Monday, November 21, 2016

I'm going to Die!

Santa Monica, California to San Diego, California (6,762-6,900 miles)

"Can I have a dollar?"

A hippie girl sits on the boardwalk. She wears a tie-died shirt, has her hair in braids, and her question was more of a demand than a question. She's talking to a guy strolling down the Venice boardwalk. He has the look of a tourist—daypack and designer sunglasses—and he ignores her as he continues his stroll.

Her voice turns strident.

"What about that water bottle in your pack? Can I have that?" Her brow pinches and she leans in the guy's direction. "Hey, can I have that? Can I have that water bottle in your pack?"

The guy continues walking and she finally goes quiet. I give her a wide birth and push my bike past a young guy rollerblading in figure-eights. He has his ear buds on, and he raps to music only he can hear. I walk past chess players, painters, trinket-sellers, come up on two hippies in front of a table. They're selling . . . actually I have no idea what they're selling—glance at the twigs wrapped in twine. I want to give the hopeful salesman and saleswoman the benefit of the doubt, want to believe these twine-wrapped twigs are meaningful in some way . . . I mean, come on . . . if the couple had bent the twigs in circles and at least attempted dreamcatchers. . . .Then I get it, or at least think I get it. This duo is tripping and these twigs hold the answers to the universe, which makes them very valuable and worth selling.

"I'll give you a thousand dollars for that . . . for the one on the right," I say.

"Dollar each," they mumble together.

They have dreadlocks, brown eyes and identical high cheekbones, and I wonder if they're twins. They smell of cannabis, or maybe not. The entire boardwalk smells like weed, and it's hard to distinguish the source. The odor might be drifting out of the open door across the boardwalk, the entry to a business that advertises medical marijuana exams for $40.00.

I talk the entrepreneurs down to a quarter, buy a suspicious looking twig—it could have been used in a Satanic ceremony for all I know—proceed down the boardwalk with twig in hand, looking to double my money. I turn into a carnival barker, imploring the tourists to step right up, smile knowingly at a Chinese couple and claim this petrified wood came straight from the moon. They walk past without looking in my direction, but I am not deterred and eventually sell the twig to a tough negotiator who hands me 30 cents. She pushes a stroller with a kid inside, has the look of a spandex soccer mom.

"It's just a twig," I say, and try to hand the coins back.

But she's already gone, swallowed by the crowd walking in both directions, and I pocket the money feeling a little guilty. Then I walk up on a guy playing the guitar and singing into a mike. I give the street musician the 30 cents—my self-imposed absolution—continue my southward trek.

To the west, on the sun-shot beach, there's a photography shoot—models wearing cowgirl outfits complete with boots and fake six guns—and I stop and watch for a few minutes. The girls suck in their stomachs and form playful poses, and I try to snap a photo, discover my camera batteries are dead again.

A surfer runs past, board under his arm, headed for the waves. I've seen more than one surfer run toward the ocean on this west coast swing of Ride between the Stars, and I've concluded the activity is a bucketful of fun. Not for me, though, and I leave him and the models behind, wind up at the end of the boardwalk, where I wait for Richard Collins. Richard's a long time tourer, a Los Angeles local who I met months earlier on my trip—way back in Guffey, Colorado—and he's putting me up for a few days. I plan on asking if he wants to ride to San Diego, would enjoy company for a change.

*
"Hope my driving isn't scaring you," Richard says.

I calmly pick at a fingernail, then scratch my knee. Richard's behind the wheel of one of his favorite toys—a brown 280Z—and he's been navigating traffic like a Nascar driver for the last ten minutes. What, me scared? The tough-as-nails Triple Crown hiker, now mega-trip touring cyclist?

We stop at a red light and a silver Corvette pulls up beside us. Richard gets a glint in his eye.

Crap.

The light turns green, tires screech, and g-forces press me back into my seat. G-forces? Do I even feel g-forces on my bike? I fake-yawn into my hand, doing my best to act the part of the always-in-control adventurer, have no idea if I'm pulling it off.

Noooooo!

Watch out for that car!

Can he see my hands shaking?

Stop!

Hit the brakes!

Slow down, for f#7ks sake!

I'm going to die!

Richard, who buries the Corvette beneath an avalanche of fancy driving maneuvers, leans this way and that, pointing out buildings on the skylines, telling about how the structures have been rebuilt through the years. Oh, and he's still driving like a frickin' maniac. Am I imagining this? Has my seven months on a bike somehow slowed my mind down so my perception is off?

Please, no, oh please stop swerving between lanes!

Car!

Truck!

Red light!!!!!!!!

The 280Z screeches to a stop, and he asks if I'd like a tour of the city tomorrow, says we'll be on foot for most of the day.

"Absolutely," I say.
I'm pointing, don't know why.
Richard in a calmer moment.

The next day is much calmer. Richard is an excellent tour guide, combining the city's history with his own experiences, and I soon discover he was a member of a real-estate firm that restored several of the downtown buildings. He treats me to breakfast at Musso and Frank Grill, the oldest diner in LA, then we walk through and around building after building, stopping at the Catholic church where his grandparents married, the high-ceiling library that was rebuilt after a fire, the odd looking Bradbury Building, and a delicious-smelling outdoor market. I'm intrigued by the hipster look in some of the buildings, remark the d├ęcor reminds me of puzzle pieces that don't fit together, and Richard says that's the point. We're both tired at the end of the day, arrive home to a shrimp taco salad. Aleta, his wife, is a gourmet cook(CPA by profession), and the food is presented as though I'm eating in a fine-dining restaurant. She's a fun conversationalist, an avid hockey fan, and she smiles when I recount yesterday's car trip from Venice Beach.

I stay for five days, sleeping in a bed and eating fine food, leave early on a Saturday morning. Richard rides with me and we cycle over LA streets, then down a bike path that parallels a nearly empty river. Seventy miles later we camp at a hiker/biker site at Doheny State Beach, where we meet a woman from Canada and become friends over a few beers and shots of Jim Daniels. Genevieve started her trip in Vancouver and she's ending it at the border. She's a strong cyclist and the next morning leaves both Richard and myself behind. We meet back up throughout the day, and Richard invites her to spend the night at his sister's house. Genevieve accepts and she and I pitch our tents on the roof. Dinner is steak and potatoes, and the steak is some of the best I've eaten. Thick and juicy, how I like it. The potatoes are excellent, too, much needed carbs for this hungry cyclist.

Me, Genevieve, and Richard

The three of us go our separate ways the next morning, and I cycle through San Diego alone. On the outskirts of town, I stay overnight with Robert Burroughs, an award-winning photographer, bike tourer, and PCT thru-hiker. We have lots to talk about, and there is rarely a lull in conversation. In the morning, I spend an hour on the phone, an interview with Debbi Baker, a reporter for the San Diego newspaper. I've reached my second star and feel the exhilaration of obtaining a mini-goal. I'm halfway through my trip—staring old man winter in the face—and there's no way I can cycle to Portland, Maine without at least a 6 week layover.

Where is the question.