I had mixed feelings about leaving Mexico and re-entering “western” civilization, whatever that means. During my trip I have come to appreciate living simply. I have enjoyed carrying little, all my possessions for an entire year fit on my bike. I was, in my own eyes, entering a country of excess. A country where the workforce strives for wealth and status, caught in a mouse-wheel of always having more. I have enjoyed being where people just live, and don’t rush. Where people are happy with less, and pass less judgement. I thought I was in for a shock.
I left Ensanada, Mexico on December 5th with an ambitious schedule of arriving home in Vancouver, Canada on December 24th. I had already been pushing long days of riding, basically since Bogotá, and would have to sustain if not pick up the pace to reach home by this time. I planned on riding from Enanada to Oceanside in one day, roughly 200km, as well as crossing the US border mid day.
Crossing the border was quick and simple, with the usual looks of confusion when I told the officials I had ridden from Chile and was riding to Canada…on a bicycle. I must admit that this undertaking often exempts you from the wrath of a detailed search. I cruised through the border with a bag of fresh fruit and vegetables hanging off my handlebars, while the mexican behind me had all his bags searched because he had a thermos of something that might contain some fruit or something. The injustice of being white.
I arrived in the USA to an immediate change in surroundings. The cars were quieter, but the 2-lane highway turned into a 11 lane freeway, and needless to say there were a lot more cars, and a lot less people out walking. I chugged along the freeway ignoring the NO BICYCLING signs…there really wasn’t any other way to leave the border, and I didn’t have a map yet. Plus, in every country I had been to up to the USA, the signs were really only recommendations anyway. I had become accustomed to cultures that accept personal risks and have responsibility for their own choices to disobey or obey rules and regulations. Within 20 minutes I was pulled over by the police and told over loud speaker to stop and get off my bike immediately.
The officer wrote me a citation (warning) and told me I would be put in jail if I was caught cycling on the freeway again in California. I imagined me sitting in a cell beside a rapist or serial killer, because I rode a bicycle on the freeway. It made me laugh. Not the nicest or most helpful officer, I was directed off the highway and when I asked for an alternative route he was not able to offer any suggestions. I was directed to ride the wrong way down an on-ramp from the freeway, which didn’t sound like the safest thing for me to do, but that is was the officer directed me to do. Maybe I wouldn’t be riding to Oceanside today after all, now that I had to weave my way through the busy city streets with no large shoulder…or so I thought. Stupid cop.
I shrugged it off and started plugging through the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista, which I later found out was renown for drive-by shootings, which explained the NO CRUISING signs which I thought were quite rediculous at the time. I saw signs prohibiting pretty much everything, which made me question the ‘Land of the Free’ that I had heard to much about. It seemed quiet and lazy. I stopped at a mexican run taco shack for a second lunch as I tried to figure out how to get through San Diego. Somehow I felt comfortable amongst the mexicans, all speaking in spanish (including me).
I found a few streets marked as bike routes and before I knew it I was in the downtown centre of San Diego. I was amazed at how quiet it was. No loud music, no roosters, no donkeys, no trucks with engine brakes belching, no cars spewing black exhaust. The streets looked like they had been polished with a toothbrush. I saw no dead dogs for an entire half day. It was, well, civilized. The calmness and cleanliness took the edge off the riding. Cars travelled more predictably and my mind could wander a little more. It was down right pleasant. I thanked the cop in my head for kicking me off the freeway. I met some roadies out for a training ride, who kindly directed me the best way through the northern part of town on the scenic and bike friendly route. It was a real pleasure, and I got to draft them the whole way, which made the headwind a little more tolerable.
I arrived in Encinitas and found a campsite. I spent the evening with some really great Californians, having beers around their campfire. I spent the next day riding through some quite rich coastal towns and then through LA to Santa Monica. I rode the bike path along Venice Beach, and found a dorm room in a hostel in the town centre. It was my most expensive accommodation of the entire trip. I spent the evening walking around Santa Monica, watching and listening to street performers. It was relaxing. Life seemed to have the edge taken off of it.
California coast, near Santa Barbara
My route to Vancouver followed the coast of California, Oregon and Washington. I visited with some old friends along the way, starting to get a taste of my old way of life. I related to many common aspects of north american civilization, and felt largely separated from others.
Morro Rock, California
From Santa Barbara, I rode north to Big Sur, a spectacular scenic coastal road south of Monterey. The roads were nearly empty, and the weather cool and clear. I met a few late season cyclists that had left northern cities in the US, Canada and Alaska, heading south. They were all surprised to see a cyclist heading north in December, and I don’t blame them. Things were about to get tougher, and I knew it.
From San Jose, the weather started to turn. I left during some light rain, that picked up in intensity throughout the day. It would eventually continue raining my entire journey home, with the exception of one day. I rode Oregon in an intense Pacific storm which brought 40-70 km/hr tailwinds, making the wet ride at least a little less effort. I was treated to wet sights of elephant seals, california sea lions, coyotes, elk, deer, eagles, hawks, skunks, racoons, and other curious critters. My camera often stayed in my pannier, wrapped tightly in a garbage bag to keep it dry. It still managed to get wet.
The Golden Gate, on a foggy and rainy night
Northern Californian Coast
Northern Californian Coast
Northern Californian Coast
Sea Lion, Oregon
I re-entered familiar northwest forests of pine, fir, spruce, cedar and redwood. The landscape started looking and feeling more like home, and home was indeed getting closer by the day. I rode from before dawn to after dusk everyday, camping quietly in closed parks, rest stops, or randomly in the woods in the soggy greyness.
Me with giant redwood
Camping in Oregon
I reached the Peace Arch at the Canada/USA border after 15 days of cycling in the US on December 21st, and would be home in my apartment the same evening. I was finally realizing my goal of reaching home by Christmas.