It’s the 7th day of travel (07/07/07) and I’m feeling lucky to be taking a break in Redding, California. As I think I noted earlier, the first leg of the trip is all about finding my riding rhythm. It hasn’t been easy. Day one was all about learning firsthand why you should ride from north to south along the coast with the winds at your back and not in your face. I made it to Half-Moon Bay, about 50 miles from my starting point in Santa Cruz and realized that heading all the way into San Francisco would be almost impossible due to headwinds, hills, and construction. I kid you not when I say coming down steep hills where one would normally expect to coast at speeds of 25-30 mph, I was barely going 12. More than once I had to walk the bike up a hill as the winds blustered the oceanside flowers flat. It was otherwise a beautiful day and cyclists were out in full force–but they were all heading south.
Between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay are numerous beach farms and places that advertise “pick your own” strawberries and cherries. As I looked at the beautiful landscape of these farms with ramshackle boarding for farmworkers I wondered about their quality of life and couldn’t help but think how migrant farmworkers remain the bellwether for how Latinos, mostly Mexicans, are treated in this country. To be sure, when migrants are able to settle out and they often do well and their families tend to obtain a better education and become upwardly mobile. My own family history speaks to this. But why is it acceptable and “necessary” for us to allow such horrific double standards of workplace laws regulating safety and wages? Do most Americans even know that migrant farmworkers have a lifespan that’s more than 25 years less than others? Do they know that farmworkers earn an average annual salary of around $10,000, that laws allow children in the fields to enter the workforce at a younger age, that minimum wage laws don’t apply to most farmworkers, that children often attend six or more schools in a given year as their families follow the crops? Do most Americans even care? Or is it simply better to be willfully ignorant? Talk about inconvenient truths. I, like many others, understand the appeal of enjoying the fruits of one’s labor symbolized in the “pick your own” fruits or vegetables. There is something quaint and romantic about this as we feel less separated from our labor. It’s one of those rare moments where in today’s world where we can feel like we are directly producing something with our own labor. But, in truth, this, too, is only a minuscule portion of the real sweat and muscle behind farm work. As I passed signs for low flying planes warning of cropdusters, I hoped they were off duty this Sunday even as I realized these are working conditions of people in the fields every day.
At the end of the day, I took advantage of still being near my point of departure and called Marianne for a ride to S.F. As we went down the road and passed Devil’s Pass, I realized it was a good decision as the construction, traffic, and steepness of the mountain pass all combined to make this virtually unpassable for bikes because the shoulders of the road were shut down. Not wanting to face the winds all the way up to Oregon, I altered my route to go up HWY 101 and eventually parallel I-5 thru Northern CA.
In Sausalito, I realized HWY 101 wasn’t bike friendly so I had to head back to the coast and ride up to Reyes Point Station where I could cut back over to Santa Rosa. Along the way I encountered many friendly bikers who were in awe, envy and profoundly generous in their support of my trip after asking where I was going. My gear was a sure sign that this was no casual ride I was undertaking. I was encouraged by one man who told me he had crossed the country last year and was loaded down with more gear than I. Already I’ve unloaded some items and am constantly thinking about what else I can dispense with to keep the load light.
But every day is a new adventure and I find I need to increase my tolerance for the unknown. After a 10-hour day on Day 2, I check into a Motel 6 in Santa Rosa when I find the high visibility of the regulations against camping in a local state park backed up by patrol cars. The next day I go over more hills as i head towards Calistoga. It tales me 3 hours to ride 15 miles over the mountain and by this time my thighs hurt every time I see the road swing upwards. I stop at the Petrified Forest and Old Faithful and check in at a gas station for drinks and directions before getting on the road over the next mountain towards Clear Lake. The mexicana attendant says “dios mio” and shakes her head when I tell her I’m riding on a bike. Half an hour later, I would be saying the same thing as I head up the pass and realize there is no shoulder and a sign tells me there’s 10 miles of uphill to go. I’ve found the reward of coming downhill exhilarating, but going up and down with no shoulder and heavy truck traffic kicks my survival instinct in, and I remind myself that the goal is to survive. I turn around and go back to Calistoga, where, two inquiries later, I find the bus depot where, for $3, I can get a ride to the next town.
On the bus I converse in broken Spanish with Lorenzo Martinez, a farm worker who also has a bike. He evades my questions about where he’s from and instead tells me where he might be going. He likes working in this area because it’s beautiful and the pay is ok, but he says the price of $300,000 for a casita is out of reach for him and his wife. She has taken off to Michigan for the picking season and when she returns they may move to Texas to join his sister who moved there last month. He doesn’t know where in Texas because he hasn’t heard from her, but he hears that it might be more affordable. I assure him it is, but I can’t say what the pay is like. When we get off the bus I regret not taking his picture, but feel so “touristy” I refrained from doing so. I have to figure out how to do this without feeling like I’m objectifying the subject of the camera’s gaze.
That night I sleep on a ridge overlooking a vineyard outside of Clear Lake. It’s a restless sleep with the traffic nearby and the temperature not cooling down significantly until late in the evening when the moon rises. As I head towards Williams the next day (July 4th) I rejoice that for once the day begins with a downhill ride before reaching a set of rolling hills. What I’ve learned however is that up in the hills/mountain you can never really tell where you are or what’s around the corner, so about 15 miles from Williams when I spill the water out of my Camel Bak when transferring water from my jugs, I worry about having enough to last me, particularly when I tend to drink more when going uphill. I decide not to risk it and make a sign for a ride to Williams. About 15 cars and 15 minutes later, a blue van pulls over and I’m greeted by John and Mindy and their dog Maggie–who are on their way to a camping trip in Mendocino national Forest. They are hippies in every sense of the word (cool!)–the bumper stickers inside the van’s sides and ceiling bespeak their worldview–quotes from John Lennon (“Give Peace a Chance”), “We are all the HUMAN Race”, “Animals feel pain, too!”, as do the zig zag rolling papers on the floorboard. Over the next 25 minutes we discuss politics and they, mostly John, are clear that the country is in sad shape because the government has sold out to corporations, both national and international business interests dominate our policies. John feels like people are feeling more and more powerless but that he’s aware that resistance occurs in small ways and thinks that people have to band together and refuse to capitulate. He’s pretty disgusted with the electoral process and sees little difference between the parties, but at the same time they both seem to have a strong belief in the essence of Americans, a spirit that will not allow injustice and imbalance to dominate forever.
They drop me off at the first gas station in Williams, accept my donation for the ride with surprise, and wish me luck on my journey after they pose happily for a photo.
I make it to Colusa by early afternoon and decide to rest. The next day I go to Corning and the weather is dramatically hotter. I am enjoying the flatness of the ride thru this valley but I find myself having to stop every 1-2 hours for shade. At the edge of Hamilton City under a tent I meet an elder from Nayarit, Mexico selling an ice-cold sweet and sour lemon-lime-sugar concoction called Tejuino de Colima. It’s fantastic. As I roll into Corning I cut thru a neighborhood looking for downtown and I hear a paleta salesman. I enjoy a strawberry paleta and pedal down to street with one hand. That night I stay at a rest stop along Hwy 5 and have to fix two flat tires I picked up when I went off the road and a bunch of burrs from a plant punctured both tires. The next day I make it to Redding but the temperature has reached new heights and when I find out in Anderson, just 10 miles outside of Redding) that the reason I’m feeling so hot is that it is 115 degrees, I decide to take a long, long break and let the sun start setting before completing my ride for the day.