Wednesday, August 12

Epilog: sitting on the dock of the bay

Few logistics issues as we spent our first none ridding day in San Francisco: Julia, the niece of my cousin Jean-Philippe, brought me the box with my bike bag, so I can take it back on the plane: very cool of her. Jon's place was transformed in a shop floor so Gerry could figure how to box it in an obviously too small a box; and there it is shipped now back to Connecticut.

It's time to sit back and enjoy the area, my favorite town in the US. If ever you feel like taking a long trip on a bicycle, thru the US or elsewhere, here are some of my after trip thoughts:

Long distance on a bicycle? Tips, my humble experience...

* Trailer or panniers?
Crossing my experience with Gerry's, the trailer seems a good option:
- although panniers seem to be lighter, they require a stronger bike frame; and Gerry (tall and strong himself) experienced quite a few problems with his rear wheel: he had to change 3 times the rear rim along his trip.
- trailer is lower, more aerodynamic, can be easily detached, faster to pack and you then do not need to get a special bike
- still handling a trailer implies to adapt your riding a little as mentioned.

* Tires, tubes and wheels
I had my tires wrong. Gerry managed to make it with just three flat tires through out his trip whereas I got 25! Kevlar, tube protectors (such as Mr Tuffy)... there's a better way. The front tire does not wear as much as the rear and it can therefore be different. Plan for a set of spare tires before leaving as it can be a hassle to find the right one on the way. Also my "home-made" hybrid bicycle (a mountain bike with road tires) is based on 26 inches wheel and the choice of road tires is more limited than if I had had 700 mm wheels. Also plan that tubes wear in the long run: some of the flats I had were just the tube getting to old.

* Behind the stage...
Getting an ergonomic saddle can be wise in the long run. Gerry would also use Bag Balm for his sensitive skin. I used Nivea creme (for my face as well!) and Tiger balm. But don't think that ridding is just a pain in the butts! It's also a pain in your legs, hands, arms... ;)

* Practicing, before, after?
I did not train before leaving: it's not a race. Yet practicing with the whole setup usually helps to minimize its weigh: the rule is "you always pack too much". Once done, it is very important to carry on riding a little (30 to 50 km, twice a week) to prevent blood circulation issues in your legs. And Marin county is just great for that!

* Safety
The flag behind my trailer makes the cyclist more visible. You can also get flags to put directly on a bicycle. Glowing colors of tee-shirts and jerseys are very useful as well. Eventually, 99% of drivers are careful and pay attention to cyclists: you still need to be very attentive to the 1% remaining.

'East to West' or 'West to East'?

One of the many comments that Gerry and I got on the way is that we should have ridden West to East; it would would have been easier. The dominant winds are blowing from the west and statistically we get more wind in the face riding towards the west.

First, if the point is to make it easier, I would not ride at all. The whole point of this trip is neither to make it hard for some kind of a pleasure. In my case, it was about taking a path that so much marked the history of this country. Traveling towards the west is meaningful and in those tough moments, battling against the wind on the way to Dubois I recall thinking that it must have a lot harder for these immigrants going after the frontier on trails, with wagons and horses, family and belongings.

Also as Gerry usually points it out, it good to train for a long while on the flat lands of the mid-west before getting to the Rockies. From his experience, he even had as much wind from the west as from the east. And you must feel twice betrayed when you get to ride into east wind!

Then, I enjoyed progressively riding into the wide open. You start from New York City and ride thru regular 'European' towns, a bit of countryside as well. Little by little as you get to the mid-west, you come across with these open fields of corn and wheat: your horizon already widens. And it really expands as you get to the west and far-west, riding in the desert: I guess I would have been thrilled to ride right away long distances into such wide open and deserted areas!

Eventually, it's great to end up in San Francisco and the bay area, especially Marin county.

"Ooo, I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time"

Monday, August 10

Teaming up with Gerry

Riding this last week with Gerry has really been great. First as from a biking prospective, roads in California are rough and it felt safer riding them together. We also managed to alternate riding in front to get us going into the South wind that blew quite a bit along our way south in California.

But most importantly because I had a great time with Gerry, his friends and family: Donna & Dan in Sacramento, Julio & Tracy in Discovery Bay, John here in San Francisco. Many thanks to Gerry and all of his relatives.

And yesterday, we crossed the bridge we had been riding towards for exactly 9 weeks (63 days for me / 62 days for Gerry).

What a nice way for a bearded hermit to get back in touch with civilization!

Here is an overview on the map of this last week and overall trip:

In summary and few figures:
- 9 weeks exactly to go from New York City to San Francisco (e.g. 63 days including rest days)
- exactly 6,500 km ridden, e.g. 4,040 miles
- 334 hours and 29 minutes on the bike
- average day stage: 103 km
- 25 flat tires
- 3 new tires
- over than 2,300 pictures taken
- population of the smallest town in which I stayed: 2
- number of States in which I rode: 12
- countless memories

The bike, the trailer and the biker feel great and they will have to carry on riding a little in the next days or weeks as it is very important not to stop at once. That's a good opportunity to visit San Francisco and its surroundings.

Thank you to everyone who supported me along this trip and indirectly supported Theophile along his other path. He still has some steps to get through but we all wish 'beaucoup de courage'.

Gros bisous à ma mascotte, Théophile.

Sunday, August 9

Message for Theophile

Coucou mon Theophile!

Here is a little message for you and in French... I hope you will here most of it despite the poor quality of the sound.

Bon courage mon bonhomme, bisous et à bientot!

Our San Francisco welcome committee

We wanted to get to the bridge by noon. Marin county is quite bike friendly and, on a Sunday morning, it feels like a highway of bikes riding from Novato to Sausalito.

The area is hilly as well; we got slightly lost, bought a map and made it an hour late.

Our welcome committee was there, John with his camera, Julio with a sign and two bottles of Champagne. Good that we had our tuxedo-like gears on !

There we are, past the bridge, in San Francisco. We spend quite a long time enjoying the moment, drinking champagne, talking with Julio, John, even passers-by, and admiring the landscape of the Golden Gate as the fog clears away.


Three flats in Napa Valley

It seems that wine tasting makes riding a little more troublesome.

As from Napa, we felt quite close to Novato where we wanted to be tonight, we took ou time riding thru the vineyards of Napa Valley. The landscape is curved with plenty little hills on which spread these rigorous straight rows of grapes. The wind blows, warm and soft, and continuously; which is one of the key ingredient of the success of these wines.

This valley has earned the reputation of producing some of the best wines in California and in all the US. The mediterranean climate makes it especially good for the vineyards to grow and it really feels like riding thru south of France as we go along. We stopped at Luna that Gerry likes especially and at Artesa for a visit of their facilities and another wine tasting.

It was around 4:00 pm when we started to head towards Novato some 25 miles / 40 km away. We got one sign wrong that got us onto a detour back towards Napa County. Then my front tire went flat and as I pulled over the side of the road, I run into a bunch of goatheads that punctured my two other tires: three flats at once!!

My tubes are wearing: I had another flat on road 37 a few miles away from Novato. It is high time that we cross this bridge.

More info:
* Paris judgement: how a British merchant spread the word about California wines

Friday, August 7

Our last pass?

The landscape is still dry and flat as we need to go around the east side of the bay to reach the northern part where vineyards expands in Napa and Sonoma valleys. The pass of the day was 'John A. Nejedly' bridge, a little steep, windy and heavy traffic:

Once again the traffic was heavy and there were often no shoulder on the road, which makes our experience riding thru California one of the less enjoyable of our whole trip. This is quite of a surprise as we expected California to be rather a progressive State in this area of cycling.

But we made it to the Valley and got to Napa as the sun was going down on the hills.

Thursday, August 6

Discovery detour

Gerry has planned a little detour for our ride to Discovery Bay where two friends of his live, Julio and Tracy: south to Stockton, then west to Discovery bay. Interestingly the wind blew from the south in the morning, calmed down around noon and then blew from the west.

Our ride got us into an amazing area of homes developed in the so called 'Sacramento - San Joaquin river delta'. This delta where both rivers meet into a maze of canals that can lead you down stream to the San Francisco bay; or up stream to Stockton or Sacramento.

Julio and Tracy live right on one of these canals. Her sister Amy is visiting as well with Stewart.

We had a great dinner on their terrace overlooking the canal. From time to time, a boat would cruise by. Of course we also told plenty details on our ride, especially to Stewart who has been thinking of a cross-country ride for quite some time now.

Cool place, nice people and great hospitality. 'Merci beaucoup!'.

More info
* Wetlands in California

Wednesday, August 5

Story telling

Breakfast is one of the best moment of the day: pancakes, sausage, eggs & coffee taste great before a good ride. We share our stories with the waitress and some retired old men that hang here every morning.

We had to head up early today as we wanted to be in Sacramento tonight, some 85 miles away from Chico. Some relatives of Gerry were to host us tonight and we had to make it in time. And we made it a little after 07:00pm, despite the heavy traffic on the second half of Hwy 99, the strong south wind during the whole day, the dust and drought... and two flat tires.

And our effort are rewarded by great hospitality at Donna & Dan's in South Sacramento! Great diner, great company and talks! Gerry loves to tell his stories, especially the hassle he had with Apple in Des Moines IA to tease Dan that has been working there since '92.

Showers, a bit of laundry, we should be in great shape to hit the road tomorrow again. Thanks a lot to Donna & Dan for hosting me, not to forget their dog Max.

Note: today I also breached 6,000 km ridden since I left NYC.

Tuesday, August 4

Riding amok

Old route 99 got us down from Red Bluff to Orland, thru some dry areas with yellow grass and a few trees, thru groves with irrigation, thru pines and eucaliptus, yet with a little south-east wind in the face (the wind you notice is always in the face).

As we get to Orland, we come across with another long distance bike rider. His equipement and bike seem unsofisticated though, as if he would be going for a week-end trip.

- "Where are you heading to?" he yields at me from the other side of the road.
- "San Francisco... and you?"

He started his trip in May from Washington state and rode down along the west coast till San Diego. He's now riding up north again and wants to head to Salt Lake City... and other cities like Denver, Saint Louis, and eventually ride back home to Michigan in October.

On the back of his bike, a sign reads "bike ride for life, help prevent teen suicide". He tells us about his wife who passed away after a cancer and Angela one of his daughter who decided to somewhat follow her. He hands me out a flyer that ends with these words: "Please be a sponsor for my cause or donate to any agency that deals with children. We can make a difference. Thank you for being part of my journey"

Monday, August 3

Sacramento valley

Tonight we made it to the Sacramento valley which river will lead us towards the eponym city from where the gold fever spread in 1849.

Although it does not feel yet as if we were in California from the landscape, we know now that we are thru with the Rockies and the fire smoke that we breathed today again. We are also thru with the narrow and winding road that took us from 4,500 ft down to 500 ft in the area of Redding. We are thru or at least we hope with the crazy traffic on highway 299 where we experienced in 21 miles between Montgomery Creek and Bella Vista more close cars and trucks than in 3,500 miles to get here.

Here we are in the famous central valley of California!

Sunday, August 2

Make a left

Remember the way? It's straight to the west and when you get to Oregon, you make a left to head south to San Francisco. That was this week in Riley. Don't miss the crossroad: there's just a store and a little post office across.

Even though I still have 329 mi / 530 km to go, it looks like I am getting closer:

The bike, the trailer and the rider are doing well; and we have friends now riding with us:

Fires on the Sierra

We decided to head west again towards Redding. Mcarthur could be a good destination for the day. As we got to the top of the hill where the road leads you down into a large valley, we found some kind of a 'California smog'. We hardly could see the other side of the valley where more hills were expecting us tomorrow.

As we got closer to Mcarthur, we figured that some forest were on fire. The waitress from Chatty Kathy's told us that there had been quite some storms and lightning the previous night. With the drought, some of the woods went on fire and there would be 98 of them around.

Saturday, August 1

Coincidence, again!

As I was riding out of Jackson, I had met with Jerry who was taking a break from his ride to San Francisco. We had talked for half an hour and had been thinking that we may meet again.

Today, I had settled my base camp in Wagon Wheel Motel for my day off. As I was riding off the motel, I come across with a long distance cyclist, all equiped in yellow. I turn back; so does he... that's Gerry just passing by in Alturas on his way to Canby.

"Hey!". We talked, exchanged ideas on how we wanted to get to San Francisco: we at least agreed that we wanted to avoid fancy ways... and just get there now. We decided to ride together the next days, an innovation for me. I am his third riding partner on his trip.

Friday, July 31

South wind

Back on highway 395 heading south: after just 15 miles, I am riding in California! Not much difference as I carry on along the Goose lake that also dries out.

Yet it feels like getting real close to the destination of my long trip. After stopping in Davis Creek for a hot dog, I got back on my bike. I thought the wind was supposed to come from the west. A little south wind seems to tell me: "you aren't done yet riding to San Francisco..."

Thursday, July 30

Sunrise on the desert

The desert is quite chilly when you get going a little before 6:00 am. The sun just showed up above the horizon.

Silence is everywhere; real silence. I spot a coyote crossing the road a hundred yards / meters ahead of me.

There I am ready for an 85 mile / 137 km ride on Hwy 395 until Lakeview. I want o be there early enough in the afternoon to avoid the wind that picks up then; and still take the time to enjoy the unusual scenery:

On the left inside of the road, some cowboys have settled: few houses and facilities to handle their cattle at the end of a dirt road. The place is called Juniper.

Lake Abert is like an inland sea in the middle of this desert. Its northern part is drying in the sun whereas hundred of seagulls gather along the shore and cry. With the typical smell of drying mud, it feels like riding along the sea.

Wednesday, July 29

Wagontire café

Highway 395 is lonely and streches between Riley and Lakeview where I am heading. It's a long long ride in a deserted area; no town to cross, no house in the distance, nothing over 113 mi / 181 km. Not even birds singing; the wind or coyotees howling is the most you may hear.

28 mi / 46 km south from Riley, I hit Wagontire: a place with just a café, few rooms and even an air strip. Cherry has recently taken over the place and is running it. I decided that this would make a good place to stop for the night in the middle of the desert.

She offered that I use one of the empty rooms instead of my tent; which is especially nice as the weather seemed to be stormy and windy tonight. From time to time, I hear a car darting along the highway; and then nothing. Time slowes down.

It feels great spending this evening in the middle of the desert, like on a boat in the middle of the ocean and away from everything.

"A desert road from vegas to nowhere,
some place better than where you've been..."

More info:
* Wagontire Café

Tuesday, July 28

Word of mouth

Yesterday I stopped in the lonely gas station of Harper along hwy 20/26. As I talk with an old lady, Brian the owner of the gas station confirmed me that three girls on bicycles passed by few days ago. After Pennsylvania and Fairfield ID, we still seem to be on the same tracks.

Today after riding two passes, I 'find them' again in Buchanan. There's a little museum and gallery of art craft, right at the bottom of a downhill. As it is the only place to stop on the 58 mi / 93 km between Juntura and Burns to get a refill, I guess all bikers still brake (grrr...).

The museum looks more like an Antique shop but it's full of fun old staff. Here is my favorite, "a buffalo skull found in Malheur lake when it went dry in 1932" says the sticker.

The lady also has a guest book for people to sign and as I browse through the previous pages, I find 'Liza, Melissa and Freda: biking coast to coast'. So I investigate it and find out from another lady, a regular customer of the gas station, that she had talked to them and still had somewhere the link to their web site.

So they truly exist and that was not just a plot to get me to ride faster.

Btw info:
* By the way, I just made it to the Pacific time zone as well, that is 9 hours difference with Paris, France

Monday, July 27


This eastern county is named 'Malheur', which inspires also the name of the river which valley I followed today. I guess the name was given by some French pionneers and its meaning was just forgotten to the point that in Vale, the drugstore is also named after it:

On the other end, note that even the less French speakers I have come across remember the meaning of Teton National Park.

Nevertheless for our happiness, the Malheur river has digged a canyon thru the red hills that spread between Vale and Juntura and the road winds along the river to discover cliffs and steep slopes of rocks surrounding a green valley with seldom ranches.

I wonder sometime if Indians warriors are not hiding right on the top of theses hills overlooking the road.

More info:
* Extracted from Malheur county website: "The name Malheur is French for 'bad hour'. Legend has it some French trappers and traders were in the area searching for furs. Their trip was unsuccessful and they were attacked by Indians, a portion of the party was killed and others wounded. Because of the misfortunes of their trip, the French named the river Malheur, or loosely translated, 'unhappy river'."

How cute!

Riding bicycle allows to surprise quite some wild life along the road, with yet the paradox that deers don't flee with cars; but do as I pass by with my bicycle.

However, as I spend quite some time also watching the shoulder of the road on which I ride, I also see animals that fast cars would miss; snakes for instance, three so far.

Here is my morning surprise riding up the Vines Hill pass:

Since a morning in Ohio when I pulled a little too hard on the mosquito net of my tent, there had been a hole big enough to let my little finger thru. I fixed it tonight.

Sunday, July 26

'Born and raised on the Oregon trail'

The Oregon trail splits in multiple trails. One of the them is the so called "Goodale's cutoff" that I have been following these past days.

And there I am tonight in Oregon, at Vale, where the Oregon trail is almost a way of life.

Yet the destination of these emigrants was rather the north west of Oregon, in the area of Portland; which meant that they were not yet done. Nor I am. Here is the progress on the map:

For this weekly review, the bike and the biker seem to be doing well.

Real cowboys!

And cowgirls! You may be biking along Wyoming and Idaho, even on back roads, it's not that easy in the country of cowboys to come across with cowboys actually horse riding. By chance, my path came across today with the Canyon county fair.

It was early morning and families from around the county were getting there for the third and last day of this event. Exhibition of animals, music, food and... rodeo; actually junior rodeo this Sunday morning!

Laura just next to me helped me with the rules: in a limited amount of time and attempts (which depends on the category), the little calf's got to be caught. Her daughter is running in the junior girl division.

And there it goes with the various divisions:
- Senior Division: Ages 14-18
- Junior Division: Ages 11-13
- Pee-Wee Division: Ages 8-10
- Mini-Mite Division: Ages 7 and under... as young as 3 or 4 year old!

I guess you need to be born cowboy or cowgirl.

More info:
* Idaho Junior Rodeo

Friday, July 24

Just around the corner

When I was in Fairfield, and this morning in Mountain Home, I heard again about these three girls riding from New York to San Francisco. Remember? They stopped in the same Sinclair gas station two days ago the lady tells me.

I was told that they would take the Interstate towards Boise, and not the nice back roads I had been planning. Nice, yet longer: my detailed map shows also a back road that runs along the Interstate for 19 miles.

That's enough to convinced me to ride the remaining 17 miles on the Interstate. There it goes for 10 miles until I get to this road end.

There's no one around to ask. I ride to another intersection and try to stop a car; the first one doesn't, the second does stop: "you just go this way, you will get to a Y crossroad and you take this one" says the lady as she points it with her left hand. "it's just around the corner here".

The road was running over a slight hill so I figured that 200 yards / meters away, I would find my corner and make a left towards the road that leads to the Interstate.

Yet passed the bump, there was just a long long road and I rode for 2 or 3 miles / 3 to 5 km before I get to a curve. The other branch of the Y is a dirt road that leads towards the hills in the background.

I guess when you live in such open spaces, you develop of different sens of distances.

Thursday, July 23

Oops!... I did it again

The light on Fairfield was soft as I left early this morning, quite confident that I will have my breakfast in Hill City, some 14 mi / 22 km ahead, on the way to Mountain Home.

Nevertheless when I got to Hill City, the 'city' seemed quite minimum. Oh sure, it must be hidden behind the hill, hence its name!

No one around, just cars from time to time heading fast on highway 20 in both directions. On the left side of the road, a lonely phone booth: Oh sure, they deliver!

Eventually I came across with an old man and another chap. I could at least refill my bottles. They confirmed that Hill City was just a bump in the road; although it had been bigger when he was young and breeding cattle was bigger. Fairfield which is left today with just one gas station had four at the time.

The next town was my today's destination, some 43 mi / 69 km ahead. After more than 6 weeks on the road and various experiments, I arrogantly assert that "riding is easier if you have well slept and properly eaten breakfast".

More info:
* Oops!... I did again

Wednesday, July 22

Small is beautiful

After a good night sleeping and a proper breakfast, I felt radiant as I left Arco to Carey, just 44 mi / 71 km away: I knew that I would want to extend my trip a little further. Yet I was not too sure where I would be able to sleep tonight.

Passed the craters of the moon, Carey, Picabo ('shinning waters' in native american), I made it to Fairfield, a small town of 395 people on highway 20 on the way to Mountain Home.

I like this kind of small town out of the over-organized world that we are used to in larger cities. There's a building of the Forest Service as you get there and it invites visitors to ask for information. I went to the ranger for a campsite in Fairfield:
- "you are welcome to camp at our town park if you want"
- "do you have showers as well?"
- "no we don't... but there's an RV park with a somewhat old laundromat... you find one there... they are not exceptional but..."

And that works. I found the shower in a wooden building that looked abandoned; found also the park along a dirt road, just across from a little Church. It feels like in the former time, say when my father was "young, free and handsome", when you could go camping in the field of a farmer. I guess there were not so many people touring during their vacation.

My tent setup, I laid in the shade of a tree. A little squirrel came to investigate this new neighbor.