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.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Two hard days led me here

The last two days were some of the hardest I've ever cycled. Hills and headwinds were slowing me to a crawl and throwing my bike from side to side. Trying to cover 70miles a day is easy on paper, but it takes me 10 hours to do so. I really wanted to throw in the towel yesterday and take the train to San Francisco, letting the southbound prevailing winds push me forward instead of back. Instead, I will carry on, but ride fewer miles each day. The winds also seem calm in the mornings, so starting at 5am instead of 7 should help me cover more ground.

Despite the headwinds, yesterday was a beautiful ride. I had made it to Lompoc the night before, and a big climb out of town took me high into the hills and pine trees. I got to coast 3 miles down the far side. 

The day before took me through the UC Santa Barbara campus, but then onto the shoulder of Highway 101 for several miles. Not the most pleasant ride. I also passed a wildfire I could see burning from Carpenteria. Look at the photo behind the silhouetted bike and you can see the rising smoke at sunset.

I rolled into San Luis Obispo yesterday afternoon, and I'm going to rest here for one day. My body is feeling strong, and my knee pain is much less of an issue now. It seems the wrapping and ibuprofen did the trick. I also found a more comfortable seat position. I think I strained my knees badly the first two days of riding with my seat too far forward on its post. It was like doing lunges with improper form, several thousand times in a row. Eventually, the joints became extremely painful.

I'm pressing on north after some down time. I think I'll actually go farther than Monterey and hit Santa Cruz before going east to the valley and eventually the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

One final note - I made some 'improvements' to my helmet to keep the sun off of me. A 12-pack of Sam Adams and duct tape have saved the day! The looks and comments crack me up. I feel like the love child of Shredder and the Rocketeer, but it keeps me from getting burned.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Making Progress North, Slowly

I left LA yesterday early, and it's a good thing I did. I had to replace a rear spoke, the scourge of my Africa ride, soon after embarking. After the repair, I made it ten minutes before puncturing a tire. It was one of those cycling mornings that fails to really launch.
I cycled slowly, in very low gears. My knee pain seems to be sticking to my bad left knee, sparing the right for now. 
The BBQ at Pacific Palisades was amazing. Good food and fun people. They seemed a bit stunned by my appearance, but I cleaned up well after a shower. I ate like a king, gave about 20 pounds of gear to my friend to drive to Fresno, and I was off toward Santa Monica.
The entire Venice-Santa Monica area was beautiful, but landslides on the Pacific Coast Highway left me with little or no shoulder to keep me out of traffic. The setting sun was shining into everyone's eyes, so I turned on my rear red strobe to hopefully be seen. For once, my awkward bike's fat booty came in handy, as my wide profile was hard to miss.
I stopped for the night in Leo Carillo State Park. I paid ten dollars for a 'Bike and Hike' site, where no cars are permitted and us self-propelled types can sleep on the cheap. I shared the site with three southbound cyclists from Canada and Greece. They started in Vancouver and were headed to San Diego. Almost done!
Today was painfully slow. I left camp at 7am, but only made it as far as Oxnard by 10. My knee pain was becoming unbearable and the winds were working against me. I stopped at a Starbucks and ended up chatting with a man named Arthur for almost an hour. He told me about the ten years he spent in prison because he was being setup by the local government after attempting to blow the whistle on a corrupt judge. Quite a story. His paranoia dominated his demeanor, but I nonetheless felt sorry for the guy.
After buying a knee brace and ibuprofen, I set off. I was making better time, but rolled into Carpenteria after 2pm. The next campground is another 30 miles away, so I called it quits. My energy is low and my knee is zapping my already waning motivation.
There are three other cyclists in camp tonight, one heading south and the other two north. It's fun to swap stories and give advice as we pass each other. Thankfully, the egos are at a minimum. Everyone just seems to be enjoying themselves.
I'm off to pop some Vitamin I and go to sleep. I want to ride a long distance tomorrow to offset these last two short days. My knee is in charge, though. If pain persists, I'm going to have to hitch a ride. I'll be working outside all summer, so I need solid joints when I get to Sequoia.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Time off in Los Angeles

Today I cycled a little bit around town just to run errands, but have otherwise rested my legs. I have some pain on the insides of both knees that is most likely being caused by an improper seat adjustment. I've never toured on this bike before, so these small problems are to be expected. I'm only riding 14 miles tomorrow morning, so there will be plenty of time to play with the seat and see what feels best.

Tomorrow I will go to a BBQ in Pacific Palisades, just north of Santa Monica. Coincidentally, the person I'll be staying with in Fresno will be there, so I'm unloading all nonessential items from the bike and sending them forward by car. Maybe it's my aching knees, or my newly-thirty laziness, but I see no need to suffer through the ride with all that weight for pride and country. Let the car carry it. I'll continue ultralight up the coast.

The items being sent are things I need for my job upon arrival in Sequoia National Park. After tomorrow, the only things on the bike will be the bare bones supplies to finish the tour itself.

I'm enjoying LA more than I thought I would. It is huge, and as a cyclist I fall victim to the same gridlock traffic patterns as the drivers. It takes a bit longer to cycle places than expected, but at least I don't have to worry about parking.

There was a free outdoor concert tonight in the park that contains the LaBrea Tar Pits and some giant rock that was trucked in from somewhere outside the city. For a town with a lot of Hybrid cars, there also seems to be a lot of fuel consumption and engine idling. 

Nevertheless, I'm enjoying my hosts' company. They are experienced cyclists and have given me a lot of useful information. I'm not sure where I'm staying tomorrow night, but that is half the fun in my mind. Campsites are booked for the holiday weekend, but there are cheap biking sites that some camps have that are first come, first serve that I'm hoping to benefit from. I can thank my cycling hosts for the tips.

I'll check in tomorrow if I can find wifi. I am updating from an iPod, so no 3G option. I'm sure I'll hit a cafe at some point. 

Keeping strong! Kyle.