forth, sensing my nerves like a predator looking for easy prey. I was acutely aware of their eyes on me. A park ranger comes driving down the road and I wave him down. He turns around and can see that I am scared. I ask him where the closest campground is and he directs me to an RV park just a couple miles away.

Relieved, I ride into the small RV park next to the road. I shower and make camp while everyone around me is sleeping. I feel somewhat safe here, but I make sure to lock my bike up and keep all my panniers inside of the tent. I don’t like this place much, but I will be out of here in only a few hours. This is the first time on my trip that I don’t feel entirely safe, and it won’t be the last….

 

 

Thanks for reading! Please stay tuned for Part III (final) coming soon…

2 thoughts on “Bicycling Beauty (Part 2) – My Solo West Coast Bicycle Ride

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s