Category Archives: Biking U.S.

The Numbers.

Total miles traveled: 3,408

Total feet climbed: 86,488 (Or, if you prefer, the equivalent of three Mt. Everests or 11,532 Yao Mings.)

Total days: 69

Total days riding: 58

Average miles per riding day: 59

Number of states: 8

Day across Texas: 16

Tubes of “Butt Butter” used: 2 (along with 1 of Desitin)

Flat tires: 2

Clothing replaced: 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of gloves.

Equipment replaced:
– 2 tires (I think they would have made the entire trip, but out of an abundance of caution, I sent them home from Austin, Texas and replaced them with a new pair)
– 1 pair brake pads (back and front wheels)

Days without cell coverage (AT&T): 4

Weight lost: 23 lbs

Gallons of sweet tea consumed: I’m not sure, but I haven’t slept in a month.


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A Few Final Thoughts.

When I decided to make this journey and began speaking about it with friends and family, I encountered what a former manager used to refer to as “The Wall of No”. Almost everyone had an objection or reason why I shouldn’t do it: “What if you get robbed?”, “What if you have an accident?”, “Are you in shape to do this?”, “You might get lost.”, “Your bike could break.”, ” Shouldn’t you go with someone else just to be safe?” is just a sampling of what I encountered.

None of these things occurred or came close to happening. Instead, almost every encounter was positive. From Lori, the waitress I met in Jacksonville to Erwin, a fellow traveler from Holland and the dozens of others that I never wrote about, people were overwhelming friendly, supportive and helpful.

While riding through Landry Parish in Louisiana, I had a conversation with a man leaving a convenience store. When he found out about my ride, he asked where I was headed and whether there had been any problems in Landry. I told him I was going to Acadia Parish and that everything had been wonderful. He proudly responded: “Good. You’ll be fine here. People will look after you. Good people here. You have nothin’ to worry about. But you need to watch you’self when you get to Acadia Parish. It’s mighty dangerous there. Be careful!”

I thanked him for the advice and a day later rode into Acadia Parish. As I was standing in front of a small market, a man came up to me and struck up a conversation about my trip. When I told him that I had just traveled through Landry Parish he exclaimed incredulously: “You didn’t get robbed there? Nothing happened? Boy, you was lucky. Landry is one dangerous place.”

The point of this story is that we used to be “home of the brave”. Now, I’m not so sure. What strikes me is how as individuals and a country we have become fragmented and fearful. Perhaps, this is a reaction to 9/11. Certainly, the era of Nancy Grace type media coverage only makes things worse. All I know is that this is not how or who we used to be.

And, it’s a shame, because if you give in to fear you will never see that amazing field of purple lupine on that lonely dirt road. You won’t enjoy the camaraderie of a fellow traveler and have it develop into a friendship. You won’t stand in the middle of that expanse of desert at dawn and enjoy almost perfect silence and solitude. You won’t experience the soft, loving voice of the elderly woman in that small bayou town who held your hand and prayed for your safety. When we let fear limit us, we miss the best of each other, our country and ourselves. So, my big piece of advice if you are considering a tour (or any other endeavor) – don’t be afraid.

But do keep an eye out for the dogs.


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Day 69: Home

Elevation gained: 3,211 ft/Miles 36/Total Miles: 3,408/ Total Fast Food: 20

I awoke with first light, packed quietly and slipped out trying not to wake my hosts. (D&V – Thank you for the companionship and hospitality. It was a wonderful way to celebrate my last night on the road.) Riding through the streets of Santa Cruz in the misty, early dawn only the gulls and a few solitary fisherman bundled in hooded sweatshirts, were awake to share the morning.

As the sun rose, I met a good friend at a local diner called “Zachary’s” where we enjoyed breakfast and caught up. I’ll to refer to him as “Astro Boy” not only for his striking resemblance to the character of Japanese magna and American cartoons, but because of his strength as a rider. He’s a serious racing cyclist who has offered to serve as my “domestique” as I head on the final leg and over the hill to home.  Astro Boy has calves like Super Saver and I’m just hoping he doesn’t fall asleep and injure himself trying to match my tortoise like pace.

We pedal out through Santa Cruz and up into the cool, moist redwood forests of Felton and Ben Lomond. As I ride Hwy 9 and the climb home, I reflect on everything I’ve experienced over the last two months. Unfortunately, these memories are individual ingredients in what is becoming a thoroughly blended neural soup. I can’t recall whether I spoke to that interesting ranch hand in Navasota, Texas or Blythe, California. I’m not sure if that wondrously desolate desert road was in Arizona or New Mexico. The young woman who spoke to me about the challenges of raising her daughter in a small southern town, was that in Louisiana or Mississippi? Writing about it helps, but still the ingredients are blending and increasingly all I’m left with is the overall taste, or “sabor” of the experience.

At the summit of the climb, Astro Boy and I pause to add a layer of clothing to keep warm on the fast descent toward home. He encourages me to lead making excuses as to why I will be faster given the weight of my equipment. I know that this gesture is because he understands that I need some space not for the weight I’m carrying, but for the emotion I’m bearing.

I fly down the hill with almost euphoric abandon. My bike, my legs, my heart and the road are integrated and I descend at speed almost without notice of my surroundings. At the bottom of the hill, I see my father and youngest son who are on their bicycles and waiting to meet me. Deep embraces are exchanged and we ride forward together.

A few miles later, I make my last climb of the ride. The others have fallen back and as I ascend the road to my home, I am surprised by dozens of friends, family and colleagues who have lined the road with signs and ringing bells to welcome me. I’m stunned and emotionally overcome as I bring my bike to a stop and wrap my arms around W.C.C. To all of you who joined me today or by what I have written – thank you. Your support and encouragement has met more than you will ever understand.


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Day 68: Santa Cruz, California

Elevation gained: 1,817 ft/Miles 53/Total Miles: 3,372/ Total Fast Food: 20

I relaxed this morning knowing that it would be a short, relatively flat, ride. Taking a series of farm roads, I rolled past the first fields of strawberries being harvested, new plantings of butter, head and red lettuce and into the expanses of artichokes near Moss Landing. If Michael Pollan lived here, he would be set.

Moss Landing is a favorite of ours. As a family, we enjoy exploring the antique shops, eclectic galleries and restaurants – The Whole Enchilada is excellent – of this small fishing town. Riding the bridge over Elkhorn Slough, I paused to watch the sea otters below. I’m looking forward to getting off the pedals and getting back to other activities. Kayaking at Elkhorn is one of them.

For the remainder of the afternoon, I rode at a leisurely pace winding through Watsonville, Freedom and Aptos, along Larkin Valley Road and into Santa Cruz. It was a spectacular day along the Boardwalk. In the early season tourists, volleyball players, surfers and those sitting bundled on the beach, you sensed the promise of a summer just weeks away.

Tomorrow, I head for home. It will be interesting to see how my body reacts when I stop riding. My legs have almost become separate sentient beings. They seem to anticipate and understand a daily ride. Often, I will have covered thirty or forty miles in the morning before realizing I have been riding for so long.

“Re-entry” is going to be tough.


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Day 67: Marina, California

Elevation gained: 1,191 ft/Miles 43/Total Miles: 3,319/ Total Fast Food: 20

I lounged around this morning enjoying my campsite. I’ve camped at Pfeiffer before, but it has always been during the summer when every campsite is filled and noisy. Given that it is still May and a weekday, the park was only half full. Because it was dark when I arrived, I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the beauty of where I slept. Surrounded by towering redwoods with a carpet of oxalis and bordered by a fast moving stream, it was secluded, quiet and peaceful. Just what I needed after yesterday’s ride. I ate a leisurely breakfast and read a book with only the stellar jays as a distraction.

The wind continued again today, but it was not as forceful permitting me to enjoy the countryside in this area of Big Sur. At times, I felt as if I were riding through Christina’s World, the famous painting by Wyeth with its long flowing grasses and old wooden buildings. While I was stopped and enjoying the view, a southbound touring cyclist pulled over to my side of the road. John is from Canada. Even if he didn’t mention this, you would know it by his modest, friendly demeanor and the occasional “eh” in his conversation. At the age of 47, he pulled the plug and quit his job, sold his possessions and is now riding from British Columbia down into South America. We could have talked all day there on the roadside; however, I was still bucking the headwinds and I wanted to make progress before they worsen in the afternoon. We exchanged contact information and headed off.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent riding through Carmel, Monterey, Seaside and into Marina. As I don’t have a detailed map and Hwy 1 does not permit cyclists in this area, I generally just headed west on surface streets bouncing around like a ball in a pachinko machine until I found myself in Marina.


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Day 66: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, California

Elevation gained: 5,044 ft/Miles 70/Total Miles: 3,276/ Total Fast Food: 20

Mortgage Ride yesterday, Misery Ride today.

Possibly it was the wine or just fatigue, but I slept well last night. Perhaps, a little too well. I awoke to the chatter of crows near my bicycle. As I groggily raised my eyelids, I noticed they were pecking at trash scattered over the area. Thinking that the wind had overturned a trashcan, I arose and started picking it up immediately noticing that it was my food. Judging by the muddy paw prints on my bike, it looks as if a few raccoons raided my pantry. They unzipped four of the pockets on my panniers and took almost every single bit of food I have. I didn’t hear a thing.

After cleaning up the mess, I headed out in the direction of Big Sur stopping at San Simeon for breakfast and to resupply. This portion of Hwy 1 is one of the most dramatic and scenic coastlines in the country. However, most of what I saw was my front wheel as tried to keep my head down in the face of cold, murderous, headwinds. On occasion, the leeward side of a mountain would offer protection, but as soon as I rounded the corner the full blast of the wind would hit me, sometimes pushing me into the lane of oncoming traffic. I stopped a few times to enjoy the view of the spectacular mountains of the Ventana Wilderness, white-capped ocean chop and the molting sea elephants. But, these pauses were brief because I could only stay warm while pedaling. I saw a number of riders, all heading south reveling in their amazing tailwind. Most of them gave me a quick wave and an empathetic grin, but given the conditions, no one stopped.

Long stretches of the highway are under construction. I’m guessing this due to the heavy rains from this winter, as there are still rivulets of water and mud running down the hillsides. In some areas, I had the uneasy feeling that the cliffs above me could break free at anytime. It’s amazing where CalTrans operates some of their heavy equipment. In one area, there was a large bulldozer cutting into the hillside only a few feet from what could be a 1,500 ft drop. When the driver waved at me, I wanted to scream at him to pay attention to what he was doing.

It wasn’t until 7:30pm that I reached my campsite. I was so chilled that I parked my bike, grabbed a change of clothes and went immediately into a hot shower. Once I was warm, I ate my freeze-dried pasta and then crawled into my bag exhausted.

But first, I bagged my food and hung it from a tree. The raccoons will need to find their own meal tonight.


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Day 65: San Simeon State Park, California

Elevation gained: 935 ft/Miles 42/Total Miles: 3,206/ Total Fast Food: 20

I started the day enjoying my morning feed at the Breakfast Buzz Café with four other cyclists who live in San Luis Obispo. Amy, was referred my blog by a friend and has been keeping up with the trip since I started. Along the way, she invited me to meet with her and a few other riders so that I could give them more information about doing a long tour. They were a great group and it was fun to speak with people who have commonality of interest – in this case cycling. I would have that experience a few more times today.

From San Luis Obispo, I rode toward Los Osos and then Morro Bay. It was a day for what I like to refer to as a “Mortgage Ride”. Yes, the housing prices in California are, even with the recession, still astronomic compared to the rest of the U.S. However, on a day like today, I would happily make the mortgage payment. Riding through Los Osos Valley small pockets of morning fog served as curtains gradually drawn back to reveal a stunningly beautiful countryside. The hills, marshes and wetlands were a green hued canvas to cows lazily chewing, old barns, purple thistles, multi-colored sweet pea and red winged blackbirds. Not a cloud in the sky and, thankfully, no wind.

Hell, I would have made two payments today.

I have travelled this portion of Hwy 1 several dozens times by car. Always in a rush to get north or south, I’ve never stopped to explore. I realized this while having a cup of coffee in Cayucos and watching the surfers down by the pier. It’s a causal, comfortable little ocean side village with a Jack Johnson vibe, but I’ve never been here before.

A few miles past Cayucos, I saw a cyclist on a road bike heading south. I waved and he immediately made a U-turn across the highway and caught up to me. Scott is from Seattle. He’s a graphic artist who previously ran a bike shop. This week he’s visiting his sister and today decided to get out for a Mortgage Ride as well. He shared some interesting stories about a ride from Alaska to San Diego that he did a few years ago with his girlfriend. While on that ride, Scott met another cyclist who had planned his entire route to end at a microbrewery each night. (Note to self – next time!)

Minutes after meeting Scott, I saw a touring rider also heading south. His name is Ira and although he proclaims himself to be “just a city boy” and a neophyte to both camping and touring, he’s going for it in a big way. Ira started his ride in Vancouver and is heading to San Diego. From there he is going to fly to Amsterdam and cycle to Istanbul. He was in a state of near euphoria as he described his experiences to date; despite the constant hail and rain he endured during the first month of his ride.

I stopped in Cambria (yet another wonderful little beach town), had lunch and picked up some things for camping this evening. I’m staying at San Simeon State Park, which is a few miles from Hearst Castle. Although it’s close to the highway, it has nice sheltered sites and hot showers.

After I set things up, I walked to the beach to catch a few hours of sunshine. Picking my way through the driftwood and down to the tidal zone, I saw a snowy plover flitting about selecting a nesting site. It’s breeding season for these birds and, unfortunately, they nest on the sand and in areas that are frequented by humans. So, you need to watch your step.

As I walked back to my campsite after sunset, a neighbor invited me to sit next to the fire and enjoy a cup of wine. Erwin is from Holland. Handsome, gregarious and engaging, this is his fourth trip to the U.S.; all spent exploring the western states. I’m always impressed at how people from other countries, and especially those in Europe, have seen more of the U.S. than most of our citizens. Listening to the passion in his voice as he described the places he had visited and all that he experienced was a good reminder of why this country is so special.


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Day 64: San Luis Obispo, California

Elevation gained: 583 ft/Miles 18/Total Miles: 3,164/Total Fast Food: 20f

A day of relaxation. Given the proximity to the ocean, the dew was dense last night. As a result, my sleeping bag was soaked and it took an hour for me to dry it out once the sun rose. But, I didn’t mind. I had a good book and was in no rush as today’s destination, San Luis Obispo, was only a bit less than 20 miles away. The only interruption in my peaceful morning was a gaggle of geese eating insects near the table in my campsite. I grabbed my camera for a photograph and when I was within five feet of them, a large white goose blew the clarion and suddenly I had six geese chasing me until I jumped up on the table. First dogs, now geese. What’s next?

Outside of Pismo, a cyclist gave me directions to San Luis Obispo. Most of the route was a bike path or bike lane. As I pedaled, I saw dozens of other riders enjoying the beautiful sunny day. Given the excellent roads and the spectacular scenery it’s no surprise that biking is popular here.

I haven’t been to San Luis Obispo or “SLO(w)” as it is affectionately called for almost 30 years. But, not much has changed. It’s still very much a college town with a culture reflective of the acronym. As I entered the town on Higera Street, there was no “Welcome to San Luis Obispo, Heart of the Galaxy, Most Important City on Earth, etc.” type of sign that you see with other communities. Instead, it merely said “City Limits” as if the residents felt that understatement better conveyed who they are. After I completed the chores of washing my clothes and cleaning my bike, I explored the downtown area, which was largely as I remember it – intimate, unhurried and friendly.

The thing that tells you all you need to know about this city is “ Bubble Gum Alley”, possibly the largest collection of DNA outside of the FBI. For decades, people have been turning the corner down this alley off Higera and Marsh, removing their gum and placing it on the brick walls. I remember it from a visit when I was in college and it is still here. The city used to periodically clean it up, but for years now has instead taken a more relaxed attitude.

And, that is what SLO is all about.


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Day 63: Pismo Beach, California

Elevation gained: 3,648 ft/Miles 73/Total Miles: 3,146/Total Fast Food: 20

At about 9pm last night, I reluctantly left my bit of shelter in front of the store and found a depression in the lawn near the playground at Jamala Beach County Park where I could lay my sleeping bag. Although it offered some slight protection, for the first part of the night I felt as if I was a cocoon in a wind tunnel. Then, suddenly at about 3am, the wind stopped so abruptly that I awoke. The night was a wonder with a full moon reflecting off of the unexpectedly calm ocean and with stars everywhere. I drifted back to sleep and didn’t awaken until daybreak.

After a quick snack (a banana and trail mix), I rode the 14 miles to Hwy 1 and then into Lompoc. In Lompoc, I stopped at the first diner I saw, ordered breakfast and enjoyed multiple cups of coffee and a good book in attempt to rid myself of the stiffness and fatigue of the last night.

Once I felt together, I rode off through the vegetable fields of the Central Coast. Pres. George H.W. Bush and most children would have hated it – miles and miles of broccoli (as well as lettuce and cauliflower). As I headed north, I rode past the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex (former residence of H.R. Haldeman and Ivan Boesky). Across from the prison, I saw a hand painted mural on a bus stop that said: “Stay in school. Knowledge is power.”

A few miles later, I skirted Vandenberg Air Force Base looking for a spur road off Hwy 1. While in Santa Barbara, I was having dinner at the bar of the “Tee Off Club” when three women sat down next to me. They were celebrating an evening out without husbands and children. We chatted for an hour as we ate (amazing what people will confide in a stranger) and one of the women asked me about my route and suggested that I take the Lompoc – Casmalia Road to Guadalupe. The road was washed out near Vandenberg, but I found another way to connect with it a few miles later. What a fortuitous suggestion as it was another stunning bit of road and scenery for cycling. I rode through Casmalia, Shuman and into Santa Maria. Then I reversed course and rode to Guadalupe. The strawberry fields there were almost ready for harvest and you could smell the sweet fruit essence everywhere. I had to restrain myself from pulling over and picking a handful.

In the late afternoon, I reached Pismo Beach. For those who are not familiar with it, this California state park permits you to drive vehicles onto the beach and camp anywhere. With some trepidation about being run over in the middle of the night by a 4×4 , I found another part of the park that had some secluded campsites. After unpacking, I took my dinner up to a bluff overlooking the beach and sat sheltered in the dune grass watching the vehicular chaos below and enjoying a wonderful sunset.


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Day 62: Jalama Beach, California

Elevation gained: 3,516 ft/Miles 65/Total Miles: 3,073/Total Fast Food: 20

It’s almost 7pm as I write this. I’m huddled in a corner in front of the Jalama Market and Beach Café awaiting darkness so that I can crawl into my sleeping bag. I’m shivering so forcefully that it is difficult to keep my fingers on the keyboard. The wind is stronger than anything on the trip thus far. Since arriving late this afternoon, I have witnessed a parade of umbrellas, large trash bins, tents and coolers blowing through the campground like tumbleweeds. The only beneficiary of these conditions has been the kite surfers. I counted more than a dozen of them launching themselves over the waves in this insane wind.

But, to start at the beginning, I checked out of my hotel early this morning, found a market and replenished my food supplies so that I can camp over the next week. For me this means pouches of tuna, apples and bananas, tortillas, cheese, an avocado and my “guilty pleasure” a box of Frosted Blueberry Pop-Tarts. From there, I rode the Obern Coast Bike Trail through Goleta, past UCSB (Go Gauchos!) and onto the Hwy 101/PCH. It was setting up to be a classic California beach day with a light, but warm sea breeze and blue monochromatic skies. For a moment, I gave thought to spending another day in Santa Barbara. Later, I wished I had.

Near Gaviota, I followed Hwy 1 as it splits off and heads in the direction of Lompoc with a few challenging climbs. Ten miles later, I reached the turnoff for Jalama Beach. Because this is a 14-mile road that ends at the beach, it was almost completely free of traffic. About the only evidence of humans are the road itself, which runs through a number of beautiful valleys, telephone lines and a few solitary ranches. Otherwise, it is a gorgeous ride with California poppies and other wildflowers in abundance. It’s the type of road of which cyclists dream.

However, as I approached the beach in the late afternoon, the wind velocity increased alarmingly. I checked into the campground and tried to find a sheltered location, but they were all taken. So, I locked my bike and took a shower. The good news is that the campground has warm showers; the bad news is that the stench indicates that they should receive Superfund Cleanup status. “Soap, rinse and gag” is not the most enjoyable way to get clean.

I tried to walk on the beach – and it is certainly among the most resplendent on the Central Coast – but, the wind blistered me with sand. It was impossible to keep my glasses on my face. I took the opportunity to try one of the famous “Jalama Burgers” as an excuse to sit inside. (It lived up to the hype.) As I ate, I watched a number of campers and RVs pack up and head out. I wish I had that luxury, but I’m not up to another few hours of riding, especially at dusk.

After the store closed, I walked around the campground trying to find somewhere protected, again without success. I ended up pulling all my belongings into a slightly sheltered area in front of the store. I used my last cache of medicinal agave juice to help keep warm. Now a few hours later, I’m just waiting for darkness and having a mental debate over what has been worse the dogs of Landry Parish, Louisiana or the zephyr I’ve been facing for the last 1,000 miles.

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