Across Continents

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Contemplations in Ocotillo

December 8th, 2011

Little sign of the gusting gale force winds abating, I’d headed for breakfast in Ocotillo’s only cafe. The alternative, a 24/7 gas station on the other side of the Interstate, I’d decided to save for dinner. Sandwiches. But first a stack of pancakes with scrambled eggs, maple syrup and bacon. The latter crispy almost beyond recognition, the eggs oily and lumpy. I wasn’t quite sure if two pancakes actually constituted a stack, but each was the size of a dinner plate.

I assumed I’d a second night in Ocotillo, for unless the wind dropped fairly promptly, I’d loose the light before I’d be able to reach Brawley, my next stop. And I’d had quite enough of riding in the dark. For a while at least. My mug of coffee refilled by my server, I’d pondered the map. Still five days riding to Phoenix, with no realistic scope to shorten this. Limited daylight.

Progress east through the mountains inland from San Diego had been much slower than I’d anticipated. Strong winds compounding the situation. Two days lost. I’d allowed a margin for getting into Phoenix to ensure I’d reach the city before my parents flew in. And had now used it up. Unavoidable. I consoled myself with the thought that a section I’d planned to ride over weekend would now be completed during the week. Far less traffic, I’d been advised. Besides, I’d hardly a choice in the matter.

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Alpine encounters

December 6th, 2011

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"An armed society is a polite society"

Regaled in Alpine attire – Lederhosen, traditional hat sporting a feather tucked into the band on one side, long stockings – he’d entered the cafe through a side door, picked up a newspaper and found a seat in the corner. Late seventies. German immigrant I thought, but he never spoke so I was left unsure. Didn’t look much like a retired car worker.

I’d stopped in a Fifties styled diner in the small town of Pine Valley. Imagery of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, of classic cars, on the walls. On the road since seven, it was now gone ten and I’d only managed sixteen miles. Struggling with the climbs. Realising my intended night’s stop at Brawley was quite out of reach. Only question was how much further I’d get tonight.

Leaving San Diego a bit later than planned, progress up into the hills inland had been tediously slow. By four, less than an hour of daylight left, I’d managed little more than thirty five miles. Barely crawling into the town of Alpine. Desperately tired. The hills hadn’t helped but it was mostly my own fault. Chatting until gone midnight. Now a compelling need for sleep.

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I liked the diner. Tasteful. It felt homely. Locals drifting in, some sitting along the counter, others at tables. Two men in Sheriff’s Department uniforms. Ill-fitting. Radio on the table, barely audible chatter. No firearms or utility belts. Then the realisation these were volunteers. Left wondering what use they’d be in an armed society.

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On the up

December 6th, 2011

Short coffee stop at three thousand or so feet…

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Heading for El Paso

December 5th, 2011

Close by the Mexican border might be, but crossing close to San Diego leads to pretty much a dead end. The Baja California peninsular. So east towards El Paso. Following the US Adventure Cycling Association’s Southern Tier route.

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Over a thousand miles, it’s a journey through coastal mountains, across scrubby desert, sand dunes and past endless cacti. A series of mountain passes to cross, climbing up to over 8,000 feet. Over the Continental Divide, the backbone of North America.

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Challenges ahead. Desert winds strong enough to bring progress to an abrupt halt. Terrain affording little cover. Warm days bitter nights. At altitude, always a risk of winter snows.

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Sightseeing in San Diego

December 5th, 2011

Actually I wasn’t. Sightseeing that is. Get to see quite enough from the handlebars. Time off the road a chance to catch up on domestics, writings and ramblings. And often a chance to chat with fellow travellers. Or at least observe. Endlessly fascinating.

A middle-aged chap whose efforts at flirtation with those less than half his age bordering on the contemptible. But never when his elderly mother, with whom he was travelling, was around. I think she knew.

An English woman. Londoner. Musician. Saxophone, mostly modern jazz. Drawn to hostels to escape the suffocating isolation of bland, lonely motel rooms. And a Swiss long-haul cyclist I rather liked. Chatted with her late into the night. Then the next morning. The reason I was late leaving San Diego. Enjoying her company.

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Reduced to pulp

December 5th, 2011

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The final push into San Diego, a few days off the road in a small hostel close to the coast, was, at best, turgid. Mostly steady, heavy rain. Icy cold, the only respite the odd hour when it eased back a little to drizzle. It felt warmer but probably wasn’t.

A generously sized cheese and bean burritto had raised spirits a little, bought from a small campground cafe. Even the odd sip of warm coffee did little to improve matters. It was fundamentally a terrible day.

The ride into San Diego should have been relatively short – perhaps forty miles at most. To a carefully chosen hostel, expectation it would be quiet, and conventionally located. And it was. Problem was the cycle route had endless twists and turns, necessitating frequent stops to check the navigation. Quickly reducing my guide book to pulp.

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