Writing the last post of our journey is filling me with mixed emotions. We are a few days away from stepping onto a plane, east bound for home. We made it, we did it, we cycled and we both can’t quiet believe this chapter is drawing to a close. For the last 17 months we have lived a roamed life. Moving every day or so, propelled by our own engines, fuelled by food and the energy of new places, people and experiences. Our belongings have sat in 4 main panniers each. Stripped back to the essentials with the odd luxury item. We have carried our mobile home with shelter, clothes, cooking equipment, medical kit and the odd reminder of our digital world (electronic items). Which have been carried by our trusty stead’s (Oxford Bike Work Bikes) across 22 countries, 3 continents, over 18,000km and still on the same tires.
More recently the westerners we have met have asked us many questions in relation to what next, what are you looking forward the most to going home, what have you missed etc.? Apart from the obvious missing friends and family there is nothing I need or have desperately missed. A young cycling English couple said they missed a sofa, something to relax into. Sofa surprised me, as those comforts seem a distance object. Of course when you are ill your body needs some of those comforts to aid recovery. However, I know I will miss this life, stripped back to living day by day, simplified and both of us tuned in. We have lived outside almost 24 hours a-day, being hit by the earth’s elements; it’s harshness and it’s gentle touch. We are aware that the transition back to ‘normality’ may be unsettling and uncertain but we have to now see the next few months as another adventure and transition.
South from San Francisco
We departed San Francisco exhausted after the numerous Golden Gate crossings and many paper maker visits (documented in previous post). We had planned to reunite with Marie at the first camping spot at Half Moon Bay, which we did joyfully. The girls were back together again, on the road again, which felt good but the 2 of us where feeling worn out from the riding in San Francisco. We all had time, so the final section we decided to take slowly very as we certainly did not want to spend extra time in a big expensive city towards the end. So we agreed that if we liked a place we would stay longer.
We spent a short time together as Marie had a retreat (meditation and yoga) booked in Watsonville and we had 2 papermakers to met in Santa Cruz. We gently cycled further south, stopping for a few coastal walks and a visit to an elephant seal beach. We continued to stay in state parks and one private (KAO) site, which was on the luxury end of camping with many facilities and even a goat farm. Camping was certainly easy and the notion of wild/free camping seemed a distant memory, which we did miss. We missed the uncertainty of not knowing where you would be each night and being slightly on the edge of things.
As we approached the outskirts of Santa Cruz we saw many brown Pelicans, which reminded us of a scene from Jurassic Park or a prehistoric time. These beak heavy birds either plunged into the sea, catching their dinner or would glide effortless above the sea. We were so happy to see so much animal life in the west coast. Which seemed to exist without too much visible signs of our interference. We also had become good at spotting the epidemic of discarded shopping trolleys. A sight you see often in London, when a lazy person takes it home to carry their shopping and never returns it. But, here in the States an abandoned trolley normal alerted us to an area of homelessness. These were sights we never got used to or ever wanted to. Many homeless people use them to carry their worldly goods, for transporting their things place to place. As we continued south the appearance of homelessness was very apparent. This had also had an impact on the hiker/biker state parks we used. Many parks began to have a strict policy, which varied from place to place. Some would only allow you in at 5pm and you would have to leave by 9am. Then there were other more relaxed parks that would allow you to stay for 2/3days. Staying in a hiker/biker site you’d never know who would be camping with you and sometimes there would be a homeless person or homeless couple. It changed things. There was normally little eye contact or acknowledgment from them and their pattern of sleep was disturbed. Sleeping in the day and awake in the night. It was often a less relaxed night due to tensions between both parties. It wasn’t that we were fearful of our things or safety in the slightest but it was the stark reminder that many people are less fortunate than ourselves and they are thrown into a state of despair and helplessness, where it seems their is little support for them, other than to use a system that was not created for them (hiker/biker sites).
As we rode through the expansive agricultural fields the intoxicating aroma of strawberries hit us. We had reached the outskirts of Santa Cruz and had camped at Sunset beach State Park, but with no sunset due the persistent mist and fog along the coast. We met Joel and Irene there, a French couple from Brittany. They rode up on their recumbent cycles; set up an identical Hilleberg tent (which seemed well used) and we began to chat around the campfire, (with the foraged food collected), as the evening had turned cold. Now, this was a couple who, did not talk extensively about cycling gear or how many miles they did each day. They were humble, quiet and at one with their travel. They had been on the road for almost 5 years and were both in there early 60’s. We were in ore and pleased to be spending time with them. In fact the following 3 nights we shared with them in 2 other campsites. It was a pleasure to cook, cycle, talk and laugh with them and it was sad to see them go, as they had to be out of the states a week earlier than us, due to visa deadlines.
On one of our cycling times together we passed even more strawberry fields and as we admired the Central American workers one of them presented us with 2 large boxes of delicious strawberries, which we hesitatingly took but rapidly ate over the course of the next day.
During a night stay in Monterey, veterans state park we had a strange encounter. We chatted to a man as it was his first weekend away cycle touring and had stopped in Monterey. He began to look at us more intensely but continued to chat. Then he began to tell us he met 2 women in Italy last May by a water fountain near Siena, who where cycling to China! He paused and looked further at us and said to me “have you lost weight in the face?” Which I thought was a little odd. It turned out that we were those women he met last May in Italy. He said “when I met you and you said you were cycling to China, I wasn’t sure, now you’re in the states, so you made it then?”
Many people we met had expressed how great the Big Sur was and how lucky we were to be riding through it, as it had been closed for a year due to a landslide. The 5 of us had cycled (not together) through the Big Sur and it’s challenging hills, sharp turns and cliff edges in mist and fog. We managed to see sections of the cliffhanger when there were breaks in the mist blanket. It was breathtaking and the sparseness of the wild coasts and rolling hills with virtually no interruptions of buildings was impressive in itself. The road is a tourist road but thankfully most drivers were cruising slowly admiring the vistas or moving on. We camped in the Big Sur, Pfeiffer State Park, where 18 other hiker biker tents joined us on our second night. It was the most we had seen, mainly men, single riders or small groups. They arrived jubilant they had made it through a tough section and the sharing of bike porn talk began!
That night was cosmically special as it was the annual meteor shower and it was predicted to be a great viewing evening. After a few beers Marie, Barbara and myself took our tarp, warm clothes, a torch and headed to car park 3, where we were told it had the best sky view. We laid the trap on the floor hoping no car would run us over. The 3 of us laid face up and watched shooting stars race and burn themselves out. Marie was full of one-liners that night and had expressed “Barbara was louder than a generator!” which was supplying electricity to a mobile home close by. We laughed at ourselves on the floor, looking up in the pitch dark at the scenario and with the possibility of coyotes or mountain lions being near by. Marie said we were a buffet, laid out for the mountain lions and coyotes!
We survived the meteor shower and any wild animal encounters and continued further south up hilly and demanding terrain. There were a few times we’d cycle a day then stay 2 nights if we found a nice place, which went in our favor as we got the chance to see more of the coast when the fog had burnt out.
After a less desirable camping spot in Lompoc, which was dirty, unkempt and full of strange people we departed early and began a long climb on a hot day when around the corner we saw 2 cyclists waiting, what seemed for a lift. It was our old friends the ‘Wokie Okies’ from Oklahoma. We greeted each other and commented, “how come you are head of us”? “We got a few lifts in pick ups”. They had a few stories to tell and we were happy to see them over the next few days.
We now had entered the California of boardwalks, palm fringed beaches, lifeguard station, sun kissed muscular sunbathers, and beach volleyball courts which reminder of scenes from Baywatch! On entering the pictures town of Santa Barbara, we ate at an all you can eat Indian Buffet and wondered some of the whitewashed and mission buildings before cycling along the cycle boardwalk. The landscape was less hilly and more rolling with continued coastal views and more baron terrain. The heat and dryness of southern California had created a semi desert like habitat. Dust and dirt were playing havoc with my allergies in many campsites.
Marie had met a woman at a farmers market several weeks ago and had suggested we could stay at her friend’s farm, if we were near Malibu. After several phone calls Marie had arranged us to stay in exchange for helping out.
Farm Hands in Malibu
It was not something you would associate Malibu with and we loved the idea of helping out on a farm. With a few days to spare we arrived at the organic farm unsure of what lay ahead but we threw ourselves into a new adventure.
Kerry, the owner of Intuitive Forger, had the capacity to peel away your layers as she questioned and teased personal traits and histories within minutes of meeting us. We were being interviewed of sorts to stay and help out on her organic farm in Malibu. Our birth signs were very important to her and she informed us of our behavior and habits, how our relationship worked or didn’t, all extract due to our birth signs.
We passed the informal interview and where shown our camping spot and some of the farm. Then we each took a very long row of choked tomatoes and weeded and freed them as night fell. The following 2 days we worked hard, on one day we did 12 hours graft. We loved it, getting stuck in and seeing the fruits of your labor was very satisfying. Learning a little about how the farm operates and services many restaurants on LA, Malibu and Las Vegas was fascinating.
We are taken out for supper as a thank you for our hard work and the evening conversations were in-depth and personal. Kerry was truly revealing some of her life’s contours and we shared also many of life long stories, which may have taken months or years to reveal to others. There was honesty and openness which was at first difficult and perhaps uncomfortable but as the conversations emerged I relished this frank- fullness. Her warmth and unique openness was refreshing. Our evening ended sharing a bottle of pop (first in a long time) with the 4 of us as we toasted ‘strong and inspiring women’ and it also served as a celebratory farewell to the 3 of us as we were departing from each other the next day. We toasted our friendship and thanked Marie for her positive nature and companionship over the past 2 months.
The next morning was tough. The looming farewell lay heavy as each of us packed up our gear and stalled the goodbyes. Firstly we had group photos with the farm crew. Then as the 3 of us neared the gate tears shed. It was a happy sad as after 2 months together the 3 of us had bonded and had shared so much the road had given. Marie was like a sister and we have been so lucky to share the Pacific coast with her. We set a plan to meet one day in Amsterdam and cycle together again.
Our journey south along the PCH was magical and special due to the people we met. It’s the first place that in-depth conversations happened. Looking back to China, when we spent 80 days together, just us. That can have an affect on your day-to-day life and struggles. You take things out on each other when things are tough, due to language, travel and culture. America may not have been the most culturally rich country from others we have cycled through but it has given us language and communication with others travellers and locals.
However, there are downsides also to the fluidity of a shared language. It has been a constant and at times seemed like a bombardment of questions. In Washington and Oregon people seemed more intrigued and questions were more interesting but of late in California we have been battered by the same questions; ‘how far today, where you start and where you finish, what’s your average mileage, how much weight you carrying, how long do you cycle for, how long has it taken you? Etc. etc. Lycra clad men usual shout one or two of these questions to you as they speed by, with no time to reply. One cyclist guy came up shouting ‘ if you got rid of all that crap you’re carrying you’d go faster’…. I won’t repeat my mental reply (which remained in my head).
As I mentioned it previous posts American men are transfixed with personal endurance and getting there as quick as possible. These are not the majority of cyclists you encounter on a tour outside of the USA. We have given it much thought and have concluded as Europeans we have more exposure to cultures and customs. We are more varied and have learnt to live alongside each other and embrace these differences.
We made it to our end goal in Oceanside, as we had no desire to cycle to San Diego or the Mexican border. The last day was strange, knowing it was the last stretch south, the end of our road on this long adventures journey. We ere filled with achievement and also the desire to one-day carry on. We spoke about possible future counties closer to home and how we would try and keep the lifestyle up in the coming months.
We took a 2-hour train back up to Los Angeles as our flight was departing from there. We spent 4 nights in LA in the Venice area in a quirky airbnb, which was perfect for our needs. We did a little sightseeing on Labor Day, which was incredible as the streets were deserted and we could enjoy the architecture and neighborhoods without the noise and crowds! Our much-loved chore of bike box hunting proved hard work. On the 3rd bike shop we managed to get boxes but then had a 4-mile work back with bikes and large boxes. We took the bikes apart, carefully packed our panniers and headed to the airport. Flying is our last choice on travelling but it worked out fine.
We touched down on English soil on 6th September, for the first time in 17 months. Trace and Sarah were waiting for us at the arrivals hall with big hugs and tears (well Trace did). They drove us to their sanctuary in the Kent countryside, where we have been able to readjust in peaceful surroundings. A few country walks, a pub meal and pint plus a visit by Nik and Sarah who cooked an incredible bread and butter pudding, which we were in heaven over. During one of our walks we stumbled onto more papermaking places and history, which we will post in the future.
Barbara has now flown to Italy to see her family for the first time since we cycled there in May 2017. This will be the first time we have not been together in 17 months! I am heading back into Greenland Dock, London to home. Our boat is waiting some attention and I remind myself how lucky we have been and still are.
This is not the end but a pause.
We have plans to write and illustrate our journey and feature the papermakers we have met in a publication in the future. We also intend to continue cycling the paper road. So please stay following us, as I am sure we will update you in due course. Thank you for all of you that have read these posts supported us and encouraged us along the way. It has helped a great dal knowing we have you out there.
All Photography by Jack Blake & Barbara Salvador 2018. Thank you to Marie-France Guay for several photographs. Please contact us if you wish to us any imagery.