25 April 2013

CYCLING THE USA - CALIFORNIA


9 March - Baker – Yermo - 95km
We left the tiny town of Baker behind and continued on our way towards the coast. The scenery was rather bleak and I can truly say that there was nothing happening along the road!!  Desert scenery prevailed; only a few sand dunes and some Joshua trees kept us company as we went. Fortunately there was no headwind as I cannot even begin to imagine doing this stretch of road into a headwind.

As there was not much else to look at, I once again noticed the truly bizarre discarded items along the highway!  Besides the normal empty beer cans, one can see shoes, clothing including underwear, household items like brooms, towels and even a pillow!!!   How the heck did that land up next to the freeway???  However, today along the highway, I even saw a dildo!!!  Say no more!

At Yermo we found a formal campsite and called it a day. After sunset it became bitterly cold so I zipped up my tent and had an early night.

10 March - Yermo – Boron - 75km
After a breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee we were on the road again, and as the previous day there was not much to look at. The road just went on and on, mile after mile of nothing but low shrubs and Joshua trees!!  Even small settlements indicated on the map turned out to be nothing more than a few abandoned buildings. Believe it or not, but it was actually a good day on the road. It was nice and warm with very little wind and I cannot ask for more. We pulled into the campsite at Boron village, which was so cheap that it was better than camping wild. Down the road was a well-stocked supermarket, and Ernest went the whole hog and made hamburgers (with an accompanying salad and all).

11 March - Boron – Mojave - 55km
These little towns can come up with some real treasures. We spent the morning at two local museums. Boron is known for the nearby Borax mine, and “The 20-Mule Team Museum” covered the history of the mine, including the mules that had to transport the rocks over the mountains to Bakersfield.

Just as interesting was the aerospace museum next door, with items and pictures related to the nearby Edwards Air Force Base. Also on display is the old computer used in the early development of the space shuttle. These IBM computers originally had about 35 kilobytes of magnetic core memory each. They had no hard disk drive, and loaded software from magnetic tape cartridges.

It was after midday when we finally got back on the road and cycled past the famous Edwards AFB. There was truly nothing along the way but desert and access to a few military bases.

We arrived in the sad town of Mojave where equally sad looking people wander the streets talking to themselves. Mojave is a typical crossroads town and had a few motels, liquor stores, and very little of anything else. In keeping with the mood of the place, there is also a large airplane graveyard next to the town.


12/14 March - Mojave – Bakersfield - 93km
We cycled a couple of thousand feet up through the Tehachapi Mountains, passing hundreds of wind turbines along the way. The small town of Tehachapi came as a pleasant surprise. Tehachapi is a historical village (established in 1860) and is said to be the oldest settlement in the Tehachapi Valley. We were very impressed with the Apple Shed & Fudge Factory - perhaps the best fudge in the world!! 

The hills around Tehachapi are also one of California's largest wind resource areas, hence all the turbines. Soon we started heading down the pass, past the famous Tehachapi Railway Loop. One of the engineering feats of its day, the Loop was built by Southern Pacific Railroad beginning in 1874. The first train to use it reached Los Angeles in 1876. On the loop the track passes over itself, gaining 23m in elevation as the track climbs at a steady 2% grade. A train more than 1,200m long thus passes over itself in the loop.

We sped down the pass with a good tailwind into the San Joaquin Valley and into its famous Tule fog. In the process we had left the desert behind, and there were now green meadows, farmlands, and vineyards along the road. In Bakersfield we found a good campsite with some real friendly people.

Ernest needed to go to the bike shop so we stayed another day. We also met some real nice guys doing demolition work in the area (they are all from other parts of the country, but live here in their caravans during the week). They even invited us for supper and we sat around chatting…a real pleasant evening. We retreated to our tents with 2 brand new California Wrecking caps!!

15 March - Bakersfield – Blackwells Corner - 111km
It was a beautiful, sunny day as we crossed California’s Central Valley. We were very much in the heart of the agricultural area as we cycled past large fruit plantations, all in full bloom. Spring is definitely in the air and it was a pleasant cycle along Route 58 and then north along Route 33. Once on Route 33 the fruit plantations disappeared altogether and we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of the oil exploration area where thousands of oil derricks pumped away silently.  

By the time we reached Blackwells Corner it was already dark, so we pitched our tents athe gas station.


16 March - Blackwells Corner – Paso Robles - 95km
We were up rather early as we did not want the owner of the gas station to get there and find us still snoozing. We waited for the little shop to open, had some coffee and a muffin, and set off over the hills. Again it was a beautiful day as we cycled past more fruit plantations, this time they were not in bloom.

Along the way we passed the junction where James Dean had his fatal car accident, at the tender age of 24. We continued until we reached the pretty town of Paso Robles. With its abundance of wineries, production of olive oil, and almond orchards, it reminded me of Stellenbosch.


17/20 March  -Paso Robles – San Luis Obispo - 55km
Ernest´s front rim broke and we knew we were not going far that day. Fortunately it was not far to San Luis Obispo where we could find a bike shop. It was an interesting ride past typical small American villages like Templeton, Atascadero and Santa Margarita to historic San Luis Obispo. We found a well-stocked bike shop right in the main road and Ernest spent the rest of the evening spoking his new rim.

Seeing that we found a reasonably priced room we also decided to organise our new bank cards. Making an international phone call seems to be easiest with a phone card and far cheaper than phoning any other way. I also took the opportunity to hand my camera in for cleaning. I found the most wonderful camera shop, The Photo Shop, where they quickly cleaned my camera and what a difference it made!


21/22 March - SLO – Morro Bay - 35km
We packed up at leisure and cycled the short distance to the coast. We finally arrived at the Californian Coast at Morro Bay - a beautiful spot where we camped at the Morro Bay State Park and had our first “hike & bike” experience. If hiking or traveling by bike one can camp in these parks for $5 per person.  

Seeing that we asked the bank to send the bank cards to The Motel 6 in San Simeon, we now have plenty oftime to kill as San Simeon is just up the road. The card is said to take 7 working days, but as Easter Weekend is in a few days’ time, I think it could take longer than that.

We stayed in Morro Bay an extra day, just killing time before moving on. The Bay’s most prominent landmark is Morro Rock. The spectacular rock at the entrance to Morro Bay is a 23 million year-old volcanic plug. I found it interesting that Morro Rock is part of what is known as The Nine Sisters. The Nine Sisters are extinct volcano peaks which run in an approximately straight line for twelve miles, stretching from Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo.


23 March - Morro Bay - Montana de Oro State Park - 25km
We cycled the short but hilly distance to Montana de Oro State Park. It seems like the Californian Coast is going to take us a long time to cycle as there are so many fantastic parks. Montana de Oro State Park is rugged, beautiful and remote. The camping was rustic without electricity and showers, but it had water and toilets.  Nature is the draw card here. One can hike or bike the parks’ many trails. It is such a pleasure to be off the bike and to walk along these fantastic trails. There was also no shortage of birdlife in the area.


24/25 March - Montana de Oro State Park – Morro Bay - 25km
We met another cyclist in the park and chatted for a long time before packing up and cycling back to Morro Bay. I was in desperate need of a shower and we decided to book into the Motel 6, have a shower and do some internet and laundry. In fact, we were so comfortable that we stayed another day. I wanted to have a haircut but all the salons were closed on a Monday so nothing came of that.



26 March - 2 April - Morro Bay – San Simeon State Park - 35km
It was time to move on and find another state park. We cycled past Nit Wit Ridge in Cambria. Nit Wit Ridge is a house built entirely of found objects. It was built over the course of fifty years. The builder was the eccentric Cambria garbage collector and junk hauler, Arthur Harold Beal.

It seems that it never really gets very hot along this stretch of the coast. Although the days are sunny, fog moves in from the ocean, making the evenings rather nippy.

We camped at the San Simeon State Park for 2 nights before moving to the Motel 6 in San Simeon. We wanted to be at the hotel just in case our bankcards were delivered, but after staying at the hotel for 2 nights and still nothing arrived, we moved back to the campsite.

Again we camped at the park for 2 nights and on the Monday we moved back to the Motel 6. We waited in great anticipation but nothing arrived…… let’s hope the cards will arrive soon!!!

3 - 4 April - San Simeon
After days and days of waiting for the bank cards to arrive I was getting rather bored. There was not much to do in San Simeon except for cycling into Cambria town to the supermarket. By this time we had enough of the TV and the luxury of a room, so we phoned the bank again, only to find out that the cards were never sent!!!!  We’ve now arranged for them to send the cards to Fort Bragg, further up the coast, but I have my doubts whether that will happen.


5 April - San Simeon – Plaskett Creek - 56km
It was good to be back on the road, albeit minus a bank card. It was a particularly stunning stretch of coast - the road runs next to the ocean, climbing high up against the side of the cliffs and then back down to the beach. The wind picked up and came gusting around the corners, making it rather difficult to keep the bike in a straight line on this narrow road.

Along the way we watched elephant seals basking in the sun - they were rather unperturbed by all the tourists staring at them. Up and down the hills we went, past lighthouses and fields of Californian poppies.

We reached Plaskett Creek, a beautiful forest campsite with a bike and hike section, and called it a day. We also found Marlene in the campsite, whom we met in San Simeon Park. What an extra-ordinary, independent lady. She travels around on her bike and prefers the forest areas to get away from people. She has trouble with her legs and therefore walks with the aid of two sticks, but she seems fine on the bike. In fact, I don’t think she has a home, this is her life!!  She is terribly shy but seemed pleased to see us again.


6 April - Plaskett Creek – Big Sur - 55km
Again it was after 11h00 before we finally left the campsite and cycled along the famous Big Sur coastline. The scenery was stunning, but again there were big hills and the going was slow. We stopped many times along the way, admiring the view, with the result that it was already 17h00 by the time we reached Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

The park is quite magnificent and the campsite situated amongst huge redwood trees. These trees can grow up to 350 feet high and it is reported that some are between a 1000 and 2000 years old!! 


7/8 April - Big Sur State Park – Monterey - 68km
We were slow to get going and sat chatting to other cycling campers, with the result it was close to 12h00 before we finally got underway. With the Big Sur behind us I expected the road to flatten out a bit, but that was not the case, and again there were plenty of good climbs along the way. The scenery was no less spectacular than the last few days. Again the road climbed high up against the side of the mountains, with wonderful views of the ocean and bays below. We crossed some spectacular high-arch bridges before finally reaching Carmel (home of the renowned Pebble Beach golf course).

We lent our ears out to locals and took the scenic route, getting lost in the misty forest hills, and eventually accidentally ended up in Monterey in the gathering dusk. We found one of the less expensive overpriced motels, did some shopping at Trader Joe’s down the road, and put our feet up in front of the TV. It was Ernest’s birthday so we stayed in the room for another day and he treated himself to 4 x 1.2 liters of beer!!!

9 April - Monterey – New Brighton State Beach - 88km
We packed up slowly and cycled past Aptos to Soquel. Past strawberry fields and fields of artichoke we went. I never knew just how artichoke grew or that it had so many uses.  Bicycles are not allowed on the highway so we turned off onto a smaller road though farmlands where fresh fruit and vegetables were being sold at low, low prices. We could not resist and loaded the bikes even more with loads of fruit and veggies. Soon we reached the beautifully located New Brighton Beach, situated on top of the cliffs high above the beach. It was a great spot.

10 April - New Brighton Beach State Beach – Rossi RD - 59km
Again it was after 11h00 before we finally left our campsite and set off on a cold and windy day, past Santa Cruz and Davenport. My word, can this wind blow!!  I nearly got blown off my bike before we turned off the coastal road and followed a small road behind the hills. What a spectacularly beautiful road it was. The road ran past farms and up a steep hill, through dense forest and huge redwood trees, until we finally met up with the coastal road again. We battled into the wind and finally pulled into Rossi RD and set up camp for the night. The wind continued to blow throughout the night.

11 April - Rossi RD – Half Moon Bay - 44km
We made an effort to get on the road earlier in order to escape the wind, but it was all to no avail!  The wind blew us all over the road, but we hung in and cycled the short distance to Half Moon Bay. In a storm-strength wind we tried to hide behind a tree and pitch our tents. There was not much to do but hide in our tents.

12/19 April - Half Moon Bay – San Francisco - 55km
Miraculously the wind dropped during the night and we woke to a beautiful morning. It was a beautiful and interesting ride into San Francisco. We were fortunate to find a cycle path which ran through the Golden Gate Park with beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the city and Alcatraz Island. It was a stunning, fog-free day.

There is more to San Francisco than meets the eye. The more I wondered around the more I discovered. I ate steamed buns in Chinatown, drank coffee in Little Italy and shopped for a bracelet at the hippy district of The Haight, with its very sixties vibe. Fortunately, I was on foot when I ascended Russian Hill and descended down the other side via the switchbacks, eight sharp bends on a forty degree slope. Although most of the city was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire there are still some stunning examples of Victorian architecture, including the famous “painted ladies” - a row of Victorian houses with the San Francisco skyline in the background.

Needless to say I made good use of the variety of transport modes the city offers: from the iconic cable, in use since 1873, to the street cars at only $2 for a ride.

Despite the fog rolling in I wondered around the waterfront with its perfect view of the infamous Alcatraz Prison. From the mid-1930’s until the mid-1960's, Alcatraz was America's premier, maximum-security prison. I find it interesting that Native Americans kept well away from the island, calling it "Evil Island" and believing it to be cursed. I´m sure that many inmates would agree.

Back in my room I had the shock of my life as I looked at my passport and discovered that, when entering the country, the border control staff only gave me a three month pass instead of the six months they gave Ernest. My head was spinning and besides going back to South America for a while (which was a real option) there was not a lot of places to escape to. I quickly checked the Canadian Visa situation online and it appeared that the only place one can apply is in Seattle (waiting time thirty days). Not much to do but quickly pack my stuff and retreat to my country of origin.

In no time at all I bought a ticket back to South Africa, discarded most of my stuff, and only kept the really necessary items. I boarded the plane on the 20th and only arrived in South Africa on the 22nd, after a very long and boring flight.

Now it is time to take stock and decide what to do next – so many options and places to go! First I´ll catch up with all the gossip, have a braai or two, and enjoy the South African wines.