An individualistic country where portion sizes are for 2
I feel like I burst out of the stretchy seams of my Lycra cycle wear. Or is that mostly because people along the coast of California are so incredible aware of their appearance? Since delicious cooking is meant to be eaten by cyclists like us, I better just eat. When I enter the supermarket by myself I am most surprised by the various hipsters, all dressed up trying to be as hip and cool without overdoing it. The cashiers too, wearing woolen hats with the right shaped beard. Or just the correct mustache, which is now the Rajasthani farmer style. I wonder how much they are aware of thát? Or uhm… do I really sound like an old granola now?
The food portions in hip supermarkets don’t come in size 2. Those are made with awareness and moderation. We spread our food on a wall from where big Heermann’s gulls trying to benefit from it, a newly mom pushes a stroller with her baby. I see her watching our enormous food supply of sushi, super spinach salad, goat cheese, olive bread, dried banana slices, dates, full fat butter, chickpeas and lentils.
Under the bridge in their abode of blankets
Cycling from the desert in Arizona into very inhabited California goes gradual. We cycle for a long time along a dried up river, flowing in a concrete gully. The sides are deep, some people sit in the dry river. I smell marijuana and my mind once again swirls back to India. All I see here are ghats and suddenly it becomes so much more interesting, just because I can view things from a different perspective.
Wild camping possibilities are far and away. Unless we like to set up camp under a bridge, as so many homeless do. We pass a plastic home under a bridge where the owner runs a bicycle-repair shop. Dark musty places where no ray of sun penetrates, where there might be a constant sorrow from people stealing your few belongings, your clean blankets, your still strong card-box, things you cherish. I wonder how much they are deprived from ‘musts’ and how ‘free’ they really are? People set them selves up behind a blanket, to have some privacy. People push supermarket carts full of stuff. People collect plastic bottles to bring them to a recycling-point where they are paid for their work. I am surprised to see this here. Yet, the billboards show that 1 in 5 children face hunger. Not the children of Malibu though, one such brag in ‘Vintage Grocery’ super fancy supermarket buys a ready-made meal, eating it while walking, for the price equal to my daily budget.
The landscape change drastic as soon we enter the Moreno Valley. Crumbling cliffs brings in color to the green grassy fields. Big oaks, orange groves and grassy hills mingle with characteristic wooden churches and ranches. A train pulls through Hobbit-like countryside, although my mind is taken aback to Iran and Armenia. A beautiful elderly couple in a red cabriolet sports-car embrace their old age with abundance, waving at us enthusiastic. Plywood housing in the distance seems to be boring as colors are as dull as the color of the earth they’re built on. But because of that all I see is a gompa with its cubicle like cells and it becomes outstandingly beautiful.
Food wise we change gas-station burrito’s to deli burrito’s. Unfortunately, my need for Californian dates, now we are in California, is gone. With all the wildly daring food compositions I don’t even long for Mexican food, instead I choose the Californian experiments. Far from being at the food trucks in San Francisco, I am convinced of the art of American contemporary food. Food in India is absolute delicious, here in America it is unusual refined, a perfect union. Yet a cookie is as pricey as a whole meal in India, a bag of fancy trail-mix the price for two nights in India!
‘Latuda. Not for everyone’
Every time we stay in a hotel I check out the adverts on television, probably because I went to art school and choose publicity. Car advertisements are far and away the most seen, done by Matthew Mc.Conaughey cruising through a desert full of creosote. Viagra is also hot, done by an older attractive beautiful man with a forceful facial bone structure and some gray strains through his shiny dark hair. Then there is another beautiful species, a happily married mother of two who seems to have the ultimate normal American life. Unfortunately, she needs to take anti-depressive tablets. These pills are for bipolar depressions, mood changes and feelings of suicide. ‘There is an increased risk of death and seizures’, says a soft female voice on the screen. That voice also indicates that going to a doctor is okay as long as you yourself ask for Latuda, nothing else. It must be Latuda. And the voice continues: ‘Remember, you only take it when you need it!’
Has become feelings of suicide as normal as a headache? Or are both pills equal to a malfunctioning health?
The openness of Americans
The life in Manhattan Beach seem to be most normal to me. It reminds me vaguely of summer life in Amsterdam. People are busy, also with giving their remarks and comments. A lesbian couple praise my female strength while I pass them: ‘girl power’ and pumps her fist. A man at the traffic light yells at us: ‘How long have you guys been on the road?’ When Tom answer ‘8 year combined’ the man starts laughing in disbelief. The stream of obvious questions is never-ending. Yet, no one will just watch you in silence, people usually say something.
I am surprised however to see no signs of anything Islamic. I haven’t seen any mosque, not one hijab. I see many beards but not one belonging to an obvious Muslim. The life on the beach-side of California where I am is lively, consisting mostly of white Americans, Afro Americans, and Latino’s. I miss the great diversity of people all over the world like in the Netherlands, or Kuala Lumpur. Yet somehow it seems that the whole world comes together at the beach-front in Los Angeles, in colors of clothing, in attitude, in freedom of movement, in healthy ways of living, in context of style and funniness, funkiness and innovation. Though nothing as like it did so strongly in Dubai, literally all nationals are there.
Viva la Mexico! Where would the USA be without them?
Cycling along the coast, from Huntington beach, through Los Angeles on to Ventura it is the Mexican who’s visibly working. He is tending the gardens of the rich, he is painting the weather-beaten wooden houses facing the ocean wind. He is driving the taxi, and giving us directions. The Mexicans are cleaning the hotel rooms, sowing the fields, harvesting, repairing the roads in the middle of Los Angeles. I have eye contact with a homeless Mexican, who keeps himself up behind the peddle-ball court at Muscle Beach. He is displaying all his belongings around his bicycle, to reset them. Tom cycles past and I see the man watching the Ortlieb’s in admiration: ‘Hey, these bags would be handy for me too!’ I look at the man, there’s a spark between us….
As soon as we enter the road blocks just after Venture, due to a landslide, we are allowed to cycle on by Mexicans. We take advantage of the fact we can sleep in a state park without having to share the canyon. As cheerful as we were to camp here, we become doubtful when the wind picks up so heavily that our tent hangs over us like a dying willow. Yet, this is better than being woken up by state park police who knocks on our imaginary door: ‘We are searching for some one, can you show us your identity!’ We can, if you let us dress us first…
‘Cherish life’s simple pleasures’
Says a wooden board in a toilet in Enchinitas, where we enjoy an artisan pizza or two. This town along the Californian coast has a high surf-dudes grade, a rich community and a state park camping where we stay four nights. The street is lined with yoga studios, little restaurants, bookstores, bicycle and surf shops, yet lesser thrift shops. I spot nowhere so many mothers with their baby’s as here, and never have I seen well-off people barefooted in a supermarket. Enchinitas has a self-realization fellowship temple from Paramahansa Yogananda and the little cozy hip coffee-shops around it sell Swami coffee. I take a chai, a mixture from out of a sachet, far from the real Indian thing. Usual coffee has a free refill, and I soon take coffee too, but only when we are having breakfast in a diner.
Hike & Bike chit-chat
Cycling along the coast makes stealth camping less easy, unless we choose not to make pancakes and chai. So we have to stay on campgrounds, between RV’s and car people. Although cycle paths at the Californian coast are wide, dotted with signboards ‘keep 3 feet distance from a bicycle’ and ‘share the road’, the one campsite at campgrounds we have to share with hikers and other cyclists. While we love our privacy so much. Even worse, while we are pressed against the road, divided only by a low fence, people jogging and cycling past, people walking their dog or baby, think we are the central beach-information point. ‘Where you guys get off to?’ asks a man on the other side of the fence. ‘How far you going today?’ is what we hear every day at least once, together with ‘where did you start?’. When we just crawl out of the tent, a fully made up lady jogs past and stops when she sees us. She ask ‘where is the beach?’ still jogging in place. Because the Hike & Bike trail is behind the toilet, the lady who cleans them welcomes us with ‘are you having fun?’ And we kiss the sunset welcome Vanessa interrupts: ‘Are you guys cyclers?’
THE RAVEN STANDS ALONE
The Emperor of the Universe
On one such campsite, when I am erecting the tent, a man comes to Ton. It is a rather heavy man with an overconfident way. He plops his pot-bellied body on the wooden bench where we made our kitchen on. His legs wide apart, shrouded in a Lycra cycle short he’s handing over his business card. He adds: ‘I cycled through 26 countries.’
He adds further ‘being sick, having a cold, needing penicillin. Thank god his brother is coming to save him’. Then he turns to me, ‘So, you, young lady, you have cycled a lot!’ I answer that I did. I am not in the mood for this kind of conversation so I return to Big Agnes, the tent. He turns to Ton again, knowing I have cycled through more countries than him he needs to be reassured. He ask Ton through how many continents I have cycled? Perhaps he feels threatened by my achievements.
I look at him, seeing a drawing on his cheek, red lines with a black indent. Turns out to be artwork he paints each day over again.
Cycling with the soft wind kissing my skin. The sun which is pasted against a stark blue sky. Surfers pulling out their neoprene suits, sticking to their damp bodies. Mothers running behind the strollers. Many shiny polished Volkswagen vans. We spot plenty of fatty squirrels, see how a gull drops a mussel down to the ground to crack it open. We go to sleep with a seal growling happily on end. And we have endless liters of chai, chai chai…
A woman screams from a restaurant table ‘travelers! Travelers! You’re travelers!’ and she hands us a five dollar note for coffee. She’s dressed in numerous stones and beads. Her outfit consists of many colors and pieces, her face is beaming. She’s 70 years old and very alive. She tells us she walked Santiago de Compostela, she will walk the West coast of USA and leaves us with: ‘Live each moment, before you know it is your last. Tomorrow it can be over! Before her friend floats behind her, she bows over to me: ‘Ah, you’re from the Netherlands,’ and blinks at me, ‘free marijuana’.
Chuck from Pacific Coast Cycles
Ton his bicycle needs care and we end up in Oceanside. Chuck is the owner in a messy yet cozy well-run bicycle shop.
Chuck: ‘What is your favorite country to cycle in?’ he asks me.
Me: ‘Can I only choose one?’
Chuck: ‘Yes. I am curious because most people give me the same answer.’
So I think. Let Mauritania and the Western Sahara pass. Oman. Ivory Coast. Iran. Iraq. Though most of his customers probably won’t cycle there. Spain was good but definitely not a favorite. I try to think without thinking too much.
Chuck: ‘Why India? Everyone gives me this answer, why India?’
Me: ‘India has it all! The challenge, the deep satisfaction, the funny people, the easiness, the great difficulty, the culture, the food. The great irritation and the ability to deal with it. People stare at me but I can do the same, I can just watch people whom I find absolutely beautiful. The disappearance of manners as we have learned them and the accomplishment to deal with those -or trying to- is something wonderful.
I notice that I am cycling with a thought quite stuck in my head ‘when can we eat again?’ Food comes in such great taste here, in such enormous variety, all vegan, biological, free from ‘this’ and free from ‘that’. Often I have Tom enter the supermarkets and decide what to eat. I start to long for simplicity, to enter a shop and buy what they have. Or to enter a restaurant -road side stall or petrol station- and eat what the cook has prepared. Simple like that. I still very much enjoy food but all this variety makes a slave of myself.
You are living the dream
‘You are living the dream’ is something we get to hear often. People in the US don’t hide their admiration for us, and quite often people who cycle come to us and talk. They want to know what our story is.
While I search the aisles of Whole Foods for tulsi and yerba mate tea and organic Acure facial creams a man in a down-jacket approaches Ton. His name is Jeff, he lives here and is on a bicycle with his 10-year-old daughter Tall. When I have merged with Tom and his talkative admirer, another cyclist passes us. He wears a motor helmet and is pushing a cargo bicycle. When the man start talking to me I can hardly hear him, his helmet with mouthpiece prevent his voice to come through. I can hear he asks me whether I am on a world-tour, where I started and where I am going, but my attention is being distracted by something on the back of his bicycle. It seems to be a blender. I am surprised. A man with a cargo bicycle, a motor helmet and a blender? Meanwhile Tall, the daughter of Jeff, balances like she is still doing gymnastic class. She is doing handstand in the middle of our little talkative group, where also shoppers to Whole Food pass. A young skate board kid rolls by hard, overruling the sound of the Coaster Train right behind us. ‘It’s his age,’ comments a lady who’s obvious used to pubertal behavior of skate-boarders.
Bicycle Blender Gypsy & Tall bending the Bridge
Tall has plenty of energy and keeps going on with ballet balancing acts, yoga postures and gymnastic moves all the while, gobbling down a pizza slice and sushi. She needs attention but the man I am talking to is quite interesting. ‘Why do you carry a blender?’ I ask Marc. ‘To make smoothies,’ he answers and of course, my mind starts making thoughts. ‘Smoothies? Milkshakes? Can’t he really do without such side products?’ The blender is powered by his back wheel and my mind forming all kind of thoughts -I tried to keep them from coming into existence- it turns out Marc is living on raw food only. Thus the blender. Marc is 70 years old, since the day he retired in October 2014 he is cycling the world, starting with USA.
How many people of Marc’s age are choosing to live the dream they have for so long? How many people choose to exchange securities for ‘wandering’. How many people have the patience to wait until the day arrives to be free. How many people seize the day to be free of musts and holding on to securities. Tall and her father Jeff are applauding for Marc and his blender, as if a circus act. Isn’t life a circus act, after all.
Irritations versus Happy Surprises
‘Where are you going?’ asks another traveler at the airport. Because we are here with our boxed bicycle we attract a lot of attention. The lady chirps ‘Oh great!’ when I answer we go to Amsterdam. I can only think how shallow her fake interest is and while I try to search for trolleys to carry our boxed bicycles I pass something else irritating: ‘Free Trolleys for Military Only’. People serving the military have quite a lot of advantages in the country, like discounts and better services. I wonder whether this group of people really serve the nation? I can’t wonder for very long -I not only know the answer- because Luiz from Jet Blue calls out we have only 15 minutes to board the plane!
‘What? 15 minutes? New York? No, we are going to Boston in 3 hours.’
Both being so relaxed in each others company, we’d forgotten to check the departure board. Our flight to Boston is canceled. I am not getting stressed out because I know there is always a solution, but the woman who’d showed great interest in us boxing the bicycles in such an experienced and quick way is very worried what will happen with us now?!
Within 20 minutes Luiz has transferred us to British Airways -bicycles fly for free- which is much better because we fly almost direct. We need to stay the night in San Diego, against a ‘discount rate’ for ‘unfortunate’ travelers. We end up in Marriott. And I, am feeling so misplaced here in the Marriott! The difference could not be bigger with what I am used to, what I love. I feel much more leveled with the Mexicans and East Africans who work here. I am so far removed from my usual simple standard that I ask myself why all this splurge is good for. To make up for, we walk from the hotel to the airport….
Not that it really matters because we as nomadic cyclist are taking yet another plane. Those damn vehicles I try to avoid so much!
“Nobody can build the bridge for you to walk across the river of life, no one but you yourself alone. There are, to be sure, countless paths and bridges and demi-gods which would carry you across this river; but only at the cost of yourself; you would pawn yourself and lose. There is in the world only one way, on which nobody can go, except you: where does it lead? Do not ask, go along with it.”