Fort Bragg to San Francisco
This makes up the shortest “leg” of the trip. It represents the time after our crossing of the mountains from the forests to the ocean. Even though it only lasted three days, it
stands out in my mind particularly because of the awesome people who shared the ride with us. Way back in Bandon, OR, we met four guys named Devon, Eric, Eric, and Ken. When they rolled into our campsite, one of the Erics thumped ’80’s rap out of an ipod dock he had bungee-chorded to his bike rack. This made them seem pretty cool. They hailed from all over the U.S., but they knew each other from when they all lived in Denver. Apparently, they became good friends, went to South America together, and decided it would be fun to ride the Pacific coast. For the most part, they loved the outdoors. A couple of them met while working at R.E.I. Anyway, we lost them after Crescent City, and for several days, we assumed we left them far behind us. Fortunately, the day before Leggett, they rode a 90 mile day and caught up to us at Richardson Grove State Park. We stayed the next three nights with them and had some great times.
Just north of Fort Bragg, we stayed in a park called MacKerricher, but none of us could really pronounce it. Here, we met a fellow named Martin who haphazardly decided to ride from Portland to San Diego. By himself. For fun. Lonely, Martin attached himself to us, and he had a great time hanging with what became the six of us. Aside from the clouds, this ended up being a pretty nice part of the ride. We stayed along the coast. We rode up big hills with 500 foot cliffs to our right and very little shoulder. After Fort Bragg came another campground that was equally difficult to say, Gualala. This campground sat next to a creek, but other than that, it sucked. Little kids scampered around everywhere, and a pack of raccoons ate a bunch of Ken’s food. We still had a blast just hanging out around the fire. The camp host refused to sell us wood since he was off-duty; so I stole some from the forest. It was pleasant.
The next day, we rode a short way to Bodega Bay where we went to a really awesome burger joint to get get milkshakes and some pretty delicious fries. We hit up an awesome locally-owned grocery store where we bought supplies for s’mores. Martin and I rode around all of Bodega Bay State Park collecting wood left over from previous campers. The showers were hot and free, and we all celebrated our last day before San Francisco. This campground grew very full, and some pretty awesome teachers joined us in the festivities. Even crazier was this New Zealander named Tom who met our four Denver friends in Colorado. They told him what they planned to do, and he jokingly said, “Oh, maybe I’ll do that, too.” Then, while in Bodega Bay, he showed up. Apparently, he rode like a bat out of hell in order to catch up to us on a kitschy, little Wal-Mart (a “Wal-Mart bike” is cyclist lingo for a terrible, cheap bike that is neither a road nor a touring bike) mountain bike. I laughed uproariously at his arrival. Plus, he ended up being an awesome dude.
To our despair, we expected our friends Sally and Kelly to show up, and they did not. Sally lived in Berkeley, and we hoped to stay with her. We neglected to get her phone number. In the morning, we realized our demise.
We woke up and began calling hostels in San Francisco. All were full. I started calling people trying to figure out who we could stay with. Finally, I got a hold of my amazing pastor, Jeanne Rempel, and she suggested the Mennonite Voluntary Service house in San Fran. This seemed like the perfect place. After a while, we got their phone number, contacted them, and received preliminary approval to stay there. We started riding. Then, right before we entered the suburbs of San Francisco, I got a phone call. The coordinator of the MVS house seemed keen on not letting us stay in the house (they needed to “build community”). Her excuses bothered us, but ultimately, I talked her into it. The Bay Area proved somewhat awesome and somewhat horrible.
San Fran ended up being a little further than we expected. What was worse was the weather. When we hit the suburbs, everything was perfect. The sun shone brightly. We rode quickly through gentle terrain. As we approached San Francisco, the hills grew and
in came the clouds. Getting to the Golden Gate Bridge was terrible. Construction forced us to ride on the same side as pedestrians, the wind gusted and blew us all over the bridge, and it was very cold. This led to a debacle up the massive San Francisco hills trying to find the house. We ended up riding for something like seven or eight hours that day, and it was horrible. When we arrived at the MVS house, we felt absolutely ecstatic. They welcomed us, and we bought Chinese food that had free delivery. A big thanks to those wonderful folks!
Much of this part of the ride stuck out to me due to the relationships we built. As short as it was, I keenly remember the awesome nights we had with new friends around fires, on beaches, and in little grocery shops. This on-the-road community became a source of much discussion for Tyler and me. What we began to realize were the effects of the medium of our transportation. Bicycling constitutes a relational-style of travel. Most often, people treat vacation or travel as consumption. They go someplace to consume. They imbibe roller coasters, sunny beaches, skiing, ancient ruins, forests, and whole long lists of “tourist” spots. Consequently, how people get to their vacation location acts strictly as a connecting line between consumption at home and consumption at their destination. Unlike this, cycling is both the mode of transportation and the experience. Cars and planes enable people to plug in to ipods, laptops, Gameboys, and cell phones. Disconnected from those around them, the people traveling alongside people in a car or plane become insignificant. However, when reduced to bare necessities, when faced with days and nights born of physical exercise, eating, and rest, those people sharing in the journey can make all the difference.
In contrast to motorized vehicles, bicycles slow everything down. They let you think, reflect, ponder, and despite the intense physical exertion, rest. When in a car or plane, people look for things to do. Essentially, in cycling, the traveling is the “doing”. Relationships blossom through the shared experience of travel! Since the travel lasts an extensive period of time, the fuel for conversation almost never runs dry. We talked about hills, cities, clouds, sun, animals (both alive and dead), the road, noises on our bikes, our lives, what we would do when we finished, what we did before we started, and much more. The slow absorption of the immediate environment without the safety, protection, and convenience of walls permeated our experiences and therefore our relationships. Ultimately, instead of being destination-oriented, we became journey-oriented.
When asked what we saw, I find it difficult to answer precisely. We saw everything. Yet we never “saw” anything in terms of which tourist destinations did we consume. We went everywhere. Yet we never stopped to “go” to a popular tourist location. In a certain sense, we neither saw nor went; we experienced and felt. The Oregon Coast, Northern California, the Central California Coast, and the last bit before Los Angeles inundated me. Infused by the smells, sights, sounds, and emotions of the whole ride, only those who have done it can really understand what I mean. Relationships cannot be built by a mediator. A movie cannot create community; even watching a movie simply provides fodder for our brains to consume; and this is not community creation. Only shared experiences of actual doing foster lasting, true relationship. As I already explained, cars and planes are passive experiences filled by activities which are neither driving nor flying. Cycling, contrarily, provides the environment necessary for relationship to grow. And it did.
Cycling tears down the walls we build to keep ourselves away from those around us. It frees us from the confines of our false sense of security in cars, while literally and figuratively bringing us closer to those around us. Ecologically, bikes are kind to the earth. Physically, they represent healthier modes of transportation than the couch-potato style means of mobilization which dominate our society. And I must say, there really is no other way to travel.