Made a short shift from Morro Bay to Cambria CA and checked in at the Hosteling International Bridge Street Inn. As I was sitting in the front yard picking my guitar and waiting for the place to open at 5pm, a young couple rolled up on a tandem bicycle. The young woman asked if the hostel was open, and based on her accent, I replied in French. She seemed mildly shocked, and then pleased, so we carried on a brief conversation in Franglish. She and her boyfriend flew into San Francisco from France with their tandem and were rolling south along the coast to San Diego.
When the hostel opened, I checked in first and took the opportunity to join Hosteling International in order to get a discount on my stay. My advanced age also got me a discount on HI membership, so that is another notch on the plus side. The French couple checked in next, and as they were doing so, a Swiss fellow who has stayed there before walked in the door and was greeted by the host Melissa. He also spoke French, so the couple and he started up a conversation about who is going where in California. As that was all going on, two more fellows from France drove up, walked in and joined in the conversation. It was all going way too fast for me to pick up anything but individual words and an occasional phrase. J’ai oublie’ trop de la langue!
Later on, three Yanks rolled up on bicycles. They had just come down through Big Sur as part of their journey from Seattle to San Diego. They are all from different places, but met while attending the University of Vermont. I asked what inspired their bike trip, the common response was “lack of employment.” Two of the Vermont team brought bikes with them to Seattle, but the third flew in without a bike and bought one off of craigslist, here it is:
It’s a Centurion Ironman circa 1987-8. When I bought my first decent road bike in 1988, this exact bike was being blown out at Circle Cycle in Torrance CA for $400. I decided to go up one level and got a Centurion Ironman Master for $650, a bit lighter and with better components all around. What really interested me though was his underseat bag – it’s like a underseat toolbag blown up by a magnitude in size. It mounts to the seatpost and the saddle rails, but has no hard metal framework, it’s all soft except for the few hard plastic buckles. A very interesting design, but I forgot the brand name he mentioned. Anybody seen one of these?
Overnight some weather moved in and there was a light rain in the morning. The French tandem couple decided to book another day rather than ride in the rain and they drove off with the Swiss fellow to seek adventure. The two French fellows departed to drive north through Big Sur, good luck seeing anything but the inside of a cloud. The Vermont team had to get on the road, so they packed up and smoked a spliff in the backyard to get in the mood. I wonder if they brought it from Humboldt. Here they are starting out, seeming oblivious to the rain.
Mercey, Oh Mercey
I checked out and headed back south towards Morro Bay, but then east on Cal 46 to go inland to US 101 which I would then take north. Highway 46 climbs and climbs and I found myself inside of that rain cloud with such low visibility that I had to slow way down for safety sake. On the inland side heading down into the Salinas Valley, the rain stopped, the clouds thinned, and the sun started to poke through. Why are there all these tourists on the roads? Oh yeah, it’s Saturday and this is wine-tasting country.
I headed north on US 101 to King City, then started taking county roads further north and east trying to make my way to Mercey Hot Springs. I climbed up out of the Salinas Valley and as I got up high in the hills, suddenly, relaxation came over me. I don’t mean that I started napping at the wheel, but I felt a palpable sense of relief. The landscape up in those hills was lovely, the weather was perfect, and there were hardly any vehicles on the road. Eventually I got onto Panoche Road heading east toward the Central Valley. At a certain point I started having a sense of deja vu, and then realized why – I had traveled part of this road on Google maps at street level. I had known that I wanted to go to Mercey Hot Springs, so checked this stretch of road ahead of time. Along Panoche Road is an intersection with a road that heads north to Mercey, I knew what it looked like before I even got to it.
Pretty desolate, yes? After the rainfall in Cambria during the morning, this landscape seemed powder dry. Eight miles up the road was Mercey Hot Springs, where I checked in for a campsite and set up a Eureka A-frame tent I have not used since I can’t even remember, and likewise cooked dinner on a 30-year old Coleman Peak-1 single burner stove by the light of a Coleman gas lantern of the same vintage. I was surprised that they even worked, I really should have tested them before leaving home. I did have to replace the mantles in the lantern – those are the parts that look like a little mesh bag that glows when the lantern is running. The mantles capture the vaporized gas coming out of the pressurized fuel tank and allow it to burn in a controlled manner that provides substantial lighting.
This place is pretty rustic. It seems like it’s in the back alley of nowhere, although it’s really only about 20 miles from I-5 in the Central Valley. They do have wi-fi, but it must be running down a barbed-wire line because I could connect to the local wireless router but never was able to get anywhere beyond that. Who cares anyway? I’m supposed to be relaxing and soaking in a hot tub. Here is a picture of my feet poking out of a tub filled with sulphurous hot water at sunrise.
First Snow of the Season
I broke camp at Mercey, packed up and headed for the Central Valley. My idea was to drive up to Lake Tahoe, check into a motel there, and then do a ride along the shores of Tahoe for whatever distance seemed comfortable. When I got down out of the hills and into the agricultural areas, my relaxed vibe vanished. Crikey, the Central Valley here is plain ugly. It’s industrial farms, canals, roads/traffic and sun-burnt towns. It’s the ugly of a landscape given over in whole to making money.
I got to Merced, stopped for lunch and started calculating my schedule. I actually left Redondo Beach quite a few days later than I had originally planned, so I started out behind schedule given that I am supposed to meet a friend in Iowa on October 11. Abruptly I decided to pass on Tahoe and head north for Mount Shasta, the idea being to ride up the mountain the next morning. I found this route on MapMyRide which seemed to be exactly what I wanted. 14 miles up, 4000′ feet of gain, 5.7% average grade.
Spent the night before at a Motel 6 in Redding, got up early and drove to the town of Mt. Shasta. When I got there this is what I saw:
People were out on the streets taking pictures of the mountain, and I wondered why? Don’t they all see this mountain every day they walk out their front doors? Somebody told me it was the first snow of the season on the mountain, which was bare rock all summer. Yeah, the snow does make for a scenic peak.
It was chilly. I kitted up with shorts, non-thermal full length leggings, a sleeveless base layer, flocked arm warmers, a long-sleeve base layer, a short-sleeve jersey, a long-sleeved wind jacket, and a skull cap. Shoes, socks, gloves and helmet are a given. The road up the mountain is named Everitt Memorial Highway, it starts going up in town and does not stop going up, the pitch just changes.
After the first mile I didn’t feel too good. Again, riding at elevation while living at sea level, but also I was getting overheated. So I stopped, pulled off the wind jacket and wrapped it around my waist, then restarted at a slower cadence. Better, but still too hot. I did not want to generate sweat because I knew that would make me too cold when I turned around to head back down. So I pulled the zipper of the jersey open down to my belly and kept spinning. Soon enough my temp got right and I found the equilibrium. Slow going, but going… up, up, up.
Down low on the highway you can’t really see much since you’re hemmed in by the pine forest. Higher up you come around a turn and see this:
Keep going up and the trees start to thin, there is snow on the ground and some on the road, then you’re above the trees and at the end of the road.
It was beautiful but brisk up at road’s end. I put on the jacket, pulled all the zippers tight and headed down. Whoosh… going fast right away and getting cold, mostly my thighs. A few layers of newsprint would help under the leggings. Ten degrees warmer and I would have let the bike run, but I was starting to shiver with front wheel shimmy, so I’d brake to reduce the wind cooling. Made it down pretty rapidly even so and my first stop was in a cafe for a hot americano and bowl of tomato/basil bisque. Ah, better.
Left Shasta and headed north to the town of Weed. Yes, Weed. Joke all you want, but there is somebody on the edge of town making a good living selling “Weed, California” souvenirs. Indeed, I bought a “Weed, California” T-shirt for my drumming daughter and some guitar picks with a Weed CA imprint on them. Ya gotta have it.