Tuesday, 13 February 2018

California Here I Come!

This tour had originally been quite different.  I was set to buy a tandem in Eugene, Oregon, a thousand kilometres north of San Francisco, but alas, the wife changed her mind (after we had bought it, but the change of mind was luckily in time enough for the order to be canceled and the money to be refunded).  I had already bought the tickets to San Francisco - at a good price with one of my favourite airlines, Air New Zealand -  so I wasn't going to pass-up the opportunity to explore a really iconic part of the world.

With it still being winter and no need to travel north of San Francisco, this change of plan altered the route in a very beneficial way.  It meant that I avoided the colder, wetter weather further north and opened-up a more interesting route to the south.

This tour starts in San Francisco and I'll make my way south along the coast with some famous landmarks on the way.  Monterrey, Pebble Beach, Big Sur, Bixby Bridge, Santa Barbara, and some beautiful coastline; one hell of a first leg.

I then turn inland over hills and mountains and head towards the Sequoia National Park to see old General Sherman, the largest known single stem tree on earth.  This is where things get a little more uncertain because of the weather.  At the highest point of this trip, I reach just over 2300m, the highest I have ever been.  Bearing in mind that this will be in February, it is very likely to be cold up there, but the temperature is not what concerns me, it is the possibility of ice and snow.  This could make things tricky, and this is the main unknown on this trip.  This will also be the most physically demanding part of the trip, going through the mountains.

If all things go to plan, I'll make my way north through the mountains until I reach Yosemite National Park, one of the places in the world on my bucket list.  The Yosemite Valley isn't quite at the same elevation as further south, so I am less concerned about road safety here, but more concerned about having weather good enough to fully appreciate the scenery.

I have scheduled a window of roughly 3 days in Yosemite, so fingers-crossed for good weather.  There are walk-in camping sites in Yosemite that shouldn't be too busy in Winter, and indeed for most of the trip I will be camping in these kinds of campsites (it seems that California is pretty well-served in this regard).  I won't be camping wild much on this trip, if at all, for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, I am unsure of how easy it will be to do so and the potential for problems with being discovered, and secondly, in many areas of this trip I will be in bear country with mountain lions thrown-in for good measure too, so I quite fancy being in an area with a few other people and some safe and secure places to put my food.

Once I'm done in Yosemite, I'll make my way to Merced and the final part of the trip on the bike.  Merced is a couple of train rides away from San Francisco and this would leave me with a couple of days exploring the city and finding a bike box to finish-off the trip.  I'm not really a city person, but I had to schedule a good amount of time to look around one of the most recognisable cities of the world.

There will be a few interesting challenges.  For a start, this trip is more of an unknown than any other so far.  I lived in Australia before going on my tours here and New Zealand was a bit of an extension of the same kind of culture of travel, and obviously, I am from England, so travelling through there wasn't much trouble either.  I have never been to the US, apart from a one day stopover in LA about ten years ago between flights.  There are likely to be many things I don't understand, despite having been friends with a fair few Americans from my time in Korea.

This will also be my first tour cycling on the right hand side of the road, so I'll have to be conscious of this as I set-off on my first few cranks of the pedals.

On the environmental side of things, this trip brings the first possibility that I might run into significant snow and ice, although when not in the mountains the weather looks as if it will be fairly pleasant.

And finally, when it comes to wildlife, I have less concerns about snakes and spiders, but black bears and mountain lions do inhabit some of the areas I'll be cycling in, as already mentioned.  Apparently the risk is pretty minuscule, and I should probably be no more concerned than I am about the wildlife in Australia.  However, there is something a tad unsettling about animals that could conceivably hunt and eat you, as opposed to something that just bites you when you step on it.  That, and well, it is a new place.  The unknown is always a little scarier, but it is also a little more interesting.  Rest assured though, that as much as the thought of wildlife can be terrifying sometimes, I am far more likely to be wiped-out from behind from a bit of bad driving than I am bitten by a venomous snake or mauled by a bear.  

This is a super-exciting route, and challenging in the mountains too.  The US is a country I admire, unlike many who seem to love dissing the place, and has been somewhere I have wanted to visit for a long time.  With any luck, dipping my toe in the water for a couple of weeks will stand me in good stead for a return trip for a bit longer in the future, but we'll see how it goes.

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