And now: a pause in our ascent of the Sierra Nevada range. Here in America’s tinderbox it’s hot and dry, as it has been for decades or maybe forever. The California drought has been around for as long I’ve paid attention and although I think it rained this year the whole place is ready to burst into flames. No matter, we are not growing any food. We are growing big legs, though, and that requires hydration, cool air, and corn chips. So after eight miles of climbing we’re just calling it in hopes of better conditions and bigger legs tomorrow. The better part of adventuring is knowing when to brew coffee and set up the hammock.
America’s Bread, Fruit, Wine and Almond Basket(s)
Someone warned me that getting from the coast to Yosemite would require crossing the Central Valley which is hot, dry, dusty, and dull. Having just crossed the San Joaquin section of the valley ( a name I probably can’t pronounce) I’m inclined to agree. At several points along the coast we asked cyclists and shop owners what the best route is to Yosemite from the Pacific Coast Highway. Most people shrugged, and one bike shop owner pointed to a road map of all of California as though that would be helpful (“Look a road map, have you ever seen one of these?”).
I tried a bit of research and came up empty handed. Everyone rides the Pacific Coast. No one rides inland. Ok, some people ride through Napa Valley, but we’re not really into Wine. Lacking any sort of beta we just connected some roads on the map (CA-116 -> CA-12 -> CA->120) and tried to make our journey quick and painless, while also including Santa Rosa. The eager San Francisco Bay wind pushed Megan and I inland from Jenner. Always at our backs, and always moist, the wind made the journey easy. Santa Rosa is a decent enough town, and we took a rest day there, but the local farmers were using some sort of aerosol manure on their fields and the whole place stank.
The ride inland was pretty though!
The coastal redwoods slowly gave way to vineyards.
So this is where all that kale comes from! We didn’t actually see any kale fields, which was disappointing, but there was more than enough corn and nut trees to keep me satisfied. Whatever I missed by skipping Nebraska I found on the road to Oakdale.
Our route choice ended up being a little dicey at points. Road construction on CA-12 after Rio Vista nearly got us killed until we decided to ignore some red tape and ride on an immaculate section of unopened tarmac. Had it not been Sunday we might have had some issues. People yelled at us for riding on the existing road. People yelled at us for riding on the unopened road. So it is on a bike, everyone knows how to ride better than you. I can’t say as I recommend our route and it doesn’t matter because all the cycle tourists I know that are coming this way are just renting a car and driving from San Francisco.
Everyone is Out to Get Us
On our way here we passed through Stockton, out of necessity. Stockton was hit hard by the San Francisco housing bubble and it shows. But more relevant to our adventure were even more warnings about theft and “The Homeless”. Having traveled through Florida earlier on this trip, warnings about other vagrants was a familiar refrain. Homeless people are the bogeyman and they are going to steal our things as soon as we look the other way. Here in California it seems like we can’t talk to anyone without them feeling the need to warn us about the “The Homeless”, sometimes without even saying “Hi”. It’s starting to wear on me a bit, I don’t like being paranoid. I don’t want to distrust people just because they are down on their luck. That’s the narrative I grew up with and I’ve worked hard to shake it. But people do steal things, and everywhere you go California is known as a place where theft happens. A lot.
The Flat Ride to Yosemite
In Fairfield we sat in a park and enjoyed some live music as we rotated our tires and did some routine maintenance. We talked with another cyclist who told us we’d basically coast into the Yosemite Valley. Being a map hound and perpetual worrywart I knew better. The valley is a vertical mile above Fairfield and the road twists and turns through the foothills as the highway engineers sought a reasonable grade for double length semis and RVs. The road is so steep and long that there’s a sign advising you to turn off your air conditioning for several miles. How does someone miss this? Probably he forgot. Who remembers the ride to Yosemite in the face of Yosemite itself?
Earning North America
I will remember the ride to Yosemite, and everywhere else for that matter. The scope, the magnitude, the ruggedness of this continent have not been lost on me. The distances are huge, the mountains are gigantic, the deserts are hot as hell, the sun is relentless, the is Pacific Ocean is too damn cold, and the nights can be so dark you risk falling in and getting lost forever. Riding across the country with the AC off and the top down I’ve taken in the smells of Louisiana barbeque, the cedars of British Columbia, the blackberries of interior Oregon, the roadside fennels of California, the salt spray of several oceans and the boiling asphalt. It’s a fragrant landscape, a fact which I gloss over a lot here in words, but remember in my head.
The whole of my body has experienced the grandeur of the continent as I have crossed it South and North and West and now East. It’s been far more than a feast for the eyes, it has been a transforming stimulus. This place is amazing and at this point I’m not sure where else will come close.
Love u ‘Merica,
PS Megan has been keeping a spreadsheet of where we’ve been crashing each night. It doesn’t really fit into the above narrative but last night we cowboy camped near, but not on, old trains. Someone woke us up as they took a midnight stroll blasting Lil’ Jon. I have mixed feelings about that.