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Leaving San Francisco meant I less than two weeks of pedalling left in the USA. After 9 days of rest and very little exercise I was desperate to get going, if also a little apprehensive regarding my tempermental left knee. Luckily, any worries were soon swept aside by the time I reached Half Moon Bay for my first night back on the saddle. And what a night - this was the spot. A relaxing short day of riding brought me onto a delightful cycle path along the ocean, which in turn fed me straight into the campsite. The Hiker/Biker spot was a patch of earth literally feet from the beach. As the first person there, I set up under a gnarled tree and walked the few steps onto sand. A few more brought me over the slight crest and onto a perfect location for watching the ocean (or napping.) I set up camp, and rode my unloaded bike the half mile to the gas station on the highway. This evening required a cold beer to be complete. Returning to my tent, I took the beverage and a book and lay in the sun, feeling incredibly thankful for such a wonderful evening - for the sun, the sand, the sea and the beer. For an evening alone by the shore, I couldn't ask for any more.
The standard of enjoyment continued the next few days as well - as I hoped the climbs became less pronounced and the climate much warmer. Riding through Santa Cruz was like entering a Californian reality TV show - I wasn't sure until this point that people like that actually existed. But the tanned beach bodies were real, and the attitude every bit as laid back as the stereotypes would have us believe. There was suddenly a lot more wildlife around as well - pelicans and sea lions were definitely more exciting than raccoons and chipmunks.
Another treat awaited me in Monterey - the opportunity to spend more time with Leslie and Joe Buckalew. I first met Leslie, Joe and their daughter in South Dakota where they were vacationing for the 4th of July, and took them up on their offer of a place to stay on the Central Coast. The perfect couple, I feel they have become the dearest of friends to me and it was great to see them again in their home. Of course, generosity and wonderful hospitality were shown to me in the highest possible degree and I happily took a day off to enjoy Monterey. I left not only feeling refreshed and energised, but inspired and ready to take on the experiences that awaited me. There are some people that just have that love for life, and it's infectious. I was happy to be alive, and even happier to be riding my bike.
The new set-up
Perhaps just as importantly, I made a big decision during my rest day. New Zealand, the next stage of my trip, was beginning to play on my mind and I was aware I'd have to downsize my kit. I'd already traded my large tripod for a smaller one in San Francisco, and felt I could now fit everything I needed on my bike. The trailer was no longer a necessity. So on the morning of my departure I repacked, and with relative ease came up with a new configuration for my belongings. Leslie and Joe had offered to babysit the trailer, and so it was set. Despite feeling slightly like I'd lost a limb, I made the adjustment with ease, and within a few miles felt fantastic about the decision. The Wandertec Bongo trailer had been fantastic - incredibly well made and designed, but I was now appreciating the benefits of being back on just two wheels. I felt lighter, smaller and more compact on the road, and headed towards Big Sur ready for anything.
"Big Sur is the California that men dreamed of years ago, this is the Pacific that Balboa looked at from the Peak of Darien, this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look."
The words of Henry Miller ran through my head as I pedaled in and out, up and down throughout the bluffs and cutout sections of rockface. I'd naievely worried that I would become saturated with coastal beauty, but somewhere like Big Sur allows no room for a lack of appreciation. Riding on the windy roads with over 1000 feet of sheer drop only inches to my right gave me that buzz you get when you really feel alive. At rest stops I stared endlessly along the jagged shoreline that looks just as prehistoric as ever, save for the single road running along it's edge.
320 miles in the next 4 days brought me over my last big inland pass at Lompoc, through the uber-wealthy seaside mansions of Santa Barbara and into another city on the water, Ventura. I passed through San Luis Obispo, an enticing little city that I'd been enamoured with on a previous visit. The cycling was relatively easy and I was comfortably making big distances, but my mind was beginning to drift. The notion of being so close to the end was playing tricks on me, and I felt ready to be finished. I flew through Malibu, and even struggled to find much emotion as I passed into the city limits of Los Angeles. This was it - technically I'd made it! I'd promised myself I would ride all the way down to Mexico now, because it seemed silly to finish in L.A when I was so close to the border. So I did...but it was a struggle.
Leaving L.A the rain started. Southern California, rain? I was confused, but the rain was rather assured, and happily poured on me for the majority of the day. I cycled through Venice Beach and saw nothing but a couple of homeless people taking shelter beside a bin. This wasn't how I'd imagined it. After a night at Newport Beach the weather became slightly less miserable, but not enough to lift me out of my mood. I wasn't unhappy per se, just eager to be done. I blasted down the coast and only stopped briefly to admire what was around me. I wasn't worthy of it with this attitude, but I couldn't help it. My butt cheeks ached, my head was elsewhere and I just plain couldn't be bothered. By the time I reached San Diego I was at a crossroads, mentally. Only 20 miles to the border but the skies were still grey and forboding. I could take the San Diego Trolley system, that ran from the city centre to the border crossing at San Ysidro, and noone would ever know. Why was I putting myself through torture? I was in one of the prettiest places on earth and I wasn't enjoying myself in the slighest - this wasn't the plan.
It took over an hour and some very strong words with myself, but finally I got my mind back on track, and reminded myself just how lucky I was to be here, and essentially to stop being such a whinger. That worked, to an extent. I resisted the urge to cheat the last few miles, cycled to the international border and stood in Tijuana not quite sure what to do. I no longer had the time to spend doing any real cycling in Mexico, so the trip across was really just for show. The problem was that in Tijuana I couldn't find anywhere I was comfortable taking out my camera. Even just riding in on my bike I felt hundreds of pairs of eyes burn through my belongings. I heard many warnings about how dangerous Mexico is, and how I shouldn't go there, and I'm a firm believer that most people are just over-worried. But it's definitely true that if I was going to run into trouble, chances are it would be at the border in drug and crime ridden Tijuana. The situation was not ideal. I quickly filmed a few moments of shakey footage, then joined the queue to get back into the USA. It was a poor show from me, but I was beyond caring. I rode back into San Diego and slept without any sense of achievement.
Since then I'm pleased to say I've wised up a little. Perhaps I've learned something about the nature of taking on a challenge as vast as this. The nature of achievement is such that I don't feel any - I may have cycled 5,500 miles across a continent, but all I am really aware of is how fortunate I am to have been allowed to do so. The scale of North America has blown me away, and I really haven't even begun to collate my experiences into anything coherent. I think my body and mind were ready for a rest, and even a change to begin this process. It's a shame that I wasn't able to embrace the final section, but I was always aware that I would have an underwhelming sense at the finish. I fell in love with America - the people, the landscape, the culture, the atmosphere. It constantly surprised me, and left me wanting more at every turn. I know the country so much better now than I could ever have hoped, but still I realise that I have absorbed only a fraction of what this great county has to offer. How do you even begin to deal with that?
I hope to be able to give a summary of sorts at some point, but for now I am delighted to be beginning a new adventure - New Zealand awaits. It's all change in the South Pacific, and I'm ready for it - I am in the mood to explore, and there are two islands of great beauty around me. I pedal out tomorrow, brimming with energy and I hope the right attitude to make the most of what lies ahead.