We spent a little over two weeks with the DeGuzman’s in Valley Center just north of San Diego. The Fielding’s from Skagway, Alaska showed up for a wonderful Thanksgiving week of micro-brew beer, way too much food and a house full of 4 kids, 2 grandparents and 5 parents, in a three bedroom ranch house overlooking Palomar Mountain and a lonely goat meandering the grounds.
When Kent and family showed up, it was a children screaming giggling mass of chaos, much of the time spent spent chasing and following the youngest pair, Amara and Augustine, from the house, to the tree house, to the dog house, to the turtle house, to the hammock to swing and round again.
We made some excursions to nearby San Diego – well, the girls more than I did. I’m a pretty bad tourist and since getting anywhere around SoCal takes a good 20-60min mad dash of insanity on a web of freeway turmoil, my desire to head out of the ranch compound was limited. We did hit up Balboa park and La Jolla beach together – the latter of which I got to do my first barefooted Baywatch run for the first time, people watching for most of it.
Just after Thanksgiving an old friend from Latvia, living for a time in Los Gatos, CA, Kristiāna, met up with us to reunite a portion of the Performance for Advocacy Institute we held in Latvia in 2010. It was great to catch up with her, especially while we’re on a journey of our own.
Just after we said out farewells to the Fielding family, heading back to Skagway, a home and demanding jobs, we took a trek back into Los Angeles to complete Ance’s green card application stuff. It took about 6 hours each way by bus and train (which is a bit crazy considering how close Valley Center and Los Angeles are), but than again, we got to crash with the awesome Leggitt family once again in Burbank.
On the Red Line metro/subway heading out of LA a woman was walking the subway car carrying a baby in a sling. In her hand a cardboard sign read “Baby food money please.” It struck me uncomfortably deep. She got carted away by the Metro police within minutes of getting on. Just a few minutes after that, a young kid, tattered and torn, walked up and down the aisle selling candy bars for a buck a piece. I reflected on our experience in Portland, OR, where cities have this capacity to display all the glories and deceit, strife and struggles in a sometimes beautiful, often ugly, bubbling pool of madness.
By December 7th we finally hit the road again, making an arching half circle into the mountains east of San Diego through Julian and the Cleveland National Forest then dropping into El Cajon and Imperial Beach. We soaked in the quiet above the city, met open hearted people and enjoyed our last few days in the states before we crossed over into Baja Mexico in a mix of comical and frustrating errors and mistakes.
We’re now in Ensenada, Mexico, having met a great host through Warmshowers.org, that’s hooked us up with a place to spend the holidays with friends (essentially family) from Juneau, Alaska that will be arriving in the next few days. We hope everyone far and wide spends time with those they love, drink a healthy amount of beer and celebrate the joy of living and breathing on a planet that’s so vast a beautiful.
December 7th 2014 (Valley Center to San Luis Ray Picnic Area)
Quite the first day back. For the first day of real touring in a while, we were met with a steady climb on Cole Grande Road with this huge drop into Puma Valley, plastered with a view bigger than the innards of your gut and brain.
After dropping into Puma Valley, a steady ride to just past the junction between Hwy 76 and Valley Center Road. Then began a climb that beat us up slowly for the rest of the day. Stopped in at this little shack made of palm trees and leaves that overlooked the Puma Valley. Good to be back on the road again, hungry and sweating and free.
After lunch/rest spot, continued assault session traveling 4 MPH, making 3 miles in just under an hour – what can I say, Ance went a little crazy with the food restocking thing and forgot how weight and hills don’t really equate to speed on a bicycle. We humped it out alright.
Passed through the La Jolla Indian Reservation after a twisting winding steep climb where we managed to be honked and cursed at by teenagers driving too fast coming down the hill, being surprised by all the motorcyclists screaming “Whoohoo, you can do it!” and “Fuck yeah!” at us and huffing past some kid racing the fun road having crashed and banged up his wrist – the fire truck and ambulance arrived just as we were passing. We realized it was a Sunday in a heathen country, making remote winding roads a zoo.
Augustine broke down a bit due to some pestering question about candy, which she could not have and generally made sections of the climb a screaming torture session for everyone. I am happy to report that she did recover and is doing splendidly after a nap and real food.
Pulled down into a picnic area and found a hideaway spot next to the nearby creek. Coyotes howl in the nearby hills and I believe a hawk is hopping and flapping his way onto every shuffling snapping branch nearby. Perhaps I’ll read Middlemarch until I slip into a coma. Girls sleep soundly 8:10PM.
December 8th 2014 (San Luis Picnic Area to Daniel/Diane’s Mountain Compound)
The moon rises, big and foggy eyed through the clouds, dodging through the oak and eucalyptus trees. Just a couple hours ago, Augustine asked:
“What color is the moon dad?”
“I don’t know, what color is the moon?”
“I think its white. White like our lights in the dark dad.” A poet couldn’t say it better, I thought.
We find ourselves, again, in the hands of fate and timing. We had gotten a flat just outside Julian. Evening was coming on quick. After pumping up a flat Ance had gotten and bags reloaded a man with his dog came up:
“Oh, yeah. Just had a flat, got everything fixed now.” I throw in, getting ready to ride off into the sunset.
Ance, always the more practical one asks “By any chance do you know if there is a place nearby where we might be able to camp?”
“Well, if you keep going on this road your going into the desert and you’ll never make it through there.” After explaining that we were actually arching back into the San Diego area with no intention of diving into the desert, Daniel then made it clear that we’d never make it to the nearest campground beyond Julian. “Its more than 15 miles from here and on top of a hill, you won’t make it before dark. I’ve got a better idea, come stay at my place.”
We found ourselves being led to spend the evening with two kind hearted Christians in the mountains – Dianiel and Diane. We shared dinner together and generally had to fight off Daniel trying to give us everything except the shirt off his back. Upon saying goodnight, Daniel couldn’t help but offer up a random traveling bag of graciousness consisting of:
- Packets of natural electrolyte boosters to add to our water with lime flavor
- Two Turkey feathers to remember Julian and them
- A wind spiral for Augustine
- Two Bags of plastic cutlery
- A little pouch full of first aid supplies with 6 pens inside
Two truly giving and hospitable people we’d like to seat with the rest of the great kind hearted open folks we’ve met all along this journey.
December 9th 2014 (Wynola Flats to Lake Cuyamaca)
Woke to more gift giving from Daniel and Diane in the form of a hot breakfast followed by Daniel passing me a traveler size copy of the New Testament with a note of well wishes and prayers for us. We headed off with Daniel walking us to the road. Not even an hour later he shows up in his truck and passes us a reflector jacket. “Just drove by to check up on you guys. Just wear the vest, you really can’t be seen. Used to wear that when I drove tow truck.”
Stopped in at a playground just beyond Julian for Augustine to climb around and generally be rambunctious. The light is harsh and empty, that winter blaze, cool here but not really cold in the day. Seems like there should be snow, with the trees standing barren, but it is nearly 80 degrees in the sun.
Pulled in for lunch at Lake Cuyamaca. Saw there were tent sites. Poked around for an invisible ranger with no luck. While debating to stay or not, a man with a gray Wounded Warrior Project sweater, bucket hat and a wild shock of white hair was passing by on the lake’s beach. We asked him if he knew how much it was to pitch a tent next to the lake:
“Well, I live just up there and to tell you the truth, I don’t really know. Can’t be very much. $10-$12 dollars, I would think. You might be able to just go over there and setup camp. Used to have a good friend of mine, Jordan Klebb, used to be the ranger here before he got hired by the state. He didn’t really give a shit. I mean, he’d walk the grounds, do his rounds, ask people on the lake if they had their fishing permits and if they didn’t he’d say ‘well, if you get near the store over there, just go ahead and buy your permit, would you?’ He said it was too much of a hassle to write folks up for that kinda thing.
“In fact, after I came back from Nam, I was fishing right here on this very lake, just round the corner there. I saw this guy walking the beach and I said to myself, I could just tell from the way he walked, ‘holy hell, that’s Klebb walking there.’ I pulled up the boat and we moseyed down to the store on the other side there and bought a six pack, musta sat there until midnight, well, it was late enough where everyone cleared off the lake anyway and you couldn’t see your hand in front of ya.”
I kinda wished the old Vet would stick around and tell us stories of everything that had happened in his life. Just the way he spoke, wrapped you up into every little detail in that easygoing way until you forgot exactly why the story began or ended. We ended up staying at the lake for the night.
The night consisted of Ance and Augustine sleeping soundly and me chasing off those cleaver little black eyed bastards – Raccoons. Cute little devils who seem to take some kind of juvenile pleasure in teaming up to knock over trash cans, make obscene noises while fighting each other and generally be a snickering hungry pester. I caught one at midnight dragging away one of our pannier bags of underarm deodorant and toothpaste – I am guessing the food bag was too heavy for him.
I opened the tent flap, he dropped the bag, scrambled a few feet and looked back in my direction reflecting my LED moon. He did not run any farther, just stared, “Are you actually going to chase me off or can I go back to what I was doing?” I had to actually get up and out of the tent to get him to go more than 20 feet from the tent. They run just fast enough and just far enough to let you know they’ll be back. And they did. The game continued for much of the night.
Ance and Augustine woke bright and early the next morning. I was groggy and full of stories about Raccoon gangsters taking control of the neighborhood hustling us for toothpaste and first aid kits.
December 10th 2014 (Lack Cayamaca to Jon’s in El Cajon)
We strode through the streets of El Cajon this evening to the grocery store. Jon (our host) rode 103 miles toady, gave us his address in the mountains nearly 5000 feet above the home he’s lived in for 52 years. When we approached the final 500-1000 yards to his house we found ourselves in a mixed up strip of a neighborhood with nail salons, plumber outlets and car lots with a few houses and run down apartment building squatting low and forgotten.
With deliberate openness and without ceremony, coming from a man who’d just completed his “century” as he called it, showed us to his backyard and pointed to his front door, “If you need the facilities or anything else, just knock.” That was about it.
I’d asked Jon how his ride was going at around 10:15AM. Though I wasn’t really aware then, by that point Jon had already ridden 37 miles almost entirely uphill from his house we now have the enjoyment of crashing at. I had asked if he knew a place to camp south of Interstate 8, “Well, why don’t you just come and camp in my backyard?” And that was that.
The walk to the grocery store in El Cajon was a testament to how America has been represented to us along much of our West Coast journey – unassuming, squat and often ugly, with little sense in layout for actual human beings with two feet to carry them from place to place. The car and its forever flowing veins of freeways and highways and broadways and avenues and lanes and roads and ways rule. Feet and legs are for parking lots and market aisles.
The 35+ miles to Jon’s house was 85% or so downhill. We sailed blissfully after a few days of pounding climbs. After last nights Raccoons and frosty temperatures, at 400+ feet in Jon’s yard and no black-eyed friends in sight of eyes or ears, sleep may take me on a journey once again.
December 11th (El Cajon to Imperial Beach)
Jon and Tony continued their unceremonious and warm hospitality. Jon had actually stayed up half the night occupying his time by planning out routes for us to take to Silver Strand Beach just north of Imperial Beach and other routes from there to the American/Mexican boarder. He printed out the maps and directions and everything, providing handwritten notes for the confusing parts. People are great.
We dropped easily down to a park in the Sweetwater area where Augustine got some play ground time with some other tripping laughing happy kids. We then biked onto the Bayshore Bike-trail. Into a good headwind, we pulled into Silver Strand State beach after 30 miles of cycling to be told that no tents were allowed in the park/massive parking lot. Not really on the list of things you are super excited about being on a bicycle with evening approaching.
With the winds picking up, rain clouds looming and darkness quickly approaching, we took stock of the hand dealt us. Riding 10+ miles to the nearest KOA to pay $40 to sleep in the middle of the city in the rain sounded like a crappy idea.
We ended up finding a Motel 8 closer to the boarder for $54 dollars. Can’t argue with that. Upon arriving and checking in, ran into a couple on vacation from, no bullocks, Juneau, Alaska. Horje and Maybelle (forgive me for spelling!) apparently recognized Ance and Augustine from Juneau. Strange small world.
The rain began to pour around 3AM. The ceiling did not leak but the windows shook like a drum in the driving hungry wind.
December 12th 2014 (Imperial Beach to Playas de Tijuana)
The rain fell in sheets of forgiveness, washing human streets of their sloth, waste and forgetful recollections of where they actually derived. The boarder crossing was a bit of a clustering clown show.
We took the pedestrian route for crossing into Mexico. Though it was a bit of a pain to roll through the turnstile, ramps and tight turns, we got an up close look into informal Mexican immigration operations. We made a goofy pull through a cattle like turnstile with encouragement from a local boarder guard clad in a yellow poncho. “I don’t know, it looks too long,” he smiled as we rolled up with Augustine in rain gear packed in her trailer. We detached the trailer and did an awkward dancing shuffle to pull the bikes and trailer through to Mexico.
After crossing we were shoved down a narrow hallway in a building probably from the 1970s with blue carpeted hallways and deserted offices, except for the random military guard dressed in camo carrying a rifle. We then stepped into a makeshift Tourist Visa office.
We stupidly were not carrying cash to pay for the $25 dollars a piece, 6 month visa we needed to buy to make it through Mexico on our bicycles. I got directed, kinda, to an ATM on the Mexican side. I apparently didn’t need my passport and stomped off through the rain to pull out $75 dollars for our adventure. The Visa Office didn’t have change, so one of the agents left for awhile to go find some. It was all pretty informal, sweet and comical. The other agent printed out phone numbers and addresses for all the American and Latvian Embassies that could be found in Mexico.
Rivers of water flowed through the pedestrian passage ways to cross the boarder. A mess of people, guards and military men crowded every corner while attendants used squeegees to clear water off of the tiled walkways every 3 minutes or so.We got escorted to where we could actually get on our bikes and ride. The directions given to us were to follow signs for 1D as it would be safer with the rain.
Turns out, riding on 1D is technically illegal for bicycles. We rolled into Playas de Tijuana looking for a way we might be able to get down to Rosarito, avoiding the 1D. We were told by an elderly bike shop mechanic that we could probably just head to the end of town and throw our bikes and gear over the fence and ride. However, before we set off onto this plan a younger guy, obviously working at the shop, ran over to us before fence hopping: “no, no. To go to Rosarito, you go back and take the 1.”
“So, we can’t just jump the fence.”
“No, it is illegal.”
“What will happen if we are caught?”
“They will compensate your bicycle.”
Not really wanting to test to waters on that option, we opted to stay the night in a cheap motel for the evening, obviously dedicated to male bachelors and their escorts looking for a night with mirrored walls and ceiling with 6 solid pornography channels to pass the wayward hours with. Classy.
December 13th 2014 (Playas de Tijuana to Puerto Nuevo)
Ance and I have arrived at the first realizations and lessons about crossing into Mexico. First, we are really should have spent more (umm, some) time practicing up some basic Spanish. We are truly clueless Gringos. Crash course in Spanish, here we go.
Second, everything we took for granted in Canada and the USA, including the existence of State Parks, clear availability of water and an understanding of where we could/can camp will be greatly missed as we adjust our expectations and knowledge for Mexico.
For lunch, after doggedly peddling for 3 hours glancing off for a place to rest for awhile, we finally opted to pull off next to the ocean on a strange road with a couple of rich looking houses with run down trailers right beside them. Ance asked a woman selling her wares (mainly sitting and waiting) if there was a bathroom nearby she and Augustine could use.
The woman brought them into her own home. Ance reflected that the place was neat and clean, but barren with almost nothing. It reminded us of a video short we did on a woman in Latvia. She felt entitlement to better housing provided by the Latvian government because of the destitution of her living space. Both Ance and I agree, in comparison with this Mexican woman and her family, the Latvian woman lived in a castle. We create our own realities.
This side of the boarder thus far, almost no open space just to pull off and rest. Mashup of poverty and ugly pandering to American tourists in a form of dismal capitalism. I guess its not that different from some of the struggling ugliness of so many small American towns we’ve passed through.
Flats on Augustine’s trailer continue. Lost credit card at store. Stopped at surfing/camping spot (an empty, barren stretch of land leading to the ocean). Have yet to pay as we’ve not actually seen the owner/manager. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.
December 14th (Puerto Nuevo to La Santa Rosa)
We found ourselves staying over night at little rural store/cantina advertising Coronas they didn’t sell. The place had been suggested to us by three helpful ladies in La Mision, letting us know that the owners would probably let us camp there.
Not only did they let us stay, but the wife/woman opened up her pottery workshop to sleep in. A dirt floor, four walls and a roof sounded pretty sweet to us. Life is so awkward without basic Spanish speaking skills. It will come.
While we were leaving the surfing/camping spot out of Puerto Nuevo this morning, the owner and his boy stood at the top of the hill clapping and chanting us onto Argentina. Jumping the gun a little bit but still a super nice gesture. Paid 50 pesos (about $3.50) for the night.
List of mess ups so far in Mexico:
- Today I crashed my bicycle for the first time on the trip seriously bending my front and back wheels.
- Lost credit card
- Lost water bottle, somehow, somewhere
- Had to stay the night in a hotel in Playas De Tijuana because we had no idea that bicycles where not allowed on Mexico 1D.
- We’ve blown 6 tubes in two days since being in Mexico
We’re back up in the mountains, the night is cold. Dogs bark in the distance, coyotes howl, cars and trucks unceasingly grumble past and a herd of goats are outside making a humorous racket. Ance and Augustine sleep soundly. 8:30PM.
December 15th (Santa Rosa to Ensenada)
Woke in the dirt floor workshop. Windows foggy with our breath. Trucks and cars scream past. It is 6:30AM. Warmed up corn/potato chowder from night before for breakfast. Another flat on my rear wheel discovered. Make that 7 flats.
Before departing, a couple from Spain with their 10 month old son rolled into the parking lot. Had to take a picture with them as they are the first family on a bicycle tour we’ve met on the road. They seemed like an awesome couple.
Good climbing for another 5km from yesterday. Big drops and quick entrance into Ensenada. Went to park to steal some internet and send out some Warmshowers.org requests with little hope that anyone would actually respond in such a short timeframe. Meandered to the only Lavanderia we could find – Laundromat.
Evening quickly approaching, we decided to snag some internet to see if anyone could take us in for the night and if not give up again and hit up a cheap motel. Jesse ended up taking us in for the night. Another cyclist, Julian from Colombia, who has ridden from New York was also crashing with Jesse. Julian is actually waiting on 9 other cyclist to show up. He’s traveling with a group of cyclists on a grand adventure to learn about sustainable and perma-agriculture.
Stayed up late chatting about those things cyclists dribble on about – hills, food and great people. Late night to bed at 11:30PM.
December 16th – 22nd (Ensenada Holidays)
Jesse has hooked us up with a great little apartment in Ensenada to stay over the holiday season. We’ve spent our last few days mingling with a group of 10 cyclists making their way through central and south America, stopping at sustainable and perma-farms along the way.
You can find their website here: http://lifeonthewind.com/#!home. They are currently holding a fundraiser on IndieGOGO here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/life-on-the-wind–2. They are a great group of young guys living on dreams and hopes for a better tomorrow. We wish them the best of luck in the adventures to come.
Aside from great food and cyclists talking shop, we’ve ridden around the city, awkwardly tried to converse with the locals and have gotten a small sense of the life and culture of Ensenada. As we soak it up, we wish everyone well. Cheers and Happy Holidays!