Update From the Road #5:  Cross Country Bike Trip 2005 Archive

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I’ll give you one guess where I am. If you guessed San Francisco, you would be correct. Mission accomplished! You couldn’t imagine the feeling of satisfaction knowing that under my own power I had made it from New York City to San Francisco. Before I get ahead of myself though, since last update my trip went something like this…

I left off last update in Idaho and it was the following day that I hit Oregon. Now perhaps I snoozed off in grade school the day they were talking about the geographic composition of southeastern Oregon, but man, was I way off. First, when did they put a mountain range there? Is that something new? I thought I just had the Sierra Nevadas left to tackle. It was a rude awakening to say the least. There was one stretch with a six-mile climb. Also, why didn’t I know there were sand dunes in southeastern Oregon? Were it not for tractors instead of BMWs and cattle instead of the piping plover I could have been in the Hamptons as the sand dunes looked quite similar.

I don’t have anything against Oregon (with the exception of it surreptitiously sticking mounting ranges all over the place and that I got snowed in again when I was there. Getting blanketed in snow in Lakeview, OR was nothing nearly as dramatic as getting snowed in last time. As I had come to expect on this trip, the town of Lakeview, OR had no lake view whatsoever. Wow, I am really squeezing a lot of stuff between these parentheses. Maybe I should get back to the main part of the story. Sorry about getting off track, this is going to be a really long update as it is.) but I just cruised right on through. I covered 253 miles over two days riding through Oregon. It wasn’t necessarily my plan, but that’s how far it was between towns where I knew I could find a place to stay for the night. I would expect not finding a place to stay for an eternity in Wyoming being the least populace state in all of our 50, but not in Oregon. My longest day of the trip was 139.1 miles and took me through the town of Wagontire, Oregon, Population 2. Yes, 2. The “town” consisted of an old couple living in an RV. They ran a little café/motel/gas station, or at least used to. Despite “Open” signs all over the place, there was a “Closed” sign on the door, which overruled all the rest. It kind of sucked as it was 20 miles since last fill up on water and it would be another 60 before I found anymore.

Also on my longest day riding I had the experience that when people ask me “What was the closest you had come to being killed on the trip?” I would tell them this: When a huge lumber truck was passing me at probably 50 miles an hour, it passed so close that a loose strap on the truck hit me in the back. I kept the bike upright and even on the road, but I was just gorgonized and coasted along, contemplating my mortality yet once again until my bike came to a stop. I finished the day strong though and could have probably added another 20 miles to my 139 without much trouble.

After a couple days of long rides it was just a short hop to California. I have to admit that when I saw the “Welcome to California” sign I got a bit choked up. A small sense of accomplishment kicked in, being that even if a truck ran me down the following day, it could be said at my funeral that I rode a bicycle from New York to California.

The night I got to California was a Saturday and really, how could I not go out for a drink to celebrate that accomplishment. I ended up at a bar in a hotel built in 1908 called “The Niles”. The bar was empty with the exception of me occupying one barstool and the bartender serving me, but before long the towns mortician/DJ came in to set up…his DJ equipment that is. As it turns out, the place was closing down on Tuesday. Given how much the bar had made in the time I had been sitting there I can see why. Even I couldn’t save the place. I spoke to the bartender and the mortician/DJ or DJ/ mortician, I don’t which was his primary job. As I was looking at the barbed wire exhibit on the wall in a beer induced state it occurred to me. A bicycle? That’s nothing. Imagine all those pioneers who went cross-country in a covered wagon. Chew on that in your spare time.

Before hitting the Sierra Nevadas I had to first descend to near sea level. So in one afternoon I rode, or rather coasted from 5,748 feet above sea level in Fredonyer Pass, CA to 195 in Chico, CA. Towards the end of the day there was one stretch that was a 10 minute downhill at 25 MPH where I didn’t have to turn the pedals once. Following a little climb there was another downhill, this one about 15 minutes long. It almost got boring. I thought that I earned it though insomuch as I pedaled uphill an equal amount at some point.

The Sierra Nevadas were two days of up and down. It was the hilliest section of the ride since the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania. I would rather do that all day than have to fight the wind though.

One classic moment from the trip was when I spoke with a spaced out hotel clerk in California. I told him that I had ridden from New York City, so she asked me if I was familiar with Houston Street in NY. “Of course” I said. So then he asks me, “Do you know Alexandra?” Not even a last name, just Alexandra. I sat there with a confused look on my face until I just had to say “No”. I could not have kept a straight face would I have thrown out some sarcastic comment. It’s a small world, but not that small.

I had planned on spending a day riding around Napa and Sonoma wine country and then renting a car the following day to cover ground a bit quicker between wineries. As I was pedaling through I was running low on water, so I just stopped in some random winery to see if I could fill up. As I went in, there was a couple doing a private wine tasting and the winery was in actuality closed. The woman from the winery was nice enough though to go in the back and get me a bottle of water. As she did I was talking to the couple, Eric and Marie, doing the tasting. Upon hearing my story, they first thought I was nuts, but then wanted to hear more about it so asked if I wanted to join them and a few others for dinner the following day.

The next day I got a call inviting me to dinner with a few other people including the President of a winery in Napa (I will leave his name out to protect the innocent as Napa is a small community). I accepted, mentioning that I don’t have any clothes other than short pants and a golf shirt. I was told not to worry as Napa is a laid back place. It was an hour drive from where I was staying, but no big deal as long as I wasn’t drinking much. I got to dinner a few minutes late and everyone was very cordial, hitting me with all sorts of questions about my trip. At dinner the food was good and the wine even better. As I was poured a second glass of wine, Mr. Vineyard President said to me that drinking anymore than that around here was ill advised while driving, so I should just go ahead and stay at the vineyards cottage with the rest of the crew. Again, I accepted. After dinner we went to the cottage, cracked open bottle after bottle of wine, played some bocce and then sat by the pool until the wee hours. Before the night ended I got another invite, this time to a private lunch at the vineyard on Saturday. Being somewhat of an oenophile I was all over it, especially with this being harvest season. I would pedal to San Francisco and rent a car to come back up.

As the night of drinking and staying at the cottage was my rest day so to speak, I had planned to make the final push in to San Francisco the following day. Were it any other day I might have claimed hangover, but I was on adrenaline, thinking that this would be the final day accomplishing a relatively sizable goal. I only got pedaling around 10:30 as I had to drive an hour back to drop off my rental car from where I picked it up, but it was OK as I only had to pedal 75 miles to San Fran.

As I neared San Francisco, right where the roads were getting confusing, there was a bike shop. I stopped to ask directions and perhaps to feed my ego. After hearing me telling the guy behind the counter where I rode from, one of the customers who was on a bike said it would be an honor to give me an escort to the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge was only 5 miles away but we took a detour underneath the bridge to try to take it all in. From there we went to the Marin Headlands, which is a two-mile climb up a hill just before the bridge that when not foggy yields magnificent views of the Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco proper in the background. It was foggy though, very foggy. I could see the city, but only the towers of the bridge. Everything can’t be sunshine and lollipops.

It felt pretty good when I was about a quarter of the way over the bridge and saw the sign for San Francisco. It didn’t really hit me until the following day, but I did go out that night and celebrate. I ended up hanging out with a group of people in some bar that kept buying me congratulatory drinks. I was OK with that.

Saturday morning I picked up my convertible rental car and headed back up to Napa for that lunch. It was completely overcast and the entire city of San Francisco enshrouded in fog. Great day for a convertible I thought. As I headed out of San Francisco the sky cleared to a perfect shade of blue. I dropped the top, turned up the music and enjoyed the ride, immensely. This is when it hit me that I had made it to San Francisco. As I got to the vineyard I went to the back where the lunch was being held. After being handed a glass of wine I was given a tour of the facilities by Mr. President. It was all access and a real education.

Lunch was prepared by the vineyard staff and was an informal affair. It did however include some really nice wine. After lunch and now that I knew how it all worked, I went to work. Being harvest time there were loads of grapes coming in and I was getting them in a hopper to be destemmed and crushed. It was more of me having fun than doing real work, but I am sure the guy’s job I was doing didn’t mind the rest.

After lunch we went back to the cottage for more drinks. I was also informed that the owner of a different winery had extended an invite for dinner at his vineyard. Being the most gracious and accommodating people around, I was included in the plan. Wisely, I caught a ride with someone else, as I had a feeling there would be mass amounts of wine consumed. I was correct. The venue was a terrace overlooking the vineyard and was truly magnificent at sunset. The wine was great, the dinner was great and the conversation was great. We finished the night back at the cottage and, yup, you guessed it, drank more wine. I could not have had a better ending to the trip and someday hope to repay the kindness.

I headed back to San Francisco the following morning to play tourist for the next couple of days. I was able to find a bike shop to procure a bike box so that I could ship my bike back to New York. The bike is probably somewhere around Wyoming right now in the back of a UPS truck. My bike is tired and needs an overhaul.

Well that’s it. I hope you enjoyed reading my e-mails as much as I enjoyed reminiscing about my trip and writing them. So I sit here in San Francisco contemplating my next move. What is next for Kevin? In the coming weeks I have planned some time in Vermont to do a little hiking, attend a brew festival and look at some leaves change color. There is also a hockey tournament in Nantucket. But what is really next? Well, my buddy Steve, who did a cross country ride three years ago, was planning to ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles next month. Needless to say, I will be joining him in pedaling down the Pacific Coast Highway. I will send you the update for that one but in the meantime, here are my semi-final stats:

Total Miles: 3,635
Days Riding: 47
Average Miles Per Day: 77.3
Shortest Day: 17.9 (The first day I got snowed in)
Longest Day: 139.2 Miles (9 hours 34 minutes actually pedaling)
# Of Days Riding Over 100 Miles: 11 (had 6 days in the 90’s as well)
# Of States in Which I Had Ridden: 13
Total Number of Flat Tires: 1 – and on my first day of the trip, which leads me to:
Least Used Item I brought: Spare tire tubes (just beating out the bike lock)
Number of Times I Wiped Out: 2, just some scrapes and a little blood, nothing serious
Cheapest Motel: $35.35 – Vale, Oregon – it wasn’t bad, wasn’t great either

It’s been fun.



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