San Diego is the end point for most cyclist who travel down the West Coast, usually starting in Vancouver. Just 40km North of Mexico, it has the luxury and practical advantages of the USA while combined with the weather and relaxedness of the Mexicans.
Our friend Romke (from The Netherlands) had already told us that he loved it there and that he would love to move there and had sent us some addresses of friends he had met there.
We were planning to let our bodies and mind rest for a while here.
After staying with Daniel, we headed over to the nice Balboa Park for a relaxed day in the park, enjoying the sun. We stayed a few nights with Ryan & Meredith from the WarmShowers list. It is always nice to see how other cyclists share whatever they have with others.
After moving to nearby Kathryn and J’s place we started with the long job of updating our blogs and editing the many images we had taken the past months.
In theory it is easy to update the blogs in the evening after a day of cycling but in practice we were almost every night with friendly people, enjoying their company until bedtime. Of all the wonderful things we have seen in the US, the people top it all.
Rich or poor, young or old, everybody opened up there homes for us and treated us like kings. In my ‘1000 Americans Category’ I have placed a few dozen portraits of some of them, but it can do no justice to the way they have taken care of us during our trips down the Pacific Coast.
St Patrick’s Day 2009
Close to Ryan’s and Kathryn’s homes was the annual St Patrick’s Day parade, supposedly one of the largest one-day event. It was not so crowded, we could easily enjoy the long stream of Old-timers (both cars as well as people).
When the ‘Irishman of the year’ passed, many people around us started speculating what it took to get that title, but all agreed that it likely had to do something with loads of Guinness.. Note the sensible people below that advised everybody to ‘ride a bike’!
Out to the Ocean: Ocean Beach
We had agreed with one more WarmShowers host to stay with him. What we did not know at the time was that Saul would leave the next morning for his work in Seattle, leaving the place to us for more than a week. We did manage to get some fish tacos on the pier with him and his cycling friend, after another restaurant had refused us for not having an ID (Ivana is 33 and I am 38…).
It was great to have a home, where we could feel ourselves again, relax and do more work. Ocean Beach is the Western part of San Diego, and so far has resisted the push of the strip malls, McDonald’s and other negative American icons.
Instead, they have the best farmer’s market we had seen in all of the USA, a local co-op with organic food, local small shops, surfers on the beach and generally a very relaxed atmosphere.
Over to Point Loma
Saul’s mom surprised us as she was supposed to arrive later. She insisted we’d stay with her, but as Romke’s friend Martin had returned from his vacation, we moved to his place instead. It was only a few km away and though not next to the Ocean, Point Loma is a similar relaxed neighbourhood.
My knee was still the same and after more research, I realized that maybe my position on the bike could have caused the stress on my knee and decided to buy some new pedals and sandals with click-in SPD cleats to go with it.
This would force my legs to be straight, while also allowing for ‘pulling’ my legs up instead of just pushing them down.
Romke had introduced me to Chuck and as he lived close to the REI store where I found the sandals I wanted I visited him. It was nice to connect with Chuck and as he was also curious to meet Ivana, he picked us up the next day for a Japanese dinner near his house.
It was inspiring to see somebody who is older than Ivana and me together being so active and addicted to cycling, very inspirational and motivating.
Leaving the USA
We really enjoyed visiting the US, meeting the great people and seeing some of the best nature in the world.
We had witnessed with our own eyes how the election of Barack Obama had revived a national pride that had been covered in shame the past 8 years. Even though the global economic crisis was easily seen in the many friends we met that had lost their job, people had hope again.
We saw many initiatives to switch back from the global strip mall, war & TV culture to a more simple and peaceful, meaningful life with respect for each other and nature. We saw the possibilities that the US can offer her varied mix of citizens and felt privileged to meet all those kind hearts that make our trip so special.
As April came, we were getting restless. We had stretched our visas and hospitality of our guests as far as it could before breaking 😉 It was time to move on.
Strange enough many US citizens we had met had never been to Mexico, even though it is so close, you get there by just taking a wrong turn on the highway…
Since the media started reporting on the drug wars tourism was down and Tijuana and other border towns were avoided. Stubborn as I am, I would like to see the situation with my own eyes, before making a judgement.
Next report should be coming from Mexico!
We had a nice breakfast with Fanny & Didier and then finally said goodbye for real (this was the 3rd time), as they would fly back to Switzerland that day.
We went to the edge and viewed down the Grand Canyon. It is one of the world’s most famous and visited tourist attractions, with more than 5 million visitors each year (most of them from the US). It is something that many people put on their ‘bucket list’, but after looking down into the void, we both thought the same. ‘Is that it?’
There are many beautiful rock formations everywhere, and different light creates different colours all the time.
But maybe because of the size we both felt like we were on a mountain looking down and towards another mountain. We both have climbed many –higher- mountains and 1800m drop was maybe therefore not so impressive.
Maybe it was just the Grand name of the place, but we both agreed that Bryce canyon and the Horseshoe Bend were far more impressive places.
We headed to the visitor centre and then decided to simply see all the famous spots along the Canyon Rim. The Grand Canyon is most developed on this Southern side and a nice windy road curves along its edge, passing forests where elk roam free.
We spent some time in the old Watch tower, headed into the main lodges (where there was free Wi-Fi!) to Skype my mom for her b-day and then went to see the sunset that never really came in the western end of the route, the Hermit’s Rest.
After a few hours in the dark I had enough of driving and just off the ‘hysterical Route 66’ we asked the manager in a local Subway shop (we are still in the $5 footlong season :)) where we could pitch our tent. She said that we could drive down a dirt road and pitch our tent ‘anywhere after the 2nd cattle guard’.
We headed into the dark middle of Nowhere, parked our car and pitched our tent next to the road in a grassy patch. In the middle of the night some cars passed which made us quite comfortable. It was weekend, the cars –all trucks- were doing at least 80 miles per hour and we were in the middle of Redneck country were, according to many people we had talked to, guns were more present than common sense…
1st march 2009: Wonderful desert in Joshua Tree
We made it through the night without any bullet holes, packed our tent and headed further west. Route 95 South was like a miniature rollercoaster, and only 2 lanes wide. We passed a cyclist heading our way, but due to heavy traffic, there was no place we could safely stop –let alone turn- to share some food and water, so we continued through the dry desert.
It basically is a high desert zone, named after the most common plant to be found here, the Yucca Brevifolia, better known as the Joshua Tree. Made famous by Anton Corbijn for the U2 album with the same name, it is an impressive plant. Not 2 are the same and it takes decades, centuries or even millennia to grow full size.
There are concerns about the future of the plant as climate change might make it too hot for the plant to grow, at least in most of the park.
I really enjoyed this place. Ivana liked it as well, but did not find it so special, but I could not get enough of walking around the desert sands, checking the different plants, scrambling up rocks, and watching rock climbers climbing the bigger ones. Not sure what, but something about the park is very peaceful and much more fulfilling than the Gran Canyon had been…
here is a photographic impression of the small park. As always (if you read this on the website and not in the newsletter): click for an automagically enlarged version on your screen. If you get bored by plants or trees (or photos in general), I suggest you scroll down a bit 😉
One more night of luxury: Palm Springs
As mentioned in a previous post: I had traded some writing and photography for hotel nights, and we still had one ‘left’. We had contacted the Springs hotel and we were all set for a nice night in the hotel in Palm Springs.
once we dropped down across the San Andres fracture -that is actually visible here- into Palm Springs, we were happy to see the desert filled with hundreds if not thousands of wind turbines harvesting the energy of the desert wind.
The place itself was a bit deserted, and many restaurants were closed, but the room was great and the pizza from around the corner tasty and spicy, a perfect ending to a great road trip.
On a bicycle alone we would never have seen all of these natural wonders, though it would make a great bike trip on its own. Hope you enjoyed the images and get to visit these places yourself one day.
Next report coming up soon:
Back in LA, time to pack the bikes and head down South again: From Los Angeles to San Diego, getting close to the border with Mexico…
On our way we passed through Red Rocks, a quite nice place in itself.
We entered the Bryce Canyon road in the afternoon, and it was already getting chilly. There was a lot of snow near the road and on most of the hiking trails, but still the views were spectacular. Rows of hoodoos and other interesting geological phenomena were basking in the winter light, while crows were begging for food from the few visitors…
27th February: playing the Slots again: the Wire Pass Canyon and Buckskin Gulch
All the campsites in Bryce were closed and full of snow, so had headed out again. We had made it to back to the junction with Zion park when it got too dark and we had gotten too hungry. A salad bar called our name and the waitress (shouting loudly “You ok with the Dr Pepper over there” to some other customers :)) told us that we could not camp behind their restaurant, but that the old RV park across the street was abandoned.
It was freezing at night and quite chilly, the next morning we had to scratch the ice from the car before we could drive. We had planned to see the famous Antelope Canyon, a ‘Slot Canyon’ where some of the most wonderful images of the US have been taken.
As this and some other canyons are on Navajo land, our park pass did not apply and they charge additional fees for mandatory guided tours. Once we found out that this would cost $32 per person, for each of the two sections ($128 total!), we refused and decided to find some other canyons instead. It is the Navajos right to charge the fees, but in our view these are ridiculously high and there are several other places nearby.
One of these is the famous ‘Wave’, a curvy feature made famous in photos and books about the South West. To protect it only 20 permits are issued per day and nothing was available.
Nearby is the Buckskin Gulch, one of the longest and largest ‘Slot Canyons’. The first part is usually wet and not so interesting, but when entering sideways through the impressive Wire pass Canyon, you see the best of both parts.
We spent a few hours wandering around, scrambling over some rocks, stepping in soft mud and admiring the shapes and colours and even some petroglyphs.
As we had come in through one end, the walls wee steep and high and both other ends were impassable as well due to soft mud and deep water, I did wonder where that cougar was, whose tracks I had just seen…
Save the best for last: The Horse Shoe Bend
We had talked with an elderly couple who actively hiked and photographed the South West. They told us about another place we should not miss, called the Horseshoe Bend, close to the city of Page.
We were on the shores of the Glen Canyon Recreation area, a huge artificial lake created by the Glen Canyon Dam, which is as impressive as the Hoover Dam.
One of the few benefits of the dam is that the Colorado River water is filtered, so when we reached the Horseshoe Bend an hour later, we saw almost clear blue-green water instead of the muddy slush running through the other canyons.
There was a small parking space and half a dozen cars were parked. A sandy track led about 800m over a small hill and then down to the edge of the canyon. You could see part of the U-shaped Horseshoe bend from above, but only when stepping right onto the edge we could literally feel the magnitude of the void in front of us.
The combination of the colours, the height, the grand scale and the peacefulness made us admire it in awe and we spent a lot of time walking on the edge, taking many shots, but it was impossible to catch the total scene.
The image below is a composite of 5 images (a poster can be bought here on ImageKind), as even my 16mm wide angle could not fully grab it…
Next and final part 3 coming up soon: Grand canyon & Joshua Tree National Park
We entered the Grand Canyon park after dark and the entrance was officially closed. As we had our yearly pass, we simply entered through the exit road and searched our way to the campsite. Lo and behold, we again stumbled upon Fanny & Didier
next report: images from a Grand Canyon and a desert forest of Joshua Trees….
We did not want to leave without seeing the marvellous natural wonders of the South-western US. It would take more than 6 weeks to visit all the places on a bicycle, which would probably ruin my knees and we would be in trouble as our visa was running out.
So we opted to rent a car instead. It was a tough trade-off: polluting the nature because we wanted to see the beauty of it… Let’s hope that my images can inspire some people to realize that these and other grand places still exist and that they need to be respected, preserved and protected for future generations.
23 February 2009: Death Valley
Often overlooked, yet so close to LA. I had been here before while working on the Dutch TV show the PlanetRace and I like it. It takes a while to get used to the place, but then the barren beauty will grip you. It is best to visit in winter as in summer it can get over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees F) easily…
28 February – 1March 2009: Las Vegas
We had stayed with Steven, a CouchSurfing host that works as a biologist in the park. After breakfast we went to see 2 more viewing points, Zabriskie Point (see pix above) and Dante’s View (left).
It is only a short ride through the desert from Death Valley to Las Vegas. Suddenly this huge city pops up, in the middle of dry mountains.
After meeting our new host, CouchSurfing Michael, we decided to drive to the famous Hoover Dam first. It was not so impressive, the new bridge they were building high in the sky (to take the loads of the dam road) was actually much more interesting.
We stopped for a moment to eat our lunch at Lake Mead, the artificial lake that was the result of the Hoover Dam, now a popular boating place. It was clear that the water level had been slowly falling, not sure if it will fill up again…
We headed back into Vegas and did a small tour of the casinos as Ivana had never seen anything like it. All places are kept dark (no windows) and the exit is the hardest thing to find. Everything is designed to keep you glued to your seat so you gamble and lose more.
We never gamble, but Ivana had saved up some quarters in change so we thought we’d give it a try. But though 5 years ago, you could hear the familiar (and stimulating!) sound of quarters in all slot machines, they had now all been changed. All machines only accepted paper money, credit card or paper vouchers. The latter was also the only thing you could win!
We checked several casinos, but no machine would accept our handful of quarters! Finally, in the MGM Grand we discovered that the small ‘Horseracing’ table would accept it and we spent an hour chasing plastic horses to the finish.
Every time we won, even for just 3 or 4 quarters, we paid out, so we could hear the ‘dink-cling-ting’ of the quarters. You could see from the faces of all the visitors that everybody thought this was much more fun than feeding credit cards underneath computer screens, but apparently Vegas is not about having fun.
In the evening we went to visit Michael, as he works in a bar Downtown. He told us about the lightshow in the pedestrian zone, and it was great to see and hear.
A huge projection screen covering the entire street showed images of Queen and musical symbols, while ‘We are the Champions’ played from speakers everywhere.
We ended with viewing the famous light and fountain show at the Bellagio and headed back into the suburbs where Michael lives.
Here is a little overview of ‘Sin City’:
25-26 February 2009: Las Vegas – Zion national Park
The next morning we visited the Venetian Hotel, which was beautiful in some ways, but –especially if you have been in the real Venice, and I do not mean LA- it was just grotesque and terrible..
We managed to find our way out and entered the dry dusty desert again. It was already late and we were too late to buy our park permit for Zion National Park, so we decided to camp out and headed for the campsite. It was quite pricey, so we drove around to see if we could find some small tent, which we could share a place with. Just when I pointed out a small blue tent, Ivana said: Hey that are Fanny & Didier!
She was right, it was the cycling couple we had met a few weeks ago in Ano Nuevo.though they were supposed to be in Phoenix Arizona by now, they had been on such bad roads (the traffic was bad and there were no shoulders or other places to cycle), that they turned back and decided to rent a car instead…
However sad the reason, it was fun to see each other again and we made some nice pasta together before heading into our tent.
The next morning we bought our Annual National Park Permit pass. It costs about $80 but allows entrance into all parks and though it easy to dodge the entrance fees by arriving after dark, the money is well spent so we were happy to contribute a bit back.
Zion is a small park, but with a very nice quiet dead-end road, offering many routes for hiking or just to sit and watch the mountains. Due to my knee we could not do a longer hike, so we went out through a long tunnel and enjoyed a few stops on the East side of the park, admiring the orange and red rock formations.
Next: Part 2: Bryce Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Wire Pass Slot Canyon!
The next park was only a few hours away, Bryce Canyon was waiting for us, see the pix in the next report, coming up very soon…
We are busy in the Inn at the Spanish Garden Hotel. We fill the tub, relax on the huge bed, ask room service for a movie and some popcorn, skip the swimming pool today and enjoy the good life. BikeTravelling is not so bad after all…
Oh, I am sorry, I did not notice you reading this! Of course I meant to say: we battled against the wind, pitched our tent on a muddy slope and cooked up some salty pasta! But that would have been a lie:
So what happened with our budget? Well actually we did not pay a dime for these rooms. Last year I was approached my Matt from the Broughton Hospitality Magazine, a glossy magazine used in a small hotel company.
He had seen my photos on ExposedPlanet.com and wanted to use one in the magazine for the ‘1000 Words’ section, highlighting photojournalism (you can see the issue here, check page 10-11). My images can be used freely for educational and non-commercial purposes (Creative Commons license) but as this is a commercial magazine, a license/payment is required.
So I proposed to trade it for 2 nights in one of their hotels
And as matt was impressed with my other images, we agreed that after the USA part of the trip, I would write another article with images in exchange for a few more nights. I had kept it a bit secret for Ivana, and thought it would be a nice valentine surprise!
12 Feb 2009: Buellton – Santa Barbara, 73km
Santa Barbara is a great place to spend a few days and the arrangements with the hotel worked out perfectly. Our first night would be in the most luxurious hotel, The Inn at the Spanish Garden, which turned out to be a beautiful small boutique hotel with very friendly staff and a great included breakfast
To maximize the time in the hotel, we had left early and made it into Santa Barbara just after 13.00, 73km, not bad! We were helped by one hill with a giant descent, good wind in the back, busy roads and the thought of our big bed…
13 Feb 2009: Santa Barbara: from the Inn at the Spanish Garden – The Inn at East Beach, 3km
It was a tough day, riding 2 miles from one hotel to the other. Actually we got stuck in a giant downpour and arrived soaking wet! The next hotel was a lot more basic, but the friendly general Manager Frank made up for it (upon arrival he already brought us the remaining muffins from the breakfast) and the room was nice.
In the afternoon it cleared up and we went to explore the town on our bikes. SB is very touristy, but has a really nice old historic centre and the beach is lined with nice palm. It definitely is a nice place to visit for a few days.
14/15 Feb 2009: Santa Barbara – Santa Monica via a field past Oxnard.. 73+68km
We enjoyed another nice breakfast and then headed out through the nice outskirts of Santa Barbara. The route 101 was very busy, and there were huge traffic jams, but of course, on a bike you just cruise along. We passed Ventura, where we talked with a nice cyclist and continued along the coast. The wind was still friendly, which helped my knees a lot and they did not hurt much.
There are many military zones here and it would be difficult to find a place to pitch our tent. We found a place in a field close to the highway and so after 2 nights in a hotel, we were back on our comfortable mats!
The next morning the wind had turned on us and we had to pound the pedals hard; it only took us about 5 hours to get to the next hotel, in Santa Monica!
On our way we passed some of the rich areas like Malibu. It is actually quite ugly and the oversized houses are all built on places where they will slide of sooner or later, we could not quite see the point. It seemed more like a place to show off than actually enjoy, which was enforced by the 5 Ferraris that were parked near the beach.
Some guy saw me taking these photos and asked if I would want to trade Kowalski for one of these race monsters. I said no.
15-18 Feb 2009: Chillin’ in Santa Monica
We stayed 3 nights in the restored Georgian Hotel. We rode our bikes up to our room as it was the easies way to carry 6 panniers/bags per person, but then just left them there as we could see the place on foot.
We had a view of the beach and could see the sunset from our room on the 7th floor. It was a perfect place to check out the famous pier, the Boulevard and the pedestrian zone with musicians and street artists and doing some work on Lenny in the room.
We found an all you can eat Sushi buffet which -unlike the online reviews would make you believe- was actually pretty good
18-22 February: Into the heart of Los Angeles.
We had been invited by another Argentinean to stay with his family for a few days. Diego picked us up in the front of the hotel and took us over a concrete maze to his ‘hood. We were definitely in a poorer part of LA, but as Ivana remarked, it looked better and richer than many ‘good’ parts in Argentina.
We spent several days in LA and I even went to see Dr Man Tran, a Chinese Chiropractor/Acupuncturist; but like every other doctor so far, the treament he gave me felt good, but the inflammation in my knee never goes away.
Diego and his wife Claudia took great care of us. They refused to let us sleep on the ground and made us sleep in their bedroom. We had some great meals together and enjoyed the work he was doing for the local soccer teams. Small kids like these were putting their hearts and soul into becoming great at their sports, something what might give them enough self-esteem to keep them out of the gang-scene..
22 Feb 2009: Oscar night in Hollywood!
We did not care much for the expensive theme parks, but as an avid movie lover I was excited to find out we would be in town for the Academy Awards, better knows as Oscars. We went to take a look with the Sarraseca family and though we could not see any ‘star’ up close, we enjoyed the atmosphere and just the feeling of ‘being there’ as well as the giant pizza that Diego treated us to…
Next steps: back in a car to do some ‘parking’
We decided that it would be a shame to miss out on the South Western USA treasures and as time was limited, we decided to rent a car for a week to see the national parks… More photo’s and stories about horse racing and Horseshoe- and other canyons, snow and old friends, stay tuned, as we slowly catch up with reality
ps: let us know if you enjoy these reports by leaving some comments below. if you are reading this on the website, do not forget to click the images above as it will automagically show you a 1000px wide larger version!
8 February 2009: Pacific Grove (Monterey) – Gorda. 45 + 60km…
After saying goodbye to Diego, we headed back down the ‘17 Mile Drive’ and ended up in Carmel by the Sea, a nice small town, with much better looking houses than the ‘Drive’. We spent some time exploring the old Mission, one of many that were placed here along the coast.
We had some lunch in the windy Point Lobos reserve. We had been told that this was one of most beautiful points along the coast, but for us it was ‘average’. I guess we have been spoilt rotten the past months 😉
Further South it was more interesting as we entered the Big Sur area. Unfortunately with the rougher coastline, came also more hills.. At least the coves and canyons were bridged here (as opposed to Northern California, where you just go all the way down and then back up again, my knee says thanks..).
Just after crossing a large bridge the road steepened up and did not stop for as far as we could see, so we started to push at least 100m up. Just when I reached the top of the hill, I approached a parked car, where a young man had been enjoying the views from the top.
Hmm. We just pushed up this hill, so there should be a nice downhill ahead. Still, Ivana was on her way up, it would be dark in 20 minutes and Big Sur village was still 9km away, so we would probably be cycling in the dark. Also my knee had enough of the climbing.
As the road had barely any shoulder, but plenty of steep drop-offs, we accepted Eric’s proposal and put ourselves and our bikes in the back of his truck.
We told him to stop in Big Sur, but while we were expecting a larger village where we could ask for a place to camp, we passed some motels and before we realized it, we had passed Big Sur. Eric said he would continue South and asked if we wanted to join further. I checked the altitude profiles of the next section and saw 4 hills of 300m (1000ft) each with more in between. Ouch.
I was afraid that my knee would not survive. So far we had taken only one ride and that had been for going back on a stretch we had already cycled. We had skipped the major ferries, but now it felt unavoidable. I could be stubborn and cycle but maybe that would mean the end of the trip, just 50km ahead…
We stayed on the truck…
We ended up in a small village –just a roadhouse- called Gorda (‘fat’ in Spanish!) Eric was taking a room in the motel and after asking around we found a place to camp opposite the road on a nice grassy patch in a small forest. Eric, who is a musician on his way from the East coast to LA, came over for dinner and played and sang some songs for us while we were making pasta in the dark. It was great & ‘gezellig’, but suddenly the rain washed our party away and we went back into our tent while the skies opened up all valves.
9 February 2009: South of Gorda – San Luis Obispo, 100km
Still we managed to stay dry and the next morning we joined Eric for another small ride over the last hill and then said goodbye. Fortunately the rain decided to stop, while we were organising our bikes.
We stopped at a roadhouse for our peanut butter sandwiches and talked with Victor Antonio, who was walking around the US to promote peace through marijuana.
We passed more and more beaches filled with hundreds of elephant seals, some relaxing on the grass and sand, far from the ocean.
We also passed Hearst Castle, made famous in the movie ‘Citizen Kane’.
Though some of the rocks where interestingly white, we actually saw some fresh snow in the hills as well, a rarity in this area.
Thanks to the wind, we were making good speed and we decided to go all the way to San Luis Obispo. We arrived just before sunset after 100km of cycling and were welcomed by WarmShowers Hosts and fellow biketravellers Matt & Rita, who cooked up a great vegetarian Chilli.
10/11 February 2009: SL Obispo – Buellton via Santa Maria, 67km + 69km
After Ivana has tested the recumbent tandem bike, we headed off. Matt & Rita joined us all the way to took us through some nice back roads to Pismo Beach, where we had lunch together before they headed back.
We continued through nice country roads before we entered the large busy city of Santa Maria. It took us a long time to pas the dozens of traffic lights, while dodging thousands of huge trucks…
It was dark before we made it to Bill Korn’s house, another welcoming host that was a rider himself. he cooked up an Argentinean asado and Ivana felt right at home.
The next morning Bill joined us and showed us some more back roads. It is so nice to stay with local cyclists as they always know the best routes to take and this was no exception. Following some steep hills we ended up the ‘Foxen Canyon Road’.
Halfway up Bill said goodbye and turned back using another nice route, while continued our ascent. It was actually longer and higher than the route in our guidebook, but we still felt guilty about our ride with Eric the other day, so it was no problem doing the 30 extra km.
Besides, the slope was much more gentle, we hardly noticed that we went up to 400m altitude until the last steep climb. Then after a nice downhill and another steep climb, it was all the way down to the quaint town of Solvang, passing friendly Los Olivos on our way.
Solvang was the base of a Danish community and their Danish and Dutch ancestry is clearly visible in the buildings and local shops. We even found good cheese, dropjes & pepermunt!
The latter we took as a gift to our hosts for the night: Joe and Carol had invited their best friends and cycling partners and together with their housemate we had a really nice dinner. Carol, who is a painter, had cooked for al 7 people and we had a great time.
It is such a pleasure to meet all the nice US citizens on this trip. Most people are very different in background, but they are all very friendly and hospitable.
The next morning we had a great incentive to leave early and arrive in Santa Barbara. Our hotel was waiting. ‘Hotel? How about that budget?’ I hear you say… the next report will clear all mysteries
Kowalski! Status report!
The knee works quite well. On the bike it feels good, off the bike it is painful. Guess I just have to keep on cycling!
Our bikes are indestructible as ever. Still we are stuck at a few flat tires for Ivana (I think 3) and only one for me, after a total of 7656km so far!
The sign on the left brought some reality into vision.
Could we continue with the current state of my knees or was this really the end?
There was only one way to find out.
31st Jan 2008: SF – Half Moon Bay, about 50km
I kept the Rohloff in low gear all the time and promised Ivana that I would get off the bike and push when it was getting steep. Ivana also had taken more weight than before, so my load would be lighter.
There were only two real hills but they were steep. First we slowly climbed 200 meters (650ft) from the sunny shores into the windy and cold rolling fog on the top of Daly City. Pushing the bike actually hurt my knee more, so I tried to cycle with just one leg doing all the work and that worked out quite well.
The next hill was steep but also so narrow that pushing would be too dangerous. We had arrived at the infamous ‘Devil’s Slide’, notorious for cyclists for the shoulder-less road with its blind corners leading from a dark forest to a scorching hot pass, 150m (500ft) higher.
The good thing was of course the downhill. As there was still not much shoulder, there was no choice but to full speed in the middle of the road…
We reached the state park campsite just before dark and could see the sunset from Half Moon Bay. The regular campsite was full at $25 per spot, but fortunately, almost every Californian State Park has a small ‘Hiker-Biker’ area, which has no hook-ups, but generally costs only $3-5 per person. This was completely empty and for $6 we had more space and were more secluded than all the RV’s. It was nice to be in our tent and in the open air again after a month of CouchSurfing in the city.
1-2 Feb 2008: Half Moon Bay – Santa Cruz via Ano Nuevo
The knee was not too bad, so we decided to do two more days of about 40-50km each. The first was a nice sunny day and we cycled relaxed. I had seen the recommendation to visit the Ano Nuevo State reserve in our guidebook (“Bicycling The Pacific Coast: A Complete Route Guide, Canada To Mexico“.
We had been using this book from Vancouver and though we varied a our route many times, the times we were on the ‘official route’, it was worth every cent. We used up one page at a time (in our see-through map cover of the Ortlieb handlebar-bag), so the book got lighter every day Next time we need a Kindle version to save paper:
|Bicycling The Pacific Coast: A Complete Route Guide, Canada To Mexico: Vicky Spring, Tom Kirkendall: The Kindle Store|
There was no official place to stay, so we went to ask the farmers; for the first time in our trip, we were sent away from not 1 but 2 farms, each with loads of space. The caretakers were not the owners and everybody seems to be terrified of getting sued for anything…
It is a shame, as all we needed was a few square meters of grass; we could even have shared some great stories with them… Anyway, we ended up camping secretly on some grass near the farms behind some old buildings and made sure we were ready to go in the early morning.
Only a mile down the road was the Ano Nuevo park, home of the biggest colony of Elephant Seals. As it was breeding season, we could not go to the seals without a guide, and as all tours were reserved, we had some time for a relaxed breakfast in the sun, next to some deer.
The friendly people in the Visitor Centre not only found us a spot in a group, but they also waived the fee for us, after hearing about our trip and low daily budget! We ended up watching the Seals and their young with a very nice group of elderly people from San Jose (see their ‘leader’ Don here). They were on their weekly hiking trip (!) and enjoyed the seals and the entertaining stories of the docent/guide.
After the tour we had lunch with them (thanks for the salmon sandwich!) and when saying goodbye several members of the group surprised us by giving us some cash donations! We were not quite sure what to say, but it was appreciated, as we had to replace our mattresses and their generosity covered that exactly.
We also met two other biketravellers, originally from Switzerland, living in Vancouver. Fanny & Didier were on their way from Vancouver to Phoenix, from where they would return home. They nearly had an accident on the Devil’s Slide when Fanny hit a stick with her pannier. We gave them some Ortlieb repair kit and continued our way, while they went to see the seals, but they caught up with us a few hours later.
We had not had much internet the past days, so we only found out in Santa Cruz that we had offers from several ‘WarmShowers’. Ivana went out to find the cyclists again, so they could ‘use’ one of the address that had reacted later.
We stayed with Deb & Tom, a very friendly couple with a nice house and enthusiastic young dog! We had joked before that after 2 nights of camping, we were ready for a soft bed again and our wish was granted 😉
3-4 Feb 2008: Santa Cruz – Monterey, via Sunset Beach, 35 + 60km
The next morning we first went to visit the gallery of one of my nature and landscape favourite photographers who lives near Santa Cruz: Frans Lanting, scroll the books below for some of his classics:
Unfortunately Frans was not there himself, but it was great to see the full-size prints of his classic shots, that are for sale in his gallery..
We continued our way through the maze of Santa Cruz, guided by the book until we suddenly left the city for a more rural surrounding. Fields and fields of strawberries were being planted by dozens of Mexican labourers. We had had more small hills than expected; my knee was hurting and we decided to call it a day at the Hiker-Biker site of Sunset Beach eating around a campfire of pinecones…
The next morning we started out ok, meandering through the fields, seeing more strawberry fields and a huge parking garage for seals. But just when the strawberries gave way to the artichokes a super strong wind blew in our face and we had to fight our way into it.
There are some nice bike lanes closer to Monterey, though our positive feelings were overshadowed by a posted warning sign that mentioned that a jogger was attacked and that we should not cycle or run alone on this trail…
Monterey is quite a nice town, with beaches, a pier and a touristy centre. We had time to cycle and look around the famous Canary Wharf before heading back to the pier for nearly unlimited samples of clam chowder
We checked the famous aquarium, but the $30 per person entrance fee was outside our budget, so we went to look for the free sea wildlife instead.
We spotted an otter far away, but later we saw him again, close to the shore, eating away his seafood dinner, while the seals were sleeping on the rocks and the birds were waiting for leftovers. It is great that the shores of Monterey bay are a protected reserve, else these scenes would only be visible inside the aquarium…
We stayed two nights with Nathan, a young outdoor sports lover. We were his first CouchSurfing guests, but I think he enjoyed it!
He was very nice, helped us with some errands (we bought new mattresses from our donation money) and let us stay during the day, so we could catch up with some work.
Ivana lost herself in a new miniseries we had not seen before: Weeds, which was quite an interesting way to look at some aspects of US culture.. It was fun to see as well, we had not been watching any TV for several months.
In the evening we went to a bar in town and met up with our next hosts: biketraveller Diego and his friends. We moved to their house in Pacific Grove the next day through a terrible rain shower and arrived soaked.
We stayed a few days with them, and went for a 40km circular ride to the monarch butterfly gardens, the coast and along the famous ‘17 Mile Drive’. The latter was a bit overrated in our view as it is just a collection of too big houses, (of which half were for sale) and the rest of the area are endless golf courses filled with old, unhappy looking guys with funny pants, and some deer… Still some of the views were nice and it was relexed to cycle without luggage:
An afternoon in the aquarium
When he heard that we did not visit is because of the high entrance fee, Diego contacted a friend of his that works at the Aquarium. He arranged that we could come in for a brief visit close to closing time, for free!
Though we do not enjoy captive animals, the aquarium was quite impressive. The otters (both river- as sea otters) were our favourites again, but we were completely mesmerized by the hypnotic display of bright orange jellyfish in blue water:
Kowalski! Status Report!
My knee was not getting better, but also not much worse. It was very painful after resting and sitting, but not too bad during actual cycling…
It was time to say goodbye to Diego, Rose and Ximena and continue our way South to the famous names like Big Sur, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and of course: Los Angeles!
Day 160-204, 18Dec08 – 31Jan09: San Francisco. Part 4: Critical mass, Ivana’s B-day party and friends
Though my knee was still painful, I could cycle slowly again. It was time to move on, and leave our new home for new adventures down the road. We invited our new friends for a dinner in a cosy Lebanese bar to celebrate our departure and Ivana’s b-day the next day. But first we had some other cycling to do!
San Francisco is the birthplace of the Critical Mass. It is a monthly event where hundreds, maybe thousands of cyclists group together and ride through the city, reclaiming the streets from the cars that have no other choice that to wait until all the cyclists have passed
It is a great event and I urge everybody to join the Critical Masses, in SF or elsewhere. It is not just to make a firm statement, but also a great way to see the city, without being bothered by cars and red lights.
Besides, it is a big party with all types of cyclists, music and general fun. It was Ivana’s best B-day present and we enjoyed it thoroughly.
Saying goodbye on Ivana’s B-day
We had to hurry back though as we had a party appointment! Adriana had picked the nice place with relaxed people and Lebanese snacks as well as fruity hookahs and even a belly dancer!
We had a great time and though many people could not make it to the the last minute invite, we were happy to spend some of our last hours in SF with our new friends.
New and old friends, thank you for making San Francisco our home
We met many new friends, some of them (Mitch, Adriana, Gerard, Kourtney & Brian, Fiona & Jeremy, Kim & Nate & Jessica & Mikelanjelo) are listed on the “1000 Americans” category, others whom we did not capture with our cameras we owe just as much.
We could write full page stories about each of them, but for now here are some simple thank you’s
- Thanks to Kristan& Rhasaan for opening their house in Oakland and showing us Berkeley as well.
- Thanks to Jan and Wandralee for opening their house and giving us time to relax and re-organize. Jan is off to to the ride from SF to LA for Aids, she is a brave and strong woman!
- Muchas Gracias to Barbara & Ramiro, who invited us for a wonderful dinner in their new home twice! Ramiro never forgets his roots and makes great empanadas.
- Thanks to Yaffa and her roommate, who shared their house with us for a few nights.
We even met some old friends again, some we had met earlier on the trip, others we had met many years ago.
- Colie is the coolest chick we know, she is just great, and it was wonderful to spend New Years Eve with her in snowy Truckee!
- Alison was busy as ever, still it was great to see her briefly, the 4th continent we met on! Thanks for letting us borrow your car, we would have missed Colie & Yosemite otherwise!
- Many thanks to Bradley & Saskia, it was great to see you again after nearly 10 years! Thanks for letting us guard your great house, twice!
- We saw Louise again and this time she brought her husband Brian as well as her kids, it was great to see them; thanks for the great Thai lunch!
- Barry dropped by for some lunch, just before he started his bike trip across the US, heading for Florida. Meanwhile he has returned, read his reports here.
Thank you all, more than words can express, for making San Francisco a special place for us.
Next report: on the road again, off to LA! how will the knees hold out with the Devils’ Slide, Big Sur and many more challenges ahead? Tune in next time, same channel, unreliable time 😉
We did not only spend time in the city, but managed to get out. As my knee needed more rest, we were lucky that Alison had borrowed us her car, so we could head out of town for New Years. She had warned us that the tires were old and bald, so it would be better to avoid rain.
Right after we pulled the car out of the garage in Filbert St, we continued the road East, leading up and down a huge and steep hill. I think we found the steepest road in SF, and we both felt we were in a rollercoaster when we crossed the top..
Snow and champagne in Truckee, saying goodbye to 2008…
After my new camera had arrived (yes!) we packed our camping gear in the car and drove to Truckee, a few hours east. We arrived in the dark and noticed that most of the town was covered in knee deep snow and the car slid back and forth over the slippery roads.
It was so great to see Colie again. I had been climbing in Uganda 4 years ago together with Romke, Ali & Andy and now we had seen the entire team again, spread out over Amsterdam, Seattle, SF, Truckee and a bike! Colie took us on a tour of Lake Tahoe, which looked wonderful in the winter snow.
Finally after avoiding the snow since Northern Alaska, it was great to be surrounded by the cold white stuff! We went for a nice winter hike with some of her friends and got ready for a new years Eve party with more friends and lots of great food and drinks.
Goodbye 2008, we will miss you..
We have no idea what 2009 will bring, but 2008 was again amazing. I had been on 6 continents (alas no Antarctica this year), hiked with friends in Australia, almost got scammed in Kuala Lumpur, proposed to Ivana on the summit of Kilimanjaro, witnessed by all 26 clients. We saw Machu Picchu with Ivana’s mum, watched a lion grab a gazelle in the Serengeti and cycled 7000km through wonderful North America. It was not always easy, but it felt that we had been more alive in one year than most in their lives…
Off to Yosemite: big walls and black bear?!
The road to get to the valley was high and steep and there were several spots with snow and ice, but the views of famous walls like Half Dome & El Capitan made up for the nerves.
The final part into the village and campground was even completely covered in it, but I managed to reach the famous Camp 4, home of all Big Wall climbers. The camp was covered in deep snow, so we had to prepare a campspot by packing some snow.
Just when I was busy preparing the tent, I saw a big shape passing just behind it. It was almost dark, so I turned on my light and called Ivana. ‘Look at that, a bear!’
Just as we though we had definitely left ‘The Wild’, we had the closest encounter with a black bear so far, less than 10m away. The big animal did not pay attention to us and slowly walked into the foggy forest…
We made sure to leave no food in our tent or car (Yosemite bears are known for ‘opening’ cars) and put everything safely in the special bear-proof containers. We managed to cook a nice pasta meal and finally sacrificed our last Adventure Food meal, before heading over to the restaurant for a cup of hot chocolate.
The night was cold and uncomfortable, but we got no more bear visits and the next morning we took the free shuttle around the village and walked back past great views of the Yosemite Falls and Half Dome.
Oakland and Berkeley
It was time to get out as more snow was expected. With much effort I managed to get the car back on the road and down to drier elevation before the rain hit hard. We contacted Mikelanjelo & Jessica, who had invited us already a long time ago and stayed a few days in their place in Oakland.
Together with their friend Kristan and her kids (including “I-love-you-Leif”) and boyfriend they made us feel at home.
They showed us around in Berkeley as well, a nice college town with a friendly atmosphere, unlike Oakland which had an air of aggression, which was confirmed after the shooting of an unarmed boy on the subway a few days later…
We visited a multicultural fleamarket and were chased by fat squirrels in the park on yet another sunny winterday..
Ivana had left a comment on an Argentinean newssite, where bicycle touring was criticized, and soon after we were contacted by Ramiro, an Argentinean living in the US. he asked us to come over to his girlfriend Barbara’s house for some great homemade empanadas! And he even invited us back the following week, so I guess we are not such bad guests after all 😉
The good life in wine country
Mitch had introduced us to his good friends Adriana & Gerard. It as fun to speak some Dutch again with expat Gerard and after inviting us in their home for a great meal, they asked if we already had seen the vineyards. We explained that we had been on the coastal road all the time, and they immediately made plans for a tour in the weekend.
We had a great day, cruising in Gerard’s convertible in the warm winter sun. We visited many wineries, tasted some good wines and olive oils and thoroughly enjoyed the company and places we visited.
The good thing about a bicycle trip is that you sometimes get taken to places where you would never had gone yourself, but that are great anyway…
My knee was feeling a bit better and though I could not step down stairs properly, we decided that we would try and start cycling again. But first it was time to say goodbye to SF!
Next and final SF report coming very soon : Critical mass, bellydancing B-day and many friends…
Pain, ethics & Doctors: getting treated in SF
Once we arrived in San Francisco, my knee got some rest, but it did not get better. After we moved to Bradley & Saskia’s place, I could not even walk and we spent X-mas inside the house.
I asked around and a friend of Ali referred us to a private clinic in town. I contacted them and could get a quick appointment with a doctor. She was an osteopath and very friendly and though she could not do much for my knee, she diagnosed my back and started treating immediately.
Apparently some of my vertebrae were a little ‘off’, causing the constant inflammation to the connected ribs and the pain that comes with it. As she is both a medic (she could prescribe me new medication, which helped to ease the pain) as well as a chiropractor, she could start fixing me right away.
Doctors are expensive and private clinics are even worse, but as I was a tourist, they waived the ‘membership fee’ and the doctor told me that she would see what could be done about the size of the bill. Even though we are covered by our WorldNomads insurance, it is always unclear when and how much I could get back, so I appreciated that.
She was a sportswoman herself and wanted to support our trip and offered me a free 2nd consultation a few days later. I gratefully accepted and after the 2nd treatment my back felt much better, though my knee was still incredibly painful and useless.
She told me that I could come back for another free treatment after our little road trip, but the night before our appointment I received an email. Apparently she had been reprimanded for offering free services.
(…) I have just finished a conversation with my employer who suggested that my offering to treat you here in this office “pro-bono” (for free) is ethically unsound. He has asked that I request that you not come by the office tomorrow, January 6th. The other visit that has already taken place is in the past, is “OK”, but no further visits should be allowed.(…)
I always thought that helping patients was the thing that was ethically sound for doctors (something about oath and Hippocrates?), but I guess I was wrong. I wrote her back that I would have gladly paid for the service anyway, but after this message I would go elsewhere.
I know it was not her choice to refuse me, but for me it is ethically unsound to pay very expensive treatments just because you might get it back from the insurance.. I even paid for a $20 membership of the Walgreen pharmacy, so my medication would be (much) cheaper, even though I will get it back from WorldNomads.
I ended up in his office a few days later and got treated right away, both for my shoulder as well as my knee. Using the Crafton technique and electronic stimulation he removed a lot of scar tissue from the knee and though the pain remained during the treatments, I could use it again.
Though I felt at times that he was aiming to kill me, the twisting and crunching of the neck and back improved the back a lot as well, though when not taking the anti-inflammatories the pain would come back quickly.
I also had a few sessions with Bobby and Steve, the in-house physical therapists, and they gave me specific exercises to strengthen the core and leg muscles that were influencing the movement of the knees. In total I had 6 appointments and though more probably would have been good, we felt that it was time to try to move on, going South again!
San Francisco: cultural diversity, faded flowerpower and civil rights
The bus and streetcars must be some of SF’s greatest and cheapest attractions. Unlike the ‘clean’ BART underground, the public transport that runs above the surface is the best way to see another face of SF. It is a continuous show of people of all types and colours: tourists, homeless people; some youth dressed-up in party gear, others completely off the planet. Some people were on their way to work, others were doing their business on the bus itself.
It reminded us about Weird Al Yankovic’s Another One Rides The Bus (video & lyrics here), especially the streetcar going down Market Street was great fun
We visited Haight & Ashbury, the famous area where Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and many other musicians and artists once lived, but got depressed by its current state: a lot of so-called cool shops, selling stuff for smoking weed and ‘spiritual’ goodies, one of the few McDonalds visible in the city, and homeless kids on the streets, many of them who look like they are there by choice and that it took a long time or a lot of money to get those clothes look ‘alternative’ and worn.
It is were the movie ‘Milk’ was filmed as the historic events depicted all took place in this part of town. Not only is Sean Penn’s acting phenomenal, it was especially great to be able to see the movie in a fully packed famous Castro Theatre, which even features in the film
They included a slideshow about Harvey Milk, and an original organ player playing music while the crowds came in. The cinema was filled with locals, as every reference to local places and events were met with chuckles and comments.
It is strange that exactly in the liberal and generally intelligent state of California a law passed on election day, which basically made it impossible for gays to get married anymore. This ‘Proposition 8’ turned back a lot of civil rights that Milk had been fighting for and we went out to join a candlelight vigil to show our support.
Imagine that your partner you have been living with for 20 years gets ill and you are not allowed into the Hospital for visits, or if he or she dies, and you will not be entitled to receive any of the shared memorabilia you gathered together.
Somehow millions of people, who would not be harmed by equal civil rights thought that they should impose their ‘morals’ onto others, so let’s hope that this situation will be rectified and California is recognized as a forward-thinking State again…
Kiva: opportunities for entrepreneurs in developing countries
On a more positive note, we got introduced by Nate & Kim to their friend Jeremy. Coincidentally he works at Kiva, an organisation we have been supporting during our trip, so we visited their office in SF.
It was great to see the heart of the small company that has already made such a huge impact (they loaned over 60 million dollars to mostly one men/women businesses in developing countries on 5 continents).
We talked with Matt, the founder and CEO and took a look at the worldwide volunteers map, all very inspiring.
Read more about Kiva and their work here on our blog and lend (not donate) some money yourself!
San Francisco is great in many ways, but there were many things to see outside the city as well… next part, coming up soon: Snow in Truckee, bears & rocks in Yosemite, music in Berkeley and wine in Napa!