Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ok, What Now?

Hello! It's been almost three weeks since I finished the tour, and it would seem appropriate for me to tell viewers my plans from here on out (ie getting back home).

I'll start where I left off...

After the first night in Santa Monica, I spent a day with my uncle in Los Angeles. The next night was back in Santa Monica, and the following morning I actually hopped back on the bike (crazy right).

I rode for another two days, stopping in Ventura county for the night. Then I reached Santa Barbara, where Joey from Redlands was starting his freshman year at UCSB. I actually dumped my bags back at his house, and carried only a change of clothes and a spare tube in my little backpack. That way I was as light as possible for the final ride into the city. When he moved in, he brought all my stuff in a trash bag. So basically, I incentivized continuing the trip by putting my bags 100 miles north of me.

Reunited with my stuff, I camped out on Joey's dorm room floor for a few nights. I imagined the conversation between him and roommate:

"Hey I'm Joey, nice to meet you. Listen man, is it OK if some homeless guy sleeps here too?"

Jackson turned out be a really great guy, and we all hit it off with other freshman. It was a brief taste of what college may be like next year. Of course, my stay there was limited because I was in constant fear of his RA finding out that there was an extra kid in his wing.

While Joey and friends went to class, I developed some fantasy of spending the rest of the gap year there in Santa Barbara, surrounded by waves and bikes and pretty girls. I printed off a few resumes from Joey's computer and began biking around the city, looking for some sort of employment. At the same time I scoured Craigslist on his computer, in search of reasonably-priced housing (the cost of living in Santa Barbara is absurd.) Get this: I found both! Yes, for a brief moment I was set on working in a bike shop full-time. I would barely make rent for a tiny apartment, but gosh Santa Barbara seemed worth it.

And... I left.

Yeah, I just didn't feel comfortable. Joey and my other friend Nick were my only contacts, and I needed to give them space anyway to branch out in their new settings. Santa Barbara indeed felt like a paradise, but I had to keep moving.

Screw the bike! I ditched it on campus (I kept the expensive broken-in seat) and took the next train up to San Luis Obispo. Actually, those are both lies; I loved that bike dearly, but I would be doing it a disservice by bringing it back to cold and hilly Ithaca. It will spend the rest of its life being ridden around by some UCSB student in Bike Heaven. And I missed the first train by seconds. It was dramatic. I took the one the following morning.

In SLO I stayed two nights with another friend from Ithaca. She's now a sophomore at Cal Poly. I explored the campus and decided it wouldn't be half-bad to go there. No geography program though.

Then came a train to the Bay Area (that's where I am now)

I should backtrack. The reason I didn't immediately fly home from Santa Barbara is because my great uncle lives in Berkeley, and offered me a place to stay for a while. He and his daughter Kate picked me up from the train station.

Anyway, that's where I've been for the past week: here in Berkeley. And I love it!

I found another job at a bike shop, I found volunteer work, and best of all I get a room for free.

I like this place... I think I'll stay here a while, or at least until the holidays. UC Berkeley's campus is beautiful too. Soon I'll take BART into San Fransisco and explore.

Anway, that's me! Yeah, I miss my family. But there's nothing for me to do in Ithaca right now besides get cold. I'll come back for Christmas, and then set off again! I'm thinking about South America a lot...

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Day 48: Redlands to Santa Monica CA (90 mi)

There it is! The ride itself was hot and traffic in L.A. required all my concentration and previous urban riding experience. But the last 20 miles was an all-out sprint, weaving in and out of buses and cars. I got to the pier at dusk, and my host Lisa led me down to the beach so I could dip the front tire in the Pacific.

So... what now? 
The next few days are figured out: tomorrow will be with my uncle who lives in L.A., and Monday will likely be back here at Lisa's in Santa Monica. Then... bike up the coast? There are plenty of hosts, and it's only another few hundred miles to get to the Bay Area. Or, if I'm ready to go home I can take the next Amtrak out of here. I guess I'll figure stuff out as I go along, just like the trip.

Either way, I biked!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Day 47: Redlands CA

Great day here in sunny SoCal. I met up with friends and saw an old favorite middle school teacher. Got the bike checked out, and good thing I did! Apparently the chain was a few bad shifts from breaking... gosh that would suck for the last ride of the trip.

Ready for the final push into L.A. Let's do this, bike!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Day 46: Barstow to Redlands CA (80 mi)

Opted to ride from Barstow to Hesperia. However I totally forgot an important route note: Cajon Pass, my last climb of the trip, is closed to bicycles until 2016 due to a massive construction project. No shoulder with heavy traffic, definitely a cyclist's nightmare. So my would-be-host Theresa actually drove me and the bike the extra 40 miles into Redlands.

Remember how there had been no flat tires since Oklahoma? Yeah, pinch flat today. It was a bad one too and I saw it coming - some massive crack in the shoulder but I couldn't avoid it because of traffic behind me. Thankfully there happened to be a nearby grassy area where I sat and changed tires and tubes in 10 minutes.

So, I'm here in Redlands,  and the coast is beckoning me. But... I think I may take one day here in my old hometown. It's an awkward situation, but there is no rush. The ocean will still be there in two days.

Tonight and tomorrow I am staying with another old friend, Joey. He's going to college but just hasn't left yet (UC schools are on a quarter system and start really late compared to others nationwide). I'll take tomorrow to hang out with him, and bike around to visit old neighbors, old teachers, etc.

I can almost smell the coast!
(not really, it's kind of smoggy here in the valley)

"It's all well and good, this trip of yours. But you ain't done yet son, know that! No, not the ride. You'll be fittin' to reach the coast soon enough I reckon. But this journey, far from over..."

-Jebidiah "Jeb", random guy at an Arco. Or maybe not so random, depends how you look at it

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Days 44 and 45: Needles to Barstow CA (160 mi)

Sheesh, that was rough.

Actually, the first 20 miles through the desert wasn't too bad. There was more of a crosswind than a headwind, and decent cloud cover kept things relatively cool. Then the clouds grew darker, the air... heavier.

The worst rain I encountered was yesterday, in the desert. Oh, the irony! Nonstop, five hours straight. At some point I reached a "Route Closed, Road Impassable" sign, and upon checking the map realized I needed to get on I-40 if I wished to continue west. A couple hours into that, I stopped and just walked the bike on the shoulder; it was too dangerous with the amount of rain and low visibility for trucks. I actually stopped at one of those emergency call stations and dialed the operator. I told her I was biking and didn't feel safe, and asked if she had any information on when the weather would clear up (I had sketchy cell service). She asked "Why are you biking on the freeway?", to which I shouted half at her, half at the sky, expletives. Sorry, lady.

Another hour of walking and I reached an exit. I sat, soaked, under the overpass and cried/shrieked at the rain. I was out of energy and food to replace it, and just slumped on the cement incline, contemplating life and its many happenings.

I don't remember how long I spent under that overpass. Eventually the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and I felt the wind shift directions - a gentle tailwind! I got back on the highway and cruised down into the valley, almost no pedaling. The setting sun was gorgeous over the mountain tops. Two hours later I finally reached a gas station and motel. After eating my first ever DQ Blizzard, I passed out on my comfy bed while Fantastic 4 played on AMC.

Today was more of what I had prepared for mentally in the desert: sun and wind. Even though I put on chapstick, my lips still cracked and bled. I tied a handkerchief around my face to help. I looked like a desert marauder. Actually, I look like a grimy teenager on a bike. But I felt like a badass, and that's important for the trip.

So, two days ago I encountered the hottest heat (topped out at 105 in Oatman AZ) and the steepest climb through Sitgreaves Pass. Yesterday was the heaviest rain, and today the strongest headwind yet. Gosh, everything's reaching its max! In my mind it's one last gut-check - the country wants to see if I really want to finish the trip.

The wind set me back significantly and I am still 40 miles from my hosts in Hesperia. I would keep pedaling but I actually don't have enough daylight to complete the ride. They offered to come pick me up... I'm debating that now. To be this close to the end and accept a ride, I just don't know. There's always the option of getting a room for the night and just adding a day to the trip. I'll make a decision soon.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Day 43: Kingman AZ to Needles CA (70 mi)

Made it to The Golden State! This journey isn't over yet, though. Between the coast and me lies 150 miles of desert, and another 100 or so of the L.A. metro area.

I'm predicting the next two days to be  the hardest of the trip. Tomorrow will be 100 miles to Ludlow, about 3/4 of the way through the desert. Between Needles and there is one gas station at mile 40. Sounds ok, right? I've done longer rides with heat, wind, and hills. The difference now is the sheer magnitude of the above three factors. Tomorrow begins with a 2000ft climb over 18 miles. The wind is more intense than ever, so much so that the icon on my weather app is a little gust. Lastly, it's hotttt. Really hot. It's not uncommon for Needles to report daily high temperatures for the U.S., competing with places like Death Valley. Apparently a few years ago the rain was 115 degrees, and evaporated on contact with the ground.

Anyway, today's mileage wasn't bad at only 70 miles. I'll leave at 5 am to beat the heat, and maybe wait out the afternoon sun if I find a shady spot. Maybe even look for a ride...

I find myself frustrated that I'm dealing with such bad riding conditions this late in the trip. "Don't I deserve a break for making it this far?" That's a thought that ran through my head when biking up a steep mountain pass this morning. What a silly notion! It's not as if this terrain owes me anything; it's just a piece of land and I'm trying to get across it: up mountains against the wind and in the heat. In fact, I should be glad the desert is at the end; there's a smart way and a not-so-smart way to do a 100-mile ride, and I'm glad I learned the smart way before hitting the Mojave.
The bike doesn't owe me anything either. No flats since Oklahoma, the brakes work fine, and the shifting is adequate. What a champ. *knock on wood*

The sheriff's department here in Needles directed me to the Set Free Church. Here they graciously fed me and set me up on a couch in the nursery. About 30 other people live here at the church, mostly addicts and ex-convicts. I ate dinner with two guys: Ricardo and Smallz. I only know the spelling of the latter's moniker because it's stitched on a black leather vest he sports. A note: Smallz looks to be 6'5, 300lbs. Both he and Ricardo appear sufficiently menacing, but are really kind and funny. No talk of their pasts, probably best to avoid it around here. It's a given that everyone has had a troubled past. We all sang songs and prayed after dinner. I didn't plan this trip with a religious focus in mind (heck, I didn't plan this trip at all), but the amount of time spent in and around churches may speak for itself.

Tomorrow I go with food and water in my stomach, ATP in my muscles, and faith in my heart.

"Beans, rice, and Jesus Christ!" 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Day 42: Ash Fork to Kingman AZ (110 mi)

Long, hot, and hillier than I expected. I could have shaved an hour off the riding time by going on I-40, but was really tired of the highway.

For the next three nights I have no host. Since I got to Kingman with some sunlight left, I'll ride around and see if a church will put me up. There are three in town, and I bet at least one is open for Bible study on a Sunday night. Tomorrow it's imperative I get enough rest, because the following day will be the toughest ride of the trip - I may just go straight for a motel that night.

"That's a crazy white kid thing to do. If he were a smart black man like me, he'd take a bus to the west coast."

That quote is from Bruce, and was relayed to me by my sister Julia. Bruce is one of the senior-most cooks at AGAVA restaurant back in Ithaca (I used to wash dishes there and Julia is currently a hostess).

Bruce has a point; there have been several points during the trip where being  a young white male has helped in subtle ways like receiving food, shelter, and friends. Of course there's no Bruce pedaling behind me to show this difference, but I have my hunches.

Now more than ever is a time to reflect on what got me this far across the US (and this safely?!) on bike, because I don't think it's just pedaling.