20 June 2019
The road ran flat and the sun was out and there was not a speck of cloud in the sky. The air was cool and the ocean looked spectacularly blue instead of a dull grey as it usually does on an overcast day. I was in California and it could have not been a more perfect start to an exploration of the Golden State’s coastline and dream about its sunshine! My spirit lifted and I felt relieved to feel the gentle warmth of the sun on my face and body.
Crescent City was only 48 kilometres away and I pedalled along beautiful meadows and streams with pretty views of the ocean. Further on, I was about to cross a narrow bridge when I observed a bright yellow signboard telling me to ‘Push Button to Advise Motorist of Bicyclist on Bridge’. I loved these little, thoughtful details on the highway engineered for the safety of cyclists and oncoming cars. The bridge was rather narrow and long and I was relieved that there was such a warning system because the highway was busy with cars and trucks roaring past.
I intended to stay on the premises of a church in Crescent City but to find out more I had to go to the City’s Public Library and contact a lady who would help me to get access. The folks at the library were very helpful and soon I was on my way to the Evangelical Church. It had a community hall that stood next to the main church with a large kitchen, a play area for children and a meeting room. I had the whole hall to myself, except for a group of elderly women who were attending a class on weaving. I was amazed to see the modern version of the charkha or the weaving wheel being used. The ladies were very friendly and I chatted with them for a while. One of them demonstrated the weaving process to me and invited me home for dinner but I declined politely as I had no clean clothes and only one pair of shoes that were muddy. After they left, I made myself comfortable on the large couch by spreading out my sleeping bag on it. I was grateful in my heart to be hosted in a warm and comfortable place with hot water and soap, always a luxury for a touring cyclist.
After my rather late afternoon nap, I explored the city’s harbour and a famous landmark called the Battery Point Lighthouse. This was one of the first lighthouses in California built in 1856 and it even survived the 1964 Alaska earthquake and the subsequent tsunami, the most powerful ever recorded in the northern hemisphere. The lighthouse can usually be approached only during low tide and I walked across, careful not to tread on any of sea life, like starfish, that abound in tide pools. The lighthouse was built with brick and granite and had a cylindrical tower with a balcony and a lantern. It was painted in ochre red and off-white looking remarkable against the backdrop of the deep blue waters of the ocean.
The town of Trinidad rests on the coast, 101 kilometres to the south, but to get to it I had to climb many hills and ride amidst some of the most magnificent trees I had ever seen at the Redwood Forest State Park. The protected forest is an old growth temperate rainforest of coast redwood or the Sequoia sempervirens. These are the largest and tallest trees on the planet and many of them are around 1,200 to 1,800 years old. Native American tribes such as the Yurok used the redwood to build boats and houses. I cycled with a sense of awe and disbelief. I was an ant in the midst of the giant, ancient trees. After some time I stopped cycling and just stood still and closed my eyes. I could feel the energy of the forest. It spoke a language I was just beginning to understand. It had the same energy I had felt in the forests of the Yukon and British Columbia. There were no sounds of birds and no wind — only the occasional caw of a raven. Just the hushed silence carrying the silent soundwaves of the trees talking to each other. I called out to the giant tree closest to me and held it with my hands and closed my eyes. I sought its blessings and asked it to tell me stories of what it had witnessed in the hundreds of years of its existence in my dreams. I felt my skin prickle and my body tremble. There was a powerful life in this forest. The experience energised me and I continued to cycle till I reached the top of the hill and began my descent to the coast again.
Trinidad was deluged with rain by the evening and I pushed my bike and myself into a small cabin outside town, next to a local pub called the Ocean Grove Lounge. It was a small smoky place with a few pool tables and a couple of men and women at the bar. It was like a scene from a movie. A jukebox playing music. Men eyeing the woman sitting at the bar, dressed seductively and smoking a long cigarette. The woman turned slightly to look at me, as if trying to figure out who this stranger was. She seems to have decided that I was probably a man out of luck and turned her gaze elsewhere. The bartender was a woman and she was whining about her mother-in-law. I drank a bourbon slowly, soaking in the music and the chatter and then went back to my room and made myself a tortilla wrap with refried beans and cheese. The food was satisfying and I sunk into deep slumber on the lumpy bed.
It continued to rain heavily into the morning but I had no option but to pack up and leave for the highway. It was a Sunday morning and I stopped near the church at Trinidad for a coffee until I suddenly noticed that a community breakfast was being served by Rotarians at the local school for just $5. I jumped at the idea and wheeled myself to a grand breakfast of fruits, cereals, pancakes and coffee. Breakfast was served on the indoor basketball court and it was a lovely atmosphere of cheer and friendly banter. I met a number of people, mostly elderly, who were busy socialising and many were very curious about my journey and were full of questions. I asked one of the men who was particularly conversational and a volunteer what he felt was the secret of happiness and he said, “Son, you got to have a purpose. Find your purpose and you will find happiness.” I told him that I was on a quest to find my purpose. He asked, “Have you found what you were looking for?” I told him about my love for Fay and how having found her had brought back a feeling of hearth and home in my restless heart though I was still far away from finding a path for my soul. He looked at me kindly over his glasses and said, “Just follow your heart and it will be fine.”
The rain continued to fall for well over an hour and I continued to struggle through it. By the early afternoon I was tired of riding in the rain and I decided to halt for the day at Eureka instead of carrying on to Fortuna to spend the night. Eureka, listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places, is the largest coastal town between Portland and San Francisco and lies on the shores of Humboldt Bay. Even then it has only 28,000 inhabitants. As I crossed the bridge into town I passed the architecturally significant historic city centre and decided to cycle around and explore. It was lined with heritage Victorian architecture homes, the largest being the Carson Mansion. It is often called the grandest Victorian home in the United States. I took many pictures of it and pedalled on. But other than the fantastic murals and wall art in the city centre, Eureka had nothing more to offer to a cyclist on a budget. Later in the evening I spoke to my daughter Tareeni who lived in Los Angeles. She was, as always, amused by my many adventures on the road and chuckled, “Dad, do you know you are in Humboldt, that’s the heart of marijuana country!” I thought about that for a moment and realised that I could actually smell marijuana on every corner of a small town or community. Many times I wondered if I should take some of it and smoke along the way, but I never got around to it.
Bad weather came back with a vengeance after days of sunshine and mostly intermittent rain. The clouds thickened and grew dark as I rolled into Fortuna. I planned to halt for the night at Redcrest, a small community at the head of the redwood forests. I had very little information on this section of the journey. So when I got stranded at Fortuna because of the heavy rain I was not sure of how to deal with the weather. Not wanting to give up on another day due to the weather I got onto a coastal shuttle bus that would take me to Redcrest, 36 kilometres away. The coastal shuttle buses have a lot of space at the rear to load a bike without having to dismantle the front wheel, so I just heaved it in and tied the bike to the railings with the bungee cords. I am glad I took it because the rain intensified and visibility dropped to just a few metres. It beat down hard on the bus like hard pellets and made a deafening noise. In the bus were a few backpackers from Argentina and Colombia and a couple who were also cycling through California. We exchanged a few notes on places to stay and then turned back to look dismally at the rain. For a backpacker or a cyclist exposed to the elements, life can be very challenging in bad weather. The gear is always wet and the feet cold. It can be quite a miserable existence but somehow the experience hardens the ability to endure struggle and after a while it’s a part of life and doesn’t cause so much anguish.
Redcrest turned out to be a small community of a handful of homes with no accommodation. So that night I camped on a clearing by the road leading into the forest. I had to first set up the rain tarp and then erected the tent under it. Of course in the process I was thoroughly wet and the water had soaked through the rainproof jacket and pants. I could not make it to the Burlington Campground which is located in the Humboldt State Park.
The Humboldt State Park is home to the worlds’ largest and only old growth coast redwood forest. The road that leads through this magnificent forest — also called the Rockfeller Forest — is famously called the Avenue of the Giants and runs for 51 kilometres of forested paradise. Some of the world’s tallest trees, as high as 113 metres reside here in hushed silence. As I pedalled through it, the air was moist and the forest drenched from the previous nights’ rain. Parts of the road were still shrouded with mist and it looked enchanting. I was told that the one of the famous battle scenes from the Star Wars series was shot here.
It is hard to believe that the redwood forests once thrived over millions of acres but the lumber industry destroyed most of it by the early twentieth century. In a desperate bid to save them, an American non-profit organisation founded by Theodore Roosevelt raised millions of dollars from wealthy individuals and bought all the lands from a large lumber company. It made me think about how private corporations in the world and in India, whose wealth runs into billions of dollars, can play a pivotal role in ploughing back a part of their earnings to create national parks and natural reserves. I began to dream of what it would take to make the big companies in my own country to invest in setting up such reserves and converting wastelands to thriving forests. Only 20 per cent of the land in India has forest cover compared to Brazil which has 56 per cent of its land under forest. As these thoughts ran through my mind it brought back my attention to the natural beauty that surrounded me and for most of the day I cycled slowly through the groves immersed in a world that made me believe that I had travelled back in time.
I ate a great pizza at a small place called the Chimney Tree Grill on the Avenue of the Giants around four in the afternoon and by the late evening was camping at the Benbow KOA, a very nice and well planned campground. I changed my route south over here and decided to go further west back to the coastline. So the following day I cycled to Legget and then took a road that ran into the mountains and through another coastal redwood forest. The road I was riding on was quite deserted and by the afternoon I had run out of water and with no streams around I had begun to get very anxious. Fortunately a couple in a car pulled over next to me to chat and before leaving handed me four bottles of water! The road had continued to be fairly uphill and it was a tough long climb which I had not anticipated. I finally reached the sea well after dark.
The Westport Beach RV Park and Campground was barely visible in the dark but I managed to find a campsite on the cliff overlooking the sea. The park ranger drove in to collect the camp fee of 5 USD and warned me to be careful of racoons but I was too tired to bother. There was a faint light from the crescent moon. I could barely see the ocean but the crashing of the waves against the rocks was rhythmic and soothing.
The road from Westport to Fort Bragg is one of the most scenic and is called the Shoreline Highway. The sea was a tantalising blue and the coastline was dotted with craggy rocks and vast swathes of vineyards and farmland. The road in some sections was lined with the lovely Monterey Cypress which is actually a coniferous tree but whose top gets flattened by the high winds from the sea. The campground near Fort Bragg is called the MacKerricher State Park and after camping there I spent the rest of the day exploring the small town. Fort Bragg is a historic town and was a military garrison during the Civil War and enjoys a Mediterranean climate with fantastic views of the sea. For as far as the eye can travel the coastline is covered with a bright multi-coloured shrub called the ice plant, also called the fig marigold in South Africa. It has coloured white, yellow, pink or deep magenta flowers which look very pretty and fill the heart with a song.
After spending two days here I wondered if it might be a better idea to head back north again and explore the wine country of California rather than cling to the sea all the way to San Francisco. My palate voted for Sonoma and Napa Valley and after two days of riding I reached Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa is a wonderful town and lies at the heart of the redwoods and wine country and is named after Saint Rose of Lima, Peru, the first person to be canonised as a saint in the Americas by the Catholic Church. I found myself heading to the Russian River Brewing Company, which had won the best brewery award in the United States, to sample some of their beers but was disappointed to find myself standing with my bicycle among hundreds of people waiting in a queue to get in. So, I headed to Mary’s Pizza Shack and had a beer there! I was keen to know why the brewery was called the Russian River and I realised that not many people outside the United States know that the Russians colonised parts of the US Pacific coast between 1732 and 1867. In fact the Russian River in Northern California is named after Ivan Kuskov of the Russian-American Company, who explored the river in the early nineteenth century. I was intrigued by this piece of history and wondered there was so much more to learn about the world.
Charles H Schulz, the creator of the comic strip ‘Peanuts’ lived most of his life in Santa Rosa and there is a cheerful museum in town dedicated to his memory and to lovable characters like Snoopy. I loved the time I spent in this museum and it made me feel like a child again. I chose to stay another day in Santa Rosa as I was revelling in the vibe of the historic town and decided to head to Sonoma thereafter.
Cycling in vineyard country in California was a dream come true. It was everything that I had ever imagined it to be. Bright sunshine, perfect climate, rolling burnt orange coloured vineyards and green meadows. I cycled slow and easy, letting the beauty of the landscape fill my senses. I stopped at a few estates on the way to enjoy the free wine sessions and one of them was owned by a wonderful lady, Amanda. Her family owns the Madonna Estates off the Sonoma Highway and she was keen to know more about my journey and wanted to follow it.
Sonoma looked like a Spanish town and that too was not surprising because it has a rich history embedded in the events related to the Mexican War of Independence and its hostilities with the United States in the nineteenth century. The Franciscan Mission and the Mexican army barracks were fascinating. I spent the late afternoon tasting wines and eating ice cream. I had denied myself some comfort foods for a long time and indulged in it wholeheartedly.
Napa was the next stop on my tour of the vineyard regions and it is a lovely town that was extremely delightful. I could not spend much time here but I did get to meet a very interesting lady, Kym. We shared some time over a coffee and I recounted my journey to her. It felt very good to meet friendly and intelligent people who were prepared to have conversations with acomplete stranger from a foreign land. Bicyclist tourists are usually viewed as innocently wild and adventurous people, hopeless idealists roaming the world with daring in their heart. That’s what I gather after reading many fellow cyclists’ blogs!
San Francisco beckoned and I was super excited to be just a few kilometres away from the iconic city that I had last visited to receive an award in the year 2000 from Levi Strauss. I was to stay in Alameda with friends of my mothers’ sister and her husband, John and Gloria. I followed their instructions and took the ferry from Vallejo to the Alameda terminal via San Francisco Bay. En route I explored a part of the city close to the San Francisco Bay Ferry Terminal and ate a sandwich lunch at the famous Molinari Delicatessen, one of the oldest Italian delis in the city.
John and Gloria were marvellous hosts and ensured that I was comfortable at all times, in between all their daily chores and caring for their grandchildren. It is not very often that one meets a highly intelligent couple who has held important posts in government in their careers and we had engrossing dinner table conversations. I will always remember Gloria referring to me as a ‘rare bird’! They were Democrats and quite crestfallen after Hillary’s defeat in the elections the previous day. In fact the sense of gloom pervading on the ferry from Vallejo had been resoundingly loud. People looked shocked and were walking around in sheer disbelief.
A city that was still reeling from the 2016 Presidential election results invited me to explore its fine museums and art galleries. Leaving my bike behind at Huckleberry Bicycles in the downtown area for minor repairs and service, I explored the city by bus and metro going as far as the Legion of Honor, a wonderful museum holding great European and Egyptian artefacts, paintings and sculptures including the famous work by Rodin called ‘The Thinker’. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was also an absorbing place and an introduction for me to the world of abstract and modern art.
The art galleries gave way to lighthouses as I cycled down the coast. One of the first lighthouse hostels I stayed in was the Montara Lighthouse. The dormitories were comfortable and the common area bright and vibrant. It had very few occupants and had a nice open feel to it. Sleeping under a lighthouse was exciting and transported me back to my childhood when I was used to read the adventurous stories of the ‘Famous Five’, many of them set around sea cliffs and lighthouses. Once again I found myself lulled into a deep sleep to the sound of crashing waves. The next day I cycled to Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, 55 kilometres away, taking a detour to the town of Pescadero on the way. The Pigeon Point Lighthouse built in 1871 was named after a ship called the ‘Carrier Pigeon’ which was wrecked off the coast in 1853. It is the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States and has a typical New England construction style.
The hostel stood under the watchful gaze of the tall tower. The views of the ocean were gorgeous and the evening light composed a trinity of colours— red, orange and blue in the cloudy grey sky. In the evening I met a well-spoken salt and pepper bearded man who could well have been an admiral in the navy. He was in the same dorm as I was and we got talking about my journey and life in general. His name was Sean and our conversations moved to the dinner table, in the kitchen and carried on till late in the night. Sean was an intelligent conversationalist and a person who loved books and he highly recommended that I read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth. We kept in touch and exchanged many experiences and ideas on life, the planet and relationships. It was a friendship that grew over e-mails across the months I was on tour and beyond, as also an intelligent exchange of thoughts.
At night the Fresnel lens of the tower flashed every few minutes and I lay in my bunk bed looking at it for a long time. The following morning I stepped out of the dorm onto the grass outside. I looked up at the tall lighthouse tower that had held my attention at night and then walked to the edge of the cliff from where I could see the rising sun slicing through the low fog settled on the waters of the ocean. It was an unforgettable sight.
The Cabrillo Highway twisted, turned and climbed till I reached Santa Cruz. I was on the lookout for a bicycle store called Another Bike Shop to replace my rear tyre, as it had run its course. The threads were coming apart and the tube was sticking out of the tyre dangerously. I had had to wrap a Gorilla tape around the tyre and the rim. Tyres reinforced, I reached Monterey the next day after a long ride of over 100 kilometres which took me through the town of Castroville which is called the ‘artichoke capital’ of the world. I also came across Swanton Farm, the oldest organic strawberry farm in California. I liked their honour system of payment—with customers paying and making their own change in the open cash register—which reflected the values and attitude of the region I was in.
Monterey is truly, in my view, the most beautiful small town on the West Coast. It was once the capital of both Spain and Mexico of Alta California and has been home to many writers like John Steinbeck and Robert Louis Stevenson. The HI Monterey Hostel was one of the best I had ever stayed in. It was stylishly decorated and was very clean. Were it not for the dorm bunk beds it could have been mistaken for a stylish boutique hotel. The town was filled with colonial Spanish homes, art galleries and theatres and an amazing harbour replete with marine life. I spotted many sea otters, sea lions and pelicans. There were beautiful bookshops and cafés in every corner of this pretty town and I would have loved to spend more days here. But I had a schedule to keep up with and Big Sur was ahead.
A gruelling 65 kilometres to the Riverside Campground in Big Sur took me almost all day to complete because the views and the seascape were so glorious that I kept stopping to take pictures. The Big Sur is a rugged and totally undeveloped 115-kilometre long coastline that is among the most beautiful in the world. The Spanish referred to this territory as el país grande del sur, meaning ‘the big country of the south’. The climb in some sections was tougher because my strength was weakened and the uphill sections were steep and long. I had not rested for a complete week for months and had been dashing down the coast to meet the visa deadline of having to exit the United States by December 6. The incredible part of the journey on this section was the scintillating descent at 65 kilometres per hour, the bicycle and I hurtling down the coastline. On many parts of the highway, while descending, there was no guardrail and there was always a possibility of losing control or being forced to take a hard shoulder by an overtaking vehicle. Thankfully most of the cars that drove past made a conscious call to give me a wide berth. At one point, I screeched to a halt when I saw the upcoming Bixby Creek Bridge. A stunning piece of architecture, the bridge stood majestically linking the coastline with graceful and elegant arches. It was no wonder that it is the most photographed bridge in California.
The Riverside Campground was deluged with rain and I was forced to halt there for two days having pitched my tent under a Douglas-fir, its branches breaking the force of the rain. I planned to continue my journey to San Simeon once the skies had cleared, as forecasted. There was no mobile connectivity in this part of the West Coast and I relied on the Wi-Fi network of an inn two kilometres away. I walked across for meals and caught up on my posts and blogs from there. It is in the most unexpected places that something unexpected always happens. It is here that I met Tulasi, a fellow retail professional from India. To meet him at a campsite at the Big Sur instead of a mall in India seemed really odd but it felt good to see a familiar face and have more to talk about other than just the journey.
By the third day at the campground, the forecast of clear skies was proven wrong and I chose to pack up and start cycling. It was a risky decision as the jagged coastline was subject to heavy low-lying fog in the morning and the accompanying rain implied slippery roads and low visibility. I decided to remain positive and ride on with an eye on the rear-view mirror. The rain continued to come down hard. It was difficult to endure the cold along with blinding rain. My gear that had dried over two days was now soaked in an hour. By four in the afternoon the skies had darkened considerably and light was failing. To my right was a sheer drop to the Pacific, shrouded in fog and to my left were the mountains cloaked in clouds and misty haze. The only light was that of a passing car and I stared hard at the road ahead to keep cycling straight. The road was becoming slippery and darkness was approaching fast. There was no mobile connectivity and I did not have an offline map loaded for this segment as I did not anticipate being without a network for so many days and I scolded myself for being unprepared. I had no clue how much further was Plaskett Creek Campground. Just as I was wondering if I should stop and look for a place to camp by the road I saw the Lucia Lodge and they told me that the Lime Kiln State Park was just a few kilometres away. It turned out to be a small campsite which was full but when the park ranger saw how wet and cold I was, she allotted me a site under the bridge whose pillions sank into the beach within a few feet away from the ocean. I was just glad to have found a place to pitch and I went to sleep with sounds of water falling loudly around me from the drainage of the 85-metre high bridge.
You can be sure that after days of being inundated with rain, the gods do feel pity and let the light shine. For the next few days the ride was simply amazing, all in great weather and warm sunshine. As I descended rapidly to San Simeon and then Cambria, I was greeted by flatter roads and farmland again. On the way into San Simeon I halted for a while to marvel at the sight of thousands of elephant seals at the Piedras Blancas rookery on the coast a few metres away from Highway 1. The northern elephant seal is the largest in the Northern Hemisphere and the second largest in the world. The adult seals are 4.2-4.8 metres in length and can weigh between 400 and 2,000 kilograms. They were massive and made loud guttural sounds. I learnt from the site description signboards that the area is a land-based rookery for birthing, breeding and moulting for the once endangered seal. I could see many adults mating and cuddling with each other. It was a heartwarming sight. There were hundreds of people silently admiring this spectacle and what I really liked was that they all respected the need to be silent and not disturb these gigantic creatures.
My legs pedalled hard as I cycled on to the interesting and lively town of San Obispo. The main street had a number of brand shops that I had not encountered on my journey since Vancouver and I strolled around like a curious cat exploring shops. I sat and talked to a few homeless people. It was the season to give but no one was giving freely. I felt sad and depressed so I shared what I had with them. The scourge of homelessness on the West Coast was visible. I felt sorry for them. I saw the mentally disturbed pushing strollers with stuff piled up talking to themselves. My heart went out to them. They had nobody. The homeless and the wanderers, they opened up to me and somehow we related to each other. I looked like a homeless cyclist. I slept under bridges and in strange places each night like them. Many motels on the West Coast had turned me away even on a rainy day, mainly those owned by Indian Americans. I recalled how I had mistakenly thrown a chocolate muffin into the garbage can in the campsite outside Newport. An hour later I had realised what I had done and with my headlamp on I had searched for it amidst all the garbage that had piled up. Thankfully I had chucked it in a paper bag and it was still there. That experience made me understand, for the hundredth time on the journey, to respect food and be grateful to receive it.
I spent Thanksgiving with a lovely group of hostellers at the HI-Hostel Obispo. An incredible meal had been prepared and a number of people gave wonderful Thanksgiving speeches. One of the interesting experiences here was my encounter with ‘the General’. I was accommodated in the dorm bunk beds and the rules are that the lights are put out at 11 p.m. Happy to be in a town and have access to the internet and to be able to speak to Fay and family I bumbled in at midnight to my upper bunk bed. The experience is a bit like getting on to an upper sleeper berth on a rocking train. In the process I ended up disturbing a gentleman who was sleeping below me and he cursed me a lot at the time as I was fumbling for my blanket and plugging in my phone for the night. I wondered what his problem was because hostellers are usually not so uptight. We are all used to the odd chap turning up at 2 a.m. drunk, singing and shuffling and it’s all okay! The following morning I learnt that he was a General who had served under President Bush as his advisor during Operation Desert Storm! I then understood the reason why he had been bristling.
The golden sun of California blessed me all the way to Los Angeles. I was looking forward to meeting Tareeni and we planned to meet a day later as she was travelling on work. My plan was to stay at the Santa Monica HI-Hostel and commute by metro to meet her. Along the way I had posted a lot of my smaller pieces of equipment to her via US Mail. I hoped to re-plan my gear for the journey ahead as in a few months I would be reaching South America. I planned to be in the Andes by June 2017 and it would be winter at the time in the Southern Hemisphere.
The last time I had met Tareeni was at her graduation ceremony in Orange County two years back and I missed her. She was an integral part of my being but the pain of separation post the divorce from her mother made us both create our own unique coping mechanisms. Our relationship was close but marked by emotional turbulence which only increased as she moved from her teens to young adulthood. The decade had been exceptionally challenging for me emotionally as I experienced love and separation again. The meaning of love and relationships continued to evolve and life relentlessly hammered lessons which I struggled to imbibe. These difficult times were made harder by the pressure and stress of being in demanding leadership roles at work that were highly performance driven. But the work was creative and people-oriented. So, along with my cycling, it kept me occupied with no time to nurse the wounds within. I think one of the reasons for the journey across continents was to heal the soul and feel renewed and take birth again as a whole and complete human being.
I stayed at the Podshare Hostel in the Arts District of Los Angeles on my first night in the city. It was expensive at 50 USD for the two nights I spent there but it was worth it. In a flash, I was right in the midst of the most incredible potpourri of art and design in the world. The hostel was close to Koreatown and Little Tokyo and I had a great time sampling their food. I spent half a day at the Grand Central Market on Broadway in Los Angeles. It is touted to be one of the best places to eat in LA and is enclosed in a large building reminiscent of a fresh foods market. There is a dazzling array of foods ranging from Italian, Mexican to Asian and combined with fresh poultry, meats and nuts and dates from the Middle East it makes the senses come alive.
A lot of people gazed at my bike and me as I cycled around the downtown area on my way to Santa Monica beach. It took me three hours to reach it from the city centre as I kept stopping along the way to take pictures and drink coffee leisurely. I reached the beach in the evening and the sky looked like it had been painted with a brush dipped in golden paint. The skateboarders on Venice beach entertained with their incredible skills and the street bands played passionately.
Santa Monica HI-Hostel was a flurry of activity unlike any other hostel I had stayed in so far. There were hundreds of hostellers from different parts of the world and not many were backpackers unlike other hostels on the highways. Quite a few were young people from the United States and other parts of the world looking for jobs in LA or simply there for a holiday and the hostel was an affordable place to stay. I loved the art deco on the walls, the large open spaces and friendly staff. I took a bunk bed which was small but that would serve the purpose. On the first night itself, there was quite an incident. Late at night, as I was turning in bed in the dark trying to sleep, a young man who was on a wheelchair brought in a girl from the street and they began to have loud sex on one of the bunk beds. The man on top, yelled out, “Hey guys shut up!” To my surprise the woman shouted back “f**k; off, a**hole, have you never had sex before?” and they merrily continued with their amorous affair on the bunk bed. It was a torrid night in more ways than one!
In the morning, I stepped into REI, one of my favourite stores in the universe. It usually has whatever an adventurer needs coupled with great service. Though a bit more priced than online, it is ideal for someone who is on the road with no forwarding address to replenish some supplies. Loaded with energy bars, one gas canister, Camelbak filter bottle and a few other small items, I took the metro to meet Tareeni. I was happy to see that she lived on a quiet street lined with palm trees and charming Spanish colonial style homes. Her apartment, which she shared with another girl, was open and spacious. A large part of the day was spent catching up as I took her through my pictures on the journey and she then took me out for lunch to a nice pan-Asian restaurant called Komodo.
We sat by the sidewalk and enjoyed a sumptuous meal along with some good wine. I looked at her and told her, “Tareeni, I am very proud of you. You remained focussed on your goal to study in the United States and here you are today, living and working in this amazing city.” I was hoping that she would realise that I truly saw her as an achiever. She often told me that I lectured her too much but as a father I used to feel compelled to give advice and be a mentor. Our conversations through the afternoon centred around her work and my adventures. Later, when we got home to her apartment, we rummaged through all my gear, made lists and segregated it into things I would leave behind with her and the gear I would carry with me. I was able to lighten my load by at least two kilograms and replaced my rather heavy laptop with a Chromebook that I bought from Best Buy. It was light and I got a refurbished piece at a steal.
An international hostel in a megapolis is also a hotbed of viruses and germs as scores of people arrive from different parts of the world each day. After three days I was down with a chest infection and I took to taking antibiotics that I was carrying in my medical kit. Being able to afford a doctor in the Northern Hemisphere was out of the question. The medicines seemed to work and I felt better towards the end of the week but I had to postpone cycling out of Los Angeles by a few days because of the fever and the heaviness in my chest.
A few days later, feeling somewhat recovered, I bid farewell to Tareeni and had basic repairs done on Quest at one of the bike shops in Santa Monica. I strolled the last few nights on the boulevards listening to the incredible street musicians and on a cloudy morning rode out of Los Angeles heading to San Diego.
The beautiful and vibrant city of San Diego was the last stop on the great American West Coast before I made an adventurous push into Mexico from the border town of Tijuana. It would herald a new chapter in the journey. As I cycled on the last 33 kilometres to the border crossing I was filled with a pulsating anticipation as I had no real idea of what to expect when I entered Mexico. All that I knew about it was from what I had read in blogs and books.
As I neared the border crossing and the plaza of premium factory outlets on the American side, I could see beyond the wall, standing very tall and proud, a large Mexican flag fluttering in the breeze. It was the largest ever flag I had ever seen and in its sway in the wind I could feel the pride of a country, standing defiantly on the border, as an equal sharing walls with 180 the most powerful country in the world. I wondered, how strange our planet is. A wall can separate people who speak the same language, the same soil and texture of earth, barely a few feet apart becomes another nation, divided by politics and economic disparity.