Saturday 28 September 2013

LA By Tandem


SoCal Summer
Current Location: San Diego, California
Distance Cycled: 15,935 km
Headwinds: 2 days in a row
Weather: Cold enough for jackets at night
Bike status: Chains had it, tyres almost worn out
Distance to Mexico Border: About 16 km

L.A. By Tandem

Who would have thought that cycling through L.A. could be such a blast? It may be one of the most car centric cities in the world, but it can also work for cyclists.
Mike, Eric, Judy and Greg take a break from cycling.
We knew it was going to be a long ride – too long to achieve in one day – so we made one of our better decisions and logged onto Warmshowers,  the internet organisation where cyclists host cyclists. Right on our path was a guy called Eric, who lived at Venice Beach. He sounded an affable sort so we dropped him an email and he replied saying ,”sure, come and stay”.

The canals of Venice Beach. Most have been filled in now
and turned into roads.
The ride south to L.A. was fine as we headed out of our campsite at Leo Carrillo State Beach, keeping an eye out for Bob Dylan who we had been told lives just south of Zuma Beach. He wasn’t offering morning coffee, so we pushed on marvelling at the huge, deserted expanse of beach that is Malibu. The traffic became busier, the shoulder disappeared for a time and we started to feel squeezed.
At Santa Monica, we escaped from the traffic onto a beach trail  – shared by cyclists, walkers and joggers, skateboarders and a few rollerbladers who seemed to be the last of a dying breed.
Greg, Eric and Mike the Captain at Venice Beach.

Eric was as cool as – a laid-back surfer with an apartment a block back from the water. We had a great night exchanging stories – he has one of the wildest cycle plans we have heard of yet. Next January he sets out on his own for S.E. Asia with a tandem and trailer, a surfboard and room for a passenger on the back seat of his bike. His aim is to enjoy the best surfing spots the region has to offer and to share his adventure with people he meets along the way. His blog is at:
The next morning Eric and another house guest, Greg, an actor just returned to L.A. after living in Tokyo for nine years, escorted us south for a few miles from Venice Beach.
Mike and Judy, Hermosa Beach
It was one of those rides that will stay with us – it was a blur of motion, sights and sounds so fascinating we wanted to linger.
“Marry me or I’m out,” recounted a woman to a friend as we cycled past.
“Great soundbite,” said Eric and we all laughed.
He and Greg were looking at the waves – the surf was ok and they were feeling tempted. They stuck with us as far as Manhattan Beach where we stopped for coffee and to allow Greg time to practice his Japanese pickup lines on a gaggle of passing Japanese women tourists.
The pier at Redondo Beach and memories of that great Patti Smith song of the same name - what exactly was
it really about.
We said our farewells and the others turned back, leaving us to continue down the trail as it meandered its way through Hermosa Beach to Redondo Beach where it finally ran out.
We met Edward Power on the road - he was on his way
by bike to South America as part of 

a world trip.

We had been encouraged to take a scenic route from there, over the Palos Verdes instead of cutting inland. It was pretty, and pretty long, as we wound our way past multi-million dollar homes, the (Donald) Trump National Golf Course and even the Trump National Highway.  
On the far side we descended into Long Beach and became caught up in back streets, industry and wharves  before reaching our destination – the Queen Mary.
On the Queen Mary - Long Beach in the background.

Cabin porthole - Long Beach in the

Wheeling the Beast of Bridgwater along
the corridors of the Queen Mary to our

Emerging from the lift with room
to spare.

Since making her maiden voyage in 1936, the Queen Mary
carried kings and queens, film stars, presidents and athletes
across theAtlantic until she was retired in 1967. 
Leaving the Queen Mary and about to head south again
towards San Diego.
The Queen Mary dwarfs a cold war submarine.

Since her retirement in 1967, the grand old ocean liner has been owned by the city of Long Beach and used as a floating hotel. We had planned for some time to treat ourselves to at least one night on board and it was a relief to push the tandem through the crowds into reception, down the stairs and a long hall to our cabin.
Maybe it was all the excitement – the sensations, the wind, the laughter and the conversation of the day – but we both felt as though the ship was moving and we were bouncing off the shower walls as we washed off the day’s sweat.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor
were regular guests across the
Atlantic and stored their Rolls
Royce in the cargo hold.On at
 least one occasion they brought
 155 pieces of luggage with them.
Doing our washing in the
bathtub aboard the Queen

Neither our budget nor our dirty cycling clothes would have worked in the ship’s “signature restaurant” – Sir Winstons – but we were happy to tuck into giant burgers, fries, beer and wine  in the Promenade Café and collapse into a bed with crisp, white sheets.

It had been a special ride and we had made it safely – L.A. you were much, much better than we dared hope. 

Out of Sync

It’s taken us the best part of 18 months to get around to trying something we should perhaps have looked at long ago.
It’s to do with what’s called “crank phasing” on the tandem and arises from the question – which of two options is best? Should the pedals be synchronised so that for example, the two left pedals are at the top of their stroke at the same moment. Or is it better to have them "out of sync" – so that when one pedal is at the top of its stroke the other is half way down?
The idea to have the pedals “out of sync” has been suggested to us by a couple of cyclists we’ve met along the way. One said that friends with a tandem  found that "out of sync" seemed to even out the pedal power and provide a smoothing effect when riding uphill.

Aesthetics and Simplicity

We investigated on the internet but were unable to find any serious research. One article suggested that pedals are usually in phase for aesthetics and simplicity, but that "out of phase" should reduce wear and tear on the drive train.

Out-of-sync - the back pedals are in a vertical plane, the
front ones are horizontal. 
With a few hills still left on our ride to the Mexican border we decided to give "out of phase" a trial and so far, so good. It’s early days, but we sense that on the flat and on gentle uphills we are pedalling at the same speed but doing it in a higher gear – which means covering the ground faster.
On steeper uphills, we seem to be dropping down through the gears just the way we always have, but even then we suspect the pedaling is just a little easier. Perhaps we should have tried this a year ago.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Cyclist Gets Guillotined


Current Location: Long Beach, California
Distance Cycled: 15,725 km
Distance to End at Mexican Border: 200 km approx
Maximum Speed So Far: 72.0 kph
Status of Backsides (out of 10) Judy the Stoker: 8, Mike the Captain: 9

Cyclist Gets Guillotined

Lead Story – The Daily Beatup

Santa Barbara: The back seat rider on a tandem bicycle was guillotined by a car park exit barrier Saturday.
It struck the woman’s glasses forcing them down onto the bridge of her nose and then hit her arm.
“I could see it (the barrier arm) coming down but there was nothing I could do except shout at my husband to stop,” said the woman, Judy Yeoman, of Auckland, New Zealand. “It gave me a terrible fright.”
She was not seriously hurt.
Guillotine Victim: New Zealander Judy Yeoman (left) just minutes before she was struck by a barrier arm at a car park exit. She's seen lunching with new friends Pat, Lucas and Stan Brown in Downtown Santa Barbara.
Her husband, Mike Brockie, said he was following a car out of the car park and knew there was a barrier arm.
“I tried to make eye contact with the attendant to let him know we were coming but he vanished into the back of the office. Stupidly I looked the wrong way for the barrier arm – to the right not the left – and thought I must have passed by it safely.”
The pair were trapped by the barrier, unable to go forward or back as it lay between them. They had to dismount and push the bike out from underneath it.
“No thanks go to the attendant,” said Ms Yeoman. “He didn’t raise the arm and nor did he even bother to ask if I was alright.”
She said she was fortunate they stopped when they did, otherwise she would have been stuck a severe blow on her helmet.
The couple had been lunching with friends at a nearby café shortly before the incident. To reach the car park, they had pushed the tandem through a walkway but decided to leave via the main exit.

When Thermarests Get Pregnant

Age 20 years. It starts as a small bump ...
And gets bigger by the day ...

Until it becomes impossible to sleep on.

Riding into Southern California.

California Dreamin’

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk
On a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm
If I was in LA.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
The Mamas and The Papas

Suddenly, in a day’s ride, we have made what feels like the transition into the California of our imaginations – palm trees, blue seas, surfboards, tanned bodies and a soundtrack playing in our heads that dates back to The Mamas and The Papas and The Beach Boys.
Walnut trees in the Santa Rosa Valley, near Buellton.
Refugio State Beach

Early morning shadows
Modelling session on the beach
Today (13 Sept) we rode south from a town called Lompoc, it’s the nearest place of any consequence to the giant Vandenberg Air Force Base. We took the advice of a fellow cyclist and instead of following the regular cyclists’ route we took Santa Rosa Rd, which runs for 17 miles through a stunningly quiet and beautiful valley of grape vines, wineries and walnut trees. On either side of us steep hills climbed into the blue sky. The land looked dry, the road meandered gently and we pedalled happily – thinking how much this region reminded us of Central Otago.
We stopped at Buellton and instead of the usual filled rolls from a supermarket we dined at Ellens Danish Pancakes where we stuffed ourselves with pancakes and coffee that kept on coming.  
Refugio State Beach. The pinpricks
of light on the horizon are oil wells
off the California coast.
Back on the road, the traffic was much heavier and faster as we rejoined Highway 101 and climbed over the hills and then raced down to the coast. And there were those palm trees and a sunlit beach. The coastal fog had vanished out to sea and people were enjoying the water in kayaks and on SUPs (stand up paddle boards).
Campsite, Refugio State Beach
Tonight our campground is Refugio State Beach, about 20 miles north of Santa Barbara and within 120 miles of Los Angeles. We are camped on the foreshore, there are hot showers and a store where we bought a bottle of wine and two beers. The sun is drifting towards the horizon and to add visual interest we can see three oil rigs out at sea. We know we will fall asleep lulled by the sound of breaking waves.
It’s taken 102 days to get here from Vancouver BC – that must be some sort of record for the Slowest Tour Down the Pacific Coast Highway – but it feels like we are in California at last.

Wildlife at Bed Time

We've seen no sign of mountain lions or
even rattlesnakes but there has been
plenty of other wildlife to keep us awake. 
The mouse was tiny and kind of cute. It was hard to think of it as vermin – spreading nasty bugs. Judy was the first to become aware of him (let’s call him a him, but he could just as easily have been a she) as he noisily trampled his way over the floor of the outer tent – the area tent makers like to call the vestibule. I got a nudge and Judy whispered in my ear, “there’s something out there” with her usual sense of the dramatic. We unzipped the door to the inner tent – our bedroom – and shone a headlamp into the vestibule. Its beam picked up nothing and then suddenly - the tiniest of mice. He was gray and so skinny his ribcage was clearly visible through the taut skin of his chest. I tossed a jandal at him, but before the jandal had left my hand he was gone – out under the fly and into the darkness. We had a quick discussion and decided that our food was securely stowed in our black, roll top bag.  A racoon would have no difficulty getting in, but a mouse would never make it.
Five minutes later he was back, clopping around on the floor and rustling over a plastic bag as though he was wearing two pairs of those cycle shoes with metal cleats on the bottom. We shook the tent, muttered and the noise stopped – for a few minutes. It carried on like that for much of the night.

Then Came the Gophers

The result of gopher tunneling near our tent.
Part way through the darkness came another sound – hard to describe but a gnawing, shovelling sort of sound as though something was burrowing into the floor of our bedroom. The sound seemed to be coming from near our feet, so I kicked the floor and hoped whatever was there would go away.
We woke feeling a bit jaded but grateful we were having yet another day off on the Slowest Bike Tour Down the Pacific Coast Highway. Outside the tent, mounds of earth had popped up, and peering under the tent it was obvious some little beastie had shovelled his way out there too.
Suddenly a head emerged from one
of the mounds.
As we ate breakfast, there was a slight movement and suddenly a head emerged from one of the mounds. The gopher looked around unblinking despite the bright light, then retreated down his hole.
We discussed what to do. Should we move the tent so we were further away from our gopher? Could it gnaw its way through the tent floor? How sharp were their teeth? If it got into the tent, would it tear around like a mad thing trying to escape – like the baby possum a friend had as a youngster. A fellow camper suggested pouring water down the gopher’s holes – or should that be gophers’ plural? We didn’t know if it was one or a whole family making those little dirt mountains.
In the end we decided to do nothing.

Followed by a Frog

We found this frog plastered on the side of our wine bottle.
That evening we were having dinner in the vestibule when suddenly I felt a movement on my leg. I glanced down and there, nestling into the hairs on my calf, was that tiny mouse – he was so warm I could feel the heat from his body. He must have sensed he had been spotted and a moment later he was gone – behind the black bag and under the tent fly again.
Judy reached for the wine bottle – anything to get us through the night – and almost dropped it with fright. There was a frog stuck to the side of it. We prodded it with our fingers and eventually it followed the mouse and hopped out under the tent fly.

Clear Winners 

Judy and I made an agreement. We would not be intimidated by a mouse, a frog or a gopher. Do what they may, we were determined to get a good night’s sleep and we wouldn’t respond no matter what happened. And that’s the way it was. The mouse trampled in his bike cleats, the gopher shovelled earth to its heart’s content and in the morning we found the frog under the tent. It was 3-0 to the wildlife.

Sunday 8 September 2013

Homeless Jim

Carmel-on-the-sea - No. Monterey - Yes. We loved
everything about it - from its beaches to sense of history
and place, and its aquarium.
We know his name is Jim, but without being nosy it was hard to find out anything else about the man camped on top of us in Monterey.
We know his name is Jim because the camp ranger at Vets Memorial Park high on a hill above the town addressed him that way. At the time, Jim didn’t respond – he was in a dead drunk.
He’d pitched his tent almost on top of us – too close, it felt like an invasion of our personal space. We grumped to each other but there wasn’t much we could do except move.
Good Machine are from Port
Townsend, Washington state and got
a warm response from holidaymakers
in Monterey for the Labor holiday
The ranger’s attitude to Jim was kindly, you could tell by the way he called “Jim” several times and then, without a response, wrote out a new campsite registration for him and left him to it. Given that the campsite was alongside some sort of military establishment, and bore the name Veterans we figured Jim himself was probably a vet of one or another of America’s wars.
That day we took the ranger’s advice and cycled to Carmel – the snobby enclave which once had Clint Eastwood as its mayor.
This is another of the homeless - 26-year-old
Ryan and his dog Sadie at Pfeiffer - Big Sur
State Park. Ryan survives by doing sketches
of tourists in Monterey's Cannery Row. He has
no home, preferring to camp at state parks. He
has to be constantly on the move as the parks
have a maximum stay of three nights in a row.
His home, he says, is his tent. He's probably
no angel, but Ryan seemed to be doing his
best to stay out of trouble despite being a
beer for breakfast type of guy.
It was a public holiday – Labor Day – and the streets were packed with well-heeled tourists, the women in white or cream outfits, the men with soft hands and perfectly groomed hair. Ocean Avenue was lined with smart retail shops and art galleries filled with conservative seascapes or gaudy versions that appeared painted for the benefit of interior designers. We wandered with the bike, trying not to gouge people’s shins with the pedals as we pushed through the crowds, and finally gave up trying to have coffee – the restaurants looked out of our league and were filled with groups enjoying their second or third bottles of chardonnay.
We felt out of place and I grew increasingly irritable. As usual, it was Judy who put her finger on it.
“You know what,” she said. “It’s the contrast between those people working in the fields we saw cycling into Monterey and the people here. So little money there, so much here.”
And that’s exactly it. Monterey County’s largest industry is agriculture. The average farm worker’s salary is less than $15,000 a year, and according to the union movement, more than a quarter of Monterey children live in poverty.
Fish are wonderfully uncomplicated - Monterey Aquarium.
We’ve seen homeless - like Jim – everywhere on the Pacific West Coast. It’s easy to dismiss them as losers or no-hopers, but the one or two we have met have seemed genuinely nice people who for a variety of reasons are drifting from campground to campground – doing their best to twist the rules which say you can’t stop at one campsite for more than one or two or maybe three nights.
After out visit to Carmel, we cycled back to Monterey and spent the afternoon at its aquarium. It’s a spectacular showpiece and comes with an environmentally friendly message. The fish themselves are wonderfully uncomplicated and it was a relief to be able to spend a few hours enjoying some harmless fun.
Back at our campground on the top of the hill, Jim refused to acknowledge us apart from the briefest of grunts before he climbed onto his bike and vanished into the evening.
Miles of crops north of Monterey. According to the union
movement, the average farm worker's wage is less that
US$15,000 a year - not enough for them to start climbing
the rungs of the ladder towards middle America.

More crops - near Sunset Beach
State Park.

 During the night I got up to answer the call of nature. I crossed the path outside our tent and headed for the bushes on the other side and was startled suddenly by a noise. My headlamp picked up a bundle of clothing. There was a figure lying in the open, fast asleep and snoring.
I went in the opposite direction and returned to bed. A couple of hours later we were disturbed by the sound of a bicycle bouncing over the tree roots beside our tent. It wasn’t someone stealing the tandem, it was Jim who had aroused from his slumbers and was making for his tent. Within moments he was asleep and snoring again, but we were left sleepless - confounded by this country where so many have so much, but so many others are left out in the cold.

It’s a Small World

Mike, Judy with Gavin and Suzanne on the road at Big Sur. Note the
Mustang convertible they were driving.
The message on Facebook was short and to the point. An old TV3 colleague and friend, Suzanne Newman (nee Baker) was holidaying in the U.S. with her husband.  After time in New York and Florida, they were coming to California, where Suzanne knew we were cycling. The message was seven days old by the time Judy and I found a wifi connection and the time to catch up on our correspondence.
I hammered out a quick response – saying we were still on the road and let’s keep in touch, and left it at that.
Imagine our surprise when two hours later, a black Mustang convertible waved us down on Highway One on Big Sur and a woman climbed out.
We chatted, met Suzanne’s husband Gavin and then a bit later regrouped and picnicked in the sunshine overlooking the sea, an extinct volcano and the 120-year-old Point Sur Lighthouse.
It is 15 years since Suzanne left TV3 in Auckland. She now lives in Melbourne. We had a lovely time catching up on all that’s happened in the intervening years. And we all agreed that while Facebook can be time consuming and distracting, it is also a fantastic way to stay in touch.

Big Sur

Miles of curves and hills. A stiff tail wind helped push us
“The face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look” – Author Henry Miller writing about Big Sur.
If there is one place on the Pacific Coast Highway people have raved about, it is Big Sur. The 90-mile stretch of coastline about 300 miles north of Los Angeles has a worldwide reputation for its wild beauty. And it’s justified.
The views of the Pacific are spectacular – there are miles of golden sands, long beaches, cosy coves and rocky headlands. Cycling it is an up and down affair – hilly and with lots of bends but perfectly rideable so long as you don’t mind all the vehicles – most of them driven by other tourists who duck in and out of the “turnouts” to take photos.
Big Sur - the dorky thing on Mike's
helmet is a rear view mirror.
If there is the usual tailwind, as happened for us, it can be a real blast – the uphills seem to flatten and even on the flat we were clocking over 40 kilometres an hour with little or even no effort at times. But the same gusts can be tricky when they blast you sideways on some of the exposed headands.
Big Sur
There are some long stretches with limited opportunities to top up on food and water so it pays to be prepared. And access to the beaches is not easy. Much of the land is private property and signs warn the public against trespassing. Fortunately there are a number of State Parks and U.S. Forest Service beaches which are open to the public, though a hike down a trail is usually required.

That aside, Big Sur is spectacular touring country, whether by bike, car or motorcycle.

Bixby Creek Bridge. When it was built in 1932 it was one of
the longest concrete one in the world.

Big Sur

Writer R.L. Stevenson lived
in Monterey for four months
and the town has taken
advantage of the fame he
brought to it. 

The hotel where Stevenson stayed.
It's now a museum devoted to his life.
There always has to be a shark photo.

Underwater thingie.

Snowy plover

Bird with slightly twisted beak. Apparently
it's normal.

Umbrella jellyfish

Another jellyfish
Roadside view
Sunrise - Kirk Creek State Park
We've been fortunate with what a former
3 News  weatherman would have called
"blue dome" days, but here the fog is closing
back in.
Piedras Blancas Light Station
Elephant seals get grumpy with one another.
Elephant seals by the dozen.
Mile after mile of stunning coastline.
We found the variety of wildlife astonishing.
Gopher comes visiting.

Yawn - still more.

Hearst castle - the lair of newspaper magnate William
Randolph Hearst and now part of the California
state park system.

Waterfall plunges on to the beach at
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park - a
popular stopoff point for motorists.

At Kirk Creek State Park