California, Part 2
After grouping two days of riding into one incredibly long ride, we were able to enjoy the fruits of our labor with a day off in Carmel. I was on the coast for the first time in over a year, so naturally I had to partake in one of my favorite pastimes, running on the beach. I got up early, something most people don't do on a day off, put on some running shoes, and headed through a noticeably touristy downtown for only a few blocks before finding sand. I took my shoes off and ran down to the water, putting my feet back in the Pacific after they'd been away for too long. Then I ran as far as I could go in either direction along the shore before the sand gave way to rocks. I guess I'm used to sandier beaches down south. I would've waded around, but the water was so cold you couldn't even hardly wade! Made my way back to my shoes and headed back up to the hotel, for a total of about seven miles. Felt great, and definitely a whole lot better than a run I took in Cuba, New Mexico at an elevation of 7,000 feet.
After taking a short swim in the hotel's heated pool, I showered up and ate a small hotel-provided breakfast. There were six people in our room, and we were supposed to have three, so we each got half a breakfast. Afterwards the whole team piled into the van and car and we headed to Monterey. Some of us had heard that there was an In-n-Out Burger in Carmel, but once we got in town, a local said there wasn't one, but we could find one in Monterey. We got there at about lunchtime and were excited by the prospect of having In-n-Out for lunch, only to get bad news from a local again when we asked where it was. Needless to say, we were bummed.
A lot of us had the idea to go to the Monterey Aquarium, but for some people, that ended when we found out it was over $20 to get in. I bummed around town a little with Athan, checking out the pier, using the internet in a library, finding a free art museum, and finally buying a razor after losing mine somewhere in New Mexico. I didn't shave that night though, since I wanted to see my parents' reaction to my beard once they saw me the next day in San Francisco. After a cloudy, then sunny afternoon in Monterey, we headed back to Carmel and got some sleep before heading out for a century into San Francisco.
Our agenda had said that San Francisco was only 60 miles from Carmel, but just from looking at an atlas, we could tell it was at least 100. Highway 1, the road that would've taken us all the way in, was way too busy for bikes, so we took back roads and bike trails for a while. At the beginning of the day, we were in the most intense fog we'd seen all trip, to the point that it was dangerous. I started to be thankful that I still hadn't removed my rear reflector like many of us had. Slowly but surely, the sky cleared up by the time we got to Santa Cruz.
A strange thing happened to most of us that day – everyone had to pee about 20 times. It wasn’t until late afternoon that we figured out why: we’d gotten so used to drinking ridiculous amounts of water in the desert that we were still doing it, even though we didn’t need to. It would be almost a week before we found our sweet spot, where we’re still getting plenty, but not pulling over every half hour.
In Santa Cruz, we had a turn probably about once every mile. We were trying to take the Pacific Coast Bike Trail, which was posted with green signs, but it wasn't always clearly marked. As a result, we had to move in one gigantic pack, stopping at lots of intersections and waiting often for people that didn't quite make it through. Despite not wasting much time at aid stations, we were not making good time at all that day, simply because of the messy route we were forced to take in and around Santa Cruz.
We finally got through town and back on Highway 1 once the traffic around Santa Cruz had dissipated. I was hoping that we'd pick up our pace, and I was prepared to help out any way I could, most likely by just pushing hard, but perhaps pulling for someone who was struggling. Three flats in two miles put a damper on that plan though. The final flat took an unusually long time to change, and was especially difficult since it happened in a sandy area with lots of wind (you don't want sand to get anywhere inside your wheel or tire). Dan helped me change all three, and on the third one, we noticed that the pinhole was on the inside of the tube, meaning whatever poked through was on the metal part of the wheel. After close examination, we found some trace amounts of grit stuck in there. We brushed them out, but didn't think that was enough to cause a flat. It might've been though, since I didn't get any flats after that.
While we had been changing the flats, the wind kicked up a TON. We're talking Vaughn-like winds (see New Mexico). We slowly made our way to the next aid station, where people must've been waiting for a while. I thought they'd be mad that I'd held people back from getting to San Francisco earlier, but I found them in the van happily watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force on a Video iPod. I did a grab 'n go aid station, hoping people would follow suit, since it was starting to get dark. The winds slowed a little, but now they were cold. Where I expected to find the next aid station, I found the team loading up the trailer with bikes, ready to drive in to San Francisco. I was disappointed that I didn't get to ride into the bay, and more disappointed that there were 40 miles of the journey that I wouldn't be biking. But I understood that it was a safety concern, and I was pretty tired anyway, so I wasn't broken up about it.
Knowing that space in the van would be at a premium and that my parents were in town already, I gave them a call and asked if they'd drive south and pick us up. They happily agreed. An hour later, they showed up and took me, Athan, and Jay into the city. Along the way, we entertained them with stories from the ride. Jay got dropped off somewhere downtown to take a train to Palo Alto, while Athan joined me and my parents for dinner before getting picked up by his sister and her boyfriend. It was good to have some great food, see my parents, and sleep in a bed.
On my day off in San Francisco, I spent most of my time with my parents and grandparents. First we went to Golden Gate Park, which I instantly thought of as an ideal place for a run. Alas, I had jeans on, and I was with family, so it would be better to spend time with them than trying to maintain my "go running on every day off" streak. We went to the Japanese Tea Garden, an art museum, and then got lunch on the wharf, where I had to have some sourdough. Just isn't as good anywhere else. Then we spent the afternoon in Muir Woods, giving me my first taste of the redwoods on the trip. One cross-section of a particularly old tree had labels next to the rings showing when historical events happened, like Columbus landing in San Salvador, and went back over 1,000 years. I guess I hadn't realized they got that old. And as my dad pointed out, it was really quiet, even though we were only ten miles from the city.
We took a bus to get to Muir Woods, where I was sitting next to some twins from Minnesota. They noticed my shirt and asked what the Texas 4,000 was, so I talked with them for a while about it. They were awestruck and it seemed like they couldn't stop smiling. Once we got off the bus, my mom said "Those girls seemed kind of into you!" to which I replied, "They also seemed kind of 15!" I suppose that stuck out because it was the first time I realized that someone was too young for me. After leaving Muir Woods, I noticed our car was parked next to a park with a bike trail through it. I had to mention to my dad that it'd be fun to bike there. In fact, I was pretty much mentioning that all day while we were in the city, enough that it probably got kind of annoying hearing that by the end of the day.
For dinner I went out of town a little bit with my parents to join my uncle Doug for dinner. I was hoping his wife Debbie would come too, but she was at home taking care of something. I hadn't seen Doug in a couple years, and I like him, so I was glad to get to talk with him for a while, though it was brief. After we got back in town, it was pretty much time to take me back to join the team so I'd be with them when I woke up the next morning.
Also, it just so happened to be the 4th of July.
The place we were staying wasn't really in town; it was actually on the north side of the bay. Since we'd all wanted to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, we drove the still-loaded trailer back into the city and started there. First, about half of us wanted to go down Lombard Street. We started making our way there and had to climb one hell of a hill to get to it. Every block of the street got steeper and steeper, and by the end, I was in my lowest gear, standing on my pedals, and really using some muscle, but still moving very slow. The grade was estimated to be greater than 20%, or more than twice as steep as Tioga Pass. Once at the top, we moved over one block to descend Lombard Street, where I was surprised to see my dad standing at the top. He took a photo of me at the top, and another on the way down. The thing was so steep and twisted that we had to go down one at a time on about ten second intervals. I had forgotten to tighten my brakes again when I put my wheel back on after taking it off the trailer, so I was squeezing my brakes until they touched the handlebars, and I still wasn't slowing down enough. Running out of options, I started dragging one foot as I went down, which completely wore out the toe of one shoe. At the bottom, there were my grandparents and my mom. The whole gang had turned out for me. They got my picture in front of the street, then I got one of Invictus at the same spot.
From there, we headed back towards the Golden Gate Bridge, picking up the rest of the team on the way. We stopped for a group photo just before the bridge and went over it together. Just across it, my family was there again. I stopped for one last photo and hug with them, then took off. Really, really good to see them.
That day we were headed to Tamales and had a fairly uneventful ride. We spent a lot of time with a lagoon on our left and a wind in our face. Starting that day, and for the next two weeks, we had another rider with us named Greg. Greg had really wanted to be in the Texas 4,000 this year, but was unable to commit the time, due to a job he got upon graduation. They gave him two weeks off though, and he decided to spend them riding with us from San Francisco to Portland. He's one hell of a rider and a pretty cool guy, so it would've been fun to have him along all Summer.
We were staying at a church that night, where we got in early, so we were able to do a lot of stuff if we felt like it. Half the team tried an It's-It ice cream sandwich for the first time, but I think most people on the team still prefer Utah's Fat Boys. A few people bought some DVDs for I think $1 each at the same general store that had the It's-Its, so I watched "Boy In a Plastic Bubble," what I thought was a pretty campy movie. I also started my new book, "The Key to Velvet" by Lyndall Baker Landauer.
I had to drive the next day, into Point Arena. From the drive, it seemed a lot like the day into Tamales, but with more wind. A few people pointed out that it was tough, but it didn't seem like it was giving anyone a whole lot of trouble. We stayed in a church again, and when we got there, there were four people in the Chapel practicing their worship songs. In Carmel, Dan's boss had given him $350 to take the team out to dinner as a reward for getting to the West Coast. Since we didn't have dinner provided that night, we decided that night would be our night, so we went to some seafood place in town. Naturally, I got chicken.
We only had 40 miles to go the next day into Mendocino, and it was our halfway day! In celebration of that, our drivers Jeff and Jen read us a halfway day rap they'd made up the night before. It was pretty bad, but it got a few laughs and we started the day in high spirits. Due to the lack of mileage, we got to Mendocino early, where we were staying at a campsite. Just as I pulled in, I hit some wicked gravel and skidded out for my first crash of the trip. Somehow I got a bloody knee through my leg warmers, which showed no damage at all, and my right shifter cap popped off. I guess I'm just not as tough as my leg warmers. I still felt fresh after only 40 miles, and got the idea that every day, my total number of miles ridden and minutes run should be 100 or more, so I went for a one hour run. Along the way I got to see a farmer's market in town, old downtown Mendocino, a library with no internet, and some cool beachfront areas. The beaches up there are pretty rocky, and there are lots of places where the waves slap right up against the rocks. I found some spot where the rocks made a U that was so tight it nearly closed at the mouth. The sides went straight down and the water inside it was calm. I sat with my legs dangling over the edge of the U and just watched the water for about half an hour. Later I found a hole in the ground where the walls again went straight down to make a completely enclosed pool. Unfortunately, it was fenced off from a few feet away, so you couldn't see down in it.
We cooked for ourselves again that night, or at least tried to. We wound up making way too many noodles and not nearly enough sauce, so you had to get creative with what you put on it. Most people tried this goulash stuff, basically opened several cans on vegetables and dropped it all in one pot with no concern as to whether they'd taste good together or not. I steered clear of that. I wound up using some melted cheese and barbecue sauce on my seconds. The goulash has since achieved legendary status, so now I wish I'd tried it.
That night I went with a few people down to the beach since we could see a few campfires there from our campsite. We found some cool people around and talked with them for a while. A few were in college themselves. Some were playing bongo drums, and I tried joining in on a didgeridoo that they had with them. I managed to make good sound, but I couldn't keep it going. That thing just requires so much air. I think I'll stick with trumpet. A rapper from Sacramento showed up and started freestyling with the bongos. Surprisingly, he was pretty good! He handed demo CDs to a few of us before we left. We got to bed late.
During our day off in San Francisco, Chris had apparently proposed to Mandy, Athan's older sister, both of them Sierra '04 riders. Someone asked Athan how he felt about it, and he said he was happy. I was glad, since I like all three of them. The newly engaged couple was still on the coast and able to join us on our ride from Mendocino to Richardson Grove State Park. I considered it a pleasure and an honor to ride with Chris. The day turned out to be a lot tougher than expected though, especially with an unexpected six mile uphill, right in the middle of the day, that seemed to take it out of everyone. At one point, I saw a sign for a drive-through tree. Greg and I both pulled off the road to go check it out and found out that it cost $3 to bike through. When we pulled up to the booth though, the old man running it told us that we could go on through as long as we didn't say a word. It was fun to ride a bike through a tree, especially when all the suckers in cars had to pay $5. Later we told a few people about it, and it turned out the whole team went and no one got charged.
It got hot by the end of the day, which most of us weren't prepared for, and the ride turned out to be a little longer than expected. Still, not exactly our toughest day, and the campsites we got were pretty cool. Once most people had shown up, a few went swimming in the creek nearby, which was surprisingly warm. A few of us jumped off some rocks into the water, but Greg was the only one brave enough to use the rope swing.
Chris and Mandy were hoping to ride with us the next day, but only did about 25 miles since they needed to get back to San Francisco early enough to catch their flight home. I was driving again, so I didn't even get to ride that. I felt sorry for Athan though, since he was driving on the only full day that his sister rode. He rode with them for the short time they had the next day though. I was just a little bummed to have to have two days out so close together.
We were headed to Eureka, a place where I'd made lodging arrangements. We were all staying with the same host family and the guy had seemed exceptionally amiable on the phone, and he'd asked ahead of time what we wanted for dinner and breakfast the next morning. During the day while I was driving, I kept trying to find a radio station broadcasting the World Cup final that I was missing, but the closest thing I could find was Nascar. I decided to call my dad and have him feed me updates every now and then. During my last aid station, he called to tell me Italy had won in a shootout.
Once we met Steve, our host in Eureka, most of us were impressed that he was even more welcoming than we imagined. Right away, there was a ton of snack food out for us, which we gleefully wolfed down. Shortly afterward, we started doing laundry and would up doing about eight loads that night (our last laundry stop had been Fresno). Steve brought some of his friends over to help him cook dinner, which was nothing short of a feast. We heartily ate it all up and thanked him up one side and down another. Steve also donated a ton of Gatorade and snack food, including a bunch of fresh berries, which drew even more rounds of thank-yous. With 20 people in the same house, floor space was limited that night, but somehow we made it work.
The next morning was another feast that rivaled dinner the night before. Just about every breakfast food I like was there. After breakfast, Steve and his friends shared their cancer stories. Most of them couldn't finish their stories without crying, and a few of us joined in. Jennifer also chimed in during dedications and asked if we'd ride for her grandfather, who died of colon cancer and loved the Redwood National Forest, where we were going that day. She also cried as she told her story, so when she finished, I walked over and gave her a hug. Thinking it was fitting, I took off the blue colon cancer wristband I'd gotten from a host family in Farmington and gave it to her.
Our ride into the Redwood Forest was stunning. Huge trees and lots of green everywhere you looked. A lot of people told me that the ride to Eureka the day before was much the same way, so I was sorry to have missed that in a car. At our first aid station, we found a few fish heads on the ground and weren't sure what to make of it. Andrew and Hap came up with the brilliant idea to put them on sticks, cross them, and attach them to the grill of the van. It looked sweet.
As we were getting close to the park, there was one spot where there were some elk grazing only about 50 feet from the highway. I'd never seen an elk that close before, so I stopped to look at them for a while. Once I got in the park and found our campsite, I saw a few more in the meadow nearby. It was a short day again, so I thought it would be a good idea to try maintaining my run-bike 100 total thing, which I hadn't been doing since I thought it up in Mendocino. I went on a nice run through the woods, seeing even more gorgeous trees than I'd seen on the ride that day. It wasn't until afterwards that I learned you're not supposed to run on that particular trail since mountain lions live nearby, and running makes you look like prey.
We had another day off in the Redwoods, which meant that in a span of eight days, I spent only four on a bike. I didn't like that. I wound up going with some of the team back to Eureka. Mike needed to go see a doctor, since he'd had enough knee problems the day before to sag the last few miles in. They apparently didn't tell him more than he knew already, which was basically give it some rest and ice it. I spent the day at the library, in a thrift store, and walking in between. Athan and I tried seeing Pirates of the Caribbean, but Jeffrey told us the van was leaving soon, so we didn't have time. I bought a $3 pair of jeans at the thrift store only to find later that my thighs had grown so much that my normal size doesn't fit anymore. By the end of the day, I started to wish I'd spent the day hiking.
Hap's aunt and uncle drove up to the park from San Francisco and cooked us a fantastic dinner of steak, chicken, grilled corn, and rice. I hadn't had steak since the trip started, so that hit the spot. The night before, Andrew had made us a Thai pasta dish called gado gado, which I really liked, so I'd like to learn the recipe sometime.
from Texas 4,000