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North Texas

Annnd, We're Off!

My aunt Mary and I rode bikes to Land's End together for the ceremonial wheel dip. The ride had officially begun! A thoroughly enjoyable breakfast followed, whereupon Mary came up with a brilliant solution for my once-in-each-state ritual. As I wolfed down my Seal Rock omelette (Bay shrimp and Spanish sauce), she suggested having an omelette in each state, particularly whatever's the local tradition or specialty (like a Denver omelette in Colorado). I dunno if it'll be an omelette every time, nor do I know if Nevada or Utah have a signature omelette. But a full, hot breakfast in every state, if possible with eggs, sounds like a winner.

It took longer than expected to make my way over to the Golden Gate Bridge, compounded by stopping a couple simple repairs on the way. Most notably, my drive belt had no tension. Not sure how it got that way.

It's funny how the weather changes as soon as you leave San Francisco, but it always does. Cool and cloudy becomes warm and sunny. If you've read any of my journals before, you know what I prefer. Luckily I knew what was coming next and managed to not lose my mind on the long push up to Mt. Tamalpais. Long. LONG. Man, California's hills don't mess around...

After the not-long-enough descent to Stinson Beach, I had a new problem - headwind. Especially along Tamales Bay. It was already later in the day than I wanted, and now headwind.
The good news is my new packing strategy appears to be working. I'm almost sure that on previous tours, the same headwind would've resulted in shifting down at least one more gear. Ditching the front panniers makes a big difference. Combine that with the lesser weight and it's gonna be a good tour. And then there's the fact that I'll usually be pointed east...oh yeah.

Instead of the wind, I tried to focus on other things, most notably the vegetation. Everything grows like crazy here! And they get things we don't in Texas. Manzanitas, eucalyptus, poppies...if there's anything about California I miss, it's the land and the weather, and both are well-represented by the abundance of colorful foliage.

I finally turned away from the water, sometime after meeting another touring cyclist named Ben. I'd seen several more, especially along Highway 1, but none of them stopped to chat. I only got to talk to Ben because he was already stopped, having lunch. Away from the water, the wind was cut in half, and seemed to change direction. It had been from the NW all day, but was now from the SW. Good news, since I was now heading due north!

One last round of hills did a number on me, and 20 km from Santa Rosa, I didn't know how I'd get there in under two hours. A total bonk didn't seem out of the question. But once the road flattened out and the wind got mostly behind me, I flew through those last 20 km and reached the destination in no time. It's been said many times before: conditions matter more than distance.

A gregarious moustachioed man named Dan showed me into his RV, my digs for the evening, while commenting on how light Valeria is packed. It's likely that'll be said a lot this summer (and that's a good thing!). Almost as soon as I'd finished showering, he invited me inside for dinner, followed by a couple of beers and about three hours of uninterrupted conversation before we knew it. It's funny how sometimes you can't come up with two words to say, but around the right people, it's so easy.

First day in the books, I was a happy guy. This is gonna be another good tour! Dan sent me off with some granola. I was ready for more hills!

...Or so I thought. The hills today we're probably a little shorter, but a lot steeper. I had the idea of riding through Napa Valley and getting to Davis in one day. The logical thing to do would be to ride around the hills separating Sonoma and Napa Valley, not only making the ride easier, but also spending more time riding along the scenic vineyards. I instead opted for plowing through the hills. Double-digit grades and all.

I still got to ride through Napa Valley for an hour or so, and also got to see a beautiful lake, just the right shade of blue, and surrounded by the classic California landscape of golden hills dotted with short green trees. There, I met a Lebanese Buddhist monk named Tai Sinh (pronounced Tyson). He gave a blessing to my ride and we exchanged our views on what we're doing here, and somehow, a calculus teacher and a Buddhist monk saw eye-to-eye more often than not. Then we took a selfie.

Like the day before, there was a first and a second round of hills, but this time, no headwind. Warmer, but in a good way. The last hour or so was all flat, and I might've made it in earlier if not for getting stopped by an intriguing couple that included a bearded guy who'd done a lot of bike touring. His bike was essentially a steel frame road bike with legitimate 2" mountain bike wheels on it. If Valeria could fit wheels like that, or even a little wider, her potential would be limitless. The other was on a cyclocross bike that looked like a blast to ride. She was skinny and especially pleased to receive a wristband, joining the four others she already had on.

Before you even get to Davis, you can tell it's a bike-friendly town. A separated bike path leads you into town from 10 km away. 5 km from town, it starts getting crowded. At the intersection where I made my first turn, there were about 20 people on bikes waiting for the light. I think there are about three bike commuters in my entire town, and I've never been caught at a stoplight with any of them.

On the way to my host, I was passed by a young woman wearing a red backpack. When I arrived, I was let inside by a young woman wearing a red backpack. Johanna is a grad student studying environmental engineering, and her roommates, whose names have since escaped me, were grad students in physics and computer science. Yeah, I like these people.

Within 10 km of Davis, the mount for my headlight had given out. For the moment, I wrapped it's wire around the shifter cable and let it hang there. I had an idea to use a couple washers and another nut to cinch it down tight, not using the mount in the intended fashion, but it might work. I'd just need a new nut. Johanna told me where to find a bike shop, and after dropping off my luggage, Valeria and I were off.

Worth repeating - Davis's bike-friendliness is legendary. Literally every other street, including all of the major ones, has a bike lane. And not a half-assed lane that's shared with parked cars, or full of cracks in the pavement, or so littered with debris that you ride in the lane anyway. A legit lane that gets as much care as the rest of the road. As a result, there are cyclists everywhere. This in a town that routinely reaches over 100 F, and sometimes 105, every summer. Santa Rosa, San Francisco, and Santa Rosa also had lots of bike lanes. And guess what else they had in common? Lots of cyclists! Hey, it's almost like if you build bike lanes, then more people will...nahhhhh, that can't be right.


Some of the people that benefit most are motorists. Bike lanes mean cars don't get stuck behind bikes, it means more parking spaces, it means less chances that another car is going to hit you. It means cheaper gas. It means cleaner air. It means less noise pollution. And it benefits pedestrians too, since they can now take up the whole sidewalk without looking over their shoulder every five seconds. Keep in mind, bikes are proportionately closer in speed to cars than pedestrians. Lumping bikes with pedestrians makes less sense than putting them on a busy road. But a bike lane makes life better for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike. Everyone wins.

Look at that. There's a bike path separated from the street by a barrier, keeping cyclists safe from big loud metal scary things, and keeping drivers from having to guess if a bike will swerve into their lane. There's another bike lane in the road, for those that need to get on and off the road within the next block of two, or make a left turn or something. And there's a sidewalk, also separated from the bike path by a barrier, so no pedestrians get run over after stepping in front of a bike. All means of transportation can go full speed, uninterrupted, safely. Every road should be like this.

At the bike shop, we managed to get my proposed solution working, and it appeared it would hold. But then a mechanic went to the back and came out with a metal bracket that would do the same thing, but looked a lot sturdier.
"That plastic one you have, I just used the same thing to attach a reflector to a kid's bike. Throw it out." So I did. We attached the light to the new mount, and for the first time ever, it felt solid.
"How much do I owe you?" He shook his head. Nice when a shop does you a favor like that. Reminds me of The Hub in San Marcos.

When I got back to Johanna's, she'd already whipped up some vegetarian stir-fry. Sometimes that's exactly the type of thing you crave on a bike tour. Your staples fill your basic needs, and greasy and sugary indulgences are easy to come by. But a balanced, tasty meal, heavy on the fresh vegetables, is a welcome rarity.

For the rest of the evening we chilled out and talked about adventures in teaching, as most of these guys are TAs. Johanna sent me off with a breakfast of fruity oatmeal. I fixed her rear rack and fender.

Sacramento was supposedly an hour away, but it was about four hours later that I finally put it behind me, mostly due to long stops to visit the UC Davis campus and the California state capitol in Sacramento. UC Davis's campus is nice; there's no part of it I didn't like, but there aren't any postcard-worthy spots either. In that way, it reminded me of the UT Dallas campus...but without the nice quad.

California's capitol building is almost as nice as Texas's (possible bias here), and I like the grounds more. The flora is representative of the state as a whole, even one as ecologically diverse as California, while also having a coherent look.

Once inside, I got to visit the Senate chamber and watch  them pass a bill about the sale of marijuana. They've already voted to legalise it, but haven't set up a statewide system for how it'll be sold. This bill appeared to be closing a medical marijuana loophole, so all the places you can buy it will be consistent.

I'd learned only the day before that my inteded route was closed due to snow (in June!), so my destination changed from Placerville to Sutter Creek at the last minute. Thankfully, also at the last minute, a WarmShowers host agreed to take me in. After a few, you guessed it - hills, I arrived in the town that started the California Gold Rush and made my way up a hill that might as well have been a wall of asphalt and arrived at the Coy residence.

Neither of the Coys do bike touring, but their son, still in college in Bakersfield, had done Bike and Build recently. Bike and Build is a coast-to-coast ride that stops every few days and builds houses for the needy along the way. Wanting to help out people like their son, they joined WarmShowers only a month or two ago, and already, they were having their fourth and fifth guest. The fifth was Eléonor, a Belgian coming down from Lake Tahoe.

Eléonor didn't arrive until 8:00, still light out, but probably a long day. When she came in, she had a distinct thousand-mile stare, the look you get when you're physically defeated. After a shower, and halfway through dinner, she started smiling. There we go!

Since we were headed in opposite directions, Eléonor and I exchanged info about what's ahead. She was headed to San Francisco, then Crater Lake, and eventually Seattle would be her final destination. I told her to make sure some part of wine country was part of her itinerary, and to see at least part of the Oregon coast. She had already been to Death Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and the Grand Canyon. Out of the desert and into the Sierras. She called it the Survival Tour. Sounds about right!

Eléonor warned me that Lake Tahoe in one day would be impossible. I looked at the map and profile again. 144 km, which is a long day, but well within possibility. 3,300 m of climbing. I've done it, but not that distance and climbing in the same day. At least, I don't think I have...

Jun 01, 2017
from Western States
Aunt Mary
Go Rob! Cheering for you. It is so great to read about your adventures on your blog again. Thanks for the shout-out about our visit. Really enjoyed seeing you. And I'm glad the combined magic of deep-dish Patxi's pizza and a Seal Rock Inn omelette seemed to remove any residual suckitude from the earlier part of your weekend. ;) Happy trails!

Jun 05, 2017
Really awesome start to the trip it sounds, good luck and keep trucking. The hills will give up eventually!

Jun 08, 2017

I am a carbon-based life form.


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