Thu Oct 2 8:16:52 PDT 2003
The Last Leg -- The Googleplex, Mountain View, CA
So on Sunday September 21st I packed up my damp sleeping bag and started cycling North on U.S. 1. I took it slow and had a long breakfast because by my calculations I needed to do only forty miles a day in order to arrive in San Francisco by Saturday. I didn't want to arrive early for two reasons. One was that I had arranged a bonfire for that evening and wanted to make sure that was actually the evening I had arrived. The other reason was simply that I did not want to stop biking! Despite some of the difficulties I had been having, I would have kept on going for another three months happily. But all good things must come to an end.
U.S. 1 is a wonderful little highway that runs right along the Pacific Coast, all the way between Washington and SoCal, as far as I can tell. Most of the time, it runs right along in sight of the ocean, presenting some amazing views of the rocky coastline. It's also a small, sceninc highway. Anyone who wants to get anywhere generally takes Highway 101, the big interstate which runs on the other side of the coastal hills. For that reason, most of the traffic on U.S. 1 consists of fellow tourists who don't mind slowing down a bit for a struggling cyclist. I liked that a lot.
I was amazed, first thing, by how many cyclists there were on the road. I can count the number of touring cyclists I had seen to date on the fingers of both hands, but in my first day on the coastal highway I saw at least a dozen. Evidently it's a pretty popular route, and most people ride North-South to take advantage of the prevailing winds. So I was doing it the hard way, but I met more cyclists.
Around the afternoon of the 21st I started to see signs for "Hearst Castle." I had never heard of it before, but it seemed a great way to spend a lazy afternoon and keep my mileage down. The Hearst Castle, it turns out, is a collection of beautiful buildings constructed by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. He bought hundreds of precious antiques and artworks from Europe to decorate the house and grounds. Many of the ceilings are from medieval French and Italian buildings. He even had a dolomite statue of Sekhmet, acquired during the Egypt craze that followed the discovery of Tutenkhamen's tomb. It's a beautiful place, and touring the grounds you can just imagine being there when W. R. Hearst was alive, when he was constantly inviting all of the famous people of his time for visits and parties. He especially invited young actors of the time, with whom he worked in his production company.
Hearst actually insisted on calling this place simply "The Ranch" -- the name "Hearst Castle" was foisted on it by visitors. But as I left the Castle and headed North, the reason for his original name became apparent. The property is surrounded by thousands and thousands of acres of ranchland, once owned by Hearst himself, and now in the hands of the Hearst Corporation. But there are still cows there, grazing along with a wonderful view of the ocean.
Late in the day Sunday I started coming to a series of steep hills, and worried that I might not be able to find a flat spot to camp. The road wound in and out along the sides of these hills, perched on a thin (probably man-made) ledge. Finally, though, near sunset, I came to an area labeled as National Forest. The closest campground was three miles uptrail, but there was a nice flat grassy spot near the parking area that I camped in.
The next morning, Monday the 22nd, I started to ride through some of the most wonderful scenery I had seen yet. The road curves continually back and forth to match the contours of the hills, and around every corner there was a new vista. There were rocks jutting out into the water and tiny, inaccessible beaches. It was great.
I planned to do only forty miles again on Monday, but towards the end of the day I started to hear an occasional "click" or "pop" from my pedals, especially when pushing hard. Ever since the trouble I had had with my tire in Bakersfield, I had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. I felt sure that something was going to break on me before I reached San Francisco, and it was going to be something I couldn't fix. I had even had a sneaking suspicion that it might be my bottom bracket. Lo and behold, my bottom bracket had started to lose a bearing (the bottom bracket is the place where the axle of the pedals passes through the frame of the bike). So I pushed on just a few more miles, coaxing my bike to cooperate until I could get to Big Sur and hopefully a bike shop.
When I arrived in Big Sur there was no bike shop, but I found out there was one in Monterey, thirty miles north. There was also a very nice state park campground that charged only $2 for bike campers. There I met Tony, a bus driver from Monterey down for the weekend. He told me that there is normally a bus that runs between Monterey and Big Sur, but it stopped after Labor Day.
Later on, I met Josh and Bill, who joined me for dinner. Josh is a retired fireman who had dreamed for years of travelling across the country and seeing in person all the great things he had seen on the Discovery channel. His trip was a lot like mine, actually, except that he was on foot. He would take Amtrak and local busses to a park that he wanted to see, hike for several days, then come out the other side and take a train to his next stop. He was about four weeks into a six-month trip, and having a great time. Bill was actually from San Francisco and was riding a motorcycle. He was on his way back from Los Angeles, where he had been to take a test for FEMA service. When he got there, though, he found that the test administrator had flown off to Georgia or some such place to deal with an emergency. Josh and Bill and I chatted rather late into the night about this, that, and everything. I realized this was one thing I had missed out on by avoiding campgrounds, the conversation with other travellers.
The next day, Tuesday the 23rd, I was planning to try and hitch a ride with my bicycle to Monterey for repairs. But on the way out of camp, I discovered there was a very large organized bike tour in camp, and they had their own mechanic. With some help from Josh and Bill I tracked down the mechanic and asked for help. He was happy to help, but didn't have the tool he needed to remove my bottom bracket. He seemed to think I would make it to Monterey before it broke completely though. So I set out riding and hoping.
Unfortunately, I only rode about six miles before the bottom bracket completely siezed up and I couldn't turned my pedals anymore. I found a nearby tree and stashed my trailer behind it, fairly well hidden. I took the rest of my bike out to the road and started hitching. It only took about fifteen minutes for a woman named Shena driving a Toyota van to stop and pick me up. She rides recumbents too -- she had a Gold Rush on order at the moment. She was actually from Hawaii, but had felt she needed a break from the island and was staying in Santa Cruz at a Buddhist center. She needed to stop by her friend David's house in Carmel to say hello and goodbye, so she took me with her. David was another Buddhist, and had a beautifully decorated house with a great view of the ocean. Shena let herself and me in, and we sat around for a while waiting. Even though I was in a stranger's home hanging out with another stranger, something about the house and Shena's manner made me feel very comfortable. When David did come by, he turned out to also be a very cool person. We hung around for a little while while David and Shena caught up, then Shena took me to the bike shop in Monterey. She stuck around to make sure they could fix my bike, then took off to pack for her trip home.
The guys at the bike shop -- Joselyn's -- were great, and had my bike fixed in minutes. I stopped at a taqueria for lunch (say what you will about California, they have great Mexican food here!) and headed off South to get back to where I'd stashed my trailer. It felt odd to be riding an unburdened bicycle, but I discovered I could ride very fast. It was a good feeling, even if riding the "wrong direction" made me uneasy. At one point I stopped at a convenience store, and when I came out I saw a motorcycle carrying two people zip by. I recognized the driver, and a moment later I heard one of them shout "It's Jacob!" They pulled over and I caught up with them -- sure enough, it was Bill and Josh! They had both been planning to spend their day at the campground, but after a while they decided to take a ride up to the grocery store in Carmel and get some nice food for dinner. They admitted that they had also been a little concerned for me and wanted to make sure I was okay, so they'd been keeping an eye out. I was really touched by their concern. We caught up on our respective days, then they headed off to their campsite and I kept riding. I made it to my hiding place at Point Sur before dark, and camped out under the tree, on a delightfully soft bed of pine needles.
Wednesday the 24th I was finally making progress again, with my bike in good condition. I blasted out the twenty-four miles to Monterey, then decided I wanted to see the sights. In particular, I had been told they had one of the best aquariums in the world. They have huge pipelines with which they constantly pump in fresh seawater from four miles out in the ocean. They also rotate many of their displays, bringing in fresh finds for a few days, then releasing them and bringing in new ones. It was definitely a cool aquarium, and almost definitely worth the steep admission. They also had some wild sea otters who liked to hang out on the rocks outside. I stayed Wednesday night in a hostel in town. It was nice but a little too expensive and a little too controlling. It felt like the hostel tried to be surrogate parents rather than hosts to their guests.
Thursday the 25th I rode on North to Santa Cruz. It was another day of beautiful scenery, but the fog that had hung over the coast ever since I left Morro Bay still hung overhead. At times it was like riding through a tunnel roofed with clouds, the fog was so thick. It lifted briefly when I was in Santa Cruz -- I got the feeling that somehow Santa Cruz was always sunny, regardless of how cloudy the rest of the coast was. It was a very bright, pleasant town, with lots of surf shops down by the water. I picked up a package at the post office and rolled on North before sunset. I was having some trouble finding a spot to camp, but there were loads of state park beaches along the left side of the road. They technically didn't allow camping, but as the sun got lower and my chances of finding a good spot got slimmer, I chose to stay in one on the good bet that rangers probably didn't bother driving a nightly check. In fact I checked the locked gate at the entrance, and it was covered in cobwebs, meaning no-one had driven into the park in ages. And I knew no-one would bother to do a walking tour just to find campers.
It was a beautiful area. There was a path leading from the gate out to some cliffs overlooking the water, and a couple of steep paths leading down to the beach. I found a nice little spot by the edge of the cliffs, with a close-knit stand of conifers blocking the wind (and blocking me from rolling off the edge). It even had a little window through the foliage that let me look down on the water and the seals warming themselves on offshore rocks. I went down to the beach to read my book and watch the sunset. As the sun went down, a bunch of surfers came out for some late-evening surfing. I went back to my spot, laid out my sleeping bag, and fell asleep under the stars, quite content.
Around midnight I woke up with a bright light in my face and someone saying "Hello there! Park ranger! Wake up! Park ranger!" A couple of park rangers had driven up in a pickup with a spotlight on top. They asked me for my ID to run a check and told me I was camped illegally. They were actually pretty nice about it, all things considered. Since it was my first offense they just warned me and said that next time I was caught camping in a state park I would get a ticket. I told them all about my trip, and they were interested. They decided, in the interest of public safety, to let me stay the rest of the night there rather than making me ride on in the dark, with no valid campgrounds for miles and miles. The reason they had actually driven out into the park was that someone had left a car parked by the front gate and they were concerned that a surfer hadn't made it back in or somesuch. Evidently my judgement of the situation had been correct, and it was "just in my run of luck" (as one of the rangers said) that they had driven out that night.
I got back to sleep surprisingly easily, and slept soundly the rest of the night. Friday the 28th I rode a fairly uneventful forty-five miles or so to Half Moon Bay and on to Montara. A couple of other cycle tourists at the Monterey hostel had told me that there was a simply wonderful hostel at the lighthouse in Montara. The old Coast Guard residences there had been converted into a hostel, and put under the care of AYH. Even better, though, Paul & Geri (whom I met at the Grand Canyon) lived in Montara and had invited me to drop by when I was in the area. I knocked on their door somewhat late in the evening, and a delighted Geri answered the door. It was great to catch up and hear about the rest of their trip. Sadly, Paul's father in Nebraska was at death's door and Paul had rushed off only a few hours earlier. Even so, we had a happy reunion and Geri invited me to come back again once I was settled in Mountain View. I biked back to the hostel, which really was beautiful, and cooked my last travelling dinner of beans & rice. I talked during dinner with Tomás, a former software engineer who was biking down the coast. He was taking a very relaxed attitude about it all, jumping around and going all sorts of different places. He is in the middle of a long (more or less indefinite) trip all over the U.S. and points beyond. He was easy to talk to and had lots to say. There was also a pleasant (but quiet) young couple down for the weekend from San Francisco.
I slept fitfully Friday night. My excitement and anxiety over finishing my trip the next day added to the unfamiliarity of sleeping in a bed and hearing other people nearby. I woke up early, but found myself hanging around until late in the morning, so that I wouldn't arrive in SF too early. Tomás and I took each others' pictures and exchanged contact info, then I headed off.
Pacifica is the next town North from Montara, and by luck I happened to be riding through during their annual Fog Fest, a big town fair in the streets. I spent some pleasant time browsing the vendors and listening to the music, then when I went to start biking again, found that the fair had blocked the main bike-accessible route through town. I spent a frustrating half-hour trying to navigate an alternate route without using U.S. 1, which had abruptly turned into a freeway (bikes disallowed). Finally I arrived in San Francisco and called my friend Erin. She gave me directions to meet her at her apartment, but first I wanted to bike to the Golden Gate Bridge, the "official end" that I had mentally set for myself.
It took me a lot of wrong turns, some murderously steep hills, and many stops to ask for directions, but I eventually found the bridge (you would think it would be easy!). My mood was helped by the fact that every cyclist I stopped for directions was super-friendly and very congratulatory about finishing my trip. The bridge, when I got there, was beautiful. I knew it was a famous landmark, but never really understood how a simple suspension bridge could be so wonderful. My attitude may have been tinted by the bridge's symbolism, though. I'll have to return in a few weeks and check whether I feel the same way. But the moment of my arrival seemed perfectly crafted. I had been riding North through heavy fog for the past week, and San Francisco is especially known for fog, but five minutes before I arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge, the fog cleared and I got a brilliant, sunny view of the bridge, perfect for taking pictures.
I rode across the bridge and back, unable to stop myself from grinning ear-to-ear. I stopped in the middle to call home and tell my dad I had finished. There was a terrific view of the city, and the bay was positively covered in sailboats. At last, when I had ridden back from Oakland, I allowed myself to say I had finished the trip. I felt completely on top of the world as I rode back into the city to find Erin's house. Even when I overshot and went several miles the wrong way my mood didn't deteriorate. Finally I found Erin and we had a great dinner at a vegan restaurant called "Herbivore." The food was a little bland, but there was plenty of it. Then we rode the MUNI to the beach where we were having a bonfire. There was a convenience store nearby selling firewood, and I bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
Erin's friends Matt, Laura, and Karen (?) joined us there. My other friend in town, Kinya, was unfortunately able to make it, but the five of us seemed like the perfect number. Erin had done something really touching, and had made up a little flier to pass around the day before at Critical Mass (a huge political bike ride), saying "My pal Jacob just biked from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Come join us Saturday around 8 for a bonfire at the beach near the end of the N Judah. No-one came (perhaps not a terrible thing), but it was a really nice gesture.
We sat around the fire all night and sang and talked and listened to Erin & Matt play guitar. I finally jumped fully into the Pacific and went swimming, something I had been holding off for a week because it was too cold. Saturday night was no exception, but I had the fire to warm me up when I returned. Around midnight Laura gave us a ride back to Erin's apartment and I crashed on her couch.
Sunday morning I woke early again, a habit that is surprisingly hard to break. I waited around for Erin to wake up and we had a nice breakfast of quinoa. I felt something akin to the post-Christmas or post-Halloween letdown as I rode out of San Francisco that morning. I was still riding, and I had some exciting work ahead of me at Google, but I no longer had a major goal to work for every day.
Fortunately I didn't have much time to contemplate the end, because I was too busy with bike trouble. I had been completely paranoid that I was going to have a major breakdown before I reached San Francisco, but I hadn't considered the way down to Mountain View as thoroughly, since I figured it would be okay with me if I just took the train. But very early on in the day, I hit a sewer grate with slats the long way -- a "death grate," as upright bike riders call them. I was lucky in that I was riding a recumbent, so I couldn't go pitching over the handlebars, but I got a very nasty flat tire on my rear wheel. When I patched it, I was horrified to find that the patch leaked. And it's more or less impossible to re-do a patch. I had one more spare tube in my bag. It was also heavily patched already, and also had a hole in it, but I manage to patch that one successfully. Later in the day, riding through a residential neighborhood, I hit a major pothole and got another pinch flat. Luckily I patched that one alright too, and was eventually on my way again.
I was lucky in other ways, though; just when I started looking for dinner, I passed a place called "Fresh Choice," which I tried on a whim and found very good. It happened to be right next to an Old Navy, where I fulfilled my need for some "clean/nice/inexpensive" clothes to wear to my first day of work.
At last I arrived in Mountain View, just as the sun was setting. I made sure to ride by the Googleplex before checking into my motel, so I would be sure to know where it was in the morning. I checked into the "Der Ghan Motel," a place that I had spotted during my interview as a possible alternative to the pricey luxury hotel that Google had sent me to. I checked in and slept fitfully again, dreaming this time about my first day of full time work on Monday.
It's been a great trip, and it's been everything I had hoped for and more. Well, everything except maybe I wish it had lasted a little longer. I'd like to sincerely thank everyone I've met along the way -- you are really what made this trip special. In particular, I'd also like to thank: