“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.