Thursday, September 23, 2010

V for Cycle Touring!

Coastal Route from Oregon to San Francisco

It's hard to get motivated to start a tour when it's pissing down rain. Out of the two of us I had two waterproof panniers, my other two and all four of Ira's were not. We had to do some garbage bag customizing and concluded that if you're touring anywhere except the desert in the summer waterproof panniers are necessary.
The first day was the shortest millage wise, but perhaps the most exhausting. The excitement, anticipation, and rain drained us. We made it forty-five miles to Newport and though we had planned on camping we ended up at a Best Western where we were able remove our seeping panniers from the trash bags and dry them out.

The next day as the rain continued we questioned whether we really wanted to do this tour. We did so we continued south. Rolling along the Southern Oregon coast the on and off drizzle became more beautiful. The undulating ocean was a magnificent companion and the rolling hills kept us working, but not unbearably so. The Adventure Cycling maps provided many alternative routes to 101 but sometimes it was the only option. Riding on the highway makes for long days because you can't let your guard down. There are ignorant drivers out there who just don't realize the seriousness of their lack of experience driving a tour bus sized RV while pulling numerous other vehicles. Along with the assholes who just hate cyclists for who knows what reason. We had one get off our bikes and collect our bearings incident where a large truck swiped by pushing us into the shoulder that didn't exist even though he had two open lanes. All this with the graciousness of a redneck middle finger. It's really hard to remain cool when your vulnerable to these kinds of people.
However, there were also some counteractive acts of human encouragement that helped us along. We rode through the town of North Bend and were stopped at a light when we heard a toot-toot. We looked over to see a seventy-something year old grandma with a big grin, giving us a supportive thumbs-up. That was awesome and we rode on for a while wondering what her story was, why she was so thrilled by us cycle tourists.

Everyone has a story. That truck with testicles hanging from the trailer hitch, the motorcyclist taking a self photograph in front of the giant dinosaur just past Arcada Beach, and the bike tourist hauling a Burly trailer across the country all have reasons for being on the road.
One of the best parts of touring is being crammed in a hiker/biker campsite and meeting a medley of folks going different places at various paces for unique and passionate reasons. We met a Swiss couple who'd been traveling for over sixteen months and had covered a great part of Asia, and were headed to Central America, where they then would hit up Africa. Whew, they showed a great deal of knowledge for living out of doors.
There is never a lack of narratives to go around in the touring community. Always tips on routes and set-ups, always food and drink to be shared. It's a beautiful congregation with jubilant members flushed with life. And why not? Think about it you wake up, eat, ride, stop and eat while watching the ocean roll, ride, ride some more, listen, smell, feel, and see the subtle changes in geography and culture as you pedal along, find a place to rest for the evening, set up camp, and repeat. Each night of the tour I laid my head down completely satisfied to have arrived on my own accord. It's a real sense of fulfillment.

As we continued south the days merged and we started to feel the cumulation of our eighty to one hundred plus mile day average. We advanced the golden destination while talking about life and revelations and quieting as the sunlight filtered through the avenue of giant Redwoods and we let everything go. The two-thousand year old trees put our young lives into perspective, and we were awe-struck.
The beginning of the tour I knew my energy budget. After breakfast I could go about twenty-five miles before needing to refuel, but around the fourth day I noticed this wasn't working anymore. The big pot of oatmeal went down with a whistle but didn't hit the bottom. We were in the middle of the woods surrounded by pretty trees, but big deal, I needed fuel and an energy bar wasn't going to cut it. Beef jerky is good but not enough. That morning we had planed on just getting to Arcata to treat ourselves to some unprocessed food and good coffee, but it was at least twenty more miles.
Rolling through Patrick's Point there was a really fancy looking restaurant and a meditation retreat. No good. Finally we came to a diner that looked inexpensive. I had my hopes for some fine organic food, however, and this was not that kind of place. I ate some of the snacks in my handle bar bag and chancing fate we rode on. Within five minutes of riding we were in Trinidad and I spotted Rasta colors on a cafe sign and bam we were there. The chef at the Catch Cafe was kind enough to make us a stick-to-your-bones kind of meal and I instantly felt my body absorb it.

This meal saved my life

When we finally did make it to Arcata we bought provisions but needed to get out of there. It's a kind of vortex that might have you sitting at a cafe sipping coffee and before you know it making jewelery and taking up residency in a tree. We did laundry in Eureka instead, where the three witnessed drug deals in the littered parking lot of the Wash World had us in and out of that town.

Clean laundry and good food are luxuries when touring, and it's surviving on the bare essentials that makes us realize how much excess we live in. We were riding between the walls of an overindulgent society after all, but in our world we had to differentiate between wants and needs. Something had to be needed or very special to bring it along. The weight of stuff adds up.
That said, just outside of Mendocino on day six in a town called Cleone we rolled up to the hiker/biker site at dusk and found a man who stood satisfied after having finished a pint of ice cream. We chatted with him for a bit while he cooked an amazing meal of quinua, kale and veggies. He told us how he had rolled from Vermont to Seattle carrying a Burly trailer full of stuff for what he called "rolling potluck". This was his attempt to educate the greater public about eating local and sustainable food and he was passionate about it enough to lug the supplies around the United States. When we met him he was on his way to San Francisco where he periodically would find farms on which he worked and grounded himself before taking off again.

Late in the saddle the next day, but inspired both by our passionate friend fulfilling his whole-food dream and by the fact that we were so close to San Francisco. The other bike tourists influenced us with their leisurely ways and after sharing four moka pots of coffee we were on our way at about 10:30am opposed to our regular 8am departure. Ah well, already off to a late start we lunched in Mendocino. That day we still ended up clocking in one hundred miles, only getting to our camp destination to find it shower-less. That's no bueno after all day riding. We splashed ourselves clean as best as we could.

With a bit over one hundred miles left we decided to split the last leg into two days, making the final touring day the easiest since our senses would surely be overloaded by the city. That left seventy five miles for the second to last day, but thirty five miles in and I was exhausted. My muscles had gone along with riding this 65lb bike daily for hours at a time long enough, my mind wanted a rest too. The scenery was beautiful but the golden shimmer of the ocean wasn't new anymore. At this point we were able to tell time by where our shadows followed us and if I had one more day of seeing it do a full rotation around me I was going to pop. We tried to make it as easy on ourselves as possible. We even stopped for a laundry break in Bodega Bay and met some interesting folks in the trailer park where we washed, but the day had been hilly and continued that way. Finally after seventy-five miles and after our shadows had given almost a whole revolution we somehow made it to the Samuel Taylor State Park for our last night of camping. San Francisco was a breezy twenty miles away.

Late morning sundial

Early to rise the next morning and full of excitement we saddled up and made for the city. The last leg differed from the rest of the tour because we rolled in through bay area suburbs; San Anselmo, Corte Madera, Sausalito,and one distinguishing factor was the type of cyclist we came upon. They were all kitted out and riding to destination get faster and stronger. It made us think of all our buddies at home preparing for the cyclo-cross season. Fully loaded with anything needed to survive outside of the city we were like gypsies, and the carbon fiber roadies out for their afternoon training rides whipped around us with pomposity. Still we felt good, seven hundred and fifty miles in eight days. The golden gate bridge welcomed us and just as expected our senses were on overload with the chiming of different languages, the multitudes of people and the options for whatever we wanted.

Ain't this America?

Our bud Brian Ellen met us for lunch to witness our re-entry. We ate our food completely entertained by the make-upd, styled, extravagance of the city dwellers buzzing around us. Rather than being concerned about having my pocket-knife and head lamp in my musette bag I suddenly wanted lip gloss and my debit card.
We made it to Ira's uncle's house and he and his partner received us well. We ate like royalty, slept in the softest of beds and had a wonderful behind the scenes tour of SFMOMA. That blew my mind.
The next day we walked around the city, which wrecked my legs more than the whole tour of biking, and ate delicious SF food, and caught the train for our eighteen hour ride back to Portland.

I woke up the first few days of not riding with my body ready to go, but will admit how much I'm now enjoying my light and twitchy bike.
My heart thumps victoriously when I see the distance I covered with my
own two legs on the map that we highlighted. And the explorer in me is brightened to consider the next destinations of cycle adventure.


Allen said...

WOW Rach! That is really amazing! I am very impressed and would love to read more about your adventures.

tara verotsky said...

Thanks for sharing Rachael! It sounds like an amazing trip. I'm going to forward it to Val if you haven't already. Great seeing you yesterday.

doom said...

yay touring!!