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California came on a bit strong, to be honest. As soon as I'd crossed the state border I was faced with a huge climb into the belly of the Redwoods. Luckily, it was beautiful and I admit falling in love almost instantly. It was unfortunate that my infatuation caused me to get distracted from the task at hand, and I was to be punished for ignoring my warm ups and warm downs. Constant pedalling up steep grades was taking it toll on my body, and while I felt fine about it, my left knee decided it wasn't quite so happy. It began with a slight ache, but each hill and subsequent day without rest inevitably aggravated the problem.
Looking North on the Coast
Being sensible has never been my strong point, and so I resorted to my usual tactic of ignoring things until they got better again. Normally fail-safe, this time it came back to bite me. For 6 days I pushed on southwards through the state, taking in the incredible rugged charm of the coast. I rode much of it with Collin, a soon-to-be Masters Student from Portland. He was riding from his hometown to San Francisco before starting school, and we found a good rhythm of cycling together, meeting up throughout the day and challenging each other to become more inventive with the camping stove meals each night (Collin's quinoa concoctions definitely won.) I was glad of the company, and there wasn't just the two of us - every night we'd camp in a hiker/biker site at the State Parks, and meet an array of colourful characters who were also tackling the coastal section. Often I'd cross paths with the same riders every few days as we leapfrogged each other.
The 3,200 year old tree stump
The avenue of the Giants was as one of the things in life that lives up to the hype, and riding through those Redwoods I can only describe it as akin to passing through a cathedral miles long- the road pressed a straight track between the collosus on either side, and to look up was to stare in wonderment at the exquisite craft of nature high above. I rarely stop at touristy attractions, but made an exception to ride my bide through a Redwood tree and see one that was over 3000 years old. That's really, really old. They marked on the rings big events in history - kind of humbling to see the point where America was discovered in the context of a tree that witnessed it all. Each evening I would take some anti-inflammatory tablets and rest my sore, stiff knee. I knew a rest was needed, but being so close to San Francisco I felt it was better to push on and take a break there - surely that would be more beneficial than stopping in a campsite in the middle of nowhere? I began to daydream of a comfortable home in which to recuperate, and the idea of a day in which my knee would not have to make thousands of revolutions became the only thing that kept me going through the discomfort.
Collin, with San Francisco obscured behind him
Finally Collin and I reached the Golden Gate Bridge, not that we could see anything more than 10 feet in front of our bikes. The fog wrapped it up in a blanket of grey, and pedalling over it was not too dissimilar from how I'd imagine the apocalypse. After 10 minutes of being battered by the wind we crossed into San Francisco's famous microclimate, and the heat took control. We went our separate ways, and I headed for Danville, a small city to the East of San Francisco where I had some friends willing to put me up.
Reaching their house was like finally finding the answer to some spiritual quest - I collapsed through the door in a heady mix of euphoria and extreme pain. Ross and Yvonne, whose house I was making myself comfortable in, were not actually around upon my arrival, or in fact for much of the duration of my stay. However, kinder and more generous people I have rarely met, and they let me use their house to recover for over a week. Without them and that time off I don't know what I'd have done. A retired sports therapist offered to look at my knee free of charge, and told me the pain was due to the action of the knee cap rubbing against the groove in which it sits. Rest, stretching, anti-inflamatories and a sensible attitude were required to get me back on the road. 9 days of that, plus a fair amount of sightseeing and coffeeshop time in San Francisco, and I was ready to take on the final section of my North American adventure.
I was ready for a decrease in the amount of the short steep climbs that had permeated my California cycle so far. I loved them, and the scenery they provided was unsurpassable, but at this stage I was in the mood for a ride less intense. Gentler hills and sections of flat were on my mind. I'd heard the landscape was much more like this south of San Francisco, and set out with high spirits. Before pushing off from Danville I stretched for 15 minutes, and swore I would continue to do so every morning from now on. Whether or not I do remains to be seen, but I've learned an important lesson - everyone can get injured, even me. By that I don't mean that I'm some kind of superman, just that I've been lucky. That had to come to an end at some stage. In the scheme of things it was a really minor injury, and I'm just about as good as new again, but it's given me a new perspective and respect for my body and the nature of cycling.
Learning new things everyday, I am - good, isn't it?!