Bike travel is meant to be extremely compact and I always take too much shit with me. Where and how does one squeeze it all in? tent, sleeping bag, mat, SLR camera, 200mm and 28mm, tripod, hardrive, backup hardrive, braai grid, tongs, primus, puncture repair kit, mini –compressor, tools, laptop, various chargers, cables and cable ties, washbag, tshirts, thermals and socks etc. Still smarting after the pervious bike was stolen I brought a heavy duty chain and cover for locking at night – just had to ditch em. And to add to the pile of shit – the guys who had just come down from Alaska advided me to get heated jacket and camelback.. I chucked half of the suff and hit the road.
Approaching a rural town near the coast I saw a building that looked familiar and two film art students lurking about with an a celluloid cameras (easily identified by their long greasy hair, pasty skin – not accustomed to natural light). I went on for a while, but it intrigued me, turned around and went back. The schoolhouse in Hitchcocks ‘Birds’. I saw it when I was a kid and the scenes and locations are unforgettable. The two students were lying on the ground to get some interesting angles so I asked a local just to be sure. He pointed out that building was so covered in bird shit – enough said.
Golden Gate was shrouded in mist. The beach area was the run-down Muzinberg of my youth but on a sprawling scale. Headed out to the forest and stopped at Alice’s Restaurant, whos patrons usually arrive in an eclectic and beautiful array of 2-4 wheel vehicles and park them up outside (usually with keys just left in ignition). As in the Arlo Guthry song “you rally can get anything at Alice’s Restaurant” and on to surf spots, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel. etc. Found a campsite on near Monterey beach at and hit the sack.
In the morning it was drizzling. I went for a 5am body surf that woke me up. Set off through costal farm land, air was pungent with strawberries being picked by 1000s of migrants. Turned inland up the Carmel valley (G16) a beautiful road that winds up through vineyards and over the hills to massive fruit farms then across dry hot plains towards the mountains. I got to Sequoia national park early eve and rode about for two hours, staggeringly beautiful ride through the mountain forest and camped under tallest trees I have ever seen.
It was one of those days that that just massive in scenery, 500 miles 0f road and absolute desolation. I left Sequoia Park early, too a windy road through Kings Canyon, then out of the forest and headed south then east. The bush changed from green to gold, I found plenty of back roads and mountain passes to Lake Isabella, China Lake weapons base in middle of nowhere and getting ever more arid. I got to Terona (a shit’ol town) then up the towering Argus Mountains towards Death Valley. I saw no cars for 2 hours and this route in was clearly the road less travelled. I wondered what would happen to me if engine overheated. how far would i make it of foot? why the hell had i come here anyway? My eyeballs began to sizzle and I descended into the vast furnace 1000ft below sea level. By 7pm it had cooled to a near bearable 43deg (see thermometer on bike dashboard). I went for a walk in the dunes and rode on towards and over the Funeral Mountains, Scots Castle and on to Beatty in Nevada. The landscape stretched out 100miles in each direction, low scrub and roads that just roll on and on. On the map was a narrow line road back to California. At that magic 15 minute window just after sunset I snapped some pics of the ancient looking trees then over yet another mountain. It was dark now. High on a platto was a lone farm with an avenue of trees and sprinklers blasting a cool mist into the night. I slowed down to breath it in. My lungs were like hessian sacks. An huge set of wings swooped over the road just above the light beam and landed on a post ahead. I cut ignition and lights and rolled to a stop beside the biggest owl I have ever seen. Its scruffy neck stretched out, waving its head forwards and back trying to make sense of me. I did the same; It whistled that same way humans whistle to tell another humans to come an look at this chump. Its mate whooshed past and perched on a post beside it, both eyeballing and craning their necks at me. I carefully slid my hand into the tank bag flicking camera onto maximum aperture but the head waving instantly stopped. They glared as if to say “Don’t even think about it, Buddy. You survived Death Valley but you are still a long way from anywhere.” We had a stand-off for a while, then rode on into the night.
I didn’t make it to Big Pine. Appart from the feathered outlaws I hadn’t seen anyone for two hours. I took a track into desert rolled out a sleeping mat and collapsed. 5 mins later I hastily put up the tent with one hand while the other hand uncontrollably slapped termites all over me.