Thursday, November 12, 2015

Couch Karma

It was an overcast cool morning when Sierra and I left Bodega Bay in search of bacon and eggs, biscuits and gravy, and coffee and cream. We don’t eat out for breakfast often, but we needed a boost in calories that only a diner breakfast can provide. In a flash, we had ridden through town without finding any food for less than $50.00 at a resort, not the kind of food hungry bike tourists are searching for. We were standing on the side of the road trying to stomach an apple with peanut butter, when a car pulled up and asked if we were OK and needed anything. Although our words said that everything was alright and that we were just eating a snack, our hunger for buttery baked goods must have been covering our faces. The passenger reached down and passed a small pastry bag out of the window. “Here’s something to add to your snack!” the exclaimed. The pair mentioned that they used to tour on a tandem as well and wished us safe travels before dashing away. Sierra and I stared at each other for a second before we hungrily peered into the bag. A still hot out of the oven blueberry scone lay in the bag and we quickly started to devour our new breakfast. Instantly our mood lifted just as the sun began to break through the morning fog. “Did that really just happen?” Sierra asked me. Both of us were still in shock, but now smiling and ready to ride again.

For years, Sierra and I have hosted travelers and cycle tourists. We jokingly call our dinners with guests a way boost our “Couch Karma”. That day we were blessed with a small token in return. These actions can only come from the heart and usually are given when least expected but will completely change the world of the traveler.

Calorie Counting

“At this point, it’s all about the food,” Sierra explained to a pair of bicycle tourists just beginning their adventure. We were sitting on the beach of Monterey Bay watching the sunset and waiting for a vat of stew to finish cooking. We have finally left the craggy coastline of the northern beaches and have entered the agricultural region that grows the majority of strawberries, artichokes, and brussel sprouts along with acres of lettuce and cabbage. It is a perfect match for the hungry touring cyclist. Each day we are burning upward of 5,000 calories. It seems that much of our time spent off the bicycle is focused around eating or getting more food. So when we passed an organic strawberry farm that advertised a bicycle in discount* (*must be wearing helmet), we had no choice but to stop and investigate. The farm stand had all sorts of delicious berry desserts: cheesecake, tart, pie, and strawberry truffles. We managed to pass all of these by and instead grab a box for the u-pick strawberries. It seemed dubious that there was a place in the world you could pick incredible fruit in November, but we were greeted with soft juicy fruit dripping from the small plants in the field. We quickly filled our box (and ate an equal amount while we picked). Back in the farm stand we succumbed to a slice of cheesecake, a cup of hot apple-strawberry cider, and a dozen free samples of the jam the farm makes.

As we left the farm, we were blessed with a 20 mph tailwind pushing us further south. It was difficult to imagine a reason for us to stop in case the wind decided to shift. However, just two miles down the road, we again slammed on the brakes when we encountered a sign reading fresh avocado 5/$1. It was such a treat, we almost bought 10 but were running out of room in our bags.

It was interesting to reflect on this cornucopia of fresh food as we were riding through the fields surrounding our route. Each day we passed numerous immigrant workers hunched over picking these fresh foods by hand. It is intimidating to look down miles of rows of strawberries and realize that most of this work is still done with limited amounts of mechanization. Each bundle of lettuce, each bunch of spinach and every leaf of kale is still bundled by human hands and twist ties are closed one at a time.

As we head south, we have continued to encounter more desperate drought conditions. In many places restrooms are closed and replaced with temporary outhouses. Signs are posted at every sink and hydrant to encourage conservation and warning that wells are soon to run dry. Everyone is waiting in hope that the water will return this winter and that snow will fall in the mountains. When we look around at the brown slopes and empty river beds, it seems hard to imagine that water will return to this region in amounts that will allow this lifestyle to continue. Or, as one graffiti artist indicated in the portajohn at the campground in San Simeon, “humanity is fucked”. I just hope that the current level of water conservation that California is learning will create lasting change for the future years.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

California Touring

It was strange to cross over the border of our last state, and still have over half of our trip ahead of us. The northern border of the state is a long diverse trip to the Mexican border. Yet there are a few constants in our daily lives. The sun continues to set dramatically over the beaches we find ourselves on each day. The waves crash on the shores covered in rock and sand. Gulls, pelicans and cormorants still fight over fish and watch us expectantly as we eat our food, hoping for a few scraps.

As we cycle south, we begin to notice changes that are sometimes dramatic and other times more subtle. In the north, we cycled through the wet redwood forests. These tallest trees can’t tolerate the salty air near the coast and are only found inland protected in the valleys. The highway cut inland around the Lost Coast region of the northern shore. We climbed over the coastal range and in one descent left the cool forests and landed on the windswept grassy beaches of Mendocino.

 Our mornings were shrouded in fog and the afternoons were baked in sunshine. The hills were some of the steepest on the coast as the narrow highway undulated in and out of steep river canyons. We managed to avoid walking, but did take breaks at every pullout to enjoy the view and let our heart rates settle back down to less than explosive. Incredibly, we toured a historic Russian fort of named Fort Ross. This was the southernmost settlement of the Russian explorers and was used to grow crops and provide hunting grounds to support Alaskan settlements.

The northern coast ends at the Marin Headlands. We cycled around the headlands with views of Mount Tam and were gifted with beautiful sight of the Golden Gate Bridge and the skyline of San Francisco. We cycled over this incredible bridge while dodging tourists on bicycles, foot and pushing strollers. The city was gearing up for Halloween and we enjoyed wandering the streets with people in costume. We spent 3 days on foot as a recovery from weeks of pedaling. It was shocking to be around so many people after spending time quietly pondering the world on the coast. We filled ourselves with good food, beer and coffee and stayed with our friend Erica at her third story apartment in the southern part of the city.

We left the throng of the city just after a rainstorm passed through town. The sky was clear and everything glistened with a fresh wash. It wasn’t long after leaving the final suburbs of San Francisco, that we were looking at the northern hills of Big Sur. The highway returns to climbing as we crested over many headlands and descended into protected coves similar to that of the northern coast. This region was most recognizable by the migratory mammals. We saw our first pods of dolphins off the coast as well as our first large pods of surfers. These humans flock to the protected coves and sandy beaches and provide scenic entertainment as they try and catch a wave.

The hills of Big Sur flattened out into long rolling grasslands filled with grazing animals and spotted with oak trees. We visited beaches covered with enormous (up to 5,000 pounds) elephant seals who come to shore to sunbathe and strengthen the bone density on land. We watched yearling males joust like sumo wrestlers as they learn how to protect their territory and future mates. Just down the road and perched on the top of a hill is the enormous Hearst Castle. We toured the “house” and some of its 115 rooms that belonged to the millionaire media magnate. Each room was decorated with its original furnishings that included famous paintings from European grand masters, inlaid ceiling tiles from 16th century Spain and Ming Dynasty lamps and ornaments. The wealth inside was equally matched outside the home that was surrounded in Mediterranean inspired pools and fountains and decorated with marble Greek and Roman sculptures and Egyptian stone sculptures.
The route finally left the central coast to skirt around the Vandenberg Air Force Base inland. Away from the coastal weather influences, the dry air became uncomfortably hot in the day and we awoke with frost on our panniers this morning. This is the final stretch of central California before we return to the coast and long sandy beaches of So. Cal. tomorrow. It is with heavy hearts that we begin our final chapter in this tour: Both Sierra and I are not ready for the tour to be over and are happy we have more adventures to come. While we are looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family, taking time off the bike and enjoying a wider variety of creature comforts, we will deeply miss spending every night outside, seeing new sights every day and the camaraderie of fellow tourists.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Alternative Route

The majority of our route to date has followed the busy and traffic dense US 101. Although safe, it requires a certain level of concentration to maintain our course with cars constantly whizzing by. Whenever we can, we try to take an alternative route. 
Sometimes these routes are slightly longer and usually involve much more climbing, but they are usually quiet and allow us some solitude away from the traffic. Our favorite so far have been parts that are labeled as the "old highway". These sections were part of the original route for 101 but have been bypassed with a new highway designed for larger and faster moving vehicles.  
 These winding roads climb at a more enjoyable pace and hug the headlands. Sometimes they deteriorate into single lane roads or even gravel and always are cracked and slumped where landslides have pushed the road surface down. Our wide tires and steel frame float over these road obstacles with ease and relative comfort.

It's amazing how technology has evolved since the last time I was on an extended tour. I was without a cell phone and no one in our group had a smart phone. Now, we are traveling with a tablet and have the ability to download high resolution maps (using app) and plan our route. I am able to find quiet backroads quickly and easily just by zooming in to an area.
Some of these alternate routes are well known in the cycling community and are named: 3 Capes and 7 Devils. (Named for the number of difficult climbs) Others are more generic: Scenic Route or Ocean View. Some wind through small towns on side streets and will go by parks and scenic overlooks. Sierra and I always are ready to take a break off the bike for another scenic overlook.

Sometimes technology only helps so much when planning these small adventure detours. Our guide book described one of these alternate routes as a gravel road detour designed for mountain touring bikes. I wanted more details about the conditions before attempting something that was beyond our comfort level. We found the Redwood Information Center in Crescent City. The ranger on duty was helpful and said that the route we were looking at was a quiet gravel road that ended with a gated trail that was an old road that had some washouts but bicycles and hikers were allowed. This sounded perfect for the solitude we were looking for. The ranger followed that if we were up for this kind of riding, we should take a hike/bike trail that heads down to the coast from the Redwood Highway. We would be able to take the back way into the Fern Canyon (a place Sierra and I wanted to see). We left excited about some solid miles away from US 101.
Just after Klamath, CA, we turned to the coast and began a quiet climb through huge stands of redwoods. It felt like we had a private tour of a secret place. The sun was drifting down through the towering trees and a small creek flowed beside us. The climb topped out on a cliff with incredible views of the Pacific hundreds of feet below. The gravel road section was an adventuring tourist dream. Behind the gated road, we had miles of car free gravel road. Leaves crunched under our tires as we followed one of the oldest roads on this section of the coast. We were following a gold prospectors route from the 1850's and shared the same ups and downs that horse drawn wagons did 160 years ago.
Eventually the trail ended and we returned to a quiet paved road that meandered back to the main scenic drive.
The next section of adventure was a different story. We left the main road again for a trail that led down to the beach and followed the beach to Fern Canyon. Immediately we knew something was different. Instead of an old road, we were on a dirt single track trail. Our tires are wide, but not specifically designed for "off road" riding. Still spurred on by the ranger's suggestion and the previous glorious adventure, I thought that if we could get down to the beach, we would pick up the road again. We descended 500 feet in just a few miles. We were forced to stop three times to let our rims and brakes cool down from being too hot to touch. Finally we made it down to the beach, but instead of a flat gravel road trail, only single track loomed ahead. This would have been fun on a unloaded mountain bike, but for our tandem, it was a different story.

We pushed our tandem up steep sections of trail with blackberry and nettles biting at our legs. Twice we had to lift our bike over roots and over rocks. There was no option to turn back. It was only to go on or stop and sleep. We still had plenty of daylight so we pressed on. When we came to the first tree that was over the trail, our frustration levels were maxed out. We unloaded the bike and carried bags and then the bicycle over two large trees wondering the whole time what we had gotten into. The trail edged closer to the beach and became sandier and less stable. On a short steep section we stopped to get off and push the bike, but when we put our feet down on the ground, the side of the trail gave way and the we toppled over into the brush with our fully loaded bicycle on top of us.
I could feel branches breaking under my weight. Somehow Sierra and I both unclipped from our pedals but I was pinned upside down holding the bike from sliding further down into the ditch. Sierra was first up out of the ditch and started pulling the bags and bicycle off of me so that I could get to my feet. We were covered in dirt and twigs. We brushed ourselves off and looked over ourselves and the bicycle. Nothing was bent, broken or bloody, but we were bruised and shaken by the event.
Still the only option was to press on. The trail finally became flatter easier to ride. Our large bags fitting between logs, trees and huge sedges with only inches to spare. Eventually we could hear voices from around a clump of trees and we saw people walking toward us. They were shocked to see our fully loaded train heading down the trail but reassured us that we were almost back to the main road. We only had one more creek to cross. Balancing on a log while pushing our bike through 6 inch deep water we made it with dry feet to the other side.

Five minutes later, we entered the campground, found our spot and set up camp. We were sharing a spot with two backpackers from Australia and New Zealand. They built a huge fire and offered us sips from their bottle of spiced rum: two things that we were craving more than anything else.
We turned in for the night and decided to take a rest day in the morning, before heading back to tamer roads.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

All About Oregon

It's hard to believe we have been on the road for two weeks! Time is really flying, as are the miles. 

After a blissful rest day in Cannon Beach, we hopped back on our bike and turned our wheels South. It felt good to get back  on the bike, and our legs felt strong as we cycled up and over the rocky headlands. The warm, sunny weather didn't hurt either, and we took many opportunities to stop for photos of sea stacks and bays. We rode up and over Neahkahnie mountain in the hot sun, and cruised down into Manzanita Oregon where we stopped for a cup of coffee and a bagel before heading out to camp just outside of town at Nehalem Bay state park. 

Manzanita is located against a stunning backdrop of forested headland and sand dunes, and we took advantage of the 80 degree weather to walk into town along the soft sandy beach. After an afternoon spent grocery shopping and using the library WiFi we returned to camp to find that we had company! We only saw four other bike tourists while we traveled through Washington, but now that we are south of Portland we are seeing more every few days. We met Dennis, a solo traveler biking from Bellingham, WA to Phoenix, AZ by way of the Pacific Coast, and Monica, another solo traveler from British Columbia, Canada making her way to San Diego. We haven't seen Dennis again and expect he has already reached California, but Monica has become our buddy since we are traveling at the same pace. It's been really fun talking over dinner in camp and sitting around campfires.

Every day seems to bring new challenges to overcome, which on tandem means plenty of communication. Every decision to coast or shift has to be stated, which has its challenges when the noise of traffic and wind limits conversation. My stoker's saddle still isn't perfect, and only lasts me 25 miles every day before I start hurting - not ideal. I bought a gel seat cover while in Newport in the hopes it would get me off the rails, but that didn't cut it. After much deliberation I ordered a wider Brooks saddle that we will pick up from the Post Office in Brookings Oregon on Tuesday, and I very much hope that it will be the answer to my saddle woes. Either way we'll be carrying an extra saddle for a while until I break the new one in.

We have fallen into a daily rhythm where we leave camp by 9am every morning and reach camp between 1-4pm depending on our daily mileage. The Oregon coast has a great many breweries and lighthouses, and we have made a habit of stopping at all of them that work with our daily schedule and route plan, and have sampled many delicious brews and learned a LOT about late 1800s lighthouse operation on our trip.

Currently we are holed up in Umpqua Lighthouse State Park for our weekly rest day, where we are tent bound as the remnants of a tropical storm  batters the Oregon Coast. It's much nicer to spend our day eating and loafing about instead of battling 20+ mph gusts of wind from the South with driving rain! Tomorrow we head out through Coos Bay, and will be in California by Wednesday!

Trip highlights by day:
7. Cannon Beach to Nehalem Bay State Park, 17 miles. Hot sunny weather and long sandy beaches!
8. Nehalem Bay to Cape Lookout State Park, 40 miles. More warm weather, and a tour of the Tillamook Cheese Factory with FREE SAMPLES and huge ice cream cones. Incredible sunset over the Pacific, followed by an intense campsite invasion by a pack of insatiable raccoons.
9. Cape Lookout to Devil's Lake State Park. Enjoyed a beer at Pelican Brewery in Pacific City and visited McMenamins in Lincoln City. Had a quiet backroad climb up Slab Creek.
10. Devil's Lake State Park to Newport, 29 miles. Rainy start, with views of grey whales spouting off Depoe Bay, a magnificent climb up Cape Foulweather on the old scenic highway, a living history tour at Yaquina head lighthouse, drinks at Rogue Brewery. Stayed the night with our dear friend Angie in Newport and ate delicious thai food!
11. Newport to Carl G. Washburn State Park, 36 miles. Visited the Newport Aquarium before leaving town late. Had a beer at Yechats Brewing Company, followed by a gorgeous late afternoon ride along the coast in the Siuslaw National Forest with quiet roads.
12. Carl G. Washburn to Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, 35 miles. Stopped at the Heceta Head lighthouse, and visited the Sea Lion Caves. Strong headwinds made descending difficult. Lunch and coffee at Siuslaw River Coffee Company, followed by rain in the afternoon and steep hills just before camp!
13. Rest day at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park! Nice tour of the lighthouse, views of large waves breaking at the mouth of the Umpqua river, and afternoon naps in the rain.