As we venture deeper into California, things sort of start falling apart. Sonic sends a leg flying and Annie suffers her most significant set-back of the journey. But all of these impediments are merely flesh wounds, as we continue limping on towards the finish line.
Wednesday, September 11th, 2019
The Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area, USA
The goal for the day was to take a leisurely stroll up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). I took the freeways for about two hours until I I finally broke out of the urban sprawl.
Lane-splitting is a strange topic in California. Though it was at one point codified as being legal, it has now returned to being defined as an activity which is neither legal nor illegal. It is the only state where this is the case. I didn’t do it much, since the drivers were much less accommodating than Latin Americans. It was a helpful strategy to get out of town though.
(Video below is sped up. I’m not that crazy.)
This was one of those days where I just couldn’t get comfortable in the saddle. The scrape on the top of my left knee was in a place that made it hard to keep band aids attached. The flesh wound continually scabbed into the mesh of my riding pants which would rip off each time I straightened my leg. This is not the most pleasant sensation.
Additionally, I was feeling weary, in the macro sense. This, despite getting plenty of sleep the previous nights with my wonderful hosts in Aliso Viejo. I bring up these discomforts mostly to explain the frame of mind that I was in. It wasn’t a great one.
The PCH was underwhelming for the majority of my ride. I was beginning to wonder what all of the fuss was about. That changed dramatically once I reached Big Sur State Park. These are the roads and views which are featured in 90% of car commercials.
There was some free camping available, but it was a good distance off of the beaten path. The road leading there, the Nacimiento-Fergusson, was exceptional. Probably the best paved road I had ridden since the Rockies.
The views were breathtaking, the curves unceasing and the surface well-maintained.
To get to the camping area, I would have to take a bouncy dirt road for a number of miles. My off road sobriety lasted for about four days this time. Progress. This path was undulating, but it was definitely not in the top 100 roughest roads of our trip.
I finally found an overlook spot that was perfect. As the sun dipped lower and lower, the view seemed to continually take on new personalities.
I was rushing to set up my tent before the sun completely went down, but then I caught myself. This place was so beautiful. I needed to just soak it in. I sat on a rock, watching the last rays of the sun sink into the Pacific.
Right as the sun disappeared, I felt a little breeze on the back of my neck. As I finished staking the tent, it intensified. By the time I crawled in, it was whipping from the east. This is not normally too big of a deal, but this particular wind brought a tremendous amount of fine dust with it. Before long, the inside of the tent was full of it. I actually put on my neck warmer just to try to keep it out of my lungs.
The hours wore on as it became clear that I wasn’t going to be getting much sleep.
Thursday, September 12th
I maybe slept for an hour or two. The wind hadn’t relented at all by first light. I’d planned the orientation of my tent so that I could make a cup of coffee and enjoy the view from my bed. There was too much dust around for that to happen.
Packing up a tent in these conditions is always a challenge. It took a serious of suplexes and submission holds, but I eventually got the maroon cocoon wrestled back into its bag.
Rather than enjoying my view, I hastily packed up and got back on the trail. Given how much was in my lungs, I was surprised at how dusty the road still was. Annie didn’t feel right this morning, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
When I got back to the pavement, I was pretty sure I knew what was going on with Annie. My inspection confirmed my concern. My rear shock had blown.
Even casual consumers of this quality publication will know how incredibly reliable Annie has been throughout the entirety of this journey. The only things that have failed mechanically are those which have a limited lifespan by design (bearings, chains, sprockets, etc…). This shock was the first thing outside of that category to fail.
That said, I really can’t complain. She was at 87,000 lifetime miles (140,000 km) when this happened. Many of those miles have been grueling and they’ve been covered whilst carrying a moderate amount of luggage. (Yes, I’m sticking with “moderate.”) 87k is probably an acceptable lifetime for a motorcycle shock.
The spring was still functional which meant that I could keep riding. But without the damping of the shock, each little bump would cause me to bob up and down. It felt more like riding a galloping horse than a motorcycle. This can be dangerous if caught by surprise. It is possible to almost get “bucked” off of the bike.
Beyond the functional repercussions, there was something psychological about this failing. Part of the reason it has been so easy to continue in my quest is that Annie has been so steadfast. Now, Annie had a problem. The Annie! Her struggles, combined with my own lack of sleep and discomfort, made my normally sunny disposition dimmer.
The goal for the day was to finish off my time on the PCH and get into spitting distance of Bakersfield, my next song place.
The return trip on the Nacimiento-Fergusson was even better than my previous evening’s ride. Though I was slowed by my lack of shock absorption, the views were plenty absorbing themselves.
The rest of the PCH was OK, but I could tell my attitude was affecting my experience.
I stopped into Monterey to regroup for a bit. “Monterrey” is one of the song places in Verse 2. I visited Monterrey, Mexico as my “official” song place (THIS POST), being that it is about 40 times larger than the one in California. Still, I often take pictures in duplicate places, just in case.
I turned inland and began riding through California’s Central Valley for the first time. This is one of the most prolific agricultural areas in North America. A large portion of fruits, vegetables and nuts come from this region.
I quite enjoyed this ride, as there were many crops which I couldn’t identify by sight. It was a real smorgasbord of smells, from onions to strawberries to alfalfa. It was also important for my attitude to see the multitude of migrant workers laboring in these fields. Seeing their efforts helped make my own struggles seem much more trivial.
As I barreled down the left lane of highway 101, we had another first for the trip: A good, old-fashioned dismemberment! I watched in a mixture of surprise and horror as Sonic’s left leg suddenly detached and was whooshed away by the wind.
I should have noted where it happened, but my thoughts went immediately to getting to the right lane so I could stop on the shoulder. I pulled over, Frogger’d across the road, and began scouring the median for Sonic’s lost limb.
I probably went more than a half mile looking for it before deciding to turn around. While walking back I looked further from the road. Thankfully, I located it a surprising distance from the pavement.
(Annie is that little dot ahead of the semi)
Also encouraging was that the leg was undamaged.
In hindsight, I really lucked out. If I would have been on one of the California freeways, I wouldn’t have had a chance of finding it. If I would have been in the right lane, the leg probably would have ended up on the road and been run over.
I didn’t feel safe taking time to remove Sonic’s “hip bolt” on the narrow shoulder, so I hopped back on Annie and took off. Soon after, Sonic made it clear that this affliction was “just a flesh wound.”
I had to laugh a little.
At the next rest stop, I pulled over to remove his other leg. A guy who had seen me in the median asked if I had found what I was looking for. I affirmed and showed him Sonic. He replied, “Well I’m glad you found the rest of your….uh…..art piece.”
I swear that I could see the legless Sonic give a little smirk.
There was free camping permitted in an area called the Carrizo Plain National Monument. It wasn’t too far from Bakersfield. I really wanted a place with some cell reception, so I hunted around for about an hour.
There was no tree cover to speak of, so I just hoped the wind would be less intense than the previous night. I was starting to have some concerns about the maroon cocoon, my $50 tent that has served me well throughout this journey. One of the pole sections is comprised mostly of tape and it was showing more bend than normal after the gusty conditions the previous night.
The condition of the tent was just one more thing which made me feel like it was time for this journey to conclude. From myself to Annie to Sonic to this old tent, we’ve all given our best over these last couple years. I would say that each one of us has performed better than we would be expected to. But this evening was a crystallizing moment, as it became apparent that each one of us was proceeding with some sort of limp in our stride.
One of the advantages of being so woefully behind in this quality publication, is that often times I get to write about an experience with a greater sense of perspective. This was a day for which I am ultimately thankful. If I were feeling fresh and full of energy as this journey concluded, I would be worried that I didn’t devote myself to it fully. Feeling that I will just have enough left in the tank to make it to the finish line is exactly how I want to feel at this point.
I was able to get in touch with my Mom this evening which helped boost my spirits. I also corresponded with Wyoming George about the mechanical implications of Annie’s shock issue. Even on this secluded hilltop, where there was not another person for miles, I had people looking out for me.
Friday, September 13th
I slept a solid ten hours and felt much better this morning. I rolled into Bakersfield (more about this in the next post) and got right to work on what to do about my shock. I ended up finding a used one in Canada for $100. Not wanting to risk a holdup in customs, I shipped it to my sister in Vancouver. This meant that I would have a couple of thousand bouncy miles ahead of me.
This update’s title is a reference to perhaps the greatest scene in cinema history: The Black Knight from Monty Python’s Holy Grail.
These days were a lesson in perseverance. The end is in sight and my resolve is steeled; to keep running on like Sonic, to keep bouncing over each bump like Annie, and to stand strong amidst the gales like the maroon cocoon….and just like the limbless Black Knight, I’ll not back down, even when the circumstances don’t appear in my favor.
5 to go!
Keep it together, every body 😉
Realtime update: Phew… I kind of got stuck on this one. Sorry for the long delay. I’ve had a few things distracting me:
This was a difficult post to write accurately, as I’m feeling much better now. I currently sit in my Sister’s apartment with 91 of 92 places crossed off. I will be here a few more days before heading eastward. I’m still hoping to re-visit Ombabika, Ontario before returning home to Nebraska. I know my weather window is closing.
I’m in the process of making the final decisions for how the end of the trip will play out. I should have some information on that shortly. Thanks again for the unwavering support from so many, it’s really keeping me going.
One final note, my phone is weird in Canada. I’m receiving some texts, but I don’t think all of them are going through. Email or WhatsApp is probably the best way to reach me until I am back in the states.