Archive for the ‘travel’ Category
Reached Los Angeles on the day after Thanksgiving – a rainy one – after two days of riding from Santa Barbara. Adam and I had decided on a short Thanksgiving weekend bike tour since we finally had a chunk of free time off from work and school. Despite the rain, which left us thoroughly drenched by the time we reached LA, we enjoyed being back in the saddle and exploring new places on the California coast.
Entering Los Angeles via the Strand trail from Will Rogers Beach past Santa Monica was as relaxing as any weekend bike ride. We rode along a mixed-use path that cut right through the beach – no need to deal with traffic other than the occasional brave jogger. The path itself continues further south for a total of 22 miles in length, but we headed in towards downtown once we got to Venice. The mix of rain and sand led to lots of accumulated grime on our bikes, but the wet day also meant very light traffic once we got back to on-street riding.
It was neat wandering around Koreatown in the afternoon (eventually the rain did lighten up), as it was my first time visiting LA and because I’d been missing easy access to good Korean restaurants. We also enjoyed trying a selection of pastries from the local panaderias. It’s true that LA’s Koreatown is home to about as many Mexican immigrants as Koreans, and apparent when you walk around the neighborhood. Some streets have more Spanish-language signage while others are dominated by hangul. A vibrant neighborhood overall, with lively street life and families with young children walking around in the evening. We did also see a little bit of downtown in the early morning, though I’m sure we’ll be back to see more soon.
A great weekend trip up north to Big Sur, a scenic part of the central California coast where I had last been on the bike trip with Adam. It was definite change to see things from inside a car, with the tight curves of the Pacific Coast Highway passing in a blur. I was both pleased to see other cyclists enjoying this beautiful stretch of coastline and anxious about how little space they really had on the road, with a constant stream of fast-moving cars and motorcyclists enjoying the drive. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d ride the PCH again on a bicycle, at least not on a busy weekend.
Big Sur is an interesting area. The first time we passed through we couldn’t figure out when we were actually in Big Sur. The signage seems to disagree on what bounds the region. There’s a little community that calls itself “Big Sur” toward the northern reach of Big Sur, but the region continues quite a bit further south along the PCH. The shift in landscape is very apparent as you leave Big Sur, however.
We hiked through stands of coastal redwoods and set up a miniature tent city at our site. With the decreasing daylight, we donned headlamps and finished cooking dinner into the darkness. We consumed close to twenty heads of garlic in one meal (almost 2 heads of garlic per person). An early start that morning, a good uphill hike, and 10 o’clock quiet hours meant we were all in our tents with plenty of time to sleep off the long day.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a great choice if you’re looking to camp in the area. It’s popular but large enough to accommodate hundreds of people, and offers hiking trails in walking distance of your site.
In the evening, we took time out to admire the stars. You can see so many out there.
It’s a bittersweet feeling as our trip comes to a close. We’re trying our best to savor every moment, while looking forward with anticipation to our next stage in life. We tell everyone we meet we’re almost there, and each new day brings us nearer to Santa Barbara. Now we look at our destination on a map and it doesn’t seem so far, especially compared to how far we’ve come already.
Over the past few days, the colder coastal weather has been slowly warming up, with more hours of sunlight with each passing day. We stop often, to watch seals play or have a roadside snack or talk to other travelers. Bike paths are becoming more common, and we appreciate each one. Yesterday we passed huge strawberry farms with busloads of migrant workers listening to the radio as they worked in the heat of the day. Dusty roads greeted us with the aroma of strawberries. I saw my first field of artichokes – never imagined the plants looked the way they do. It’s nice to be out learning about the world first-hand.
We’ve had several big climbs that reward us with big vistas. Big Sur was a nice climb. A passing road cyclist cheered our effort. A morning climb today between Gorda and Ragged Point was a perfect start to the day, which is warming up quickly. The first half of the day is usually still blanketed by the marine layer, though. We have to run our headlights and taillights to be seen while riding, as we can barely see the road ahead of us ourselves.
The sun actually came out today in San Francisco, making it an easy decision to walk over for the park to picnic away the afternoon, soak up vitamin D, and wander through the de Young Museum. We spent time catching up with friends who are both former DC residents and new residents to SF, having lived here less than a year each. I love discussing differences in lifestyle from east coast city living versus west coast city living. There’s much more homelessness here, some of it voluntary.
The Lawn Bowling Club was out, playing what looked to me like bocce. The signs, however, forbade playing bocce on the lawn bowling greens – so there must be some major difference. They invited us to come learn how to play during their free lesson tomorrow, but we’re back on the road then.
The view from the observation deck of the de Young Museum was improved by the lack of fog that is quintessential San Francisco. We could see all the populated streets fanning out on the hillsides.
The museum was designed by the prominent architects Herzog & de Meuron and I felt that the building was as much on display as the collections of art. In the cafe courtyard, people were out soaking up the sun.
We made sure, of course, to eat enough Mexican food to fuel us for the last few days of our trip. Continuing south tomorrow, hopefully with fresh legs!
Avenue of the Giants, a 30-mile stretch of scenic road that parallels 101, redeemed what had otherwise been a tiresome stretch of riding. Our morale was wearing thin after days of riding a shoulder alongside inattentive (or inexperienced?) RV drivers, and even the pleasure of riding through the northern part of Redwood National Park was dampened by the cold, wet weather.
When we turned off 101 to ride onto Avenue of the Giants, however, the skies opened up to let some sunlight in and the coast redwoods made their majesty clear. We meandered along the various paths, taking our time along the redwood groves and reading the signposts. The ranger station even offered free coffee. It’s always the little things you really appreciate on a big trip.
One of my favorite legs of the journey so far was taking Historic Columbia River Highway for sections of our route from The Dalles into Portland. The construction of this scenic highway first started in 1913, but in the 1930s it was beginning to be thought of as too narrow and dangerous. Interstate 84, which runs along at river level, replaced the Columbia River Highway by the 1960s.
More recent efforts to restore and reconnect the old highway are bringing the highway back for a scenic alternative to I-84. Some portions are open to all traffic, but other sections had been converted into trails closed to motorized vehicles. The stretch between Cascade Locks and Troutdale (just outside Portland) was memorable for its lush waterfalls, serpentine wanderings, and sweeping vistas.
Gorgeous, and enormous, Multnomah Falls.
One of the biggest perks of staying with family: being fed huge meals! Korean dinners, waffle breakfasts, and as much fresh fruit as we could eat. It was wonderful spending hours catching up and sharing stories.
Portland’s giving us a taste of Pacific Northwest weather, as it’s been mostly in the 60s and a bit drizzly. We had the chance to walk around downtown and see some cool transit in action, including the Portland streetcar.
Some neat old factories-turned-condos in the downtown, as well.
We browsed around Powell’s Books, had some beer and some coffee, and skipped the enormous line for Voodoo Doughnut (very much reminded me of the perpetual line outside of Georgetown Cupcake).
Next we’re heading to the coast – the other coast! – where we’ll mostly be following the Oregon Coast along Highway 101. Advice, recommendations, comments are always much appreciated.
Started the day in Bozeman with a greeting from our host’s five chickens. They had laid some eggs which Greg sauteed up into a veggie scramble. It’s important to have a good breakfast before hitting the road.
We also stopped at the Bozeman food co-op before leaving town to stock up on some bulk food. We met three westbound cross-country cyclists sitting outside having their breakfast: Cole, Derek, and Adam. The three friends had started cycling from North Carolina and were taking a rest day in Bozeman before heading north towards Glacier National Park, and then to Vancouver.
Today was a spectacular day of riding all around. The winds were with us for once, carrying us swiftly along, the scenery in Montana growing more astounding since we crossed into the mountains. We descended into the Jefferson River valley, where we were treated to views like this.
Spent time this afternoon chatting with people who were curious to hear about our trip, including a group of women who had become friends when they attended college at Madison. They said they were inspired by our journey – “I’m going to make my kids do this!” – and one of the women was originally from Alaska. (I mention this because ‘Meet an Alaskan’ is an item on our scavenger hunt.) We also talked to a couple guys who were in the area taking a geology course.
Montana is in a class of its own when it comes to natural beauty. A woman at our campground just walked by telling us to walk over and spy on a bull moose feeding by the river. I can definitely see the appeal of the west.
Montana’s state name is derived from the Spanish word montaña (mountain). Appropriately, this is also the state where we’re going to hit real climbing on our bike tour. The eastern side of the state is forgiving and has mostly thrown us short, steep treks up onto plateaus before the mountains truly begin further west. Today, only ten miles or so outside Billings, we saw our first snow-capped mountains on the horizon.
The Adventure Cycling maps that we’ve followed up to this point – a couple sections of the Northern Tier and some of the Lewis and Clark Trail (the route we’re following now) – hadn’t included the elevation charts alongside the maps. They do now. So far they’ve been fairly mild: a 250 foot climb here, another there, but looking ahead at some of the later sections of the Lewis and Clark, we will be in for major mountain climbing. We’ll reach our first mountain pass in a day or two.
Montana is gorgeous riding, though. I’m in awe of the variety of terrain we’re getting now, and prefer the hills to the flats. You never know what the view will hold just over the next ridge. At times they’re bizarre rock formations, other times it’s a herd of cattle grazing deep in the valley.
7 or 8 AM: Usually we’re waking by now. We don’t set an alarm most of the time; we wake when the sun starts to heat up the tent, beating us awake. Wash, eat breakfast, and pack up camp at a leisurely pace.
8 or 9 AM: Loaded up and hitting the road.
10 AM: Around 15 to 20 miles into our day, we take our first break to have a snack and reapply sunscreen. We eat whatever’s on hand – fruit, nuts, bars. Lately we’ve been taking to the Pearson’s Salted Nut Rolls (cheap, gas station version of a Clif Bar) or one of these Krispy treats when we can get them.
11:30 AM: Time to eat “first lunch,” one of the most important meals of the day. If we can’t find a diner (our top choice) or someplace else to grab an inexpensive meal in town, we’ll usually cook in a city park’s picnic pavilion, or, in rare instances, just make peanut butter sandwiches on the side of the road somewhere.
12 PM: More riding.
2 PM: Second lunch, if we’re feeling hungry. If not, just a big snack. We often take this time to look up where we might camp that night. Call nearby campgrounds or the town hall or perhaps a Warm Showers host, and hopefully resume riding with a sense of finality.
4 PM: Ideally we’re getting close to our destination by now. However, sometimes we ride until 7 or 8 in the evening, depending on wind conditions, amount of climbing, etc). Luckily there are plenty of daylight hours in the summer.
6 PM: Set up camp. We split the duties. Usually I’ll start cooking dinner while Adam sets up the tent, then we’ll eat – and shower if we have access to one.
8 PM: Read, write, stretch. Usually hit the hay around 9 or 10 PM because we can’t help falling asleep at nightfall.
Yesterday we went across the North Dakota-Montana border, after a solid week of riding through North Dakota prairie lands. The landscape of North Dakota was flat and monotonous until we got west of Bismarck, but the biggest challenge for us was dealing with the constant sun in a place with few trees and few populated places.
We were lucky not to hit too many days of the infamous North Dakota winds, but we did get some ferocious crosswinds on the day we left Fargo. There was nothing to break the wind for miles and miles, except in the places where trees were planted in a line along the road. It’s unbelievable how precise of a grid is laid upon North Dakota – the roads meet at right angles, sometimes cutting right through a lake. I love riding along watching the birds, and it’s especially entertaining to watch them try to fight the wind.
In Bismarck, our host Ron showed off his deep knowledge of North Dakotan history, assuring us that he had passed those history lessons onto his grandchildren. At breakfast, Ron encouraged us to fill up: “You got miles to go before you sleep… and miles to go before you eat.” The towns along our route west from Bismarck were fairly spread out – thirty miles or so between places to stop. Later that afternoon, we talked with a woman from Fargo who takes each of her grandchildren on a trip across the state when they’re in the fourth grade studying North Dakotan history. We met her and two of her grandchildren in New Salem at the largest Holstein cow in the world, Salem Sue. Morton County also boasts its place as the largest producer of cattle, hay, and oats in the state of North Dakota.
The big talk of the state is, of course, the Bakken Oil Field and the oil production business that comes with the use of fracking there. The predictions for how much oil potential there vary and seem to always be adjusted upwards, but generally it seems like it’ll be booming for at least fifty years.
There are so many people working in the oil fields that not everyone can find housing – some live tightly packed in “man camps” which are basically bunkers for workers, some work two weeks on, two weeks off in Bismarck or someplace else where they keep their homes. Checkout lines at Wal-Marts run for hours. We’ve been told it’s tough to find contractors to do any other kind of work in the surrounding area, since so many are employed by the oil business. And fatal traffic accidents occur daily in those areas. (Luckily, the closest we came to witnessing the boom times firsthand was when we passed through Dickinson, and we sped through there quickly.) It sounds like there are a lot of trade-offs for the new economic prosperity.
Before we crossed the border into Montana, we were treated to gorgeous views of North Dakota’s Badlands and a cute Fourth of July celebration in historic Medora, a very touristy and well-maintained town with a locally-famous musical they put on every summer.