ML, our warmshowers host, had come in late on Sunday evening after we had both nodded off. Her welcome was warm and it took us about 30 seconds to decide to stay for a rest day in her beautiful house.
We woke leisurely and were able to Skype all the children in the morning. We strolled into Ashland in sunshine, Famous for Shakespeare festival, which lasts 9 months of the year, Ashland is know as Ashland upon Avon and the town was littered with English references in its shop names (Bloombury, Paddington etc). It was a very pleasant and pretty town with pleasing architecture and pretty houses lining the streets. We had breakfast and found a bike shop for our latest purchases – bike stands and waterproof overshoes (known as Booties).
We had a lovely relaxing afternoon reading and writing. I wrote a pice about cycling that I had been composing in my mind up many of the ‘up hills’ to distract myself. David liked it and showed it to ML, who wants to publish it in the local cycling newsletter – fame indeed!
We had a lovely walk above the town with the dogs and a really pleasant meal with ML in the evening and got to know her better and like her even more. A perfect rest day to revive us for the next cycling stage.
Here is the piece that Bernie wrote:
22 years ago we cycled from San Francisco to southern Mexico with our 18 month old daughter in one of the first prototype bicycle trailers – a large yellow plastic construction, the design of which we noted was not repeated. That toddler, and the following 2 are now grown up – or at least independent enough to drive, feed and water themselves and look after the dogs on request. It was time to dust down the bikes after a 20 year lay off and take off again, leaving children behind this time, and see whether our older bodies were up to another extended cycling trip. Bags of disposable nappies were replaced by the numerous electrical items that did not even exist back then, mobile phones, ipads, Kindle, GPS. On that trip we saved our change and rang every 2 weeks from a call box to let family know we were still alive. This time we can phone, email, skype, tweet and blog and the whole world can know what we are up to.
Our friends thought we were bordering on insanity – “if you have 3 months off, why not go somewhere warm, relax, chill out?” As we cycled over the crest of Crater Lake at 7,500ft in driving snow (this was only mid September) I thought that perhaps they were right. But 2 hours at an obliging hotel that did not mind us hanging every item of wet clothing to dry off in front of their roaring log fire, just in exchange for a hot chocolate, and we were ready to go again.
Our chosen route was the Sierra Cascades bicycle trail that runs from the Canadian border to the mexican border through the chain of mountains running through Washington State, Oregon and California. To add to our friends supposition that we were slight deranged, there is a perfectly good coastal route from canada to mexico that is flattish and does not involve cyckling over x mountain passes and inumerable ups and downs in between – but it is the mountains we love. The Cascades range is a series of Volcanoes, many pointy triangles with snow capped peaks rising from valley floors like a childs drawing. Ancient and not so ancient lava flows and ash deserts scar the pine covered landscape. One of the highlights of this section being the aforementioned crater lake, formed when Mount Mazama blew its top 7,700 years ago. 100 times more powerful than the lastest volanic eruption at Mount St Helen’s in 1980, it lost 6000ft in height in 24 hours as if an ice cream scoop had taken off the top, leaving the deepest and purest lake in the USA, being filled only from rain and melt water. Cycling a longer trip you cannot work round the weather but have to take it as it comes. We did not see the famous blue of the lake but shifting shades of grey surrounded by the blacks and browns of the craggy rim coming in and out of focus through wafts of cloud – eerily beautiful and perhaps even more magical.
The Cascades merge into the granite of the high sierras of California taking in Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and Sequoia and the southern deserts.
So what is it about cycling in mountains? Of course the magnificant scenery of a scale and immensity not experienced in Europe. The feeling of physical endurance – we can never recapture the energy of youth but there was a feeling of great satisfaction at feeling supremely fit after years of full time work and sloth. The psychology of a slow churn up hill to a long pass – being able to manage 45 miles up hill seemed inconceivable from the comfort of our sqashy sofa at home. The rhythm of turning peddles and regular breathing, every pore open, muscles straining, is totally mind cleansing. All senses are piqued. Views unfold second by second, a slightly different green of trees, shadow on a rock, glimpse of snow that told you ou were definitely getting high, the black tarmac ribboning ahead. Ears tuned to a scuffle in the undergrowth and flash of deer to the deep rumble on the road. Would this be a passing logging truck intent on reaching the top without slowing and whistling within inches of your ear or a friendly car that would toot and cheer you on? We were probably the slowest on the mountains, with our laden luggage trailer and panniers. All other cyclist seemed to overtake us, although they were more difficult to hear coming – usually only evident when a muscular lycra covered thigh cruised past with a friendly wave of encouragement. Smells of warm pine to musky damp leaves of the Fall. Light of so many kinds previously unnoticed – the crystalline light of early morning in the high mountains, reminisent of the first ski run of the day, faltering watery light, filtering through autumn cloud, a wrap around glow of late afternoon sun before it dips behind a mountain crest. And then finally the immense indescribable feeling of acheivement on reaching the top, a view fully earned, a smug feeling of superiority over those who had cruised up in their metal boxes and could not possibly appreciate it as much as us. The moment of pleasure as we see the road plunge downwards as we get ready to push off and fly, miles flashing by at speeds that would break the limit in UK residential areas, a mixture of thrill and fear.
But mostly the pleasure in cycling is the people you meet. Having a fully loaded bike, complete with trailer and GB sticker, is an instant conversation opener. We would never pause without someone asking where had we come from, where were we going. The US can attract a bad press in recent years but the openess, warmth and genuine generosity of almost every person we met should be applauded as their biggest asset. The joy of so many 15 minute conversations capturing a life, a moment, an opinion, a laugh. Generous hospitality that can never be returned – a bottle of water, a cookie, a bed. A meeting of minds that has spawned a long friendship. From liberal coastal dwellers to small town mountain hunters, we met them all, enjoyed their company expanded our minds and had our prejudices challenged. So the real question is not why are we insane but why isn’t everyone cycling!