It’s a truism that the road scene is often less-than-welcoming and that bike touring seems to be less threatening to civilians. Is it the lack of the spaceman-in-goggles-outfit and crazy-sleek bike? Is it the fact that most tourists look like normal people on bikes, i.e. Freds, and are therefore more approachable?
I dunno. But I know that when I finished one of the harder rides in memory, the return leg of a 6-day tour from Los Angeles to Lake Isabella, I dismounted in a fog. The ride had taken me from sea level in Long Beach up and over the La Canada-Flintridge climb, and from there another ten miles of miserable climbing along Angeles Forest Highway to the Monte Cristo USFS campground.
I could barely pedal. The final six miles had all been uphill, my pack was crushingly heavy, my bike was light as a concrete truck, and I had bonked.
The first thing I did was make a cup of coffee, then sit on a stone and stare, dazedly, as I drank. The campground was empty except for a family next to me. They were cooking something delicious on the grill and chattering away happily in Spanish.
Coffee finished, I began pitching the tent but had to take a break after a few minutes, I was so tired. The ladies next door and their kids were walking by my campsite to get some water.
I looked up and said, “Hola!”
They all stopped, smiled, and a rapid conversation ensued … on their end. On mine it was slow, rusty Spanish trying to answer their questions about when, how far, how could I do it by bicycle, and of course how tired I must be. Then they went on.
I got the tent up and sat for a few more minutes, shoulders hunched, thinking about the huge effort that awaited known as “preparing dinner.”
One of the ladies, Josefina, came over and proffered a plate covered in tinfoil. “For you,” she said with a smile.
Inside was a stack of hot tortillas and a mound of amazingly seasoned, deliciously barbecued beef strips. The words “muchas gracias,” repeated effusively, didn’t communicate my appreciation as much as the ravenous hunger on my face.
I walked over to their campsite and we all took a group picture. They told me that they picnicked most weekends to “refrescar” from life in the city. The guys were putting things away and I thanked them, too.
Back at my table I enjoyed a memorable meal, with the amazing seasoning of that initial “Hola.”
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