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.
“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. A car accident roughly 10 years ago 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 dude with serious mental and physical trauma.
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.
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.”
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?”
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.”
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?”
“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.
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.
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.