Days 59-60: Wrapping up in Long Beach

Days 59 & 60 (2016-10-24 & 2016-10-25):

Honestly, I don’t have much to say about these two days. Originally I planned to leave Tuesday morning and combine biking with CalTrain to arrive in the San Bernardino area where I would stay with a Warm Showers host. Instead, it works out even better. Scott needs to go to camp on Tuesday night for a Wednesday activity he is helping run, and camp is just past San Bernardino. I originally think I will just ride to San Bernardino from camp, saving myself the shitty ride through LA County, but soon I realize I can also go over the mountain north of camp and come into Victorville (where I have a host for Thursday night) from a different direction.

I think about it for a bit but eventually go for the obvious choice: head north from camp. This will let my check out Big Bear Lake (a major attraction in SoCal) and not have to backtrack to San Bernardino only to turn north again for Victorville. Oh yeah – I will also ride to the highest paved road in SoCal, and one of the highest in California, at 8,400 feet. Sweet. I won’t actually climb all that way though – camp is about 13 miles from the summit and at around 5,000 feet. Perfect.

Otherwise, Monday and Tuesday are uneventful. I spend a good chunk of Monday in a Zipcar driving back to Topanga Creek Outpost to pick up my new Surly front rack and installing it on my bike. Why a new rack? It’s a low rider (meaning my bags will sit lower and improve stability on the front tire) and much sturdier – rated to 70lbs compared to the 20lbs on my current rack (I usually have at least 30lbs on it). I chit chat with Chris and a guy from Specialized at the shop. Man, I love this place!

Topanga Creek Outpost rocks! Chris, seen here, is the owner. He fed me cake and banana bread and I learned a lot about riding the Great Divide from him and his staff.


Tuesday is just a day of errands before I leave – stocking up and packing. I ride 10 miles to REI in Westminster and stop at Goodwill on the way back – what scores! I bought Scott Pandemic the board game (huge steal at Goodwill) and some climbing chalk as a thank-you gift for hosting me and making my time in Long Beach so great. I also found these adventure sandals to replace my flip-flops. Nothing beats getting $70 sandals for $7. Win. 

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Day 56-58: Joshua Tree National Park

Friday (2016-10-21):

Up early. Breakfast sandwich and a poop before we hit the road. Boyd & Juliann (Andrew’s youngest sister) arrive and we pack up Boyd’s SUV. Such a luxurious trip I am in for – camp stove, propane lamp, huge tent, coffee and French press – this is a far call from the basics I have on the road. We hit the road and I shake of the grogginess as we chit-chat for two and a half hours to Joshua Tree National Park. I look up some background info on the park to learn about the natural and geologic history. JTNP is the meeting ground of the Mojave Desert (north) and Colorado Desert (south), showing quite varying plant and animal life across its huge acreage. I will be crossing the Mojave Desert on my way to Flagstaff, so this was a chance to understand what I will be committing to for the next week or two.

It takes a while to find a campsite at Jumbo Rocks, a first-come first-served campground near the Oasis entrance on the north central side of the park. It’s a good thing we left early! We are also lucky to have mild weather with highs in the mid 80’s and lows tonight predicted to be in the 50’s. We set up camp then find a shady spot on the rocks to play King of New York. Afterwards we venture out into the desert just south of the campground. There are no paths here, just a lot of places to walk amid sparse vegetation and congregations of rock. The Joshua Trees, a plant in the Yucca family, are spaced out pretty far, intermixed with small shrubs and other drought-resistant plants that manage to thrive despite the heat and very limited soil – the ground is covered almost exclusively in rock, either in big boulders or coarse gravel.

I love it. You can just go – wherever you want. I try my best to avoid smashing plants underfoot and learn that, while I should be careful to avoid smashing plants, the plants are not exactly defenseless. Everything in this harsh environment is spiky or course and it’s not long before I manage to draw blood as I scratch my leg on a yucca plant. The massive piles of rocks were formed during ancient geologic activity sprouting from the San Andreas fault line to the west and several other faults criss-crossing the park. This is the real draw of JTNP – scrambling and climbing up the many rock formations.

We summit one or two of the hills before stopping and admiring the view. Again, the feeling here is less of remoteness (we are 15 minutes from camp) and more of being exposed. We can see almost all the way to Nevada! While my companions get comfortable atop the outcrop I continue on, winding down the side into a small valley and clambering up the far side. I find a nice lounge-chair shaped rock on top of this small summit and sit down, lean back, and observe the acoustics that allow me to hear my friends across the valley. Besides their soft chatter, the desert is utterly quiet. Few birds, no rustling leaves, just silence. The sun slips across the sky as I drift to sleep, slowly covering me in shadow. I awake cold, with a chilly wind urging me to stand and relocate the sun’s warmth. It’s only in the 80’s right now, which is great, but the sun provides most of the heat – in the shade a warm layer is almost a must.

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From left to right: Boyd, Jules, Scott, and me.

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View from my nap spot. See my friends on top of tht far outcrop? I could hear them clear as day.

Rejuvenated, I scrambled back down, cross the valley, and climb up a fairly steep face to rejoin my friends. We return to camp and teach Jules to play Catan. She picks it up fast and soon we are all loud and whipping insults across the table. I enjoy a beer and after Boyd’s surprising come-from-behind victory we start a fire and roast sausages for dinner. A dessert of smore’s rounds out the night’s food and we return for another round of Catan. Unhappy with my dominance, another game is demanded. Mistake. It goes on forever and by the end none of us really cares anymore. When we finally finish Boyd and Jules call it a night while Scott and I climb atop the rocks behind camp and stare up at an endless night sky. Such a vast sea of stars on a backdrop almost pitch black. At least straight above and to the east – the hazy pollution coming from the developed west reflects lights and drowns out the stars above Palm Springs. We chat about work, life, the future. As much fun as friendly competition over games can be these moments of quiet, sincere connection will be the moments that stick with me forever. We see a massive, long, and bright shooting star. This is perfect.


Saturday (2016-10-22):

Later today we will decide we are not glamping (glamorous camping), but this morning’s breakfast says otherwise for someone who has been eating cold overnight oats every day on the road. Scott fries up bacon, grease shooting everywhere, while Jules cooks potatoes and the leftover sausage form last night. Meanwhile, I cut up the avocado and cheese and Boyd makes coffee. We throw it all into tortillas and cover it with salsa and hot sauce. Shit, it’s almost like being at home!

After breakfast we hop in the car and drive back west to a lookout overlooking the San Andreas Fault with Palm Springs in the background and Mt. San Jacinto looming large in the background. We did not expect much from an obvious tourist stop but the view is stunning! There is a hike a few miles back and we hit the trail around 11:00 for a 6.3 mile loop hike on the Lost Horse Valley trail out to an old abandoned gold mine. It’s a short hike but during the peak heat and at 4,500 feet of elevation. Our water supply is dwindling and there is no shade so we decide to do the out-and-back instead and keep it to 4.5 miles. The mine is fenced off and not particularly exciting, but it was nice to hike out and see some lizards, birds, and a surprising diversity of plants life.

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Viewpoint with Mt. San Jacinto in the background. The small ridge in the valley is the San Andreas Fault.

Back at camp we all find our own spots and nap/lounge in the shade to cool of and regain our energy. All the sun really drains you! We come together later to snack and chat in the shade – Boyd passes around the MJ and, uncharacteristically, join i. Hey, I am in the desert, with friends, on a trip of exploration and discovery. Why the hell not? We laugh and when the chatter dies away we hop back on Catan. Jules wins this one but not before we pause to run out to the rocks form yesterday and watch the sunset over Mt. San Jacinto. It’s not the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen (northern Oregon Coast still wins) but enjoying it with friends over the open desert is incredibly beautiful. As the last rays fade behind the mountains we walk back to camp under a pink & purple sky. The temperature drops but remains comfortable and we build a fire and eat beef & mushroom stew with toast. Tonight’s fire is bigger & hotter than any I’ve experienced in a while thanks to no burn ban and a heck of a lot of firewood.

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Laying down, watching the sunset atop some rocks.

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Look at that face!

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Sunset is actually better looking east, away from the haze above Palm Springs.

Scott & I leave Boyd & Jules the tent as we sleep under the stars. As far as I can remember, this is a first for me (how??). I count 3-4 shooting stars as I the deep black helps me envision the constellations. Eventually I realize that I have been laying flat on my back with eyes closed, drifting off, for some time. Sleep overcomes me.

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The stars were so bright and the sky so black that even my phone could capture the night sky!


Sunday (2016-10-23):

I wanted to wake up for the sunrise this morning but, alas, it did not happen. I realize that riding east I will never ride off into the sunset, but I can watch the sunrise if I hit the road early enough. It’s a possibility too, since I will probably avoid the peak heat in order to conserve water. We clean up quickly and east breakfast at Crossroads, a small restaurant along the highway not to far from the park. By the time we sit through traffic and find out way back to Long Beach I’m a little motion sick from riding in the back seat. I’d love nothing more than to shower and snooze but it is Sunday and football overtakes the living room (my bedroom). Oh, the joys of being a guest!

VOTE!

If I can vote while biking across the country, you certainly can vote. Do it. When we fail to exercise our right to vote we relinquish out power to make change.

VOTE!

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Days 52-55: Long Beach, California

Monday (2016-10-17):

I wake up in the night to the soft, steady sounds outside. I momentarily worry someone or something is messing with my things, as this is the instinctual reaction on the road. Instead I realize the sound is the soft things of raindrops falling on the patio. It’s raining in LA! This is the first real rain since somewhere along the northern Oregon coast and the first precipitation LA has seen in 5 months. I bring the rain! 🙂 I veg-out for most of the day until Scott returns from work and we visit the climbing gym together. Talk about a full-body workout. My puny cyclist arms protest. We finish the night with my classic sweet potato dinner and board games with a bunch of Scott’s friends. Man, I miss hanging out and playing games so much!

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Tuesday (2016-10-18):

I decide to be more productive this morning and plan the next 1-2 weeks of riding to Flagstaff. Yes, I decided to stick to the original plan. The weather should be okay, just a bit cold at night. And Mexico is not going anywhere. After a solo trip to the climbing gym and a nap to make up for poor sleep last night I go out to eat dinner with Scott and his friend Crystal at Seoulmate, a Korean restaurant serving traditional entrees alongside Korean Burritos. It’s a lot like Seattle’s Marination, one of my favorite places to eat. So good! Scott and I continue on to The Blind Donkey in downtown Long Beach where we finish a respectable 8th in Geeks Who Drink trivia and I win a free beer. Success.

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It’s hard to see, but the picture on the right appears to be Donald Trump, holding a cross, burning in flames. The caption reads “This is what happens to unwanted pussy-grabbers.” Ah yes, the Donald is everywhere. Such an embarrassment.

 

Wednesday (2016-10-19):
This morning I continue the productivity trend, sort of, by making a nice breakfast and getting laundry started early. A little Smash Bro’s Melee practice (so I do not completely suck the next time we play) rounds out the morning before I leave for a long day of errands and exploration. First I stop at Goodwill to donate a couple of small items and pick up some groceries at Food 4 Less. There are many discount food stores around here but the sprawl still makes it a trek to get groceries. I try to find a cheap used DSLR camera to up my h\photography game but Long Beach Goodwill’s have nothing on Seattle and the pawn shop wanted $200 for a decade old model. Sorry, way out of my price range.

I hop on the metro Blue Line (train) to Downtown LA and visit a couple of bike shops to purchase parts for my bike and explore the city a little bit. Downtown is fine, far better in terms of bike infrastructure than the surrounding cities, but still not good. I ride through USC main campus and continue on through Culver City to the edge of Santa Monica where I spend the evening at Bikerwave. A bike co-op, Bikerwave is a volunteer-run bike shop with a good following where you can work on your bike using their parts. Rather than stream the Dodgers’ playoff game we follow along to Hillary and Trump’s ridiculous banter. This I appreciate.

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Bikerwave in Santa Monica. The staff was very friendly and helpful. I continue to find bike co-ops some of the best attractions in new cities.

I leave with brand new tires, chain, and cassette. Plus a freshly cleaned bike and sanded, smooth brakes. It rides like a whole new bike as I head to the nearest train station to begin the 2 hour trek back to Scott’s house in Long Beach. Everything is so far!  Oh yeah, and I crack my phone’s screen on the way home. Shit. Seems to be purely cosmetic (fingers crossed).

Thursday (2016-10-20):

One more day of productive mornings. I finally invest the funds I deposited into my IRA when I did my taxes this spring. It’s never too early to start saving for the future! Always pay yourself first. Of course, only so much productivity fits into one morning and as soon as I finished my responsible adult tasks I ht the couch with Scott & Kevin for a few rounds of Smash Bro’s. I still suck, but not nearly as much as before! I make my first black bean burger in months – my go to quick meal at home – and realize how much I miss the simple frozen patties. I join Scott at the climbing gym. I am a bit sore, but we belay for a while then hit the bouldering wall. By the time I leave my hands are raw and my shoulders and back sore. Yes for full-body workouts!

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After cleaning up I hop back on a train to Culver City where I meet my friend Carly from college. We enjoy a burger and a couple of beers at Father’s Office, a pretty hip bar/restaurant near the metro station in Culver City, while we catch up and reminisce. She just started a P.h.D program in Biomedical Sciences… just the tought of a P.h.D freightens me right now and “Biomedical Sciences” makes my chest pound uncomfortably. She’s always been on top of everything though, so I know she will rock it. We find surprisingly tasty ice cream at a trendy ice cream shop named Coolhaus a few blocks away and laugh at how many people look to be on dates – we go back and forth until deciding we look like we are on the second date. Not too awkward, but body language clearly creating boundaries.

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Carly chose the classic vanilla bean ice cream on chocolate chocolate chip cookies while I was lured in by the themed Trick r Treat on pumkin whoopie cookies. Both were excellent. The guy at the counter was awesome too!

It was really great oto see another friendly face and I enjoyed reminiscing for a short while. I cannot wait to meet more friends as I continue east!

Day 51: Hello Scott!

Day 51 (2016-10-16): Long Beach, CA.

I chat with Ken and Kenny briefly this morning but hit the road early to get breakfast with Scott and Amanda. It is 6.1 miles to Scott’s house but I missed a turn, enter cul-de-sac-ville, and get lost in suburbia. Every time I try to leave I find my way blocked by a dead-end, fence, or cul-de-sac. I hate this shit. I add three miles to my morning and try really hard to maintain a good mood despite my rising frustrations at this ridiculous place. But then I roll up to Scott & Amanda waiting outside for me and I dismount the bike straight into a hug. So good to see such a friendly face!

We ride with Matt, Scott’s younger brother, to I for breakfast. Chicken-fried steak with two poached eggs on top of a biscuit. Potatoes on the side. So good! Not too bad on the wallet either, $16.50 with tax and tip. Expensive, yes, but this is LA. And it was an intentional splurge, tasty, and very fulfilling after my exasperated morning. Also, everybody uses Venmo. Love it.

I thought today was going to be a day to visit my friend Carly because Scott was with Amanda, but it turns out Amanda is at a memorial service for one of her old co-workers. Scott and I spend the day together, first joining his dad to watch his brother Matt at a fencing tournament. Fencing is not a spectator sport and I find it far less exciting and romantic than Hollywood would have you believe, but at least it is novel and I learn a lot about the sport.

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Matt (right) fencing his first bout against a relatively new fencer. Matt wins this one but goes on to face very stiff competition in this open (all skill levels) competition.

Afterwards I run to Grocery Outlet and Scott goes to Target to buy some study supplies then we just hang out around the house. Dinner is a gross-out salad and some pulled-pork from Trader Joe’s that we mix with cabbage and put on toast. Meh. My generation is so dependent on Trader Joe’s and other ready-made meals.

The funeral service ends around sundown and shortly after Scott and I travel down to the waterfront to join Amanda on the boat she previously worked on with a small crew. It is a tall boat (pirate style) doing some kind of science work. Amanda’s description and photos from the memorial service show a celebratory, not mournful, service honoring the captain’s life – which sounds like what I want for myself. Scott and I join for the after-party on the boat where current and former employees are joined by significant others and friends for drinking games and general good time.

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Party on a boat!

We stay for a few hours and I meet a couple of cool people who, of course, want to hear about my ride. It’s nice to share and sharing sometimes leads to very good conversations but it can be tiring to always be the different guy. To be “amazing.” I never want to be famous

Day 50: Into Los Angeles

Day 50 (2016-10-15): ~70 miles from Leo Carillo State Park to Long Beach, CA with a detour to Topanga Creek Outpost. Highway 1, beach trails, and the long streets of LA County.

I hit the road this morning and ride peacefully along Highway 1 until I hit Malibu. I briefly get off the highway and drive down Malibu Dr, a place of enormous wealth. The top 10 most popular cars:

  1. Ferrari
  2. Porsche
  3. Bentley
  4. Maserati
  5. Lamborghini
  6. Tesla
  7. Range Rover
  8. Rolls Royce
  9. Dirty, old trucks used by the worker’s building and cleaning homes
  10. Something else that costs $$$

Okay, that’s not really factual. Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus were probably the most common cars like any upper-middle class area but I saw more exotic cars in 10 minutes than in the previous 25 years of my life. And that only counts cars visible from the road, never-mind what is hiding in the many garages.

Riding through Malibu and into Santa Monica is a crappy section with a lot of traffic and a shoulder blocked by a ton of parked cars on Saturday afternoon. If you have flexibility it might not be a bad idea to either ride through real early on the weekend or else during a on-rush hour time on a weekday. I detour to Topanga Creek Outpost, a very cool bike shop on CA-27. It’s about 5 miles off-route and up a pretty steep climb so I would not recommend doing it loaded unless you enjoy punishing yourself. I had heard about the place from another person touring and happily took the detour. At the shop I learn a lot, from first-hand experience, about the Great Divide route from Canada to New Mexico – something I am considering doing next year. They also gave me fresh banana bread with M&M’s. I love this place! Don’t expect to find all your basic needs here though, they specialize in bike packing, touring, and local bags & accessories.

Topanga Creek Outpost has a chill outdoor area to relax.

Banana bread with M&M’s!

Unfortunately, I have not found a Warm Showers in Santa Monica, Culver City, or anywhere near the beginning of the route through LA so I call Ken Francis, a Warm Showers host in Long Beach. He messaged me on Facebook after I added some info on Big Sur and offered to host if I should need a place. He thankfully offers to host me on short notice and I set out from the shop for another 30-35 miles. Long Day. I expected to enjoy a sweet descent through the canyon but strong, gusty headwinds keep me pedaling the whole way.

For 10+ miles I ride directly on the beach through a winding, crowded, and sandy bike path filled with people biking, walking, scootering, skating, loitering, and doing pretty much everything you would imagine. Off the beach, Los Angeles county is an unpleasant place to ride. On, and on, and on… this these roads go on forever! Notice I said “Los Angeles County.” LA itself is only a small piece of sprawling metropolis that is LA county. LA, Long Beach, Santa Monica…there are many different cities within the county that all blend together since the terrain is one expansive low-density urban area with patches of denser urban development.

I think I can fit in with the beach bros 🙂

I pick a 6 lane road with low traffic and ride straight.  On many of these roads there is more than enough room for a bike lane alongside the other 3 lanes on this side of the centerline, but nothing exists. Even where parking is restricted! I’m glad traffic is so low right now…it basically feels like driving on a major highway on Sunday morning.

Driving lane? Parking? Bike? Who knows.

By the time I reach my host I hit 70 miles and lose all motivation to keep riding. My host welcomes me in and I cool down and shower before an amazing dinner. Chicken in mushroom sauce, steamed broccoli, stuffed mushrooms, rice, and a beer. Damn, what a feast! They keep pushing food on me and I fill my plate twice while we chat about everything from Trump and politics to parenting, travel, and more. Then I take a little more rice with the mushroom sauce. So good!

A bed! A room! So luxurious.

By the time we finish talking it is almost 23:00 and I clean up and hop in bed to look at my options for getting around this mega-suburb city. Geez, everything is so far away!

Day 49: Back to Riding

Day 49 (2016-10-14): ~50 miles from Carpenteria to Leo Carrillo State Park. Mostly highway and parallel bike path.

After two full days off, one of which was extremely lazy, getting back in the bike was a bit slow but not nearly as hard as after a week off in San Francisco. I double and triple checked I had everything before I left, since once I left I wouldn’t be able to get back in. And I have a habit of leaving things behind…

Riding along the parallel road and then bike path is a nice way to start the morning but it is still loud as hell. I listen to a bit of news but eventually just put on music since I keep missing parts of the conversation. Not more than 10 miles in I spot something in the water and stop for a better look. Dolphins! I know they’re dolphins because there are quite a few that call the nearby Channel Islands home and they are distinguished from porpoises by their curved dorsal fin. Dolphins! If you look very carefully in the photo you can just make out it’s back. Too bad I did not already have that camera…

You probably cannot see, but there is a tiny tip of a dolphin out there.

Welcome to SoCal, where oil rigs dot the ocean horizon and also just sit around everywhere.

The rest of the day is uneventful and I stop at the free Seabees Museum in Port Hueneme. It’s all about the Seabees, a military engineer/construction squad that also sees combat. It started in WWII but still exists today. It was okay…I am not a big fan of war museums. I like memorials because I believe we should respect our soldiers and the gravity of war. But I don’t like the way some museums, this being one of them, glorify war and military. It was free though, so I recommend stopping. Plus, the bathrooms are nice.

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After Port Hueneme it was back on Highway 1 with a nice tailwind all the way to camp. Nothing special tonight, just some Ramen and an early bedtime.