Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Finish Line

I made it! I am writing from the deck of the main lodge at Montecito Sequoia Resort at roughly 7,400 feet elevation. I can see snow capped mountains in the distance, watch deer wander through camp, and enjoy the sounds of birds, bugs, and squirrels. It is a nice change from the valley.

I left Fresno at 6am, but it was not early enough. The temperature reached 104 in the city, and I was only starting my climb into the Sierra Nevadas by 10. I was incredibly hot and exposed as I switched to my lowest gears to slog my bike up the winding asphalt. My sun helmet was earning its keep.

I had picked up all the items I'd sent ahead to Fresno, plus my laptop which I had mailed from San Diego. All told, it added about 50 pounds to my bike. It creaked under the strain, and I inevitably snapped a spoke and punctured a tube. It took me an hour to correct the problem on the side of the scorching Highway 180.

As I continued up out of the valley, I was sweating buckets. I quickly ran out of water. I crawled into the tiny town of Squaw Valley (not to be confused with ski lodge near Lake Tahoe) and bought more water from the gas station. I needed the containers. I refilled all my bottles, plus the new bottles, adding another 10 pounds of water to my load.

I only made it a mile or two past SV when I had to stop. I was moving too slow and getting dizzy in the heat. I felt like I was going to pass out. I pulled off onto a dirt side road and laid down in the shade for two hours to let the heat of the day pass. 

I had started at about 180 feet elevation that morning, and knew that I'd have to break close to 8,000 before descending to Montecito, so I set a goal to reach 4,000 before camping for the night. Roadside elevation signs marked my progress.

As soon as I passed the sign for 4,000 a lodge came into view. I had actually drank all my water, so I rolled up and asked the owner if I could fill my bottles from the tap. I wanted to camp by the road since I was in the National Forest, but that meant packing in all my food and water myself. The owner told me I was being ridiculous and to pitch my tent on the lodge property behind the cars for free. I filled my bottles with ice-cold water from the cooler. A family even shared some of their dinner with me. It was such an unexpected evening, and definitely better than camping alone.

In the morning I started riding well before dawn to avoid a repeat of the previous day's dehydration. I made it above 6,000 feet and into the entrance for King's Canyon National Park. The man at the gate laughed at my helmet and sweaty clothes, and handed me a temporary employee pass into the park.

The ride through KC was incredible. Every vista warranted a stop and a photo. I exited again into the Sequoia National Forest (confusing, I know) and climbed to my highest point at 7,800 feet: the trailhead for Big Baldy Mountain. From there I coasted downhill to the lodge entrance, took a victory photo, and slowly crept toward the buildings. I went to the front desk and explained who I was, and my new boss was radioed to come meet me. So there I was, out of breath, sunblock running into my bloodshot eyes, filthy clothes, and smelling like a bag of old hockey equipment as I met and shook the hand of my new employer for the first time. I wouldn't want it any other way.

I unpacked in my new cabin, showered, and went to the buffet to feast like a beast. I'm the first of the seasonal employees to arrive, so it's a prettily relaxed environment at the moment. I went down to the bike shop and faced my first challenge. There was a bike with stripped crank arms that needed to be removed to change the chain rings. This may not mean anything to most people, but believe me, it was really hard. The other mountain biking guide and myself found a gear pulley used to take the propeller off of the motor boat, and we made that work. Two victories in one day!

I'll be here for the summer, biking and guiding. It is absolutely beautiful, and I'm definitely in shape for the rides. I'm still getting used to the altitude, but it'll come with time. Staff training starts on Wednesday, so until then I'm getting the fleet of bikes ready for the trails. Life is good.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Coast to the Valley: Santa Cruz to Fresno

Leaving the coast has left me with mixed feelings. The riding itself is much easier, as the terrain is mostly flat and what little wind there is rarely pushes against me. However, heading into the San Joaquin Valley has been brutally hot. The high temperatures here in Fresno are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Santa Cruz was relaxing. I left feeling strong and motivated. I rode down to the coast to satisfy my ego for the next leg. I'll be going from sea level to over 7,000 feet elevation. The first few hours out of Santa Cruz were peaceful, but then I had to traverse the Pacheco Pass on highway 152, which rises to 1,300 feet. From the top, I had a spectacular view of the San Luis Reservoir. It is a manmade lake that I think is used mostly for irrigation. It shouldn't exist, but is still a beautiful sight from the top.

The blistering heat was brutal on the climb, but luckily the shoulder was smooth and wide. I reached the top at around noon (horrible timing), and looked forward to a fun downhill. However, there was so much broken glass and debris on the shoulder going down that I had punctured not one, but TWO tubes on the way down. Not both tires at once, either. I got a flat, changed it, continued, and got a second flat. It took me nearly as long to come down as it had to go up.

Campgrounds near the reservoir were mostly catered toward boaters. They had little shade and no drinking water. I went a little further east to a KOA (Kampgrounds Of America) and got a car camping site. I had to pay full price, but the pool, showers, and water were all free. 

The next day took me through vast farmlands. Huge fields of fruit trees, cotton, and other unknown green wonders planted in perfectly straight rows made me think about our food system. All this wonderful food, but there are many other stories from the fields, no doubt. I felt weird resting amongst beautiful crops while stuffing my face with Snickers bars and Gatorade. 

I stayed on the highways (152 to 33 to 180), which took me through towns big enough for resupplies and shade. My stylish helmet worked wonders against the beating sunlight, and the smooth, flat roads allowed me to continuously ride in higher gears for the first time on this entire tour. I was able to maintain about 11-12 mph while cycling, as opposed to 6-8 mph through the hills and winds of the coastal route. 

Fresno came into focus in the early afternoon. Approaching from the west, the city skyline suddenly rises over the farmland. Without any noticeable transition through suburbia, I was suddenly on a freeway, which I had to exit. I rode another 2 miles and I was downtown. It was amazing how quickly my surroundings had changed.

Downtown Fresno is frighteningly vacant, but not abandoned. There is a nice outdoor space with shops, bars, and cafes. But, like my hometown of Buffalo, the main street was closed to traffic and it has killed commerce. The foundation of a cool downtown is there, but there are very few people actually walking around. I was expecting zombies or terminators at every turn, or maybe some of the freakshows from Road Warrior. The Rapture came to mind, but I'm still here, so obviously that's not it. But a tumbleweed and the whistling music from The Big, The Bad, and The Ugly would feel appropriate.

I am heading out tomorrow morning for the lodge in the hills, completing my ridiculous bicycle commute to work. I will take 2 days so I can see a bit of the parks before I start working, but I also will be happy to unload the bags and settle in to what will become my new reality for the next 9 weeks. I will take pictures and do another post here after I roll into camp.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Route thus far, with overnight stops

San Diego
San Clemente State Park
Los Angeles
El Pescador State Beach
Carpenteria State Beach
San Luis Obispo
Ragged Point
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- then hitched a ride to Santa Cruz

Sunday, June 2, 2013

San Luis Obispo, Ragged Point, Big Sur, and some cheating

SLO was a lot of fun. I stayed with a friend-of-a-friend who made sure I saw the town and its surprisingly active nightlife. The surrounding mountains set a beautiful backdrop to the downtown area. 

I left early Friday morning to try and beat the wind. That plan worked, for the most part. I was able to cover a good amount before the battling winds returned. I stopped at a roadside vista area where elephant seals gather to mold their fur on the sand. A volunteer guide there explained the scene while they barked and growled at each other. It was a great free attraction that I highly recommend.

I continued onward past San Simeon to Ragged Point. The tiny town had beautiful vistas, large houses, but only one overpriced store and gas station. I stocked up on Snickers bars and bagels, and asked the kid behind the counter about the new Arrested Development episodes (priorities) and about places to camp. He pointed me toward a trail leading to a waterfall just off the highway where I could camp for free. It worked out well. I had a bath in the creek and pitched my tent by some huge rocks. I thoroughly sketched out some high school kids who stumbled across a wet and shirtless Kyle eating beef stew out of the can with the handle of a toothbrush. I didn't have a spoon. I slept we'll and left at dawn.

I was only aiming to reach Limekiln Creek State Park, but arrived so early that I continued on to Big Sur. The 'towns' on my map were extremely tiny, so I couldn't resupply until expensive Big Sur. The climbs into town were grueling, but the rocky coastline was amazing. I saw a fox running up the cliff to my right, dropping stones as it scrambled upward. The heat hit me hard in the afternoon. Being the weekend, most campsites to the north were booked solid, so I stayed at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park for the night. I slept amongst redwoods.

This morning, I left at 5am to avoid the wind. Instead, I met it head on and was blown all over the road. A heavy fog made it hard to see more than 20 feet ahead. The blind turns and narrow shoulder made me feel very unsafe as the traffic started picking up. I made the difficult decision to hitch a ride. It felt dangerous to continue.

A young couple picked me up and took me all the way to Santa Cruz, where I'm enjoying a rest and planning my route east. I'll be in Fresno in a few days, then to Sequoia! No more coast. It's time for the valley and mountains.

I feel a little bad about hitching a ride. If I had more time, I would have just returned to Big Sur, but the fact that I'm starting a job in Sequoia meant that I had to continue with forward progress. So be it. I am safe and on schedule.