It is surreal to think that I am currently fulfilling one of my childhood dreams while tragedy has struck Nepal. Events like this make me realize just how small we are and how brief our time here is. So grab your opportunities when they come! If anyone hasn’t made their donation yet to help, I am a big fan of Foundation Beyond Belief.
So today I am at Cal Courts in Eureka to meet the CrossFitters there and hopefully inspire them to join the Be the Match registry! I’ve been talking to people on the road about Be the Match and everyone has been incredibly supportive, but this is my first arranged meeting! Frances sent swab kits up, and I’m super excited to get them distributed to new potential marrow donors. Wish me luck!
But I suppose I should do a summary of the first week on the road. It has been such an incredible week.
I was really hoping to have wheels on the road by 7am on Sunday, April 19, but of course I wasn’t quite ready to go at that time. All the little last minute things had to get done. Even though I had mostly packed up my bike the day before, enough so that we could play the guess-how-much-the-bike-weighs game at my kickoff party (which was incredibly fun, thank you everyone who attended, sorry you missed it everyone who couldn’t!) there were still all those little things that I somehow didn’t get around to yet. Sue and Erik attached the lights to my front wheel that I’d been meaning to put on since Christmas while I unnecessarily got super picky about the lumpiness of one of my panniers. Maybe I was just searching for delays. Troy and Brooks stood around for a while, ready to hit the road to the surf, but I think they were trying to be nice and were waiting to see me off. Eventually they lost patience and drove away.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering – Gautam won the bike weight game, as the bike came in at 81.2 pounds. It weighs a bit more than that now.
With Mr. Lion strapped into the front basket, I said my goodbyes to my nephews and parents. Logan and Thomas seemed more concerned with saying goodbye to Mr. Lion and checking in with their mother time and time again that she was only going for a short way. Then Sue, Erik, Lori and I pushed off, only about an hour and a half behind my planned schedule!
I was thrilled to have the company, and I happily chattered on with updates about how well things were going. Surprisingly enough, I could climb the small hills we encountered. And coming down them was amazing! What would normally be bouncy rides had smoothed out; it’s like riding a motorcycle with all the weight on the bike. Then I plugged my phone into my hub generator and was pleased that I could still pedal fast enough to charge it. Everything was looking fantastic!
For some reason my other sister Cindy decided it was time to have a massive text conversation about Oktoberfest in June. I decided to leave Lori in charge of that. I was really enjoying all my sisterly time, but suddenly, it was declared that it was time for my biking companions to turn around and go home. They had a train to catch, so fortunately the Band-Aid was ripped off quickly, otherwise I might have started sniffling.
So now the trip, in my eyes, was really beginning. I made my way up to San Francisco pretty easily, but then I got snagged in the chaos that is SF. There was a Giants game going on, so traffic was pretty difficult to maneuver through. Then I smashed into headwinds as I made my way to the Golden Gate. My Cousin John was waiting for me there, and sadly it took me quite a bit longer to get there than I originally told him. When I
arrived he’d already finished his hot chocolate. I made him buy me one as I caught my breath and pondered whether I could really do this. With the hills and the winds, this ride had gotten a lot more difficult. John wanted to know why I was planning on climbing Mt. Tam to go camping that night. He was pretty worried about that, but I dug in my heels. I had to prove to myself that I could do it. If I was planning on climbing the Rockies and the Appalachians, I couldn’t run away from Mt. Tam.
Maybe I should have run away from Mt. Tam. I was heading up to the Pantoll campground to meet up with my friend Alana from the Peace Corps. I was fully anticipating setting up camp and being all organized and able to greet her when she arrived. After climbing and climbing and climbing, she texted me to tell me she would be there in an hour, and I was still five miles from the top. Now I was only hoping that she wouldn’t be sitting around at the campsite for too long before I could get there. I tried to pick up the pace, but there is no picking up the pace on a loaded touring bike. There’s only Just Keep Going.
Sure enough, as I was grinding my way very slowly up the hill (encountering people riding their bikes down the hill making bomb-dropping noises with their mouths) Alana passed me in her car, giving me a cheerful beep and shouting some words of encouragement. Finally, I made it to the campground and collapsed over the handlebars until I could collect my legs underneath me to stand up. Alana kindly took the bike from me and pushed it up the hill to where she had set up her tent. It was glamping time! She totally spoiled me with excellent food and a cushy air mattress.
The morning came far too quickly, and Alana had to get back to work after cooking an amazing breakfast for us. I bundled myself up in all my rain gear since the fog was so thick and had a difficult time packing without getting everything all muddy. Finally I was on my way, and seriously after about 45 seconds of going downhill, the fog was gone and everything was bone dry. I muttered under my breath as I pulled over and stripped myself of my rain gear.
My next planned stop was Bodega Bay. As I rode through Tomales, I could have sworn I was there before. I have very distinct memories of eating sandwiches with Adrian at a cafe – I think Brooks was there too – while looking at a quaint post office that he really wanted a photo of. But right when he tried to snap the picture, the post office suddenly became the place to be and cars kept getting in the way. It was sandwich time again, so I took a picture for him while I ate and delivered it to him via Facebook, but he replied that it wasn’t the same post office. Apparently lots of these little towns are kind of similar, which was a theme I noticed as I continued cycling.
Just before dark I pulled into the Bodega Dunes campground, where the other cyclists at the hiker/biker site were already in their tent. But a hiker, Ed Seajack (best name ever), was there to welcome me, complete with a fire, so I chatted with him while setting up my tent. He’s walking his way up to Seattle because, as he put it, why not. We’ve been keeping in touch on Facebook, and he’s had to make some changes to his plans, but he’s keeping at it!
I don’t think I slept at all that night. Nothing was wrong, I just couldn’t sleep. So the next day, Tuesday, was pretty rough. I didn’t get on the road til pretty late. I was tired.
And then there were these extensive long twisty climbs on Highway 1, and it just wasn’t fun. The bike often wanted to wiggle away from the side of the road, and when cars were rushing past I thought for sure I would meet my demise. When I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, they did. In Gualala the winds kicked in and I was fed up. I curled up in a spot protected from the wind the first opportunity I had, which was at a gas station. A nice man came to point out that a nicer place to sit would be at the nearby cafe, Trinks. We got to talking and he explained that as much as the wind was annoying, it was very necessary for the upwelling of nutrients to support the marine life. I thought about mentioning that I used to be an instructor at Camp SEA Lab, but instead thanked him for the marine ecosystems lesson and moved myself to Trinks. Then I started recalculating. I was tired. It was windy. There was more climbing to do. I was hoping to get to Manchester, but it didn’t seem likely I would get there before dark.
I tried calling a campground four miles away in Anchor Bay, but they didn’t answer. I had no interest in backtracking, so I figured I’d risk it and visit in person. Luckily, when I rode up, there was a sign saying vacancy so I checked it out. It’s mostly for RVs, but they let me camp on a patch of grass. I even hung up my hammock, but it got too windy, so I escaped into my tent. It turned out that stopping at this campground was the smartest thing I could have done. Since I got there early, I had lots of time to lounge about. I vented some of my frustrations in e-mails and made sure to get a nice early start the next morning.
On Wednesday I was informed by a nice man with an RV that I was going the wrong way. “There’s nothing up north!” he said. I didn’t think that was true, so I kept going. I felt pretty sad that I was already behind schedule, so I wanted to do all I could to maybe catch up. This time the sun came out, and that did wonders to lift my spirits. For some reason the hills also didn’t really bother me. I started to think of my bike differently. I didn’t picture him as a bike so much anymore, but rather a machine designed to make carrying stuff easier. Which meant that my job was just to put in enough effort to power the machine. Rather than push myself to go faster up the hills, I just let Lutz do what he needed to do. If he needed to go slow, then we would go slow. Before I knew it, I had caught up with my schedule and was rolling into MacKerricher State Park, which had the most lush green campsites I had ever seen. I made some phone calls, took a nice hot shower, and slept soundly in my hammock.
Thursday was next, which was the day I would be turning away from the coast and into the redwoods. That includes a horrible climb on Leggett Hill. I wasn’t too worried about it until I got an encouraging e-mail from Kevin. “Wishing you luck on Leggett Hill tomorrow. Take it slow and steady and safe.” Luck? Luck??!? Uh oh. Each hill I encountered I hoped was Leggett Hill, but my Adventure Cycling map made it clear that I hadn’t even come close to touching it yet. In Westport I stopped for food and studied the map. The climb into Westport was already enough to almost give me a heart attack.
So I started climbing. And climbing. And climbing. There were some good parts, though! First, the change in scenery was very exciting. One minute I was along the coast, suddenly I was deep in the forest. And I started meeting other people on their cycling tours! They were all traveling the right way, to the south, so our encounters were brief, but it was great to meet them. I met a nice Australian couple, who shouted out, “Yay, someone else! We’re Australian!” when they saw me. Later I met a couple of girls, one of whom had homemade panniers made out of kitty litter tubs. I’m so sad I didn’t take a picture, they were so awesome.
Anyway, I kept climbing, and climbing, and climbing, trying to keep track of the peaks and the flats on my map so that I could have an idea of when it would be over. Apparently I didn’t keep very good track, because it was over much sooner than I thought it would be! No complaints here!
Then there was the downhill. When the road leveled out I got off the bike and collapsed in the grass. The town of Leggett was a couple hundred yards off to the right, and the direction I needed to be heading was to the left. I knew I would be tired and hungry soon, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go 200 yards in the wrong direction to find food. At the time, that sounded like a lot. So I stayed in the grass and thought about it. Then I heard someone call out to me. “Did you just climb over that hill?” I looked over to see a vision that reminded me of Paraguay – a friendly gentleman sitting in front of his humble home, just watching the world. We got to talking and immediately bonded. He’s retired from the school district, so we had a connection. Then his friend showed up, who only spoke Spanish, so then I was back in Paraguay even more as I dusted off my rusty Spanish. They got me a beer, which I happily accepted, and pointed me in the direction of the nearby campsite. I had been planning on going a little farther, but after a beer I knew I was done for the day. They told me to settle in at the campsite and they would come along later to take me to dinner. Again, I happily accepted.
While setting up camp in a completely empty but very nice campground, two guys rolled up on their bikes. They grumbled about it being a hard day, and I was so excited to have companions for the night. They were two Irish guys, Dave and Jamie, traveling from Canada to Mexico, and right away we were swapping stories and drinking beer together. Then my two other new friends pulled up, so I left with them. They drove me to Garberville, which totally felt like cheating, because I was getting a sneak peek of the road ahead. But there was Chinese food in Garberville, which I inhaled at an embarrassing rate.
Back at the campground, Dave and Jamie had been on a wood-gathering adventure and had built up a large fire. Since we all had planned to take the next day off, we sat around the fire all night trading stories. I tried to get them to agree to come out and join me when I start heading east. I think it wasn’t until 3 am that we finally turned in. It was a perfect night for me in the hammock, not waking up until almost 9. In the morning we went across the street to the Peg House, a curious combination of burger joint and general store. Dave mentioned that he’d never had a peanut butter jelly sandwich, so I bought one to share with him. I think he can now consider his American experience complete.
Since I didn’t get as far as my schedule called for, I decided I didn’t need a full rest day on Friday, but would catch up with a half day of easy cycling. I was tempted to spend another day with the guys, but knew that I had to be in Eureka by Monday, so I didn’t want to push my luck. Before I left, Jamie peeled off a shamrock sticker from his own bike and put it on mine. Later on I bought some clear nail polish to cement it down. It’s these little things that matter.
It started raining, and I wasn’t near a campground, so I figured Redway would be the place to stop for the night. I thought it would be a bigger town, given the star it earned on my map. Well, there was an inn there that used to be a brothel where I got a discount on my room because it’d recently been flooded and was still damp and smelly. I later met a nice girl who couldn’t believe I wasn’t traveling with mace, so she reached into her purse and gave me hers.
Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day. I got off of 101 and enjoyed the Avenue of the Giants, which, clearly, was all about redwoods. I was feeling pretty relaxed about my time, so I jumped off the bike a lot to do some hiking around the nature trails.
The place reminded me a lot of Big Basin, but somehow it was different, too.
And right when I thought that there would be redwoods forever, I entered farmland. I was aiming for the Humboldt County Fairgrounds in Ferndale. I don’t know what I was expecting, but somehow I was still surprised when I ended up camping… in fairgrounds. I got a patch of grass and a couple trees to hang up my hammock next to some picnic tables and was kept awake all night by the sounds of cows, sheep, and horses.
Sunday was fairly uneventful. I only had about twenty miles to cover to get to Eureka, so I got a late start and slowly meandered my way over. I found a Motel 6 and crashed into bed. I woke up when I got hungry and ate a huge salad. Then I battled with the WiFi and stayed up way longer than I meant to uploading pictures.
And that brings us to now! I’m currently at Cal Courts sitting at a table with my swab kits, and everyone has been super nice! There are all kinds of fliers and posters everywhere announcing my arrival, so people all seem to know who I am. I’m well on my way to getting some new people signed up as potential bone marrow donors!