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.