Wednesday, January 25, 2012

First Big Bicycle Tour...1974.

While earning a degree at Cal State Fresno I fell deeply in love with the Sierra Nevada and everything that was entailed with "mountain living". I had only visited various locations in the Sierra, east of Fresno, Yosemite, The John Muir Wilderness, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks on backpacking trips and weekend campouts with fellow students....but, I knew. I wanted to invest the bulk of my life in "mountain living".
Upon graduation I moved to Florida for six months of student teaching and guiding high schoolers on "outdoor recreation therapy" adventures. These outings only increased my burning desire to live in the mountains. A handful of my Fresno friends had relocated to the Kern River/ Bodfish region at the southern end 0f the Sierra Nevada...sounded good to me.
After a brief visit to hug family and acquire a bicycle, my new Florida girlfriend, Franny, and I, headed for the South Fork of the Kern where we rented a rough cabin in the berg of Bodfish. Franny did not share my love of cycling, or wandering aimlessly in the California "high country". I would set out with a sleeping bag, wrapped in a small tent, on my bicycle's backrack and see how far I could wander on backroads for three or four days...until hungry, or lonely, or in need of resupply of inner tubes. I wrote about my adventures in a rag called The Kern River Valley Review, for very small payment, before returning to the trails and remote dirt roads that led up from the Lake Isabella basin.
Franny, in the meantime, found real work with the USFS. Her work season started at the first of May, it was late February. She was ready to try a bicycle tour, but made me promise..."No dirt". March of 1974 was one of the rainiest on record, in California, and we were busily pedaling up the California coast...mostly with a tailwind, mostly soaked as we crawled in our tent every night. We rode from Bodfish to San Luis Obispo to Sonoma County. We cranked inland to Santa Rosa and Davis, before surfing tailwinds and sunny skies down California's Big Valley, all the way to Bakersfield. It took the entire month of March. Franny was surley and tired, saying something like, "If I never get on a bicycle saddle again, it'll be too soon."
Needless to say, after that, Franny and I were never "on the same page" concerning outdoor adventures, or anything else, for that matter...she went to work, I packed my one duffel and hitch-hiked eastward to Michigan, for more hugs, and a new bike....a Motobecane Grand Jubilee. My sister and her boyfriend owned a bicycle shop in Battle Creek, they helped me experience what it was like to straddle a quality bicycle...which, of course, caused me to fantasize about the mountains I would explore, under my own power, all over western North America.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mongrel Cyclist 1970

Spring of 1970, I was new to the SF Bay area and I'd just purchased a used (and immediately unreliable) motor vehicle from a Ford dealer in Oakland. I made a wise decision and bought a new "Ten Speed" in Martinez, Ca. to back up the (smoke and fire prone) Mercury Meteor...just in case.
My first ride of any note was an outing to the top of the most prominent local Lookout, Mt. Diablo. My new car's transmission had caught fire while climbing the same, the week before.
I had no idea that this, admittedly ambitious and according to my fellow workers...impossible, feat would cause me to catch fire with a life-long enthusiasm for the "sport" of bicycle riding.
I found the downhill to be far more harrowing, with steel rims and brand new brake pads, than the climb. Before the actual bottom of the mountain I noticed, what I thought was, a parallel double-track ranch road and I reasoned that if I had to crash, due to poor brakes, I would prefer it be on a dirt hillside, not on pavement contained by barbed wire fences. The dirt track meandered for a couple of miles before dropping steeply to an old ranch house and stables at the bottom of the descent. An old guy in a cowboy hat growled at me to get off his property and "wipe that stupid grin off your face."
I had discovered a couple of important things about myself on this mountain; I was more capable in the arena of self-propulsion than I had ever imagined, and riding on dirt with skinny tires can cause everlasting smiles.