Monday, 6 June 2016

Blog posts from 2013 adventure: Vancouver to Sonoma

I got chills, they're multiplying. . .

I used to think Ireland was the only place where, if you didn't like the weather, you only had to wait 10 minutes for it to be different. . . .  This morning I discovered Ireland was not unique.
Heading out this morning, the temperature was 60F.  I knew I had a tough climb ahead (2500 feet summit) so I dressed lightly (3 layers) knowing the effort of the climb would warm me up.
Yeah right.
By the top of the (tough) climb, the temperature had risen to 100F.  Yes - a 40 degree increase in the space of a few short miles.  I was saturated with the effort - through all three layers.
Normally you need to be careful with a steep descent as it is all too easy to get cold from the rushing wind at high speed.  Given it was 100F I thought "This won't be a problem".
To my utter amazement, the fog rolled in as I descended and the temperature fell right back to 60F again.
John Travolta eat your heart out!

31 varieties of cheese!

Those who know me, know I love France - especially for its wine and for its cheese.  Regarding the latter, French President Charles de Gaulle was famously quoted, in 1962, as saying "Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?" ("How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?")  (Today it's over 1,000).  Heaven.
So when the sign said 'Loleta Cheese Factory' I thought "Why not?" and turned off Highway 101 into a tiny town.  The store was big and bright and full of cheese.
"31 varieties" an assistant with an appropriate cheesy smile assured me.
Fantastic - unusual but, hey, don't look a gift horse in the mouth.  I was thinking Bleu d'Auvergne, Cabecou, Camembert de Normandie, Chevrotin, Comté, Crottin de Chavignol, Emmental, Gruyère, Livarot, Pont-l'Évêque, Reblochon, Rocamadour, Roquefort, Saint-Nectaire, Tomme de Savoie, Vacherin . . . the possibilities were almost endless.
Eager to taste I brandished the proffered cocktail stick and examined the counter enthusiastically.  Cheddar.  Cheddar with chives.  Cheddar with peppers.  Red Cheddar.  Cheddar with . . . you get the picture.
I repaired to the coffee shop and consoled myself with a slice of carrot cake.

Things I like, and things I don't. . .

Let's get the dislikes out of the way first:
  • Soulless B&Bs - I think I have undervalued the warmth of an Irish welcome.  Over here, it just ain't the same.
  • Soulless towns - yes, Ireland has its share, but there are some towns here that you'd just prefer to close your eyes to
  • Logging trucks and RVs - I know the logging trucks have to do their transporting business, but are they ever scary? 18 wheels at a minimum, sometimes towing a trailer as big again, these monsters leave a definite impression as they fly by at 65mph.  As for RVs? As big as inter-city buses and towing behind them a flatbed truck, a motor boat or both.  Monsters.
  • Dogs - I rest my case
  • Hills, hills, hills - yes they're the variation that takes the boredom from 'same same' cycling.  But they can go on - and on - and on. Two days ago I ascended 4500 feet - that's sea level to the top of Carrantuohill and 1,100 feet beyond.
  • People not listening (more of that later too)
And the likes?
  • the road surface - oh my God! hundreds of miles of it.  Smooth.  Even. Predictable. Cyclists will tell you just how magical it is to cycle on such a surface.
  • breaking surf - miles and miles and miles of crashing surf.  From Washington to Oregon to California.  And they're deserted.
  • hard shoulders - no, not cold shoulders.  Often as wide as a traffic lane - lots of space to cycle and feel safe (notwithstanding the logging trucks and RVs)
  • Redwoods - stunning - simply stunning.
  • Cycle Shops - to die for! Huge.  Airy.  Fabulously stocked.  With repair guys who know bicycles inside out.
  • The Hospital System (as experienced) - I know you should not generalise from the particular, but my one encounter (and only one, I hope) was courteous, efficient, friendly and effective
  • time - to Think.  Reflect. Ponder. Be.
More to follow I am sure.

Oh Deer!

Continuing in the risk management theme, I have accumulated a few more risks:
  • first, the 'Cascadia Subduction' - it seems that 'Pacific' is an entirely inappropriate title.  Coming from the Latin Pax, Pacis meaning 'peace', the reason this title in inappropriate is very simple: the north Pacific Coast is at risk of a tectonic plate shift (due to the 'Cascadia Subduction', similar to the much better known 'San Andreas fault').  The last big earthquake caused by this occurred in 1700 - resulting in a 50' tsunami off the coast of Oregon.  My pal David reassured me that I'd have time to hear about any such event on the news and to move on the 'Tsunami route' to higher ground.  Except I don't listen to local radio when I 'm cycling. . .
  • Coronal Mass Ejection - in 1859, the so-called Carrington Event recorded a massive Coronal Mass Ejection (basically, a huge expulsion of material from the surface of the sun).  This caused a massive geomagnetic storm (the most visible effect of which was the appearance of the Aurora Borealis not just at very northern latitudes but over a hugely increased area.
    More recently, a similar event took out the entire power grid in Eastern Canada.  The practical impact of one of these in today's highly electronic-dependent world has been speculated to be massively disruptive (losing, as we would, satellites, GPS, cellular communications, power supplies and more).  I never did mind about the little things. . . ?
  • and then, the simple deer.  Today, as I careered down a sharp descent at over 40mnph, a little grey squirrel darted out across the road in front of me.  I thought "Keep going sunshine - I don't want to hit you!".  Whereupon he obviously sensed the rapid descent of BigBadBob and immediately retraced his steps towards the ditch.  Uh-oh!  Hitting even a little critter like a squirrel at over 40mph and I could find myself in the ditch.  Somehow, he managed to avoid my wheels and I careered on, oblivious.
    Except that a deer would have been entirely different.  In fact, a conversation at a coffee stop the day before revealed the case of a motorcyclist who hit a deer - killed it, completely wrecked his motorbike and landed him in a coma for 3 days.  Oh dear, indeed.
  • . . . and just to 'up the ante', I told my squirrel/deer story to a waiter at a lunch stop and he looked at me, gravely serious, and said "yeah, another of you cyclers, an English guy, came across that trail you just did - last month - and met a bear".  Having clarified that I was Irish, not English (let's deal with the important stuff first) I enquired if that was typical.  "Oh yeah, you meet lots of animals on that trail - the trickier one is a mountain lion".
    Think I'll stick to the main road in future?

Tips for cyclists

So, if you're not a cyclist, you might find this of limited interest.
On the other hand, a broad mind is a wonderful thing.
The best tips:
Before you start:
- make sure your gears are right:  a triple on the front and a super granny on the back (mine is a 32) gives you capacity for even the biggest hill
- take precautions to avoid on-the-road calamities: in my case, a robust back wheel (a 36 spoke 4-cross build) and a triple Kevlar tyre help a lot
- get a Garmin Edge cycle computer.  No questions.  Just get it.
- get the detailed maps for the area you are visiting (in my case the American Cycling Association maps for the west coast were priceless)
- get bull horns and a handlebar grip with a 'heel' for comfortable riding - I cannot overstate what a huge difference this made to comfort every day (ask your bike guy - he'll know exactly what to recommend)
- use a handlebar bag (doesn't fit in with a macho image but it is immensely practical: map, phone, nibbles for grazing and lots more)
- balance your front and back panniers carefully (with more weight behind)
On the road:
- be careful reassembling the bike - I got my cables crossed.  Not a big deal but its better to have them moving freely.
- get your spokes tuned in the local bike shop (air transport and more can upset even the best maintained bike)
- check into every bike shop you can along the route - even if only to get your tyre pressure checked with a foot pump or compressor (I discovered I was on only 60psi against a 110psi rated tyre - that adds huge effort to your daily efforts not to mention greatly increasing the chances of  a puncture.  On another occasion I needed an adjustment to the front derailleur that only the bike shop was able to do properly)
- listen to every sound! if you hear something different that's because something has changed (and might turn into a catastrophe - early on in my trip, a changed sound announced a front spoke that had loosened completely.  On another occasion, an annoying 'click click' was caused by a front derailleur alignment problem.)
- check the bike from top to toe every few days: loose screws, spokes, brake cables, brake pads, tyre condition - all the usual stuff.  Just do it.
- change the display on your Garmin to show: Cadence, Heartrate and Grade.  That's all.  Look after these and everything looks after itself. Aim for a minimum cadence of 80 rpm - it's hard but it really pays off if you can keep this up.
And the running repairs so far:
  • one puncture (in 950 miles)
  • derailleur (front and back)
  • spoke tension
  • burst seams on panniers
  • lost strap from pannier
  • replaced iPhone headphones (mangled in front wheel)
  • replaced bungee (lost)
Not bad, all told.

I may amend this over the rest of the trip - I'm still learning.

First Impressions?

Coffee and an oatmeal cookie seemed like such a good idea.
A nice Coffee Shop in Eureka, a pleasant assistant, a free table. All set.
"So, are your goin' far?"  I looked up to an older version of me, bearded, smiling. Much greyer (honestly, it is possible). Propping up his bike, similarly loaded with panniers.
In the midst of conversing, another customer joined in.  He had a Dalai Lama smile and a round belly that would test the Buddha himself.  We chatted about this and that and they both ooh-ed and aah-ed at the long distance I was cycling.
BuddhaMan then asked OlderBob "What's that knife you're carrying?".
"Oh, it's a little beauty.  Has this here serrated edge - the latest model"
"You should take a look at this one" (Will men ever stop showing off their toys?)
In one slick move he retrieved the weapon from his pocket and flicked the 9" blade open.
"Now, that's what you want"
I tried not to flinch.  This looked like something from the set of Rambo - or Crocadile Dundee.
"Mutilator II" he intoned, with some reverence.  "That sucker will pierce a leather jacket and make sure a trip to hospital is necessary".
I tried to look appropriately impressed.  He pocketed the knife and I pushed my cookie around the plate a while.  Dalai Lama my eye!
Later I got this description of the knife:
9" The Mutilator II Action Assisted Knife - Black. This is "Edged for the Enemy" Our Mutilator is back and updated for a sequel. This 9" monster is something you need in your arsenal. Like it's predecessor, the blade is German surgical steel and was designed in the USA by Retired Col. George Covey. Made by our own Tiger USA. Complete with a skull crusher/window breaker, your Mutilator is ready to do what it's made to do: Mutilate! Includes belt clip. Get yours today.