It’s been a few months since adjusting to my own bed at night. There’s always a bit of reverse culture shock when travelling for a long period of time, but even I was surprised finding myself choosing to pitch my tent once or twice just because of the missed feeling. Hoping I’d finally get a decent amount of sleep, I think the opposite has been true during this transition trying to catch up with friends and eight months of missed movies, all the while figuring out what to make of this odyssey. In the end I can only stress how many wonderful people there truly are in this world. This type of travel isn’t for everyone, but if you have the time, I can’t recommend enough how amazing your journey can be when setting off with only a vague plan and a goal, and leaving room for flexibility while taking each day as it comes. Perhaps if I rewind back to the final push from Seattle to Minneapolis a better summary will appear:
The train ride itself was uneventful. After working so hard for each and every mile, having a reclining seat and an attendant on hand made everything feel safe, easy, and convenient, but didn’t allow one to properly appreciate the gorgeous scenery of Washington and western Montana. There was a national park ranger aboard who occasionally called out landmarks and mountain ranges on the intercom. That was a nice perk and we chatted for an hour in the lounge car sipping overpriced beer before he hopped off to his post near Glacier National Park.
From that point on the land became flat and desolate but the personalities on the train no less vibrant. Self proclaimed rough necks came and went passing through the oil field region of North Dakota. Not exactly a dream place to spend a Friday night, I made do and reminisced about a pheasant hunting friend from back home whom I knew prefers the beauty of flat plains over any other scenery. Fair enough, every type of landscape has its own attraction. About that time an oil worker close to my age named Jake plopped down next to me. Flush with cash after working 90 hour weeks and excited for his one month of leave, Jake, like several others throughout this trip, fired off a few questions pertaining to his personal financial situation after discovering my background in accounting.
His excitement waned after I recommended paying off high interest debt and consider a college fund over investing in an iPad for his newborn girl. Before the conversation turned stale, he pulled out a portable DVD player [brand new still in the box, compliments of the Williston WalMart] and we found another common ground watching Bruce Willis shoot up some bad guys.
Later I came to from a half-slumber at a stop I must assume was Grand Forks, North Dakota. Despite my lethargic state I distinctly heard the one thing that indicated I was on the home stretch:
“Would yah like some breakfast sent oh-ver”?
“Yah shure. A guy could have some toh-ast and a pop”
Eyes still closed, I instantly recognized the thick accent as Minnesotan and laughed to myself, the sleep in me restricting anything audible from coming out. [I know I gave my family some grief while re-adjusting to the native dialect and I thank them for putting up with it. In fairness, accents in the south are much more blatant. But they have sweet tea to make up for it. I’m proud of my heritage but to pick and choose, I’d take southern hospitality over listening to the movie Fargo recited out before me.]
Arriving on a cold and rainy Saturday morning to the land of hot dishes and don’-chya-know’s, it wasn’t quite the homecoming I envisioned. And there may have been a rough day or two when all I had thought about was this moment. Not about to let a lack of sleep or the first rain I had seen in six weeks slow me down, I threw my arms around my sister, said hello to my nephew, and met up with Brian and Kookie who were cool enough to join in for a final victory cycle out to the lake in Monticello.
The flatness astounded me…I hadn’t experienced such a smooth ride since the Florida coast when my leg muscles were still weak and didn’t allow a proper appreciation for how nice the ride was. My quads had since ballooned [the one pair of pants I had now fit like skinny jeans] and I pumped away casually. Catching up on a few laughs and stories with my friends, it was definitely one of the more enjoyable rides of the trip. Victory drinks were had, and I was left to determine what to make of everything.
This odyssey was much more than a holiday, trip, or adventure. A lifetime in the traditional working world could not have compared to the skills learned, the memories made, or some of the friendships forged. Time and time again I realized every experience is all about the people you are surrounded with and what you choose to make of the situation.
Now I challenge all of you…step outside your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to involve a crazy physical feat half a world away; you don’t even have to leave your own city. Trust your instincts but don’t scare away your inner child. Allow yourself outside the proverbial bubble: don’t settle for a lazy night watching tv- go for a walk even if it’s raining, strike up a genuine conversation and help the lady carrying three arms of groceries. And always take a moment to look up at the sky on your way in to the office and put in focus what you are really working towards. A healthy routine can do wonders but a mundane outlook on life can crush a soul. So go explore, and always challenge when the voice inside your head says ‘you can’t do that’ because with a little luck and a lot of determination [or maybe it’s the other way around] you’d be surprised what you can accomplish…just go for it!*
*Part of that last sentence was phrased from Alex Rust’s sailing blog…I strive to be original but the statement is too true and admittedly he was one of many sources of inspiration I called on during this odyssey. I still have a smattering of stories that need editing and will make a point to put them on this site, probably on a different page so as to not to confuse the chronologicality (??) of all this mess. Keep checking back. Cheers!
Mexico wouldn’t let me out without a fight. The bus ride itself I found oddly relaxing, despite its duration, the loud volume of relentless rom-coms dubbed in Spanish, and the frequent stops for military checkpoints. Travelling north it didn’t matter if you were a gringo, everyone and everything was taken off the bus and inspected at each checkpoint. Posters plastered up on the makeshift guard posts analyzed recent busts and advertised wanted drug lords. This had me wondering how many of the crazy trucks I encountered on the two lane highway were involved with the illegal drug trade. Brushing all that aside, I was still concerned as I hadn’t purchased a visa for Mexico [anyone traveling south of Ensenada is required to have one]. I had an elaborate story prepared which partially included the truth that the visa office was closed for the weekend when I originally passed it on my journey south but luckily I was never grilled on this topic; at a few of the stops the soldiers found and complimented my Swiss army knife and one questioned the alligator head that rides atop my bike [all the Mexicanos adored this and were quick to call it ‘crocodilo’]. Not wanting any trouble, I quickly fibbed saying ‘crocodilo falso, es plastico’ about the authentic gator head I had picked up way back in Florida.
My adrenaline kicked back in when the bus finally reached the end of the line, as I wanted nothing more than to make it back to the Ocean Beach Hostel in San Diego in time for the complimentary pasta dinner that evening. Naturally it was afternoon rush hour in Tijuana and despite being within cell tower range of the US, my phone [and Google maps] refused to load. Bike and gear assembled, I whipped out a tourist map showing the border a mere six miles from the bus terminal, notwithstanding the aggressive traffic and intense pollution. That got old real quick.
Spying an alternate route, I heaved my bike over a barrier and into one of the spillways for the Rio Tijuana which fortunately was down to a trickle at the time. Shifting into a high gear, I flew across the city and replayed the scene from Terminator 2 in my head where young John Connor tries to outrun a semi-truck on his dirtbike across a spillway in LA. It would have been much more impressive with my full suspension mountain bike but I did my best to play around, jamming up the steep walls and flying down with my loaded touring bike.
A mile or three later found myself passing through some less than desirable areas of Tijuana, silently reciting a few prayers and hoping I wouldn’t get bum-rushed or that the broken glass on the ground would cause an ill-timed flat. It was time to find a way out of my ‘shortcut’, which now, being close to the border, proved a challenge. Spotting a hole cut through the barb wire high up one of the steep concrete embankments, I walked/sidestepped my heavy bike precariously up a 45* slope and mustered the last of my strength to pick it up and shove it through without falling the hundred feet or so down. No tetanus booster was needed and I found myself in a 1.5 hour queue to the border where I, a smelly, sun baked cyclist on a multiple week hiatus in Mexico was minimally questioned when reentering the country. Gotta love holding a US passport!
It was a strange yet heartwarming feeling returning to San Diego…a homecoming of sorts even though the city was a long way from my permanent address. Back on streets I had cycled on a few weeks prior, it was the sensation of familiarity that aided my clear head and smooth navigation. There was a rush of relief and I took comfort in a sense of belonging knowing that for the first time in a long while, I was going to a place that I had been before and could count on friends being there. With this newfound excitement and remembering there generally are not leftovers at the hostel dinner, I continued riding hard.
Kentucky himself greeted me at the front porch. With a coy grin and a “oh hey there buddddy” he pointed at the spaghetti feast encouraging me to get my fill. Seth and Peter weren’t far behind along with a few other faces I never thought I’d see again. Surprisingly, Murillo was checking in at the same time as me, passing through for two days having just returned from his surf trip to Hawaii. I even made a run to the Terra Rhythm Bike Shop where owner Ryan was surprised to see me again and shocked that I had followed through on the Baja trip. I knew most of the bicycle miles were behind me but Ryan obliged and helped fix a loose hub in my front wheel, gratis.
The next morning was supposed to be an early rendezvous with Brendan, a Craigslist rideshare connection but I managed to push back our start until after the 8am breakfast was served at the hostel…a complimentary breakfast involving strawberries and pancakes always takes priority in my life. The previous evening I had quizzed Brendan pretty thoroughly over the phone about his plans to drive up the west coast and he seemed legit, only requesting I pitch in a few bucks for gas along the way. Satiated on pancakes, I began to cycle north, planning to meet Brendan a few miles up along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Keeping pace with a group of cyclists out for some Sunday morning exercise, they first complimented me on the journey and how my story must be true as I was able to keep up with them while carrying 45 pounds of gear overloaded in panniers. Fielding a few more of their questions, I fast forwarded to the present noting I was on the lookout for a Craigslist connection who would be giving me a ride to Seattle. All three sets of eyes began rolling but before they could verbally express their doubts, a rusty old conversion van came barreling up. Sporting long hair and three months of facial hair, the driver yelled out the passenger side window ‘Hey I’m Brendan, are you Chris?!’.
The only thing missing was a sign on the side of the van painted ‘Free candy to children’. The cyclists were a little hysterical and one said ‘Jesus man, good luck.’ After 8 months of stepping out of the proverbial comfort zone, I’ve learned that listening to ones common sense and intuition and sometimes taking risks are directly related to the capacity of luck, so I rolled with the situation and saddled up.
Brendan turned out to be every bit as cool, honest, and easy-going as our prior conversations led me to believe. Planning to live in the van during the summer while firefighting and building trails in the Montana countryside, he had added a bed in the back and constructed all the cabinets himself. He summed it up best by lightheartedly describing his vehicle as ‘a half-rape van because it only has one sliding door’.
Everything was going well cruising up to Oceanside where we would hook up with another Craigslister requesting a lift to a small town an hour north of San Francisco. This is where Brendan and I discovered not everyone is as they seem online.
Looking back, Crazy Dave [my nickname for the man, unfortunately I forgot his actual name] was always polite and seemed to have a good heart. But he was also a moocher and a liar, constantly embellishing every story. An older gentleman, Crazy Dave did have rhythm as demonstrated by his belongings…one oversized suitcase, one guitar, and one iPod full of 70’s funk. That last part was really the only redeeming quality in Crazy Dave.
One story flew out of his mouth right after the next as I sprawled out in back on Brendan’s van. I always enjoy a good story and Crazy Dave had plenty, but I just couldn’t comprehend his necessity to continue extrapolating them. Claiming to make a living and ‘well over fifteen grand a month, my man’ by operating a medical marijuana dispensary, Brendan and I began wondering exactly what Crazy Dave carried around in his oversized suitcase. The obvious truth was if he had any of the money he fictionalized, he would not be utilizing a Craigslist rideshare. His situation became more apparent that night.
Brendan wanted to meet a few friends in San Francisco and Crazy Dave and I both enjoyed the thought of a night in the city. I had recently received word that Spencer had survived the Rocky Mountains and was hanging out in SF with his sister for a few days, so that afternoon I began coordinating on how to catch up with them. Arriving after 9pm on a Sunday night, the city was still bustling. Brendan told me straight up if Dave could find a place for the night, I was welcome to crash with his friends or in the van, just as long as Dave was not around.
At this point Brendan and I had our agendas and right at the top of the list was getting Crazy Dave into a budget room as quickly as possible. After running across two thirds of downtown SF, we finally came across the ‘cheap’ international hostel where I barged through the front doors searching for an outlet to plug my phone in and put a little trickle back to the battery while Dave negotiated with the agent at the front desk. When he was quoted $55 per person for a dorm bunk I beamed out to no one in particular “What?! 55 dollars? That’s absurd”. Generally I am more refined than that but time was ticking and I was losing my cool. Knowing this was still the best deal in the overpriced city, Crazy Dave agreed and the increasingly annoyed agent requested his info, credit card, and passport or ID.
Except Crazy Dave didn’t have a passport. And his ID expired back in 2008. [And from Florida when none of his stories that day mentioned living in Florida] No other ID and no way to get around that one. The front desk staff was not sad to see us leave as I dug behind a couch to unplug my phone and scoop up Dave’s remaining possessions/life.
Lugging Crazy Dave’s giant suitcase back out to the half-rape van, Brendan and I exchanged disheartened looks. Our SF experience would be cut short because we were stuck with a homeless man and one oversized suitcase. By now it was almost midnight and with Dave in our midst, our only option was to cut our night short and drive on.
A slight compromise was made when Brendan’s friends, Amanda and Ryan, appeared. They were definitely the silver lining to my limited SF experience and took us all to a local Irish pub with free pool in the back room and a spot where patrons can plug in their iPod and play DJ. Crazy Dave’s debit card mysteriously didn’t work and he claimed to have no cash so I spotted him a $7 pint of Harp and told him to play some Prince on his iPod through the system. Though he might not have everything in his life planned out to a T, the guy deserved one beer after all that running around.
Saying goodbye at 2am to the new friends, I was utterly exhausted but Brendan said he could drive. Out of gas, we pulled into a pump that offered the stuff at $5.39/gallon. Crazy Dave’s flash had long since worn off on us but being his turn to pay, he pulled out a few crumpled bills and told the attendant “10 dollars of premium” with a Harlem accent. I was dead tired, pretty much in zombie mode, but managed to catch the attendant and muttered something along the lines of “for the love of God just put in cheap regular”. After pumping less than two gallons, Brendan was forced to pull out his credit card knowing that Crazy Dave’s generosity wouldn’t get us too far down the road.
Snoozing away in the back, I was awoken when the van shuddered to a stop in front of the Sebastopol Inn, located in the sleepy town of the same name. Brendan had pulled over to sleep for an hour before continuing and it was now five in the morning. Crazy Dave was outside shaking his head upon discovering the hotel still would charge him for a full night’s stay. Not wanting to disturb his lady friend in the middle of the night, “I gotta make a clean entrance you know man, surprise her but with style and at the right time”, we drove around town for ten minutes as twilight began to appear in the east.
Enough was enough and Brendan [through and through very kind and soft spoken] told Crazy Dave it was time to go. For the last time I heaved his suitcase outside of the van, we shook hands, and wished each other well. Brendan was short 30 of the 40 dollars Dave promised for gas but the men were both amicable and shook hands. We drove off leaving Crazy Dave sitting on a park bench in Sebastopol, CA with only a guitar, one oversized suitcase, and one funky iPod. An interesting man to say the least, I sincerely did wish him well and hoped that everything worked out with his lady friend, whether she was real or not.
Recounting the crazy string of events over omelets at a nearby Denny’s, Brendan and I vowed that the remainder of the trip would make up for the hassles of the previous night. Unfortunately with all the rerouting Crazy Dave forced us into, any chance of rendezvousing with Spencer and his sister was out of the picture. But I was rewarded with a scenic drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping to gaze at the redwoods and also a short tour of Aracata, Brendan’s college town which is an odd place full of dazed locals and wealthy industrialists who, unlike Crazy Dave, actually made fortunes off the medical marijuana market.
Winding up and down through the beautiful scenery of Oregon, Brendan would often drop the van into neutral and coast down the long descents, the sluggish hog actually going faster when the transmission was disengaged and giving the engine a momentary reprieve. A close call was averted with the highway patrol who obviously profiled the dingy looking half-rape van with out of state plates. I guess their suspicions could have paid off as Brendan’s insurance truthfully wasn’t quite up to par but with some clever talking and copious amounts of insurance forms and confusing statements on Brendan’s end, we were quickly back on the road and high fiving our survival. Heading east from Eugene, we successfully snuck into the Willamette National Park at closing time and were camped out near the hot springs by dark.
Simply breathtaking, the Blue River snaked through the landscape of pine trees, steep hills, and overabundance of nature at its finest. The hot springs themselves were the crowning touch, featuring natural geothermal water flowing from the earth and cascading down into a series of five pools. Each pool was large enough for 5-10 occupants and was set down and back about five feet. In this manner, the first and highest pool had the hottest water, piping in at over 100*F. This same water eventually worked its way down to the fifth pool, feeling merely like a lukewarm bath by then. We soaked up the paradise with a few University of Oregon students and stayed until my fingers were way past pruned.
On the way out the next morning we offered a mountain-man looking fellow a ride back into Eugene. It was a good forty miles but apparently city bus service is offered way out to the park for the general fare of $1.50. Of course it only runs four times a day so the scruffy man would have had a long wait. He gave off a similar vibe as Crazy Dave, albeit a bit more rugged, and Brendan and I were saddened by the way so many have chosen to let drugs be a part of their lives.
Feeling like a good deed was done, we turned back on the interstate and cruised all the way up to Seattle by afternoon. Greeted by my Uncle James, I said farewell to Brendan and was delighted to hang out with my Seattle relatives that I see too little of. The soft bed and wonderful hospitality astounded me. I delighted in talking geography with Uncle James, catching a soccer game featuring my all-star second cousin Nya, and playing video games with her dad like the last time I visited when I was 12.
I try not to inconvenience others when visiting but sure enough cousin Kathy shoved Gianna in the stroller and dedicated an entire day with me touring downtown, including the marina and fish market. I’ve always said it’s the people that make travel enjoyable, which is why it was so hard to say goodbye. But summer was quickly approaching and I was anxious to enjoy that in my native Minnesota, so Aunt Deloris dropped me with my bicycle box [decorated by Nya] off at the train station and I was on the move again!
The better part of an hour was spent cycling out of La Paz proper and despite a mostly flat and wide-shouldered run down highway 19, the desert was still a barren force of nature to contend with. Last winter I thoroughly read John’s copy of ‘Chapman’s Guide to Seamanship’ and was well aware of the notorious sea breezes along the coast of Baja California- time to put these to my favor!
Sea breeze describes the wind that blows onshore from ocean to land during the day. During the day the sun heats land more quickly than the sea, causing the air above the land to rise. The air above the ocean has higher pressure and therefore moves in [causing wind] to fill the low-pressure vacuum over the land. Based on my bicycle course, I could expect this breeze to push me along; basically the longer I waited to start this day’s ride, the more tailwind push I would receive. Unfortunately it was only 9 in the morning and temps were already pushing 90*F.
So with an increasing breeze at my back and no crazy hills in to contend with, I popped on the iPod shuffle and mentally tracked progress using my go-to method of measuring distance by assuming one song played = one mile covered. A bicycle odometer/computer would have been a wise investment for this cross-country trip, but somehow I’ve tracked surprising accuracy when using my 1 mile per song system. Most songs are 3-4 minutes long and after going this far I was pretty good at guesstimating when my speed was roughly in this zone. And with a roadside marker every two kilometers it was possible and a good way to pass the time by guessing and checking my theory with small doses of mental algebra.
The desert definitely has its own beauty- one that I now feel should only be taken in small doses. Soaring across it, there was nothing around but a few solar generating stations and one surprised ‘fruit’ vendor that only sold vegetables [I ate about 5 handfuls of cherry tomatoes before I calmed down and offered the stunned hombre a few pesos].
And then from the desolate sand I was transformed into a jungle of palm trees and tropical vegetation. This greenery arose so suddenly it felt like I was in Jurassic Park, head moving all over and awestruck by this new world. The oasis was Todos Santos and before I had time to slow down and pull out my camera for the obligatory pose under the ‘Bienevidos’ sign, I found myself in front of the original Hotel California that inspired the Eagles song. Just as quickly as the lush flora had appeared in this town, so had the tourists in the tragic definition of the word. Loud and obnoxious Americans meandered around demanding plush hotels and holding up their noses to the quaint market stalls and cantinas I adored. Local guides could be seen ferrying the casually dressed dignitaries around in late model SUV’s in a town easily traversed [and probably just as quickly] by foot.
I hated to form such rash prejudices against just a few people, as I was but a tourist myself. More likely than not I merely witnessed the worst of a select group and even more likely I was jealous that my ‘good day’ was still dirty, tiring, and nowhere near the luxury they were enjoying. But I was quick to remember I chose this style of travel and although I enjoy the high life, if going it solo, a tent and sleeping bag still leave me smiling. A quick look around the fabled Hotel California and the smile came back to my face. But I also realized not only a night’s stay was out of the question, unfortunately so was a cocktail at the bar. My grungy shorts and sweaty North Face tshirt didn’t fit in too well. So, much to the bellman’s relief, I went to the restaurant across the street advertising Baja’s best chilis rellenos. [Chilis rellenos = roasted poblano peppers stuffed with cheese, sometimes meat, and various spices].
Upon entering, a local couple testified to the restaurant’s claim and encouraged me to gorge on a sampler platter. Waiting for my meal, I continued chatting with Patrick and Chepe who had recently finished constructing their house on the second highest hill in Todos Santos. After inquiring about a beach to pitch my tent at, they offered to let me stay in their guest room. Apparently I am losing my value of ‘mid-western etiquette’ that dictates one must politely refuse a fantastic offer two or three times before accepting as I eagerly took Patrick and Chepe up on the stay.
[Tangent: I’ll never forget the day in New Mexico I was fixing a flat and a passing car offered me a ride to the nearest town 15 miles away. I initially replied “No, I couldn’t put you through that trouble”. The brief conversation went on until I stated I had the upper hand of the repair. Then, waiting three seconds, I would announce that “yes, I’m dead tired and a ride would still be great”. But, not sharing my system of reserved communication or being a mind reader, the good samaritan took those three seconds to roll up his window and take off. The winds started blowing as I was gearing back up and those 15 miserable miles took me two and a half mind numbing hours. Now I never let a good opportunity pass by!]
The guest room was actually Patrick’s daughter’s bedroom, used on the weekends. Apparently this was a teenage daughter as the room paid homage to Justin Bieber, the nightstand crawling with pictures of the teen heartthrob. Either way it was incredibly generous of Patrick and Chepe to let me stay and I finally had time to kick back and read one of the hardcover books I foolishly lugged around. The view from their deck encompassed the whole town and 270 degrees of visible ocean so I relaxed and conquered half of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which Brandon and Hannah had given me [compliments of the Breckenridge, CO library] upon completion of our road trip to San Diego.
My stay in Todos Santos was so nice in fact that my hosts convinced me into staying a second night. This conversation took place midmorning while I savored fish and shrimp tacos at Chepe’s shop two blocks down from the Hotel California and opposite the Banorte where she serves lunch everyday. Tacos, primarily fish, were my main source of food during my travels through Baja Mexico and the award for best shrimp taco goes to Chepe’s food stall. No joke, I ate everywhere and in large quantities and the best shrimp taco came from a stand on the side of the road in Todos Santos, BCS. I should seriously alert the Travel Channel.
After cycling too quickly across the US and not thoroughly taking everything in, my directive for Mexico was to tackle the voyage at more of a sightseeing pace. Unfortunately I was now flirting with the boundary between touring cyclist and just being lazy, so I pushed on after my second night. Thanking my hosts, it was only later I realized I inadvertently left a gift for their Belieber daughter: while changing into my bike shorts on the final morning, I recall briefly setting my underwear on her pink and white bed. In a rush to hit the road, I then made up the bed, leaving proof of my visit in the form of a pair of black boxer briefs under the sheets. Luckily they were freshly washed but if you’re reading this Patrick, I’m sorry…hope I didn’t warp your daughter!
The ride ahead to Cabo San Lucas would involve some monster hills in the desert setting. But before I could reach them I came across the Pescadero Surf Camp at KM marker 65. Originally only stopping for a water break, owner Jaime enlightened me that for $5/day I could have a large and already pitched six-man tent all to myself, spend my days riding the world famous waves at Cerritos beach, and enjoy cool nights with other travelers in the poolside bar at the surf camp. Apparently I am an easy sell when hot and tired.
Germans seemed to dominate the clientele at this surf camp, although it was a couple of Swedish teachers volunteering in mainland Mexico and taking a week off that I ended up hitching to the beach with. [Pescadero Surf Camp obviously keeps costs low by locating itself a 35 minute walk from the beach]. Hitchhiking is the norm and made even easier when thumbing with two blonde girls (commenting that they ‘get lots of attention in small Mexican towns’, presumably where hair color lighter than a dark mocha is seen as a treasure). Cerritos beach itself was previously recommended to me by a multitude of people including Lino way back in Ensenada and has several miles of perfect white sand and killer swells of 12-14 footers breaking with consistency.
These monster waves were churning out a ride a little too advanced for me so I initially skipped the board rental and ran in full speed squealing ‘surf’s up for bodysurfing’! Being the only person in the water without some sort of board and hanging 150 yards out with the ‘big boy’ surfers, I attracted some concerned attention. A small group of beachgoers were observing but from my distance I couldn’t decipher if they were anxious or even looking my way. After a few minutes and successfully bodysurfing a 12 footer in about 100 yards [exhilarating!], one of the local board hire guys ran down the beach and dove in to ‘rescue me’. I calmly offered a few gracias’s and a ‘no tengo una problema’ at which he acknowledged I wasn’t in any trouble and carried on. Thoughtful though, and always uplifting to know caring strangers are active in the world!
After another day of swallowing some salt water and managing to slash a few of the smaller waves on a longboard, my surf craze was mildly sedated and it was time to get back to work cycling the loop around southern Baja. Sights set back to Los Cabos, I said goodbye to the new friends and awesome staff at Pescadero Surf Camp and hydrated for the hills ahead.
The first few hours were easy going and I chugged along merrily before pulling off to check out an abandoned building I determined was formerly a shop marketing vanilla to tourists. Here I analyzed some left over and rapidly spoiling ham and cheese sandwiches. The night prior I had attempted to make a grilled ham and cheese but was unable to light the stove at the surf camp kitchen and had to graciously settle for the vegetarian pasta the Swedes had prepared. Now I was able to set the ham and cheese on a slice of bread atop my jet-black Camelback, apply direct sun rays for two and a half minutes on each side, and voila: a perfectly tasty hot ham and cheese sandwich. Questionable but delicious!
Turns out I’d quickly burn off any fuel I took in before it had any chance to upset my stomach. Normally I push hard up a hill and tell myself I can only stop once I reach the top. But the hills approaching Cabo were relentless. The worst feeling is enjoying a nice fast freewheel down when you can visually see the trough ahead and know full well that an exhausting incline is impending. Closing in on Cabo San Lucas, traffic picked up just in time for a two-mile climb up a killer grade, the sun high in the sky, scorching any exposed skin and redlining my internal temperature. Although it was still a dry heat and I wasn’t sweating profusely, this was hands-down the hottest I have ever felt without running an actual fever. Halfway up I frantically searched for a shady spot to pull over, finding nothing. Slowly chugging along, a fleet of four Corvettes whizzed past, their occupants sharply dressed for a night in the party capital of Baja. Struggling to get my camera out, I missed the photo op and yelled liked a two year old in frustration, “I want a Corvette right now!!”
Ten minutes and only ¾ a mile later, I reached what was perceived to be a plateau and decided to rest for a moment under the scant shade produced from the shadow of a skinny telephone pole. Turning my overheated body sideways, I managed to get mostly out of the sun and began enjoying a slight breeze. From this vantage point I realized I had to climb no more, the skyline of Cabo San Lucas was in sight and within reach. Chugging two of my remaining three liters of water, I began a slight descent which turned into a relaxing freewheel ride down into the city on the southernmost tip of Baja California.
Obviously my view of Cabo San Lucas would be different if travelling with a group intent on letting loose, but arriving solo and tired to an area on par with American prices [dollars were even accepted as easily as pesos], I found the place a bit overrated. A boat show was taking place at the marina but other than a pleasant conversation with the Canadian captain of a mega yacht, that event was also more flash than substance. No worries, I made my way to a surprisingly quiet and comfortable hostel where I had the room to myself that night.
Taking off the next day, I passed by a man who was working a tourist booth in the center of town hawking snorkel trips and booze cruises. He even remembered my name [Cristobal] from a brief encounter the day before and was disappointed about my early departure. His excursions became cheaper and cheaper for me…truly ridiculous discounts even by Mexican standards but I couldn’t justify it. In my eyes I had seen the sights of Cabo so “no worries” I said to the hawker, “I’ll save my money and my liver and be back someday for the traditional ‘cabo wabo’ experience”, and pedaled on.
San Jose del Cabo was only a half day’s cycle from there and being on a cape, the sea breeze would clock around and continue to force light tailwinds on my back! Of course whenever I’m feeling too good about any situation something normally happens to put me back in my place. Sure enough some road debris caused a puncture in the rear tire and I was down to the rim in a matter of seconds.
After a quick patch job I was back on the road and noticed a flashing radar speed indicator hanging across the highway alerting motorists of their true speed. With little to no traffic this Sunday afternoon, I decided to pop off the shoulder and into the lane to get an accurate reading of my top speed. Pumping hard as I neared the sign, I yelled the readings out loud: 22kph, 25, 28!, 31, 32, 117, 125?!? A faint, high-pitched whine rapidly approached from my six as I frantically dove back onto the shoulder, narrowly avoiding being run down by an Audi doing well over 120kph (75mph) in a 70kph zone.
The remaining ride into San Jose del Cabo was a stunning mix of high end resorts and luscious green golf courses as the highway weaved up and down through gorgeous desert coastal scenery. Stopping for an early dinner in town, I met the first Minnesotan’s I’d seen in a very long time. This conversation sticks out in my mind probably because I wasn’t used to the traditional hearty/stubborn attitude of my people: Joe had a triple bypass fifteen years ago. Doctors gave him three years to live and forbade him from red meat. Now I was sitting next to Joe and his wife in 2013, listening to him complain about Minnesota baseball while eating a burger and downing a beer. I didn’t mean to give him a hard time; guess I too am the definition of hearty/stubborn riding a bicycle all over the continent!
San Jose del Cabo itself was on a slower pace and caters more towards the local rather than the tourist population compared to its bustling, partying sister city, Cabo San Lucas. Sunday night even featured live music in the town center – an event that attracted crowds of families and townspeople enjoying a relaxing evening. The music that night happened to be mostly classic rock and oldies attempted in English by the Mexican band. My favorite cover was ‘Johnny Be Good’. I’m pretty awful at karaoke but I laughed out loud when the singer belted out ‘Go Yawnny go-goooo. Yawnny be gooood!’ I made my way back to the Hotel Posasdo Senor Manana, recommended by travel review writer Amanda whom I had met back at the Pescadero Surf Camp. Her review was spot on as the place was a fantastic budget option to enjoy a relaxing vibe, catch up on sleep, and still manage to be right in the center of town.
Recharged and feeling fit, I was now pointed north and set out to complete the last third of my circuit of Baja Sur. The sun was again unbearable as I squeezed out the last few drops in my travel sized container of sunscreen. I laughed to myself realizing that the 3 oz container I picked up free at the Miami Boat Show had gotten me all the way across the country and down Baja California. Wondering if my nose was now doomed to fry under the sun’s rays, a roadside monument appeared and told me not to worry: I was crossing the Tropic of Cancer and headed to higher and [theoretically] less sun burnt latitudes. All the guidebooks and online reviews gave this monument poor reviews but for a free attraction in the middle of nowhere, I was thought it was very cool and began climbing over the 12 foot diameter globe and stood in awe of the large mural dedicated to the biblical Mary. I guess anything out of the ordinary impresses the touring cyclist…especially when random Americans appear and offer a COLD can of Pacifico. ☺
That afternoon I stopped in a small town called Santiago, en route to an even smaller village referred to as Agua Caliente. Immediately I noticed a relatively posh hotel for such a quaint town and had to check it out. The Hotel Palomar had plenty of charm, and ice cream was on the menu so I couldn’t resist. Halfway through my neapolitan feast, the owner, Sergio, came by to chat and showed me around his famous hotel. Apparently Bing Crosby and Susan Sarandon were among the famous guests who formerly frequented the Hotel Palomar. Once Sergio discovered I arrived via bicycle, his chatter intensified until my ice cream bowl was empty and he persuaded me into trying their world famous fish tacos. I have to hand it to Mexicans, when they advertise something as the world’s best, they don’t lie. Turns out these fish tacos were the best in all of Baja [my opinion, and of course Sergio’s] and the guacamole was up there as well.
Sergio was cool with me tenting in the garden out back and even showed me which trees had ripe oranges and grapefruit for the picking. ‘The sour grapefruit here goes well with the house tequila…you must try it!” He obliged when I requested a raincheck as I wanted to check out the much-hyped waterfalls and hot springs in the area before nightfall. Pedaling the remaining 6 miles down a dusty gravel road that became progressively narrower, I eventually made it to the hot springs of Agua Caliente [hot water]. I had on good authority that the waterfalls had dried up and after a long day of desert cycling, wanted nothing more than to relax in a hot spring anyway. Apparently I wasn’t the only one…three other locals had the same idea and offered me a Pacifico when I swam over. These nice gents spoke zero English but with some degree of difficulty and pantomiming, we managed to communicate and crack a few jokes. After relaxing, getting nibbled on by small fish, performing 15 foot cliff jumps multiple times, and relaxing some more, the sun was getting low. My new amigos joked “Si, guerro!” in a fun-loving fashion when I asked if I could toss my bicycle in the back of their Toyota pickup and we drove back to Agua Caliente, where I then had a short ride to the hotel.
All packed up the next morning, I ordered up another round of the famous fish tacos for breakfast before heading out. A final goodbye to Sergio and it was back to hills and sun. When the battery on my iPod died, I chomped down a few caffeinated energy chews and turned on the music player in my phone. Normally I keep my phone off to conserve battery power should I need to use the map feature but here there was only one road so I figured even I couldn’t botch it. Charging fast at the base of each hill, gravity would kick in and I’d end up slowly trudging the top half in the lowest gear. Finally after cresting one hill, I looked far and wide below, and declared aloud, ‘Gringo-land!’
It was the first word that popped out of my mouth as I initially saw only a smattering of small town homes and RV lots arranged in a grid pattern, more than a few of which were complete with backyard pool. Admittedly this was just a shock after not having seen so many American snowbirds in one area before, along with the first Walgreens I’d seen in 1000 miles. Coasting down it became apparent this was a seasonal town with a large foreign population. Despite the disparity most everyone walked around town with smiles and obvious respect for one another. Again my lack of planning proved no problem as I promptly received the low down when I stopped at a taqueria for lunch.
Grant and his wife recommended I camp right at the East Cape RV park where they have wintered for the past 10 years and are currently constructing a small house in one of the lots. Taking their advice, I was in for a wonderful treat. Only 300 yards from the sandy white windsurfing beaches and complete with a pool and hot tub, I was in paradise. As I’ve said before, it is the people that make or break any experience, and the folks at the East Cape RV park were some of the most thoughtful, caring, and best around. Park owner Theresa immediately invited me over for happy hour and subsequent dinner. It was the first family style meal I had in a long time and am forever grateful for the company of a dozen or so strangers that let me join in as a friend.
Winter is the windy season on the Sea of Cortez so by early May all I encountered on the beach was a multitude of windsurfing shops with ‘closed’ signs in the window. Slightly disappointed, I still had an amazing time thanks to all the wonderful friends and families I encountered at the East Cape RV park. Realizing that my own family needed me back home to catch the baptism of my new nephew, it was time to get moving again. Rushing out early without all the proper goodbyes, I informed Grant I’d be back someday as he pointed to a few pilings in the ground and shouted “You know where we’ll be!”. Pushing back through La Paz, I then settled back in for a 24 hour bus ride up to Tijuana.
Thanks everyone for reading and supporting my ventures…I’ve got a bunch of journals that I’ll continue transferring to blogs. The blog.com host site hasn’t been the best…the site is temporarily down every other time I attempt to log in despite new notifications to the contrary saying ‘this bug has been fixed’. If I end up changing to a different website I’ll post a link here. Cheers!
Passing a Walmart in the outskirts of La Paz, I knew the going would be easy from this point forth. Only a handful of days outside of the US and I had already forgotten how easy life can be with the convenience of a one stop shop. I skipped the opportunity for ‘precios muy bajos’ and continued on to the city centre where I cruised up ‘El Malecón’ (the boardwalk/main street lined with shops and restaurants opposite the white sand beach). There was even a bicycle lane, the first observed thus far in Mexico. After stopping at a tourist info kiosk, I set my sights on a local backpacker’s hostel. Despite being given directions, a map in my hand, and a mere 5 blocks to cover, I managed to circle around for 15 minutes before cartoonishly looking up to see the sign for “La Paz Backpacker’s” over my head. The purpose of this bicycle trip was to slow down and take in the world but apparently even 12 mph was too fast.
Greeted by expat Rick and his Mexican wife Angelique, I instantly felt at home and to top it off, met three other touring cyclists who had just conquered Baja California as well. Although $12 seemed like a solid budget option for a dormitory bed, I was accustom to my tent and sought an even better deal camping in the backyard. The best part was bathroom, shower, breakfast, kitchen, and the opportunity to chill and mingle with the like minded travelers were still included.
La Paz itself is a great city. Everything you could want is close at hand from high end boutiques to bargain food stalls. Despite a number of tourists, it never felt overwhelmingly so as the larger local population masked most signs of foreign interference. The best part of La Paz …alright 2nd to the nightclubs… was the proximity to world class beaches. Of course the entire length of the Malecón has plenty of sand for the grabbing, but the further out of town one ventures the better the beaches become. Palapas [essentially large, palm-thatched beach umbrellas] are scattered throughout most beaches and operate for free on a first come first serve basis. One day I saddled up and went for a fast ride about 20 miles out. Hands down one of the best days with my blaze orange bicycle, I packed only sunscreen, water, and a victory ration of rum and coca-cola as I cruised fast and light along perfect roads and gorgeous mountains on my quest for sand and water.
Mission accomplished once I reached Playa Balandra. Here was featured a unique [albeit overly hyped] mushroom shaped rock formation in the water. I made short work up a massive hill that provided a 360 degree view of the enormous beach below and mega yachts anchored at hand. Climbing down and making my way through the expanse of shallow water where dozens of families were playing in, I ran into Rick [hostel owner] and his family. Perhaps Rick was just one of the many nice and outgoing people I met but I think the congenial attitude of Baja California had rubbed off on him as he truly made it welcoming and too easy to relax, converse, and join in on his family day.
My final morning in La Paz was spent at the marina for bottomless 50 cent coffee. Here the real intent was to scope out the local sailing scene and -if the stars magically aligned in my extreme favor- consider crewing aboard a boat to the next horizon. I made a few connections with sailors enjoying breakfast at the restaurant but it wasn’t my first rodeo…before arriving I guessed based on the time of year that most yachts would have already departed if headed south. Anyone still there would be pointed due north to California—a 10-15 day upwind passage [translation: a rough, sea-sickening cruise with no real stops until Ensenada or San Diego]. Sure enough there was one old salt, Capt. Gary, looking to con someone with an adventurous spirit into helping him transport his 42’ sloop to San Francisco. Not that I’m one to judge or shy away from but I feel my summation was accurate when describing Gary as a ‘budget sailor’ when he rowed [not motored] his patched up dinghy ashore donning a tattered Jimmy Buffet tee exposing a few tattoos. Not to my surprise he became less than enthused when I announced my expected fee for a servitude to California. So, amply fixed on caffeine, I put to rest random ideas of hopping aboard another boat and refocused my cycling efforts and an increasing wish to make the upcoming stretch a surf tour!
Relaxing at the Ocean Beach International hostel proved easy. The beach and pier were a mere two blocks away, a well stocked grocery store was at hand, and I was surrounded by a plethora of restaurants and bars. The best part about this hostel (possibly 2nd only to the low price) was the variety of people staying there. Traveling solo gets lame after a while and it really is a treat to make instant friends with like minded travelers. The OBI hostel was no exception.
There’s Peter from Dublin and Seth from upstate New York; both initially stayed for two weeks before being offered accommodation and a stipend for helping out a few hours each day. Now they are going on two months. Murillo, from Brazil, can be found each morning paying another $18 to the front desk and notifying everyone he will be staying ‘just one more day’. Valerie and Anna have helped expand my German vocabulary. A few Aussie surfers are in the mix as well as Brian, an older gentleman from South Africa trying to scrape enough cash together for a flight home.
One of my dorm-mates for my short tenure was an aspiring doctor from Barcelona. Josep was wrapping up his last week of internship clinics in the states and had moved out of his host family’s house in anticipation of his following week off. I admired Josep and was glad to have the opportunity to chat with him over sushi one day…his schedule involved getting up at 5, working at the hospital all day until 6 in the evening, then studying for a few hours until bed.
I on the other hand leisurely made my way to breakfast around 7:30, explored the city, made repairs to my bike, attempted some running and pushups on the beach, before making my way back to the hostel where the rest of the crew unofficially began a happy hour on the front porch that lasted until we either went to a bar, bonfire on the beach, or sometimes didn’t even leave the front steps until management kicked us to bed at 1 am.
Kentucky John was one of my favorite characters. Even with my brief three day encounter, I can say that Kentucky is genuinely a nice, caring, and overall good human who through some series of decisions ended up working and living at a hostel. I’m sure his story could be elaborated but I wasn’t concerned about his past, we were all enjoying the best of the circumstances.
Obviously hailing from Kentucky, it wasn’t until my last day that I discovered his actual name was John. On that day, Kentucky pulled out an old business card to prove that he was formally a barber. John Best’s name was listed under ‘The Best Little Hair House on Main’ in LaGrange, Kentucky. Of course everyone wanted to see Kentucky in action so a few brave souls stepped up to his makeshift barber’s chair on the front porch. In the end what sold me was Kentucky’s pitch: ‘my haircuts are guaranteed to get you some lady attention. If you don’t have any luck after two weeks….come back for another haircut!’
Normally the barber asks if you want to keep the sideburns. Kentucky decided for himself that mine needed to come off. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that my barber had taken some hallucinogenic mushrooms prior to the free haircut offering. Who knows what Kentucky was seeing through his eyes but my hair turned out all right for the most part. Coincidently it was the exact same cut that Peter got. And the exact same dew that Germans Matt and Lucas received. Although I wouldn’t recommend a haircut performed by a man on drugs for wedding day pictures, at least we got a good story out of the situation.
It is always hard to leave a relaxing setup but such is the nature of a traveller. Luckily I was exchanging one good situation for a great cultural night in Tijuana.
I met Reuben at a truck stop about 10 days prior near Lordsville, NM. He was a lifesaver and gave me a lift during one afternoon where I had spent 5 hours battling winds to cover a mere 30 miles. A trucker based in San Diego, he divides his time there and with his family in Tijuana. During the ride he elaborated about the fiesta he was planning for his granddaughter who was turning two and encouraged me to attend if I could make it the following week.
Since I had arrived in San Diego in record time, I tried Reuben and sure enough he was true to his word. He picked me up after I walked across the San Diego/Tijuana border (getting stuck with my bicycle in the turnstile until a Mexican lady assisted by forcing me through).
Reuben was all dressed up. I felt quite scrubby in comparsion but he said not to worry. He drove me around Avenida Revolución showing me the sights of Tijuana, where to go and where to avoid after dark. Then his phone rang instructing him to get to back to his party. Cutting the tour, he whipped a U in front of ‘Hong Kong’ (which apparently does not have Chinese food) and headed to the party hall he had rented.
I was awestruck…100 guests, 3 pinatas, a table full of gifts, and another table full of cakes, cupcakes, and sweets. All of this was fully catered with staff assisting all with the imbibing of copious amounts of Tecate beer. I was late and missed dinner but caught the pinata action. At this point the children were all fired up, the DJ started playing a Spanish version of Achey Breaky Heart, and Reuben’s friends began chatting me up and putting more and more cerveza in front me. Initially the language barrier was something of a holdup but ahhh…what a tool alcohol can be in helping with word flow. Perhaps I know more espanol than I give myself credit for because with each Tecate I drank the less preoccupied I was with language mistakes and mispronunciations, taking more attempts that were understood, más o menos.
It truly was a memorable night and I can’t thank Reuben and his friends and family enough for their wonderful hospitality.
The next morning I set out for a surf camp near Ensenada. It was hot and hilly making my way out of the city proper but once I got along the coast I found a nice paved shoulder, low traffic, and some of the best scenery of the trip yet. There were a few military checkpoints but I played the gringo card well and was simply waved through.
Ian is a bloke from South Africa, a football [soccer] fanatic, worldly and well versed in many pursuits in life. He recently opened up ‘Young Dudes Surf Hostel’ with his daughter Molly. It was awesome to watch Sky Sports and cheer on Arsenal at 8am, enjoy authentic and delicious tacos for less than $1 each, and finally attempt some proper surfing.
Vicente was a local 18 year old surfer. Though he didn’t speak any English, it never proved a problem as he guided me into the surf. I’ve always considered myself a strong swimmer but after taking two months away from any sort of upper body workout, discovered I was getting worked just paddling past the breakers. Totally worth it though as I stood up on my first wave! A little awkward popping up but the long board made it easy to balance and ride.
The best part of the day occurred later when I was huffing and puffing [again] after paddling out. Vicente and I were waiting for the next set of waves as he blissfully repeated ‘tranquilo, tranquilo’ while we floated in the calm. Just then a pack of dolphins appeared, one so close I reached out and touched it. The swells then picked up. I let the first wave go by, but not the dolphins- they had come out to surf as well! In the distance I spotted the next wave massing up and it looked a tad on the monsterous side. Vicente yelled for me to let it pass but I was right on top of the beast and perfectly set! I whipped around, paddled hard, and popped right up on the ~12 footer. 2.7 seconds of pure ecstasy and I was promptly barreled, end over end. Thankfully the beach was soft sand and not reef. Lesson learned- tranquilo, tranquilo!
The next day I said goodbye to Ian and Molly and set off south down highway 1. I had planned to go through Ensenada and pitch my tent somewhere farther along on the secluded beach. However, I noticed a gorgeous Australian girl working the front desk of the hostel downtown. That called for a slight detour and she sold me on staying a night. I proceeded to chat with Meghan for another 20 minutes…until her boyfriend came into the room. Just as well, I had left my bike sitting out front and it was definitely time to check on it. As I went to park my ride in the back of the hostel, I met Lino (Lyn), a retired dentist from CA who seemed to know everyone in town.
He let me put my gear away and showed me to the local bike shop where I was looking for cycling info on the rest of Baja. On the way he provided a guided tour which completely enhanced the way I saw Ensenada. After a couple hours of Lino showing me around, we came to the San Nicolas Hotel and Casino, one of the most prestigious in Ensenada, and also the headquarters and awards area for the annual Baja 1000 off-road race. Of course Lino knew the owner, Nico [Nicolas] Saad, who happened to be a champion waterskier and barefoot skier back in the 60′s. While I admired his waterski pictures hanging on the wall, Nicolas himself showed up, and Lino introduced us.
What a treat! Nicolas listened to my story and suggested I take the bus down to La Paz and sit in the front row so I could imagine myself biking. Hearing all of this from a waterski legend turned hotel and tourist mogul, I took his recommendations to heart and decided on looking for a bus to take me south. This would save me a solid week of desert riding and provide more time to cycle and surf around the warmer waters of Baja Sur.
So after a night listening to mariachis at the infamous cantina Hussong’s with Lino, I cycled a bit further south before sucombing to a 20 hour bus ride to La Paz in southern Baja California (Baja sur).
The bus ride itself was uneventful other than my thoughts of how much more work it would be to pedal the expanse of mountains that gradually gave way to barren desert. I guess that is one take away from this adventure- I won’t be complaining about a long car ride anytime in the future!
The bus driver was relentless. We had left about two hours late and I guess he was determined to make up that time. I wondered how this manic driver could continue all night on a road the locals unofficially warn ’avoid at all costs after sunset’. Then the driver pulled over, opened a compartment on the side of the bus, and traded places with a second driver who was sleeping there.
Luckily I had brought some snacks with as all of the small towns we passed through had shut down somewhere around 6pm. One guy ran down the street during a diesel fillup to a food stand. I tried communicating to the driver that we should wait but pleads went unanswered/misunderstood and we took off. Twenty minutes later the bus pulled over and the slightly irritated but not fuming man got back on. Apparently he witnessed the bus leaving him in the dust so he gave a nearby hombre with a car 30 pesos (less than $3) to chase after for 10 miles. The rest was a haze as I slept incredibly well despite the amount of twists and turns and noisy engine braking of the bus. And then I arrived in the large but tranquil city of La Paz…let the good times roll!
My timing into Tucson was perfect as it happened to be bike fest weekend. A bicycle tour of historic downtown on Friday night provided new friends and plenty of good info to help with the rest of my stay. Plus I scored some cheap tubes at a Saturday morning gear swap. Tucson itself is a very bike friendly city although despite this fact I was not surprised to witness a car crash. I felt safe on the bike but a mixture of speeding vehicles flying down residential streets mixed with a certain amount of anxious/timid and often elderly drivers proved to be a car-crippling combo in the sprawling city. Those drivers put me off from riding up Gates Pass [a winding, narrow hill with a 16% grade] to Old Tucson. But I did manage some cycling around Saguaro Park though wish I could have swapped for my mountain bike back home as there are a plethora of wicked off road trails.
When I started this cycling venture 5.5 weeks ago in Miami, optimistic thoughts and no lack of determination were flowing through my head. But as the headwinds increased and forward progress slowed to a crawl in the desert of Arizona I began to question my goal. Frustrations were growing and though I am in solid physical condition, I was beginning to lose the mental game. While fixing the fifth flat of the day on the afternoon I rode into Tucson, a nasty dust storm snuck up and didn’t afford me the time to secure my bandana over my face. After being sandblasted, I weighed the options before me:
Cycle to San Diego = 5-7 more days in the desert
Craigslist Rideshare = 5-7 more hours in the desert; leaving more time to explore the California coast
Should I spend my time dealing with more dust, thorns, and gas station food or relax on a beach surrounded by bikinis?
Yes I made the correct decision.
On Tuesday morning I said goodbye to Uncle John, Bonnie, and Aunt Betty in Tucson. It’s always nice to enjoy some time with family and I was extra appreciative to see some familiar faces after six months on the go. And just like that I met some new friends [Brandon and Hannah] who were on their way to San Diego. Loading down the Chevy Cruze they rented with my bike in the back, we cranked up Brandon’s Ipod and teleported to San Diego.
Brandon, Hannah, myself
Now the memories of watching the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean are being completed with the breathtaking sunsets over the pier in Ocean Beach, San Diego. Knowing that my journey is not over, I still felt a sense of completion and recalled how far I had come since a poorly planned start in Bordeaux last fall. Here are a few bits from my journal back then describing ‘a lack of forward planning but no lack of determination’:
Inspecting the VTT [vélo tout terrain / mountain bike] from the seller’s flat from leboncoin.fr [similar to Craigslist], I knew it was not a match made in heaven. But the bicycle was cheap and in decent shape so I proceeded with the sale [mostly because it was already 8pm and I wanted to leave the next day].
Pedaling around the streets of Bordeaux, I christened the bike “Gregory”. I never determined what brand it was but the word ‘Gregory’ was printed on the blue frame. From here on it was me and Gregory…or a less formal ‘Greg’…which morphed to ‘Old Greg’ during times of frustration. There’s a nonsensical Youtube video entitled Old Greg in which the creepy main character screams to the world “I’m Old Greggg!” This garbage unfortunately replayed in head over and over. I’m not going to put the Youtube link and don’t recommend looking it up.
The next day I took the ‘free’ city train to Decathlon [a sporting goods store chain in France] where I geared up the bike. A rather poor assembly of the rear rack ensued as I didn’t quite have the right fittings so just jammed the supports into the brake calipers. This meant that when fully loaded, I had about 50lbs sitting atop a rack secured with a plastic nut screwed into a fitting not meant to bear any weight. But it seemed to hold.
Once loaded up I literally crashed my way down the spiral stairs to the sidewalk outside. Again in despair I thought the entire mission was hopeless when I fell over after pedaling my first three feet. A simple adjustment of the panniers [saddlebags] allowed me to cycle in full motion but created a rather awkward center of gravity. Sometimes you just have to go for it. It was hard to leave Cécile, Sofie, and their kitten Blaz as I was grateful for their hospitality but excited to get on with this adventure.
I found my way out of Bordeaux easily and followed my ‘Canal du Midi’ guide east. Sweating came quickly and profusely with the load. The backpack I was wearing didn’t help with airflow or back pain but there was already too much weight on the haphazard rack and I only had tube patches, no spares, so I didn’t dare stress Gregory any more.
The next test came in a small village two hours out. The pedal fell off. I had a hard time initially installing it the night before and now could see how the threads on it were partially stripped. [I would later be informed in Miami that most bikes come with cheap 'show' pedals and anyone serious/interested in riding more than around town should upgrade.] Tearing apart all my gear, I could not locate the multitool.
No worries, as I was in the centre of a village and eyed a few lads working on a car. Using their wrenches for a quick fix everything seemed 100% again. Then the pedal promptly fell off 4 blocks down the street. At this point I spied a man with dirty hands and a truck. Sure enough he was handy with his tools and even spoke English. He torqued that pedal back on Ol’ Greg, stripping it hardcore. If it falls off again I’m really up a creek I thought.
But the pedal stayed secure and after a while and with darkness approaching I found my warm-showers host for the night. Sabine and Fabrice had two small boys named Charly and Léo and lived outside of Langon. I also met another guest for the evening, Philip (Feel-eep as the boys referred to him). Philip, from Montreal, was taking some time off from work and had already cycled most of France. His extensive knowledge was a blessing as he provided me with advice that I should have sought before starting this voyage.
When everyone was washed up, a fantastic second dinner was had [my caloric intake would start to surprise even me] and we were even treated to a ‘first flush’ of wine from the neighbor’s small vineyard. It was a little harsh but still a treat. After dinner I read a book with Léo [aged 2.5 years]. It was a French children’s book and proved to be a learning opportunity for both of us.
After a great night’s sleep breakfast was had (warm chocolate milk over chocolate quinoa cereal–yum!). Consulting with Philip, I decided to set out for the Decathlon in Marmande [stop #2] to gear up on fenders and some proper camping gear. I would be thankful later.
Later in the day the wind picked up and I humoured myself by shouting ‘I’m Old Greggg!” along the canal path whenever his finicky gearshift tested my patience. South France might be known for its vineyards but never have I seen so many delicious apple trees. Stopping every half hour or so to pick a fresh one, I was enjoying life.
Full on apples but slightly dehydrated, I arrived into Agen around sunset and began asking people on the street for directions to the warm-showers host I had arranged that night. Becoming progressively anxious, I knew I found the spot when who do I see in the window but Philip! Wheeling in I couldn’t contain myself and shouted ‘Hey Feel-eep’! Neither of us realized earlier that we were staying with the same host that night. Knowing I had a warm bed and could expect some more advice from Philip, my spirits rose significantly.
A fantastic French dinner was had with Angelique [my host] and her teenage daughter. The next morning we were greeted with rain and a Danish family cycle touring Europe. Of course the first thing the Danish mother does is sit down at the dinner table with everyone and initiate breastfeeding her one year old in front of us. I guess we weren’t strangers for very long. C’est la vie.
After pacing around all morning I knew there was some major ground to cover before Toulouse. So foolishly turning down the offer to stay another night, I hit the road in the late afternoon rain. Taking advantage of being in a decent sized city, I made a stop at a Decathlon (#3) in search of a small sleeping pad. None in stock so I pulled out the map and planned out the rest of the day.
Like many bicycle tourists have stated, the most confusing part of a ride is navigating a city. It was a mess making my way out of Agen but I managed about 50km or so before I pulled into Moissac for a kebab. I felt a little guilty for ordering such rubbish when delicious French options were available but I was cold and wet and carefully devoured the hot sandwich.
Then back to the canal trail in the light drizzle where I chugged along using my headlamp as a guide to scope out a suitable spot in which to stealthily pitch my tent. Darkness adds another degree of stress but despite being cold and wet, the excitement was pounding in my chest. No more reading about other’s tips and tricks on how to camp ‘for free’; I had forced myself into this situation and wanted to see how I would perform.
Again a lack of planning but no lack of determination…and eventually I had the tent set up just off the canal and back in some trees. Unfortunately a too-thin sleeping bag and no pad pitted me against the cold ground and had me scrambling for every article of clothing sometime during the middle of the night. Being a light sleeper, I have discovered that shivering is one of my triggers into a sort of light-REM sleep sometimes capable of lucid dreams. Lucid dreaming seemed to be common throughout my less than sound nights of sleep and sometimes produces hilarious results. I could go on about this topic so I’ll save it for another post. Anyways, the night turned out to be a great learning experience and I ensured myself at least one more trip to Decathlon to search for a sleeping pad.
After a rough night, I happened across and teamed up with John and Susan, an Aussie/American couple who were cycling the same direction as me. It was work keeping up with the retired couple but glad I did as the headwinds were picking up in the afternoon again and we all agreed they were something we did not want to get caught in. Some of my self-esteem was later reclaimed when Susan picked up my bike and realized how heavy it was. I forget exactly what she said but it was somewhere along the lines of ‘Bless your heart. I can’t believe you kept up with such a heavy load’.
My host for the night in Toulouse was a very cool counter-culture peace activist about my age named Tanguy [pronounced Tahn-ghee]. I distinctly recall ringing him on the phone from the hotel lobby that John and Susan were lodging at and speaking in a mixture of French and English:
Me: “Bonjour c’est Chris de warm-showers, is this ‘TAN-GUY’?”
Confusion on the other end with a moderately quiet, heavily accented “Oui I am ‘Tahn-Ghee.”
[At the time my logic was that Tanguy was just an online handle as that was our only form of prior correspondence. Nope…that’s his name. I’m just ignorant.]
Me: “Je suis a Toulouse right now. I think I have your address correct, I will arrive in ‘deez or vanght mee-noot’” [10 or 20 minutes]
More confusion over my butchering of the French language.
Tanguy: C’est bon. I will be in front of the buildings.
Climbing a massive hill one mile from the city center, I spied a chill dude sitting in front of the apartments I was searching for. Tanguy immediately helped secure my bike and invited me in. He had an impressive array of cheeses and fresh baguettes and fed me immediately. On top of that he had homemade yogurt which was delicious with some sugar added. I was beyond grateful for his warm welcome but having biked through Patagonia the previous year, he said he knew the feeling of exhaustion and was happy to help.
Tanguy had a meeting to attend to prepare for an upcoming nuclear power protest which I coincidently witnessed the previous weekend in Bordeaux. Hooking me up with a key to his flat and directions to the Decathlon (stop #4), I explored Toulouse on a bustling Saturday afternoon. Everything always seems to work out!
After more than a few messages and phone calls asking ”where are you/you still alive?” I decided to put this blog up so others can share in and track my adventures. Cheers to Carter for referring to my adventures as an odyssey though I stop and question myself every time I try spelling that word.
I’ll make attempts to keep at this but since it is 6 months overdue, I’m just gonna start from today and occasionally jot down memories from the past making it chronologically inaccurate but hopefully still readable. For those unaware, here’s a brief summary of my journey to date:
Travelled to south France fall 2012 to visit some friends, volunteer at a chateau, and do some bicycling through wine country. Then I crewed on a sailboat across the Atlantic with some island hopping and lobster spearing along the way. Arriving in Florida I decided to get my land legs back in shape by cycling across the US, coast to coast. Now I’ve hit the high desert of New Mexico and wondering why this seemed like a good idea.
In fact many people have asked me what I’m doing and why [or as a few South Carolinians put it, "wudd da heell is wrong witch youu??"]. My mission is simple: explore.
Ferris Bueller said it best: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
After working in an office setting for 3 years the monotony of stability was gnawing on me. Quoting from another explorer I met, “there is a time for everyone to settle but right now isn’t mine.” I don’t feel I should decide how the next 40 years of my life will be played until I know what else lies out there.
In fact there’s a whole wide world out there full of fascinating and different people. I’m a pretty easy going guy and like to hear other’s opinions and views of the world. And that I have. From socialists in an island-wide street protest in the Canaries to a rather conservative cowboy-minister in the bible belt south, I think such a diverse and variety of people make this planet great. Perhaps if people would observe and listen a little more and scream at each other a little less they might lead more fulfilled lives because of it. That’s about as philosophical as I get.
In the meantime, know that yes I am still alive and I’ll keep stuffing my face with ~5000 calories/day while pedalling along.