Day 1 – 71 miles in 9 hours
Nearly ten hours – that’s how long we’ve been on the road. Our course is a line drive across the burning desert of Northern Nevada, where the scenery hasn’t changed for eight of those hours. From Salt Lake City, Utah to Reno, Nevada, the only variation in the landscape is whether or not there is salt on the ground.
But, we’d arrived at the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, ascended to the state line, and passed into California without incident. Then, a quick descent out of the pine trees brings us into the rolling foothills of Northern California.
There is a sharp contrast between how the eastern and western slopes of the Sierras are formed. The eastern slopes, which seem to begin in Reno, Nevada, get right to the point. They take you directly from the dry, desert floor to the lushness of the evergreens. On the western side of the range, the climb from the valley floor to the mountain peaks is gradual. The dry grasses continue along the ascent, but are joined by massive oak forests, which eventually give way to the pines and firs at higher elevations.
I spent many weekends during my youth camping, hiking, and fishing in the foothills that sit in the early morning shadows of the high Sierras. It’s where I learned how to gig frogs with a spotlight in the middle of the night and how to milk a rattlesnake (both taught by the same adventurous family friend). It’s where I got my first glimpse of wild flocks of turkey and pheasant and the excitement that comes with a sighting. It’s where I learned to recognize the sudden stillness of the forest, when the birds go silent, and the accompanying feeling that something is watching you – maybe just a coyote, but maybe a mountain lion or a bobcat.
By 2:00 pm Pacific time we make it to Sacramento, but we don’t stop until we reach the western edges of the city. Just off the I-80, I pull over at a 7-Eleven and begin dismounting my bike from the rack attached to our trunk. The hot May sun beats down on the blacktop. The plan is simple – my wife will continue in the car to the city of Pleasanton, just over the hills from the East Bay, and I will continue by bike. What will take my wife another two hours, will take me two days.
I position my gear on the back of my bike, using a jimmy-rigged system of bags and bungee cords, all strapped down to a makeshift rack. Ever the one to make do with what I have available, I had opted not to purchase a fancy touring rack or side-saddle. Rather , I repurposed the support arms of a rear child’s seat on the back of my bike, minus the seat.
On the rack I’m carrying a bike pump, two spare tubes, a small socket wrench set, a hiking tent, a sleeping bag, a couple changes of socks, underwear, water, and a small supply of food.
The arms of the child’s seat attach to the bike just under my seat, but they do not connect to each other. So I use my bike pump as a cross beam on the back of the rack, where it extends above the rear tire. It makes a good brace for the arms, as well as a platform for the rest of my gear. I also have a small cell phone case on the front of the bike that could simultaneously protect my phone from precipitation and give me a view of the Google Maps app.
The route to my destination is simple yet complicated enough that I really will need the GPS guidance. My wife and kids are headed to Pleasanton, which is basically a straight shot down the I-5 and then a bit west from where I am in Sacramento. But, that isn’t the route I have in mind.
One of the objectives of my trip is to cross the Golden Gate Bridge en route to the rendezvous with my family. This means that I will be adding significant distance, complexity, and time to my ride. I need to head west, then south, then back east. I’ll be passing through a number of small towns, climbing several intense hills, and braving roads, where people on bikes don’t really belong.
It’s an odd feeling to see my family driving off without me, in an unfamiliar place, with an unfamiliar journey ahead of me. The expressions of concern and confusion on the kid’s faces gives me pause. Although I’ve already told them that it’s going to be alright, I want to make sure the sentiment sinks in. I can hear my three-year old daughter asking, “You’re just kidding, right?”
“No, sweetie. I’m not kidding. I don’t know where I’m going to sleep, what I’m going to eat, or if I’ll even make it home in two days. But, I really am doing this.”
My wife’s silver sedan turns the corner and heads towards the freeway. I’m alone. My only companion is Google maps, who is now instructing me to merge onto the freeway. I can see the onramp, which is exactly where I’m being told to point my bike, but this can’t be right. Online bike routes can be misleading, even with GPS, but there is no way I’m spending the next two days on the side of the I-80.
I retype my destination into Google Maps, it’s a small campground about 75 miles west of my current location. I chose this particular spot because it is along my route and because it is listed as “free camping” online. But, the course Google gives me still looks like the freeway. I hesitate for a moment, then decide to trust Big Brother. I head down the onramp for the I-80 west bound, and just before I have to fully commit to the Freeway’s shoulder, I see a small opening in the fence. A vertical pole protrudes from the center of the gate to restrict motor vehicles, but my bike fits through nicely.
I find myself on a bike trail that runs alongside a beautiful stretch of water to the north and a chain link fence separating me from the freeway on the south. As I pass by at 18 miles per hour, I look out over the marshy wetlands. Perhaps I can trust Google’s route after all.
The water in the preserve is set back from the road. Between the bike trail and the water’s edge is a field of tall, dry grass. The tips of the grass stocks sag under the weight of their engorged seeds. Then comes a line of reeds that separates the dry ground from the water. It looks like a garrison, intentionally built to keep land lovers out. Elegant, white herons meander through the shallow waters. They raise their long, stick-like legs above the surface, patiently scanning for the perfect spot for their next step, then methodically lower it back into the water.
The trail itself is lined with the dry grass, wild artichoke, oleanders, poppies, and a variety of wild flowers. Occasionally a towering oak tree or eucalyptus rises from the shoulder of the trail. The smells of these California plants elicit strong feelings of nostalgia within me. Though I haven’t experienced them for many years, they are familiar. I grew up just south of Sacramento in the heart of San Joaquin county. Our home was in the center of a wine grape vineyard, which we didn’t own, and a short, mile-long bike ride down the railroad tracks from the Mokelumne river.
To put it simply, we were poor. My father was a self-employed general contractor, my mother a stay-at-home parent. With seven kids to care for and a meager income, my parents were limited when it came to travel and vacations. The cheapest solution was camping. We camped in the Sierra Nevadas and in their foothills; we camped along the windy beaches of the Monterey Bay; and we camped in the Black Rock desert outside of Reno, Nevada.
When we were at home, running around and exploring outside was how my brothers and I had fun. We explored the vineyards and cherry orchards that made up the bulk of our neighborhood. We explored the banks of the Mokelumne river and the shores of Jackson and Camanche Reservoirs. The plants and the animals became familiar to me. They became part of who I was.
Now I’m back, experiencing the environment of my youth for the first time in a long time.
I’m moving along at a solid clip, between 17 to 19 miles per hour. Back home, when I was training in preparation for this touring excursion, I averaged 15 miles per hour. The bump in my speed has me feeling good. The sun is beating down on my left side, but I’m cruising.
For the first few miles I pass nobody on the trail. I’m in the countryside, so my only companions are the creatures sunbathing on the warm, sun-soaked asphalt of the trail. The western fence lizards, which we called blue bellies as a kid, do there push ups as I approach then scurry into the underbrush at the last moment.
Our front yard from the time I was six to nearly twelve, was lined with bushes along the borders of the lawn. Under these bushes we could find countless blue bellies. They were quick, so I had to be quicker to catch them. I would distract a lizard with one hand, then grab it from behind with the other. I remember the feeling of sadness when I would accidentally dismember a tail, despite knowing that it would eventually grow back. The lifeless tail would lie in the dirt, twitching back and forth as if searching for its body.
Along the bike trail, I also encounter ground squirrels enjoying a sauna from the heat of the trail’s asphalt. If our front yard was the place to chase blue bellies, then our backyard was the place to chase ground squirrels. They built an intricate palace of tunnels and mounds right under the giant walnut tree that hung over the yard. Each time I would exit out the backdoor I could hear the shrill alarm cry of the ground squirrel sentry.
One evening Buddy, our German Shepherd-Labrador mix, caught one of the squirrels in the grape vineyard. Fearing his malicious intentions, I rushed to rescue the squirrel from his jaws. The squirrel was pretty shaken up, but still alive and conscious. Rather than let it return to its small community, my brother and I decided that it would be a good idea to keep the squirrel for our own. We put it into a wire rabbit cage and placed it atop the swamp cooler behind our house.
At first our plan was working but after its initial shock had worn off the squirrel went haywire. The shaking and rattling coming from the swamp cooler alerted my dad that something wasn’t right. He went running into the backyard wearing nothing but his underpants, only to discover what his twin sons had done. As could be predicted, we were not allowed to keep our new pet.
About an hour into my ride, I reach the sleepy city of Davis, California. I’ve only experienced Davis as a blur out my car window, so I imagine it as dry and dusty, just like the rest of the Central Valley. But, to my surprise, it’s beautiful. My route takes me directly through town and along a scenic river trail. On my left is a porch attached to a large building. On my right are towering redwoods and a serenely flowing stream. I guess that I’m crossing over the campus of UC Davis, because there are young people in backpacks all around me. The place has an exciting energy.
It doesn’t take long to pass through the whole of Davis, and I soon find myself in the country again. It’s dry and other than the wind or the occasional sound of passing vehicles, it’s quiet.
When you’re on a bike, there is only one thing that is more challenging than hills and that is wind. While hills can be trying, the only thing you’re really fighting on a hill is gravity and your own tolerance for pain. But, wind is different. Wind is an enemy. It actively attempts to push you backwards. You can feel it on your face, your chest, and your arms. Wind doesn’t race you. It’s not trying to beat you somewhere. Wind is the kind of competitor who is happy just to see you fail. It doesn’t want you to get where you’re going, no matter where that is.
Outside of Davis, I hit the wind. It slows my pace from a brisk 17 mph to a haltering 10 mph. I try to duck under it, but I can’t avoid it. In my head I calculate the difference in time this is going to cause. I realize that my day is going to be much longer, and much more arduous, than I had expected.
The bright side of slowing down is that it allows me to be more observant of the world around me. Now, I’m right smack in the middle of extensive farmland. All around me are dirt fields and orchards of nut trees – mostly walnuts and almonds.
My mind goes back to visits at my dad’s aunt and uncle’s house. They lived in a walnut orchard in Linden, California. The trees were so tall and thick that the ground around their home was perpetually dark, eliciting the feeling of being in an enchanted forest. I remember watching in wonder as the harvesting tractor would raise its giant claw-like arm, and wrap its steel tentacles around the trunk of a towering walnut tree. It would begin vibrating, and soon we would hear the thuds of walnuts shells crashing into the sides of the rusted, old trailers parked beneath the limbs.
Other than the walnuts, I remember only a few things about Linden. One – my mom taking us to the Linden public pool to cool off during the most unbearable days of the California Summer. And two – barbecues at my aunt and uncle’s house, the smell of cigarette smoke permeating every piece of fabric in their home.
It’s quiet as I pass the farms and orchards outside of Davis. My only companions are the cows fenced into the fields of yellow grass, lazily chewing their cud. I moo at them, and on occasion I get a response. The calves tend to look up with earnest, still curious about the world around them. Their mothers, however, seem to have lost interest in strangers on bikes.
There are also the birds, of which California seems to have no shortage. I pass groups of ravens, crows, and buzzards picking at hidden things in the fields – dead things. I hear the guttural caws of scrub jays, which like to shout out in mid flight as they swoop past. Occasionally I see a mocking bird, yet hear no mocking sounds. There are sparrows, hawks, quail, and doves. All of them going about their business of survival and paying me no mind.
I cross a creek. A mile later I cross it again. There are no signs indicating its name. That type of information sharing is less important out here, where everyone probably already knows what it’s called.
When I was about six years old and living in Stockton California, a port city in San Joaquin County that is a surprising distance from the coast, my dad took me and my brothers to Bear Creek to catch frogs and crawdads. As a kid the crawdads were terrifying. Their longs bodies were bigger than my small hands, and their claws looked menacing as they reached for my fingers.
My brothers and I put the crawdads in our red Radio Flyer wagon in the garage, with a little bit of water and some mud. It seemed like a good home for them at the time, but in the morning they were all gone. To our dismay, the crawdads were agile climbers and much more mobile than we had expected. I found one crawling slowly behind a pile of boxes along the wall, its body covered in dust.
When I was older, we moved to the house in the vineyard, which was only a few miles away from a very small town named Lockeford. A friend of ours lived in Lockeford, and my twin brother and I would ride bikes down to the creek with him to see what we could find. Using a fishing net attached to a pole, we would scoop buckets of life from the bottom of the creek. Frogs, crawdads, baby catfish, guppies, minnows, tadpoles, and polliwogs.
One day we went down to the creek with a few other young boys, most of them a bit more aggressive than my brother and me. We parked our bikes along the side of the road and squeezed through a barbed wire fence to descend below the bridge that crossed the creek. It was late spring, and the swallows had built nests of mud and saliva that were tucked into the corners where the bridge’s pillars met its bottom side.
Many of the mud nests contained young babies. They stretched their scrawny necks from the narrow openings and begged for food with high pitched shrills. The other boys thought that it would be entertaining to throw rocks at the nests, to break them free from their stranglehold on the cement and watch them crash to the ground. I didn’t feel good about participating, and when I saw the young babies falling into the muddy water below, I began to protest. The sight of the young birds being drowned or falling to their death on the hard soil made me sick to my stomach.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized the creek in Lockeford was Bear Creek. The very creek my father had taken us to in Stockton years before.
Still, the creek outside of Davis gives no indication of its name. From the road I see a piece of acreage layed out in typical Californian style. A large farmhouse sits in the middle of the property, surrounded by acres of freshly tilled soil. A wall of eucalyptus trees creates a border between the residential portion of the property and the agricultural portion. A sign by the road reads, “For Sale”. It also informs passersby that the walnut orchard in the back of the property is included in the deal. I fantasize about what I would do with such a piece of land. The orchards and vineyards I could plant. The garden I could grow. The organic eggs and honey I could raise.
The day dream passes away slowly, and I continue on at a snail’s pace. Given the wind and my current speed, I’m not sure how much longer it will take for me to find food. Cycling, especially against the wind, burns a lot of energy, and I’m worried about maintaining my caloric intake. The last thing I want to do is get behind my hunger.
Not wanting to risk it, I stop under a tree for shade and quickly scarf down two hard boiled eggs. A sign on the property warns that loitering is not permitted – violators will be cited. I check Google Maps on my phone and it informs me that the city of Dixon is nearby. I should be there in under 30 minutes.
Those thirty minutes pass by slowly. The wind continues to blow in my face. What I wouldn’t give to feel the wind as an ally on my backside rather than a force to be reckoned with on my front.
I misread the directions and stop suddenly when the road shifts from asphalt to dirt. This can’t be right. One of my greatest fears is riding too far off the path, then having to backtrack in order to reach my destination. More time. More calories. More energy burned. I’m only off by a quarter mile, so I turn around and head for the intersection where I missed my turn. I cross a pair of railroad tracks and Google centers me back on the path.
Eventually I enter Dixon. The transition from farms to single-family homes is instant. A gated community sits on the edge of town, and I ride directly through it to the nearest shopping mall. The wind also breaks as soon as I cross into town. The tall, brick walls and trees lining the streets cut the wind before it ever reaches me. I’m grateful for this simple relief.
A few miles into town I come across a Burger King. I haven’t eaten at Burger King for nearly a decade, but I’m tired and hungry. I need to consume as many calories as I can and rest my legs for a while. I’ve been biking for five hours, the last three of them against the wind.
With all of my possessions strapped to the back of my bike, I don’t feel comfortable leaving it outside, so I walk towards the door pushing my bike along with me. From a table outside the building an enormous, long-haired German Shepherd lunges at me, its teeth flashing at me as its lips snarl backwards. I jump back, surprised by the sudden demonstration of aggressiveness. The owner of the dog calmly pulls back on its leash. “Sorry,” he says nonchalantly. The dog goes unchastized.
Once inside, my heart begins to slow to a normal pace. I position my bike against a table and approach the counter to order. I ask for a chocolate smoothie, a Whopper, large fries, and a Gatorade.
I recall eating a whopper on the way to a camping trip, my brother’s and I smashed into the back seats of our Chevy Suburban. The bun was too big for me to hold. The sauce dripped out every which way. When I was a kid, we didn’t eat out much, so the Whopper was a real treat. Something to be cherished. Today though, it’s nothing but calories.
In the same parking lot and just to the east of the Burger King is a Lucky’s grocery store. I want to purchase a few supplies before I get back on the road, so I jump on my bike and glide leisurely across the asphalt. There’s a bike rack outside, but again, I don’t want to leave all of my stuff alone outside. Instead I push the bike inside and park it along a wall between a row of quarter machines and the shopping cart return area.
As I dig through my bag in search of my wallet, I hear an infant screaming from the seat of a shopping cart behind me. I turn to see a deflated mother trying her best to console the child, but with no success. There was a time, before I was a parent myself, when I would have judged someone who couldn’t “control” their child in public. Now, going on six years of parenting two children, I simply smile in solidarity. We’ve all been there, I think to myself.
At the Lucky’s I’m looking for food that I can throw in my bag and eat when I’m in my tent for the night. Something that will satisfy my taste buds, yet also satisfy my stomach. I settle on two premade po-boy sandwiches from the deli. They look fresh enough, and they’re cheap. Besides, I’m not sure what else I should buy, and I want to be on my way. I make my purchase, and after a quick visit to the boys room, I’m ready to roll.
It doesn’t take long for me to reach the final housing tract on the edge of town, then I’m back in the country. The time I spent sitting in the Burger King allowed my body to settle down, to relax, and to realize how tired it already was. I feel like I’m playing a doubleheader in basketball. My body is fatigued, my muscles are like jelly. Then, as soon as I’m no longer protected by the trees, houses, and fences of Dixon the wind finds me, and we begin to battle once again.
There is nothing I can do but put my head down and keep pedaling. Once again the scenery passes slowly. Fields of brown dirt or dry grasses. Cows. Farm houses set back from the road. Scattered eucalyptus trees. Creak beds and bridges. And birds, lots of birds. The sun is moving farther to the west. It no longer beats down on me, but rather calls from a distance, as if it’s letting me know that it will be leaving soon.
Usually when I ride, I prefer to listen to podcasts or audio books, but not on this trip. I’ve decided to go without the constant sound in my ears. I want to experience every moment of the trip. I want to be aware of what I’m seeing, hearing, and smelling. Often times my mind wanders, but the scenery changes quickly enough that it brings my attention back to my immediate surroundings. It’s a form of meditation. It keeps me grounded in the journey. I’m already grateful that I decided to make the trip.
I don’t know how long it’s been since I left Dixon. It seems as though physical fatigue can sharpen your mind and allow it to sink even deeper into a meditative state. You move without considering the movements. Without realizing it, I’ve kept my legs moving in circles long enough that I arrive at the next town. It’s called Fairfield and right away the map puts me onto a promising looking bike route that runs directly through town. Nice! I think to myself.
But, it’s not so nice. At first the trail looks promising, as it avoids many of the big streets and stop lights, however I soon realize that Fairfield is not the coziest of towns. I pass people on the trail who give me pause. The types of people who yell at themselves in impolite tones. Who are unpredictable at best. The trail winds between neighborhoods, always separated from the homes by tall cinder block walls. During stretches of the trail I see tents set up along these cinder block walls – the homes of the people I’m passing. Whether they are temporary or permanent, I cannot tell.
My mind goes back to the early 90’s. My mom saw a need to ensure that her children understood that quality of life is a sliding scale and, just because we didn’t have as much as some people, we had much more than others. To bring home the point, she drove us through downtown Stockton. Although, it was only forty minutes from our home, the lifestyles of the people living on the street could not have been further from our own. I remember being afraid of the people I saw, but at the same time feeling very sad for them.
Perspective can be powerful. And the perspective of my youthful experience is front and center as I make my way through town.
Just before I come to an intersection, where the bike route meets a cross street, I’m forced off the trail by a police car traveling the opposite direction. I’ve biked on dozens of trails back home, and never encountered a police car on the path. The cops idle slowly down the trail as if they just want everyone to know that they are present. The officer in the passenger’s seat looks me up and down, his face stoic.
Once again, I tell myself to keep my head down and just pedal. The sun is sinking quickly and I want to put distance between myself and Fairfield before night falls. But, half a mile passed the police car something goes wrong. The equipment on the back of my bike has shifted during the trip, and suddenly everything I’ve brought with me is dangling from the side of my bike.
I stop quickly to assess the situation. I look up and down the trail to see whom I might encounter, if I stop to work on my bike. There is a young couple headed my way from the east. They don’t look threatening. But, the middle-aged man with the long beard coming from the west looks a bit menacing.
Before I can reattach my gear, I have to take everything down and begin organizing it again on the back of my bike. I suddenly feel very vulnerable. There is not a lot of real value, other than my phone, wallet, and of course my life. But, I have plenty of things that a desperate, homeless man would consider useful. A tent, a sleeping bag, food, water, and obviously my bike. I work quickly, to reposition everything how it had been previously, then stretch the bungee cords back into place and secure them to my bike. The whole process takes no more than five minutes then I’m back on my way.
But something terrible has happened. My rear wheel won’t turn. Something is blocking my spokes and I have to jump off the bike again to investigate. It’s the rack I’m using to hold everything on the back of my bike. The rack that was originally designed to hold a child’s seat, not a bunch of touring gear. In an attempt to ensure my equipment wouldn’t fall off the bike again, I had pulled the bungee cords too tight, which squeezed the rack together and placed a bolt right in the path of my rear spokes.
Once again, I’m forced to remove everything and rethink my rig. I reposition the rack and secure my pump at the rear, ensuring not to pull the bungee cords too tightly. I’m more careful about how I position things now. Another five minutes and I’m back on the trail. The sun is nearly out of sight, so I attempt to pick up speed.
Fifteen minutes later I exit the sketchy neighborhood portion of the Fairfield trail and enter the sketchy side of the freeway portion of the trail. A young man on a BMX bikes parks on the pavement and begins whistling. Almost instantaneously, a man appears out of the bushes, and I witness a drug deal.
I keep moving at a steady pace, close to 15 mph. The edge of Fairfield is much nicer than the interior. I pass office complexes with nicely manicured landscaping. Suddenly, I realize that there is one thing I’ve forgot to pack – batteries for my bike’s headlight. I’ll be practically helpless without a headlight, once the darkness becomes too thick.
On the corner of an intersection, I stop for batteries at a gas station convenience store. I’m in and out in less than three minutes. However, a block away from the convenient store, my chain stops turning. I look down to see that my spoke is out of alignment and my tire is jamming against the frame of my bike.
While I packed the tools to ensure I was prepared for this situation, I’m frustrated at the timing. Right there on the sidewalk, I unpack my gear just enough to reach my socket wrench. To save on weight, I’ve brought along just the size sockets that I’ll need for my bike. I realign my spoke using the eyeball test, then push down on the wrench. I re-strap my bags for the third time in less than an hour, and take off once again.
I leave town just as the sun dips out of sight. In the dimming twilight I reach my next serious challenge – elevation. I never ascend more than a few thousands feet above sea level, but climbing hills on a bike can be a real chore. My fatigue is probably the instigator, but these particular hills feel like the hills from Hell. I drop to the lowest gear, put my head down, and turn the pedals.
As I climb, I realize how quickly I not only left the city but entered a no-man’s land. twenty feet to my right a is a noisy freeway. To my left a fenced property that goes on for miles, with the most intense “No Trespassing” signs I’ve ever read. They’re very threatening. I want so badly to stop and sleep under a large oak tree between the barbed wire fence and the frontage road, but I force my mind to ignore my body. Any distance that I fail to achieve today, must be made up tomorrow. I tell myself to keep pushing and I’ll sleep late in the morning.
The great thing about climbing hills, is the ride down the other side. Once I’ve reached the highest point of the range, I glide down side roads in pitch blackness. The only light coming from my fresh, new batteries. The descent is not just fun, it’s ecstasy. It’s adrenaline inducing speed. The wind rushing over my ears is deafening. The distance that took over an hour to climb takes mere minutes to descend.
A short ride through the dark and I enter another city with a name that I remember from my youth – Vallejo. When I had planned my route, Vallejo was the city that had concerned me, due to my perception that the city might be a bit rough. To my surprise and relief, I barely touch the fringes of town. I travel quickly past a stretch of car dealerships and industrial warehouses. Then the route turns down a long, dark alley between a trailer park and the freeway. A ten foot cement wall separates me from the traffic on the freeway. There are no lights in the alley, and again I feel grateful that I purchased the batteries for my headlight.
I follow the route under an overpass and in the darkness Google sends me up a freeway onramp. I realize where I am when I see a sign that reads, “Non-motorized vehicles NOT permitted”. I stop to check the map on my phone. Sure enough, this is the only way to get to where I want to be. I can see that I’m approximately ten miles from my designated campsite, but a stretch of water spans nearly the entire ten miles. It’s the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Reluctantly I comply with Google’s directions and continue onto highway 37. It may be risky to cross the waterway, but I’m so close to sleep that I can already feel the comfort of my sleeping bag. I check the time. 9:45 pm. I think to myself, I can do ten miles in under an hour. No doubt. And, I could do another ten miles standing on my head. Again, I put my head down and churn my legs.
Highway 37, also known as Sears Point Road, transcends a narrow dyke above the water. It’s a tight fit. The shoulder is approximately four or five-foot wide. A single lane of traffic is to my left. To my right is a short wall, approximately three feet high and, on the other side, I can hear small waves splashing against the rocks. I’m no more than eight feet from the water. The only light comes from my headlight and the headlight of cars as they soar past me. I’m worried that a highway patrol officer will pull me over and ticket me, but I also wish they would show up and give me a ride to the end of the dyke.
It’s been nearly eight hours since I began peddling. My legs are like elastic. I force one knee to push down on the pedal and then it snaps back as the other takes a turn. It’s dark. It’s getting cold. My entire body aches. I experience shooting pains through my neck and back . My hands cramp from gripping the handlebars with such tenseness, but my nerves refuse to let them relax. I keep an eye on the time and my distance from camp. Nine miles. Eight miles. Seven miles.
I want so badly for it all to be over. I’m tired beyond exhaustion. Every inch of my body craves my sleeping bag and I want to stop, but now it’s not a matter of putting miles behind me, there is nowhere to stop. Six miles. Five miles. Four miles.
There are times when I’m riding and become hungry. My mind fixates on the foods that I will eat. I dream of hamburgers, pizza, and ice cream. But tonight, despite my hunger, I only dream of laying down and sleeping.
Then, three miles from camp, my heart sinks. My front tire is flat. I feel it instantly. The bike wobbles and I realize that I’m riding on the rim. I stop and quickly get off the bike. I don’t have space to safely change it on the shoulder while still on the dyke. There’s nothing I can do but start walking. On the map, I can see that I’m now just under three miles from the campsite, but I can’t accurately determine how much longer I’ll be on the dyke. I comfort myself by thinking that I can easily walk three miles in under an hour. I won’t be in bed as quickly as I would have liked, but walking is not as exhausting as riding.
It’s even more uncomfortable pushing the bike on the side of the road then it had been riding it. Fortunately, it’s only another half a mile to the mainland. As soon as I’m back on solid ground, I began reassessing my need to continue on to the planned campsite. I don’t want to keep walking if I can avoid it. Also, I’d rather not have to change my tire in complete darkness.
Eventually I make it to dry land. At the end of the dyke is a bridge, so I descend the slope next to the bridge and set my bike down behind a tall shrub, pop the headlight off of the bike and use it as a flashlight to go exploring. The sides of the cement bridge are covered in graffiti. There is a small entryway underneath it, but the darkness makes it difficult to see underneath. What could be down there? Or, who? I approach it slowly, then shine my light through the hole. Nothing but dirt and rocks.
Once I’m reassured about the safety of my location, I retrieve my bike and carry it down the short slope next to the bridge. In a small clearing between the shrubs, I pitch my one-man tent and roll out my sleeping pads and sleeping bag inside of it. Overcome with fatigue, I choose not to lock up my bike, but I do tie one of the tent anchors to it, thereby using it as a weight for my tent.
Once inside my sleeping bag, I can feel the exhaustion throughout my body; particularly in my legs, but also in my back, neck, and arms. They ache with tension. Concerned that my mind may be too active to achieve sleep quickly, I pull a book from my bag and begin reading. But, sleep is not a problem. I drift away before I finish a single page.
The sounds of the night keep me from reaching a deep state of sleep. Large, steel electric towers and their drooping power lines buzz constantly above me; bullfrogs and crickets call out incessantly throughout the night; and cars and trucks rumble past at high speeds on the bridge above me. All I want is sleep, but morning can’t come soon enough.
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