Day 1 – A Day Riddled With Mishaps – 126.19 km
The day begins simply enough. Last night I took a cab to a friend’s house in Anchorage (who I actually just met thanks to CouchSurfing). I’m still not sure how I ended up paying $25 to drive a distance of about 3 miles… No matter. Meghan and her house guests were great people, as pretty much all couch surfers are! I awake and finish assembling what is left of my bicycle, then disaster strikes. Well, not really, but it wasn’t exactly the best thing that could have happened. In preparing my bicycle for the plane I had to turn the handlebars, remove the front wheel, as well as unscrew both pedals. The handlebar and wheel were trivial, as was one pedal. When I got to the other I realized that the thread was stripped and I could not screw the pedal in! Needless to say, what this meant was that I had to pay a visit to the nearest bicycle shop, which happened to be about four miles away. Let me tell you, riding four miles with one pedal and a bike loaded with gear is NOT fun. I sincerely hope it never happens to you. But wait, that’s not all! On the way to the bike shop, my handlebar bag mounts begin to loosen and fall on my wheel. I miraculously arrive at the bike shop which at the time seemed like an oasis. I was luckily saved by a skilled mechanic with both problems. Now in good spirits, I grab a quick lunch as well as a few supplies then hit the road! Today I manage to make it all the way to Chickaloon Alaska. Had a minor fall due to a small shoulder with a tight drop off, luckily wasn’t going too fast. Magnificent views, although otherwise a fairly uneventful ride. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing…
Day 2 – Hills, Wind, and Freezing Cold – 90.18 km
Today it was absolutely freezing, I’m not sure how much more plainly to word it. I guess I am heading into higher elevations as I now see snow much more often, especially along the road way. The views are much nicer here, but I guess the cost is my comfort (my fingers are still thawing out). Eventually I ended up wearing not only all my regular cold gear, but as well put on my rain jacket, which conveniently doubles as a wind jacket. The cold would have been good enough, but no. Today’s road was filled with a never ending series of ups and downs. The stretches of down are great, expect for two facts. The first being that going 55 km/h downhill makes you even colder, the second being that eventually you have to climb back up. All in all it was a fairly painful day. Oh, I also forgot to mention that I’m sore all over. I figure that eventually I’ll just grow used to it.
Oh, also saw Alpacas/Lamas today (I can never tell the difference). I figure that’s kind of cool since they seemed very out of place.
Day 3 - A Day Full Of Surprises - 94.05 km
Today was a day that was quite simply full of surprises. In the morning when I woke up, I was kind of cold. I look outside, blink a few times, then shake my head in disbelief. It seems that over night I was snowed in! There was about 2 or 3 inches of snow surrounding my tent. After seeing this, I decided to go to sleep for another few hours, hoping that it would warm up. Luckily it did, and then I went to breakfast. When I asked the locals about this snowfall in May, they laughed at me and told me they get snow all the way into June!
But wait, it gets better! In the morning I suited up in all my rain gear expecting the worst. For the next two hours I didn't see a flake of snow or drop of rain. After those two hours I was pretty hot and decided to take that rain gear off. As my luck would have it, about five minutes later it began to start raining, meaning I had to rush to get all that stuff back on again! For the next while I was absolutely drenched (luckily only my rain gear and not me!) and freezing cold. In the middle of what seemed to be nothingness I saw a godsend, it was a liquor store. I of course hurried inside where it was warm. Now this is where it gets really interesting. As I'm not 21 I of course can't buy alcohol in the United States, so I grab some junk food and head to the counter. The guy asks me for ID. I respond with a blank look and say "Huh? I'm just buying chips?” According to some new Alaskan law you have to be 21 to buy ANYTHING in a liquor store. Needless to say, I was denied buying a bag of chips. I never thought that would happen, unless it was my mom who would be the one saying no.
Anyway, am currently in some town called Glenallen, Alaska. I think that I’m probably going to camp out here tonight since there is nothing for the next 120 miles. I talked to a trapper today who cautioned me against black bears. He said at this time of year they are especially dangerous, and if you meet one, you can basically kiss your behind goodbye.
Day 4 – Better weather and less hills – 127.10 km
Yesterday evening I decided to camp out behind a post office right in the middle of town. I figured no one would really mind since it was already late Saturday, and well, post offices are always closed on Sundays. I guess I was right since I didn’t get a knock from an officer at night. When I awoke I was once again cold. The last night it rained, and in the morning the left over droplets froze on my tent. Check my pictures if you don’t believe me!
The weather up here is pretty crazy. In the morning you’re absolutely freezing because the temperature drops below 0 degrees at night, but at midday you have to start taking off layers because you feel as if the sun is roasting you. Then once again you have to dress up in all your rain gear because you’ll either get a few sprinkles or because it’s so windy that it makes you cold again.
Today overall was a much better day, I only got about ten minutes of light rain. The road also had fewer hills than the day before, which was a real relief. From what the locals tell me though, the next two or three days down into Canada should be tough.
I also happened to cross paths with the strangest character today. He calls himself “Al Tokey”. He says that he originally comes from Ontario, but that now he’s been living in Alaska for over thirty years. He rides his bike from town to town, but the locals all know him so they give him lifts occasionally. He said that up here he actually mines for gold. Another thing I found absolutely crazy is that he wears eleven pairs of pants and seventeen shirts! I kid you not; check out my pictures if you must see it for your own eyes. He told me that back in 2002 he made the front page of the Anchorage news, being nicknamed “the Lance Armstrong of the North”.
Day 5 – Rain, rain, go away! – 101.54 km
When I woke up today it started to rain, it pretty much stayed that way throughout the day, occasionally with some pauses. Definitely not the greatest weather to be biking in let me tell you! Was otherwise a fairly uneventful day until I settled down for the night at a campground here in Tok, Alaska.
Let me tell you, tonight I feel as if I’m in the lap of luxury! The campground where I’m staying has showers, laundry, as well as wireless internet. I haven’t felt so clean in days! Now here’s the best part, I’m the only one here! It’s not tourist season yet, so there is no one up here. In about three weeks time it should be completely full however.
The owners here are very friendly people. They even made me burgers fresh off the BBQ! I found out from them that in the winter temperatures here have reached -70 degrees Fahrenheit, and that’s without including the wind! In the summer however, it can get all the way up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, talk about a big difference! I also found out that unfortunately at this time of year I won’t be seeing the northern lights as it is too light outside even at night.
No worries, I’ll just have to come back another time! As for now, I’m off to bed. I hope to make it close to the Canadian border tomorrow. Farewell Alaska!
Day 6 – Back Home, Yet Not – 149.76 km
Last evening in Tok someone told me there was no way I was going to make it to the border tomorrow, so I just had to prove them wrong. As I type this I am sitting in my tent on the Alaska-Yukon border, well, I’m about 15 feet away from it actually… on the Canadian side of course!
I haven’t passed through customs yet, and it’s not because I smuggled myself across on the bottom of a truck. The US customs is about a half mile past the border on the US side, whereas the Canadian customs is about 20 miles away from here!
All in all the road from Tok to here was quite dull, and well, there wasn’t much on it. I counted three gas stations and a handful of houses from time to time. The road condition was pretty bad in some parts. When I told the locals that they laughed at me and said the worst is yet to come in Yukon. I just can’t wait to find out (note my sarcasm).
The weather once again did not fail to disappoint. Today I got both hailed on and rained on. I must say that the hail wasn’t the most pleasant feeling, especially when it hits your face when your going 30 km/h, actually, it kind of stings. But me being the sadistic cyclist that I am, I did not stop and kept riding right through it. After all, minutes are miles!
Day 7 – Dodging Landmines in No Mans’ Land – 146.56 km
As I type this I am sitting in my tent at a rest stop, I have no idea where I am. May I also point out that my tent is sitting about fifteen feet away from a sign that explicitly states no camping or overnight parking. Am I a rebel without a cause? Perhaps. But then again, there has been absolutely nothing for the last 120 kilometers.
After I left the town of Beaver Creek this afternoon I have traveled through what seems to be a desolate land. I believe I counted three gas stations, all of which where either abandoned or closer. I also counted three campgrounds, which were likewise closed.
May I also point out that the road from Beaver Creek was interesting to say the least. If I had to compare it to something, I would say it was a lot like Swiss cheese, where the holes in the cheese are the potholes in the road. Today I basically felt as if I were riding in a minefield, for I well knew that should I accidentally hit one of those potholes I would probably injure myself as well as my bicycle rim, and then I’d basically be screwed.
On a positive note, I officially crossed through Canadian customs and got a nice warm Canadian welcome. I am officially heading to sleep after a long and tiring day of cycling. Hopefully I don’t get an early wakeup call from a Mountie due to my blatant disregard of posted signs.
Day 8 – Oh The Horror! – 98.00 km
I severely underestimated today’s road. It was not extremely hilly nor did it involve rain. However, it did involve wind. Oh what a wind it was! It was quite possibly the most severe headwind known to man, beast, or cyclist. May I also inform you that it was not a on and off kind of thing, but it was non-stop, all day long. You know it’s getting pretty bad when you have troubles going downhill in your lowest gear. It turns out that the large lake located next to this stretch of road seems to provide that effect.
The winds had taken such a toll on me that when I arrived at the restaurant in Burwash Landing I swear I could have eaten a horse. Unfortunately since they were all out of those I had to settle for hot chocolate, salad, veal culets, poutine, and finally cherry pie with vanilla ice cream.
On another note I met a couple cycling down to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Unfortunately since they are not going as fast as I need to go in order to reach Panama in time, I won’t be able to join along with them.
Finally, it is interesting to note that just because something says ‘Closed’ in the Yukon, doesn’t mean that it exactly is. Today as I rolled on by a closed campground I decided to knock on the door of the office and see if anyone was around. Sure enough someone was home, and they were more than willing to let me camp for free (which is where I am right now as I type this). They even offered me firewood had I wanted some!
Day 9 – The Sun Lives Again! – 163.27 km
Today was simply a great day for cycling. In the morning I started off near that dreadful lake I so thoroughly mentioned yesterday, so for about half an hour I still got some nasty head winds. Right after that I hit a 12 km stretch of rough gravel road. Let me tell you, not fun to bike on, and even less fun when trucks kick up a lot of dust in your face.
After that it was smooth sailing. The roads were not excessively hilly and the winds did not hinder me. I made it to Haines Junction at about 3:30 PM. I had the biggest craving for Chinese food, and as luck would have it there was a Chinese place in town. Unfortunately the food wasn’t that great. My meal that was supposed to be spicy was quite bland. None the less, a success either way, although I still have a craving for Chinese!
In Haines Junction I also stumbled upon a general store. When I entered that place I swear it was as if a shining beacon of light beckoned me in. Unlike the severely under stocked gas station stores that I was used to, this was an actual store with a very good selection and good prices. The gas station shops along the way like to inflate their prices a lot. Needless to say I got a little overexcited and stocked up on way too much food, I actually had trouble packing it all into my bag later. I mean, I even bought a whole loaf of bread!
Past Haines Junction a nice fellow also stopped while driving to give me a few tips on routes amongst other things. He directed me to the aboriginal town of Champagne, and along a short cut of sorts. Let me tell you, if you simply removed the cars in that town it would look like you stepped back into the 1600s.
Today I finally also saw my first true wild beasts of the north. I saw a porcupine as well as a moose today. Unfortunately both quickly ran away when I tried to pet them. Do you think I’m crazy? I didn’t really try to pet them, but they both did run away.
Since I managed to catch up on the mileage today I only have about 80 km or so to Whitehorse tomorrow where I will be staying with someone I met from CouchSurfing. Should be a nice and relaxing day, I think I’ve earned it!
Day 10 – The Road to Whitehorse – 76.30 km
What? Only 76 km you ask? Officially, yes. Unofficially I cycled about 140 km today. The 76 km that I am counting is part of my route, all the rest is simply detours. I biked all around the town of Whitehorse, took a major detour to the Takhini Hot Springs, and even took a short bike ride to a party.
The road into Whitehorse itself was fairly straight forward and uneventful. I decided to drop my bags off at Charles’ place, who I met through CouchSurfing. Once I unloaded my bags and rode my bike with nothing strapped onto it, I felt as if the ball and chain had been removed from my foot. I could pedal faster and easier, what a relief! I also visited today what is possibly one of the best inventions of the Western world, Chinese buffet. I tell you, that place alone made my day!
After bicycling around the city of Whitehorse, I then had the bright idea of bicycling 28 km to a place called Takhini Hot Springs. It wasn’t the most phenomenal hot springs I’ve seen in my life, simply a large hot tub, although it was refreshing none the less.
The road back from Takhini Hot Springs to Whitehorse was not as simple. I was hit with fairly rough winds, but I made it to Whitehorse none the less. I thought I would have some free time in Whitehorse, but nope. Charles invited me to a party, and I’m not one to turn that down! So we of course hopped on our bikes and off we went! It turns out there is a large community of Quebecers here in Whitehorse, and everyone at this party happened to fall into that group. A great and fun crowd of people, although I did have to brush up on my French a little bit!
Day 11 – Sweet Home Alabama – 110.66 km
To me Whitehorse might as well have been New York City. It had everything and anything that one could want. This morning I felt right at home when I saw the welcoming neon lights that read “Tim Hortons”. Never has soup and sandwich with hot chocolate tasted so good.
Today in Whitehorse I talked to a motorcyclist who had come up the Cassiar highway, which is what I’ll be on in about four days time. He kindly informed me that he had seen eight bears in one day while on that highway. Needless to say, I immediately went to Canadian Tire to purchase a can of bear spray. It was quite the rip off at $44.99 per can, but a wise investment none the less. I mean, I could take one, maybe two bears on, but definitely not eight!
On my way out of Whitehorse I saw a sign to the famous Miles Canyon. I decided I could not pass up an opportunity to see it when so close. The next sign informed me it was 4.5 km to the right, easy enough I thought. Oh my dear readers, how wrong I was! That 4.5 km involved the most grueling and painful hill climbs I have ever endured in my life. I tell you, just looking at these hills was enough to make a grown man cry. Pain and suffering aside, the canyon itself was quite nice and well worth visiting.
Currently between Jake’s Corner and Johnsons Crossing at some closed campground. Although the barrier was down, I could still squeeze by using my bicycle. There’s envelopes which state you must put $12 in an envelope, stick it in a box, and put the stub on your rear view mirror of your car. Since the place is technically closed, and since I don’t have a car, I think I’ll just accidentally forget about all that. My memory is deteriorating, I am getting old after all!
Day 12 – What’s That Big Black Cudly Thing? - 120.85 km
I will be the first to admit that today was quite a dull day. At Johnsons Crossing I tried a “World Famous Cinnamon Bun”. It really wasn’t the greatest cinnamon bun in the world. I’d much rather have one from Cinnabon any day.
Right after Johnsons Crossing there was some bridge work being done, and traffic was stopped. I ended up chatting with the traffic controller for about 20 minutes. She told me that so far the spring has been much colder than usual. Another cool thing she told me is that in the winter, the temperature had to reach negative 55 degrees Celsius before they didn’t have to go to school. Ouch! Looks like we have it easy in Ontario!
On my way to Teslin I saw my first black bear of the trip. Upon seeing me he simply ran off into the woods. He really wasn’t that big, I could have probably taken him on. On a serious note I hope all my bear encounters end in this way!
I arrived in the village of Teslin at about 3:30 PM; a quaint, but nice, little town of about 300 people. Here I did some souvenir shopping, visited the post office, and then sat in a restaurant for about two hours. No, I wasn’t eating for two hours, but this is usually the only way I am able to charge up my iPod, laptop, phone, camera, as well as access the internet.
Am currently camped (probably illegally again) at some rest stop beyond Teslin. I am actually in the province of British Columbia since this road dips into the province for about 50 kilometers or so.
Day 13 – Roads and Bikes Both Under Construction – 105.40 km
Today’s day started off really, really rough. The first 40 kilometers of the day really took their toll on me. Not only was I tired because I stayed up a little late the night before catching up on missed episodes of ABC’s hit show “Lost”, but I was hit by stronger than usual headwinds. I tell you my dear readers, if there is one thing worse than a steep hill, it’s going up that steep hill against a tail wind. I also happened to pass through a stretch of road that was under construction and thus gravel. What mad it really messy was that they had just sprayed water onto the surface to keep the dust down. Sure, no dust, but on the other hand I got all muddy!
After suffering through 40 kilometers I decided to take a lunch break near a stream, where I made a gourmet meal of tortellini and whole wheat bread. Soon after I hit the road again I saw six deer by the side of the road. They were unfortunately scared off by a car, otherwise I would have gotten a picture. That seems to happen a lot to me.
Following that I hit some construction, which is very common in the Yukon. However, this time they wouldn’t let me through on my bicycle! I’m not surprised, the road was all torn up and I would have probably killed myself trying to get across. Needless to say my bicycle went in the back of a pickup truck and I got a ride across the construction zone.
Soon after this I realized that I had experienced my first mechanical failure of the trip. It seemed that my water bottle cage had become detached on one side, and by the time I got to camp, on both sides. No worries, nothing a few zip ties couldn’t fix! The more unfortunate mechanical failure was of my rear view mirror, which snapped when I laid my bike down wrong. It looks like I’ll have to stick to looking over my shoulder!
Another thing I saw today that I thought was neat was a bald eagle. Although I’m not positive, I’m pretty sure it’s not that easy to see them in the wild. I saw this one actually swoop down and catch a fish in the lake. What happened after was actually quite comical. Since there is a layer of ice covering the lake, the eagle actually was stuck and had trouble getting out. At one point he just laid his wings out flat on the ice and looked like he passed out from exhaustion. Eventually he did get out and flew off, with the fish of course.
Day 14 – Welcome to British Columbia – 109.56 km
I have learned that dinner meals work equally fine for breakfast as well as lunch. Today for breakfast I made myself mashed potatoes, lightly seasoned with chicken something, along with my favorite combine with everything food, bread. What can I say, I would love to make eggs with sausage and bacon, but that’s kind of hard to carry around, and every bear within a 100 km radius would probably sniff me out!
After breakfast I covered a distance of roughly 80 kilometers before I hit the junction of highways 1 and 37. Before that spot, there was absolutely nothing. I spent a few hours here in order to eat, update all my loyal readers, send a few messages to people, as well as upload some new pictures.
I tell you, there is an absolutely amazing café at this junction. I received a beast of a burger with cheese, bacon, mushrooms, mustard, relish, mayonnaise and who knows what else. I mean, it was seriously twice as tall as it was wide! That was followed up by the largest cinnamon bun I have ever seen in my life, which was equally delicious. There is a picture of it included in my photos with my business card next to it for size reference purposes.
I am currently next to highway 37 in British Columbia, more commonly known as the Cassiar, roughly 30 kilometers past that junction. I should note that as I turned onto this road there was a sign which said “Check Your Gas – Next Gas 254 km”. In other words, there’s not going to be much on this road for awhile
As for my first impressions of the Cassiar, well, you know those creepy roads in horror movies that people turn onto while everyone in the audience yells “No!”? Well, it actually reminds me a lot of that. Additionally, it’s quite the rollercoaster ride. The downs are quite fun, but the ups are another story since you have to climb them manually.
Unfortunately the last kilometers of the day involved me getting rained on. It didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon and it was getting dark, so I ended up setting my tent up in the rain for the first time of the trip. Definitely not a fun task as you have to essentially set up your tent in reverse. As luck would have it, it stopped to rain about 20 minutes later and it hasn’t rained a drop since. That’s Murphy’s Law for you!
These next 700 kilometers or so of road should be the most desolate, challenging, and dangerous with respect to wildlife that I should encounter on my whole trip. Wish me luck, and don’t be surprised if updates don’t come daily, there’s not much out here!
Day 15 – Rough Day With A Relaxing End – 141.20 km
I will admit that today was a really rough day, and it wasn’t because I covered more mileage than I usually do. The first 80 kilometers of the day, which took me from 10:30AM till 5:30 PM were simply excruciatingly painful. I would have thought that heading south I can worry less about headwinds. But oh my dear readers, how wrong I was! Today I battled some of the fiercest headwinds that I have ever experienced. I would explain in more detail, but the mere reflection of them makes me cringe.
The next 60 kilometers took me a mere two and a half hours. The winds had mostly died down and the road was either flat or downhill with very few climbs. I saw an advertisement for a campground that would have ended my day at kilometer 127, however they were unfortunately sold and closed. I continued on fourteen more kilometers to another campground, where I am right now. Along the way I also saw a fox as well as a moose, both didn’t seem to mind my presence the slightest bit.
When I initially asked for a cabin at this site, they told me one could be had for $45. I told them that my poor college student pockets couldn’t afford such a hefty fee, and thus took a campsite instead for $15. Of course, me being so charming and likable, after some sweet talking I managed to eventually get a cabin for a mere $25. Inside my cabin can be found a table, two chairs, a kitchenette, a light, and two beds. Most importantly, it’s warm! I made myself another gourmet meal of some instant food from a packet along with some bread of course. I tell you, those instant foods taste really good when you mix some of them together. What more could I ask for? I have to give myself a pat on the back for being able to organize this one!
Day 16 – A Day Full Of Excesses – 109.89 km
I started my day off refreshed and in good spirits after spending the previous night in a warm cabin. Unfortunately, I soon hit a nice long stretch of gravel road to beat me up again, 25 km long actually. Although not as terrible as I expected, the stretch of road went slow and was very shaky. In fact, my hands are still trembling from the aftermath as I type this! There was one really nice and long section of downhill, but let me tell you, rushing down a gravel road on a bicycle at 50 km/h is quite the adrenaline rush! You know that if you slip or hit a pothole it’s going to hurt… a lot.
I made it to the village of Dease Lake where I stopped at a restaurant called Mama Z’s. On the menu was something called the “King Mountain Burger”, a huge burger containing one pound of beef topped with bacon, cheese, mushrooms, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and who knows what else. What I found quite funny is that there was actually a warning on the menu: “Warning! Do not order unless you are extremely hungry!” So of course you can all guess what I ordered!
The waiter brought me my burger and said that it should fill me right up. Let me tell you my dear readers, I devoured that burger faster than a bear could devour me! When the waiter asked me if I was full, I told him that I could easily eat another one of those. “No way!” was his response. So then I asked him, “Want to bet? If I can eat another burger like that, you have to give me both for free, if I can’t, I’ll pay for both!” Needless to say, the waiter consulted the owner, both of whom seriously considered my offer. However, seeing that I was a hunger stricken cyclist and that I could probably eat a second burger, they declined my offer. Perhaps it’s a good thing, because had I eaten that second burger, and I know I could have, I probably wouldn’t have cycled much further!
I did however find out that there is a place in Vancouver where they have a burger with a whopping two pounds of beef, and if you can finish it it’s free. Guess where I’m stopping when I’m in Vancouver? Anyone want to bet me if I can finish it? If I win the bet, you have to make a donation to the Lance Armstrong Foundation! (Which you should do anyway, even a few dollars makes a difference)
Before heading out of Dease Lake I had to do some grocery shopping, as there really isn’t anything for the next 340 km. I figured I needed about three full days worth of food, which means breakfast, lunch, dinner, and of course snacks! Let me tell you, I think I overdid it a bit. I walked out of that grocery store with thirty-two pop tarts, ten packets of instant hot chocolate, three boxes of Kraft dinner, two pouches of instant mashed potatoes, two pouches of instant pasta, two bags of jelly beans, and two loaves of bread. Grand total: $33 CDN. Not too bad at all! I finally realized that I may have exaggerated a bit when I had some serious trouble closing my bag. Needless to say, I now have two bags with food hanging in a tree as opposed to one!
Coming out of Dease Lake I encountered some colder temperatures as well as quite a lot of wildlife. I would have taken out my jacket to put it on, but since it was under all my food, I decided I would rather freeze a little than have to repack all that! When I reached the place where I am camped for the night, which is simply a clear patch of ground not far from the main road, I saw fifteen deer and seven elk.
Day 17 – Where Do I Begin? – 125.92 km
Today was by far the worst day of the trip and quite possibly one of the worst days I have ever had the displeasure of living through in my entire life. Disaster struck in the morning and continued throughout the day up until this very instant. Today’s day quite simply kicked my butt, hard.
Yesterday my fuel ran out for my stove. Luckily I was in Dease Lake where I could re-supply. My little stove burns denatured alcohol, which can be found at any paint or hardware store, as well as Wal-Mart. There happened to be a hardware store in Dease Lake, which as my luck would have it was closed. My stove is also advertised to burn other alcohol based fuels such as rubbing alcohol or 150 proof alcohol. Since 150 proof alcohol is kind of expensive and would be a waste to burn, I opted for the rubbing alcohol.
I found out the hard way that my trusty little stove does not burn rubbing alcohol as advertised. Luckily I was able to fall back on my Boy Scout skills and constructed a fire with which I managed to boil my water with ease. I used the rubbing alcohol as a fire starter, at least one thing it’s good for. I made myself a delicious meal of Kraft dinner and of course bread.
Shortly after breakfast is when the fun started. I once again hit a stretch of gravel road, one of which I hope I never have to experience again. This gravel road was not hard packed as was yesterdays, but was rather quite loose. The first section consisted of a 5 km downhill. Since the gravel was loose I nearly lost control countless times. The second section was a nice 7 km uphill grade of 8%. An uphill grade of 8% would be bad enough, but combined with loose gravel, it makes it terrible. To make matters worse, at about 11 AM it began to rain. This meant I had to put on all my rain gear, in which it is very hot when the sun is out at the same time.
But wait, it gets better! It began to rain harder. Then it rained some more, and then it kept raining. By this point I am absolutely drenched, completely filthy, and kind of cold. Keep in mind that my stove doesn’t have fuel, so the only way I’m going to make myself a warm dinner is by making a fire. Well, as you can guess, that didn’t happen. Today’s dinner involved pop tarts, granola bars, bread, and jelly beans for desert. I guess I’ll just have to make do with what I have.
On a funny note, I participated in my first moose chase today. I saw a moose on the road, so I yelled some stuff at it in order to get it to move out of the way. The guy just started running along the road. I cycled after him for about three kilometers before he finally got off. It was actually quite a challenge to keep up with him since he was doing a good 25 km/h!
Right afterwards I hit another stretch of gravel road, once again loose packed and only a downhill of about 2 km this time. However, what made it really interesting is that at this point it was pouring rain. Let me just say that going down that hill was quite scary. I have never been gladder to have disc brakes, as those things can stop me in rain, slush, snow, or mud.
If there is one thing I hate more than anything in this world it’s putting a tent up in the rain. Well, guess what I had to do today? To make it even more fun for me, I had to battle wind at the same time. Could it be worse? Oh yes! Since there is about two feet of snow everywhere here it’s quite a challenge to find a bare patch of ground. Therefore the best I could do was a combination of grass and mud, just great!
It is now 11 PM. It has not stopped raining for even five minutes over the last 12 hours. I am tired, cold, and miserable. I don’t think I have never gotten so drenched in my entire life. I would have gladly stopped at a motel or even at someone’s house to ask to sleep in their garage. Unfortunately for me, I have not seen a single building for the last 70 km. I think that I’m going to sleep in tomorrow…
Day 18 – A Beautiful Day - 160.56 km
In the morning I suffered several hardships which led me to believe that today would be another bad day. It stopped raining at about 7 AM, but I promised myself the night before I’d sleep in and thus woke up around 9:30 AM. Dark clouds loomed overhead, and it was quite cold. The night before I had hung my food bag up in a tree so well that not only could a bear not get it down, but neither can I. Needless to say, I ended up climbing 20 feet into a tree in order to recover my precious food.
It also turns out that I’ve had some electronic failures. My phone gives me a message saying “GPS failure. Contact service provider.”, perhaps that’s why I can’t seem to get any service these past few days. My iPod is also giving me issues, the screen shifts off center and the thing just freezes. The only way I can get it to work again is to let the battery completely drain, then charge it up again. This is the second time it’s happened and it’s quite annoying. I didn’t drop either of these or get them wet or anything, they just decided they hated their miserable existence and thus stopped to function. No worries, I’ll simply have to locate the nearest Best Buy to exchange my iPod and Telus to exchange my phone.
The rest of the day turned out to be absolutely awesome. The sun soon came out, the winds died down, and the road was in great shape. There were some steeper hills, but they didn’t prove to be too much of a problem. The thing I find so strange about it up here is that there can be absolutely nothing for 100 km or even more at a time. I mean not a single house, gas station, building, anything. Just road, road, and road.
While stopped on the side of the road in order to take a drink of water an elderly couple pulled up to me and asked me if I had just seen that grizzly bear sleeping right next to the road. It turns out there was a big one lying pretty much right next to the road way, but I somehow didn’t notice it! Don’t ask me how it’s possible not to notice a big brown bear, but I guess it is!
On the other hand, today I happened to see six black bears! The first proved to be the most trouble. I yelled at him in order to try to get him to move, but he just wouldn’t. I’m not daring enough to just roll on past him and hope he doesn’t do anything, so I got a ride past him on the back of someone’s pickup truck. I managed to get a picture of him while driving past. The other four bears didn’t prove to be too much trouble. When far away I just start yelling and waving my hands, if they move, I just keep on rolling by yelling off some gibberish. If they don’t, which has only happened with that first one, I’d have to stop and back up.
I decided to push on further today in hopes of reaching some civilization. Seeing six bears was also quite a good incentive in order for me to not just pitch a tent in the middle of a forest. I made it all the way to Mezidian Junction, which just so happens to be one of the furthest things possible from civilization. It’s amazing this place is even on the map. It literally consists of five buildings: a house, a storage building, a gas station office, a restaurant/grocery store, and this big empty log building in which I am sleeping. May I add that everything here is still closed for the season!
I ended up setting up my lodging in this big empty log building which I came across. Initially I just setup my sleeping pad and sleeping bag, but upon seeing that the birds above are dropping hazardous wastes, I decided it would be wise to setup the rain fly from my tent. I would have had to set it up anyway in order to let it dry from the night before. As a side note, I saw my sixth bear of the day while looking outside of this log building, he was just minding his own business next to the road. Needless to say, my bear spray is within close reach!
I am still out of fuel for my stove and am thus living off of pop tarts and bread. I really would love to make a fire in order to cook up some pasta, but everything here is snowed in and it’s impossible to find firewood. It’s still the end of winter here! Hopefully tomorrow I can find some fuel for my stove as well as a restaurant where I can charge up my laptop, I only have 30 minutes of battery time left!
Day 19 – Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures – 152.04 km
Next to the building I was sleeping in was parked an RV. Just as I, someone had decided this would be a good place to stay for the night. In the morning I went to go ask these people if per chance they had any denatured alcohol, and if not if I could simply have some boiling water to re-hydrate my instant mashed potatoes. As luck would have it this couple was from Germany and they didn’t speak any English. As further luck would have it, I used to know German but unfortunately was young at the time and forgot it when I learned English. So basically: no denatured alcohol, no water.
As I was packing up I noticed that I was down to my last six pop tarts, the rest of my food all required cooking. As the German couple was leaving they brought me a cup of coffee. For those who know me, I simply do not do coffee. Either way I thanked the man graciously and continued to pack up my things. That cup of coffee just kept looking at me, all hot with its rising steam. I unfortunately could not resist drinking any warm beverage and thus somehow managed to ingest that beverage. It was the first cup of coffee I have ever drank in my life and I sincerely also hope my last. It is by far the most vile beverage I has ever consumed, and I have no idea how some of you drink it daily and like it!
No matter, I decided to push on. At about two o’clock I found a suitable stream in a dry place where I could start a fire. Although it took me an hour to filter water, rather firewood, find stones, prepare a fire, and cook my meal, it was well worth it. Being as this was my first warm meal of any kind in two days I can honestly say that Kraft dinner has never tasted so good. Unfortunately at this point I was completely depleted of my supply of dry food, and to make matters worse, I also found out that my one and only water bottle had sprung a leak in the bottom!
As much as I did not want to push on today, I decided it would be best to make it to civilization. I rode 100 km without a bite to eat and very little to drink, but in the end it was all worth it. Three black bears later, which I all yelled and waved at, I made it to a town called Kitwanga in which I found a splendid campground. I was fed two burgers as well as two popsicles. I decided I was still hungry and rode to the dinner three kilometers down the road. Here I swallowed a roast beef dinner with fries, as well as a drumstick for desert. Luckily tomorrow I will finally be able to decently resupply. There is both a hardware and grocery store here in Kitwanga where I can make all the necessary purchases. The worst of my road is over as the rest of my route is fairly populated, or so I hope! The next two days should be fairly relaxing as I have only 170 km to go until I reach a town called Houston, where I will surfing someone’s couch.
Day 20 – The Case of the Missing Croc – 105.09 km
Today in the morning I had the biggest craving for two things: chocolate milk and cereal. I decided it was best to kill two birds with one stone, and thus ate cereal with chocolate milk. The grocery store was having a sale on Rasin Bran at $2.54 a box, so how could I pass that up? I must say that it was actually quite good. Perhaps next time I’ll have a craving for orange juice and cereal, although I’m not sure how that will taste! However, on my to do list food wise are: drink a gallon of milk in a hour, eat a gallon of ice cream in an hour, and eat that burger with two pounds of beef? Why you ask? Just to see if I can!
While in the village of Skeena I took a seat on the steps of a church, where there conveniently happened to be a WiFi hotspot. From here I updated you last after my absence of several days. Many locals passed by, many of whom I chatted with. A teacher from the local school also passed by, and after finding out what I was doing insisted that I be a guest speaker at their school. Of course I agreed! I distributed several of my cards, told them about what I was doing, and answered some questions. It was actually quite fun!
Today I also had quite the adventure. When I made it to New Hazelton I looked at the cargo rack of my bicycle and nearly had a heart attack, one of my Crocs had gone missing! As you know I occasionally strap loaves of bread in the same place in order to not take up space in my bags. At the last rest stop I had removed a loaf of bread from there and put it in my bag, but I forgot to tighten the bungee cords holding my Crocs! Needless to say, I backtracked 10 km to that rest area searching for my Croc. I searched high and I search low, but to no avail. On the way back I searched the ditches, and as luck would have it I managed to find my Croc! It would have been very bad to lose it for several reasons: I had grown very attached to it after 2000 km, I would have had to pay $44.95 for a new pair of Crocs, and they’re my only pair of non-cycling shoes! Needless to say, disaster was averted at the cost of an additional hour and a half as well as 20 km, which may I add are not included in today’s total.
On another note, I broke a speed limit on my bicycle today! On the way into New Hazelton I reached a speed of 54 km/h in a 50 km/h zone. I kind of wish they gave me a speeding ticket, how cool would that be? Although my maximum speed as of now is 65 km/h, it still feels pretty cool to break a speed limit!
Day 21 – The Quest for Denatured Alcohol – 78.33 km
In the morning today I was supposed to meet up with a reporter in Smithers who was supposed to do a story on my trip, but unfortunately he was off for the day. Perhaps I will get in touch with him by phone later on. Either way, I still decided to stop for breakfast in the town of Smithers. I stopped at an oasis with the name of “Tim Hortons”. Here I feasted upon a toasted twelve grain bagel with cream cheese and a medium Iced Cappuccino with a flavor shot of hazelnut. As you can tell by now, I might as well have Tim Hortons running through my veins!
Today I was not only partaking in my epic journey from Alaska to Panama, but I was also on a quest. My sole mission for today was to find denatured alcohol for my cooking stove. I visited four hardware stores and two outdoor stores in the town of Smithers, but it was to no avail. It was beginning to seem as if my quest for denatured alcohol may as well be a quest for the Holy Grail itself! I have been looking for the stuff since Whitehorse and haven’t been able to find it anywhere. Needless to say I decided to give up on my search, and opted to buy a new stove at the next REI I pass that will burn anything.
From Smithers, which is a very cool town with an absolutely awesome main street may I add, I traveled to the town of Houston, where I am surfing someone’s couch today. While fixing my bicycle in the garage, my host for the night, Paul, came in and asked if I needed a hand with anything. I explained to him my dilemma of my lack of denatured alcohol. No more than twenty seconds later I was staring at four liters of precious denatured alcohol. It turns out that over here it is called by many different names, and denatured alcohol does not happen to be one of them. With my fuel bottle filled I showed off my very cool alcohol stove and my superior light weight packing skills.
So I managed to find denatured alcohol, tuned up my bicycle, and received a monster of a dinner meal. All in all I must say it’s been a very good day! Remember that I post photos on my website, check them out!
Day 22 – Smooth Sailing – 163.77 km
I stayed up quite late last night. It was not because I could not sleep, but rather I had to watch the season finale of ABC’s show “Lost”. Absolutely brilliant finale, I won’t ruin it for you if you haven’t seen it yet, but it was simply awesome. If you don’t watch Lost, you really should!
Being as I got a mere five and a half hours of sleep, I figured today would be a rough today where I wouldn’t be able to cover much distance. Luckily that proved to be quite wrong. A great breakfast combined with an early start, great weather, and smooth roads turned out to be quite the good combination, an absolutely great day for cycling.
Although I covered quite a bit of road today, the day was actually quite uneventful. The highlight of my day was seeing five bears at once, a large black bear along with its four cubs. I remember that someone recently told me that if I come across eight bears at once, I’m better off just spraying myself with the bear spray and hoping for the best. I decided that really wasn’t necessary in this case, luckily!
The only other highlight of my trip was buying some souvenir at an antique store, which of course I talked the price down for. May I point out that I have not yet once paid full price for any lodging/camping or souvenirs on this trip. It may not seem like your saving much, but it really does add up! What can I say, I’m quite the economist!
Remember to check out my website for photos. If you’re feeling extra generous you can also make a donation, just as every kilometer counts so does every dollar!
Day 23 – The Day of Champions – 141.23 km
Yesterday it was late when I got to my campground, so I didn’t think too much of its location. When I awoke in the morning I finally looked around and saw that I was next to a major highway on one side and a railway on the other side. Luckily I’m a very sound sleeper, otherwise it would have been a rough night!
In the town of Vanderhoof I met up with a reporter who conducted an interview with me regarding my trip. I would say things went fairly well, at least I hope so! Vanderhoof is quite a small town, but very neat. Then again, any town with a Tim Hortons is great in my books! I of course stopped by there to get myself a toasted bagel with cream cheese as well as an Iced Cappuccino for brunch.
Quite a ways past Vanderhoof I stopped at a gas station where they were also selling some food. I decided that I would have the lunch of champions. Any meal of champions simply involves adding as many things to it as possible. Thus, I ordered myself potato wedges with gravy, to which I added ketchup, mustard, relish, and mayonnaise. As disgusting as it may look and sound, it was actually pretty good. Sure, each forkful may have tasted different, but it was probably nutritious and definitely filling.
Following my lunch of champions I slowly made my way to the city of Prince George. A fairly decent sized city of about 80,000 people, as a hunger stricken cyclist you can find anything you need here. I managed to locate my cell phone provider, who told me as long as I don’t use my GPS function I need not worry about my error message. I also stopped at a Future Shop at which I bought a new case for my iPod, as my old one was inadequate to say the least. It was quite pricy at $34.95, but necessary none the less.
From here I made my way to the downtown area of Prince George. I took a few pictures of buildings and other things that I found to be pretty neat. All in all it’s a fairly nice city. The only thing that surprised me was that the downtown area was practically dead even though it was a Friday. I went to an Italian restaurant for dinner which proved to have most excellent food. At least I think so, however when your hungry everything tastes good! Although I must admit that it was quite strange being the only person in the restaurant. Keep in mind that it is 8 PM on a Friday night. Where I’m from all the restaurants are packed at this hour. In the time I was at this restaurant no one else came to eat there. Two people did drop by in order to pick up orders they made over the phone, but that was it.
I am currently surfing someone’s couch here in Prince George. If you’ve never tried couch surfing, you really should. It’s a great way to not only travel cheaply, but to also meet some great people.
Day 24 – So Much To Do, So Little Time - 117.24 km
Today in the morning I woke up refreshed and full of energy after getting a good night’s sleep on a real bed. My hosts made me a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and bison sausage. I must say, it was quite good!
My first order of business for the day was shipping off a package home since it was quite a pain to carry around, I mean, it was literally the size of a pizza box! Luckily I managed to find a post office that was open early on a Saturday. Soon afterwards I had an appointment to meet a reporter from the Prince George Citizen at the place where most business is done in Canada, Tim Hortons of course! I tell you, that place is a gift from the gods sent down to us Canadians. Afterwards I headed out of Prince George, but not before buying some superglue. I cracked my sunglasses yesterday and had to fix them. I tell you, there isn’t much superglue, tape, and zip-ties can’t fix.
The road to Quesnel was quite dull. There really wasn’t anything interesting along the way. Unfortunately I got rained on quite hard before reaching Quesnel. I did put on my rain jacket, but simply didn’t feel like putting on my rain pants or shoe covers. A big mistake I tell you. My shoes and socks are still wet. I am definitely never doing that again!
Since I made it to Quesnel early, I managed to catch the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie playing at a theatre. I thought it was pretty good, but I didn’t realize it was that long! I am currently staying at a campground on the outskirts of Quesnel. In the morning I’m supposed to meet a reporter from the newspaper here, and then I hit the road once again. So much to do, so little time!
Day 25 – Food Overload – 132.42 km
Have you ever heard anyone say that it’s nearly impossible to drink a gallon of milk in an hour without throwing up? Well, I decided to put this myth to the test today. In the morning I bought a gallon of milk along with my favorite add to everything food, bread. Supposedly in some places heavy drinkers eat bread before a good night of partying as it absorbs some of the alcohol and lets them drink more, I thought that this same principle might work for milk.
Let me just say that doing this was a very bad idea. The first two liters went down without a problem; I actually managed to drink them in under ten minutes. It all went downhill after that point. The next liter was real rough. What made it even worse was that I was sitting on a park bench outside, and the sun was making my milk warm. Needless to say, after three quarters of a gallon I felt that should I take another sip of milk, all that I had drank would spontaneously and suddenly erupt out from within the deepest and darkest bowels of my stomach. That, and the fact that I actually planned on biking that day made me call it quits. Alas, a failure, but I did manage to finish the whole loaf of bread without a hitch. I plan on attempting this daring feat again sometime, but next time I will utilize chocolate milk and keep my milk refrigerated to keep it cold!
After recovering from my milk drinking spectacle I hit the road. Although the roads here are in southern British Columbia are both flatter and in better condition than in northern British Columbia, the landscape is nowhere as scenic. The only upside is that with the presence of civilization there are neat places to stop along the way.
My first stop was at a country restaurant where I tried something called bumbleberry pie, heated with vanilla ice cream on the side of course. That’s the only way to eat any slice of pie after all! This pie is basically a combination of a bunch of different berries. I can honestly say it was the absolute best piece of pie I have ever had the pleasure of digesting. To make things even better, the owners of the restaurant were so intrigued with my trip that I ended up getting it for free. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Further along down the road was a gift shop where they also sold fudge. I had never really tried fudge much before and decided now would be an excellent time to do so. As luck would have it, they gladly provided me with free samples to taste the various kinds of fudge. I think that I sampled nearly every flavor they had, and they were all so good! My favorite flavor ended up being mint chocolate, of which I purchased a small piece of for the road. Fudge is a winner in my books, although I don’t dare wonder how many calories it contains! And to think, my mom worries about me being malnourished!
One strange thing that I have noticed about British Columbia is that most people here give distances in terms of miles and not kilometers. I mean, we use the metric system in Canada! When I asked a few people in a restaurant how far it is to the next town they all gave me distances in miles. Most of the signs for gift shops and such are also provided in miles. It seems that our friendly neighbors to the south have infected our western Canadians with their confusing system of measurement!
Day 26 – Showered With Gifts - 123.42 km
Today while on the road I got flagged down by some people standing at the side of the road next to their car. It turns out that these people had seen me cycling up in Alaska and were wondering if I was the same guy. They graciously bestowed upon me priceless gifts of snacks and a cold beverage. It turns out that they are also avid bicyclists, so they naturally asked me all about my bike, route, and gear. I tell you, for a hungry cyclist nothing is better than being showered with nutritiously filling food!
Afterwards I passed through the town of 100 Mile House, which is actually a very neat place. I bought myself some bread and bananas at the supermarket, then took a quick snack break at Tim Hortons. Amongst the interesting things I saw here were: a railway cart store, a giant pair of skis, a teepee, a ski through tunnel. Check out the pictures in my photo album, they’re actually quite neat!
On another note, I reached my top speed on my bicycle today. A staggering 76 km/h. On these skinny bicycle tires that I have, it kind of makes you think about how much faith you put into your equipment. Although, at the time I didn’t really care as I was making excellent time. You know your going fast when your eyes being to tear up!
I managed to get a killer deal on camping today. Most campsites charge anywhere from $12 to $15 per night, but today I only paid $5. As always, there is a catch. No water, electricity, bathroom, or showers. Most campgrounds have laundry and showers and such, but today there were no such luxuries. I had to make use of the power outlet across the street at the post office in order to charge up my collection of electronics as the only outlet that was present here was not functional. It could be worse though, at least I have a WiFi hotspot nearby!
Day 27 – I Need to Buy a Better Map – 108.37 km
Yesterday while planning my route I noticed that there was a shortcut I could take which would save me nearly 50 km. Brilliant! My map shows that about 15 km of this road is gravel. But hey, no biggie, I’ve done plenty of gravel roads on the Cassiar highway with no problems. I mean, how bad could it be?
The day started off real well. I made it to the town of Clinton where the junction for this road was. I managed to find it without any problems and was quickly on my way. The first 20 km of the road went by great. The road was a peaceful two lane road through rolling meadows which was really beautiful. There were hardly any cars on it and the climbs were not bad at all. I arrived at a provincial park called Downing Lake, which was really beautiful. The water of this lake was so clear and had such a brilliant color that it was truly a sight to behold.
Right after Downing Lake is where the gravel, as well as the fun, started. It was a one lane, rough gravel road. I really have no ideas how two cars could pass each other on it, as it simply wasn’t physically possible. After two kilometers of this gravel I saw a sign which made me both curse aloud and nearly break down into pitiful sobbing: “Steep Up-Grade 14% for 5 km”. For those of you who don’t know, a 14% grade is very steep. Add a dirt/gravel road, my skinny tires, and my sharp gearing to that mix and it spells disaster. I tell you my dear readers, it was bad. Very, very bad.
I can honestly say that it was one of the most painful experiences that I have ever endured in my life. What makes it real rough is that although you are exhausted from climbing, you really don’t want to stop, because if you do it’s very difficult to get back on your bicycle. Stepping into those clip-in pedals on a 14% grade is not at all easy.
Not expecting such a sharp climb I depleted my water supply quite early on. As luck would have it, a couple passed me by soon after. They first commented on the fact that I was crazy for taking such a route, then they asked me about my trip. One topic of conversation led to another and I was soon offered water. Unfortunately all that they had was frozen, so I ended up getting a two liter frozen block of ice. A great success either way as it slowly melted throughout the day, always staying cold. I once again thank the good Samaritans from Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia!
Soon after passing the couple who gave me the block of ice I came upon an ice cold mountain stream. I tell you my dear readers, I pounced upon that stream faster than a college student jumps at the opportunity to get free beer. As time was of the essence I decided to take my chances and pass on filtering the water. No worries, I’m still alive!
I soon figured out that the way down would not be much better than the way up. I may not have to pedal anywhere as fast, but there were countless other obstacles. Going down a one lane winding gravel road at 60 km/h is simply scary. Let’s just say that your holding onto your handlebars for dear life praying that you don’t wipe out and nearly soiling yourself on every bump and turn. After awhile the road got so bad that I had to constantly apply my brakes as I feared I would lose control and go down a 100 foot drop.
The road flattened out slightly after several kilometers, but was still fairly downhill. It was here that disaster struck. As I was going around a corner I came face to face with a car. I instinctively slammed on my brakes. Unfortunately, my bicycle isn’t equipped with anti-lock brakes and thus I slid all over the place then crashed. I didn’t hear the car at all as it was one of those hybrid cars, which are deadly silent. They may be good for the environment, but they are dangerous to cyclists like myself. Although I bled quite a bit I suffered a mere flesh wound. I quickly managed to bandage myself up and be on my way. What makes this all the more ironic is that the car which caused me to lose control was a government forest service car!
To make the day even more eventful than it already was I also saw two grizzly bears in the meantime. Me being so scary and all, when I yelled my bear yell, which is usually just random gibberish, they hightailed it into the woods. Disaster averted once again!
Pain and suffering aside, today was an absolutely gorgeous day. The views were simply spectacular and there was not a cloud in the sky. I am currently camped at a provincial campground not far from the city of Lillooet. This particular campground is really nice because it is provided free of charge by BC Hydro, all you have to do is register.
From what I am told the road tomorrow is quite brutal as well, involving numerous 14 and 15 percent climbs. However, since the roads are paved it makes them much more manageable. What makes this all even worse is that I have to cover 130 km of this brutal terrain to make it to Whistler tomorrow. I plan on waking up extra early!
Day 28 –Up and Down and Up and Down - 131.93 km
Today in the morning I saw a sign which read: “No service for next 100 km”. As I have found out previously, what this basically translates to is “Nothing for the next 100 km”. Luckily I was fully supplied with both water and lots of snacks!
The road started off rough from the get go. I was at first hit with a very sharp hill ranging in grade from 12% to 14% for roughly 8 kilometers. This was followed by a slight downhill, and then 15 more kilometers of what I like to call rollercoaster riding. It basically involved a 13% uphill followed by a 11% downhill, and it kept repeating and repeating.
I am basically crawling up these hills at a snails pace. Sometimes I even travel across the road in zigzags so that it’s easier for me to be able to get up it. The next 40 kilometers were easier, but far from easy. The whole time the road ran next to a raging river which was ironically called “Canyon Creek”. This meant two things: I was going slightly uphill for a staggering 40 km, I was facing headwinds for 40 km.
Needless to say I somehow managed to struggle through all this. The road then flattened out a bit to my great relief. Soon afterwards I say a sign which made me truly happy: “Extreme grades for next 13 km”. For the next 11 kilometers my speed did not once drop below 50 km/h. Although I was freezing for most of the time, it felt great to be able to make up all that lost time.
The going got ugly when I saw a sign that read “15% grade for next 2 km”. I take pride in breaking speed limits, but I now know that they exist for a reason. There was a fairly sharp turn at which a sign for 30 km/h was posted, I decided to be adventurous and go into this turn at 50 km/h. Bad, bad idea. When I realized that I was going too fast and decided to apply my brakes it was too late. I hit the gravel shoulder and wiped out. Falling off a bike at 50 km/h hurts just a little bit. The worst thing is road rash, let’s just say that it hurts and let’s leave it at that. My second fall in two days, I have to be much more careful!
Luckily I suffered only flesh wounds, quite a few of them, but nothing overly serious. I’ll have a few black and blue bruises to add to that as well. I’m actually quite surprised that my fall didn’t hurt that much. I was a little sore but not really in too much pain. My mom bought me this spray called “New Skin” which you can spray on injuries and it kind of acts as a band-aid. Let’s just say that if the hell came in a spray bottle, that would be it. Spraying that stuff onto my injury caused pain excruciatingly worse than was caused by my injury. I don’t know who invented that stuff, but it’s terrible!
Although I came out of the ordeal with only scratches, my bicycle was not as fortunate. It too suffered some scratches, but it also suffered an injury to the right shifter. Needless to say I can’t use a bunch of my gears. I managed to do a quick repair to be able to use only my lowest gear so that I could still climb hills, allowing me to make it to Whistler with ease. I will have to take my bike in for some minor repairs tomorrow as well as a tune-up.
I managed to make it into Whistler, mangled but alive and well. Wow is it expensive here! The only campground in town wanted $35 a night for a tent spot! I decided to bicycle 5 km out of town to a hostel where I paid $23 a night. Tomorrow I will be doing absolutely no biking, well, none that will count to my total at least. I will be dropping my bike off at the shop and taking a day off to go skiing! Luckily falls on snow are much less painful that falls on pavement!
Day 29 – On the Slopes of Blackcomb – 0.00 km
Today in the morning I got a nice and early start. I woke up at 6:30, full of energy and ready to go skiing. I made myself the breakfast of champions, which consisted of two helping of instant pasta. For dessert I had a bowl of cereal with milk, which I conveniently got from the free food cupboard here at the hostel. At about 8:00 I headed to town on my bicycle. I had to drop by bicycle off at the repair shop to get a few things worked on.
Whistler village is about 10 km away from where this hostel is, so the ride took me about 40 minutes or so. Unfortunately I did not know that the bicycle shop opens at 10:00. In the meantime I visited the post office where I had a care package shipped to me from home. Inside were countless priceless goodies ranging from quality Polish chocolates to more of my business cards and even permethrin, a long term mosquito repellent. In the meantime I also visited the local IGA in hopes of finding a very cheap backpack into which I could put my camera as well as some other stuff for when I went skiing. Unfortunately I had no success in finding anything suitable.
The bicycle shop opened about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, giving me 10 more minutes of precious skiing time. I explained the problems I was having, which I was assured would be fixed without any problems. I begged and pleaded with the owner to let me borrow an old backpack of some sort, but unfortunately all he had were new ones. I did manage to get quite the bargain though. I got a backpack that was originally priced at $70 for a mere $25 as it was the last of its kind and I guess no one wanted it. It is baby blue and looks kind of girly, but oh well! I originally anticipated on borrowing an old backpack and throwing it away, but since this one is really nice I think I’m going to hang onto it.
Map in hand, I quickly proceeded to the main gondola for Blackcomb. I managed to find it with ease and in no time was downstairs in the rental shop. I had a choice between two kinds of boots: beginner boots that were my size, or intermediate/advanced boots that were a size too small. Never would I dream of wearing beginner boots on a hill like Blackcomb, so I opted for a day of toe pain in exchange for better skiing. I also told the guys that I wanted the best skis they got, and needless to say I was not disappointed! I got a very nice pair of Salomon twin tip skis which were quite long and wide, perfect for today’s conditions. Price for ski rental: $35. Not too bad at all for such fine skis! The lift ticket for Blackcomb was $40, not the cheapest price in the world but nothing that will make a big dent in my pocketbook.
If there is one thing I love on this world more than cycling, it’s skiing. I don’t know what crazy guy had the idea of strapping two wooden sticks to his feet and going down a hill, but that man was a genius! There is nothing like the feeling of rushing down a ridiculously steep hill at breakneck speeds. Needless to say, today was an absolutely incredible day. The snow was wet and felt heavy, but it was still excellent for summer conditions. There is nothing like being able to hit the slopes in a t-shirt and shorts and not be cold at all!
Whistler Blackcomb is quite simply an amazing hill. The runs here are so beautiful they actually bring a tear to my eye. Other ski resorts in the east like Killington and Tremblant might as well hide in a corner in comparison with a place like this. Although the conditions were anything but ideal, today was probably the most fun day that I’ve ever had skiing, and only a small part of the hill was open! Only a small section near the top is open as that is where the snow is, but let me tell you, it was more than enough skiing. You know that a hill is decent when your legs begin to burn on the way down! To be able to ski all of Whistler and Blackcomb in the winter season you would probably need at least two weeks. Needless to say, I am definitely coming back here sometime in the winter. I love this place!
All in all it was an awesome day. Although I didn’t do much cycling, it was still quite strenuous physically. Skiing sure takes a toll on your legs and knees, but it is so worth it! Currently back at the hostel where I hitchhiked to without many problems. My bicycle is still at the bicycle shop as I decided it was probably wiser to pick it up in the morning. Will be making it into Vancouver tomorrow and will be stopping at that restaurant with the infamous two pound burger, hopefully they still offer it!
Day 30 – The Road Is Long and Narrow - 125.10 km
In the morning I quickly packed up all my belongings in the hostel and proceeded downstairs. Here I begged people for a ride to Whistler village. I left my bicycle there the day before, thus I had no means of transportation. I would have walked to the village, but with all my belongings it would have been quite a difficult feat. Luckily I managed to find someone who was going to the village, so I packed into their car. It would have been really tough trying to hitchhike with all my junk!
I picked up my bicycle when the shop opened at 10 AM without any problems. Everything was in working order and it didn’t cost me an arm and a leg to fix. A $28 well spent if I may say so myself! Afterwards I waited around for about thirty minutes to get my picture taken for a paper in Whistler. It was 11:15 AM and time to hit the road!
The road from Whistler to Vancouver wasn’t exactly tough due to the fact that it consisted of many hill climbs, but it was tough due to the fact that there was construction almost throughout the whole road. This meant that there was nearly no shoulder, yet I still had to squish in there on the side with a semi truck passing me on the left. Quite scary when a big car like that passes you with mere inches to spare, yikes!
Closer to Vancouver the road basically turned into a major highway, yet it was still the official bicycle route! This meant that at every exit and entrance ramp you had to stop and make sure there was no cars coming in order to avoid being hit and becoming flat as a pancake. Within the city of Vancouver itself things are really well organized for bicycles. There are specific lanes and paths dedicated solely for use by bicycles, however these are not always available. There were quite a few occasions where I had to squish in between cars and busses, as my bicycle is wide with all the bags in the back, not the easiest task! I would say that bicycling in downtown Vancouver was similar to bicycling downtown in a city like Toronto, you really have to be careful!
Without getting lost or making too much hassle I made it to the famous restaurant that I was told has a two pound hamburger which you can get for free if you manage to finish it. I of course ordered the mythical beast; the waitresses asked me two times if I was sure I wanted it! I found out there was a catch, I would have to finish the burger in 40 minutes or less or pay $27 for it. Not being one to back down, I accepted the challenge either way.
This burger was absolutely massive, I didn’t think it would be this big. The picture is posted in my photos, you really have to see it to believe it. The bun for this thing was basically a loaf of bread cut into three parts. This came accessorized with two burger patties of one pound each topped with cheese and mushrooms. Don’t forget the tomatoes, lettuce, and a lot of sauce! Armed with a fork, knife, and pitcher of water I was good to go!
Things went quickly at first, then gradually slowed down. Needless to say I wrestled with the beast for quite awhile. I was both determined to finish it and I really didn’t want to pay for it! Ultimately, I both succeeded and failed. It was a success in that, although with great difficulty, I managed to finish the burger in a still quite impressive 46 minutes. It was a failure in that I went over the time limit, and thus had to pay for it. In my training for this feat I didn’t realize there was a time limit, arg! Still not a total failure, since I got my name and picture up on their wall of fame. According to this wall only two people have finished it in 40 minutes, and one other in 45. That puts me at number four on the list, not too bad at all!
After taking a detour to the bath room, I hopped onto my bike and headed off to my CouchSurfing host for the night. Yes, even after finishing a two pound burger I was able to continue riding my bicycle! Luckily it was only about two kilometers away from the restaurant and not too hard to find. My host for the night, Gerald, was absolutely great! That night there was actually two other couch surfers staying with him, so I was the third! No worries, we all managed to fit, and all great people of course!
One of the other couch surfers, Boris, is a musician from France who is currently touring Canada and America. He was doing a show today in Vancouver, so when I was invited to attend I could not turn it down! He was playing at a coffee shop in downtown Vancouver, which is an absolutely beautiful and awesome place. Overall it was a great time filled with of course, great music.
The show was followed up by a party put on by actors and musicians in Vancouver. They have a warehouse where they make sets and props which they turn into one mean venue for a party every once in awhile. They were actually serving free burgers and hot dogs there, but I could not even bear the smell of another burger. Those last few chews of burger I felt as if I was chewing paper. Once again it was a really great time with an excellent crowd of people.
Most people would retire at this point, but not us! We had to visit the best twenty-four hour restaurant in Vancouver to try some excellent Vietnamese cuisine. We tried a soup made from tripe and intestines which although it may sound discouraging was very good. We were also educated on how to eat Vietnamese food properly. Armed with a spoon in my left and chopsticks in my right I tackled this soup, I assure you it was no easy feat after that two pound burger! I specifically found it interesting that you dip your chopsticks into your tea then wipe them off on a napkin to clean them.
It was quite the busy day indeed, but it was a great time! My host for the night as well as the other couch surfers staying with him were absolutely great, and the city of Vancouver really is quite the city to behold. But alas, time to get some sleep, I’ll be headed into the United States once again tomorrow!
Day 31 – Detours and Delays - 175.76 km
This morning I had to do only one thing before leaving Vancouver. I had to visit a store called Mountain Equipment Co-Op in order to exchange the pair of cycling shorts that I viciously destroyed as well as to buy some other small bicycle supplies. As I soon found out, navigating around a city like Vancouver without a map is a bad idea. I got lost and ended up somewhere in Chinatown. I attempted to ask for directions, but I really didn’t understand the responses that I received as they were in a different language, literally! The only map I had was on my mapping program on my laptop, so I took out my laptop and used that as a map. I was probably a prime target for getting mugged, but I managed to make it to the store in one piece.
At the store the guy gave me a funny look when I brought my cycling shorts to return them. I’m not sure if it’s because they smelled funny, or because something smelled funny about my story. I claimed that my shorts got caught on something and just ripped, since they lacked proper durability I would like to exchange them for another pair. Eventually I managed to get my way, and I picked up a brand spanking new pair of the same cycling shorts that I had destroyed in a high speed accident.
With all my supplies accounted for I hit the road. I decided to take Highway 99 again just like yesterday. Although it was not the most enjoyable road in the road to bicycle on, it was both the most convenient and probably the fastest. This idea worked fine for about 30 minutes, then I saw a nice sign saying that bicycle were no longer allowed past this point. No problem I though, there must be signs telling me where to go on these side roads.
Nope. I was simply thrown out into a residential neighborhood and forced to fend for myself. At this point I gave in and finally couched up the precious five dollars necessary to buy a decent map. I managed to find side roads which would lead me roughly in the same direction as the highway; unfortunately much slower and less convenient but doable.
The real trouble came when I found out that I had to cross a river. Highway 99 consists of a tunnel which goes under this river, but as we all recall cyclists aren’t allowed on Highway 99. After much asking around I found out there is a free shuttle bus which takes cyclists across the river through the tunnel with their bikes. Great! I managed to find the place, then my heart sank. I arrived at the bus stop at 1:10 PM. The previous bus had left at 1:00 PM, and the next bus was leaving at 3:00 PM. Absolutely brilliant! I had to wait nearly two hours for a bus to drive me through a tunnel that I could have biked through in five minutes.
At this point I knew that I was in trouble time wise. Even though I left fairly early in the morning, I had effectively lost three hours of time. Not too bad on any other day, but today I had to cover a staggering distance of 170 km in order to make it to Mt Vernon, where I had arranged to spend the night with somebody.
Regardless I pushed on. Since the American border was coming up I decided that I would, for what will possibly be my last time for three months, stop in a Tim Hortons. Here I purchased the obligatory bagel with cream cheese as well as an Iced Cappuccino. Today I decided to try one with a flavor shot of mint. I must say that it was quite excellent, even better than the hazelnut which I usually get! I really recommend that you try one.
The border crossing went smoothly. I didn’t receive any trouble, but I did talk with the guys there for a few minutes about my trip which they believed to be absolutely crazy. The rest of the road from here was rough. Even though I was doing a fairly decent speed it still took me a long time to make it to Mt Vernon. It was the first time during the course of my trip that I had to resort to riding at night. Normally I would have stopped, but I had given my word that I would be stopping by on this day, and I am not one to break a promise! Being determined I turned on my rear light for safety and my headlamp in the front so I could actually see something!
At around 10:00 PM I decided to take a quick snack break. Being as I was cycling through a city, I was the shining lights of Wendy’s beckoning me towards them. I swallowed a triple with cheese, which basically contains three quarters of a pound of meat. For those of you out there who think you can finish that two pound burger I ate just because you can finish three triples, think again! These burgers are lightweight with their white bread and lack of other accessories, that two pound burger was a monolithic beast! Either way, thank for Wendy’s for allowing me to eat great, even late!
When cycling through cities it wasn’t too bad visibility wise as there are streetlights everywhere; however my hosts for today live out in the county on a farm. There aren’t really any streetlights out there. It’s really an interesting experience riding your bicycle on county roads when it’s pitch black outside. But no worries friends, when the clock struck 11:30 PM I finally arrived at my destination safe and in one piece. Tomorrow I have a much shorter day into Seattle, which I am told is also a very neat place!
Day 32 – Refreshed and Full of Energy – 100.58 km
Last night I had gotten the best sleep that I have had in a month as it was the first time that I had slept on a real bed. All the other times I had slept on my air mattress, couches, or rollaway beds. I was as refreshed as ever!
My awesome hosts made me a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and a whole plate of fruit. Since I have such an appetite, I inhaled everything with ease. My hosts were heading out to church that morning and thus offered to take me along should I like. Although it was not a Roman Catholic church as I am accustomed to, I decided that some church is better than no church! The church we went to was a Christian Fellowship church. The ceremony was very different from what I am typically used to, but hey, prayer is prayer!
All refreshed and blessed I finally hit the road at about noon. I could have taken I-5 today, which is basically a major interstate, as bicycles are actually allowed on it. However, I decided that even should it take me a little longer, I would take the more enjoyable side roads.
Along the way I stopped in a country restaurant. These kinds of places always serve the best food in large quantities at the best prices; quite simply a win, win, win situation for a hungry cyclist! Here I was served a handsomely large piece of lemon meringue pie served a la mode of course; that’s the only way to eat pie after all!
Soon afterwards I made it to highway 99, which is simply a busy road filled with traffic lights. Not at all scenic, and quite a pain to bicycle. About 40 kilometers from Seattle the suburban sprawl had already begun; the farmland ended and the strip malls and suburbs began. Although it’s nice from the point of view that there is always someplace to stop and get whatever you need, it’s not that great when there is a traffic light every half kilometer, especially since I have the bad luck of being caught by most of them.
Needless to say that stretch of road took me a little longer than expected due to all the lights on it. I made it into Seattle at about 8 PM, which is where I am writing this from now. I am once again couch surfing with a fellow cyclist who has bicycled both the coast of the United States as well as across the country. He gave me a bunch of great advice with respect to my route and also filled me right up with food, for he too had felt the cravings of a cyclist diet in the past!
Overall it was a nice and relaxing day. To finish it off I watched Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto”. Not a bad flick at all. Just for the record, it’s the second movie I’ve seen in a month after the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
Day 33 – Ahoy Maties! – 111.13 km
Today in the morning I was treated to a most excellent breakfast thanks to my host, Joe. Breakfast is quite possibly the most important meal of the day, and definitely one of the best! After breakfast I had to call my cell phone provider as I was having problems with my phone working here in Washington. I was transferred from one representative to the next, but thirty minutes later my phone was once again operational.
Since Joe had the day off from work, he volunteered to not only show me around the city but also show me the best way to get out. This was a tremendous help as bicycling in a city as large as Seattle is not easy for anyone who doesn’t know the city and doesn’t have a bicycle route map! I visited the Seattle city center as well as all the popular tourist spots. Overall I’d say it’s a very cool place indeed.
The best place in which I stopped today was the famous REI flagship store in Seattle. REI is probably one of my favorite stores, so this place was simply paradise for me. The only problem is that whenever I enter one of their stores I end up dropping a lot of money in them. Today I purchased: new pedals, new bar tape, a camera tripod, two tent pegs, and a guidebook for bicycling the Pacific coast. The total damage was somewhere around $170 US, ouch!
With my bags filled with new gear, and my pocketbook slightly lighter, we proceeded to the harbor downtown from where many ferries in Seattle depart. I decided it would be much better to take a ferry across to the less populated side and work my way to the coast that way. I could have cycled south out of Seattle all the way to Olympia, but that way I’d be cycling over 100 km through a never ending city. With all those traffic lights it wouldn’t exactly be an enjoyable experience.
I must say that the ferry itself was very neat. You drive in, or ride in as in my case, park your vehicle, and make your way up to the passengers lounge. Here you have seats, tables, vending machines, a cafeteria, an information booth, bathrooms, as well as a bunch of other things that I’m forgetting. I must say that I was quite impressed. Not only was the ferry very well organized, but it was also fairly inexpensive (cost me $8) and everything was made to look very presentable. All in all a very enjoyable 50 minute ferry ride from Seattle to Bremerton.
When I disembarked from the ferry in Bremerton I had some slight problems finding the highway that I was supposed to go on. My map of the city was very general, and there weren’t any signs that pointed in the proper direction. I also learned today that many people have real trouble getting around even their own city, which is actually quite sad. I asked four people for directions on how to find this specific highway. Three of them all gave me different directions, all equally wrong. I finally ended up asking a fellow cyclist on the road for directions, and he was finally able to point me in the right direction.
The ride from Bremerton was fairly calm with gently rolling hills. There were a few hill climbs, but nothing excruciatingly terrible as I have unfortunately experienced in the past. Evidently it went by pretty quickly. I am now staying at a hostel in the town of Elma. I decided it is better to spend $20 for a hostel and get a bed rather than $15 for a campsite where I have to setup my tent.
Day 34 – Finally On the Coast - 118.62 km
In the morning today I decided to stop by a restaurant for some breakfast. It was a really neat place called “The Rusty Tractor”, obviously due to the fact that there were a bunch of rusty tractors outside. A restaurant with a very neat décor where I was served a beast of a breakfast: three eggs, three sausage links, three strips of bacon, and three pancakes. To make this place even better, they had free WiFi, so I could update you all on my latest adventures.
Today’s route was actually quite relaxing. There were several hill climbs and some strong headwinds, however nothing I couldn’t manage. The road was more enjoyable as highway 101 is now a smaller two lane highway as opposed to a major freeway like it was beforehand. The highway now also runs in serpentines through brilliant evergreen forest, which is not only a pleasure to look at but makes the air feel refreshing delightful.
Another thing I have accomplished today is that I have finally made it to the Pacific coast. Earlier I made just skimmed by it or visited a city where I passed by it momentarily, but now I will be hugging it for quite awhile. All the way down to the border of Mexico I will be taking highways 101 and 1. From what I have heard it is not terribly hilly, quite hot in some areas, and very beautiful. I have actually decided to take a route for tomorrow that is about nine miles longer than another route I could have taken. Supposedly there are some cool lighthouses and other neat things along the longer route, which I believed were worth biking the additional nine miles for.
Deciding that I went slightly over budget today with my hostel stay the previous night, I decided that today I would stealth camp. That is to say, I would simply pull off the road somewhere and camp in a place where I’m probably not allowed to. No worries! I am currently hiding in my tent behind a large bush, fairly out of sight of the road. Sure, I may not have included showers or a bathroom, but I do save $14 in camping fees!
Day 35 – Losses Upon Losses – 88.05 km
As you may recall from yesterday, today in the morning I was stealthily camped behind a bush not far off the road. When I awoke I quickly packed up and hit the road. I soon reached a town called Ilwaco, in which there really isn’t much. One thing that did catch my eye was a sign that read “All You Can Eat Fish N’ Chips”. I hadn’t had breakfast yet, but I decided that a breakfast of fish and chips would be quite a feast indeed. You know how in most restaurants when you get served fish and chips you get a bunch of fries and maybe two or three pieces of fish? Well, in this place it was exactly the opposite. I got a few French fries and about seven pieces of fish. I could barely finish the plate I was given! However since it was technically all you can eat I reluctantly accepted when asked if I wanted more fish. I packed that fish in there to make sure I didn’t go hungry later!
It’s no great feat to get stuffed up at an all you can eat restaurant. What is a daring and impressive feat is being able to get on a bicycle afterwards and pedal for hours on end! Although it wasn’t easy, I made my way to Cape Disappointment State Park, where there was a cool lighthouse I could visit. Although a few miles out of the way, I decided it would be worth it. When I got there it turned out that you had to hike 0.7 miles to get to the lighthouse. There was no way I was going to leave my bicycle unattended at a busy parking lot, so I reluctantly brought it along with me. Big mistake.
The path wouldn’t have been so bad if someone didn’t put wooden planks on it which doubled as steps. I had to walk my bicycle nearly the whole path, but even so it was not easy. Although with great difficulty, I managed to make it up to the light house in order to take a few pictures. On the way down I stopped by a place called Dead Man’s Cove. There was a sign which explicitly said to not hike down there due to bad trail conditions. Whenever there is a sign telling me not to do something, I usually do it!
On the way back to the parking lot from where the trail left off I ran into some serious trouble. It turns out that while going back down with my bicycle I went off one of the higher steps a little too fast, which resulted in me bending my wheel. I turned over my bicycle in the parking lot and attempted to fix the problem, but I soon realized that it was no quick fix. It was bad, my wheel was totally warped. I could not even ride my bicycle as the back tire was rubbing against the frame.
Luckily I managed to get a ride into the closest town where as luck would have it there were also two bicycle shops. The first shop told me I have a problem as the particular wheel I have is very difficult to find, however they could custom order it for me and it should be there in a day or two. Not wanting to be stranded for days I picked up my bicycle and walked with it several blocks to the next bicycle shop. Luckily they just so happened to have a wheel in stock. Unfortunately, bicycle wheels do not come cheaply. The bicycle rim as well as the costs to mount it cost $125, however since the owner felt sorry for me he gave me a good deal and only charged me $80. I will admit that the wheel is much better than my old one, but seriously, most car wheels don’t even cost that much!
I headed off down the road and into the fine state of Oregon. I was finally relieved that my bicycle was once again operational. After about twenty kilometers I dug into my bag to grab my guidebook to cycling the US portion of the Pacific Coast, which I had purchased a mere few days ago for $17.95 USD. Alas, it was nowhere to be found! It turns out that I left it on the counter in the bicycle shop. There was no way I was going to go back twenty kilometers, and the bicycle shop was already closed anyway. Great, just great. Not sure if I’m going to be able to find one of those soon. That is very unfortunate as the thing was really great, it literally told you everything you wanted to know.
To add to my list of casualties for the day my cyclometer suffered a valiant and fearless death, well, not really. At one point I looked down and it told me I was going at an incredibly fast rate of 0 km/h. It turns out that my cable ripped right through, and I was wondering why the thing wasn’t working! Will try to fix it tomorrow, hopefully it’s possible! Today’s distance was calculated not thanks to my cyclometer, but rather to Microsoft MapPoint North America 2006.
In the town of Cannon Beach I decided that I had endured enough pain and suffering for one day. I didn’t feel like breaking the law today by camping out in the bushes somewhere, so I went to the local campground in order to get a tent site. They wanted $22 USD for a tent site. There was no way I was going to pay that much. For that much I could stay in a hostel somewhere or even buy myself a new guidebook. I decided to visit a local church in order to ask to camp out on their lawn. Unfortunately no one was around, so I cycled away. I did see a man doing some yard work outside his house, so I pulled up and asked if it would be alright if I setup my tent in his back yard.
He told me that there was a vacant field not far away where I could pitch a tent and no one would probably mind, but he first insisted that I come in and have dinner. I told him all about my travels as well as my life back home. Before I knew it, it was dark outside. I told him I could still pitch a tent without a problem, as I have done it so many times that I could do it blindfolded, but he told me that he had a spare bed that I was more than welcome to use. Lesson learned: ask to camp at churches or yards before resorting to the evil money sucking campgrounds!
Day 36 – Camping Without Tents? – 152.15 km
Today in the morning I once again woke up refreshed after having a decent sleep in a real bed. I feasted upon a breakfast of toast and milk, then hit the road. It was raining outside, so I got suited up in all my raingear. Once I stepped outside it stopped raining, and it didn’t rain another drop all that. That’s Murphy’s Law for you!
Today a large portion of the road was directly along the coast. The views as well as the beaches here are simply spectacular, they truly are a sight to behold. As much as I would have liked to go take a dip in the ocean, it was freezing cold. Since all I carry with me is my ultra-compact camp towel, which is more like the size of a washcloth, I decided that would be a bad idea. Swimming in the ocean will have to wait until southern California!
Along the way today I passed by countless small towns and communities, each with their own neat felling. One very neat place I visited today was the “Blue Heron Cheese Factory”. This place made authentic French cheeses, offering tasting of both these cheeses as well as a variety of wines. Since US laws prohibit me from drinking alcoholic beverages, I had to stick to just the cheese tasting, but I did make the most of it! For lunch I picked up some smoked Brie as well as a delicious French baguette. The store was very pricy, but then again, quality over quantity!
On a negative note I got my first flat tire today. I figured I was slightly overdue after 4,000 km. It turns out that my rear tire is in quite bad shape. It has numerous cuts as well as small holes in it, it is likewise showing wear. To make a simple comparison let us consider that my tire is a piece of bread in a toaster. The bread would currently be dark brown, and will soon turn black. I just hope it doesn’t start smoking before I make it to San Diego, as that is where I want to change it out for a new one.
Today I also accomplished a great feat in the field of multitasking. I was riding my bicycle, listening to my iPod, changing gears, consulting my map, and texting someone on my phone, all at the same time! If that isn’t impressive I don’t know what it. Probably not the safest thing in the world to do, but quite efficient!
I had some real trouble finding a place to pitch a tent tonight. The road here is very populated, with a bunch of hotels and restaurants everywhere. It seems that every foot of land next to this road is owned by someone. I did not want to pitch on someone’s lawn and get shot at, and there was no way I was going to spend $45 to stay in a motel. You know those highway signs which tell you that there is food or gas at the next exit? Well, there happened to be a few signs like that which explicitly stated “Camping” and directed you to an RV ‘resort’ as they call it. When I get to all these places a nice sign reads “RVs only, no tents”. Seriously, is RVing now called camping? Since when does camping not involve a tent? What has the world come to?
Needless to say I am currently tucked away in the bushes in some state park. State parks also charge money to camp, around $16 or so per night, so I decided to be sneaky and stealthily camp out in the middle of nowhere. I hope I don’t get busted!
Day 37 – Just Another Day On The Road - 118.40 km
Today in the morning I was stealthily camped in the bushes of some state park. Rather than pay $20 for a nice tent site, I decided to go out into the deep bushes and pitch a tent. It turned out to work out just fine. I woke up nice and early and packed up extra quick just to ensure that I wouldn’t get busted. The day was filled with absolutely amazing views. The shores of Oregon are sometimes sandy but on many occasions rocky. Several times I was taking a picture off a ledge with a 150 foot drop right next to me. Quite daring considering the strong winds here, but it was worth the great picture!
I also made a side trip today to the tallest lighthouse in Oregon. I only went to visit it because the road was paved, had it been a path again like the last lighthouse I visited, I would have passed considering the bad experience I had. Unfortunately the inside of the lighthouse was not open yet, and I didn’t feel like waiting around an hour.
After visiting the lighthouse I went to one of America’s greatest inventions, an all you can eat buffet. It was some neat Italian place. I tell you friends, the best $8 that I have ever spent in my life. There is no way that place made money on me. I loaded up one seven full plates of food. The first four were full of warm food ranging from pizza and breadsticks to chicken tenders and mashed potatoes. The next two plates were loaded up completely with melons and pineapples. The last plate was a dinner sized plate full of ice cream. I practically limped out of that place I was so full. It was a miracle I was able to bicycle afterwards!
The rest of the day went by pretty quickly. I had nice winds pushing me along the whole time as well as fairly flat roads for most of the time. I experienced a few decent climbs, but nothing like I experienced in British Columbia. I am currently camped at a state campground that has a hiker/biker site. Someone on the internet forums I post on informed me that these are only present at some campgrounds and not all of them. Basically you pay $4 for a tent site. For that much it’s not worth the risk of camping out in the bush somewhere!
There are several other cyclists just like me here, but they are all planning much shorter trips. A pair of other cyclists treated me to a treat of smores. It was the first time I have ever eaten them, since I don’t think Pop Tart smores count, and I must say that they’re great!
Day 38 – Torrential Downpour – 108.00 km
I was quite surprised to be the first one out of camp this morning. Generally I wake up around 7 AM and get packed and going at around 8. Today I decided to sleep in till about 8:20, but still managed to get out on the road by 9:15. I thought I was getting up late, but here everyone else was sleeping! It looks like I must be really dedicated or something.
Although I never check weather reports, I already knew in the morning that it was going to be an ugly day. The campsite was located under a canopy of trees, which helped lessen the harsh weather, but on the open road there is nowhere to hide. I dressed up in all my rain gear in preparation for the worst. The bad thing about that stuff is that it is so hot in it. Sure, it keeps you dry from rain, but it still makes you wet inside from perspiration.
There were some nice views along the way, but unfortunately I didn’t take many pictures for two reasons: with the foul weather it was pretty ugly out, my pricy camera isn’t exactly waterproof. It’s kind of a shame since today I passed by the famous Oregon coast sand dunes.
The day only got worse and worse with respect to weather. Now, not only was there a downpour onto my head, but I was likewise being hit by frigid and strong headwinds. Rain is bad enough because it soaks you right through. Combine it with cold winds and your freezing like an ice cube!
I decided to take a lunch break at a Wendy’s, hoping that the rain would subside. Here I decided to visit the bathroom, in which the toilet was conveniently plugged up. I tried to give it a flush hoping that would solve the problem, but then water started coming out the sides onto the floor! I left that bathroom quicker than an underage high-school student leaves a party that is being broken up by cops.
I made it to another one of those hiker/biker sites I was talking about yesterday and decided I had enough tortre for the day. It was still early and I? could have pushed on, but I decided to leave that for a better day.
I am now at the campground and type this from mobile workstation. You know how they have those posts with electrical hookups for RVs at these campgrounds? Well, my waterproof bag is on top of one of these posts with my laptop inside. Its actually quite an efficient setup since it’s still raining!
Day 39 – Feels Like Christmas – 137.23 km
This morning I got a much later start than usual. I decided to sleep in a little since I had stayed up late the previous evening reading Lance Armstrong’s book: “It’s Not About The Bike”. I must say that it was an excellent read, I enjoyed it thoroughly and would really recommend it to others. Anyhow, 10 AM rolled around and I realized that I needed to get rolling as well.
Although it was slightly cloudy in the morning it soon cleared up, providing me with blue skies for the rest of the day. At times the wind was pushing me up hills, but at others it was pushing me back down them. In general the winds blow from the north-west, which is beneficial to me since I am traveling south, but I guess the wind get’s mixed up sometimes.
In the town of Port Orford I passed by a café called the “Wild Wind”. Although I wasn’t overly hungry, the sign on the restaurant read “Internet Access”. There is nothing better than being able to sit in a nice place with my laptop plugged into a power outlet and being able to use the internet. It isn’t the most fun experience in the world to travel around neighborhoods looking for wireless internet access, then having to balance your laptop on your knee while typing.
After I placed my order for a soup and salad the owner of the café came by and asked me what cause I was cycling for as well as some other things about my trip. He must have really liked what I was doing since he told me that he would cover the cost of my lunch! I thanked him sincerely, and being in a better mood already since I had saved $10 ate up my lunch and did all my bureaucratic doings on my laptop. I thought that things couldn’t get any better, but I was wrong. On my way out I was also bestowed with a bag full of baked goodies and two packs of beef jerky. I thank the great folks over at the “Wild Wind” in Port Orford once again!
Being in great spirits I pushed on once more. The road was once again littered with brilliant views of the Oregon shoreline. There were several medium sized climbs: trivial with a tail wind, slightly harder with a head wind. I passed over Oregon’s tallest bridge today: 325 feet. Let me tell you, that’s pretty high, and what a view it was from up there. I wish I could have gotten a picture of this bridge from the side but there were safety barriers all over so I couldn’t get out to the edge of a cliff to take a picture. Perhaps that’s a good thing after all!
I am currently camped out at the Harris Beach campground which is located very closed to Brookings, Oregon. I can hear the waves of the ocean in the distance. It sounds just like those nature sounds CDs you can buy, very relaxing! I am only a few miles from the California state line, which means that tomorrow I will be “California Dreaming”! All in all it was a very manageable day, may there be many, many more just like it!
Day 40 – Into The Woods – 108.30 km
Today in the morning I traveled through my last seven or so miles of Oregon and then made it into California. Yet another state, yet another stepping stone of my epic journey. I’m really surprised at how fast this is all going by, it seems just like yesterday that I landed at Anchorage International Airport.
I must say that it was quite exciting to see my first palm tree of the trip. That’s when it finally hit me as to how far I have actually traveled, since there isn’t any way that palm tree would make it up in Alaska. My joy would soon be subsided as I would soon be entering Redwoods National Park.
I will admit, there were a few decent climbs today. I have gotten lazy since British Columbia as I have been graced with a multitude of flatness, however today that changed. Although I had to struggle a bit, I made it to the tops of the hills with no problem.
The Redwoods are truly a magnificent sight to behold. They are the tallest trees in the world, quite a bit of which reach heights of well over 200 feet. Riding down this road it felt as if I was riding between skyscrapers in a large metropolis. The size of these trees is really something you have to see to behold, as pictures merely do not convey the same effect. The only downside was that these trees provided a large amount of shade in which it was actually quite cold!
Although most of the road today was simply stunning I will not bore you with details. It is best to check out the pictures in my album to see these amazing trees for yourself. Two trees of interest that I saw were the “Corkscrew Tree” and the “Big Tree”. The corkscrew tree simply looks as its name describes, like a corkscrew winding up into the heavens. Quite a neat sight to behold, really makes you wonder how it ended up growing like that. The big tree is once again true to its name, big. It is 304 feet tall with a diameter of 21’ 6” and an estimated age of 1500 years. It really was true to its name, the thing was simply massive!
I am currently camped out at a campground located not far from these magnificent Redwoods by the name of Elk Prairie Campground. I’m really starting to like these hiker/biker campgrounds as they are simply a great deal. Camping today cost me a staggering $3, tax included! Luckily I managed to find myself a new guidebook today, the same one that I lost, so I can find these sites a little easier.
Day 41 – A Step Back In Time - 158.54 km
The day begins just outside of the Redwoods at Elk Prairie Campground. I received a nice and early start as I knew that today would be a longer day. At the next town I stopped by the grocery store to grab some milk, cereal, and bagels; a fine breakfast and lunch! I also dropped by the post office to send some stuff home which I didn’t need anymore.
I moved pretty quickly on highway 101. The highway is now much flatter, but is unfortunately a wide interstate. Although there are wide shoulders, you still need to be very cautious at the on and off ramps as to avoid being hit by traffic. Although the miles go by quicker, they are nowhere as enjoyable as on the scenic side roads.
Right at the entrance to the city of Eukera I experienced my second flat tire of the trip, once again due to a shard of glass being embedded within my poor dying tire. To anymore out there who has ever thrown glass onto the side of the road, I seriously hate you. The wide shoulders on the freeways are nice as they are much safer with respect to traffic, but at the same time they are usually littered with glass and other potentially hazardous obstacles. No matter, I fixed up my flat tire and was good to go. Unfortunately, in the process I had also somehow lost one of my rear break pads. Don’t ask me how, but it happened. I decided to visit a bike shop to get my brakes looked at as they were giving me a little trouble anyhow.
It seems that this area of California is very well known for its’ stunning Victorian buildings. I must say that some of these buildings are very unique and beautiful. They are generally very ornate and encompass bright colors. One building in particular which I liked was the “Carson Mansion”. Unfortunately it was not possible to go inside as it is now a private men’s only club.
Leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind I moved on. Highway 101 was once again flat as a pancake with little or no winds to hold me back. I passed through several small towns with nothing interesting in them. The only interesting thing I did was buy a map of California at some gas station, which proved to be useless as it is far too general.
I turned off of the busy highway onto a more scenic route called “The Avenue of the Giants”. I have once again entered the domain of the redwoods. No matter how many times you see these trees, they never cease to amaze you with their size. The ride between these trees provided a nice break from the busy traffic from the highway. I am currently camped in the midst of redwood trees at a place called Burlington Campground, not far from the town of Weott. I had originally planned on staying on a campground two miles before this one, but when I got there I found a sign which told me the campground was now closed. I moved on to find a closed road due to a mud slide. Luckily it was only closed to vehicles and not cyclists, otherwise that would have caused some more delays.
Day 42 – Flats (Tires) and Climbs (Hills) - 115.63 km
Yesterday when I pitched my tent it was already dark, thus I couldn’t really see the beautiful views around me. Today in the morning when I woke up I was in awe as to how beautiful the campground around me was. Redwoods towered into the sky, and in between them all was my humble little tent. No matter how many times I see these trees, they make me gasp in awe each time.
Since I had two punctured tubes I decided I should patch them up in case I get another flat. My tube from yesterday had not one, not two, not three, but four punctures in it. Don’t ask me how that’s even possible, but it somehow happened. After all my handiwork I headed out along the avenue of the giants once more for about 20 miles. I passed through several interesting small towns as well as some neat attractions. I reluctantly paid $2 to see a drive-through Redwood tree, although it was a must see since someone recommended it to me.
After the avenue of the giants ended the road threw me back onto highway 101. It would be smooth sailing for the next while, or so I thought. I felt a little off balance, so I knew something was up. It turns out a received a flat tire in my rear wheel yet again. This is really starting to get quite annoying, but I am intent on riding that tire all the way to San Diego. I swapped the tube out for one I had patched up that morning and was on my way.
About 5 miles later I see that my tire is almost flat once again. No puncture this time, but it turns out that there is some really some hole in my tube that I did not catch in the morning. Great, I fix another flat. I’m pumping and pumping, then boom! Although my tires were under their maximum recommended pressure my tube had exploded. Quite a scary event I must say! It sounded like a gunshot, causing quite the ringing in my ears and causing me to go deaf for a few seconds. Unfortunately the tube was not fixable as the blowout caused a nice five inch gash in it.
Shell shocked and displeased with the fact that I had to change out my tube three times today, I moved on. I made it to the town of Legett where I took a short break to “borrow” someone’s wireless internet as I like to call it and update all of you back home. The climb out of Legett contains the largest climb of the whole United States portion of the Pacific Coast route. Many cyclists despise this climb, others simply fear it. Seriously, they’re over-exaggerating. Although it was the first decent climb I have had since British Columbia, it is still a bunny hill in comparison with some of the other hills I have conquered. I actually quite enjoyed this portion of the ride. There were barely any cars, great views, and the downhill ride from the top made it all worth it. There is nothing like the feeling of rushing around a corner at 50 km/h.
Now out of the forests and on the coast, I am currently staying at the Westport Union Landing State Beach. Once again I only paid $3 for camping, but this time there isn’t any showers or electricity. No worries, the location of this campground more than makes up for it. I am right beside the Pacific Ocean, thus today the sound of waves will lull me to sleep.
Day 43 – From Costal Cliffs to Rolling Meadows - 127.38 km
Last night’s sleep wasn’t terrible by any means, but it wasn’t exactly as relaxing as I had hoped. The sharp winds from the ocean made it seem like my tent was situated within a wind tunnel. But no worries, I still managed to get enough rest to be up on my feet this morning, and that’s all that matters.
So far the coast of California has been much rockier than that of Oregon. Additionally, there are much taller rock cliffs which seem to just plummet into the water. It’s quite interesting riding your bicycle on a road where there is a 200 foot drop to the ocean just beyond the turn and no safety barrier. Kind of makes you think twice before taking that turn at top speed! Talk about a bad place for your brakes to fail.
Today’s road was not very interesting, luckily my iPod managed to saved me from boredom. The road hugged the coast for awhile where at times the wind would help me along by pushing me, while at others hinder me by pushing me back. There were a few decent climbs which I was not expecting, but I somehow managed to crawl up them. Afterwards the road pushed slightly inland where it passed through some flatter terrain. The rolling meadows were a nice change of scenery from the towering Redwoods as well as the rocky coast.
I must say that there are some interesting people here in California. Today in the morning while buying milk I saw a guy who looked exactly like the mad doctor from the “Back to the Future” movies. I so wish I could have gotten a picture, but he too looked a little crazy so I didn’t want to risk it.
I did however manage to shatter my previous top speed today. While on a downhill today I reached a speed of 78 km/h. So what if it was only for about two seconds, it was still fast! The wind is really nice when it’s at your back, not so when it’s hitting you from the front!
Currently I am camped at the Guala Point Regional Park campground. I am starting to feel the effects of the ridiculously high prices of southern California; today I paid a staggering $5 for a campsite as opposed to the regular $3 or $4! I only have 114 miles to go to get to San Francisco, so the next two days shouldn’t be too bad. I will be taking a day off in San Francisco to see the city, I figure I will have earned a break after 45 days!
Remember to check out my website for pictures!
Day 44 – The Road is Long and Winding - 137.65 km
Today in the morning, as you may recall from yesterday, I started off from the seriously overpriced (although very nice) Guala Point campground. I set off southwards once again. I stopped at a corner store to pick up my obligatory half box of cereal and one quart of milk for breakfast, then once again moved on.
I came upon a historical site called “Fort Ross”. It turns out that this fort was constructed by Russian settlers back in the 1800s as a base for their trading operations here in America. I had no idea that the Russians ever had a settlement here in America! The fort turned out to be awesome and a very worthwhile side trip. I got a bunch of great pictures there and a nice little break from cycling.
After Fort Ross I traveled over what seemed an endless cycle of ups and downs. Eventually I made it to the town of Bodega Bay. I occasionally use this list called the “Warm Showers List”. It is basically a list of people you can call to ask if you can spend the night at their house. It is exclusively by cyclists for cyclists. When I was checking this list out earlier I recalled that there was someone on it from Bodega Bay, and that they also owned a candy store in town. I figured I might as well drop in and say hello!
I walked into “Candy & Kites” and was right away asked where I was traveling from. I told them all the details and asked if they were in fact the people from the list. They were delighted that I had dropped by and even gave me a bag full of free salt water taffy! At this point I was kind of regretting that I had to push on! I tell you, some of the best salt water taffy on the coast; if you’re ever in these parts be sure to drop by here and try some!
From Bodega Bay the route pushes inward, becoming much hillier and hotter. In order to prepare myself for this tougher section of the road I bought a pound of delicious California cherries by the side of the road, which I snacked on while riding. The inland section proved to be much harder than I had supposed, and for all the wrong reasons! The road was indeed very hilly, but I wasn’t expecting was the very strong headwinds that I had the battle. Additionally, as opposed to being hotter it actually proved to be much colder since it was windy and cloudy. No matter, those two things were trivial, what really killed me was allergies.
I have a terrible allergy when it comes to pollen. It makes me sneeze like crazy and it makes my eyes burn so bad that I wish I could gouge them out with my fingernails. Luckily my mom packed eye drops into my first aid kit, which provided at least some degree of relief, otherwise I would have gone crazy! You can throw gale winds and mountains that reach into the clouds at me, but when you toss microscopic sized pollen particles at me I will fall to my knees in pain and suffering.
Much pain and suffering later, I made it to the Samuel P. Taylor State Park, where I paid a very modest $3 for camping. From here I only have about 25 miles to San Francisco, so it should be a really nice and easy day tomorrow. On a side note, today I almost had a heart attack as my laptop didn’t work! I powered it on but it stayed frozen at the boot screen. I am typing this journal a day later, you will find out how my laptop dilemma was fixed in my next entry!
Day 45 – Over The Golden Gate – 55.87 km
I purposely caught up on miles the last few days so that today could be a nice and relaxing day into San Francisco. Luckily it proved to be a short day mileage wise, because it was the most confusing day of cycling I have ever endured. Today was a day full of twists and turns, side roads and alley ways.
The first ten miles or so out of the campground were fairly straightforward, following only one road through some rolling fields. At this point I am keeping an eye out for one of those things: a library or a computer shop. As you may recall from yesterday, my laptop was non-operational. This was really bad since I had to get in touch online with the person I would be couch surfing with in order to get their exact address. At this point I was heading into San Francisco but no idea where exactly!
Soon afterwards started the suburban sprawl and what seemed to be an endless city. The route took a combination of residential roads, bicycle paths, alley ways, and even major roads. Nearly the whole time I had my trusty guidebook in hand to make sure I didn’t miss a turn somewhere. I stopped at a gas station in order to pick up two maps; one of the county that I was in currently and one of San Francisco. I have found out on this trip that it is a very bad idea to visit any large city without a decent map. It is well worthwhile to spend a few bucks on a map but to save yourself a lot of headaches!
I managed to hunt down a library, where I was graciously allowed to use one of their computers to access the internet. I marked down the locations of several computer shops on my map as well as the address of the person I would be staying with tonight. I headed off to the computer shop, which I managed to find without great difficulty. I bring my laptop inside and power it up in order to show the guy what’s wrong with it. I was absolutely dumbfounded when it worked perfectly fine. I had tried it at least ten times the night before and it did not work once, but now it was working just fine. I swear, the guy in that computer shop must have thought that I was crazy or something.
With my laptop miraculously fixed I finally headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco. The bridge really is quite the sight to behold; truly beautiful indeed. What the pictures do not show is the absolutely chaotic headwinds on that bridge. These winds literally rivaled gale wind speeds. You had to be careful not to be blown off your bicycle! The view from the bridge was phenomenal. What I found kind of funny was that there were telephones along the side of the bridge which were advertised as having two uses: emergency phone and crisis counseling.
I bicycled a little around San Francisco and then took a nice long break in a coffee shop. The streets and buildings here have a really unique feel to themselves. It’s also kind of interesting to see all these power lines running overhead. The city is very hilly, which makes it both beautiful and challenging for bicycling in. I also checked out a park here called Golden Gate Park, which proved to be a very beautiful park where I got a few really nice pictures.
My couch surfing host, Daniel, gave me a call in order to give me directions on how exactly to get to his house from where I was. He told me that there was a pretty steep hill in order to get there, and he sure wasn’t kidding. It’s a good thing I had been trained on those 14% grades over in British Columbia, or I would be absolutely dying here! I managed to find the house without too many difficulties and was then treated to an absolutely awesome stir fry dinner with tofu. There is nothing better than a great meal after a day of cycling!
Daniel marked a bunch of points of interest on my map which I will visit tomorrow. I have decided it will be much easier to visit the city by bicycle rather than by foot or bus. I mean, it’s just so much quicker and more convenient to travel by bicycle. So much for a day of rest!
Day 46 – San Francisco – 0.00 km
I know, I know, today’s title isn’t the most creative thing in the world, but it’s the best I could come up with. Although officially I didn’t do any mileage for my trip today, I did bicycle all around San Francisco. I assure you, even without all my baggage this was no easy feet. The hills I have encountered here are the steepest I have encountered on my whole trip, even those in British Columbia cannot compare.
The day started off with me heading out to a place called “Twin Peaks”. This is quite simply a large hill (with two peaks of course) from which you can catch a really great view of the city. From here I made my way down a busy road called Market St. and then turned off to a well known park called Mission Dolores Park. I decided I had enough of viewing the city from above and that it was time to dive straight into it. I first visited the city hall, which is an absolutely amazing building. It is quite possibly even more beautiful than the state capitol building.
I was lucky that I was visiting the city on a Sunday. There was less traffic than usual and there were a bunch of other interesting activities going on. I managed to visit three separate festivals as well as a farmers market today. It’s always nice to kick back, eat a little junk food, and listen to some live music!
Next I headed down to the coast, where I followed King St. all along the piers here in San Francisco. This area is simply stunning. The road parallels the bay, palm trees line the road, and countless interesting artworks and buildings line the road. Unfortunately, this also means that the area is filled with swarms of tourists. Normally I have to weave between cars in traffic, but today I was simply weaving between pedestrians.
Deciding that a break was in order I headed to my second favorite store after Tim Hortons, Starbucks. I absolutely adore their iced frappuchinos, however I despise their price tag. Nevertheless I decided to try the orange crème frappuchino today, which was deliciously refreshing.
Once again energized I moved along the piers. The piers are filled with countless restaurants, cafes, as well as other tourist attractions. Pier 39 is especially famous, and likewise very crowded. I tried to get in there with my bicycle, but there was simply no way to navigate. I will return there tomorrow on foot!
From the piers I climbed a fatally steep hill. It was bad, seriously. People who were walking on the side of the road were actually cheering me on as I struggled upwards. It was honestly the steepest hill I have ever climbed up. Had I stopped pedaling I probably would have started rolling backwards! At the top of this hill I headed down a famous section of a street called Lombard. This section of the street is so steep that it has a series of tight switchbacks just so that it’s possible to drive down. The road is so steep that there are stairs on the sides of the road for people to walk up. Let’s say that it was quite an interesting experience biking down that!
Next I visited a famous hill called “Telegraph Hill”. Once again another climb, but I was rewarded with a great view of the city. Apart from the Coit Tower on top of the hill, Telegraph Hill is also famous for its’ population of wild parrots, which are descended from escaped or released pets. It’s not everyday that you see hundreds of wild parrots in the middle of a bustling city!
My next stop of the day was in Chinatown. If there are two things I absolutely love its bubble tea and Chinese food, so of course I managed to hunt down both of those here. If you have never tried bubble tea before you absolutely must try it. It is most commonly served as an iced beverage with a choice of a variety of flavors and contains these little black jelly balls called tapioca on the bottom. Although it may look kind of funny, it is mouthwateringly amazing. The Chinatown here in San Francisco was truly neat, it made me feel just as if I were back in Shanghai again.
From here I visited several more city parks which had a variety of other interesting buildings ranging from a windmill to a palace. After a long day of exploring I made my way back to where I was stay with my host Daniel for the night. An awesome guy who not only put me up for a few nights in San Francisco, but also helped me out tremendously by giving me tons of recommendations on what to see in the city and how to go about doing it. If you’re reading this, thanks again!
All in all today was not exactly a relaxing day, but it was a day in which I saw a great deal of interesting things. My legs are sore and I’m sure that my brakes feel the same pain. Tomorrow I will be taking a ferry out to Alcatraz at 1 PM, where I have a private tour scheduled thanks to Raybo from BikeForums.Net. I will be taking the subway downtown as I cannot bring my bicycle with me to Alcatraz. Afterwards I will push on south out of San Francisco to a campground not too far away. It should be another nice day!
Be sure to check out the album on my website for a bunch of photos!
Day 47 – Alcatraz and Onwards – 61.16 km
I decided that a trip to San Francisco would not be complete if I did not go visit the infamous island of Alcatraz. I was thinking of going to see this on Sunday, but Ray from over at bikeforums.net volunteered to take me on a private tour on Monday. How could I turn an offer like that down?
Since no bicycles are allowed on the ferry or the island I had to resort to my second best mode of transportation, my feet. I tell you, I felt crippled without my bicycle. This walking thing is so inefficient! No matter. I headed off to the subway station in order to catch the subway to the main station downtown. Since the machines took only change I had to put in a dollar into the change machine. I thought the machine ripped me off when it gave me only one coin, but it turns out that these machines give out those one dollar coins. I have never seen one yet, so I obviously thought it was the coolest thing ever. People behind me must have thought I was crazy or something.
The subway ride downtown was fairly uneventful. It was just like a subway ride in any other city, with the subway cars being jam packed way beyond capacity. When I made it downtown I decided to go check out Pier 39 since yesterday I couldn’t really get inside there with the ridiculous swarms of people present. Being as today was Monday, it was nowhere as busy as the day beforehand. The pier is basically a series of shops, restaurants and other neat things. The really cool thing about it is that there are no stores or restaurants of any national chains there, so everything there is native to San Francisco in some way.
Some highlights of the pier included but were not limited to: Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. (Forest Gump fans rejoice), Hard Rock Café, a store with nothing by socks, a store with nothing but magnets, a huge store with nothing but candy, a store which sold nothing but things from Alpaca. I swear, you can find the weirdest stores here in San Francisco. I will admit that some of those candy stores had a great selection of stuff, but their prices were ridiculously high. I saw a bar of European chocolate for $4 which back in Windsor I can buy for a mere $1.50 Canadian!
After relaxing on the pier for a few hours it was time to catch my boat over to Alcatraz. The ferry ride itself was fairly short, lasting perhaps 15 minutes. When I arrived on the island I met up with Ray, who would be giving me a private behind the scenes tour of Alcatraz. Although Alcatraz is best known as a federal penitentiary which housed the nations worst criminals, it turns out that it’s history stretches back much further. It was previously used as both a military fortress as well as a military prison.
One thing I found very neat is that the coast of the island was blasted away so that there would be no suitable landing spots for ships. The only place where boats could land was at the docks, which were heavily protected by cannons. Although it must say it is kind of humorous that in all the years of the fortresses operation they never once had to fire their cannons!
The prison itself was simply awesome not only from a historical point of view but also from a photography point of view. Ray showed me around every nook and cranny of the prison, even taking me off into closed off areas where other tourists were not allowed. Thank you again Ray, it made my Alcatraz experience something truly unique! I managed to get a ton of neat pictures, I could explore this place for days! If you are ever in San Francisco the prison is definitely worth checking out. It would be so neat to be able to spend a night there!
Just to clarify for everyone, it is fairly certain that no one ever escaped from Alcatraz. Several people did make it off the island, but were soon after apprehended. Five are ‘missing’, but are presumed to have drowned in the waters of the bay. The temperature of the water is anywhere from 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine that with the fact that there are decent waves and that it’s 2200 yards to San Francisco from the island and you have a slight problem. Even the most excellent of swimmers would have huge issues here.
After returning from Alcatraz to San Francisco I headed back to Daniel’s house (my host for the previous two evenings) in order to pick up my bicycle and all the gear that I had left there. I once again took the subway, which is always a very efficient means of transportation in any large city. I would have had some serious trouble without Daniel’s help here in San Francisco. He not only gave me a place to stay, but also recommended the best things to see in the city as well as how to get to them. Not to mention, he is also a very cool guy to just chat with!
Once again on my bicycle I headed southwards out of San Francisco to the town of Half Moon Bay. Although the ride today was fairly short, it was not easy. I made it out of San Francisco late, at 6 PM, thus I had only three hours to complete all my mileage for the day. This would not be a problem were it not for the unavoidable hills and chaotic headwinds I encountered along the way. The hills I could manage with no problem, but the winds I got hit with were truly insane. You know that the wind is strong when you have problems going downhill in your lowest gear. Not to mention, you have to hold on to your handlebars for dear life and hope you don’t get blown off your bicycle, or even worse, into traffic.
No worries, I made it to Half Moon Beach State Park just before dark. The park entrance was closed, but I snuck it anyway. Normally they have envelopes where you deposit your payment and a slip you detach to keep as a receipt. It seems this campground doesn’t have such a service. Needless to say I am currently camped unregistered, hopefully a park ranger doesn’t come knocking on my tent door!
Day 48 – The Winds Must Be Confused - 112.50 km
Today in the morning at my campsite there were several other cyclists, and I must say, some of them were very strange. One cyclist in particular caught my attention. He was a man in his late fifties with long, white, dreaded hair. He looked like a total hippie. Not only that, but he also said he was a church minister and that although he did not drink, he loved to smoke marijuana. According to him, nowhere in scripture does it say it’s wrong! I tell you, you sure meet some strange people in California!
Most people bicycle the United States portion of the Pacific Coast from North to South for one reason: wind. Winds typically blow from the North-West, thus pushing you nearly effortlessly along the coast. It seems that these last few days the winds have confused their directions.
For the first five hours of the day I encountered some of the most vicious headwinds that I have ever had the displeasure of encountering. They were very strong, nearly throwing me off my bicycle more than once. It also happened to be a cloudy day, so it was absolutely freezing cold. These winds kept blowing and blowing for hours without stopping to give me a break. It was especially bad near the beaches when the sand started to hit me along with the wind, quite painful. I was really struggling. I was moving at a snails pace on straight and downhill sections of the road in my lowest gear. Let’s not even mention the up hills! As if things weren’t bad enough, I also got a flat tire. Luckily being an expert bicycle mechanic (I wish), I was able to change it quickly and be once again slowly on my way.
Much pain, suffering, and breaks later, the winds decided to finally give me a little break. Although there was still a headwind, it was nowhere as strong and thus I was able to make up some lost mileage. The road today passed by numerous beaches and fields, both of which I had seen plenty of before, so it was actually quite dull. The bouncing rhythms of my iPod were the only thing that kept me from falling asleep.
I passed through the city of Santa Cruz which is quite a nice place. There was a very nice bicycle path along the coast which also leads next to their famous boardwalk. The boardwalk basically consists of an amusement park with numerous rollercoaster’s, a bunch of restaurants, as well as a casino. Unfortunately, I did get lost in this city for awhile. There are sign which indicate where the bicycle path goes. However, sometimes a sign is omitted or stolen, and although you were supposed to make that turn back there, you keep going straight. No worries, I consulted a map and made my way back to the correct road.
I am currently camped at the Sunset Beach State Park Campground. The original plan was to make it a slightly longer day and arrive in the city of Monterey, however I did not anticipate the delays of the mornings wind. No matter, I am still ahead of schedule, so no need to worry.
The only power outlet I could find at this campground was conveniently located right inside the bathroom beside the sinks. Here I plugged in my phone and laptop and began to work away feverishly. It was kind of funny to see the expressions of people in the bathroom. They ranged from confusion to embarrassment to simply not caring. I mean, it’s not every day you see a person set up a mobile office in a bathroom!
The campsite where I am found at also happens to be conveniently found next to a very large field of strawberries. Not being able to resist such a delicious snack, I could not resist and had to try a few. Under the cover of night I took my flashlight and headed out into the field. Very sneakily I snacked until I could snack no more. What a great location for a campsite!
Day 49 – Unexpected Hills - 144.90 km
I am by no means a morning person. Although the sun may rise at six or so, I will still wake up at seven thirty or eight. This must be of course followed by some snooze time. I will then eat breakfast and pack up my tent. All in all, I end up hitting the road anywhere between nine and ten.
Even with my late start I made it to Monterey quite quickly. It was also quite the boring road through endless fields of strawberries and artichokes. In Monterey I found a restaurant which was equipped with wireless internet and updated you all back home. This unfortunately took up quite a bit of my time. I had intended to visit the city of Monterey a little bit today, but since I wanted to catch up on my mileage a little bit there was no way I could.
I pushed on through Monterey. Unfortunately I did not have a good map of the city, and the route that my guidebook recommended was quite brutal to say the least. Bicycles were not permitted on this stretch of highway 1, and my guidebook directed me to the summit of the highest hill in the city and then back down. It was not a climb that I was expecting or looking forward to, but I determined it would be better to follow a route I know is right rather than waste time being lost.
Past Monterey I received yet another flat tire. This really started to annoy me. I went over 4,500 km without a single flat tire, and now on roads which are better condition I am getting one after another. May I also point out that every single flat tire I have received has been in my rear wheel. I decided it was time to finally switch this rear tire out for my brand new spare. I am still having new tires shipped to myself in San Diego so that I am prepared for Central America!
From Monterey I still had 60 miles of pavement to cover and only five and a half hours to do it. Normally this wouldn’t be too bad, but I had underestimated the road. Although the road was beautiful with cliffs which dived into the ocean, it was also quite hilly. There were many climbs and descents with not many flat sections. I took only several short breaks and managed to make it to the campsite with thirty minutes of sunlight to spare. My legs are sore from all this climbing and the longer day. I would have really been in trouble if the winds were working against me today. I have about 190 miles to go until I reach Santa Barbara, so I can take these next three days at a slightly more leisurely pace!
The place where I am staying today, Kirk Campground, is a very popular stop for cyclists. Today there are seven other cyclists apart from myself here. Three other cyclists around my age are also headed to Santa Barbara, so I may see them yet again up ahead. We have decided to collaborate on breakfast tomorrow since I have an entire box of cereal as well as half a gallon of milk, whereas they have pancakes and hash browns. What a feast it shall be!
Day 50 – A Castle Filled With Treasures - 108.60 km
Today’s morning was the most eventful yet. As you may recall from yesterday’s entry, the large group of us cyclists basically all decided to share the food we had. It ended up working out great since we all had a little variety of stuff as opposed to the same old thing as always. Camped next to us at the hiker/biker sites was a guy who came in on a motorcycle and was there his eighth day. In the morning they came to evict him, but this guy was really putting up a struggle. It led to a shouting match between him and the park rangers. Finally they gave up and decided to call the police, then this guy came over and started whining about why we didn’t come help him. Since I was tired and simply didn’t care, I told the guy exactly what was on our minds, and needless to say he became quite offended, but eventually left us in peace.
With that behind me I set off. The first thirty kilometers or so were not very easy as they were once again quite hilly just as during the previous day. Luckily today was a nice day with respect to winds, as during the whole day I had a very nice tailwind. Afterwards the road flattened out significantly, so I was able to make great time. Since today I needed to only go to a certain campground I decided to see some sights along the way.
The first stop of the day was at a section of coast that is a breeding ground for the once nearly extinct elephant seals. They have now decided to breed here on this section of the coast where they are coming back in large numbers. When I saw them all lying on the beach I thought at first that they were all dead. They just lie in the sand and relax, throwing sand on top of themselves to stay cool.
The next stop of the day was at a famous ranch called Hearst Castle. It was the most elaborate ranch that a certain very wealthy newspaper mogul named William Hurst owned. It sits on tens of thousands of acres of land and even had its own private zoo. The living area was made up of three separate guest houses as well as the main house. It turns out that Mr. Hurst was also a true fanatic when it came to collecting precious art, and thus he amassed a private collection of over 22,000 pieces. They range from famous French tapestries to ancient Roman mosaics and even Egyptian sculptures. The ranch was a frequent visiting place for famous people of the day whom Mr. Hurst would invite over for a visit. They ranged from avionics experts such as Mr. Lindenberg to Hollywood stars such as Catherine Hepburn.
The ranch was truly an impressive building, definitely one of the most exquisite that I have seen. The style at times is strange as it mixes ancient Greek and Egyptian styles with medieval and everything in between, but it seems to work in some mysterious way. There is an enormous and beautifully decorated outdoor swimming pool, lined with marble statues and columns. There is as well as another indoor swimming pool where the floor tiles are coated with 24 karat gold. Let’s not forget about the exquisite dining hall from which the production crew of the Harry Potter movies took sketches in order to model it into what we know to be as the dining hall in Hogwarts. There is also that movie theatre that I almost neglected to mention. Basically the castle is simply a work of art, a marvel that is truly priceless and something that is a must see if in this region of California.
From the Hearst Castle it was fairly close to Morro Bay, which is where I am staying tonight. For dinner today I devoured an entire pizza because I managed to get a good deal on one. This also gave me a chance to charge up all my electronically gadgets. The campground is actually about three or four miles past the city, but that’s not too bad! The nice thing about this campground is that the showers are free and not coin operated like at other campgrounds. It’s kind of strange taking a shower without soap or shampoo (mine ran out), but I make do with what I have!
Day 51 – The Rising Cost of Water - 114.53 km
Today in the morning I was full of energy and thus decided to get a nice and early start. I was packed and on my way out of the campground by 9:03 AM. Everyone else was still drowsy and waking up while I was pedaling away. I must admit that today’s road was mind numbingly boring. I passed through miles upon miles of fields.
On the up side, bicycling through these fields is also tremendously easy. The miles seem to just melt away. In order to break the monotony of my ride I decided to stop at one of those fruit stands and pick up some strawberries. The smallest size they sold was a two pound box, which I could not resist buying for an excellent price of $4. For that price it’s not worth sneaking around for strawberries in the middle of the night!
Today I also passed through the town of Pismo Beach. It is a neat beach town just like the countless others I have passed along the way. Here I saw a bakery where they had cinnamon buns. If you have been following my journal you very well know that I am both an addict and connoisseur of cinnamon buns. Unfortunately, the ones I sampled today were below my standards. Although the buns themselves were not terrible, they were coated with a sheet of sugar about a quarter of an inch thick. The quest for the perfect cinnamon bun continues!
From Pismo Beach I once again headed out into the great Californian agriculture fields where I passed through miles of artichokes and strawberries. The road later branched off to the side, where I had to endure a pretty decent climb over several hills. Although this was much harder than the rolling hills, it was a very welcome change. Once over the hill I descended to the city of Lompoc, where the first thing I saw was a Chinese buffet.
As you also can probably tell from my journals, I love Chinese food, so I could obviously not resist an all you can eat buffet for the low price of $9.99. At this price it’s really not worth it for me to go to the grocery store and actually cook dinner for several reasons. I will never be able to prepare something as good as this on the road, I will never get such a variety of food, and I won’t be able to charge up all my electronics. Although I must say that the food was very good, I was disappointed. This was the second time in my life that I have been charged for water in all my dining experiences in the United States. No, not bottled water, but simple tap water with ice. I was charged $1.07 in addition to the cost of the buffet. Honestly, how cheap do you have to be? Needless to say, I didn’t leave a tip.
I am currently camped at a campground just a little outside of Lompoc. My guidebook did not mention if it had a hiker/biker campground, but I decided to check anyway and luckily it did. If it did not I would have to pedal another 23 miles to the next campground. Tomorrow: Santa Barbara!
Day 52 – Party Up! – 107.28 km
I set out in the morning once again full of energy. The first eighteen or so miles of the day consisted of a slight uphill portion, which was then followed by a very enjoyable and steep two miles of downhill. Don’t get me wrong, it was hot. It is going to be much hotter in Mexico, where I will most likely have to take siestas during the middle of the day to avoid getting heat stroke.
I made it to Goleta, which is practically connected to Santa Barbara, in record time. In fact, I made it here about 1 PM whereas I was supposed to be here at 5 PM! Deciding to take advantage of the extra time I had I decided it was time to do some maintenance on my bicycle. I had to change out my rear cassette (the gears in the back) as they had been worn down after so many miles as well as my chain. Since I was changing my gearing anyway I decided to go with something that would be slightly easier on my legs on the uphill portions as I hear that the Baja region of Mexico is quite mountainous. $112 later my bicycle was once again in perfect working condition. Although I can’t really complain since parts alone cost me $80, and I also bought a pair of socks for $11. Although very pricy, these expensive socks last forever, as an added bonus the color matches my bike. I decided that it was time for a new pair since my old one’s smelled worse than death itself.
Even after my bicycle was fixed I still had plenty of time to spare, so I decided to head down to downtown Santa Barbara. Although this was about 7 miles away or so, it proved to be a very worthwhile trip. The town itself is very beautiful; the architecture resembles a Mexican look. The streets are lined with chic shops as well as towering palm trees. I of course just had to stop into a Starbucks for a frappuchino. Santa Barbara and the surrounding area is however a very expensive place in which to live. In fact, on my way into town I saw a sign advertising homes from the low two millions.
I just so happened to pick one of the best weekends of the year to come to Santa Barbara, as today happened to be the summer solstice festival. Let me tell you, these people really know how to party. The downtown area was filled with music and people. I then headed over to a certain park a little further from the center where I heard the bulk of the festivities were going on. Here were found countless food tents, live music, other entertainment, as well as thousands of people. I must say that I was quite impressed. It seems that this is in fact quite the party town since University of California: Santa Barbara was voted the number one party school in the United States several years ago. If I went here I doubt I would get much studying done!
At this point I got in touch with sygyzy from Anandtech, more commonly known to the world as David, who I would be staying with tonight. He invited me over to a house party a little ways away from the park, how could I turn that down? Here the spirits flowed freely and there was as much food as one could eat. A live band played on the porch and everyone simply relaxed on the lawn. After being all partied out we headed on a long trek back to David’s car so that I could drop my bags off in his trunk. As much as he would have wanted to give me a ride back to his place, it just wasn’t physically possible. Even so, just removing my bags was a great help as riding without those is virtually effortless, feeling as if a lead ball and chain have been removed from my foot
Over at David’s place I was able to do laundry for the first time in quite a long while, I won’t say exactly how long in order to avoid scaring you all. Afterwards we headed back downtown in order to grab something to eat. This time I didn’t really feel like biking half an hour each way in the dark, so I decided to get a ride. We went to a very cool restaurant called “The Palace Grill”. Although not cheap, the food was truly excellent. You have to spoil yourself every once in awhile!
Being all full we decided to head back to David’s place. Being as it was still early we had to pass the hours by somehow. We decided to watch not one, but two movies. Today’s movies included: ‘Vacancy’ and ‘The Proposition’. It’s kind of funny that I watched more movies today than I have in the whole last two months!
Day 53 – Suburban Sprawl - 110.56 km
Today in the morning I awoke refreshed on a very comfy couch. I take the term couch surfing quite literally! Sygyzy, or as the rest of the world likes to call him, David, made us an excellent breakfast of pancakes. Best of all was the true Canadian syrup that accompanied them. A taste of home!
Before I head out onto the road David gave me some cycling specific, scientifically engineered food. The first were some organic, electrolyte filled shark gummy bears, which I must say were actually quite good. The second of which was something called ‘Gu’. Basically the name says it all: it’s a goo. Although they claim its orange flavored, I can hardly say that it tasted like oranges at all. Sure, it may be full of vitamins and electrolytes, but that goo tasted like… I can’t even find the words to describe it, but it was pretty bad. The things I do to stay well nourished on this trip!
Today’s road wasn’t difficult due to winds or hills, but it was simply tiresome. The challenges started off right from the very morning. David told me I should take a bike path that runs through the University of California: Santa Barbara campus as it is a bicycle path on which there are no cars. Not a bad idea, but he omitted a small detail, there’s a bunch of bike paths there and they all look identical! The path I was supposed to take was only labeled in certain areas, but there were countless twists and turns. I felt as if I were in a maze! Eventually I managed to make it out in one piece, but boy was my head spinning! Both the campus and the city of Santa Barbara itself are very nice, as I also mentioned yesterday. The town simply has a very enjoyable and laid back feel to it which is quite relaxing. Today I took the bicycle path along the beach, which also provided me with great views of the ocean and the palm tree lines boulevards.
Nearly the whole time I was riding through towns and cities. This is convenient as there are always places to stop and grab a bite to eat, but at the same time this is also quite a hassle. You have to be extra cautious of traffic, especially when bicycling on busy freeways. Additionally, stop lights and stop signs are quite a pain since you have to stop and unclip your shoes. I’ve actually developed a bad habit of running quite a bit of these if they are only three-ways, where there is no traffic on my side. Although not the safest thing in the world, it saves me a bunch of time.
Earlier someone left me a comment that should a see a place called In-N-Out Burger I must absolutely drop by. Anytime anyone leaves me a suggestion, I must of course follow through on it, so when I saw this place today I dropped in. This is simply a burger joint where the menu basically consists of three options: burger with two beef patties and two slices of cheese, burger with one beef patty and one slice of cheese, burger with one beef patty. All of these are served with lettuce and all that other good stuff, then they come with fries and a drink on the side.
The décor of the place is quite neat as it has the style of an old retro burger joint, but I must say that the food was substandard. The fries were truly quite miserable and in fact were almost painful to digest, but as I need my nutrition I struggled through them anyway. The burger was actually half decent for being fast food, but I must say that I have had better. I guess it’s just hard to compare a mere burger such as this one to the likes of a delicious two pound burger that I was served in Vancouver. All in all, not the worst place in the world, but then again nowhere near one of my favorites.
Thus far I have encountered some strange people as well as some strange signs here in California. Today I saw a sign near the road that almost made me fall off my bike not only from shock but also from laughter. The sign read, and I quote directly: “Nude Girls Car Wash & ‘Hot’ Wax”. Unfortunately I was a little short on time so I did not sidetrack in order to see what was going on (for educational purposes of course). Either way, pictures from such a car wash probably wouldn’t be too appropriate for this blog! These crazy Californians I tell you!
The road later left the cities for a bit and headed next to a very large air force facility which seemed to stretch on and on forever. This provided me with a much needed break from the hustle and the bustle of the city. From what I have heard the next few days of riding will be quite challenging as they will be always spent in the cities, following countless twists and turns on numerous bicycle paths. As for now, I am currently camped at the Sycamore Canyon Campground where I was charged only a mere $3 for camping.
Day 54 – A Taste of Japan - 91.59 km
Today my day started off at the Sycamore Canyon campground. I got a nice and early start as I expected to lose quite a bit of time cycling through the huge metropolis that some people like to refer to as Los Angeles.
At the beginning of the day I cycled through the famous city of Malibu. Here multimillion dollar homes tower on the edges of cliffs while expensive cars drive below. I saw countless Porsches, at least a dozen Bentleys, several Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Aston Martins, even a few Rolls-Royces. Keep in mind that these are not some old cars, but rather the newest models money can buy. Apart from ogling over expensive cars I also had to watch out so that I wouldn’t get killed. A shoulder in Malibu was virtually non-existent as it was used as a parking lane, however cars blazing beside me didn’t seem to care.
After Malibu I turned off of highway 1 onto a bicycle path which runs almost the whole length of the coastal region of Los Angeles. It is conveniently named the L.A. Bike Path. It was kind of funny since this bike path seemed out of place at times, winding through the middle of white sand beaches. Along the way I saw a bunch of great beaches and several cool piers. I passed through the famous Venice Beach as well. One part of the route that I found really strange was when I had to bicycle through a parking garage. Surprisingly, I wasn’t lost, I was actually on the right road! It just seemed a little awkward to me.
At one point I because a little lost. I was thrown off the bicycle path into a suburb. Not wanting to get even more lost, I decided to take out my laptop and see where I was. It turned out that in my bliss of cycling I had actually gone three miles past where I was supposed to go. It was only 2 PM, so I decided to kill some time around one of the beach piers before heading off to my host for the night. I of course could not resist bubble tea when I saw it at pier, another one of my weaknesses.
I managed to make it to ronzorini’s house, more commonly known to the world as Ron, with relative ease. They were quite surprised to see me, and rightly so! It turns out that when I e-mailed Ron I made a mistake and told him I would be there Tuesday, whereas in fact I was going to be there Monday. Although it worked out in the end, I did end up causing a little bit of confusion.
Although I had done laundry a mere two days ago, I decided that it would be wise to do it again. My shirts which were once white now actually resemble more of the color grey than anything. I put in my laundry and let it do its thing. When Ron’s wife was moving my clothes from the washer to the dryer, she was so appalled with the condition of my shirt that she ended up washing it again! I must say that at least now my shirt looks suitable for human use.
In order to prepare for dinner we of course had to go shopping. I decided that I wouldn’t just sit at home and would tag along. In this area there are many Japanese people, and thus many Japanese businesses, restaurants, and stores. We went to two separate Japanese markets in order to buy sushi as well as numerous other delicacies. These markets are staggering in size, and absolutely everything comes from Japan. They even sell furniture from Japan! Ron told me that this looks exactly what a market in Japan would look like, with a little more people in it of course.
Back at home I was treated to an excellent dinner of various Japanese foods: meso soup, sticky rice, sushi, fish cakes, as well as countless other interesting dishes. I love to sample new foods, so I of course had to try everything. I enjoyed most of the dishes, however next time I would pass on the squid as well as caviar sushi’s. The squid sushi was simply very hard to chew, and the caviar was a little too salty tasting for my liking. The dinner was truly excellent though, and definitely a nice change from pasta!
As if things couldn’t get any better I was also treated to a delicious desert. Shaved ice served with condensed milk, green tea powder, and red beans. It’s really difficult to describe the taste of it, but take my word for it when I say it was good! Ron and his wife’s great hospitality almost made me want to take a day off in Los Angeles, but alas, I must move on!
Day 55 – Los Angeles and Beyond – 118.82 km
Today in the morning I woke up refreshed and full of energy after a great rest on a real bed. Ron’s wife could not imagine letting me go without breakfast, so she practically prepared a feast. We were treated to freshly made waffles served with a choice of either syrup or a combination of various fruits. These waffles were sinfully delicious; I actually ate five of them! When I get back home I definitely have to look into getting a waffle iron, I am addicted! I must say that this breakfast was a very nice change from the regular half a box of cereal and a quarter gallon of milk.
Ron decided that he would escort me through part of the city in order to save me a bunch of headaches in getting lost. At the same time, he also wanted to show me part of the city, so he decided to take me through the heart of Compton. Yes my dear readers, I bicycled through the heart of Compton and live to tell the tale. It wasn’t actually that bad, but then again we weren’t in any of the really bad areas. I know that there are parts of Detroit that I would be afraid to drive through in my car, let alone ride through on my bicycle!
Without getting jumped or anything we made it to the Los Angeles River. Lets just say that never in my life would I call this thing a river. It was basically a channel made of concrete through which water flowed. Then again, the water that flowed in it was so ridiculously dirty that it was simply, well, ridiculous! The Detroit River’s water is crystal clear in comparison to the Los Angeles River! Following a bicycle path near this ‘river’ we made it to the city of Long Beach, which is a very nice town. Here unfortunately Ron could no further act as my escort and had to return home. Either way, it was great he could take me even this far. It’s always a lot more fun to ride with someone else as time goes by much faster.
Ron gave me directions through Long Beach, which worked for awhile until the bicycle path I was on ended. After the bicycle path ended I was supposed to go to the first street near the ocean and follow that. Unfortunately, this street was a dead end. No matter, I decided I would simply ask someone for directions. One thing I have noticed during this trip is that the majority of people, quite simply put, are morons at giving directions. I was asking people how to get to the Pacific Coast Highway, which is one of the major roads in the area. The first three people I asked all gave me different directions, all of which proved to be wrong. The only person who was able to direct me in the right direction was a very nice homeless guy, needless to say I gave him some very well deserved change!
After my slight confusion in Long Beach it was all smooth sailing. The route now followed highway 1 all the way to where I am staying tonight at San Clemente State Beach. Along the way I also passed through some very nice cities where I was once again drooling over ridiculous expensive and oh so excitingly fast cars. Unfortunately I suffered another flat tire in my rear wheel today, which should not have happened. I found the hole and it was not from a puncture due to glass or anything like that, so there is something from my rim causing it. I think that perhaps it may be due to my rim tape, so I will get that check out as soon as possible. I have been having nothing but problems with my rear wheel since I had to buy a new one in Astoria. Just for the record, the bicycle shop there, Bikes and Beyond, is not the greatest bike shop in the world. The guy only attached my disc brake rotor with half the screws needed, and I guess he did something else wrong since I keep getting these flat. No matter, tomorrow San Diego!
Day 56 – All Roads Lead to Sea World – 107.18 km
Today in the morning I awoke to the buzzing sound of cars and banging of campers packing away their belongings feverishly. The campground I stayed at wasn’t terrible, but was unfortunately located fairly close to the freeway. No matter. Feeling a little lazy this morning I got a fairly late start, but I did get going eventually!
I didn’t have any food or water bottles with me, so I decided I’d grab something on the road. This proved out to be quite the mistake. Soon after my campground the road headed into a United States military base, and needless to say I went without water and breakfast for a few hours. The road today was very, very neat. The bicycle path paralleled the freeway on a closed and abandoned highway, open only to bicycles and military vehicles. The road then turned into the military base itself. Here I came upon a military checkpoint at which I had to present my ID. Luckily they did not believe that I was a foreign spy or anything and let me through with no difficulty. In the base I saw troops performing training exercises. I saw parked tanks and helicopters flew over head. A refreshing change from the same old cars I see every day!
Past the military base I soon made my way into the town of Oceanside. Dehydrated and starving, I made my way to a restaurant that advertised all you can eat fish and chips. Thirteen pieces of fish, two plates of fries, and $12 later I was once again on my way. Let’s just say that today breakfast, lunch and dinner were all one meal! I have become quite skilled in the art of being able to load a massive amount of food into myself, which is quite effective cost wise with these all you can eat deals.
Barely able to move, I jumped back on my bicycle and hit the road. I passed by a bicycle shop and decided that I should get my rear wheel checked out. It turns out that the bicycle shop I got my rim at in Astoria was garbage. In addition to not giving me all my rotor bolts, they also gave me cheap rim tape which was installed incorrectly and thus giving me flats. Since I was already at a bicycle shop I decided to do a few more small things to my bike. I got new water bottle holders, new water bottles, new heel pads for my shoes, changed out my cleats, and got a helmet mirror. Sure, the mirror my look super nerdy, but I figure if it could save my life down in Mexico it’s worth it! Unfortunately all these things do add up, to $62 to be exact. I did get a free glass of iced tea though! I ended up spending a little more time than I should have here, I was literally there for an hour and a half!
From the bicycle shop I slowly made my way into San Diego. I took countless turns on side streets and unmarked alleys. I decided to buy myself a city map since I will be visiting San Diego tomorrow. Regardless, I still got lost. There was a tricky area near Sea World where a bunch of highways crossed each other and into each other. This is a problem as not only am I not allowed on these freeways on a bicycle, but the traffic is incredibly busy. Every street I turned into lead in Sea World. Even if my map said otherwise, the road would end and turn into Sea World. Arrgg! Eventually I made my way through the Sea World parking lot and managed to somehow get out of there.
The people I am staying with today live a little ways from downtown, so I had to make my way inland. This also means that there is a nice big hill which must be climbed in order to get here. Merle had warned me in a previous e-mail about this hill and told me several times not to take Texas St., as it is a nice 14% grade. No problem thought I. I decided to take a street called Qualcomm. What I failed to notice on my map was that Qualcomm later merges into Texas.
Some pain and suffering later I made it to the top. I also got lost here a little because the street Merle lives on is one of those divided streets. I made it to the street and couldn’t find the house number, so I thought that perhaps I had the wrong one. I then consulted my map and saw that at one point the road had a break and continued several blocks further on. These cities should really give divided streets like these different names, it make’s people’s lives a lot easier! Tomorrow I will be taking a day off in the city of San Diego to see the sights. Once again, I think it will be easier to see it on bike!
Day 57 – Several Strange People, Many Wild Beasts, One Beautiful City - 0.00 km
Today I slept in a cabana located in the backyard of Merle’s house. Merle absolutely loves chickens, so I had to share the yard with a few, but no matter! They didn’t bug me and I didn’t bug them. I was treated to an excellent breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, and toast; enough fuel to keep me going for quite a few hours! Afterwards I made my way on foot down to the main road in order to catch a bus to the famous San Diego Zoo.
Here is where the fun started. I met a nice although slightly strange woman at the bus stop. In the mere twelve minutes I had to wait to catch the bus she not only told me her whole life story, but also explained to me the dieting strategies she was using, the fact that men in California don’t appreciate women, and even gave me a short lesson in sex ed. Needless to say, it was one of the strangest and most hilarious conversations I have ever had in my life.
The bus ride to the zoo was fairly uneventful, which is usually a pretty good thing as it means I didn’t get lost! The entry fee for the zoo was only around $21 and was worth every penny. The San Diego Zoo is world famous for being a spectacular zoo, and people are not mistaken. I saw everything from flamingos to gorillas, elephants, bears, and even tigers. The exhibits looked truly spectacular and the paths between them were likewise, crossing over and under each other continually.
One thing I found really interesting were the walk in aviaries they had, particularly the hummingbird aviary. While walking through hummingbirds were blazing by mere inches from my head. Another very interesting exhibit was the polar bear exhibit in which the polar bears were splashing around in the water right next to the viewing glass. All in all it was truly a great zoo. If I lived in San Diego I would buy a membership to this zoo just so I could exercise around it while being immersed in the sounds of the wild.
The zoo is park of a large park in the city of San Diego called Balboa Park. After I visited the zoo I went to visit some of the other things in this famous park. The park is filled with a multitude of paths, interesting buildings, and impressive museums. After a quick stroll through this park I decided to make my way downtown to the post office where I had some things shipped for myself.
On the way I saw a barber shop, which reminded me that I was way past over due for a haircut. When they told me they wanted $18 I gladly passed on the offer. I did however find out that there was a barber school around the corner which charges a mere $4 for hair cuts. But there’s a catch. All the haircutting is done by students. I decided the severe discount was worth a bad haircut, after all, my hair will have two months to grow back. It wasn’t the best haircut in the world, but then again, luckily it wasn’t so bad that I would have to shave all my hair!
I managed to find the post office that I had my things shipped to, which was located in a shopping center called Horton Plaza. But alas, there was a problem. It turns out that I did not do enough research and found out that this post office does not allow people to ship things to them. This meant that they forwarded all my mail to the main post office in the city. Great, just great. This meant that I would have to travel five miles to get to this other post office. With no other option I jumped onto a trolley and made my way to San Diego’s Old Town.
Here I was treated to some good news and some bad news. The good news is that two of my packages had made it, the bad was that one didn’t. Technically the third package had arrived, but was yet to be sorted, which is not an easy task since they have thousands of packages there. So I asked if there was a phone number I could call to ask when my package comes in. Nope! This means that I have to go back to this post office tomorrow, which is conveniently located in the middle of nowhere, and hope that my package is available for pick up. This also means that I will be spending an extra day in San Diego that I had not anticipated. Luckily I am well ahead of schedule, so no biggie, and San Diego is a pretty cool city anyway!
From the post office in the middle of nowhere I made my way to San Diego’s old town. Here there was a variety of unique old buildings, but unfortunately not much else of interest. I jumped back on the trolley and made my way back to downtown. I decided to walk along the coast and the piers, where I saw a several interesting historic ships. I continued along to Seaport Village, which is a series of shops and restaurants decorated in a very unique and exquisite style.
While at the post office in the middle of nowhere I did find out that there is a very good view of the city from the lounge at the Hyatt hotel. Not being one to be dismayed I jumped onto the elevator and went straight to the top. I didn’t order anything, I simply walked around for a few minutes and soaked in the views of the city. I think tomorrow I may go here and sip a beverage for a while. Who knows, I may be able to solicit some donations!
From the Hyatt I made my way to San Diego’s famous Gaslight district, which is an older district containing a ton of restaurants and nightclubs. I would have walked around a little more here, but since it was getting late, I decided it would be wise to return home. I managed to find the necessary bus with little difficulty. The bus driver for the trip was quite a strange individual. For the whole trip he was talking to himself over the bus intercom. It was strangely amusing and disturbing at the same time. You meet the strangest people when using public transportation!
Since I also have tomorrow to visit San Diego due to a problem with receiving one of my packages I decided that I will visit some museums. Tomorrow is the opening of the “Dead Sea Scrolls” exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. There are posters for this everywhere around the city and quite a few people have mentioned it to me, so it should definitely be worth checking out. Looks like Mexico will have to wait another day!
Day 58 – Just Another Day In San Diego – 0.00 km
In the morning I was once again treated to a delicious breakfast courtesy of Merle and quickly headed off to the Museum of Natural History. Today was the opening of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, so it was quite busy. Security checked your bags to make sure you weren’t bringing anything dangerous in, and unfortunately photography was not permitted. I also got escorted out for simply wearing my camera around my neck! Needless to say the security guys weren’t very nice.
All in all the exhibit really wasn’t that interesting. Sure, you get to see some scrolls that are thousands of years old, but that was pretty much it. It definitely wasn’t worth paying $24 to go and so. To anyone thinking of going to see this exhibit, I would seriously reconsider. The rest of the museum was terribly dull as well as it had all been converted for this one particular exhibit. Unfortunately this attraction proved to be a disappointment.
I once again made my way onto a trolley and headed off to the post office in the middle of nowhere. Luckily my package had arrived that morning, otherwise I would have had a slight problem. Since it was still early I decided that I might as well go check out SeaWorld, since it’s also one of San Diego’s principal attractions.
Not wanting to once again pay for the bus, or for that matter find the right one, I decided to run over to SeaWorld. It only took me about 25 minutes or so, but let me tell you that running in Crocs isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world. No matter, $57 later I was inside SeaWorld. Can you say ouch?
Although SeaWorld is typically oriented towards young children there was still plenty of other things to see and do. I found many of the exhibits very interesting and the shows were likewise fun to watch. I even saw the world famous movie star Shamu. Another interesting show was the “Cirque De Mer”, which is a gymnastics show similar to Cirque De Soleil, but less elaborate and involving water. Overall SeaWorld was worth visiting, but that price tag for tickets still makes me cringe!
After starving myself in SeaWorld where the prices were out of this world, I decided to give In-N-Out burger another try after revolts against my last comments. Someone told me they have a hidden menu and will literally make your burger any way your heart desires. I just so wanted to order a 12x12 burger, that is 12 burger patties with 12 pieces of cheese. To my utter shock they said they could not do it, and that the most they could do was 4x4. Although their burgers may be good, In-N-Out disappoints once again.
I find it kind of strange that my legs have started to hurt after I took two days off from cycling. I have been simply walking around the city at a leisurely pace, but alas my legs were sorer this morning than they have ever been. Oh the irony! It looks like I’m better off not taking any zero days!
Day 59 – Loco! - 125.18 km
This morning I had to visit a few places before I could finally head down into Mexico. On my list of stops were: Best Buy, a bicycle shop, a post office, REI. As you may recall from previous journals my iPod freezes up from time to time, so I wanted to get it replaced. I looked up Best Buy on Google Maps, marked it on my map, and headed off. However when I got there, there was no Best Buy to be found! I even asked around and people told me the closest Best Buy was on the other side of town. Damn you Google Maps!
I pushed onward. I easily found a post office along the way in which I shipped some more stuff home. The less I have to carry, the easier my life will be! I also managed to find a bicycle shop, in which they could unfortunately not help me. The screws holding my bicycle rack seem to be snapping. I had one snap on me last week, and today I noticed that the one on the other side had snapped as well! I wasn’t able to find a good replacement, so I now have a temporary fix. Needless to say I have to somehow manage to find a bolt like this here in Mexico, that should be interesting!
On the way to REI I did manage to find a Best Buy. They confirmed that something was wrong with my iPod, but told me that there was absolutely nothing they could do at the store. I would have to send it in to Apple and in a week they would send me a refund slip. Great, that was a useless waste of time! The REI store proved to be difficult to find since it is new, and no one knew where it is! Eventually I did manage to find it in the horizon. Here I picked up some bicycle supplies as well as some new sunglasses as my old ones look like they have been through a war zone. Everything actually looks blurry through them!
I finally headed down to the notorious town of Tijuana, Mexico. On the way, while looking at my oh so legible map, I am ashamed to admit that I hit a parked car. Luckily no injuries to either myself or my car, but all my bags fell off my bike and everything went all over the road. The only casualty that occurred was that the filter for my camera got shattered, luckily not the lens itself!
The border crossing was much easier than I had anticipated, since you basically just drove through! There were guards just pretty much waving at people telling them to keep moving. No passports, no I.D., nothing. I wish my trip across the border every day was this easy! Unfortunately there was no welcome to Mexico sign I could take a picture next to. Here I was immediately thrust onto a series of freeways. I decided to skip Tijuana and pushed right through it.
I followed the signs for highway 1 almost religiously, but I still somehow managed to end up on highway 1D, which is a toll highway on which bicycles are not allowed. I passed my first military checkpoint and thought that I might be able to get away with riding on this highway. Unfortunately, near the toll plaza some security guys came out and told me that no bicycles were allowed. They directed me of onto a main city road and told me to go left, saying that it parallels the freeway. It did, for about 10 kilometers. Then the road turned into a dirt and gravel path. Seeing the highway a mere 20 feet away I decided to sneak across the barrier and continue along on the shoulder.
I saw several signs which blatantly said that no cyclists are allowed, but what exactly do they expect you to do if there is no other road to take? I took side streets where available, but I had to predominately stay on the shoulder. I luckily managed to evade the police and possibly some trouble. After a while highway 1 and 1D cross paths, so I was finally able to get on the right road. Here is where the real fun started.
Highway 1 is predominately a two lane paved road with absolutely no shoulders, in some places you have four inches if your lucky. Additionally, in some places there is a nice 18 inch drop off right beside this shoulder. Cars are rushing by me not even thinking of slowing down, and I’m staying as far to the right as possible, trying both not to get hit and to not fall off the road. I must say, cycling in Mexico is going to be quite stressful. It is much, much worse than even riding in any big city. In the United States cars will yield to bicycles, here it’s the other way around! Apart from simply pedaling, I am now in constant fear of my life!
Cycling though the cities is also quite interesting. The shoulder is wider, but is now used as a parking lane. Cars cross paths, others back out from parking spaces, and at the same time people are crossing the road. What a headache! Supposedly towns are a lot smaller once I move south, so that should be a relief. Then again, over there I will have to worry about the scorching hot desert.
I am currently staying in a campground right on the edge of the ocean around La Mision, Mexico. Unfortunately this northern stretch of Baja is not cheap. Campgrounds cost around $15 and rooms around $25. I would have stayed in a room, but it was soon going to get dark and I didn’t want to risk not being able to find one. Things should get much cheaper as I get into less touristy areas, at least I hope so!
Day 60 – Delayed in Ensenada – 55.54 km
Although the campground I was staying at had a shower and bathrooms, I unfortunately did not use them. Neither of the toilets worked, and the shower, although functional, did not look fit for use. The door was detached, and to cover the shower you had to pick it up and place it over the opening. I decided it was better to stay dirty for another day. I did manage to get some clean water here. Although it tasted funny, it was supposedly purified.
The road to Ensenada did not prove to be easy. The toll road runs along the flat terrain of the coast, where as the free highway heads slightly inland through hills. Today’s climbs proved to be much worse than any I had encountered in the United States, similar to Canada. It seems that we in the United States prefer to go straight through hills by blasting them whereas over here they go right above them. This, combined with the fact that I was riding through a scorching hot desert, made my ride quite challenging.
I made it to Ensenada, which is one of the larger cities in the Baja, at about 1 PM. Here I knew that I had to visit the tourist office in order to obtain a tourist card. It is only necessary to obtain a tourist card if you are staying in Mexico for longer than three days or if your are going below Ensenada. I managed to find the office with relative ease, however here I ran into some trouble.
It turns out that if you do not obtain your tourist card in one of the border cities you must pay a fine of 50 pesos, which is about 5 USD, at the bank before being able to obtain a tourist card. No problem, I’ll gladly pay that. But there is a problem, since today is Sunday all the banks are closed! This pretty much forced me to spend the rest of the day here in Ensenada, since there was no way I was going back to Tijuana. I couldn’t even find the “Welcome to Mexico” sign, let alone the tourist office! You have to love it how guidebooks don’t mention these things.
Ensenada is a very tourist oriented city with a very busy main road. I managed to find a nice motel roughly a two minute walk from this road for $19. This is quite the bargain considering camping yesterday cost me $15! It turns out that camping really isn’t worth it since these campground are RV oriented and charge almost the same rates for an RV as for a tent. My room is surprisingly very good. Sure, it may not be anything luxurious, but at least I have a warm shower with included soap and shampoo and a working toilet. As an added bonus I also have a color TV and a kitchen, which I really have no use for.
I walked around the main roads of Ensenada for awhile and then visited the port. Ensenada is supposedly famous for its huge Mexican flag, which really was as big as they made it out to be. Walking around the shops and being harassed to buy things was actually quite relaxing. Should you like, you can buy anything from prescription drugs without a prescription to the goofiest souvenirs. There is just something about the atmosphere of these countries that I love. I did not however manage to find the only thing that I was looking for today, hex keys. I unfortunately left my hex keys and screwdrivers at Merle’s house in San Diego, so I will have to pick up some of those. I just hope that nothing breaks down on me before I am able to find some, otherwise I will have to improvise for tools somehow!
To make matters even worse my phone does not work down here. I called my cell phone company a week ago and told them to enable international roaming on my phone, which they said they did. Telus really isn’t the greatest company in the world, in fact they are far from it. My phone did not work in Alaska and even in Seattle! Frankly, their roaming is quite terrible.
I guess I must really look I am from here as on the street and in restaurants people always start talking to me in Spanish as opposed to English. Additionally, I guess the little Spanish I know, I know well, since when I say something I get crazy complicated responses. When I told a guy on the street in broken Spanish that I did not speak it well he look quite surprised. I guess it’s better to fit in that stick out like a sore thumb! Overall I don’t think it should be too bad, as of right now I know more than enough to survive on.
Day 61 – Life in a Convection Oven - 148.70 km
I went to the tourist card office right when it opened today at eight in the morning. It turns out that obtaining this tourist card isn’t such a piece of cake. First I had to go next door to pick up the form for my fine, just printing the form cost me $5. Next I had to get the form for the tourist card itself and fill it out. Then I had to take these two forms to the bank and pay for the fine and the tourist card, which cost me $28. Finally with all this done I could go back to the tourist card office and they would give me all the right stamps, yikes!
Finally ready to head out of Ensenada I set off, but not before stopping at a gas station to fill up on water. The water in my hotel was non-potable, it actually tasted like sulfur. It seems that I don’t have to worry much about finding anything in these large cities. I managed to find the hex keys I lost with ease, and not too much communication headaches. On the way out of the city I saw a Home Depot, Costco, Wal-Mart, McDonalds, several very large grocery stores which are popular in Europe and even an Applebees.
The road past Ensenada was not easy. The highway cuts inland through very hilly and hellishly hot territory. The Pacific coast of the United States was a piece of cake in comparison with this. It gets terribly hot here around midday. Usually on down hills you get a nice breeze from the speed you are getting, today it was not so. The breeze that I was getting today felt like it was coming out of a furnace. I felt as if I were cycling in a convection oven. My eyes were dry from the heat and I was literally melting. Not myself fortunately, but the sunscreen was melting off of me.
For a portion of the road today I actually had a two foot or so shoulder that I could ride on. Sure, there were holes in it I had to swerve around at times, but it was still a great relief. I didn’t have to look in my rear view mirror every fifteen seconds to make sure there wasn’t a car that was going to run me off the road. Fortunately the drivers here are fairly nice and give me a fair bit of room, however when there’s a car on the other side, it’s not like they plan on slowing down, so you better move over! My only explanation for the shoulder is that somebody made a calculation error when building the road, for this is truly an anomaly!
In the town of Camalu I decided to stop for a quick meal. I decided that today I would have tacos, and thus went to a neighborhood taco place. In my broken Spanish I managed to successfully order four tacos for a mere 32 pesos, which is roughly three dollars. When I asked if they had any ‘cervesa’ to drink, they directed me to the store next door. Unfortunately, the store was closed, so I told the people in the restaurant that I would settle for Coca-Cola. But they would have none of that! One guy quickly ran to his car and grabbed a beer, when I asked him how much I owed him, he told me not to worry about it. From what I have seen so far the people down here are both very friendly and very helpful. In fact, while I was looking at my map in another city a man walked up to me and asked me if I needed any directions.
I am currently staying at a place in Camalu called the “Hotel California”. This should ring a bell for anyone who knows anything about good music. Unfortunately lodging today cost me 220 pesos, or roughly $21, but there was nothing cheaper around. Campgrounds are few and far in between, usually off the road, and generally not a good bargain when traveling alone. Although my room isn’t the most elegant thing in the world, the shower is however big enough to fit four people comfortably. As a side note, for those of you who have never heard the song “Hotel California” by the “Eagles”, go do it now. Seriously, it’s a classic.
Day 62 – Rolling Plains and Desert Climbs - 98.64 km
The day started out nice and easy today out of Camalu. There were rolling hills through fields and even somewhat of a shoulder for part of the road. On the way to San Quintin I passed by many fields as well as a large number of greenhouses. It reminded me of being back home, as we have a town nearby called Leamington in which there are also numerous greenhouses which grow a variety of vegetables.
I made it to the town of San Quintin, where I decided to take an internet and lunch break. I try to take a break between the hours of 11 AM and 1 PM as it is scorching hot outside, and basically not the most pleasant weather to bike in. Although San Quintin isn’t exactly a large town, I still managed to count six internet cafes. I shouldn’t have a problem finding internet here, it’s just that it’s going to cost me. If anyone does have wireless internet around here they have a password on it, it seems they are much more sensitive about people using their wireless internet connections around here.
One thing that surprised and scared me today was when I saw, and I kid you not, an eight year old child jump into a van and drive away. I guess that if your feet can reach the pedals your old enough to drive over here. Its times like these that make me think twice about riding a bicycle on the roads around here!
Satisfied both technologically and gastronomically I moved on. The road from here to El Rosario was rough. I passed through miles upon miles of desert and sharp hills with nowhere to re-supply on water. Whoever designed this road must have hated bicyclists as it basically went straight to the top of the largest hill in the area. Dehydrated and tired I passed by a military checkpoint with relative ease and then finally made it to the town of El Rosario.
I decided it would be wise to stop here for the night since for the next 400 kilometers I will cut inland and experience the worst deserts thus far on my trip. The first motel I stopped at wanted a crazy 350 pesos from me, which is about $33. I didn’t even both haggling and moved on. The second motel supposedly had a campground, which I enquired about. Unfortunately the ‘camping’ is only for RVs, but I did manage to haggle a price of 180 pesos for a room, which is about $17. Not too bad if I must say so myself!
Day 63 – Desert Oasis – 120.48 km
I’m not going to lie, today was a really rough day. In the morning I went to the restaurant near my motel in order to grab some breakfast so that I would have plenty of energy for the day. I have found that it is useless to start biking before 8:30 AM or so as it is simply too cold outside. At 9 AM I headed out, and for the next 40 kilometers I wouldn’t see anything.
These 40 kilometers consists of climbs and drops, over and over again. When I would get to the top of a hill and look around, all I would see as far as the eye could see is desert and road. And they say that Mexico is overpopulated? Hardly!
Deciding to bicycle through a desert in the middle of the summer definatley wasn’t one of the greatest ideas I’ve had in my life. I wish I had a thermometer to be able to tell you exactly how hot it was, but alas I don’t. Take my word for it though, being outside all day in the blazing desert sun while riding a bike isn’t exactly enjoyable. I don’t think that I’ve ever felt as hot as I did today.
Relief came when I stumbled upon a restaurant which was literally in the middle of nowhere. I initially thought it was a mirage, but luckily it was real. Exhausted and heat stricken I stumbled into that restaurant and ordered myself a refreshing Coca-Cola. Costing me a mere 10 pesos, or 1 dollar, it was probably the best tasting Coca-Cola I have ever had the pleasure of consuming. Fortunately these oasis’s in the middle of the desert could be found every 15 kilometers or so for the remainder of the road.
I had to take stops often and my speed wasn’t exactly stellar today. I passed through miles upon miles of sands, cacti, and rocks. The views were beautiful, but it was terribly hot. I actually counted up how much liquids I drank today. My total: 4.5 liters of water, 1.3 liters of Coca-Cola, 1 liter of Fanta. That’s almost 7 liters of liquids in a day, yikes!
I eventually made it to the town of Catavina at around 5:30 PM. I first headed to a restaurant in order to grab something to eat. There was a soccer game on at the time, Mexico versus Chile, which of course everyone was watching. I must say it was quite strange to see two police officers and seven soldiers in this restaurant watching a soccer game, especially since they were armed to the teeth with guns. Nether the less, I enjoyed my quesadilla and of course watched the soccer game.
Since I made it here early I decided to find an internet café so that I could update you all back home. Small problem, there isn’t one. In fact, no one here has internet. Actually, your quite lucky to even get electricity at all, since all that’s available here is solar generated! With that idea gone I headed to a campground in town and set up camp for the night.
Since I had so much time before it was going to get dark I decided it would be best to do some bicycle maintenance. I adjusted my rear brake as it was brushing against my brake pad and also cleaned up anything I could around my chain. These two things happened with no problems. While adjusting my brakes I noticed that my rear wheel was slightly out of true, and decided to try my hand at truing a wheel. For those of you not familiar with bicycles, this is basically tightening the spokes to make sure the wheel turns without wobbling. This is where things got real ugly.
It turns out that while truing my wheel I was turning my spoke wrench the wrong way and thus loosing spokes as opposed to tightening them. I ended up with a rim which was totally wobbling from side to side. I thought for sure that I would need a new rim and be stranded here in this town in the middle of nowhere. Much pain, suffering, stress, prayer, and one and a half hour later I managed to get my rim back in fairly good condition. It was quite possibly one of the most stressful experiences of my life, thus I don’t plan on trying to true one of my wheels again any time soon.
I am actually the only person staying at this campground tonight, which is quite strange since it has room for about 60 RVs. I tried to pay the $6 that they are asking to stay here, but unfortunately could not find anyone here. In the four hours I was outside I didn’t see anyone who is in charge of this place. I hope to find them tomorrow so I can pay them, the last thing I want is trouble with the Mexican police force!
Day 64 – The Day of Unquenchable Thirst - 147.65 km
Today in the morning I once again attempted to pay my camping fees, but alas there was no one around. The office was empty, and I wasn’t just going to leave money lying around, because the next person walking by would take it. In order not to feel guilty I went across the street and spent the same amount of money to buy supplies.
I hit the road once more. Today’s road was also terribly hot just as it was yesterday, but it was not as bad. I knew what to expect in terms of heat, and the road was not as hilly. It was by no means flat, but it wasn’t as bad as yesterday. Additionally since I fixed my brake yesterday I didn’t hear a screeching sound every three seconds. There were once again desert oasis’s all along the road, which I visited quite frequently.
Although I didn’t eat breakfast today, I wasn’t hungry even after many hours and riding over 95 kilometers. However, I was thirsty as a fish. I just kept drinking and drinking water as if I were a sewer drain. No matter how cold water is when you buy it, it will reach near supernova temperatures out in the desert. I have found that placing bottles in my bag helps to slow this effect down slightly. Even so, hot water is quite refreshing when you’re dying of thirst.
Today I once again witnessed first hand the kindness of the Mexican people. As I was painfully making my way up a steep hill someone pulled up beside me and asked if I wanted some cold water to drink. I of course replied yes, and while on the go I was passed some water from the car window. I wish I had more time to properly thank these people and give them my card with my website. I tell you, I never knew that water could taste so good.
It turns out that between the towns of Catavina and Guerro Negro, a distance of 230 kilometers, there is not a single motel or campground. There actually isn’t a gas station here for a stretch of 340 kilometers! In order to solve this problem there are people selling gas out of the back of their pick up truck, although I’m not sure I’d want to trust that. Since there was no way I would ride 230 kilometers, I decided to simply ask to camp somewhere. I stopped at a restaurant and asked if it would be possible to camp here. One very confusing conversation and $5 later I was led out past a gate and into a field.
I currently have horses running circles around my tent, cows mooing in the distance, and donkeys doing whatever it is donkeys do. It should make for quite an interesting night! Tomorrow in the morning I plan on eating breakfast at the restaurant here and plan to make it only to Guerro Negro tomorrow, a distance of 80 kilometers or so. Afterwards I have planned stops such that it will take six days time to make it to La Paz.
Day 65 – Time Travel - 82.67 km
In the morning I quickly packed up my tent and headed over to the restaurant that I was camped near. The reason I don’t just camp out in the middle of nowhere is that should anyone find me there, well, I might never be found again. I’m not sure about you guys, but I sure don’t want that!
For a mere $4 I received an impressive breakfast of eggs with ham, beans, macaroni salad and of course tortillas. No matter the meal here in Mexico, it will always include either tortillas or tortilla chips, with salsa of course. One must be really careful with the salsa around here however, since it is quite potent.
Since I eat at the same restaurants the locals would eat at I always end up engaging in a conversation with someone. Since my Spanish is less than stellar, this is not easy, but always fun. Today a man traveling with his family from Mexicali, which is another border town with the United States, happened to talk with me. He gave me some tips for the road ahead and I told him all about what I was doing, all in Spanish of course! We then proceeded outside where I posed for photos and was forever archived on a Mexican home video explaining in my broken Spanish who I was, what I was doing, and some other interesting facts. I guess my Spanish isn’t so bad if I can do an interview!
The road to Guerro Negro itself was fairly easy. A flat road with little traffic, my only obstacles were terrible road conditions, winds, and a military checkpoint. At these military checkpoints they are generally looking for people who are smuggling narcotics. They don’t really give me trouble since I guess they don’t think I could carry that much anyway!
Right before Guerro Negro I passed the 28th parallel, which signified two things. The first being that I was going from the province of Baja California to Baja California Sur, and the second being that I was now changing time zones to Mountain Standard Time. I found it quite strange that there was no sign or anything you to change your clock. In the United States and Canada there would be bold ten foot high poster boards everywhere just to make sure you didn’t miss it. The concept of time here in Central America is an interesting thing in itself. When making an appointment with someone it is understood that it is perfectly acceptable to be even half an hour late. If you want someone to be on time you have to explicitly state that you want to meet at a certain hour of “English Time”.
Guerro Negro is a town of approximately 11,000 people in which the two main attractions are a very large salt time and whale watching. Seeing as I have seen both of these types of things in the past, they didn’t really interest me. I am staying at the “Motel Las Ballenas”, which literally translates to “The Whales Motel”. Although it wasn’t the cheapest place in town (they wanted $24 but I talked them down to $17), the other places for $12 in town discouraged even me. I would stay in them if there were no other option, but I determined that the extra $5 was a very worthwhile price to pay for at least some comfort.
I should find it worthwhile to mention that in all my worldly travels the worst motel I have stayed in was not in Europe, Peru, China, Central America, or even Cuba, but rather in the country of the United States. It was a motel run by an Indian man near Death Valley, and the only reason we stayed there was because everything else for 150 miles around was full due to the flowers in Death Valley blooming and a inconveniently scheduled dog show. Let’s just say it was quite scary and leave it at that.
Day 66 – Drenched In The Desert – 144.76 km
Today’s road was absolutely mind numbingly boring. For nearly the whole distance I covered a flat, straight road which was absolutely scorching hot. There were not even any interesting things to take photos of! Once I reached the town of Viscaino I decided to take a lunch break in order to avoid the hottest hours of the day. I decided to try quesitacos tacos, which are basically tacos with cheese inside them. The food here I must say is very good, I just hope it doesn’t turn out to be not so good for me!
It was here that I noticed that one of the water bottles that I had put in my bag had sprung a leak. More specifically, the cap had somehow come off. Needless to say this means that half the stuff in my bag got drenched. This means that I have to dry all this out today, otherwise it will start to smell funny, or worse!
From Viscaino to San Ignacio the road looked exactly the same as it did for the 70 kilometers to Viscaino. Unfortunately, little did I know there would be absolutely nothing for 50 kilometers from Viscaino. Eventually I stumbled upon a small restaurant, in which I pounced upon their supply of semi-cold beverages.
The change in environment when I reached San Ignacio was truly surprising. The landscape went suddenly from dry desert and cactuses to green palm trees. It turns out that San Ignacio is a true desert oasis due to a spring of water nearby. The town of San Ignacio itself is also quite beautiful. It is a small, older town with a very welcoming atmosphere. Towering over the town is the Mision San Ignacio de Kadakaaman. Missions were constructed all throughout Mexico and California during the colonization years by the Spanish in order to help bring religion to the indigenous people as well as help them with growing food. The missions turned out to be chaotic as they brought European diseases which killed off vast numbers of indigenous people. Thus, most missions have been destroyed, however a select few such as the one here remain intact.
In the town of San Ignacio was a cybercafé where I intended to update you all from, however they would simply not let me connect my laptop. I tried to explain that all I need is a cable to plug in, but they would not permit it. Alas, the update must wait!
I am currently camped amongst palm trees and beside a lagoon about one kilometer from the town. Today’s price for camping was a mere 30 pesos, which is roughly $2.85 USD. At this campground I met several Mexican men fishing. They started talking with me and of course offered me ice cold beer, how could I refuse? We ended up talking for about two hours in a mix of Spanish and English, depending on who knew which words. We talked about everything ranging from how cold it is in Alaska and how big the fish are there to how many kids they have. I found out that they work at a large ranch around here which grows various fruits and vegetables and that they are currently catching fish for dinner. It’s always great to talk with the local people, not only do you find out about the lifestyle here, but I always brush up on my Spanish a little!
Day 67 – Closed, Closed – 136.07 km
In the morning I headed out onto a long and treacherous road which included strenuous climbs and scary descents. I began by passing by a volcano called “Las Tres Virgenes”. Had I the time I would of course love to climb it, but that would unfortunately take me three days. The road up to the area near this volcano was hot and steep. The way down was simply scary at times it was so steep. I was not surprised to see many crosses beside the road.
In this area there are many vultures. They sit on cactuses and fly overhead looking for any carrion they can find. When there is something lying dead near the road there may be even thirty or more of them around. Luckily they weren’t circling over my head, that would be a bad instance of foreshadowing!
Finally out of the mountains I arrived at the shore of the Golf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortes. One very strange thing about this area is that they have black sand beaches, definitely not something I’d want to walk on! Here I nearly immediately arrived in the town of Santa Rosalia, a town of about 11,000 people. Santa Rosalia is by no means a pretty town. It is an old mining town in which most of the buildings have been prefabricated and simply assembled there. It contains a church designed by Gustave Eifel (designer of the Eifel tower in Paris), which is likewise not very impressive looking, but famous for the way in which it was constructed.
Before leaving Santa Rosalia I once again re-supplied on water and grabbed some lunch. I decided to go to a nicer restaurant today where lunch cost me $7, this included an ice cold Coca-Cola. This restaurant was the first air conditioned building I had been in since California. Going through those doors felt as if I were walking through the pearly gates of heaven itself. Going back out into the blistering heat is another story.
Although the next 60 kilometers or so were not excruciatingly hilly, it still wasn’t enjoyable. This stretch was likewise desert, but what made it bad was the humidity. The road is located right next to the Gulf of California, and this it makes the area very, very humid. Apart from much suffering and one large climb before Mulege, the rest of the road was uneventful.
The town of Mulege, home to 3100 people, is nestled between mountains not from the coast. It is considered by many to be one of the prettiest cities in the Baja, and I must agree with them. It has a very pleasant feel to it with its narrow roads and its old buildings. I visited the mission here, which was unfortunately closed. However, from the outside I can say that the mission in San Ignacio was more impressive. I walked up and down the streets of the town to make sure I didn’t miss anything, but there really wasn’t much else to see.
My next order of business was to find an internet café in order to update all my loyal readers back home. This proved to be a problem. Since today was a Sunday, practically everything in town was closed. Here in Mexico and Central America, if it doesn’t have to do with food or drink, you can pretty much bet it will be closed on a Sunday. Both of the internet cafes in town were closed. There was a hotel which had internet access in it’s lobby, however they would not let me connect my laptop. I pleaded and even offered to pay extra, but they would not let me. It seems that people who don’t know much about computers are afraid to touch any cable connected to them for fear of them blowing up. I searched up my down the streets with my wireless hotspot finder in order to try to connect to someone’s wireless network, but there was no hope. It looks like I’ll simply have to wait until tomorrow.
I am currently staying at a small yet pleasant motel in the heart of Mulege. I managed to negotiate a price of $14 for a room. For $23 I could have a room with air conditioning, which I passed on. I’ve survived this long without it, so it is by no means essential. Tomorrow I plan on visiting an internet café in the morning and then heading off to the town of Loreto, a distance of 134 kilometers. It should be a fairly rough road once again due to the strenuous heat and the high humidity.
Day 68 – White Sand Beaches to White Sand Deserts - 135.48 km
In the morning I headed to the internet café across the street in order to try to update you all. Despite both mine and the owners efforts we simply couldn’t get my laptop to work no matter what we tried, and we both weren’t sure why. I took it as a sign that internet must wait and I should move on. Due to this I got a fairly late start, but nothing too terrible.
The road to Loretto was quite simply rough. I wasn’t expecting it to be too bad since it runs fairly close to the sea, but oh was I wrong! The area here is truly beautiful as it contains mountains which simply plummet into the sea. The beaches are sandy white and the water is crystal clear with an enchanting color; beautiful to look at, but not so pleasant to ride on. Due to the nature of the area, the road is winding and constantly weaving up and down. This, along with the fact that it is dreadfully hot and humid, made my day quite painful.
Later on in the day the road cut away from the coast slightly inland where the situation was just as bad. I had one short stretch of relatively flat riding, but apart from that it was all hills. I was exhausted and dehydrated, but intent on making it to Loretto early in order to be able to visit a cybercafé as well as see the city a bit.
When in the town of Loretto I finally managed to find an internet café after a half hour of asking around town. Once inside and setup I powered on my laptop, and then practically went pale as a ghost. My computer went into Windows and then gave me the infamous blue screen of death. When I powered on my computer afterwards I got a nice error message in white letters on a black background. Great, just great. I didn’t think to bring any of my diagnostics disks or even a Windows disk with me. I downloaded and burned a repair utilities CD using a computer at the café.
Unfortunately without my laptop I am grounded. Due to this unforeseen even I will be taking a day off tomorrow in order to sort out this mess. My first impressions of the town are very positive, it seems to be the nicest town I have seen in Mexico. Hopefully tomorrow I can resolve my problem quickly so that I have more time to see the town, however the prognosis does not look good.
I am staying at a nice little motel here in Loretto which cost me $18 for a night. At least the room is clean, but there is no air-conditioning, my bathroom door doesn’t close, and the TV only have one working channel. I guess you can’t have everything!
Day 69 – Much Deserved Break – 0.00 km
Luckily late last night I managed to fix my computer problem. I won’t bore you with the technical details, but luckily it was not a major problem that I could not fix without my repair utilities CD. This means that I could have technically pushed onwards today, however I had already paid for an extra night as this place seems to be busy and I didn’t want to not have a room if anything.
This means that I had all of today to see the city of Loreto and simply relax. I must say that today was my first true relaxing day of the whole trip in which I didn’t have to walk all over a city in order to see attractions or do anything physically demanding. It was a much needed and much deserved rest.
After getting a refreshing nights rest I set out to leisurely visit the town of Loreto. It is a very beautiful town, probably one of the nicest I have been in thus far. It has many old and beautiful buildings as well as a boulevard for pedestrians decorated with shaped shrubs and trees. The boulevard is lined with countless shops, cafes, and restaurants. I decided to buy a few select souvenirs which caught my eye. The highlight of the city is the 297 year old mission which towers over all the other buildings in town. This mission is of particular importance as it is the oldest mission in the Baja and quite possibly the most beautiful.
My next order of business was to send these souvenirs as well as several other unnecessary things home. I decided to visit the bank in order to withdraw some money just to make sure I had enough, however my card would unfortunately not work. I called my bank and they say that everything with my card looks to be in order, and that I should simply try at a different ATM. Since there is only one bank containing two ATMs in town, it looks like I will have to try in the next city. Fortunately I have enough money to get me there!
I was warned ahead of time not to tape up my package before getting to the post office because they check what is inside. This proved to be quite correct. I had to display the contents of my package in order to prove that there was nothing hazardous inside. You know how at post offices there are always signs which tell you what you are not allowed to send? At this post office there was a sign just like that, listing all the hazardous products as well as one other non-hazardous material; in Mexico you are not allowed to ship products which are degrading to the country’s image! Shipping a box slightly larger than a shoe box and weighing a little over two pounds to the United States cost me $16 USD by air mail. Not a bad price at all, I was expecting much worse. I just hope it gets there!
On the way back from the post office to my motel I broke two cardinal rules of travel in these areas. Thou shall not drink milk and thou shall not consume ice. The prospect of an ice cold frappuchino was just too much for me to bear and I could not resist. I ordered an Oreo frappuchino, which was surprisingly good! Luckily there were no major health side effects, and I consumed that beverage over nine hours ago. I figure if I expose myself to the water, milk, and ice here little by little I should be able to get away without being sick. As I like to say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. After all, I will be in these areas for another month and a half!
The rest of my day was spent lounging around town, my motel, or in an internet café. I even had time to do laundry in my sink and tune up my bike. I have recently discovered a revolutionary computer program called ‘Skype’. This is a program which allows you to call people from your computer provided that you have an internet connection. Although I had heard much about this program in the past I had never used it. When I tried it once, I fell in love. For a mere 2 cents a minute and a 6 cent connection fee I can call anyone at any landline in the world. That’s an amazing deal! I wish I had thought of using this program earlier as I have spent a fortune on phone cards. Phone cards typically charge a $1 fee for calling from a payphone and around 10 cents or so a minute. Phone cards here typically charge 50 cents a minute to the United States and Canada with who knows what connection fee. This alone makes carrying a laptop around in these areas very worthwhile!
Day 70 – The Miles Just Fly By – 234.33 km
Last night while reading my guidebook I noticed that the ferry to Mazatlan from La Paz leaves on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This means that I need to make it to La Paz as soon as possible to buy a ticket for Saturday so they don’t sell out. That would mean that I would be stuck in La Paz for three days. Supposedly there are two other ferry companies which go to Mazatlan but I don’t have information on those.
The first portion of my day was fairly challenging. For the first forty kilometers the road stayed close to the coast, which as you may recall is very mountainous and thus not that easy to ride. Afterwards the road cut inland, straight into the mountains. Let’s just say that the climb over those mountains was exhausting. I’m not sure if it’s simply not as hot down here or if I’m not feeling the heat as much any more, because that didn’t seem to be as much of a problem as it was previously.
Along the way I met a construction crew doing road work. The guy who waves the flag to stop cars started to chat with me. Fortunatley my Spanish isn’t terrible and I can actually hold some conversation. I was able to tell him where I was from, where I’m biking from and where to, how much water I drink during the day, and even how many flat tires I have had along the way. I must say that although slowly, my Spanish learning is going quite well! Twenty kilometers of beautiful vistas and rough road later I stopped into a roadside café for a well deserved lunch.
The rest of today’s road was as flat as it get’s by Mexican standards. If I had to compare the road to something I would say that it was flat as a pancake and straight as an arrow. For part of the road I had a head wind, but once the road reached a town called ‘Cuidad Insurgents’ it bent slightly, giving me a nice tail wind all the way to where I am today. I was able to make phenomenal time with fairly little effort. This along with the fact that it wasn’t very hot today made for a great day of cycling. In fact, I’m not even tired!
Along the way I passed through a town called ‘Cuidad Constituation’. Just like Guerroro Negro, the only thing to do in this town is go whale watching. At other times of the year there really isn’t anything to do. Fortunately this town has several banks. The ATM I tried here worked flawlessly, leading me to believe that the ATM in the last town simply didn’t like me. With no more fears of being stranded in the desert without money I moved on in a great mood.
I could have cycled perhaps another 20 kilometers today were it not for a flat tire that slowed me down. It seems that the roads here in Mexico have taken their toll on my rear tire. Although I replaced this tire in Southern California, it already looks like it’s ready for another change! I will have to bust open my super glue and patch up as many of these larger holes that I can. It is worthwhile to mention that before I left for this trip I hadn’t the slightest idea of anything to do with bicycle repair. In fact, I had trouble changing flat tires when I left! Now I can easily fix flats, patch tubes, adjust disk brakes, change cables, oil up all the right spots on my bike, and even true wheels somewhat!
With the sun beginning to set I decided it would be wise to find a place to stay. I decided to try what I had tried in the past, that is to stop at one of these small restaurants/shops near the road in the middle of nowhere and ask if I can camp on their property. Since my Spanish really isn’t all that bad, I was able to convey my request with ease. The owners told me that because they like me, I could of course camp here and at no cost! Extremely grateful I ordered dinner, Coca-Cola, and re-supplied on water.
I have 124 kilometers to go until I reach La Paz. I intend to wake up early tomorrow so that I can do this distance in as fast a time as possible. I would really like to be able to get things sorted out with my ferry ticket tomorrow, which would leave me a day off in La Paz.
Day 71 – Desert Rain - 127.99 km
Last night’s sleep was anything but relaxing for several reasons. The place where I was camped was fairly close to the road, thus when those trucks rolled by my tent was practically shaking. Additionally, my trusty Thermarest air mattress has seemed to develop a leak, and when I woke up it was pretty much flat. This is not a problem I wanted to have on this trip as it is very difficult to find a small hole in one of these things and I don’t have a patch kit. It seems I’ll simply have to live with sleeping on an un-inflated mattress.
I tried to make it to La Paz as soon as possible today in order to work things out with my ferry ticket, however this proved not to be so easy. The entire day right from the beginning was filled with hills. It was a constant cycle of up and down, up and down. Those down hills do not seem to make up for the time lost on up hills. For the first time in as long as I can remember I got rained on today, in the middle of the desert. This was quite a relief as it provided me a break from the brutal temperatures. I didn’t even bother to put on any rain gear as it was so enjoyable!
After eighty kilometers I decided I would stop in one of those road side restaurants for lunch. Eating in these places is always an adventure as they rarely ever have menus, so you have to ask them what they have, and you better understand what they’re saying! With a menu I can take my time and decipher it using my phrasebook, using this method I usually just pick something at random. Today I ordered something ‘ranchero’, which was basically a spicy soup with meat and of course tortillas. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it simply didn’t suit my taste.
When I made it to La Paz I headed directly to the ferry office. I had some real trouble finding it, which proved to make perfect sense since it turns out that the office is in fact closed. Luckily since I know some Spanish I asked around and found out that this particular company is closed and has now opened under a new name. They pointed me in the direction of their new office, which I managed to find with relative easy. I am very fortunate to have made it here today, otherwise I would be stranded in La Paz for awhile. The ferry has changed its schedule and no longer leaves on Saturdays, but on Fridays. Should I have missed the Friday ferry I would have to wait all the way until Monday! I bought a ticket for tomorrow’s ferry, which cost me an arm and a leg, $90 to be precise, which includes the fee for my bicycle. I was really expecting this to cost much less, but it’s not like I have much of an option.
I actually feel quite fortunate that I won’t have to take a day off here in La Paz, because the city is actually quite dull. The walkway near the coast is very nice, but other than that, there really isn’t much here except a cathedral and many shops. There are supposedly some very nice beaches around here, but the last thing I want to do after being outside on a bicycle all day is be outside on a beach all day. I have heard that Mazatlan is much more interesting, so I will most likely spend some more time there.
I should also mention that Doritos here in Mexico are actually very good. They taste quite different from American Doritos and are much spicier. They also have different flavors of them here that we do not. There is a flavor called “Diablo”, which I of course had to try. Let’s just say that it’s as bad as it sounds. The chip is practically red due to the amount of spice and seems as if it were about to spontaneously burst into flames. The reason we don’t have these is they are most likely outlawed due to being a safety hazard.
Today I am staying at the “Pension California” here in La Paz. It is the absolute cheapest place in town, costing $16. The rooms are not air conditioned, but luckily have a very powerful fan. There is of course no television and my door is closed using a padlock. The bathroom is the size of two telephone booths and somehow miraculously fits a shower, sink, and toilet. My only complaint is that they didn’t give me a towel! Looks like I’ll just have to use their bed sheets. Tomorrow I will have the morning off, and then have to bicycle 20 kilometers to the ferry terminal north of town.
Day 72 – In Transit – 20.19 km
I was told at the ferry office yesterday that I had to arrive at the terminal two hours prior to departure. Since the ferry left at 3 PM, that meant I had to be there by 1 PM. Just to be safe I decided to give myself two hours to get there, so that meant I had to leave La Paz at 11 AM. Before leaving the city I stopped by the post office to send off a few post cards and was then on my way.
The ferry to Mazatlan doesn’t actually leave from La Paz, but from Pichilingue, which is about twenty kilometers away. The road leading here is fortunately good, although it passes through several hilly areas. I passed by several expensive looking resorts and many beautiful beaches where the water was crystal clear. It almost made me want to go swimming, but alas I was on a schedule.
I had made it to the ferry terminal earlier, but no worries. After asking around I was told that I had to wait with the cars to get onto the ferry. There was a taco stand conveniently located near the waiting area, so I of course decided to have lunch. Two tacos, two burritos, and two glass bottles of Coca-Cola cost me $4.50. The food at these places is always very good! I ended up chatting with the man who ran the stand for quite a while. I also love talking with people since it really helps my Spanish.
I could have gotten here half an hour before the ferry left and still been well ahead of schedule. I was the very last person on the ferry, after all the cars. No matter, I had made it and that’s all I cared about. Goodbye Baja! In seventeen hours I will be in the city of Mazatlan.
Since I had bought the most economical ticket possible I was put in ‘salon’ seating, which is very similar to coach class in an airplane. There were also cabins available for about $20 to $30 more, but you needed to have a party of at least two people. The ferry was quite large, if my memory serves me correct it had seven levels. The first three levels were inaccessible, the next was the coach level, then the cafeteria level, cabin level, and another inaccessible level.
Included in the price of my ticket were two meals, dinner and breakfast, from the cafeteria. Dinner proved to be anything but exemplary. Beans, rice, tortillas, and fried chicken. A beverage was not included and you had to pay for one, but no matter. Fortunately the bar sold chips which I was able to fill myself up with.
I already know that today’s nights sleep will not be relaxing. I am currently sitting in a fairly uncomfortable chair. I would lean across several chairs to make a makeshift bed, but there are very inconvenient metal bars which prevent me from doing so. It is already late, but the TV is still playing some movie loudly, the lights are still on, the boat is rocking from left to right, and there are kids running around in circles screaming. It’s going to be a long night…
Day 73 – Bienvenidos a Mazatlan! - 0.00 km
Today in the morning after what turned out to be a really, really rough night’s sleep I was awakened by an announcement at 6:30 AM. Breakfast would be served until 7:30 AM. Since it was included in the price of my ticket I decided it would be a shame in order to miss out on it. For breakfast I was served what I would consider to typically be a lunch meal; beans, tortillas, and soft tortilla chips soaked in some sauce with cheese. It wasn’t terrible by any means, but with the boat rocking back and forth it wasn’t exactly great either.
I made my way downstairs to the waiting area with the others who had cars. I ended up chatting with the security guard and managed to explain in Spanish what I was doing. Someone else overheard our conversation and joined in, and before I knew it the security guard was telling everyone about my trip. Needless to say I was exposed to a barrage of questions in Spanish. We finally reached Mazatlan a little after eight in the morning, a very painful seventeen hours and 550 kilometers at sea later. I was fatigued, exhausted, and generally not in a good mood. I was so glad to get off that accursed boat.
Since I had not had a day off in La Paz as I had anticipated I decided I would take a day off in Mazatlan, as I had heard that it was a beautiful city. I mean, it must be good with the amount of pages my guidebook dedicates to it! Needless to say I am very glad that I had done so. I headed from the ferry terminal into the heart of the old city, where I found a small hotel that was not mentioned in my guidebook. I managed to negotiate a price of $9 for a room, a great deal! There is only one bathroom for the whole floor, but what does it matter when there is no one else here!
I was absolutely enchanted by the city of Mazatlan, specifically the old town. The city streets are narrow but beautifully decorated with shrubs and trees. The rustic buildings are decorated with a myriad of colors, making the town seem pleasant. There are plazas located every once in awhile with water fountains, benches, vegetation, and people walking about. There is also an absolutely beautiful cathedral in town, it is by far the nicest church I have come across on this trip. Along the coast is a walkway which stretches for miles upon miles alongside sandy beaches and rocky cliffs. I have simply fallen in love with this city, it is definitely one of the favorite places I have visited thus far on my trip.
From the old city I decided to take what proved to be a not so short six kilometer stroll to the ‘Zona Dorada’, which is the new section of town with towering hotels and American franchises. In order to stay cool along the way I decided to get a cold coconut. Let me tell you that there are not many things better than strolling along the coast of the Pacific with an ice cold coconut in hand. Although this new area was also nice, it simply did not have the enchanting feel of old Mazatlan. I stopped into a McDonalds here in order to make use of their bathroom. I was quite surprised to find that the prices here were quite similar to those back home; a Big Mac meal cost 55 pesos or $5.25 USD.
Walking around here I passed by countless restaurants, souvenir shops, and of course bars. I stopped at a nice restaurant where I tried shrimp fajitas. While sitting down I glanced across the street and noticed a movie theatre. The presentation of the movie was more interesting than the movie itself. I paid a mere $3 USD for a movie ticket, which is a very reasonable price. If I were to pay this much at home I might actually go watch movies in theatres more often. Before the movie started, on time may I add, there were no previews like we have back home, which was a very nice relief. I was quite surprised when in the middle of the movie the film was abruptly shut off, the lights turned on, and people began to walk out. It turns out that here in movie theatres they have intermissions, which I found to be the strangest thing ever.
After the movie I decided it would be wise to take a bus back, since I really did not feel like walking another six kilometers of the same stretch of road. Not only would this bore me, but it would take me two hours which could be better spent doing something else. I found it quite strange that there were no designated bus stops along the road. It turns out that you had to wave the bus down to get it to stop! Getting off was equally interesting since there were no bus stops, you just told the driver you want to get off here and he would pull off to the side of the road for you. It was a 75 cents well spent!
Overall I have enjoyed the city of Mazatlan immensely and am very glad that I decided to take a day off here. Tomorrow I head southwards along the Pacific coast to Panama. By my calculations I have roughly 3,600 km left to go!
Day 74 – The Flat Tire From Hell - 158.82 km
Getting out of Mazatlan proved to be more difficult than I had assumed it would be. My city map is less than ideal and thus I had one heck of a time finding the freeway. It turned out not to be a surprise that the freeway was hard to find, since it was not a freeway as we would think. Occasionally this road goes through towns where it twists and turns through local streets.
Although the old city and waterfront of Mazatlan is very nice, the outskirts leave much to be desired. The outskirts of the city reminded me of some really bad places I had seen in Peru last year. Doors to houses face railroad tracks not more than five feet away and sewage flows through canals next to the road. I would have stopped to take pictures, but I feared that I might get mugged should I pull out my expensive looking camera.
Finally out of Mazatlan I was surprised as to how green everything around here was. There are plenty of trees and even grass, all of which I was deprived off the last long while in the Baja. Fortunately the deserts are behind me. This area of Mexico receives rain during this time of year, so I was not surprised to see the sky littered with clouds. It was a welcome change not to have the sun beaming directly on me, but this is not to say it wasn’t hot. The temperatures were likewise high, and what made it much worse was the humidity. Fruit stands along the road provided me with some relief. As a price comparison they were selling fairly large bags of mangoes for a mere $1.40 USD.
When the road passed through a certain small town as it does every once in awhile, I ran into a little problem. To be more precise, I ran over what turned over to be a little problem. There happened to inconvenient be located a large nail on the road which happened to find its way straight into my tire. Since I have quite a bit of experience in the art of flat fixing I did not panic, I simply pulled my bicycle up onto the side walk and laid it on its side in preparation.
Not a minute passed by after I had put down my bicycle did there assemble a crowd of about six kids. They watched me intently as I changed my flat, and of course asked me a bunch of questions. No pressure, I’ve done this tons of times! Before putting in a new tube I of course checked to make sure there was nothing else which would cause a flat and even patched the hole caused by the nail with superglue. I put in a new tube, reset the tire, and pumped it up. I set it off to the side as I put away all my repair tools.
Finally ready to put my wheel back onto my bike I noticed that it was once again flat! A flurry of emotions overcame me all at once ranging from confusion and perplexion to embarrassment and anger. I had done everything right, why wasn’t this working? I had even used a brand new tube and not one that I had patched. I once again removed all my tools, once again took off the tire, once again checked to make sure everything was OK, and once again pumped up my tire. But alas, still a flat!
All this time there are six kids watching me, and I felt really dumb not being able to fix a mere flat tire. I once again removed the tire and this time used one of my old tubes which I had patched, fortunately everything worked. I carry four spare tubes down here in Mexico, slight overkill perhaps, but better safe than sorry! Later on in my hotel it turned out that I had done everything right and that these mystery flats were of no fault of my own. The ‘new’ tube I had used proved to be defective. It had a very small leak right near the stem where the stem was glued to the tube. So much for quality control!
Later on in the day I also got the first decent rain I have had in over a month. Since it was so refreshing I decided to not even put on my rain gear. I figured that I most likely won’t be tenting so I can dry my stuff off.
I am currently in a fairly sizable town roughly two kilometers off of the main highway called Acaponata, which is of course not in my guidebook. Over these last three weeks I have concluded that the Lonely Planet book for Mexico absolutely sucks; the only thing for which it is somewhat useful is larger cities, and even in that case only for finding out what is interesting in them and their included city maps. Here I am staying in an absolutely awesome little hotel called the Hotel Juarez, where I have managed to acquire a room complete with bathroom for a mere $8.50. This is definitely the coolest hotel I have stayed in on my trip. The doors are made of heavy wood and are eight feet tall. The ceiling in my room is the roof itself and lies roughly twenty feet above. I have been provided a towel, toilet paper, and even soap. Unfortunately there is no warm water in the shower, but no matter. The last thing I want to do after a hot day is take a hot shower.
Tomorrow the plan is to make it to Tepic as early as possible so that I can see the city a bit. The day afterwards will be a long one to Puerto Vallarta where I will be taking a day off to see the city. I figure I can take a day off every three or four days provided I do enough mileage during these days to compensate for it. I might as well see something while I’m here!
Day 75 – The Great Flood - 149.76 km
I knew from the get go that today would be a more difficult day than usual. Not only did I have to bicycle a decent amount of miles, but I also had to gain around 900 meters in altitude, or roughly 2700 feet for you Americans out there. Not only so, but I also wanted to make it to the town of Tepic (pronounced teh-peak) early so that I could actually see something interesting.
I made my way through countless small towns and villages. The villages were truly primitive. Straw roofs are the standard around here. The fruit stands they have are absolutely great though. Mangos seem to be very popular around here; you can purchase a whole case of them for only $4.50. They also sell bags full of what I believe are dried figs. I’ve bought these things three times but I’m still not sure if that’s exactly what they are. Either way they are good and make an excellent snack! Another delicious offering at these stands are cold coconuts, sinfully refreshing I tell you!
I think that I might as well expect rain every single day for the next month. In the morning the sky was clear with not a cloud in the sky, whereas by the afternoon dark clouds loomed overhead. Although it does not rain here for long, when it does rain, it pours. When it did start raining I was on the open road, thus not having anywhere to hide. Needless to say I got drenched. I stopped at the first restaurant I saw. Let you tell you that I got some funny looks when I walked in there soaking wet.
I always stop at these restaurants in the middle of nowhere by the side of the road. Not only is the food inexpensive, but it is also mouthwateringly delicious. The only downside is that they never have menus, so knowing some Spanish is essential. At this particular restaurant I ordered two quesadillas, one with beef and one with spicy pork. I was warned that they were big, but I decided to get two anyway. They weren’t kidding, these were monster quesadillas! Not only were they huge, but they were also mouthwateringly delicious. Fortunately in the forty of minutes or so that I was here the rain had totally died town.
The next twenty kilometers to Tepic were pretty bad. I prefer to call the city “The Peak” as opposed to Tepic, and not without reason. The city sits at an elevation of 900 meters, and today I started off roughly around sea level. Sure, the views were absolutely breathtaking, but not without cost. Struggling up these hills was only one-third of my struggle. The second third deal with trying not to die of thirst in these very humid and very hot conditions. The last third of my struggle was not trying to get killed by traffic in the process. Never in the United States or Canada did I have to ‘bail’ off the road, whereas here in Mexico I have to do it a minimum of three times a day.
After I finally struggled into Tepic I made my way to the center of town, which turned out to be very pleasant. A huge cathedral towers over the town square, which is full of fountains, benches, and shrubs. Around the main square are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and shops. There are also whole streets dedicated solely for pedestrian traffic. Overall it proved to be a very nice place. Since I did not have much time I only visited this general area and moved on.
South of Tepic things got quite ugly. Since it had rained earlier in the day, the streets had flooded. Water management here isn’t exactly the greatest thing in the world, and thus water was coming out of drains as opposed to going into them. Bicycling through several inches of water isn’t the easiest thing in the world to accomplish. What makes it even worse is that there are cars passing you and thereby splashing you in the process. Needless to say, although I had washed my clothes yesterday, I had to do so again today.
I am currently staying at a small motel south of Tepic in the town of Xalisco. The anything but luxurious ‘Motel Las Vegas’ cost me a staggering $8.50. I must say that this is the first motel I have ever been in where there are no keys to the rooms, you simply lock them from the inside. Tomorrow I will make it to Puerto Vallarta where I will be taking a day off.
Day 76 – Up In The Clouds to Down By The Sea - 154.90 km
Although today it was technically a downhill day in which I was losing 900 meters of elevation, it was truly anything but. I still experienced a rollercoaster ride of constant ups and downs. To make my life even more challenging, I got rained on from the very start. I left my hotel at around eight, and no more than three minutes later did I have to suit up in my rain gear. Quite an inconvenience considering I still hadn’t dried off from yesterday!
Undeterred I pushed on. It ended up raining for over two hours, and I mean some serious rain. This was the strongest rain that I had encountered on my whole trip. It’s the kind of rain where you pull off the road when driving a car, not that anyone here would consider doing such a fallacy! Seeing as my rain jacket has lost its waterproofability, I ended up being totally drenched. This is not to say my rain jacket is useless, since it still does keep me warm. I stumbled into a small restaurant near the road and ordered a much deserved breakfast!
I must admit that today’s views were absolutely spectacular. I was not able to stop in many places since there simply is no shoulder and I really don’t want to get hit by a car. In the morning I was still at high elevations and thus was treated to views of peaks in the clouds and lush valleys below. As I made my way lower and lower, things began to get not only hotter, but terribly humid. It was so bad that just standing in place I would be dripping with sweat, yet alone when I was biking!
When I finally made it to the coast I was terribly relieved. There is always a cool breeze near the ocean which provides some comfort. A word of warning out there to anyone who likes to book vacations at resorts in large tourist cities like this; make sure your hotel isn’t in the middle of nowhere! The sprawl of hotels here started exactly 21 kilometers from downtown Puerto Vallarta. You will pay hundreds for a posh hotel whereas I will pay a mere fraction of that price and be found in the heart of downtown. Sure, my hotel may not be luxurious, but I have all the luxuries I want at home!
While bicycling into Puerto Vallarta a ray of light temporarily blinded me; when I looked up I saw the ever welcoming green letters which read ‘Starbucks’. I could not believe it, this was one thing I was not expecting to see here. Not being able to resist the urge I rushed inside and immediately ordered a mouthwateringly delicious strawberry frappuchino. The prices here are unfortunately the same as in the United States, but it was so worth it anyway!
Today I just made it into Puerto Vallarta and found myself a nice little hotel in the center of town. This is a very touristy town which in many places does not feel like Mexico at all but rather like a very commercialized area of California. The hotel I am staying at is not the cheapest place in town at $18, but I really couldn’t manage to find anything less expensive. I must say that this place is very nice though. There are four floors of rooms overlooking a courtyard in the center where there is even a small pool. The only downside is that my room is on the third floor and I had to drag all my stuff up there! Tomorrow I will be taking a day off to see the famous city of Puerto Vallarta.
Day 77 – Lounging Lazily - 0.00 km
Today was simply a relaxing today. I awoke at the same time as always and headed out to see the city of Puerto Vallarta. Dark clouds were billowing overhead and I knew that rain was not far off. I would not be deterred by a little hydrogen combined with oxygen and continued to explore, only I had to be careful where I pulled out my camera.
The city of Puerto Vallarta stretches for more than twenty kilometers, however the main area of interest and not coincidently the area were I was staying is the historic center. The streets here are narrow, laid out in cobblestones, and nearly always one-ways. On foot this is not a problem but on a bicycle it tends to make things a little more confusing. The city itself is also very tourist oriented with many American franchises. At times I felt as if I were back in California. Some of the American franchises I saw today include but are not limited to: McDonalds, Burger King, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, and the Hard Rock Café. The interesting thing is that here they charge the same prices as in the United States!
I spent hours upon hours wandering through the streets, along the waterfront, into churches, and of course amongst shops. I made sure to buy plenty of souvenirs for myself, all of which I haggled viciously for! When traveling by car or plane you can pretty much buy anything you want without worries, but on a bicycle you have to think twice. I went to a store to package my box up and send it off. They only offered UPS and said it would cost me around $70 USD, so I kindly declined. I made my way to the Mexican Postal Office and decided to send my package off there. I was of course asked to open my package and show the contents before being able to ship it. Shipping this box home by air mail cost me $28, I just hope it makes it! I must say I found it quite amusing when the woman at the post office put 25 stamps on that box.
Day 78 – From the Coast to the Jungle and Back Again - 144 km
Fortunately the road out of Puerto Vallarta did not prove to be confusing and I managed to navigate it with relative ease. For fifteen kilometers out of the city the road followed the coast, winding up and down hills next to posh hotels, restaurants, and beaches.
The road soon bent away from the coast into what proved to be fairly challenging and quite painful mountains. For over twenty kilometers I trudged nearly almost always uphill. To make my life even more interesting it rained for the large portion of the day. Without a rain jacket you end up getting wet and quite cold, and thus risk getting sick. However with a rain jacket it is so incredibly hot that it’s crazy. I ended up simply rolling the sleeves of my rain jacket up and opening some air vents which seemed to make wearing it bearable.
After this excruciatingly long uphill I was treated to a much needed and well earned downhill through lush tropical forests. The road then flattened out considerably, which provided fairly easy and relaxing biking. I decided to stop at a nicer restaurant near the side of the road in order to grab lunch. For $5.50 I had a dinner that was truly something to behold. Not only was it delicious, but it was huge! One thing that really amused me today was that in this restaurant a soft drink was more expensive than beer! A soft drink in a bottle cost $1.20 whereas a Corona in a bottle cost only $0.90. That’s Mexico for you!
It is with great regret that I say that my cyclometer has counted its last wheel rotation and thus last kilometer. This thing has been giving me problems from the very beginning, but it seems that now the situation is beyond repair. This is quite inconvenient as now I do not know my speed nor how much I have bicycled, the only thing it is still useful for is it’s clock function. Therefore my mileage readings from henceforth will be based upon the mileposts I pass along the side of the road.
Finding a place to stay today wasn’t as easy as I anticipated. The main road is located a little ways away from the coast and side roads stretch out to the coastal towns, which are a few kilometers away. Today I am staying in the town of Perula which proved to be more expensive than I had anticipated. Perula is a small but touristy town located on the coast roughly three kilometers off the main road. I ended up paying $18 for a hotel room, but I must say that it is a very nice place. They originally wanted over $30, but they overheard me talking with some people about my trip and were very impressed, so they gave me a large discount. I managed to get a very nice place for the same price as the not so nice places.
Day 79 - The Day The Rain Slept In - 142 km
Being as I had gotten rained on for the last five days I figured I would be in store for the same today. Hence, in the morning I chose to not put on sunscreen for the first time as long as I could remember. I figured since when it rains I'm wearing a rain jacket and it's cloudy anyway, that I should be safe. Unfortunately my predictions are not always accurate, and this was one of those times where it failed. In the morning the skies were blue, but I figured that would soon turn around and the dark clouds would roll in. Hour after hour passed by and the weather remained clear. Before I knew it I was red as a radish! Fortunately I did not burn, just turned a little red!
The road to Manzanillo proved to be more difficult than anticipated, which seems to be happening quite a lot lately. I never realized that the coast of Mexico was so mountainous; and here I thought it would all be smooth sailing! Although it did not rain today, which was a nice change, it was still terribly humid. At times the humidity and heat here combined make it seem much worse than bicycling through the desert! Fortunately the road conditions were fairly good. For part of the road I was directed onto a section of the toll highway, which is always nice since they have very broad shoulders.
Just like with Puerto Vallarta and the other touristy beach cities, the large luxury resorts started to appear about 20 kilometers before the city of Manzanillo. Sure, these hotels may be nice, but I really wouldn't want to stay in one of them. I prefer my half run down hotel in the heart of the city any day! Tonight I actually managed to find a hostel of sorts. Although rooms are private the bathroom facilities are shared; but hey, what do I care? For $8 a night I'm not complaining!
While walking around the town of Manzanillo I stopped into every computer shop I could find. My hard drive in my laptop is on the brink of death, and thus I need to buy a new one. I have to backup my data daily to avoid catastrophe. It's quite an inconvenience when I want to update my website and my computer dies on me. I have actually been looking for a new hard drive for the last few days or so without any luck. This particular shop had a laptop hard drive for sale; and 80 gigabyte hard drive for a mere $110. Although this isn't terribly cheap it's still a great deal for Mexico!
I continued to visit the city and then finally made my way back to my hostel, which according to my guidebook is in a shady part of town. Whoops! When I opened up my laptop in order to change my hard drive I first experienced a sense of shock, and then began to curse out loud. It turns out that since my laptop is an 'ultraportable' model it does not have a regular sized laptop hard drive, but rather a special smaller one. I have had several laptops in the past and none of them had ever had this, so I was totally oblivious to it! This however turns out to be a real problem, since these little guys are next to impossible to find, especially here in Mexico. I had trouble finding a normal laptop hard drive, so something like this would have to be special ordered. Technically I could special order something like this a few cities ahead, but my Spanish isn't that good and it will cost me an arm and a leg.
I have managed to get my laptop back to somewhat working condition, that is to say sometimes it works and sometimes it gives me the dreaded blue screen of death, after which I have to run anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour of diagnostics to get it to work again. I will try to make this drive last somehow to Panama, but if worst comes to worst I will buy an iPod and salvage the drive from it, which is the same kind as in my laptop. iPod's are much easier to find, but this solution would also cost me an arm and a leg.
Day 80 - Toll Roads: Forbidden Yet Not - 106 km
Today in the morning I got a very late start for several reasons. I had not gotten much sleep due to several reasons. Primarily, I had to stay up late while fixing my laptop. In my room there was only one power plug, so it was a choice between the fan and my laptop, I chose the laptop. This unfortunately increased the temperature of my room to near super-nova. When I finally did finish up and go to bed, I was awoken by a very loud grasshopper who found himself into my room. I warned him to be quiet, but unfortunately he would not comply and I had to hunt him down. Add this to the fact that my bed was as comfortable as sleeping on a bag on sand and it's a wonder I got any sleep at all! Finally in the morning I had to return this laptop hard drive that I just bought since I have no use for it and also go on the internet to try to solve my computer dilemma. Fortunately the shop accepted it without too much trouble, because they like myself were not aware of these smaller hard drives being used in laptops. The only thing they charged me is $5 as that is the fee they pay for a charge back when using a credit card.
To make matter worse today is the first day of my trip where I haven't felt too well. Although I did not throw up, I had to frequent the bathroom several times a day and rendezvous with my dear friend Immodium. Yesterday at a small store I decided to buy myself buns, cold cuts and cheese in order to make sandwiches; I suspect they are the cause of my sickness as I did not really eat anything else that could make me sick. Although I drank plenty of fluids today I ate barely anything because I both did not feel hungry and I really didn't have an appetite for food. Fortunately it was only a discomfort and not any major pain that would put me out of commission for a day or two.
The road from Manzanillo to where I am today was the absolute most confusing thing ever. There were two roads; a toll road and a free road. I of course opted to take the free road, but the signage was so confusing that I somehow ended up on the toll road. To make matters worse, the signs were all directing to smaller towns which were not on my map, thus I had no idea if I was even going the right way! On a positive note, these toll roads the roads are actually very good. They are much flatter and have a very wide shoulder. There are not many restaurants, stores, or cities along these roads, so they are unfortunately quite dull. However, I think I'll take boredom any day over fear of death around every corner!
The reason I have never taken these toll roads is that technically bicyclists are not allowed on them. About 10 kilometers onto the highway I saw one of these signs, and literally ten seconds later a police officer drives by in his patrol car. I thought for sure that he was going to pull over and yell at me or worse. To my surprise, he just drove past. Technically bicycles aren't allowed since the signs say so, but the toll operators and police officers are aware that it's much safer to ride on this road with a wide shoulder than the free roads. I met some locals who were riding bicycles and they showed me how it's necessary to sneak past the toll booths. You are not allowed to pass through where the cars pass. Therefore you must get off your bike, carry it up a sidewalk and walk around the toll booth. Once again this is perfectly acceptable; we even walked right by a police officer standing guard and said hello to him!
Unfortunately today I was not spared of rain. Fortunately it was not very heavy rain and did not last terribly long, but it's always an inconvenience. Even if your rain jacket is waterproof you still end up drenched on the inside from sweating due to the heat. The problem lies in that you have to keep your rain jacket on even after it stops raining in order to prevent getting sick. Although it is hot, there is usually a cold wind. Wearing a wet shirt in this kind of weather probably isn't the smartest idea in the world.
I am currently staying in a small town on the main road whose name I do not even know. Here I have managed to find a pleasant hotel for a mere $9.50. They were originally asking $16, but since the owner is also an avid cyclist and I am an excellent negociator, the price went down. He was very excited when he found out I was Canadian and showed me his Gary Fischer bicycle, which is of course made in Canada. At least today I have my own bathroom and the beds are comfortable!
Day 81 - The Mexican Roller Coaster - 142 km
Today proved to be one of the toughest cycling days that I have encountered thus far. The road was simply horrendous. The road basically went from a small village located either on the coast or in a valley into a ten kilometer climb up a hill and back down again. Repeat this many times and that my day.
There were not many restaurants or shops along the way; I nearly starved trying to find a place to eat lunch since I had barely eaten anything these last two days. At one point I even ran out of water while climbing a hill. Should it have been cool it would not have been a problem. But seeing as it was boiling hot and humid it did not prove to be a very enjoyable experience. The views were beautiful, but otherwise the road was dull and real struggle.
Not far from the town of Nexpa, where I would be staying tonight, I began to see black clouds overhead. I knew it would rain soon, but I hoped that it would be able to hold out until I made it to Nexpa. I was fifteen kilometers from the town when it started to literally pour instantly. There was no warning sprinkles or anything; one second it was dry and the next it was a heavy downpour. It was the strangest thing ever because this has never happened before on my trip. There were always warning sprinkles, even if not for long.
On a rain scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is light sprinkles and 10 is a monsoon I must say that this rainstorm rated at about an 8 on the scale. The rain came down fast and it came down hard. The roads became flooded and I had to struggle through several inches of water. Things became even more interesting when the strong winds kicked in, making the rain essentially come at me horizontally as opposed to vertically. It was so bad that it was practically blinding me. But did I stop? Nope!
I am currently in the small town of Nexpa, population 55, which is located right on the ocean. I am actually writing this down in pen as my laptop is currently non-functional. There was a one kilometer cobblestone access road that one had to take in order to get here. Let's just say that it was so bad that I had to walk parts of it for fear of either ruining my rims or simply sinking somewhere. I am staying in what is thus far the coolest lodging of my trip. I have a private beach cabana complete with two floors, three beds, bathroom, fridge, kitchen, balcony, and hammock. Sure, I won't use half this stuff, but this place is simply awesome! Not the cheapest thing in the world at $14 but definitely worth it.
Being so close to the ocean I felt it would be a shame in order not to go for a dip. I quickly changed into my speedo swimming attire and headed off. Sure my swimming attire may be shocking revealing, but it's very lightweight and packs down small! Upon closer inspection of the water it occurred to me how stupid of an idea it would be to go in there. Dark clouds and strong winds still prevailed, thus the waves ranged in at anywhere between four and ten feet. This could produce a potentially very dangerous undertow in which I wouldn't stand a chance. I decided to simply lounge on the sand in the shallow water, where I was nearly swept away several times!
Day 82 - Roadside Surgery - 183 km
It rained heavily all night, however fortunately this subsided in the morning. There were still light sprinkles; nothing to complain about. I did however have to walk part of the way out of Nexpa because the road, if you can even call it that, was terrible. The last thing I wanted to do was bend my rim and be stranded here. Sure, it may be nice, but I'd be in big trouble.
Roughly 15 kilometers from Nexpa I had a fairly scary near death encounter. Often there is mud and rocks which has been washed onto the road after a rainfall. I was following closely behind a slow moving bus within a town and was not able to see far ahead of myself. I unfortunately hit one of these patches and nearly lost control. I managed to un-clip one of my feet and place it down on the road. Herein is where the problem starts. Next to this particular section of shoulder less road there was no fluffy grass or even dirt, but rather a eight foot drop which had been eroded away by water. By placing my foot here I essentially went straight into that hole, with my bicycle right behind me. My instincts kicked in and the next few seconds were a blur. I managed to dislodge my other foot, ditch my bike, and make a leap to the side. Here a thorny bush of some sort broke my fall, and I went sliding down into the hole. The pedal of my bicycle fortunately became stuck on something and prevent my bicycle from plummeting in after me. It would have made a great picture to see my bicycle hanging by a thread, but I was afraid to try and get my camera in order to do so.
Fortunately I nor my bicycle did not suffer any major injuries, as this could have turned out to be a really, really ugly accident. I was unfortunately scratched up pretty bad due to jumping into a thorny bush and had suffered a very painful bruise on the back of my leg. I brushed myself off, was very grateful for my luck, pulled out my bicycle, and pushed on.
For the next while I had a constant pain in my upper leg. I mistook it as simply an aftermath from the fall, but scratches shouldn't hurt this much! Upon closer inspection it seems that something had lodged itself into my leg and was located pretty deep within my skin. I decided to remove this in my hotel room in the evening, but that plan did not go through. The pain became so bad that I simply could not bicycle anymore without pain shotting up from my leg. I had to remove whatever was in there now. I stopped at a gas station in order to purchase the necessary supplies and took a seat on the curb.
Armed with only a safety pin, tweezers, tissue paper, a lighter, and a bottle of tequila I went to work. I disinfected my tweezers and safety pin with both the tequila and lighter for obvious reasons. Fortunately being a future medical student I have been exposed to blood and gore and was thus am not affected too much by it, but when its yourself your working on it makes it a little more difficult; luckily my dear friend tequila also helped with that! I had to rip apart quite a bit of skin as the impregnated object was not only deep but large. A lot of bleeding and sweating later I managed to finally pull out the foreign object. It turned out to be a large thorn, almost a centimeter in length. No wonder I was in pain!
I think that for the packing list of my next trip I will definitely have to add a plastic flask of hard liquor for practical reasons! In the event of a crash where you injure yourself it can act as a painkiller; and in case you need to perform roadside surgery it can act as a anesthetic of sorts as well as a disinfectant for both your tools and your wound.
A very bumpy but fortunately not too hilly road later I made it to the city of Zihuatanejo. This should ring a bell for you Shawshank Redemption fans out there; if you haven't seen this movie drop whatever you are doing and proceed to a video rental store immediately to rent it. I am currently in the most pain that I have been in thus far on my trip. The scratches I can live with, but my leg is very sore and I anticipate I will have a very large bruise tomorrow. I intend on taking a day off tomorrow not due to my injuries, but rather because I had planned on doing so previously. Fortunately these two managed to coincide!
Day 83 – Kick Back And Relax – 0 km
Today I woke up nice and late as I had stayed up late the night before. I needed a break today and decided to take it easy. I casually walked up and down the streets of Zihuatanejo visiting the interesting places in town. There really aren't that many touristy things to see here in town, however it is still a very nice place. The downtown area is fairly compact and located right near the water. The waterfront is nice, but other cities still surpass it. There are several really beautiful roads here which are closed to cars and open only to pedestrian traffic. It's simply a great place to relax in.
While on my discovery walks I passed by what turned out to be a pretty decent bicycle shop. Seeing as my wheels were totally out of alignment due to the horribly bumpy roads, I decided it would be wise to get a tune up. It cost me $24, but I got a great tune up done on my bicycle. Not only did the mechanic straighten out my wheels and oil up and clean all the right places on my bicycle, but he also managed to fix my cyclometer! I was expecting bicycle shops down here to be very overpriced, but it turns out I was wrong. Not only are they very affordable but they are also very helpful and I would say quite reliable.
My laptop is currently functional, but at the same time it is not. Confusing, I know! My hard drive is toasted, and thus I had to settle for a less convenient setup. I am currently running a portable version of Windows off a CD and running portable versions of all my programs off of USB thumb drives. It is surprisingly a pretty good setup. I can run a word processor, download pictures off my camera, develop my photos from their 'RAW' format, check my e-mail, and much more! My only complaint is that I can't get my microphone and speakers to work and thus can't use Skype on my laptop. So my computer dilemma is fixed temporarily; a permanent fix will occur when I make it back home.
All in all it was a much needed and very relaxing day. My injures from yesterday have somewhat subsided and I don't really feel too sore. I am in quite a good mood as today I managed to fix up my bicycle, laptop, and even get a new filter and lens cap for my camera. I have roughly 240 kilometers to go until I reach the very touristy city of Acapulco where I will be taking another day off.
Day 84 – A Corona a Day Keeps the Pain Away - 133.22 km
Today was unfortunately quite a dull day in which nothing really interesting happened. The road today wound through many small towns and through absolutely beautiful scenery. The views here really are incredible. There is just something about bicycling through a humid jungle overlooking towering green mountains that is strangely relaxing.
Barbecued chicken seems to be a very popular thing here, so of course I had to try it! I stopped at a road side eatery where I received three pieces of chicken, rice, potato salad, a bottle of Corona, and as many tortillas as I could stomach for only $3.70. Even if I end up being given not much food, I can always make sure to stuff myself up on tortillas. I tell you, those fresh hand made tortillas are delicious!
I am currently not far from the city of Tecpan and am staying in what is probably the worst hotel room that I have stayed in thus far on this trip. The paint off the walls is peeling, the ceiling is crumbling, and there is no toilet seat. This time my door has a key, but they don't give it to you. When you want to open your door you have to ask someone to come do it for you. I guess I can't complain for $10. Tomorrow, Acapulco!
Day 85 – Rude Awakening – 107.29 km
When I went to bed last night my stomach wasn't feeling all that great. In the middle of the night I had an unexpected wakeup call. It was the first time that I have thrown up due to bad food on this trip. The cause? Soup. I had accidentally ordered soup at some restaurant where there was of course no menu. The irony in this all lies in the fact that the thing that made me sick in Peru was also soup!
Although I felt much better in the morning, I still wasn't feeling all that great. The road to Acapulco was fortunately fairly flat, otherwise I would have had a really, really rough day. The road looked exactly the same today as it did the last two days. I likewise passed through many small towns in which there was nothing of interest.
Going into the city of Acapulco itself was an adventure of it's own. The outskirts of the city are simply a dump, and there is no other way to word it. There is so much garbage near the road that it feels like your riding through a landfill. Not only does it not look pleasant, but it smells terrible! People are also burning off garbage in their yards which adds to the unpleasant aromas. To top it all off cars and trucks are blasting by spewing more toxic fumes at me, and keep in mind there is no emissions controls here like we have in Canada and the United States. I have on many an occasion seen nothing but black smoke coming out of someone's tailpipe. All of these factors combined with the fact I still wasn't feeling too well did not make for a good combination.
When finally into the city I'm surprised that I didn't get an anxiety attack. I had to weave in and out between buses and cars, each time fearing they would squish me into a pancake. The city is not laid out in a simple to navigate grid, but is rather arranged more like a web spun by a drunk spider. Although I had a map, it did not unfortunately help me. There are practically no road signs here, so it's impossible to find out where you are.
After asking for directions several times I managed to make it to the section of the city I was after. I managed to find a room here for $10 per night. I will admit that it's not the most luxurious place in the world, in fact it is far from it. My only real complaint of the place is the fact that my room doesn't possess a sink! Needless to say, I have resorted to brushing my teeth in the shower.
I walked around the city a bit and my first impressions are well, bleh. The super luxurious part of the city may be nice, but the rest leaves much to be desired. The city is very polluted, especially the ocean. It's not the kind of thing you would be enthralled to swim in. If your dreaming of white sand beaches and crystal clear water, you do not want to swim in the downtown area. Supposedly there are some nice beaches on the other side of the city. Either way I will be taking a day off here tomorrow in order to see all the city has to offer.
Day 86 – Uncovering Acapulco - 0.00 km
After waking up nice and late the first point on my agenda was to see the Fort of San Diego. A short walk later I managed to get to the fort fortunately without getting lost in the maze that is Acapulco. In the fort there is now a very neat museum, which to my great surprise I managed to get into free! Luckily I thought ahead of time to bring my trusty student card with me, which has already gotten me discounts several times. This fort was built by the Spanish in order to protect their galleons arriving from the far east from looting pirates. It proved to be a very interesting and worthwhile attraction.
My next stop was the likewise nationally recognized mask museum, which exhibits masks from all over the world. Fortunately admission was free, as it really wasn't all that interesting. It was contained in a single small building in five medium sized rooms. I admit, there was an impressive collection of various masks, but I guess that masks simply aren't that exciting to me.
The next stop on my agenda was to see the famous cliff divers of Acapulco. If anyone thinks that I'm crazy, they should see these guys. First they free climb up a cliff that is one hundred feet high. Next they wait for a wave so that the water level is slightly higher and then jump off it right into the ocean. I must say that these guys are truly nuts. I may be adventurous, but I don't think I'll be trying that anytime soon!
Being as I had much time to spare I decided to check out the new section of Acapulco. High rise hotels, bars, nightclubs, large shopping malls, and American franchises. It reminded me very much of southern California. However, for some reason I seemed to enjoy this part of Acapulco much more than the old town. The old town here simply isn't as enchanting as it is in other cities such as Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. Once again I managed to find a Starbucks here, which as hard as I tried to resist I could not. So good was that frappuchino. The beaches in this part of town are also much nicer with clear water and no garbage. I actually wouldn't be afraid to go swimming here and die of poisoning by bacteria.
I have also discovered a local beverage here called a 'razpado'. This is basically shaved iced (they literally shave it off a huge ice block right before you) with a bit of water as well as flavor from natural fruit. I guess that means that it's basically a natural slushie. Either way, these things are deadly refreshing and taste fantastic!
To make it back to the old town I decided to take a local bus as opposed to walking another six kilometers. The bus system here in Acapulco is surprisingly efficient. Buses do not run on a set schedule, but you can spot one roughly once every minute or two. As always there aren't really designated bus stops; you have to simply wave the bus down in order to get it to stop. Getting off works in a similar fashion; you have to yell to the bus driver that you'd like to get off at this particular spot. Almost all the buses are 'tricked out' as I like to call it. They sport various decorations and decals and of course blast some bumping tunes. I even saw one bus today which had spinners on it! It was the best 50 cents I have ever spent on a bus ride.
Day 87 – Where Death Lurks Around Every Corner - 150.47 km
The road out of Acapulco was an adventure of it's own. Navigating the city streets proved to be most difficult as they are terribly disorganized, don't have any signs as to indicate what they are, and are almost all one ways. My guidebook for some reason does not seem to indicate which way these one way roads go, which does not make my life any easier. After finally making it to the main road near the coast I worried less about navigation and more about being plowed down by a bus or taxi. If you think bicycling in a large city in the United States or Canada is bad, it's nothing compared to this. Here death lurks around every corner!
Finally out of Acapulco I proceeded to Acapulco Diamante, which is an area of very upscale resorts located on the other side of Acapulco. Much easier than it sounds. The road up here proved to involve an absolutely terrible, horrific, and potentially deadly uphill. It was bad, very bad. I still find it quite funny that some Californians told me that Mexico isn't very mountainous and I don't have to worry about having lower bicycle gearing. Thankful I didn't take their advise or else I would be dying just like I was in British Columbia.
The downhill led me into another resort town by the name of Pichilinque, and yet more resorts. To my great shock there was actually a bicycle path near the road for roughly five kilometers. Granted that sections of it weren't exactly ridable due to damage it was still a great relief. I thought I would die before seeing one of these in Mexico!
The rest of the road proved to be once again very dull. The road looked absolutely identical to the several days it did before Acapulco. Rolling greens hills running through a jungle with an occasional climb here and there. The road occasionally passes through small towns or villages in which there is nothing of interest. This is unfortunately really beginning to bore me. I am currently staying in a small motel not far from the town of Marquelia where I managed to get a room for a only $10. Although the room isn't the greatest thing in the world, it's about four times as large as the room I had yesterday and offers quite a nice view.
Day 88 – Eaten Alive - 119.44 km
Today I simply did not get the best night's sleep that I've ever had. I woke up at 2:30 AM and was unable to sleep. Mosquitoes were literally eating me alive. I had bites all over my arms and my face, and everything was itching. The room I was staying in wasn't the most exclusive thing in the world, and thus ventilation was achieved by big gaps between the walls and the roof. This allowed a wide variety of bugs to come right in and feast on me.
I had finally had enough. I pulled my tent out of my bag and assembled it in no time. I have done it so many times that I could literally do it with my eyes closed. I threw my tent right on top of the bed, where it fit nicely may I add, grabbed the covers and pillow and jumped in. From the inside I was able to point and laugh at all the mosquitoes. Victory!
I had originally intended on waking up a little earlier today, but since I had to endure so much during the night I decided to pass on that idea. The road today was exactly the same as previously. It wound through rolling green hills and jungles with the occasional hill climb or two every here and there. Every so often I would pass through a small village or town.
I have finally crossed over into the next Mexican state, Oaxaca. Only one more state after this and I'll be in Guatemala! Panama is so close I can almost taste it! Today I am staying in the city of Santiago Pinotepa National. It is a medium sized city although not very touristy. I managed to find a decent hotel on a side street for $11. Unfortunately there are no power outlets in my room, my toilet has no seat, and the shower is cold water only. On the upside I don't have to worry about bugs eating me alive in my sleep.
Being as I am located right downtown I decided to walk around the city a bit. Apart from the main square, the city is really quite miserable. Around the main square are located a variety of shops, restaurant, a supermarket, and of course a church. I decided to visit the supermarket as I was in need of additional sunscreen. Unfortunately, I got a little carried away with my shopping here and walked away with not only sunscreen, but also a baguette, cheesecake, Oreos and granola bars. Everything here is just so tempting after shopping at those understocked one room shops near the road!
Day 89 – The Day The Road Signs Lied – 140.84 km
In the morning I unfortunately backtracked a little and ended up doing an additionally seven kilometers that I did not need to to. These have of course been removed from the total. I thought that I had to back out of the city onto the main road to get back on the highway, but it turns out there were two ways through the city. There was a road which went around the city and one which went right through it. I ended up backing up from the downtown area to the road around the city. I sure felt dumb afterwards, but what can you do?
On this road I saw a sign that informed that that Puerto Escondido was roughly 143 kilometers away. Approximately ten kilometers after this first sign I saw another sign which told me the city I was headed to was 160 kilometers away! No, I wasn't headed in the wrong direction or along the wrong road. I asked some locals how far it was between the two cities and they told me 175 kilometers! I nearly had a heart attack. This wouldn't be good as I would get to the city late and thus not be able to see anything.
No matter, I rode on. The miles just seemed to melt away today. The first two hours of the day were fairly rough with some steep hills, but other than that I was spoiled with rolling green hills and meadows. This allowed me to make great mileage without having to kill myself in the process.
I made it to Puerto Escondido, which literally means hidden port, at around 4:30 PM. Fortunately it was not 175 kilometers away but rather 140. This town is famous for it's great surfing. In fact, the owner of one of the restaurants here told me it is the #3 surfing spot in the world after Hawaii and Australia. In fact, the X-Games were hosted here last week! Waves of seven meters can be found here at times, and in really rough weather fifteen to sixteen meter waves are not unheard of. Today I saw waves which were three meters, and these are considered small for them!
I managed to find a cabana for rent for a mere $5. It may not be on the beach, but it's perfect for my needs. The bathrooms are shared, but at least I was given a towel, soap, and toilet paper! This time my cabana even has electricity, but since there is only one outlet I have to choose between my laptop and the fan. Since this cabana isn't exact airtight my bed has a huge mosquito net over it. It looks really girly and makes me feel like I'm sleeping beauty, but it really does work wonders!
Still having time to spare I set off to see the city. The beaches here really are quite something and the waves are simply unreal. There are many pleasant restaurants and bars in straw buildings along the coast. Away from the coast are the usual hotels and countless stalls filled with souvenirs. Overall it's a very pleasant town, one of those types of places in which you can simply kick back and relax.
I decided to eat in luxury today at a beach side restaurant. Dinner cost me $7, more than it cost for my room! The waiter here took my order in Spanish, then afterwards in perfectly English told me that my Spanish isn't too bad. He also got me to try some local chili peppers. At first it thought it was some type of candy. They were roughly the size of a green pea, but they were potentially lethal. It seems that spiciness is inversely proportional to size! I first ate half t to be same, and it didn't seem too bad. Being courageous I decided to try the other half, which turned out to be much spicier as it contained the seeds. It felt as if there were an inferno raging within my mouth. Let's just say that I won't be trying any more local chilies.
Day 90 – Three Quarters! - 131.76 km
Today marks the three quarters point of my trip, seventy-five percent! It's quite amazing that I've made it this far, I must say that I am quite proud of myself. In order to congratulate myself I have patted myself on the back. Before I know it I'll be in Panama!
On the topic of today's road, quite simply rough. No longer was I spoiled by rolling green hills, but rather I was thrown into strenuous mountain climbs. I had never imagined that Mexico would be so mountainous. Fortunately since I am in excellent shape I am managing, otherwise I would probably die somewhere on the road side. The fact that it is terribly hot down here always makes life a little more challenging. Apart from being simply brutal the road was otherwise uneventful. I passed through several small villages where I was able to resupply on much needed cold beverages, but otherwise I was dying of boredom.
Salvation today came in the form of solidified water. While climbing and struggling up a hill in the middle of nowhere, I saw an older man pushing a cart full of 'palletas' down the hill. These are basically homemade Popsicles. I don't know what he was doing out here, but I tell you that a lemon flavored Popsicle has never tasted so good!
The original plan today was to make it to a small beach town a little ahead of where I am now. The downside of this was that it was four kilometers each way to get there! I instead opted to stay at a restaurant a little earlier along the road where they had several small rooms for rent. It turned out not to be such a bad idea! The restaurant is on a cliff side and provides an excellent view of the river, to which leads a private path. Unable to turn down such an opportunity I decided to go swimming in the river. Although not very deep and the color of mud, it was still quite a relaxing swim!
Day 91 – Into Five Figures - 158.29 km
For the first half of today the road proved to be anything but easy. It wound up and down, left and right throughout countless hills. After I passed the point where I had bicycled 10,000 kilometers on my trip, I decided it was time to stop and celebrate, or at least relax! I stopped into a 'comedor', which is simply a cheap eatery. When I asked what they had to eat the answer was quite simple: chicken. When I asked if there was anything else, nope! Just chicken. So chicken it was. I guess from a positive point of view it makes ordering your food quite a simple matter.
Along the way I met the first traveling cyclists that I have met down here in Mexico. It was a couple from Brazil who was bicycling for Sao Paolo, to who knows where! Since they do not speak English, I was forced to fall back on my Spanish. I must say that I actually managed to carry out a decent conversation. I found out that they have been on the road for a year and a half now, as they take many stops along the way. They have bicycled 7,000 km from Sao Paolo to here in a year and a half, in contrast I have done 10,000 km in three months! It makes me look a little crazy I guess. They even gave me a few tips for my travels in Central America, namely that in Costa Rica and Panama it is possible to rent a room in a fire station for a very decent price. They claim these things are as nice as hotels and come equipped with television and even air conditioning!
The road fortunately flatted out significantly afterwards, however the strong winds proved to still provide a challenge. Although I had my wheel trued a little over a week and a half again, it was once again necessary. I noticed this about half way throughout the day, but decided I didn't want to spend a long time near the road fixing it myself. I instead opted to ride it out and fix it in the evening. Unfortunately the situation got worse and my tire was very lightly rubbing against my frame. Against all odds I made it to the city of Juchitan.
I decided to find a bicycle shop so they could fix this and thus make my life a little easier. While asking around on the street where I could find a bicycle shop a guy around my age pulled up beside me on a motor scooter. He introduced himself as 'Wilbur' and told me that he was a cyclist himself and thus offered to show me to the bicycle shop. When we got there he asked me if I had a hotel in town. When I told him I did not he told me that I could stay over at his place, and that of course he would get his mother to make me food. This was an offer simply too good to turn down!
While waiting for my bicycle to get fixed I got caught up in quite a bit of commotion. This Sunday elections are being held, and before I knew it I was in the middle of a political rally. Hundreds of people were walking down the street with flags and posters in hand waving frantically and chanting. At the head of the crowd was a line of cars proudly displaying posters as well as a mariachi band! It was quite crazy I must say, I can only imagine what happens here during a fiesta!
Finally with my wheel fixed and the rally over we headed over to Wilbur's house. Immediately his mom set out to make sure I was not hungry. She gave me a plate stacked full of enchiladas. I must say they were very good, but there was just so much of them! She then insisted that I clean up and told me that she would clean any clothes that I needed. The bathroom I must say was an attraction in itself. The shower was basically a pipe which came out of the wall several feet overhead. A toilet was present, but was not connected to a water pipe. Therefore flushing occurred manually using a bucket full of water. No matter, I managed to clean up just fine.
For the next while we simply sat around and lounged lazily. I was of course subject to plenty of questions. Definitely not the easiest thing in the world since my Spanish isn't exactly stellar. I also showed them some of the pictures from my trip. I found it quite interesting that the places they were interested in seeing where the places very close to them such as Acapulco and Puerto Escondido. As close as they may be to them, it seems they have never visited them. In return they showed me pictures of their wild fiestas, traditional dances, as well as their regional costumes. I was even presented with a gift of a typically clay figurine from this area. Before I knew it there was over fifteen people around! Somehow the whole family had showed up as well as the next door neighbors.
They became very excited when they found out that I went to school in Michigan. It turns out they have a brother who lives there but who has unfortunately not contacted them in over four years. I was asked to get in touch with him if possible and convey a message, which I will of course attempt to do. They showed me an old Michigan license plate they had, photos, as well as post cards. I must say that it was nice to see a little of back home. I became really surprised when I stopped a post card of the Ambassador Bridge and on it written both Windsor and Detroit. I never thought I would see a postcard from my city here in Mexico. I must say that seeing that post card had a strange effect on me which is truly hard to convey.
Not ready to call it a night yet Wilbur and his cousin volunteered to show me around the town a little bit. Even though it was already dark, I of course agreed. We hopped onto our bikes and set of to the center. The town square is very lively and contains a market nearby. Here we tried a local drink which was some warm beverage based on corn and milk with a sugary foam on top, at least I hope that's what it was! After a little more riding around we headed back to the house. Today as opposed to 'couch surfing' I will be 'yard surfing'. Unfortunately space is limited here and there are thus no extra beds or hammocks. I thus opted to setup my tent in the yard and sleep there. Until tomorrow!
Day 92 – Jungle Sand Storm - 149.77 km
Since Wilbur and his cousin are both avid cyclists they offered to go riding with me for awhile. I of course accepted their offer since a little companionship is always pleasant. Wilbur's mom however ensured that we were properly delayed. She could not imagine us setting out on an empty stomach! Thus breakfast was served; beans, fresh cheese, baked fish, tortillas, lime, and some type of warm corn drink. Unfortunately this drink did not taste very good, in fact, it didn't really taste like much of anything; fortunately some sugar remedied the situation. A breakfast here is more of what I would consider a lunch, however I must sat it was very tasty. I was so full that it was almost hard to bicycle!
For the next forty kilometers I was accompanied by my two new friends, after which they unfortunately had to head back. It is always very pleasant to ride with someone else as the time seems to go by so much faster. It kind of makes me wish I had found someone crazy enough to accompany me on my trip, but alas there was no one to be found. The road to where I am today in Arriaga was fortunately fairly flat, but also very windy. In fact, at one point there was a bunch of wind turbines to the left of the road. Supposedly these are the only ones in all of Mexico!
One thing which made my life very challenging today was road construction. The paved roads here in Mexico are in bad enough condition, yet alone an unpaved gravel road! I was forced to weave left and right to avoid huge holes which would undoubtedly destroy my feeble bicycle as easily as I can crush a twig. This would have been bad enough, but no. Trucks were blasting by me at high speeds sending clouds of dust my way. Being temporarily blinded and unable to breathe I felt just as if I had stepped into a sand storm.
Quite a bit of pain and suffering later I made it to the medium sized town of Arriaga. I have managed to find a room here for a mere $8. However, I must say that I believe that I overpaid. Although my bathroom, if you can call it that, contains a toilet, it is unfortunately nonoperational. There remains some liquid residue at the bottom of it, however I prefer not to find out what it is. A shower is present and does contain water, cold only of course. It seems however that this room has not been cleaned since before the dawn of man. The shower was so dirty that I was afraid to step into it with my bare feet for fear of bacterial infection, and thus used my trusty Crocs. My room is so filthy that I am really afraid to touch anything yet alone step on the floor with my bare feet. I have opted to once again setup my tent over my bed not only to protect myself from bugs but because I know that it's clean, I wish I could say the same about this bed.
I must say that what this place lacks in amenities, and it lacks much, it does make up for at least partially in terms of service. When I told them that I was going to visit the town and asked if I could have a key to lock my door, they unfortunately told me that there are no locks here. Since I would be away for two hours or more I wanted to make sure my things would be safe, and thus someone ran over to the local hardware store to buy screws and a lock which was immediately installed on my door. Now that's service for you!
Day 93 – Mechanical Difficulties - 141.70 km
I very happily left my room this morning, which as you may recall from yesterday was overridden with dirt and grime. I left the bottle of expensive tequila I have been carrying around figuring they would appreciate it. I'm not going to drink the stuff and it weighs quite a bit considering the bottle is glass. Since the city was not very large I managed to find my way out with ease.
From this city up until the larger city of Tapachula there is only a toll road and no free road option. I would have taken the toll road either way considering my previous experiences with them. The road was fortunately in very good condition for the most part and also relatively flat. I was making such good time that I even stopped for a while in a city I passed through to update my website at an internet cafe.
Over the past several days I have been hearing a creaking sound coming from my bottom bracket. I figured this was simply an annoyance and not a problem as when I added lubricant to it the creaking went away. However, after about 20 kilometers it would always come back. When the creaking stopped today I became very relieved, however when I looked down after several minutes I nearly had a heart attack. It seems the reason the creaking stopped was because my crank became loose!
I immediately pulled over and pulled out my arsenal of tools. Fortunately my multi-tool had the right size hex key to tighten the bolt, otherwise I would be stranded. With my multi-tool I tightened as hard as I could, but it seems it was not enough. For the next sixty kilometers I had to keep re-tightening the bolt, which just kept coming loose. As if things weren't already bad enough it began to rain. Let me rephrase that, it began to pour. I felt as if somewhere were simply emptying buckets full of water on me from overhead. Regardless, I pedaled on.
I have made it to the city of Mapastepec, which is a larger sized city. I managed to find a bicycle shop which wasn't exactly the best place in the world. They reconfirmed my diagnosis and said the reason for this was simply a loose bolt, which I really hope is the case. I managed to find a hardware store where I purchased a proper, full sized hex key and tightened the bolt. I attempted to contact my emergency bicycle mechanic Kevin in the United States just to ensure that everything would be alright, but I was unable to get in touch with him.
I managed to find a decent hotel in town for $11. The room is actually fairly clean and I'm not afraid of getting eaten by rampant bacteria. The shower contains cold water only of course. I really can't remember the last time I had a warm shower. I whipped out my laptop and opened up my seven hundred page bicycle repair manual e-book where I read up on my problem. They say to tighten the bolt with a torque wrench, which I obviously don't have. I will try again to contact Kevin tomorrow morning as the last thing I want is to ruin my crank, which I doubt I could find a replacement of easily down here.
Day 94 -Mexican Finale - 102.08 km
Today in the morning I once again wasn't feeling too hot. I suspect the culprit to be a Popsicle I consumed in the late hours of yesterday. This was one of those homemade Popsicles, but the thing that made it deadly was that it contained milk and not just water. I admit that it was absolutely delicious, but lurking under all that flavor was death. I eat ice cream made from milk here often, but always brand name stuff. Learn from your mistakes as I like to say. Even though my stomach was in pain and I had to visit the bathroom several times throughout the day, I pedaled onward. I don't have time for delays such as sickness!
As the day progressed I fortunately began to feel better and better. After passing through many small towns I finally made it to the larger sized city of Tapachula. Mexico's southernmost city is home to roughly 150,000 people. For this city my untrusty Lonely Planet guidebook listed the cheapest place to stay as costing $18 per night. For this part of Mexico, that's fairly steep. I decided to try my luck and try to find something else. I must be very lucky, because I managed to find a decent hotel a mere half block from the main square for only $5! My room is even fairly clean and contains a working bathroom complete with sink and shower. To sweeten the deal I have an outdoor balcony and a view onto the city's main road. I would have been happy to have paid at least twice as much!
As I made it into town fairly early I had ample time to explore the city. My first stop was the main town square, which proved to be very interesting. Trees and benches lined the entire square while vendors were located on the very outside perimeter. On the inside was a concert area of some sort as well as a water fountain. Facing the main square was a cathedral and a very beautiful museum of some sort. From the main square I dared to venture to the local market. The market at first seemed small, but it turned out to be huge. It's size is misleading as it is built atop a downhill. Thus what looked like it only had one floor turned out to have four! Every section of the market was dedicated to something different from fruits to shoes to meats. To get a sense of what this felt like, imagine a market back home; move the shelves to within a few feet of each other, age it fifty years, and throw in a bunch of people until you feel claustrophobic. Absolutely brilliant is what it is!
For the past thirty five days I have eaten tortillas with every since meal; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I have gotten so sick of them that the mere sight of one makes me, well, sick. I opted today to try something different and went to a Chinese restaurant. I must say that the food was fairly good and for $5 was a very good deal. My only complaint is that they didn't have chopsticks. No matter where your travels may take you in this world rest assured that there will be a Chinese restaurant near by!
Today I also experienced my first dental issue of the trip. As I had braces in the past I now have a metal wire glued under my teeth to keep them from shifting. This wire unfortunately came loose on my today. Normally this would involve a visit to my dentist to get it re-glued. Since that isn't a possibility, and I'm not brave or stupid enough to visit a dentist down here, I decided to be my own dentist. With surgical precision I maneuvered nail clippers inside my mouth in order to cut this wire shorter. Fortunately I succeeded with no casualties; a permanent fix will follow back home. On this trip I have been both a surgeon and a dentist so far!
I am currently looking down at the busy city of Tapachula which is still abuzz at this late hour. Tomorrow I venture into unknown territory, namely Guatemala. Thirty five days later I will finally leave the beautiful country that is Mexico. And so the plot thickens!
Day 95 – Guatemala! - 131.56 km
The road from Tapachula to Guatemala proved to be quite confusing. There weren't many road signs to indicate where exactly to go, and the road signs which were present weren't very helpful. Although the road was in good condition it was a huge pain as I have never ridden over so many speed bumps on such a short stretch of road. It was quite ridiculous, I must have ridden over at least a hundred of them.
Finally in the border city of Hidalgo even more confusion prevailed. For some reason I had to take about six or seven turns on city streets before I finally made it to the border crossing. Upon leaving Mexico I had to turn in my tourist card and get my passport stamped. I then headed off into a new frontier, Guatemala! I had to cross a river across which led a bridge, costing me a toll of a whole 10 cents.
I thought Mexico was crazy, well, Guatemala is even crazier! The traffic here is even worse than in Mexico and things simply look much more hectic. The people however are much more laid back and also very friendly. To my great surprise, the roads here are actually quite good. The road consists of only two lanes, but the lanes are wide enough for two cars. The road is also in good condition with much less potholes than in Mexico. The free road here is comparable to a toll road in Mexico.
While riding along the road a man on a motor bike pulled up next to me and started a conversation with me. Fortunately with the wide shoulders we were able to ride side by side. He ended up talking with me for over ten minutes, all while I was pedaling away feverishly trying to keep up. Luckily for me I have picked up quite a bit of Spanish in this last month, as people keep asking e question after question!
I decided to try something different today and for lunch went to a McDonald's. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. Someone greeted me at the entrance and opened the door for me. After my order was taken, they told me I could go and sit down as it would take a minute or two for my burger to be ready, after which they would bring it to me. When I went to fill up my little ketchup cup, another worker offered to fill it up for me! Granted that the prices were the same as in the United States, but this place was spotlessly clean and literally shone. I was really surprised as my burger actually looked like it did on the photo. Back home I would receive a miserable looking object slapped together carelessly. I tell you, our McDonald's employees in the United States should be sent to Guatemala for training!
I have made it today to the city of Mazatenango, which although is a large city is not in my Lonely Planet guidebooks. These things are really pieces of junk. If a city does not have tourist attractions it is usually not included at all. For a bicycle traveler, absolutely useless. If I were doing something like this again I would simply read these books at a library and photocopy what I need. The only good thing these are for are the very large cities as they also include maps. The city has a large outdoor market which is quite simply crazy as well as a very busy main street. Traffic is absolutely hectic.
I sat down at a local eatery today and told them to give me a local dish, I didn't care what. I ended up getting something called 'pallara'. I'm still to this point not sure what it was. I
initially thought it was a breaded fillet of some type of white fish, but that proved not to be the case. When I cut it open it was white, but the meat resembled I would say tentacles of some sort. Regardless I ate it, initially it wasn't bad, but it had a terrible aftertaste as if it were charred. I managed to stomach one third of it and could do no more.
I have managed to find a very nice hotel here near the center for only $7. My room is very clean, contains comfortable beds, a tidy bathroom equipped with sink, shower, and a toilet with a seat for once! They even have cable TV with HBO! Another nice thing here is that on the doors it lists the maximum rate they can charge for a room, which in my case today is $10. This is very good as even these rates are fair and they ensure you won't get ripped off. Although Guatemala is absolutely crazy, I love it! There really is a noticeable difference from Mexico.
Day 96 – Slightly Sidetracked – 95.60 km
I woke up bright and early in the morning, full of energy ready to catch up on some lost mileage. At first things were going great. I was making fairly good time and the terrain was not excruciatingly painful. After some time mt rear wheel felt a little strange, as if it were low on air. I knew this was not the case as I had pumped it up that morning. Upon closer inspection it turned to be out of alignment and needed some adjusting. Knowing that the longer I postponed this inevitable act the worse the problem would get, I found a patch of shade and pulled over.
Not dismayed by a slight misalignment I took all my bags off my bicycle and flipped it upside down; a makeshift repair shop of sorts. Upon even closer inspection, it turned out that I was screwed. I guess the last time I had my wheel worked on the guy must have overtightened the spokes, as my rim had cracked pretty bad. It was obvious that I would need a new one and that this one's life was limited to mere kilometers. I straightened out what I could by loosening the other side of the rim to compensate for the damage. Fortunately I had fixed the problem enough to get me to the next major city. While loading pictures onto my laptop I later noticed that the picture of my broken rim is numbered IMG_6666. Pure coincidence? I think not. There are some dark forces at work here...
My original plan was to head East from the city of Esquintla following the Pacific Highway. However, this setback complicated the situation. I had difficulty getting a rim like this back in the United States, here in Guatemala the problem would be even worse. Some local cyclists in Tapachula, Mexico had told me that the closest good bicycle shop was in Guatemala City. Being as this is the largest city in Central America, I knew it would be my only hope. Thus in Esquintla I set off to find a bus to Guatemala City, or simply 'Guate' as the locals here call it. This proved to be easier than expected as buses run every twenty minutes or so. The bus pulled up, the guy asked me “Guate?”. When I replied yes they quickly loaded up my bicycle and all my stuff on the roof and told me to quickly make it inside. Four dollars for a two hour bus ride isn't so bad! For those of you who aren't aware, getting onto and off of buses here usually occurs while they're still moving.
This bus ride was an experience in itself. Never in my life had I seen a bus so overloaded with people. This was a converted school bus with ten rows of seats on each side. Although each seat is designed to hold two, in Guatemala they hold three. To maximize space there are also people standing of course. At one point I had counted over seventy people on that bus. To make the ride even more interesting our driver was an absolute maniac. I swear that not much more was required to get that bus onto two wheels. Sitting on this bus was more stressful than trying not to get killed bicycling!
Two long hours full of breathtaking views and bumping tunes later I finally arrived in 'Guate'. If you think that traffic is crazy in a larger North American city, you haven't seen anything. Needless to say I am not looking forward to bicycling out of this place. Getting off the bus of course occurred in a rushed fashion. My bicycle as well as one of my bags was passed down to me. Then the bus took off! I had to yell and run after the bus for about half a block that I still needed my other bag. Fortunately they heard my frantic cries and stopped to hand me my other bag, which was somewhere in the front. Being as I had no city map and no idea where on earth to go, I decided to take a taxi to the nearest good bicycle shop.
My taxi ride proved to be yet another adventure! Two minutes into the ride, while climbing up an entrance ramp to a freeway, the car ran out of gas! The driver tried to make it up to the top in order to roll down to some gas station, but it was to no avail. So he simply threw the car in reverse and started backing down the side of a busy on ramp! When he got stuck on a curb, he decided there was nothing more he could do. He grabbed a plastic container, told me to wait here a few minutes, and started running to the nearest gas station. After he left I nearly died laughing in that car. Sure enough he was back within a few minutes and we were good to go. He stopped at the next gas station in order to make sure that wouldn't happen again!
The first bicycle shop we stopped at proved not to be that great, but they directed us to a better one. At the second bicycle shop, which was a good one, they told me that they unfortunately did not have my rim. However, I did convince them to call around to other bicycle shops so I wouldn't have to drive to and from each one. Although none of the bicycle shops had a rim in stock, one of them said they would be able to build one for me using the parts from my old one and some new components. As luck would have it this place was right across the street and I would be needing no more taxi services. To my surprise this was actually a really, really good bicycle shop. They had many expensive bicycles as well as any components or accessories you could want. Since building a rim is quite a bit of work they wouldn't be able to do it for me the same day, but told they could have it done for me by tomorrow at 2 o'clock. It should cost me only $35, a bargain considering I paid $110 back in the United States for one!
All in all the whole taxi ride cost me $7, to get back to the center I took a city bus, which proved to be exactly 50 times cheaper, costing only 15 cents. No matter, it's not like I could have taken a bus here. Back in the historical center I stopped into a Shell gas station where I bought a city map and made for a quick lunch. Since my Lonely Planet book for Central America is on my laptop I setup a mobile office at one of the tables in this Shell and started reading up on 'Guate'. I had to find a place to stay after all! As luck would have it there was an unsecured wireless internet connection nearby so I was able to check my e-mail and update everyone back home.
I managed to find a hotel constructed in a historical style with a pleasant atmosphere called the 'Hotel Fenix'. A room cost me only $7 which is a bargain for 'Guate'. Granted I don't have as many luxuries as yesterday, but it will do. My room contains only a bed and a mirror and the bathrooms are shared, but I will live. Being as I had time to spare I set out to explore this crazy city which I had not intended to visit. I was pleasantly surprised by the city and ended up enjoying it quite a lot. The city, although hectic, is very beautiful architecturally. There are many interesting town squares, palaces, and churches. I won't bore you with all the details, but it is definitely worth spending a day here if your in Guatemala.
My original plan was to bus it back to Esquintla and continue along my original route, however taking a bus back will be a waste of time and a hassle. I can continue East from here and make it to the same point in a few days when these two roads meet. I don't consider my bus ride 'cheating' per se, since it's actually twenty kilometers further from 'Guate' to the point the road meet than from Esquintla; that and the fact that this road is much hillier. Tomorrow morning I will have some more time to explore the city and then hopefully be able to keep moving along the road!
Day 97 – The Guatemalan Milkman – 97.39 km
Today in the morning I still have some time to visit the city as my bicycle would be ready at 2 PM, which is the fastest I could convince the guys to do it. I decided to visit the National Palace in the main square, which was built at an enormous cost to the country by a dictator some sixty years ago. The palace really is quite impressive architecturally. I found it kind of humorous when our tour guide said that one of the rooms is closed as they are repairing it from damage caused by a car bomb from several years ago.
While leaving the palace I saw a man walking around with several goats. I thought, what the heck is he doing in the center of a city like this? My question was answered no more than a minute later when someone walked up and handed him a coin, he immediately pulled out a cup from out of nowhere, raised the goats leg, and began milking away. I was a little taken aback at first, and then nearly died laughing. It really gives the term fresh milk a new meaning!
Finally on my way back to my hotel to pick up all my stuff so I could go get my bicycle I passed by a movie theater. Of course all the latest American movies were playing, usually dubbed in Spanish. The irony in all of this was that there were street vendors with stalls on the sidewalk directly in front of the theater selling pirated versions of these very same movies. Oh the irony!
Checked out of my hotel I proceeded to once again catch a bus back to the expensive area of Guate. My guidebook warns against using these buses as there have been reports of robberies, rapes, and even murders on them, but I decided to take my chances. This is a city where there are very many poor people, but also quite a few well off people. Thus, there are of course services to cater to their every need. From gourmet European food to English books, specialized bicycle stores, and Mercedes-Benz cars, you can find it here. Fortunately in one such posh book store I was able to locate the guidebook to Central America that I had been looking for feverishly in all of Mexico. Up until this point I had someone scanning me pages from the book and e-mailing them to me!
Sure enough my bicycle was ready at two o'clock as promised. They seem to have done a good job, let's just hope this gets me to Panama! I also had them tighten my crankarm which I was having problems with several days ago. Fortunately the expensive area of Guate is located on the outer area of the city, which made my trip out of this metropolis much easier. Even so, I had to be very careful as I was basically bicycling on a major freeway. The road leading out of Guate proved to be quite rough as it was a solid 12 kilometers of all up hill. All this time the city dragged on, although much less crowded now. I must say it was kind of funny when the boys from the bicycle shopped rolled by in a car and yelled encouragement at me!
After all my suffering up that hill I was greatly rewarded with quite possibly the longest downhill I have ever ridden. The road was great and the hill just seemed to have no end! I counted the downhill as being a solid 24 kilometers with not one climb. However, as I have learned on this trip. Where there is a nice downhill pain and suffering are sure to follow. The road to where I am today was filled with cycles of up and down, and let me tell you that those downs go by much faster than the ups!
One nice thing about Guatemala is that every so often along the road there is a tent setup where there is a person who provides free information for tourists. I stopped at one of these where the guy recommended a better route to San Salvador for me which is supposedly a little flatter. I'm really enjoying Guatemala; the people are always very friendly and helpful, and the roads are surprisingly fairly good!
I am currently staying in a town called Jalpatagua not far from the border of El Salvador. I had intended to make it further today, but since I began bicycling at 2 o'clock it was simply not physically possible. Time, not lack of energy, was my limiting factor today. Tomorrow I will wake up bright and early and try to make it to San Salvador as fast as possible so I still have a few hours to see the city.
Day 98 – Robbed in Broad Daylight – 139.31 km
So I wasn't robbed at gun point or anything like that, but I might as well have been. I was staying fairly close to the border and thus made it here within an hour. Unfortunately things here spoiled my mood for the rest of the day. Upon leaving Guatemala I was forced to pay $50 in various fees for visas, departure taxes, as well as something else. This seemed very odd to me, but since I had not properly read up on all these fees I couldn't really argue.
When I made it across the bridge to El Salvador I found out that I had been duped and that I shouldn't have had to pay anything. Bastards! I had become a victim of the “Gringo fee” as I like to call it. At this point I was pretty pissed off. I strongly considered going back just to kick someone's ass. Even if I wouldn't get my money back, breaking someone's nose would make me feel a lot better. Upon careful consideration I decided it would be better to simply learn from my mistakes and not try anything dumb, as they would have probably chopped me to bits using their machetes.
Although fuming mad and ready to give someone a bead down, I reluctantly moved on into El Salvador. One find I find very interesting about this country is that in 2001 they made the US dollar their official currency! It's kind of funny that a country totally adopts the currency of another. Although I must say this is very convenient for me as I don't have to think and recalculate prices for things in my head from one currency to another.
In order to both shorten my route and spare my legs I did not take the main highway but rather the secondary highways. To my great surprise, these were very good with a wide shoulder. Eventually this highway led to the main highway leading to San Salvador very close to a city called Santa Ana, which is the second largest city in El Salvador. As I was only two kilometers off the road I figured it would be a shame to miss seeing it, and thus took a short detour into the city. Being strapped on time I did an express visit, going only to the main square to snap a few pictures and then moving along.
The road to San Salvador was great! The shoulders were fairly wide, the asphalt in excellent condition, and the terrain fairly flat. Unfortunately my luck did not last all the way to the capitol. Roughly twenty kilometers before the city I began to climb, or more precisely crawl, up a simply monstrous hill of some ridiculously steep grade. To make matters worse this was a three lane major highway full of traffic with no shoulders. What this means is that if someone is honking feverishly at you, you better move your butt off the road or your getting run over, because he isn't stopping. As if things weren't bad enough I ran out of water going up the hill and had no place to resupply.
After what seemed like an eternity and many stops I struggled to the top of that hill. I stumbled into a gas station where I drank a liter of refreshing and very unhealthy Pepsi like it was nobody's business. It was about twelve kilometers to the center from this point. Although this was all downhill, it was quite possibly the most stressful and terrifying twelve kilometers I have ever ridden in my life.
The road into the capitol is a major three lane highway with a fairly small shoulder. You are blasting down this road at 40 kilometers per hour. There are very often on and off ramps as well as splitting of the road. Being as cars are traveling more than twice as fast, it is quite a challenge trying not to get run over. Finally off the major highway I made it onto a major road in the city which was also three lanes. Here shoulders are non-existant and thus you are basically stuck taking up a whole lane unless you want to get run off the road by a bus. However, taking up a whole lane is only acceptable if you are able to keep up with traffic. This basically entails pedaling as if your life depended on it as you have to keep up a speed of at least 40 kilometers per hour. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the twenty or so stoplights which stopped me along the way. Bicycling in even the largest of cities in the United States is a piece of cake compared with this. It is simply insane and there is no other way to word it.
Since I made it to the city at around 4 o'clock I still had a few hours in order to see some of the sights. I conveniently chose a small hotel in the very center which I was able to secure for $8 including a bathroom. Unfortunately my room is located next to a nightclub, so I can not only hear music blasting loud but I can feel it too. I visited the cathedral, main square, several notable churches, as well as the local market. The local market was equally crazy with cars and swarms of people zigzagging between each other. The traffic in the city is absolutely hectic, it's almost a skill not getting killed down here. Here pedestrians yield to cars, not the other way around as in the United States.
One thing I should mention is that San Salvador is a very, very dangerous city. For a population of 850,000 people there are 18,000 security guards employed here! We're not talking the kind of security guys we have back home who don't carry a gun or handcuffs; we're talking about guys with combat shotguns, M16s, ammunition belts, and bulletproof vests! These guys are found everywhere from parks to pharmacies, hardware stores, and post offices. Coincidently my hotel is conveniently located next to a gun shop for all my shooting needs. So thus another day rolls by. Today I have become a little poorer, but also a little wiser. Either way, I move only forward!
Day 99 – The Town That Sleeps – 129.28 km
Before checking out of my hotel this morning I had to make a quick stop to the post office to send a package full of old maps and souvenirs home. I managed to find the post office without problems as I had been there the prior day to buy stamps for some post cards. Sending a package was not cheap, but then again not terribly expensive. A box of dimensions around 3” x 5” x 8” and weighing 1.1 kilograms cost me $18 shipped to Canada. What I find really funny down here is that instead of printing off a sticker with the price or doing something more effective, they simply gave me $18 in stamps. Needless to say one entire side of my box was full of stamps, 17 of them to be precise.
After having that taken care of I once again set off into the mayhem that is San Salvador. Fortunately it wasn't as bad as yesterday since the historical center is more on the outside of town. I had quite a scare today when my camera nearly became a casualty, a soldier wounded in action if you will. While riding on the shoulder of a busy road I hit a very rough stretch of bumps and holes. I was going fast and not able to avoid it as there were buses to my left. Since I do not keep my front bag zipped all the way up my camera jumped up a few times and right out of my bag! It fortunately got caught on my handlebars and did not fall to the ground. As carefully as possible I slowed to a halt and replaced it to it's right spot. Yikes! What a close call!
The highways here are typically only two lanes with very wide shoulders of both sides of the road. Thus a system functions here that is similarly present in Poland where a two lane road is made into a three lane road. The center of the road is used as a passing lane and the other two lanes simply move over onto the shoulder. Things get quite interesting when you throw a bicycle on one side and people walking on the other into the mix. Although the roads here are in fairly good condition, the hills here are simply killer. Especially when the sun and heat hit you near midday, it really is a struggle to make it up these things. I had to stop several times to rest in the shade otherwise I probably would have fallen victim to heat stroke. Two flat tires today did not make my trip any easier. What's really bugging me is that although I was able to find the holes I wasn't able to pinpoint the cause.
While struggling up one such ill there were fruit stands conveniently located on the shoulder. At one of these I tried “jugo de cana”, which I am fairly certain is juice made from sugar cane, or at least some kind of cane. It was a brown and sweet beverage; definitely not the tastiest in the world but quite consumable. It is kind of funny the way these beverages are severed. All juices at these road side stalls are given simply in a small, clear plastic bag with a straw.
Today I am staying in the third largest town in El Salvador, San Miguel. This place is really quite dull. There is a town square containing a cathedral as well as several other government buildings around it. Near by is a busy market which sells anything from souvenirs to tomatoes and telephones. I tried a typical El Salvadorian food today called “popusas”, which is basically corn dough stuffed with cheese and as far as I was able to decipher, pork lard. Strange as it may sound, they are fairly good; similar to quesedillas in a way.
I have managed to find a place to stay here for only $4. For $2 more I could have gotten a room with private bathroom, but I simply couldn't justify the cost. My dinner had cost me $2.25! My room is fairly large and very spacious, since there really isn't anything in it; it's furnishings include only a hammock, bed, and small table. During heavy rain the roof drips a little, which is quite inconvenient when using a laptop, thus I am currently hidden under bed covers. The place turned out to be a good choice however as in the evening they played a movie for free in the courtyard on a large projector, bonus! It was some older Hollywood action flick featuring Bruce Willis; luckily it was in English with Spanish subtitles, so I was actually able to understand something!
This town is very odd in that it basically dies at 6 PM. After making a phone call back home I had intended to visit an internet cafe in order to update my website, however it simply wasn't possible! When the clock struck six every single business and establishment locked it's doors and shut down. All the people seemed to disappear and the town seemed nearly vacant! Disappointed I hurriedly scurried back to the safety of my hotel, as the last thing I wanted to do was walk around deserted streets at night. Tomorrow I move in Honduras, where I won't let myself be screwed over at the border again!
Day 100 – Unwelcome Welcome – 147.65 km
One hundred days sure does go by quite quick. It has been exactly one hundred days and 11,097 long kilometers since I set out from fateful highway out of Anchorage, but it feels just like if it were yesterday.
Before heading out of San Miguel today in the morning I opted to visit an internet cafe, as it seems that in these areas it is not possible to visit them in the evenings. The road from San Miguel to the border was around 50 kilometers, which went by quite quick. At the border I was of course harassed by money changers, who I very rudely told to leave me alone. These guys truly are the scum of the earth. They will try to cheat you in any way possible, either by giving you a very bad exchange rate or switching bills on you. After paying $3 for a tourist card I was on my way into Honduras.
Although the countries landscapes are similar, the people in these two countries are vastly different. From what I have seen today, the people in Honduras are actually quite rude, perhaps only to tourists. You don't see this so much from older people, but it is vividly apparent in the younger generations, which obviously reflect the true views of the older generation. Many times I heard rude comments from the mouths of youngsters as well as got quite dirty looks. Many a time did I see a child barely old enough to speak pointing at me and yelling “Gringo! Gringo!”, after which their parents quickly shushed them up. Even when saying hello to people the manner in which they respond is strange, as if they force a reply.
I was whistled at and had something yelled at me countless times today. I'm not sure if these people just wanted me to wave to them, because when I did they kept yelling something which I couldn't understand. Therefore, after some time I just completely ignored everyone who yelled something at me from the side of the road. Have they never seen a white guy on a bicycle before? Perhaps they think I'm a circus monkey which waves my hands feverishly and throws dollar bills at people? Either way, it's the most annoying thing. I can't seem to pinpoint it, but there is something very strange about the people here, and I don't really like it.
I figured that since I will only be spending a day in Honduras I could get away without changing any of my money for theirs and using only US dollars. I was right, to an extent. When I stopped at a gas station I asked if I could pay in dollars, to which they told me yes. Therefore I grabbed an ice cream and a liter of juice. After converting the price to dollars it came out to $2.53. When I started to pull out change the lady behind the counter shook her head and said they don't take change, and I would have to pay $3. Completely absurd! I put back the ice cream and took only the juice, since I was completely dehydrated. The juice cost 18 lempiras, which with a good exchange rate is roughly $0.90. Obviously I didn't get that privilege here and was asked to pay $1.11. The lady told me I would have to pay $2! You have got to be kidding me! I considered paying for such a small sum with my Visa, but I instead simply stormed out of the store muttering curses under my breath.
I decided to side track into a nearby city which supposedly had two banks. Of course the only paved road in the city was the main one, with everything else being either dirt or cobblestone. It turned out that only one bank had an ATM, which I managed to find with relative ease. Unfortunately, the ATM was not functional, which was verified by three other people who tried to use their cards. Being as I had US dollars I decided to change some for their currency, which proved to be quite difficult as for some odd reason the bank stops exchanging currency after 3 PM. I had to resort to exchanging money with a 'private institution', which is technically illegal although not enforced. I actually didn't know this and asked a police officer where I might find such a place, and he actually pointed me in the right place! There was of course no sign of any kind, simply a small door behind which was a really big door with a small window. I managed to get an excellent exchange rate of 18.90 lempiras for one US dollar; in comparison the evil money changers at the border offered me only 17!
When passing through Choluteca, the second largest city in Honduras, I decided to visit the post office in order to buy some stamps for post cards. Unfortunately, the main post office in the second largest city in the country was completely out of stamps. How does that happen? Unfortunately I won't be able to send any post cards from here as there are no more post offices in the cities I will be passing though. Choluteca itself is very uninteresting with absolutely nothing to visit.
I am currently staying in a small hotel combined with restaurant on the outskirts of some very small town which I don't even know the name of past Choluteca. I managed to get a room for $5. Although my room doesn't have a private bathroom it is equipped with a fan as well as television. The downside is that the television is black and white and gets terrible reception on only one channel. The toilet is flushed using the bucket method. That is to say: you do your business, fill a big bucket full of water, pour it in to flush. Although there is a shower, it is not connected to a water pipe for some odd reason. Thus showering is also performed using a bucket method, although this time the bucket is smaller for convenience sake. On a positive note at least the food was pretty good.
Thus my first impressions of Honduras are negative. I am actually quite happy that I won't be spending much time here. Tomorrow I push onward into Nicaragua, which is the poorest country and most likely most dangerous country that I will encounter on this trip.
Day 101 – Beauty Amongst Poverty - 137.81 km
In the morning I woke up bright and early, anxious to get out of this dreadful country. I was surprised to find a bicycle path along the road while going through one town. Granted that it was only a few short kilometers long and in terrible condition, but it was there! Further along the way I was stopped and asked a few questions at a police checkpoint, where the police were surprisingly very friendly. Perhaps it was because they knew I was Canadian, because the first question they asked me was if I was American. Apart from that, I received the same treatment as yesterday from the general population. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that not everyone acts this way, but the amount of this behavior you see is staggering. No offense if your originally from the Honduras, but the people in your country have some serious issues. In the twenty something counties I have visited in all my worldly travels, I rank Honduras last amongst them. I sincerely hope I don't ever visit here again.
The border crossing was fairly simple. One window was for leaving Honduras, the other window was for entering Nicaragua. Fees for both of these cost me $10, and now I have a bunch of papers in my passport. I crossed over a bridge and I was in the next country of my trip, Nicaragua. Wow, what a difference! Where the sign that said “Welcome to Nicaragua” stood, the road immediately turned to well, chaos. I thought the roads in the Yukon were bad, they're even worse here! I guess it's to be expected as Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere after Haiti. Driving here is quite an art form as it must be preformed in zigzags in order to avoid destroying one's car. Bicycling works in much of the same way.
Supposedly Nicaragua is one of Central America's safest countries, but I don't buy it. While traveling along one of these more isolated roads children would constantly come to the road side begging for coins. I must say I was quite alarmed and shocked when I saw a child who looked not older than eight waving around a pistol. Back home kids play with toy guns, here they wave around the real thing.
I moved fairly quickly along the terrain which consists of rolling green hills, with large mountains visible in the far off distance. Apart from severe poverty and several small villages, there wasn't much along the road. I really did feel uneasy on some of the deserted stretches, but fortunately I made it through without issue. I made my way directly to the second largest city in Nicaragua, and supposedly also one of the nicest, Leon.
I made it to Leon with several hours to spare in order to view the city. I located a pleasant hotel, at which I paid $5.50 for a room. I must say that today's conditions are much better than yesterdays as I have a sink, mirror, toilet, and shower. This time they aren't manually operated but rather connected to water! The city of Leon is an old Spanish colonial town and quite simply a very pleasant place. The architecture of many of the old buildings here is quite beautiful, especially that of the churches. The main town square is overlooked on by a simply stunning cathedral and very lively, containing many food vendors as well as people.
All in all Leon is a very pleasant town in which it's simply relaxing to walk around. Tomorrow I push on further into Nicaragua, where I will attempt to avoid the capitol by taking a highway which runs by it. Supposedly it is not very interesting, but there are other cities nearby which are quite nice.
Day 102 – Crash and Burn! - 97 km
I left Leon bright and early, anxious to make it as far as possible. I took a new road which according my outdated map was gravel in the past. The riding was easy on new pavement amongst rolling green farmlands. I passed by the ruins of Old Leon, which is basically the site of the old city of Leon which was destroyed by a volcanic eruption. The ruins are now being uncovered and are a mini Pompei of sorts. As much as I wanted to go visit this, it was 15 kilometers off the road across a cobblestone path, which would have taken me an hour in each direction.
This highway unfortunately led me straight into the capitol city of Nicaragua, Managua, which I had hoped to avoid. However, being so close I figured it would be a shame not to go see it. The city was largely damaged by earthquakes several years ago at which point the old city was totally destroyed. I visited the 'monumental area' which holds the ruins of the old cathedral, the large plaza at which Pope John Paul II spoke here, as well as several other government buildings. This section of town is fairly devoid of life and dangerous even in the day, so I decided not to spend much time here.
On the way out from this area I saw a sight which really surprised me. I rode by a park which had basically been turned into a squatter camp. Hundreds of people had set up temporary homes here in shacks built of plastic and wooden sticks. It was really, really bad. If there is a definition of total ghetto, this was it. I wanted more than anything to get a picture of this sight, but I was afraid I would get chopped to bits by machetes should I stop and try.
I moved through the city with little difficulty, as traffic was not as bad as in other large cities. On the main road out of Managua to nearby Masaya I had a small problem, let me rephrase that, a large problem. The road was a busy three lane road, although it contained a shoulder. At one point along this shoulder there was a restaurant on the side of the road, at which there were parking places right near the road. As I was heading straight along the shoulder, a car was turning right into a parking spot. I thought I could make it through in time, but unfortunately he turned right and hit me in the front wheel. I fell off my bike, went over the hood, and into another parked car. I quickly got up to see my front rim totaled. Only after a few minutes did I noticed that my knee was bleeding. My first crash with a car, and my third accident of the trip. Miraculously the only injuries I sustained were a few minor scrapes and bruises.
It was an unfortunate accident in which both parties were partially to blame. Some police drove by and stopped to see what was going on, and the whole restaurant looked on. Nothing came of it and of course no one would be reimbursing me for my rim. Fortunately the people who hit me were very nice people from Germany who had moved here many, many years ago. They offered to give me a ride anywhere that I would like to go in the city, which was very nice of them. The only problem was that since today was Sunday all the bicycle shops were closed. I asked them to drive me to the center which was nearly 10 kilometers away, but they had no problems.
Here I managed to find a decent place to stay for $5, complete with bathroom and television with cable TV. I figured the best thing to do would be to first find an internet cafe where I could find located some bicycle shop here. The first one I went to had no internet, the second was closed. While going to the third and furthest I received the greatest piece of luck of my entire trip. I saw a group of cyclists with good bicycle sitting around on a curb and asked them where I could find a new wheel. They told me right here!
It turns out there is a bicycle club a mere two blocks from my hotel! It was of course closed, but the side entrance was open and the owner as well as some cyclists were hanging around. The owner told me that although he was closed, but after hearing my story he told me he would gladly fix my rim today. He didn't have any new rims, but had a good secondhand one in stock. For this rim and all the labor to fix it, which took over an hour and a half, he charged me only $27! I stayed around the whole time to learn how to do this myself and all the while chatted with the owner. I must say my Spanish has improved immensely since Tijuana! He told me that the only two places in the city where I could find a rim like this was right here and only one other small bicycle shop. I am so damn lucky to have found this place it's crazy!
With my wheel fixed and being in tremendously great spirits I decided it was time to celebrate and work off the soreness I was experiencing. I head off to a very nice Italian restaurant mentioned in my guidebook which was only seven blocks away from my hotel. After three blocks a police officer on a bicycle pulled up beside me and told me I was crazy to be walking around here alone, even though it was the middle of the day! He escorted me to the main street and told me to be sure to take a taxi back to my hotel, as I'm almost guaranteed to get mugged around here!
It turns out that this Italian place was out of business, so I headed off to the nearest nearby place which was open, a very touristy mall. Even though this country may be poor, it has a very elegant looking four floor mall. I grabbed some much craved Chinese food as well as some ice cream to kill pain. Deciding to really spoil myself I went to go watch a movie at the cinema. For $2 I got a ticket to see “The Perfect Crime”, which was actually a really cool movie.
Just as advised, I took a taxi back to my hotel. Although it was only seven blocks the lowest price I could negotiate was $1.50, which is very expensive. A two hour bus ride between cities 100 kilometers apart costs that much! But unless you want to get mugged, you really don't have any other choice. Back at my hotel I met some other fellow travelers in the lounge; two from Toronto and two from the United States. After some conversation we headed over to a restaurant across the street where we sampled some fine Nicaraguan brew. Before I knew it, it was 11:30 PM! Although a painful and costly day, today actually ended up on a very positive note!
Day 103 – Short and Sweet – 47.18 km
In the morning I decided to have breakfast at my hotel. Being extra hungry I ordered not one, but two breakfasts! I ordered a typical Nicaraguan breakfast as well as cereal. Although I really shouldn't drink milk from here, I just couldn't resist. Those Corn Flakes were so deliciously sinful that it's ridiculous! While reading the morning paper I had quite a good laugh. It turns out that during some parade the day prior a few guys started going at it with machetes. The highlight of the story was that one guy tossed a machete at another. Now, what I found truly hilarious was that they somehow managed to get a picture of the machete while it's flying through the air at the other guy! It's like they knew it was going to happen and were just waiting for the right moment to snap a photo.
Being as I nearly got killed by a car yesterday I decided that today I would take it easy and see some of the cool cities that are along the way here. In the morning I must say that I experienced a little dejavu as I had to bicycle the same ten kilometer stretch that I did yesterday leading up to the area I had my accident. Needless to say I was especially careful in the area where I had my accident, although now it was harmless since the restaurant was closed.
With good time and no near death experiences I had it to the city of Masaya, which is the best place in all of Nicaragua to find any arts and crafts you may need. I sidetracked into the city to seek around and also visited the market here. Maneuvering here with a loaded up between stalls and walking people was no easy task! But alas it was possible, and I even managed to buy two small paintings in the process!
From Masaya I headed with breakneck speed to Granada, which is the most visited and touristy city in all of Nicaragua. On my way in I was a victim of a vicious rainstorm, but I've grown quite used to those. In Granada I decided to pick out a nicer place to stay as they offered free wireless internet. I admit that at $15 a night the price is steep as the place isn't that nice, but this is a very touristy city after all and thus the most expensive in Nicaragua.
I must say that I was surprised when the power went out, and stayed out. It turns out that Nicaragua doesn't have enough fuel to power the whole country, and thus different cities are cut off at different times. That means that power is shut off to the entire city here for roughly four hours between two and six. Supposedly two weeks ago it was different and happened in the middle of the night. How crazy is that? Needless to say you could see many portable generators parked out front of restaurants and internet cafes alike.
Being as I had plenty of time to spare I made sure to thoroughly explore the city. Granada is a classical colonial town set upon a lake and is really quite beautiful. Although many of the buildings are in bad condition and falling apart, the architecture is still something to behold. The streets look as if they belong in a fairy tale as each building is painted a different very bright color.
While visiting one church I began to chat with a man who did some work around the place. I told him about my trip, and how I was a Polish person living in Canada. When he found out I was Polish he told me that he had traveled there many, many years ago. Needless to say, a one dollar donation to the church later I had a private tour up to the church bell tower! I admit that it was a fairly scary winding 25 meter staircase to the top, but the view made it all worth it. It is quite possibly the best dollar that I have spent on this entire trip!
I am currently back in my hotel where I am making the most of my wireless connection to the world. Granada is really a beautiful city, but the fact that it is so touristy ruins it's mystical aurora a bit. Either way I'm very glad that I made today shorter and decided to stop here for it was well worth it!
Day 104 – The Day I Became a Millionaire - 86.23 km
Although my hotel did cost me an arm and a leg, they did at least serve a free breakfast. Unfortunately this breakfast was just enough to keep a normal person from starving, let alone a cyclist whose metabolism is racing. Needless to say after breakfast I filled myself up with a loaf of bread.
While cycling out of Granada I thought for a second that I had been caught in the middle of a shoot out, or that someone was shooting at me. While riding I heard a very loud bang like a gunshot, and I'm sure that half the street ducked, me included. It turned out to be much less interesting than that. I had experienced my first 'blow out' of the trip. That is to say, my rear inner tube basically exploded and blew my tire off my wheel. As I was going fairly slowly on these city streets I managed to stop without killing myself or causing any damage to my wheel. Being as I can now change a flat tire with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back, I fixed the problem and was quickly on my way.
The road to Rivas was fairly uninteresting. Apart from green rolling hills through farmland my only highlight was riding in zigzags on roads in worse condition than even in the Yukon. Cycling down here is a bit like playing Russian roulette. If you miss and ride into a big hole, you break your wheel as well as possibly yourself. Then there is always the risk of getting hit by a car which is likewise weaving around these holes.
For the first time today I had to unfortunately take a bus for part of my route. The road from Rivas to the Costa Rican border is supposedly a danger zone for cyclists for some reason. In the last month three cyclists have been robbed at gunpoint on this stretch of road, and since I haven't seen many traveling cyclists down here my odds didn't look too good. In fact, one of the people that had been robbed sent me an e-mail herself to warm me about this section. I thought about paying the police to follow me in a car or perhaps to even buy a handgun to be able to defend myself. In the end I decided that this was not worth the either the hassle or the risk and just decided to take a bus. I figure that I can forgive myself since I bussed a whole 24 kilometers, whereas Panama City is actually 700 kilometers further than I thought! It's not like I'm including this distance in what I've ridden anyway.
At the Costa Rican border someone of course tried to screw me out of money, it wouldn't be a Central American border if someone didn't! Some people on the Nicaraguan side were insisting that I need some special form to get into Costa Rica. I took one of these forms from the guy, but when he told me it cost $5, I laughed at him and threw it back at him. He looked taken aback and insisted that I needed it, and four other guys holding the same forms agreed. I rudely told them off, and rightly so, for on the Costa Rican side of the border this form was free! Getting across was otherwise hassle free and cost me a total of $3 in fees for paperwork.
The currency here in Costa Rica is called the 'Colone'. The funny thing about it is that one US dollar is worth 520 Colones. It's kind of odd when someone tells you that a bottle of Coca-Cola costs 300. On the other hand it is kind of neat to see your bank balance jump into the millions overnight!
After being in Costa Rica no longer than five minutes it began to pour. Being as I have become very used to bicycling in the rain this was no big deal. I unfortunately did not like the fact that I had to climb a huge hill after becoming so adjusted to the flat rolling hills of Nicaragua. To complicate the matter I received the first flat tire of my trip in my front wheel, which was caused by a puncture of some sort. Since there was nothing close by I had no option but to change this flat in the rain, which is never a pleasant thing to do.
I am currently staying in the town of La Cruz, roughly 20 kilometers from the border. Although the town has a bank, supermarket, as well as a variety of stores, it is really quite a dull place. I intended to make it much further today but unfortunately the bus ride as well as the border crossing ate up quite a bit of my time. No matter, Panama isn't going anywhere. But on the other hand is, my flight is, and I sure as heck intend to be on it when it does!
Day 105 – The Map That Did Not Lie – 181.40 km
I woke up bright and early today, managing to make it out of my hotel before 7 o'clock. Quite impressive I must say considering that I am usually quite lazy in the mornings. About 50 meters from my hotel was another hotel which was now abandoned. This place had an absolutely phenomenal view of the surrounding terrain as well as the ocean in the far off distance. While taking a photo a police officer walked up near me, how he saw me I had no idea. I asked him if it was prohibited to enter here, to which he replied no, he was simply making sure I was safe as this is supposedly a dangerous area! I found this kind of odd since this was a neat looking town of no more than 10,000 people.
The terrain today varied from rolling pastures to quite brutal hills. Either way I managed to make excellent time. I took a side trip into the city of Liberia, which proved to be a total waste of time. Although the landscapes here are absolutely incredible, the towns are terribly dull. They lack any sort of unique character that made towns in other Central American countries so enjoyable. By 1 o'clock in the afternoon I had made it to the town of Canas, 102 kilometers away from what I started.
Although I could have technically stopped here for the night, there was no way I was going to stop cycling at only 1 o'clock! I decided to push onward even though my map showed that there was no towns of any sort for the next 79 kilometers. On the way out of the city I met a German cyclist who was bicycling all over Costa Rica. He told me that last year he flew out to Kenya to bicycle around there! I was very surprised when he told me that the roads were in great condition and that it was very safe. I would love to bicycle from Cairo to Cape Town one day; perhaps in the future!
Alas, my map proved to be correct for once. The only things I passed along the way were very small towns and villages, containing perhaps a small store or a few restaurants. Being as Costa Rica is a very touristy place, I figured there had to be some sort of lodging around here, but I proved to be very wrong. I don't understand why these restaurant owners don't have a room or two available for rent. Unfortunately this unexpected extra mileage really killed me. I had counted on the fact that I would be able to find something earlier and thus wasn't too concerned about time. Before I knew it, it was becoming dark. I had to bicycle as fast as my legs could make me go, no easy feat in rain and sharp hills. It was a race against the clock.
I had no choice to to stay in the first available hotel I could find, as bicycling in the dark here is basically a death wish. Although I once did have a rear tail light, it became one of the many items that have fallen victim to this expedition. I managed to find a place to stay in the small town of Barranca. The anything but luxurious Hotel Frank charges $10 a night for a room equipped with bathroom and television. The television is black and white and does not get reception on any channel, and I'm afraid that if I enter my bathroom some foreign bacteria will eat me alive. Additionally, my room smells kind of funny.
I have decided tomorrow to deviate off my intended route through the center of the country and instead opted to take a much less traveled route along the coast. The downside to this road is that I will have to endure 40 kilometers of gravel and partially paved road. I should also mention that while in a restaurant today I saw some warning of a tsunami or hurricane for Central America, I couldn't really understand it as the warning flew by so fast. I sure hope I don't get caught in one of those, but if I do, at least I know how to swim!
Day 106 – The Not So Flat Coast – 129.76 km
Instead of going through Costa Rica's crazy capitol city of San Jose I opted instead to take a different route. I decided to take a coastal route which isn't exactly classified as a major highway. I figured this would be a more appropriate and interesting route as the name Costa Rica literally translates to rich coast! I thought that today my life would be simple since I would be going to the coast, this turned out to be quite wrong. I didn't think that there would be a ridiculously large hill that I would have to crawl over.
I was surprised to see a bicycle path next to the main road down here. The last one of these I saw was in Mexico and only lasted a few kilometers. This one wasn't much better, but it was ridable so I can't complain. After what seemed like an eternity of climbing I began to descend to the town of Jaco. The views were of course magnificent, but my legs claim that they weren't worth it! The town of Jaco is a nice beach town backed by mountains. Although a nice place, it is far too touristy for me, I prefer the off the beaten path places.
Going out of Jaco I thought I would have a heart attack. According to my Lonely Planet book it should have been only 64 kilometers from here to the town of Quespos. The first road sign that I saw told me it was 106 kilometers! To my great relief there was a sign two kilometers later which said 63 kilometers, but then I became once again confused when after ten kilometers there was a sign which said 61 kilometers. I really don't know who measures the road distances out here, but I think they need to find a new job! Along the way there were several bridges which I thought that surely I was going to get killed on. These bridges are wide enough for only one lane of traffic, and the bottom is composed of metal bars laid down horizontally. Things get quite scary when a bunch of these bars are loose, and others are simply missing! To make matters even worse, there really aren't any safety rails and a nice big drop off into a river. Crossing one of these bridges I had to actually get of my bicycle and carry it across a certain section where five bars were missing, which is a hole of nearly a foot wide across the whole bridge! Simply ridiculous I tell you.
I made it to the town of Quespos, which is located near the famous Manuel Antonio national park. I had heard from several people that this park was very nice, and being so close it would be a shame to miss it. Since it was only seven kilometers from this town to the small village near the park, I opted to head over there in order to have less problems with my bicycle. What a mistake taking that road was. What an absolutely, horrendously brutal road. Although paved and in good condition, we are talking 15 to 20% grades. Just killer, possibly even worse than in British Columbia! After nearly dying I stopped at the top of a hill, where I conveniently managed to find a hostel. It was still three kilometers to the park, but the last thing I wanted to do was bicycle down and have to work my way back up tomorrow! A hostel here cost me $9 for a night, which isn't such a terrible price. A room here would cost me at least $20 if not more as this is a very touristy place. This choice ended up working out for me since this place was very nice and I ended up having a room all to myself!
The road from the town of Quespos to the park is littered with various hotels, stores, and restaurants. There is one particularly interesting restaurant called “El Avion”. The name says it all, the restaurant consists of a large plane covered by a roof and perched on the edge of a cliff. The plane is actually an American plane which was shot down over Nicaragua while delivering arms, and was thus at the center of one of the largest scandals of the 80s. It is quite possibly one of the coolest restaurants I've ever seen. Inside the plane is a bar, and all around the plane are tables setup for a restaurant. The kitchen is located below and food is sent up using an elevator which is constructed out of another plane's fuselage. On the downside, the prices are simply ludicrous. There is no way I'm going to pay over $6 for a sandwich in Costa Rica.
Tomorrow I plan on checking out this famous park in the morning and pushing on forward ever closer to Panama!
Day 107 – The Road That Kills – 98.06 km
In the morning I woke up bright and early, anxious to check out this park and then get moving. Getting to the park entrance proved to be an adventure in itself! There is a lagoon near by and thus the path to the entrance is blocked by a large pond if you will. In the dry season it ranges from ankle to thigh deep, but in the rainy season it is neck deep or so. To solve this problem there are locals with boats waiting to take you across; supposedly a free service, but a tip is requested. As much as I would have loved to avoid paying and waded across, I decided this problem wasn't the best idea in the world when carrying a camera.
The park opened at 7 AM, and I say quite proudly that I was the first one through the gates! While waiting to pay at the entrance a huge grasshopper hopped onto my pants. As much as I tried to shape him off, he would not budge! Eventually someone else flicked him off me. No more than five seconds later a lizard came from out of the bushes and snatched him right up! I guess that's what he gets for being too friendly with my pants! Entry to the park was not cheap; for residents it costs $2, whereas for non-residents it costs $7. Inside the park the trails and various walkways are fortunately well marked and I didn't get lost. I must admit that the park is amazingly beautiful. The beaches are simply picturesque, containing white sands and cliffs backed by jungles. It made me feel like I was in an episode of Lost, minus the crashed plane and all the strange happenings and such of course! Reluctantly I left as I knew I had to move on.
The downside of taking this coastal route was that there was a 44 kilometer section of gravel road that had to be taken. Supposedly the road was all flat, so how bad could it be? As I soon found out, very bad. The gravel roads I road in Canada were nice and flat as there are actually special machines which go across them to flatten them. These unfortunately do not exist here. It took me nearly three hours to cover a mere 30 kilometers. True, the terrain around me may have been flat, but the road was anything but. I felt as if I had ridden over a minefield of speed bumps for two hours. To make matters even worse it was really muddy at times and I would get stuck at times! I couldn't feel my behind, and I was really hurting. As much as I wanted to go faster, I simply couldn't without killing myself or destroying my rims. It is by far the worst road I have ever encountered. Such a road was not meant for a feeble road bicycle such as mine, but rather a full suspension mountain bike.
While I was suffering and on the brink of death on the road side a man in a pickup truck from Panama pulled up ahead of me and stopped. He got out and asked me if I wanted a ride across this bad section, because it was simply terrible. As much as my mind wanted to say no, my body replied yes. Into the back of the pickup I went! For the next fourteen kilometers the road was just as bad if not even worse than what I had already ridden over. It would have taken me absolutely forever to cover this ground. When across the rough section my rescuers insisted that I join them for lunch, as they know a very good place around here. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere perched on a cliff stood a very fancy restaurant. It offered magnificent views to both the left and right and overall a very pleasant atmosphere. I found out that my driver, who's name is Kirt, is actually an American who lives down in Panama and is likewise a fellow cyclist! This particular restaurant is owned by his friend and supposedly has the best food on this side of Costa Rica. I must say that it's very possible, as the food was incredible. Although I insisted on paying for my portion of the food, my hosts would not permit such a blasphemy and thus treated me to a fine lunch!
I was offered a ride all the way to their house in Panama, but I knew that I would be burned at the stake and poked with pitchforks such I undertake such a trip. I do however have an invitation to visit these very kind people at their ranch in Panama. In order to make up for my motor vehicle aided portions of this trip, all 38 kilometers worth of them, I have decided to bicycle completely out of my way for 40 kilometers in each direction, well into the mountains of Panama. Since that is more than double the distance I've gotten rides for and in mountainous terrain, I think it balances out!
Back on the road I pushed on. I actually didn't save any time since lunch turned out to last quite a while! I passed by a beach town called Uvita, which I was thinking of stopping in, but it was simply too close. I opted to push on, which wasn't the greatest idea. I figured since this is an area right near the coast that finding a place to stay won't be a problem even in the middle of nowhere. This proved to be both right ad wrong. Sure, there are many places to stay, but even the crappiest of them them an arm and a leg. When I stopped at a roadside restaurant to ask for a cheap place to stay, they told me that some nearby place has cabins for only $50. Are you guys out of your minds? With darkness approaching I had to find something, and I eventually found a bar which had some rooms located in a separate building behind it. The price was unfortunately very steep at $19, but I had no choice. The next larger town was another 12 kilometers away, and I simply couldn't make it before dark. The last thing I want to do is be bicycling out here at dark. I will admit that the place is nice, but it really isn't anything special; definitely not worth the price. No T.V., hard beds, and cold water. On a positive note I do at least have a bathroom and access to a nice pool.
Day 108 – Panama! - 138.15 km
In the morning I pushed onwards toward the frontier. There were several smaller towns along the way, but nothing of interest. I still had some post cards that I had to send, so I had to find a post office. Find a post office I did, but since today was Saturday it closed at noon. The thing that I really don't like about Costa Rica is that they don't have mail boxes into which you can drop a letter, not on the street or even at the post office! I already had stamps on my post cards and just had to drop them off, but I was told I had to wait until Monday to do so! I simply slid the post cards under the door and I sure hope that they make it home.
Being as I hadn't done an update to my journal in several days I opted to visit an internet cafe. What I was hoping would be a quick visit turned out to take longer than I expected. This place had the absolute slowest internet connection ever, even dial up would be considered fast compared with it! I think it may have been due to the fact that they had a not so quick connection already and were splitting it amongst 20 computers. Needless to say, updating things takes quite a bit longer when it takes a few minutes for a page to load.
With the world aware that I am still alive I pushed onwards into Panama. The border is an absolutely crazy area filled with countless duty free shops, bars, restaurants, hotels, and gringos. I decided this wasn't for me and that I would push on. Crossing the border took me quite a bit longer than expected. It turns out that I had somehow missed the Costa Rican immigration and accidentally smuggled myself into Panama, so I had to go back to get an exit stamp. Back in Panama I went to the immigration window where they gave me a small ticket with which I had to go to another window in order to purchase a tourist card for $5. With my tourist card I had to go to some other window to get a sticker put on it for $1. With all this in hand I had to go back to the first window to get everything stamped.
It turns out that in order to enter Panama you have to present an exit ticket of some sort, either a bus ticket back to Costa Rica or a flight out of Panama. Fortunately I had my parents book a flight a few days ago, but I did not have time to print off the ticket yet. So I did the next best thing, I busted open my laptop at the immigration desk and showed the officer my e-ticket on my screen. I won't tell you guys when my flight is in order to keep up some suspense! Another requirement for entry is that you show them $500 in cash or travelers checks. Luckily they did not ask me for this, otherwise I would have had to find an ATM somewhere.
I must say that crossing that border made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. On the outside I was freezing cold as it was pouring like crazy. I had finally made it to Panama after 12,044 kilometers of cycling, 38 kilometers of shameful motor vehicle aided transport, 12 flat tires, 3 broken rims, 3 accidents, a lot of money, and an immense amount of suffering. Even though Panama City is quite a bit further than the anticipated 12,000 kilometer distance of my route, I still intend to make up for my motor vehicle portions of this trip doubly with a strenuous side trip into the mountains which is completely out of my way. For all of you out there who thought that I wouldn't make it here, ha! In your face! Na na na na na! OK, I'm done now.
The official currency here in Panama is called the 'Balboa'. The Balboa is worth exactly the same amount as the US dollar. In fact, it even looks, feels, smells, and tastes like the US dollar... not that I would know what a US dollar tastes like. Basically, Panama's currency is the US dollar with a different name. The only difference is not in the bills but in the coins. Although they are the same size as US coins, they have their own unique design and say 'The Republic of Panama' on one side of them. These are of course used interchangeably with coins from the United States. It really goes to show you how much of an influence the United States has had in these countries!
Today I am staying in the city of La Conception, which is really an uninteresting place. The town has banks, restaurants, and even a small casino, but nothing that is of interest to tourists. I have managed to find a place to stay here for $12, which is a decent price. I wasn't really at liberty to haggle since there wasn't any other places to stay around here!
Day 109 – There and Back Again - 91 km
I was expecting today to be a difficult day, but every time I expect anything I always end up getting so much more. Today I underwent a sort of self-punishment for 34 kilometers of motor vehicle aided transport on this trip. I decided to bicycle well into the mountains of Panama, completely off my intended route, to stay with the very kind people who rescued me on that gravel road in Costa Rica.
The road to the city of David was a piece of cake as it was flat as a pancake. Being as David is Panama's second largest city I opted to deviate and check out the center. I was unfortunately quite disappointed, as there was absolutely nothing of interest there. On the way out of the city I somehow managed to come across a bicycle race. I chatted up with a few of the people there and even ended up getting some free Gatorade. Bonus!
In the city of David is where I deviated off my path an ventured out into the mountains. Wow, what a brutal road! Although the road is in fairly good condition, it has no shoulder and seems to go endlessly up. A fellow cyclist coming from the other direction spotted me and caught up with me. We ended up chatting for awhile, in Spanish of course. I'm quite surprised as many people have been telling me that my Spanish is quite good. He was shocked to learn that I had four months off from school, as he only gets 15 days! They have two semesters of six months each with 15 days between them, ouch!
After an eternity of uphill I made it to a turnoff for the town of Caldera. I had read that there were some great hot springs there, and I could not pass this up. Unfortunately, the small town of Caldera is 12 kilometers completely out of my way, even though I'm already going completely out of my way. That means that it is doubly out of my way! The road down was fantastic as it was all downhill and the views were absolutely phenomenal. Things got quite ugly when I finally made it to a turn off for the hot springs. It turns out that the hot springs are 2.5 kilometers off the main road along a dirt and gravel road. How bad could it be? Every single time I say that, things end up being much, much worse.
As much as I wanted to turn back, there was no way I was going to bicycle 12 kilometers in each direction for nothing. Very reluctantly I pushed onward. This is by far the worst road that I have encountered on my entire trip, and in fact in my entire life. The road is not nice gravel, but rather composed of huge stones. There are climbs and drops which would have been ridiculous even on pavement, but are simply insane on this terrain. Even with a mountain bike this road would be very difficult to cross. As if things couldn't get any worse I had a bad bicycle breakdown. The two screws holding my rear rack for my bags in the back had both snapped and my rack had basically fallen on my tire. Fortunately I had one spare screw, but as it was too short I could only screw it in from the left side where there were no gears.
Much easier said than done. The screw on the left hand side was totally stripped and screwed in there really good. Being as I was literally in the middle of nowhere, I had no choice. I had to get this screw out. I tried to solve this problem with my pliers, but it was no hope. I did the next best thing. I pulled out my multi tool and busted open the knife/saw combination tool. For the next half hour I hacked away at that screw, trying viciously to get it out, but it just wouldn't budge. A man in a pickup truck drove past me on the way to the hot springs, but it's not like he could really do anything to help me. After much struggle and cursing I finally managed to get that screw out. Since I did not have a screw for the other side, that side is currently being held together by four zip ties arranged in a genius fashion. This bring the total number of zip ties holding my rear rack together to fourteen.
Although I had wasted nearly an hour fixing this problem I was not dismayed. I pushed on to the hot springs. If I thought this section of the road was bad, I was wrong once again. At one point the road was blocked off by a chain and there was a sign that motor vehicles were not allowed beyond this point. Here I had to avoid getting killed on a ridiculously steep road composed of large rocks and mud. This led down to a flatter area where I had to cross through two streams and a multitude of thigh high mud. I made it to those hot springs looking as if I had been through a war zone.
Entry to the springs cost me a dollar, which was collect by some strange guy wielding a machete. He told me I would have to leave my bicycle at the entrance, but another dollar solved that problem. Fortunately the hot springs turned out to be really great, otherwise I would have been quite mad for undergoing all that suffering. The area in which these springs were found was beautiful, set amongst lush forest. There were three separate pools of water, all neatly surrounded by stones, with a path heading to and from each. Should the hot water become boring, you can always jump into the nearby river which proved to be quite refreshingly cool.
I met the man who had driven the pickup truck down here and chatted with him for awhile. I don't know how they did it, but they managed to fit two adults and seven children all inside a pickup with no one in the back. He told me that if I liked he could give me a ride back to the main road, the only downside is that they would be here for roughly an hour and a half. I would have gladly waited here all day and even paid a handsome amount of money just to not have to set foot on that road again. The way to the springs would only be half as bad as the way back as going back up would be all uphill. I would basically have to walk the whole way, and doing so while dragging a loaded bicycle over war zone like terrain is a nightmare.
Back on the main road I headed into another grueling climb back to the road on which I had turned off. Right before the main road I saw a sign citing that there were lots for sale here being sold by the 'Panamadera' company, which is Kirt's company, the man who rescued me in Costa Rica and with whom I would be staying today. I thought it was pretty neat that he had lots for sale out here in such a beautiful place. I headed up a yet again grueling climb to the town of Boquette. Fifteen kilometers later, and being only a few kilometers from Boquette, I stopped at a pay phone in order to call Kirt. I didn't know exactly where he lived as he had not told me when we met, but told me to call him when I got close to Boquette. It turned out that the sign I had seen fifteen kilometers beforehand was exactly where he lived. I had done fifteen kilometers of brutal climbing for nothing. The way back down was a breeze as my speed averaged at 45 km/h without me really having to do any pedaling.
I made it back here with no problems as I knew exactly where it was. In fact, this is the third time that I would be passing by here today. The home is really situated in a beautiful area overlooking a canyon and a range of mountains, yet being engulfed amongst forest. For the first time in over a month and a half I was able to take a hot shower here. All the places I had been staying at thus far had water that ranged from freezing cold to kind of warm. After getting all cleaned up I was treated to a great barbecue dinner, in which I of course aided in the preparation of. I would be staying at the guest house tonight, which really isn't that close to the main house. This is no surprised though as the property is over 150 acres! We threw my stuff in the back of the pickup once again and headed on a drive off to the guest house. This place is absolutely great! The guest house is located in the middle of the woods in an absolutely beautiful location. The house itself is equipped with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen as well as living room. Unfortunately there is no power out here and the monstrously huge beast of a battery that was here was drained of power. As he was leaving, Kirt told me to check my bed and the area around me for scorpions as they had been seen here. Yikes!
Day 110 – A Day in the Clouds – 0.00 km
In the morning I woke up bright and early, even before the sun was up, as I intended to hike up Panama's highest peak, which is the volcano near the city here. Unfortunately the weather in the morning was terrible, and it looked like it was going to rain all day, which proved to be quite accurate. This would render going up the volcano useless, as the main attraction is the beautiful view from the top, at which you can see both the Pacific and the Caribbean simultaneously.
Not to be dismayed, I still intended to go hiking and exploring around this beautiful area of Panama. My host here, Kirt, who is an absolutely great guy, offered to give me a ride into town bright and early. Here I stocked up on several supplies and hired a taxi to take me to the trail head. The trail head is quite a ways from town and over ludicrous terrain, thus it was no surprise that a taxi here cost me $5. It's no surprise that the taxis here are 4x4 pickup trucks, otherwise they wouldn't stand a chance! At the trail head I paid a small entry fee and was on my way. When I asked for a map, they couldn't unfortunately provide me with one, but they showed me one that I could take a picture of. This map proved to be terribly inaccurate and quite useless, but it was a nice safety blanket none the less.
The particular trail I chose to take is called the 'Quetzal Trail' and is supposedly one of the most beautiful trails in all of Panama. As opposed to going to the summit of the volcano it goes around it, winding back and forth continually over a river until it reaches the other side. The trail was unfortunately very muddy and proved to be quite difficult, especially since I was hiking in my Crocs! I must admit that it is one of the best hikes that I have ever set out on. Viciously tiring, but truly rewarding. It was kind of nice not to see a single soul for over five hours. The views that I was rewarded with were absolutely magnificent and made the 12 kilometer hike well worth it, although sometimes I didn't see much except white clouds! I started off at an elevation of 1000 meters in Bouete and climbed up to nearly 3000 meters on the trail!
Right as I finished the trail and made it to the ranger station it began to rain. Let me rephrase that, it began to pour. I stopped for a quick lunch, during which the rain slightly died down, and then promptly moved on. The trail merged into a road where I managed to get a ride into town surprisingly easily. The first car I saw that I signaled at pulled over! I of course chatted with the driver in my now somewhat decent Spanish and told him about my trip. I'm actually quite proud of myself as many people have told me that my Spanish is quite good!
Since I had made it to the town of Cerro Punto quite early I decided to visit another nearby park called 'La Amistad'. To get here likewise required a 4x4 taxi. Finding a taxi in this town proved not to be so easy however! In order to get a taxi one must wait at a specific, designated yet unsigned corner in town at which taxis come to pick up passengers. When? Who knows. I ended up waiting about 10 minutes, which isn't terrible. The road to the park took me awhile for several reasons: my driver drove terribly slow, my driver stopped at a restaurant to grab some food, my driver stopped at some house to drop off a package, and the road to the park was absolutely horrid. $5 and 40 minutes later I was standing by the gate.
In this park I had intended to see 'La Cascada', which is an impressive 45 meter waterfall. The hike from the ranger station to the waterfall is about two kilometers in each direction, which should take roughly an hour and a half to hike. The problem arose in that the park was closing in forty-five minutes. I asked my taxi driver to wait, since it will take him half an hour to get back to town anyway. I ended up having to run all the way to the waterfall and back. Let's just say that it wasn't easy, especially in my Crocs. The way to the waterfall required climbing over a very large hill, and then coming back down it again to get to the waterfall. Luckily the waterfall was as good as it was made out to be. Truly an impressive sight which I just had to get a great picture of. So without thinking twice I jumped into knee deep ice cold water with camera in hand! The things I do to get good pictures surprise even me sometimes.
The way back to the ranger station proved to be a little bit more difficult as it had started to rain really, really hard. Running along a terrible path in Crocs is bad enough when dry, but horrendous when wet. I was slipping and sliding quite often, I thought I was going to kill myself! Several near death encounters later I made it back to the ranger station in one piece, and with a few minutes to spare! My taxi driver doubted my ability to make it back in time and thus bailed on me, bastard! Luckily for me the park employees were closing up for the day and heading back into town, so I managed to get a ride back in with them.
The town of Cerro Punto is perhaps twenty kilometers from Boquete as the crow flies, however to get from one town to the other takes three and a half hours by car! There is no road which goes directly between the two cities, and thus it is necessary to backtrack all the way back to the Pan American highway, drive on that for awhile to David, and then proceed back up to Boquete, a distance of 91 kilometers!
Fortunately the buses here in Panama are great. They can not only take you anywhere you want to go very cheaply, but they also run every 15 minutes or so. It was unfortunately dark when I made it back, but I was not dismayed. I got off at the right intersection, put on my headlamp which I was smart enough to bring, and headed off down to the ranch.
Back at my temporary base I was once again spoiled with a hot shower, clean clothes, as well as an excellent home cooked meal. It really makes me not want to leave this place, but alas the rest of Panama awaits! After receiving some advice from Kirt about what else to do here in Panama I headed out into the bush in total darkness, armed with only my headlamp. A dirt path which led to the guest house I was staying in, along which I had to climb through two barbed wire fences. I'm not sure if this was what I was supposed to do, but I just couldn't find a way around. Fortunately did not get lost and made it here in one piece. What a day!
Day 111 – Deeper and Deeper Into Panama – 85.96 km
I was sad to leave the ranch I was staying at in Boquete as I was so spoiled here, but alas the rest of Panama awaits! I bicycled down to the town of David, which proved to be a breeze as it was nearly all down hill. The struggle uphill took me much, much longer than the way down! The city of David is a transportation hub, but alas is not the most exciting city in the world. From the city of David I caught a bus to Santiago, deciding to skip out on the ride along the Interamericana. I would much rather bicycle off on side roads somewhere else as opposed to inhaling exhaust fumes on a busy highway. Unfortunately I had to wait over an hour for a bus as the first bus's cargo hold wasn't large enough for my bicycle.
The only bus that took this route was a nice coach bus, or so I thought! As I found out, looks can be very deceiving. I got shafted with a seat at the very back of the bus. My seat was broken, being in a constantly reclined position. Additionally, something smelled funny in the area I was sitting, forcing me to keep my window slightly open and thus foiling the luxuries of air conditioning. The road was very bumpy as well, which was amplified by being at the back of the bus. As if things weren't bad enough, when it started raining, it started leaking on me from overhead even though my window was closed!
After three hours I made it off that bus feeling terribly sick and with a terrible headache. I took some Tylenol and just had to sit down for about forty minutes because I couldn't move, it was terrible. My head felt like it was going to explode. Even though it was raining terribly I decided to bicycle on simply because I couldn't stomach the thought of taking another bus. Bicycling along freeways goes by quickly as the road is flat and in good condition, but it is terribly boring and not pleasant. You don't see anything, especially not the real Panama, which is why I am choosing to bus over these sections and explore more interesting parts of Panama.
I made it to a cross road for the road to Chitre, which is on a peninsula of Panama. Being as I wouldn't make it to Chitre before dark I ended up hitchhiking. I intended to bicylce all the way here, but the delay in finding a bus as well as the bus ride itself had eaten up more time than anticipated. It took me about 10 minutes to get a ride, at which point I threw my bicycle in the back of a pickup and hopped in. The driver was a young man who lived not far from here and as luck would have it was going to Chitre. I chatted with him in what I must say is by now my quite decent Spanish. He took me not only to the city, but all the way to the center and even helped me to find a hotel! When the first one was full, I told him I could bicycle to find another, but he insisted on taking me!
The people down here in Panama are so friendly, it's absolutely great! I managed to find a brilliant hotel, not the cheapest place at twenty dollars per night, but it is well worth it. My bed is actually comfortable, and my room shines with an aura of cleanliness. There is hot water, air conditioning, cable TV, and even free wireless internet! I feel as if I am resting in the lap of luxury tonight! Tomorrow I will explore the areas around here and then head off to Panama City, as I need to catch a flight soon!
Day 112 – Finally Across the Canal – 81.73 km
Today I made sure to wake up nice and early in order to be able to explore the surrounding towns around Chitre as supposedly this is the 'real Panama. As I was already in the city of Chitre I decided it would be most logical to explore it first. The main point of interest is the main square, which is overlooked on by a cathedral. Some older buildings in town have that pleasant old Spanish colonial style, similar to Granada back in Nicaragua, but for the most part the city is modern.
I proceeded to bicycle over to the nearby town of Los Santos, which is only three kilometers away. A smaller and more pleasant town, it has much more older buildings and more of that old Spanish colonial look and feel. There is of course present a town square which must be overlooked on by a church. I decided to have breakfast here, so I of course stopped into a local buffet style eatery. After grabbing a seat I told the man behind the counter that I wanted something typical from here, and it didn't matter at all what it was. I started chatting with the man sitting next to me at the counter, who seemed quite impressed at my courageousness of trying new things. We began to chat in a mix of English and Spanish, as I found out that he had worked in the United States for a year over twenty-five years ago. According to them, my Spanish is fairly good!
He persuaded me to try "chicha de pina", which is chicha made from pineapple. I have heard absolutely terrible things about chicha in Peru, but none the less I tried it. It simply tasted like lightly spiked pineapple juice. I just hope that it isn't made the same way that chica is made in Peru, which is absolutely revolting. I won't even expand on the topic to spare you the torment of this knowledge! The breakfast was what I would consider more of a lunch, but it was very good. To make matters ever better, the man with whom I was chatting with insisted on paying for my breakfast. I told him it wasn't necessary, but he said it would be his pleasure. He also told me that I am welcome back to Panama anytime!
Next I rode to the town of Las Tablas, which looked piratically identical to the two towns I had just been in previously. All these towns just seem to blend together! Deciding that I had seen enough I headed back to Chitre. Back in Chitree I headed to the bus station where I managed to catch bus to Panama City with surprisingly relative ease. I paid seven dollars for a three hour bus ride. For part of trip I sat next to nice old lady who really, really liked to talk. This wouldn't be so bad if I could actually understand her! She talked very quickly, and not very loud; this combined with all the rattling on the bus made it nearly impossible for me to comprehend what she was saying. Needless to say I keep nodding my head in affirmation and laughing at the appropriate times, occasionally throwing in a few words from what I did manage to understand. I'm surprised she didn't catch on after twenty minutes, but I just didn't have the heart to tell a nice old lady I couldn't understand her!
The rest of bus ride was otherwise smooth. Although this was one of those mini-buses, it was much more comfortable than the coach bus I had ridden on previously. I'm glad that I bussed it along this section of road, since the road was terribly dull. The 'Interamericana', or Panamerican highway, through all of Panama is basically a very busy four lane highway. To get an idea of what bicycling on this is, imagine bicycling down your local freeway at rush hour. Needless to say it's not a fun experience. This is not the 'true Panama' as far as I am concerned. At one point about 60 km before Panama City there were some nice views of nearby mountains, but other than that I didn't miss out on anything.
To make it to Panama City it is necessary to cross over 'The Gateway of the Americas', which is a monster of a bridge which goes over the Panama canal. The view was absolutely magnificent and breathtaking. Finally seeing the canal makes one aware of it's true size; it's enormous! And thus I am in Panama City. It took me quite awhile to get here, but I have made it alive and well! The bus station here is simply ridiculous. It is by far the largest and nicest looking bus station I have seen in my life. There must be space here for at least a hundred buses, and that's without exaggerating! The bus station is very modern and actually reminds me more of an airport terminal rather than a bus station!
Bicycling out of here was simply hell since the bus station is surrounded by freeways. A six lane freeway and a guy on a bicycle don't mix well. Additionally throw in the fact that people who work at the bus station don't know how to give directions and it makes things difficult. Very fortunately I managed to find a fellow bike rider whom I chased down and kindly explained that I was a little lost. He offered to escort me to the place I wanted to stay at! Granted, following him was not easy as he weaved in and out between cars, but we did get there in record time! The people here in Panama are truly great, most definitely some of the best people I have met on my trip.
I managed to find an economical yet comfortable hotel in a fairly decent neighborhood. It set me back 60 dollars for six nights, which is a very good price considering my room comes with TV and private bathroom. I won't be here for two of those nights since I am flying to the San Blas islands tomorrow, but I needed a place to stash my bicycle as well as all my belongings. I think it's worth paying for them to be stored away safely in a room rather than in some broom closet!
As it was afternoon I still had time to see the city a little and thus I headed over to Panama's banking district on foot. This is a monster of a city with crazy traffic. There is a multitude of large skyscrapers here and the city is very modern. There is supposedly also a very nice older area which I will explore in a few days. I don't think my bicycle will see the roads of Panama anymore as it is both dangerous and simply stupid to bicycle in this city, especially if you don't know it well.
In the evening I was set to met with some fellow cyclists at an English pub down in this safe part of the city. These are the same cyclists who warned me of the danger of robbery in Nicaragua, as they got robbed themselves! We chatted for several hours over an intense football match between Panama and Guatemala. They plan on bicycling all the way down to Argentina, and they fortunately have a lot of time to do it. I wish I could have taken more time to 'stop and smell the roses' on this trip. It took them seven months to get here from San Diego, whereas I did the same section in fifty two days!
This English pub had of course Guinness posters and signs all over the bar. However, when I tried to order a Guinness they told me they were out! What blasphemy! How does an English pub run out of Guinness? Being as I have to wake up at four in the morning tomorrow i called it a night at only 10 PM. I took a cab back to my hotel which cost me a very fair three dollars considering it is fairly fair and I'm not in the mood to get mugged. Tomorrow instead of biking, I fly!
Day 113 – The Life of a Beach Bum
I had to wake up at four in the morning today in order to make it for my flight at the airport. I set two alarms to make sure I didn't sleep in, although waking up at that hour was very difficult. I thought that I would have a problem finding a taxi at this hour, but it proved not to be the case. No more than ten seconds after walking out the door of my hotel a taxi rolled by. A ride to the airport would cost me two dollars, which is a very fair price. At this hour of the day the city looks like a ghost town. Cars on the road are few and far in between, and seldom will you see someone walking the street. I would definitively not want to walk around at this hour!
I had booked a ticket for my flight by phone and was given a confirmation number. A twenty-five minute flight from Panama to the town of El Porvenir and back cost me 80 dollars, which I think is a good price. Picking up my ticket was a breeze, and all other procedures were likewise simple. I ended up flying on a small plane which held perhaps twenty passengers at most. The views from the plane alone were worth the money I paid for the ticket. As my flight departed at 6 AM, I could see the sun rising from behind the mountains and illuminating the cloud filled valleys. The mountains here are simply gorgeous and the views from the plane were breathtaking. Further on the landscape changed and I could see the number islands that make up the San Blas archipelago.
Landing was a little unnerving as it seemed as if we were going straight into the water as El Porvenir is a small island with a runway and only several buildings! I had intended to book a hotel ahead of time, but unfortunately the number I called was out of service, thus I decided to just find a hotel here. This proved to be very easy as there were many locals at the airport just waiting around for some new guests. The hotel I am staying it is located on a larger, heavily populated island nearby to which we took a boat. Although the island is small, it somehow is able to sustain four hundred people! My hotel cost me forty dollars per day, which is a fair price considering it includes three meals as well as day trips to nearby islands. All hotels here include meals in their prices as there aren't any restaurants here!
After breakfast I was grouped with a group of nine travelers from France and we set off for the island. I got along with the whole group well and must say that had to recall some of my French from what seems like ages ago! We traveled by motor boat to an island roughly half an hour away. Think of a deserted island filled with palm trees and white sand beaches, surrounded by crystal clear water, this is exactly what it looked like. Apart from the few huts of families living on the island, there was nothing. Several sailboats were stationed around the island. It was absolutely beautiful.
There are other smaller islands nearby as well as 'underwater islands' to which it is possible to swim to. The French group of course decided to check these out, and I was not one to say no. Although it took twenty minutes of tough swimming, we made it out to a tiny island containing only six palm trees. We later went further out onto an 'underwater island' seemingly in the middle of the sea! Unfortunately I forgot my sunscreen in Panama City, so I did get a little burned today even though I tried to stay out of the sun. As I write this in the evening, I'm feeling the pain. At least it overshadows the soreness of my thighs after four months of bicycling!
The very interesting thing about these islands is the people who live here. The Kuna people, although they have been in contact with Europeans nearly since the landing of Columbus, have managed to maintain their culture as well as language all these years. They have their own system of government which functions virtually without interference from the Panamanian government. Additionally, outsiders are prohibited from owning land here. The islands live off of selling coconuts, seafood, as well tourism. It is of course possible to take a picture of the Kuna in their traditional attire, as long as ask and pay a dollar. Several times people asked me if I wanted to take a picture of them! The Kuna specialize in making something called a 'mola', which is a type of tapestry made by overlaying several layers of different colored fabric, then cutting away at certain parts and stitching in a specific way to make a intricate design. To make such a work of art takes anywhere from one to three months, and it's all done by hand! I could of course not resist such intricate artwork and picked up a beautiful mola for myself as well as several more to give as fantastic gifts. This is the true Panama!
Back at our hotel we were treated to a show of the cultural dances of the Kuna people. The interesting thing about these dances is that they play on pan flutes at the exact same time they are dancing, which I am sure is no easy feat. After the dances we were treated to a lobster feast for dinner, which is actually a typical meal here and nothing special! Seafood is plentiful here and thus the principal meal in these areas. Tomorrow I have another day of being as lazy as lazy can be, then I will return to the hustle and bustle of the crazy city that is Panama City!
Day 114 – Rain, Rain, Go Away!
Today it unfortunately rained from the very morning. We were supposed to head out at nine in the morning for a nearby island, but being as it was pouring there was no point in going. In order to pass the time I picked up a book by Margaret Atwood which was laying around in our hotel. I must say that she has quite an interesting literary style. After getting bored of reading I started to chat with a very nice fellow from Germany. We ended up talking for over two hours! We talked about everything from traveling in Costa Rica, to the history of Panama, to politics in the United States, to the presence of a select few bears in Europe.
We had lunch at about noon, after which time it stopped to rain. We set off to yet another island in order to be able to relax on the beach. On all these other islands it is necessary to pay a fee for using the island, usually one or two dollars. In exchange you are provided with bathroom facilities and showers, as well as use of the island. Today's island was likewise beautiful, a small slice of paradise. A smaller island than yesterday, it was more remote and contained only three small huts. It actually worked in my favor that today was a cloudy day as I was still recovering from yesterdays sunburn, which turned out to be slightly worse than initially anticipated. I found a nice spot under the welcoming shade of a palm tree and dived deep into the depths of the folds of my book.
Back on the populated island we were staying at we were treated to dinner, which wasn't as exquisite as yesterdays, but was by no means bad. I once again began to talk with the German man and his wife, who are both great people. It's always nice to be able to find some people who you can have a great conversation with. We talked about all the various locations we have traveled in the world, and I told them everything about my trip to Peru, which is a place they plan on visiting in the future. I was treated to some fine Panamanian brew, which naturally turned into two. And thus sitting on the end of a dock overlooking the dark waters night fell. It is so nice to not have to do anything for once!
Day 115 – Shop Till You Drop, Or Go Broke
In the morning I had to wake up bright and early to catch a flight back to Panama City. As nice and easy going as the beach life was, it was getting kind of boring. I'm more used to the rush of the city life it seems. The airport at El Porvenir is probably one of the most primitive airports you can imagine. It contains a single air strip in simply terrible condition. There is one building on the island set aside for registration and baggage check, which is all of course done on paper by one man sitting behind a desk. There is no security checks of any kind. You could walk onto that plane with a backpack full of razor blades if you wanted to!
After several stops on some other small islands to pick up additional passengers we finally made it back to Panama City. I took a taxi back to my hotel, which ended up being very cheap. Buses here in Panama City cost twenty five cents, whereas a taxi for the same route will usually cost you a dollar or two. This is usually worth it simply for convenience sake. Back in my hotel I was fortunate to find all my things still present, and then set off to prepare for a day of exploring.
I first set off along Central Avenue to a part of the city called 'Casco Antiguo'. Along this avenue there are countless shops selling everything at sometimes ridiculously cheap prices. I saw one store selling three pairs of jeans for a dollar! Granted these are probably the worst quality factory defects from China, but still, that's crazy! Casco Antiguo is the old area of the city. Although some of the buildings here have been restored, much of the area lay in shambles. Not coincidentally, this is also one of the most dangerous parts of the city, even during the day. The area is absolutely beautiful with it's old Spanish feel and all of it's historic buildings.
After exploring this area of the city I hopped on a bus to 'Panama Viejo'. Panama Viejo is the site of the original Panama City. This city was completely destroyed by pirates, and thus the inhabitants relocated several kilometers over. I was expecting Panama Viejo to be quite simply a pile of rocks, and that's exactly what I got; but what a splendorous and multitudinous pile of rocks it was! I roamed around here for awhile, then once again grabbed a bus back to the center.
Heading in the opposite direction I sighted a bicycle shop, which I decided to stop into on the way back as I was in need of a bicycle box to place my bicycle in for the plane trip back home. This proved to be no problem at all. The people at the bicycle shop did not charge me anything for the boxes as they were simply glad to be rid of them. Finding a taxi proved to be a little bit tougher. I swear that about forty taxis passed by me before I found one that either wasn't full or actually wanted to take me. One guy stopped and asked where I wanted to go, when I told him the center, he drove off and picked up someone else! Miraculously the boxes managed to fit somehow in a sedan taxi and I dragged them back to my hotel room.
Panama City is a shoppers paradise. There are countless stores here often with very good prices, thus I took full advantage of this. Needless to say I bought so many things that I could hardly carry them. I think I must have bought enough clothes to last me a year!
Today I also set out on a quest to find the famous “Panama Hat”. This proved to be more difficult than anticipated. Anyone who knows anything about these hats knows that they are actually not made in Panama, but rather in Ecuador. However, being as they are still called “Panama” hats, I figured my chances of finding one here would be pretty good. Find many hats I did, but only the cheap kind aimed at gringos looking for a simple souvenir. I would not settle for such blasphemy. I had bicycle from Alaska to here, and this would be my 'trophy' of sorts.
These hats are not just hats, they are a work of art. They are completely hand made and take months upon months of work. Depending on their quality, which is measured by five factors which I won't bore you with, their price can range anywhere from ten dollars to even ten thousand or more! With great difficulty I finally found a small store owned by a man from Ecuador which had some decent hats, but nothing even close to this price range. According to him, any hat that costs more than five hundred dollars is one that is custom made, and thus custom ordered. You order your hat, pay in advance, and wait anywhere from three to six months while it is made for you. Unfortunately I didn't want to wait three months for a hat, nor spend that much money, but I still managed to get a very good hat. The price I will not disclose as you will probably think I'm crazy, but I tell you, this thing is pure class. Then again, I guess it is a little crazy to have bicycled 12,000 kilometers in order to get a hat...
Day 116 – Damn You Guidebook, Damn You...
In the morning I woke up bright and early as I intended to catch a train that runs along the Panama canal to the city of Colon, 80 kilometers to the north. I caught a taxi to the train station, but when I got there things seemed strangely deserted. At first I thought that perhaps I was at the wrong train station, but the cause proved to be quite different. My oh so great guidebook conveniently fails to mention that this train run only Monday through Friday, and not on Saturdays or Sundays. Great, thank you guidebook. I still intend to take this train, but I will have to do so tomorrow.
With my plans for the day shattered to smithereens I had to quickly think up a new plan. I decided to stop by some of the Panama Canal locks in order to see how ships are moved across, or to be more accurate, up and down. I caught a city bus to the Miraflores Locks, which are located 1 2 kilometers away from the city. I absolutely love the public transit here, a bus all that way cost me only 35 cents! I made it to the locks at 8:30, however they opened at 9, thus I had to wait half an hour. There were some other tourists here from France and Spain, with whom I chatted. According to them, my Spanish is fairly good. Since so many different people have told me this, I guess there must be some truth in it!
The Panama Canal is truly an engineering marvel. The amount of work and planning that went into building this monster is simply ridiculous. The canal was to be built by the French, who were driven to bankruptcy due to coincident costs and complications. After many years and more complications the rights were eventually sold to the United States, essentially in exchange for them helping Panama to separate from Colombia. The United States actually operated the canal up until 1999! It stretches 80 kilometers from the Pacific to the Atlantic, containing three sets of locks and an artificial lake. It takes a ship roughly eight hours to get across the canal. Ships pay depending on their weight, but large cargo ships paying around $270,000 to cross! The cheapest toll paid was in 1928, when Richard Halliburton paid 36 cents to swim across the canal.
There was a very nice visitors center at the docks containing observations decks located over four floors up. There was additionally a neat museum with interesting exhibits about various things related to the canal, ranging from it's construction to it's aquatic life as well as it's future plans. I feel like such a geek going on and on about how much I liked a museum...
I grabbed a bus back to town and made my way to the 'causeway'. This is simply a road with a nice walkway on it's side which connects three islands located in the bay with the mainland. It's an interesting feeling to walk along a road with miles of water on either side of you! Along this walkway are many restaurants, bars, and of course shops. The prices here are ridiculously expensive, so I decided to pass on shopping in this area. After some time of walking around here I once again jumped on a bus and made my way to Albrook Mall, the largest mall in Central America. The ride cost me twenty-five cents, did I mention that I love the public transportation here?
This mall is simply a monster, it rivals some of the larger malls that we have in the United States and Canada. Panama City is supposedly a shoppers paradise, which is true to some extent. Great deals can be found on some things, but not on everything. If you are after any brand name clothes, the prices are the exact same as we pay back home. If I want to pay 70 dollars for a Lacoste polo I can do it at home, thanks. Shopping here is actually kind of annoying. Many stores don't let you walk in with shopping bags, and thus you must check them at a booth before you enter the store. This is a free service, and I guess it's nice to not have to carry your bags around, but it's annoying. It also drives me absolutely crazy when I walk into a store and someone starts following me step for strep. They recommend clothes, offer to carry anything that you may pick out, and so on and so forth. It's the most annoying thing ever, just let me shop in peace!
Today was also post card day. I had to write twenty-five post cards. Needless to say it took me nearly an eternity. I felt as if I were in detention, having to write lines as punishment. Although it wasn't all that bad since every post card is different of course. Although my plans for the day were quite different, things still worked out in the end! But alas, my time in Panama is coming to an end. The end is of course inevitable, but I hate to see it come so soon.
Day 117 – The Final Countdown
Today I executed the plan that I had in mind for yesterday, but which I was not able to due to the fault of my guidebook. In the morning I hopped on a train from Panama City on the Pacific to the city of Colon on the Atlantic. The train is unfortunately not cheap, it costs twenty-two dollars and takes a little over an hour, whereas a bus costs two dollars and fifty cents and takes an hour and a half. The train really is worth taking though, at least in one direction! The train runs along the canal, providing great views of both the canal and the thick jungles located so close by. In the front is located a special car with a glass viewing deck, which I of course managed to squeeze myself into! There are many business people who live in Panama City and take the train to Colon daily.
The city of Colon is a very, very, very dangerous place. My guidebook mentions that even in broad daylight when walking around Colon, it is not only possible but rather likely that you will get robbed at gun point! With the exception of the Darien Gap, this is the most dangerous city in all of Panama. From the train station I grabbed a taxi to the 'Free Trade Zone', which is the second largest duty free area in the world. Where our duty free is one building, this one is covers an area of roughly six by eight large city blocks! Along the way there I also told my driver that I would like to visit the nearby 'San Lorenzo Fort', and he highly recommended that I do that first. Since there is absolutely no public transport that goes there, I would have to take a taxi. He started the haggling game at sixty dollars, but I managed to talk him to twenty-five, the only catch was that he had to first go pick up his girlfriend and drop her off somewhere.
To make it to this fort, one must cross over the canal, which proved to be a major pain in the butt. There is only one 'real' bridge that crosses over the canal, and that is the large bridge in Panama City. The rest of the bridges that cross the canal are aquatic bridges which fold out when there are no ships crossing through the canal. Unfortunately for all the traffic present, many ships cross the canal, and they do so very slowly in the locks. We ended up waiting nearly forty minutes for two ships to cross through!
After some rough roads through an abandoned American military base and thick jungles we finally made it to the fort. The fort is perched high above the ocean, offering sweeping views of everything around. The whole thing is in ruins, but it's absolutely great! I love ruins, there is just something that I find so neat about them. After a quick photography session I jumped back in the taxi and we were on our way.
On the way back we once again had to cross over the canal, and thus once again had to wait. This time we only had to wait fifteen minutes since one boat was passing through, but this is just ridiculous! They are supposed to build a large bridge across the canal on this side as well, but who knows when they will do that! Even though I paid twenty-five dollars for the taxi ride, which is a large sum of money to pay for a taxi here, it actually proved to be a very fair sum. The fort really was in the middle of nowhere, and the total time for the ride was three hours!
The 'free zone' in Colon is basically a city within a city. In order to enter you have to pass through a checkpoint where you must present our passport. Fortunately they give out free maps, as it is very easy to get lost here. This place is ridiculously huge! You can find anything you want here ranging from brand name clothes and alcohol to construction tools, all tax free of course. Unfortunately, I was disappointed, The prices are fair, but are by no means bargains. The prices are very similar to what you would pay in a regular store, and prices in the brand name stores are just as much as they are back home. Another downside here is that many of the stores sell wholesale only and thus will not sell individual items. This is quite inconvenient if you don't plan on buying fifty pieces of one type of shirt!
To my surprise, I didn't actually buy anything in the free trade zone. I grabbed a taxi over to the bus terminal, where I found a very nice coach bus that went directly to Panama City for only two dollars and fifty cents. An hour and a half later I was back in familiar Panama City, which I am really starting to like. This is unfortunately my last full day in Panama City. Tomorrow I fly back home, and regretfully my trip finally ends.
Day 118 – And So It Ends
It's difficult to adjust back to the prices we have back home, especially after spending two months of being used to paying so much less for everything. A taxi to the airport cost me $20, a guy to carry my boxes cost me $2 (there weren't any carts and I can't exactly drag around two boxes and bags by myself), and breakfast cost me $9. Ouch. For us back home these are fair prices, but for here these prices are simply ridiculous. But what can a guy do? Baggage check and security proved to not be much of a problem at all. Surprisingly, I didn't have to pay anything for my bicycle, which is very nice since I paid around $120 in Detroit when flying to Alaska! Past security there were of course a bunch of duty free shops. I found it fairly strange that Lacoste somehow had three stores here, and the area really wasn't that big. Seriously, do you need a Lacoste shop on every corner? What do they think it is, Starbucks?
I found the plane trip to San Jose to be rather interesting. Although the flight lasted only an hour and a half we were served a warm sandwich as well as beverages. The thing that really surprised me was the beverage cart, which was basically a fully stocked bar! Not only so, but all alcoholic drinks were free! Airlines typically charge five dollars a drink, but here you could get anything you liked free of charge. I found this to really be a surprise. In San Jose I transferred planes and flew to Atlanta, but not before a one hour delay due to broken bathrooms. After another connection there to Detroit, I was finally home. I was greeted with open arms and large signs at the airport by my family, and we then drove home. The change you see here coming from Central America is really something. You guys don't even have an idea how lucky you are.
But alas, I regretfully announce that the end has come. Four months is a long time, but even I am surprised by how fast it has went by. I feel as if it were only yesterday that I was saying my goodbyes in Detroit and heading off on a great adventure to Alaska. The road has been a long one with many ups and just as many downs. My legs have evolved muscles that I didn't even know existed. Was it easy? Anything but. I admit that there were a few times when I thought of giving up, but I convinced myself to push on. If I could go back in time, would I do it again? In a heartbeat! The only thing I would do differently is to definitely find someone crazy enough to come with me. I did try to do so, but I had no luck. Although you meet many people along the way, you end up saying goodbye just as quickly as you said hello.
And so my dear friends, this is the last time you will hear from me for a while. I hope that you have enjoyed reading about all my adventures and mishaps as much as I enjoyed partaking in them. I have given you a short glimpse into my life, which I always try to keep as interesting as possible! I guarantee you that this is only one big adventure of many more to come. Although I was alone for all this time, I really did not feel alone. You guys were there with me every step, or in this case pedal stroke, of the way. I thank you sincerely for reading along and partaking in this adventure with me
I would like to extend a great thank you to everyone along the way who helped me out in one of many ways. Some of you gave me food and shelter, which was appreciated more than you knows. Others of you wrote kind words, which were always a pleasure to read and gave me a motivation to push on. Others of you yet made donations to my cause, which to me means a lot as well. If what I did helps even one person, than I believe that I have succeeded as my trip was not in vain. Have you enjoyed reading about all my adventures, please remember that it was no cakewalk, and that it was for a cause. I encourage you sincerely to make a donation no matter how big or small, as every little bit makes a difference. But alas my dear readers, until next time! ¡Adios!
Here is a list of some statistics as well as other miscellaneous notes that I have kept track of throughout my journey:
Total Distance: 12327.02 km
Total Days: 118
Cycling Days: 100
Zero Days: 18
Average Distance Per Cycling Day: 123.27 km
Flat Tires: 12 (3 caused by punctures, 9 by problems relating to rim tape)
Bear Watch: 19 Black Bears, 2 Grizzly Bears
Paid to Stay at Campground: 21
Paid to Stay at Cabin or Cabana: 4
Paid to Stay at Motel or Hotel: 47
Paid to Stay at Hostel: 5
'Stealth' Campings: 25
Couches or Yards Surfed: 16
Pictures Taken: 3668
Pictures Saved: 2188
Taken/Saved Percentage: 59.65%
Weight: 163 lbs
Blood Pressure: 130/62
Resting Heart Rate: 70
Money Spent: No comment
- Bread is even excellent when crushed and a perfect addition to any meal
- Pop Tarts are delicious even when crumbled to bits and a perfect snack any time of day
- No matter how much or how little clothes I am wearing when I go to sleep, I will be cold without socks on
- Tim Hortons must add something to their beverages to make them so addicting
- Denatured alcohol isn't hard to find, it just has many different names
- Hybrid cars may be environmentally friendly, but they are cyclist deadly
- Where there are mountains, pain and suffering lie close by
- In the United States roads are built around or through hills, in Mexico they are built straight over them
- Yes, it is possible to eat a two pound burger
- Taking a bicycle with cyclocross gearing into the Rockies is not a good idea
- Steep hills are easier to climb when you ride up them in zigzags
- Sunglasses serve a dual purpose as a bug reflector
- It is very unwise to ask for directions in a Chinese restaurant
- Not all roads in Mexico are shoulderless, but where there is a shoulder it is generally unrideable
- In Central America cars will honk at you to warn you they are coming, but don't even think twice about slowing down
- Even boiling hot water is refreshing in the desert
- If it doesn't relate to food or church, it will most likely be closed on a Sunday in Central America
- A pillowcase is a good substitute for a towel
- It is possible to wash one's hair with a bar of soap
- In Mexico and Central America, a lawnmower consists of a man with a scythe in one hand and a machete in the other
- In the United States and Canada we really take what we have for granted
Things I Took For Granted
- My car (Biking really makes you realize how damn far things are)
- Toilet seats (In Mexico and Central America they are a luxury afforded only to better hotels)
- Hot showers (It was nice to take an icy cold shower after a hot day in the desert, but it gets kind of old after two months)
- A decent shower head (It´s not enjoyable when your shower might as well be a hose suspended a few feet over your head)
- Drinkable tap water (And back home we complain our tap water tastes funny, here it kills!)
- How safe it is back home (I constantly look over my shoulder when walking the streets here and avoid walking at night; I´ve grown used to seeing armed guards on street corners and in stores)
- A comfortable bed (Oh how I miss thee)
- A washing machine (I currently wash clothes in my sink in the hotel because I´m not paying $5 for a load of laundry, hand washing is hard!)
- Finding internet access (In the USA and Canada I could easily find free unsecured WiFi hot spots, here in Central America and Mexico they don´t exist, people are much smarter here)
- Finding fast internet access (Many a time have I crawled at a snails pace, waiting minutes for pages to load)
- Company of people (Sure I met people along the way, but it´s not the same. I really wish I could have found someone to come with me to share with me both the ups and downs)
- Cleanliness (You have no idea how clean it is here compared to Central America and Mexico. At the time I didn't realize this, but when I came back the difference was shocking)
- Friendly drivers (A driver won't even think twice about stopping for a pedestrian in Central America, he simply honks and keeps driving! Many a time have I had a few close calls)
Northern British Columbia
Whistler, British Columbia
Oregon Coast, United States
Hearst Castle, California
The Redwoods, California
San Francisco, California
Santa Barbara, California
San Diego Zoo, California
Baja California, Mexico
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Pacific Coast of Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
San Blas Archipelago, Panama
Casco Antiguo of Panama City, Panama
- Countless bodily injures
- Rear taillight (2)
- Rearview handlebar mirror
- Rearview helmet mirror
- Bicycle shorts
- Rear wheel (2)
- Cycling gloves
- Front tire
- Rear tire (2)
- Sunglasses (2)
- Waterbottle holder
- Handlebar tape (2)
- Shift cable and housing
- Cyclometer cable
- Rear brake pad
- Handlebar bag mounting mechanism
- Camera lens filter (2)
- Bolt which holds rear rack (4)
- Thing which connects rear rack to frame
- Laptop hard drive
- Laptop keyboard
- iPod nano
- Right shifter
- Clipless pedals (2)
- Heel pads for cycling shoes (2)
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