I woke before dawn in a field of wet lush grass, frogs and crickets chirping, sounds of birds doing their spring thing. It was quite the contrast to the past 84 days of winter that I had spent pedaling across the southern states of the US. The day before had been one of those epic pushes, the kind that challenge both the mind and the body. I left Ocochito early in the morning, hoping beyond hope that the winds had finally died down. I had the last climb of the southern tier, over 4,000 ft of elevation gain ahead of me and I did not want to battle both the climb and the winds at the same time.
As I set out I stopped at the last gas station for a while, bought two snickers bars and one power bar. Once again I was virtually out of food and decided that with these items and full water bottles I could make the push up the mountain and get to a town with a real grocery store. The climb started out on I-8 and was, in my mind a fairly gentle uphill route. Having persevered through the farm roads of Texas hill country, with their mind boggling grades and then the 8,000 foot pass in New Mexico and multiple crossings of the Continental Divide, I felt that I was really prepared for what California had in store for me, at least at this point in the trip.
I was pleased with myself and the strength and mental endurance that had been built over the long miles of the trip. I have come to learn that for the most part, the hills and the mountains are a mind game, one played between your head, your heart, and your legs. I guess all of my traveling has paid off as I slowly and methodically worked off the miles. After hours of averaging no more than 5 mph, and often going at rates much lower than that, I was treated with a beautiful sight, a sign indicating I had finally reached the elevation of 4,000 feet, the highest point that I would have to overcome before descending to San Diego.
I took a moment to rejoice in my accomplishment, and then pushed off down the grade. It is always a special feeling when you begin your trip down after a long and difficult climb up. The road swept into a lovely place called Pine Valley that felt as if I had been transported back to the mountains of the east coast. The air was moist and the grass was green, the smell of spring was in the air mixed with the smell of wood burning in the nearby homes. I actually had to stop and add two layers of clothing as I had become so accustomed to the arid dry south west, that the moisture in the air was chilling me to the bone. I knew I had one small climb left before everything was down hill, but at this point it was pure pleasure.
Camping in civilization would once again become a problem, and since I had already logged more than 50 miles over 8 hours, it was time to begin the search. I made the final small climb and found an RV campground with a little grassy park out front. When I can, I always try and ask, so I found the manager and inquired about laying out a bedroll in the park and sleeping for the night. His response, “what will you do in the middle of the night when you need to go to the bathroom?”. I thought the answer to this was obvious, but what he really meant was, no you can't stay here, and this is just a lousy excuse for why not. So, I thanked him and moved on, light quickly fading into dusk and a serious mountain chill in the air. Luckily, not far from there I found an old trail that led to a grassy field, completely secluded where I could safely camp for the night. I always love finding these places, the kind where I know I am isolated and can move about freely without fear of raising angst in others.
The next morning I woke to the sound of spring birds and the knowledge that I was almost finished with the Southern Tier, and beautiful trek across the southern states of the US. I had about 40 miles of downhill grade that would take me into San Diego and the ending point, Dog Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The first 20 miles went incredibly fast, mostly due to the grade of the back country roads and the portion of I-8 that I was allowed to ride on. The remaining 20 miles were a little slower due to the urban nature of the route. A quick stop a Starbucks to get some juice, and re-charge my phone and I was off, knowing that the next time I stopped I would be done. The remaining jewel of the route was the path through the San Diego canyon park, an absolutely gorgeous ride through woods, and creekl and and a perfectly graded bike path. From there it was just a short couple of miles to the beach. At one point I ran into two guys on trikes just starting out on the southern tier route, going west to east. I wished them luck and pushed off, next stop, Dog Beach.
Finishing journeys like this are often surreal, you look back mentally at all that has been accomplished and endured, and somehow it seems as if it was so long ago. I think that this continues to reinforce the notion to me that all that matters is the ever present now, what you do today, how you live your life now. I had ridden more than 3,000 miles across the country on bicycle, not having ridden a bike in over 5 years prior to the beginning of this trip. I never once doubted my ability, my fitness or the mental toughness that would be required to complete such a journey. To the contrary, I knew that taking things one day at a time and embracing the kindness of humanity would see me through.
I took the obligatory pictures of me and the bike and the ocean, posted them on the social media sites and then sat down and smiled, breathed slowly, reminded myself that this is what life is all about. It is all about the memories that we create by living a life of joy, happiness, peace and most importantly, LOVE.
Vancouver, here I come :-)