The west coast is a special place. Mild weather, beautiful and varied terrain, thoughtful and/or strange masses of people… there are bulk food bins in the corner stores and organic coffee huts in every small town. It is too cool for me to handle, I’m glad it exists and I’ve enjoyed experiencing some of it.
I set out on bicycle adventure with a few goals, aside from going on a long bike ride, taking a step back from the things was doing, and traveling for a while:
I had gotten Alaska in my head. I wanted to go north. I wanted to see this distant and fast changing place and ride on the limited road system and see the sun stay up all night, meet the people who live here, and exist in the largely unpopulated space between… I may not have seen the sun roll across the horizon exactly, but I did wake up and wonder if it was worth getting up to pee or nearly time to get up, only to check the time and learn it was midnight or 2am a few times, (and spent all night hiking a mountain without worrying about being able to see where to put my feet) and that felt good enough.
My friend Manoj has been asking since we graduated from college and he moved to San Francisco, when I would bike across the country to visit him. I don’t know where this came from, I’m sure it wasn’t my idea, but it didn’t seem like a bad idea. Never say never. When I set out I knew I needed to get this far. I feel pretty satisfied.
I had a few other goals of course- people and places along the way that I wanted to see, some vague idea that I’d improve myself by spending a lot of time alone, and getting to travel on the Alaska Marine Highway. I’ve been at this a while now, I’ve tried to set the aims vague and stay flexible. Here are some things I’ve seen lately:
There are hiker biker campsites which usually cost $5 to stay at, in many parks through Oregon and CA. I have stopped at a few, when I wanted to meet people or be social and to get route advice from other travelers. I did at least meet people. The site in Gualala was down next to the river, and I was still warm when I got there. I went down to rinse myself and just took my clothes off and swam a bit. I am not usually much for getting so wet or cold water, and I know if it had been any colder (the river was very shallow) I probably would not have gone in-still, I was very proud of myself, for swimming, though I realize most people may not find this so exciting. There is some point traveling south on CA 1 where it is recommended to come in from the coast, which I failed to get the tip on. Staying on the 1 wasn’t so bad, really. There is a long hill(s) which I climbed slowly on a sunny late Sunday morning, and was passed by many road riders. Most of the car traffic was coming the other way, including some buses flashing between their route number and “try transit” which sounded like a good idea.
It has been a while since I’ve made a list of things I’ve lost or broken, so for those keeping track, here is an update. I lost my full finger gloves way back in the prairies (well, I lost one, and the other I abandoned after a week of hoping the first would show up), and must have dropped my little fingerless ones somewhere on my way to Vancouver. Sometimes when I stop for a break would I take them off and set them on my bike and then forget to put them on when I start and then they are gone forever. I think the same thing happened to my sunglasses somewhere in Oregon. I set out with two pairs of safety glasses, one tinted, which are important for keeping bugs and dust out of my eyes. In Madison I traded the clear ones with Charles for a slightly tinted pair that fit more comfortably, but lost them only a few days later. The tinted pair I kept until Riding Mountain (Manitoba) and replaced them with a pair of sunglasses the next day, which I held onto until the end of August. I have not replaced them or the gloves. I got a new helmet back in Fairbanks, the old one was old. My shorts ripped on the front near the bottom of the leg while hiking a while ago, and I waited a week or so to sew it up because I lost my needle and thread somewhere along the way. A tent pole section cracked a little when I was taking it down the other day, but still is working fine (so far anyway, I’ve set it up only twice since then). I gave away a sweater and bear spray a few days ago.
According to my little computer machine I’ve ridden approximately 12200km since I left Pittsburgh at the end of March. My bike is holding up quite well. I’ve had maybe six flats? I haven’t kept count, but it hasn’t felt like too many. I have replaced the rear tire in Fairbanks, I should have taken a picture of the hole in it, someone would like that I’m sure. The front looks like it will die soon, but is hanging in there for now, and the same is true of the drivetrain. It is a bit unprecedented for these to last so long, but I’m not complaining. I try to keep my chain clean and lubricated, my brake rotors clean, but mostly I just don’t worry about my bike. There is clearly some luck and gentleness? here, most drivetrains are expected to get a few thousand miles tops, mine must be past 8.
Should I admit now that it is a new bike? I have traveled a good bit on a bike I built up from a frame at Free Ride (Pittsburgh’s community bike shop) and I don’t doubt that bike could have made the journey. Maybe not quite so smoothly, and surely not as worry free or comfortably. This guy is the first new bike I’ve bought myself, and it fits me really well and is built for this kind of riding-amazing what you can get when you aren’t choosing just from the bunches that have been donated and are hanging around at the moment and the components dug out of the parts bins, right? I spent a long time justifying the purchase, and even working in a bike shop (so getting pro deal) and a help from coworkers choosing and adjusting for good fit it was a lot of money to convince myself to put down at once. I got my little Disc Trucker in November and have not regretted it.
I’ve been out in the world for 168 days. I have traveled (left one place and slept that night in a different place) 103 of those days by bicycle plus about a week by boat. I have only spent the night outside maybe 77 of them. In the beginning I didn’t camp as often because it was cold and if I had an easy indoor option I took it, and I was usually only a few days ride between visiting folks. I have been taken in by many friends, people I meet, and friends of people I meet. In the prairies I started sleeping outside regularly, though often at campgrounds. The flat open farmland is mostly spoken for and hard to find space to hide out of the way, and many towns had campgrounds. Until May long weekend (/I got to Saskatoon) most campgrounds weren’t open, which just meant there was no water and no charge. After that I would pay to stay at a campground if it was a convenient place to stop, but I also started more regularly finding safe places to pull off for the night. As I got into British Columbia and northwestward, it became very easy to find places to sleep. Camping is much more commonplace, and campgrounds are farther between so there is little judgement of bike riders stopping anywhere. There were many side paths that led to space that were fine to hang out for a bit, or woods with enough flat ground between trees to put up my tent. Since I came back south, off the Alaska Ferry, I’ve had to think a bit more about where I sleep. I still get taken in by friends or new people I meet sometimes (sometimes by chance, sometimes through warmshowers, which is similar to couchsurfing but only for bike tourists), but I still camp a bit. The population density is a bit higher, there are way fewer open wooded areas and abandoned lodges, houses, side roads… empty unclaimed space is a bit harder to come by. Along with higher population (of non-travelers) there are a lot more people who don’t have a place to live. Some areas do seem to have more accepted homeless populations and camps than others. I have felt safe sleeping behind schools, churches, and post offices as well as parks. It is good to remember that for the most part we don’t bother each other, and being asleep is not an exception, no one wants to wake a person-it is especially unpredictable. My biggest concerns have been potential for getting scolded for not leaving soon enough in the morning or told to move after I’ve set up but before I fall asleep, or maybe losing my things. I have thought a lot about the privilege I have here. I recognize that I made the choice to not know where I’ll be sleeping many nights. Though that can be uncomfortable at times, I am traveling-so both am afforded more lenience (travelers move on and so are perceived as less threatening) and every day I am in a new place- if I make a mistake or upset someone in one place it does not affect my next day. Also I can afford to pay for a place to stay if I need to from time to time, and I am approachable, look unthreatening, and maybe even interesting enough for strangers to want to talk and help me out. It is a concerning trend I’ve noticed that we are more willing to help those who struggle less, perhaps for fear that it will take too much commitment to help someone in greater dispair. The struggles that I face are pretty minor.
People often ask about money. I have not been so conservative, but this is a relatively inexpensive way to live (excepting that I have no income). I have spent ~$450 on places to sleep in the past five months, and some of that was certainly more than necessary. I did spend a lot on ferry travel coming south from Alaska, which I don’t regret- and remember, little things add up, so is it silly to spend hundreds of dollars at once on traveling for a week on a boat and then balk at a few dollars for a campground? Even a few extra dollars every day quickly adds up to a pretty great sum. In truth, most of my money is probably spent on food, but I quit keeping track of that. I spend a little more than I would in my normal life, I eat out not so frequently which comes out to a lot more often than I would if I weren’t traveling all the time, and I can’t keep bulk quantities of things as I would like. I spend bits on museums and such. I have monthly charges for health insurance and cell phone.
I am also asked sometimes about being a woman, and generally about being afraid. I feel it is an obvious thing, but you may be surprised to learn you know lots of women who are existing in the world every day! I don’t feel less safe because of my genitals or my typically less muscular build. I also generally choose to believe I am similarly threatened by traffic or other random hazards while traveling as at home. I assume many people are curious about menstruation? I intended to write about bleeding on the road, and it is good to think about, but mostly in the sense that one should be prepared to be flexible with themself for any number of reasons. I have for many years used a menstrual cup and cloth pads, which are reusable and easy to clean, so a small bulk of things to carry and free after a reasonable initial investment. I’ve never bought disposables (not to say I’ve never used them, but it has been a long time). This isn’t even about traveling, it is good for normal life, too. Truth be told, though, I have personally stopped bleeding. Don’t worry! I am otherwise quite healthy. I had pretty heavy periods and cramps until about a year and a half ago when I got an IUD. There are two types, the copper often makes these things worse, and a hormonal which tends to lessen them. I was sufficiently convinced that the hormonal one is low enough impact and localized enough to be worth trying, and I have not noticed any changes in myself other than the steady lessening of monthly bleeding, which has given up altogether lately. I will also add that getting the IUD was a fine experience. There are a lot of horror stories out there (generally horror stories are way more interesting, and consequently more likely to be told and repeated. Always use caution when letting yourself get scared because you heard about something terrible that can happen), but while it isn’t the most comfortable experience to put even a tiny thing into one’s uterus, it was no more painful for me than a short lived cramp and I felt largely fine going out and having a normal day, biking to work, teaching a class, later that day. I went on a short bike trip a few days later, for what it is worth. It is a choice I feel good about and only regret not making it earlier in my life. Just a side note for anyone curious. If you have more specific questions about life as a woman, let me know!
I took the Caltrain down to Morgan Hill the other day to visit with my aunt! I am slowly working my way up in transit complexity, in an effort to conquer my fear of traveling with my bike (and gear) but not on my bike. The Caltrain was pretty easy. Next I’ll try Amtrak to Los Angeles. From there…
I want to get to Bike!Bike!. This year the annual gathering of community bike projects will be held in early October in Guadalajara. I had considered trying to bike the whole way, but opted to spend more time up north, and I’m feeling pretty ok with taking some time off my bike now anyway. I want to get there a little early. I have been convinced (really just one person suggested it would be way easier than bus, especially with the bike) to fly, and have purchased an airline ticket. I am nervous, but I believe it will be fine. I will admit now that this is as far into my future as I have any moderately concrete plans for.