Gold Bear

This post is overdue, I want to apologize to my readers for retreating into the dark for quite some time. Shit hit the fan in the days following my last post and as a result my bike trip came to an abrupt end. Since I’ll be hitting the road again in a few days, I thought it would be in good taste to finish this blog before I start a new one. This is what happened during the four days following the last post.

I woke up to the same foggy sky. It was beginning to annoy me a little bit, I hoped that the entirety of the west coast wasn’t so bleak. I made my way to Bodega Bay, another small Norcal town composed of only a couple buildings. I stopped at the gas station to fill water my water and sat beside my bike to read while I charged my phone.

Half an hour went by before I was approached by a an older 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 I could tell that there was something off about him. His voice was choppy and he slurred words occasionally, I assumed that he was either really drunk or had some sort of mental disorder. Pointing to his bike he mentioned that he too was biking along the coast. When he asked if I wanted to ride to a bluff overlooking the Pacific to smoke a joint I was happy to oblige.

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“Gold Bear” is how he introduced himself, claiming he was known along the Highway 1 by that name. He talked quite a bit, mostly about himself and at first I was a little doubtful about the truthfulness of his stories, but I was happy to listen. He had stopped working 4 years ago and threw together an impressively minimalist touring 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. It was a car accident roughly about 10 years ago that really messed him up. It was then that I noticed he was missing fingers. He proceeded showed me his left calf, or lack thereof, where there was pretty clear evidence of a compound fracture. He also suffered irreversible brain damage, so he couldn’t work anymore. I believe he mentioned that prior to the the accident he was an electrician or a mechanic. “Hurts to walk, hurts to climb, hurts to even stand sometimes. I can bike though”

So he lived 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 for him and that he’d eventually catch up. I was quite a bit faster but for his age and condition his pace was very efficient. I was happy to break for a couple minutes every hour as he was never too far behind, which was unexpected for a fat old Indian dude with serious mental and physical trauma. I was impressed.

He was, even to me, a little strange but I couldn’t place whether some of his behaviors were a result of his mental condition or actually legitimate. On one particular stretch of road he was convinced that we could find edible mushrooms. He claimed they were a local delicacy and that sometimes in the growing season he could harvest enough to help pay for food on his trips. We hopped off the bikes and after being shown where they were likely to grow we began looking.

Nearby a 20-something year-old couple were returning to their car from a nearby trail. Somehow I knew this would happen. In his crackly, high-pitched, broken English, Gold Bear didn’t hesitate to accuse these people of harvesting all the mushrooms.

“I bet you two already found all the mushrooms here! I knew that was why I wasn’t finding any!”

I have to say I’ve never such classic “what the fuck?” faces. They glanced at each other in confusion clearly having no clue what he was talking about. He continued to ask them if they found any, which of course they denied because they probably didn’t. I’m pretty sure both of them thought he was referring to magic mushrooms and probably assumed he was tripping on them which, as far as I know, maybe he was. The couple hastily proceeded to their car with few words and drove off.

I chuckled to myself as I biked ahead on the next segment. Several hours after the mushroom incident we stopped at a small store, the only building we’d seen in roughly 30 miles. I popped in quickly to splurge on a Snickers bar and Gold Bear followed, looking for a spoon. When he asked the store clerk if she had any her response was snarky. I didn’t like that, he definitely comes off as a big weirdo but he’s not threatening in any way and she didn’t have to be a bitch. He eventually got a spoon and we went to have a quick snack. It was then revealed to me that the only food Gold Bear carried was a massive container of 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 told me more of his story. He had been at his old job for around 20 years and loved it because he got to work with his dad, who he said was his best friend. He mention that his dad had passed away a couple years ago and I could tell it hit him pretty hard.

“Everything’s ok though.” Pointing to his heart he said, “My dad left me with the key to life. That’s why I’m on my bike. My bike is my life and my happiness and I’ll ride it as long as God tells me to.”

I appreciated Gold Bear’s monologues.

By the time we arrived in Gualala it was well past dark. Despite my invitations to share a campsite, Gold Bear insisted on sleeping on a bench by the ocean. Out of fear of getting robbed or arrested as well as hoping to set up a camp where I could make food and fill my water, I decided to split. I bid farewell to Gold Bear.

It was past 10 so I decided it was worth it to drop seven bucks on a campsite just up the road. Mosquitos were in full force so I quickly made dinner and crashed as soon as possible.

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The following day I slept in a bit, taking advantage of the amenities of the campground including my first shower since San Francisco (it was frigid). I made good time on the bike passing right through the small town of Point Arena and pushing 50 miles all the way to Mendocino by noon. Mendocino, complete with stores, several restaurants, and even a couple bars, was considerably larger than other Norcal towns I had been riding through. I was a little tempted to splurge on a beer as I turned on my phone for a moment to check in with the world. There was a text from my sister:

“Call me when you can.”

During a brief phone conversation she explained to me that Giddo (my grandfather), who had been seriously injured by a car accident 9 months prior, was in bad condition. They didn’t expect him to last more than a couple weeks and that I needed to find a way home sooner than planned.

Having planned on meeting my friend Steve in Bozeman, Montana at the end of my trip, I decided to give him a call to tell him I couldn’t make it. At the time I had planned on flying home from San Francisco, but Steve told me that in 20 days he was driving back to Michigan from Montana.

“We could always just strap your bike to the top or something.”

However, the distance to Montana was much too far to travel by bike in 20 days. I figured that if I managed to bike inland to a more populated area it wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable to hitchhike to Montana in the amount of time I was given. Challenge accepted.

I decided to cook dinner on a cliff above a beautiful cove 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. As I passed a bar and where nearly a dozen people were gathered outside, two men started a fight and everyone nearby freaked out. Reminding myself that most of the people I have met on this journey have been compassionate, I carried on without passing judgement. I found a well-hidden power outlet on the side of a building and used it to charge my phone. Nearby a group of hippies loitered around a small park with their dogs. I decided to go talk to them.

The taller man with long dreads immediately introduced himself with a mellow and friendly demeanor. There was an older man, properly drunk or super high, who didn’t seem too excited about talking to me or anything for that matter. A very pretty girl around my age introduced herself as well. Lastly, there was Andy.

Andy was an interesting character. He was a college dropout, a slacker in its purest form, but a nice guy nonetheless. He was younger than me, shorter, not very healthy, and similar to his other friends he was dressed in clothes that clearly hadn’t been washed in a long time (although I’m not one to talk). His dog constantly misbehaved, something he addressed by frequently kicking it in the ass. The dog’s leash was tied to his belt loop so it could never walk far, and he’d repeatedly re-position himself while he spoke to me to prevent getting tangled.

Andy was kind of a shit show.

After listening them fuss about the police destroying a beach fort they had been sleeping in, I ended up learning a lot about the area and Norcal marijuana culture. They called the combination of Trinity, Humboldt, and Mendocino counties “the Emerald Triangle.” It was given that name in honor of the abundance of pot farmers who grew large amounts marijuana in massive outdoor operations. Stories of hikers roaming around in the woods in the wrong spots and getting shot apparently weren’t uncommon. “Don’t go running off into the woods! If you’re spotted back there, you can expect them to assume you’re looking for freebies.”

When the farmers harvest their crop the leaves off each flower are clipped so that their final product is a nice, clean bud. The result of this process is copious amounts of “trimmings,” which are distributed for free to the very prominent homeless population in the Emerald Triangle. Now I can’t speak for everyone but from what I gathered is that many transients move to this area with the knowledge that they smoke unlimited amounts of these trimmings for free and live off food stamps whilst roaming from county to county. In the Emerald Triangle they remain for the better part of the year, unless of course something compels them to leave.

This is when I learned what a Rainbow Gathering is. Upon telling them that I was headed to Montana, they excitedly asked if I was going to attend “The Gathering.” Having no clue what they were talking about, I asked for clarification.

“The Gathering dude! Don’t you listen to Grateful Dead?”

Couldn’t say that I ever have. They were astonished. From what I gathered a Rainbow Gathering is a festival of sorts where thousands of Deadheads gather for several days of music, dancing, food, and getting utterly wasted on every drug you’ve ever heard of.

“You’re riding your bike all the way to Montana and you don’t listen to the Grateful Dead? Come on man! You should just go to the Gathering man! We’re all trying to get up there!”

I was tempted by the possibility and adventure of bumming a ride in their old, dirty, overcrowded van, but I really didn’t enjoy the relentless pressure of going to an unknown part of Montana to fry my brain with copious amounts of drugs. They didn’t seem to understand but eventually became less persistent.

Without any plans for camping that night I asked for suggestions. The taller hippy suggested going down by the river where quite a few of the homeless lived made from driftwood.

“Just don’t go put yourself on some pot farmers turf and you’ll be fine.”

As the sun set all but Andy and his dog packed into the van and drove off. Andy said he wanted to cook some hamburger he picked up and invited me the join him. He led me down through some cliffs to the beach and led me over to what was once “the fort.” Andy informed me that where there was now a massive pile of driftwood there was once a huge tepee where many of them slept and partied each night. Unfortunately for Andy and his friends, Mendocino attracts a certain variety of tourists who happen to be repulsed by the notion of investigating a giant tepee on the beach only to find a bunch of smelly hippies sleeping in it. So the police wrecked it.

I decided to make camp on the beach with Andy. I read while he cooked his burger and rambled away. He was originally from San Diego and had been bumming around the Triangle 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.”

“Why not head to the cities? I saw lots of jobs in San Francisco.”

“Weed isn’t the same down there.”

Somewhat paralyzed by what I had just heard, I stared into the fire as he threw some raw hamburger to his dog. He then reiterated something I found hard to believe that Gold Bear mentioned earlier.

“It’s really easy to get free weed up there, just ask a homeless person.”

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I headed to sleep relatively early with the intention of getting up in time to leave before cops searched the beach for illegal campers. It was also imperative for me to start crushing miles in order to get to Montana in time. The agenda for the day was to ride 10 miles north to Fort Bragg before heading 35 miles east to Willits. From there I reckoned I could easily catch a ride to I-5 so I could start heading north to Oregon.

I got to Fort Bragg pretty quickly and stopped into McDonalds to smash a cheap but highly caloric breakfast before the hard ride. Although not of the highest quality the pancakes, eggs, hashbrown, sausage, and ham were divine compared to the oatmeal I had been eating. I was about half-way through my breakfast when I was approached by a friendly older gentleman.

“That your bike?”

Ned looked like Snoop Dog if Snoop Dog were a white, homeless, 50 year old man.

“I happen to be a bit of a biker myself,” said Ned, beckoning towards his bicycle. His setup was pretty hilarious and was nothing more than an old bicycle with a plastic egg basket ghetto-rigged to his handle bars with twine plus some old saddlebags and a blanket. He sat down at my table and we shot the shit as I ate. Upon offering him my hashbrown he excitedly accepted.

“Hey man, a friend of mine dropped off this nug earlier. Want to go smoke it?”

We strolled into the yard behind the McDonalds and smoked beside a creek in broad daylight. Nobody seemed to give a damn and I got the feeling that this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence in the lovely town of Fort Bragg. Ned was always just talking, I never really gathered about what. Pretty sure his brain was toast.

We were spotted by two men who were clearly also homeless. There was an older balding man and a younger guy with long hair. As soon as they came over I could immediately tell they were high on something, especially the younger dude. He would just stare at the ground and mumble to himself like somebody gone absolutely stupid. The other two talked a lot of shit to him.

“Marty, if you were my brother I’d smack you right now.”

Talking over each other, completely unaware that I lacked the attention or desire to listen to three random homeless people at the same time, they each rambled on about something different at the same time. Existing in my head as I contemplated my escape from the situation I looked from bum to bum in an attempt to be polite and appear to be listening to each one of them. Marty was really just sitting there mumbling to himself.

Thankfully 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, leaving behind his box of doughnuts. Ned and Marty dove right in and offered me one but humbly declined. I watched as Marty struggled to roll another joint. His hands quivered as he placed trimmings on the paper. He brought the joint to his mouth, his lips quivered and he groaned quietly as he soaked the entire cigarette with his tongue as he sealed it. The poor bastard was definitely tweaking.

10 minutes later the man returned with a garbage bag, yes, a garbage bag filled with trimmings.

“You got a bag, man?”

“Um, not really. I have this grocery bag here?”

“That works!”

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He began stuffing handful after handful of trimmings into the grocery bag. I was in disbelief, I have never seen so much weed in my life. Ned suggested that we smoke Marty’s joint before I departed, but I respectfully declined and headed off to Willits.

No more hanging out with homeless people.

It ended up being one of the hardest rides of my trip. One of the bums had told me “you go up a big hill and then down a big hill and then you’re there!” In actuality you climb a fucking mountain, bomb down it, climb another mountain, and THEN you’re in Willits. It also happened to be over 100 degrees as soon as I was a couple miles inland. As I ascended each ridge I would alternate sides of the road desperately trying to stay in what little shade was available. It wasn’t long before I ran out of water and had no choice but to stand on the side of the road holding my empty water bottle upside-down in attempt to flag down a car for help. I was shocked when about 20 people passed me before somebody actually stopped. A kind old lady gave me a bottle to chug on the spot on top of refilling my bottles.

It was a long day. The mileage wasn’t bad but the high temperature and relentless amounts of climbing left me feeling rough. 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 by a pillar outside the building and plugged my dead cellphone into the only outlet I could find before diving into the ice cream.

A man approached, “You’re kind of in the way. Can you please move?”

Without making eye contact I responded frankly with, “no.”

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Some of the folks in Northern California are entitled assholes. Stay tuned as I share some empirical data to back this up.

As I finished up the ice cream my phone had charged a little bit and I was able to turn it on. There was text from my mom saying I needed to call her. I was informed that my grandfather had been taken off life support and that he would die by the end of the next day. It was imperative that I get to an airport as soon as possible to fly home for the funeral.

I hung up feeling pretty overwhelmed. The ride had taken quite a toll on me and the mission involved in returning to San Francisco by the next day was a daunting task. Thankfully I had my dad on top of finding flights for me to get home. Despite my exhaustion I sprung into action.

First thing first, I wasn’t going to fly home with a grocery bag full of weed. A man my age was standing nearby talking on the phone.

“Want some weed?”

“Really?”

“Yeah here, it’s all yours.”

“… Wow, thanks dude!”

Heading back into the store and grabbed a piece of cardboard to make a sign before heading to the busy intersection nearby. “Urgently need to get to San Francisco!” I stood for over four hours with my thumb out trying to catch a ride. I hit a breaking point and began counting out loud the number of SUVs and trucks with room for myself and my bike that passed without stopping to help me out. I was nearing 250 when I gave up.

In retrospect I don’t believe it was helpful that I had a sign saying I had to get to San Francisco, a destination over a hundred miles away. Still, I believe we can all agree to conclude that when surveying a population of 250 Northern Californians, 250 of them will suck.

After a few hours it had started to get dark. Plan B: start biking south. It was full on night by the time I had gotten a couple miles out of town. The highway was bustling with a lot of people commuting back to the cities from the coast after a weekend vacation and I couldn’t be bothered to risk biking along it. Once the road was clear I dismounted and threw my bike over a guardrail. I quickly set up my bivy right there beside the road, well-hidden due to a shallow depression and some tall grass. I camouflaged everything and headed straight to bed.

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I woke up around 4:30 in the morning and was walking along the highway with my thumb out by 5. This time only 15 minutes passed before somebody pulled over. He was of Hispanic descent and probably in his mid-30s.

Sketchiest. Dude. Ever.

This guy was returning from a couple days spent at a casino north of Willits. He spoke a lot, mostly about recent experiences with prostitutes, gambling, and making subtle hints about methamphetamine. Despite his tales, he didn’t seem threatening. Still, when he asked how much my bike cost I didn’t hesitate to say “it’s a piece of shit I got at a garage sale. If you were lucky you might get 100 bucks for it.”

After I suggested that we smoke the one joint I had left he started asking about my journey. I must have struck a cord in his heart. He became very empathetic and told me that if I paid him he would drive me all the way to San Francisco. I considered it but I was still a little unsure about his intentions as he kept suggesting that I leave my bike with him and come back for it. As we approached his town he suggested that I come check out his place. Being cautious, I declined, but he insisted multiple times and said it would only take a minute.

“Come on man I’ll make you some food and you can see my goats.”

It seemed I had no choice other than to reluctantly accept.

He lived in a humble home on top of a beautiful hill overlooking a valley. All the windows and doors were open, and the air smelled fresh. He did indeed have a couple goats grazing in a yard across the fence from had a bunch of salvaged vehicles he was working on in his garage. He invited me inside where he cooked me a delicious steak 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 should be able to easily get a ride from there but it was a few hours until a lady on her way back from Idaho finally picked me up. She and her partner had a falling out a few weeks prior and she headed north 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.”

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. Feeling naked without my bike, I carried my saddlebags down the street to the bus stop where I caught a ride 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 into familiar territory. When I arrived Jeff was hanging out in the kitchen and had a little chuckle about seeing me again. I unfortunately had to get right to planning for my flight home after a quick chat. I reorganized my gear, ditching several items to reduce my belongings to a carry on bag. I was able to hang out for a few hours, but by nightfall I was on an airplane headed back to Michigan. A seat on an airplane would never feel as welcoming as it did in that moment. I passed out.

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I had been in the west for seven months by the time I had left. I was disappointed that my trip was cut short but as always excited to return to Michigan. Though I have tried many times in this blog, words truly cannot describe how thankful I am for this experience and those who have helped me along the way. The compassion I repeatedly received from total strangers has reinforced my faith in humanity and allowed me to develop a new love for the world around me.

I also feel lucky to have traveled my country by bicycle. Being outside the metal and glass of a car brought with it many challenges but the rewards were countless. Rather than seeing the world through a window I was fully immersed in it. I have gained a completely new appreciation of America’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 grateful for my health and the support I received before, during, and after the journey. You, my readers, have motivated me to keep going when I’ve felt alone or beat. Sharing this experience is what makes it worth living. Thank you so much for being a part of it.

Peace

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Norcal

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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 was in no rush as I made my way to the Golden Gate Bridge along the hilly and car-packed streets. Needing new reading material, I stopped momentarily to pick up A Clash of Kings, the second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. It was a good buy if only because my desire to read it has been actively motivating me to crush miles so that I can get to camp early.

I struggled to find the bike path for crossing the Golden Gate Bridge until a local biker pointed me in the right direction. The crossing was gnarly. A couple folks remarked on how poorly I was dressed in just my biking shorts and sleeveless shirt. I thought they were exaggerating until I made my way across the span where I was blasted by cold wind that actually almost blew me over on several occasions. I stopped at a small market to stock up on food for the next week and a half: rice, beans, cheese, and oatmeal. It would be easy to say that I regret so much recreational spending in the last few weeks but I am somewhat looking forward to embracing a low-budget, simple lifestyle until the end of my trip.

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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 kind of fucked up my dinner, apparently northern beans need to be soaked for several hours before being cooked. I ate them relatively raw before reading and crashing around 9.

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The next day I continued north along the scenic Highway 1. It was really the exact opposite of what I was expecting from the California coast. Since leaving the city I have seen few cars and have been mostly alone along the hilly, forested roads. Very little sunlight makes its way through the dense fog that shrouds the land 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 crashing against 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. Each of these little villages has a gas station, a post office, some sort of restaurant and inn combined that also serves as a general store, and really not much else. 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.It kind of reminds me of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Yesterday while breaking in one such village I was approached by a very friendly couple who saw my bicycle and wanted to hear more about 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, peanut butter and honey in a corn tortillas was getting redundant. They even wrapped up extra French fries and half of a grilled cheese sandwich that I ate for dinner last night. To top everything off they also bought me veggie wrap AND and Snickers bar, which I have been eating sparingly today. Those folks from New Hampshire sure were good people, I am grateful for their support.

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I continued along the highway searching for campsites until I passed a town called Valley Ford. The sun was getting low. Upon seeing a decent spot off the side of the road, I waited for any cars to clear before throwing myself and my bike over the fence and ducking in. I discovered the fence was electrified but elected to risk camping in what was clearly private property rather than biking through the dark. It was a nice spot. There was a nice little grove of trees with a creek that poured out from a tunnel beneath the highway. With nobody around to watch me eat I dove into the grilled cheese and french fries like a wild dog before retreating into my bivy to read.

Tired, I closed my book and tried to get some sleep. Several minutes into the process I heard the splashing and clicking of hooves. I put on my glasses and poked my head out. Looking through the concrete creek portal I could make out the silhouette of several cows, wide-legged, alarmed, and staring in my direction. I immediately realized that the cows wanted to move through the tunnel into the field on the opposite side of my bivy. I mooed at them and they bolted. This happened several times that night.

I woke and packed up without a trace by dawn, hoping to avoid any likelihood of being confronted by a pissed-off NorCal cattle rancher. I passed the beautiful Bodega Bay and am now in Jenner munching on the veggie wrap 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.

Peace!

San Francisco

Today begins the second half of my bike tour. I suppose I ought to give a quick shout out to San Francisco before I leave.

I’ve been staying with my Jeff, my roommate from Breckenridge. His parents have kindly allowed me to crash on a queen sized mattress in the basement, luxury compared to the ground and couches I’ve been sleeping on since April. A couple of other friends from Breckenridge have also been filtering in and out of the Brydon household over the past couple weeks. Although many strangers have treated me well along this journey it has definitely been good to see familiar faces.

I spent my first week here (prior to the Yosemite trip) exploring the city by bicycle and enjoying delicious food while helping the Brydon’s prepare their yard for landscaping. San Francisco is a diverse, well-loved city with a lot of culture. There seems to be large population of immigrants from Asia, a lot of hipsters, and at least a couple crackheads.

It was quite a treat to be in San Francisco during their annual race, Bay to Breakers. The 7.5-mile race runs from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. Although there is a small number of people (mostly Kenyans) who take the race seriously and run at a competitive pace, most folks put on costumes and party. The streets are closed off to vehicles as literally tens of thousands of people (all obliterated) pack into the streets dressed like it its Halloween in June. Public nudity seems to be pretty acceptable and, aside from the intersections where cops are diligently posted to serve and protect, open container laws seem to be out the window.

We couldn’t help but partake. As we paced through the streets, sodas in hand, all sorts of weird shit happened. The good people of San Francisco partied from their upper story windows, frequently flashing the masses their chests.There was one older gentleman, completely naked aside from a top hat, a cane, and sunglasses, standing on the side of the street motionless… staring into the crowd. We made our way to a park where hundreds were gathered around several two by fours where a man dressed as a fairy defeated contestant after contestant in a fierce battle of balance and power. By early afternoon thousands of us were too drunk and tired to continue on. The masses retired to road side parks to rest and soak up sun. At one point a double decker bus full of cheery tourists passed our park and waved. They were mooned by roughly 100 people.

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Here are some views of the city and such:Image

The Mission District

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Twin Peaks

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Painted Ladies

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North Beach

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Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

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The Golden Gate Bridge

The week following Yosemite has been pretty relaxed. On one particularly pleasant day we headed to Muir Woods to hike to a German… beer… clubhouse… thing nestled in the mountains. I don’t believe it was much of a secret to the people of San Francisco, the place was packed. We dodged a pretty big line by heading around the back and hopping the fence. We were sternly rebuked for this, but they still let us stay and drink their beer.

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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 float upon which the DJ’s spun their beats though no music could be heard. Further investigation revealed that everyone was wearing a headset, all tuned to the same broadcast. Being a frugal bastard, I decided not to drop $20 to participate. Still, I can appreciate a spontaneous silent beach disco.

San Francisco has been a great time but after a couple weeks off the saddle anxious to get back on my bike. Shout out to everyone who has made this visit the best, especially the Brydon family who have been awesomely hospitable!

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 for updates!

Peace

Banner Peak Expedition

Several months before I departed Breckenridge on my trusty Long Haul Trucker I came across the image of a tremendously picturesque mountain named Banner Peak. Captivated, I promptly determined the location of the mountain and how I could reach it. In doing so, I discovered a relatively straight forward Class 3 route to the summit and soon enough climbing Banner Peak became the most anticipated objective of the bike tour. The approach just so happened to be located on both the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail in one of the most sought after regions of the High Sierra.

I couldn’t be more stoked about how well everything came together. I told my college friend Mary about the trip and she flew into San Francisco from Grand Rapids to attend. We bumped into another friend from Breckenridge, Malcolm, who, upon hearing about the trip on two-days notice, purchased all of the necessary gear from REI and tagged in. Jeff was in as well, and offered to contribute his awesomely fuel efficient Prius to the cause. Considering that everyone was informed that the trip would be challenging and there was no certainty we would summit, I was thoroughly impressed by the determination of our little tribe.

Day 1:

We drove to Yosemite Valley from San Francisco in roughly 4 hours and arrived around 2:00pm. We decided to get right into it and send a 4-mile, 3000 vertical foot hike to Glacier Point as soon as we arrived. The view of the Valley from the top was second to none, but tragically it was pretty crowded due to the alternative option of driving to the top. At least there was ice cream.

We hiked back down and cooked dinner with dry wood in an iron grill at the bottom of the valley. Unfortunately, the backpacker campground was full and we had to make due with dirt bagging in the wood across the road from the picnic area. There was a bear encounter that night.

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Day 2:

We got up pretty early and followed Tioga Road to the eastern border of the park. Instead of using the trailhead suggested online, I elected to start in Tuolumene Meadows in an effort to approach through Lyell Canyon. I first noticed the canyon’s distinct geography on a topographic map while researching the area surrounding Banner Peak. The 9-mile long valley is flanked by alpine ridges and divided by a stream that carves its way through open meadows at the bottom. We hiked for 4 or 5 hours before the next day’s major obstacle, the 11,000 foot high Donohue Pass, appeared before us. We set up camp at the base of the ascent among pine trees and made delicious burritos for dinner. During what might be my greatest backcountry poop to date I watched as the final rays of sunlight glistened across the mist of a waterfall on the opposing side of the valley.

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Towards Donohue Pass

Day 3:

Our second day began with a taste of the alpine terrain we be seeing more of in the coming days. As we ascended the 11,000 foot pass into the high country stream and snowfield crossings became more and more frequent. Soon enough we were toe-stepping across the slick faces and hopping from one island of rock and tree to the other. Despite the additional challenge of early season conditions our tribe made its way to the summit in time for lunch. The top provided phenomenal views of the High Sierra and our first look at Banner Peak itself. As we dove into our lunches we were visited by a curious marmot that seemed eager to steal our precious snacks.

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Banner Peak (directly above the marmot in the picture above) loomed in the distance like a sentinel, towering above neighboring peaks. Its rock, snowfield, and glacier-shielded aspects were steep and admittedly intimidating. After looking forward to the trip for months, physically seeing the mountain filled me with anticipation. It was clear there was a bit of apprehension about our objective but everyone was eager to continue.

Climbing Donahue Pass followed by another 7 miles of hiking exhausted the us into agreeing that we should turn in early instead of hiking to the base of Banner. We continued along across the snow, seeing only one other hiker as we trekked. As we descended the snow dispersed and the trail was found once again. After some searching we found a proper camping spot west of Waugh Lake. Camping below treeline provided the additional bonus of enjoying a campfire to cook our meal and dry our socks. The sun set as we ate, projecting a radiant orange glow against magnificent spires to the north.

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Day 4:

It was a 6 mile hike to Thousand Island Lake at the base of Banner Peak the following day. Shorter than previous hikes, it went quickly as we took plenty of off-piste shortcuts over snow and rock. Upon reaching the north shore of the lake we were please to discover a plethora of options for base camp over the next two nights. Once camp was prepared Mary, Malcolm and I headed towards the peak to evaluate the snow conditions and safety of our route. Although snow was abundant from a blizzard the week before several days of warm weather had allowed snowpack to settle and kicking footholds came with ease. This was good news considering we were relatively under-equipped having no crampons and one ice axe .

We spent the remainder of the evening playing cards and enjoyed some of California’s finest herbs. As the sun set, I prepared my summit pack ahead of time and took a moment to soak in my surroundings. Thousand Island Lake was frozen and still. Banner Peak stood regally as its summit faded in and out of view with the passing of each puffy, cumulus cloud. The silent power of the little sanctuary we had found wild and surreal. As clouds rolled in over the peak I became a bit anxious about whether we would be able to climb the following day. Fortunately the clouds had dispersed by nightfall and our camp was blanketed by a star-lit sky.

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Day 5:

We woke up early to get a jump start on the big day ahead of us. Excited to wake up to clear skies, we suited up and headed out onto the snowfields around 9, giving the snow some time to soften up.

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It was steady and relatively easy hiking along the snowfield until we reached North Glacier Pass on the west side of the peak. We took our time scrambling over a rocky ridge that allowed us to navigate around the tarn at the base of the glacier. From there it was a straight shot up the long, mellow gully to the saddle.

ImageMt. Ritter, Banner’s sister peak. The glacier lies in the saddle between the two peaks.

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We arrived at the saddle just before noon. The east face was a sheer drop due to the massive cornice that had formed over the winter. To the north, Banner Peak’s summit towered above a boulder field that would serve as our route up last 1000 feet of the climb. Mary decided to wait at the saddle as Jeff, Malcolm and I proceeded up the Class 3-4 scramble to the top.

I felt waves of anxiety during the steep final pitches of the climb. Although the hike wasn’t super technical I couldn’t but help considering the consequences of an injury where they were. A bad slip on the scramble would mean a nasty 12-hour hike minimum to the nearest road with a broken bone. Luckily we had no such issues and before long we stood atop Banner’s Summit! It was no more than a small, knife-edged ridge with a sheer thousand foot drop off one side. With little time to waste as clouds moved in we made our celebration and headed down to the saddle.

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ImageView of the Banner-Ritter Glacier from Banner Summit

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Thousand Island Lake from the summit of Banner Peak

I was especially cautious coming down the scramble, reminding myself that hastened descents can easily result in injuries. We reunited with Mary at the saddle and hustled down the Banner-Ritter glacier. Instead of scrambling up the ridge to reach the snowfield to the north we traversed the snowy shore of the frozen tarn. From there on it was Tier 1 glissading back to cam. Needless to say it was a lot of fun.

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We had planned on moving to a lower elevation after the climb in order to build a fire but it started to rain as soon as we returned to camp.We pitched the tent, threw our gear under the vestibule, and spent the evening cooking food, playing games, and celebrating our successful ascent. A heavy storm moved in overnight, and having crammed all four of us into one tent resulted in a restless evening.

Day 6:

The next morning it was decided that we would rather take an alternative route back to the car than hike the same terrain twice. The town of Silver Lake was within a day’s hike to the east so we packed up and headed out with the plan to hitch-hike back to the car. We took our time hiking through a land of lakes, granite, pine, and the occasional absence of snow on the trail. As we descended the high country to civilization the weather became sunny and warm. By the time we passed a large dam we were finally low enough that snow no longer covered the trail. A heavily forested valley opened up before us, at the bottom of valley was a lake and a small resort town littered with cabins.

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Having run out of iodine and hydrated less than usually advised (I foolishly donated some to the hiker we encountered a few days prior), I headed to the nearest available water source and filled up nalgenes for the crew. We proceeded into a campground’s C-store and went absolutely nuts on burritos and ice cream for an hour. Our post hike feast complete, we split into groups of two and made our way 50 miles back to Tuolumene Meadows with the help of good-hearted humans and their vehicles. Then it was back to Yosemite Valley to make dinner and camp for the night (legally this time).

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Day 7:

To my disappointment, we discovered that it was impossible to get permits for the Half-Dome hike unless we waited another 3 days to enter a lottery. Instead we decided to do the Upper Yosemite Falls hike, which was crushed in 1.5 hours. At the top we enjoyed some beers we packed and appreciated the fine views and soothing mist of the falls. Jeff and I proceeded to Yosemite Point, a fine location for soaking in the energy of the Valley whilst passing a joint, and made conversation with some other travelers from Canada and Germany before heading back to the car.

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As we departed that wonderful place I decided that all I needed to stay another week was a warm shower. This didn’t happen, but we proceeded to a watering hole named Rainbow Falls where we enjoyed some air time and the unparalleled feeling of being totally submerged in cold water post-grimy backpacking trip. Then we were off to a Chinese buffet. I smashed 5 plates and a bowl of ice cream. It was good.

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Livin’ Easy

It’s been a while since I my last post. Typing on a smartphone equipped with an incredibly irritating auto-correct has gotten old and I’ve been pretty busy with having as much fun as possible. For that I apologize.  It will be much easier for me to upload photos and posts for the next two weeks while I spend some time in San Francisco and Yosemite. Now that I’m in the big city (pictured below) and equipped with the computer Jeff was so kind as to transport to Frisco for me, I’m ready to write an obnoxiously long entry!

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Santa Barbara kicks ass. I ended up staying for over a week, crashing on the couch of a good friend Kelsey who stayed with us when she came to visit Jeff in Breckenridge. She lived in a 5 bedroom house with 11 other folks in the 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 an oceanside cliff and hosts a number of waterfront properties that I reckon will one day meet a salty, wet demise thanks to erosion. Waking up to the smell of seawater and the sound of waves every morning was pretty great.

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My days usually began around 7:30am with several hours of biking or roaming about the beach and local natural areas. The sounds of crashing waves and singing birds provided pleasant ambiance for much needed solo time that has seemed relatively unobtainable since leaving the Rockies. These mornings quickly became my favorite part of each 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. At one point I did a pretty big ride to Santa Ynez Mountains. Nice winding roads all the way up, fantastic for bombing back down.

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When I watch movies or television shows depicting college life I feel as though many things are largely exaggerated. Massive parties, chairs being smashed in the streets, people dancing on roofs… My experiences at several schools certainly involved partying and plenty of moments of inebriated nonsense but for the most part students seemed to be primarily focused on academics. This was not the case in Isla Vista, where I reckon most representations of college life in the media were inspired.

I would usually return to town by noon, about the same the time students were recovering from their hangovers. Every day around that time music blared from at least one house on each block as folks gathered in front lawns for afternoon beverage-related festivities. Heavy bike traffic filled the streets as students went about their business blowing stop signs and disregarding the slow progress of those dumb enough to drive cars among them. I usually spent this part of the day exploring town by longboard or lounging at the beach. The moments of recuperation were well earned and much needed for I too often indulged in evenings of mayhem.

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One morning I received a call from Jeff, “the waves are decent today, we’re going surfing!”  Jeff, my roommate from Breckenridge who was also in Santa Barbara for a weekend, surfing in May was much like powder days back in the mountains: every once in a while a good wave day would present itself and all the surfers in town would take their everyday responsibilities less seriously and head to the ocean to ride cohesive water molecules during the small window of opportunity they were provided. Jeff, Ben (my other roommate from Breck), Kelsey and I jumped right on the bandwagon, bouncing around town collecting sufficient wetsuits and surfboards for each of us before heading to the ocean ourselves.

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Surfing has a pretty steep learning curve. Paddling from shore whilst being relentlessly pounded by waves is a major challenge in itself. Once I finally made it out past the shallower breaks I would to turn my board parallel to the shore and wait for an oncoming wave. Soon enough a massive swell would approach and pointed towards the shore I would begin paddling when the wave was roughly 10 feet behind me. Once I caught the swell, I would begin to stand up and attempt to ride the wave.

I totally ate shit nearly every time. The fitness required to surf proficiently was well above me. Every time I tried to stand my arms were so fatigued from paddling that I could hardly push myself up. The surf would force me under and spin me around relentlessly. I usually didn’t put much effort into trying to surface since I was at the mercy of the ocean. I would simply hold my breath as it tossed me around like a rag doll until I could resurface. More often than not I’d get slammed again as soon as I had a chance to catch some air.

Regardless, every time I was able to break from the mayhem I would emerge from the water laughing. Immersion in the nature world is a hell of a lot of fun, and its power is to be respected. 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. Being entirely surrounded by mother nature and at her mercy while sharing the experience with people I love was worth it in itself. I wish I had more time to practice surfing. Part of me is compelled to stick around California a bit longer.

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Later that week Jeff, Ben, and I made our way north into to do some hiking. We made our way up a 4,000 foot ascent to Santa Ynez Peak along a winding and relatively unmantained trail. When were told there would be epic vies at the summit ridge but we were greeted by a dense fog. The hike was enjoyable and scenic nonetheless.

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Afterwards we made our way to a really cool watering hole called Red Rocks. There was a massive spire rising out of the canyon from deep, teal pools of fresh water. We indulged in a bit of mellow scrambling and jumped into the water from some decently high ledges.

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Another afternoon I was chilling on the beach with one of Kelsey’s roommates when she suggested that we swim out to the kelp forest a decent way offshore. It took longer than I imagined to reach it, when I glanced back people hanging out on the beach were no more than specks on the shore. I won’t lie, coming from the Great Lakes where there is no fear of being stung, bitten, or eaten by any sort of sea creature I had a little anxiety being so far from shore. Shortly after joking about “dolphin-rape,” incidentally, a small mist of water emerged from the surface no more than 20 feet ahead. My mind was 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. It was so close I could see its beady little eye checking us out. It was definitely one of the most genuine encounters I’ve ever had with a wild animal.

My evening routine generally involved preparing some dinner and enjoying a shower beverage in anticipation of evening festivities. Usually by then everyone was out of class and a contingent would rally to head to another residence. On one occasion while drinking on the porch of a waterfront house a pod of gray whales emerged from the surface, spraying water from their blowholes as they migrated North for the warm season.

As the night went on, casual drinking would escalate into a realm of roughly organized mayhem. Thousands of students filled the streets in a massive and shameless pilgrimage along Del Playa Drive. In Isla Vista there were chairs being smashed in the streets (though there was order, the culprit was thoroughly chewed out by the police). People were indeed dancing on rooftops.  Bros ran amok, girls were dressed like it was spring break in New Orleans, and we actually encountered a shirtless man so drunk that he was stumbling through the street while his entire upper body slumped to his left side.  Everyone was inebriated. Many homes became venues for DJ’s and bands, music could be heard from every other house whilst American academia’s finest danced below.

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My last night in town I made my way to a beach house where a band, The California Honeydrops, was performing. Not long into my attendance did it become clear that this was not The California Honeydrops’s first rodeo. Easily a hundred people were grooving below the deck where they jammed away. There was saxophone, trumpet, keyboard… all the good stuff. Although up until this evening it had been pretty well enforced in Isla Vista that all loud music goes off at midnight, the Honeydrops didn’t stop. As a finally they joined us in the crowd for an encore. The lot of us danced on until 1am when the crowd finally dispersed, drunken and mind blown.

I don’t recall ever seeing anybody do homework.

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Two days ago Jeff, Ben, Luke (another friend from Breckenridge) and I made our way by motorized vehicle north along Highway 1 towards San Francisco. Fog blanketed the ocean as we drove, the highway winding along cliffs rising hundreds of feet above the crashing tide. Regrettably, I ended up reading Game of Thrones and sleeping for the majority of that ride. We planned to spend the night in Big Sur and arrived there in time to take short walk over to the iconic McWay waterfall for a phenomenal sunset.

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The night camping in the campgrounds ended up being an interesting experience. The lot of us posted up in different tents about the campsite, me 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. At one point I actually yelled out, “that’s close enough,” only to look up and see the silhouette of an animal standing about a foot in front of me.

I would just like to take a moment to make it known that unless I’m grizzly bear country I, for better or worse, instinctively yell as loud as I can as a defense mechanism when I see a wild animal at night in the hopes that I scare it the fuck away. These damn raccoons kept me up all night (and in doing so directly attributed to keeping up the entire campground all night) probably trying to get whatever the could smell in the food bag I so sensibly placed next to my tent.

At one point I recall singing Bicycle Race by Queen to keep them away by using my phone to google the lyrics. 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.

Fuck raccoons….

The following morning we went for a hike in the mountains before heading north to San Francisco. As expected it was beautiful.

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I’m in San Francisco now and will definitely be doing a lot of exploring this week so I look forward to generating plenty of blog content. I’ll update again before I head to Yosemite on the 21st!

Peace

Beverly Bummin’

I took a lot of time getting my body hydrated and fueled up for the ride that day. Alright, so maybe the bed was super comfortable too and I took plenty of time to enjoy it. Needless to say, I left Las Vegas a little late.

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Navigating downtown Vegas was culture shock and mayhem. As expected, there were tons of cars and tons of people… people who were seemingly 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 navigated from the bustling metropolis.

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 heat tolerance to the limit. I drank nearly a gallon of water before I left but the heat of the desert sucked the water right out of my body. As I was biking I was going through at least a liter ever half hour, 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 drinking another three liters 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. I made my way onto I-15, which 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.

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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 reach the summit of the hill… 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 from semi-trucks blowing out tires. A quick patch had me back on my way in less than a half hour.

I hoped 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 60 miles weighed down by all the water I was carrying left me exhausted. I stopped at a gas station after 10 miles of downhill and posted up in my sleeping bag in a lot full of semi-trucks, surely sticking out like a sore thumb.

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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 greeted by some pretty irritating 30mph gusts when I woke that morning. 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 took advantage of some quality gas station shade as I ate and hydrated for the long stretch ahead.

A nearby bro brah was chatting away with a motorcyclist who was also traveling the west. Bro brah was clearly impressed, but upon seeing me he diverted his attention and asked, “hold up, are you riding that thing across the country?” Zach was rolling in a pretty sick 1960’s Volkswagen bus he received from his father who had several he was looking to sell. He was in the process of driving the well-loved vehicle from Idaho to San Diego to ship it out to Hawaii where he lived. 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.

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The next few hours were filled with good conversation, the loud rattling of the bus, and many thoughts of how much it would have totally sucked to bike through the desert as I watched it pass. 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 being open to exploring a new place, why not?

We ended up heading over to Westwood to meet his buddy, Abe, a professional yoga teacher in town. Abe was dating a girl who attended UCLA and we used her ID card to access the campus swimming pool. We spent the next couple hours lounging by the pool and chatting it up, a nice change of pace after being so focused on traveling 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… life was good.

Abe left to teach a class while Zach and I headed to a local taproom to have a couple beers. As the night approached I had pretty much decided that I would be posting up somewhere in Las Angeles that night, the beach being my tentative plan. My agenda, settled we continued to drink and soon Abe joined our evening shenanigans. 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 rickety old 1960’s VW with a person I had only known for half a day.

The people I meet. The places I end up.

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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. Las Angeles was slightly overwhelming after time spent in the vast landscapes of the American Rocky’s and to be frank I was ready to get the fuck out. I set my sights on Santa Barbara hoping to break my record for distance covered in a single day. I made my way west out of Beverly Hills towards the ocean along the scenic Sunset Boulevard. Although I couldn’t afford to waste much time I couldn’t resist running out to the ocean to dip my feet and bike in the water when I arrived at the famous coastal Highway 1.

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I made sure to grab some Taco Bell (who should be sponsoring me by now) 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 scent of the Pacific Ocean embellished my ride until I approached Oxnard. The air became gradually more and more hazy and soon I could smell a massive forest fire burning in the mountains a few dozen miles away. I made a couple wrong turns in Oxnard and at one point my tire went flat which properly pissed me off for a couple minutes. I recovered from my frustrations, had a quick lunch, and pressed on along the highway to Santa Barbara.

I was filled with excitement as I was finally found myself biking through the bustling, trendy streets of the beautiful coastal town. I still had several miles to go to reach Isla Vista, the college town where I was offered a couch to crash. By the time I reached my destination 12 straight hours and 113 miles of biking were behind me. I was pooped and passed out early.

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More on Santa Barbara later. Right now my plan is to stick around here for a week or two and enjoy the ocean.

Zion

Thursday night was pretty rough. In my eagerness to get to Zion, I left Bryce at 11:30 and biked through the cold and dark for two hours before I ended up sleeping beneath a Subway billboard outside a town called Hatch. The temperature plummeted as the night went on but I managed to stay relatively warm.

I woke up early the next morning and headed south. The ride was mostly downhill and strikingly beautiful. Through the canyon I rode, flanked by large orange walls along a river by which lush green vegetation grew. I stopped for lunch in a gas station and met another cyclist, Tim, who was riding a large titanium mountain bike around Utah. After a healthy lunch of corn dogs and ice cream, I continued on downhill until signs for Zion started to pop up.

When I started heading west into the park, a massive uphill began. It continued for an irritating 12 miles, but I noticed that Tim was just a bit ahead of me and pushed to catch up. A couple miles from the top we both stopped to catch our breath, and Tim informed me of what was to come. We continued towards the park together, and despite the fact that Tim was on a bigger and heavier bike, I had to hustle to keep up.

Soon enough the park entrance appeared, and so began the mind blowing experience of speeding downhill into Zion. Giant red and yellow monoliths towered hundreds of feet above and all around me. I found myself in an uncontrollable laughter  as I sped down a winding road through a forested canyon so beautiful I couldn’t believe it was real. Eventually we reached a checkpoint at a mile long tunnel through the rock where bikes weren’t allowed. The park ranger at the entrance helped us flag down a truck who could give Tim and I a ride through the tunnel. Things got sketchy here.

The driver was nuts, I don’t know if he was just having fun or being a dick or pissed off that he had to give bikers a ride. Regardless he decided to drive through the tunnel at incredibly fast speeds, occasionally flooring it. One hand holding my bike and the other clinging on to the truck for dear life, thoughts of me and my trusty companion flying out of the open truck bed and onto the hood of the convertible tailgating us rushed through my head.

Upon exiting the tunnel Tim and I briefly reflected on the terrifying experience we just had. Any future desire to ride roller coasters was immediately replaced as we bombed down switchbacks into Zion’s main valley. Soon enough we arrived in Springdale, a small, expensive town just south of the park. It was a lively place, full of tourists and bikers making their way in and out of the park. I arrived at a hotel Brooke had reserved for the evening and bid farewell to Tim. I spent the rest of the day relaxing and organizing gear while I waited for Brooke to drive in from Vegas.

The next day we tried to get going as early as possible. We ate breakfast and headed into the park to reserve campsites for the next two nights. As soon as everything was settled we headed to the West Rim Trail.

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We started by making our way past the Emerald Pools, a grotto where small waterfalls trickled from cliffs at least a thousand feet above us into teal pools below. Two and a half miles and many switchbacks later we arrived at the legendary Angel’s Landing, known as  “the third most dangerous hike in any national park.” It was pretty exposed, considering a good thousand foot drop on either side, but I think its element of danger is pretty exaggerated since there is a chain to hold on to all the way to the top. Nonetheless, the hike is breathtaking.

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After Angel’s Landing we continued another 3 or 4 miles up the trail to the West Rim. The hike was more pleasant from this point forward. Angel’s Landing, being one of the crown jewels of Zion, thankfully consolidated the crowds to one area, keeping the rest of the park more backcountry-esque.

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We headed back into town as the sun began to disappear behind the canyon walls, casting a shadow into the valley. We went to a local pizza and pasta shop and ate copious amounts of pizza before turning in a bit early.

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The next day we went to a hike Tim recommended to us called the Canyon Overlook Trail. It’s a short but scenic .5 mile hike right by the east entrance to the tunnel. When we reached the overlook at the end of the trail, we were hungry for more and began eyeballing a good 800 foot ascent up some sandstone slab nearby. As we gradually made our way to the top of a high ridge, a flute player below echoed pleasant melodies into the Canyon.

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We chilled at the top for a while and enjoyed the relief of a cooling breeze. Small birds jetted around us, making audible “whooshing” sounds as they sped within a foot or so of our heads. I was able to hear voices echoing from a slot canyon below, amplified by the geography of terrain. We descended the slab back to the trail and soon made our way to The Narrows, a popular slot canyon favored by tourists and canyoneers alike. Wet suits were recommended, but I decided to rock a pair of basketball shorts and hiking boots. The hiked got a little cold but it was well worth it to have my feet in water for the first time in months.

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Our last day was a bit more mellow as we headed to a less popular hike to escape the crowds and relax. We hiked through a ravine that soon developed into a slot canyon, and made our way up some slab to a relaxing spot overlooking the valley and spent the remainder of our time enjoying the breeze before descending and heading out.

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Brooke gave me a ride all the way to Vegas which was awesome because the road from Zion to St. George was terrifying and had no shoulder. My dad was so kind as to use some hotel points to provide me with shelter for the evening and, guess what? There was an all you can eat dinner included that happened to be Chinese food! I’m now preparing myself for a massive ride through the desert to Santa Barbra. It’s easily 100 degrees today, so it is likely I’ll end up biking through the night. It’ll be a long haul on the interstate, but I’m looking forward to the ocean! Wish me luck!

Peace.