Saturday, February 6, 2010


Sitting on Sean and Ali's back porch, watching the rain fall while i'm
warm, clean and dry. Enjoying a nice glass of wine.

Long day today, we're pretty tired and sore.

I'll write more later, after steaks and potatoes, perhaps.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Today started off with a private showing from the Navy's Blue Angels.
They flew in close formation close overhead for about half an hour as
we rode.

My goal for the day was to get to El Centro and find the bike shop. My
tires were literally falling apart, and it's a miracle they got me off
the mountain in one piece.

The bike shop in El Centro had a great mechanic named Brian.
Unfortunately, the selection was rather poor and I now have temporary
cheap tires that should last till we get to Yuma.

All day long we traveled on nearly flat ground, surrounded by barren
mountains. Towards sunset, we climbed into the dunes of Imperial
Sand Dunes recreation area.

The map we are using indicated ther was camping at the Imperial Dunes
Recreation Area. So as the lush, irrigated land gave way to scrubby
dunes in a sharp line, we started pushing a little harder in
anticipation of running water and showers.

Imperial Dunes is an incredible place to camp - if your idea of
camping is driving your huge truck, towing your huge trailer with your
fleet of dune buggies and atvs to race around the desert. When we
asked at the ranger station about camping we were told that there is
no water, no showers, not even any picnic tables. We could camp
anywhere we pleased, but "be careful where you camp, because there's a
lot of this orv-ing. You know."

He didn't mention the wilderness area right across the road where the
only thing allowed is hiking and camping. We figured that out
ourselves through the clever reading of the ranger's map.

So now we are on a high dune, having climbed more than 1000 feet from
El Centro, which lies about 100 feet below sea level. It shields our campsite from the road and from the top of it, I can see all of
the towns we came through today, and the distant lights of Mexicali on
the horizon.

Right across the road from us is the main meeting area of the off-
roading crew. They have
everything you could
need in the middle of the desert. No water, flushing toilets, or
tables. But they had nitrogen service, carnival food, giant tires and firewood for sale (no fire allowed in wildness area, sorry).
Currently we are discussing our route, possibly trying to go through
Dateland, which comes highly reccomended. Anybody heard of Dateland?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Down From The Mountains

We are over our first set of mountains!

After spending the last day and a half painfully storing up potential
energy, we spent it all in 8 hair raising miles.

Our route brushed us against the Mexican border and through a border
patrol checkpoint. Here, the two lane road ends, and all bicycle traffic
must merge onto the interstate.

Finally, after two days of grinding up miles-
long slopes at Four or five miles an hour, we found ourselves bombing
down the freeway, not much slower than some of the trucks trying not
to burn out their brakes.

The veiw was breathtaking, it was hard to take my eyes off the
scenery, as we descended around the last hills, and the valley spread
out below us.

But I did tear my gaze away, as it required full attention to navigate
the debris-strewn shoulder at high speed while watching out for
interstate traffic and dealing with strong cross-winds.

We're now camping in the desert in what I assume is BLM land. We even
have a little fire to keep us warm.

Tomorrow we have to find a bike shop, as the ride down the mountain
seems to have shredded my rear tire!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Into the Mountains

Our first day is done!

We got out of San Diego, through Alpine, and are cooking dinner at
camp in Cleveland National Forest. We are going to sleep under stars
(clouds) because we are too tired to set up the tent.

The hills are big, and they will get bigger tomorrow and the next day.

After that, I'm pretty sure it's all downhill to Raleigh.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Leaving San Diego

Our bikes are delivered and re-assembled, our bags are packed, and we're tying off all of our loose ends, we leave tomorrow morning!

We had a great time in San Diego, I can't think of a better place we could have been stuck for a few days. My wonderful family gave us a great room with a wonderful view, fed us incredible food, helped us receive and assemble our bikes, and gave us transportation. Here's the view from our room of Mission Bay: Lots of thanks to Mary and Alan, Scott and Sarah, Suzie, Nancy, and Aunt Jodi, who was kind enough to let us live with her for most of a week.

My Mother came out from Raleigh, NC to see us off, and she has been a great help to us while we were here. Even after we leave, she's still going to be working for us, carting home the stuff we wanted for LA and San Diego, but didn't want to load on our bikes.

We did so much in San Diego, but we'll keep it short here with a couple of highlights.

This is the USS Midway. It was built in the 40's, served in Desert Storm, and is now a museum in downtown San Diego.
We finally received our bikes on Tuesday afternoon. We wrapped up our tour of the USS Midway and headed to my cousin's Scott's furniture company, Design Synthesis. Scott was kind enough to receive our shipment, as they required a loading dock to drop off our bike.

I think we've been able to set up our phones so that we can post short entries and camera phone pictures on the go. We'll try to write a good post and download some higher quality photos when we get good internet connections.

Tomorrow's the big day, it's hard to believe its finally here! Wish us luck!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Catching up with friends in SoCal

We have spent more time in California than originally anticipated, but we have enjoyed it all. We flew into Los Angeles on 27 January and our trip became an adventure right away.

An obviously foreign girl left her iPhone near where we were charging our phones by baggage claim. Dwight tried to run her down to return her phone, but she was gone. We ended up calling the last person she called and getting them to come back to get the phone. They offered to give us a ride and took us to Union Station downtown. They were in the fashion industry, one French and the other Venezuelan.

When we got to the train platform, there were many people speaking in languages other than English. Between the foreign sounds and the completely different climate, it felt like we were in a foreign country. We stopped at my friend Barb's studio to pick up keys and got to watch some taping of her show, All My Children. There was a map of Pine Valley on the wall in the studio, which is the name of the first area we plan to camp outside San Diego. After discussions with several people, Barb told us it was the fictional location of the show, in Pennsylvania.

After a good night's rest and a morning of catching up on email and blogging, we headed out to Eaton Canyon, NE of Pasadena. It was a great hike up a stream valley (they called it a river). They measure water on a different scale than we do back east. The reverse is true for mountains.

The waterfall at the end of the trail was nice and cool, in the shaded end of the canyon. The water felt about 50 F, so we didn't do any swimming!
There were many other people out enjoying the day. We did some tree identification (Scotch Pine!) and practiced with our cameras. At the end of the day, we had over 125 pictures, including a few nice panoramics. In the evening we met up with Barb, her niece, and coworker for dinner.
The next day, we headed out to the beaches. We started at Santa Monica Pier, the western terminus of Route 66. I got a call from Pat back in New York that it was 5 degrees, so I made sure to send him a picture from the warm, sunny beach!

Our next stop was Venice Beach. We had a great lunch and then walked to view the area. There were some great architecturally interesting beach houses. We walked to Muscle Beach, which looked like all the equipment was still vintage from the 60s. I knocked out a set of pullups, just to get a small workout in. There were so many strangely dressed people, that we stood out in collared shirts and unripped blue jeans.

Our last stop was Longbeach, where we met Dwight's longtime friend, Kris Larson. We had a great, wide ranging conversation about Kris's move to California and his work with the city planning there and back in Raleigh before he left. Barb's niece is close to completing her master's in urban planning, so we exchanged their contact information.

Shortly after Kris's girlfriend, Erin, showed up, he headed to a brewery for dinner. Another old friend from Raleigh, John Murphy, met us there. We spent the evening catching up and telling stories. It was really great to see those guys again. For me, it had been almost 15 years, and it seems like, while we've all changed, we still managed to be friends.

I've noticed that since I've been back, I've been more interested and feeling more part of these friendships than I did before. I guess that's the difference between always being ready to leave, and now having a little more permanency to my life.

The great evening came to an end, and we went back to Barb's. In the morning, after another nice breakfast, Barb took us to the train station. She was very helpful and a great host in LA. We took the train and stopped to have lunch with Kris and Erin in Longbeach at the local Art Museum overlooking the bay. The breakfast burritos and flautas were outstanding!

We could see the oil rigs, which drill diagonally to reach deposits directly beneath the city, only a few hundred feet off shore. The city ordered the oil companies to make the drilling platforms less of an eyesore, so they are camouflaged to look like little resort islands.

After lunch, we got on another train and headed to San Diego. Dwight's mom and cousin picked us up and we went to dinner with Dwight's family.

Sunday morning (31 JAN), we got up, had a little breakfast, and I went to the San Diego Hash. It was a great trail up one side of a valley and back down the next valley. The lunch was great and they did skits for their change of leadership. It was a great afternoon.

Now it's 1 Feb and our bikes still aren't here. I did talk to the freight company, and they say the bikes will get delivered tomorrow, so we've got another day in sunny California. There always seems to be errands to run. We are both really looking forward to getting on the road and getting into the rhythm of our ride.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shakedown Trip, OBX NC, Day 2

I thougth when we started this trip that the hardest part of sleeping outdoors would be getting up in the morning and starting to ride on sore musles and minds dulled from poor sleep on a cold, hard ground. I was completely wrong. We slept great, and the hard part was breaking camp in the cold. I looked forward to getting on the bike, as I wasn't very sore, and I wanted to work up a little warmth.

We woke right before dawn, packed our tent, and made our way back to the road. It was chilly when we got out of our sleeping bags, but after a few minutes on the bike, we warmed right up.

Our first stop was in Manteo at the grocery store to buy a little food for breakfast. Another mile down the road, and we stopped at the rest area on Hwy 64 just south of Manteo. We claimed a picnic table, broke out the stove, and proceeded to cook cheesy grits and eggs. It was pretty cold at breakfast, as there was nothing to cut the wind coming off the sound.

We ate breakfast quickly and got on the road. From previous experience, I was not looking forward to crossing the Washington Baum Bridge, which crosses from Roanoke Island to the Nags Head causeway. Though it is not the longest bridge in the area, it is steep, the winds are high, and there is often lots of traffic.

We found the bridge as steep as I remembered, but the wind was at our back, and traffic was not too bad. We cruised right across and headed south on Hwy 12 towards Cape Hatteras.

We had a great ride heading south on the outer banks. The wind was at our back, and we kept a pretty good pace.

After going through South Nags Head, we had to cross the Bonner Bridge, the bridge over the Oregon Inlet.

I have a long history with the Bonner Bridge. Twenty years ago, I biked up the outer banks with a summer camp group, but we were required to ride across bridges in the support van, with the bikes in the trailer. When I lived on the outer banks, I never made it far enough south on my bike to have an opportunity to ride the bridge. I had been looking forward to this for some time.

The Bonner Bridge is long, curvy, narrow and windy. The view is spectacular, however, and the traffic at this time of year is not so bad. We fixed Adam's camera to the handlebar of his bike and recorded video as we began to cross the bridge. With the wind still at our backs, we were able to keep a good pace, and soon found ourselves at the top of the span.

This bridge has no bicycle facilities built in, but there was no traffic at the time, so we were able to stop and take a good look. On the south side of the inlet, the old abandoned Coast Guard Station was visible, contrasting sharply with the modern, clean-looking Coast Guard Station located on the northern side of the inlet. Marsh and the open water of the Pamlico Sound stretched as far as we could see to the west, and to the east we could see the angry, turbulent water whipped into a froth where the ocean tide, wind and the still water of the sound all collide.

Winter is my favorite time on the outer banks. The tourists have gone home, the weather is often raw and bleak. The ocean seems more powerful, and takes on an angry, vengeful aspect. Nor'easter storms can turn the breakers into a foamy mass of whitewater for hundres of yards out. Wind whips at your clothes, blowing sand dances across the beach like the first light dusting of snow on asphalt. There is plenty of wildlife present, but the tundra swans and snow geese present this time of year just remind you of how harsh the weather can be.

Never does nature seem more present, more immediate. There is no warmth, no shelter, no concession to humanity.

It is desolate, forbidding. I have found no place more beautiful.

I would have like to set up camp right there. At the very least, it would have been nice to break for a few minutes to soak in the view. As it was, traffic started catching up to us, and we had to continue down the bridge on to Pea Island.

We took this picture just south of the bridge:

Not sure where this spur of road used to go, or if it was perhaps a boat ramp at some point. Unless I'm mistaken, the Bonner Bridge was the first bridge to span the Oregon Inlet, so maybe this is where the old local road used to end.

What I found interesting was the make of the car pictured on the warning sign. It seems this sign cautions agianst driving your El Camino into the sound. Good advice, I think. Only Volkswagons float.

A dozen or so miles further down the road, we stopped at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. They have some nice telescopes set up for viewing the birds that forage in the fresh water ponds maintained by the USFWS. We picked up a few post cards, checked out the maps and some of the bird ID sheets, and headed out on our way.

The rest of the trip south was pretty monotonous. The two lane road runs straight, and has a narrow shoulder. A man-made line of dunes, constructed to protect the road, blocked our view of the ocean to the west, while the view to the east was of expanses of marsh and low sandy dunes. The power lines overhead streched into the distance, fading into the salty air well short of any turn or deviation from their course.

These long expanses were broken by a few developed areas, little towns indistinguishable from each other. Old, smaller cottages side up to huge 20 room beach mansions, with small shops and numerous restraunts.

One of these towns, Chicamacomico, while unremarkable in appearance now has a small claim to fame. It was home to the first all African-American Life Saving Station in the US. This service eventually evolved into the US Coast Guard.

These were brave men. Brave, or insane. They would row out to wrecked ships to pull sailors to the safety of shore before their ships broke up and they drowned in the surf. Since the ships didn't often run aground in nice, clear weather, this feat was most often performed in highly dangerous situations. When the waves and wind made it impossible to row out, many of the members of the service would swim out in hurricane conditions to drag back survivors. It was dangerous and deadly work, and they lived out here at a time when they were often the only inhabitants for miles around. And since the Chicamacomico station was all African-American, these particular servcie members often found their thanks chilly and reluctant.

We passed Buxton and had a distant look at the tallest brick lighthouse on the east coast, the Hatteras Light. In Hatteras village, we caught the free ferry to Ocracoke, which was a nice, warm break.

Ocracoke was a nice ride. Since the ferry only runs every hour this time of year, and the ferry is the only thing to drive to on the east end of the island.

We pulled into Ocrocoke village just before sunset, and scoped out our camping spot near the Springer's Point, part of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. Springer's Point used to be a hangout of Blackbeard the pirate.

There is more than just pirates to worry about at Springer's Point. If you are not careful, the turtles will drop from the trees and ambush you:

We watched the sun set over Springer's Point. It was one of those rare sunsets, when you can see the last sliver of sun as it dissapears below the horizon, unobscured by land, trees, or clouds. Watching that last bit of light wink out is the perfect way to end a day.

We ate dinner out at Daijo, and were one of only two groups there that evening. Daijo was one of only two places open for dinner in Ocracoke this time of year.

After dinner we turned on our lights, rode back past Springer's Point and set up camp. I was fast asleep in no time, and slept well until our alarm went off well before dawn.

It was cold and dark as we broke camp and brought our bikes out of the woods. We warmed up in the ferry office with coffee and trail mix while we waited for our final leg of the journey to begin. The sun rose over the Pamlico Sound as we rode the Swan Quarter ferry back to our car.

We had a great shakedown ride. Our gear (and our legs and lungs and bums) held up admirably. The cold was penetrating, but not miserable. As long as it doesn't get much colder during our long trip, we should be OK.

The hardest part now is waiting for the real trip to begin. Our tickets are purchased, our gear is ready, and the open road beckons.