On September 20th, Andrew and I rolled into San Francisco beneath a nearly cloudless sky and met the Golden Gate, along with throngs of tourists, at its finest. For five days, we stayed with friends in Oakland while we biked around, took the beloved public train, BART (which was celebrating its 40th birthday), went to the beach, experienced the famous hills in all their strenuous but rewarding height, explored Chinatown, and reveled in the city life.
From a logistical standpoint, that’s the long and the short of the end of our trip. It’s somewhat disheartening how the grandest experience can so easily be diminished into a number of sentences. And yet it’s taken us over a month to do so, for the sake of those interested enough to follow our blog, but I know why that it’s taken us that long. It’s because of all the parts of our trip that can’t be diminished, no matter how hard we could try to get a hold on them. It’s not the logistics, or the names of towns, the foods devoured, the weather experienced, the miles ridden, the animals spotted, or the campsites. We like to talk about all of these things, but they seem insignificant next to all that cannot be grasped by a simple arrangement of words that have the same superficial meaning every time they are uttered. It is a logical metaphor, that of a thought as something to be grasped, like a tree, for the longer it has had time to grow the harder it is to wrap yourself around it. It comes at you when you don’t expect it, a memory and an accompanying nostalgia, by the incitement of a smell, or the semblance of something you once knew very well. Memory’s triggers are literally inconceivable because they are always spontaneous. You see a map on a rack at a bookstore and suddenly you are back on the bike, and there’s the glare of the sun off the transparent plastic map cover on your handlebar bag, or there are beading water droplets that make the map hard to see, and it’s the beginning of a storm you’ve been watching for an hour from across a sea of wheat and rolling hills, and you seek shelter and find it finally beneath a bridge that is the only safe place for ten miles in either direction and all you want to do is to keep pedaling but the electricity in the air from your endorphins is nothing against the lightning.
All three of us will look back on this journey as a myriad of sights, people, landscapes, and challenges, experienced almost like the first time you meet eyes with someone with whom you fall in love: you can feel the emotion in your chest, the kind of magic you’ve never encountered, and there is something that lingers that can never quite be understood. On a true adventure you can look back the way you came and see the person you were when you started, just noticeable enough to recognize. Your gaze might not linger though, for you are too focused on what’s ahead.
We woke to a misty fog and the sound of unseen forest creatures in the quiet woods around us. The night before we had found ourselves biking into the dark without a shoulder, and gratefully wearrived at the town of Cleone just as we were needing front lights to see the divets in the road. A small grocery store met our dinner needs and we cooked a wonderful meal of spaghetti and red sauce with ground beef and onions. The feast of champions is monstrous and Andrew’s milk protein allergy is probably the only dietary need it fulfills. It kept us full through the night as we slept with leaves rustling nearby as animals carried out their instinctual patterns.
We are now in Fort Bragg, and as Andrew takes an interview I thought it apt to provide a short update. We’ve been little travelers beneath the redwoods, moving along with a foreseeable purpose, although cyclists aren’t the only ones. The RVs that clog the road are all going someplace grand, and have perhaps left from someplace grand, too, and they are everywhere. But we have seen many more cyclists along 101 than on this whole trip, and it has been enlightening to share stories with these comrades who all have bits of wisdom to spread where they travel. There are many hitchhikers, haggard souls with their lives in a backpack and their hopes hidden behind wrinkles and dirt. We feel for these travelers because somewhere along their road they were found by something insurmountable. The odds have been in our favor and we hope the same for others.
Only a number of days from San Francisco, and our bikes are showing their readiness for a break. My rear wheel is almost shot from thousands of miles on poor spokes, Andrew’s bottom bracket may need to be replaced, and we both need new cassettes and chains. But we are feeling as great as ever, and we will enjoy every last part of this amazing adventure.
We are in our 13th and final state and coming close to our final destination of San Francisco. Biking with a deadline gives us a different form of determination and motivation than we have had before but there is still plenty of time to relax, enjoy the company of others, and experience this beautiful country. Matt and I are well rested after our day in Eureka, California and are eager to hit the road towards the largest redwoods. Northern California along 101 is still very much in the 1960’s and the roads are loaded with rainbow colored buses, hitchhikers, backpackers, and some long lost hippies.
Here are a few photos of Oregon and Northern California. My apologies for our friends in eastern Montana and North Dakota, but the tailwinds, cool temperatures, and lack of wheat is wonderful.We’ve seen trees with 15 foot diameters, beaches covered with sea lions, and endless sandy coastline without any sign of human development. The cool weather has increased our appetite and Matt and I will share a pound of pasta, eat a whole chicken for dinner, and still have room for desert.
There are more photos to come and many more stories to share. Happy Birthday Matt!
It was an indistinguishable hour of the night when the sprinkler went off two feet from our tents, behind the dugout of the baseball diamond. The sound of water on the fly woke me with a start, and out of my sleeping bag I emerged, grabbing my shoe to throw it over the jetstream. Not again, I thought, but at least I had the fly on this time. I moved my tent out closer to the street, where in the morning I was woken by a man telling me “to move on,” which we did. Andrew chose to sleep through the deluge, so his tent remained unseen.
If we have not arranged a warmshowers connection, we often roll into towns as the sun is setting without a place to sleep. We look for a public park, or talk with a stranger, or find a place that’s out of the way where we can tent inconspicuously. This is the way of the traveler, to use your instincts to make the most of your situation. We are in Eureka, California, staying with wonderful warmshowers hosts. We’ll be back on the road tomorrow, with about 300 miles until San Francisco! They will go by quickly. As the trip ends, we are readying ourselves for the wave of nostalgia and separation from this amazing journey that has lasted 100 days. But we relish in the memories that we’ve had, and here are a few recent ones:
Two nights ago, in the town of Klamath, we slept in a Methodist church. We entered the Redwoods that day, which are beyond description. We had ridden the second half of the day with another young cyclist, Alissa, who is going from Seattle to San Francisco. After running into her in Crescent City, we rode the rest of the day to Klamath, where we came across the church with its lights on. We talked with the people inside for permission to sleep on the lawn, but they let us sleep inside, and they even had some leftover food for us! It was really nice to be inside for a change, sleeping on soft rug beside the pews.
We met three German guys riding together; two were 19, riding from Anchorage to Las Vegas, and the other was 35, riding to San Francisco from BC, then hopping over to Hawaii. I would like to mention that we crushed them going up a large hill.
The other day we met an older man, in his fifties perhaps, who has been on the road since December, when he left his home in Connecticut to travel south across the US to San Diego and up the west coast to Eugene, where he turned around and is traveling back home the same way he came. He has terminal cancer, and yet he was incredibly calm, and it was clear that he has accepted his situation. He has been to the hospital about a dozen times this trip, but you wouldn’t know that his health is getting worse for he was just simply content o be riding his bicycle.
I’ve been in cyberland for too long now. Photos coming soon!
Yes, it is true: Alex has departed for home. His spirit is a tailwind that never ceases, and yeah, we’ll miss him, but at least we’ll be able to sleep in a little longer now.
Since the San Juan Islands, Andrew and I have continued southward, through Whidbey Island, where we stayed with Nick and Gene, blacksmith artists, to Seattle, where we stayed for three nights with Gabe and Allegra, two fantastic hosts we found on Warmshowers; in Shelton with Allan and Donna, also Warmshowers host, who were so kind as to take us in on short notice due to a broken spoke; and in Portland with Stephen and Laura, two avid cyclists we met on a ferry around the islands. Tomorrow we head west to the coast, where we’ll be by Sunday, and then it will be about 14 days to San Francisco! We’re giddy for everything that awaits: the Pacific, the Redwoods, the sunsets, the small towns, even the hills, for they will be rolling and small in comparison to the monstrosities in Washington, and any hill with a view beside it makes the climb worthwhile. And we are now on a schedule, for the first time this whole trip, with a September 26 flight to Boston to catch.
Since hitting the coast, the flurry of new sights has been astounding. Although we have felt added pressure from the weight of our plane ticket, and lack of weight in our wallets, we leave one amazing place to soon arrive at another, and the lure of the road ahead with all its magical unknowns is steeped in raw curiosity. The photos below are a sampling from my camera of some of our adventures.
After arriving at Anacortes, WA our trio took a ferry across the way to Lopez Island. Our dear Ellie lives here and was able to show us around and introduce us to so many wonderful island folk. We then all went to Orcas Island and visited the Helsells, family friends and camped out on their beautiful lake. We had our last night together on Monday August 27, and watched sunset from Turtlehead Mountain on Orcas. I then caught an early morning ferry with Suzy Kutscher and spent a couple days with the Kutschers on Vashon Island before packing up my bicycle and flying back home to Vermont.