Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Day 866 - Reno, Nevada

It’s been a long time since I have posted, I have had two weeks in California. It’s a big state, but two weeks have been enough to give me a little flavour of the place. It’s an extremely diverse state, I cycled along rugged and impressive coast roads, through dead flat valleys and climbed high mountain passes. The population and climate are equally diverse. In the flat as a pancake San Joaquin Valley I rode 113k and only had to climb 94m all day, but on another day I rode uphill the whole time and climbed 1940m in just 70 kilometres. I have cycled though fog, I’ve sweated and suffered in heat over forty degrees, days that started at 30 degrees and the temperature just rose, and I have been chilled to the core cycling through the snow, a day starting a freezing point and dropping to -4 degrees. I had expected to experience all this in the US, but I didn’t expect it all in the first two weeks!
I stayed an extra day in San Francisco as a bike computer I had ordered had not been delivered to General Delivery, but a bit of research and a few phones calls located it in a UPS branch in the Mission District. This worked out rather well as it the only area in SF that I had wanted to visit but hadn’t got to. I had a little wander through the area, full of Mexicans and fantastic murals (photo), many of them works of arts to be admired.

So I said my farewell to Wendy and Dan who had been marvellous hosts to me for over a week, a great start to my time here. Whilst there I spotted a fantastic quote on the calendar on the fridge: “And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years”, how true. I was surprised to see that it was a quote from Abraham Lincoln. At last I was on my way, cycling down Market St, San Francisco’s main drag. It was determined for me to get a slow start, I was stopped at every set of traffic lights, and there were plenty of them too. Soon I was climbing one of the hills away from town and through the Golden Gate Park, apparently the largest city park in the world, it took me all the way through to the beach. The run south along the beach was hardly spectacular but it was a very nice way to depart from a big city, there were even odd bits of rugged coast to give a taster of what was ahead. I was using a map designed for cyclists which I have to say was very good when it came to avoiding the odd stretches of freeway along the coast. It had been generally inhabited along the way, so when I passed a beachside campsite I thought I would check the price and at a reasonable $7 I decided to stay. It felt very strange to be camping on my own again, this was when I really noticed that I had nobody to talk to. I didn’t have to wait long, another cyclist was approaching, his bike laden with so much stuff that you couldn’t see it, he had bits and bobs strapped on all over the place, including a large Brazilian flag on a pole at the back. He made straight for the shower block, the door opened and slowly he and the bike disappeared inside, the top of the flag the last thing to slip out of sight as though being eaten by some strange monster. After an age he emerged and set up camp near me, though I was in no mood to be sociable, as he set up his massive tent, his bike disappearing once more, this time inside the tent. I didn’t need to be sociable, it wasn’t long before a rather loud American, there are plenty of them, went over to talk to him, “WOW! I knew, I just knew, as soon as I saw you with all that gear, I just knew you had to be on a long ride….wow!” Another around the world cyclist I guessed.

As I was just about to leave the following morning Brazilian emerged from his 60kg of crap and wandered over for a chat, he was cycling north from LA to Portland, about 1000 miles and been on the road about 8 days. He was obsessed with the question of how to avoid hypothermia, every solution I gave him was thrown back at me, so I just gave up and said “The best way to avoid it at this time of year is to head south”. It was a cool start, with a bit of sea mist thrown in, but the sun soon had that burnt away to reveal a lovely sunny day, there were more good scenery of ruggedness and I even had a nice tailwind to push me along through it, things were going well. I passed through the large town of Santa Cruz that runs along the shore and merged in with the next couple of towns making it a long town drag at the end of the day. By the time I emerged out the other side I was ready to stop so called in at a campsite. The office was closed, though the sign pinned up informed me that it was a whopping $35! I could hardly believe it, there were a few people there but I managed to tuck myself away in a corner and away from everybody else so that it didn’t even feel as though I was in a campsite, though the picnic table and obligatory fireplace were a bit of give away. I went for a shower, it needed a quarter dollar coin, typically I didn’t have one so I went in search of some change. I approached a family and asked “Can you help me out with a bit of change please?” and before I cold finish what I was trying to say one of them immediately gave me a small coin “What’s that?” I asked, “It’s a nickel” he replied, I think that’s 5 cents, he assumed I was a beggar. I guess the difference between my tramp like looks and a beggar are a pretty fine line.

I left early in the morning, but honestly, it had nothing to do with leaving before the office opened so that I didn’t have to pay. I had been told that the state had run out of money, they were going to close all the state parks and campsites but had kept a few open and just whacked the price up. It was again foggy and cold, I was getting the idea that this was standard stuff for the coast. I was a little inland, passing through strawberry fields, full of Mexican pickers, at least I guessed they were judging from the Spanish radio blaring out the entertainment. The fog remained most of the day. I assumed I was heading through spectacular coastal scenery as the road climbed dipped and twisted all over the place. At times I could hear the sea below me, though I could rarely see it. It was all very disappointing, I passed no end of view points and car parks, but nobody was stopping at them, there was no point. By about 3pm it suddenly cleared, I could see what I had been missing out on, it really was fantastic, amazingly every pull over I passed had vehicles in with people out taking photos. I came to another basic campsite, a bit odd this one, it had a campsite sign and right next to that was a sign for no camping. Not knowing which was correct I camped discreetly again and had another free night.
The weather was looking better as I set off the following morning, the sun was shining and I could see clear blue sky as I climbed to the popular place of Big Sur. I managed to pass through it without realising I had arrived, there were odd clumps of buildings but no real centre, I had passed rightbthrough without knowing. Just out the other side was the Thingy Thingy Memorial Library, so I stopped to have a look. A sign stated it was the “Library where nothing happens” and true to form it was shut. I rounded the corner to a glorious view down the coast, there was no fog at all, I was in for a great day….but hang on minute, what are those trees doing sticking out of the sea? It wasn’t the sea at all, it was a perfectly flat layer of fog along the whole coastline (photo), which I all too soon dropped down into once again losing any view for rest of the day. I as beginning to become an expert on fog, here you can photograph it from 5000 different view points. As with the day before it cleared at about 3pm to reveal more wonderful scenery and to remind me of exactly what I was missing. I arrived at the attractive little cliff top village of Gorda where thankfully the only thing that I need to restock on was bread. I bought some for the extortionate price of $4.50. It rather reminded me of the bread in Japan, the one that said “Soft and soft, so soft I eat delicious”, though this was “Hard and hard, so hard I throw away disgusting!” At Ragged Point I met Steve, another cyclist, cycling from SF to LA and much faster me, but if I am carrying 40g of crap, he was carry 2kg of essentials, most of which seemed to be a sleeping bag. I carried on and at last found a nice little spot to camp in, tucked away amongst some pine trees. The only thing that disturbed me at night was a mouse constantly rustling things in the vestibule of the tent. Each time I brought the item inside, until eventually everything was in the tent.

At some stage that day I passed the 50,000km mark, so to mark the occasion I have added a few statistics by popular request. Well, Aoiffe asked for some, but that out votes all those that said they didn’t want them, so here goes:

I am currently using the following:
8th chain
5th set of sprockets
2nd middle and large ring on the front mech
3rd brake blocks
4th pair of mits
2nd cycling shirt
7th pair of shorts
2nd bottom bracket
2nd front tyre
3rd rear tyre
Original wheels
Shortest time in a country: 2 days, Leitchenstein
Longest stay in a country: 5 months, Australia
Friendliest people: It would be easy to say the Aussies, but they are pipped by the Iranians for their everyday act of kindness
Hilliest country: Japan
Flattest country: Bangladesh
Most entered country: Thailand, 3 times
Still wearing original trousers that were looking tatty when I set of and aren’t looking much better now.
4th cycle computer
Highest elevation: Read on
Lowest elevation -0.3m: Paddled in various places
Time in company of other cyclists: about 11 months
Time alone: Work it out
Easiest place to find drinking water: Japan
Best desserts: Bangladesh
Been ill twice
Injuries: None, but odd bites and stings
Email received: 100s, but I still love getting them
Emails sent: A lot less than received, oops, sorry!
Bagels eaten in USA: 43.5
Favourite country: Tricky, but I really like Switzerland, Bulgaria, Nepal and Australia
Worst country: Hungary, the flat route I chose was a bore
Longest stay: Sydney, 3 weeks
Longest ride: 203km, pushed on by nutty police in Myanmar
Amount spent: Oh dear, dear, dear!
Worst maps: France
That’ll do ya for now.

As I left the following morning I was surprised to find another tent between me and the road. The road ahead was less dramatic, flatter and no fog to speak of. I could see seals down on the beach so stopped for a look. I think they were elephant seals, huge great piles of blubber that seem to either be asleep or picking a fight with the seal next to them that had just woken them up. From their size I guess they also find time to stuff themselves silly with fish. There was a cycling event on, which I later discovered was the Lighthouse Century, there were hundreds of cyclist coming the other way and I began to realise how the Queen must feel waving to everybody. I stopped in the pretty town of Cambria, so by the time I was on the move again the first ones were heading back the same way as me though strangely enough only one person spoke to me. This was also the point that I left the coast and turn east inland along route 46, things were about to change very dramatically. Obviously my surroundings changed, now I had land on both sides of me, but also the land started to rise and I was heading into my first proper climb. The weather also took a dramatic turn. As I climbed up the temperature rose accordingly, I don’t think I have ever know it rise so fast, it was hot thirsty work, so I found the first bit of shade I could and sat and had lunch. It didn’t get any easier after lunch, it just got hotter, it had been 36 in the shade so it must have risen to over 40 degrees. I could feel the heat rising off the road, I could feel the hot air in my lungs and when I breathed through my nose it felt as though my nostrils were burning. To make things worse all this had been totally unexpected so I was not carrying enough water, I was getting very thirsty and the warm water was doing little to quench that thirst. As I started the descent I knew I needed water pretty quickly. Thankfully I was entering the wine region and before long I saw a sign saying “Wine Tasting”, so I called in and asked if I could taste their water which they kindly obliged with. Now every kilometre of so was a different vineyard, each with their “Wine Tasting” signs out the front, but my favourite sign was the one that said “Report Drunk Drivers”. I had crossed the hills and was nearing Paso Robles where I spotted a McDonalds beside the freeway. I just couldn’t resist it, I went in and had a medium think shake, not even I would be able to get through one of the large ones! I was reluctant to get going again, the air-con was just too good, but it had to be done. Finding my way through town was once again impossible as the only signs seem to be on the freeway, but the street naming really helps once you do know where you are going. I was told to turn right on 24th St, dead easy, you even know how many blocks you need to travel. Heading out was time to start looking for a place to camp, but once again it was a busy, busy road and all vineyards, things were not looking good at all. After a few kilometres I went down a small side road, but it was never ending houses all with about an acre of land. I turned up a gravel road only for it to come to a dead end at an airstrip, things were not looking good at all. I noticed the house at the end had some rough ground that they might let me use, so I knocked on the door. After a long discussion during which time Mike stated that his main concern was the safety of his family, I gave him my blog address. This seemed to add substance to what I was saying and then he and Helen kindly let me camp, I was relieved.

As I packed up the following morning a just felt I needed an easy day. It was going to be another scorcher and with no sizable places to pass through I was hardly like to get it, besides, I still had more hills to pass through. As I approached the front door to thank them for their hospitality Michael walked out to greet me and invite me in for coffee. We talked inside and he told me that they were heading off for church and would I like to join them. I declined, it was an hour and a half drive each way, but he asked again, so I thought why not, go for it. We headed back down the coast, during which time Mike told me that his full name was Michael Jackson, to a Baptist like church and what a great experience it was too. At the front was a full band complete with a wonderful lively “happy clappy” choir, hymns were sung with full hearts and waving arms from the congregation. During the service they kept talking about Sisters and Brothers, but there was not single nun or monk about, then the preacher said “We have a new Brother amongst us this morning”, he was looking straight at me. I was asked to stand up and introduce myself, which I did. The Preacher said “What do we say to John?”, “WELCOME” came the reply “and?”, “WE LOVE YOU BROTHER JOHN”, “and?”, “JESUS LOVES YOU BROTHER JOHN”. The Preacher then talked for about an hour, I heard every word and was mesmerised, the congregation often voiced their agreement, with the Preacher often saying “Somebody say Hallelujah”, “HALLELUJAH” came the reply. I was made to feel very welcome, one kind lady even tried to give me some money, though I declined it telling her that it was my decision to put myself into this lifestyle with a tight budget, but it was a lovely gesture. By the time I set off cycling it was still baking hot and 15:30. Thankfully I still had that tail wind giving me a healthy push, I had my much needed rest and now I was flying. I still managed to cover 60km, but that left me just over a pass on the busy route 41 with fences both side and nowhere to camp. I checked one or two of the gates, they were all firmly locked with signs making it known that I wouldn’t be welcome there, one gate had about 10 padlocks on. So soon after my departure from the Jackson’s I was already in need again, so as the light was fading and I was passing a ranch I cycled up the driveway. I don’t like having to ask for a place to camp but I had little choice. I think I have gained a fairly good judgement of what the answer is going to be and this one had “No” written all over it, but I was still very surprised by the response. Whilst I was still a good 20m from the building a woman came out yelling at the top her voice “YOU STOP THERE, STOP RIGHT THERE AND DON’T TAKE ANOTHER STEP”. It was hardly worth asking the question, but I asked anyway if I could camp beside her track to which she replied “NO! You carry on down the highway”. Now I don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms but I considered that her reaction was a little over the top, though in fairness I don’t know what her experiences have been like in the past or just how many American films she watches. With the wind still behind me I flew down the hill in the dark, spotted a small turning which I took and that brought me to a small track to open ground and a wonderful spot to stop for the night, though it was late.

I set off the following morning, another clear sky and already 31 degrees. I arrived in the small town of Avenal where I asked a woman the directions to the library. It turned out she was the wife of the Pastor of one of the towns churches and took me to meet him. We talked a long time and amongst many other things I learnt that the town had 16,000 people, 7,000 of which were in the prison I had just passed, and about 80% of the people in the town were Mexican. I was already aware the level was high as in the supermarkets Spanish was the language spoken and the shelves were full of tortilla and not a bagel in sight. I bought some marshmallows which I later noticed were described as giant. They were big, each one two mouthfuls, but the pack I had left behind were even bigger, each one the size of an apple. The Pastor asked if there was anything I needed. When people ask me that these days I take it as a genuine offer, so I asked if I could wash the shirt I was wearing. He took me downstairs to where there was hot water and soap, so I could at least get all the white sweaty marks out of the now crispy shirt. As I was now alone it seemed too good an opportunity to miss, so I stripped off completely and washed my shorts as well. One more climb and I dropped into the huge San Joaquin Valley, the food bowl of California. I was greeted with a head wind, which unfortunately meant that it was to remain with me for the next 3 days. I was riding past endless massive fields, but also orchards of almond trees, it was hardly exciting stuff, by the end of the day I was thoroughly bored. I knew I would have trouble camping, these were all massive farms with the fields being worked by Mexicans, big lorries were passing the whole time. I stopped at Five Points, a little village, and filled up with water there. I got talking to Daryl, he was locking up the shop where he had finished working for the day. I asked if he knew of anywhere further on that I would be able to camp and he pointed to the grass area behind his shop. I wasn’t overly keen, but I guessed I would nowhere better, so I made an early stop for a change.

The following day was mundane to say the least, I passed no end of things growing, plenty of nuts, fruit, veg and even cotton, but that headwind was still nagging away making the knees ache. The highlight of the day was the street names through the valley, those heading north/south where 15th Street etc, those heading east/west were 15th Ave. Roads have been added over time, 5 ½ St was there, but it got even better with 17 ¾ St. Once again I struggled finding a place to camp, I just had to keep going until I found something suitable. At last I passed an old orchard that clearing was no longer used, so I made my way in. I picked up a click on the front wheel and stopped a little further in to discover that I had picked up dozens of thorny things, so I spent the next twenty minutes removing them with a pair of tweezers, one giving a tell tale hiss as I removed it. It was again late, it would have to wait for tomorrow.

I set off early, I really didn’t want to be seen in the orchard, it was cold, but the wind hadn’t got up yet, the going was easy. I went through the large town of Merced, once again without the benefit of any useful signposts, though a quick chat to a postie and it all fell into place. I fixed the puncture outside an office, the hole being so tiny I couldn’t find it, but the people inside kindly let me use the bathroom to put the tube under water. The dot on a map of Oakdale turned out to be a big city, I camped just the other side in a field that sort of looked like an old park, yet another place that I wasn’t happy with, but it would have to do.

I was awoken during the night by another creature at my rubbish bag, this time a cat had done a runner with it. When I set of in the morning I discovered I had been camped on church land, I probably would have slept much better if I had known that. The start of the day was also the start of another significant change in the landscape, gone were the fields, they were replaced with cattle pasture, there were hills in the road, even some bends, this was really exciting, I could hardly contain myself. To the right I could see the bigger hills looming, the start of the Sierra Nevada. Place names with dots on the map revealed just a single house on the road, there was little out here (photo). I arrived at the bigger place of Valley Springs, it was again hot, I had lunch in the shade before the really serious climbing started. For the last few days I had been below 100m, now I climbed from 250 to 550m in the heat, it was hard fought for climbing. I arrived at the junction with a bigger road, a left turn took me swooping down a fast hill, I lost every bit of the height I had gained, I was not amused. It brought me to Jackson, a small town of some 4,000 people, and one small but very well equipped bike shop. I called in for some more glue for puncture repairs, the other I had hadn’t been used for so long that it had dried up, but I asked the guy there to check out the gears for me, they seem to be getting worse over time. He spent about 30 minutes on it, including straightening the rear mech hanger that probably got a bit bent when I came off in Japan. When I came to pay he told me it was for free, “Tourists privilege”. It seems that Jackson and the Jacksons have been very good to me over the last few days. I carried on climbing, I was trying to get to Pine Grove before nightfall, there was a State Park I could camp in apparently. I just about made it having even turned down the offer of a lift, but by the time I had found the route out, up a long steep hill, and collected some water it was totally dark, once again I was looking for a camp site by torch light, I was eventually installed by 20:30, well after dark, I was tired, I really couldn’t be bothered to cook.

By morning I considered I had done very well in my site selection. What had seemed such a long hill in the dark the previous evening turned out to be just over 1km long. This was the day that I would really be heading up the mountain, I settled into a steady climb that would be there for the whole day. After three hours of climbing I stopped at a café for a bite and a coffee and took the luxury of reading the local paper. I went to fill up with water when I left only to realise that I had left my water bag back at the campsite, I was pissed off to say the least. I carry two of them but the only time through USA that I will really need two is across Nevada after Reno, bloody typical! Snow was being forecast for the next couple of days, I really couldn’t afford to go back a lose the best part of a day, I had to carry on to get over the passes before the snow arrived. The climb was between the trees the whole time, nearer the end of the day the scenery started to open up. The road dropped back down a little to a campsite I could see marked on the map, I had no intention of staying there, but when I found that it was closed it seemed to good an opportunity to miss, so I stayed there. Campsites here have their own large area complete with table, fireplace and bear safe to put your food in, the only thing I didn’t have was water and I was carrying enough. It was cold, but I still took a dip in the river, bracing stuff.

The remainder of the climb to Carson Pass followed in the morning. As I sat by a lake eating breakfast 4 cyclists passed. I was soon to catch them as they stopped and we chatted our way to the top, it made the climb seem much quicker. It was cold on top, but there I met the guy who had offered me a lift a couple of days ago, he was working on a building as a volunteer with the Ranger, the same one I had seen on the front page of the paper the previous day. It’s a small world up here. The view on the descent were just spectacular, it completely opened up, this was the kind of stuff I had come to the US to see. It wasn’t long before I was climbing to the next pass, Luther Pass and heck it was windy on top, a head wind that brought me to a standstill, though thankfully I was soon to change direction and it gave me a huge push along, very welcome. I dropped down to Lake Tahoe. I had been told that there was a drop off at the far end down towards Reno, the dash was on to get there before nightfall and hopefully miss the snow completely. I was slowed down by unexpected climbs, though the scenery was truly stunning, so worth the effort. Parts of the climb were nerve racking, a 45 degree drop on my side with no barriers. Odd isn’t it, if there are barriers there I can ride right beside them, but take the barriers away and sod that! I am going anywhere near the edge thank you very much. The lake was about 40 km long, it was lovely and picturesque, but the push was on to get to the top end and down the drop, I was still at 2000m, above the level that the snow was expected. Once again light was going, it felt cold, snow was surely on the way. With not much time left I passed a cheap looking campsite, I was now cycling through residential area, it would have made sense to stop, but I just had to push on. At last I reached the road heading away from the lake, but I was surprised to see that it was climbing, the light had all but gone and already it was starting to snow. As I passed a church I noticed a little flat land in the trees, so doubled back and camped there. It snowed a little more, it was cold, I was mighty glad to get into my little tent.

Come morning I could hardly believe where I had camped, there were houses around that I hadn’t even noticed the night before. There was snow on the ground, it was freezing, my water bottles had iced up, but the road looked good. As I set off I passed a sign saying “Snow tires or chains required 3 miles ahead”, how can that be I thought, it is supposed to be down hill. It climbed, it climbed and it climbed more, the temperature was dropping, ice was appearing at the side of the road, the further I climbed the more it stretched across the road until I considered it no longer safe to cycle on the shoulder, I moved to the main lane, though passing vehicles were very good, patient and giving me plenty of room. Before long there was snow across the whole road, the snow ploughs were out, one or two cars were heading back, I just had to carry on, the other way around was just too long. Would this bloody climb ever come to an end, every metre in altitude gained in the snow meant one extra to go down, I was not happy. A guy offered me a lift, I turned it down, though I knew if I came off I would regret the decision. He told me it was still another 20 minutes or so to the top. Not a moment too soon I reached Mt Rose Pass at 8900ft, (2700m) the highest I have been on this trip and it was biting cold at -4 degrees. The easy part as over, now I just had to get down again. Progress was slow there was large icy snowy patches all the way across the road, it was nerve racking with the brakes on but unthinkable to go across without them on at all. I quickly became cold without being able to generate heat from pedalling. I stopped a number of times to free myself from the concentration and to get the circulation going again, I was so desperate to be lower down where it would hopefully be a little warmer. I guess it did get warmer but by then I was chilled to the core, I had been riding downhill for 25km, my limbs were reluctant to start moving again. I followed the only sign for Reno, I checked that there were no signs restricting cycles, there weren’t, but I still ended up of what seemed to be a freeway, but with at times the largest shoulder I have ever seen, 3-4 lanes wide. Before long there was a siren from behind, I stopped and got off the bike, “Get back on the bike” came across the loud speaker. The police officer insisted I had passed signs, I know I hadn’t, but they were large and clear where I got off the freeway. I passed a McDonalds, this time I used it to just sit around and get warmed up before I made my way to my couch surfing host Deborah. We had a great evening at her brother Rick’s house by which time I was just about warming through again. I think I did just make it over the pass in time, looking back it seems there has been more snow, I have been very lucky. I joined Deborah and Rick at a Bikram Yoga session, yoga in a room with a temperature of about 100F and I don’t think I have ever sweated so much in my life.

So tomorrow I am on the move again, this time on route 50 across Nevada, described as “The loneliest road in USA”. It is going to be pretty cool at times, but at least I should have no trouble finding somewhere to camp.


dad said...

I knew you'd do this John, the longest posting ever ?? and just when I've got no time to read it, apart from the bit in upper case. Take care, remember they shoot first and ask questions afterwards.

Maria said...

John, I'm green!
Let me know if you ever decide to tour by car - might just join you!
The scenery you are seeing is magnificent and I have great pitures 'in my head'!

Mr Larrington said...

I've driven a few bits of US-50 in Nevada, and when I was there in October 2004 there was a foot of snow on the ground in Austin. Wrap up warm, mate!

S said...

A freudian slip of the keyboard that you went into McDonalds for a 'think' shake!

Basher Barlow said...

Hope you not using AT&T phones .. LOL

jac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jac said...

Wow - so much in two weeks. Sun to snow and back again. Bear safes. People yelling 'Get off my land'.
Impressive stuff.
Take lots of care out there, y'all

Harpo said...

Happy Birthday 49er.

Hope all your bits are holding out.

S said...

Happy birthday

aoiffe said...

I know that you left Seoul at 13:15on the 13th September and arived in SF at 13:05 on the 13th September, but you will have to try a little harded than that to avoid birthdays. Have a Happy one...

Mike N. said...

I'm one of the 4 cyclists you rode with up at Carson Pass. Our 2-week ride to Salt Lake City is over now and seems trivial compared with your adventure. Your picture appears in my blog if you ever want to check it out: