The big grey-blue cat is sitting in a basket on the counter, licking weed oil out of a dropper. “He just loves it,” says our Warmshowers host. We’re in Emeryville, across the bay from San Francisco. “I’ve been giving him cannabis once a day since his shoulder was injured in a fight with another cat. I’ve noticed such a difference.”
A little stripy cat jumps up on the counter. “And it’s been wonderful for her anxiety.” The little stripey cat licks the dropper. “It’s an olive oil base, so it’s great for their coats.”
Weirdly, you can’t ride a bike across the bridges from Oakland to San Francisco. They’re working on it, but as the most progressive cat cannabis administering place in the country, I figured they would have had that done 15 years ago.
Before we board the ferry in Oakland, we set down an unwanted half-jar of peanut butter on bench. Look over a minute later, and a man has already busted out a fork and got into the jar (he looks a little disappointed- must not be a crunchy guy). Hyper-alert bums. Best bums in the world.
I roll my bike off the boat in San Francisco, and into traffic. A guy on a skateboard next to me in the bike path. The path is flat, he’ll slow down, so I get in front. Then there’s a faint whoosh, he accelerates and drops me. Gone, 20 miles an hour leaning forward and never touching a foot to the ground.
Then it happens again. Passed by a totally normal looking magic (maybe motorized) skateboard. I can’t get over it. The future happened and nobody told me.
We make a pilgrimage up the hill to City Lights Books, the shop that published Ginsburg’s Howl, was put on trial for obscenity, ruled not obscene under the first amendment, and thus paved the way for Donald Trump to be an asshole (or politically incorrect, to be politically correct).
Anyway, I figured it would be a t-shirt shop by now. They do sell a couple stickers, but I’m real excited to find that it’s also the best bookstore I’ve been in. We’re not used to shelves on shelves of good contemporary stuff- Fayette County, Pennsylvania is a literary desert (to put it real nicely- thoughtful and empathetic as a flaming can of fryer grease might hit the mark better).
I should back up a second. This was my first time in California. I was certain I was going to hate the place- I imagined it was overcrowded, overhyped, expensive, and full of posers.
But I wanted see it, it’s the land of my favorite writers- Steinbeck, Brautigan, Kerouac. So I got off the train in Emeryville expecting to be disappointed, and ready to spend a few weeks verifying what I thought I knew.
But the Bay Area was cool. So I figured I’d find someplace terrible later. At the very least, LA must be a nightmare.
After getting her kitties high, our Warmshower’s host mentioned the Planet of the Apes trail that “all the dirt kids ride.” A well-intentioned setup for weeks of discomfort. The trail was fine- mostly an abandoned road that had narrowed down to singletrack. Did the climb in the dark, and camped under some big dry crackly trees. Back to the coast road, camped in the redwoods the next night.
Third morning, I have a ferocious itch on my ass.
“Man, I got destroyed by bugs last night,” I tell Colleen.
“Me too,” she says. Scratches at her ankles.
Fourth morning. Heavy fog, soaked tent wet shoes.
“Look, not bug bites,” Colleen says, pulls a leg out of her sleeping bag. She has lines of yellowy ooze blisters around her ankles. Nuts. Definitely poison oak.
I scratch at my right butt cheek. Didn’t expect this to happen. In addition to knowing that California was the worst, I was also certain that it was a golden, soft paradise where nothing could hurt me.
A week later, in Carmel, it’s obvious that at some point, I sat down directly on top of a poison plant. We could buy our way out- Zanfel totally gets rid of poison ivy and oak in a couple days. We go to the drugstore to look for a tube, they have it, $45. Jeez, we’ll just suck it up.
Into Big Sur, the nicest road riding I’ve ever done. 29×3.0 Dirt Wizards might be the stickiest tire on pavement ever made, but whatever. Not in a hurry. By this point, we’ve given up on looking for trails on the way to LA. The national forest is still closed from a big fire this summer, but more than that, the coast is just too cool. It lives up to the hype.
Vargo Ti Double Boiler, works great with eggs (unlike most super light super thin camping pots).
A week later in Carpinteria, we take Thanksgiving off with Dan (Massachusetts to Portland, Portland south), Old Blue (65 and been touring steady for four years), Nile and Andrea (on the way to Argentina), and Andreas (German who lives in the Yukon Territory).
Perfect sunny morning, warm sandy beach. I spend a while tooting on my harmonica- I’m terrible but getting less bad everyday. Maybe someday I’ll even be able to play- provided Colleen doesn’t run out of patience and bust the harmonica with a rock first. I think she’s only tolerating it in hopes that I’ll someday be a champion busker, and make enough money on the street to buy her shiny presents.
I scratch my butt cheek. Can’t take it anymore, go the pharmacy and buy some Zanfel. Instant relief. Should’ve done that two weeks ago. Sometimes it’s hard to be cheap.
I buy a couple shrink-wrapped bundles of wood and we have a Thanksgiving fire in the bike site. Roast some chicken sausages, not a turkey, but close enough. Whiskey and four-dollar wine, crawl in the tent all warm and satisfied.
We camp one more night with Dan and Andreas, then it’s time to head into the big, big, big city. Through Malibu, which isn’t quite as glittering as I thought. From the highway it’s a little dingy looking. Traffic, then bike path into Santa Monica.
Stopped at a traffic light in town.
“Hey mate, how far’ve you come?” yells a guy on the sidewalk. I glance over, I’m kind of in overwhelmed unfriendly city mode. He nods at me.
“Just down from San Francisco, but we’re flying to New Zealand for the rest of the winter,” I say.
“Oh, that right? Nice place, full of people talk just like us,” he says. “We’re headed back ourselves, we just finished up a cycle tour across the country here. Here, let me give you our number, you phone us when you get to Nelson.” Not even in New Zealand yet, and Kiwis are already offering us a place to crash.
We go to the Hostel International in Santa Monica. For a hostel, the place is gigantic- four floors, huge sterile stainless shiny kitchen, key card hyper-secure entry to every door. No one says hello, everybody looks at the floor when they pass. Harsh blue-white fluorescent lights.
I scan the card to get into my six-person bunk room. Two guys are already in there, one is staring at his phone.
“Hey, how’s it going?” I say.
He looks at me over the top of his phone, surprised, a little annoyed. “Huh? Yeah. Sweet bro,” he says, then refocuses on the screen. I sit on my $45-a-night bunk, the piss-proof vinyl mattress squeaks. I sigh, kinda relieved- finally, a place in California worth hating.
We get out of there the next day, and find a hostel in Venice. It’s an old house where the door doesn’t really lock, a giant friendly bodybuilder is sleeping in a dead van in the garage, and a couple slumpy Irish guys keep smoking weed in the room next to ours then passing out on the recliners downstairs. Much better.
Find bike boxes, jam the bikes into a tiny sedan, and get a ride to LAX. Late night flight.
I was totally wrong, California is sweet (to visit). The central coast, and especially the Big Sur area is excellent. And the Pacific Coast Highway has to be one of the best touring routes around. Everything is easy- $5 state park campsites are only 30 miles apart.
The hike-bike sites are shared by everybody riding or walking, so you get to meet all the other bike tourists on the route (and meet all the strung out people doing drugs in the corner). Food is easy to find, wine is cheap, and in the winter the weather is good and the traffic is light. You can ride it on pretty much anything, our mountain bikes were fine, road bikes are fine and we met a couple on some $500 hybrids, which were also fine. Anyway, great ride. It’s neat.
Other small things:
I changed the name of the site, because I finally came up with a name I liked.
We made it to New Zealand, and are headed up to the northern tip of the North Island. I’m putting some pictures on Instagram when we find the internet.