Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Salt water, oh how I miss your misty kisses

Total distance: 7073.2 km

By Sundance:

At last, we have arrived.

Right up until we glimpsed the Pacific it was hard to believe that we wouldn't simply keep riding, onwards, eternally, that we had actually crossed an entire continent. As we left Brawley on Wednesday, we could see mountains ahead of us, and we knew that the ocean was just on the far side of those mountains, but it still seemed unbelievable. We pressed on, as we have for the past six months, simply focussing on dodging traffic, looking at the scenery rolling past, keeping hydrated and fed, getting to the next place to pitch our tent... We headed along the road around the southern shore of the Salton Sea, and made a few attempts to find a side road down to the shore (an accidentally created artificial inland sea isn't something you see every day) but were thwarted by private property signs enough times that we decided we couldn't be bothered. We passed unimpeded through a Border Patrol checkpoint (I guess we didn't look like drug-smugglers or illegal Mexicans) and turned our trusty steeds west towards Ocotillo Wells. The Sun began to sink towards the mountains, and just short of town we encountered a Border Patrol officer who told us there was a campground just off the road. He also told us it was full of people in RVs, and people hooning around on quad-bikes, which didn't really appeal to us, so we rolled back to the east about a kilometer and pulled off the road into the deserty scrub to camp. At first we aimed for a large tree, but upon discovering that someone had dumped a heap of garbage under it (what is wrong with people!?) we found a flat patch further from the road, put up the tent, and enjoyed a meal of pasta before turning in for the night.

Ordinarily we have found that the wind drops overnight and gets stronger in the afternoon, so we try to get up and get moving early. But that night, the wind picked up and started blowing through the wee small hours of the morning. We arose, packed up the tent and had brekkie, and rolled into town where we grabbed a fruit juice from the local store, then pushed on into Anza-Borrega State Park. Something was slowing Yana down, and we stopped for a while to fiddle with the disk brake on her bike's front wheel. By the time we got moving again, our worst headwind of the whole trip had picked up and pounded us for the whole 30 km stretch through the park, and the climb into the hills beyond. The hills did little to afford protection from the wind, instead acting as a wind tunnel that just seemed to unsure that no matter which way the road curved, we always had a headwind. Poor Yana had to stop at one point and let out a primal scream of frustration at the suckiness of the riding conditions, and I can't say I felt much happier. The scenery was beautiful, and we were lucky enough to see the cacti starting to flower for spring, but we were far more focussed on making it past the stupid wind and closer to San Diego. We had been aiming for the town of Julian, but instead made it to Banner just before sunset, by which time I had to stop, sit down by the side of the road for five minutes, eat a cereal bar, and just tell myself that my leg muscles weren't really going into meltdown. A little further up the hill we found a store/office in front of an RV park where we were able to buy some cans of food for dinner and the owner said we could pitch our tent beside the building. As we were about to set the tent up, a fellow wandered up and asked if we were German, on the basis that only Germans would be crazy enough to do what we were doing. We quickly informed him that while Yana speaks German and was born there, we're both definitely Aussies. Volker (for that was his name) invited us to sleep on the floor in his RV, and provided us with dinner, drinks, and conversation, and even insisted that we watch the start of the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix in Melbourne on TV. He was a talkative fellow, with somewhat different political views from our own, but we enjoyed his hospitality and the chance once again to meet someone who lives in this wide, surprisingly windy country that we've grown so fond of.

On Friday morning we resumed our assault on the mountain pass. Yuma lay well behind us at 43 metres above sea level. Julian lay ahead, at 1288 metres. We did more than half the climb to that altitude in the last nine kilometres, slowly, with plenty of breaks to catch our breath and enjoy the scenery. At one such stop, we met another pair of cyclists just heading off on their own trans-continental adventure, Luke and Jeremy, and took the opportunity to exchange road maps and advice about what lay ahead.

Julian was a welcome port of call, not just because it was the highest point of the road to San Diego, but because it used to be the hub of a gold mining area, and when the gold ran out the locals decided to sustain the local economy by making and selling apple pies. Nom, nom, nom! Just the thing for a couple of hungry cyclists. We tucked into lunch with apple pie for dessert, logged into a local Wi-Fi network and grabbed directions to our accommodations in San Diego from google maps, and then pressed onwards, sure that we would see the sea soon.

Boy, were we wrong. The coast was insanely misty. The visibility sucked. Since before we left Canada I'd been looking forward to the moment we crested the mountains and saw the world's greatest ocean spread out before us. Instead what we got was a bright blue sky above a grey murk from which more and more and more foothills emerged, as if to mock all our efforts. We enjoyed the descent, the fact that gravity was working for us, for once, but we saw no sign of the Pacific. We passed through the town of Santa Ysabel, past paddocks of cows and horses and even dromedaries. We began to climb again! We descended again. And on it went, again and again and again. We stopped at one point in Ramona to grab some food from a health food store, then pushed on further wondering if we would actually reach the sea that day.

And then disaster struck. Descending a hill, I heard something on my bike give way. At first I though a brake cable had snapped, but as I stopped to examine the problem I realised what had really happened. Just 1.2 km short of the 7000 km mark of our journey, after no spoke trouble at all, one of the spoke nipples had finally failed, splitting clean in half. The spoke itself was fine, but with uneven tension on the rear wheel rim, the wheel had buckled sideways, and now refused to turn cleanly between the rear forks.  

It could have been a lot worse. Fortunately all we had to do was take off the tyre and tube, replace the spoke nipple, and tension it properly to get the warping out of the wheel rim, at least enough to be rideable. But that took time. Yana and I worked pretty well as a team, as you'd expect after six months on the road together, but we only just managed to get to the bottom of the hill and commemorate covering 7000 km with a photo before it was too dark to see anything. Plus the tube in my rear tyre had managed to loosen one of its patches and now had a slow leak, so we started looking for a turf-surf in a rather hilly, somewhat industrial area. We pushed our bikes up an insanely steep driveway to two houses where the lights were on but no-one was home. We found another house where the owner refused to open her front door, and spoke to us from behind a window in the door - a far cry from the friendly folks we'd become accustomed to from Ohio to Arizona. Talk about the land of the home, free of the brave! But the fourth house we tried was a luckier choice. The owner, Jeremy, was in the midst of whipper-snipping his lawn when we found him, and let us tweak spoke tension and change tyres in his garage, as well as cook food, while we told him about our journey, then let us put our tent up in his front yard.

We woke up, ate breakfast, and hit the road before Jeremy awoke on Saturday, packing the tent down together somewhat reverentially. It's been our home for six months, and we knew that that was the last time, before the psychological end of our journey, that we would be sleeping in it. As we rode through the northern reaches of San Diego we enjoyed the warm weather, and the knowledge that we had almost achieved our goal of crossing all the way from Ontario to the west coast. We wound our way along unfamiliar streets, cursed at the hills we struggled up, joked that there was just an empty hole in reality where the Pacific was supposed to be, as if The Nothing from The Never-Ending Story had swallowed it, and laughed with disbelief whenever we passed yet another patch of imported Australian plants - eucalypts, pigface, even golden wattles in bloom. Eventually we found ourselves rolling downhill, past buildings painted with aquatic scenes. The road signs advising us that "Bridge Ices Before Road" had disappeared now, at last, and instead we were warned that we were "Entering Tsunami Danger Zone". And yet we couldn't actually see the Pacific until we were a couple of hundred metres from the beach. We rolled past a statue of a guy with a surfboard, and onto the sand. And there we were.

A friendly black fellow named Aaron almost immediately asked about our bikes, bags, and journey. We told him a bit about ourselves, and then asked him to take some video of us arriving at the sea. And so he kindly took our camera and videoed us riding our bikes the last few metres across the sand and into the waves, as we stopped, shouted with triumph, and let the salt water wash around our feet and our wheels.

After that, we chatted with Aaron some more, got changed into our togs, and I went for a rather brief swim/body-surf (it may be California, but it's also early spring and the water is still chilly), and then headed down the waterfront in search of gelati. We found ice cream and frozen yoghurt instead, and ate that as the sun set over the water. Then we pedalled back inland and found the apartment of Chrystina, a friend of Yana's who said we could stay with her. And that was the end of part one of our excellent adventure.

For our next trick, we shall attempt to find passage on a boat or boats back to Australia. But I think we can be pretty happy with what we've achieved so far. Last night, out of curiosity, we tried to figure out some distances equivalent to how far we've come. It turns out that we've ridden the equivalent of the straight-line "as the crow flies" distance between Paris, France and Ulan Bator, Mongolia! That of course includes a lot of wiggliness in our path, and the occasional back-track. But I think we've earned a few days rest at least after an effort like that, and maybe having the wind push us along on a sailing boat would be a nice change from all those damn headwinds we pedalled into.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! Good to hear that you guys made it to the Pacific. I still remember the day we left the Pacific and headed East like it was yesterday. Enjoy the West coast, we sure did.