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.