My Life in Plastic Bags
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
The End and Where Are They Now...Finally
First, The End of the Bike Trip
This email has been a long time coming, so I’ll do my best to remember back to October.
We crossed from Mendocino into Sonoma County and unfortunately it was too far inland for us to do a wine country side trip. We began to see signs that we were getting closer to San Francisco such as no more campgrounds and the convenience stores had even better selections of amazing beer, cheese, and all organic produce. You might be surprised to learn that within 60 miles of San Francisco it is still really rural. We biked through tons of farmland some of them extending all the way to the ocean. How odd to look to my right and see cows a few feet away from cliffs with crashing waves below. Don’t be fooled, it still was California. I was biking through rolling farmland when I saw a huge hand painted sign in front of me. It said, “Firehouse Fundraiser, Saturday Night.” Instead of the next line reading “Spaghetti Dinner” or “Pancake Breakfast” as in any Midwestern small town, the sign said, “Vegan Polenta Dinner.” Yup, that sure motivates the folks to come out and donate their hard earned cash.
On our last day of biking we woke to a beautiful sunny day. And it was warm. Now, I’m not sure if I was clear before, but even when the rain stopped, the sun didn’t come out and it never got warm enough for me to bike in shorts. Plus, we biked on a flat bike path for most of the day that wound between forests and fancy neighborhoods. So the bike touring gods smiled down and granted us absolutely perfect bicycling conditions on our last day to stick in our memories and stay with us until the next time we get the itch to travel….much like hitting a perfect shot on the last hole of a brutal day of golf.
Alex and I crossed the San Francisco Bay via the ferry (KC and Nina opted for the more miles in your day Golden Gate Bridge option) and then lugged our loaded bikes through the streets of San Fran during rush hour and then down the steps of the subway station in order to take the subway out to my cousin Kristin’s house in Berkeley. By the time we arrived, it was dark and we were so thankful to have a real shower and good food and good conversation with Kristin and her husband Jason and magazines, yes tons of pop culture revering magazines to pour over. Bliss.
The next day I biked around the UC Berkeley campus and afterwards boxed and shipped my bike home. Now, Berkeley has always had a mythical image in my mind, so I fully expected to see long haired hippy freaks on acid holding peace signs all over the campus. Therefore I was astonished when the first things that I encountered on campus were a group holding Bush/Cheney signs, investment banking flyers blanketing the student notice boards and cell phones attached to every ear. Luckily, I soon found a whole slew of progressive minded flyers and individuals and my liberal haven image was restored.
That night Nina, KC (who both call the Bay Area home), Alex and me went out and got hammered with all of KC and Nina’s friends who we heard so many stories about on the trip.
The next morning I woke up and flew home to Chicago. It was an amazing trip. Thank you all for your emails and for sharing in it with me.
Where are they now?
Me – In Chicago. Despite still not having a job and the disaster that was the November Election, I have had a wonderful time since the end of the bike trip. The biggest news – Spencer and I are engaged. YAY! We are so happy. No, we do not have any plans for anything and yes, I am still wearing the extremely gaudy fake $10 ring that has an adjustable band and 3 of the 20 or so “diamonds” missing – I love it because it is so freaking funny.
Alex – In Chicago. The company he was working for pre-bike trip re-hired him, plus he took a side job writing for a company in Qatar. I can’t believe Mr. “I don’t wanna work at all” has two jobs, but he rationalizes that he can then take his next big trip sooner because he’ll have two incomes.
Nina – Nina actually continued biking down the coast after I went home. She recruited her friend Josie and the two of them biked all the way to the Mexican border. She currently is in Jackson Hole, WY working at a ski/bike shop, lamenting the lack of snow.
KC – Whereabouts unknown
Ok, I think that KC is doing landscaping in Oakland, but it just fits her personality so much better (much like D-Day).
I hope everyone is doing well.
Happy New Year.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Still in Chicago, just signed the lease on an apartment - yay! But, back to the trip...
That night, after the Eel River fiasco we pulled into a little town called Garberville with one thing on my mind - finding a place where we could watch the first presidential debate. I immediately started calling the motels in town while KC and Nina were distracted by the all organic fast food stand. Suddenly KC's face became extremely animated and started pointing over my shoulder. We all turned to see a man on a bike pumping up the hill. He had a mountain bike and a trailer...check that, EMPTY trailer. "Alex!" we all screamed and jumped up and down. Actually, I think KC started with "Jeremy" then switched over to "Alex!".
It was a joyous reunion and Alex filled us in on his previous 36 hours. Essentially he decided that he wanted to bike to San Francisco (plus it seemed easier than renting a one way car out of Eureka) and he figured that without hauling any gear he could stay in hotels and make it in half the time. So, we all got organic tacos, some local beer and headed out to watch the debates.
We entered Mendocino County and were met with fog and the smell of Eucalyptus, both which hung in the air, hit you in the face, and clung to your skin. The roads along the coast were made for convertible sports cars (except for the particles of fog smacking you in the face). Crazy curves, crazy hills, steep cliffs hanging on the right met by the crashing surf.
We stopped for lunch in Fort Bragg and I had the best omelet of my life. After the ethereal experience that was lunch, KC, Nina and I sat down to figure out where we were going to stay that night. 35 minutes later with no resolve, a woman that Nina had talked to earlier walked by and said, "or you can stay at my place. I live in the next town over and you are welcome to sleep on my couch and use my shower." She made the decision really easy. We met Anne later that night at her house. She lives in the town of Mendocino which is a block for block replica of a New England seaside town with Victorian houses every 7 feet. Anne treated us better than a bed and breakfast -we sat around her fireplace drinking beers at night, took hot showers, we each got a couch and blankets to sleep with, and she made us an unbelievable German apple pancake turnover thing along with eggs for breakfast. However, her amazing hospitality was slightly outshadowed by her fascinating life. Anne grew up in Philadelphia but moved out to San Francisco to go to art school around 18. There she got into the early beginnings of the organic farming movement and learned the freedom that came with hitchhiking up the coast. She left San Fran to work on a sheep farm in Montana, spent time in Hawaii and Chicago and at 28 found herself back in California dated a guy for 3 weeks and decided to get married because as Anne put it, "I hadn't done that before." She now has three interesting kids aged 20, 16 and 14 with the 20 year old at Berkeley but spending the semester in Barcelona and her 16 year old is spending the year in France. Apparently international trips are big in the school district because some of the other school sponsored trips were hiking in Peru, surfing in Fiji, and going to Japan. My jaw was on the ground as I thought back to my big excursion in high school which was going to an authentic Mexican restaurant in...Pittsburgh...30 minutes away from my high school. In the past few years Anne got into biking and did numerous bike trips in Ireland which is where her compassion for us ragamuffins came from. The next morning we said our goodbyes and thanked her for the best night and the most kindness that anyone showed us on our trip. I should also mention that we left Alex in Fort Bragg at the brewery there (mmm Red Seal Ale....) talking to a cute bicycling woman from Georgia and he was going to shop around at the outdoors store and possibly buy camping equipment to replace his stolen gear.
We met up with Alex again and the next few days was more of the same terrain. We rode through one little town and as I biked through a man ran out of a store yelling at me. I stopped and turned around and he ran up to me thrusting a bag of taffy into my hands. He said, "I try to give all cyclists a bag of taffy for energy when they bike by." He biked the West coast a few years ago, hence his affinity for cyclists.
So, in summary we have some people for the good column - Anne in Mendocino, the free taffy guy and ...Poland. Don't forget about Poland.
I hope everyone is doing well.
It's Thursday October 14th and I'm in Chicago, IL. Yes, I am done with the trip. However, I'm about a week behind in emailable stories, so there might be a few more emails coming.
Picking up from where I left off in the last email...
We left Arcata and headed south. Unfortunately for Alex, whenever he has a rest day, his next day on the bike is extremely painful as he gets shooting pains in his legs. Nina and KC went on ahead and I suggested to Alex that we eat at a Thai restaurant to take his mind off the pain. He agreed eagerly and we stopped for an hour in Eureka. Feeling rejuvenated after a great meal, we walked out of the restaurant. I turned the corner, looked at our bikes and thought to myself, "something is wrong." I then pinpointed it when I stared at Alex's bob trailer (Alex has all of his stuff in a little trailer that he drags behind his bike instead of panniers/saddle bags which I use). Inside his trailer was his sleeping bag and running shoes. Gone was his backpack. I quickly looked at my bike and exhaled in relief as all of the important things were there. Then I waited for Alex to come around the corner. He did and I just stared at him, too devastated to actually break the news. He looked past me and quickly realized....that all of his stuff....was stolen. You see, we locked our bikes, however his backpack could be lifted out of the trailer without much struggle. The damage:
Sleeping pad. Gone
Cool backpack. Gone
All clothes besides those he was wearing. Gone
All toiletries. Gone
Pots, bowl, silverware. Gone
Towel, flashlight, book. Gone, Gone, Gone
Essentially everything that makes up his life on the road was gone. Still, typical of Alex, he was responding with a "that's ok, it sucks, but it's replaceable" attitude. Until he realized something was gone that couldn't be bought at REI - his disc for his digital camera with his pictures from the first half of the trip. That's when he asked if I minded if he rode around the block by himself for a moment. I said, "of course not, I'll call the girls and tell them what happened and then meet you at that brewpub we passed a few blocks back."
He joined me at the brewpub after a bit and we talked through his options:
1. go back 12 miles to Arcata and buy new gear to continue the trip with us to San Fran
2. fly home
3. rent a car and drive back to Chicago stopping in Moab to mountain bike and hike
After 10 minutes Alex decided to drive to Chicago and I realized then that I better leave in order to meet up with the girls by that evening. We quickly said goodbye and went in opposite directions. The whole ordeal took 30 minutes and then Alex was gone from the trip.
I met up with Nina and KC that night and they both had that "lack of closure" feeling that comes when someone you spend 24-7 with for 1 month suddenly leaves without saying goodbye. But the next morning we woke up and continued to head south.
Over the weeks of the trip, I developed the habit of biking last in our group because I liked it...well that... and the fact that I'm slower than everyone else...by a lot. I also tend to stop a lot and get distracted by things. We determine at the start of the day where we'll meet for lunch in the likely case that we all don't bike together. That day, I was kind of surprised when I got to the little hillside gas station first, but KC and Nina soon joined me. The first thing Nina said was, "KC and I went swimming in the Eel river!" (They asked me that morning if I wanted to go swimming and I said that I wasn't interested - mostly because the "eel river" doesn't sound very appetizing and also because the river was about as deep as my knees. But, before I could respond, a guy with a sunken mouth, stringy shoulder length hair and shifty eyes said, "well, if I were you I'd go rinse off really quick because there is bacteria in the river that could kill you. It kills dogs and sends people to the hospital with seizures." Nina kind of half laughed at the man but shuffled her feet nervously. I then had to admit that I saw a poster inside the gas station that had something on this topic. Nina ran inside where she read "Do NOT go swimming in the Eel river, Keep all dogs and children away from river. There is an ancient blue-green algae that produces Nuerotoxins that are extremely harmful." Both KC and Nina instantly sprinted outside and began to furiously scrub themselves with water from the spigot on the side of the trailer like gas station. The guy behind the counter assured me that if they were going to die, they would would have died already - all of the dogs died within 15 minutes of entering the water. This soothed the pair a little bit after their pseudo cleansing and I encouraged them to call the 1-800 neurotoxin hotline that was on the flyer to ease their minds even more. They finally relaxed once they hung up the phone and confirmed with each other that they did not a. swim through huge pools of algae (only small pools), b. drink large quantities of water, c. or licked their skin once they left the river (that is what did the dogs in).
In summary, in the "evil" column we now have thieves in Eureka and blue-green algae Nero toxins.
I hope everyone is doing well.
Saturday, October 02, 2004
You know you're in California when...
It's Sunday October 3rd and I'm in Mendocino, California.
We rolled into Arcata, California, a quaint little college town deep in the heart of Humboldt County, a few days ago. Knowing that we were going to take the next day off (our first rest day in a LONG time) I went immediately to the bike shop to give my bike some tlc. The owner greeted me with "Welcome to the dred lock capital of North America." And sure enough, not only were there plenty of white rasta hippie kids everywhere around town, but there were VW vans and tie dye as far as the eye could see. For you see, Arcata is not just any college town, it's a college town in the middle of the largest producing county of marijuana in the United States. The bike shop owner, who has been there since '72, informed me that "unfortunately there are a lot of panhandlers in the town square who came here to find mecca, but at least it makes for a very liberal, mellow constituency." At 4:20, KC and Nina went to inspect the local flora and I went in search for a little holistic healing myself. My shoulder/neck ache escalated to shooting pain a few days prior, so I figured that a town like Arcata had to have a massage place. In fact there were 17 massage therapists, not including a massage therapy school - all in a town of 15,000 people. The place I went to looked like a normal dentist office from the lobby, but instead of the dentists and orthodontists' names on the board, there were 7 massage therapists, 2 acupuncturists and a chiropractor. After he worked the knot out of my neck and showed me some exercises to prevent it from happening again, I went to the local noodle shop. While eating a fantastic Indonesian noodle dish, in walked a Dad's group. That being, 4 Fathers in their mid-30's each toting a toddler. The group then sat down to eat, with the dads eating green curry and the 1.5 year olds eating udon noodles with thai peanut sauce (all organic, of course). Just like in Hudson, Ohio.
That night, Alex and I went into the local saloon for a beer. An establishment qualifies as a "saloon" if a. the front doors swing in and out, b. the bartender is older than death, c. there are dead animals hanging all over the walls, d. there are trucker hats with various sayings hanging from the ceiling (made popular from actual truckers instead of Ashton Kutcher) e. the jukebox is filled with Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and all of this is done NOT in the name of kitsch. The bartender took a half hour to scan our id's to make sure that we were over 21 (htis is funnier when you realize that Alex is completely bald) and 20 minutes to finally hear what we wanted to drink. Two guys walked in to the previously empty bar and the following conversation took place:
New guy: "Is Dana around?"
B "I don't know a Dana"
NG "Brown hair, about 5'7""
B "What's her name again?"
Bartender, looking around to us, the two guys and the rest of the empty bar and said, "Well, evidently, she's not here."
The two guys went to play pool and after a time came over to me and the one asked, "ma'am, would you mind doing me a favor and kick my friend's ass?" This was the icebreaker we were looking for and soon we learned that their names were Mingo and Mick and they just got released from prison. Since this was definitely cause for celebration, they bought us some pabst blue ribbons and we continued to talk to them although I was slightly more guarded than before. However, Alex just kept going at his normal level and his commets about sushi were met with blank stares and his cerebral, urban jokes dropped flat and were returned with Mick and Mingo's favorites all regarding pirates...
Question "What rating did the Pirate give the movie?" Answer "Arrrrrrr"
Question "What beer did the pirate order?" Answer "PB Arrrrrr"
The bartender cut them off and kicked them out (apparently they had been celebrating for many hours (days?), and on their way out they shook our hands and said, "thank you for a nice evening ma'am" to me and "your name should be Ben" to Alex. I looked closely at Mingo and imagined him without the beard and the hat and there was a hint of George Clooney there. Alex agreed that with the help of the team from Queer Eye, those two could saunter down the red carpet - this of course would be the ex-con episode and comedy ensues when little Jai tries to infuse culture into the guys while not losing their pirate sense of humor.
Hope everyone is doing well.
Monday, September 27, 2004
Of bike gossip, group dynamics and giant trees
I'm in Arcata, California. Yay California! Insert favorite song about California here, probably something by the Beach Boys...or Tupac.
We have had a wonderful bike ride since the rain stoppage. The weather was gorgeous, scenery spectacular and we've met a ton of other cyclists. My favorites are Rita and Jan (I don't know how to spell it, his name is pronounced "Yawn"). They biked from their home in Edmonton, Alberta across to the coast and now are heading down to Mexico...with their two year old daughter Karina. They pulled up to me when we were out on the road and it took me about three minutes before I realized that the trailer behind Jan had a little person sitting in it looking up at me. Karina was wonderful to play with at the campground and I marvelled at her unique toddler vocabulary, like when it got dark she looked up to the sky and said, "The big dipper." At the same campground we ran in to George who is in his 60's and this is his second time to bike across the south up the east coast across the middle, down the west coast and back home to Texas. The best part about talking to other cyclists is talking with them about other cyclists. Now, I'm not really one for gossip in my normal life, but there's something fun on the bike trip when you realize that the bicyclist you ran into, met other cyclists that we met earlier. For instance, Jan, Rita, and George all had stories about Trevor and Adria, two Oregon tourers we camped with a week ago, who fought the entire morning in the campground and had 3 times as much gear (like 2 chairs and an entire pantry of food staples).
One of the highlights of this trip so far was biking into the redwoods. The bike route goes through a scenic byway that ends in a great campground and the whole thing is in the middle of an old growth redwood forest. They totally took my breath away. We camped in that state park and the next morning as I was walking to brush my teeth, there, through a five foot tall mist that covered this gigantic field, stood a huge male elk. He was just standing there and then I noticed about 7 other elks grazing around him. I stood there for 15 minutes just watching them, out of equal amounts of awe and fear (it's rutting season and all of the park rangers warned us heavily about not going near any elk).
I haven't written much about how our little group of four are getting along. We get along fine until we need to make a decision. This is a typical conversation with the four of us trying to decide what to do for dinner. All parts are interchangeable, os no names are attached.
"What do you feel like doing?"
"I don't know, what do you feel like?"
"I don't know, maybe making pasta?"
"Yeah, but what would we have with it?"
"Idon't know, we could go to a diner or a pizza place."
"Do I feel like pizza? I don't know, that might be expensive, maybe we should cook."
"but what would we cook?"
Imagine this going on for about 45 more minutes.
Finally, the other morning my inner decision maker had enough and we had a good talk about how we can improve our decision making process. The fact that we had this conversation is probably not surprising to anyone who I have worked with...that it took 4 weeks for me to have that conversation might be. What we really emphasized is that we all don't have to do everything the same...that seems to have helped.
I hope everyone is doing well.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Then the rain stopped
And it was good. And we had to search frantically for that unused item so crucial to the upcoming weeks...sunscreen. But before yesterday, we had 11 straight days of rain.
The best thing about the rain is that it makes justifying a hotel room much easier. One night we biked into a campground (in the rain) and the woman said, "We also have one yurt left." Nina, Alex, and KC all got really excited and yelled out, "A Yurt, we'll take it!" I had to confess my ignorance and ask, "um...what's a yurt?" It turns out that a yurt is a Mongolian (I'm not making this up) dwelling whose sides are made of stretchy wood and covered with thick felt. In our case they were covered with some thick plastic tarp like material. The important thing is that they were dry and warm and had a skylight so it seemed very cool. Besides how many times do you get to do anything like the mongolians?
On Saturday we biked about 10 miles in the pouring rain and it continued to get colder as the morning progressed. Alex and KC were quite a ways ahead of us when Nina looked back and asked, "Does my back tire look flat to you?" Against every instinct, I answered honestly and said, "yes, you need to change it." Thus began Nina's first experience changing a tire. She did a good job being her first time, but once the new tube (no time to patch tubes in the freezing rain) was on, we noticed continuous bubbles coming out of one spot on the tire. Air leakage. Yuck. So, she had to start over with another new tube. At this point our fingers and toes were completely frozen and every fiber of my 5 layers of clothing was soaked. Once the tire was fixed we got on our bikes and I kept thinking, "Leigh, this is really stupid. It's too cold and too wet and there's a nice headwind thrown in there for good measure." After a bit, we saw the first sign of civilization - a bear and cookie store. It always amazes me that towns of 600 people can't support a library, a motel, or a bike shop, but can keep open a store that only sells stuffed bears and cookies. We stayed inside for 2 hours and never got dry or warm, but finally had to bike to the next town where Alex and KC were. When we walked in to the diner where they had been waiting for us, we couldn't sit down or even think we were so cold. Luckily Alex and KC had decided that we should all stop for the day and booked us a motel room. Yay! So we went and took hot showers and ended up drinking lots of local beer and watching college football. Every story on the bike trip has a happy ending.
I haven't written enough about how spectacular the coast of Oregon is. Every turn we take has a better view than the last. We've also been really lucky in seeing wild life. The other morning I looked down into the water and there were probably 15 whales swimming (although it was really hard to count). I stood there for 20 minutes totally transfixed by their lackadaisical meandering about and could have stayed there all day. On another day we were staring at a particularly beautiful spot and then noticed a whole bunch of seals diving around down below us. For me, someone who grew up in a landlocked area, the ocean and everything that we are seeing are such treats.
I hope you all are doing well.
Friday, September 17, 2004
On a scale of 1-10 I'd say that I'm a level 7 gearhead. Gearhead being defined as someone who loves the process of buying new stuff for whatever activity they are getting involved in. I know that wicking material is good and cotton is bad, but I still have both in my bag. I wear spandex bike shorts on the trip, but still have the same ones from my last tour.
One of the first things that I do when we meet other cyclists is to check out their gear. Of my 5 minute conversation with Lars from the Netherlands whom I met on some back road in Washington, I failed to answer all 10 of his map related questions (I don't carry a map, don't look at the maps, I just follow Alex, KC, and Nina in front of me) but I did pick up on his uber cool, extra expensive, metallic silver Ortlieb panniers. Yesterday as I was climbing a huge, long hill, I heard a clanging noise behind me and three minutes later a voice called out, "where are you biking to?" We carried on a conversation up the hill and I found out that they were Josh and Joe from Portland who were doing a week long tour just in Oregon. The entire time they were behind me and I kept my head down and focused due to the steep grade of the hill. At the top of the hill we paused for photos and I saw them. They had gigantic backpacks on with milkcrates duct taped to their bikes with their pots and books in them (hence the clanging), and were wearing rolled up khakis and Asics and Vans respectively. For those of you who aren't familiar with touring gear, this would put them at level 1.
We are starting to meet more interesting people. We were chatting with a woman at the table next to us in a little cafe in the town of Pacific City. After we were done with our meals she asked if she could sketch us, since she liked to sketch adventurous people. I said sure and after the others saw her work they too lined up to sit for Joanne. She was a retired art teacher who lived in hawaii, but 13 years ago moved to Oregon and now paints on commission. She was in the area painting sea scapes. Although we all looked very similar (her style is reminiscent of 1950's Dick, Jane and Spot illustrated books), we each got to keep our little drawings for free and it was a touching little moment on the trip.
I hope everyone is doing well.
Signs, signs, everywhere are signs
And the sign said "Old Highway 101 closed 8 miles ahead from August 28th to October 1st."
We stared at the sign for 10 minutes and deliberated about what to do. KC flagged down two cars and both confirmed that the road was closed ahead. We looked at our map. There was an alternative route - just keep following 101 instead of doing the Old Highway 101 scenic side route. The alternative was shorter (5 miles vs. 12 miles) and it was questionable on whether it would be steeper... we knew that Old Highway 101 would be very steep.
We decided to go forward on the closed Old Highway 101, because we had bikes and bikes could get around a road closure. Yeah.
We rode for a while enjoying the forest around us as it started to change as we climbed further in elevation. The next sign said, "Old Highway 101 closed 6 miles ahead."
We pressed on.
Then, "Road closed ahead." We paid no mind.
At five miles in we passed a little 6 room school house. One of the teachers stuck his head out the window and shouted to us, "the road is closed ahead!"
KC asked, "but is it totally out or can we still get by?"
"They dug a 50 foot deep and 100 foot long ditch where the road used to be. If you didn't have all that gear, and if you had mountain bikes instead of those bikes, I'd still recommend against it," the teacher replied."
"Yeah, but can we go around the ditch?" KC yelled back.
"If you were elk," he stated bluntly "besides, the workers won't let you."
"But are the workers working now?" KC rationalized.
We looked at each other and...Continued to climb the hill.
We continued to pass the "Road closed x miles ahead" countdown signs.
Finally, at the top of the huge hill were two barricades and then the road ended. Into thin air.
Alex came back to us and said, "Yup, the road is closed."
"Ok," we responded, "I guess we better go down and take that other route."
I can't believe how stupid that story sounds when I actually write it down.