I flew in to San Francisco and met my pal who lives in Oakland. We hung out for a few days, eating pizza and going for a ride out in Shell Ridge and the Mt. Diablo area, fulfilling dreams planted in my head from hours spent ogling shots from the folks at Rivendell Bicycles. On the day I was to start heading down the coast I ran into another tourist named Stephen from Tucson, AZ. He had been on the road for two months at this point, on an odyssey that started in Tuscon and took him north through desolate territory through Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho, the Rockies and high desert, across Oregon to Portland, and now back down the Pacific coast on his way home. It was a chance encounter that ended up being fortunate, as we would share the road for the rest of my trip. He was in total touring mode, caring little about anything except calories and a place to sleep. I think he was glad to meet me as well, because he said he hadn't ridden with another cyclist for more than a day during his entire trip. I could definitely sense the loneliness in the places he'd been and miles he'd spent by himself in his eagerness to ride with me. I let him know if he wanted to keep up with me he needed to be ready for long days. I had a schedule to keep and I needed to make it to LA in four or five days which meant averaging around 100 miles a day. On that first day I made it to a campground at New Brighton beach near Santa Cruz. I lost Stephen on the road earlier as I was pushing the pace, determined to make camp before sunset, and let him know where he could find me. Sure enough, in the middle of the night at the campsite he rolled up and let me know he'd be ready to ride the next day. I was surprised but happy to still have a companion. It obviously meant a lot to him to finally be traveling with another human.
Photo: Sean Talkington
This short tour of the California coast was a great time and I’m grateful that I got to pack so much riding and relaxation time with friends into one trip. The southern portion of the route was not as scenic as the northern part but it was still fun and might be just what some people are looking for. With the majority of rides at home taking place on the empty gravel roads of the Midwest, the amount of people and car traffic in southern California was a bit off-putting in my search for bucolic bicycle touring bliss. As always, bikes prove their value as the best way to take in any area of the world by allowing you to see what you want to see at your own pace, fully appreciate the nature of the world’s dynamic landscapes, and by stimulating awesome interactions with strangers you'd miss out on otherwise.
As for Stephen, he went on to LA but ended up catching a train back to Tucson. The prospect of the lonely and utterly grueling ride across the desert was too much, but with 3,000 some miles under his belt on the trip already, I don't think anyone could fault him. We keep in touch on Facebook these days. He always seems to be planning more lonely trips through weird areas of America and this winter he rode from Tucson across Texas to Lake Charles, Louisiana. During his trip, I’d receive intermittent communications from him about encounters with Mexican transvestites and Border Patrol officers, frigid night time temperatures and whole days spent on the road without seeing a single town. It takes a certain type to get out there and do rides like that alone. I hope I get to join Stephen on another ride someday.