Sunday, March 27, 2005

Obligatory Wrap-Up Post

It's Sunday night. Tomorrow, I will go back to work and retrace the patterns of daily life that I summarily ditched two weeks ago.

After arriving in San Diego on Amtrak (I emphasize: only take Amtrak anywhere if you have a lot of time on your hands), I made the short ride from La Jolla to Del Mar, where my parents live. In anticipation of my brother's wedding, my family became completely entropic. We ensued to drive each other nuts for the next couple of days. Then, the wedding came around: calm, sunny, smelling of flowers and lawn, and about as stressful as sitting on a porch swing. A few hours after the exhanging of vows and wedding cupcakes, the bride and groom peeled out in a red Firebird, and the whole affair was over.

My brain, having nothing left to grovel over, shut down in a huff. I spent the next day-and-a-half in powersave mode, interacting with the world around me as though I were swarthed in cotton. I confess that I'm still operating in said state.

In ending this blog and this trip, I have one thing to say: whoa. I did it. That was not easy. I plan to go back to SLO one of these days and finish the trip the way I intended.

People said the trip was crazy. It was. Nonetheless, I wouldn't hesitate to do it again. My housemate has a placard on her bathroom wall that I think sums up what this experience meant to me. The placard says that "One needs to have chaos within oneself to give birth to a rising star" (Nietzsche). I embraced my own chaos, and now I've come back to a place where I can appreciate calm. And when I get bored of the calm, which I almost invariably do, I'll know that I have the will and stamina to do something crazy for a little while. Perhaps that knowledge is all I need.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Day 4: Santa Maria, the Storm, and Amtrak

You may be able to guess where this is going based on the title. I woke up this morning with my lovely auto-fire on, sauntered to the window, and saw rain. Lots of it. Undeterred, I donned a towel and walked onto my hotel balcony. It looked like rain but felt like sprinkles. If it felt like sprinkles, I concluded, it must _be_ sprinkles. As a corollary, it must therefore be bikeable. Operating on this illogic, I pulled on a few layers of spandex, packed up, and checked out.

Right after I checked out, I looked outside and noticed that it was pouring rain. There were no sprinkles here. This was an actual storm. Shit. To prove to myself that this was utterly unbikeable, I walked outside and stood in the deluge for about a minute. I got wet. And cold. I walked back inside, pulled the map out of my pack, and looked for towns that were inland. I figured it might not be raining inland, as yesterday's rain seemed centered around the coast. The concierge called a minivan cab for me. I told the driver to take me to Arroyo Grande, the nearest inland town. She did. It was stormy. I pulled out the map again.

"OK, could you take me to Santa Maria?" It looked further inland, and it seemed to have a Greyhound station just in case.

"Are you sure? It's not the nicest place in the world."


"Yeah, when I was a kid, they told you never to go to Santa Maria unless you wanted meth and brown acid. There were gangs. People would just disappear there."

" it still like that?"

"I don't know. I tell my daughter never to go there."

We arrived in Santa Maria. It was raining. Hard. The driver dropped me off at a Denny's, where I slowly drank coffee for three hours in an attempt to wait out the rain. The rain literally did not stop. The old codger sitting in the booth behind me had seen me get out of the cab and asked where I had come from. I told him Shell Beach. He asked me if my daddy owned an oil well, since I was able to afford the $40 cab fare. I thought about this for a moment, then told him I'd stolen the money from the dresser of my 46-year-old CEO sugar daddy. He nodded thoughtfully, said oh I see, good for you, and turned back to his food.

At about 11 am, the rain lightened from sheet mode into a steady drip. I decided it was time to search the town for a bookstore. Shortly after I got back on the bike, Mother Nature flicked the rain setting switch back to Deluge, and I was instantly soaked. I stopped off at the nearest Long's and, figuring it was going to be a long day, bought a puzzle, a copy of Us magazine, and a V.C. Andrews novel. I learned from the sales clerk that there was an Amtrak bus headed for Santa Barbara at 4:50 pm. It stopped in front of the IHOP up the street. I looked outside. This weather was clearly not planning on leaving anytime soon. The Amtrak bus would be my best bet to get out of Santa Maria and into something potentially more bikeable. In fact, upon hearing the forecast for the next few days (rainwindrainwindmorerain), I decided that it might be prudent just to catch a train to San Diego and call trip end. I bought Amtrak tickets and resumed my long wait at IHOP.

It was harder to kill time at IHOP than at Denny's. The wait staff was way more persistent. After about 10 increasingly urgent "would you like anything else, ma'am"s, I ordered a pile of pancakes slathered in strawberries, stuck my fork territorially in the middle, and kept my hand on the fork for 2 hours while reading about the underlying factors behind Britney Spears' post-nuptial weight gain. This strategy seemed to work, though the moment I put the fork down, the waitress materialized and asked me if I wanted anything else. IHOP is really on top of their shite.

At around 2 pm, the rain stopped. It literally stopped. One of the IHOP folks came up to me and said look, here's your chance, the weather cleared for you. I was pessimistic, but I still had almost three hours to kill until the bus came, so a short ride didn't sound too bad. I jumped on the bike and rode into the blissfully rain-free weather. I soon found myself on flat farm roads, surrounded by strawberry and broccoli fields. Still no rain. Hell, maybe I could make it to Solvang today after all. Maybe the storms were done.

As though in reaction to my newfound optimism, the sky opened up and began to spew rain. Fortunately, the rain wasn't cold this time, so I rode through it. It stopped again. A shower. No problem. I kept riding. I found a steep hill named (aptly) Dominion Road. I rode up it. The rain started again. I hid in an oak grove amidst barbed wire and a rusted girl's bike. The rain eased but didn't stop.

Defeated, I descended Dominion. The rain turned to Waterfall setting with some Strong Gusts added in for flavor. This time, it did not let up. I was dripping. My bike was making strange slithering noises from all the water. Traffic, mostly farmworkers in big trucks, suddenly became heavier. I'd had it. I saw a shed on the edge of a field about 1/2 mile away. I sprinted towards it, dismounted, waded through a puddle of miscellaneous brown muck, yanked the door open, and stood in the blissful dryness until the storm passed. It was musty and dry in there, with a packed dirt floor, a water pump, and a full bottle of Downy fabric softener. A great place to hang out and soften your laundry in the rain.

Eventually, the shower passed. I biked back to the nearest Burger King, changed, sipped more coffee, ate a shrimp salad (they give you the meat in a bag labeled Bag of Meat - very spaceage), and waited for the Amtrak bus.

At 4:50, it came. It finally came. It was clean, cushy, warm, and dry, and man was I happy. Coincidentally, I wasn't the only stranded cyclist on the bus: a certain John Anderson had also been blown by the storm in Lompoc and had decided to take this bus to Santa Barbara, his final destination. I was relieved to hear I was not the only wandering soul washed up by the storm. I made a mental note to come back to SLO one of these days and finish the other two legs of my trip.

The next part of my day was unremarkable. I caught the (very delayed) Amtrak train to San Diego. It took 7 hours. Amtrak apparantly malfunctions a lot in the rain. I got to San Diego at 3 am, where my half-conscious friend Arin picked and put me up for the night.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Day 3: Big Sur to Shell Beach

I woke up this morning after scant sleep, rarin' to go. I knew today would be a long ride, over 100 miles. I was anxious to get an early start. Around 7, I checked out of the Ventana Inn, mounted my steed, and began pedaling down Highway 1. 5 minutes into the ride, I was hungry. I decided it must be one of those superficial carb-induced hungers and decided to wait it out.

20 minutes later, I was famished. I stopped and ate a green apple I'd swiped from the hotel room. Alright, body, I thought, that'll do ya. It was not to be. 10 minutes later, I was again famished. I fished out some Gu (tm) and squeezed it into my throat. My stomach was satiated for about half a mile. My hunger returned with newfound determination.

I gritted my teeth, turned up my iPod, and told my body that it would be fed every hour, like it or not. The body did not like it. After another 45 minutes, I decided that this was not fake hunger after all. I reached into my pack and ate about 6 jumbo oatmeal cookies. This sucked. That was half my food for the day, I was still about 60 miles from San Simeon (home of the venerated Hearst Castle and hopefully food), and I still wanted to eat more.

Before I ate, I'd pulled over underneath a big road sign (San Luis Obispo, 86 miles) and had begun to take smug pleasure in glaring at oncoming traffic. I felt vastly superior to all those lazy gluttons gassing around in their heated vessels, oblivious to the wind and suffering cyclists around them. How noble it was, I thought, that I could don layers of colorful spandex, sit on a 2-inch wide piece of foam, and _pedal_ my way to my next destination. Feeling vindicated, I re-mounted my bike and continued down the road.

The next three or so hours passed rapidly. I entered a Zone where I was vaguely aware that my body was pedaling a bike while my mind ran wild, jumping from roadside clusters of purple lupen to the belly of a redtail hawk to the white line separating out my portion of the road. I was nowhere, but I was going somewhere, and I knew that eventually I would arrive, dismount, and rest. For now, however, I only wanted to ride. There was nowhere I'd rather be but here, alone, the offshore wind blowing at my cheek, pedalling straight and long.

For hours, I allowed my mind to escape the contstraints of logic and law. I felt the grit of the road as my tires passed over it. I saw more flowers on the side of the road. I had a sudden urge to pick them and line my helmet with them. Those yellow ones further away looked nice, too. Ew. Roadkill. I wondered how that would taste if you stewed it with some ham and peas.

I looked up. I'd just passed Cambria. Or was it Carlsbad? Holy shit, where the hell was I? I could be anywhere. Without warning, I felt myself crashing through the glass floor of the fantasy Zone I'd housed my mind in for the last 3 hours. It hit me that I was all alone, on a bike, in traffic, in some town that could be anywhere, with limited food and no cell reception. What if a sudden gust of wind blew me into the road or, worse yet, into another county?

I panicked. I looked at the road. I glanced at the sky. My legs seemed to be pedaling of their own volition. My body felt alien to me. It was as though someone had yanked me from a leisurely breakfast and slammed me into the body of this tired, hungry woman who was pedaling maniacally down a busy highway. How was I to convince her to turn around and share some scrambled eggs with me?

With some trepidation, I realized that I actually _was_ the banshee pedaling down the highway. I could take the reigns of my body and calm it down. In a moment of quasi-Zen, I realized that this was objectively kind of scary, but that was precisely the reason I wanted to do it. I wanted to be in a situation where I had limited control. There was something comforting in that, in the idea of holding your own in an uncertain situation, of taking care of yourself amidst perceived chaos. By putting myself in a potentially hazardous situation, I was able to reacquaint myself with an inner strength I was convinced had left me. I'd been drawing upon outside factors for strength and confidence - a potentially self-destructive behavior. Here, on the road, I found what I thought I'd lost.

Miles later, I hit Morro Bay. My epiphany had officially expired. After my spurt of inspiration, I'd grown increasingly more pissed off. Morro Bay neither ended nor contained any good road signage.

I fumbled my way around Highway 1 until I found my road out - Oso Cyn Rd, the map said. I followed it. The sky turned to steel and wind. Soon, I was being hit by sizeable drops of cold rain. This fueled my anger. I began to detest every single car that passed by. They were ugly, or loud, or smelly, or driving poorly.

It began to rain harder. I began to seriously consider laying down in a ditch and falling into a combative sleep. Instead, I pedaled harder, determined to outpace my own fury. I eventually hit San Luis Obispo, then turned coastward towards Shell Beach, where my hotel was.

I was thoroughly convinced by this point that the day would never end. I was sentenced to Cycling Hell and would spend eternity riding through endless wet roads. Just as my mood changed from pissy to pouty, there it was. The Cliffs resort, Shell Beach, California. It came out of nowhere. I was so astounded that it was finally there that I couldn't stop in time to enter the driveway. Instead, I biked a quarter mile to the nearest park, stared at the ocean, and ate a Clif bar in celebration. I'd finally, inoxerably made it. Unbelievable.

At the resort, I treated myself to a massage (masseuse: honey, you're going to need one of these every day if you keep riding like this) and a room service dinner. I mapped out the next leg of my trip (SLO - Solvang), turned the fireplace on auto so that it came on every time the temperature went below 80, and fell asleep.

Day 2: Santa Cruz to Big Sur

I set my alarm for 5 am this morning. I woke up at 6:15. I hadn't packed. I crammed all my stuff into my stuff pack, mounted stuff on bike, and realized I was missing my shades. After scratching my head for a minute, I remembered riding yesterday and hearing something fall. That hadn't been a big pine cone I'd seen behind me - those were my Oakleys. This meant that my eyeballs would dry and shrivel like raisins in the wind. I pictured myself riding around like a ghoul with two raisins in my eye sockets. Ouch.

Around 6:45, I was ready to go. As I headed down Ocean St away from the hotel, I realized that my bike computer was not picking up time, speed, or mileage. I tapped the sensor near the wheel a few times, figuring it was maladjusted. As I began riding again, the sensor flew off with impressive speed and hit the pavement. Now I was out a sensor and sunglasses. My mood soured. For the next few miles, I went into Forced Optimism Mode and convinced myself that these things were minor. That headwind that wouldn't go away was minor too. So was the bug that just flew into my eye. So was that patch of gravel I almost skidded out on.

It took 16 miles of riding into the wind and 3 artichoke fields to put me into Real Optimism Mode. Artichoke fields were kind of pretty, I decided. So were sand dunes. So was the ocean that began to appear on my right. I fought the wind past whistling migrant workers, fruit stands, field upon field of artichokes, railroad tracks, and the Del Monte Fruit and Vegetable Plant (visitors enter in rear). I eventually connected up with a marvelous little bike path into Monterey. I rode through to Carmel, stopped for lunch, and started the Big Sur leg of the trip.

I should mention that somewhere in between losing my bike computer sensor and the Monterey Aquarium I discovered Gu. Gu is the thick, chalky mud that comes in little squirt packs. You ooze it into your mouth and it gives you enough calories to last 75 minutes or so. The stuff works like magic. When you're on a long bike trip and breathing hard, the last thing you want to do is stick a ball of Powerbar into your mouth and try to unglue your teeth while getting enough oxygen to power your legs. Gu, on the other hand, goes down like a charm. It also doesn't taste bad. It's like coating your mouth with starchy chocolate mousse. You chase the gu with a shot of water. 5 minutes later, the kola nut, caffeine, and carbs kick in, and you're in hypermode for over an hour. I think I've found my panacea.

Digression aside, I began the Big Sur part of my journey battling the same headwind that had been burning my eyes for the past 5 hours. By this time, however, I was rather getting used to it. Big Sur was splendid: turquoise waves spraying jagged boulders, bright orange flowers framed against white sky, rivers snaking into sea caves a hundred feet below, and road, endless winding road. There's a sense of calm elation the place gives you that I've never experienced anywhere else. I was so taken by the scenery that I barely felt most of the mileage to my hotel.

I stayed at the Ventana Inn, a high-end place that, upon closer inspection, seems geared to those with an affinity for a more, well, open lifestyle. My evidence? A clothing-optional pool and spa, multiple paths leading nowhere, and inviting glances from couples. Nonetheless, the Inn is stunning, with slate showers, hammocks, in-room fireplaces, the works. Perfect, especially for the swinging honeymooner.

Day 1: Los Gatos to Santa Cruz

A few days ago it started raining. As I watched puddles grow larger by the minute outside my bedroom door, I began to doubt the viability of my trip. I did not want to ride in the rain. The whole trip was becoming a crapshoot. Maybe, I thought, I should just fly down to San Diego and traipse around the beach for a week until my brother's wedding. That way, I would be on time for the wedding, sans sore butt. I would also be well rested and have time to see family and friends.

Bo-ring. As luck would have it, the clouds began to clear on Saturday afternoon. At the spur of the moment, I decided it was time to give the ride a shot. I hastily booked a few hotel rooms (Santa Cruz to start off, then Big Sur, Pismo Beach, and Solvang), grabbed some socks, a change of clothes, tarot cards, gear, and took off. Lucy was kind enough to help me gear up and see me off at Los Gatos. With a dash of bravado, I rode down the gritty trail that leads through Stevens Creek resevoir and up to the roads that connect to Santa Cruz.

Here I was, I thought, free, ready to take on the coastal roads. I imagined 5 days of the wind in my hair, nothing but myself and the coast, a prolonged meditation on life and the art of existing in the moment. Gallantly, I popped in my iPod earbuds. I was ready. I was feeling this.

I promptly pedaled up the wrong hill and ended up at the squat, nondescript entrance to the San Jose Water Plant. Fancying myself nonplussed, I headed back down the hill to find the right road. 10 miles later, there it was, Old Santa Cruz. Now my time had really come. I pedaled uphill, savoring the Eurotunes on my 'pod.

The hill continued. My legs hurt. I glared at the road. It bristled, threw me around a few curves, and steepened. It was then that I realized when you add a 10-pound pack to the back of a normally agile bike, your legs have to work a helluva lot harder to pull your weight. I was slow. The hill had seniority. To prove this, it shook a tree and had it splatter a large bulb of water in my right eye.

I eventually crested the hill. At the top, I found the most peculiar road sign: Holy Road. Nice. I decided that I was going to ride my own Holy Road this week, except mine was Highway 1, a ribbon of asphalt far superior to this bastard spawn of the hill I'd just ridden up.

As the road leveled, I could feel old thoughts and impressions from the past week flow out of my belly. I started to feel my body propel the bike forward on its own accord. The dampness of my breath began to course through my body, cleaning it. My mind slowly began to clear. I grabbed a muffin from the back of my jersey to celebrate my emerging Zen. As I did so, I heard something fall. I stopped the bike and looked back. Nothing, save a large pine cone. Shrugging, I continued on to Santa Cruz.

30-odd miles later, I'd arrived at the almost-quality Hampton Inn on Ocean Street. My first day was done. I was craving Thai food. I walked to the Thai House, an old haunt, and was amused by the curious and sympathetic looks I got from fellow diners who noticed me: girl, eating alone, Saturday night. Odd, to be sure. But the pad thai was stellar.