California Dreaming

My sustained absence from the website over the last few weeks is due solely because I have been having a damn good time. I can’t pull myself from the good weather and good company to sit in front of a computer for any length of time. And, owing to such good fortunes, California is slowly steeling my heart.

Perhaps I should start where I left off, in San Francisco. When I left for the holidays I had a rather strained impression of the Golden Gate City and was anxious to make a quick exit once I had rejoined my bike. But, as things have it, San Francisco was not so content to let me leave without a better imprint on my soul. I turned around the day after my arrival to visit an accomplished long distance cyclist in the Mission District of SF. David Kroodsma pedaled from San Francisco to Argentina many years back, and has since completed a few cross-country tours. ( What was more or less a quick chat over some maps that evening and some brews at a local pub with some of his friends was all I needed to confirm the importance of my trip. He reassured me of my concerns, and insisted upon remaining steadfast and finishing by whatever means necessary. Three years after completing his trip and David still admits to the daily struggle with life in the “real world”. The adventure has left a lasting imprint on who he is, influencing everything he does and pursues in his everyday life, but he holds that he wouldn’t change it for anything. He joined me for a short ride out of town to put me on the right path towards Palo Alto, and then the sage waved the burdened biker off towards Argentina.

A few weeks off the bike is all it takes to lose a little of that strength I had built innumerable hours building up, but the leisure 40 mile pedal along reservoirs and through grasslands and foothills to Menlo Park was perfect. The sun was out, something I wasn’t used to on the bike, and the bike paths and roads were loaded with cyclists of all kinds. If I was in need of an additional boost after my sustained vacation for the holidays and my recent encounter with David, then that is just what the day offered. One of the many cyclist to pass me that day asked where I was headed, as it looked like I was loaded for the long haul. My unrestrained response was Argentina, something I haven’t proudly announced for some time. I think he nearly toppled his bike as he processed my answer.

I was venturing to Menlo Park to visit another good friend from my Bozeman days, Chessie. Using Stanford Law School to boost her already impressive resume of crafty charm and unmatched intelligence she will one day take over the world, at least that is how I see it. I assumed I would pass through for a single evening of catching up and then move on down the road the next day, but the hospitality of Chessie and Deckers, her pup, was too much to withdraw from. I hope our stimulating conversations were enough of a substitute from all the intense law work she should have been doing. Conveniently, my decision to stick around for another evening opened up an opportunity to return to San Fran. for a night out with another of our friends. Fortuitously, Chessie’s uncle distributes Justin Wines and had given her the bottle we would eventually consume over one of the single greatest seafood meals of recent memory. Just down the road from Anna’s folks place in North Beach, where I had spent most of my time in SF, was a hole-in-the-wall gem of a fresh seafood restaurant. Complemented by the great bottle of wine and the solid coaching of an oyster expert, Chessie, the slimy things that live in a shell became one of the best things I have placed on my tongue. It was soon chased down by my Salmon main course that would make any northern Salmon homecook furiously jealous. This was all just a precursor to a night out on the town to celebrate Anna’s brothers birthday. We danced till we dropped and then tried to dance some more. I don’t think it was the first time these bar patrons had seen people two-stepping to pop and rap music, but they sure gave us a wide birth and some confusing looks. We had breakfast with Chessie’s uncle, a self-made and boisterous wine proprietor, and his girlfriend, before returning to Menlo Park. Once again it was too late for me to make the climb up and over to Santa Cruz so we made due with a quiet day and movie to finish out my time with Chessie and Deckers.

As my time in the bay area drew to a close I realized that San Francisco had become a place I thoroughly enjoyed, thanks in large part to all the friends I had visited and made; Anna, Chessie, David, Caitlyn, and Nathan. Over the better part of a split up month I was able to visit so many different parts of the city, each unique and special for something, and make a lasting memory of each place. I now think that San Francisco at least matches Seattle for the quality of the place and my thrill of a time there. Just writing that is a good indication of the change of heart I felt while taking some time off for the holidays.

I was always aware that the ride from the bay to the coast would be a tough one, but after so much time away from the bike it slapped me right in the face. It was another clear, cool day, perfect for some lengthy hills and a descent down to picturesque Santa Cruz. I managed to have a place to stay in SC through a connection of Chessie’s. I poked around town for a bit before finding my way over to the Harbor Cafe. I would be staying with one of the owners next door. Lucky connection because Tuesdays breakfast special was massive banana pancakes for $1 each. I stuffed myself and thanked Max for putting me up for the night and then hit the road once again. It was nice to have some back-to-back days on the bike, even if my legs were feeling fatigued from the 4,000 + ft. of climbing the day before.

My next stop along California’s southern coast, and the next lucky link for me, was in Carmel at the lovely home of Barbara and Steve Walker. I have a very special friend from CO that grew up in this quaint and ritzy place, and was very eager to see what her childhood might have been like. Sitting adjacent to Pebble Beach, south of Monterey, it is postcard perfect California coast. It seems everyone forgoes having an address (city enforced to reemphasize their quaintness) for a BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, or even Ferrari. The cars must come with the PO boxes you get at the post office. A beautiful and strange place that certainly isn’t meant for a touring cyclist, yet I left enthralled. Maybe it was the sun and the soft sand beaches, or the architectural gems scattered throughout the hills and valleys all hoping for a view of the ocean, but there was a quirky and forced authenticity and audacity that I found gripping.

The next night found me back in my tent for the first time in some weeks, and grateful for it because it means an extra early, guilt free bed time. I was camping just north of Big Sur proper, at the bottom of the big hill, with some of the first touring cyclists I have crossed paths with in awhile. The next day of coastal climbing had me back into my old rhythms. I covered 70 miles and climbed almost 5000 ft before finding camp at San Simeon with more touring cyclists and some friendly fellow campers. The weather was uncharacteristically warm, but after another week of the same I don’t believe that all this sun is rare for January in California. I sailed into Pismo Beach early the next afternoon because of some helpful tailwinds. Sitting around on the dock for a while was all I could muster and soon hit the road to reacquaint myself with some wild, rogue camping. It has been less and less a part of my routine as I have encountered more and more state parks to cheaply camp in, not to mention the overabundance of poison oak all over California. As is my habit with wild camping, I was up and out just as dawn hit; leaving the chance for a disgruntled local to find me to a minimum.

8 miles down the quiet Cabrillo Hwy was Guadalupe. I pulled over at the picnic tables outside of the local veteran’s station and was joyously welcomed to town by the volunteers who were putting their Saturday morning towards building a nice covered BBQ pit grill. My hasty gas station coffee and pastry were delicious and enjoyable with the conversation and company of Guadalupe. I was finally learning about what all the different fields were producing, and the cycles of the year in the agricultural heartland of California. Lettuce and other greens are the prominent product of the area, but many of the fields that are clean and organized rows of white plastic are for strawberrys.

My early rise from camping and the calm tailwinds put me back onto the coast and only 30 miles from Santa Barbara much earlier in the afternoon than I expected. I contacted Andy and said I was just going to make the push to Santa Barbara that day instead of the next. As a result, I put in my longest day of the trip at 93 miles, 7 hours of pedaling, and 3,500 ft of climbing. It was worth it because I walked into a football viewing party and had a wonderful evening with some of Andy’s friends from Santa Barbara.

Unfortunately, Andy was off on Monday for a conference on the east coast, but I have graciously occupied his spot in town for the last few days. The sun has been relentless, meaning lots of great time wondering around town and spending time on the beach. At times I feel like I am walking around the Spanish Mediterranean; the white stucco and red tile roofs of the spanish colonial style dominate the area.

Easy and fun living has been the name of the game for the last few weeks of my trip. I am slowly coming into contact with the excess of Southern California, but at the same time I am experiencing the genuine good-natured people who are all just thrilled to live in such a wonderful place. I totally agree. As I also recognized with British Columbia, California has almost every geographical feature to keep an outdoor enthusiast busy. If you want to surf, pick somewhere along the 1,000 mile coastline and have your fun, if you want to get lost in the woods just do the same in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the eastern side of the state. Biking, sure, it can be done year round (maybe not all day every day, as it can be very wet up north). I haven’t even ventured fully into the heart of the south coast and yet I am being swept into the dream of California living, where the sun always shines and the people are all sun-speckled and smiling. What’s not to love.

4 Responses to “California Dreaming”

  1. Alison Kent says:

    California sounds amazing, but hopefully not so beautiful that it keeps you from coming to see me down here. 🙂
    Ill be waiting for you in the Andes. Bueno suerte!

  2. Rose says:

    I like the part about two-stepping to rap and pop music. I miss my Montana dance partners! I look forward to seeing you on your hiatus to Colorado. Have fun in Bozeman this weekend too!

  3. Martha says:

    You sound like you’re back in a great place, and I don’t mean only California. So glad that things are looking better. Can’t wait to see your Sola show; what a gorgeous image you posted for that.

  4. Caitlyn says:

    See! I have to say “I told you so” about San Fran and California. Glad to hear you are living large buddy!

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