Neil and Mel's Big Adventure

Adventure Tunes

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Ceremonial Ride

San Francisco was great. The pictures tell the story. The "Whitebeards" rode the ferry from Vallejo to San Fran. Karen and I met Neil and Mel at Pier 41 at about 2pm on Wednesday. It was great to see them! We finished the day sight seeing and eating great food. Thursday morning was the final and ceremonial ride to the ocean, dipping in the wheels. We visited the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausilito; then spent some time in Muir woods -- more quiet time. It was a great trip for all of us. We're glad to have them back home, and hope they can be happy here after such a marvelous adventure. The hard work paid off -- they both have skinnied down. The beards are white, not grey, and Mel's hair has grown back. They parted with a handshake and are back to normal today; their normal. (?)
Here's Mel's final chapter:
We're home now. The saga has finished. My son, Adam, told me that a lot of people will be disappointed as they have been following our journey avidly. That is amazing to Neil and I--that our children's co-workers (and their mothers, and neighbors, etc.) would find the trip of two old geezers on bikes so interesting. As I have mentioned previously, we really aren't that unique. We didn't see anybody close to our age out there, but we have heard about oldsters doing this from others. Maybe the unique part of our trip was the late departure. Not many people start a transcontinental trip after Labor Day. The chances of facing bad weather are greater--and that indeed happened to us. But thanks to a rescue from the wives, difficult times were made bearable and the journey more joyful with their visits. Now for an update on the journey's final two days:Following a hard, windy day that saw us reach Vacaville, we set out for our final destination. At Vacaville, we bedded down in a motel near the freeway. It was one of many places where we couldn't find anything but a motel--no nearby public or private camping. I've had a checkered past of sleeping in people's boats on Balboa Island, in bushes outside the entry to the Santa Barbara police station, and in ditches en route hitchhiking to Zion, but Neil was averse to that kind of behavior. Come on, Neil--Bob Dylan could have written a song about us had we done that. Instead we bedded down in a flea-bag place like you may have seen in Chevy Chase's "Vacation" movie--scum and ducks in the swimming pool, etc. Well, maybe not that bad, but it's a good thing I had my glasses off when I took a shower. I saw the mold the next morning when I put my specks on. But who cares? Showers after a day in the saddle always felt so good. I also think I forgot to mention how we blew into Vacaville on the heels of a young lady on her racing bike. She caught us (easy to do) while out training and volunteered to show us how to get into town and find the library, a motel, etc. I told her we'd have a hard time keeping up with her pace, but she said that any guys who could cross the country could keep up with her. And then it was off to the races.Well, back to getting out of Vacaville: We followed a nifty bike trail to get back to our map's route in the foothills. Along the way, I smelled licorice. Fennel was growing wild along the road and it smelled so good. Along the way, we met some ladies out for an early-morning walk while going up a hill. Neil told them he might need a boost. When they learned where we had come from and where we were headed, they said, "Well, you won't get to San Francisco unless you can get up this d__n hill." That's one of the fun things about biking. You're not isolated in the cocoon of a car. You can have interactions with others all the time. I loved hollering out for directions to people on sidewalks, in cars, on bikes. Loved it. We met up with our map's route near Fairfield. At that place, we followed little traveled roads through suburban neighborhoods hugging the hills. At one intersection, I pulled up next to a motorcycle cop and hollared over to him about how far it was to our next road. He told me and, realizing we were heading for a San Francisco ending, said, it looked like I could go another 200 miles. Probably, but the water might be a bit too deep. After leaving the suburbs, we entered another area of orchards and vineyards. At one corner, we passed a large farm produce market surrounded by many cars. After a quarter mile, Neil pulled over and said he had a feeling we needed to go back and check it out. Such feelings need to be followed on the journey. It may have been no more than Neil's mid-morning need for a Diet Coke or a pastry, but it could also be something cool we needed to experience. It was. People were doing their fruit and vegetable shopping at Larry's Produce with wheelbarrows, not shopping carts. Huge bins were laden with pomegranates, grapes, squash, apples, walnuts--every variety of locally-grown produce. The grapes tasted like they were picked that morning. Larry's Produce had it all. It was one of those moments. But this was a day when we had a date to meet our wives in San Francisco. It was like that all day--a mix between wanting to linger and lengthen out our final day on the road and wanting to reunite with our wives. It was such a fine riding day, too. No wind or only a tail wind. Easy hills (until nearing the end). Our wives missed seeing us paralleling the freeway by only about fifteen minutes as they barreled towards S.F. after spending the night at some tawdry place in Reno. As we crested a hill, we got our first view of what looked like San Francisco Bay and fleet of moth-balled Navy ships. Then it was back behind some coastal foothills and more rollers and serious hill work. How could we end this journey properly except with some more heavy-duty hill climbing? Neil's maps mentioned that the transcontinental route we took climbs a total of 140,000 plus feet in elevation. Most of that elevation gain is undoubtedly in the western half that we took with all its mountains, so I might not be amiss in guessing that we probably climbed over 100,000 feet in elevation during our half-country journey. We exited the foothills on some nice downhill runs into Vallejo--the town where we would pick up the ferry to cross the bay to the Summer of Love city. The ferry was an open-hulled speedster that cranked up to over thirty knots when we got into more open water. Our bikes on the rear deck were covered with salt spray residue from the rooster tail the ferry kicked up. We slowed as we neared Fisherman's Warf and I craned my neck to see if I could spot our wives. I went from one side of the ferry to the other looking for them. Finally I spotted them and, waving joyously, hollered out to Neil, "Here's the ladies!" They had first seen, not us, but Neil's yellow bob trailer flag waving in the breeze on the back deck of the ferry. I can't speak for Neil, but I felt like a sailor returning to port after an engagement and a joyful reunion with his wife after a lengthy absence. My brother asked me if I saw any cruise ships tied up along the wharf, but I can't recall anything but the happiness of seeing Karen and the barking of some nearby seals. Although we had deferred the actual ending of our journey to the next day when we would dip our wheels in the Pacific Ocean, that moment of reaching San Francisco and seeing Karen really felt like the end of the 6-week journey for me. We walked with them to their parked car and unloaded all our heavy gear--our panniers, the bob trailer--all that necessary gear we had hauled for almost two thousand miles. They gave us directions to find the motel where we would stay on Nob Hill. A bike with no gear! Just a bike! What a novel concept! Seventy plus pounds that we had hauled up and down mountain passes--now free from us. San Francisco has hills, some of which are very steep. It's like we had been in training for this moment. I felt like a bird set free. San Francisco's hills were nothing. We had crossed the Rockies (twice) and the Sierras. San Francisco's hills were just a blip. Bring it on. It felt like I could just bop up those bumps, passing cars at will. Maybe they were parked waiting for a red light to change, but the sensation was like I was Steve McQueen in the movie "Bullit." I pulled into the motel right behind the ladies. They were impressed. I know my brother-in-law and nephew will want to test out my hill climbing ability in Salt Lake's canyons next. First give this old man a little rest.After cleaning up, we walked to a nearby Italian restaurant. Everyone working and eating in the little cafe sounded like they had just gotten off the boat. It was the best Italian food all of us had ever eaten (at least in America--as Neil and Becky are world travelers). Becky proposed a wonderful trip-ending toast to "the two graybeards who are really white beards." We all clinked glasses. How nice. How fitting. We were and had come a long way from Ness City, Kansas. Our wives were such a help--from beginning to end, and in between. But as my wife, jabbing her finger at me, said, "Don't do it again!"The next morning, we put on our bike togs for the final trip-ending ride to dip our wheels into the Pacific Ocean. Neil and I rode down the succession of hills to the water front with brakes squealing--but in our minds picturing ourselves as Steve McQueen. After a little practice, we can do a pretty good "California stop" at stop signs--that is, a light touch to the brake (not) and through the intersection we go. Hey, we're laid back, we're cool. Yeah, I know, we're two old geezers caught up in a mid- to late-life crisis. At least that's what some people think. I'm not sure we know ourselves. We met the wives at Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The morning was warm and delightful--no fog and not a cloud in the sky. The people of San Francisco are so joyfully physically active. Young and old walk, run, and bike along the beautiful bay waterfront. Some old fools even swim out in the bay for their exercise. This beautiful city has that effect on you. It makes you goofy and you do whacky things. Like riding from the point (remember that place in a scene in a Dirty Harry movie? Inspector Callahan) around to Baker Beach to haul our bikes across the sand, take off our bike shoes/socks, and walk our bikes into the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean. We did it. We finished the journey properly. How did I feel? A bit reflective, but the emotions at the end were more muted. Unlike the feelings I had been waking up with for the final few weeks as I remembered so many moments along the way. I had logged them in the vault and they seemed to spill out in the hours before the sun arose and Neil's blackberry alarm sounded. It was lunch time and as we wanted to do a celebratory bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, we told the ladies we'd meet them on the Sausalito side for lunch. A bike ride (or walk) across the bridge is the best way to experience that iconic structure. It gets you out of the car cocoon. We had trouble linking up and the ladies made three trips across the bridge before finally meeting us for lunch. After lunch, we decided to drive to the Muir Woods. It was a wonderful, almost reverential, contrast to the hub-bub of the city. None of us had ever been there--to see the world's tallest trees--thousand year old coast redwoods preserved from logging. Then it was back to the city, another bike ride across the bridge, and another bop up S.F.'s hills. In the parking lot of the motel, Neil then felt it was safe to say, "Well, we cheated death again." He always says that at a conclusion of one of our snowshoe hikes, but must not have wanted to say that until this bike journey officially ended. Neil likes fish and wanted to go to a seafood restaurant. He had thought that a restaurant down on the wharf would be great, but the motel manager convinced him to try a nearby place on Hyde Street. We walked to it and Neil had the best mahi mahi he'd ever had. All had wonderful fish dinners, but me. I had pork chops and, yes, they were good. Thanks for asking. The next morning, we stuffed the trunk with all our gear and racked up the bikes for the two-day drive back to Utah. We arrived home unscathed and nothing fell off the back of the car.We're a bit banged up. Neil's right foot is numb. My left toes are numb, my knee tendonitis is a bit flared up, a few bruises here and there, the wrist is tender, and we don't need to talk about my saddle sores. I'm going to take few days off before returning to work. I may have lost the work ethic.I've been asked, will we finish the eastern half of the transcontinental trip next year? I can only answer for myself at this moment. I think not. What we did was a hard journey--harder than I could have imagined just sitting here in Salt Lake thinking about doing it. I still am imbued with that spirit of adventure, but I like my adventures closer to home. I like to be able to have a hiking, snowshoe, or backcountry skiing adventure and come home to a hot shower at night. I have such adventures every single week as I rarely let a Saturday go by without going up into the mountains (so close) to do those kind of things. Pete, the generous biking guy who hosted us at his house in Carson City, said that I must have learned something about myself when I verbalized those thoughts to him. I guess I did. I still would like to do a bike ride up to and around Yellowstone, but that isn't so far from home. I can see me doing little jaunts for a few days here and there in our beautiful state. We live in a wonderful place. Bikers we met pronounced it one of the most beautiful they traveled through. And so it is. Pete from Carson City told me that we did the most interesting part of the transcontinental journey--the western half. I'm not ready for the rocking chair yet. In fact, it feels quite a bit strange to have not ridden my bike the past two days. Quite a bit strange. It feels like I'm doing something wrong not to be on it. Weird.We are each wired differently. Surfer Joe, the two guys from Wales, Will from Chico, the two old men--you. We are happy to have shared our journey with each of you--from reports there are over a hundred of you who have followed us on our daily grind. Amazing. Becky has done a wonderful job posting photos and a chronology of our travels on her blog. She was able to retrieve some of the photos we thought were lost into the ether including the whacky shoe tree. She will probably put up those photos and others of our trail ending exploits in S.F. in the next few days. You don't know how knowing your interest, support, e-mails, etc., strengthened us and buoyed us up on lonely days out in the middle of nowhere. I echo what that transcontinental lady walker said when we met that couple in the Wah Wah Mountains in the empty wastes of western Utah: "This is a BIG country!" Amen.P.S.: For those of you who might want to get in touch with me in the future, it's best to now use my home e-mail ( and not the hotmail account (which I just set up to use on the road).

1 comment:

Brad said...

Neil and Mel-
I'm glad to see this adventure in pictures! It looks like you had so much fun along the way. Thanks for sharing this link with me.
Infinite Cycles