Thursday 16th August 2001
I got here yesterday around 3:45pm. I got a taxi from the airport. It cost an eyewatering $35, but I didn’t care, I was tired. The first leg (London to Chicago) was fine. I sat next to a bloke from Chicago who had just cycled around Europe! On the second leg (Chicago to Seattle) I think I was the only foreigner. My large Marks & Spencer carrier bag was quite a badge. It seemed to be a revered brand, especially amongst the older generations; bit like in England then. I watched Shrek on the plane and urged the elderly couple next to me to watch it as it is a super film. She kept acting it out with wild hand gestures and laughing very loudly to make sure I knew she was watching. Bless, I think she enjoyed it though.
I put my bike together as soon as I got here. I contemplated a shower but as I picked up my towel, I fell asleep. My towel doubles as my blanket as I planned to shop in Seattle for a new sleeping bag. It is now 06:20 local time and I have been asleep for 12 hours. The dorm is choc-full. I’ve only spoken to a few people, but it feels nice. It’s, bang in the middle of Seattle. I haven’t been out yet and plan to just hang about today.
There is a free computer here for yahoo mail and the hostel is very relaxed – like they all wanted to go to Woodstock but stopped here and thought it much better. They’ve let me put my bike in the basement (notice I didn’t say cellar!!) and it’s all locked up. I’ve got a locker under my bed that I can padlock, for all my stuff (these are questions that my dad will ask). Well I’ll go and mail you again when I’ve done something.
Saturday 18th August
I have the biggest hangover ever, but I am calling it my duty to the British. Found some monstrous beer called Whistling Pig! The bar tender put a slice of lemon in to too! It gives the beer a nice, weird twist. In the hostel I met John Hamer from LA. He was my instant friend and drinking buddy. The bar tender was called Leiv. I found this hilarious; realising after the 4th time of asking him what his name was, that he wasn’t telling me to ‘get out’. Nice guy though. He invited us to stay behind for a lock-in. I walked miles around the city yesterday and found not one bar, a million bill-boards for beer but not one bar. Made up for it later though!
It is 6:40 Friday morning I’m trying to cure my hangover with my free hostel breakfast of banana, eggs, muffins, bread and tea/coffee (no real milk just creamer). Thankfully it is quiet this time of the morning. British hostels seemed to be full of ambitious Europeans who get up at 4:30 am. No one stirs here till at least 9-10am (well done these people). I am having such a fab time.
Say hello to Nan for me and Auntie Stella. Thanks for the survival pack. I have all the nasty sweets left, like those with cherries and bits of fruit in, but I did survive an avalanche yesterday by being rude to a local and cutting off my own leg.
Sunday 19th August 2001
I got up very early this morning (Saturday). Yesterday I walked all around the waterfront and the old part of Seattle. It is so beautiful. I sat in the sunshine and had a pizza for tea. It was Hawaiian pizza and the best I ever tasted. I had a wander around the Pike Place Market and watched the fish being thrown from the display into the arms of the person behind the counter after a someone has selected. The fish are bloody massive. Makes the fish counter in Tesco look pathetic. The waterfront was full of beggars and homeless and people with signs claiming to be “Vietnam vets” or “recently lost everything”. They probably make a fortune. The police (pronounced – poe-leeece) just move them on. I took lots of photos, but can someone send me an edited version of the camera instruction booklet please as I have no idea what half the functions are. As I sit in the window of the hostel writing this, I can look out over the Balti house opposite and it reminds me of Wolverhampton Street. Well I’m off to do more exploring.
Monday 20th August
Has been so sunny here today. I cycled 20 miles around the Puget Sound, Washington Canal and Lake. It is most beautiful. I have just been sitting on the deck at the hostel with a cold can of beer. Love having my bike here I have had a really, good day. I’m going to have a shower and the rest of my veggies for tea now am absolutely starving. I had a cookies and cream Hershey bar and a carton of milk and a bag of ‘chips’ for lunch.
I cycled out to the REI superstore to get my sleeping bag and cooking equipment. I bought a lovely Mountain Hardware synthetic bag and some MSR cooking pans and gas for my stove. Got a couple of good maps. In desperate need of rain gear but is very expensive. Will do with plastic bags.
Will be at phone 5:30-6pm UK time on Monday if you want to call me. It’s good we talk now as I may not be able to keep in touch so much when I am on the road.
22nd August 2001
Went out to Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument with The Bearfoot Backpackers. It’s not a miss-spelling. The logo is of a Bear’sfoot! I’d booked the trip online before leaving the UK. There were 7 in our Bearfoot Backpackers group and Tim our guide. I was very excited to be visiting Mount St Helens. It would prove elusive. In the visitor centre we viewed a small film about the volcano. An ominous voice over narrated the introductory movie in the auditorium. As the film climaxed the screen lifted, the soundtrack swelling to reveal a giant window perfectly framing………fog! A ripple of laughter went around the auditorium. Fortunately, I stepped outside, the fog and rain ceased, the sun came out and there she was. I was quite emotional; the volcano has been the subject of quite a few studies and essay for me during my Geography studies.
Then we drove to Mount Rainier National Park and camped out in the middle of the forest with the bears and cougars and it rained constantly, but what an experience, I loved it. Everyone was kitted out in $1000 worth of rain gear apart from a lovely German man called Alfred. He had a plastic bag to sit on and an umbrella. He was the driest of all of us!
Olympic National Park
24th August 2001
Back in Seattle, Julia (Canadian) who was on the trip decided to hire a car and head out to the Olympic National Park near Port Angeles for a night camping. Jen from California decided to tag along and spotting my opportunity to miss out a day and a half’s cycling I went too. We walked up mountains and got lost and talked a lot to keep the bears away. We had a fire and cooked potatoes and corn and banana’s with chocolate!!
They packed up and went home the next day and me and my bicycle spent our first night alone in the forest with all the noises, the bears and cougars. I had to put all my food in the car of the couple camping next to me, so my tent wasn’t ravaged by hungry beasts.
Tried to phone a couple of times but keep getting cut off.
Must go bye
will phone ASAP
Thursday 30th August 2001
I am in a small city called Westport on the south Washington coast. The Pacific Ocean is beautiful. I have only 2 cycling days left till the Oregon border. First day cycling I only did 23 miles from Altair Campground to Fairholm. The highway was quiet and undulating. My bike is pretty loaded with gear, food and water.
4th September 2001
Tuesday 28th August and I’m sitting in the middle of the rain forest in Olympic national park, right by Lake Quinault. There are bright blue birds everywhere. It is spectacular! I’ve put my tent up and feel a bit miserable as two spokes have broken on my back wheel. I’ve only done 120 miles and it’s 60 miles to the nearest bike shop (which I since found out has closed) and I don’t think my wheel will cope with the ride. Then…another cycle tourist by the name of James happens by. James from South Africa unbelievably not only has spare spokes but has spare spokes that fit my wheel! I fix my wheel and true it up a treat (very happy with myself, as it is the last thing I had to conquer in my now extensive knowledge of bicycle mechanics). I sit drinking beer in the rain forest with my saviour (thankfully I was spared the rain) . James then decides more beer is in order and re-makes the 7-mile round trip to the shop. What a smashing, incredible chap. James has already cycled across Canada and is on a epic trip that makes mine look like a Sunday afternoon ride. There was plenty of stories and great advice. One of the best evenings ever from the vestiges of misery and broken wheels!
In a bar in Westport I met all the locals who spent hours buying me beer, cigarettes and giving me cash towards my trip. They love what I am doing. I took the next day off! People love listening to me talk, with the accent and all, which is great as I love to talk.
On 2nd September I stayed at Fort Canby state park just north of the Oregon border. I pitch my tent and all the picnickers that have been there all day begin to drift home. I paddle in the pacific for the first time and it’s bloody freezing. When I return to my tent the park is quiet and empty.
Around 7pm, out of nowhere, a massive Russian family turn up. They pitch a massive tent and prepare massive food and build a massive fire. They move all the picnic table in the camping field, forming a huge banquet. I sat by my fire trying to mind my own business. Before I know, I am surrounded by 5 grubby Russian kids who are poking sticks in my fire to try and light them, waving them around. I found it a little intrusive. The parents aren’t stopping them and seem unconcerned. I’m trying to tell them to be careful. The dad then comes over and in broken English kindly invites me to their feast. I am so pleased I hadn’t got ready for sleep and still had my underwear on. I initially decline, I’m tired and ready for bed, but he doesn’t understand me. His name, I think, is Leif??? I end up at their table drinking wine and Russian vodka and eating all the food I can ram in my gob. No one speaks any English.
Leif works for Ford in Portland and has been in the states for 5 years; and he hates it! “IT IS NOT A FREE COUNTRY” he keeps telling me, I assume to alluding to America – Land of the Free. Then around 9:30pm the park rangers turn up and it turns out this Russian family refused to pay the park entrance fee, which is $10 per car (and they do have three car loads). Leif and the family are disgusted that it isn’t ‘free’ like the Americans keep banging on about!
There was a big to do. The poor Ranger stands his ground with all the Russians in his face, there is a lot of hand gestures. The Ranger insists they pay or leave. The kids are all hanging off my arms, like I can save them. I help pack up the tents and banquet as the ranger is threatening to give them a citation.
By 10pm I am completely alone again. Just me the grazing wild deer and racoons. I didn’t sleep well. I had a cracking headache and vodka fuelled dreams of deer and racoons attacking me.
It’s raining hard next morning. Today I cross the Washington/Oregon border via the Astoria bridge. 4.2 miles of shoulder-less highway with constant 50mph traffic. I just had to monster across at 15 mph. When I reached the Oregon side, I went into the tourist information office to tell the woman at the counter that I just cycled across the bridge. I was quite pleased with myself and thought someone should know! The counter lady didn’t seem too impressed.
Today is the 4th September. Mom and Dad have been married 30 years and they are somewhere in the middle of China. Gary is somewhere in the Mediterranean. I am at a hostel in a place called Seaside. It’s very nice and they have real beds and chairs and a hot shower (luxuries you miss when camping) I have cycled 276 miles to date and will spend the next week or so cycling through Oregon.
It is beautiful here and I wish you all could see it. Go buy a bike and get on a plane. it’ll be the best thing you ever did. love to all of you. Would love a beer up the Tap House. miss everyone loads. it’s things like this you should share with your friends.
Let’s see. I left you all in seaside, Oregon. Well…I left there on 7th September after getting drunk in the town, kayaking up an estuary and meeting Linda. The most glamorous lady in the world.
On the 7th I saw my first racoon. Unfortunately, it was road kill but recognisable none the less. The Oregon coast is beautiful. There are some big hills. I had concerns about being lonely on the road when I left seaside, but no! There are hundreds of other cyclists doing the coast route. Some further than others.
By the 10th of September I am with a huge group of cyclists. All cycling North to South; all staying at the same camp sites. Having a really good time. There are also some people hiking. We’d cycle 60 miles and set up camp and they would waltz in telling us they had walked the 60 miles (but I think they were hitching!)
And so Tuesday the 11th September. What a day. I was glad I was with John & Bruce (how are you boys?), Roy and Jerry (hello) and Mike. I heard the news from Jerry at 6am. He had a little transistor radio with him that he was listening to as he woke up. I passed their bed rolls on the way to the Toilet Block. Jerry said; ‘someone has flown a plane into the twin Towers in New York’ I didn’t fully grasp what had happened until we got to the breakfast stop.
We eat breakfast and watch it all TV. They kept playing a loop of the first plane going into the tower. I cycled 60 miles that day and don’t remember it. Just kept seeing the pictures off the telly. People put signs and flags outside their housed urging bush to fight back. Then it hit me that the retaliations would be more devastating and frightening than the actions. I worried about my parents who were in China and Gary who was in Spain. I didn’t know if I should carry on or try to get home. I Didn’t know if I could get home.
On a positive I have discovered the great American breakfast thanks to John & Bruce. Now, every morning I cycle 5-20 miles to the nearest cafe and fuel my day with yummy things.
The guys can’t believe I am managing without a camping mat! On their recommendation I stop at an outdoor store and drop $75 on something called a Thermarest. What a difference! It was like getting into a proper bed, so comfortable.
Next, I run into Stacy and Edna. Members of cycling Oregon. Stacy is cycling the coast, whilst Edna follows in a big red truck. They were just the best. My knee started to swell up a little as I did a lot of miles in a few days, so I gratefully rode in the truck with Edna and we did touristy things like stop at vista points and take photos. It’s been VERY FOGGY over the last week or so and there has been big rain and sometimes big cold. My bike is also starting to fall apart, I need a new bottom bracket and new tyres.
Friday 14th. I stayed in a Yurt at Harris Beach state park with Mike, Stacy and Edna. Yurts are permanent, wood frame tents. As we lay in our bed’s we endured the worst storm ever. You could hear the thunder rolling in from 30 miles off the coast. In My dreams I was convinced that there had been an earthquake and any moment we would be washed away by a tsunami.
15th September and I’m in California! Hooray! With new bottom bracket, tyres and my cycling buddy Mike. It’s Redwood country. Big trees and they keep getting bigger. But my problems were just starting. I was cycling on my original tyres. They had been on the bike for three years. I had never had a puncture but over the past couple of days I have been through 5 inner tubes and lost count of the times I have stopped to patch or change them.
I finally discover it is a rim problem. The man at the bike shop in Crescent City who changed my bottom bracket and put my new tyres had gouged the inside of the rim so badly and in so many places that the tubes would just shred when I re-inflated them. I was ready to get on a plane home. One time, Mike stopped and made emergency coffee whilst I fixed my tyre, again.
I have cycled through the avenue of the giants. A 32-mile road of giant redwoods. I have seen the immortal tree- a giant redwood that has survived floods, fire and the axe; a living tree house – a 20 ft diameter room in the base of a redwood and the living chimney tree. You look up and can see the sky as the middle of the tree was burnt out.
Today is clear blue skies and sunshine. I have cycled 750 miles to date, through Washington, Oregon and California. A few more days and I’ll be cycling across the golden gate bridge in San Francisco. I am having a thoroughly smashing time and I am teaching the Americans much Britishness Dudley style – ha. I am teaching them how to say words like banana, tomato, garage, glacier, tea; correctly. With a broad black country accent. I am also teaching them that drinking beer and having a laugh (loff) at the same time is OK.
I think I’m up to the 20th September with my episodes so here goes.
I on my own again as my cycling buddy Mike has gone ahead to get home. It is odd camping on your own. Cars roaring past, other campers talking and making noise ’til late at night are things you would normally curse, but when you are alone these noises are very comforting and you worry when they are not there.
At Richardson Grove State Park, I met the queen of the Cherokee, she had blue hair and was also English royalty. She was most annoyed that you can only stay in state parks for 1 month as she wished to die in peace there and after spitting on the ground and cursing all that is good about America she tells me “this is not a free country”, “god bless English royalty” and promptly leaves stopping occasionally to recover her breath as she has emphysema and pneumonia!
I cycle on to Standish Hickey state park and I had my first corn dog. It was interesting. I stopped to call Home from a phone outside a shop. The first I had seen for some miles! The shop appeared to be called “Just…”. The Americans have a unique fondness for putting odd shops in the middle of nowhere. My favourite was the bar in the middle of no-where called: ‘At Work’. A girl emerged from the store, kindly offering me water, I found out that she lived there with about 20 people. I make my call and as I head on down the road the rest of the sign becomes visible – “Just Jesus”! Maybe I had a lucky escape.
21st September and the day starts with a 2000ft climb, back out towards the ocean. I am pleased with myself as I cycle up it with great ease. There is a 4.5-mile descent on the other side. I meet a guy called Paul on the way up who is cycling the coast whilst his wife and their friend drive the camper van.
Back to the ocean, back to the fog. Highway 1, the road clings for dear life to the edge of California. Indeed, most of it has fallen into the ocean or is about to. The road winds down to the bottom of creeks and there is much steepness up the other side where you are rewarded with spectacular views; or more-often than not – FOG! The coastline is spectacular. Pillars of rock and arches. Colonies of sea lions lie at the bottom of the cliffs. You can’t see them, but you can smell them and hear them barking.
I arrive at Mac Kerricher State Park, my camp for the night and I find Paul there. I’m invited for a beer and to meet his wife, Maureen and their friend Kelly. I am thoroughly interrogated about my trip which they are very interested in as keen cyclists themselves. After beer we all go and watch the sunset over the pacific. It is a clear evening and my first sunset over the pacific.
I end up eating dinner with Paul, Maureen and Kelly. It is a thoroughly smashing night and they are lovely people. Before I disappear off to bed, we exchange addresses and I am told I must go and stay in Santa Rosa with Paul and Maureen and in Santa Cruz with Kelly.
That night I listened to the squirrels in the trees, they hurled their gnawed pine cones at my tent and me. I’m having more wildlife encounters. At Manchester State beach, the next night’s stop, I foolishly left some bread in my front panniers and went to bed. As I lay in my tent in the middle of the night I am attacked by racoons. They have broken into my panniers (they will get into anything) and demolish the contents. I had to get up in the drizzle and cold to defend my property. Next morning I notice someone has engraved on the back of the toilet door, “the racoons here need anger management classes!” Racoon road kill no longer seems such a shame. The next day I see a Racoon corpse flattened by the side of the road. The transport department simply white lined over it, just like in the cartoons, I confess, I let out a small chuckle.
For the past few days, as well as the cold and fog I am dealing with a headwind. The wind is ‘unusually’ blowing from the South and pushing me back North turning the ride into a constant hill. Head-winds when cycling is such a mental battle. I begin to wonder what I am doing and why?
It isn’t funny anymore! The maps are lying about the monstrous hills, it’s cold, foggy and I spend the day struggling just 25 miles against a headwind and through 3 spectacular storm cells with forked lightening and all. I watch the storms move in off the ocean, each one hitting me in succession. I reach a small town called Jenner and my pride is just washed away with the rain. I pick up the phone and speak to Paul & Maureen’s answer machine saying I would be most grateful if I could take them up on their offer of a night in doors.
I am disappointed they are not home. I continue cycling 10 more miles to Bodega Bay, mentally preparing myself and going through the logistics of camping in torrential rain. When I arrived at the camp site the Ranger just looked at me and asked, “are you Sarah?” Surprised I find a message for me on a notice board from Paul & Maureen telling me to call if I want to get out of the rain. 40 minutes later I am in Paul’s truck heading 30 miles inland to Santa Rosa, to a bed and carpet and a hot shower and a good meal.
I spent 2 nights at their house being pampered and having a great time just sorting stuff out, doing laundry and drinking beer. They were just the most fantastic, hospitable people. Luckily enough they were also heading into San Francisco on Wednesday 26th September and they gave me a lift. We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, it was fantastic. After September 11th the bridge had been closed to non-motorised traffic so I couldn’t have cycled across it. Paul dropped me at the Green Tortoise hostel on Broadway in north beach. I can’t believe I am in San Francisco. The skies are clear and blue, the sun is shining, and it is warm.
After checking in at the hostel the first thing I do is walk miles around the city. It’s not like any other US city. It sits on a peninsula between the pacific and san Francisco bay and is consequently quite compact. It is segregated into diverse, distinct districts which sit comfortably next to each other. Public transport here is fantastic so everywhere is accessible, especially by bike. Super hilly but nothing I haven’t cycled up before and the views are amazing. It is strange to hear so many different accents again in the hostel. I’m just another tourist traveller here. Not a crazy English person on a bike.
I celebrated my first night in San Francisco with a drink in the legendary Vesuvios an old beat hangout, with a picture of Jack Kerouac on the wall. The bar is next to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore. I manage to get a free beer as I am now aptly qualified to help the bar tender with his cycle touring questions.
27th September. I am in desperate need of new trousers. My only pair is full of holes. I know that across the bay in Berkley there is a North Face factory outlet, so with the promise of good quality clobber at cheap prices I get the BART (bay area rapid transit – yes; I did the BART man!) to Berkley and walk miles to this overpriced, understocked outlet. I buy trousers out of necessity, but Berkley was nice; it was interesting to walk through the neighbourhoods.
28th September. I got on my bike and tour the city. I head straight for the views and cycle up to the top of Twin Peaks. 1000ft and 360-degree views of San Francisco and the surrounding area. People are piling out of tour busses and look at me amazed that I cycled up the hill. I get to the bottom quicker than they do. My top downhill speed on my bike to date is 51 mph. I must look like I know what I’m doing as all the cycle couriers nod at me as we pass one another!
I head to Haight-Ashbury district, home of the summer of love, the Grateful Dead (when they were the warlocks) and Janis Joplin. The very place where the concepts of peace, love and be-ins were invented (because the Americans invent everything don’t you know!). It is now full of overpriced tie-dye t-shirts, and people living in the past (though they may become quite cool again if the Americans find Bin Laden). The cafes are dead good and quite cheap.
Next, I head down to the Castro. Gay capital of the universe. There are rainbow flags everywhere, big burly men lovingly spooning ice cream into the mouths of other big burly men, moustaches that must require hours of maintenance. Ladies being big burly men and men being big burly ladies. It was fascinating. I sat on the sidewalk people watching whilst I ate a delicious ice cream.
I cycled the length of Market Street. It bisects the east of the city into north and south grids. Homeless people lie everywhere. Unlike Seattle; where beggars held signs saying “recently lost everything” in San Francisco beggars were more creative: “homeless my ass! I just wanna get high”. I found this approach a lot more conducive to giving. The homeless wander the streets retrieving anything recyclable from trash cans and the floor as they can get money for it.
Friday night (28/9 September) I tour the bars with Rose from Australia and Camille from France. Part of my hangover cure on Saturday was to cycle 22 miles. I go to the Golden Gate Park where they are having some music concert about Jesus and loving people. The crowd is very small and most of them are swaying with their eyes closed occasionally raising their hands and making odd movements. I watched them invite people on to stage to be hugged and forgiven! I need neither, so I head on to the beach. After looking around the sandcastle competition I fell asleep on the beach and woke myself up with my own snoring above the noise of the crashing surf.
I cycled up to the Golden Gate Bridge; the sidewalks are still closed. I cycled back to the hostel via the presidio and fisherman’s wharf with some fantastic views of the bridge and Alcatraz.
29th September. Today I am resting at the hostel. I have cycled 970 miles since I have been here and today, I miss my friends. I need to stop, to rest but when I stop, I miss doing things and I get lonely.
Monday 1st of October. Feeling better in myself I decide to go to Alcatraz! I was very excited about seeing the world’s most famous prison. Prisoners had it quite good. Nice meals, a selection most days and they got hot showers; though this was to prevent them getting use to cold water, so no one escaped by swimming across San Francisco bay. 5’X 7′ cells, where you had to fold up the tiny table to get out of bed.
I listened to the digital commentary as I walked around listening to the sounds of the prison full of inmates with ex-prisoners doing the commentary. It was immersive and brilliant. You got a tour of all the escape attempts and where people were ´moidered, during such attempts.
The prison building itself is quite small, why I was expecting it to be bigger I don’t know. I guess cause everything in America is big; it would be only right that if they send someone away, they should take away their right to bigness. I walked out into the recreation yard and could barely stand due to the gale force winds that constantly pound the island, what a miserable way to spend your 1-hour a day outside.
When I got out of Alcatraz, I went down to pier 39 on fisherman’s wharf. Ever since the 1989 earthquake a colony of California sea lions have moved into the pier and between 300-600 of them lounge around in the sunshine on the floating pontoons. I sat and watched them for hours they are very amusing. Some are dead to the world, full blown, gob open, on their backs, flippers splayed asleep. Some using others as pillows packed on the pontoons like sardines. Then one will come flying out of the water trying to get onto the pontoon, land on the others, waking them up much to their annoyance much barking and showing of teeth
ensues until the offending sea lion is shoved back in the water.
As recommended by Jude Mahon, I found the man who sits behind a bush (which he cobbled together himself) and jumps out on unsuspecting passers-by! Not sure why!
On Wednesday the 3rd October I explored the Exploratorium. A world fair was held there in the dim and distant past. The domed building set against the lake look like something out of Logan’s Run or Planet of the Apes.
I cycled down Lombard Street too. It is the crookediest street in the world due to the switchbacks they put up one side of this incredibly steep hill to allow horses and carts to go up and down. The other side of the hill is a regular mega-steep street. Only about 100m long but I decided to cycle up it much to the admiration/amusement of the local old lady who went down the hill at a 45-degree angle to me and shouted out of her car window, “good for you”.
Golden Gate Bridge
Saturday 6th October was the big day. Despite being in San Francisco for well over a week I had still not cycled across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I was so excited about being on the bridge which is very beautiful. I photographed it to death and felt quite attached to it. On the other side I cycled up a 3 and a half-mile hill to Fort called Construction 129. They didn’t name it because by the time they had built it was obsolete!
I’m good at cycling up hills now. Especially without all the weight of my gear on the bike. I found myself overtaking other cyclists who’s cycling clobber was far shinier than mine. I spent hours up there as the view from the top of the city and the bay & bridge was fantastic.
On the way back down, I bumped into Sigrun Weiss, a lovely lady who I first met up in Washington State. She’s from Germany and cycling the coast. She was in San Francisco Visiting her brother and his family. We had crossed paths several times on the way down the coast and never knew each other’s names. So Sigrun and I swapped details and congratulated one another on reaching San Francisco.
Road Trip: Yosemite, Reno, Sacremento
Sunday 7th. I picked up a hire car. I was upgraded to a very big and luxurious 8-seater people carrier when the lady at the desk saw my bike and gear. I was a bit worried about driving out of San Francisco on the wrong side of a car on the wrong side of the road. There’s nothing to driving over here. The roads are huge, and everything is automatic. You just stick it in cruise control and point the vehicle in the right direction and nod off.
I headed out to Yosemite Park to see some bears and nature and stuff. I end up at Yosemite bug hostel where I drink beer and eat steak and listen to a man from Bradford who spoke many languages and was very proud of himself. He was going to make damn sure you were proud of him too. I flexed my linguistic abilities and had multi-lingual conversations with people from England, America and an Australian. There was an Italian there too, but I made him speak Australian.
Monday, I spent driving around Yosemite like a proper tourist. Occasionally I would scream to a halt in a turnout and jump out of the car to take a piccy. I drove up to glacier point where there were the most spectacular views over the glacial landscape. It was breath-taking yet so pristine and clear that it was like a movie set. Everything was so vast, and there was nothing to give an indication of scale, so it was difficult to get your head around what you were looking at.
On Tuesday I drive through Yosemite to mono lake with Vicke from Holland who decided to join me on my driving adventure. Mat and Sarah from the UK and Tim from Australia followed us in Tim’s car. We saw some meadows, old, filled in lakes with grass and flowers and things. They were very pretty but the real treat was driving out of the East Side of Yosemite Park. It’s like a moonscape and there is much nothingness. Mono lake is fed by water from the surrounding mountains and it only outlet is evaporation. There are amazing tuff formations of calcium carbonate on the south shore and much nothingness all around.
Vicke and I head on to a campsite for the night bidding farewell to Mat, Sarah and Tim. The campsite is 7500ft up in the air in the mountains and we know it will get cold overnight. Vicke had no sleeping bag and so she put on every item of clothing she had and slept in the car. I pitched my tent and slept in all my clothes. It was bloody freezing. At 7am it is just light enough to get out of the tent. My tent has frozen solid and the everything is white with frost. The thermometer in the car is telling us it is -6 degrees centigrade. Very cold indeed. After a long hot shower, I drove to Lake Tahoe. It a big skiing place and very expensive and touristy. We meet up with Daniello, and Italian guy and he takes us to the hostel he is staying in; the Blu Zu Hostel.
The lady who checked us in was called moon; fair play but you just feel a bit daft saying it don’t you. The place stank of incense, has a bad colour scheme, a bad paint job and is generally a bit odd. The first thing that was stressed to us most of all is that there is to be absolutely no alcohol on the premises. That made us sad as we are gagging for a beer. It’s only for one night so the three of us go out and get pizza and have a beer off premises. When we got back to the Blu Zu Hostel my parking space in the teeny, weeny, tiny car park had been taken so I attempt a four million point turn to get back out of the car park. As I reversed there is a bit of a crunch and I think “oops, I have just tapped the bench at the rear of my vehicle” (said bench is against the wall of a motel room). I manage to turn the car around and park it out front. We get out of the car and the car park is swarming with residents of the Motel rooms who are quick to tell ‘they thought I was going to come through the wall’. Moon is there and her husband/co -owner has pieces of bench in his hands. I apologise profusely. He made it very clear I owe him $50 for his flimsy bench; that would probably have succumbed to the same fate had I accidentally sat on it. Again, I apologised and tell him that I will gladly pay for the bench, but the guy is fucking furious and boiling over. Moon is inching between us as he clearly isn’t coping with the death of his beloved bench and wishes to exact revenge on me – the murderer. This guy is acting as if I had mown down his entire family. On purpose! Then spat on the bloody corpses! He then threw some fragments of bench at poor Moon saying, “you better handle this, I’m not good at dealing with these things”. Vickie, Daniello and I can’t quite believe what is happening. The guy storms off and Moon says I’d better give her some money to calm him down, and they’ll purchase a new bench in the morning! yeah right!
I feel a bit shitty and at a loss as to how this has caused so much grief and such a reaction. I gave Moon $40 proclaiming that it is ‘all I have’ and the car park magically clears. On inspection there is a bit of a scratch on the rear bumper of the car!
Back in our room; Vicke, Daniello and I are in shock but laughing at the ridiculous over-reaction. It’s 11:30 PM and Moon’s husband is obviously in the mood for some therapeutic drilling, so whilst we obey the ‘quiet after 11pm’ rule we listen to the drill bit screaming into some innocent brickwork.
Glad to be moving on, Vickie and I drove up to Reno. Reno sits in a valley at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and we were treated to the most incredible views. We found a cheap motel bang in the middle of downtown. It was luxury after the hostelling and camping. We each had a double sized bed each and I took great pleasure in sleeping star-fished.
Reno was like a ghost town during the day. We wandered around a shopping centre/bowling alley and it was like something out of ‘ night of the comet’. No one around, yet lights flashed, escalators ran, and the doors of stores were open; though there seemed to be no staff. That evening we hit the casinos. I gambled it up massive time. In the Flamingo I mindlessly put $10 in quarters into a variety of machines, pressed a button and sometimes a few quarters would be thrown back at me. I had no idea what I was doing. Dolly birds came around and gave us free drinks; I had 2 gin and tonics. Except they cost me $5 each. A cunning ploy to keep gamblers in the casinos longer, but I was wise to their dastardly plan. They pump oxygen into the casinos too, to keep people up gambling all night. Reno is apparently a dying Vegas. lots of the casinos are closing-down, I wonder what they’ll do with all the light bulbs and outrageous buildings?
Friday 12th October.
Before leaving the motel, I stole all the soap and sachets of shampoo. I drove back over the mountains to Sacramento, into to the sweltering heat of California’s capital. The man at the agricultural inspection station dutifully asked us if we have any fruit or vegetables with us as we passed from Nevada to California, we replied ‘no’ and drove off. A bead of sweat escaped my forehead and my grip tightened on the illegal apple in my pocket.
We end up in an even posher Motel in Sacramento as the hostel was full. I have a rapidly growing collection of scented soaps, shampoos and shower caps. I haven’t graduated to the towels yet. Sacramento is very warm and quite posh in the downtown area. Vicke and I walked around for hours and found an Italian restaurant and ate big food.
Saturday 13th and we drive back out to the coast. I encountered a gas station that is worthy of krypton factor status or at least should be a puzzle on Survivor. Not only do you have to pre-pay before the gas will flow but there is a secret, concealed button or lever to activate the pump. I became increasingly frustrated as I awkwardly stood there trying to look as though I knew what I was doing in front of my fellow fore-courters.
At point Reyes, just north of San Francisco we did a fantastic earthquake tour. You can see the displacement caused by the 1906 earthquake by way of a fence. a 15-ft gap was created in the fence as Point Reyes slid 15 ft north. The Californian hills are covered in brown, sun-dried grass that looks like suede and gives the landscape a very cuddly appearance. We head back to the green tortoise hostel in San Francisco and I return the car. We spent the evening rejoicing our fabulous road trip over pizza and beer.
Sunday 14th October. Happy Birthday to me! I cleaned my bike today and then drank lots and lots of beer well into the night. Most of the hostel joined in with the party.
On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again, do do do do do do do do do do, I can’t wait to get on the road again. On the road again do do do ….
On The Road Again
15th October. Back on the road cycling south towards LA. It is a beautifully warm and sunny day, I am sad to be leaving San Francisco. I really loved it there. I am excited to be cycling again though.
The campsite at Half Moon bay has been decimated by a mole and is more like a ploughed field. Margaret, who is from Switzerland and is cycling the coast, is at the site, along with her bottle of red wine! Now that is travelling. Aware of the racoon problem I cunningly hung my bike in a tree to stop them getting on the panniers. It did the trick as the racoon never found my panniers. They did however spend all night feasting noisily courtesy of the camp next door.
16th September 2001.
New Brighton Beach near Santa Cruz was my next destination. I called Kelly, whom I met with Paul & Maureen. She wasn’t home so I left a message on her machine, saying I was sorry that I’d missed her. Just as I was setting my tent up, Kelly turned up. Within half an hour I am stuffing my face with the most amazing burger and drinking beer at Gayles: bakery & rosticceria in Capitola where Kelly Works.
Kelly filled a bag for me with so many cakes and cookies. I instantly became a starving 7-year-old in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Kelly then decided that her small studio apartment simply won’t do for the evening. Coming from a tent I didn’t really give a shit, but Kelly cared enough to check us into a big posh hotel, the Sea Cliff Inn. It was like a dream!
I know it was posh hotel because as well as soap and shampoo the gave you a little bottle of body lotion, which I also pinched. I ended up having the most comfortable and amazing evening full of cakes and cookies! I was overwhelmed by the kindness of Kelly and I’m ashamed to say re-payed Kelly by overwhelming her with my snoring!
Wednesday 17th September.
I was plagued with more rear wheel trouble, heat and hills. My legs and Knees hurt! I cycled through beautiful Monterey, but I am in no mood to be impressed with anything.
Thursday 18th September.
I am cycling the Big Sur. I am treated to some spectacular views between the fog. Highway 1 heads inland a little to Big Sur Village, my campground at Pfeiffer-Big Sur state park and sunshine. Camping amongst the redwoods is amazing. The trees have this pine-sweet smell. If you look hard enough then you’ll find the magic faraway tree and see the faery folk going about their business.
I racoon proofed my camp then sat drinking beer watching and feeling it get dark. When it’s dark, it’s dark. It is quite remote on this part of the coast and the sounds of the forest are the only noises. When you look up the only light is a million stars burning through the tree canopy. It wasn’t hard to imagine being the first or only person there.
Friday 19th October
The most amazing days cycling ever. Big Sur coast is so beautiful. The land just stops and is pounded by this wild ocean, the hills up and down the coast fade into shades of grey in the ocean mist. I felt emotional and overcome by the silent-beauty and power of the landscape. I felt part of the landscape; part of everything. I sat for a good hour overlooking Julia Pfeiffer burns State Park, an azure blue bay with a waterfall onto the sand, ocean carved rocks and redwoods and pines, bathed in sunshine. It was idyllic, paradise. Then a load of Brits piled off a tour bus, photographing everything; then photographing everything with someone in front of it. I cycled on. The wind was warm and at my back, I made short work of the hills.
I camped at Kirk creek campground. I watched the most spectacular sunset from atop a cliff. To watch the colours change was incredible. It was like being on a different planet or in a different time. I shared my camp pitch with Jeff and Sean, 2 California boys hiking for the weekend. They had beer and a guitar. They invited me to join them and round the campfire we demolished their weekend supply of beer.
Jeff is in a band called Spinning Jennies – you can check them out at www.vastrecords.com. Sean is a chef and took camping cuisine into a whole new dimension.
Slightly hungover and a little later than planned I packed up my bike. The first 20 miles are very hilly. I was going great guns up the hills when I noticed a wobble in my back tyre and discover the beading, on the shite tyre, the shit cycle mechanic in crescent city sold me, is coming apart creating a bulge in the tyre. My heart sank, I was doing so well with the last of the hills on Big Sur.
Half way down the last hill I pull into Ragged Point and have an amazing conversation with a guy called Bob Sanchez. Bob, who was out cycling for the day, owns a big health club. Whilst people pay him to exercise in his club, he exercises for free outside. [I Love it!] As we chat random man feels the need to tell us about a bicycle shop in Cambria 20 miles down the road!
Just as I reach bottom of the last hill and my rear tyre blew out, breaking several spokes and buckling the wheel. I figured I could just replace the tyre and try to make do ’til I get to a town. I whipped the wheel off and briefly consider hitching as I’m quite pissed off. I talk myself out of it with tales of rape and murder. A pickup truck is parked in the turnout I am in and I am hoping it isn’t the rapist or murderer. A little old man emerged from the roadside trees. Intrigued by what I was doing I began to explain to him but was hard of hearing. I show him my wheel and he nodded. Henry had been doing a spot of perch fishing in the surf. He said if I can get my bike in the back of his truck, he will take me 20 miles to the bike shop in Cambria (thank you random man).
Before you know it, I’ve stuffed the bike into his truck and we’re on our way. Henry took me straight to the shop and waited for me while I asked if they could fix my wheel at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon! The mechanic was just wrapping up with an end of week beer but was happy to fix my wheel. Henry the Hero went on his quiet, merry way with his fish.
Eric the mechanic was very competent and efficient. He replaced the spokes, trued the wheel and replaced the tyre. All I had to do was purchase beer and cycle 6 miles back up the road to San Simeon campground.
Theo was there. Theo is a rugged cyclist who has toured the world on a beast of a bike. There is also the deluxe version of a nightmare family next to my tent, with so many members, a small dog and a baby. It wasn’t a quiet evening, but my bike was fixed, and I had somewhere to sleep.
Sunday 21st. I get into to San Luis Obispo and a hostel; which took me ages to find. The Hostel was on a nice, quiet, tree lined street complete with a slightly mad cleaning lady called Marge who snored very loudly. Louder than me! So very loudly that the German lady (also sharing our room) got out of her top bunk to give her a good prod to shut her up. A massive argument ensued, involving no bad language! Old people are so polite. Then Marge called the German lady a bitch, and the German lady had to admit defeat. I pretended to sleep through it all, but next morning I was collared by both separately as they tried to get me to side with each of them respectively.
I spent a few days hanging around San Luis Obispo. It is a very nice university town. I mostly ate ice cream and cake and browsed book shops and drank far too much beer in the evenings completely disregarding the ‘no alcohol’ rule in the hostel and by Tuesday night I’d got ’em all at it and we were all quite pissed.
Wednesday 24th October
I got up at 5am to get a train to Santa Barbara, avoiding 100 miles of boring inland cycling to bypass an air base. The train follows the coast and was far more interesting. It was a beautiful train ride. I watched the sun come up and saw some dolphins. The further south I got the more Mediterranean the surroundings became.
I got to Santa Barbara and ate much breakfast. I found my hostel, the Banana Bungalow, and another fucking spoke broke. I went out and bought a brand-new rear wheel. I’m only 100 miles from LA!
So let’s see, I’ve cycled 1280 miles and I still love it. Santa Barbara was very laid back and I had a great few days exploring the city and coast and eating some great food. Including my first burrito followed by cheesecake ice-cream.
28th October 2001
The road into LA was mostly flat and I covered the miles quickly. The roads and campsites are getting very busy and feel less safe. Mom was due to land at LAX at 18:20. I got to Venice beach around lunchtime, so I had time to stop and contemplate. I had just cycled 1500 miles from Seattle! It was emotional.
After a quick nap on the beach I headed to LAX. I sat outside arrivals waiting. Eventually I saw my mommy coming up the ramp pushing what I thought was a luggage trolley, but she was pushing my Nan’s wheelchair with my Nan in it!!! Such an amazing surprise! They’d been brave enough to travel all the way to LA in secret! There was lots of hugging and crying and we headed off to a super posh hotel in Marina De Rey.