‘Cherish life simple pleasures’ is written on the toilet I sit on
Cycling is having áll your senses open. Waking up by first light and retiring quickly after it gets really dark. We usually take full advantage of the last fading day colors so not to light the Petzl. Cycling is seeing minimal details which get stuck in my mind forever. It is a constant stone movement underneath me, combined with rubble or insects. It is seeing nature as your home, my eyes always on the look out for spots to be stealthy. Cycling is a lot more than the text accompanying the photo’s on this blog.
And so, while my senses are wide open, because I have literally not much to think, or worry about, I see many man-made things I also saw in Africa or the Emirates and I start to think whether those other countries took the US as an example? On one of their presidential visit’s perhaps? Liberia is clearly influenced by USA -not to mention their dollars-, but I see back parts of Gambia as well. Dubai is probably naturally similar to Arizona’s desert, all the rest is probably ego-logical.
Cycling through Palm Desert, Palm spring and Desert Hot Spring is meeting up with recognizably. Liberia resembles USA with their high curbs with a yellow painted line. The messy electricity wiring above the street, hanging from wooden poles. The freshly painted yellow dividing-line in the middle of the street. The rich people’s mansions secured by high walls. The clear dissimilarity between poor and rich people is just a street corner away. It seems to me that USA is all in one, except if it comes to variety in cultures. People vary a lot in appearance but not in cultural background, or at least not where we are at the moment.
We cycle from quiet Salton Sea with its abstract eeriness through Palm Desert where the connection between people and Nature is messed up. From commercial tended palm trees we now cycle past palm trees where the dates litter the side of the street. Immense polo fields, and many in number, are carefully manicured instead. Mexican helpers sit on polo horses while the rich owner sits invisible in an air-conditioned unit. Green great polo fields in the desert? I can’t help it but think of the only polo field I’ve ever been on, Shandur in Pakistan. A flat stony field on top of the mountains while here in the desert it’s more of an ecological catastrophe.
Joshua Tree at 834 meter, beautiful named ‘high desert’
We decide to go back to Joshua Tree. We cycle through Morongo Valley into Yucca Valley which made us almost loop around the whole of Joshua Tree National Park. We pass funky little shops, some sell handmade horseradish, quite a few have their doors open to read the palm of your hand. Other colorful shop sells yam candy and fudge. Vivid houses made from wood with lean pillars, many thrift stores and intriguing antique shops are a very welcoming sight after the non-existent shoulder of the road 62. A narrow road between hills where people cross their car through, not expecting cyclists. There is one long steep hill to get to Joshua Tree, I enjoy it by switching off my thoughts, by slowly pulling myself up behind Tom and by acknowledging the things I pass: televisions, child-car-seats, shoes, tumbleweed, couches, bottles of pee, bungee cords, cool boxes, cooler lids and liqueur bottles.
More is less
We pass rich men mansions and affluent housing area’s, all behind high fences. How much are those people ín the world? How connected is their situation compared with where I am in? What does their living consist of? Computers, fences, cars, buildings? Isn’t it a prison like the many secluded living buildings of the expats in Dubai? ‘Yes’, would a person from Kerala, south India, sigh.
Or is it all in the head: freedom.
Is being rich equal to a prison? ‘No’, would the corrupt affluent in a Peruvian prison say. Is a luxury house behind fences not a kind of refuge camp? Owning an identical house withhold from an area with day-to-day facilities. Letting your dog have a shit behind closed fences, pressing a button to open the gate, to drive off to a nearby supermarket. A supermarket where goods are slightly less expensive if you have a loyalty card. I already got 5 of such cards.
I think it is all in the head. Would I cycle in a poor country I sometimes feel guilty, but most of all lucky. Cycling in a rich country makes me sometimes have pity, where I feel mostly lucky too. Probably the poor in India and the rich in California have exactly the same feeling toward me!
Finally it is absolutely QUIET!
We cycle along the railway track for long, sometimes we pass it in order to find a place to hide for the night. It’s a big hassle for a small woman like me, to pass these high leveled, rough stony, robust tracks. Sometimes it is not easy to find a place. Bombay Beach at Salton Sea is a trailer park, we can’t camp there. All around is nothing to be found, no bushes, neither elation to hide. A flat, open and barren muddy beach with pelican’s and hundreds of other species. Sometimes notice-boards have rooster-scrips saying ‘sheriff on duty’, with the sheriff’s phone number below it. Sometimes we ignore those signs and hide in open sight. The sound of a passing train is deafening, I often sleep with earplugs in, so not to be disturbed during my sleep. Seeing the train pass reminds me of the train in India and to know that we are sleeping right beside the train-track fills my heart with delight. To know that in a radius of 30 kilometer all is quiet. Quiet, no people. How often did I wish for this while cycling in India! Et voilá, here I am….
We see curious places like ‘Fountain of Youth’ and we cycle close to yellow starred ‘places of interest’ on the map, but we don’t feel for anything touristy. Even Slab City, a very high hippie-content town doesn’t lure me. Seeing a man with a horse in a Scottish skirt and a Rastafarian playing a guitar seems to be more out of contrast with the absence of people we are used to lately. Instead we jump in a very cold canal and in the evening we sleep at a Gujarati hotel.
I love to sleep in slightly ‘run down’ hotels and the Indian owned hotels are exactly that, according American standards. The furniture is often a little broken, the door-sills have stains and the blankets are of a dull color. So what? There are no pens to take with me and there’s still no toilet brush to clean the toilet -something I have to do with my hands covered in toilet paper- but even the luxury hotels have no toilet brush! Sometimes the Indian owned hotels receive only guests of questionable nature. Once Ton is seen as a homeless -isn’t he on a bicycle, with a beard and not too clean?- while I am seen as his prostitute for the night. If you ask me, a typical case of non-integrated Indians, or just a typical case of Indian management, as I have sampled so often in India….
The Californian feel of a good mattress
People in Californian towns approach us differently. Here we are recognized as cyclers where in places like Gila Bend we would be watched and viewed as we might be transients and thus strange. In Riverside we meet with Christopher, a very enthusiastic guy on a BMX bicycle without brakes. He asks us multiple questions while he use his foot to brake when a light turns red: ‘Is it better to have a bicycle from steel if I change to endurance cycling?’, ‘what about electrolytes?’, ‘despite what they say about Slime Tubes, are they really that good?’ A guy seeing us pass screams out to me: ‘How far are you going today?’ An answer I can’t give because we cycle without a plan. We stop when we want.
In Huntington Beach we meet with Mike, a Taiwanese man on a bicycle who loves to do what we do. ‘How do I start?’ and ‘What should I do?’ are his most important questions. Mike watch our bicycle set up like a child in a candy store. ‘Just go,’ is my advise. I ask Mike whether his wife will join him on an extended bicycle trip. Mike laughs hard: ‘No, she’s too much attached to a good mattress and a television.’
My love for supermarkets
Life is clearly lived here at the Californian coast. We are seen and invited, we are recognized as world travelers by people who come out on the streets. The seemingly ‘hiding’ of people is over: skate-boarders, colorful youth, surf-dudes in wetsuits, cyclists on beach-cruisers and racers, moms behind strollers, men walking matching dogs, sunbathers and joggers. Suddenly there are all these fancy hyper biological supermarkets like Mother’s, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Fresh & Easy and Whole Foods. ‘Seaside Market’ is stocked with the best of the best and sees a lot of barefooted surf chicks. ‘Malibu Vintage’ is only and absolute top-quality, nothing comes under $5 and each product has the most arty, handmade label pasted on it. Rich people buy their food here while I ask myself whether they think about the money they spend? The fashionable, hip, dark-haired cashier flirts with me -I wonder if he does so out of compulsory friendliness- his eyes hold mine too long and he comments about what I am buying: ‘French cheese and wine are perfect for having a good evening’. At the word ‘good’ his eyebrow slightly moves up and his eye underneath gets a little rounder. I suspect his Italian roots flashes up.
I stroll around this fancy supermarket in a T-shirt I wear inside out. I smell other people’s smell, fresh and soapy or an artificial odor far from my own nature’s smell. We don’t wash our bodies often, only when we sleep in a hotel. While camping in the desert I boil some water and wash my face and the neater-region. I also use public toilets for quick personal cleanliness. Campgrounds have spacious toilets with hot water where we wash ourselves in the little wash basin. Yet I soon get compliments about the 3-year-old Keen’s, and I know I entered a community close to my heart.
Well, think of it: real cyclists smell! What then about the joggers, runners and other cyclists along this endless coastline? Do you think there’s one other with a dirty T-shirt, stains on his pants, an odor under his armpit, legs with chain oil and dirt or mud on his bicycle. No! Even the grungy skateboarders reeks wonderful. There are many colorful dressed, healthy people to be seen. It is really a blessing for the eyes to spot happy beautiful content people, who enjoy the never-ceasing rays of sunlight. Men holding their women fully in love (probably married trice) beaming with confidence. But all are clean, hip, fashionable and fully aware of their appearance. Even mothers with newly delivered babies are stretched back to normality, elegantly huffing and puffing over the footpath where cyclists may not reach over 10 miles per hour, a quite impossible task.
Green parrots fly over, their crackle sound reminding me of tropical bountiful places, right where I am now indeed. We pass along Muscle Beach where we see young and brisk elderly play kind of tennis. Youth fiercely plays handball, peddle-ball and volleyball. Enormous guys built their body some more while the African-American play basketball with music coming from a big radio. Bodies more toned than a Ken plastic doll kick rhythmical at a boxing ball. Venice Beach is for the weird to be seen, for the homeless to earn some money, and for the tourist to be surprised by marijuana shops and people making ‘art’ influenced by the green odorous plant.
We roll along several state parks where nature is being reserved to be Nature. Houses are planted on top of these green, steep mountainsides. Big balancing houses of people feeling a ruler, a king perhaps. People are so rich they’ll fly out by private helicopter. On the other side, a mentally challenged guy pulls a cart full with empty glass bottles. His rough hands covered with bloody cuts reach out to a guy in a car, to take the box with profiteroles and a can of energy drink in return for a box of his collections. His smile is broad as the sun when he has earned ‘food’ again!
Our route is often charmed by 14% steep hills where we have good views over the minty colored beach guard towers and the volleyball nets. This part of the coast is inhabited most of the route with houses perched right on the shore, and this makes it hard for us to find spots for wild camping. But we are cycling on to San Francisco and I hope for wild desolated beach camping soon. One afternoon we take advantage of the road which has been closed for áll traffic, but for us. The cliffs are slowly tearing off. Now we have a good stretch of road to ourselves. The ocean and the sky are embedded by a soft pastel hue, impressive yet gracious pelicans fly right beside us. We can swirl from left to right, using the whole of the road. We stop to be amazed by the beauty of the Double Crested Cormorant, spreading their wings to dry the salty water off. We even see whales swimming South, little fountains of water spraying up from the smooth ocean. Do I need to mention how incredible this feels?
We cycled this part of USA in January 2015, to be continued by one more part…