A Day in an Hour

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The countryside flows by almost seamlessly yet still slowly enough to appreciate the little things: the trees, rocks, houses, and grazing cattle.

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Amtrak’s Southwest Chief races along at 60-75 miles an hour. In a single hour, this train covers as much ground as Raphael and I covered on bicycles in an entire day. Trains are slow by most modern metrics, but for me, I feel as though I’m accelerating to a blistering speed.

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The slow ticka-ticka-ticka of the rail joints beneath the train is hypnotic; the gentle sway of the train is soothing. Life on the way home is a combination of napping, reading, and watching the ever-changing scenery through the window.

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Most importantly, though, this journey home is a time for reflection and synthesis. Six thousand miles, if laid out as the crow flies, is approximately one-quarter of a global circumnavigation. That’s a long, long way when taken at the pace we did. It’s going to take some time to digest.

What did the adventures of the past three months mean? Which memories and experiences will sink in and which will fade away?

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Although I doubt I can rightly answer these questions now—and perhaps I won’t be able to for a long time to come—I can’t help but ponder the trips totality.

These are a few of the thoughts that have been percolating in my mind:

Firstly, bicycle touring is the most rewarding form of travel I have ever had the chance to do. You see, smell, hear, taste, and feel everything from when you ride out of your driveway until you reach the endpoint. And in the end, all of that sensory information crystallizes into a vivid experience. My memories of the trip are not postcard snapshots; rather, they are dense, multi-sensory experiences that have neither a clear beginning nor end. They are continuous. One flows into the next, inspiring ever greater webs of sensory associations, which are as unending as the roads and paths we traveled.

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I can feel the journey in my legs and on my still sun-baked skin. I can smell it on my clothes, too, in the distinctive smells of the Ocean’s surf, the evergreen sap, the dust kicked up by my tires, the smell of the Oregon coast.  It’s all there.

Secondly, I’ve concluded that three months is enough time for someone to change fundamentally. Raphael and I learned that we are quite capable of surviving in extremely difficult circumstances: Hunger, thirst, exhaustion, injury, and dangerous encounters. This, I think, taught us to trust ourselves and our ability to solve problems and to keep moving literally forward. It also reinforced our bond as brothers. It established a trust which was occasionally strained but never broken.

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Our senses sharpened dramatically. I would wake up in the middle of the night when a mere field mouse scampered through the grass. My eyes were closed, but my ears were open. It’s difficult to describe, but I could, in a way, feel the forest at night. I would whisper to Raphael – “did you hear that?” He was awake too, listening in just the same way. When the bear circled our camp on Vancouver Island, we knew it was a bear long before it got near our camp. How? The way the branches broke. It was heavy and slow, unlike a like deer or an elk. I could see it moving in my minds eye. Living in the wild, we were always in tune with our surroundings. We felt, in a profound way, that we were small parts of something much greater. We didn’t master nature; rather, we surrendered to it and respected it. It constantly reminded us of our mortal insignificance, but also of our capability to endure and continue.

Thirdly, night becomes an adventure all its own. When sleeping in my own bed at home, I felt secure. I would fall into my comfortable bed, protected from animals, the elements, and not at risk of being awoken by police or other property owners.

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Night was just the opposite while we were touring. We rarely stayed in campgrounds, so finding a place to sleep usually meant looking on Google maps until we spotted a clearing that was out of sight, hiking through the woods, usually after nightfall to avoid detection, with all of our gear, setting up, and then trying to get to sleep despite whatever might be going on outside. Weather, bears, raccoons, freeways nearby, roots digging into our backs, sleeping on a steep hill, being awoken by angry property owners or park rangers—all of these things happened, and when they didn’t we expected them to. Night was a challenge all its own. But we had to figure it out so that the next day we could get up at dawn and be ready for whatever the next day presented us with.

Fourth, we became much more resourceful through this adventure. Our problem-solving capacities were tested often. Navigational issues, food and water supply issues, and mechanical failures. We were presented with problems we had never dreamed of.

This trip would never have materialized without the exceptional generosity and support of Andrew, Skip and Anne Pratt. Without their help, this adventure would’ve remained just a dream. Raphael and I thank you for giving us the opportunity to live that dream. Raphael and I also thank Jan Booth, our good friend who helped us prepare for the trip and rode with us from Chatham, New York, to Havre, Montana. Without him, the trip would’ve been an even greater challenge.

I’d also like to thank the many people along the way who helped us. Whether you gave us directions when we were lost, welcomed us into your home for a night, or anything in between. The trip wouldn’t have been anywhere as wonderful without you, the warm people we met along the way.

What’s next? Well, to put it bluntly, Raphael and I have decided that we must do something like this again. That doesn’t mean we’ll become vagabonds who forsake careers and families for the open road. But touring was too wonderful not to do it again. And for our next tour, we’ll bring with us a wealth of experience and knowledge. We will find our back onto the road, and when we do, who knows where we’ll end up.

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San Francisco

Raphael and I spent Saturday, the day after we arrived, exploring San Francisco. What a wonderful city, we thought. Warm breezes peeled off the bay all morning as a fleet of sailboats cut around Alcatraz Island.

We made our way to Berkeley to meet an old friend, Yrian, from New York. He offered to put us up for a few days. Dropping our gear off and dressing down to normal clothes allowed us to enjoy the city more fully. I’d sent my only pants (besides my spandex shorts) home weeks earlier, so we went to a thrift store and bought some “normal” clothes. Yrian and his friends then showed us Berkely and Oakland’s nightlife. On Monday, he sent us off to our next hosts, the Carlsons, with a delicious steak and eggs breakfast.

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Our friends Eric, Anne and Boothe Carlson hosted us warmly for three days and nights. They cooked us delicious meals, let us watch movies in their home theater, and let us soak our tired muscles in their hot tub. Boothe gave us a tour of UC Berkely as well.

On Tuesday, Raphael and I geared up one last time and rode off into the San Pablo hills. Following Anne’s suggestion, we cycled the 45-mile “three bears loop,” which pushed our total mileage past the 6,000-mile mark. The “5,955” on our odometers had been annoying us, and after what we had done, what was another 45 miles?

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Early on Wednesday, August 27th, we began disassembling our bikes and packing our things for the train-ride home. We’d chosen trains because flying just seemed too fast. Also, crossing the country by train was something neither of us had done before. Raphael booked a train to Salt Lake City to spend time with our uncle Andrew and aunt Susan. But I had to start the Fall semester at Columbia in a few days, so I booked the Southwestern Amtrak route home.

Eric helped us pack their car and drove us to the train station at 4:30 am.

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I left on a bus for LA via Santa Barbara at 6:00 am. Raphael left for Salt Lake City at 9:00 am.

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Raphael made it safely to Salt Lake City, where our uncle Andrew took him on a different, faster kind of bike.

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Golden Gate

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It took us 91 days, 5,915 miles and 500 hours to reach San Francisco. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge at noon on the 22nd of August.

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Our friend Jörn (in the orange shirt) rode across the bridge with us, concluding his tour from Vancouver.

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Feelings of elation and sheer disbelief circulated among us. We’d made it. How? By bicycle. All of the countdowns, the planning, the riding – the whole summer – converged on this one moment. It took a while to sink in.

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We asked two cyclists how to get to downtown by bicycle, and to our surprise, they offered to lead us there. It was a seven-mile trip one way.

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The guy second from the left was a six-time-race-across-America participant, and the person on the far right had just completed a cross-country trip. They were both energetic and probed us on our adventures as we rode through Golden Gate Park.

We grabbed a beer in Haight-Ashbury with Jörn and relaxed – still somewhat in disbelief that we’d arrived.

We rarely thought about San Francisco as the goal simply because it was too far away to think about.

We thought about that hill on the horizon, or that rock in the distance, or that next town where we hoped t0 find some water; maybe even the next major city in which we might run into some interesting people. But San Francisco was so distant it hardly seemed worth discussing. And yet here we are.

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Jörn said, “There’s a German saying that comes to mind: (loosely translated) ‘The journey is the way.”

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San Francisco is a beautiful city, possibly the most beautiful we’ve been to on this trip. But what is most amazing about the city is not that we got here; rather, it’s how we got here. San Francisco for us isn’t a postcard city on the Bay. It’s the culmination of a seemingly infinite, continuous string of moments, which feel more like an enduring present than a definite past. San Francisco for us is everything and everyone that it took to get us here.

We had hoped to stay with a friend for our first night in the city, but that fell through. We ended up riding back over the bridge and sleeping on top of an abandoned building in the Marin Headlands. A fitting first night, we thought, given the nomadic way in which we’d found our way here.

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Shoreline

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After the Avenue of Giants, we climbed West over the coast mountains again and joined  CA 1, the Shoreline Highway

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We climbed 5,600 feet of vertical over 80 miles. Our longest and most ambitious single day of riding on the Pacific leg of our tour.

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The Shoreline Highway hugged the coast even more closely than 101 had since we left Oregon. Despite the views, we regretted taking this route because the shoulder was almost nonexistent. Trucks and RVs ripped past us around blind corners, often with only a few inches in between us and them.

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From a fellow cyclist, we heard that traffic got much worse as we neared San Francisco, so we diverted through the Russian River Valley at Sonoma Coast state park.

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We bumped into our new friend Jörn (in the orange short) in the valley. Jörn, whom we’d first met a few days prior, was riding from Vancouver to San Francisco. We decided to ride and camp together on the last night of both of our respective journeys.

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We bought a whole chocolate cake, a few pots of ice cream, and Jörn supplied bread, cheese, wine, and his flask of rum. We had a great last night together. We feasted and chatted on some horse farmer’s ranch along the Lagunitas River. We were interrupted every so often by the occasional dog barking at the nearby barn. But we remained undiscovered and had a restful night.

All I could think of as I set up my tent, inflated my mattress, and automatically did my nightly duties, was: This is the last time I will do this for a while. Tomorrow, we arrive in San Francisco, and return to “normal” life. But all I can think, now, is that this feels right, this feels normal; I can hardly imagine not sleeping out in the open air every night.

A horse snorted nearby as I was falling asleep. I chuckled. I love this lifestyle, I thought; I’m going to miss touring dearly.

The Lost Coast

Written on August 18th.

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From Ferndale, we took the twisting Mattole road out to Cape Mendocino, otherwise known as the Lost Coast.

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The name, The Lost Coast, comes from the abandoned plans to route highway 101 through the cape. Only a handful of people live here, and very few tourists seem to brave the narrow, often unkempt road.

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By taking this scenic alternate we added over 7,000 feet of vertical climbing to our southbound route and about 50 miles as well. But we also gained spectacular views, and one last experience nature’s calm wildness before returning to the bustling 101 highway.

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We spread the excursion over two days so that we could stagger the mountainous terrain and save our legs.

We descended from Panther Gap, a snake-like mountain road in the King Range, and into the Rockefeller redwood forest.

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The famous “Avenue of Giants” was next as we turned south again.

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We spent the night under the stars at the feet of an old growth redwood.

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Three Months

Today, the 21st of August marks three months on the road.

Our odometers stand at 5,786 total miles.

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We’ll arrive in San Francisco tomorrow, the 22nd.

Three months sure feels like enough time to really adapt to a new lifestyle. We can remember what it’s like to live with a roof over our heads, and to do something other than cycle all day, but that seems like an eternity ago.

The leaves are beginning to turn; we set out from the Hudson valley in late spring. We take the trip day by day and mile by mile. Now, so close to the finish line, we’re looking back and recognizing the sheer immensity of the trip, both in terms of distance and time.

The Pacific Coast

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Life has been moving at a slower pace since we left Portland. We’ve figured that we can ride easy 60-mile days and still make it to San Francisco with a week to spare before heading home.

The Oregon coast was enchanting. As soon as we hit highway 101 we were riding feet from the beach much of the time.

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The terrain became more mountainous. Between Lincoln City, where we joined up with 101, and San Francisco, we have almost 30,000 vertical feet of climbing to do.

We passed through Arcata, CA, and had a nice lunch at Luke’s Joint. The owner, Luke, is a family friend.

We met a wonderful woman named Lily (www.lilyandbike.com) at breakfast a few days ago. She is riding from Seattle to San Francisco. We decided to ride together for a bit afterwards. The three of us became friends and ended up riding and camping together for two days.

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We passed through the Del Norte coast redwoods.

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We set off from the small Victorian town of Ferndale, CA, and made for Cape Mendocino: The Lost Coast.

Portland

We’ve passed the 5,000-mile mark. We saw our Odometers tick past the milestone and gave each other a big high five. We’re now pedaling the final 700 miles of the trip. One might expect us to be tired of biking, but we’re loving it. It feels so natural. We’re excited to reach the finish line, but also reluctant to give up our nomadic ways.

We’ve agreed Portland is a great city. The first thing we noticed was how cycle-friendly it was. Bike paths and lanes are woven into the transportation fabric of the city. Cyclists have their own traffic signals, detour signs, and generous portions of tarmac. Drivers respected us there and shared the road willingly. This is a far cry from the rest of North America as we’ve experienced it.

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The “rose test garden” was a sight to behold with over 8,000 rose bushes.

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The nearby Japanese garden, likewise, is unparalleled.

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Raphael and I have left Portland, OR, behind and made for the Coastal Highway (101).

Tenino

We sleep in the unlikeliest of places these days. A pipe, for example, isn’t somewhere I would’ve thought to sleep for the night when I was back in NYC.

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But that’s exactly where we slept last night; in two pieces of cement pipe, in a playground in Tenino, WA.

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It was surprisingly comfortable, actually. It was just the right length and width.

We’ve slept in some weird places over the past two and a half months. An industrial park in the middle of a city in Ontario, a Christmas tree farm in Michigan, numerous playgrounds, an illegal garbage dump in Canada, a logging road pull off on Vancouver Island, etc.. A pipe was a bit out of the ordinary, though.

Through this adventure, Raphael and I have learned to make use of places and things that, under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t even notice. We’ve become resourceful. We wash our, clothes, and bodies in gas station bathrooms or forest creeks.

An episode comes to mind from up North in Canada. I was washing dishes from the previous nights’ dinner in the men’s room of some diner. A guy walked in to find me scrubbing our cooking pot. The lid hung on the towel hanger, and two newly clean forks were lodged between my teeth. If he was confused, I’d understand, but I was hardly ashamed.

We enjoyed our time in Seattle. We happened to be traveling through during the Seafair on Lake Washington. The place was buzzing. We saw the Blue Angels, the world-famous Navy aerial acrobat team. It was a spectacle.

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Raphael and I are closing in on Portland now. We’ll arrive tomorrow.

Vancouver City

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We arrived in Vancouver City to meet our Uncle, Andrew, and our Grandfather, Skip, on the 29th of July.

We had been planning a two-day visit there for a few weeks now.

We settled into the condo that Andrew had secured for our visit and headed for the beach.

Now, the beach we went to was called “Rec beach”. A nude beach. It was really a nice beach, and the fact that we stayed dressed didn’t really matter because it was optional. A part of local culture, I guess.

We explored Granville Island’s famous markets and art studios the next day. The quality and boundless varieties of food were a little overwhelming to Raphael and me after so long in the wilderness. Nonetheless, we had an incredible time and ate well.

After picking up some odds and ends for the next leg of our trip, we all lounged by the seaside in Stanley Park for the afternoon.

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We had a magnificent meal at The Teahouse restaurant – right on the seaside in Stanley Park – as the sun fell behind the mountains.

Grandpa and I wheeled the bikes to the shop for a tune-up the next morning.

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81 years old. Still going strong.

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Rested, well fed, and happy to have seen family after so long on the road, we got ready to head out. We all went our separate ways; Skip, to New York. Andrew, to Salt Lake City. And Raphael and I, toward Seattle and down the coast.

Short as it was, seeing family after so long on the road was really nice. We hadn’t seen anyone from back home in almost two and a half months.

We set out for the US border; putting the Canadian wilderness behind us.

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