Travel east, travel west…after all home is best (?)

To be honest, I don’t really know what to write about the last week, because I was done riding my bike and the adventurous part of my trip was over when I packed my bike in its box in San Francisco. Then I was a regular tourist and I would usually not keep a blog for a normal vacation, but since I said I was going to write one more blog-entry, I at least want to share a few pictures and summarize my trip a little bit.

In San Francisco, I was staying with Nisha and Brandon in their nice apartment right in Haight-Ashbury, the former Hippie-Center. After just relaxing for one day and packing my bike, I had one day of sightseeing. It involved a lot of walking and by the end of the day, I had walked for about 15km. I went all the way to the harbor, checked out the ‘steepest street of the US’, had lunch in Chinatown and hung out at a park for a while. It’s a nice city and I was again really lucky with the weather, but I have to say that there are just too many sketchy people, drug-addicts and homeless in my opinion. It’s a huge problem that I have noticed throughout California and in San Francisco it still seems to be hip in somce neighborhoods and I just find it disturbing. But nevertheless, my day of sightseeing was great and I was really tired in the evening and looking forward to my roadtrip to Vegas.

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The famous cable-cars of SF

The famous cable-cars of SF

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Lombard Street - the steepest street in the US (?)

Lombard Street – the steepest street in the US (?)

Alcatraz in the background

Alcatraz in the background

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Harbor

Harbor

Weird to see Christmas trees. Doesn't feel like it!

Weird to see Christmas trees. Doesn’t feel like it!

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Chinatown

Chinatown

The next morning, I picked up the rental car and felt really American when they upgraded me to a big SUV since they didn’t have a smaller one available. It was weird to be driving again, but I guess you never forget how to and since it was a Sunday morning, we (Addison joined me for the trip) at least avoided the rush hour. After a few stops on the way, we reached Yosemite National Park. We both were pretty tired and lazy and didn’t really have that much time to go for a big hike to check it out since the sun was about to go down. So we just drove through the park and over the pass and enjoyed views and the sunset from the car. We spend the night in Mamooth Lakes in the mountains of California.

More comfortable than a bike, but less adventurous - my rental car.

More comfortable than a bike, but less adventurous – my rental car.

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Sunset in Yosemite

Sunset in Yosemite

In the morning it was freezing cold and we left at 7.30 – I was definitely glad not to be on a bike at that time, but in a warm car. We drove a couple of hours before we reached the Death Valley National Park – the last one for me! I have been to this National Park several times, but I am amazed by the landscape every time again. The desert, the mountains surrounding it and just such a hostile environment with miles and miles of nothing – fascinating. It also would have been a huge challenge to ride the bike through it, but unfortunately that wasn’t an option (at least not this time).

"Don't fall asleep"

“Don’t fall asleep”

View from Death Valley Park Entrance

View from Death Valley Park Entrance

Death Valley

Death Valley

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Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

In the afternoon, we finally reached Las Vegas and after getting some groceries for the next days, we went to the hotel and were right in time for the managers reception – free snacks and drinks. The days in Vegas were really relaxing, but also pretty uneventful. We walked on the strip for a long time, through hotels, gambled a little bit and enjoyed the sun at the pool. One night, we wanted to go Downtown to see the lightshow at the famous Fremont Street and after a long 20 minute busride, we discovered that the road was closed for construction – that was kind of disappointing since this was the only attraction away from the strip we wanted to see, but we saw lots of lights anyways.

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Downtown Vegas was pretty dead

Downtown Vegas was pretty dead

Relaxing in nice temperatures before the cold of Germany

Relaxing in nice temperatures before the cold of Germany

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After Addison had left on Wednesday night, I packed all my stuff and got a cab to the airport the next day. The cabdriver asked me what I had in the big box and when I told her about my trip she was really impressed and luckily we had a 10 minute-car ride to have a short Q&A-session.

Time to go back

Time to go back

That was it – as mentioned before, I don’t have the funny, crazy stories this time and I feel like this might be the best evidence to show that a bike-trip is something special. At the very beginning of this trip, I said that this blog might help people understand why anyone would bike across the US or any country. And I think and hope I was able to answer this question through my stories and pictures to some degree.

On a bike, you move slowly enough to stop wherever you want to to take pictures, a break or just talk to people. You are also ‘forced’ to speak to locals, because they want to know what you are doing or you need directions or help. And as soon as you talk to people, you remember towns, places and roads and looking back at maps or pictures, I will probably remember almost all of the encounters I have had in these 86 days.

It is still to early for me to realize that I have done what I had been dreaming of for half my life, but I’m sure it will hit me once I’m back in real life and I’m looking forward to going through all the pictures and videos.

A lot of people have asked me if there weren’t any moments where I just wanted to quit and go home. And of course there were! Some weeks, I had that feeling at least once every day and just hated myself for doing it. But I knew before I started in NYC that this would happen and even after the toughest ride: at the end of the day when I reached a destination and was a little bit closer to my goal, I knew why I was doing it. I think the bad times are part of the trip and make you enjoy and appreciate the good times even more.

I think on a bike trip, there are always three phases: at the beginning everything is new and exciting and you can’t wait to start. The middle-part is challenging, because you realize for the first time what is still ahead of you and sometimes it feels like you are not moving. And then the final when you get closer and closer to your destination. I believe that these parts adjust their lenghts to the total time of the trip. Meaning that if you go on a trip for – lets say – 6 weeks, you’ll have 2 weeks of each phase while on a trip of 6 months, you’ll have 2 months of each. My feeling in the middle part was that I liked what I was doing, but this would probably be my last big tour. But the closer I got to the end, I realized that I would actually miss it and especially miss having a big goal for the next 10-15 years that I could work for/dream about (besides family, job etc.). The last 2-3 weeks of riding and even while taking the picture infront of the Golden Gate Bridge, I caught myself thinking about one thing: “what could be next!?”. I did come up with some ideas that I really want to do at some point in my life – I know it won’t happen anytime soon, but it’s always good to have something to look forward to even if it might never happen.

Finally, I want to answer the question everyone always asks:

Worst/scariest part of the trip:
1. The thunderstorms in Kansas. I had written about it on here. Being on a bike with noone and nothing around you in the plains of the Midwest for 100km can be scary. But add huge thunderstorms to that and it reaches a new level. I was lucky to never got caught in one, but just the feeling of being surrounded was scary and stressful.

2. Kneeproblems. I never really wrote about it, but after about a week I thought I might have to end the trip. I have pretty messed up knees from soccer and after a couple of days, they started hurting while cycling. First only right, but then both and it got to the point where I couldn’t sit or even lay in bed without enormous pain – let alone climbing a hill. I tried everything, took painkillers and in the end, a simple adjustment of my seating position did the trick and I never had any problems again.

Best part:
The people were amazing and I didn’t have ONE scary moment. The drivers were better than expected and respectful and it was just all in all great. I’m not lying when I say that everything was great: people, weather, landscape, scenery…just look at all the pictures over the last months and that will give you a general idea.

I want to thank everyone for following my adventure, sharing the blog/posts with others, commenting, messaging, liking or just reading it. The feedback I received from all of you was motivating to keep doing it and now I have a great memory to look back at.

And a big thank you for all the donations to Make-a-Wish Germany! With your help, I was able to help fulfill the dreams of others while fulfilling my own. 2600€ are a great amount and I’m really happy!!!

THANKS GUYS - 130%!

THANKS GUYS – 130%!


One last fact: 0 (ZERO) flat tires on the whole trip!

Take care and maybe there will be a C2C 23 (the C might not stand for ‘coast’ that time) 😉

Freddy

"Essay" for school written in 2003 I took on tour with me to keep me motivated in bad times (never had to look at it thankfully). Back then I thought I was pretty much done with planning and had it all figured out. But most of it is actually pretty good considering my age.  "...I will start training for the tour this summer, since I have set this to be my lifegoal" - gotta find a new one.

“Essay” for school written in 2003 I took on tour with me to keep me motivated in bad times (never had to look at it thankfully). Back then I thought I was pretty much done with planning and had it all figured out. But most of it is actually pretty good considering my age.
“…I will start training for the tour this summer, since I have set this to be my lifegoal” – gotta find a new one.

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I’ve made it, eh?! – Kermit, Canadians and the Golden Gate Bridge

My trek up the coast continued under blue skies as I was leaving Oxnard and passing through beautiful beachtowns such as Santa Barbara. It was nice to be out of the big cities and there were decent bike-paths along the beach most of the time. Outside of the towns, I stayed on Highway 1 for the most part which varied in quality and shoulder-width. I had actually expected a short day and thought my couchsurfing-host was close to Santa Barbara – I took long breaks at the beach and even a 30 minute nap before I checked the map and found out that I still had 40km to go – oops. It was early enough to do it and when I got to Jim’s place, I was glad I had made it. He and his wife live in a really nice neighborhood and I got to stay in their guest-house with ocean-view with another couchsurfer, Ander from Bilbao/Spain. Jim took both of us down to the private beach of the gated community. I was surprised to see a lot of cameras, gates and even armed patrol-signs at the entrance, but the explanation was simple: Brad Pitt owns a house at this beach and therefore only the few people from the community and Brad Pitt (+Angelina and all the kids I guess) are allowed there. After checking if Brad was home, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

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On the way to Santa Barbara

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Too bad Brad wasn’t home

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The view from Jim’s terrace – could get used to it

After the stay at Jim’s house, I had to go inland for about two days to follow Highway 1 and the scenery changed completely. No ocean-view anymore, but a lot of farms. California is huge in agriculture and I finally could see it – especially the smell of fresh strawberries for hours while riding past the fields was a nice side-effect. After spending my Halloween-night with Andrew and his fiance in Lompoc, it was time to first get a hair-cut and then head back to the Pacific for some of the best days of the whole trip. On my way from Lompoc to San Luis Obispo, I was taking a break at Pismo Beach when another cyclist pulled up beside me. It was Addison who I had heard about earlier from a warmshowers host. We actually had tried to meet up in LA, but that didn’t work out so it was nice to randomly meet on the road. He started his trip in August and went from Montreal, where he had just graduated from McGill University, all the way down the East Coast to Key West, Florida. Then he flew to San Diego and is going up to his hometown Vancouver. He is the only cyclist I have met going North and we decided to ride up the coast together until San Francisco.

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San Luis Obispo from the top of a hill

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Morro Bay

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Car show in Morro Bay

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Finally SF is on the sign

I don’t really know what to say about the last days of my trip and will just upload a lot of pictures that hopefully capture the beauty. Highway 1 hugs the coastline and the views are just spectacular – provided you get lucky with the weather. And that is the one thing I am really thankful for (besides staying healthy of course): the weather has been absolutely amazing on my trip. I think I might have had 5 days of rain in 86 days of riding. People had warned me about the fog, clouds and wind on the coast going up North which would have meant that I wouldn’t have been able to see anything but the street. Instead, we had perfect weather and it was just a pleasure to cycle despite the fact that the road is superhilly with steep grades and not a lot of shoulder to ride on. Besides the views, there was another cool thing to see on the way: elephant seals. These big creatures come to the beaches in that area to chill on the beach and relax. There were tons of them just laying around and making weird noises and it was fun to watch them and think about how calm and relaxing that life must be.

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The tough life of an elephant seal

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Big Sur region

It was really nice to have company these days on the coast. We camped a lot and since it gets dark at about 5PM already, it’s easier to stay up if you have someone to talk to. There are lots of cyclists on the Pacific Coast anyways and at the hiker/biker sections at the campgrounds, we met a lot of other people riding down the coast every night. We also camped at the campground in Big Sur, because everyone had told us how beautiful Big Sur is. So we had started talking about it too and when we finally got to the ‘town’ of Big Sur, we realized that it was a gas station, a cafe/pub and a couple of houses. And we both had to admit that we had no clue what the hype was all about. Later that afternoon, we hiked back up to the cafe from our campsite in order to use the internet. It didn’t work at first and so we killed some time by playing battleship, but when it finally worked, I looked up what Big Sur actually is and we learned that the town itself isn’t that special, but the term Big Sur also refers to the whole coastal region with its cliffs and great views – and yes, that hype is justified.

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Cyclist camping

Since we had decided to camp at Big Sur to check it out, we had a really long and tough day ahead of us all the way to Santa Cruz, about 130km away with big hills and headwinds. We were making good progress, but it wasn’t the easiest and nicest day of cycling with the wind and tired legs after the last hard days. We stopped at a corner in the middle of farmlands to have a look at the map and had to turn left. I said “30 miles of headwinds from now on” and was not in the best mood when all the sudden we hear a guy screaming and shouting from the other side of the road a few hundred feet behind us. I just see an old guy with a white, long beard jumping up and down and then we hear the words: “FREE FOOD, COME ON OVER GUYS”. Those are the words that make every cyclist turn around and I’m so glad we did, because it was yet another unique encounter in the middle of nowhere. Paul is a retired teacher and biked across the US in 1983. He had told himself back then that he would give back in some way the hospitality he had received from people all over the states. So now, every Tuesday and Thursday from 10.30AM to 2.30PM, he sits in his green VW-van at the same spot and is a road-angel to cyclists passing through. He gives out energy bars, freshly baked cookies (SO GOOD!), water, has tools to fix bikes and best of all: energy and happiness. This guy, he calls his van and himself Kermit due to the green color of the car, is amazing and a real inspiration. He was so excited to help us out and talk to us about our trips that we completely forgot about headwinds, hills or any other kind of annoyance. He was full of energy and just looking at him and listening to him would make everyone smile. He had a little sticker on his shirt with a “fun-meter” and it was set to max which was absolutely appropriate. And if some of you now think – like I first did – that he is just a crazy guy, I can assure you he is not. His outlook on life is great and when he said: “Well, what else am I going to do when I’m retired? Sit at home with my wife and wait until we die or go out there, experience the world, help others experience it and just enjoy everything?!” I thought about it and really hope that I will be as energetic and motivated as him when I’m his age. This encounter also made me realize how much I will miss the life on the road – of course the scenery, mountains, beaches, cliffs, animals etc are great, but there is nothing more memorable than the random, special people you meet in the places where you would not at all expect it.

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Legendary road angel – Kermit

After meeting Kermit, the rest of the ride was so much easier and we arrived in Santa Cruz and got to spend the night at Tom’s and Deb’s place which was great after having camped for a couple of nights. The next morning, Deb actually rode with us for the first 20km up the coast to a coffee-place where we stopped for breakfast. As we were about to leave, we saw a lady pushing a trolley up the big hill on the highway. We could tell she had obviously come a long way by looking at her equipment. Pierrette is from Quebec and has been walking for 7 months all the way from Alberta, Canada down to California and is continuing on to Argentina. She had great stories to share and walks for peace and non-violence towards kids. Another inspirtational encounter and also another Canadian – have had a lot of those on my trip (and slowly picking up the “eh” at the end of each sentence).

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Pierrette from Quebec walking for freedom and peace for children

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Nice spot for lunch

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Music is the best recipe to forget about the headwinds

We continued on to Half Moon Bay, where I set up my tent for the last time on this trip. It was a great campsite at the beach and we had a few beers to celebrate the achievement. The next morning, we took our time since it was only about 60km to San Francisco and we weren’t in a rush. It was a slow day and the closer we got to San Francisco, the more anxious I was to finally see the Golden Gate Bridge and complete the trip. After one of the steepest hills of the whole trip, I saw a little red bridge about 20km away and it sure was the Golden Gate Bridge. The last kilometers, I was being really careful, because I really didn’t want to have an accident so close to the finish line. But there was nothing to worry about and at 3:04PM I had reached my goal – 86 days of cycling and 7738km after leaving the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, I had made it all the way across the American continent to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

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Waking up at the beach

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Half Moon Bay Harbor

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One last steep hill…

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San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge 20km away (picture doesn’t really show it)

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Mission accomplished!

I have to say that it is a really weird feeling right now. This has been my dream for half my life and I just can’t believe I have actually done it. I still remember how I googled “Bike tour New York San Francisco” more than 12 years ago and was fascinated by the idea. So I guess the word ‘bittersweet’ best describes the feeling. I’m definitely proud of myself and more than happy to have lived my dream, but at the same time sad it’s over. But as Kermit would say: “Life is good” and there are more adventures out there!

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Packing the bike in SF

One of these adventures will be my little roadtrip that is coming up. After exploring San Francisco, I’m going to rent a car and drive to Las Vegas from where my flight departs next Thursday. On my way to Vegas, I will go through Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks which should be a nice drive. Addison has decided to join me for my roadtrip and the days in Vegas – I’m happy because now I don’t have to go to the great All-you-can-eat buffets by myself which is always awkward ;).

I will update the blog one last time before my flight home with the last updates. Hope you have enjoyed reading the final part of the bike-story and once again I want to remind you that you can/should still donate for Make a Wish Germany on www.donare.de/coast-to-coast-2013 if you haven’t already done so (or even if you have).

Thanks for reading and have a nice weekend,

Freddy