Anchorage beckons

July 6th, 2011

 

Gone for a ride sign on bike

Adios Inglaterra

Pre bike ride haircut for James

Sweeney Todd sharpens his scissors...

Pre ride Shoreditch haircut

...halfway through and it's all gone a bit Shoreditch...

Haircut finished

...all finished!

Pre Americas ride kit check

De-clutter your life on the road...or not

A pre ride bike check from Graham Hicks at the Cycle Surgery Peterborough

Our trusty mechanic, Graham from the Cycle Surgery Peterborough

Pre-departure pose before Americas bike ride

Cheesy farewell shot in Mr & Mrs B's garden

 

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Alaska baby!

July 9th, 2011

 

Leeroy's Family Restaurant since 1968, Anchorage

Leeroy's Family Restaurant since 1968

Alaskan run-around car

Hoping not to cycle into the back of any of these

Crossroads sign in Anchorage

4,490 miles from London; 2,015 miles to San Francisco

 

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Itching in the Interior

July 22nd, 2011

Maybe it was the customs officer’s insistence on giving our bikes and tyres a full clinical scrub before letting us into Alaska that threw me. Certainly it was the first time anyone had ever welcomed me to their country with an offer to wash my bike.

Everyone had told me about American hospitality, but I was seriously impressed. Pulling on his surgical gloves, the customs officer seemed less impressed, but BSE lives long in the memory, and his mission was to remove any traces of good old English mud. I didn’t dare mention that most of the mud was probably collected in the Himalayas, or I thought we’d never get through.

Anyway, whatever it was that threw me in the customs hall, somehow I managed to set my saddle too high. Schoolboy error. And so after eight days of fantastic riding and wonderful people, we’ve been forced to take a five day break to rest my two strained Achilles tendons.

Don’t get me wrong, there are far worse places to be stopped. We’re camped on the shores of Tangle Lakes at the eastern end of the Denali Highway, surrounded by majestic mountains and a vast sky. An icy creek bubbles below the tent (perfect for ankle icing), and yesterday a moose wandered through with her calf. Last night Gary and Lee, two friendly campers invited us to share their delicious catch of halibut. There’s even a cafe up the road with endless coffee and fresh cinammon rolls. It couldn’t really be a more perfect spot to re-group and rest.

As much as eight days riding followed by five of rest might sound like the perfect ratio, our feet are getting itchy and the ankles seem to be on the mend. This trip is all about momentum, and to be deprived of it so early makes us even more hungry to get moving again. So tomorrow we will gingerly head back out on the road, tracking north to Delta Junction before finally begining to wind our way south towards Canada. We can’t wait!

James

Brunch at the bustling Snow City Cafe in downtown Anchorage – a final feast before the pasta and noodles diet begins in earnest. 

After a final frantic round of provision buying, computers are zeroed and our new life on two wheels finally begins. 

Dennis was making his way to the weekly Sunday market at Muldoon, and offered to escort us out of Anchorage along the city’s fantastic network of green bike routes. Dennis’ wife was from the mean streets of Streatham, South London. 

Bryan and Brenda were amazing hosts to us on our first night out of Anchorage. We feasted on veggie curry and set the world to rights. 

Tyre envy. Suddenly our ‘fat tyres’ felt rather puny in comparison with Brenda’s winter rubber. Bryan and Brenda run a vet practice, and commute to work through the woods on their bikes year round, even through the long dark winter. Hardcore. 

Not forgetting Missy, Bryan and Brenda’s gorgeous cat. We did think about sneaking her into a pannier before we left… 

Not sure if this was for Bedders or the ‘other Sarah’ – Wasilla’s most notorious resident, Sarah Palin. 

Once again we were treated to fantastic Alaskan hospitality with Rich, Tina, Pippin and their extended family, who live in the woods near Talkeetna with their 16 sled dogs. 

We were even treated to the finest British crockery… 

Rich, who has taken part in the famous Iditarod race across Alaska, shows us the ropes on his sled. 

Lulu, one of Tina’s oldest dogs and the only Siberian husky. 

Trying to escape the mosquitos and cooking at Byers Lake. Rice-a-roni, in case you’re wondering, an exotic and ingenious blending of rice AND macaroni. 

X marks the spot. At Rich’s recommendation, we weren’t going to miss Angela’s pizza place, just off the Parks. You never know how far away the next pizza may be in Alaska, so it’s best not to take the risk. 

Unfortunately these didn’t pass the pannier test. 

Riding the Parks Highway, an endless corridor of green into the Interior… 

…before opening out into the spectacular Broad Pass. 

At Cantwell, we met James, who was riding from Minnesota to Alaska to raise money for cancer treatment – see www.pedalingforpennies.info. A true hero – Bon Voyage James! 

Hitting the dirt of the Denali Highway – a breathtaking and deserted 135 mile route through the wilderness. 

Up and down we went along rolling roads… 

..with each summit revealing another incredible vista… 

…and spectacular campsites. 

Twenty miles from the end we reached our current campsite at Tangle Lakes and the heavens opened. Cue our most romantic meal venue so far (chivalrously I gave up the toilet seat when it was Sarah’s turn to eat). 

As dark as it gets up here – Tangle Lake at 11pm. 

The nearby Tangle Inn has been on hand to offer shelter, warmth, coffee, and amazing cake… 

…come to think of it, even after all the river icing, maybe I can still feel those ankles twinging after all…

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Riding the rollercoaster

August 16th, 2011

The last few days have been a pretty miserable merry-go-round of soaking wet cycle rides, freezing cold campgrounds and knee worries. Puncturing through the doom and gloom though, have been reminders of why we set out to do this trip in the first place; our first sighting of a grizzly bear, our first 1000 miles clocked up on the cycle computers, the amazing generosity of Warm Showers hosts and the people we’ve met on campgrounds, and most recently the bliss of an unexpected warm cyclists’ cabin.

Every day, and sometimes hour by hour, it feels like we’re on a rollercoaster. Emotionally and physically, the riding takes you by surprise, one minute moaning about the driving rain and the arduous uphills, the very next rejoicing as the sun peeks out and gasping at the mountain pass you’ve just ascended. The day we saw our grizzly a perfect example of how grumpiness can become glee in a few short minutes. The night before, tucked away in the warmth of the tent, knowing that rain was forecast, we set about trying to improve our “waterproof” gloves, that are not in the least bit waterproof, in the hope that if we could avoid getting cold wet hands, we might be able to cycle for longer the next day. Using bin bags and duct tape, we made a stunning DIY pair of glove covers for both of us.

The rain did indeed come, sheets of icy daggers, sapping the mental and physical will to carry on. The glove covers just about kept the worst of the wet out and feeling pretty weary we did push on, knowing that our ferry destination of Haines was waiting just 100 miles away and to stop and camp again in the rain would only be more painful. Then, just as the day was coming to an end, in a moment when the clouds had briefly cleared, we spotted a power-house of a bear, galloping around in some berry bushes about 20m from the road. Breathless, scared and thrilled, we watched him as we cycled past (unable to stop and get the camera out, our hands still bound in the bin bags and duct tape) feeling grateful that he wasn’t actually any closer. Buzzing from the thrill of seeing our first bear in five weeks, the day’s ride all of a sudden felt worthwhile. Then it just got better and better, just a few miles down the road, we found a free cyclists’ cabin complete with wood stove and bunk beds – it felt too good to be true.

Now back in Alaska, we have made it to Haines and our planned ferry trip down the Inside Passage means a chance to rest, relax and hopefully exchange the bear spotting for whale spotting. Alaska, and then the Yukon Territory and British Columbia in Canada have humbled us in many ways. The enormous skies, the endlessly long straight roads, the wilderness, the generosity of people we have met on the road, have made us feel small and reminded us to appreciate everything we see and experience, however that rollercoaster ride might present itself.

Sarah

It may have taken five weeks to finally see one, but looking after ourselves in Grizzly Country has been a full-time job, hanging food in trees, cooking food well away from camp, carrying bear spray. It seems apt then that the wheels on our bikes are called “Grizzlies”.

Much of our ride between Paxson and Delta Junction followed the intimidating Alaska Pipeline. The pipeline moves 1.5 million barrels of oil a day 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay within the Arctic Circle right across the state and down to Valdez for shipping. However ugly it might be, income from the pipeline subsidises the state and gives Alaska much of its wealth. 

The grey clouds gathering here turned into an almighty hailstorm shortly after this was taken. Not a pleasant way to end the day’s ride but then meeting Phil and Erin at a wild campground who offered us glasses of wine and the chance to stand at their campfire turned the day’s fortunes around.

Many Alaskans go out and shoot a moose once a year, using the meat to stock their freezer for the winter ahead. A fellow camper, carrying some of his moose sausages (made by a Polish butcher with added cheese and jalapenos) generously gave us four to try. James can barely contain his excitement and the sausages definitely lived up to expectations. 

An old knee injury of James’ flares up; another worrying few days in the middle of nowhere, at an Alaskan crossroads called Tok Junction, waiting to see if it is safe to cycle on. A depressing strip of bad motels and abandoned businesses didn’t inspire us to stay too long here. We moved gently on, with the knee still twinging, and no doubt needing professional diagnosis and treatment once we reach Seattle. 

At a campsite just outside Tok we were bowled over by generosity. Firstly from Charne & Tony on the road with their camper Daisy. They kept us going with hot chocolate and tea, and then Rod and Rosemary who looked after us with Bacardi & Coke. The generosity of other campers has been amazing and there have been many others since; thanks guys, you’re keeping us going! 

Having shopped for enough food to last us the ten days between Tok and the next stop, the question is “where on earth to put it all?”…panniers bulging, we could barely move the bikes but there was no doubt we’d eat it all. 

We most definitely had to rely on our own food supply with no services for hundreds of miles; so many of the places we saw on the Alcan (the Alaska-Canada Highway) had been boarded up and abandoned due to lack of business… 

…or so we thought! We stumbled across a creperie and bakery, run by a French couple, 60 miles from anywhere in either direction. Like a mirage in the desert, we could hardly believe our luck. 

Some fellow bikers stopped to enjoy the delicious French fare too, although it looked like they might have been well stocked up with moose meat too? 

Typical of the amazing scenery we have seen in our first 1000 miles; Edith Creek is just one of hundreds of creeks we’ve passed over. They provide our drinking water too so we’re delighted when they’re as clear and beautiful as this one. 

We entered Canada in Yukon Territory. An unsealed road in many places led to a few days of very dusty riding. 

It’s a long time between showers so braving the chilly lake at Snag Junction campground made for a refreshing wash. 

You meet all kinds of campers but this guy was a favourite; this shy husky came and sat with us for a while as were preparing dinner; unfortunately it turns out that our spaghetti is not to his taste. 

A beautiful campground at the stunning Kluane Lake and free beers from two generous fellow campers…what more could a cyclist ask for?

Two nights with Tristan and Avalon at Haines Junction were just what we needed after cycling for ten days through the wilderness. Thanks to Warm Showers, we found great hosts with hens in the garden (fresh eggs!) and a bed for the first time in four weeks… 

…and we were also introduced to the Village Bakery where Avalon works, which unquestionably makes the finest cookies we’ve eaten in a long time; all the fuel we need to get us back in the saddle and on to Haines. 

Bad weather makes for creative evening entertainment as we try to fashion waterproof covers for our useless gloves. On the list for the next supermarket we visit: washing up gloves. Not as fashionable as these cutting edge designs but hopefully the most waterproof things we can get to protect our hands. 

Thanks to a fellow cyclist who stopped on the road a couple of days before to tell us about this place, at the end of a really hard day’s ride, we found a free, empty, warm cabin with dry wood for a fire and a bed to sleep on. The log book on the table tells of many other cyclists who have stopped here and found it a haven of comfort and warmth on long rides; we added our grateful thanks to the book before heading off to Haines. 

The previous day spent mostly slogging uphill in the pouring rain, we were rewarded with a cloudy but stunning 12 mile descent to the US border and back into Alaska. Reaching speeds of nearly 40mph it got pretty chilly but it was great to see the computer knocking off the miles into Haines so quickly. 

At the end of this first leg, we find ourselves on a cyclists and walkers only campsite in Haines, with beautiful scenery and the prospect of time off the bikes, with a relaxing ferry trip down the Inside Passage…

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A healthy dose of anxiety, excitement and anticipation accompanied us across the border between the US and Mexico.  With an ongoing  violent drug war between the government and the cartels, so many people felt compelled to tell how dangerous Mexico was.  However, we refused to write the whole place off based on the unlikely event of us two cyclists being caught up in the drugs furore, and gringo paranoia about one particularly dangerous border town (Tijuana).

That said, we took advice from a Baja cycling guru (thanks Bob!); someone who had been here recently, ridden the roads and could tell us what to expect.  With Bob’s advice, we changed our border crossing plans at the last minute from Tijuana to Tecate, paid for our tourist cards with some trepidation and wondered what Mexico might hold for us.  In the first three weeks, it’s been a dizzying mixture of sights, sounds and experiences, but so far so good.  In fact, so far, so fantastic!

Delighted that our change of border crossing meant an amazing journey into Baja California through mountains and wine country, we had the best introduction to a land steeped in history, culture, beauty and hospitality.  Now we’re here, we’re playing it safe and being careful about our camping spots and our riding, but overall my first impressions of Mexicans and Mexico are of a vibrant, warm and stimulating place…I am hungry for more.

 

Roads

We were spoilt, coming through the border at Tecate and onto quiet roads and then dirt track.  Joining busy and narrow Highway 1 after more than a week of wilderness riding was a bit of an unpleasant shock but we’re gradually adjusting.

 

Time for a map change as we leave the US and venture into Mexico. The cycle mirror – geeky as it looks – has been really useful on Highway 1 where we have to pull off the road into the ditch whenever two big vehicles are crossing as there’s literally no room for us on the road itself….

…like this!

Stopping by the side of the road to fix a puncture has quickly become part of the routine. Broken glass, cacti thorns and tyre debris all cause problems, even for our sturdy tyres. I seem to have had all the bad luck so far: current score is Bedders 5, Jams 0!

As we headed east for Gonzaga Bay, the pavement ended and 60km of dirt began. Sand, gravel, rocks and awesome scenery made for an exciting detour to a beautiful bay….and the bikes survived!

On the dirt track, we often had the whole place to ourselves….

Cacti

The desert really delivers when it comes to cacti; they’re everywhere.  All shapes and sizes and all covered in long spiky thorns just waiting to jab you in the bum, or puncture a tyre.

Spiky ones…

…fuzzy ones…

…and ones that a whole lot taller than we ever expected!

Food

For two people so preoccupied with finding the next meal, we’ve been notably lax in finding the famous “best fish taco in the world” that Baja boasts.  We’re hoping to find great seafood when we rejoin the Sea of Cortez as we head further south.  In the meantime, we’ve found plenty of other tasty treats.

We weren’t expecting a lunchtime stop at a tiny shop shack to provide such a tasty dessert but this was amazing. Fresh fruit, local soft cheese, local honey and nuts and seeds for the top…sooo good!

After 4 months on cheese and tomato sandwiches, we have been delighted to change our routine, to cheese and tomato tortillas. Same ingredients, different wrapping. But with local avocados and by the side of the road after a long morning’s ride, boy do they taste good.

The usual porridge and jam sandwich is replaced by a sumptuous slice of delicious chocolate and caramel cheesecake. Thanks to Cristina at Punta Prieta, we enjoyed a decadent breakfast treat!

Before leaving the US, James had attempted to mentally prepare me for the likelihood of little access to bread and cakes. Having been to Mexico before, he remembered only a world of tortillas and rice. Thankfully he couldn’t have been more wrong, with most small towns having at least one Panaderia churning out hundreds of delicious sweet treats and soft bread rolls…naturally, it’s only polite to indulge.

People

As with the US, we’ve been bowled over by hospitality, warmth, generosity and good humour almost as soon as we arrived.  James’ fluent Spanish has come in very handy, helping us to meet with local Mexicans and secure friendly places to camp.  We’ve also met some US ex pats living down here who have been only too eager to help out some fellow gringos…even if they do think we’re crazy for cycling!

We met with Bob before leaving San Diego and spent a couple of invaluable hours poring over maps of Baja while he dispensed plenty of great advice. Thanks Bob, you’re our Baja Guru!

A day’s ride out of Tecate and looking for somewhere to camp, we stop when Luis waves at us from his ranch. James goes down to say hello and Luis offers us a soft grassy place to pitch the tent and sits out under amazing stars to talk to us about Mexico. His friend Roberto joins us in the morning for coffee and more chat.

Passing us twice on the road during the day, Rene stopped her car and asked us to join her at her house is San Felipe. Cue an amazing barbeque feast and lots of talk about the dirt road ahead to Gonzaga Bay…she said we’d never make it….

…but we did and here we are outside Barney’s! Barney was so generous; when we wearily cycled past looking for a place to camp, he invited us to use his neighbour’s beach house overlooking the beautiful bay. He showed us the collection of dirt buggies that he restores and we shared a beer whilst he dispensed very useful advice about the rest of our journey through Baja.

This man is a legend. 40km from Gonzaga Bay and 20km from the next road, Coco lives on his own surrounded by lots of beer, an impressive ladies’ underwear collection and lots of desert. We turned up expecting to camp and he insisted we drink his beer, sign the guest book, eat his food and sleep in his “guest trailer”. An amazing experience…Google “Coco’s Corner, Baja Mexico” to see more!

Coco sent us on a mission, with a hand drawn map and a package to deliver to Cristina at Punta Prieta. Somehow we managed to find her and she asked us to be the first official guests at her beautiful ranch. With her nephew Fermin and her daughter Ana Cristina, they gave us a wonderfully warm Mexican welcome.

Dogs

Some friendly, some ferocious, Baja is teeming with dogs.  Almost everywhere we’ve stayed has had at least three resident dogs many of whom became firm friends by the end of our stay.  Not so welcome are the dogs protecting properties by the side of the road; they hear a bike coming and sprint out of their gate barking and snapping at our panniers, making for a 10-20 second episode of pure fear as we pedal like crazy to escape.

Our first experience with a Mexican canine welcome committee. This is Palomo at Rancho el Chaco…one of four resident pooches, he invited himself right into the tent which at this point, James is enjoying…when he tried to get back in at 1am, it wasn’t so funny.

Another night spent at a local’s ranch and we were on the road early the next day. Surprisingly, one of the dogs wanted to come along too. She ran behind us for 5 miles! No amount of berating or turning back could dissuade her, she just stopped running when her little legs got too tired…hopefully they had enough stamina left to get her back home…

It’s hard to resist giving in to the local dogs when they look at you like this!

Beaches

Why do people come to Baja?  For the beaches.  On an 800 mile long peninsular, we’re sandwiched between fantastic beaches on the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Sea of Cortez to the east.  We’ve already seen many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and whiled away plenty of time watching pelicans, osprey, dolphins and hundreds of other seabirds off the coasts.

One of the gorgeous bays at San Felipe where we camped on the beach…until the wind rose to serious gusts and we had to move the tent at 2am to avoid being blown away!

3km down a sand track to a hidden beach at Percebu. We had to push the bikes through heavy sand some of the way but it was worth it.

There are hot springs at the beach at Puerticitos. It’s a very peculiar sensation to lie in roasting hot water bubbling up through volcanic rock, and feel it mingling with chilly salt water coming in from the sea….but highly recommended.

A beautiful view from the terrace of the beach house where Barney invited us to crash in at Gonzaga Bay. An inspiring, gorgeous bay, we can completely understand why Barney’s been here for 35 years.

So now we’re headed further south and to La Paz for Christmas.  You can now track our progress with a map we’ve added.  Just click on the word “Route” at the top of this page.

 

Sarah

 

 

 

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With hindsight, perhaps watching the incredible documentary about Timothy Treadwell, Grizzly Man, wasn’t the best introduction to bear country. Treadwell thought he could talk to the bears – and he did for a bit. Then the bears ate him.

The motorcyclist set down his coffee cup and leant back in his chair, a slow smile spreading across his face. “Well, maybe I shouldn’t be tellin you this, but there was a Japanese guy ridin’ through here on a bicycle just like you two. A Grizzly got him – just knocked him off his bike and ate him all up. Good luck to y’all, that’s all I can say.”

It seemed every Alaskan we met had a bear tale to tell. I could never tell if there was a nudge and a wink behind our backs as they watched the naive tourists wriggle in their seats, but it became clear that however much the stories may have been exaggerated, there was a healthy respect for bears in the North. Everyone had their own nugget of advice for us, from the plausible to the hilarious (“Carry a tin of sardines in your pocket to distract a charging bear” was my favourite).

I certainly found it hard not to give in to a little creeping bearanoia. I spent one night frozen rigid in my sleeping bag, as a snorting grizzly prowled outside our tent just centimetres away. It was only the next morning when the ‘grizzly’ was still snorting that I realised it was in fact the toilet pump from a nearby campervan, and I had actually been listening to an elderly American making their 3am trip to the bathroom.

Here’s a selection of some of the bear advice we received, along with our own experiences.

1. Attach bear bells to your bike.

The theory: on a bike you are much stealthier than you would be in a car. By carrying a bear bell, bears will hear you coming and get out of your way.

In reality: We merrily jangled along for weeks sounding like Santa’s sleigh, confident every bear in the vicinity would be hear us coming (maybe that’s why it took us five weeks to see one). Then someone pointed out that bears are actually very curious, and in fact our jaunty bells did a great job of announcing that a very slow moving, nicely wrapped food parcel was on its way. A kind of slow moving ice cream van for bears if you like.

2. Hang all food and anything else with a strong smell up in a tree.

The theory: by hoisting all your food and toiletries high into a tree, no bear will have any reason to come knocking in the night.

In reality: I was by far the most odorous item in our tent, and there was no way I was climbing up a tree for the night. Even hoisting our food proved a serious challenge, as evolution clearly hasn’t selected Alaskan trees based on their food hanging potential. Most spindly Alaskan spruce looked like a bag of crisps might send them keeling over, let alone 10 days of food for two calorie starved cyclists. When we stayed on campsites, we found that stashing our food in the bear-proof rubbish bins was a far easier option.

3. If a bear charges you, don’t run.

The theory: If you are unlucky enough to be charged by a bear, stand your ground – otherwise the bear will get excited and think that it really has stumbled on something worth chasing.

In reality: We read pages of detailed advice on what to do in this situation; so much that we would probably need to ask the bear to stop mid-charge while we checked the manual. While your life flashes before your eyes, you also have to identify what type of bear is heading towards you, and work out what mood it is in. If it’s a ‘defensive charge’, then in theory the bear will either veer off or stop short at the last moment (and I imagine probably stick its tongue out and roll about laughing at the tourist having a coronary). If it’s an aggressive charge, then you’ll know about it. Your options then are to ‘play dead’ if it’s a grizzly, or ‘fight back’  if it’s a black bear. Good luck with that.

4. Carry bear spray.

The theory: Bear spray is the universally acknowledged weapon of choice when it comes to repelling a bear attack (other than a gun that is – and even then a grizzly’s forehead is meant to be so thick that bullets often just bounce off.)

In reality: It certainly makes you feel safer to have some kind of weapon at your disposal, but after reading the small print I’m not so sure. Firstly, if you fire off your bear spray into the wind, then chances are it’s going to disable you far more than the bear. Given that we spent most of our time in Alaska cycling into a headwind, this seems like quite a fundamental flaw. Secondly, I can’t help thinking that if you are lucky enough to hit your target, then a half-blinded bear is probably not going to be in a mood to slope off into the bushes. Chances are that if it was just a ‘defensive’ attack, by now you’ve definitely managed to turn it into an aggressive one.

Despite all the above, so far we’ve camped for more than 50 nights in bear country with no problems. In the end we have seen both grizzly and black bears, both magical experiences – but it took us over five weeks to do so. The reality is that, unless you’re really unlucky, bears don’t actively hunt people. Unsurprisingly, they’re far more interested in the feast of salmon and berries on offer than chasing scrawny tourists on bikes.

Coming from England, where animals tend to be cute and cuddly, it’s been at once disconcerting and exhilarating to suddenly find that you’re no longer at the top of the food chain. It re-ignites a primal survival instinct, long suppressed by the ease and comforts of modern life. Back home, you have to actively seek out wilderness, where humans haven’t imposed order over nature in some way. Here in Alaska, surrounded by wilderness, it is the other way round. You are entering the bears’ world, and you play by their rules. It seems it’s only really when humans interfere and break those rules (mentioning no names, Mr Treadwell), that things really go wrong.

James

 

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The Inside Passage

September 20th, 2011

After weeks of cycling and wilderness and rain, taking ferries along the Inside Passage of SE Alaska offered us a rest and a chance to regroup and take stock of the cycling we had achieved so far. The time on and off the ferry proved to be challenging in its own way – more torrential downpours with a broken tent wasn’t quite the relaxation we had in mind, but it offered a chance to see a beautiful part of Alaska in a way we simply couldn’t have done on the bikes.

A selection below of some of the sights we saw along the way…what we can’t include are pictures of humpback whales – their tail fins disappearing before we even thought about getting the camera out – and pictures of just how heavy the rain got, but believe me, we were wet, seriously wet…those marigold washing up gloves mentioned in the last post did indeed get used and I can highly recommend them to anyone searching for a waterproof solution for their hands!

Sarah

Hanging right over our campground just outside our first ferry stop of Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier is an impressive and chilly sight. We know from our maps that we passed by many glaciers as we cycled through Alaska but most were only visible and accessible by air, so it was a treat to have this one so close to our campground…

…even if it was a reminder of just how chilly Alaska can get! 

Our first sighting of a black bear…this young cub had his pick of the Sockeye salmon desperately trying to swim upstream to their final resting place; he did his part to ensure that at least some of them didn’t make it. Shortly after this picture, we watched him bag a monster fish and crunch his way through it. 

Through the rainforest and up a height to view the Mendenhall Glacier, we saw lots of beautiful icy clear waterfalls and dripping moss. 

Getting into the spirit of travel by boat, James and I get all naval….

One of our stops on the ferry was at Sitka, a port occupied at various points in history by the Tlingit natives, the Russians, the British and the Americans. A mish-mash of history is everywhere; Russian street names and graveyards nestle alongside American tourist kitsch. 

Treating ourselves to some local Alaskan fish was a good plan; this hole in the wall café served up the most delicious fish and chips. 

Marking the spot where native Tlingit people fought the Russians for control of Sitka is a beautiful totem park with totem poles dotted amongst the trees from where they were carved…very atmospheric and in fact one of the few places that possibly looked better with a bit of rain.

Looking up at the awesome carvings gives appreciation of how much work Native Americans put into telling their stories through wood.

Next ferry stop was Wrangell, a sleepy town unaffected by cruise ship tourism and totally deserted on a rainy Sunday. Perfect time for us to walk on the beach and catch sight of two bald eagles close up.

Searching for petroglyphs on the beach at Wrangell. 

Ketchikan, our final ferry stop, proved to be the wettest. According to locals, there was record rainfall on precisely the two days we happened to be there. A great excuse to hide in a local pub and play cards then… 

Bikes and cyclists totally dwarfed by one of the colossal cruise ships that we saw along the Inside Passage. Cruise ship tourists are now essential to the survival of these former fishing towns. For us, it was a culture shock to be confronted by all 2000 passengers disembarking in matching jackets with an Alaskan tick list of sights to see in half an hour.

A group of shots from our 36 hour ferry journey between Ketchikan and Bellingham. Sleeping out on deck under the stars, experiencing our first proper sunshine for over three weeks, seeing whales and watching the sun rise were all fantastic highlights of a great trip.

Sun rising as we approach Bellingham and the moon’s still out too. A beautiful end to a great Alaskan adventure. 

Arrival in Bellingham sees the announcement of the winner of the Great Alaskan Beard Competition 2011. Despite my best efforts, James roared to success sporting a fuzzy ginger/brown entry – affectionately known as “The Grizzly”.

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Sleeping in Seattle

September 22nd, 2011

A bed. Sunshine. A roof over our heads. A new tent. A new knee (well, a repaired one at least). Mouth-watering food that didn’t start with a ‘p’ (peanut butter, porridge, pasta). Our two and half weeks in Seattle were the perfect city break; a chance to put down roots just briefly, pause and get ourselves set for the next stage of the adventure.

Best of all, it gave us the chance to spend time with my aunty Junie Liz and my cousin Barbara – probably longer than I’ve spent with them in the past 30 years combined. They looked after us like royalty, and it was hard to tear ourselves away.

James

Here’s just a snapshot:

Barbara oriented us with a fantastic alternative Seattle tour. We took in the Ballard Locks, where boats queued to head back into Lake Union after a day soaking up the sun in the Puget Sound…

…tourist favourite Pike Place Market for some obligatory fish throwing…

…hidden gems like the houseboats on the shores of Lake Union…

…and culminating in a Seattle sunset from up high in St Anne’s.

For once, we’re not begging your food sympathy – thanks to a leaving present from my former workmates at Challenge for Change, we feasted at Chez Shea, a great french brasserie overlooking Pike Place Market. One to be savoured for many months to come.

Across the water to Junie’s beautiful house and garden at Port Orchard – early morning coffee on the deck with a view back across to the city…

…followed by day rides through lush countryside and along the coast.

We stripped down our panniers and spent our final weekend touring the bike-friendly San Juan islands with B. It was bike touring bliss: ferry hopping between islands, great camping, and at the Doe Bay resort even hot tubs to soothe tired legs in the evening.

Having missed Vancouver on the way down, we jumped on a train with our bikes for a flying overnight visit before we headed south – and were not disappointed. City beaches, mountains all around for weekend outdoor escapes…

…plus of course a good network of bike routes – no wonder it keeps topping the polls for being one of the world’s most ‘liveable’ cities.

Thanks to Jess and Robbie for hosting us – and for pointing out where we could find the best Chinese steamed buns in the city!

 

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Food glorious food

October 16th, 2011

Travel along behind James and I for more than a few minutes and you are guaranteed to hear some kind of food-related discussion. We’re burning on average 3,000 calories a day (in addition to the 2-2,500 calories we burn just breathing, existing), and so keeping ourselves topped up and satisfied sometimes feels like a full-time job. For the first time ever, we’re able to eat pretty much what we like without having to guiltily consider the fat content or calorie count; we’re burning it off all the time and we’re constantly hungry.

So, many of our days revolve around acquiring food, or fantasizing about what kind of food we’d like or (and this is the best one) gratefully receiving donated food from fantastically generous people along the road! In honour of those people and the amount of time devoted to thinking about and feasting on various delicious American snacks, this entry tells of our continuing journey south, leaving Seattle and heading down the stunning and deserted Oregon coast, with a foodie’s ravenous eye…

Sarah

Throughout September, the blackberry bushes of Oregon provided us with delicious after-lunch nibbles. Gorging on the fat ripe berries whilst checking the map to see where to head to next soon became a favourite pastime and it was hard to get back on the bikes again and motivate ourselves to cover the afternoon miles.

Our first rest day out of Seattle having made good progress, was at Ike Kinswa park and although the rains came that didn’t stop us from enjoying blackberry pancakes. Carrying a good stove and a decent selection of pans has been critical to our enjoyment of the trip so far; we both crave a hot meal and hot drinks at the beginning and end of the day. The fact that we can knock up blackberry pancakes in the middle of nowhere makes carrying that extra weight in the panniers so worthwhile! 

Our tent and surrounding campgrounds seem to be host to a wide variety of bugs and creatures, most of whom seem to be after our food. This slug seemed to take a liking to our porridge but was far too slow to beat two hungry cyclists to their big breakfast. 

This fella made his way into our tent and we rescued him before we packed up for the morning. No doubt starving, as we know all caterpillars are, we couldn’t offer him anything from our supplies that would satisfy his appetite and so we transferred him to a tasty looking fern and moved on towards Portland. 

Unable to find a campground around Castle Rock in Oregon, we stopped to ask a local resident for advice. Instead of directing us to the nearest field or motel, Nancy offered her beautiful garden for us to camp in and then stocked us up with delicious organic veggies from her garden before we left the next day. Thank you Nancy, a true food legend! 

Next stop on the way to Portland was the uninspiring Columbia City where we ended up camped in an uncomfortable strip of land at the city park. Things improved however when the local Parks’ Committee stopped by with extra cup-cakes left over from their evening meeting, and fed them to us hungry looking cyclists. We were cooking up pasta at one of their picnic tables but once the obligatory pasta was consumed, the cup-cakes were launched upon with a frenzy that others might consider embarrassing. 

Our ‘rest days’ mostly consist of sleeping and eating; twice a week we try and stop for a while and let our legs recover and take on board more calories. It was no different in Portland. Having been wonderfully hosted through Warm Showers by Julia and Bob and fed on local salmon and delicious corn on the cob, we ventured into downtown Portland and just happened to stumble across an ice cream shop, crying out for our custom. We happily indulged, and this sundae lasted all of about 90 seconds between us… 

Having left Portland, we headed towards the coast and our first sight of the Pacific Ocean ‘proper’. On the way, we stopped at Gales Creek to ask for water and the owner of a tree nursery said we could camp by their creek at the bottom of the property. Our own private dinner spot, complete with babbling water, wading birds and a little beach for our tent to nestle in….delicious. 

Dragging ourselves away from Gales Creek, we did a gruelling 4 mile climb over the Coastal Range and sped 30 miles downhill to Tillamook. Known locally for its thriving dairy industry, we checked out the ice cream to make sure all the hype was true. Sure enough, the mint-choc-chip was a hit! 

Rare activity on a rest day saw us take a walk along the Three Capes to Cape Lookout. On the windiest day for months, we braved the cliff tops to see the stunning ocean and walked about five miles…burning more calories than we could afford and perfecting the windswept hairdo look we’ve kept all along the Oregon coast, we headed back to the campground for yet another pasta feast. 

Generosity on the roadside is a wonderful thing. Mark & Peggy had recently just finished cycling the same route that we were pedalling and were headed home to California but every time they saw cyclists like us, they stopped their car to donate leftover bananas and cookies. Free cookies by the side of the road taste so very delicious. 

We carry supplies to make our own sandwiches at lunchtime which means we can wait until we see the perfect spot before stopping to eat. It doesn’t always work and sometimes we end up stopping in the forecourt of garages or by the side of the road as the hunger takes over, but on this particular day it was a deserted beach with beautiful sunshine and crashing waves. The humble cheese and tomato sandwich tasted better with a view like this one. 

Many of the campgrounds we have stayed at along the coast are just a stone’s throw from the beach so we’ve loved packing the stove and food into a bag and taking it right onto the sand to cook and enjoy the sunset, like this one at the aptly named Beachside Campground just outside Yachats in Oregon. 

Making it to church in Bandon proved to be a worthwhile experience. Meeting Catholics from another community was great and then over coffee afterwards, Ernie and his family got chatting to us about our trip. Insisting to add something to our cycling experience, Ernie, who runs a store locally, wrote us a coupon for a 6 pack of beer which we duly went to collect. The sign as you leave the car park at church seemed fitting especially when fuelled by free alcohol! 

We’ve shared many a meal, can of lager, dash of Sailor Jerry rum with this man, Mike. Hiking down the west coast towards San Francisco and hopefully passage on a boat to Argentina to see his wife Agustina, our paths with Mike have crossed a few times. We’ve been enjoying his company, talking around fires and eating and drinking together. Here, he and James compare their epic beards whilst I can only witness in despair. 

We aren’t usually capable of achieving much before the morning dose of porridge and peanut butter sandwiches and the ever essential cup of strong black coffee, but on this particular morning we went to the stunning beach at Humbug Mountain to see the sun rise over black sand and driftwood before breakfast. Seen through sleepy eyes but awesome nevertheless. 

Never under-estimate the hungry animals of the woods! At Humbug Mountain we were two very distressed cyclists when we found that overnight a raccoon had nibbled his way right through the pannier we keep our lunch things in. The bag was actually empty at the time but the hungry little critter could obviously smell the bananas, crisps and other goodies we usually keep in there and thought he’d try his luck. Needless to say, we’ve learned our lesson about where we store our bags at night and the pannier’s been fixed with duct tape… 

We reach the end of the Oregon coast at Brookings where one of many supermarkets proudly displays their pumpkin stock outside. Mountains of these beautiful orange squash look so tempting and we’ve been told unequivocally by locals that we must try pumpkin pie at this time of year. You don’t need to tell us twice to eat something delicious and now it’s at the top of the list of foods to try before the end of the month. These pumpkins will probably end up just being carved out to hold candles at Halloween, but for two cyclists obsessed with filling their stomachs, they represent the mouth-watering endless choice of ways to top up those burned calories…so it’s on into California and amongst other things, we’ve heard the burgers are really very good…. 

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Riding the Redwood Coast

October 22nd, 2011

 

Crossing into California, we turned briefly inland to visit Jedediah Smith State Park, a stunning area of old growth Redwood forest.

The size of these trees, up to 370 feet is incredible, but for me it was their age that was the most awe inspiring – some of them have been standing in the same spot for the last 2,200 years.

Straight out of Crescent City California, we present Mike Redbeard and the Redwoods. Inspired by the location, our new hitcher friend Mike finally overcame his nerves to serenade us with his mandolin. Buen viaje y hasta Patagonia che…

Unfortunately we couldn’t fit Mike in a pannier (the beard was just too big), but this little guy got a free ride down the road – in stark contrast to Bedders’ nemesis…

…the banana slug – a killer combination of overipe banana and super size slug rolled into one. The Redwoods were literally crawling with them. Sensing Bedders’ fear, they targeted her mercilessly – crawling across the tent, onto clothes and best of all, into her shoe one night while she was asleep. Rather the slug than me…

The US and Americans continue to both delight and bemuse me, often at the same time. Why waste time visiting some of the last surviving Redwood forest in the world when 300 slot machines await at “Elk Valley”? (apparently it’s where all the Elk go for their poker fix)

At Prairie Creek we took a welcome detour off the 101 onto a great network of abandoned roads which ran along the clifftops with waves crashing below…

..before turning onto some great singletrack which cut down through giant stands of Redwoods, over fallen trees and across streams…

…before finally emerging onto deserted dunes at Carruthers Cove. We pitched our tent for the night in the dunes and in the morning had breakfast on the beach, watching seals just offshore and a flock of pelicans diving for their morning fish. An amazing spot.

“This county used to thrive on fishing and logging…now it’s all gone to pot”. Cannabis production is now the mainstay of the economy in northern California, and we hit the so called ‘Emerald Triangle’ at harvest time. Sleepy Arcata was definitely the first place I’ve ever been to where the smell of weed hangs over the town like a haze. We had a great stay thanks to Robert, Marissa and Sean, who cooked us up a feast and gave good tips for the road ahead – thanks guys!

Back into the Redwoods, we rode the 32 mile Avenue of the Giants, stunning in the early morning light. However, this preserved ‘beauty strip’ of forest for tourists, just a few hundred metres wide in places, highlighted for me how little actually remains. Only 4% of the North Coast’s original two million acres of Redwoods is left today.

Finally we left the logging trucks and RVs of Highway 101 behind, and emerged into the sunshine and mist of beautiful Highway 1, which would lead us all the way down to San Francisco.

Another great camping spot at Mackerricher State Park and yet another stunning Pacific sunset.

Lunch stop at the lighthouse at Point Cabrillo, just north of Mendocino

Highway 1 is a rollercoaster of a road: tiptoe your way along the cliff tops, plunge down into steep gorges, keep your speed through the tight switchbacks, and sweat your way back up to the cliff tops – then repeat all day. Awesome fun…

…but all very calorie consuming of course – cue a milkshake stop (note very serious milkshake face)…

…to celebrate 2,500 miles pedalled from Anchorage – spelled out in our daily lunch regime.

San Francisco didn’t disappoint with an eerily foggy crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge and an amazing welcome from Liz, our hostess with the mostest. We’re here for a while and looking forward to the arrival of our London Support Crew for a low mileage week of ‘R&R ’ and social re-integration. The vineyards of the Sonoma Valley and the Santa Cruz coast are beckoning – time for some drinking, cycling, wineries and… err did I mention drinking?

James

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San Francisco

November 7th, 2011

A cameo guest post from our friend Ed, ringleader of the group of three friends who recently visited us for a week in San Francisco. Thanks for making the trip guys, and an extra huge thanks to Liz for hosting us all. We’ll be talking about it (and recovering from it) for months to come. Here’s Ed’s take on the week…

Nearly 4 months in the land of the free and Sarah’s already calling restrooms restrooms, sidewalks sidewalks and England a small island across the pond. The US of A has clearly not passed her by unnoticed. California though, synonymous with liberty, freedom of speech, liberalism and a love for your fellow man is surely the crown of the US leg. And San Francisco the jewel in that crown. Progressive gay rights, entrepreneurial spirit and medicinal marijuana. What could possibly go wrong?

Where to start? Your protagonists arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday 18th at 2pm after 36 miles of rolling coastal cliffs with empty stomachs, sore legs and a palpable excitement for the warm bed awaiting them. There followed three days of small skirmishes on two wheels about the beautiful city. Several ill chosen turns onto streets that resembled sheer rock faces. Lots more enormous sandwiches. And a whole lot of architectural marvel, cultural delight, social variety and much needed rest. What happened next can only be described as a force of nature. One for which their livers will likely be paying the price long after this particular journey is concluded.

Ed catches up on sleep in baggage reclaim. Sleep was hard to come by on the plane thanks to a noisy group of English children who wouldn’t behave. How selfish.

8pm on Saturday 22nd October enter stage left: myself, Hormone and Swampy. Wasted. Despite, it seems, having been cut off from alcohol on the plane at quite an early stage. For them it was clearly not so much Saturday as 32 hours into Friday night. In a bar within moments of our arrival, and the first round arrived; 5 beers, 6 coffee martinis, 6 cucumber gimlets, 6 unexplained shooters and a vodka tonic. As I write we are 168 hours in and counting, the alcohol is showing little sign of wearing off.

The morning after and the only way to soak up the excess alcohol: 4x4 burgers from In and Out. Totally wrong, but totally right.

The theme of the holiday (eds notes: How many times Ed?! It’s a journey, not a holiday) was immediately apparent. Drinking was the name of the game and nobody was sitting out! Most emotionally scarred may well be Bailey, Liz’s dog, who found himself being used as a mop, hung from the window of a moving car, doused in mosquito repellant and used as a canine wakeup device. After 3 days he was sent to a dog holiday camp for fear of his safety. His presence was sorely missed (if not noticed by many for some days).

Bailey - before the dog holiday camp beckoned

A moment to thank Liz again for her hospitality beyond the call of duty. Housing James and Sarah was wonderful in the extreme, adding three total reprobates to the couch crashing elite was far beyond the call of duty. Any mutual friends reading, apologies if she is less forthcoming in the future!

There were no early starts to be had this week. And no early nights either. But somehow on Sunday we set off for the Napa (eds: actually it was Sonoma – but what’s a hundred miles after a Corona at 9am?) Valley and wine country, more alcohol, just what we needed. We stopped en route to take in the sights at Land’s End, and for me to almost lose Liz’s beloved Bailey off the edge of a cliff.

This is what happens when you give the camera to a random stranger for the group shot. Genius...

A quick rethink on distribution of responsibilities and we were off again, over the Golden Gate Bridge for our best “dog out of a window” impressions. Wineward ho!

In the Napa Valley you can’t see more than about 20 feet without a vineyard finding its way into your field of view, most often occupying all of it. Fantastic. We arrived and set about eating, some things don’t change. Half a cow and a lot of shrimp later we bedded down in what would have been great comfort, were it not for the company. Three days in the beautiful Napa Valley, and what did Hormone appreciate the most? The lock on his door.

Shopping with the kids – Ed took tips from a lady whose 10 year old also trolley surfs

A day of touring the vineyards on bikes. My morning routine of complaining a lot about the prospect of getting up does not make for an early departure, but by lunchtime we were at vineyard one playing cornhole.

Liz was in her element on the cornhole field - avoid playing her for money

The day of cycling was seriously hampered by the density of vineyards. As was our sobriety. But miraculously we almost all avoided falling off. Apart from Hormone.

It's funny how it doesn't take many vineyards or many bottles of wine before the cycling gives way to drinking. This was the last vineyard of the day, and a cracking view for it. It would be embarrassing to admit how far this vineyard was from our point of origin. Let's at least pretend it was measured in miles and leave it at that...

It didn’t take long for the boys to sniff out a brewery, you can take the lout out of London… There we lost Jeet while he caught up with a local motorhead. But we regained Liz, good trade.

Jeet researches the local motor industry

A much needed stop off on the way home put us at Nick’s Cove where we summoned the hunger for a few local oysters. Amazing. Another stop at The Flamingo turned out to be a pretty genuine English pub (eds: actually Ed it was The Pelican – you know, big beak, kind of prehistoric looking).

Sunset at Nick’s Cove

Wednesday was a day in the city, and we foolishly planned for a quiet night so we could head out early on Thursday to go biking in Marin County. James ruled we had time either for bowling or karaoke, but absolutely not both.

So here we are at what must be America's most rubbish bowling alley. Brilliant fun.

James really stamped his authority on the situation and we quickly found ourselves in the Hello Kitty room of a local karaoke bar. It turns out that on top of an evening of drinking, two bottles of vodka between six is the recipe for some very enthusiastic singing.

Be grateful that this blog does not support audio. But Hormone's re-edit of Robbie Williams' "Angels: I'm Loving Butcher Instead" deserves a special commendation. Video available on request.

San Francisco’s roadworks are a death trap. We found ourselves stumbling into this as we strolled quietly home from the karaoke…

Marin County is beautiful this time of year, and perfect for cycling. Sadly we never saw it. We made it as far as Sausalito and the cracking Le Garage bistro.

Thierry our host was a legend and explained the ins and outs of illegal immigration. Now a fully signed up citizen he seems to have few complaints about the lifestyle. Miraculously we made it back alive from Sausalito despite having no lights and black clothing. A well planned trip in every aspect. Quick beers to recover in the bar before we head to the Independent for Soulwax.

The notorious 7th member of the group: James' beard. Getting some tips from a beard mentor at Soulwax.

Soulwax were done and the club shut just after midnight. One of the recurring problems of the holiday has been California’s draconian licensing laws. Fortunately a bar around the corner had the drinks we were looking for. And one random zombie.

Ed, random zombie and Liz

Friday saw me dragged from bed kicking and screaming and dumped in the back of the car for the trip South down Big Sur. A chance for James and Sarah to see what lay ahead. I don’t know what the fuss was about. We covered the 200 miles in no time and soon had our feet up at Cafe Nepenthe enjoying the view.

Lunch at Nepenthe on Big Sur

Halloween in America is a big deal, so on our last night in town we headed out to meet the freaks. Apparently we were the only people in town dressed as anything vaguely related, much to my chagrin, though I wasn’t complaining about the multitude of scantily dressed nurses.

The freaks come out, adding to San Fran's already above average quota.

Your protagonists arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday 18th at 2pm after 36 miles of rolling coastal cliffs with empty stomachs, sore legs and a palpable excitement for the warm bed awaiting them that evening. On reflection, they probably should have just waved and pushed straight on to Santa Cruz…

Ed C

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The spirit of Halloween

November 8th, 2011

As it’s not particularly celebrated in the UK, the affection and enthusiasm for Halloween in the US was a bit of a surprise to us.  It’s taken so seriously (by children and adults alike), meticulously prepared for and really embraced as a significant event in the calendar year.  So with this in mind, we got stuck in, got dressed up and spooked out for this very American of holidays.

Scary monkey man bike painting (hanging in a local, delicious coffee shop)...until you realise he's carrying flowers in his bike basket and then he becomes romantic...a romantic scary monkey man...

 

Beware the hungry cyclists...when it gets really bad they come out to suck your blood! Last night in San Francisco and the Saturday before Halloween made it practically mandatory for us to dress up. Thanks to the boys and Liz for providing us with awesome costumes!

 

Leaving SF the next day we felt it only proper to don the costumes once more to terrify the poor folk of the city...the enormous plastic axe being particularly intimidating.

 

It's tradition for Americans to pick their Halloween pumpkin from an enormous pumpkin patch. We saw these everywhere on the road south throughout October. Soon they'll be replaced by Christmas trees.

 

Even our tent got dressed up for Halloween...a futile attempt to keep aggressive raccoons away.

 

No doubt the drivers on Highway 1 looked twice when they saw us ride by on Halloween...certainly no one stopped to chat to us that day!

 

Unfortunately campgrounds are so quiet at this time of year, there was no chance for us to trick or treat. We've kept the pumpkins for the time being though - just in case any friendly Americans fancy filling them with leftover sweets from their 'treat' stash...

Sarah

 

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SoCal

November 19th, 2011

Time seems to be playing tricks on us.  In some ways, we feel we’ve been in the US for an age, in others, we feel like the trip has barely started.  However we may feel,  there’s no denying we’re four and a half months into this trip and a stone’s throw from the Mexican border… and our life on two wheels is about to change dramatically.

SoCal (Southern California) has been a dramatic change of pace in itself.  We’re still on bikes and we’re still cycling past beaches but the atmosphere, scenery and pace has shifted.  The areas we’ve cycled through since San Francisco have been more urban and definitely more upscale.  SoCal has stretched our daily budget to its limit; state park campgrounds have doubled in price, coffee and a croissant in Santa Barbara set us back $14 instead of the usual $4 and everyone here drives performance cars – as opposed to the battered pickups we saw throughout Alaska, Washington or Oregon.  We’ve been through La La Land (otherwise known as Los Angeles) and survived, we’ve learned a bit about surfing culture (unfortunately without getting on a board) and we’ve embraced the Californian culture of healthy eating but only when it’s meant ‘superfood’ strawberries on top of chocolate pancakes!

As we’ve approached the border, we’ve taken fewer and fewer pictures mirroring our mood that we’re ready for a change of scene perhaps?  Here’s a selection nevertheless and for those of you shocked at the inclusion of just one food photo this time, never fear, see the separate blog entry dedicated solely to the splendid cinnamon roll….yum!

 

Leaving San Francisco took us straight to the dramatic Big Sur coastline. Having seen it the previous week with the London crew, we knew we were in for a treat. We were delighted when the scenery that inspired the name for our blog delivered again, with jaw dropping cliffs, breath-taking sunshine and thrilling cycling.

 

Heading down Highway 1 towards Cambria, we came across hundreds of elephant seals who use these beaches to moult and mate and snooze. We could have stayed for hours watching their lazy ways…and they dribble in their sleep just like we do!

 

Planning the next leg of the journey into Baja California, Mexico, Skip – one of our wonderfully generous hosts – looks over the maps with James and gives us some invaluable advice. Thanks Skip!

 

Outside of Malibu is motorbike hangout Neptune’s Net. We happened to drop by on a Sunday afternoon, along with all the other ‘bikers’…needless to say we didn’t quite fit in on our bikes but we certainly enjoyed the show…

 

…particularly when some guys started doing tricks outside the front door, right on Highway 1. It was great fun until the local police showed up and everyone scurried home!

 

Local Californian strawberries…healthy, nutritious and absolutely scrumptious when added to pancakes with posh dark chocolate (kindly donated to us by Erin in San Luis Opisbo – thanks Erin!)…a real Sunday morning treat and proof that cooking on a camp stove can be both ambitious and luxurious.

 

When we arrived into the outskirts of LA, James decided he had to fit in and promptly ditched his luggage, lost his shirt and acted like a local while I struggled behind valiantly with all the panniers! ;-)

 

We headed to Venice Beach for the afternoon and between the guys on show at Muscle Beach and the hippies selling their incense sticks and painted skulls, we felt positively normal. Watching these guys get hot-headed in fierce local basketball rivalry was a fun way to pass half an hour.

 

Up to arriving in Santa Monica we were proud to say that we’d either camped or been generously hosted at various places for the whole of our journey – not needing the services of a hotel, motel or hostel. LA changed all that, not a campground or host in sight meant that we had to visit a hostel for the first time…true luxury, our bikes even had their own room.

 

We didn’t linger for long in the LA area and leaving Santa Monica the next day on a very convenient 20 mile bike path made for pleasant riding…even if the planes taking off and landing at LAX seemed remarkably low.

 

The bike path haven didn’t last for long though and we soon found ourselves battling smog, congestion and seriously heavy duty traffic around the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach area. We were dreading this section and it dragged on for more than 20 miles but thankfully all the drivers we got up close and personal with were very courteous.

We were pleased to leave the LA traffic behind and enter Orange County, affectionately known as ‘The OC’, where the sun always shines, the cash always flows and men and their dogs have oceans of time to enjoy volleyball at the beach…

 

Since entering Southern California, it seems every time we come around a corner on the bikes and see a stretch of beach, there’s an inevitably a surfer or two out there trying to catch waves. We learned more about surfing culture and practice from Brian at Huntington Beach when he hosted us – thanks Brian! Neither of us was brave enough to get on a board but they sure do look cool…

 

And so we've made it to San Diego! The length of the US. We’re looking forward to much more beach riding and lots more sunshine…farewell USA and hola Mexico!

Sarah

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Cinnamon Rolls – a tribute

November 19th, 2011

The cinnamon roll: a marvellous combination of heavy dough, lots of sugar, frosting (or icing as us Brits would call it!) and of course, cinnamon.  These delicious, albeit heavy, snacks have fuelled us along the Pacific Coast through the US and we are going to miss them terribly.  We’ve definitely eaten more than our fair share between us and they’ve been the motivation to keep pedalling on many a morning…”there must be a bakery and a cinnamon roll around the next corner…” you’d often hear James say…

Imagine our glee when recently one morning, at Pismo Beach that turned out to be the case, in fact not just any old bakery, but one existing solely to make our favourite treat.  We went in to purchase – it would have been rude not to – and got talking to Joshua behind the counter who was knocking up a fresh batch.  He arrives at the bakery at 3am, spends all morning baking, and understandably, no longer eats cinnamon rolls himself.  Having explained our ride to him, Joshua then proceeded to donate a free pack of four to us to keep us going on our trip…thanks Joshua!  So here’s how a cinnamon roll comes to life…

 

First you roll your dough….all 18lbs of it….

 

…then you add just a thin layer of margarine and a sprinkling of sugar…

 

…and the most important ingredient…lots of cinnamon…

 

Then Joshua’s skill comes into his own….roll it….

 

…squeeze it…and chop it….each of these cinnamon sausages makes about 48 rolls…enough to keep us going for at least a week…

 

Once they come out of the oven, they’re covered generously with frosting (which basically means lots more sugar) and they’re best eaten with a hot cup of coffee…delicious!

 

These guys make the best cinnamon rolls of the trip we’ve tasted so far and they’re well worth a trip to Pismo Beach if you’re ever in the area…hmmm, I wonder if they do overseas mail order?!

 

Sarah

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Big Sur meets Big Sur

November 20th, 2011

 

We rode south out of Carmel with a dark storm gathering over our shoulders and locals’ warnings ringing in our ears. Slowly the road began to rise and then twist, with each switchback lifting us up higher onto exposed coastal bluffs while the waves crashed below.

Despite the impending soaking , I grinned to myself as we panted up a particularly vicious gradient. The first of Big Sur’s enormous bridges appeared over the crest of the hill and the road disappeared high into the distance beyond, an image I had gazed at longingly for years in books and other cyclists’ journals.

Finally, we were riding the Big Sur – a mythical stretch of the Californian coastline which, through two years of planning and saving, seemed to encapsulate everything we wanted from our own adventure. So much so that we decided to name our trip and this blog after it; our very own ‘Big Sur’, or ‘Big Ride South’ .

Sure enough, the rain lashed down an hour later as we put up our tent. We were soaked through, but had made it this far and were still smiling. It felt like our adventure was well and truly underway.

James

Hills and curves

Sunset while cycling Big Sur, California

Sea meets sky

House perched on the cliffs, Big Sur, California

Room with a view

Turquoise sea and sky on Big Sur, California

Turquoise

Camper van on Big Sur, California

Camper

Grasses against blue sky, Big Sur, California

On the bluff

Sunset at Jade Cove, Big Sur

Sunset at Jade Cove

 

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