So I decided to start the Appalachian Trail! You can follow me on my new blog:
I decided to also include a link to the first post of this blog in case anybody wanted to read it from the beginning:
So I decided to start the Appalachian Trail! You can follow me on my new blog:
I decided to also include a link to the first post of this blog in case anybody wanted to read it from the beginning:
I realized this post is long overdue, and I wanted to complete the blog before I hit the road again in a few days. This is what happened during the four days following the last post.
I woke up to the same foggy sky. I remember starting to get a bit irritated by it, hoping that the entirety of the west coast wasn’t like this for the rest of my trip. I made my way to Bodega Bay, another small Norcal town composed of a gas station and a couple park buildings. I made a stop at the gas station to fill water and crushed some Clash of Kings while I charged my phone.
Half an hour probably went by before I was approached by a man who was probably in his 50s. He was pretty fat, had dark hair, and was of Native American / Italian ethnicity. “Is this your bike?” As soon as he spoke to me I could tell he was a little fucked up in the head. His voice was choppy and he slurred words occasionally, and at first seemed came off as a pretty crazy guy. Needless to say when he asked if I wanted to ride to the top of a bluff overlooking the ocean to spark a nug he presented to me, I was happy to indulge.
“Gold Bear” is what he introduced himself to me as, claiming he was known along the Highway 1 by that name. He told me his real name at one point, but of course I don’t remember. He talked a lot, mostly about himself and at first I was a little doubtful about the truthfulness of his stories, but it was pretty interesting. He apparently had stopped working 4 years ago and set up a remarkably minimalistic rig on a pretty retro bike. Ever since, Gold Bear has been riding up and down the Highway 1 about seven or eight months out of the year.
We smoked and he continued to talk about his life. Eventually he began to explain his mental condition to me. I think it was a car accident, about 10 years ago, really messed him up. It was then that I noticed he was missing fingers. He showed me the back of his left calf, where there was pretty clear evidence of what must have been the gnarliest compound fracture in history. Of course, his head got banged up pretty well too. So he couldn’t work anymore. I think he said he used to be an electrician or a mechanic or something of the sort. “Hurts to walk, hurts to climb, hurts to even stand sometimes.”
Biking didn’t bring him pain though, so he decided to live on his bike. We decided to ride together, knocking out 10 mile portions of the highway at a time. He kept telling me not to wait up for him and that he’d eventually catch up. I was quite a bit faster but he could haul. He was never too far behind, which was unexpected for a fat old indian dude with a fucked up leg. I was impressed.
He was, even to me, a little strange but I can’t decide whether some of his tendencies were a result of his mental condition or actually legitimate. At one point he was convinced that on a certain stretch of road we could find edible mushrooms. He said that they were pretty tasty, and that he usually sold a couple of them when they were in season to help pay for food on his trips. We hopped off the bikes and he showed me the types of spots you could find them and we began looking. Something pretty hilarious happened next.
A guy in his 20s and who I assumed was his girlfriend were approaching their car from a trail nearby. As I feared, Gold Bear immediately decided to accuse these people of taking all the mushrooms.
“I bet you two already found all the mushrooms here! I knew that was why I wasn’t finding any.”
I’ve never seen such classic “what the fuck?” faces. These people clearly hadn’t a clue what the hell he was talking about. He continued to ask them if they found any, which of course they denied because they probably didn’t. It was pretty clear that the two of them thought he was talking about hallucinogenic mushrooms, and at this point probably assumed he was tripping on them (which, as far as I know, he might have). The couple somewhat hastily proceeded to their car and drove off.
We stopped at a small store, probably the only building we’d seen in a good 30 miles. Popped in real quick to buy a Snickers. Gold Bear came in too looking for a spoon and began talking to the store clerk, who gave him really weird looks. I didn’t really like that. He does come off pretty weird but there was no reason to be a bitch about it. He eventually got a spoon and we went to have a quick snack. It was at this point I realized the only food he had with him was a pretty big Jello container and cranberry juice. No water, in fact he refused it when I offered him some. He mentioned that it was all he needed to make it a couple days on the road. “I ate a pizza by myself before I left Santa Rosa.”
The Highway got pretty hilly soon and evening was approaching. Gold Bear started to tell me more about himself. He told me he had been at his old job for 20 something years. He loved it because he got to work with his dad, who he said was his best friend. His dad died a couple years ago and I could tell it hit him pretty hard. He started talking some jargen about the “key to life” he had, this and that about God and why he’s been biking for so long. Gold Bear had the best monologs.
Soon enough it was dark out and we had finally arrived in Gualala. Gold Bear insisted on sleeping on a bench by the ocean. I decided it was time to split, I wanted to set up a camp so I could make food and I wanted to find a water source. All the businesses were closed and I decided to head off in search of water. I bid farewell to Gold Bear.
It was past 10, so I decided to just post up at a campsite nearby with a water pump. Aside from it being super late, mosquitos were in full force so I made dinner quickly and hopped into the bivy.
The following day I slept in a bit, taking advantage of the amenities of the campground. After taking my first shower since San Francisco (a very cold one at that), I made good time on the bike, 50 miles all the way to Mendocino. Mendocino was a bit bigger than the other Norcal towns I had been bumping into. Lots of stores and I even saw a couple bars and restaurants. A beer was tempting. I turned my phone on for a second to check in with the world and had a text from my sister that said “call me when you can.” I called her and she explained to me that Giddo (my grandfather), who had been seriously injured by a car accident 9 months prior, was in really bad condition and that I needed to find a way home.
I took a moment to figure everything out. I had been planning on meeting my friend Steve in Montana at the end of my trip. I decided to give him a call to tell him I couldn’t make it because I had to get back to San Francisco to fly home. Steve told me that in 20 days he was driving all the way back to Michigan from Montana. “We could always just strap your bike to the top or something.” The distance to Montana was much too far to travel by bike in 20 days. I figured I could ride to a more populated area in California, and hopefully do some insanely efficient hitch-hiking to get all the way to Montana. Challenge accepted.
I decided to cook dinner above a cliff overlooking a scenic bay just south of the town. I made a few more phone calls to some friends and decided to find a place to camp while I still had light. I walked by the bar and there were a bunch of people outside. One man began fighting another and everyone freaked out. People can be such dumbasses sometimes. I found a well-hidden power outlet on the side of a building and used it to charge my phone. I saw a group of hippys hanging around some benches with a bunch of dogs and decided to go talk to them.
There was a tall guy with long dreads who immediately introduced himself to me. A much older guy who was clearly super drunk or super high didn’t seem too excited about talking to me, or anything for that matter. Then there was a girl, younger and really pretty. Lastly, there was Andy.
Andy was… interesting. A college dropout, a slacker in his finest form. Nice guy though, for the most part. He was younger than me, shorter, not very fit and, like the rest of them, dressed in clothes that hadn’t been washed in a long time (although I’m not one to talk). He had this dog that constantly misbehaved and he’d always lightly kick it in the ass when it was being stupid. It’s leash was tied to his belt loop so it could never walk far, and he’d always have to reposition himself while he was talking to you because of the way the dog would continuously wrap it around him. What a shit show.
They were complaining about how the cops knocked down their fort. I learned a lot about the homeless culture in the area from this group. They called it “the Emerald Triangle,” a combination of Trinity, Humbolt, and Mendocino counties. It’s where all the outdoor growers grew their crop… you know… the areas where you hear not to walk into the woods off the road. People tell all sorts of stories about hikers being back there and suddenly one of their buddy’s heads explodes from an assault rifle round fired from a concerned pot farmer somewhere in the forest. If you’re spotted back there, you can expect anyone to assume you’re trying to snag some free product.
Anyways, whenever they do their harvest they clip the leaves off the plants to clean up the nugs that they sell to the dealers. This results in copious amounts of trimmings, which is distributed one way or another to the quite prominent homeless population in the Emerald Triangle. Now I can’t speak for all of them, but from what I began to understand is that the homeless in these counties bum around all day smoking insane amounts of these trimmings for free, living off food stamps and traveling from county to county. For the most part, they mostly stay in the ET unless they are compelled to leave for something better.
Something better like “The Gathering.” They excitedly asked if I was going when I mentioned to the group that I was headed out to Montana. I had no clue what they were talking about. “The Gathering dude! Don’t you listen to Grateful Dead?” Can’t say that I ever have. They were flabbergasted. “You should just go to the gathering man! We’re all trying to get up there!” I tried to explain to them that I didn’t really care to go sit around in Montana on an insane amount of drugs for a week, but I don’t think they understood.
I asked them where I could camp for the night. The taller dude suggested going down by the river, apparently quite a few hippys/homeless lived down there in shelters they built out of driftwood.
“Just don’t go into the woods.”
Eventually everybody but Andy and his dog left. Andy said he wanted to go cook some hamburger he picked up. He showed me a path down the cliffs to the shore by the bay and led me over to “the fort.” It was nothing more than a massive pile of wood, but Andy told me that it was once a massive teepee they had all made. Unfortunately, Mendocino attracts a certain amount of tourists and the city doesn’t care to have these tourists go check out a cool wooden teepee on the beach only to stumble upon a bunch of hippys crashing there. So the police wrecked it.
I decided to make camp there. I read while Andy cooked his burger and talked. He was from San Diego, and had been bumming around the ET for a couple of months. When he told me he received food stamps I asked why he didn’t work.
“No one will hire you around here.”
“Well, why not head to the cities? I saw lots of jobs in San Francisco.”
“Weed isn’t the same down there.”
He threw some raw hamburger to his dog. He told me something that Gold Bear also mentioned. It’s really easy to get free weed up there.
“Just ask a homeless person.”
I headed to sleep relatively early. I wanted to get up in time to dip out before cops might search the beach for illegal campers. I also had to get moving on my plan to get to Montana in time. The agenda for the day was to 10 miles north to Fort Bragg, then 35 miles east to Willits where I could hopefully catch a ride that might bring me to I-5 so I could start heading north to Oregon.
I got to Fort Bragg pretty quickly. I stopped in McDonalds (which was the first sign of industrialize America I had seen in a while) to have a cheap but highly caloric meal before the long ride ahead. Not the best diet, I know, but it was pretty delicious. It was a stack of pancakes, some eggs, a hashbrown, sausage, and ham. I was about half-way through my breakfast when a bum approached me. Ned looked like a Snoop Dogg if Snoop Dogg were white, 50, and homeless.
“That your bike?”
Ned had a pretty hilarious ghetto-rig made put together with a plastic egg basket tied to his handle bars with twine. There were some old saddlebags and a blanket. He sat down at my table and we shot the shit for a while. I eventually offered him my hashbrown. He was stoked.
“Hey man, a friend of mine dropped off this nug earlier. Want to go smoke it?”
We walked across a street behind McDonalds to a field by a ravine and smoked right freaking there. Nobody seemed to give a damn. Ned kept talk, always just kept talking. Soon enough two other homeless people approached. An older balding man, and a younger guy with long hair. I could immediately tell they were high on something, especially the younger dude. He just sat there and mumbled to himself like somebody gone stupid. The other two talked a lot of shit to him.
“Marty, if you were my brother I’d smack you right now.”
The three of them would all talk over each other, completely unaware that I was attempting to listen to 3 random homeless people tell me something different at the same time. I looked from bum to bum, trying not to be rude and make them think I was ignoring any one of them. Marty was really just sitting there mumbling to himself. At this point I was searching for a way to get away from them.
That’s when Ned changed the topic and addressed the older bum, “hey man this dude is biking all the way to Montana! You got any bud for him?”
“Yeah! I’ll be right back.” The man jogged away and left a box of doughnuts behind. Ned and Marty dove in. I was offered one but humbly declined. 10 minutes later the older guy returned with a garbage bag. Yes. A garbage bag full of weed.
“You got a bag, man?”
“uh… not really? I just have this grocery bag here?”
He began stuffing handful after handful of trimmings into the grocery bag. I was in disbelief. It was all trimmings but I had never seen so much weed in my life. Ned suggested that we smoke a fatty before I headed off. I declined, and headed off to Willits.
It ended up being one of the hardest rides of my trip. One of the bums told me “you go up a big hill and then down a big hill and then you’re there!” Actually, you climb a fucking mountain, bomb down it, and repeat. Not only that, the temperature hit 100 degrees that day. As I ascended each ridge I would alternate sides of the road, desperately trying to stay in shade. Ran out of water at one point and had to stand on the side of the road holding my empty water bottle upside-down in attempt to flag a car. You’d be surprised, about 20 people passed me before somebody stopped. A kind soul gave me a bottle to chug on the spot on top of refilling my bottle.
It was a long day. Decent mileage, but lots of climbing. I was beat by the time I was descending the mountain into Willits. I stopped at a grocery store and picked up a half-gallon of moose tracks, a big ass orange, and a gatorade. I sat down outside the building and plugged my dead cellphone into the only outlet I could find and dug into the ice cream.
“You’re kind of in the way. Can you please move?”
People in Norcal are kind of assholes. I’ll explain.
So I finished up the ice cream and turned my phone on. I had a text from my mom saying I needed to call her. When I did she told me they had taken my grandfather off life support and that he would die by the end of the next day. I had to get to an airport to fly home for the funeral.
I hung up, frustrated. This now meant I had to get to the nearest airport which was all the way back in San Francisco. My dad was already on top of finding flights home for me. Considering I’d be flying soon, I also had to ditch my weed. I approached a guy around my age talking on the phone.
“Want some weed?”
“…. woah. Thanks!”
I made a sign and headed to the busy intersection nearby. “Urgently need to get to San Francisco!” I stood for 4 hours. I remember counting out loud how many SUVs and trucks with room for myself and my bike passed without stopping to help me out. I remember getting past 200.
After a few hours it had started to get dark. Plan B. I started biking south. It was night by the time I had gotten a couple mile out of town. The highway was really sketchy. A lot of people were commuting away from the coast, returning to the cities after a weekend vacation. I waited for the road to be clear and dismounted my bike and tossed it over a fence on the side of the road. I quickly set up my bivy right on the side of the road, hardly visible due to a depression and some tall grass. I camouflaged everything and headed straight to bed after a bit of reading.
I woke up around 4:30 in the morning and was walking along the highway with my thumb out by 5. Only about 15 minutes passed before somebody picked me up. It was a man in probably his 30s, of mexican/southwestern complexion.
Sketchiest. Dude. Ever.
This guy had apparently been away for nearly 2 days. He was coming back from a casino somewhere north of where we were, getting away for the weekend. He kept talking about some prostitutes he had sex with and kept making side comments about meth. He didn’t seem very threatening. Regardless, when he asked how much my bike cost I said “it’s a load of junk, probably $200 if you got lucky.”
I asked him if he wanted to smoke the a joint I had rolled with the trimmings, which he was thrilled about. He started asking about my journey and I told him the situation I was in. He felt really bad and told me he would drive me all the way to San Francisco if I paid him. I considered it but I didn’t really want to send him out of his way, and I was still a little unsure about him. We approached his town and he offered to bring me to his house for some food. Being cautious, I declined, but he insisted multiple times and said it would only take a minute. Reluctantly, I accepted.
He lived on top of a hill in a pretty humble house. All the windows and doors were open, and the air always smelled fresh. He raised a bunch of goats in a yard nearby, and had a bunch of dismantled vehicles in his garage that he was clearly working on. He invited me inside where he cooked me a pretty dank beef burrito.
“Good luck to you man, I’m really sorry about your grandfather. Share your story with people, they’ll help you out.”
He ended up being a good dude.
I ended up back at the highway entrance with my sign out and my bike by my side. He said I’d be able to get picked up there, but it wasn’t for a few hours that a lady finally picked me up. She had been driving back from Idaho after a kayaking trip. Apparently she and her partner had a falling out, and she had to get away for some white water therapy for a few weeks. She seemed a little upset about it so I changed the topic and explained to her where I was trying to go.
“Well, tell you what. I live in Berkley, the train to San Francisco is pretty cheap and I can drop you off at the station there.”
I was very grateful. By 1:00 I was on the BART headed under the bay back to San Francisco. I decided to get off the train in the Mission District so I could head to a bike shop where I could get everything packaged and shipped home. It felt weird once I left, not having my bike. It was the first time I was without it since I started my trip. I carried my saddlebags down the street to the bus stop where I boarded a bus back to the Brydon house.
Somehow I managed to ride the bus for free, and hopped off about two miles away from Jeff’s house. Still carrying the saddlebags, I made my way up a maze of roads. When I got there Jeff was hanging out in the kitchen. I unfortunately had to get right to planning for my flight home after chatting with Jeff for a bit. I reorganized my gear and had to ditch a couple of things to reduce my baggage to what I could carry on. I was able to hang out for a few hours, but by evening I was at the airport ready to get home. I was a little surprised I wasn’t subject to “random screening.” My beard was long and I was looking pretty haggard after all the traveling. I took time to pass out on the flight to Denver. I was pretty exhausted.
I had been in the west for seven months by that time. I was disappointed that my trip was cut short, but excited to return to Michigan. Still, I’m glad I was able to see my country the way that I did. I have gained a completely new appreciation of it’s vastness, unmatched beauty, and diversity both cultural and geographical. There is still so much I have yet to see here, I hardly feel compelled to leave the United States just yet.
I am thankful for the opportunity I had to do this. I am grateful for my health and the support I received before during and after the journey. Those of you who have continued to read my blog have really helped motivate me to keep going when I’ve felt alone or beat. Sharing this experience makes it worth living. Very soon I will be starting my next adventure on the Appalachian Trail. Follow me at nobohippybro.wordpress.com.
Thanks again for all the support! It means the world!
Two days ago I departed the lovely city of San Francisco. I bid farewell to the Brydon’s, who I would like to thank again for their relentless and unmatched hospitality. I took my time as I made my way along the hilly and car-packed streets. I stopped momentarily to pick up A Clash of Kings, the second book in the Game of Thrones series which has been actively motivating me to crush miles so that I can get settled early and read.
It took me a while to figure out how to find the bike path for crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Eventually I found guidance from a local biker. The crossing was actually pretty gnarly, people were remarking about how I was poorly dressed in my biking shorts and sleeveless shirt. I was blasted by cold wind that nearly knocked me over twice before it was over. I stopped at a small market to stock up on food for the next week and a half: rice, beans, cheese, and oatmeal. I would say that I regret spending money on less-than-necessary recreational things before now, but I am actually excited to embrace a low-budget, simple lifestyle until the end of my trip.
I made my way up some unexpectedly large climbs into Muir Woods, surprised at how my body was performing after being off the bike for a while. It started getting dark, so I pushed my bike up a trail right off the road and made camp on an overlook of the bay. I passed out around 9.
The next day I continued North along the scenic Highway 1. The ride provided a taste of what will probably be the conditions during my remaining time in California. It’s really the exact opposite of what you’d like to think the Cali coast is once you are north of San Francisco. There are very few cars along the hilly, forested roads. Very little sunlight makes its way through the dense fog that shrouds the country between the ocean and the barrier of mountains to the east. It is cold and damp, although easily bearable. The ocean itself is rough and unwelcoming. The water punishes cliffs and jagged rocks that in no way invite you to stop for a quick swim.
None of this is to say I don’t enjoy it. Northern California maintains its own kind of rugged and unknown beauty. It’s quiet and desolate, only once every 20-40 miles will a small village emerge along the coast and towering eucalyptus trees. As far as biking goes, I make sure to charge my phone (having misplaced my extra battery) and fill my water every chance I get.
Yesterday I made a stop in a small town, the name of which I can’t recall, and was approached by a very friendly couple who were intrigued by my journey. It wasn’t long before they offered to buy me lunch next door. I was far beyond stoked to have good company on top of a meal that wasn’t peanut butter and honey in a corn tortilla. They even wrapped up extra French fries and half of a grilled cheese sandwich that I ate for dinner last night. As if that wasn’t more than I could ever hope to get, I was also purchased a veggie wrap AND and Snickers bar, which I have been eating sparingly today. I can only hope to meet others as friendly as that humble couple from New Hampshire, and am eternally grateful for their support.
I continued along the highway searching for campsites until I passed a town called Valley Ford. The sun was getting low, so when I spotted a somewhat hidden spot on a cattle range by a creek, I waited for any cars to clear before I threw myself and my bike over the fence (which is confirmed electric). Not having anyone around to watch me eat, I went absolute HAM on the sandwich and fries and hopped into my bivy to read right away. Every so often I would hear the sound of hooves stepping through water. I would poke my head out of my tent to see a group of cows starring at me through the wide concrete tunnel where the creek flowed under the highway. I immediately realized that the cows wanted to move through the tunnel into the field just past me. Not taking my chances with getting stomped on by large frightened animals, I simply sat up and mooed at them to send them bolting away. This reoccured until about 10pm.
I got up really early, also not caring to deal with any farmers passed at me for trespassing onto their land. I passed Bodega Bay and am now in Jenner munching on my wrap. I have just under 40 more miles to Gualala, my goal for the day. From there I will continue north on the 1 towards the Humbolt Redwoods and then Eureka.
I am starting the second part of my bike tour today, and I figured I’d write a “quick” shout out to San Francisco before I left.
I’ve been staying with my Jeff, my roommate from Breckenridge at his parents house just south of the city. I’ve been posted up in the basement on a double mattress, which is tremendously luxurious to me considering I’ve been sleeping on the ground and couches since April. A couple of other friends from Breckenridge have also been filtering in and out of the Brydon house over the past couple weeks, and it’s been good to see familiar places.
I spent my first week here (before the Yosemite trip) exploring the city and enjoying delicious food while helping to prepare the Brydon’s yard for landscaping. San Francisco is a diverse, well-loved city with a lot of culture. I couldn’t help but notice that there is a large asian population, a lot of hipsters, and a fair amount of crazy people.
I was fortunate to be here during an annual event called Bay to Breakers. It’s a 7-something mile race across the city that runs from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. Although there is a small group of people who wake up early to actually compete in the race, the majority of people just attend to party. The streets are closed off to cars, and literally tens of thousands of people (who are all obliterated) pack into the streets and walk the course. Public nudity seems to be pretty acceptable, and despite the fact that there are cops at certain intersections open container laws seem to be out the window as well.
The Mission District
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge
The week following Yosemite has been pretty relaxed. At one point we headed to Muir Woods to hike out to a German beer clubhouse nestled in the mountains. Clearly being no secret to the people of San Francisco, the place was completely packed. We ended up dodging a pretty big line by heading around the back and hopping the fence.
A few days ago we were making our way to a hike called Land’s End when we stumbled upon a couple hundred people dancing on a beach. There was a large Burning Man attraction with DJ’s at the top spinning some music… except there was no music. Further investigation indicated that everyone was wearing a headset and all of them were listening to the same broadcast. Being as cheap as I am, I decided not to drop $20 to participate. Still looked pretty cool though.
San Francisco has been a great time and I could easily spend more time exploring the place but I am anxious to get back on my bike. The Brydon family has been awesomely hospitable and I am very thankful for them.
Now I’m heading up highway 1 along the coast to Oregon. Once I reach Oregon I’ll cut east to Crater Lake, and then back towards Portland. From there I’ll head directly east past Mount Hood and through Idaho to Jackson, Wyoming where my trip will end. I’ll update more regularly now that I’m on the road again so keep watching the blog for updates!
Drove to Yosemite Valley from San Francisco. Took about 4 hours to drive there and arrived around 2:00pm. We decided to go nuts and crush a 4-mile, 3000 vertical foot hike up to Glacier Point. The hike provided some awesome scenery, but the viewpoint was pretty crowded due to there also being an option to drive to the top from outside the valley.
After we hiked back down, we cooked dinner at a picnic area in the bottom of the valley. Not caring to drive around the valley in search of the backpackers campsite where we were supposed to be, we set up camp across the road at the base of massive granite cliffs. There was a bear encounter that night.
Got up pretty early and headed on Tioga Road to the east side of the park. It took longer than I thought to get to our trailhead, which goes to show how tremendous Yosemite National Park really is. We parked our car at Tuolumene Meadows and headed south into Lyell Canyon. The canyon was a 9 mile long valley, a stream carved its way through the meadows at the bottom. We hiked for 4 or 5 hours and soon enough snow-covered alpine peaks emerged before us. We set up camp just beneath the ascent to Donahue Pass and made burritos for dinner.
Our second day of hiking was our first bite of the terrain we would be navigating for the rest of the trip. As we ascended the 11,000 foot pass into the high country, stream crossings and massive snowfields became more common than trail. We made our way up to the pass to be greeted by a magnificent view. While we ate lunch we were visited by a marmot as we gazed at our destination.
Banner Peak (above the marmot in the picture above) loomed in the distance towering over the other peaks around it. It’s steep, glacier-shielded faces were quite intimidating. Finally being able to see the mountain in person after planning the trip for months filled me with anticipation. There were some feelings of apprehension about our goal, but everyone seemed pretty stoked to continue.
We had planned on camping at the base of the peak, but the climb up Donahue Pass on top of another 7 miles of hiking was too exhausting. The remainder of the day was hiked off trail until we picked it up again as the sun began to set. We decided to camp west of Waugh Lake and enjoyed some pretty awesome scenery as the sun set against some pretty magnificent spires in the distance.
The hike was a bit shorter than what we had been doing. From our campsite it was only 6 miles to Thousand Island Lake at the base of Banner Peak, substantially shortened by navigating off trail. After we picked out a suitable campsite for the next two nights, Mary, Malcom and I headed towards the peak to check out the condition of the snow on the mountain. Although snow was abundant from a blizzard the week before, it was slushy from the warm weather and punching footholds was easy. We also tested the ice-axe’s usefulness as an anchor in case it would be necessary.
We spent the remainder of the evening playing cards and smoking delicious California herb. I prepared my summit pack ahead of time and soaked in the scenery around me. The frozen alpine lake bordered by the most picturesque mountain I’ve ever seen was surreal, and I’m still not certain I’ve wrapped my mind around that powerful place. Some clouds rolled in over the peak, making me a bit nervous about the climb the following day. Fortunately, by nightfall the clouds had cleared and a magnificent star-filled sky shrouded the lake.
Summit Day. We woke up early to get a head-start on the day. The sky was clear and the peak looked as brilliant as ever. We suited up and headed out onto the snowfields around 9, giving the snow some time to soften up as the sun heated it.
The North Glacier was relatively easy and flat until North Glacier Pass on the west side of the peak. None of us had crampons, so we took our time making our way to the Banner-Ritter glacier to make sure that the snow was in good condition. We made our way over a class 3 scramble around an alpine lake at the base of the glacier and took care descending onto the packed snow.
We arrived at the saddle just before noon. A massive cornice had formed, and there was a substantial snow-ledge on the east side of the saddle. To the North was Banner Peak’s summit. A massive boulder field provided a route to ascend the last 1000 feet of the climb. Jeff, Malcom and I proceeded up the Class 3-4 scramble to the top.
A lot was going on in my mind during the last part of the climb. I was extremely excited, but also nervous that something might go wrong. A bad slip on the scramble would mean a 3 day hike with a broken bone to the nearest road… something nobody ever wants to deal with. Soon enough we made the summit, a small knife-edge ridge with a two thousand foot drop beneath us. I didn’t take too many pictures since clouds had moved in and I could see that more were coming, but I did take a few minutes to savor the moment of accomplishment.
I was especially cautious coming down the scramble, constantly reminding myself that a lot of climbing injuries arise from hasted descents. Once we returned to the saddle though, the rest of the decent was quick. We ran down the Banner-Ritter glacier to the lake below and took an alternative route over some ice back to the North Glacier, which we slid down on our asses. Needless to say it was a lot of fun.
We had planned on moving to a lower elevation after the climb in order to build a fire, but it immediately started raining when we returned to camp. We set our tent back up and moved all of our gear under the vestibule and spent the evening cooking food, playing games, and celebrating our successful ascent before heading to bed. A heavy storm moved in overnight, and having crammed all four of us into one tent resulted in me getting very little sleep that night.
We packed up and headed out towards Silver Lake the next day, deterring from our original plan to head back the way we came. We took our time hiking through a valley abundant with lakes and vegetation and enjoyed the occasional absence of snow on the trail. As we descended the high country to civilization, the weather became more pleasant. We passed a large dam and were finally low enough that snow no longer covered the trail and we could haul ass towards the final destination. A heavily forested valley opened up before us, at the bottom of valley was a lake and a small resort town bordered by cabins.
Having been low on water the past two days on behalf of running out of iodine, I immediately found the first available water source and filled up nalgenes for the crew. We proceeded into a campsite’s C-store and went absolutely nuts on burritos and ice cream for an hour while we figured out how we were going to get back to our car. We split up into groups of two and hitch-hiked our way a good 50 miles back to the trailhead where our car was parked. We then proceeded back into Yosemite Valley to make dinner and camp for the night (legally this time).
To my disappointment, we discovered that it was impossible to get permits to do Half-Dome unless we waited another 3 days to have a chance to get in a lottery. Instead we decided to do the Upper Yosemite Falls hike, which we absolutely murdered in 1.5 hours. At the top we enjoyed some beers we packed, and Jeff and I proceeded up to Yosemite Point. We enjoyed some herb while soaking in the glory of the valley before us and made conversation with some other travelers from Canada and Germany.
As we proceeded out of the Valley I decided that all I needed to stay another week was a shower. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but we proceeded to a pretty awesome grotto called Rainbow Falls where we enjoyed a great swimming spot and some awesome cliff jumping. After that, we made our way to an asian buffet where I enjoyed a good 3000 calories of the finest food I’d tasted since San Francisco. Shrrriiiimppppppp.
It has been a while since I last posted. There’s a certain point where typing multi-page long posts with a smartphone equipped with an incredibly irritating auto-correct gets old. For that I apologize. Now I have my computer! It will be much easier for me to upload photos and posts for the next two weeks while I travel between San Francisco and Yosemite. On that note, I’m now in San Francisco and equipped to write an obnoxiously long post (it should be good though)!
A lot has happened between my last post and now. I ended up staying over an entire week in Santa Barbara because the place was totally kick-ass! I was able to post up with my friend Kelsey who I met in Breckenridge earlier this year when she came to visit. She lived in a 5 bedroom house with 11 other people in a college town just west of UCSB called Isla Vista. Needless to say, the house was well-loved. The unit was located on Del Playa Drive, a road that parallels a cliff and hosts a number of waterfront properties that are supposedly at risk of falling into the ocean at some point. Waking up to the sound of waves every morning and the smell of seawater was quite a treat.
I feel like there is a very inaccurate image of college life held by many people that is often depicted by television and movies. In my experience, college is hardly anything like the way it is shown in the media. Yeah, there are big parties and occasional spurts of ridiculousness, but for the most part I feel as though a lot of people are in school… well, for school.
Not in Isla Vista. The place is absolutely nuts, and a hell of a lot of fun. My daily experience began by waking up around 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning and heading out of the house for a couple hours of morning tranquility. The sound of waves crashing against the shore and birds singing provided a pleasant atmosphere for me to have some alone time that has been absent ever since leaving the Rockies. The town is insanely bike friendly, you can seriously blow stop signs without worrying about getting hit by cars. In fact, getting hit by other bikers is a bigger concern. I spent a lot of my morning hours running or biking, and at one point made my way up the Santa Ynez Mountains to the north to bomb down a massive hill.
The mornings were often my favorite part of the day. There was always a dense haze rising over the ocean, clouding the distant Channel Islands from view. The waterfront was littered with kelp and various sea-life, and the receding tide made the sand solid and all the more perfect to run on.
Usually I would return to town by noon, just around the time all the students were getting over their hangovers. Music could be heard blaring just about anywhere, and people could be seen hanging out in their yards or among the heavy traffic of cyclists heading to and from class. I generally spent this part of the day lounging around, longboarding, or at the beach… recuperating in preparation for the mayhem to come later in the evening.
At one point I had the opportunity to try surfing. From what I was told by Jeff, my roommate from Breckenridge who was also in Santa Barbara to weekend, surfing in May operated sort of like powder days out in the mountains. Every once in a while a massive spurt of good waves would come in and all the surfers would head out to shred their asses off during the small window of opportunity they were provided. Jeff, Ben (my other roommate from Breck), Kelsey and I grabbed some wetsuits and surfboards and head out to a solid spot Jeff knew about.
Surfing is certainly not the easiest thing I’ve ever done. Getting away from shore while you’re being relentlessly pounded by waves is a major challenge in itself. Once I finally made it out past the major breaks, I would have to turn my board parallel to the shore and wait for an oncoming wave. Soon enough a massive swell would approach and I’d turn my board to the shore and begin paddling when the wave was about 10 feet behind me. Once I caught the swell, I would begin to stand up and attempt to ride the wave.
This is when I totally ate shit nearly every time. Honestly try to imagine being in a massive washing machine. From what Jeff told me, these waves weren’t even that big, but they were still way more gnarly than what you might encounter on Lake Michigan. The surf would force me under and spin me around relentlessly. Really there wasn’t much point in trying to surface since I was entirely at the mercy of the ocean as it tossed me like a rag doll, the best thing to do was just hold my breath until I could get up. More often than not, as soon as I surfaced I’d get slammed again.
Regardless, every time I was able to break from the mayhem I would emerge from the water laughing my ass off. Even though I only made it onto my knees every time I caught a wave, and only stood up once, I had a really good time and was reminded of my time spent in the mountains. Nature is a hell of a lot of fun, and its power is to be respected. I wish I had more time to surf, and am compelled to stick around California a bit longer.
At another point in the week Jeff, Ben, and I made our way north into the mountains on two occasions to do some hiking. We made our way up a 4,000 foot ascent to Santa Ynez Peak along a winding and moderately unmaintained trail. When we finally got to the summit ridge, a dense fog blocked anything past 30 feet from view. However, the ascent was scenic nonetheless.
We also made our way to a place called Red Rocks that was pretty kick ass. There was a massive spire rising out of a canyon from deep, teal pools of fresh water that we were able to jump into from some decently high ledges.
One afternoon I was chilling on the beach with a total babe of a girl and it was decided that we should swim out to the kelp forest a decent way offshore. It took longer than I thought to get out there, and I won’t lie I got a little sketched out constantly thinking that some creature was bound to come sting, bite, or eat me. Shortly after joking about “dolphin-rape” (it sounds absurd but apparently it actually happens), a small mist of water emerged from the surface no more than 20 feet ahead.. My mind was completely blown as a dolphin popped in and out of the water right in front of us for the next minute as it made its way up the coast. Easily one of the coolest encounters I’ve ever had with a wild animal.
As the evening approached, I would generally make dinner and enjoy a shower beer in anticipation for the evening. I would meet up with some other people and we would make our way to another house to get the evening rolling. On one occasion when we were at a waterfront house enjoying some delicious beverages a herd (they’re called herds, right?) of gray whales emerged from the surface, spraying water out of their blowholes as they migrated North for the warmer season. As the night set in, things would gradually get more and more ridiculous until the sun finally disappeared beneath the horizon.
This is when the true mayhem began. Isla Vista would become everything any movie about college life would try to replicate. Hundreds… well probably thousands of college kids filled the streets in a massive and shameless pilgrimage down Del Playa Drive. Bros could be seen holding each other up and stumbling across the street, and girls were dressed like it was spring break in PCB. Music blared from every other house on the street and masses of people were seen in yards, even on rooftops. Everyone was inebriated. The houses were more venues than parties. There were live DJ’s and bands performing all over the place, and you could literally just walk into any house you wanted.
My last night in town I made my way to a beach house where a live band called the California Honeydrops was performing. This band had clearly done many performances and totally killed it. There easily must have been a hundred people dancing below the deck where they played. They had a saxophonist and their frontman played the trumpet, both of which could totally kill it on their instruments. It is a rule in Isla Vista that all loud music goes off at midnight, but this band just kept playing. They even came down into the crowd to play an encore and went at it until 1am when the crowd finally dispersed, drunken and mind blown.
At no point do I recall people doing homework.
Two days ago we made our way by car north along Highway 1 towards San Francisco. Fog blanketed the ocean as we drove along cliffs that towered hundreds of feet above the ocean. Regrettably, I ended up reading Game of Thrones and sleeping for the majority of the ride. We made a stop in Big Sur and hiked to the coast that evening and up the mountains the next morning. It was quite beautiful.
The night we spent in Big Sur was… interesting. We had all posted up in different tents, and I was in my bivy with my bug net open. On multiple occasions throughout the night I heard rustling in the woods around us. It would come closer… stop… then closer, and closer. I would look up to see the silhouette of an animal standing about a foot in front of me.
AHHHHHHRRGGGHGHHHGHGHH! My first impulse during nighttime animal encounters, for better or worse, is to scream like a maniac and scare the shit out of whatever is intruding. These damn raccoons kept me up all night, probably trying to get something they could smell in my bag. At one point I started singing bicycle race by Queen to keep them away, and pulled out my phone to google the lyrics to the song. That was when I felt something bump into the side of my bivy. I rolled over onto the raccoon and it frantically tried to escape. I woke up yelling yet again, realizing I was dreaming the entire time.
Well, I’m in San Francisco now and will definitely be doing a lot of exploring this week. I’ll update again before I head to Yosemite on the 21st!
I left Vegas a little later than I had hoped, but I took a lot of time getting my body hydrated and fueled up for the ride that day.
Getting through downtown Vegas was a bit of unfamiliar mayhem. As expected, there were tons of cars and tons of people… stupid people who were totally unaware of what was going on around them. Needless to say the town isn’t very bike friendly, and I was pretty happy when I finally made it out of town.
I knew it was going to be hot, but the first few hours were absurd. The sun beat down on me unhindered and hundred degree temperatures pushed my body to the limit. I had to have had a gallon of water before I left, but the desert heat constantly sucked the water out of my body. As I was biking I was going through at least a liter ever 20 minutes, and about 15 miles in I felt some wicked heat exhaustion coming along. I immediately found the first and only spot of shade around beneath a billboard and made the decision to stop for an hour to get out of the sun.
After chugging another gallon and putting on sunscreen, I ended up getting lucky as a light overcast made its way over the mountains and provided some relief from the sun. Soon enough I made my way onto I-15 and began crushing some miles. The interstate wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. The shoulder was more than adequate and there were plenty of cops hanging out every couple of miles, keeping the crazies coming in and out of Vegas from raging all over the road. There were also a lot more places to stop than I thought there would be, and I made sure to eat plenty of ice cream and Taco Bell every chance I could.
Soon enough I got to the state line and the sun began to set as I approached a massive and unexpected uphill. I was fortunate to be able to do the climb at night because it ended up being much larger than it looked, and doing it in the heat of the day would have been deadly. It took me about 3 hours to make my way all the way to the top… and yet again JUST before I reached the pass my bike decided to break down. Luckily it was just a deflated tube caused by the small wires that litter the road when semi-trucks blow out tires, and a quick patch had me back on my way in half an hour.
I was hoping to cover a lot of distance by night to avoid the heat during the long ride the next day, but the unexpected climb on top of a good 60 miles weighed down by all the water I was carrying had worn me out. I stopped at a gas station after doing a good 10 miles of downhill and stuck out like a sore thumb when I posted up in my sleeping bag in a lot full of semi-trucks.
The next day started off pretty rough. I had thought the wind would have let up once I left the mountains in Utah, but I was awoken by some pretty irritating 30mph gusts. I got on the road early, anxious to make good time across what is known as “The Loneliest Road in America,” a vast stretch of highway with almost no stops between the state line and Barstow. I made good time during the first few hours and took a moment to rest at my last opportunity to fill up my water. I got Subway for lunch and hung out in some shade by my bike while I ate and hydrated for the long stretch ahead.
I was soon approached by a total “brah” who rolled up in a pretty sick 1960′s Volkswagen bus. Zach was from Hawaii, and his father had a bunch of old VW’s he was looking to sell. His dad hooked him up with a well-loved blue bus for free, and he was driving it from Idaho to San Diego to ship it out to Hawaii. It didn’t take long for Zach to offer me a ride through the desert, and I wasn’t about to turn it down so I loaded up my bike and we hit the road.
The next few hours were filled with good conversation, loud rattling from the bus, and a lot of thoughts about how it would have totally sucked to bike through the desert as I watched it pass from the car. I had never planned on going out of my way to go to Las Angeles, but when we finally reached Barstow Zach told me he was heading into the city to visit a friend and asked if I wanted to go. Not having any real agenda and open to checking out the city, I agreed.
We ended up heading over to Westwood to meet his buddy, Abe, who used his girlfriend’s UCLA ID card to get us into a really nice pool on campus. We spent the next couple hours lounging by the pool and chatting it up. It was tremendously nice to relax after being so focussed on travelling the last few weeks. The air was warm and the coastal sun was not nearly as relentless and intense as it was in the desert.
As the night approached, I had pretty much decided that I would be posting up somewhere in LA that night, probably on the beach somewhere. We ended up going out for some drinks and explored the town for a while before deciding it was time to head to bed. Turns out Abe was living in some multi-million dollar mansion in Beverly Hills, and although we couldn’t go to the house he told us it would be cool to park the bus in the street. It was there in the heart of Beverly Hills, surrounded by mansions that cost more money than I can comprehend, that I passed out on the fold-out bed in the back of a janky 1960′s VW with a person I hadn’t known for more than half a day. Travelling alone is fun, you never really know where you’ll end up.
Zach headed out around 7:30 the next morning and I took some time at a gas station to get ready for the massive ride that day. I planned on busting ass all the way to Santa Barbara, which would break my record for distance covered in one day. I made my way west out of Beverly Hills towards the ocean on an enjoyable downhill road through a nice part of LA. Although I couldn’t afford to waste a lot of time, when I got to Highway 1 I couldn’t resist running out to the ocean to dip my feet and bike in the water.
I made sure to grab some Taco Bell before heading north along the coast. Highway 1 was a pleasant, scenic ride. I was flanked by ocean and cliffs for the first 40 miles and the smell of the Pacific was great until I approached Oxnard. The air became gradually more and more hazy and soon I could smell the massive forest fire burning in the mountains a few dozen miles away. I got a bit mixed up in Oxnard and at one point my tire went flat, and after a quick lunch I continued up the highway into Santa Barbara. I was excited to finally get there, but after 12 straight hours and 113 miles of biking I was pretty wiped out and passed out early.
I’ll post about Santa Barbara later, but presently my plan is to stick around here for a week or two to enjoy the ocean.