Ditch witch, uh, warlock

Sleepful in Santa Cruz

Leaving the redwoods hurt. My pillow magnet pulled for all it was worth, but as I snuggled into the down sleeping bag an evil vision of howling headwinds popped me bolt upright. I wasn’t on a schedule and could have stayed another day but didn’t.

The first part of the ride went great. Then I got turned around in Carmel. Then I got turned around in Monterey. I’m using the Adventure Cycling Maps, and thank dog I bought the paper ones. The route they have through Monterey sucks but actually it doesn’t if you don’t mind some meandering and in the end I didn’t.

There’s a super peninsula bike trail that leaves Monterey and goes for a long way along some road or other until it dumps you off onto a road called Headwind in Your Face Like the Angry Covids and Antifas Coming for Your Consushional Rats. I’d been on my bike since 6:30 and it was way past Hungry:30 and my phone was dying and I stopped at a coffee shop that had a giant banner that said “Free Wi-Fi.”

When you stop on a fully loaded touring bike you can’t simply lean it against something because the weight will bend the rack all caddywhompus. You can’t simply lean it against anything, it’s more like parking a one-wheeled motorcycle. Of course if it falls over you’ll shatter your 100% carbon frame, another reason to start considering a steel frame with braze-ons for panniers unless you are Ross and you don’t GAF as long as you have your rock collection.

I parked and went to the window; only then did I notice that it was “Closed Til Further Notice.” But I had half a sandwich from Carmel in my pack so I flopped on the concrete, drank water and ate my sandwich.

The sandwich was its own story. I’d bought it at the Safeway in Carmel but as I entered the parking lot I spied a sick van with about $60k in sicker mountain bikes chained to the back; perfect timing because I needed air for my tars.

The van was empty but as I peered into it a dude came hopping over, not unfriendlily but not exactly thrilled that a homeless person was looking inside his van. “Got any air?” I asked him.

“Sure,” he said. He rummaged around and pulled out a nail gun.

“This is great,” I said, “but I want to put the air in, not out.”

“You’ve never used one of these?”

“Not since my roofing days.”

He laughed. “It’s a hand-held air compressor. Presta?”

“Yep.” He helped me put on the valve attachment and we got the tars aired up.

At that moment the rest of the crew ambled over and we started talking about bikes. They were going to a race at Mt. Shasta; I was going to a ditch in Santa Cruz unless I could find an open park.

One of the guys saw my BWR sticker on the top tube. “You did the BWR?”

“Yeah. But I DNF’d last year and I keep this sticker here to remind me. But I’ve done all of them but one; I was one of the original riders in 2013.”

He grinned. “Ah, you got the MMX invite?”

“Yeah; I taught him how to ride bikes when he lived in PV, before he moved to San Diego.”

“You taught him pretty good.”

“It was mostly from the back, typically 2-5 miles back was where I did my best teaching. How do you know him?”

“I do all digital for BWR. I’m John. John Hornbeck.”

“I’m Seth.”

We both laughed because although we knew each other, I’d never seen John out of a bike suit and he’d never seen me in front of him. But there we were, at the Safeway parking lot in Carmel. We took the obligatory selfie and sent it to Michael. Seems you can’t do much in California on a bicycle without running into him, directly or otherwise.

After lunch I rode for a while along a horrible road into the coastal towns leading into Santa Cruz. My phone was dead, and I saw a bike shop, “Cyclepath Bikes.”

“Looks about right,” I said.

I stopped in and Tony, the owner, gladly charged up my phone, ushered onto the couch and poured me coffee. He had opened his shop the week before the covids came to town; he and his assistant Kevlar didn’t seem too worried about it. He was still doing lots of repairs, rentals, and guided MTB trips around Santa Cruz.

He had a pack of freeze-dried Pad Thai on the shelf. “You should get this,” he said. “I’ve had it and it’s fucking good.”

I was loth to get it as I’d been doing fine without backpacking food but he’d been so nice I bought the package. My phone got charged a bit and I left.

It was now almost four and each park I stopped at was closed or didn’t allow camping. I followed the bike route through town and from the looks of it, i.e. white and surfy and money, I didn’t imagine I’d be finding any good hedges to sleep in.

There was one more state park out of town so I rolled the dice and pedaled another five miles. “No camping, man,” the kiosk dude told me.

Now I was fucked-ish, so I turned back around and headed along the bike bath towards Santa Cruz. After a quarter mile I found a little grove with a trail. I followed it back; it was butt-up against the highway on a high embankment, invisible from the bike path, and the site of a former homeless encampment.

I moved away all the drug paraphernalia, contaminated tissues, and the garden sprinkler nozzle (can’t be homeless without one of those), and set up my tent. I was ravenous beyond words and I pulled out the Pad Thai, skeptical.

My skepticism evaporated the second I poured in the boiling water. Tony saved me, no doubt. I washed it down with a Honey Stinger for dessert, crawled into my sleeping bag, and listened to the bikers ride by, having biker conversations with each other. My favorite was the dad and his very young daughter.

“Do you know what the mafia is?”

“No,” she said.

“It’s, uh, an organized crime syndicate.”

I laughed. Good job, dad. If she doesn’t know what a mafia is, she’ll for sure understand “crime syndicate.”

The cars whizzed by beneath, muffled by the trees. I felt hidden, warm, safe.

END


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12 thoughts on “Ditch witch, uh, warlock”

  1. Tim Joe Comstock

    You are in my heaven right now, although I suspect it isn’t the same after forty-five years. How could it be?

    But the redwoods are eternal, and you seem to be enjoying some smiles, right here in the here and now. I could have a worse avatar…

  2. My wife and I talk about the places we’ve been, the things we’ve done and the people we’ve met on our tandem, and I am thoroughly enjoying reading about some of your experiences. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Some of the best decisions we ever made on the bike was to stay longer where it was beautiful. For example I had allocated two days to the Yosemite valley. Stayed 5.
    Spent an extra night camped along the Eel under the Redwoods. Priceless.
    Spent four days with Marge and Mike in Des Moines. “Mike! You better stop on the way home and get more food!. Stein ate 33 slices of French Toast this morning, and they drank all your beer!”

    1. At Yosemite I did a great ride from the valley up to Glacier Point. Almost lost control coming back in the tunnel because of the grade and it was too slick with moisture to brake to a safe speed. Still fun, tho.

      1. We rode in from 395 and camped our first night at Toualeme Meadows where we awoke in the morning with frozen water bottles. That after 5 or 6 days in the Mojave (I think I spelled it wrong before :)). They had just opened the pass, so there was still a lot of snow up there. We spent the next day riding down to the valley, freezing the entire way as we were poorly equipped for that kind of riding. College. So poor and jeans. We had two pairs of wool shorts with the crustiest thinnest piece of chamois sewn in. Socks on our hands. Just had to ride slowly.

        When we came through the tunnel, it was clear, and the view was stunning. I think we were just able to brake enough for the pull off, and I think we knew upon first sight that we would be staying longer.

  4. Man. This month is turning out to be worth at least $3.99.

    Super-enjoying this trip vicariously. And without the headwind. And hunger. And ditches. But in the end, that’s what makes it awesome…. to look back on.

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