Thursday, 30 May 2013

Nevada - To and Through Las Vegas

I'm writing this from the poolside of a Motel 6 at the rough end of St George, Utah. I cycled a short day of 40 miles of Interstate 15 to get here and finished early - this morning was hot hilly desert canyons filled with fumes from the fresh tar that teams of road workers were spreading, mixed with exhaust from lines of traffic crawling along next to me. Riding in the rough narrow shoulder of the road, I had some good 6mph uphill races with articulated lorries while dodging rotting car tyres, smashed beer bottles and old screws and nails in the shoulder of the road. Today I woke up in Nevada, crossed into Arizona, then in to Utah, which was fun. Alas - this isn't because I'm some sort of supercyclist, just the way the road lies through the state boundaries.

The I-15 between Mesquite and St George, before hitting the roadworks. The manky asphalt on the right is the bike lane.

Although conditions sound less than ideal for cycling, I was working hard and enjoying myself - probably because I was feeling strong after a good night's sleep. Last night I stayed in a cheap hotel room in the old-fashioned, dark and smoky Virgin River Casino. Hotel registration is in the casino itself, it had a nice feel to it when I arrived, kind of 'bit of innocent fun' casino instead of hardcore gambling, with a jolly one-armed emcee calling out names of guests to go up and claim $500 prizes. It has a sort of old fashioned Butlins or Caravan park lounge/bar feel, with people chuffing on cigarattes while pumping coins into slot machines. I saw a slightly darker side this morning when I returned my room key, old men slumped over the bar at 7am with their heads in their hands.

I didn't do any gambling in Mesquite or in Vegas - getting my bike and gear in and out of Vegas was enough of a gamble itself. Back in Lancaster, California, I'd tried to ride to a bike shop in the morning to get a few things looked at. I got another puncture on the way (2 in 24hrs) which told me the rear tyre needed replacing. I pushed the bike along the road in the morning heat for an hour before getting to the bike shop - and thankfully it was a good one (Block Cycles).

After putting a new fatter (1.75 inch) tyre and 'Desert Thorn Proof' inner tube (filled with sealant) on the back I had a great chat with Rich, the owner. He suggested if I wanted to get to Vegas I'd do well to cycle through Barstow and ride from there. He gave me a great desert dirt road detour out of town down, past the church used in Kill Bill and along some of the old Route 66.

I've ridden a few dirt roads recently, hard but fun. The problem is when the asphalt/sand becomes loose and more than an inch deep - Leaving Lancaster I had to get off and push for quite a bit of it as the ground literally slips around beneath the wheels when riding. Queue some strong cursing and swearing from me, sweating along pushing my 45kg load through sand drifts. I nearly wiped out a few times going downhill, skidding about a metre left then right on one occasion. It's testament to the way the bike handles under weight that I stayed upright - well done Surly! (I built the bike up from their Long Haul Trucker Frame, getting the largest frame that would take 26inch mtb wheels). I camped rough out in the desert that night.

Avenue G heading east out of Lancaster, before hitting the dirt track
Shadow mountain road the morning after leaving Lancaster and camping rough, on the way to Silver Lake/Helendale
Another desert dirt road detour, this one after leaving Las Vegas. The ground here was littered with empty bullet cases. 

After reaching Barstow, I found that I wouldn't be able to ride the Interstate to Vegas as planned. I scouted out the various entrances to the freeway in town, and all of them had 'no bicycle' signs. I was torn between getting the Greyhound (my backup plan) and riding the freeway anyway. I decided on the former as I didn't want to risk finding no shoulder to ride in on the road. The Interstate lanes are surprisingly narrow, just enough room for a lorry, not real room to squeeze a bike in, plus I saw a few highway patrol cars going up and down town.

So I found a Motel 6 in Barstow in order to get the Greyhound bus to Vegas the next day. Greyhound policy requires me breaking down and boxing the bike - queue me cycling around town that evening trying to source a large enough box for the job. I tried a few places and eventually got the Walmart manager to promise to save a box from the coming evening's night shift. But I went back at 7am the next day to find they had nothing for me. I scrounged a couple of large boxes anyway and put something together that I thought would work.

While I was taking the bike apart outside the front of the motel room, my neighbour came for a chat. A little old man from San Franciso, he talked incessantly at me but rummaged around his truck and offered me some duct tape when I ran out. He used to be a cyclist before a bad car crash, had been married 3 times, his first wife was Welsh (the first American I've found that's heard of Wales), and he's owned 11 dogs. He said he'd been a cartoonist for Walt Disney and offered to draw me, but unfortunately I was too busy working. I went into his room to get some extra cardboard he'd offered me, and saw the room covered with handpainted signs and small pots of paint, and 2 friends working away on a Betty Boop poster. Fitting all this in to a Motel 6 room is quite a feat. I went into the office for coffee for a break and saw two policemen - a truck had been stolen and lots of other cars broken in to while I slept.


After calling a taxi number for a ride to the station I discovered that there were not taxis in town big enough to fit the box, which was roughly 6ft long. I measured the box by lying down next to it while on the phone to the taxi lady. She was lovely, and actually drove round to see if it would fit. When it didn't, she suggested I call the local UPS and get it shipped down to the station. This was half an hour or so before I wanted to get to get there and sort my ticket out. I called UPS and had the good luck to get Carla on the line, who offered to give me a lift in her own car! She turned up within 30 mins and brought me an extra roll of tape and a pen to mark the box off. After delivering me to the station, she told me to let her know if the Greyhound people wouldn't accept it. Another example of simple practical friendliness which has meant so much to me on this trip. I got the box on the Greyhound, and after various office power failures, ticketing issues, and general confusion all round, we reached Las Vegas.

Vegas! I learnt while staying there that 'Las Vegas' means 'The Meadows' in Spanish, named by settlers who stumbled across a vision of a green oasis in the desert. Before the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead created enough water to found the modern city, the natural springs running under the desert (since dried up) attracted native travellers and then settlers needing rest and water on their way west to California. My sojourn in Vegas was in keeping with this tradition, thanks to a friend of my Sister and her finance's. I spent four nights as a guest of Claudine, Adam and their toddlers Raffy and Leo - the friendliest and most hospitable family you could hope to meet. Adam collected me from the bus station on his way home, gave me a quick tour of the strip, and a beer when we got back to their home. A shower, steak and chips for dinner, a glass of red wine and one of the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in made me a very happy man indeed.

I don't know how they managed to make me feel so at home while looking after two toddlers at the same time - the hard parts of my trip suddenly didn't seem quite so hard. My first job there was to try and fix my knee which had got infected and swollen from the cuts made by the straps I'd been wearing, making my left leg difficult to flex and walk (and cycle) on. So I spent more time relaxing in the suburbs and nursing my knee than sightseeing, which is exactly what was needed. It was nice to hang out with some fellow Brits too - thinking back, the only other one I've met on the whole trip is a guy who worked at the San Francisco hostel, who hails from Catford, London.

I spent some time putting the bike back together, tinkering with it - and before I left I got a local bike shop to change the chainrings on the front, effectively lowering my range of gears which should help pressure off my knees on the hills. For the geeks - I've gone from 26-36-48 on the front chainrings down to 22-32-44, keeping 11-34 on the back cog (9 speed). One mechanic I spoke to said this wouldn't make much difference but so far is seems to have done. It's only recently that I've realised that I rode some of the hardest and steepest climbs in the Sierras, so running gearing traditionally suited for cross country mountain bikers makes a lot of sense, when pulling the load that I am.

Apart from the bike geekery, I asked Claudine about town museums and she had some great suggestions. Las Vegas, perhaps surprisingly, has a great selection. The Springs Preserve is ace, lots on desert wildlife, the Hoover dam, settlers, railroads, and a room that creates an artificial flash flood around you. The Nevada State musuem has more on flora and fauna, and a section on the evolution of the city as a capital of entertainment, including costumes of famous performers. The Neon Boneyard is a collection of old neon signs from historic Vegas establishments, rescued and stored out in a yard downtown - paradise for the amateur photographer!

I did one day of fairly heavy sightseeing. Claudine drove me out to Red Rock Canyon in Adam's Mustang (with the top down naturally!), which was ace! Then I cycled 40 or so miles between the museums and then straight down the Strip at night. Cycling down the full length of the Strip was unlike anything I'd ridden before, heading south from the Neon Musuem past wedding chapel after wedding chapel and bail bond shop after bail bond shop, until you start hitting the big famous casinos, The Bellagio, Caesar's Palace, The Mirage, the Mandalay Bay. It was Memorial Day weekend when I visited, so the pavements were almost too choked to walk down. One of the strange things about this part of town is that the pavements will actually take you off and lead you straight into a Casino. I walked the bike a bit, then cycled the rest of it. This was a whole lot of fun, ducking and weaving through the traffic like I'm used to doing in London, except there is more lanes to play with, and enormous Disney style hotels towering up on all sides of you, lit up beautifully. The only other cyclists I saw were police cyclists. I pulled in at Caesar's Palace to watch the fountains in the lake dance to Elton John. A strange and amazing place - fountains dancing to Elton John in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Driving out to Red Rock Canyon
Neon Boneyard Museum #1

Neon Boneyard Museum sign #2

Las Vegas traffic

Circus, Circus

Eiffel Tower Restaurant

So I left Las Vegas feeling good and refreshed, thanks to awesome hosts. I got my head down and put in a couple of fast days, one out to the Valley of Fire, where I camped. then on to Mesquite and St George along the Interstate 15. To get to the Valley of Fire, I tried to avoid the freeway and took a nice quiet road, which started out lovely smooth tarmac. It then turned to asphalt, and then dirt. My offline Google map called this SR40, and clearly showed it crossing the freeway at one point, before joining the highway on to the Valley of Fire. It does cross the freeway, in a manner of speaking:

if you can't go over, go under!

I had to unpack the bike and carry everything under the freeway here in several trips here - this was the first two lanes, but there was an island of grass and another two lanes to pass under too. I reassembled everything on the other side and found my dirt track. It was there, but was covered in loose sand and asphalt for the last stretch. Queue me pushing the bike through the loose stuff, queue me sweating and swearing profusely in the afternoon heat. This was before I realised the interstate freeway wasn't the monster I'd been imagining it to be, so I could have ridden that instead. By parts of the dirt road were a lot of fun! 

The Valley of Fire is spectacular, kind of like being plucked off Earth and deposited on Mars. I almost bumped in to a Bighorn sheep while there, which was very cool. All sorts of wildlife were attracted to my pitch after I ran some water from the tap - lizards and birds came over to drink from the splashes, as did bees. I read from a notice in the rest room that these were Africanized honey bees - Killer Bees for short. I was careful not to accidentally squash any or swat them away too vigorously and they were fine. But kill one and all their friends will come and sort you out...

The riding conditions are now dictated by the heat. The sun is hot as soon as it rises, 29 or 30c at 6:30am. Then no clouds in the sky until the temperature reaches 35c between 2 and 4pm. This is OK to cycle in if you aren't climbing, as the wind cools you, but finding shade to stop in is difficult - sheltering in the shadow of road underpasses etc. If you camp at night it's hard to get cool - the winds are too strong to pitch just the inner tent (guy ropes are needed which necessitates the outer tent too). Everything that can melt in your packs does. I bought my usual lump of sharp cheddar on the way out of Vegas and the whole thing had melted in the wrap by the time I opened it (nothing for it but to it the whole lot in one go). I'm now eating jerky, bagels and peanut butter for lunches. The peanut butter melts too, so you can just dip the bagel straight in. I wear my white cotton cycling cap on backwards to protect my neck, with the visor of my helmet covering my face. I soak the cap in water where I can, which keeps my head cool.

There isn't much in the way of campgrounds down here, this should improve from tomorrow as I gain elevation in my approach towards the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I've been riding without a strap on my knee the last couple of days, in order to let the cuts on the back heal to keep infection away. So far no real trouble with it - and I've done some hill work. I'm really hoping the new gearing is doing its job, but the real climbing will start tomorrow, so time will tell.  

Nice and cool after the sun set. Yes - getting tent pegs in that ground was hard work!
The Seven Sisters, Valley of Fire
The Valley of Fire

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

California Part 5 - on knees, motels and why my tent hates me

Yesterday was the first day back pedalling after resting my knee - kind of a make-or-break day. It also turned out to be something of a bastard, both for heat and climbs - I totalled some 6000 ft of steep climbing over the course of the day (Lake Isabella to Golden Hills), which puts it up there with the harder days of the trip. The day's ride was dictated through necessity, there really isn't much between the towns down here, and camping options are non-existent in most places: there's simply nothing to hide the tent behind. I'm now in Los Angeles County, which is pretty hot and barren if not officially a desert.

The hot, high and dry Sierra Nevada of Southern California

A touching mural for a motorbike accident at the side of the Caliente Bodfish road

I'm now drinking 6-8 litres of water per day plus coffee - I got a bit stuck for a refill of water yesterday but found a hosepipe in the garden of a shut cafe and sterilised the water I got from that (tasted kind of funky but still good). I'm practising what I call the camel technique - rationing out the water carefully throughout the day until finding a sure refill point, then downing a litre or so at once. My mouth is almost always dry from the dust so finding a sure refill (diner, grocery store) and drinking all your spare water in one go is a lovely feeling. I start the day with 3l at the moment, but will increase that to 4 or 5 if necessary.

After about 60 miles last night the left knee started tweaking again. The velcro on the new and expensive strap I bought for it has also helpfully cut into and strained the ligament behind the knee cap. I checked my maps straight away and called the nearest motel, which was 4 more miles uphill. I could maybe have made it to a campsite but it would have been more uphill and dark before I got there. The motel was relatively cheap, friendly, authentically dirty, the guy on the desk knocked the tax off the bill and called me in the morning to let me know coffee was in the office. He was chuffed he guessed I was from London, although I think that is his standard guess for anyone from the UK. He wanted me to use my stove to cook dinner outside in the parking lot, but after some testing with my awesome folding silicon travel mug and the microwave in my, I managed to rustle up coffee, chicken Top Ramen Noodles (leading brand of supernoodles!), oatmeal, and tea in the microwave using my mug. A cockerel woke me up, he was strutting round the parking lot when I left in the morning.

Portable travel alarm clock

Today was downhill the flat after some climbs this morning, no tweaks from the knee thankfully. Some good wild riding, the route took me up over the Tehachapi wind farm which was spectacular, turbines as far as the eye could see, literally hundreds of them. The wind was gusting up to 25mph today, and gave me prod in the back downhill. I was freewheeling along, glanced at my computer and found I was doing 51.7mph! While my load is bitch to haul uphill, it pays me back on the downs. I took a photo of the max speed while at a standstill, for the record.

Those with sharp eyes may wonder what the red thing is mounted next to my light - this is pepper spray. Some of the hillbilly roads have dogs off leashes that could be a problem, nothing has tried to bite me yet but this is just in case!

I got a puncture on a hot flat stretch after turning into the wind. I'm interpreting the puncture as punishment for wasting a few minutes on the following vanity shot. I wanted a photo of my new orange t shirt while it's still clean, fresh out of the bag bought for $5 from a Family Dollar store.

There was no shade to fix the puncture in so I had to get on with it in the glare midday sunshine, eating jerky and tortillas to cheer me up. A passing trucker shouted something at me from his cab window and proceeded to throw me a cookie after I gave him a big thumbs up.

I'm becoming quite superstitious lately, changing inner tubes is one of the only bad things about this bike, it's just hard, hard work. I tend to offer up little prayers to the landscape around me after fixing a puncture, asking for there not to be a pinch puncture from the swap. I've prayed to redwood trees and barren southern California mountains, and they have been good to me (I always remember to be thankful afterwards!).

Tonight sees my tent still packed away in my big red bag for the second night running - sad, useless and resentful. I got into Palmdale about 7pm and had to decide on either finding a room or cycling another potentially hilly 10 miles out of town to find somewhere to camp. In the pre-knee-injury era I'd have missioned off into the unknown but I'm playing it safe for now, especially as my knee was hurting again last night.

I'm in a Holiday Inn room, which is too big and expensive for my needs (about twice the price of a motel room). I've learnt a lesson from this and have downloaded a few budget motel finding apps for my phone. If I think I'm going to struggle for camping in the evening, I'll try finding a Starbucks or Mcdonalds and get on there wifi to get motel addresses. Towns where I can't camp usually have both.

But rest assured I'm keeping it real in the Holiday Inn room. I just at a tin of refried beans with tortillas and a big beer for dinner, and washed it down with all the complimentary coffee, real followed by decaf.

Slightly battered and worn but keeping on!

I'm going to wash my clothes in a bathroom in a minute and I'm taking the small packs of sugars and creamers with me tomorrow.

As for the knee, it seems relatively happy if I keep the cadence high (spinning my legs faster on a lower gear than usual) and if I can limit the number of hills I go over, so being more disciplined about ending the day once a planned mileage has been reached. I'm happy to ratchet up the credit card bill on motel rooms if it keeps the trip alive. I'm also tempted to find a good bike shop and check my options for swapping over the front chain rings to lower the overall gearing. I'm going to have to take it one day at a time.

I should hit the Los Angeles forest tomorrow and hope to wild camp for 3 mights to even out my spending. I'm hoping for real trees and shade not just cacti and scrub, but looking forward to finding out either way!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

California part 4 - Western Hospitality

It's been 9 or 10 days since I left Yosemite but it feels a lot longer. The landscape and climate have changed dramatically, the mountains have shed their cool forests and have become barren, stumped with boulders and shrubs. The air is hot, dry and dusty, and the heat of the valleys between the mountain passes makes for tough going. I look kind of OK in this photo, but was really pretty wiped out after a steep climb. I found that hat by the side of the road but have since lost it again:

The riding has followed this rough pattern: climb for a day or two up a Sierra mountain pass to 7 or 8 thousand feet, drop 20 or 30 miles down into a valley, cross this in 30-40 degree heat, and do it again. The extended climbs have taken their toll on my left knee, which almost gave up on me a couple of days ago while climbing out of the Yokohl valley. By the time I got out to the top and started to roll downhill I choked up a bit, almost crying tears of relief because the hill had hurt so much. I remember thinking that whatever comes next, it doesn't matter because I'm now a stronger person, mentally if not physically.

The last few days have been more about the people I've met than the riding or the landscape though. In a town called Three Rivers I called in at an RV park expecting to pay top dollar for a pitch, but Kevin who greeted me charged me 5 bucks and introduced me to some whitewater rafters who'd been drinking all day, and gave me good food, drink and company. It turns out Kevin had first hand experience of cycle touring, he once cycled to all the major baseball stadiums in the States.

The next evening, at a lakeside campground, a party of RV campers invited me to dinner. Most of them were retirees, ranchers & farmers from the nearby city of Bakersfield. Bud, who invited me over, was 82 and loved saying 'I bet they don't do that in jolly old London'! He drank Jack Daniels all night and had a beer in his hand at 9am the next morning. I sat with them drinking beers till dark, watching the bats flit round, listening to their stories including one from Russell about navigating heavy farming equipment down narrow side roads by starlight to avoid main roads and paying tax. Viv, who brought me food, had a good story about chasing someone off her land with a shotgun. They advised me on country music (but not the dope-smoking kind).

The next day I decided to rest my knee at the first campground I got to. This was up a 20 mile, 3500 feet climb. I got up there, very slowly, and had to rest my knee every 15 mins by the end. At the campground I met Bruce (middle name Alan!), who almost immediately offered me dinner, a shower and a night in the spare room of his holiday cabin in among the Giant Sequoia trees. I'd earlier cycled past the biggest of these giant trees, which is called General Sherman, and is bloody enormous - the BIGGEST TREE IN THE WORLD! (I can hear Bud now; 'You won't find that in jolly old England!'):

I had some great conversation with Bruce, learnt a lot about the local flora and fauna, and about the history and customs of the West, including hospitality. The rule used to be 'you never let a man leave your door without food or water'-this was out of necessity, due to the distances peopled used to travel between between settlements. Bruce's family, like millions of others, came to the West to escape the dust crisis in the early 20th century. Bruce drove me up the hill in the morning, showing me the spectacular view of the mountains from Dome rock on the way.

His knowledge of the mountains is fantastic, he grew up driving cattle on It's slopes so knows them well. I was lucky and grateful to meet him.

After cruising downhill to Kernville I met Tom, a firefighter-turned-teacher, who likes to go cycle touring with his wife Cathy in their holidays. They gave me a room for the night and pizza, and called their cyclist friend John round to discuss my route. Both Bruce and John have warned me off the desert sections of my planned route, It's now too late in the year for my Arizona sections. Apparently the heat near Phoenix will hit 40+ and not cool down at night, and equally bad is the lack of shade. Camping is getting hot enough in Southern California, never mind Arizona:

Following this advice, I've decided bus it to Las Vegas. I've considered riding east from Lake Isabella through Death Valley but this again is probably not sensible (the hottest place in the USA, and windy to boot). I'll probably follow my planned route a bit further to Yucaipa, then cut off to San Bernardino and ride a Greyhound from there to Vegas. From Vegas I'll either cycle or catch another bus to St George, and from there east past the Grand Canyon through Zion towards Colorado, where the temperature will be more comfortable.

All this of course depends on the recovery of my knee. I've given it 2.5 days rest, which, with lower mileage and making sure I keep to lower gears, should get me by. In order to avoid the heat I have to stick to high altitudes which means harder cycling. Fingers crossed my knee tows the line! I hit the road again tomorrow, for the time being I'm loading up with calories in my office for today - McDonald's (free wifi). I couldn't stay away for ever!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

California part 3 - Yosemite in Spring

Yosemite National Park must be one of the most photographed places on earth. I'm not sure if there's a formula for working that out officially, but I'd guess there's about a gazillion photos online of the various waterfalls tumbling over the edges of the valley.I've added some of my efforts underneath.

I camped there for a few days to give my legs a rest from cycling. Well that was the plan, thwarted somewhat by the 15 mile hike I did around the valley. As soon as I arrived the rain and mist rolled in, emptying the park of visitors but leaving little else to do bar housekeeping. I even got a haircut.

I'd been saving the trails for a sunny day, and was rewarded for my patience with the first sunny and clear weather the day before leaving. The weather turned again just after finishing my hike, with an impressive hail storm and show of thunder and lightning. The tent is coping well!

I've never experienced anything quite like that hike. It's hard to imagine such a breathtaking lineup of mountain vistas, and experiencing them is overwhelming. The valley was peaceful and idyllic, when cruising the bike paths it was rare to pass someone without a smile on their face. May is a great time to visit (avoiding weekends); early in the season, so as soon as you get out on the trails you can have this landscape to yourself. I'm hoping the photos do it justice.

Back in the saddle now after an inspiring rest, memories of my hike will stay with me for a long, long time. I met some very cool other touring cyclists in Yosemite Valley and enjoyed a few days' anonymity camped among other outdoorsy people. I saw more touring cyclists there in thee days than in the last month.

Next up-back in the forests for the Giant Siquoa trees, and more wild and awe-inspiring scenery to travel through and photograph.

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.