Woohoo!

Woohoo!

Despite being the eve of the start, I slept like the dead. Though Capilano RV Park is practically in the heart Vancouver, BC, it was quiet. It’s not the sort of campground people make raging campfires, drinking and howling into the wee hours. They’re out touring Vancouver, kayaking, hiking, cycling, all day, and come back to the campground to sleep. There was everything from small tents like mine, Roadtreks like Janet’s, to big million dollar RVs. Campers and RVs of every age, shape, style, and size, packed in intimately like sardines.

We rolled in after two long hard days on the road; learning the hard way that the cities in western Oregon and Washington have been discovered and exceed the limits of I-5. Washington on I-5 was devastatingly slow and congested, with bumper to bumper crawls around the larger communities. We arrived at the border crossing bleary eyed but ecstatic. A lot has changed since I lived in the Seattle area in 2003. Whippersnappers.

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Oy, the traffic was brutal.

 

We barely backed into our site before sundown. I fed the girls, pitched the tent, took them for their evening stroll, and crawled into my sleeping bag. I didn’t have it in me to prep and pack in the dark; I was done for the day. Despite getting up at dawn, I wasn’t ready to roll until 10:00 am. Prepped our wattle bottles, my concoction of electrolytes, and, water, neat, for the girls. I loaded the panniers with snacks, lunch, warm clothes, rain gear, spare parts for the bike and trailer, a DSLR camera, my iPhone, a waterproof Sony point and shoot, laptop, leashes, water bowl, dog bed, camp chair, sunscreen, etc.

We took our “First Day” photos, and I pushed off. Joy. Pure joy as I pedaled out of the campground and over the bridge towards West Vancouver’s ferry terminal. I chose the scenic route that hugged the coastline, though it offered very few views of the bay. Very quickly I was grateful that I wasn’t carrying camping gear and food; it was a rolling landscape with quite a few steep graded climbs, with rewarding descents. Bodhi and Dory were ecstatic and chirped, squeaked, and woofed the entire ride.

It was amazing to see how many cyclists were out on the road; I easily saw a 100, if not more in just nine miles. Those riding in the same direction zoomed past me effortlessly. The road shoulder bore evidence of their regular presence, pieces of bike inadvertently shed along the way. If I didn’t need the momentum going up and down, I would have stocked up on escaped, intact flashers and water bottles.

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Love the Canadian mailboxes.  Canadian friend Caprice told me they wrap the mailboxes to easily remove and replace wrapping when tagged/graffiti’d.  Clever & colorful.

Aussies made their presence known by cheerfully calling out “good on ya’s!” At the top of one hill, trying to decipher the signs for the ferry, two young women stopped and asked me where I was heading. “Mexico!” I happily chirped. They looked at each other, then uncomfortably looked at me, then at each other. Finally one broke the news, “you do know you’re going north?” I told them I was taking the ferry, which was north, they looked visibly relieved and pushed off after wishing me well.

Once I had the ferry ticket in hand, we rewarded the girls with a swim in the bay, while we waited to board. I was given a one-time passcode to the cyclist and dog owners’ gate. We ruffians were the first to board; it was a hoot to ride into the belly and the length of the ferry. Grabbed a few essentials and the girls and I went to the open deck on the bow where we met up with Janet.

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It was a breathtaking trip with views of the various mountain ranges off in the distance. The sky was a deep sapphire blue, brilliantly sunny, and the sea perfectly calm, a rare event I was told. One other brave soul lasted outside with us. Dory took a shine to him and waited until he fell asleep before sneaking up and bathing him in kisses. Fortunately, he was open to her affections; inviting her to snuggle up and join him.

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Once docked, we rolled off to complete the last leg. It was a perfect way to start the trip, a short day with the novelty of a ferry to break it up. It was uncomfortably warm for the ride; BC was in the throes of a heat wave. Of course. I seem to be a magnet for heatwaves when I tour. Despite watching the weather for months, longingly; coveting the temps in the 60’s and 70’s. When I arrived, the temps jumped into the high 90’s. It would be a murderously hot first week.

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Regardless, it was a thrill to be on the road, a novelty to be on Vancouver Island, and despite the heat, I felt a deep cellular joy as I pedaled through my first day, with the girls’ chirps and yips as my soundtrack.

Long Overdue Update

I’ve put off this update for so long that it’s awkward and embarrassing. The longer I put it off, the more uncomfortable and monumental the task felt. At first it was because I was crushed and disappointed, it felt like a failure, a lack of fortitude and determination.

In reality, however, it was necessary.

Back in December, just shy of the New Mexico border on I-10, I had a seizure. Fortunately, I had zipped up the canine caboose when I turned onto the interstate. Another stroke of luck: I felt funny and stopped. While straddling the bike, I fell back and smacked my head hard enough to crack my helmet. The result was a mild concussion and two sprained wrists.

It is unnerving that despite the steady stream of traffic on the road, no one stopped to help.

(Safety plug: always wear your helmet! My neurologist has a patient who lost his balance while waiting at a stop light, hit his head on the curb, and is in a coma.)

Luckily I had friends who lived a couple of hours away and came to the rescue. Lucky unlucky that it happened where and when it did.

It rattles me to think what could have happened. What if I had been on a narrow shoulder-less road if the caboose door hadn’t been zipped, if it had happened on a blind curve? Lucky unlucky. Before I start out again, I need to be confident that my seizures are being managed.

What makes it especially frustrating — the most challenging part of the trip was over. I was leaving behind the California passes, the Arizona 100 degree heatwave and was feeling fit and comfortable with my steady tortoise-like pace. I had hit my stride, the dogs and I had our routine down, and we were enjoying life on the road.

I try to remember that I managed to cover 863 miles with an elevation gain of 21,086 ft, carrying and towing 150 lbs+ of dog and cargo.

Here’s to next autumn, 863 miles down and 1,850 to go.

P.S.  In January 2015 I bought a Lance 2295 travel trailer with the intention of traveling the country and audition potential towns to set my roots.  The photo was taken when I was a volunteer caretaker at the Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.  More on my travels circumnavigating the US and Canada to come.  One and a half years later I landed back in Patagonia, Arizona.  There’s something about Patagonia that keeps calling me back.

Mexicali Mexico and Paseo de disfraces

Being so close to the border, again, was too tempting an opportunity to pass up for the second time. I met a local journalist in a Starbucks in Calexico, and he offered to connect me with a member of the Mexicali cycling club MXLI Bici. How could I resist?

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This is the photo he took for Mi Calexico.

 

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If it wasn’t for the official boarding crossing in some areas, it was hard to believe you were in Mexico.

I quickly researched and found a hotel that allowed dogs, checked that I had the dogs’ rabies certificates in order, and off we went. Crossing into Mexico was a breeze. The border agent asked a few questions about what was in my panniers and inspected the dogs’ rabies certificates.

It felt electric to be back in Mexico, with the buzz of the streets, the smells, and colorful signs and storefronts. I asked two policemen for directions to the hotel and gratefully my Spanish was solid enough that we understood each other.  Later on, that evening however, the waitress didn’t understand me when I tried to order sparkling water. My Spanish is hit or miss; I never know when my wonky brain is going to cooperate.

The hotel was comfortable; it was heavenly to shower after several hot days in the desert. I fed and walked the dogs and tucked them in for the evening.

I met up with Danahi Valdez, the MXLI Bici contact, a mover and shaker in the cycling movement in Mexicali. Denahi is trying to popularize cycling within Mexicali as well as making it safer.

I learned a lot from cycling with her; she is cat-like on her track bike; it doesn’t have brakes or gears. Denahi made eye contact with drivers at stop signs and corners, used gestures, whistles, and a lot of common sense. It was a good reminder that it doesn’t matter if you have the right of way if someone doesn’t see you or will not yield.

We went on a condensed tour of the center of the city and had dinner at Jalisco, a traditional Mexican restaurant. In retrospect I feel a bit silly; when asked what kind of food I’d like to eat, I said Mexican. That’s as vague as a guest in the USA saying they want American food. She had to call a friend to get a recommendation; she explained that “Normally I like Sushi, Chinese or…”

It was exhilarating riding around in the warm air, surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of Mexico. Delicious smells wafted out from the taco stands, music from homes, cafes and bars, and the vibrant colors of the buildings, signs and murals. Magical.

I ran out of steam and had to call it a night, missing out on going to the local craft beer tasting. I was disappointed, but it’s essential I pace myself, Houston (my brain’s nickname) can be unforgiving if his limitations aren’t respected.

Denahi suggested I consider staying another night and join the MXLI Bici “Paseo de disfraces,” a Halloween costume ride, with refreshments and a costume contest they were sponsoring.

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A boxing match with either very petite bantam weights, or boys, on the plaza.
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One of the many murals in Mexicali. I learned that the largest concentration of Chinese immigrants in Mexico was in Mexicali.

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I couldn’t pass up that opportunity and decided to stay. The next day I explored the city by bike, took the dogs for several walks, and hung out at Starbucks enjoying their a/c and wifi once the temperature started soaring. After cooling off, I went shopping for Halloween decorations for the bike and caboose.

I was a tad nervous riding through the city that night on my own to get to the starting point and got lost despite Google’s map and audio cues. Houston was not cooperating.  I stopped and asked a man on a bike heading home from work for directions. He realized the instructions were too complicated and happily took off calling over his shoulder “sigueme!”, “follow me.”

We wound through the city for at least 20 minutes. Occasionally he would turn to check I was still following, and flash me a big smile. I was relieved to see helping me wasn’t a burden, and he was getting a kick out of it. When we arrived at the University Plaza, where the cyclists were staging for the ride, we parted company with a formal handshake and thank you’s.

The crowd was diverse, all walks of life, ages, bicycle types, it was fantastic. It started after dark and was lead by two motorcycle police, and a police car at the back of the pack, lights, and sirens. More magic.

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Staging area at the University Plaza.

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It was a beautiful but starless night.  Street lighting was scarce, as we cycled people would call out “hoyo!” as they came upon potholes or obstacles to alert cyclists.  We moved in a tight formation; it was like cycling in a school of fish through the city.  I wasn’t able to get an accurate count, but I estimate there were over 50 cyclists. An impressive showing considering they were competing with a salsa dance and a protest march.

The people I rode with were warm and friendly; there was an instant kinship. There was even a couple traveling with their dog in a trailer. The experience was so positive it has me itching to tour Mexico.

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Iron Man needs a recharge.
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Another dog trailer cycling family!
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Restarting the ride after snacks and the costume contest.

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I’m glad I crossed into Mexico and didn’t get caught up on the less than glowing portrayals of border towns in the USA media.

It was hard to leave the next morning, I felt a strong pull to stay in Mexico, and bounced around scenarios of touring further south towards the coast. I reigned myself in and bookmarked the idea for another trip when I could properly plan.

At my pre-morning border crossing coffee at Starbucks, I met Daniel, another customer waiting for the cafe to open. We had a great chat about the gray ribbon that I wear (gray ribbons are for brain tumor awareness) and the bike tour. Daniel, it turned out, had someone in his family who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. I hope he found our conversation helpful.

I was deeply moved by how warmly welcomed and encouraged I was by Daniel and the other the Mexicans I met. They were kind, enthusiastic, and supportive. Since my visit, the stats on my Facebook page “Silver Hooligan” show that the majority of people who have liked and are following the page are from Mexicali. I’m glad the connection was mutual.

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My gray ribbon.

After a good-bye selfie request by Daniel, I headed for the border crossing. I was stunned by how long the lines were to cross over; it wasn’t even 8 a.m. when I arrived. I was grateful to be on a bicycle, which allowed me to ride carefully between the rows of idling cars until I was waved into the empty “medical lane.”

An incredulous Border Patrol agent questioned me for several minutes; she was more concerned about my temporary passport that was issued at the American Embassy in Uruguay, than about the dogs. When an agent came by with his working dog, sniffing cars, I was relieved that Bodhi and Dory sat calmly and just watched him with curiosity rather than greeting him with excited barking.

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Guess which lane I was lucky enough to use?

It was a pleasant surprise how easy it was to cross over on a bicycle with dogs. Mexico has been one of the highlights of the trip so far, and it’s planted the seed to come back and do a proper tour.

 

Shouting Declarative Command Family

I stayed at Ma Tar Awa campground on the Viejas reservation where I encountered the Shouting Declarative Command family. I was marveling at the quiet, being one of just a few campers, sitting in the shade of a sycamore tree, ahh. Then an SUV clambered in, parking 50 yards or so away, and out came tumbling Mom, teen son, pre-teen son, and young daughter.

Birdsong was replaced by their unusual staccato speech patterns. No one in the campground had to wonder what they were thinking, saying or doing. It was all out there for us to enjoy. I think I could count on one hand how many full sentences they spoke. They communicated almost purely in declarations or commands.

My favorite exchange was when mom was in the bathroom across from the campsite. The teen son shouted from the campsite picnic table:

“MOM! You hung up on me!”

Mom bellowed from the toilet “I couldn’t hear you!”

Son “You HUNG up on ME!”

Within seconds, pre-teen son started banging on the bathroom door: “MOM!”

Mom shouted a flurry of something or other back.

Preteen wailed “I JUST WANT A HUG!”

One minute it was harmonious chaos, the next an eruption of angry words, shortly followed by someone shouting “I LOVE YOU!” Then giggling and back to harmonious chaos.

From what I could tell none of them had a private inner thought bubble, it was all expressed. “I’m playing! I’m playing” “I’m eating!” “I’m going to the bathroom!” “Watch me!”

It was such a scene it was amusing and not irritating; I felt like Jane Goodall stumbling onto the set of Saturday Night Live.

You never know what you’re going to get at a campground. It keeps it interesting and fine-tunes your ability to find humor and ways to maintain your sanity and peace of mind.

The days journey in photos:

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Chuck, he races now in the Master’s division.

I met Chuck while I was setting up the sisters outside of Starbucks in Alpine, California.  We struck up a conversation and Chuck graciously offered to go over the rest of the route in California and Arizona.  We poured over the maps, and he shared with me his assessment of the different routes available.

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The morning ride, leaving Ma Tar Awa campground.  The mist from the coast made for a dramatic ride.

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Looking back towards the campground in Viejas.

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The morning started with a push up to Old Highway 80.

Short Day with a twist

 

I was planning on a short day to give my knee a rest, but the Universe had something else in mind. The State of California closed Onofre State Campground early and didn’t post the closure on the campground website. When I rolled up to the entry kiosk, I received the news without enthusiasm.

20+ miles to the next campground, turning my short day into my longest day. The kiosk gal was great though and turned it around for me. She insisted on replacing my water with cold water for the extra miles ahead. I rallied, and it became a challenge instead of a disappointment.

I had just enough daylight left to pull it off.

I left Doheny Campground at 6:30 a.m. but had lingered at Starbucks thinking I had a short day. The sisters and I were interviewed by Road Warriors 360 for a YouTube channel, the creator, Jeff is an interesting, quirky guy. When he asked me “why” I was touring, my mind swirled with dozens of reasons, but I couldn’t put the why into words.

Hours and a lifetime later, I rolled into Carlsbad Campground just as the sun was setting, knee throbbing, but brimming with a sense of accomplishment. I had hauled 160 lbs of dog and gear 40 miles despite being in questionable shape.

Fed the gals, set up the tent, showered, skipped dinner and crawled into the tent. It took some decompressing via Facebook to finally rally to puff up the Thermarest. The sisters fell asleep the moment they curled up. I don’t think anyone moved until sunrise.

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Sigh. No notice of the early closure on the campground website.
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Dory making a rare front appearance. Normally she lounges like a princess. Through Camp Pendleton she was up front sniffing and wagging alongside Bodhi. Bodhi is usually wagging and nose to the wind, only taking short naps.
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In my defense I wasn’t pedaling in order to take a quick snap shot, I was going at least 7 mph. 😉 Camp Pendleton wasn’t the most scenic ride.
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A woman training a seeing-eye dog pegged the sisters and the bike as a good training opportunity and did several passes. Each time I held my breath hoping Dory’s simple brain wouldn’t fritz. Dory made me proud.
An inhabited section of today’s ride.