Surprised Not Surprised

Climbing up Torrey Pines I was not surprised to get passed by numerous ARCs, none of whom said a word. What surprised me was this guy, John Kaplan, who rides for PAA in Pasadena, because he slowed to chat. Some ARCs, when they see a bicycle, all they see is another bicycle. So cool. Of course we knew people in common and had a lovely conversation that made the grade go by before I even knew I was on it. When people are kind to you it makes you happy.

John and I split off and I continued along; the day’s destination was Alpine, CA. Along the roadside was a deep shag carpet of orange. I stopped to smell the flowers like the cliche says, but they were without fragrance, so I did the next best thing and drank them with my eyes. Bike touring or bikepacking or, as it’s best known, “dicking off,” is the world’s best way to see the world. As David Treese said the night before, “There’s nothing better than seeing the world at the speed of a bicycle.”

A bit farther on, the powers that be have almost-completed a segregated bikeway that I kind of like. I’ve ridden the road numerous times as a road and it’s never been much fun. But San Diego County is trying to put together the roughest of patchworks to make it possible to kinda-sorta get around the area without being in the cross-hairs of the motorists. Much as I think we should be putting our dollars on education, laws, enforcement, slower speeds, and creating the critical mass that will make cyclists a legitimate part of traffic, it was nonetheless cool to buzz along like this … sometimes the good is the enemy of the commonsensical, but in this case, well, it worked for me.

Shortly thereafter I got a personal guide to the next section of my route, thanks to Norm Guay and his buddy Jimmy. Norm too said, “Hi!” and wanted to know “the story.” I love people like this, kitted up and on a schedule but not too busy to slow down, chat, and then show me the shortcuts along the best paths.

After parting, well, I’m simply not surprised anymore, even though I am wondering, “Is this really happening?” Meet Bill Webb, a blog reader, who spied me, flipped around, and chased me down to say hello. I feel famous, but in reality I think I simply look so weird that anyone on two wheels is bound to do a second-take. Bill measures molecules at Scripps and we had a great chat before he turned around to go back to the lab to “feed his spectrometer.”

Getting out of town I met these two friendly guys along the way, who were likewise not too busy to take a break from their Tour prep and talk to a fuzzy ol’ wanker dragging a leaden bicycle. The were interested as hell in bikepacking, so we talked about camping, how to do it, and they showed me a couple of key turns before we parted.

On Mission Gorge Road, knowing I was going up a gorge, I swung over at the Vons and had lunch. Lots of big calories and a glimpse at the map, which was up, up, up, as it had been more or less since Torrey Pines. I knew I had some beautiful riding coming up but recalled this route when I rode to Houston and quite literally came unstitched. Today was a different day, so the heat didn’t bother me any more than the elevation.

The entrance to the trail was thoughtfully set up for bicycles with the placement of a giant stone that would tear your derailleur and crank off if you didn’t carefully lift and guide. After that it was beautiful, easy, sunny climbing, and soon enough I was in Santee.

After Santee, which was all up followed by more up, I stopped at a 7-11 for a Gatorade and met some cool faces on the way. These two guys were buying life’s essentials and they wanted to talk bikes, touring, and life. I obliged. We stood out there for ten minutes as they pumped, probed, and generally enjoyed the hell out of my yarn. People love an adventure, even–or especially–when they are on a beer run. After that I ran into Aaron, a U.S. Army vet who has been living under a bridge for the last two years. He was standing on the roadside next to his bike, winded and hot.

“You okay?”

“Oh, yeah. Just resting.”

“You okay for cash?”

“I’m broke, man.”

I handed him a few bucks and watched the appreciation play across his face. Then he said, “You’re welcome to join me at my camp if you don’t have anywhere to stay.”

I passed on the invitation since I wanted to make Alpine and still had a bit of riding to go, all uphill, but it struck me how it is often people with very little who are most open and willing to lend a hand to strangers. And then I thought something I’ve often thought, which is that people have an infinite capacity to endure difficulty, but we are absolutely unable to long endure ease, plenty, and wealth.

In Alpine I was worked, hot, thirsty, and ready for dinner. A plate of Mexican food later, a little bushwhacking, and I called it a day.

END

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