A little foray

November 9, 2022 Comments Off on A little foray

My trip to Mexico and parts south didn’t happen, but I did enjoy a marvelous 7-day pedal from the sierras down to LA and San Diego counties.

The first day was easy-hard, a 45-mile hilly pedal from Wofford Heights to Lake Isabella, then along the Kern River until the twisting, narrow, 13-mile descent through the canyon to the outskirts of Bakersfield. The hills are rolling and far from difficult, but the drop down the canyon is teeth-gritting as the road is extremely narrow with little to no passing room. Traffic was light and there were no close calls, so it went by beautifully.

Camping at Lake Ming was great. I got the best site in the campground, parked under a massive spreading tree that made my tent look like a speck. The campground was mostly empty and the sunset on the river shimmered and hung in the air for what seemed like hours. I sat on the river bank and marveled.

The next day, a 40-mile, utterly flat ride to Buena Vista Lake, was easy and relaxing and pleasant. My route followed the Bakersfield bike path such that I was on streets for less than ten minutes the entire day. The police have “cleaned up” the encampment of unhoused people along the dry riverbed. I got to watch a special police crew in a 4-wheeler harass and shake down an old man and woman, the last remnants of what had been a very big community. It’s so funny that the “cleaned up” river is still an empty waterway, drained by the insatiable thirst of the Central Valley as it cultivates items that man cannot live without, such as almonds, which take about 1.1 gallons of water to produce each nut. With 8% of California’s total agricultural water supply devoted to these life-sustaining nuts, it’s well worth it, and so much more important than living space for free people.

Lake Buena Vista was also mostly empty, a testament to the wisdom of traveling through the Central Valley on a weekday in late October, when temperatures are bearable and people are doing something else. My neighbors were a family living in their RV. The teenage son sat in a folding chair, bored beyond belief, playing with a remote-controlled car.

Day Three was going to be one of two character builders. At just around 40 miles it wasn’t long, but it was uphill all the way from Taft to Maricopa, and from there it was really uphill as you have to cross over from Kern into San Luis Obispo County, then slog the last four miles up a broken rode to Ballinger Canyon Campground. I was nearly out of water and a nice guy gave me a bottle as his buddy regaled me with the story of the time he and a gal rode their mountain bikes for fifteen miles and how it almost killed them. “I was better looking than you,” he added, setting the bar as low as humanly possible.

At the campground I fell in with a group of dirt bike riders, some of the nicest people I’ve ever met on any tour. They fed me, gave me plenty to drink, and offered up the warmth of their campfire while telling me a whole slew of stories and sharing some profound wisdom. One of the guys, the eldest, told me about estrangement from his son. “You can’t beat yourself up about it too much,” he said. “You have to accept that it’s their path, and it’s the one they’ve chosen. They can’t live your path. You can’t live theirs.”

I will remember those words a long time.

I will also remember the fresh tuna steaks. One of the guys had landed a 110-pound bluefin off the coast of San Diego a few days prior, and their cooler was filled with giant cuts of toro and maguro on ice. With a little black pepper and a dash of olive oil, the grill was soon sizzling with some of the best fish I’ve eaten in years. Although the party continued until late, I crawled into my sleeping bag around seven due to Character Building Day Two, which was the ride from Ballinger Canyon to Ojai.

Not too long, at 60 miles it was all uphill the first 20 miles, after which it was extremely uphill for about six, and then downhill with rollers all the way to the 10-mile descent, which I cut short at Wheeler Gorge Campground. I’d had to don long wool pants and a heavy jacket as rain and cold had set in with a vengeance. At the entrance a guy in a lawn chair, camp host John, was sitting next to a blazing fire. “Could I borrow your warmth for a minute?” I asked.

“Sure!” he said, taking in my appearance. “Would you also like a hot cup of coffee?”

I nodded mutely, drained from the ride and the wet and cold, and he vanished into his RV, returning with a piping hot cup and ushering me into one of the empty chairs. I stayed with him and his wife for most of the night, talking and laughing around the fire, until they finally gave up and invited to a marvelous dinner of grilled chicken and vegetables. The proverbial kindness of strangers is far from proverbial, at least in my experience.

The next morning John insisted on driving me to town for donuts, and I agreed because 1) downhill so not really cheating and 2) donuts. Topped off with sugar, fat, and hot coffee, we said our goodbyes and I continued on to Ventura and then to my campground on PCH at Leo Carillo State Park. The next day was Sunday, which coincided with Phil’s Cookie Fondo, so there was a continual stream of riders for much of the pedal down PCH. After taking a long break in Long Beach to see my grandkids I headed south, intending to meander as far south as I could, but heavy rain and bad weather forecasts left me sodden and bereft of the kind of motivation you need to tackle something like that.

Instead of doing the obvious, which would have been to persevere, I threw up my hands and declared defeat, secretly glad at having an excuse to turn around and head back to LA, the roof, and the warm bed that awaited. In retrospect, I’d been more or less constantly on the move for almost two-and-a-half years, working remotely and very remotely and sometimes super remotely. I’m not one for stasis, but a dash of stability might be in order. My divorce has been final for months, and although traveling solo is one thing, being alone is something else entirely.

The alarm rang and I didn’t hit snooze. Back to life.


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