An End and a Beginning

If this is your first visit, you might want to start here.

This is the end.  Today, I’m meeting my family in Los Angeles, bringing my cycling journey to a close. In the past 50 days, I experienced more than I could have anticipated. The people I’ve met, places I’ve been and situations I’ve overcome are truly unforgettable. This trip has pushed me to become a stronger person: mentally, physically and emotionally.

The Journey Is The Reward

Before this trip, I was fascinated with classifying my levels of achievement. I’ve constantly worried that I’m going to reach an “okay plateau”. I’ve worried that I’m not realizing my full potential, subconsciously halting my progress at the point where it’s socially considered “okay” to stop getting better. For three years now, I’ve been running 1000 miles per year. It’s turned into an endless personal challenge, an annual goal. Running has been one of the most important parts of my life, but after three years I began to obsess over the arbitrary number of 1,000. I had turned into an “ego climber,” focusing on the end goal and ignoring the all important experience. This trip started as a goal, an ego climb, but it turned into one of the most important journeys of my life. It was the experience, not the achievement, that made this trip life changing.

The World Is Getting Smaller

I believe that traveling is the best way to find yourself and learn more about the world around you.  A man I met in Hillsboro, New Mexico said that people who go on trips like this are either running or searching. Of course, I left Tampa wanting to see the country, but I unknowingly embarked on a quest to find myself. I’m not willing to settle for a life without a passion. Finding out what I’m passionate about is going to be hard, but I think it will all work out as long as I don’t settle. We all need to find our place in this world.  It’s a big world, so I expect that finding that place will take a lot of searching. This trip taught me to never stop searching.

I feel lucky to have experienced some of the cultural differences across America.  At times, Texas felt like a foreign country. The people talked, dressed and acted differently. That being said, the country is changing rapidly. Towns with populations under 90 now have free WiFi. Our world is becoming connected, but I fear that this may have been my last chance to experience such rich cultural differences. This may be the last generation that will express such cultural individuality. These micro-cultures are what make our country great, and I’m glad that I was able witness them while they are still around

Strangers On This Road

In the midst of these different cultures, I was forced to adjust to what was initially out of my realm. I’ve never been one to readily trust others. I’ve always kept a small, tight group of friends and family. I used to have a lot of trouble trusting those who I do not know or understand. This trip forced me to constantly put my well-being in the hands of complete strangers. Every day, I had to trust that drivers were paying attention, and every night, I had to trust that nobody around me had ill intentions. In order to survive, I had to trust others and, occasionally, ask for help.

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the helpfulness, courtesy and general good intentions of those around me. I used be skeptical of people I don’t know, always keeping my guard up, but, after being helped through this trip by complete strangers, I may look at the people around me a little differently. I wouldn’t have made it without the help of the kind-hearted strangers who helped me along the way.

I’d set my life up so that, if I had to, I could always make it alone, and that’s made feel comfortable. Now that I have been alone for almost two months, I know how important my friends and family are in my life. This journey has made me grateful for the people I love and the people who love me. I love you; I couldn’t have made it without you.

Into The Wild

As much as it may seem to be, this was not an Into The Wild-type journey. I now know that I don’t fit the personality type of those who wander away from their lives, heading in no particular direction. Abandoning a modern life means abandoning those you care about. I never wanted anyone to worry about me on this trip. As much as it may seem like I was roughing it, I never put myself in harm’s way. I always chose the safest path available.  Putting myself in danger on a cross country trip like this would have been egotistical and selfish.  Leaving my life in Tampa permanently would hurt the people I love. Chistopher McCandless, the subject of the book Into the Wild, wanted to make create a new life. I admire his adventurous spirit and passion, but what separates me from Christopher McCandless is that I don’t want a new life. I just want to make sure that I make the most of the life that I have.

I Was So Much Older Then, I’m Younger Than That Now

As some of you may know, my life to this point can be described as a series of rebellious gimmicks. When I was at Hillsborough High School, I started a band that sold T-shirts, but didn’t make any music (Weenus: Reunited…Again!). Then, with the help of my friends, I turned the “band” into a brand, selling hundreds of T-shirts with high school ID cards printed out on them. This was a tongue-in-cheek protest against a school policy requiring students to wear ID’s on lanyards, or otherwise face suspension. When I went to the University of Florida, I hit the ground running. My Freshman year, I started a campaign sheerly intended to randomly promote myself. I friend requested as many of incoming Freshman I could, gaining thousands of Facebook friends. Then, I started putting stickers with sayings like “I Partied with Rutger,” or “Rutger for President” on them all over UF’s campus. By the end of my Freshman year, my face was on the front page of The Alligator, UF’s student-run newspaper. There was even a political cartoon about me the next day. The ironic thing about the “I Partied with Rutger” campaign was that I was never much of a partier. Instead of being genuine, I had spent years burying myself in irony. I was never comfortable enough to express anything I truly believed.

Now, I’ve created something genuine, something I can whole-hearted stand behind. This trip, this blog, is the first time I’ve expressed myself as the home schooled, vegetarian, jungle boy hippie that I have always been. And, the reaction I got was extremely uplifting. Thank you all for the encouragement along the way. You have no idea how much it helps to constantly read so many positive messages from so many people. After years of silence, it felt great to honestly express myself.

Writing this blog was an unplanned part of my journey that became one of the most important factors of my growth as a person. For the past few years, I’ve progressively become more and more of a perfectionist. I’ve mistakingly tried to achieve purity through perfection in all facets of my life.

Of course, perfection inspires me. The Beatles’ music, for example, is mapped out so well and so heavily refined that it appears to be a perfect creation. It’s amazing to experience, but the standard they set is daunting. For example, when Brian Wilson, the creative genius behind The Beach Boys, first heard Strawberry Fields Forever, he was so deeply affect that he  stopped production of the album Smile, which could have been a masterpiece had it been finished. The prospect of competing with perfection was too much. This is tale reminds me of the creative block that I faced before embarking on this journey.

What I failed to understand was that purity and perfection are not synonymous. Sometimes, purity can be intensely imperfect. I can’t mention The Beatles without comparing them to Bob Dylan. Dylan’s music in the early 60′s was decisively imperfect. What made his lyrics so pure is that they were the unexplainably genius ramblings of a 20 year old kid. His message was so pure that it had to be imperfect. After making this connection I began to see this phenomenon everywhere. Spending weeks on end in nature made me realize that this world is messy. Nature, from ground level, is imperfect; it’s all about survival. But nature is the ultimate example of purity. Nothing man made can compete with the beauty of this world around us.

This blog had to be imperfect. After biking 80 miles a day, I had about 30 minutes a night to import pictures and write a post before my iPhone died. At first, this was frustrating, but after accepting that these raw posts of streaming conscience were more pure than anything I’ve produced in years, I learned what could be the most important lesson of my journey. I began to relish the fact that most blog posts were written in public bathrooms, outside of country gas stations, or wherever else I could find a functional power outlet. Creativity is imperfect. I used to strive to achieve an unreachable level of perfection in what I wore, said and produced. I now know that sometimes it’s better imperfect and pure.

Thank all of you for reading and I hope that you’ve enjoyed hearing about my trip. I’m glad that I could share such positive and important part of my life with so many people.

Stanton and Downtown Los Angeles

For the last few days, I’ve been spending my time wandering the streets of Los Angeles. I haven’t put in any long travel days this week; it’s nice to slow down and get a full experience of a city.

Seal Beach to Stanton

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After spending a few days in Seal Beach, I decided to head inland toward Stanton. Sleeping on the beach and in parks for days on end is a little much for me, so I wanted to get to a part of town where a hotel would be cheap.

Stanton is a suburban area, I ended up just stopping there for the night on my way into Downtown Los Angeles.

Stanton to Los Angeles

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Los Angeles is so spread out that I figured the best way to experience the city on a bike is to go downtown.

Staying downtown gave me the opportunity to walk around more. Walking around a city is a great experience. Whenever I visit a new city, I try to take at least a day to wander.

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I spent a lot of time in Pershing Square. Whenever I’m in a big city, I have to seek out the parks. Spending too much time in a concrete jungle makes me feel lost.

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This is the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Everything Disney does is so creative.

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I’ve been walking about 15 or 20 miles a day, trying to see everything there is to see. I stumbled upon a piece of wall art by Banksy. Banksy is a famous graffiti artist who has “struck” all around the world. It was exciting to actually see one of his pieces in person. If you aren’t familair with Banksy, I recommend the movie Exit Through the Gift Shop.

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I’ve been hanging out in LA because my family is meeting me here in a few days, but having some extra time to kill has really worked out. I was even able to go to a game in Dodger Stadium.

The walk from Downtown to Dodger Stadium took me right through Chinatown.

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Dodger Stadium is amazing. It’s right on the edge of Downtown Los Angeles. The stadium is nestled into the hills: one side overlooks the mountains and the other side has a nice view of the city.

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I’ve been staying at the Cecil Hotel. There are way too many homeless people out here to sleep out in the city. The Cecil Hotel has a lot of personality. It’s fancy, in a old-style way, but the rooms on the top floors are cheap because they don’t have air conditioning or bathrooms. They have dorm-style bathrooms on each floor which works perfectly.

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On my last night in the city, I got to see a movie set. A pilot episode for a TV show called Iggy was being shot right outside of my hotel.

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The scene must have been set in New York, because the changed the sign my hotel. I’m now staying in “The New Yorker”. They also put a bunch of cars in the street with New York license plates. I stood around and watched most of the shoot.

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Hanging around the city has been a completely different experience, but I have to admit, I’m ready to get back into the wilderness. I can’t wait to see the Northern Pacific Coast, Kings Canyon and Yosemite.

I’ve been alone for 50 days now, so seeing my family is going to be exciting. This is the home stretch. I’m meeting my family in a few days.

Costa Mesa, Laguna and Seal Beach

Well, for the past few days, I’ve been living the Southern California life. I’m hopping from beach town to beach town, stopping along the way to Boogie Board in the Pacific. I’m living the dream.

Day 44: San Clemente to Costa Mesa (33 Miles)

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After spending the night in San Clemente, it took some time to get back on the road. Believe it or not, the hardest part of living on the beach is finding an outlet to charge my iPhone. Everything else is pretty comfortable. It’s nothing like sleeping on the streets of a city.

Once I got on the road, my first order of business was to buy a Boogie Board. The one I got is “Recommended for 12 years or younger”, but it will work just fine. More importantly, it fits on my bike.

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So, now I have a wetsuit and a boogie board. I’m ready experience the beaches of Southern California.

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I spent the majority of the day in Laguna. The beach was beautiful and the waves were intense. Actually, the waves were a little too intense for me and my Boogie Board. I caught a few waves, but I spent most of my time doing my best rag doll impression. The people on the beach thought it was hilarious, though. By the time I was done, I had an audience. It was a blast, but my Boogie Board is a little crooked now.

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I didn’t spend much time in the town itself. The traffic in Laguna Beach was tough, so I wanted to get through as quickly as possible. I did, however, get to spend some time in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, which had more cliffs and giant waves.

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Day 45: Costa Mesa to Long Beach, then back to Seal Beach (33 Miles)

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I wound up doing a bit of a circle today. The weather was difficult for riding my bike, but perfect for riding waves.

It took a while to get out of Costa Mesa, so once I was back on the Pacific Coast Highway, I was pretty much ready to just hang out on the beach. Thankfully, there was a nice bike trail that I followed for the majority of the day. Bike trails are great, because you can go at any pace you want.

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I stopped into Seal Beach, but decided to head toward Long Beach for the night. Long Beach, however, didn’t have big enough waves to boogie board. After peddling around town, I was seriously considering going into the Long Beach Aquarium. It looks glorious.

As much as I want to visit the aquarium, I just can’t get enough of riding waves in the Ocean. I asked around about good surfing spots, but it turned out I’d passed the best spots. Apparently, the water get a little too cold North of Los Angeles.

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Since I don’t really have anywhere to be for a few days, I decide to backtrack about 10 miles to Seal Beach. Itwroked out well, because I would have been comfortable sleeping on the streets of Long Beach. There were a lot of homeless people walking around and, as much as I love bumming it, I wouldn’t feel comfortable in that crowd.

Seal Beach is a perfect place to Boogie Board. The waves are much more manageable and the sand is perfect. I actually took my iPhone out on the waves with me. I actually got some pretty cool clips. I edited it with my iPhone, too. I love this thing.

Sal Beach has this huge pier, too. It’s the second largest pier in California.

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I think I’m going to settle in here for a day or too. The water isn’t too cold, the waves perfect size and sleeping on the beach is safe and comfortable.

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This part of the trip has been completely different from what I expected. Instead of back country camping, I’m spending my time in small beach towns. I’m have a great time, though. The people around here are super nice and helpful. So, the next few days are beach days. Wish me luck on the waves!

San Diego and On The Road Again

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Day 42: San Diego
Well, my West Coast journey has begun. I spent a full day touring the beautiful city of San Diego, but now I’m back on the move.

San Diego is a beautiful city. I wanted to see a variety of the city, so the first place I visited was Fashion Valley. Basically, Fashion Valley is a huge outdoor mall. It was definitely weird walking around in jeans and a t-shirt instead of the tights I’ve grown accustom to.

I’ve found that my favorite way to experience a city is to to just walk around. Not that I had much of a choice in this case, but I love to wander. I like to think that I get to see the city from the vantage point of people who live there.

Everyone has been telling me about the cliffs on Pacific Coast beaches, so I had to check out Sunset Cliffs.

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I have to admit, before Sunset Cliffs, I was a little skeptical about West Coast beaches. Mission Bay was awesome, but it reminded me of a lot of the beaches back home in Florida. Sunset Cliffs, however, blew my mind.

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I’ve never seen anything like it. Huge waves were crashing on sculpted rock formations. The beach was on the bottom of a 200-foot cliff. This is what I came to California to see.

I walked the entire park. It took me a while to figure out how to get to the beach, but eventually I figured out that you have to walk down a steep trail, then scale the wall while holding this rope.

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It was well worth it, though. I spent the majority of the day walking around the beach in total awe.

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After spending a full day in San Diego, I was ready to get moving again. This is the first time I’ve spent two nights in the same place. In a way, I feel much more comfortable when I’m traveling. By the time my day in San Diego was over, I was actually getting restless. Traveling has become my life.

Day 43: San Diego to San Clemente (66 Miles)
I couldn’t help myself. I had to get moving again. I packed my bags and heading North, toward San Francisco.

Taking a full day off made me realize how much I actually enjoy cycling through cities. I’m glad I took the time off, but now I’m ready to start traveling again. I have eight days until my family comes to visit, so I think I’ll spend my time moving up the West Coast, visiting all the beaches and parks I can along the way. Why stay in one place when you can travel?

On my way out of San Diego, I went through La Jolla. Every time I see these cliffs, I’m blown away.

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When I was biking past one of the beaches, I started to here a barking/howling noise from the shoreline.

It was a sea lion! One of my goals for the trip was to find sea lion on the West Coast. I didn’t think I’d see the in the city of San Diego. This is a crazy place and I love it.

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I took my time going up the Coast. Biking West sometimes got a little stressful. Now, I don’t have anywhere I need to be, the weather is perfect and there are people everywhere that can help me out if my bike breaks down. This is as stress free as a cross country trip can be. It’s truly the grand finale.

I biked through Oceanside, then went through Pendleton Military Base Camp. I didn’t get any pictures because I couldn’t stop in the road. Apparently, police on the base camp are known for giving tickets to cyclists, so I didn’t want to risk it. It was pretty cool to see all the military helicopters pass over, though.

I had planned on camping in San Onofre State Park, which is right outside of Camp Pendleton, but sites cost $35, which is a little much for a campsite. I did spend some time hiking around the park, though. I can’t get over how beautiful this place is.

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For the past few days, I’ve had a little problem. I’ve been wanting to hang out on these beautiful beaches, but the water is way too cold for a Floridian. So, I actually went out a got a wetsuit. It was definitely a good investment. I took my first swim in the Pacific just before sunset. It was everything I’d hoped for. Now, I think I might purchase a Boogie Board. These waves are too perfect to pass up.

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After weighing my options, I decided to go to San Clemente and beach bum it for the night. The cost of living in these beach towns is a little more than I’m willing to spend, so it’ll be worth it to spend a few nights bumming it. These beaches are very safe. Also, I’m in a ritzy area, so I don’t think I’ll get in any trouble. Also, beaches have shower houses, which makes sleeping in the open air much more manageable.

After walking around for a few hours, I found a nice little spot to camp out. It was pretty cold out here, but I found a little wall to sleep behind that blocked the coastal winds.

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As far as bumming it goes, it was a comfortable night. I think I’m going to pretty much live in this wetsuit. It’s warm, comfortable, and it gives me the option of jumping in the Ocean whenever I feel like it.

Now, I’m looking forward to heading further North. I’m going to try to post as often as possible, but I doubt I’ll be able to keep updating every day. It’s not that I’m stranded or anything, I just don’t get many opportunities to charge my iPhone. I’m really glad I decided to bike up the Coast, this may prove to be my favorite part of the entire trip.

Day 41: Boulevard, CA to San Diego, CA (78 Miles)

 

I made it! I accomplished my goal. I biked all the way to the West Coast. Right now, I’m in San Diego, enjoying the Ocean waves and beautiful weather.

Because yesterday was shorter than I expected, my bike to San Diego was no shoe-in. It turned out to be about 20 miles further than I expected, so it was a good thing I got out early.

I didn’t go through any desert. Even mountain tops were green with plant life. Wind turbines were lined up on the highest point of the mountain range.

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There were a few steep hills, but the majority of the ride was downhill. All of these small towns are so small that that are listed as “unincorporated communities of San Diego”Live Oak was particularly pretty.

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I stopped into Alpine for a break and from that point on, I was in the San Diego area. Lakeside and Santee are suburban areas of San Diego. The areas were very busy, and it was tough to get through all of the traffic.

Thankfully, the route took me through Mission Trails Park. Mission trails has a five mile bike trail that winds through some massive mountains.

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The city of San Diego is hard to bike through. There was tons of traffic, but I finally got to the home stretch; the Ocean Beach Bike Path.

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When I got to the Ocean, I was so excited that I didn’t know what to do with myself.

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It was a strange feeling. For 3,200 miles, the goal has been to head West. Now, I’ve clearly gone as far West as is possible. I’ve hit the edge of the United States.

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I’ve been so focused on this goal. When I finally got here, I sort of went into shock. It’s all so surreal. I know this is an accomplishment that I will never forget, but I’m not sure this trip was about the achievement. The experience of getting here was the most important part of the trip. Of course, it’s an easy way to summarize the trip: “I biked across America”. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t fun to say.

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From this point on, nature of this trip will change. For example, I think I’m going to take tomorrow off. I haven’t spent consecutive nights in the same city for 41 days. It will be nice to have a day without a destination.

From here, I’m going to travel up Hwy. 1, getting as close to San Francisco as possible. My family is meeting me on June 1 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, which I’m very excited for. I plan on going up the West Coast at a much slower pace. There are so many places to see, so many shorelines and parks around here. This area is much more dense than the Midwest, and to fully experience the area, I’ll have to take my time.

Getting here has been an amazing journey, but this doesn’t feel like the end. This feels like the start of something different. This is what I’ve been looking forward to for 41 days. The West Coast starts here.

Day 40: El Centro, CA to Boulivard, CA (55 Miles)

 

Today didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped. I made a few mistakes and had some bad luck, but I’m still one day away from San Diego.

I took my time getting on the road this morning. After drinking a few cups of coffee and mapping out some of my route up the Pacific Coast, I finally left around 9am. This was my first mistake.

San Diego is on the other side of a small mountain range, so there’s a 4,000 ft climb that I planned on attempting today. San Diego is on the other side of these mountains!
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The unlucky part, was that the road leading into those mountains was practically unpaved. I had to be very careful to ensure that my bike didn’t get messed up right before I got to San Diego.

So, I went about 4 miles and hour for the first 25 miles. It took forever! By the time I got to the foot of the mountain range, it was almost 2pm.
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My second mistake was not looking up the forecast. The weather in El Centro and San Diego was awesome, so I figured the higher altitude could only mean cooler weather. Wrong! It was 102 degrees.

The mountains were desert mountains. They looked like someone had sprinkled giant red boulders over them. I couldn’t get too many pictures because I was on the Interstate, but Devil’s Canyon was particularly scenic.
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Before today, I’d done all the climbs early in the morning. The heat had a huge effect on me. It got so bad that someone stopped to offer me a ride. I must’ve looked pathetic.
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By the time I made it to Jacumba, which is close to the top, I was considering quitting for the day. Jacumba is right on the Mexican border.
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I got a small second wind in Jacumba, and peddled into Boulivard. On the way into Boulivard, there were random white statues dressed in hoodies and hard hats hidden in the bushes. I’m so glad I went through this area during the day, because these statues were super creepy. I don’t know why they were there, but I didn’t want to stick around and find out.
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There was a Solar Eclipse today; a full Ring of Fire solar eclipse. So, I got to wind down while watching the eclipse. The only way I could get a picture was to put my sunglasses in front on my camera’s lens. I only brought a 50mm lens, so this was the best I could do.
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After all was said and done, I still made it far enough to get to Sand Diego tomorrow. The ride should mostly be downhill, so I can’t wait. Tomorrow will be the start of my West Coast extravaganza.

Day 39: Palo Verde, CA to El Centro, CA (85 Miles)

 

My first full day in California was everything that I expected. I rode through 80 miles of desert, but it was unlike any desert I’ve seen.

After sleeping next to a dumpster in a trailer park, I was awoken by a gang of stray cats. The kept on coming out of nowhere. Eventually, I realized that they live in the trees. They had nests and everything.

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I rode into the Palo Verde Mountains, but there weren’t many climbs. The road was almost entirely in a rocky, desert valley.

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You can’t see it unless you are up close, but the mountains look like they are made from cooled down lava. They have a flow to them (maybe from water). I’m going to have to learn more geology.

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From the highest point of the Palo Verde road, I could see what looked like yellow mountains in the distance. As I got closer, I could tell that these are actually huge sand dunes.

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The North Algodones Dunes may have been the coolest thing I’ve seen yet. There was nothing out there. The dunes were so perfectly defined that they didn’t even look real.

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I hung out at the dunes for a while. I only had about 7 miles to ride through them, so I really wanted to savor the moment.

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I imagine that Death Valley looks like this on a much bigger scale. It was so bright out there that the contrast of all the pictures I took came out kinda funny.

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For 80 miles of desert riding, it really wasn’t too hot. The wind wasn’t too bad and the pavement was smooth. Today’s 80 miles were much easier than yesterday’s.

After the desert, I went through Brawley and into El Centro. El Centro is close to the Mexican boarder, so there are Border Patrol Stations everywhere.

California is great. The grocery stores had big, healthy fruits and vegetable. Maybe I won’t be living only off peanut butter and jelly tortilla wraps anymore.

Well, I’m almost to Sand Diego. Right now, I have 120 miles to get to the West Coast. As tempting as it is to go for it in one day, I’m going to split the rest of the ride up. I want to be able to spend a full day in San Diego and it would be that great to finish the trip across the country with a long, brutal day of riding. Plus, California is beautiful. I have a feeling I’ll want to stop more often to get the most out of the experience.

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