“What would you do?” I asked Alex, “if your entire bike trip depended on the US Postal Service?”
“I suppose I’d burn my bike and take up golf,” he said.
The launch was slated for 5:00 AM, pointy sharp, but my hand-made, hand-sewn, hand-plucked down sleeping bag still hadn’t arrived despite USPS Priority shipping mailed out five days earlier.
After a bit of research I learned that the sleeping bag was at the Redondo Beach PO. “No prob,” I thought. “I’ll be there at nine sharp, pick it up, and head out of town.”
At the Redondo Beach PO the surly lady told me she “Couldn’t find out where my package was.”
I told her I had a tracking number and the recording told me it was there. She harrumphed and went into the back. She returned. “It’s in PV. Your package is in PV. Went there this morning.”
That was kind of a bummer. My bike weighs sixty pounds fully loaded and the PVPO is a thousand feet of steep and hard climbing. I turned around and climbed back up the hill.
The man at the PVPO wasn’t as surly. “Oh, your package was never delivered here,” he said after reading a computer printout.
“Where is it?”
“It got sent to Redondo by mistake and now it’s at the central routing station in downtown LA. Should be back here in a day or two.” He paused because it was Friday. “Business days, I mean.”
“Well, my address change was supposed to go into effect today.”
“Where’s your new address?”
He sucked on his teeth. “Ah, well, they’ll send it there, then. But since it has a PV address it may come here first. Then we’ll send it on to Long Beach.”
“About how long will that take?”
“Not long. You should have it by middle of next week. Early week after next at the latest.”
I left the PVPO and rode back down the hill to the REI in Manhattan Beach. My new REI sleeping bag only cost $369. Added to the one that was at the post office and presumably on its way to Long Beach, I was now the proud owner of a $669 sleeping bag.
I was now ravenous so I got some food at Trader Joe’s if food is what you call it. At 12:30 I’d been on my bike for about four hours and had ridden ten miles up the road.
The afternoon headwind had begun in earnest. I vaguely recall Eric Hallander saying “Don’t go north. It’s too windy.”
And I clearly remembered Dave Jaeger’s text from this morning. “North? That’s a headwind all the way.”
Apparently it was. By the time I got to Pepperdine hill in Malibu I was crushed and my legs cramping. Midway up, a badass zoomed by me, then cracked. Pride being pride, I chased him and dropped him. But exhaustion being exhaustion, I stopped at the top of the hill and cried a little.
The PCH traffic was worse than I have ever seen it. Every park, every beach, every restaurant was packed. People were driving fast and passing me close. That’s the thing about LA. People love living here so much they are willing to kill you to leave it.
By Trancas I was double bonked. I stopped at the Rich People’s Grocery Store and bought chicken, an onion, two mushrooms, a jalapeno, some olive oil, a baguette, and some wet wipes. I pedaled on forever into the headwind until I got to Sycamore Canyon Campground; the whole day took about nine hours and I was only a few miles out of LA, in Ventura County. I had a secret reservation for a small piece of dirt under a beautiful tree off the MTB trail hidden by some bushes.
I took a wet-wipe shower, which was refreshing and reminded me how much good stuff was in my lungs after all those miles through LA and along PCH. I thought about doing a Donald Trump lung bleach cleanse but didn’t have any bleach. I checked my phone which said, “No service.”
Tomorrow was kind of vague. How far would I go? Would I even go? Had I made my point? What was my point? Is the food any good in State Park Campground Violators Jail?
I dumped out my bags and took out the food.
First I gnawed on the baguette, covered in peanut butter. Then I unpacked my shit, cut the vegetables and put the chicken in the pan. It was so good, but not good enough to resolve the aches everywhere, and the realization that if the rangers found me I’d be in hot water. I spread out my pad in the dirt. A cool breeze flowed over me. The birds sang and squabbled; an Anna’s hummingbird buzzed in to see what I was doing.
Inside the grove, which was a mile or so up the trail, there was no hint of cars or traffic or PCH. It was perfectly quiet and calm. The air was fresh and sweet. The leaves smelled like wet incense.
Mountain bikers whizzed by but they couldn’t see me because I was hidden in the grove. I listened to them talk. One group had a dad and a couple of kids. “Shift! Pedal! Shift! Pedal!” he yelled. He didn’t seem happy.
But I was.
Day 2: This is going to be the shortest trip to the Canadian border ever. I got up at 5:00 and was destroyed. Getting into the grove in daylight the day before had been hard; I’d had to climb over dead trees, limbs, bodies, and piles of etcetera, but getting out at dawn was Rambo-esque. I punctured my thigh on a wooden prong and almost tore off my rear derailleur.
The whole night I’d been parched but afraid to go to the campground and get water. As I sneaked out of the site I saw multiple empty sites (so much for “booked til 2022”), and realized that all the park department’s fucks had been given back when the covids came to town; I could have drunk, crapped, and danced a jig-cum-Chaucer recitation and no one would have noticed or cared. More the point I could have snagged one of those posh tent sites.
At the Rock I made coffee and oatmeal, my arithmetic was 8,000 kcal expended since the day before and 2,500 kcal taken in. I was going to look great in my bikini when I finished my trip on Monday.
I finished breakfast and hoped to make Santa Barbara by 9:30. Then I’d recharge everything, eat a second breakfast, some pancakes, and a house, call it a day around noon or one, eat another house and maybe a garage, and find some more dirt to roll around in for the night. It didn’t work out that way.
In Ventura I was passed by one of the huge morning Saturday rides and I’d been battling this fucking headwind since dawn so I hopped in. They weren’t thrilled to have the guy with panniers and the wool jersey and sneakers but try as they might, and mightily they tried, they couldn’t shell me. I got a huge tow all the way to Carpenteria, my bike making increasingly weirder sounds but I was focused on not getting dropped because ex-bike racer.
Some chick was driving the whole thing like a motor and I was first impressed until I noticed she was hardly pedaling and oh, she had a kickstand, and oh, she actually had a motor, I mean a motorcycle, I mean e-bike. Whatevs.
No one spoke to me until the very end but then they were very nice. I pulled over to take off my sweater and then decided I’d check the funny clacking clunking noise. Turns out my whole fucking rack was about to come off and commit suicide (and felony murder) by leaping into the rear wheel. The bolts had all loosened and I’d been going so fast with the group (25? 30?) that everything was whomperjawed. There wasn’t a warning sign on any of the equipment that said “NO SPRINTING” “NO DRAFTING AT THIRTY GOING OVER ROUGH SHIT.” Clearly defective and a great lawsuit.
As I diassembled the rack to try and get it to sit straight, two cyclists rode by. “Hey Seth!”
I looked up and saw Ted Conrad and Stephanie Lin out on their morning pedal. I was sweating and bent over and cursing. We chatted for a few seconds. “Didn’t recognize you there with all that hair!” said Ted before they kept going.
In Santa Barbara I was bonked, late, and desperate to find the McDonald’s so I could charge up my phone and load up my gut with a couple of Big Macs. I got to the end of town on State Street and all those stupid rollers, whipped into the Mac and found out that there was carryout only so no phone/laptop charging. I got worried but felt better after the two Big Macs, so good that I went and ordered two more. The guy looked at me funny. “You eating all those?”
“Yes. I need them to survive.”
“Nice problem to have.”
I sat out back of the restaurant with a crow that wanted some of my leftovers but there weren’t any. I looked into a hotel and called a couple of friends to see if they would come pick me up. Fuck the Canadian border. It’s closed anyway. They all pretended they weren’t able to pick up their phones, so I rode on to Goleta hoping to find a Starbucks that would let me charge my shit. I found one but the manager had to take it in the back because they don’t allow unattended phones in the store and seating was outdoors only.
People on the patio seating were stoked to see me pull out my t-shirts, socks, underwear, and snake skins as I dug into my pack for my charger. I’d decided to forge on to Capitan State Beach where there would be no food, maybe no water, probably no camp sites, but a lot of wind and hopefully some sand. A brief reconnoiter of the map, but only brief enough to realize I’d done the LA-CAN equivalent of going down to the corner for some milk, confirmed that tomorrow and Monday would be eternal, lonely, and devoid of any reasonable place to to do anything reasonable. Fortunately my trip was everything but reasonable so, np.
At the stop light in Goleta a truck rolled up and the driver stuck his head out the window. “Bahati shorts? On a touring bike?”
“You know Rahsaan?”
“I’ve known him forever!” Then the light changed and the Bahati buddy sped off.
This really has been a terrible mistake.
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