California Gold

A Cyclist’s Diary of Traversing the State

by Alastair Bland

For several months after college at UCSB I moved back home to San Francisco and lived the idle life of day jobs, stale air, and silly little rat races. But I fast grew bored with it all. I turned to the violin for a while, and then dabbled in painting, and out of desperation I modeled for art classes. But when I took up adventuring I knew I had found my calling. Any given day in this vocation might find me riding my bicycle across a terrible desert, romancing a damsel, or outwitting enemies. In fact, there is scarcely a dull moment in my occupation. There’s no money either, but it beats a day job.

The bicycle is of paramount importance to the adventurer; it is the most essential tool of my trade, allowing me to travel quickly and economically. The arts of resourcefulness and thrift are also key. On my latest expedition I took my old mountain bike the length of the state of California, north to Redding, back down to the Napa Valley, and as far south as Los Angeles, and in two months I spent just $100. I lodged at cheap campgrounds and in farm fields, and I took my nourishment as I found it, usually growing from trees along the roadsides.

Most of my days consisted of sunshine, friendly strangers, and peace, but danger could arrive without warning. Huge automobiles driven by treacherous villains swerved at me as they roared past, savage pit bulls chased me down lonely country roads, and at camp each evening, there was no telling who might show up. One time, on the Sacramento River, a drunken miscreant sauntered across the grass to where I lay in my sleeping bag. He stopped directly over me and threatened to cave in my skull and bury me in the riverbank. I sat up and readied myself for a battle to the death, but right then a park ranger drove past in his vehicle and my enemy disappeared into the woods.

The roadside dining in much of California is excellent — and very reasonable. Actually, it is free, and bicycle speed is just right for rolling along and scanning the foliage for fruit. During my travels I largely subsisted on almonds, avocados, figs, and persimmons. A great many of these trees are abandoned and the food is virtually limitless. There are deserts, though, such as the southern San Joaquin Valley, where there is barely enough forage to keep a cyclist alive. This land is like hell, in fact. The temperature hits 100 degrees by noon each day, and across the desolate plains thousands of oil wells slave away in eternal misery while tornadoes of dust swagger about like phantoms.

Fortunately, visitors to the San Joaquin Valley are free to leave any time — unlike visitors to Hell. After three days there, I awoke one morning and rode west. The sun rose behind me and breathed flames down my neck, but I pedaled hard and arrived that night in Pismo Beach. I uncorked a bottle of wine, sat down on top of a sand dune, and watched the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean.

The southern California coast is paradise. The climate is warm and mild, and the scenery of mountains, sea, and sky is spectacular. On the beach there can be seen bodybuilders, surfers, and beautiful ladies, all walking around with their stunning legs and torsos exposed. I tried to romance several of the damsels, but they gave me a wary eye. It had been a month, after all, since I’d last groomed myself or applied any skin lotion, cologne, or hair gel.

I navigated southward into the gritty concrete jungle of Los Angeles. Perhaps I would blend in a little better here, I thought, but while waiting at a red light a police officer motioned for me to pull over. He emerged from his vehicle, looked down his nose at me, and asked if my bicycle was stolen. I removed my helmet and told him that I was a peaceful and law-abiding traveler from the great city of San Francisco. He frowned bitterly, said I would get a ticket if he saw me again and suggested I leave town at once.

Disheartened at being mistaken for a common vagrant, I started north on Highway 101. I pedaled over the mountains and down into the Salinas Valley. It seemed to me a terrible injustice that the world could not appreciate my valorous and noble ways, and in my somber state, I devoted particular attention to the sad shades of autumn, the sinking of the October sun and the dwindling of the summer fruits. Walnut season was on, though, and the persimmons were beginning to soften. Winters are mild in California and the notion struck me that I might stay on the road for years.

Alas, homesickness struck me down around mile 2,000. I was on my way to Oregon when I felt the first symptom of this cruel infection — an irrational longing for soft pillows. This quickly developed into a tugging sensation in the region of my heart, and I began to veer toward home. Like an asteroid in space seized by gravity, I rolled unstoppably westward, from the Sacramento Valley, over the hills of Napa, and south toward the Bay Area. I considered abandoning everything and diving from the saddle, but I was moving too fast, and almost before I realized it, I reached the Golden Gate Bridge. In plain view to my left there stood the noble skyline of the city where I was born — I knew then that the adventurer inside me had been defeated.

I have been recovering my strength and vigor for several months now in my mother and father’s home in San Francisco. I show up here every few months, uncouth and scruffy, and my parents understand, for even adventurers need vacations. Some mornings I take a short bike ride around town before retiring to my bed of down pillows and silk sheets, and by night I sip cognac by the fire and play chess with old friends. It is a good life here, but I’m just a visitor, really. The road is my true home, and soon I shall take my bicycle and leave; for as I speak there are enemies out there to battle, damsels to romance, and deserts to cross.

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