Saturday, 4 May 2013

California part 2 - San Francisco to the mountains

I’ve feasted tonight. For the past 5 days I’ve climbed up and down mountain passes in the Sierras, and supplies have been scarce. I went 2 days without my usual fare of bread and cheese for lunch, and used up my dry provisions, melting snow to make oatmeal for one lunch stop. Today I dropped back down into civilisation, and made not one but two grocery stops. I ate a cheese and tomato (fresh!) sandwich after reaching this campsite, hard boiled a batch of eggs and ate one of those, and have just finished off a double portion of macaroni and cheese with green beans (fresh!), ginger, garlic, and a tin of Bumblebee clams (in clam juice) thrown in. I’m swigging from the bottle of port I picked up in the second store, from a plastic water bottle naturally- I dumped the glass one in the trash outside the store. My stretch in the Sierra’s has been wild, isolated, and phenomenally beautiful. I’m riding off route at the moment, as my route maps go over Tioga Pass into Yosemite, and Tioga pass is shut for a another week or so. I’m sad to have missed it, but feel I’ve benefited from going a way favoured by locals, which has had next to no traffic on it. I’d already come up over Carson’s pass, and after a timely chat to a knowledgeable and friendly biker (with a beautiful Honda Goldwing) outside the library in Markleeville, I took route 4 over Ebbett’s Pass. Striking off from my route maps has been liberating, as has the 4 night’s wild camping I did up in the mountains - I stayed in forests, by a lake, and the Carson river in which I took a bath. The wild camping was partly choice, partly necessity - route 4 has only just opened after Winter, and the few campgrounds that were open were dry, not cold water, let alone hot. I’d rather camp for free near some water. There is so much space up there that it’s easy to find a spot.

San Francisco marked the end of the first stretch of my trip, After checking my bank balance in the hostel in the evening I arrived, I quickly decided that my spending was unsustainable. I’m now attempting to stick to a small daily budget, making up any over-spending with some opportunistic wild camping. Last night I found an abandoned/closed campground with black plastic wrapped over the entrance signs. I nipped in off the road when no cars were coming, and entered a strange and eerie place. Pine needles and fir cones the size of bowling balls littered the roads, huge boulders littered the place, and were interspersed with fallen trees that must have been victim to the winter storms from the past few years. The trash cans were upturned, and the restrooms locked. I took water from a river at the bottom of the hill, got massacred by enormous mosquitoes that actually bit through my long sleeved top, and retreated to my tent and listened to Neurosis’ A Sun That Never Sets, and scared myself stupid. This was a perfect place in the end, free, and I had the huge ground to myself. After a good night’s sleep I woke up when the sun cam up, the mosquitoes had all but left, and I merrily changed the chain on my bike and trimmed my beard with my nail scissors with Rainbow blasting out through my phone.

San Francisco and also served as a kind of spiritual stopover and source of inspiration for my travels. I used the hostel’s wifi to buy a copy of Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums to re-read on my kindle, and visited the Beat Museum over in Chinatown- the only sightseeing I could afford the time to do. Reading Kerouac when I was younger is probably one of the reasons I am over here right now, and the first few pages of Dharma bums, where he hops a train to Santa Barbara and sleeps on the beach in his blankets - hidden away from the cops so they won’t chase him away - is inspiring stuff. San Francisco is a playground for cyclists - zipping up and down those hills imagining you’re in a 70 movie car chase, flying round street corners in the spring sunshine avoiding tram lines - all this on a bike without any luggage strapped on is a lot of fun. Coming in over the bridge was a lot of fun too. I rode around the city getting supplies, my favourite new things are - my bear-proof food canister, and my yellow plastic egg storage box. I got some good advice on stealth camping from an impressively bearded dude in a big outdoors store, and have since taped over all the reflective tabs on my tent. I’m in a campsite in Columbia, a historic ‘gold country’ town, I should witness the locals getting dressed up and prancing around in costume tomorrow, on my way out. The lady at the camp office gave me a discount and upgraded me to an RV site, which has electric hookup for my laptop, which I’m writing this on. With the hot showers, this place is luxury! I will rejoin the route my maps take in Yosemite. I’ll probably take some days off from cycling there, as I am overdue a break. I can think of worse places to take it. Then down through Southern California, to see what challenges the desert brings.


  1. Sounds awesome mate, there's nothing like a few day's wild camping to make you appreciate how simple life can be. Glad to hear you're consolidating on the egg idea. I did 50miles this morning, 20 of them through London, and I can confirm you're not missing out on any good cycling by not being here. Chris.

  2. True words indeed! Yeah the egg thing is great, picked the container up at an amazing store in San Francisco called Sports Basement, that place is incredible I think you'd like it there! I got an action shot for you too!

  3. Al

    Fantastic to get the update from you, we were beginning to get concerned about the quiet spell knowing that you were in the backwoods amongst the bears and possibly weird folk.

    You might try Boz Skaggs "High Sierra" if you want an appropriate and good cycling tune.

    Any chance we can catch up with that skype conversation before too long? As always, be safe. We're missing you back here in (sunny) Winchester.


  4. Brilliant! once you get used to wild camping that's it, the world is yours!
    and remember that the majority of people in the world are good people,
    fear attracts the dreaded
    but i am sure they goodies will be the only kinda folks you'll attract.

    Ah, food, has to be hanged from tall trees.

    Best wishes mate

    1. I met an American cyclist called Bob today, really nice guy, he hangs food from trees with the rope trick. I've got my bear cannister now which also doubles as a handy seat. Bob had just cycled up a road I'd come down previously and saw a baby bear crossing the road, I must have just missed it! Hoping for a sighting soon!

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  6. Alan
    our friend Chris sent me the link to your blog. It is really wonderful to read about your trip and see your photos. Fantastic writing!! I laughed out loud when you wrote about the effect that "A Sun that Never Sets" had on you.
    The people you meet along the way are a universe onto themselves, and I sometimes think the landscape always ends up shaping these people, both physically and mentally.
    I am very happy to read your blog!
    If you ever decide to cycle to Italy (maybe with Chris?) come and visit me at the mountain hut where I live, at the foot of the Tre Cime, on the Dolomites. It's hard work cycling up, and going down you'll burn the brakes ah ah
    Alan, I can't wait to read your next post.
    Be safe!!
    Paola (the fat Italian who loves Neurosis and who used to work with you).

    1. Paola, as if I could forget you! Very glad Chris passed the blog link to you, he's a good man! This also proves the truth of the old proverb; 'wherever there is Neurosis, there is Paola'. Interesting what you say about landscape shaping people, something for me to think about and watch out for. Yes to a trip to Italy, I'd love to see the place. Hope you're all set up there now!