Sun Jun 15 02:20:04 2003|
Last minute packing -- Acton, MA
Tomorrow (well, by now today), I'm leaving on my trip to California! In the morning I'm going to Provincetown with my Dad and Emily to get started. So much has happened in the last few weeks, I'm frankly amazed that things are actually coming together.
For one, the bicycle shop I gave my Linear to for repairs hasn't been able to work on it as soon as I had hoped. I talked to them last Friday, when they were supposed to be finished, and found that they hadn't even started yet, and it was looking like another two weeks because things were getting busy. But I really did want to leave sometime fairly early this summer. So I went online, and that same night found a used BikeE CT (another type of recumbent bicycle) being sold for $300. After talking with the guy on the phone, I took the plunge and sent him a $350 postal order blind, without meeting him or seeing the bike. I had a few tense days while I waited to see how he would follow through, but he shipped the bike as soon as he got the postal order and it arrived in great shape. So for the first leg of my journey, at least, I'll be riding a cherry-red BikeE with over-seat steering, rather than my silver Linear with under-seat steering. I'll see how I like it. The adapters I needed to connect my B.O.B. trailer to my bike also arrived on time, thankfully, or I wouldn't have any carge capacity.
Also, a couple weeks ago my friend Emily from Cornell called asking for advice on long-distance biking, since she was planning a trip. I told her what little I knew. A few days later she called back and asked if I'd like company on my trip. So now I have a biking partner for the first month or so. It's exciting to have someone to talk to.
And the last week or so has simply been a whirlwind of last-minute things. I finally got a call back from Google about the resume I submitted, and set up an appointment for a phone screen on Monday at 6 PM. So an engineer from Google will be calling me on my cell phone to talk to me about things like data structures and C++. I'm hoping to find a landline I can use, though, so I won't be cut off. If I'm lucky, this phone screen may lead to another phone screen, which if I'm very lucky might lead to an interview. I hope it goes well.
Less exciting, but definitely of note, I finally caved and got a cellphone at my mother's behest, so that I'll be able to call help in an emergency. I'm probably going to try and keep it turned off to save battery, but I'll be checking voicemail every now and then, so feel free to call 978-844-0409.
I had a dentist's appointment on Friday, just for a routine cleaning. Unfortunately, they found two small cavities on the right side of my mouth. How was I supposed to get them drilled and still leave on Sunday? I didn't really want to fly or take a bus back to Acton just for a tooth-drilling appointment. Thankfully, I told them my plans, and they agreed to let me know as soon as possible if there was a cancellation for Saturday morning. Fortune was with me once again, and I got an appointment for 8:20 this morning (Saturday). The drilling went well, I now have two more silvery spots in my mouth to join the four already there.
Emily arrived Friday evening from Chicago (her home). I met her in Boston and we took her bike & luggage to my Dad's office so he could bring it home in his car. We had lunch in Boston and headed back to Acton to meet Becca from Amherst and go to Lowell to see Peter Mulvey play. Alas, Becca's juggling audition went over time and she wasn't able to go to Peter Mulvey, so we skipped out also, and went to bed early.
Today was just a mess of little errands, getting a few last things we needed and going grocery shopping, as well as tuning up our bikes and making sure everything works. We'd like to get a proper tune-up at a bike shop, but Ray & Sons says they're so busy they couldn't do a tune-up within a week. So we're going to try our luck at the many bike shops along the Cape. Hopefully one of them will be just waiting for some work to come in.
The fact that I'm still awake at this hour should indicate just how much last minute stuff had to be done today; I'm still not quite done cleaning my room, and have to pack a few more small items. But by and large I'm done, and buzzing with excitement to get on the road tomorrow. From Provincetown we hope to get to Miles Standish State Park to camp, approximately a 55 mile ride by my count. We'll see tomorrow if this is over-ambitious. From there we are headed to Amherst, then New York City by way of Valley Cottage, then Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco. From there, who knows? Maybe Tokyo?
Wed Jun 18 00:13:42 2003|
First three days -- Sharon, MA
After some hasty packing on Saturday, Emily, my dad, and I woke up early on Sunday and took off. But not before a wonderful send-off from my mom and sister. We took the requisite before-trip pictures, and drove to Race Point Beach in Provincetown (Cape Cod). We had a quick picnic lunch, I went for a swim (the water was cold), and I dipped my wheels in the water. Finally we set off at 2 PM. There were a bunch of minor auxiliary systems not working on both Emily's and my bikes. Our speedometers weren't working, for instance, and Emily's panniers kept falling off. But we didn't worry about it too much, we just wanted to start riding.
We took 6A to Truro, and I quickly discovered that Emily rides much faster on her upright bike with panniers than I do on my recumbent with a trailer. Whether this is due to an inherent slowness of my setup, or her great speed, I don't know. But she's been very accomodating about stopping and waiting periodically for me to catch up. It's given her a chance to catch up on her reading, currently "One Hundred Years of Solitude."
In Truro Dad split off to visit Milton's and Breene's cottages on Great Hollow Road, where we stay each summer, then head back to the car and drive home. Emily and I pushed on to Eastham, hoping to make it to Idle Times (the cycle shop) before five for much-needed tune-ups that we didn't have time to get in Acton.
We arrived in Eastham slightly too late, but Emily, arriving first, got a great tip on a campground from the guys at the shop. It was only two miles off; we got there in a few minutes and set up our tent with the fly off since it was such a lovely night. We cooked rice and black beans for dinner, and ate them in a tortilla with cheese.
Monday (yesterday), we got up early and rode fairly hard all day. The Cape Cod Rail Trail was beautiful biking, and 6A was fairly nice. Unfortunately, Sweet Tomatoes in Sandwich (the best pizza place in the world) was closed. Evidently Monday is a holiday in Sandwich.
We crossed the Sagamore Bridge and rode south towards Wareham on the Canal Bike Path. Wareham wasn't anything special but I wanted to find someplace with motels because I was expecting a call at 6 from Google. They were going to have an engineer do a phone screen with me, and I was hoping to ask if I could just go and use a phone in one of the rooms to talk to him. No such luck, but I found one motel with a payphone in the lobby and a comfy chair to sit in. I finally settled there even though it was 100% sketchy. The woman who answered the door when I went to ask about phones had oxygen tubes in her nose and was smoking a cigarette. Periodically while I was on the phone shouting matches would break out. It turned out alright though. I hope the interview went well. The engineer asked a series of questions on three topics. The first was coding, the second was on how to build a high-speed web-crawling engine using $50,000 of equipment. The third was "How many internal combustion engines are there in California?" I was really glad I had been reading up on interview techniques, because that's actually a pretty standard style of question in a lot of tech interviews these days, but if I hadn't heard about it, it probably would have thrown me for a loop. Each question had a set of followups, some of which were really difficult. I nailed a lot of answers and flubbed a few answers. It's always hard to tell how you did on an interview.
After the interview we went for a celebratory dinner at "Cape Thai," just to celebrate having finished the interview. They had a big sign with a lobster on it out front, and a cut-out where you could stick your head in and take a picture as a lobster. It was actually quite good. We rode a few miles north to a campground the motel owner pointed us to. When we got there, we discovered that it cost $25.00 for a camp site. We were like totally outraged to the max, but we realized it was getting dark and we probably wouldn't find a better camp site so we stayed. We met a lovely older couple named Dick and Mona, who had biked up from Florida and were headed to Maine. They were giving speeches at churches and universities along the way about global democracy and a proposed global parliament. They gave us some flyers and we chatted about gear for a while.
This morning we started at 9:00 again and headed northwest. Halfway through the day we realized it was quite possible to reach Sharon by the end of the day, where my adorable friend Becca lives, when she's not off gallivanting at summer camp. Now, we are in Sharon, and Becca is typing this for me, yay :). The end.
...choose your own adventure will continue soon. come back for the next edition... at your own risk... muahahahaha!
Thu Jun 19 14:17:34 2003|
Rain and Sunshine -- West Brookfield, MA
When we woke up at Becca's house, we found it was raining lightly. It was light enough, though, that I broke my own rule about not biking in the rain, and we started out, thinking maybe to bike a short ways then stop and camp. For the first hour I was pretty miserable and couldn't wait to get out of town so we could find a camping spot. But once I was thoroughly soaked I didn't mind so much. So we kept going most of the day, to Douglas State Forest. We biked a good distance into the forest (we later discovered we were actually in Rhode Island before we camped). We found a nice beach on a lake, with a pavillion which was perfect for wiping down our bikes and lubing the chains. We were a little worried that a ranger would come along and tell us we couldn't camp there, so we hid our bikes below a wall in the pavillion, and set up our tent in a little stand of trees by the water, mostly out of sight. There was a mother duck and her seven ducklings wandering around the lake, eating and splashing around and having a great time. There were bullfrogs too. Altogether a great campsite. And it stopped raining in the evening too. No one even came to hassle us. This morning it still wasn't raining, and we set out. As soon as we got out of the State Forest there was a huge long downhill, where I got going so fast I actually had to put on the brakes to feel safe. But it was fun. We made it to Spencer for lunch and ate on the steps of the town hall. It seems like a very friendly town. They're having their 250th anniversary this year. Right now I'm stopped for a short break in West Brookfield to use the library, which is right along Route 9, where I'm riding. The sun came out this afternoon, it is beautiful. We'll probably be in Amherst early on Friday.
Fri Jun 20 18:49:53 2003|
Chilling at Dave's Place -- Sunderland, MA
After leaving West Brookfield, we biked on for quite a ways to the Quabbin Reservoir. We found a beautiful campsite next to a small pond. It was a bit close to the road, but we managed to get far enough back that we weren't visible. There was a nice bed of pine needles on the ground to make sleeping softer.
We were almost out of water so we walked a short ways to an access road. There was a park nearby, and we thought this road would take us in short order to a picnic area with some water fountains. We walked for a mile or so before running into a couple walking back from the picnic area. We asked them about it, and they said it was about a mile more (it turned out to be more like two miles -- or so my aching Achilles' tendon told me). They said they weren't sure if there was drinking water, but suggested walking down to the reservoir and taking water there. We stopped another couple in a car a while later and asked them. They had the same response. They didn't know, but they were sure if we went down the hill to the reservoir we would find some. The guy also said we would find some water in the gully alongside the road. We passed. Now here's a question to anyone reading: Is the water in a reservoir generally considered pure enough to drink straight, or do they process it first? I know they try to keep it pretty pure, but how much can they keep giardia and crypto and so on out of it?
Anyhow, needless to say, we got to the picnic area after a long walk and found that it was a lovely picnic area, with a great open field and a couple of trees to shelter the picnic tables. It was also beautiful and sunny. Unfortunately, there were no water fountains, our feet were sore, and it was a long walk back. Fortunately, walking back is always shorter than walking forwards, and we made it back to our campsite fairly quickly. We were lucky enough to have spotted a house along the way (which Emily suggested we stop at in the first place -- I was too committed to "laying low," and didn't want to let the people know we were camping nearby, lest they tell us to move). We went up to the house and knocked, but there was no-one home except a trio of especially yappy Shi-tzus. So we simply walked around back and filled up with water from a hose.
Dinner was rice and beans for the second time, always a delicious dinner on the road. Unfortunately, my pot stand collapsed last night under the strain of continuous high heat (it was, after all, only made from a tuna can). So instead we improvised a pot stand with tent stakes. I will try to make another one here in Amherst.
Which brings me to today. It started raining overnight, and we had promised each other that we would sleep in this morning, even more so if it was raining. But, even though we woke up to rain, and waited around for a couple hours inside the tent, eventually we both became impatient to get to Amherst and started out.
The hills have been getting more and more intense as we head away from the coast. We will hit a long, steep uphill that just seems to go on and on. . . and then we crest a ridge and come to another one. We do get payoffs in the form of long, insane downhills. They're more than worth it. But I worry about how I'll fare when I get to the Rockies.
The rain stopped by the time we got to Amherst Center, and we found that "Taste of Amherst," an annual festival involving food and beer/wine tasting, was going on this weekend. So we stopped to have some lunch, and I called my friend Dave to see what was up (we're staying at his place). No answer from Dave, but after calling I found two messages on my voice mail. I expected them both to be from Dave, but the first was from Google! Julie in recruiting had called me back, and left a message saying she had reviewed the feedback from my phone screen and was "very interested" in flying me out for an in-person interview, and I should call her back! Very exciting. I was so relieved. Especially exciting, since I had a dream last night about getting a call from Google, and I had dreamt that they wanted me to come out for an interview. I woke up and was a little disappointed it hadn't happened. But then it turned out it did. It's even possible the message arrived last night, since my phone was off. Anyhow, I'm thinking I may fly out of New York City when I get there, I haven't called Julie back yet. Things are somewhat dependent on the arrival of my new ID from the RMV.
Anyhow, we had some lunch at Taste of Amherst, bummed around a little, then headed to Dave's house. Dave wasn't home, but we met his awesome housemates, took showers did laundry, and relaxed and watched some movies. Dave's got a wonderful house, totally relaxing to be in, and very beautiful. Jim's coming over in a bit, and we're all going to head to a Taste of Amherst to hang out for the evening and meet Jessica. It should be lots of fun!
Mon Jun 23 09:31:25 2003|
Let's Vamoose -- Amherst, MA
We had a great weekend in Amherst, hanging out with Dave and his neat housemates, Jessica and Tom, Jim, Chris, and Nat and Sue. We played games, ate wonderful meals, watched the Hulk, did biking-related chores (I fixed my odometer!), and just generally relaxed. Unfortunately we got hung up by rain on Sunday, deciding to stay dry rather than go out in the rain. But it had a good side, because if we hadn't stayed an extra day I wouldn't have gotten to see Nat & Sue. Anyhow, now the sun is shining and it's a beautiful day, and we are about to head out for New York City. We should get there on Friday, hopefully.
Tue Jun 24 15:39:06 2003|
Southbridge, Stinkiest Town Ever -- Sheffield, MA
We were lucky to have beautiful weather leaving Amherst, but we took a little while getting out of town. This is an effect we used to call "town-suck" when my Dad and I were hiking. We managed to leave by 10:30 or so though.
It was actually getting rather hot towards the middle of the day, and we were biking up this very difficult hill when I heard a very loud hissing sound, and looked down at my front tire to see my very first flat rapidly in progress. By the time I stopped and pulled to the side of the road, my front tire was completely flat. My first thought was "At last, I have justification for bringing that huge floor pump!" I pulled out the patch kit and got to work.
It was a strange flat; there was no puncture, and it wasn't a snakebite flat.
The tire just blew out in one spot, presumably where the rubber was weak.
Perhaps the pressure increased too much in the hot weather. What was stranger
was that a tremendous amount of water started coming out of the tire, along with
some off-white bundles of fiber that looked sort of like snot, immersed as they
were in water. As best I could figure out, the water and the snotules were coming out of the tire. My best guess is that they were supposed to be some sort of self-sealing system for the tire, but it didn't work very well.
Once I finished patching the hole and test-inflated the tube, I noticed another spot that bulged a little and looked like it might burst easily. So I took the time to patch that one too, as a precaution. Then I noticed three or four more, and decided it wasn't worth the time. I'll patch them whenever they blow out. I headed off up the rest of the hill, and was treated to an amazing, long downhill on the other side.
I caught up with Emily at a country store where we had a nice lunch and refilled our water bottles. I got some ice cream too. There was a big creek going alongside the road, and we decided to go for a swim after lunch. It was cold and the water ran very fast, to the point where if we ventured more than four feet past the shore, we would be swept away very quickly. This happened to me several times, but I always managed to catch myself eventually.
Emily discovered in East Brookfield that she had another broken spoke (we discovered one in Amherst and took it to the bike store to be fixed). There was no bike shop for at least 14 miles, and we thought it would be a bad idea to ride on it for that long, so we parked our bikes and hitched with the tire to Westfield. We caught a ride very quickly from a young couple in a red pickup. We forgot Emily's water bottle in the back. The bike store fixed our tire in 15 minutes, and we were on our way back shortly. We caught a ride back to East Brookfield from a carpenter on his way home.
Alas, by this time it was nearly five and there was a thunderstorm brewing. We waffled for a while on whether to continue or not, then decided to get out of town before the storm hit, and hope it just blew over. Just as the rain was starting, we found a lovely campground just outside of town, in Boulder State Park. We stayed there the night, and found that the storm mostly passed us over. There was no four inches of rain, as one passerby had predicted to us.
Today we got off to an early start, but there were some ridiculous long hills as we crossed the Berkshires. We would go up a hill and just keep going and going and going. Just when we thought we were at the top, there would be another hill. I don't know where all that elevation went, we still haven't hit a long downhill yet. It's another real scorcher today, we are sweating up a storm. But the riding is pleasant and we are on nice roads. We crossed the Appalachian Trail on Route 20. I recognized the area as the spot where Dad and I stopped, thoroughly soaked from the rain, to hitch a ride into Lennox and stay at Kripalu, where some of my friends from Acton drove out to meet me. I waved a quick hello to the spot and moved on.
I called Google back today to arrange to fly out to California; This Monday, when I was hoping to fly out, is too soon, so I will probably fly out of Chicago when I get there.
The title of this post is a reference to passing through Southbridge, which town was marked as I entered it by a profound smell like an outhouse. I thought it was a dead animal or such, and would pass, but it only grew stronger. The mystery was resolved when I passed by the Mead paper mill.
Now I'm in Sheffield, taking a break at the library to type this entry. I'm heading on with lots of energy!
Sat Jun 28 12:59:32 2003|
That dog has shoes! -- New York City, NY
This will be a short entry, since I only have a very limited time to use this computer. I am at the New York Public Library and can only use the computer for half an hour a day.
We made it safely to NYC, through sweltering heat and long days. Wednesday was our longest day yet, clocking in at just over 75 miles. We made it in on Thursday and I stayed with Veronica's family. Stayed with Sarah last night. Got to go, someone's waiting for the computer.
Tue Jul 1 17:35:06 2003|
The Hills Are Alive -- Honesdale, PA
So, to catch up: After leaving Sheffield (Tuesday Jun 24), we biked on through a brief section in CT and stopped for the night in Millerton, NY. After stopping at the library (librarians have been an incredible resource to us! We also asked a librarian to help find a bikeshop in Westfield when Emily broke a spoke), we found out there was a small state park called Rudd Pond, North of the town center. We biked up there, and had to pay for camping, but they had a nice swimming area and tent platforms, as well as bathrooms with showers.
While we were having dinner by the pond, another distance cyclist pulled into the park. He came over to talk to us and told us about his trip; he was going from Boston to Washington, DC. But he had started on Sunday! He was making incredible time. But he had to, as he had only a week of vacation time to complete his trip. We chatted for a while before he headed off to his campsite. He was a little irritating actually.
We did, however, meet a very nice family on the platform next to ours. We talked with them for a while in the evening about our trip, told them our route and so on. In the morning we chatted some more, and the husband told us that he didn't think taking Route 22 all the way into NYC was a great idea. Evidently it's very hilly. Instead he suggested a rail trail that went right through Millerton and would take us 10 miles to Amenia. After that we would be back on Route 22 and could take that south to Brewster, where we would find another bike path taking us all the way into Yonkers.
Emily broke a chain riding to our campsite that night, unfortunately. Her chain had enough slack in it to fix without a spare though.
The next day, Wednesday the 25th, we took the bike paths as suggested and had a beautiful idyllic day. As I mentioned before we did our biggest mileage yet, clocking in at just over 75 miles. Unfortunately, as our second rail trail got closer to the city, it started following the Taconic State Parkway, a very busy highway. This made it hard to find camping. Eventually we found a little stealth spot amongst some trees in a residential neighborhood. There was a bit of a swamp nearby though, and very mosquitoey, but still to hot to be comfortable in the tent.
Thursday the 26th brought us to NYC, a day earlier than expected. First off, Emily broke two more spokes on our way to the campsite. It ends happily, though: she hasn't broken any more since.
We rode first to Tarrytown, where we expected to take the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson to Nyack, where we would meet my friend Sheeja. But first we stopped at the local bike shop to get Emily's spokes fixed, and had some lunch at the local supermarket while we waited. When we came back, we talked about our plans with the bike shop guys, and they told us we couldn't ride our bikes across the Tappan Zee Bridge, and we would have to either go up to Bear Mountain (up, up, up!) or go all the way down to the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan and back up. I called Sheeja and told her we would either take a bus up to meet her or see her in Manhattan.
We biked all the way into Manhattan, where we met Sarah at her apartment on 100th and Broadway. It was a crazy experience riding through New York City traffic, but it was not as bad as I had expected. The roads were mostly quite wide, and the drivers were generally respectful. One man in a big, fancy SUV with a nice sound system leaned out of his car window to shout "Hey, I'll switch with you right now!" The biggest trouble I encountered was getting stuck behind stopped delivery trucks. We got to Sarah's safe and sound, with a minimum of confusion. There we stashed our bikes and showered and did laundry. I called my friend Veronica, and she took the subway up and met me. From there we all parted ways for the evening: Emily went to stay with her friend Becca, Sarah went with her friend Kate to a Greek restaurant, and Veronica and I went to a wonderful diner called Nick's, with an astounding array of food. I had a grilled portobello sandwich. It was heavenly. Veronica gave me a tour of the city, and took me across the Brooklyn Bridge to see all the lights.
On Friday morning, I went with Veronica and her mother and grandmother to Fire Island to go swimming. It was a wonderful day, exactly hot enough to make swimming fun. There were jellyfish in the water, but they didn't sting; I picked one up. Later Veronica and I walked down to the nude beach about half a mile down. It was fun; I'd never been to a nude beach before. Everyone was very casual about their nudity.
We got back to the city, and Veronica had to go to a pottery class with her mother. I went to Sarah's apartment and brought her a bottle of wine for Shabbat, and we hung out and chatted the night away.
Saturday the 28th found me at the library, frantically trying to check email and type a journal entry and research rail trails. You see the result in my previous entry. Then I spent some hours in Battery Park, reading my book. From there I tried to find the Village without instruction, and got a little bit lost. Then Veronica called and we met up to take a walk in Central Park together. From there we got picked up by Sheeja and her new boyfriend Russell to go to dinner in Little Italy.
And now I am once more out of time at a library; Will I ever catch up? Only time will tell!
Wed Jul 2 10:35:54 2003|
Rolling Into Town -- Carbondale, PA
The librarians in this town seem as friendly as the last one was rude. Hopefully I'll be able to finish catching up this time.
Saturday night, the 28th, Veronica and Sheeja and Russell and I all went out to dinner at a restaurant in Little Italy (which is apparently in the process of being devoured by Chinatown). Veronica and I were both terribly excited to see Sheeja, and we spent half the night giving Russell a hard time. But he passed muster with flying colors (am I mixing metaphors?). Then we had some tea, and split ways for a while. We met up again later at a birthday party for one of Sarah's friends.
Sunday morning, naturally, we got a late start. We left Sarah's apartment around 2 PM. The plan was to cross the George Washington Bridge. But when we got there, we tried to take the lower level, not knowing any better. There were no other signs saying "bikeway" or any such thing. We got all the way down the on-ramp and onto the bridge itself before we realized how ridiculous the traffic was, and how little room we would have. There had to be a better way. So we picked our way back, against traffic (don't worry Mom, it was light traffic!), and circled around until we found the bike pathway.
Five minutes later, we were in New Jersey! It was less industrial than I expected from my previous experience. We were sticking to the north, and away from the coast, so it was mostly suburbs. Correction: It was all suburbs. It actually was nice, it reminded me of Acton, if Acton went on for 50 miles in all directions. This posed a problem finding a campsite: we couldn't get out into the woods. Finally we took a side road and settled on a nice patch of grass behind a telephone switching station. Nobody bothered us there.
Monday, the 30th, was uneventful, we simply biked all day. The day was capped by a tremendous uphill to High Point State Park. We walked most of the way. At the top, we crossed the Appalachian Trail (Dad, remember that section? How we decided not to even bother with the 0.5 mile side trail to stand on "The Highest Point in New Jersey"?). We walked our bikes about 100 feet into the woods and camped on an open patch of ground.
While we were lying around camp, a thru-hiker named Healer came by and said hello. He asked about the terrain and so on, and we invited him to stay with us. He thanked us and told us how he was legally blind -- he can see enough to hike in broad daylight, but around dusk he stops being able to see roots and rocks very well. He also has Multiple Sclerosis. He's healed 137 people so far on his trip, from broken bones to dislocations to cracked ribs and cuts. I didn't ask if he was a doctor, but he seemed to know basic medicine. As far as I could tell he wasn't one of those "faith healers" we saw a few of in NYC. We helped him out with some fuel and talked for a while. He's been making amazing progress. He started on March 24th, and has taken a total of 24 days or so off, for various reasons, including flying home to Florida to pick up his mother at the airport. He's been doing typically 25 miles in a day.
Unfortunately, in the morning he discovered he had a fallen arch, so he had to hitchhike in to NYC to stay with his friend there for a few days and recuperate. We helped him figure out which directions to hitch to get into the city.
That morning, Tuesday the 1st, marked a new month, and we celebrated by cruising down the long, long downhill from High Point. I got going up to 40.1 miles per hour at maximum. But it marked our entry into a series of rolling hills that would last all day Tuesday and into Wednesday (this morning). We met one fellow mowing a lawn along the way who was really into biking and said he tried to bike at least 50 miles every day, even when he was working. I was amazed. But I suppose he does it unloaded, so it's a bit faster. Still, we are still in the vicinity of doing 50 miles a day, and taking all day at it. Our mileage is slowly creeping up, though, and I think we may do closer to 60 a day soon. Maybe more through Ohio.
This morning we had a huge long five-mile uphill that was slow but steady. The bicycle guy yesterday had warned us about it but it was still tough. We both seem to be getting better at the hills though. And of course, as a reward, once we got to the other side we got a long downhill into Carbondale (here). We're bypassing Scranton by taking an alternate Route 6, and then a smaller county road. By the way, for those keeping track at home, we are planning to take Route 6 most of the way across Pennsylvania.
The update on Google: I called to set up an interview a week before I got to NYC, but they said a week would be too soon. So instead I am set up to fly out of Chicago O'Hare on July 17th. So now I have a firm date by which I have to be in Chicago. I don't think we'll let it worry us though. If we fall short, we can always take a bus into Chicago. It's good timing because Emily has to be in town by the 16th anyhow for her trip with her father.
Anyhow, we're looking forward to another beautiful day of riding, and hopefully some swimming along the way. Jake out.
Thu Jul 3 16:57:52 2003|
Rollers -- Burlington, PA
This town was actually named after Burlington, VT, believe it or not! Founded in 1790. Pop quiz: When was Burlington, VT founded?
I forgot to mention in my entry yesterday that we stopped on Tuesday the 1st at this great bar/restaurant in New Jersey for a pizza lunch. The bartender (Hi Terri!) was wonderfully friendly and wanted to know all about our trip. We told her about it, and I promised to write a postcard from California. She and all the regulars came out as we were leaving to wave goodbye to us.
Wednesday, leaving Carbondale, we started the first of the rolling hills that will evidently be with us through the rest of PA. We asked one fellow at the post office whether Pennsylvania ever got flat, but he told us it was hills all the way through. He also told us that on the way into Coudersport, PA, they claim there is the only uphill marathon in the U.S. Twenty-six miles of straight uphill cycling await us in the next couple days. Needless to say, we're terrified.
We spent last night in Tunkhannock, where we met this great precocious little eleven-year-old. When I caught up with Emily, she was sitting by a parking lot, watching this freckled kid tear around the lot on his dirt bike, doing wheelies and seat-stands. He told us he was about an hour from home, but he wasn't worried about getting home; he'd either ride or go to a friend's house and have them drive him. Emily met him because he simply started following her after she stopped at a fruit stand. He told us that he's already driven his family's truck several times (how else is he supposed to learn to drive a truck?) and that he's had twenty-one girlfriends and kissed them all. He followed us a little while longer while we rolled through town, then split off after we went to look for camping. We were going to try and get a bit out of town to camp, but we saw this one lawn that looked so inviting we had to try it. So we went up the hill to ask the folks that lived there. We asked the wife first since she was nearest, and her response was "Let me ask my husband." (What is that all about?). But her husband said okay, and we wound up with a beautiful campsite.
After dinner we took a short walk into town and had raspberry pie at a place called "The Filling Station."
Today was more rolling hills and more heat. But I'm having a wonderful time. This trip was the best idea ever.
Tonight we intend to camp somewhere near Troy, PA. Tomorrow we expect to stop early in Mansfield, PA to celebrate the Fourth of July and watch fireworks.
Mon Jul 7 09:41:21 EDT 2003|
Slept Like the Dead -- Warren, PA
We made it into Mansfield early on the morning of the 4th. We asked around about a YMCA or similar, where we could get a shower, but to no avail. Mansfield is a small town. After some poking around, though, we found out there was a pool in town ("Best pool in the county. But that's not saying much."). We went there and gladly payed the $3.50 to use their showers, and even enjoyed swimming in the pool for a while.
We also caught the Fourth of July Parade that went through town. It was very typical of a small town parade. Lots of fancy/silly cars (there was one Ford Ambassador mounted on a 4x4 body), a bunch of local politicians, a few floats and the high school band. The high point was the karate dojo that marched and stopped to do punches and kicks periodically.
We had a nice slow lunch and washed our clothes at the laundromat. There we met a couple of interesting folks. The one guy told us to avoid Route 666 because "weird things happen there." He would just trail off and look distant if I asked him for details. Before he left he asked,
"You ever seen any UFOs?"
"Well, I have a feeling you'll see some on this trip of yours."
"Are there a lot of UFOs near the places we're going?"
"I just have a feeling this is going to be a big year for UFOs."
"I'm what you might call psychic."
"Yeah? What sort of things do you predict?"
"Well, I don't really predict things so much as I just see them. Like
you remember those plane crashes on September 11?"
"Well, I saw those before they happened. Like, when I saw on TV that a plane
had crashed into the World Trade Center, I just knew something was up. I saw
that there was going to be another crash."
The conversation continued in that vein. The other fellow we met there was an out-of-work carpenter, and really an nice, normal guy. But he had some great stories. He told this one:
"Around here there's a fellow, about fifty-five or so. Lives up in the hills, a little like a hermit. He don't have no electricity or telephone or anything. To get into town he has this old mule that he hitches up to a cart. He just hitches up the mule and bop gives it a tap and off it goes. The mule knows his way all the way into town. So usually what this guy will do is he takes his cart into town, goes to the bar and gets drunk. Then when he wants to go home, he goes out, gets in his cart, bop gives it a tap, then passes out. The mule knows his way and takes him all the way home. When he wakes up in the morning, he's in his front yard.
"Now, there used to be a bucket out front of the bar, and when you left you'd just pour out whatever was left of your beer there. And of course, the mule, standing out there all night, would sometimes get thirsty. So one day this old man comes out of the bar drunk, bop gives his mule a tap, and passes out. Some policeman along the way sees this wagon going up the road, weaving around a lot, so he goes and he wakes up the old man and gives him a DUI. The next day the old man was in court arguing with the judge. He said 'But Judge, how could this be DUI? I wasn't driving! My hands weren't even on the reins. The mule knows his way home, he was driving.' The judge replied 'Yeah, but the mule was wasted too!'"
He said their court was a little backwards, but honestly, could a court that was 100% right-way-up have dealt with a case like that?
There was a small carnival in town, we checked that out, and then around three my friend and former roommate Brandon showed up in town. We were within a couple hours of Ithaca, so I had given him a call and he hitchhiked down to meet us in Mansfield. It was great seeing him, we all had a great time together. We had a great dinner at the "Mark's Brother's Lounge." They had an unlimited salad bar, which we loved. Then we caught a "hootenanny" at the Ten West Cafe down the road, with some honestly good music under the stars. Then it was time for the fireworks. They were actually surprisingly good for such a small town, although they dragged on a little and the music looped three times while the fireworks were still going. We got very sick of hearing "Proud to Be in America" and "Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends."
We had tried earlier in the day to find some friendly person or church that would allow us to camp in their yard, but had no luck. So finally, when the time came to go to sleep, we snuck off into a quiet corner of the graveyard, lay out our sleeping bags (no tent, it was a beautiful night), and slept the soundest sleep we've had on this trip.
In the morning (July 5th) we all walked down to "Gramma's Kitchen" for breakfast which was highly recommended by the guy running the hootenanny. It was well worth the walk. Brandon and I had french toast with strawberries, which was amazing. Then we walked back to town and saw Brandon off to begin his long hitch back to Ithaca.
We rode on and passed through Galeton, where we stopped for lunch. Galeton was also having a carnival, for St. Bibiana's festival. Their carnival was a bit bigger and a lot crazier that the one in Mansfield. There was one guy near us who came up to talk to his friends. Then he stripped down to his boxers and tried to sneak over the fence to get in without paying the $2.00 admission. There were also monster trucks, a police helicopter, and belligerent men on Harleys. And some kids who kept setting off bottle rockets in our general direction.
Emily met this one fellow when she was waiting around for me who she says ranks among the craziest people she's ever met. He's also biking around, and he had a trailer, but it's full of the most random garbage. Mostly it looks like stuff he's picked up along the road. Not to throw out, but to keep. Evidently he has some camp in the area, and bikes all around, up and down. Says he bikes 10-12 hours a day. The less he bikes, he told us, the more crippled he gets. He says he has "half an ass." When Emily first met him, he was holding something in his left hand. Then he wanted to show her some piece of paper he'd found, so he stuck it in his mouth, and she saw that it was a butterly she'd picked up alongside the road.
We eventually passed him and camped near Coudersport in the yard of the Pure Carbon Company. The promised "uphill marathon" fortunately never materialized. As the sun went down, there was a light rain and it passed briefly behind some clouds, producing a spectacular double rainbow. I took it as a good omen. I mean, I would have, if I believed in such things.
When night fell, the field filled up with fireflies, enough that you could see several blinking at any time.
The next day (July 6th, yesterday), we climbed a big hill in the Allegheny National Forest, then stayed up high for most of the afternoon. It was absolutely beautiful riding. The sky was bright blue, with scattered puffy clouds. The sun was shining, but it was a little cooler due to our elevation. And the ride was mostly flat.
Towards evening, we descended towards Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny Reservoir, and found that suddenly the beautiful campsites we'd seen along the road all day were gone. Now that we were down in the valley, everything on either side of the road was steeply slanted. We wound up choosing a flat patch of grass next to an overlook/parking area. We knew it was a pretty poor spot, but we were pretty sure we would find any better. Sure enough, after dark a police officer came by with a flashlight and said "You can't camp here." We asked "What can we do officer? It's too dark to ride our bikes and there's noplace else to camp." "I don't know, but they don't want people camping on this side of the dam." Finally he suggested maybe if we went a little ways to the visitor's center down the road, it might not be a problem. So, frustrated and a little bit angry, we started packing up everything to walk our bikes in the dark to the visitor's center. Then he came back. He said "Actually, it's alright if you guys stay here." I guess he had talked to the lockmaster or whoever and they said not to worry about it. So that was nice. Even though we were still a little annoyed at having had to pack up.
Overnight it rained, hard.
This morning a park ranger came by and gave us the same trouble about "You can't camp here, it's prohibited." But we were glad to tell him this time "Terribly sorry, we'll be gone in half an hour." We set off. It's been a decent day so far, but it's started raining again.
Wed Jul 9 16:08:13 EDT 2003|
Lucky State #7 -- Rocky River, Ohio
By the time I left the Warren library after posting my last entry (Monday July 7th), it had already stopped raining again. Life on the web -- the facts are out of date by the time you can post them.
Monday turned out to be a rather nice day, and was filled with neat people. Halfway through the day I came across Pat, a fellow who was walking along Route 6 with a backpack. He said he was headed from Ashtabula to NYC along Route 6, all on foot. He was interested in my bike and trailer because he had done some touring himself. He told me he had biked from Florida to Ohio to Washington D.C. and back down to Florida once. Another time he biked from Phoenix, AZ to Pittsburg, PA. The amazing thing is that he did this all on very cheap bikes. One of his trips was on a dirt bike with no gears, the other was on a cheap Scwhinn mountain bike. He seemed to be in great shape and high spirits.
Later in the day, I caught up with Emily in Union City, PA. She had broken another spoke and was sitting in front of the library. She told me she had asked the librarian (Hi Sandy!) about local bike shops, and the librarian had started making all these calls and was offering to drive Emily to the nearest bike shop, as it was rather far off. It turned out that Sandy knew a nice fellow nearby (Hi Ken!) who was handy with motorcycles and bicycles. She called him and he was eating dinner, but offered to come by afterwards. So we waited around for a little while and talked to Sandy, who was realy friendly.
Ken drove on his motorcycle around 5:00 to save the day. Emily had a spare spoke she'd bought at TrueValue, but it turned out to be the wrong size. Fortunately Ken was thoroughly prepared. He not only had all the tools he needed to change the spoke, he had a spare spoke in his bag that turned out to just barely fit. We watched while he took off the rear cassette, and he told us all about his adventures cycling around Franconia Notch and in Europe. He told us that once on a trip with his wife he had broken a spoke and a mechanic had fixed it for him, free of charge. So he figured this was a good way of paying forward that debt. I tried to pay close enough attention that I could change a spoke if need be, but it turns out I would need some fairly specific tools. Ken really came prepared: He had a cassette removal tool, a chain whip, an adjustable crescent wrench, a spoke wrench, and a truing stand, all of which came into use during the procedure. He even came prepared with a sheet of adhesive address labels, so we could easily mail him postcards.
After fixing the wheel, he asked where we were going to stay. We told him we'd just head west and try to find some camping. He told us that if we wanted to push on for twenty more miles or so, his sister Vicki lived in Edinboro, PA. He gave her a call and she said okay, so we sped on the last twenty miles to her house. Those twenty miles had some pretty serious hills, too -- the last hills we'd see in Pennsylvania -- but we had a destination and it was getting dark. We got to Vicki's place and found a lovely two-story house with six acres of land. She got us situated in a nice sheltered spot in the backyard, with a hose for water, then invited us in for a beer before we went to sleep. She told us all about the area and what to expect going east, as well as a short local history lesson about the oil wells.
The next day, Tuesday the 8th, we had breakfast at a small diner in town. We asked there about a Salvation Army drop box. I haven't mentioned this in the journal yet, but somewhere around the middle of Pennsylvania I found a green blanket in the road. It was obviously recently dropped, and very clean, so I picked it up, thinking I would put it in the next drop box I saw. That was nearly a week ago. I still have not seen a single drop box. It's starting to get ridiculous. Every morning when I pack up I ask myself "Why am I carrying this blanket?"
Around noon we crossed over into Ohio, our seventh state. So far we have picked up Massachussetts, Rhode Island (very briefly), Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. We followed Route 513 along Lake Erie, thinking it would accord us a view and some cooler air. We were only half wrong. There was no view from the road, although we could go up any number of dead-end side roads for a brief view of the lake (what a lake!). We were right about the cooler air, but that air was moving too fast and in the wrong direction. Biking into a headwind is even more frustrating than biking uphill, since you know you won't get the downhill cruise when you're done.
Overall though, we really liked what we saw of Ohio. We had been getting into some very rural areas of Pennsylvania, which is nice in a lot of ways, but can get old. On of the first things we saw as we biked into Ashtabula was an old-time root beer stand, open to the air. All the patrons turned and stared as we went by.
We stopped just outside of the city and went swimming at a public park. The water was amazingly warm ("Lake Erie is the shallow one," Vicki had informed us last night). The beach was full of kids, all of whom were dredging up as much seaweed as they could and throwing it at each other. All except one, who was stockpiling his seaweed on the beach as he picked it up. I think he was trying to clean up the harbor.
Tuesday evening brought us into more rain and some lightning and thunder approaching. This was coincident with the road we were on becoming busier and the sky becoming darker. We became very nervous people. We biked for a short way as it started to rain, trying to find camping, and finally found a nice flat spot in a farmer's field, even with some trees to shelter us. The clouds cleared up a little in the evening and we had a nice view of the sun setting over the cooling towers of the nearby nuclear power plant.
Overnight it rained heavily and there was thunder and lightning.
This morning it was not raining.
This afternoon as we biked into Cleveland, it started raining again, lightly at
first, then more and more heavily until I had some trouble seeing through my
glasses. We made our way through the downpour for a couple of hours and stopped
for a rest at Hot Tamales, a soul food restaurant in Euclid, OH (just outside of
Cleveland). The folks there were very interested in our bike trip, and several
just didn't believe us. Several folks were especially amazed that the two of us
could be on a trip like this for so long without being in a relationship. One
guy in particular kept asking us, "For real? You're really not [dating]? No
way. You're kidding, right?" His buddy who was hanging around outside came in
later and told Emily "Hey, my friend out there has a crush on you."
The woman who brought us our food, Marquita (forgive my if I've gotten your name wrong!) was especially nice. She told us she had been trying out veganism lately. She was also interested in doing a bike trip like ours, so we gave her our contact information.
While we ate, it stopped raining.
As we headed into Cleveland the sun actually came out and it got warm. Cleveland is actually quite a nice city. I expected it to be different somehow, more Ohio-esque maybe. But it turned out to be more or less the same as any other major city I've seen. Now we've passed on through and are headed West on Route 113.
Sun Jul 13 14:30:50 CDT 2003|
Central Time, and the Livin' is Easy -- Nappanee, IN
Wednesday evening (July 9th), we camped out behind a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall. There was a path into some woods out back, and a perfect clearing. We were a bit nervous when some folks drove up for their meeting, but then we realized they probably didn't care if we camped back there.
Thursday the 10th we started out to overcast skies and rode into a heavy downpour. I caught up with Emily after the first leg, waiting under the canopy of an empty farmstand. We agreed to wait there for the rain to stop. We also resolved to get a motel that night, since we were not only miserable and wet, but also dirty. We needed showers and warmth. The prospect of watching a movie on HBO was a bonus. We ate lunch and waited for the rain to abate enough to bike to the motel, where we stayed the rest of the day. Naturally, the sky cleared up after we'd paid for our room. We weren't disappointed, though. We popped over to the grill across the street for some greasy food and a beer, then lounged around the motel all afternoon.
Friday the 11th was even worse weather than Thursday, and yet it was completely dry. The terrible thing was the wind. I believe I mentioned the frustration of a headwind before, but that was nothing compared to the wind on Friday. The wind was so strong that if I stopped the bike and wasn't holding the brakes, I would be blown backwards. It was like riding up a steep hill all day. Emily and I both experienced being so enraged by the wind that we wanted to punch something. But of course, wind is ephemeral and there was nothing we could do that would be even remotely satisfying, short of turning backwards and making the headwind into a tailwind. But I don't think my bicycle works in reverse (I've never tried it).
At one point I took a wrong turn onto Route 2, which is a limited-access highway out here. I got pulled over by a police car shortly afterwards, and she told me I couldn't bike there. She said "Just go back to the exit over there and get on Route 6, it goes parallel." "Isn't this Route 6?" "Nope." So it's a good thing I got busted; otherwise I might have gotten rather lost! She ran my ID through the system but didn't give me a ticket.
Later in the day, back on Route 6, I found myself so tired I was nearly falling asleep on my bike. I hadn't slept well the night before because the bed was too soft. I decided the prudent thing to do would be to pull over and take a short nap. I rested nicely for about fifteen minutes, and then two people in a row pulled over to make sure I was okay. I assured them nothing was wrong and decided it was time to move along.
The wind hardly let up until late in the evening, just as we were getting ready to camp. We camped in a small meadow behind a tractor company. Again, it was a somewhat iffy place to camp -- what if someone came in early and didn't want us there? But the owner of the place came in to open up shop while we were packing up our tent, and he came over and offered us some coffee! He told us his son had biked cross-country too, but had only made it three hundred miles or so.
Saturday the wind had mostly let up and we got a ton of biking done. We did our biggest day yet, totalling 84.4 miles. Then after dinner we were still hungry so we biked three miles back to the truckstop we had just passed for some ice cream. We crossed into Indiana shortly before we stopped for the night. Eight states now!
Today the weather is simply amazing. We're cruising, and have actually realized we have to slow down a little bit to arrive in Chicago on schedule. We are planning a swim in a river shortly.
Now that we've finished Ohio, I am at the furthest point West that I've ever been. Every morning I can get up and say "This is the furthest West I've ever been. Now I'm going to get up and bike a little further West." At least until I get to Chicago, and fly to the SF Bay area. Then I'll have to get up and say "This is the furthest West I've ever been, except for San Francisco. Now I'm going to get up and bike a little further West."
BTW, the latest news is that I am still flying from Chicago on the 17th for my Google interview in Mountain View on the 18th. Also I got an email from a fellow at Brightmail in San Francisco who wants to speak with me while I'm in town. Very exciting! I'm getting a little nervous about these interviews. But mostly excited about staying in a hotel and eating good food.
Mon Jul 28 12:50:50 CDT 2003|
Back on the Road -- Newton, IA
So, it's been a long time since I had an opportunity to update, and a lot has happened. I'll try to keep it interesting.
Our two days in Indiana were rather uneventful. We intended to take three days, since our due date for arrival in Chicago was three days off, but even by doing our best to go slow and taking looong lunch breaks, we couldn't slow down that much. One day we wound up doing 77 miles in spite of ourselves. We were aiming for 60. Emily and I camped our last night together in the suburbs south of Chicago. We got a recommendation for a good Thai restaurant from this wonderful woman Kristen (Hi Kristen!) who had a lot of her own bike adventures under her belt, as well as some caving expeditions that sounded exciting enough to make me want to start caving myself.
We had a terrific dinner, and decided to catch a movie since the restaurant was in the mall anyhow. We found a patch of woods across the street and stashed our bikes, then came back and bought the hugest tub of popcorn they had, plus a big soda. We saw "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." It was good, but not amazing. The cinematography was terrible -- the director tried too hard to make it unique by using closely-timed shots.
The next day we split ways. Emily biked on to Naperville (and had a rather tough day of it, she later told me). I biked on into Chicago to meet my cousin Jonathan and his wife Marlowe and their kids Greylan and Oliver. The way into the city was beautiful. There is a long linear park along the lakefront, and a bike path that winds through it. I even stopped to take a swim in Lake Michigan, which was every bit as cold as I expected, but much cleaner. I met another cyclist riding a BikeE along the way, too. I had stopped and was looking at a map so he pulled over and gave me directions.
I found Marlowe at work without much difficulty. She's started a new store called "Pyschobaby" selling funky/cool baby toys and acccessories. She gave me a key and directions to her house and I got settled in and took a shower. I got to meet Greylan and Ollie, too. They're adorable, rambunctious kids, and we had a great time.
I had a spare day since I'd arrived early, so I spent Wednesday (July 16th) exploring Chicago. It's really a much prettier, cleaner city than I expected. My view of the city had been formed primarily by Upton Sinclair and the '68 DNC. But I saw not a single meatpacking plant or riot policeman in my entire tour. I took my bike downtown and stopped at the Water Tower, then took a trolley tour around the city and went up in the Sears Tower to see the view. I wanted to check out the visitors' gallery of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, but they were closed by the time I got there.
The next day, Thursday the 17th, I left early for my flight to San Jose. My Google interview was on Friday, but I had also arranged an interview with Brightmail in San Francisco late on Thursday afternoon. My plane was supposed to get in before noon, so I figured I'd have plenty of time to check into my hotel, shower, and buy some nice interview clothes. I had had a set of clothes shipped to Jonathan's house in Chicago, but they went to the wrong address -- my own fault -- and I couldn't get them in time. I figured that I could just stop at the Gap (shock horror!) and consider the expense a necesary part of getting the job.
My plane was late.
I had to take a taxi to the train station in hopes of catching the next train to SF. I missed it, but the next one was only half an hour behind. I made it to SF with half an hour to spare, but by the time I got on the subway and got where I was going, I had no time to spare, and no interview clothes. I showed up to my interview with Brightmail wearing my "Ithaca is Gorges" t-shirt and a well-worn pair of cargo shorts with a piece of rope for a belt. I made my explanations to the first couple of people I met, then gave up. No-one seemed to care. The interview went wonderfully.
One of the folks who interviewed me was Art Medlar, a mutual friend of Brewster Kahle and Jim Salem (my neighbor and good friend). He told me that Brewster had asked him to invite me to dinner at Brewster's house tonight, a regular Thursday night event. It was just wonderful to have arrived in the Bay Area that morning and already have been invited to dinner with a group of cool, friendly people. I spent the couple hours until dinner wandering around the city and buying the clothes I didn't have a chance to get before my first interview.
Dinner at Brewster's was fun and lively. We had a great soup and a pasta dish with vegetables. It was cool to meet Brewster, who is a friend of both Jim and Yvonne, as well as founder of the Internet Archive, and involved in all sorts of other cool projects. It was also great to get to talk to Art some more outside of the interview setting, and get to know him better as well as get a bit of the inside scoop on the SF scene.
I caught the last train back to Mountain View at midnight and arrived at quarter past one. I got to my hotel exhausted and ready to crash, but there was a glitch: I expected that Google had paid for my room in advance, but evidently I had to pay for it myself and get reimbursed. I had no credit cards, since my wallet was lost in Amherst and I haven't replaced them yet. The hotel wanted $180 a night plus a $200 room deposit. I had $30 and an ATM card, and there were no ATMs in sight. Gladly, I managed to convince the desk guy to just let me crash and work it out with Google the next day. The next day when I discovered my error, I wound up just going to the ATM and withdrawing and exorbitant amount of cash to pay for the room. It was a little unnerving.
I woke up early on Friday the 18th, nervous for my interview. I took my time preparing, ate the continental breakfast downstairs, and took a taxi to Google.
The interview was not nearly as stressful as I had expected. I was to be at the office for over six hours in interviews, but they passed rather quickly. I think I met with eight or so people in forty-five minute chunks. They were all relaxed and friendly, and asked me plenty of coding questions, which was great for me. The funniest thing was that every single person I met with asked me if I wanted to go get a drink or a donut or something from the employee kitchen, which was inordinately well-stocked. Google is into food. Not only did they had tons of soda and Naked Juice (the left coast equivalent of Fresh Samanthas), they had several boxes of donuts in the morning, bins of cereal, and a wall of bulk candy bins. They are also famous for hiring a master chef to cater for their employee cafeteria, and rightly so. I got taken to lunch around noon, and the food was simply terrific. And there was such variety I couldn't even try everything that looked appealing (also I wanted to avoid appearing gluttonous to my interviewer). I finished up the interview by talking to Jolie in Recruiting, who has been my contact throughout the process. She told me that she had only talked to a few of my interviewers so far, but the response was all positive and they would get back to me in a week. Then I tracked down Andy Golding, a friend of Bill Freeman's and the guy who helped get my resume spotted out of the thousand (thousand!) resumes they get every day. We had a nice relaxing chat, then everyone started streaming out of the office to the weekly company-wide meeting.
Next I got back on the train to San Francisco. I was going to visit my friend Erin Bullock, a housemate of mine from when I lived at the Prospect of Whitby co-op. I had also received two recommendations that I should go to Greens, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant by the pier. We went, and enjoyed it tremendously, especially since Google was paying the bill.
Saturday the 19th was my day to explore the area and see if I liked it enough to live there. I took a train to Palo Alto and rented a bike from the great trainside bikeshop there (they have "the only valet bike parking in the world"). There I ran into another glitch: If I paid by cash, they wanted a $350 deposit on the bike. I'm starting to think it's about time I got a credit card. But the bike was nice and gave me a chance to ride around downtown Palo Alto for a while. It was nice enough, but I'm inclined to support Erin's proclamation "Silicon Valley? That's totally Yuppieville!" I could see myself living there though, especially if I took a little more time to get into the scene. I did only have one day, after all. And then there's San Jose and Los Altos and a bunch of other areas within biking distance.
Sunday I returned my bike early and got on a bus to San Jose, from where my flight was leaving. I expected to arrive two and a half hours early, but I had a good book and wanted to make some phone calls, so I figured I might as well get there early. A good thing, too, since when I arrived the line for security went all the way down the hall, up three flights around a winding ramp, out the door, and across the parking lot. There was no particular crisis, it was simply that the airport was never built for the quantity of traffic it now handles.
The plane ride was uneventful, except that I was struck by the same thing I was on the way out: the landscape around the Bay Area is positively beautiful. And the Rockies and the desert to the east of them are even more beautiful. It was amazing to be flying over these landscapes that I'd never seen before, and look forward to bicycling through them in a few weeks.
I arrived safely back in Chicago on Sunday evening. Monday the 21st, I said a sad farewell to Jonathan, Marlowe, Greylan, and Ollie, then set out West, alone for the first time on the trip.
I will continue this update later, but for now I am being kicked off of the computer.
Wed Jul 30 17:05:54 CDT 2003|
Rubicon Mississippi -- Anita, IA
Leaving Chicago on Monday the 21st, I made slow progress. I discovered that without the need to coordinate on a route for the day, and without Emily checking the map in advance, I took a "random-walk" approach to pathfinding. I started out going west, know I wanted to get on highway 30. Or 34. Or 54. Pretty much any even-numbered highway would do. Every now and then I'd get frustrated with going West and would start going South for a little while. Surprisingly, I actually made it to Highway 34 without much trouble.
I wound up camping in the Danada Forest Preserve. I was disappointed to discover that Forest Preserve is evidently Department of Natural Resources Lingo for "a bunch of houses wrapped in some trees." I eked out a campsite just barely out of site from the houses and trails, and slept happily.
Tuesday the 22nd I was all set to ride big miles, but shortly after I stopped for groceries I noticed that my derailleur wasn't working. Further inspection revealed that there was a plastic doohickey that juts out on the inner side and holds in place a screw, which holds the whole derailleur assembly in place, and it was broken. Nothing to do for it but to go to the bike shop and get a replacement. Luckily there was a bike shop ("Spokes") in the same plaza with the grocery store, but I had to wait around until 11:30 for them to open. When they finally did open, though, they were friendly and helpful. They replaced the derailleur with a new, higher-end one, and didn't even charge me for the labor.
That afternoon I made it about halfway across Indiana and camped on top of a hill next to some radio and cell phone towers. The burrs there were especially bad.
Wednesday the 23rd felt like a long day. It was dry and dusty. I made it most of the way across Indiana, and camped near Geneseo, just outside of the Quad-Cities area (Davenport, some other city, and two other cities).
The morning of Thursday the 24th I biked down towards Davenport and cross the Mississippi for the first time in my life. It was great, although unfortunately I wound up seeing it in two pieces, since the bridge I took stopped on a largish island halfway across. Even so, it was a might impressive river. There was a large dam on the section I crossed, along with a set of locks. There was a barge in the locks so big and solid-looking that I thought it was a pier of some sort. Across the river there was a loading dock where a giant crane was swinging intermodal containers out onto barges like they were child's blocks. Actually, I've heard that one of the major exports of Davenport is children's blocks, so perhaps that analogy is not so facile as it seems.
I arrived in Iowa City late in the day, where I was meeting my friend Kate, a mutual friend of Emily's. When I arrived in town and checked my messages I found that I had a job offer from Google! Hurrah! I had also earlier heard from Brightmail that they had an offer for me. So not only did I have an offer, I had a negotiating position. I am still not entirely decided on which job to take, but I'm leaning towards Google.
While I was sitting at a gas station charging my cell phone and waiting for Kate's class to get out, I met a cool fellow named Matthew who invited me to come hang out with him at his friend's shop on the Ped Mall. I told him I'd meet him there, and started packing up. When I arrived the store was locked up, which was a shame, but at least I had found the Ped Mall, which was a much nicer place to hang out. Iowa City's Ped Mall is almost exactly like Ithaca's Commons, except they have fireflies and a cool fountain you can run through. There were a whole bunch of people hanging around on benches, playing games, playing instruments, and so on. It was evidently quite the place to chill.
Kate came by and met me, then gave me directions to her house, which was nearby. We met back up there and I got all showered and cleaned. I also got to meet her friend Jane, roommate Michelle, and gentleman friend Nate, all of whom were great people. We went out to a pool hall and spent the rest of the night shooting pool. There was this crazy Swedish guy (good-crazy, not bad-crazy) named Oli who wandered over when Jane was M.I.A. for her shot, and took it for her. He was a much better shot, and gradually he wound up taking shots for more and more of us, until he was playing doubles pool against himself.
Friday the 25th, Nate was kind enough to show me around town a little bit. He helped me figure out where to find a welding shop. Both of the little aluminum struts which support my seat from the back had broken away from where they connect, and I wanted to get them fixed. Unfortunately the welder was swamped and there was no chance he could get to them until Monday. As I turned around to head back to town, I noticed the handlebars weren't turning right. They still turned, but it required a lot more effort suddenly, as if there was something pulling on them. I checked but there was nothing. I think that the connection to the fork had some grit in it or had gotten rusty or some such. Regardless, it was frustrating to add something else to the litany of things that had gone wrong on my bike: derailleur, seatback posts, steering, odometer (stopped working randomly after I got it back from the bike shop in Chicago, I think they broke it). Actually derailleur should go on there twice. After getting the nice new metal deraileur I noticed it would sometimes stop working in a similar way. I took a look at it, and found the little screw that was equivalent to the one that broke on the old derailleur. It was still in place, but now it was gouging a small groove into the aluminum of the frame where it attaches. It's okay so long as I don't switch into the lowest gear though.
After the welding shop, Nate and I met up again in the park by the river. It was a beautiful day, and we just sat by a lake and watched the willow trees and chatted. I guess mostly I chatted. Travelling alone leaves a big conversational void that I'm suddenly eager to fill. By the time I left Iowa City I was completely hoarse.
Friday evening, we hung out with some of Nate's friends and played Ten Thousand (a dice game, lots of fun) and Cranium (trivia and pictionary), then went out barhopping.
Saturday the 26th I reluctantly said goodbye to Kate & Nate, and headed West again. About halfway through the day, I spotted a soccer field that looked like a beautiful place for lunch, and I sat there so long reading & napping that lunch turned into dinner and I simply camped in the woods nearby.
Sunday the 27th I could feel a storm coming and couldn't decide whether to pack up or try and wait it out in the tent. I packed up and headed out, but as soon as I started out I was shocked by the appearance of the sky. There was a stark line straight across from South to North, separating dark grey, nearly black, from white clouds. It was clearly a huge storm coming through. I was already packed up though, so I started out down the road. I was lucky to hole up in a gas station just before it hit. It was a huge thunderstorm, and knocked out power briefly. While I waited it out, there were people coming in in their cars saying that they had been driving and had had to stop because the rain was too heavy.
I started out again around noon and got to Grinell by evening. At first I looked around for an inconspicuous place to camp near town, but I had heard there was a cheap motel on the edge of town, and it was looking like more rain, so I opted for a warm bed, shower and roof overhead. When I checked my voicemail I had a message from Emily. She was on her way to Iowa City to visit Kate after her Iowa trip, and wanted to congratulate me on my Google offer. I called her back and told her where I was. She had just passed Grinell, so she turned around and met me. We went out for pizza and caught up on all the news about everything that had happened to us. Her descriptions of Colorado have got me anxious to go there, although Iowa has been suprisingly pretty. The rolling hills take away a little of the boredom of Indiana and Illinois, and even the small towns seem to have more character.
Monday the 28th was a beautiful day. I couldn't tell whether it had rained overnight, but it was clear and bright by morning. I started out doing good mileage, then stopped in Newton for a long lunch and library break. While I was there, a nice lady walked up to me on the street and started talking to me, asking me about my trip and so on. She told me there was a bike trail I could catch near Baxter that would take me all the way into Des Moines. She also told me that Newton was the meth capital of Iowa, a little-known fact. For those who are less in-the-know, meth is short for methamphetamines, a stimulant. She told me, as she sipped a frappucino, that it was simply terrible how kids were getting hooked on these addictive drugs and messing up their bodies.
The bike path in Baxter was beautiful, although it took longer to get there than I had expected. Once I got on, though, the difference was amazing. It was like getting on a high-speed train. This train even had AC, because the trees on either side of the trail provided plenty of shade. I biked a fair bit of the way into Des Moines, then stopped by a group of bikers taking a break to ask how far I was. It turns out they were One-Eye, Crazy, Cousin Doug, and Sarah from Team Barfly and were on their post-RAGBRAI shakedown ride to a bar in Mingo. They were all psyched to hear about my ride, and invited me to turn around and go to the bar with them. It was only five miles back, so I went. They treated me wonderfully, buying me beer and pizza all night and telling stories about their RAGBRAI adventures. I met another couple of Barflies there, Matt and his girlfriend Melissa. We all went outside for a while and played hacky-sack until the mosquito sprayer came driving by and we had to go inside. At the end of the night we all rode back down the rail trail by headlights. Crazy called a stop halfway and we all turned off our lights and watched the stars. The Milky Way stood out brilliantly. I went back to Crazy's house on the river and crashed on his couch. Team Barfly's hopsitality was wonderful: I think I had at least four offers of a place to stay at the end of the night, and everyone had been calling friends in Nebraska and Colorado and California to find places for me to stay. I had such a good time, I'm convinced I have to go on RAGBRAI next year.
Tuesday morning (the 29th), Crazy took me to see the Iowa Capitol Building, a really beautiful old restored classical building. Then he put me on a bike path heading west and wished me the best. I biked for a long time, with another long stop for lunch in Adel. Towards the end of the evening though, I found myself in farm country, with not a stand of trees to camp in. I was on the verge of knocking on someone's door and simply asking to camp in their yard, but after two nights under a roof, I really wanted to find a stand of trees. I held out and was lucky to find a nearly perfect campsite on top of a hill.
I had heard so much on Monday about how amazing Iowa sweet corn is, and how it is the best corn in the world, that I had to try some despite my inadequate cooking gear. I had bought an ear earlier in the day, and peeled it, broke it in two, and just barely managed to fit it in my cooking pot. It was entirely worth the trouble. It was the best corn I've ever had.
Overnight it rained heavily and I heard a big deer whuffing outside my hammock. Today has been beautiful and I went swimming at lunch in Anita Lake State Park.
Mon Aug 4 11:27:57 CDT 2003|
Welcome to the West -- Hastings, NE
I wound up hanging around Anita long enough that I had to camp there Wednesday evening. I didn't mind. It was a beautiful little town, and there was a very nice state park right in town.
I spent Thursday the 30th spent riding into Omaha. It was a fairly long ride, but I had good weather. The traffic was a little rough going into town, since Route 6 became a major highway on the way in. It was made worse by poor visibility since the sun was starting to go down. As soon as I crossed the Missouri I got off of 6 and onto city streets. There was a park to the North along the river where I intended to stay that night. I wanted to spend the night in Omaha, because I had arranged for two packages to be sent to a UPS store there, to arrive on Friday.
I spent quite a while meandering gradually North, spent some time riding through the rougher neighborhoods (not too much time), and finally found JJ Pershing Road, which took me out past the airport and up, eventually, to the park. It was getting pretty late by this time, and I was very glad when I found a bike path that paralleled the road.
Shortly after getting on the bike path, though, I noticed that my rear tire was flat. I couldn't ride any further like that, and if I stopped to patch it, it would be full dark by the time I got to the park. So I just pulled alongside the bike path and set up camp there. It seemed late enough that not many people would come by. The main problem with the site, actually, was that it was tremendously muddy. Anywhere I wanted to walk, there was thick, sticky, clayish mud. It wasn't a problem for camping, since I was going to set up my hammock anyhow, but my bike tires and brakes became completely caked with mud from rolling the bike through it. The next day I actually had to take the wheel off of my trailer to chip dried mud from the fender.
Friday morning I got up and rode back Downtown. It seemed like a much shorter trip than it had the night before. Omaha had a rather disappointing downtown. There wasn't much to see. I gave a woman some money to buy a bagel and she said "Bless you. Bless you! You will receive a blessing." I don't know if I believe in blessings, but as Lewis Carroll said "If I say it three times, it's true." And it did come true the next day.
It took a while for me to figure out the street plan of Omaha, but I eventually found the UPS Store I was looking for. Thankfully, they had my packages. They contained the parts and frame for my old bike, a Linear Mach III (it doesn't go that fast, I've tried). The Linear had a bent support in the back, and I had brought it to The Bicycle Man in Alfred Station NY to be fixed before I left. Unfortunately they couldn't get it done before I wanted to leave, so I found the BikeE online at a good price, and rode that until Omaha. But the Linear is what I really wanted to be riding. There were a couple moments where I thought I was missing some key piece and all my efforts were in vain, but eventually everything turned up and I got it put together. Then I had to disassemble the BikeE and pack it up in the same boxes to mail home. The whole time I was working on it (about 3 hours), the women from the hair salon next door kept coming outside for their smoke breaks and asking how the bike was coming along.
More later, I'm getting kicked off.
Wed Aug 6 10:17:48 CDT 2003|
Halfway!!! -- Kensington, KS
So I finished putting together my Linear, and now I'm riding longboat-style. With the new, longer bike, plus my trailer, my rig is now longer than most cars. It's also a lot more fun to ride. I didn't realize how much the BikeE made me feel hunched over, but the Linear has under-seat steering, so I feel like my position is much more open to the sky and land. I get a much better view now. The Linear also has skinnier tires for less rolling resistance, and just generally better quality components.
After leaving the UPS store on Friday evening, I headed West into the suburbia of Omaha. I lucked out and very quickly found a little hideaway on the side of the road where a small path led between some bushes. Behind the bushes was a little clearing beside a drainage ditch. It was right behind a big housing development, but it was perfect; obviously no one came down there on a regular basis, since they would have had to cross the ditch and there was no bridge. I slept soundly.
Saturday morning, August 1st, I headed West on Route 6 to Lincoln. I was stunned by the extent of the suburban development in Omaha. There were simply miles and miles of housing developments, all more or less the same. The amazing thing was that most of them were owned by the same company.
There was one middle-aged fellow in a shiny new Corvette who pulled up in front of me at a stop light. His license plate said "H8 WINTER." I got a kick out of that, and started to pull up alongside him to say so. He nearly popped a vein. "[indistinguishable] motherf[unrepeatable]!" he shouted, "Better not even come close!" He was probably concerned I might scratch his cherry-red finish. Then the light turned green and he slammed his car into gear and took off squealing. I was a little annoyed, but I was also a little proud that I had instilled such terror in a fully-grown man with only my bicycle.
The ride to Lincoln was great, it felt much smoother on my Linear. There was a small problem with the derailleur cable so that I couldn't shift through all my gears, so I planned to look for a bike shop once I got there and get a tune-up.
The first thing I was struck by on the way in was what a bike-friendly town Lincoln seemed to be. There were billboards advertising "Tour de Lincoln," a local annual bike ride. There was evidently a municipal sculpture project underway, and on many street corners there were statues of bicycles built by local artists. And downtown there were flags hanging from streetposts that said "Explore Nebraska" with a picture of a bicycle. The town should be crawling with bike shops, right? Well, when I started asking around, nobody knew where to find one. One woman said "Well, there's Blue's, but that's pretty far from downtown. And I don't know where it is anyhow." At one point I saw a neon sign in a window that illustrated a bicycle and said "Fat Tire" underneath it. I thought I had found a shop for sure, but the building turned out to be a pub, and "Fat Tire" is a brand of beer. Finally I went to the tourist center and they looked up Blue's in the phone book.
Once I got to Blue's though, my impression of Lincoln changed. It was a first-rate bike shop, and the guys were super friendly. The mechanic, Chris, who worked on my bike offered me a place to camp in his back yard. After he got off work we popped on over to his house, then the local organic food co-op for some food. Back at his house again I met his housemate, Michael. Turns out both Chris and Michael are car-free, like me. It was definitely inspiring to meet other folks with similar convictions. They seemed to do pretty well getting around Lincoln, too. We had a great time hanging out and eating dinner together.
In the morning on Sunday the 2nd, we went to Chris' other job, a hip little coffeeshop called The Mill, and had some tea to start the day. Chris gave me some wonderful tea and chocolate to take with me too. Then we all headed out Southwest, along some bike trails. Chris had to head back to start work once we got to the edge of town, but Michael had the whole day, so he biked with me until about lunchtime before turning back. Michael really wanted to come along on the trip, but he had a daughter in Lincoln to take care of. He told me she might come with him on a big trip once she's older -- he's already got her into doing weekend bike trips.
I camped Sunday evening outside of Hastings, NE by a small town called Harvard. In the morning on Monday (the 3rd) I popped into Hastings to do some of the town chores I had been meaning to do for a while. I needed to do laundry, get a bit of food, get pictures developed, go to the library, get a new book, get a spare tube, and get a snap ring for my trailer attachment, since one of them had fallen off (a non-critical but serious problem). I managed to get through a lot of those rather quickly, and had forgotten about photos when I met a nice young lady from the photolab outside the local department store, Allen's. I went in to drop off my film for one-hour delivery, and when I came out I found that standing by my bike were a cop and the security manager of Allen's. I was worried I was parked illegally, but it turned out they were just waiting for the owner of a car that was parked poorly to come out, and were standing around admiring my bike in the meantime. They asked all about my trip and I asked where I could find a hardware store and a bookstore. It turned out that the spare part I needed was hidden in one of my film cannisters (I thought it would be a safe place), so I only needed to go to the bookstore.
When I came back from the bookstore (I picked up The Poisonwood Bible, recommended by a friend), Rebecca at the photo counter told me that the security chief wanted to see me; she'd called a reporter from the local station to do a story on me. It was the first time I'd been interviewed, and I contemplated just heading out the door, but I decided to play along. It actually went very easily, the reporter asked all the same questions that I'm quite used to being asked by now, except there was a camera rolling. I was surprised that I wasn't more nervous.
Finally I headed out of town. I had been considering taking a more Northerly vector, to try and see Chimney Rock, but I had been informed while in town (Hastings was an incredibly friendly town) that Chimney Rock is so eroded it barely looks like a pimple on top of the mountain. I also learned that the geographical center of the continental United States was more or less due South, in Lebanon Kansas. So I set out South and camped in Ayr Monday night.
I knew one of the consequences of having skinnier tires would be more flats, but I wasn't prepared for the extent of what happened Monday night. I pulled my bike into one campsite, and set down to rest. Immediately I stood up again. My butt had been attacked by tons of tiny little caltrop-like burrs, the offshoot of some plant nearby. I didn't like that one bit, so I set off again in search of another campsite. My rear tire shortly went flat, so I picked the nearest spot I could wheel my bike to, and camped there. After dinner I set about patching the hole. Well, it turned out there was not one hole, but two, next to each other. I put an extra-wide patch over both of them and reinflated the tube. Oops, still losing air. I found another hole, patched that. The patch didn't quite take, so I had to put another patch over that. Okay, good enough? Not quite. Now I found yet a third hole (this one was also actually a pair). By the time I patched that one, the sun had long since set and it was getting hard to see. And I found a fourth hole.
Thankfully, I had a spare tube, but my old tube is now more full of holes than the Aquatic Ape theory. Naturally in the morning I found my front tire was flat too. I didn't even bother to patch it, just replaced it with a spare.
Tuesday the 4th I rode to Lebanon, KS. I took a long lunch break in Red Cloud, NE, a pretty little town. They had a great gazebo in the park where I could eat in the shade, and I got a swim and a shower for $2.50 at the city pool.
The actual geographic center of the continental United States is about a mile outside of Lebanon, Kansas, as determined by data from the USGS. This is the "center of gravity" of the US, the spot where it would balance on a pin if you had a big enough pin. There's a small park with a stone marker, and someone has installed a little trailer-sized chapel, big enough for four congregants and a preacher. There is also a small five-room motel right nearby, which has fallen into a sad state of disrepair. I guess when they built the monument they thought there would be more tourist traffic than there actually was. I was a little surprised myself that there wasn't more traffic. I guess even though it's at the center of everything, it's not close enough to anything to draw tourists.
There was a sign on the highway mentioning the geographic center, and it had mileages from the center all the major cities in the U.S. Both Boston and San Francisco showed up as exactly 1630 miles! I had planned this to be the symbolic halfway point of my journey, since I didn't know my actual mileage, but it looks like it may be more or less the real halfway point also! It feels like I've reached halfway so quickly, as compared to my Appalachian Trail trip. I guess that's natural, since this was much quicker. Timewise, at this point on our thru-hike, my Dad and I were only in Massachussetts or so. But it also feels like time passes more quickly by bike, perhaps because I'm in towns all the time, so I keep sync'ing up with the time scale of civilization.
I'm a little sad to pass the halfway point. It's a great milestone, but I can see the end of the trip looming large already. But perhaps those are only the Rockies. Anyhow, I try not to worry about it too much. I haven't worked up enough of an appetite to attempt the half-gallon challenge (an tradition from the Appalachian Trail where you eat a half-gallon of ice-cream at the halfway point), so I just climbed up on the monument and thought long and hard about being in the middle of things. If anyone can think of a better ceremony to mark halfway, please email me and I'll do it belatedly. Who knows, maybe the real halfway point is still ahead of me.
After Lebanon I headed on a little further and camped outside of Smith Center, KS. This morning, Wednesday the 5th, I rolled through Smith Center and stopped here in Kensington to update this journal. My next destination is Denver, CO, but I'm not sure how long it will take me to get there.
Mon Aug 11 11:04:45 MDT 2003|
Mile High, Still Climbing -- Denver, CO
From Smith Center on Wednesday the 6th, I biked on west, through Phillipsburg to Norton. In Phillipsburg I met a fellow named Dennis and his son, both riding very nice recumbent bicycles. We talked shop for a while and they told me I was just north of Hays, where Rans recumbents are made.
It was a long, hot day, so much so that when I arrived in Norton at five, I just went to the public library to sit in their air conditioning and read for two hours, before biking out of town to set up camp.
The towns are spaced differently in Kansas than in Nebraska. Where Nebraskan towns occurred every ten or twelve miles, and were rather small, down here there is nothing for thirty miles, in general, and then there's a large town (large for the prairie, anyhow). I find myself gradually increasing my water-carrying capacity. I now have three large bottles for storage, two small ones for drinking, and one small one that I keep hidden away so that I'll forget I have it unless I need it very badly.
I woke up very early on Thursday the 7th from my campsite outside of Norton. The air was cool (quite a blessing!) and even better, there was a slight breeze from the East, which got stiffer as the day progressed. I was making great time and didn't want to stop, but I indulged my curiosity in Oberlin with a visit to the Museum of the Last Indian Raid in Kansas.
The video they showed portrayed the Last Indian Raid as more of a fighting retreat by the Cheyenne than a raid, as such, but there were several settlers killed for their food and money. In the end, U.S. troops caught the Indians and dragged them back to their assigned reservation in the Dakotas, where they resumed their business of dying slowly.
The museum itself, apart from the video, had not much to do with the actual raid, and was more of an antique store grown out of control. There were objects and documents from all eras, tending towards the early days of settlement. They had actually built a sod house using the same techniques used by settlers way back when, but it was constantly being pecked apart by birds so they had to cover it, first with chicken wire, then later with a plaster coat.
I was worried that by the time I left town I would have lost my tailwind, but if anything it picked up even further. I made great time on towards Atwood, where I stopped for lunch at the pool, and then decided to push on to St. Francis for my first century (hundred-mile ride) on this trip.
One of the great things about doing one hundred miles in one day was that I got to watch the landscape change before my eyes. I had been riding through fields of corn and a crop called "milo," surrounded constantly by green. As I rolled West, the cornfields were finally supplanted by honest-to-goodness prairie. This still is not the Kansas of Dorothy; I ride across low, rolling hills into valleys cut by rivers long since dried up, and granite pokes through the ground in places. But now instead of green there is the beige and tan of short-cropped prairie grass, and the occasional herd of cows (sometimes buffalo, too, in cultivation).
I made it to St. Francis with an hour still to go before sunset, and decided to treat myself to a motel and enjoy the air conditioning. Perhaps I'm a hypocrite for enjoying AC so much, but I figure I must have saved at least four or five gallons of gas by riding those hundred miles rather than driving.
St. Francis was having a county fair, which I visited. It was fun, they had carnival rides and games, and a helicopter ride. It reminded me, though, that carnivals are always more fun if you have someone to share them with.
Leaving St. Francis on Friday the 8th, I found myself much more tired than I expected. For all the miles I had ridden the day before, I hadn't felt like I was pushing very hard. I'm sure half of it comes of sleeping in a soft bed, which I've become unaccustomed to. I wonder if I'll take to sleeping on the floor once I settle in California?
I found that the town layout changed once again in Colorado. There was still a town every thirty miles or so, but now they are barely more than a cluster of houses. The chief amenities are the post office and the liquor store. A gas station is common too, but not to be relied upon. I crept through Joes, CO, where the sign at the entrance to the town proclaims "1929 Men's Basketball State Champions, 3rd Place at Nationals," then passed Cope, CO before camping half-hidden in a stand of trees.
I woke up much refreshed on Saturday the 9th and kept going West. There is a town seventy-seven miles outside of Denver called Last Chance, formerly the last chance for water and supplies before Denver. Now there are other towns along the way, but it is still a long haul to the next one. The one store in town, Dairy King, was closed up with a sign saying "Out of Water," and the drinking-water hydrant in the center of town was dry. Fortunately I met some motorcycle travellers who were almost home and gave me plenty of water to last until Byers.
In the middle of the afternoon, a huge thunderstorm started brewing up to my South and moving Northeast. I considered whether to try and race past it or settle down and wait it out. When the chips were down, I decided it was foolhardy to ride an aluminum-frame bike across the prairie in the middle of a thunderstorm, so I took shelter in the lee of some idle highway construction equipment.
Naturally, the storm passed by without so much as a drop hitting me, but it took its good time. By the time I was sure it was gone, the sun was low enough to set up camp, so I just started cooking up dinner. As I sat there, I heard a noise behind me. I turned and saw that a herd of at least fifty cows had suddenly materialized in the pasture behind me, and they were all staring intensely at me and my beans and rice. One of them gave a demanding mooo, which set off a few of the others. Suddenly the little barbed wire fence that separated us seemed hopelessly flimsy. It had never occurred to me before to be afraid of cows, but the stares from that herd were so intense I realized that with a little initiative, they could probably push through the fence, trampling me and my meager dinner into the ground in a feeding frenzy.
I am fortunate, then, that cows have long since been bred into stupidity and docility, because instead of charging the fence, one of them started to chew on a piece of Tyvek the construction workers had left too close to the fence. The others stood by quietly salivating. When I couldn't stand their stares anymore, I took my dinner and hid on the other side of my tent until they got bored and wandered off.
Around sunset a state patrolman pulled up and asked for my ID. When I explained my circumstances, he was very understanding about my choosing that spot to camp. He told me that he had only been concerned because I was hanging around the highway construction equipment. After a clean check on my ID and a reassurance I wouldn't try and play on the backhoe, he left me to my rest.
Sunday the 10th I woke up knowing I would make it to Denver by afternoon, and that gave me lots of energy. Route 36, which I had been following, ran into Interstate 70 and disappeared, but fortunately I-70 is one of those rare interstates that allows bicycles, at least in parts. And Yes, Mom, there was a very broad shoulder so I was quite safe.
As I rolled into town on Colfax Avenue, I saw only franchises and pawn shops for miles, until suddenly I crested a hill or turned a corner or something, and I could see the Rockies. Even though they were somewhat fuzzy from distance and haze, the effect was amazing. I went slack on my bike, and all I could do was stare and say "Wow." It's a good thing that riding has become second nature by now, or I probably would have fallen off of my bike. I can't believe I've finally arrived at the mountains, after all this riding.
I set out about town, finding the library and a bike shop for some supplies. I've decided to spend a day of rest in town, so I looked up a hostel called the Inkeepers of the Rocky Mountains. It seems like a very hip little place, there are folks from all over staying there, and they are generally quite friendly. There are actually quite a few folks who are living there on a semi-long-term basis, due to difficulties with apartments or plans to leave town soon.
I took a shower and rode back downtown, hoping to check out the park and get some food. I locked up my bike in the park and a very unfortunate thing happened: my lock jammed, and now I'm unable to unlock it. This is a clear case of false economy. I bought a cheap, low-end lock to save money, but now it will probably cost me in the vicinity of forty dollars in locksmith's fees.
My spirits were lifted on the way back to the hostel, though. I was walking along wearing my "Ithaca is Gorges" t-shirt when a fellow on a payphone stopped me and said "Hey, are you from Ithaca? I'm from Utica!" We chatted a bit, then he invited me to go with him to a bar where he was celebrating his friend Todd's birthday with some other friends. They were all great folks, and we hung out the rest of the night. Or rather, until 11 PM, when I felt so exhausted I had to go back to the hostel and crash.
This morning I found myself waking at 6 AM despite myself, my accustomed rising time now that I'm on MDT. Now it's off to do some errands and sightseeing.
Fri Aug 15 13:02:04 2003|
I'm definitely Not in Kansas Anymore -- Boulder, CO
I wound up spending three full days in Denver, relaxing, exploring, and waiting for a set of spare tires to be moved from a warehouse in the South of Denver to a bike shop in downtown Denver. The first day, Monday the 11th, I spent mostly waiting for the locksmith to arrive and cut my lock open. When I got to the park, some homeless folks informed me that the park maintenance guys had been by and said if the bike wasn't gone within an hour, they were going to come back and cut it off and take it away. So I had arrived just in time, evidently. Once the locksmith arrived, he cut the shackle of the combination lock with a bolt cutter. It took about 5 seconds. We spent longer trying to find parking for his van. He told me to get a better lock, and I did, but now I'm nervous; next time my lock jams up, will it be more difficult to cut? This is already the second time a bike lock has jammed on me, I seem to have terrible luck.
Anyhow, with bike happily in hand I spent a little bit of time exploring the city and doing various errands. I visited Denver's Union Station and spent a while reading at the Tattered Cover bookstore. In the evening, on my way back to the hostel, a fellow on a payphone stopped me and asked "Are you from Ithaca?", pointing at my "Ithaca is Gorges" t-shirt. Turns out he's from Utica, which is right nearby. We chatted a little and he told me his friend Todd was having a birthday and he was about to head over to a nearby bar to celebrate with him. He invited me along, and I complied, happy to have a little company. The bar, Nob Hill, was a great little dive bar, owned by Todd's dad. We were probably the youngest folks there. There was a great doorman named Jack who wasn't quite toothless but whose facial expressions made you think he was. After a few drinks we went to visit a bar with a Grateful Dead theme. Evidently they have Dead cover bands play there all the time. By that time, though, I was way past my normal bedtime, so I had to wander home and collapse in a heap of exhaustion. I had gained a roommate while I was out, but didn't meet him until a couple of days later -- our schedules did not often meet.
Tuesday the 12th I spent again touring the town. This time I discovered the 16th Street Mall, a fun little walking district downtown. I also visited the Colorado State Capitol building, supposedly second-prettiest in the States (after the DC Capitol). I think it definitely has a good claim to the title. Along with tremendous amounts of brass (polished by four full-time brass polishers), the Capitol is home to the world's entire supply of rose onyx.
In the evening, I met some more of the hostel's residents and spent a lot of time hanging out on the front porch with them, before going out on the town briefly.
Wednesday the 13th I headed down to the bike shop bright and early, hoping my tubes would be there, but they weren't open yet. And naturally, when they opened they told me the parts wouldn't arrive until the afternoon. But I did some shopping to kill time. I had been meaning to get some clipless pedals and biking shoes, to improve my performance slightly, especially when spinning (pedaling very fast). I've always felt that clipless pedals were a sign of a serious cyclist -- perhaps a bit too serious, since they require that you change shoes just to ride your bike. As Thoreau once wrote, "Beware of any enterprise that requires new clothes." But they do make a huge difference, I've discovered. I'm glad I got them, even if it makes me a "serious" cyclist.
Once I'd got done spending money, I went out to kill some time until afternoon. I discovered that Denver has a beautiful system of bike paths, running all over. I rode down Cherry Creek Trail to Confluence Park, then spent a couple hours swimming and letting the currents carry me over a series of mild rapids. It was like a natural waterslide. I could get used to this town.
Once I dried off, I rode South on the South Platte River to the edge of town, then turned around. By the time I got back to the bike shop, my parts were there, but it was getting dark. I rode South again, this time on Cherry Creek Trail, and camped out by Cherry Creek Reservoir.
Thursday the 14th, yesterday, I rode to Boulder. It was a much shorter ride than I had expected, and even taking a couple good solid breaks I made it well before sunset. I toured the town a little bit, declared it good, then rode up West into the mountains to find a campsite.
The mountains were beautiful, very unlike the older Eastern mountains. Not only do these peaks reach higher, they are sharper and there is less bare rock. Unfortunately for me, though, the road I was following went alongside Boulder Creek, through a steep canyon, so there was very little in the way of flat camping space. Eventually I found a parking spot that extended into a short gravel spur, hidden from the road by a set of jersey barriers. I simply sacked out there, under the stars. It was cold and breezy enough that mosquitoes were not a concern. The stars were amazing and bright. When I woke up in the middle of the night to the light of the just-risen moon, I thought somebody had turned on a spotlight, it was that bright. I slept fitfully but well.
This morning, Friday the 15th, I rolled back down the road into town again. My friend Becca is possibly planning to fly out to visit and go hiking for a few days, so I am down here awaiting news. Meanwhile, I want to see a bit more of the town and get some good food. I think perhaps I am becoming decadent and slothful with the prospect of the mountains ahead, but I am glad to have gotten up into them a good distance and find I wasn't overmatched.
Tue Aug 19 18:12:14 MDT 2003|
Over the Mountains and Through the Wind . . . -- Kremmling, CO
When I returned to Boulder on Friday the 15th, I heard back from Becca that she couldn't make it out -- plane fare was too expensive. So instead I spent the day exploring Boulder and looking for a part for my bike. There's a small chain that comes out of my rear hub and indexes the planetary gearing in there. Unfortunately I mangled it recently while tightening down the bolt that goes over it. Naturally none of the bike stores in Boulder have it. They all inform me that it's a rather old part, having been in use four years ago. Anyhow, I wound up ordering a replacement from Peter Stull in Alfred Station, the new manufacturer of Linears. Speaking of which, Peter asked me to clarify that the problem I had with my seat stays earlier was on the BikeE I was riding until Omaha, not the Linear. The only troubles I've had with the Linear were the small chain I just mentioned (my own fault), and a worn-out fiberglass seat spreader (nobody's fault).
Anyhow, in addition to the bicycle shops I saw some more of Boulder's funky downtown and their pretty bike trails. In the evening I had some falafel and sat down to talk with a young lady who was travelling around the West and was evidently very interested in experimental airplanes, because that's all she talked about. Then I went to see an amazing fire poi show. For those of you who have never seen fire poi before, they are essentially balls of fire at the end of long chains. There is a Kevlar wick in there somewhere, but once a performance is in full swing you'd never know it. People swing them around in circles, weaving patterns and making a great big wooshing noise. It's quite beautiful.
After the show I snuck off to a park on the edge of the city and slept between some trees -- again without a tent, and again nothing bothered me.
Saturday morning, I felt I was finally free of the hassles of town, and was ready to move on to the mountains. It turns out there is no way to go directly across from Boulder. I had either to go back south to Denver and I-70 or North to Lyons and then across Rocky Mountain National Park. I chose North.
On the way to Lyons I was passed by an inordinate number of other cyclists. I learned from a peach vendor on the edge of town that there was a huge folk festival going on this weekend. I was excited at first -- this is just the sort of serendipity I love! But when I arrived at the festival grounds I was told that the tickets were all sold out. And even if I could find a scalper, they originally retailed at $45, so I could expect to pay more than that. Even so there were lots of folks trying to buy tickets.
I set off on the long uphill to Estes Park. It was a steep and winding road, but even so I managed to overpower a Plymouth Voyager, sitting overheated by the side of the road. I stopped and talked to the folks, and they gave me some nice cold water to prevent me from overheating, but there was nothing to be done for their car. They were planning to turn back around. I pressed on with a newfound sense of accomplishment.
I was a little surprised by the sheer number of cars passing me. I thought I was headed for a small park in the mountains. When I finally came to the top of the road, I saw my mistake. Estes Park is actually the name of a resort town, and evidently quite a popular one. Naturally I had also failed to consider the fact that it was Saturday, one of the most popular days for mountain trips.
The ride down was harrowing, since even as fast as I was going, the cars behind me insisted on passing. Even when I moved to the middle of the lane to stop them, they would pull way out into the next one. I don't understand why these cars wanted to go so fast. I think they simply believe that the only thing you can do with a bike is pass it.
By the time I reached the bottom I was more exhausted than at the top. After all that time expecting a nice park by a lake, I was now in a high-end resort town where I was a completely foreign entity. Children (and adults) would look up from their ice cream cones and stare, heads turning as I went by, but they would refuse to respond to a simple "How you doing?"
I met a trio of other cycle tourists, a momentary relief. But they informed me that I would likely have trouble finding a campsite around here, as there was no camping in the city limits and all the private campgrounds would be booked up solid. Dismayed, I sat down at a picnic table to eat my lunch. A fierce, cold wind kicked up from the West. Finally I decided I had to find a place to sleep sooner or later, so I biked on West to the borders of the Rocky Mountain National Park. The campground there was full too, but I went on a little further and stealth camped in a small stand of trees. I felt much better knowing where I would sleep that night.
The next morning, Sunday the 17th, started out partly sunny and became completely cloudy as I started up Trail Ridge Road, the road which would take me over the Rockies. By the time I had reached the first trailhead, there was a slight (but very cold) drizzle and I stopped to wait it out under the shelter of an information kiosk. It continued to rain for an hour or so. People who had come from the other side by car told me it was really pouring down. Finally I decided to give up on crossing the ridge today and go back to town. But not before meeting a nice couple (Hi Bob and Lynette!) who gave me a Clif Bar and took my picture.
I got soaked, naturally, on the way back into town. And despite waiting in the rain for so long, I was still early enough that most businesses were not yet open, and certainly not the library (this was Sunday). Fortunately I found a pizza place that was ten minutes from opening and let me in. I spent the first half of the day eating hot food, waiting at the library, and visiting tourist shops. I found that Estes Park was not as antithetical to my mindset as I had first thought, but all the same I tired of it quickly. I went back to the park around one or two and got a paid-for, on-the-level campsite. It cost me eighteen big ones, but I felt a little more stable there.
Once I got my tent set up and found I still had half a day left to me, I wanted to go on a day hike. But I found that any activity which did not get me over Trail Ridge Road was too much effort. I had postponed the moment of crossing the Rockies so long that it was incredibly frustrating to be unable to do it. When I had checked the weather at the library, it had said thunderstorms today and possible thunderstorms all week. I slipped into depression, imagining that I would find myself trying every day to cross the mountains, and thrown back down every day by foul weather. I read my book, cooked a big dinner, and went to sleep early.
During the night it rained, and in the wee hours of the morning I dreamt of more rain, and of failed attempts to cross the mountains. Imagine my surprise when I finally opened the door to my tent and found a beautiful blue sky. I packed up my tent quickly. I was afraid if I didn't hurry the weather would turn foul again.
Once I got on the road, I felt practically euphoric. It was a perfect day for riding, and I was finally going to go across the Rockies after nearly a week of having them within reach. The ascent was difficult at first. I felt especially disappointed when I started to descend after climbing only a few hundred feet, since I knew I would have to climb that distance again. But I quickly got into a rhythm. I found that I did best if I only took short breaks so I could stretch and catch my breath, but not allow my legs to get stiff. Traffic gradually increased during the day, and I got lots of astonished looks and encouraging waves from people at the overlooks. I was astonished to find myself doing so well. Everyone I had talked to recently had told me Trail Ridge Road would be incredibly difficult -- it is the highest paved through-road in the U.S., with a highest point of 12,183 feet. But naturally it has switchbacks, and pulloffs to rest in. It was certainly a euphoric experience, and even though some of that euphoria may have come from the thinner air at 12,000 feet, I think the greater part came from overcoming this obstacle that had loomed so large.
When I stood at the rock cut at 12,183 feet, I was nearly twice as high as the highest I had ever been before -- Clingman's Dome at 6,600 feet -- and I had reached this point by bicycle! It was quite exciting, to say the least.
Along the way, I got hit briefly with hail while the sun was still shining. I could see the cloud it was coming from, and the wind blew it fiercely sideways. I rode on out of the storm, got hit by some rain, then some more hail, none of it serious. The weather cleared up briefly as I started descending, but as I reached the Alpine visitor's center West of the Rock Cut, the sky was darkening and I heard thunder.
I will write more later, I am out of time for now.
Thu Aug 21 11:25:20 MDT 2003|
Flow West, Young Man -- Craig, CO
So on the afternoon of Monday the 18th, I had just escaped a hailstorm, and another one was close on its tail. Fortunately someone had the foresight to put an alpine visitor's center on Trail Ridge Road at 11,800 feet or so. I parked my bike and took refuge in the snack bar/gift shop just before the storm hit. The experience reminded me strongly of when my Dad and I summited Mount Washington on the AT. There is also a visitor's center there, and we were also caught in a hailstorm. In that case, though, there was a hut only a mile or so down the trail, so we hiked out into the hail and did a workstay there.
This time there was no hut, but I was not too worried about my prospects. Mountain weather changes rapidly, and in all likelihood the storm would pass soon. I got a cup of hot chocolate and a baked potato at the snack bar, and asked an older lady whether I could join her at one of the few available tables with a view out the window. Turns out she was with her family, and they had passed me three times on the ascent up Trail Ridge Road. We ate together and watched a small herd of elk wandering into a stand of trees for cover from the hail.
I waited out the rest of the storm in the Visitor's Center proper, where a ranger gave a program on antlers -- elk and bighorn sheep -- and I met an antenna engineer-turned-farmer who had sixty-five patents on various aerospace antennae and was on his way to pick up a truckload of peaches.
Eventually the storm cleared, but I decided to wait a little longer for the roads to dry out further. I walked up a short trail to a nearby peak and enjoyed the view. Soon, however, another hailstorm blew in over the ridge. I went back into the visitor's center to wait some more. This time I met a fellow touring cyclist named Bernhard. He was on a four-week vacation from his job in Germany, and was touring all around Colorado. He had been caught in the first storm, but had stopped at an overlook and asked some van-dwellers for shelter. When the storm cleared he had started cycling again and had just made it to the VC ahead of the second one. We passed the time waiting and commisserating about some of the difficulties of bike touring and telling stories about our different journeys. Bernhard had many more stories than I did -- even though he's just started this year's journey, he gets six weeks of vacation every year and spends most of them on extended bike trips. He's been all over the world.
When the storm finally cleared for the last time, we set off down the mountain together. It was a tremendous downhill, but I couldn't properly enjoy it because the road was still wet and the wind was extremely cold. Even so, it was a nice change from climbing.
On the way down we crossed the Continental Divide, the boundary between Atlantic-draining rivers and Pacific-draining rivers. West of the Continental Divide all rivers flow, like me, to the Pacific. I expected to climb a short ways to another ridge, but this is a spot where the Divide dips between peaks, and the road merely flattened out briefly before continuing down. There were, however, a pretty lake (Atlantic-draining), some elk, and a majestic boulder formation.
We camped together at Timber Lake Campground, still within the park. Sharing a tentsite eased the financial burden considerably, and having company made the evening much nicer. It was still cold, though, and I cooked and ate my dinner eagerly. I remember waking up several times during the night and rearranging my various layers under my sleeping bag for maximum warmth.
On Tuesday the 19th, we rode on together towards Kremmling. There was a town along the way called Hot Sulphur Springs, and we were excited to jump in and enjoy the springs. However, when we got there we found only hotels and resorts with spring-fed pools, not a single open-air hot spring. We took a long lunch break anyhow.
In Kremmling there is a small park behind the fire station which is intended specifically for cycle tourists to camp for free. We spent the night there and met three other cyclists. They were older fellows, mostly retired, and they were cycling the Continental Divide Trail a few weeks at a time. Evidently there is a bike trail which follows the Divide in addition to the hiking trail. We had dinner with them and heard lots of good stories.
In the morning Bernhard and I parted ways -- he was going South on Route 9, towards Arizona, and I was headed West on Route 40, towards Utah. On the way out of town I met the older trio leaving a diner, and they told me they had met yet another cyclist inside, and he was headed West also. I met Dean inside, and we talked about our respective trips. He is also going across the country, but following the Transamerica Trail, one of the routes laid out by Adventure Cycling. What is really remarkable, though, is that he is doing this trip at sixty-three with two artificial knees! And he is travelling about as fast as I am; he started on June 11th in Virginia, and is headed for Oregon, if I remember correctly.
We biked together through the morning until Muddy Pass, where his route split off North towards Wyoming, and mine headed further West. He was lucky. Immediately after Muddy Pass there were two miles of heavy road work, and the road became packed dirt. It was actually fairly good surface in parts, but it was steeply uphill and incredibly dusty. The idea was that there was a pilot car which would lead a caravan of vehicles from one end of the construction zone to the other, then turn around and leaded a group from the other end, but I had no hope of keeping up so I had to fend for myself.
I made it alright, though, and eventually reached Rabbit Ears Pass, crossing to the West of Continental Divide once more. Evidently I had crossed back to the East at Muddy Pass, but I hadn't noticed.
After Rabbit Ears Pass there was a seven mile downhill at 7% grade, which I happily took at full speed, knowing there would not be a car behind me for at least twenty minutes. It was exhilirating to go so fast, although I was almost sad to lose so much hard-earned altitude. I descended about 2,500 feet in probably fifteen minutes or so.
At the foot of the hill, I resupplied at Steamboat Springs, another resort town. I liked this one better, but it was probably because I was in a better mood. I pushed on through Milner and camped along the side of the road, mostly hidden by a stand of trees.
Today has been more easy downhill riding. I've been following the Yampa River most of the day. On arriving in Craig I visited the Cowboys & Gunfighters Museum. And now, hopefully, the pool is open and I can go have a shower (first since Denver!).
Tue Sep 2 12:00:18 MDT 2003|
Sharp Left Turn -- Kanab, UT
I had a lovely afternoon in Craig, enjoying the pool. They actually have two pools. One is the usual type with a diving board, and the other is a big wave pool like they have in Water World.
I rode a few miles outside of the city looking for a camping spot. I honestly believe that it would become easier to find camping as I got further West, but the opposite has been true. Even though there is tons of open land, it is all fenced in. Even the public lands are fenced in! So there is this narrow (ten feet or so) corridor along either side of the road, then a barbed-wire fence with "No Trespassing" signs all over it. I am definitely beginning to understand the mindset Woody Guthrie was in when he wrote "This Land is Your Land," and I've taken to singing it as I ride. Unfortunately, I only know the first verse.
So, I've resolved myself to camping alongside the road more often than I would like. I madethe discovery that it doesn't really matter whether I'm hidden from the road next to me, so long as I'm hidden from in front and behind. At the speed cars travel, drivers only have a fraction of a second as they pass by my little hidden sites when they could turn their heads and see me there. Most of the time I am happily invisible.
On my way out of Craig I found a spot on top of a hill that was protected by the curve of the hill itself. The site was perfect, except for two things: cactus and red ants. The cactus I conquered by taking the trailer off of my bike and carrying each one to the campsite, where I laid them on their side so they would not be inadvertantly punctured. The red ants I did not conquer. At best, we reached a stalemate.
I remember when I was growing up, if we found an ant in the schoolyard, we would always try to determine if an ant was red or black, and thus whether it might bite us or not. I now believe that we don't have any of these sort of ant in Massachussetts. They were all over the place, and they seriously bite. There was one that grabbed a hold of me, and would not let go, as much as I tried to brush it off. Finally I had to threaten it with drowning from my water bottle to get it to let go. I had started to see some bleached-white animal skulls and skeletons along the roadside, and hadn't thought much of them, but these ants were probably responsible for cleaning the meat off of the bones. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that they had occasionally helped to finish off an ill or wounded animal. But at last, I'm really in the West of the movies!
The next couple of days, Friday August 22nd, and Saturday the 23rd, were rather uneventful and boring. There were still a few mountains around, but mostly I was riding through flat plains and scrub. Friday evening I camped in a flat area near a mine, outside Massadona. A huge thunderstorm rolled in while I was cooking dinner, and I misjudged its timing. The rain started coming down very hard and fast, and I got soaked in the short time it took to jump in my tent. Fortunately I saved dinner. The storm thundered on in the distance all night, and I watched it out the screen door of my tent.
Saturday I road on through Blue Mountain, a town which consisted of exactly two houses. Its pricipal feature was an old blue schoolbus full of lumber, parked outside one house. Towards afternoon I reached Dinosaur National Monument. I spoke with a ranger at the Visitor's Center about what I should see at the Monument. She told me all about what I should see, and we talked about water issues, and she told me how she was planning to move to a writers' cooperative in Flagstaff when her job was done for the summer. I think she was incredibly bored at her post.
Down the road a little way was one of the big attractions of Dinosaur National Monument: Dinosaur Quarry. This is an old excavation site that proved very rich, yielding hundreds and hundreds of dinosaur bones. It is thought that the site used to be a river bed, and many bones and carcasses were washed from miles upstream and got stuck there, to be buried in mud and fossilized. In modern times, excavation went on for some fifteen years before the scientists decided that they were very unlikely to gain any new information from further excavation. So they left the remaining bones in place, and now the site is accessible to the public. There is a building covering the excavated slope, to protect it from the weather, and you can go in and see all the bones sticking out from the surface. You can even go right up and touch the bones, although they draw the line at clmbing the wall.
Moving on from Dinosaur Quarry, I arrived in Vernal, UT towards evening. I could see a storm gathering and doubted whether I would be able to get out the other side of town before either the storm broke or the sun set. So I got a motel room. I knew I was really in Utah when I heard a story on the news about a clash between local and federal authorities over polygamy.
Sunday was another slow day, I pushed on through Fort Duchesne and arrived just outside of Duchesne (I confused those two towns all day) to find a beautiful hilltop campsite, overlooking a reservoir.
Monday the 25th I was climbing slowly all day. I stopped for a long lunch by Strawberry Reservoir, a nice spot that's especially popular amongst fishermen. Then I made a relatively easy ascent to a pass, and started a monster downhill. I stopped about halfway downhill, as I was in the Uintah National Forest and for once I knew that camping was one hundred percent acceptable. There was a nice spot right alongside the road with a stream running through it. It also happened to be a gravel parking area, but it was clearly used infrequently.
Tuesday the 26th I rolled the rest of the way downhill into Heber, UT. It was the first seriously big town I'd seen in a few days. I checked out the Historic Heber Valley Railroad and stopped in at Pizza Hut just as their lunch buffet was beginning. I brought a book and read and ate. And ate. And so on. I was rather uncomfortably full by the time I moved on, but I had no regrets.
Out of Heber there was an extended uphill to Park City, which I probably would have found less difficult if I had just eaten a normal-sized lunch. Even so I arrived in Park City by late afternoon. I called my cousin Drew, and he picked up me and my bike to drive to his home. I got showered and had a wonderful dinner with Drew, his wife Jill, and his two daughters Carter and Mason. The schedule of a house with young children is an early one, and we all went to bed shortly after the kids, each of us exhausted.
I had decided to spend a day with Drew and Jill to rest up for the next leg of my journey. Wednesday morning I took my bike into town and rode a not-very-strenuous circuit around town, checking out the ski resorts and housing developments. I rode the alpine slide at one slope, and got lost three times in various developments.
Drew and I had lunch together and I found out that nearly all the phone and internet lines in town were out, due to some backhoe incident outside of town.
In the evening we went to Carter's soccer practice, and then back to Drew and Jill's house for another wonderful dinner. I slept soundly and awoke Thursday the 28th ready to go on. After a false start -- I forgot my helmet and flag at the house, and Jill had to drive back and get them for me -- I set out on I-80 for Salt Lake City. I don't like riding on the interstates, but in this case I-80 was the only option to cross the mountains. Oftentimes, too, my dislike for interstates is unjustified. They usually have the widest shoulders and best pavement, for instance.
I arrived in Salt Lake City by noon or so, and went on a tour of the Temple grounds there. Non-Mormons are not allowed inside the temple itself, but the temple grounds include a tabernacle, a church, and some beautiful gardens, as well as an impressive convention center across the street. The auditorium of the convention center holds 21,000 people, and is packed to the brim at the church's annual convention. I learned two random interesting facts on my tour of the grounds. The first is that because there was no oak available to the Mormon settlers, all the pews in the church are actually made of white pine, handpainted to look like oak. The pillars of the church are also made of white pine, but they are painted to look like marble. What a versatile wood! The other interesting fact is that during the second summer of their arrival, after a hard winter, the settlers were beset by a plague of locusts which began eating all their crops. However, the wind soon changed and brought in a flock of seagulls all the way from the Pacific. The gulls ate the locusts, saving the crops. For this reason, seagulls are considered a very blessed bird by Mormons.
After the temple and a bit of desultory sightseeing -- I wasn't much impressed by the rest of Salt Lake City -- I headed South out of the City. I had begun reconsidering my planned route even before arriving in Park City, and consulting with Drew and Jill made up my mind. Rather than heading straight across Nevada to Reno, I would turn South and go through Southern Utah to Arizona, where I would visit the Grand Canyon before turning West again to go through Las Vegas to California. Not only does this solve the problem of going many days through hot, unpleasant desert, I would get to see several sights that I had hoped to see on this trip if I had taken a more southerly route.
As I moved South out of the city, I realized there was a problem. I wasn't moving out of the city! There is a whole strip of urbanization between Salt Lake and Provo, and I wasn't likely to make it past Provo before dark. Just as I was starting to worry I might have to check into a hotel, I passed a large wooded lot. It was an anomaly, with development to either side and another road behind it, but there were enough trees to feel comfortable and safe behind them, so I happily set up camp.
Friday the 29th, I kept on South through Provo, but it was a slow day, in part because it rained all morning. I also heard from my friend Chris who has been abroad in Japan for nearly a year, and just returned, so we talked for a long time on the phone. I got my first flat since Denver, and patched it. But when I went to a gas station to fill it to the proper pressure, I made a big mistake. I figured I would also top off my other tires. But each of my tires has a slightly different pressure specification, and I confused my trailer tire (70 PSI) with my front tire (85 PSI). At first nothing happened, but when I was doing some other miscellaneous work on the bike, I heard a tearing sound and then a very loud BANG! The tire had ripped open and the tube had exploded from inside. Luckily there was a bike shop right down the road and I got a replacement. Even so, I felt quite foolish.
Towards evening I found myself in Mapleton, near another part of the Uintah National Forest. I biked off into the Forest a short distance, and found a secluded spot by the side of the road to set up camp.
Saturday the 30th, I finally started to make some distance. To continue following Route 89 South, I actually had to get on Route 6 going East for several miles, which evoked some odd feelings.
I passed through the ex-town of Thistle, UT, which was wiped out in a combined landslide/flood in 1986. Evidently an heavy snowfall and early spring brought about tremendous snowmelt, which caused a landslide. The landslide created a natural dam which flooded the valley where Thistle lay. Fortunately, the people who lived there were evacuated, but the houses were destroyed. You can still see several of them along the road, half-buried in mud.
I went through a long series of small, picturesque towns, and made it to Manti before stopping for the night. Manti is the home of another Mormon temple, quite majestic and visible from a distance. Their high school football team is called the "Templars." I wasn't far outside of town, when I found a gate to some nice empty-looking scrubland with no lock on it. I trusted my intuition that this was public land, and camped there. I woke up in the middle of the night to an amazing display of stars, along with Mars, shining as brightly as it ever will in my lifetime.
Sunday the 31st was more good riding, and I felt in a great mood. I took a long lunch and got a chance to talk with my family, just back from vacation on Cape Cod. But the highlight of the day was towards the end, as I rode into a long twisting canyon formed by the Sevier River. The rock formations through there were just amazing, and they were especially highlighted by the evening sun. I was travelling against the flow of the river, but it felt like I was going downhill. I still had a couple of hours left before sunset, but the sun sets early in the canyon, and I really liked it there, so I found a flat, open spot north of Marysvale and camped out in the canyon.
Monday morning I took an early break at a rest stop to use the facilities, and I met a trucker named Sally who had spent the night there. She said it was one of her favorite rest stops, not only because of the beautiful surroundings, but because the bathrooms had hot water so she could take a "sink-shower." She told me that she had been trucking for twenty-two years and it was the best decision she had ever made. She said it was a great way to see the country, and told me all about some of her favorite spots, like a beach in Florida that allows truck cabs where she goes to take a day off after delivering a load there, or a spot near Baja California where she goes kayaking, or, in fact, the canyon we were in. She was fascinating to talk to, and I think that Emily, who wants to be a trucker someday, would have especially liked her.
The riding on Monday was through more small towns and great mountains. I'm starting to see some of the red rock that Southern Utah is famous for. Every now and then I will come across a mountain whose sides are startlingly red, presumably with iron. Inevitably they make me think again of Mars, where all the mountains are that shade of red.
The most startling event on Monday was when I came across a crudely carved wooden penis, about the size of my forearm, lying by the side of the road. I considered this too obscure an end for such a strange objet d'art, so I picked it up as a souvenir. I'm not sure what I will do with it though. It's a bit too shocking to put up on my mantelpiece. When I was staying with Drew, though, he showed me pictures from his recent expedition to Thailand, where they have altars to fertility gods that they decorate with colored ribbons and carved penises surprisingly like this one. So perhaps I simply need to find a fertility altar where I can leave my odd find. Or, failing that, I suppose I could erect one myself. No pun intended.
Monday evening I arrived at Long Valley Junction, forty-three miles from the border, and found another open gate leading to a wooded area which I presumed was public. I camped on a small hill overlooking the road, and felt like I was a hidden observer up in the trees.
This morning, Tuesday September 2nd, I started out with a wonderful long downhill. I'm seeing some more fascinating rock formations. If my guess is right, most of the rock I'm seeing lately is sandstone. There are cliffs which show very clearly the patterns of sedimentation and uplift and all sorts of fun geological processes, but the best are the caves. The cliffs around here are pockmarked with caves all over. I climbed up to one of them and there was plenty of room to stand up inside, and it was deep enough to be sheltered from the rain. I thought to myself that it would be a great place to camp if it wasn't so early, and realized that there's quite a good possibility some ancient person did camp there.
Now I am in Kanab, three miles north of the Arizona border. I am getting quite close to the Grand Canyon, and am very excited about it!
Wed Sep 10 17:48:41 PDT 2003|
From the Gutter to the Stars . . . or Vice Versa -- Las Vegas, NV
Kanab was a nice town and I got some errands done while I was there on the 2nd. I moved on South through into Arizona, by way of Fredonia on Route 89A. As I started moving East towards Kaibab National Forest, there was a storm gathering to the South, with the wind blowing in every direction. It was hard biking against the wind, but mostly I was hoping that the wind would blow the storm out of my path. Meanwhile another storm started building to the North and I realized that there must have been a couple of fronts converging. I started to worry when I saw a spiral of dust forming out to the South of the road. I figured this was perfect weather for a tornado. But I also figured there was nothing I could do, and biked on hoping to get past the spot. The dust column fizzled out after a while, to my relief.
I camped Tuesday night on a flat, open area a few hundred feet off the road, amongst sagebrush and buffalo chips. In the middle of the night I woke to the baying of coyotes, probably right after moonset. I peered out the tent and saw an amazing display of stars, with Mars still shining brightest among them.
I had thought I was already inside the National Forest, but early on Wednesday the 3rd I passed by a sign marking the entrance to the Forest, and the beginning of a long climb. The Kaibab National Forest is located atop the Kaibab, Plateau, a lovely wooded zone that is one of the reasons the Grand Canyon is so grand. The Colorado River in Arizona runs at about 2,500 feet above sea level, while the land surrounding it is mostly around 5,000 feet in elevation, leaving room for 2,500 feets of cliffs. However, the Kaibab Plateau is an uplift of land that surges to 9,000 feet in places, leaving plenty of room for the mile-deep canyon. The net result is that I had about 4,000 feet to climb.
It was a strenuous morning but when I made it to the top there was a lodge at Jacob Lake with a convenience store. I stopped for lunch and appreciated the name of the place.
While I was at Jacob Lake, a heavy thunderstorm came in. I took shelter at the visitor center, but I still had forty-five miles left before I got to the North Rim, so once the worst of the storm passed I set out again. Thankfully after a while it cleared up and became warm and sunny.
I wanted to camp near the North Rim Lodge in order to arrive there by seven o'clock for an all-day mule ride, but I found out that the adjoining campground was full. Instead I stealth-camped in a stand of half-burnt trees several miles up the road. I had made the fortunate mistake of leaving my cell phone on even though it didn't get coverage, because my phone is my only clock, and it can't figure out the time unless it has had contact with the network since it was turned on. I set it to wake me well before 7 so I would have time to bike to the Lodge.
In the morning of Thursday Sept. 4, I rode hard to make it to the Lodge in time, only to find I was a whole hour early! Arizona runs on Mountain Standard Time the whole year round, while Utah to the North is on MDT during the summer. Evidently the mess is further confused by the Navajo Reservation within Arizona which runs on MDT, and the Hopi Reservation, accesible only through the Navajo Reservation, which runs on MST year-round.
I was glad to have time to enjoy the view, though. The Lodge is designed such that you walk through the front door, then down a staircase into the Sun Room, and your first view of the Canyon is through the enormous windows down there. It was simply amazing. I don't think I can adequately describe the Canyon. I'll say this, though. I was setting myself up to be slightly disappointed, to find that the Canyon was just another gorge, or that it was already over-familiar from seeing it on postcards and pictures for so long. I shouldn't have. There is nothing like seeing it in person.
The mule tour left on time at 7:30, after the host checked out my butt to make sure I wasn't packing more than 200 pounds. We weren't allowed to pack anything more than a camera and a water bag, actually, which worried me. They provide a bag lunch, but I wanted snacks too! I smuggled along a couple of granola bars in my pockets.
I was assigned to ride a mule named Dean for the day. "A good old boy, but slow sometimes," our guide A.J. described him. As we set out down the steep path into the canyon, we passed several hikers and I thought from Dean's jouncing back that perhaps I should have saved some money and walked on my own two feet. I've never ridden an animal before, and it took a little getting used to to guide him with the reins. Our guide joked with us us, "If there's any part of this trail that scares you, just close your eyes, 'cause that's what your mule will do." There were several times when I seriously thought Dean was about to tumble over the edge and I would have to make a jump for it. It took me a while to realize that his footing was surer than mine would have been, and if he stepped close to the edge, it was because he knew he could find footing there. Finally towards the end I didn't have to pull on his reins at all, except to pull him away from the trailside vegetation, which he seemed to enjoy munching.
Dean's slowness didn't turn out to be an issue because the mule in front of me, Ironman, was faking a limp. I say faking because after the guide checked him out and pronounced him fit to walk, he got right along. Probably he just wanted to get out of being ridden for a day.
We rode all the way down to Roaring Springs, a four or five thousand foot descent that took us through many layers of different rock formations. We still didn't reach the Colorado River, though, or even see it. When we had lunch and got water at Roaring Springs, we were still a thousand feet above the river, and we had to begin the return trip.
On the way up I was much more comfortable with Dean and could enjoy the scenery more. I was also more grateful for his help, as we passed several hikers on their way up who looked to be completely exhausted. Even so, it was not entirely the day of rest I had planned. Staying in the saddle can be quite tiring, and my legs and butt were rather sore.
Back at the rim, I went to get a campsite. The campground registrar asked if I was travelling only by bike, then said "Have I got a deal for you!" Instead of the regular $15, he charged me only $4 and put me in one of three hiker/biker campsites. These sites also happen to be the nicest in the campground, situated right on the rim and commanding a great view of the canyon. They are also a nice distance from the noise of RV generators and cars.
That night I met a wonderful couple named Paul and Jeri who were riding their BikeEs around the campground. They were travelling by camper, but liked to bring their bikes to get around. We chatted for quite a while about the canyon, the Bay Area (they are from Santa Cruz), recumbents, and cross-country riding (Paul wants to ride cross-country someday also).
As I went to sleep, there were several thunderstorms going on all across the horizon, and I could see lightning flashing in any direction I looked.
Friday September 5th, I resolved that it would be criminal to spend only a day at the Grand Canyon after travelling so far, and decided to stay another day. I spent the day riding my unencumbered bike out to Cape Royal, about twenty miles from the North Rim Campground, and one of the few spots along the North Rim where you can actually see the river. In most places the rim is too far away to see it. There is also a spot near Cape Royal called Angel's Window, one of the few natural arches in the Canyon, and a set of pre-historic ruins from a people that farmed the delta of one of the streams below, and came up to the rim to live during the winter months.
I caught a ride part of the way back to camp from a fellow in a pickup truck because I saw a major thunderstorm forming and had been struck by a sudden worry. I had moved my tent during the night and had only staked it down halfheartedly with one stake. I realized that if the wind blew hard it could easily uproot the stake and send my tent flying over the edge, along with my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and cell phone.
I figured that if the worst happened I probably could have gone and asked Paul & Jeri or someone else at the campsite to put me up for the night until I could get out to a town and re-equip, but losing my shelter would have been a major bummer.
Half the ride back to the campground was in heavy rain, and I arrived soaked to the bone and ready for the worst. As I approached my campsite, I was tremendously relieved to see my tent still there. It was tipped up on on side, and rain was pouring in through the vent to soak my sleep gear, but the stake had held. I would have a place to sleep, even if it was wet. I staked it down more effectively and went to the campground store for a cup of hot chocolate to sip under the roof while I dried out. One of the great advantages of staying at an established campground.
The sun came out later and all my gear dried out. I took a hike out along the Transept Trail and Bright Angel Trail to check out the view from Bright Angel Point before returning to cook dinner and watch the sun set.
I awoke on Saturday the 6th to intermittent light rain. I packed up reluctantly, figuring the rain was light enough not to matter, but by the time I was done it was much heavier and more unpleasant. I killed time by taking a shower and writing postcards, and eventually it let up again. I set out just as the rain was ending, and after twenty miles or so the skies cleared and the sun came out.
I made a stop at the Jacob Lake firetower on my way back out towards Fredonia and points West. The firetower is on the national register of historic firetowers, but is still an active lookout point. I climbed up and met Mike, the summer lookout (there is no lookout in the winter). He told me all about being a lookout. I think he doesn't get many visitors. He says he works in a grocery store during the rest of the year, and enjoys getting up away from the hustle and bustle, and having some time to read. Last summer he read forty-five books up there. He does look up pretty often to look for smoke signs though. The woman who held his post before him evidently had her back turned to a fire one day and wasn't looking around. The fire burned 465 acres and caused $700,000 in damages before being put out. She hasn't been up in a lookout tower since. He said that this has been a particularly good summer, with only 97 fires so far. Last summer was especially dry and they had a total of 170 fires. Most of them are rather small and the Forest Service often allows them to burn themselves out, but this time of year there are lots of hunters in the woods so they put out all fires.
I camped within the limits of the Kaibab National Forest, which is not only a beautifully spot, it unequivocally allows camping.
Sunday the 7th I rode on down off the plateau to Fredonia. Once I headed West on Route 389 I was finally making forward progress again. It felt good. I passed through the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation and stopped for a while at Pipe Spring National Monument, a quaint little spot that has been a spot for settlement by Pueblo, Paiute, Mormons, and others, due to its good water source. I took a tour of the "castle" built there by Mormon settlers. It served not only as protection from Indian raids, but also as a hiding place from the first wives of selected Mormons when the federal marshalls came hunting them for polygamy. Rather than being required to testify against her husband and see him go to jail, the first wife would run across the territorial border with Arizona (which was not at this time a state) and hide out in relative safety. Evidently this thwarted the case against the polygamist.
The Mormons ran the Pipe Spring settlement as a ranch, keeping dairy cattle to produce copious amounts of cheese and butter for shipment to Salt Lake City, where it would feed the workers building the Temple. They also maintained the Church tithing herd, some five thousand head of cattle which they simply put out to pasture on the vast grasslands. Our guide told us that the land out there, as far as the eye can see, used to be grasslands and huge sunflower fields, which used to be a prime source of food for his people, the Paiute Kaibab. Unfortunately, the grasslands were overgrazed three times, by the Mormons and other settlers. After the third time, the grass would not grow back, and nobody has been able to encourage it by any agricultural methods. Now it is just more desert.
From Pipe Spring I kept going through Colorado City, a community of old-line Mormons who still secretly practice polygamy (the Church issued an "official" end of the practice in 1912, under pressure from the government). The women dress conservatively, always wearing long dresses, and never cut their hair.
As I passed through town I got a flat in my rear tire that was a big pain to fix. I was feeling pretty down and discouraged by the time I rolled on to the gas station, hoping to wash my hands and get a bite to eat. I passed a young fellow with his car parked along the road, pointing a strange device in my direction. At first I thought it was some sort of survey instrument, and moved along. Only when he caught up with me at the gas station did I realize it was a camera. He apologized for his curiousity and told me that he had done the same thing eleven years ago. He introduced himself as Larry and told me he had ridden from Yellowstone to Grand Canyon on a Rans Recumbent, and had absolutely loved it. It really lifted my spirits to talk to him. We chatted for a while and he gave me some great advice about what lay ahead for me, as well as giving me a map and an ice-cold beer. He said that as a fellow cycle tourist, he really wouldn't want to ride the section of Interstate 15 I was planning, between Hurricane and Mequite. It goes through the Virgin River Gorge, and is very steep and narrow, with traffic moving at 75 MPH. I appreciated his advice, but stubbornly decided I would do it anyhow. The only alternative was hitching a ride from a pickup truck, and I was determined to ride as much as possible on my own legs.
We parted ways and I rode on North to Huricane, UT. By the time I got there and got some groceries it was nearly sunset. I started riding out of town to try and find a stealth site, but it was rather hopeless. I finally found a nice-looking RV park and went to pay for a site. It turned out to be much nicer than I thought, and the guy only charged me $6 for the night. And for that I got showers and a place to plug in my phone.
Monday the 8th I got up very early to get on I-15 before the traffic got bad. By the time I reached the Virgin River Gorge the traffic still was not terrible, but it was picking up. The Gorge was everything Larry had said, and there was a strong headwind to boot. Monday probably qualifies as my hardest day yet, purely in terms of cycling.
On the way down I passed a woman one the other side of the road in a stalled car with the hood up. Through a shouted conversation over the traffic, I determined she needed a tow. Once I got down out of the gorge and into cell phone range, I called a tow company to pick her up. I don't know whether they got to her or not, but that bit of good karma (I don't believe in karma) would come back to me the next day not once, but twice.
The rest of Monday into Mesquite was unremarkable except for the intense wind, which made it miserable. I was exhausted by the time I got there, and wanted nothing more than a rest and a good meal. I lucked out; on the advice of some guys at the bike shop, I went to Los Lupes, a simply terrific Mexican restaurant where everything is home-cooked. I literally could not have ridden any further once I finished. I spent the rest of the day in town and camped at a semi-abandoned construction site towards the South end of town.
Tuesday the 9th I got up early once more. One could get used to this. The air is still cool, the winds haven't picked up yet, and traffic is light. But I had 79 miles to go until Vegas, and by noon the winds had picked up again to full strength. It was another miserable, exhausting day.
But, the advantage of the freeway is that with more traffic there are more kind souls passing. One fellow saw me struggling against the wind and pulled over to offer me a ride. I was touched, but refused out of principle. Later, after I got another flat, a fellow named Rick saw me fixing it and turned around to offer help. By that time, though, I was done.
I arrived in Vegas completely frustrated and tired, but happy to be done riding. I found a library and looked up the one hostel in town, but they refused to let me stay because I did not have a passport. I got a motel, but I was more frustrated and disappointed.
And now I am out of time, but I will write about Vegas later!
Fri Sep 12 12:51:32 PDT 2003|
Leaving Las Vegas -- Las Vegas, NV
When I arrived in Vegas on Tuesday night I was completely exhausted from pedaling against the wind all day, and wanted only to go to sleep. But after taking a shower I managed to convince myself to go out to Fremont Street, a recently-renovated pedestrian district that Paul and Jeri told me about. The city has lined this five-block corridor with an overhead canopy of 200,000 lights, which can shine in many different colors. At night, this canopy lights up hourly for a synchronized light-and-sound show with animations playing in sync to classic sounds. It was quite impressive, but the thing that most struck me was the supports for the canopy, which looked remarkably like the mechanical models built in this report on Fractal Branching Robots. They weren't articulated of course, but I could just imagine them coming to life.
There are casinos everywhere in Vegas. Even the convenience stores all have a bank of slot machines against one wall in case you start feeling lucky while you buy your eggs and milk. I'm almost surprised there are no slots in the library, although I haven't looked at their special "Gambling and Local" collection yet.
I wandered into one of the casinos along Fremont Street and was completely overwhelmed. It was all blinking lights and flashy noises and spinning things, and I couldn't figure anything out. I had planned to lose a bit of money in Vegas, as part of the excitement and experience, but even the slot machines were covered in explanatory text and seemed much too complicated. I wandered on through and right back out to motel and went to sleep.
Eventually I figured out the slot machines, and it turns out the principle is pretty simple: you put in a quarter (or dollar or whatever), push a button, and get some flashing lights and spinning wheels. As a general rule, nothing comes out, but on the rare occasion you win, money doesn't come pouring out. Instead you are awarded your win in "credits" which you can use for further play, or cash out by pressing a button. Some casinos have a ticket system where you cash out and the machine prints a barcoded ticket worth a certain value at the casino cashier. It seemed to me that this completely eliminates the main appeal of the slot machines, the sound of your winnings pouring into a gratifying pile.
I spent Wednesday the 10th cruising the Strip, checking out the big casino-hotels. The Las Vegas Strip seems like an old episode "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" It abounds with pilfered monuments from around the world. Nefarious hotel owners have made off with the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Seattle Space Needle, the Empire State Building, the Arc d'Triomphe, and many other priceless landmarks. Its quite surreal to see them all in one place.
Honestly I found the Strip more than a little overhwelming. In addition, the presence of so many strangers made me feel lonlier than I ever do when I'm alone in the desert. It's the phenomenon you see in any large city; the more people, the more barriers. But I did enjoy the sights.
I had heard that Penn and Teller just started an indefinite engagement at the Mirage, and was terribly excited to see them -- they are among my favorite magicians. Alas, even though they play nightly, they are evidently on vacation until today, Friday, when I intend to leave town. Instead I went to see Blue Man Group at the Luxor, which I enjoyed enormously. The Luxor itself is quite impressive too, a huge glass pyramid with a spotlight on top. But even more impressive is the interior, which is a space large enough that they have other buildings contained inside of it. The entrance to the hotel is guarded by a reproduction Sphinx, and the inside is decorated with enormous statues of Egyptian gods, such as you would find on the most glamourous Pharoah's tomb.
My second favorite hotel was probably the Paris, the appropriators of the Eiffel Tower and Arc d'Triomphe. What impressed me about it was again the interior. You walk in from the outside at night, and its like you walked into Paris in the late afternoon. They have painted their enormous high-ceilinged first floor with blue sky and clouds, and lit the whole place so brightly that it seems like daytime, or early evening anyhow. Their ventilation system is also subtly scented to smell more like outdoors than indoors.
Thursday the 11th I took a tour to the Hoover Dam. It is one of the civil engineering wonders of the world, in that it was completed two years ahead of schedule and two million dollars under budget. I found the actual structure a little less amazing than I expected. It is certainly a very large dam, larger than any I've seen, but not so much larger as I thought it would be. I wandered around and checked out some very nice views, but I don't think I will be coming back to Vegas to see the Dam again.
I spent Thursday evening admiring some of the hotels I had missed on Wednesday, and finally got up the nerve to try my hand at roullette. I actually won on a 36-to-1, netting a bunch of money early on, but I kept gambling it again until I broke even and cashed out. I never did get around to trying Craps.
Today I'm finally heading out again. I was tempted to stay another night for Penn and Teller, but I'm feeling the call of the open road rather strongly now. I have two weeks left before I get to San Francisco!
Wed Sep 17 13:11:54 PDT 2003|
Desert Crossing -- Bakersfield, CA
On my way out of Vegas on Friday the 12th, I decided to take one more shot at gambling at the Sahara casino. I went back to the roullette table, expecting to lose quickly and be on my way, but on a whim I bet four dollars on number eight, and the wheel came up eight! I made a few more bets, all losers, but I managed to walk away with one hundred thirteen dollars. It was a nice end to my stay there, and my winnings more than covered what it had cost me to stay in a motel for three days.
It took me a while to get out of town, stopping at various places for food, postcards, etc. I wound up getting out of the city just as the sun started to go down. I found a decent place to camp in the desert and cooked dinner, but I was in an odd mood and knew the next day would be hot, so instead of setting up my tent for the night I just lay out my sleeping bag and slept under the stars for a few hours. At 2 AM I got up and started riding with headlights and taillights ablaze. It was a beautiful night with a nearly full moon and I was riding on a nearly-abandoned road. Much of the time I could turn off my headlight and navigate by moonlight. I had a wonderful time. It was incredibly peaceful, and it felt great to ride in the cool air. Around dawn I arrived at the Nevada border and had breakfast at "Whiskey Pete's," one of the three casino-hotels that stand right across from California. I tried to get rid of some change at the slot machines, but I kept winning. So I took the message and walked away four dollars richer. I guess there's something lucky about leaving Vegas.
As dawn broke on Saturday the 13th, I finally crossed into California, my sixteenth and final state. It was starting out to be a wonderful day. I even had a slight tailwind. Ahead there was a rather steep climb to a mountain pass, but even that can be fun if you have enough energy. By this time I was back on I-15 and got lots of encouraging honks from passing drivers. This is one of the nice things about being on the freeway -- more people pass, so you get more friendly beeps. I counted over twenty in less than half a day.
By the time I crossed the pass my tailwind had picked up even more, and now I was going downhill too, so I just cruised along. But that's when things took a turn for the worse. There was a fatal accident involving a tractor-trailer on I-15, and they shut down all southbound traffic. There was a detour, but it was seventy miles long and I figured I would wait it out at the service station nearby, and probably get to Baker just as quickly.
The all detoured traffic was routed by this service station, and they were doing major business. I'd been told that gas prices are high this summer, but hadn't really paid attention until someone pointed out the prices here -- $2.79 for a gallon of unleaded. This was certainly inflated by temporary demand, but I was surprised to notice that even at other stations the price of gas is in the mid two's. I'm glad I'm not driving across the country!
I tried to nap while I waited, to accomodate my changed schedule, but there was too much noise and bustle. There were also flies, tons of them, and anytime I was almost asleep they would land on me and tickle until I couldn't ignore them anymore.
Eventually traffic started moving in one lane, and I got on my way. It was already late afternoon and I was only looking for a better place to nap. I stopped briefly at a rest area, but there were flies there too, and it was hot. Eventually I decided just to keep going.
I passed the accident site, and the automobile traffic was practically stopped. I passed a lot of cars full of people who cheered and waved at me, a great encouragement. One police officer told me that I wasn't supposed to be on I-15, but I have several reasons to think he was incorrect regarding that particular section -- including a "Bike Route" sign I passed at the on-ramp. I made it into Baker by dark and camped on the edge of town, but not before seeing "The World's Tallest Thermometer." It read ninety-four degrees.
Sunday morning the 14th I set out early, but not before sunrise. I wish I had, because it turned out to be a long, hot, difficult day. There was a tremendous headwind that I struggled against all day long. I was really getting out into the heart of the Mojave desert. I crawled into Barstow around sunset and got a motel. I was expecting a a package at the post office the next morning so I wanted to be able to sleep in. I got a pint of Ben & Jerry's and watched "Wargames" on TV. In the morning of Monday the 15th I met the housekeeper, who turned out to be from Marlboro, MA. She had read my address on the check-in card and wanted to say hello. Her daughter evidently lives just outside of Acton, my hometown.
I went to the post office but they didn't have my package for me, so I set out to take Route 58 out of town towards Bakersfield. Monday turned out to be an even worse day than Sunday, for a number of reasons. First, Route 58 turned out to be no-bicycles-allowed. It said as much at the on-ramp. But it also said "Freeway ends 2 miles," so I figured I could sneak out two miles to where my bicycle would be legal.
I met a couple of hitchhikers and a dog, which was nice, and I offered them some water since I felt like I had plenty. They didn't need any but their dog did. They were headed for San Francisco too. I wanted to ask more about their trip, but they didn't seem interested in talking.
Later, I lost my bike multi-tool. My bag had been hanging open and it fell out.
After I passed a couple of closed service stations and started to worry about water, I approached a fellow with a camper-wagon by the side of the road, and he gave me some. I guess that was payback for giving a bottle to the hitchhiking couple.
Later my seatback mesh started to tear. Really bad news, since without a seat to push against, I can't pedal. Fortunately I managed to fix it temporarily with some dental floss and a tooth threader. Remind me to thank my dentist next time I see him.
Finally I got to Four Corners, little more than an intersection and some service stations, but it was a little bit of heaven to me. The wind had been kicking up again and it was great to stop and sit in the shade. I sat there all afternoon drinking soda and reading, and finally headed out after sunset to camp by the side of the road nearby.
Tuesday the 16th took me to Tehachapi and was similarly rough. There was even more wind on Tuesday than either of the two previous days. I was planning to take a lunch stop at Mojave, but found that highway construction had re-routed the freeway several miles around the town. I decided not to go out of my way to hit town.
I did meet one fellow, Robert, who brightened my outlook a little bit. He was hitchhiking to Bishop, and I offered him some water too, but he said he was okay. He said he was actualy making really good progress. He had been released from prison in Bakersfield that morning with ten dollars and had to make it to Bishop. But God was with him and he knew he'd be alright. As I rode off he made a point of shouting "God bless you Jacob!"
As I rounded the corner of the detour I finally saw why the wind was so powerful. The hillsides to the west were covered with enormous fans, blowing at ful tilt! Edwards Air Force base was nearby, so probably it was some advanced new weather-weapon. Or maybe a power generating plant.
I stopped at a house to ask an elderly lady for water. She asked how I was doing and I said "Not so great, this wind is really rough." She replied, "Oh, this isn't so bad. Usually the wind is much stronger, especially in the evening." Suddenly I had a new appreciation for how much worse things could be. I took off over the hills with renewed vigor, and arrived in Tehachapi by evening.
My first experience with the town was very negative. I stopped at a gas station and asked if I could fill up my water bottles. I was astonished when the guy shook his head at me. I just stood there for a second and he explained, like I was the dumbest rock in the garden, "We sell water." I replied "Yeah, but I just want tap water." He said again, having the nerve to be annoyed, "We don't give away water, we sell water." I left, very pissed off, and filled up my water bottles at the motel right next door.
After that, though, my experience improved. I stopped for a great dinner at a local taqueria and met lots of friendly local folks, all of whom wanted to know about my bike and my trip and so on. I met one older handicapped lady in particular, Carmelita, who saw I was almost done with my paperback and invited me to her book sale, which she was just going to be starting up after dinner. She was really kind, and I wanted to oblige by checking out her books, even though I was skeptical about finding something I'd like. Unfortunately when I followed her directions, I found neither her nor a book sale! I even asked around the neighborhood, and I did have the right house, but there was no-one there! I felt bad just disappearing, but there was nothing else to do. I went on South out of town and camped near the on-ramp to Route 58.
This morning, Wednesday September 17th, I got up early and was treated to a nice long downhill into Bakersfield. A few miles outside of town Route 58 went from "bicycles allowed" to "no bicycles allowed," but I couldn't see any other way to go. I was pulled over in short order, though, by a highway patrolman. He was very kind and told me I wasn't supposed to be out here. "Not a big deal," he said, "I just don't want you to get hit." He gave me directions to get on a parallel road and escorted me to the next exit.
Finally, I arrived in Bakersfield. I was happy to get here, since it means I've finally finished crossing the Mojave desert and hopefully the winds will abate. They've kept calm so far. But as I rode through town I heard a dismaying "Bang!" and my rear tire went flat. Not just flat, but the tire is worn out, so patching the hole won't do any good (well, not much good -- I can improvise). I already wrecked one rear tire and was riding my spare. The package I looked for in Barstow was supposed to have a replacement spare, but I missed it. My seat back is also still in sorry shape. It's incredibly frustrating that I'm so close to my destination and I keep having such difficulties. I only have ten days left to get to San Francisco, but I think I wil have to spend one or two of them waiting here for my packages. It's not such a bad little town, but I want to go!
Wed Sep 24 14:19:50 PDT 2003|
Back in the Saddle Again -- Monterey, CA
I spent some time in Bakersfield on Wednesday the 17th trying to walk my bike to a shop three miles away to buy some equipment, but finally I realized it was silly when I could get there in minutes once my replacement tire arrived in the mail. I found a quiet spot by the side of the bike trail and camped for the night. The ants were swarming everywhere. I think they regarded me as a source of food, because wherever I moved, more ants would congregate. I was glad to get inside my tent after dinner.
Thursday the 18th I spent waiting around town for my package. I finished one book, and started and finished another. I bought a replacement from the town library's surplus sale. The evening of Thursday I decided to get a motel so I could clean up a little and watch a movie on HBO, but there was nothing on. I still watched TV for several hours though. It's incredibly hypnotic.
Friday the 19th my package finally arrived, containing a replacement seat cover in addition to a new tire. I needed to buy a new multi-tool before I could replace the seat cover, but I had everything I needed to install the new tire . . . except tire levers. I figured it was no big deal and improvised, using my pump as a makeshift tire lever. It worked, but I snapped off the handle in the process. Once I got the tire all fixed up I headed off to the bike shop, where my shopping list was growing quite long. It was quite a relief to get some of the crucial supplies I had been lacking recently. I spent some time doing various repairs and adjustments on my bike. I also met a fellow recumbent rider there, and we talked bikes for a while.
When I saw the bike shop was right next door to a Trader Joe's, I was in heaven. Trader Joe's not only has lots of great food, they often stock the instant black bean mix I like to use for dinners. As it turned out, they didn't have it, but the Albertson's next door did. Go figure. I stocked up on food and finally headed out, rather late in the day.
Friday evening I found a lovely little spot amongst some scrub by the side of the road. I spotted some coyote tracks in the dust, and sure enough I was awakened in the middle of the night by howling. I had intended when I left Bakersfieldto do some night biking to avoid the heat, so I packed up and started biking. But I was still far too tired and the road was too busy, so after half an hour I lay out my sleeping bag again and went back to sleep.
Saturday the 20th I set out for a solid day of biking across the Temblor Range. I had only 105 miles left until reaching the Pacific, and intended to do most of it that day. Much to my dismay, when I stopped in the early morning for a snack, I noticed that my new seat back was developing a tear. I had a sense of deja vu as I dug through my equipment for my dental floss and tooth threader. Unfortunately I had somehow lost the threader, so I had nothing to sew with. Luckily, as I was trying to improvise, a farmer pulled up in his truck to say hello and admire my bike. I asked if he had a needle and thread, and he turned right back around and went back to his house to get some. I was incredibly grateful. He also gave me some advice; I was planning to reach the coast by way of San Luis Obispo, but he gave me a shortcut that would put me ashore at Morro Bay. As I rode off an inkling of an idea started to rattle in my head that I might make it all the way to the coast in one day.
The Temblor Range was quite pretty, with much more rounded mountains than most I'd seen so far. Most of the land up there seemed to consist of active ranches, and I often saw cattle grazing on the slopes. It was still a difficult climb, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Saturday evening, as I started to come down out of the mountains and into Atascadero, the sun was starting to get low in the sky, but I determined that I would indeed try and reach Morro Bay before evening. I was making great progress downhill, and estimated I had a couple hours left.
When I got a flat tire on my rear wheel (the more difficult one to patch), I knew I might not make it before sundown, but by then I was already imagining myself at the Pacific that night and couldn't give it up. I kept riding at a furious pace, on through Atascadero as the sun set, then on up into the coastal hills. It started to get dark, but I knew I was within seventeen miles of the coast. Stopping was out of the question.
Finally I topped the hills and started to go down again. When I turned a corner and suddenly saw the Bay, a patch of darker purple against the sky, I gasped in spite of myself. Here, at last, was what I had been riding all summer for. I felt exhilarated and giddy and exhausted as I rounded another corner and the ocean moved out of sight.
Now, of course, stopping was out of the question, and I rode on as full dark set on and a heavy fog rolled in. I had all my lights on, but I stil felt nervous on the windy road. It seemed like hours later when I finally spotted the sign saying "Morro Bay" through the fog. Well, actually, the first sign I saw advertised "Captain Jack's Restaurant," but it was just as much of a beacon to me. I rolled through the small town and stopped at the very first beach access I found.
I had thought that nothing would be able to stop me from jumping in the ocean once I reached the Pacific, but I found myself quite thoroughly chilled from a long downhill ride, and facing no prospect of drying myself out, so I satisfied myself with running out to see the water and dipping my toes in. I felt a tremendous sense of ease as I stood there with the waves lapping over my feet. Whatever else might happen, I had accomplished a major part of my trip. Even in the worst case scenario, I could take the bus the rest of the way to San Francisco and still call my trip a success. Naturally, though, I relished the week of riding up U.S. 1 that awaited me.
I cooked a big dinner of beans and rice on the beach, making my best effort to avoid getting it sandy, and cowboy-camped on the sand. That turned out to be a mistake, because my sleeping bag became quite damp from the fog, but I was happy just to fall asleep listening to the ocean and thinking "I made it!"
From Morro Bay I set out North towards San Francisco on U.S. 1, a scenic highway paralleling the Pacific Coast. However, the rest of the story will have to wait, because I am out of time.
Tue Sep 30 00:35:45 2003|
Success! -- The Googleplex, Mountain View, CA
I've made it successfully to San Francisco, and started work at Google this morning! I'll post a description of my final week soon, but I've had a very busy few days and am going to go get some well-deserved rest.
Thu Oct 2 8:16:52 PDT 2003|
The Last Leg -- The Googleplex, Mountain View, CA
So on Sunday September 21st I packed up my damp sleeping bag and started cycling North on U.S. 1. I took it slow and had a long breakfast because by my calculations I needed to do only forty miles a day in order to arrive in San Francisco by Saturday. I didn't want to arrive early for two reasons. One was that I had arranged a bonfire for that evening and wanted to make sure that was actually the evening I had arrived. The other reason was simply that I did not want to stop biking! Despite some of the difficulties I had been having, I would have kept on going for another three months happily. But all good things must come to an end.
U.S. 1 is a wonderful little highway that runs right along the Pacific Coast, all the way between Washington and SoCal, as far as I can tell. Most of the time, it runs right along in sight of the ocean, presenting some amazing views of the rocky coastline. It's also a small, sceninc highway. Anyone who wants to get anywhere generally takes Highway 101, the big interstate which runs on the other side of the coastal hills. For that reason, most of the traffic on U.S. 1 consists of fellow tourists who don't mind slowing down a bit for a struggling cyclist. I liked that a lot.
I was amazed, first thing, by how many cyclists there were on the road. I can count the number of touring cyclists I had seen to date on the fingers of both hands, but in my first day on the coastal highway I saw at least a dozen. Evidently it's a pretty popular route, and most people ride North-South to take advantage of the prevailing winds. So I was doing it the hard way, but I met more cyclists.
Around the afternoon of the 21st I started to see signs for "Hearst Castle." I had never heard of it before, but it seemed a great way to spend a lazy afternoon and keep my mileage down. The Hearst Castle, it turns out, is a collection of beautiful buildings constructed by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. He bought hundreds of precious antiques and artworks from Europe to decorate the house and grounds. Many of the ceilings are from medieval French and Italian buildings. He even had a dolomite statue of Sekhmet, acquired during the Egypt craze that followed the discovery of Tutenkhamen's tomb. It's a beautiful place, and touring the grounds you can just imagine being there when W. R. Hearst was alive, when he was constantly inviting all of the famous people of his time for visits and parties. He especially invited young actors of the time, with whom he worked in his production company.
Hearst actually insisted on calling this place simply "The Ranch" -- the name "Hearst Castle" was foisted on it by visitors. But as I left the Castle and headed North, the reason for his original name became apparent. The property is surrounded by thousands and thousands of acres of ranchland, once owned by Hearst himself, and now in the hands of the Hearst Corporation. But there are still cows there, grazing along with a wonderful view of the ocean.
Late in the day Sunday I started coming to a series of steep hills, and worried that I might not be able to find a flat spot to camp. The road wound in and out along the sides of these hills, perched on a thin (probably man-made) ledge. Finally, though, near sunset, I came to an area labeled as National Forest. The closest campground was three miles uptrail, but there was a nice flat grassy spot near the parking area that I camped in.
The next morning, Monday the 22nd, I started to ride through some of the most wonderful scenery I had seen yet. The road curves continually back and forth to match the contours of the hills, and around every corner there was a new vista. There were rocks jutting out into the water and tiny, inaccessible beaches. It was great.
I planned to do only forty miles again on Monday, but towards the end of the day I started to hear an occasional "click" or "pop" from my pedals, especially when pushing hard. Ever since the trouble I had had with my tire in Bakersfield, I had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. I felt sure that something was going to break on me before I reached San Francisco, and it was going to be something I couldn't fix. I had even had a sneaking suspicion that it might be my bottom bracket. Lo and behold, my bottom bracket had started to lose a bearing (the bottom bracket is the place where the axle of the pedals passes through the frame of the bike). So I pushed on just a few more miles, coaxing my bike to cooperate until I could get to Big Sur and hopefully a bike shop.
When I arrived in Big Sur there was no bike shop, but I found out there was one in Monterey, thirty miles north. There was also a very nice state park campground that charged only $2 for bike campers. There I met Tony, a bus driver from Monterey down for the weekend. He told me that there is normally a bus that runs between Monterey and Big Sur, but it stopped after Labor Day.
Later on, I met Josh and Bill, who joined me for dinner. Josh is a retired fireman who had dreamed for years of travelling across the country and seeing in person all the great things he had seen on the Discovery channel. His trip was a lot like mine, actually, except that he was on foot. He would take Amtrak and local busses to a park that he wanted to see, hike for several days, then come out the other side and take a train to his next stop. He was about four weeks into a six-month trip, and having a great time. Bill was actually from San Francisco and was riding a motorcycle. He was on his way back from Los Angeles, where he had been to take a test for FEMA service. When he got there, though, he found that the test administrator had flown off to Georgia or some such place to deal with an emergency. Josh and Bill and I chatted rather late into the night about this, that, and everything. I realized this was one thing I had missed out on by avoiding campgrounds, the conversation with other travellers.
The next day, Tuesday the 23rd, I was planning to try and hitch a ride with my bicycle to Monterey for repairs. But on the way out of camp, I discovered there was a very large organized bike tour in camp, and they had their own mechanic. With some help from Josh and Bill I tracked down the mechanic and asked for help. He was happy to help, but didn't have the tool he needed to remove my bottom bracket. He seemed to think I would make it to Monterey before it broke completely though. So I set out riding and hoping.
Unfortunately, I only rode about six miles before the bottom bracket completely siezed up and I couldn't turned my pedals anymore. I found a nearby tree and stashed my trailer behind it, fairly well hidden. I took the rest of my bike out to the road and started hitching. It only took about fifteen minutes for a woman named Shena driving a Toyota van to stop and pick me up. She rides recumbents too -- she had a Gold Rush on order at the moment. She was actually from Hawaii, but had felt she needed a break from the island and was staying in Santa Cruz at a Buddhist center. She needed to stop by her friend David's house in Carmel to say hello and goodbye, so she took me with her. David was another Buddhist, and had a beautifully decorated house with a great view of the ocean. Shena let herself and me in, and we sat around for a while waiting. Even though I was in a stranger's home hanging out with another stranger, something about the house and Shena's manner made me feel very comfortable. When David did come by, he turned out to also be a very cool person. We hung around for a little while while David and Shena caught up, then Shena took me to the bike shop in Monterey. She stuck around to make sure they could fix my bike, then took off to pack for her trip home.
The guys at the bike shop -- Joselyn's -- were great, and had my bike fixed in minutes. I stopped at a taqueria for lunch (say what you will about California, they have great Mexican food here!) and headed off South to get back to where I'd stashed my trailer. It felt odd to be riding an unburdened bicycle, but I discovered I could ride very fast. It was a good feeling, even if riding the "wrong direction" made me uneasy. At one point I stopped at a convenience store, and when I came out I saw a motorcycle carrying two people zip by. I recognized the driver, and a moment later I heard one of them shout "It's Jacob!" They pulled over and I caught up with them -- sure enough, it was Bill and Josh! They had both been planning to spend their day at the campground, but after a while they decided to take a ride up to the grocery store in Carmel and get some nice food for dinner. They admitted that they had also been a little concerned for me and wanted to make sure I was okay, so they'd been keeping an eye out. I was really touched by their concern. We caught up on our respective days, then they headed off to their campsite and I kept riding. I made it to my hiding place at Point Sur before dark, and camped out under the tree, on a delightfully soft bed of pine needles.
Wednesday the 24th I was finally making progress again, with my bike in good condition. I blasted out the twenty-four miles to Monterey, then decided I wanted to see the sights. In particular, I had been told they had one of the best aquariums in the world. They have huge pipelines with which they constantly pump in fresh seawater from four miles out in the ocean. They also rotate many of their displays, bringing in fresh finds for a few days, then releasing them and bringing in new ones. It was definitely a cool aquarium, and almost definitely worth the steep admission. They also had some wild sea otters who liked to hang out on the rocks outside. I stayed Wednesday night in a hostel in town. It was nice but a little too expensive and a little too controlling. It felt like the hostel tried to be surrogate parents rather than hosts to their guests.
Thursday the 25th I rode on North to Santa Cruz. It was another day of beautiful scenery, but the fog that had hung over the coast ever since I left Morro Bay still hung overhead. At times it was like riding through a tunnel roofed with clouds, the fog was so thick. It lifted briefly when I was in Santa Cruz -- I got the feeling that somehow Santa Cruz was always sunny, regardless of how cloudy the rest of the coast was. It was a very bright, pleasant town, with lots of surf shops down by the water. I picked up a package at the post office and rolled on North before sunset. I was having some trouble finding a spot to camp, but there were loads of state park beaches along the left side of the road. They technically didn't allow camping, but as the sun got lower and my chances of finding a good spot got slimmer, I chose to stay in one on the good bet that rangers probably didn't bother driving a nightly check. In fact I checked the locked gate at the entrance, and it was covered in cobwebs, meaning no-one had driven into the park in ages. And I knew no-one would bother to do a walking tour just to find campers.
It was a beautiful area. There was a path leading from the gate out to some cliffs overlooking the water, and a couple of steep paths leading down to the beach. I found a nice little spot by the edge of the cliffs, with a close-knit stand of conifers blocking the wind (and blocking me from rolling off the edge). It even had a little window through the foliage that let me look down on the water and the seals warming themselves on offshore rocks. I went down to the beach to read my book and watch the sunset. As the sun went down, a bunch of surfers came out for some late-evening surfing. I went back to my spot, laid out my sleeping bag, and fell asleep under the stars, quite content.
Around midnight I woke up with a bright light in my face and someone saying "Hello there! Park ranger! Wake up! Park ranger!" A couple of park rangers had driven up in a pickup with a spotlight on top. They asked me for my ID to run a check and told me I was camped illegally. They were actually pretty nice about it, all things considered. Since it was my first offense they just warned me and said that next time I was caught camping in a state park I would get a ticket. I told them all about my trip, and they were interested. They decided, in the interest of public safety, to let me stay the rest of the night there rather than making me ride on in the dark, with no valid campgrounds for miles and miles. The reason they had actually driven out into the park was that someone had left a car parked by the front gate and they were concerned that a surfer hadn't made it back in or somesuch. Evidently my judgement of the situation had been correct, and it was "just in my run of luck" (as one of the rangers said) that they had driven out that night.
I got back to sleep surprisingly easily, and slept soundly the rest of the night. Friday the 28th I rode a fairly uneventful forty-five miles or so to Half Moon Bay and on to Montara. A couple of other cycle tourists at the Monterey hostel had told me that there was a simply wonderful hostel at the lighthouse in Montara. The old Coast Guard residences there had been converted into a hostel, and put under the care of AYH. Even better, though, Paul & Geri (whom I met at the Grand Canyon) lived in Montara and had invited me to drop by when I was in the area. I knocked on their door somewhat late in the evening, and a delighted Geri answered the door. It was great to catch up and hear about the rest of their trip. Sadly, Paul's father in Nebraska was at death's door and Paul had rushed off only a few hours earlier. Even so, we had a happy reunion and Geri invited me to come back again once I was settled in Mountain View. I biked back to the hostel, which really was beautiful, and cooked my last travelling dinner of beans & rice. I talked during dinner with Tomás, a former software engineer who was biking down the coast. He was taking a very relaxed attitude about it all, jumping around and going all sorts of different places. He is in the middle of a long (more or less indefinite) trip all over the U.S. and points beyond. He was easy to talk to and had lots to say. There was also a pleasant (but quiet) young couple down for the weekend from San Francisco.
I slept fitfully Friday night. My excitement and anxiety over finishing my trip the next day added to the unfamiliarity of sleeping in a bed and hearing other people nearby. I woke up early, but found myself hanging around until late in the morning, so that I wouldn't arrive in SF too early. Tomás and I took each others' pictures and exchanged contact info, then I headed off.
Pacifica is the next town North from Montara, and by luck I happened to be riding through during their annual Fog Fest, a big town fair in the streets. I spent some pleasant time browsing the vendors and listening to the music, then when I went to start biking again, found that the fair had blocked the main bike-accessible route through town. I spent a frustrating half-hour trying to navigate an alternate route without using U.S. 1, which had abruptly turned into a freeway (bikes disallowed). Finally I arrived in San Francisco and called my friend Erin. She gave me directions to meet her at her apartment, but first I wanted to bike to the Golden Gate Bridge, the "official end" that I had mentally set for myself.
It took me a lot of wrong turns, some murderously steep hills, and many stops to ask for directions, but I eventually found the bridge (you would think it would be easy!). My mood was helped by the fact that every cyclist I stopped for directions was super-friendly and very congratulatory about finishing my trip. The bridge, when I got there, was beautiful. I knew it was a famous landmark, but never really understood how a simple suspension bridge could be so wonderful. My attitude may have been tinted by the bridge's symbolism, though. I'll have to return in a few weeks and check whether I feel the same way. But the moment of my arrival seemed perfectly crafted. I had been riding North through heavy fog for the past week, and San Francisco is especially known for fog, but five minutes before I arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge, the fog cleared and I got a brilliant, sunny view of the bridge, perfect for taking pictures.
I rode across the bridge and back, unable to stop myself from grinning ear-to-ear. I stopped in the middle to call home and tell my dad I had finished. There was a terrific view of the city, and the bay was positively covered in sailboats. At last, when I had ridden back from Oakland, I allowed myself to say I had finished the trip. I felt completely on top of the world as I rode back into the city to find Erin's house. Even when I overshot and went several miles the wrong way my mood didn't deteriorate. Finally I found Erin and we had a great dinner at a vegan restaurant called "Herbivore." The food was a little bland, but there was plenty of it. Then we rode the MUNI to the beach where we were having a bonfire. There was a convenience store nearby selling firewood, and I bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
Erin's friends Matt, Laura, and Karen (?) joined us there. My other friend in town, Kinya, was unfortunately able to make it, but the five of us seemed like the perfect number. Erin had done something really touching, and had made up a little flier to pass around the day before at Critical Mass (a huge political bike ride), saying "My pal Jacob just biked from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Come join us Saturday around 8 for a bonfire at the beach near the end of the N Judah. No-one came (perhaps not a terrible thing), but it was a really nice gesture.
We sat around the fire all night and sang and talked and listened to Erin & Matt play guitar. I finally jumped fully into the Pacific and went swimming, something I had been holding off for a week because it was too cold. Saturday night was no exception, but I had the fire to warm me up when I returned. Around midnight Laura gave us a ride back to Erin's apartment and I crashed on her couch.
Sunday morning I woke early again, a habit that is surprisingly hard to break. I waited around for Erin to wake up and we had a nice breakfast of quinoa. I felt something akin to the post-Christmas or post-Halloween letdown as I rode out of San Francisco that morning. I was still riding, and I had some exciting work ahead of me at Google, but I no longer had a major goal to work for every day.
Fortunately I didn't have much time to contemplate the end, because I was too busy with bike trouble. I had been completely paranoid that I was going to have a major breakdown before I reached San Francisco, but I hadn't considered the way down to Mountain View as thoroughly, since I figured it would be okay with me if I just took the train. But very early on in the day, I hit a sewer grate with slats the long way -- a "death grate," as upright bike riders call them. I was lucky in that I was riding a recumbent, so I couldn't go pitching over the handlebars, but I got a very nasty flat tire on my rear wheel. When I patched it, I was horrified to find that the patch leaked. And it's more or less impossible to re-do a patch. I had one more spare tube in my bag. It was also heavily patched already, and also had a hole in it, but I manage to patch that one successfully. Later in the day, riding through a residential neighborhood, I hit a major pothole and got another pinch flat. Luckily I patched that one alright too, and was eventually on my way again.
I was lucky in other ways, though; just when I started looking for dinner, I passed a place called "Fresh Choice," which I tried on a whim and found very good. It happened to be right next to an Old Navy, where I fulfilled my need for some "clean/nice/inexpensive" clothes to wear to my first day of work.
At last I arrived in Mountain View, just as the sun was setting. I made sure to ride by the Googleplex before checking into my motel, so I would be sure to know where it was in the morning. I checked into the "Der Ghan Motel," a place that I had spotted during my interview as a possible alternative to the pricey luxury hotel that Google had sent me to. I checked in and slept fitfully again, dreaming this time about my first day of full time work on Monday.
It's been a great trip, and it's been everything I had hoped for and more. Well, everything except maybe I wish it had lasted a little longer. I'd like to sincerely thank everyone I've met along the way -- you are really what made this trip special. In particular, I'd also like to thank:
- My family -- for logistical and emotional support, and just for being great
- Emily -- for sharing the first month of my trip, and getting things off to a wonderful start.
- All the friends and family I stayed with along the way -- Becca, Dave, Jessica, Sarah, Veronica, Jonathan & Marlowe, and Drew & Jill
- Team Barfly -- for being the coolest group of bikers I've ever gone drinking with
- Chris & Michael from Lincoln -- for assuring me that a car-free lifestyle is not such a crazy idea after all, and generally being awesome
- All of the readers of this weblog -- I know you're out there, and knowing you were all reading and rooting for me definitely kept me going in tough times
- Every driver I passed -- for not hitting me
So, that's about it for the trip. I'll probably write some more in a few days about the Google Experience, and how I'm settling into San Francisco. Also, please see the note at the top of the page about postcards -- I want to hear from everyone who's been reading!