Live diary from the road......
DAY 1. I'm not a big fan of cities generally, but San Francisco is different somehow; those incredible streets going straight and
steep up and down the hills, the cable cars, the surrounding beaches, and of course the Golden Gate bridge.
My start was made
a lot easier by having a friend meet me at the airport and drive me into town. We stopped at the park for a stroll before I
unpacked the bike from it's travel case, changed into riding gear, loaded the panniers and the trip began! It was slightly
surreal to wave goodbye to Matt and think that I was heading off for 4000 miles solo riding, but good to be underway. I rode North
to drop down to see the Pacific, then headed round the bay and through the Golden Gate park to scoot down to the piers and the
ferry to Vallejo. Unfortunately I just missed the 5:30 ferry, and so grabbed a sandwich whilst waiting for the 6:30. The crossing
took 55 minutes, which was spent chatting to a cyclist who commutes via bike and ferry everyday - she works in San Francisco
but the housing prices are too expensive, so lives in Vallejo. Vallejo turned out to be a fairly uninspiring town, all strip
malls and stoplights. As I feared, the 'campsites' on the map turned out to be nasty RV parks, so since it was getting dark,
I decided to just get a motel and have a comfy first night.
DAY 2. My first full day's riding dawned overcast and not particularly warm. It was frustrating trying to get out of Vallejo, I had to
keep stopping at lights when I just wanted to pedal to get warmed up. But eventually I got out on the open road, which was nicely
rolling and almost traffic free. No sun though, so I was pedalling along kind of wondering what I had let myself in for here.....
Stopped for some food after the first 36miles, and watched two woodpeckers frolic in the tree besides me. Then I put my walkman on
for some entertainment and pushed on. About 12miles outside of Davis I noticed two riders behind me.
I was crusiing along nicely at
18-19mph, so it took them a fair while to catch me, but then I rode into town with them. Mike and Anthony very kindly invited
home for some lunch; we sat under the huge fig tree in the garden and dined on smoothies and burritos and pasta, which was very much
appreciated! Mike had a map of the world on the wall - looking at my route across the US was a little daunting. After lunch the sun had made
a welcome appearance, and it was getting quite toasty. Anthony rode
with me to show me where to buy fuel for my stove, then escorted me to the East side of town to send me on my way. Thanks guys!
I crossed the river in Sacramento and had to stop at the railway to allow Thomas the Tank Engine to tow eight carriages past at about 2mph.
I say towed - Thomas was in reality just a mock-up on the front whilst an engine pushed from the back, but don't tell the kids! I rode
through the old town, bouncing over the cobbles, only to be stopped at the next crossing - yes I'd beaten the train, and would have
had plenty of time to cross, but the lady manning (womening?) the crossing was being ultra safe. It would have been a comedy slow motion crash
to get run over by a 2mph train..... I then got onto the American River Bike Trail, which I would follow for the next 30miles. The wind
was against me for most of this, so I was grateful to pick up the wheel of a guy on a tricked out Calfee, who towed me most of the way to Folsom.
When I told him about my trip he asked me what I was doing about security - whether I was carrying a gun! Only in America.....
I swung into town to buy some food, before riding off-route out to the campsite by the lake. It was meant to be $15 for a site (most US
campsites are geared towards car camping), and the very nice girl at the gate said she wished she could discount it since I was on a bike.
I agreed, and then she gave me $15 change from my $20 - don't know if she did it on purpose or not, but it helps anyway! I pitched my tent
and went to shower - discovered I needed 50c for the meter. Back to the tent and I've only got one quarter, so have to go back to the girl
at the gate for a second. Return to the shower and realise I've forgotten my towel, doh! Finally I got to wash, which was very welcome
after almost eight hours riding.
DAY 3. Wednesday I was up early, and on the road around 7am. Chilly to start with, especially with three miles of downhill back to the route!
About 80miles of climbing today to get over the Sierras.
The first couple of hours wasn't too hilly, but once I hit the Mormon Emigrant Trail
it was pretty much all steep - I had long stretches at 5mph, very glad I fitted the triple chainset! No traffic though, and good roads. I saw a
sign saying there was a visitors centre in 14miles, so figured I would push on to there and stop for some food. 14 very hard miles later and nothing!
So I rode on for another four miles up to the snow line before giving up and stopping for a snack regardless. I knew from the map that the pass
was at 8,500ft, so when I got to 8000 I figured I was almost done with the climbing, only for the road to drop back down to 7200 and I had to start
again..... But eventually made it to Carson Pass at 8,573ft - though I had actually climbed 12,790ft that day to get there. I've never done such a
long continuous climb before, not even in the Alps. I had a fun 50mph descent down a little ways to the campsite. It was primitive, so no showers
unfortunately - I had a brief strip wash in the woods instead; doubly quick because the mosquitoes were biting! Then dinner time - got the
stove and new fuel cannister out, screwed them together, but couldn't get the gas to flow. Very frustrating after a long day in the saddle. Eventually
inserted a small stone in the nozzle to extend the pin, and got it to work. Before turning in I had to shin up a tree to tie my food bag up -
apparently there were bears about!
DAY 4. I woke up at 5:30am and it was zero degrees in the tent - but I was snug and warm in my sleeping bag, down is wonderful stuff.
I extended one
arm and gradually pulled all my clothing into the bag with me to warm it up, before getting dressed in the bag too. Two thermals, leg warmers, two
pairs of socks, jersey, fleece and windproof - pretty much all my clothing! Got my food back down from the tree, then retired back to the sleeping
bag to eat. When I eventually rolled out it was straight into a 40mph descent, which was very chilly! But I soon warmed up on the first short bit of
uphill and before I knew it was in Nevada, stripping layers off as I went.
At Carson City I picked up HWY50, which was to be my route for several days to
come as I headed into the desert. Huge change of scenery today, from lush mountain pine forests to huge expanses of salt plain and desert scrub.
My first day in the desert was pretty awesome, I picked up a tailwind in the afternoon and was hauling along the dead straight, flat road,
keeping top gear spinning for long periods. The road in the heat (it was mostly around 33 degrees today) was mesmerizing.
In the heat haze the cars
seem to be floating as they come over the horizon. After the previous day's long slow ride uphill it was very nice to be going fast - the average
was up to 19mph by 100miles. The Counting Crows kept me company on my minidisc player as the desert unrolled in front of me. When I made it to Fallon
I decided to push on to the next campsite, but knew there was no water there. So being rather cheeky I snuck into an RV park and made use of their
shower - well in need of it after two days! When I stopped for groceries I talked to a guy who wanted to buy a recumbent and ride across the
country - I gave him some advice and wished him luck! Then back on the road to cruise the 30miles to Sand Mountain. This is a huge (about 1mile by 3miles) sand dune
in the middle of the desert, where folks bring there quads and bikes and buggies to play.
So full of RVs and lots of 2-stroke engine noise! Also
not much in the way of shade.... I sat and chilled out in the shadow of an info board, waiting for the sun to go down a ways before pitching my tent.
Franco, a dude from LA out playing on the dune with his dirtbike whilst en route to a friend's wedding, came and said hello and offered me water
for washing/drinking, which was much appreciated, as I was being careful to save enough of my supply for the morning. I hung out with him whilst I
cooked and ate - or at least tried to inbetween sand gusts as the wind got up. Back at the tent, I carefully put my stuff in, trying to keep
the sand out, only to discover that it had already made its way in! The disadvantage of a lightweight mesh inner tent - when the wind blew it just
rained sand inside..... The desert is a pretty amazing place though. Dust devils whirl about quite often, little private tornadoes whipping across
the scrub. Alongside the road there was frequently what I guess passes for graffeti in the desert - the kids must have little to do out there for kicks, so
drive miles out to nowhere and write their names and messages with rocks on the salt banks along the road. I got a bit dizzy trying to read them
whilst speeding past at 25mph!
DAY 5. I packed up early, trying to leave most of the sand behind, although it would continue to turn up in my panniers for the next
few days.... Back rolling on HWY50 at 7am, not with great legs after 130 miles the previous day, but trundled along to Middlegate - this really
is the middle of nowhere, they even have a sign saying so!
I breakfasted on pancakes and toast, filled up on water and headed off to climb
Carroll Summit. This is an alternative to HWY50 which is a little shorter, but has a big climb instead. But after being on the same road for so long
it was nice to have a change. No cars, just a very empty road and hot sun. Pancakes had seemed like such a good idea, but they really weren't sitting
well in my stomach, and that combined with bad legs meant I was grovelling up the hill. But I finally found a rythmn in the last four miles or so.
Lots of lizards running across the hot road on the descent, which was very straight, I could see a corner six miles ahead at one point. Despite a rest
and snack stop, the last 15 miles to Austin were awful, I felt like I was running completely on empty. With great relief I dragged my weary self up the
last hill into town, and found a cafe for lunch. And discovered another touring bike parked outside; when I went in I introduced myself to the
owner, Kurt, who had left San Francisco two days before me, but done about 100 miles further on his own route which went north of Lake Tahoe.
I can only have been about ten miles behind him the last day or so. Feeling so bushed, I had already decided to get a motel for the night, so
suggested splitting one, to which he agreed. Great to have a shower! Typically for Nevada, the restaurant had no vegetarian options, but I was
happy with a baked potato. Another thing about Nevada is the slot machines everywhere - its not just in Vegas! Every little store and gas station
has at least a couple. And I don't think there is a road sign in the state without bullet holes!
DAY 6. Kurt and I set off together in the morning, but we soon discovered that my pace was quicker than his, so we rode individually, just
meeting up at various stops. Strong headwind today - the road would have been great with a tailwind, but instead it was just head down tedious. We saw
a few crickets on the road - and the remains of an awful lot of squashed ones. According to the news there has been an epidemic this year, with
roads turning slick with squashed insects.
The temperature was up to 35 degrees, but such dry heat that I still had my thermal on from the morning and wasn't too hot. When I paused halfway to
Eureka I met two Germans who had rented a Goldwing in New York and were touring for five weeks. They spoke very good English and took a picture
of me for their website. The last few miles to Eureka the wind really got up, and I was shouting and cursing it as I battled to do 8mph on the flat.
I met three older cyclists riding from Oregon to North Carolina. They had a support van, and were doing 75 to 80 miles a day. After a quick chat I
rode on into Eureka, and found the store to stock up before setting up my stove on the covered sidewalk to cook up some pasta.
The plan was to
push on the next 77 miles to Ely, despite the wind, so it was time to fuel up. Kurt eventually caught up, and we rested until 3pm, by which time it
seemed like the entire town knew about us; people came up to ask if we were the guys riding cross-country! Two were a father and son riding from
Salt Lake City to San Francisco. There were four passes to go for this last leg. Kurt set off before me, and I caught him up at the top of the first.
My legs were feeling good now, so I settled into 'on a mission' mode and put my head down for Ely. I didn't stop for more than a few minutes, just
got on with it. Antelope summit was a lovely, twisty climb, and then over the last basin I finally got a bit of tailwind! I cleared the final climb
just as the sun was sinking, and pushed on the last 18 miles. I was feeling pretty tired over the last few miles, but then it was an 150 mile day!
With about two miles to go my righthand Ergopower broke!
So fortunate that it didn't happen out in the middle of the desert, I really wouldn't have wanted to
be out there without any gears. I rolled into town at 10pm and found an RV park with some grass, so put the tent up, and after a welcome shower,
crashed. I didn't see Kurt, hopefully he was okay and found somewhere to bivi along the way.
DAY 7. After the late finish of last night, I slept in a little, but it didn't take long before the tent started to get hot. Inspecting my broken
shifter I discovered that the top of the inner lever had sheared, so there was no repair I could do. I just had to hope that the bike shop would be
open on a Sunday. I thought I was out of luck when I found a store with the right 'Sportsworld' sign, and it was closed down. But fortunately they had
just moved to a new location, which I found and discovered that they opened at 8:30. So I found some breakfast then went back. It was a big outdoor store
with just a small mainly MTB/BMX bikeshop inside - so no hope of an ergopower. However, they were able to find me a friction thumbshifter which I rigged
on to the handlebar, and after a bit of fiddling I got it to shift all nine gears.
Back on the road; except I failed to look at the map, or even the roadsigns, (!)
and went 2 miles the wrong way, downhill with a tailwind.... doh! Ruefully retraced my steps and got back on HWY50. Another headwind, oh joy. But my
legs weren't too bad, I just took it fairly easy after yesterday. I figured I would have a rest stop about halfway to Baker (63 miles), and got over the
first summit, at 7722ft, okay, but then was there any shade for a rest before the next climb? No.
Sacramento Pass was a b*t*h of a climb, wide open and hot
and steep. I was determined to keep out of the granny ring though, and just stood up and got on with it. Over the top I finally found some shade at a rest stop,
before 15 miles of mostly freewheeling to Baker. This was very much a one horse town, but it had a bar/restaurant/grocery store which had a surprisingly
good vegetarian menu. It was also nice and cool inside, so I chilled out there for a few hours, during which time I had two meals.... Then it was back
into the furnace to cross into Utah! First time I have ridden into a new timezone! I rode for another couple of hours as the sun went down, then when I'd
had enough I just pulled off the road and camped in the desert.
UTAH, one heck of a place to lose a cow.....
DAY 8. This was a tough, tough day. I started out not feeling very recovered from the previous night, which didn't help on two hard, wide open,
hot and steep climbs.
Plus a strengthening headwind (again!). Still, I made the 55 miles to Milford, and found food. After (over)eating, I went into the
delightfully air conditioned library and checked email for a while. Then I soaked my shirt and cap before heading back into the 38 degree heat - and with the
headwind it was like a blast furnace. First I called Bike Friday and they were able to help me out and ship a new shifter to Cedar City for me. Then there
was nothing left but to face the 56 miles to go. Very very unpleasant. No shade to stop in, and the headwind meant I was down to only 12mph (if that) on the flat.
Plus my left knee was hurting, so I couldn't stand up or push very hard on the pedals. I did a fair amount of shouting and cursing at the wind! But I eventually
dragged myself over the hill and down to Cedar City. Once there the campsite wanted $23, so instead I took a motel room for $32. Some kids at the campsite
asked if I was the pizza delivery man! It was very good to shower and relax, especially in a motel room with air conditioning, a fridge and a TV!
DAY 9. Rest day! And I was definitely in need of it. I did very little all day; went out for groceries and to check my email at the library, but
that was about it. But my Ergopower arrived at the bikeshop as planned, so I was back with fully operational gears again! I spoke to a group of
cyclists who were meeting for a ride outside the bikeshop, and they told me another Eastbounder had been through the day before - some lad from
Iowa towing a BOB trailer. I wondered if I might eventually catch up to him....
DAY 10. I set off early, knowing I had a few thousand feet to climb straight off up to Cedar Breaks. I didn't feel very good to start with, and
just trundled gently up the climb.
But my legs kicked in near the top, after two and a half hours to warm up!
The road up followed a stream all the way,
and there was lush green vegeatation all around - a big scenery change from the barreness of the desert. It was a bit chilly up at over 10,000ft, and I
could notice the thin air too. The 21 miles of climbing, gaining 4,500ft, took 3 hours, so a bit of a slog, but downhill to come!
Cedar Breaks was very impressive, I sat and lunched overlooking it, then got a brief geology lesson, along with a group of tourists, from Mary-anne the park ranger. Out
of the park and onto 30 miles of mostly downhill to Panguitch to stock up on food. Then back into the wind (did I mention it was a headwind again?!)
to Bryce Canyon (Utah rocks rock!) before pressing on towards Escalante. The last 30 miles featured a particularly obnoxious wind, plus 1.5 miles of
12% grade to climb - I had to go hard in bottom gear just to keep moving! But eventually I made it, and found the state park to camp in before scooting
into town for food. I was really hungry and overate a bit..... A king German lady let me ahead of her in the queue for the shower, which was appreciated.
My left knee was twinging a little at the end of the day, so I took some ibuprofen and hoped it wouldn't get any worse. The change in scenery to trees and water
was a big change from Nevada, where all the streams had been dry. Plus clouds! I hadn't seen any in a week, and when the sun went behind one today I
wondered what the hell had happened! In fact I only just missed being caught in a storm - up past Bryce Canyon there were big bolts of lightening over
the mountains, and the roads were damp from recent rain.