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As September 11th has come upon us again, please allow me to say that all the nations of the World are our neighbours and just a bicycle ride away. Let's step up our attempts to be neighbourly and to know other peoples and count them as our friends to try and minimise the chances that the horror of last September 11th will be repeated.
On with the Journey.
"What sign?" was the hilarious answer I received A COUPLE OF TIMES to asking "Where's the sign?" whilst riding up through well-to-do, hilly, residential 'burbs trying to reach as closely as possible the Hollywood sign. Those locals were being so stereotypically American in their lack of knowledge of the world around them that they didn't even know their own back yard! Unbelievable!! But fortunately not typical of the people I've met here in USA.
Ultimately I managed to ride all the way up behind the corrugated sign and took photos of LA from behind the 'H', I think it was. You can't touch it though; unless you scale a fence and risk setting off alarms and anti-personnel devices, so I hear. I didn't test it.
Beach and Beef
Stuffed with veggie food freely available to crowds of summer Venice-Beach-goers at a Hare Krishna fair, I rolled southwards along the busy beach side bicycle track, stretching for miles and miles, with only the brief interruption of Marina Del Ray, down beyond Manhattan Beach. I wove through hoards of people milling around a volleyball championships, where some teams were wearing big funky wigs and fancy dress to enhance the entertainment; or to compete with the attention drawn by the scantily clad female competitors. I bumped into a friend, Art. When I hit a dead end, I had to enquire how to get onto the Pacific Coast Highway. I asked another biker, who happened not to be exactly local, but from Argentina. He knew the way, and he decided to accompany me and increase his training ride for a few miles down a little inland of the portscape by Long Beach. Pablo was studying in LA and he corresponded for Argentinian -based Infobiker.com. So he was eager to grill me for my story. We talked lots and touched on many subjects from where to go in Patagonia, to our mutual exasperation that our countries had fought a war over the Falkland Islands / Las Malvinas. He offered me a long list of friends' and family places where I would be welcome to stay in his homeland. We parted with a handshake and a photo in a petrol station (gas station, in USA English), and he rode back to LA. We have had email contact since.
At Seal Beach, I was entertained by Norrell and his family. One of his sons unfortunately suffers from autism, but has the wit to call himself "Boy Genius." I reckon he is. Norrell was enthusiastic about finding me sponsorship and endorsements. I think there a few possibilities in the pipeline, but the first to come through has been a free supply of Beef Jerky. No kidding!! I think I might get my first batch in San Francisco.
Monday. Quiet beaches. But, for me, no time for beach bumming. Just humming along by the long strand of empty sand, my hat and my CatEye shades tied to my head, to guard against the glittering glare of just about everything.
At last I had to relinquish the my grip on the coast as I had to mix it with the traffic on the PCH over the humps of Laguna with just brief views. Then inland, overlooked by high, arid ridges topped with a crust of white houses. I aspired to those heights.
Amongst the sun-faded rocks, palms, lawn-sprinklers and basking houses. I found Tim, my website manager's brother. His time working for Douglas and Boeing allows him the satisfaction of knowing that a piece of his work is constantly flying around the Earth aboard the Space Station. He has 3-dimensionally, digitally modeled the old house in Illinois he was born in, as he did for his children's guinea pig hutch before he built it. He's an expert in barbecuing fish. He never gets hungry; he just passes out if he doesn't eat enough. He told me that the local coyotes have a taste for pussy cats. And the only time he doesn't rock in his seat is when he's soothed by the purr of his black, convertible Camarro car. He had a remarkably similar taste in music to mine, however his store is largely on his computer. I'm not quite as big a Beatles fan though. We watched sunsets and he told me why the "marine layer" hides the sky most nights, but don't ask me to repeat the reason. We were both concerned when a humming bird smacked into the kitchen window and fell to the ground senseless. And were both relieved when it revived and flew off. [Neither of us knew how to perform mouth-to-mouth on a bird the size of my thumb. He pointed out the huge Redtailed Kites wheeling above the skyline opposite. We ate out at Mex and Thai restaurants and also had In and Out Burgers. I'll leave it to your imaginations as to what they are. Better than McCrap though!
Tim introduced me to his nextdoors, Wolfgang and Ingrid. Wolfgang regaled us with his stories of a cycle trip in Germany in his younger days. Days when you could ride into a village and the butcher and baker would load you up with all the sausage and breads you could eat, and every hay-barn could be your hotel. But Wolfgang wouldn't have been there recounting all that had he made a wrong step or roll in one of those barns, after returning in the dark from the nearby village, a little well oiled, climbing clumsily into the hay loft to crash out, only to find that he and his cycling friend had slept next to an open hatch, beneath which there were stacked some pitch-forks, prongs pointing upwards!
Thanks for the succulent fish and juicy rotkohl, Wolfgang and Ingrid. And of course the yarns.
Way back in pre-e-storic times, when I was still in the chrysalis stage of my pedal propulsion evolution, in a 1987 tour of Ireland I did, I met American carpenter Doug, in a Galway hostel, and subsequently gave him floor space for a couple of weeks in my humble rented room in London, as he was struggling to make a buck or two there, and I suppose I was trying to do the same, to fund my world tour. Well, about 15 years later, with a little detective work, I found him living in Tim's neck of the woods. So an impromptu barbecue was called for, and Tim and I picked and 'shucked" some sweetcorn from the garden, got a big bag of jumbo prawns and some OJ from the supermarket, and buzzed round to join Doug, his darling Mexican wife and 2 kids, for a meat and Mexican food feast, with a side-order of car-, house-, kid-, job-, and travel- talk. Actually, Tim was better at most of that than I was. It was pleasing to see them hit it off [get on well together]. They'll be near neighbours long after I'm gone. For Doug's oldest son, it was Halloween everyday, and I played along by making Dracula fangs with the points of taco chips. At least when the car-talk got beyond me. Ha ha!
A fifteen year gap had quickly become immaterial.
Tim was having a holiday at home, as his wife and 3kids were half a continent away, visiting family in Illinois. So I helped with the activities such as making sandwiches and hiking over the arid, cactus-ed hills to the beach to play frisbee and swim. I saw my first Roadrunner [a small, skinny bird that runs fast, if you haven't seen the TV cartoon] to my unbounded delight. Seemingly endless summer re-runs of The Simpsons lit up the evening TV, or at least things like the Simpsons (if I can say that without offending purists). I came to conclude that that show is more real than reality TV (the current craze the world over as well as in the USA). You can glean a lot about US culture by watching The Simpsons. Scary! I just hope that it isn't infectious.
More along the lines of American culture; Tim and I went down to the local park to give me an quintessential experience of it, by fitting my hand into a weird appendage called a baseball mitt, to throw ball. I still got a few bruises.
In an emotional goodbye, Tim left me to house- and guinea pig- sit for a week, to join his family. Thanks for giving me a home, Tim, Sharon and family.
Tracy, a cycling friend I'd met on the windy coast south of San Francisco, and who lived south of LA, came by and took me to see one of the most surprising things I've seen lately; The Pageant of Masters, in Laguna. "Art Vivant (Living Art)." On a stage and on other promontories around an open-air amphitheatre, performers recreated many old and modern works of art, paintings, sculptures and the like, using backdrops, props, costumes and special lighting. Three dimensions became two, like magic. I was astonished. See it if you ever get the chance. Much obliged to you, Tracy.
Time to become a roadrunner myself again, soon came round. The desert called. So, armed with a 5 litre bladder for extra water, pulled from a wine box, [and leaving 5 litres -ish of red wine in Tim's fridge. (Honestly, Sharon)] I spun over the Cleveland Forests, where I saw an inverse of a Roadrunner; a chicken so fat you couldn't see it's feet! And swooped down to dazzling Lake Elsinore. "Slam Breakfast: $3.99"
You can tell you're in the USA, perhaps even more precisely, in the mid-west, when someone calls from their car(!?), not "Get a car!" but "Get a horse!!"
Pit stop; A no-horse town called Lakeview. No lake. No view. But four or five people (more or less everyone) stopped to chat.
I happened by an outdoor church service with BBQ in the edge-of-nowhere town, Beaumont, on a Sunday evening. They said I could camp on their land afterwards, but then I couldn't because the sprinklers would come on in the night. So I was late to the remote campsite and ended up sleeping on a picnic table, because in the dark I couldn't find a suitable place for my tent that would take a peg. All stones and rock-hard ground.
Cop Stop, Sign or No Sign.
Beaumont fed onto Interstate I10 freeway. No bicycles allowed. But for about 20miles (32Km) I saw no alternative. I passed forests of towering wind turbines looking like invading aliens (even though I tried not to!), and the strong wind that turned them, luckily pushed me along a swift 13miles before a siren wowed behind me and, rather than become the subject of live, helicopter-cam coverage road chase, I pulled up and faced up to a highway patrol officer. I did my best impersonation of an English tourist riding his bicycle around the World and managed to get let off with stern advice as to the side road (not signed) that I could take, and where I could get back on I10 for a couple of miles, which turned out to be wrong, but I did it anyway.
Boy was I glad to leave the freeway behind.
But out of the frying pan...
Interminable, wilting climb, no wind, no shade, blazing sun focused from valley sides onto me. It must have been 120degrees F plus!! I almost shriveled up. To the high desert. Into a furnace named Morongo Valley.
One of the quirks of cycle travel is that it gives you time to think about such things as what alternative ways there are to pronounce something like Morongo. Do you follow? A sign maybe.
But I was intent on passing by Joshua Tree National Park. The U2 album of the same name, with the picture on the sleeve, had obviously affected me. And, let's face it, what's the point of going to a desert when it's not hot. Extremes are exciting.
Up beyond groves of ghostly Joshua Trees, with their spiky pom-poms, I took a breather [rest] on one of a tumble of boulders they call Elephant Rocks, and watched a Coyote walk past, with its peculiar bouncing gait. Another first for me. In the quiet glow that immediately follows the desert sundown. Friends far away in time and distance. But each one somewhere in my head. A part of this.
The last town was Twentynine Palms. I camped near its incongruous golf course. I saw another Coyote in the rough. Lost its ball I suppose.
The Last Chance was a little gas station 13miles later, with signs declaring "Food", "Ice" and "Ice Cream." The proprietor, Jerry, bald and with whispy, hanging, grey mustache, looking like one of the jazz players at the Peace Hotel in Shanghai (one major difference being the picture of his Hog [Harley Davidson motorcycle] on the wall, which he'd painstakingly polished, painted and preened, but then, upset by a scratch from a small accident, had sold for less than the few thousand dollars worth of paint he'd put on it!), he one by one contradicted each of those signs, in answer to my requests. There'd been a rush on the previous couple of days. At this point I was the only customer in there. Oh well, there were some cold bottled sports drinks and water. And Jerry was an interesting and interested character to talk with.
Things livened up even more when one of Jerry's 70year-old plus, desert-dwelling buddies rolled in, boasting of the kilogram of sliced ham he'd bought cheaply in 29Palms. Bread too. And he was only too happy to compensate for the stations absence of food with a couple of hearty ham an mustard sandwiches, refusing the money I offered him in return. Jack also offered to drive me out past Dry Lake and up as far as Copper Ridge. Even though I felt mean, I had to decline.
I had to be cruel to the mongrels outside, too, by riding off on the shade they had been temporarily enjoying. The Last Chance was just the welcome to the desert that I needed, and I felt buoyed up.
A hundred miles or so of stoney, rocky, jagged, ridged, coarse, abrasive, desert. With a 'soft shoulder'barring my way from the road to even the tiniest bush that might conceivably be called shade. At least the Australian desert roads have regular shade shelters, but here, a big mean nothing. If ever I did stop to stand on the road, my feet heated up unbearably. Past Iron Mountain and other forbidding outcrops, I made it to er...nowhere once again, before dark and heavy Labor Day holiday weekend traffic forced me off the road.
I refilled my bottles from that bladder, for the next day, ate some cheese sandwiches and some taco crisps and salsa, and then slept under a powerfully starry sky on my mat, mindful of the possibility of scorpions and rattle snakes and coyotes. But that wasn't the reason why it wasn't a particularly peaceful night's sleep. The boat-towing traffic had roared past all night.
As the sun burst over the horizon next morning, I knocked my shoes together in case a scorpion had made its new home there. And the dehydrating, riding-into-a-hairdryer pedaling began again. Bottles heated up. Dreaming of cold water.
In the middle of the afternoon I arrived at the streak of blue, sometimes flanked with green, which is the Colorado River. A rent in the wasteland. Carving its way through a cathedral of colourful rocks. And the object of all those boat-towing masses.
A major episode behind me.
In the 'Zona
The Labor Day weekend, the official end of summer, was heralded by a six-death road smash, not far north of where I was, on Route 95. And the river looked to be an even more dangerous place to be.
Jim and Debbie (Friends care of Max the Lionel, in Venice), who own a mobile home park in prime position by Parker Dam, generously kept me off the road by providing me with a unit to stay in and opened the door to let me into the floating party going on, on the river. Boats loaded with revellers would raz up the river to the dam, then float down, either swimming or lounging in their boats, while grunty, high-octane jetboats, zippy jetbikes like water cockroaches, and boats of all shapes towing daredevils on a variety of inflatables, skis or boards, careened seemingly carelessly in all directions. Alcohol was the personal fuel of choice, and I'm still amazed that I heard no reports of major tragedy. The Sheriffs were out in force on their boats too, though. And the boat-and-float that I went on was controlled responsibly. Apart from some of the country music! Ha ha ha! Thanks other Jim and Lin. Friends of Jim and Debbie, Kev and Kim, hove to in their RV (Recreational Vehicle; see last report) towing a small SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle). They claimed to be the opposite end of the spectrum to my way of travelling. But we got on anyway. They, although too young to be RV-ers, I think, had been fellow vagabonds for a couple of years. And what's more, they had managed to fund this lifestyle through Kev's abilities as a roving pyrotechnician. Driving all over USA setting off fireworks displays. Now how many boys and girls could invent that dream and follow it through?
As the revelers towed their floating engines homeward, I cycled on upstream to Lake Havasu City. Here is the site of the real London Bridge, dismantled and transported all the way from London to Arizona, to become a tourist attraction for a city with little else. Did you think MY project was ridiculous?
And then the sublime; I let Ron and Gary (old school buddies, Vietnam vets, business seller and teacher, respectively, and who divide their time between LA and Lake Havasu) divert me and convince me it was a good idea to strap myself to a metre tall blade with fins at the bottom, and be towed along at silly speeds behind a powerful boat. At 6 in the morning!!
Sky Skiing. They were dab hands at it, and enjoyed introducing newbies to the sport. I will never forget Ron, the spitting image of Al Pacino, in his dark, wrap-around shades, and his profound advice, "Be one with the chair!" More like my nose became one with the river! But I rose to the occasion for a couple of moments of exhilaration, albeit to become intimately familiar with new jargon like "Face Plant." I only seemed to notice the enormous Turkey Vultures circling above when it was my turn to er...ski (I'm using that term very loosely). Who needs critics, eh?
Ron introduced me to Mike Murphy, the inventor of this peculiar form of getting "big air" on the river. Apparently the shocks induced by the ski were too much for ordinary MTB shock absorbers!! And we saw Mike's 82 year old mother fly by on a Sky Ski, as I am told she does every day! OK! Give me 43years and... On second thoughts, I'll press on trying to become more one with my bicycle. And I prefer sports that don't consume fossil fuels, when it comes down to it. Sorry guys, but massive thanks all the same.
I took a 210mile detour via guarded, graceful Hoover Dam to Las Vegas to see the lights and fountains, for 2nights and a day. That place is ostentatiousness embodied! as you can imagine. I didn't meet minds with anyone there, but I was in a rush to move on. To get that incessant clink of coins out of my ears.
I got onto rock-and-roll Route 66 and visited a "ghost town" called Oatman, where early 20th century Hollywood idols, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, honeymooned in the only hotel which is still pretty much as it was then, and where there are mock gunfights every afternoon. Burros (wild donkeys) freely roam that wild-west town , and I slapped one for nibbling at one of my bags. I really thought I was going to get some kicks!
Now the Grand Canyon is just over the horizon and tomorrow I'll ride the 62miles (101Km) to the rim where I'll catch up with the first long-distance cyclist I've met in USA. He's Yoske and he is Japanese and a student.. His friends think he's weird for doing his coast to coast USA ride. Well we all know they're mad not to, don't we? Yoske left me behind today, in Williams, gateway to the Grand Canyon National Park, because I had to write and email this.
The Grand Canyon! I'm psyched! Be Great everyone! Richard
PS "Oh no! I missed Teddy Bear Day!" Apparently it was Sept 9th. In memory of President Ted Roosevelt. Sadly an easily overlooked day now, because of the eleventh. Not that I really knew about it anyway, until the librarian at the computer next to me made that exclamation.
PPS And apparently it's a felony for a restaurant in Arizona
to refuse free water to anyone who asks for it! That's a useful thing
to know in this dry state, though I'll never try to get anyone arrested
for doing that.
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