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MARY TAKES A BREAK ON THE CLIMB TO TECATE

All winter and into the spring we planned and looked forward to a marathon ride up the the spine of the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges from the Mexican border to Chelan, Washington. It was going to take us a month or more to complete. We did a lot of training rides. We bought special gear. We had an extra-low gear added to our bike in anticipation of all the hills. This was a BIG DEAL to us. And yet, only three days into the ride, we quit. What happened?

We got off to a great start. We rented a car in Wenatchee, strapped our Cannondale tandem bicycle to the back of it and drove to San Diego in two days. Our big worry once we gave Avis back their car was how to wend our way through the city traffic on our bicycle and make our way the forty miles to our ride’s starting point on the Mexican border at the little town of Tecate. No prob – Google to the rescue! I typed “San Diego to Tecate bicycle route” into Mary’s iPhone and out came detailed instructions that had us tooling along the waterfront and past the Navy Yard on quiet streets in no time. The day was hot though, and once out of the city, the climb to Tecate was gruelingly steep and along a narrow mountain road (see above photo.)

On the whole, the scenery in those boulder-strewn mountains was great and we found nice camp sites each night. One thing I really enjoyed was retracing my steps along the Pacific Crest Trail (more or less) – a hike I did three years ago. We met some interesting people and had some good meals. The weather, after the first hot afternoon, was pretty good. We had plenty of sunshine and moderate temperatures along with a healthy dose of the infamous Santa Ana winds that almost blew us off the mountain (see cartoon below.) The real problem though was the roads. The route we followed was laid out by Adventure Cycling Association, the same group that supplied the maps we have used on our previous long-distance rides. On those routes, they did a good job of steering us to roads that either had little automobile traffic or wide, safe shoulders. On this route, however, we became increasingly uncomfortable with both the traffic and the lack of safe shoulders.

On the third evening we were in a Forest Service campground at Oak Grove. I took a stroll out on the highway and was unnerved by the number and speed of passing cars as well as the narrow to non-existent shoulders along the road. I said something to Mary. She got to worrying about it and later in the evening suggested that maybe we should think about bailing. I didn’t think the situation warranted that drastic of a solution and insisted that we move on and hope conditions improved.

At this point, I should mention that we have taken extraordinary measures to make ourselves visible to motor vehicles. We always ride as far to the right as possible. We wear bright, reflective, construction vests. We have two bright orange pennants suspended on fiberglass poles protruding – one above us and one three feet to the left (into the traffic lane). We have an extremely bright (500-lumen) flashing light mounted on Mary’s helmet aimed to the rear at traffic. WE ARE VERY VISIBLE.

So anyway, we took off the next morning hoping for the best. We hadn’t gone a mile and some jerk in a pickup truck zoomed by at high speed so close that the side of his truck tore the lateral pennant from it’s mooring on the front of the bike. He had no reason to be so close except pure jerkness. He had to see us with all our visibility precautions. There was no on-coming traffic at that moment. Of course he didn’t stop to see if we were all right.

That was unnerving but on we went. Within the hour, another truck did the same thing! The traffic was heavy, there was no shoulder. Mary was “lobbying” hard to stop before somebody hit us. I had to concede that she had a point.

But how to get off that mountain without continuing to ride on the Highway of Death? Hitchhiking is difficult enough for one person but we had a tandem bicycle and panniers as well as our two bodies. Who would or could give us a ride?

I pinned my hope to Mary’s fetching, non-threatening figure as a lure and sat down in a ditch to wait for what I expected would be a long time. Mary stuck out her hitchhiker’s thumb at the first pickup truck and – he stopped! He was a lawyer commuting between his San Diego office and his Palm Desert office. He took us to an Enterprise car rental in Palm Desert. We rented a Chrysler 200, bought a bicycle rack and headed home. Except for the snow storm we encountered near Reno, the trip home was smooth sailing.

We’re home in Chelan now – down but not out. As soon as the Memorial Day weekend (and all the accompanying traffic!) is over we’re going to head up to Sandpoint, Idaho and do a little 250-mile ride. Stay tuned.

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