Mexico or Bust August 2016

Images from the Adventure Cycling PCR maps.

I’m a week or so out from cycling the Pacific Coast Bike Route. Epilepsy and the challenge of having TBI (traumatic brain injury) have kept me from bike touring the last two years. A failed solo bike tour, towing my two dogs from Santa Monica to the Mexico border, and across to Gainesville Florida, had to be abandoned at mile 863. Just shy of the New Mexico and Arizona line I had a seizure; I ended up with a concussion and two sprained wrists.

That gave me a healthy dose of reality. After the months it took to recover it took several months more before I felt brave enough to get back on my bike. I started out only riding on remote dirt roads with little, if any, road traffic. Poco a poco I inched my way back to riding on roads with the dream of doing another long tour.

My neurologist read me the riot act, asked me if I could see in hindsight that it was poor judgment to strike out on a solo tour across the country with unmanaged epilepsy and TBI. Yes, hindsight is 20/20. If he meant to scare me off the idea, he succeeded, temporarily, it didn’t however completely squash the dream.

I’ve since been floundering, struggling with my health issues and depression: unable to work, not having a sense of place or a sense of purpose. I’ve missed being near the water and immersed in nature. I feel most peaceful and at home in my skin in wilder places or near the ocean. I can’t do many things that I used to love to do, or feel accomplished doing, but I can sit on a saddle and pedal a bike, albeit slowly. Being back on the West Coast has me longing to be in motion and bike touring again.

Magically a friend stepped forward who is also in transition. Janet needed time and a reason to slow down to explore what she wanted to do in the next chapter in her life. She offered to be the sag wagon for the PCR, Vancouver to Mexico tour. Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

**Update As of September 4th I’ve been cycling unsupported. Logistically it proved to be too challenging and stressful for us to travel together. The holidays and weekends were challenging because campgrounds filled quickly. As a cyclist, I could find a site at a hiker/biker site, sites most state and national parks put aside for people cycling or backpacking. That left Janet in a lurch, though. Private campgrounds often are geared towards RVers and prohibit tents. Finding a campground that wasn’t full and receptive to both RV and tent was limiting our options. We had to plot days in advance and often what we planned, what the weather offered, and how I was feeling physically, weren’t aligned.

It was making the trip stressful, for each of us differently. Traveling under stress is no way to travel. Janet was worrying about scoring a campsite and had to rush out in the morning, pass up opportunities to stop and explore and savor the morning’s journey. If something caught her eye, she’d make a mental note and hope to be able to retrace her steps.

I was feeling pressure to make campgrounds on days I wasn’t feeling strong, or, needed to stop short on days I was thriving. This is pressure I put on myself. It made for a stagnant way for both of us to travel. Loosening things up, gave Janet an opportunity to wander untethered, visit friends, explore without anxiety. I can pace myself now on how I’m feeling and adjust to what challenges the terrain presents.

I appreciate the time Janet and I were a team; it was fun, and a novelty for me, to share an adventure. It was also comforting to know, especially on the days the temps were sweltering, that someone had my six. We’re still planning to meet up occasionally along the coast, and I’m looking forward to catching up and sharing our adventures with each other.

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On a day with all the stars aligned, I can tow the girls 50 miles. However, a more realistic day is 30, less if there is a lot of climbing. That’s beyond slow, that’s a crawl, and not many people would be willing, or patient enough, to travel at that pace. Fortunately, Janet’s a talented woman with many interests. It’ll give her time to explore locally, read, paint, write, bird, and hike. She’ll be traveling comfortably in her very cool Mercedes Roadtrek with her adventurous sidekick, Elsie, the cat. We’ll be quite a menagerie.

There have been technological advances since my last tour. iPhone’s “find friends” app will help locate me in case something goes awry. My co-conspirator has a fully functioning brain and can do the mental heavy lifting. Map reading mishaps won’t set me back hours, or days, because the route is 1,800 miles pretty much following the same road along the coast. Keep the ocean to my right should be fairly easy to remember. Not needing to carry all my gear will lighten the load I’m towing by 50 pounds. Now I’ll just have the two pups, our water, rations, and the canine caboose weighing in around 110 pounds. Hopefully, that’ll mean less pushing and more pedaling up hills.

Circumstances such as they are, this is a tremendous gift. It gives me direction, a sense of purpose, and a mini-adventure that is me-sized and me-appropriate. It’ll combine my passions, photography, nature, time with my pups, birding, and cycling. Almost all the travel I’ve done in the past has been solo or with my furry companions. It’ll be a unique opportunity to share a little adventure with a friend who is also in transition. Hopefully, along the way, we’ll each have the epiphanies we are seeking, and at the very least enjoy our individual and shared journeys.

Chirping Canines video link.

Getting a double kickstand installed.

 

Added flasher to my helmut.

 

Dory inspects the new Brooks Saddle.

 

The girls love catching all the smells and seeing the sights.

 

Dory and I having a moment

 

Bridge on Bear Creek Greenway

 

View from a bridge on Old Highway 99.

 

pushing up to Old Highway 80 from Viejas

 

 

Campland on the Bay, San Diego: Tough Day with Perks

Today was a tough day. I had a total brain blank 10 miles into the day and went in the wrong direction after missing a turn, causing me to do a big climb twice. I was near tears because I couldn’t “see” the map. Even Google audio prompts didn’t make sense. I started to panic and then just shut down. A man in a BMW pulled up to me while I was in the bike lane parked against the curb, and ripped into me. His timing couldn’t have been worse. I went 3+ miles off course in steep terrain, with no leg juice left, on what was supposed to be a 38-mile day.

A little background would help here; I had a craniotomy to remove a brain tumor 12 years ago and, as a result, have brain damage, my “executive skill set” took a hit. One of the challenges I have now is I can’t read maps. I look at a map, but I can’t absorb and process it correctly. It’s like trying to read kanji. To decipher a map I have to patiently break it down into digestible pieces. If I’m tired, multitasking, or already confused about something, I can’t even do that.

Yesterday it was very hot, hilly, with aggressive drivers and traffic. L.A. was a breeze in comparison. My brain was completely overloaded, and the twists and turns that the ACA map takes through La Jolla was challenging.

I just tried to let it be, adjusted by shortening the day. Luckily I found a place in striking distance that was affordable, albeit an expensive resort campground. Four pools, jacuzzi, laundry, hot “free” showers, electricity, and water. I felt so fragile when I pulled up, the counter guy was super sweet and helpful, and that helped change the air around me.

The brain blank was scary, emotional, and a little concerning. But, this is just how Houston is. (My brain’s nickname is Houston, as in “Houston we have a problem”.)

As a former backcountry ranger who regularly relied on maps, it can be an emotionally tough blow at times because I used to do it with such ease. In the past when I looked at a topo map I saw a three-dimensional world come to life.

I need to remember on this trip to sit quietly and go slowly in tiny steps and try to break down the map. Today there were a lot of weird turns and detours through La Jolla, which, by the way, is NOT on my potential desirable places to live list. It’s a hell realm. Yuck.

Fortunately, the trip doesn’t have a lot of tricky navigation or obviously I couldn’t do it. Today was just a reminder that 1. Houston will be Houston; respect that and adjust accordingly. 2. I’m not in stellar shape; accept that and be patient as it improves. The bottom line is I need to be patient, more compassionate and have more realistic expectations.

It wasn’t all bad, pedaled through some beautiful coastal areas and someone pointed out the famous San Diego dog beach. Enjoyed watching the furry sisters racing around and frolicking in the water. Bodhi and Dory individually made some new buddies.

And I got to soak in the jacuzzi (yahoo!) with a woman and man with green hair who had enough tats and piercings to make a metal detector explode.

There’s always a silver lining

Debating about whether or not to go to the border, so close. But, part of me is afraid I’ll just want to cross and start pedaling. The urge to go south is REALLY strong. But today was a wake up call that I need to be more realistic and go slowly, stay within my safety zone, sort of ish.

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Off leash dog beach near San Elijo
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Bodhi joining in on a game of fetch.
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Bodhi in classic Jack Russell form
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The expression on this dog’s face–
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Feeling fast
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Dory’s signature post swim sand bath. Our tent will be a sandbox by morning.
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The rig
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Approaching La Jolla. Little did I know.
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Scored a bag of Orijen dog food. This is an awesome pet food company.  High quality, locally sourced, organic, and grass-fed when possible.  It’s a Canadian company, check them out.  
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Morning at Campland on the Bay. At night I store the panniers in the dog trailer and Bodhi likes to wait for breakfast perched on top of her future breakfast.
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My office. A very kind maintenance man lent me an extension cord to move the office to the picnic.
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The sisters ripping it up.