by Sara Dykman
With four months until the official bike49 kick off in May, Tommy, Aaron, and I were “killing time”. Sure there was planning to be done, but one can only plan so much. We were tired of talking about bike touring, and just needed to go bike touring. As soon as we left the door it became obvious why. It is the freedom of the road, the adventure of new places, the friends you meet, and the generosity of people. This is the story of their generosity:
We met Danny soaked. Our gear was soaked, we were soaked, and probably both gear and person smelt of wet dog. In an apartment full of bicycles, above a carpet store in Long Beach, he welcomed us in (and our dirty bikes too). Just minutes after meeting, he was off to school. We started the drying process, cooked a meal (on a stove!), and lounged about on incredibly comfortable furniture. We couldn’t have asked for more.
Few things are as comforting to a traveler as warm, dry gear. After a solid day of raining you can assume something you would prefer dry is wet. Drying our gear at Danny’s, warm after a shower, we cheered on the rain outside.
Merle and Linda came to the rescue when Tommy and I needed them most. We arrived in San Diego with out a plan. Aaron left us for San Clamente Island, volunteering his time to count Sage Sparrows. He would be gone for five days; Tommy and I were on our own. We called a few folks on Warm Showers. Merle answered the phone and told us to come over that night. He gave us directions, told us we were sleeping in the cabana, and that he would leave the light on. He said to expect nothing, but that was not necessary. The cabana was perfect. Tommy and I were living the life.
Merle is a retired architect and it showed in his house and his hobbies. He had taken on the challenge of panning for gold. After cutting up a gold tooth into 12 pieces he tested his new drywasher. Twelve pieces found, he could move on to smaller and smaller pieces. We cheered him on as he tested his gear and technique.
We left Merle and Linda two days later, but not before a Valentine’s Day breakfast with the family. So much of bike touring is “roughing it”; eating out of cook bowls, chopping veggies in frisbees, washing dishes with a tortilla. It is wonderful to be taken in for a meal, to experience the warmth of a family, and the comforts of a house. It is also wonderful to be eat great food (breakfast is my favorite). Merle and Linda made San Diego a great town to bike through.
After leaving Merle (though he welcomed us to stay another night) we visited Tommy and Aaron’s mother’s cousin, Jerry. Jerry had two white schnauzers and was taking care of two more. Four dogs made for one crazy house. Tommy watched the Olympics, I read, and as Jerry gave us full access to the kitchen, we dined in luxury. On the road conversations turn to reminiscing about which foods would be cooked if only there was an oven. …lasagna, quiche, cookies, backed yams, pizza… Jerry’s oven helped make our day dreams possible. After saying our goodbyes we left the California coast and headed inland to the desert and the childhood home of one of our friends from college.
Our friend Galen always stands up to his name (we secretly call him The Legend). He grew up just east of San Diego in Ramona, CA. When he heard we would be cycling near, he called his family, and they invited us to their house. We met Jerry and Katie at their office in town, and biked with Jerry home along the dirt back ways of his epic commute.
At their house there was only one rule, don’t let the cats out. When I asked if we could pick an orange from the tree, I was reminded to make myself at home. For two days we ate the best oranges of my life and relaxed. Their home sits amongst the rocks and chaparral of the desert, and comes equipped with a hammock in the sun and friendly dogs anxious for some love. Relaxing was no problem at all. And then when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we were treated to lasagna our first night and vegetable curry the second. Both nights were rounded out with ice cream. I am always greatful for ice cream, but even more greatful for the caring warmth of wonderful people. When we left our spirits were high and our panniers were filled with oranges.
After weaving through the Joshua tree forests that greeted us at the boarder of the Mojave Desert, we restocked on groceries in Twenty-nine Palms, CA. Relaxing in the shade outside the store, I nodded to the customers brave enough to make eye contact. One such nod sparked a conversation that soon turned into an invitation for a catfish dinner and a patch of land to throw our tents up. We quickly agreed.
Al was right. His house was hard to miss. Four friendly dogs greeted as we turned into the dirt driveway leading to Al’s home of ten years. Amongst the collection of things once used and the heap of things waiting to be used, we sat in a circle around the campfire. As we waited for the fire to make some coals for the catfish diner we exchanged stories, and later a few games of horseshoes.
Al scraped by washing windows in the grocery store parking lot. He told us that he might not have lots of money but he was rich in his heart. Hearing we had no radio, he went looking for one. When he realized it was broken he moved on. Did we need chairs? Jackets? Long underwear? Books? Lighters? Those with the least to offer many times are the most generous. I remember this and hope to learn from my new friends.
We finished our trip under the bright lights of the Vegas strip. Well, actually just a mile past at Beejay’s. Aaron and Tommy’s cousin, Beejay can honestly say he is a clown for a living. And we got to laugh at him at the water show La Reve. After five weeks of being entertained by the stars, the birds, and our modest ukulele, it was a world wind of stimuli. It was a great finale to our tour.
I can’t say which of these encounters my favorite was. All of our hosts were generous beyond anything we could have asked for. They brought us into their homes and let us be part of their family. Some are travelers themselves that have been uplifted by a good meal and some friendly conversation themselves. Others are interested in what we are doing, want to help out and be part of our journey. Others are family and are anxious to catch up. What ever the reason, we are forever grateful for their support. It is true that trips like this would not be the same with out support. What is probably even truer is that these trips would not be as fun or fulfilling. Many of the stories I remember best are those of folks opening their homes to us and letting us be part of their family. To everyone that has ever opened their home to a traveler, we thank you!