Since I began writing on this blog around a year ago, I haven’t often been short of words. But starting out on Trans Atlantic Cycle from California last week changed all that. In a little over a week I have intended writing this blog post so many times, but it became a little overwhelming and I couldn’t quite find the words!
Ive been keeping people at home, and those following my Trans Atlantic Cycle for the Irish Cancer Society updated, but I haven’t really talked about the emotional end of things. Thats about to change!
Firstly, there are not many girlfriends who would be so supportive of a man being out of town for so long, and going on such an endurance adventure. But I am blessed on that front. Thank you Yesita Bonita for your support of Trans Atlantic Cycle – it is greatly appreciated.
We stayed with Yesi’s friend Fabi and her husband Dylan in San Francisco while I rushed around like crazy trying to get a bicycle and supplies organized for the trip. Fabiola, Dylan and Brissa were amazing hosts, and did everything they could to help. They even found time to bring us to a San Francisco Giants game (which the giants won!), and tour us around San Francisco. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me the run of your beautiful home.
We had arrived in San Francisco late on a Friday night. Two days earlier I had put out a desperate plea on social media looking for my dream bike that would take me across the United States and Ireland. That plea was probably symptomatic of my pre-tour edginess; something that other cyclists confess to also. My SOS was answered by Raymond Kim, who works for Huckleberry Bicycles out of their recently opened Berkeley store. Within two days of arriving in San Francisco, I was the proud owner of a Surly Long Haul Trucker, and she was saddled up, adjusted to suit me and ready for the road on Trans Atlantic Cycle.
Ray and Huckleberry Bicycles: you have nothing but my admiration, respect and gratitude. I highly recommend these people should you have bicycle needs in the Bay Area, or if you would like to buy online from experienced and reliable people.
I named the bike Pegasus, in the hope that she would sprout wings and fly me forward to help in the battles ahead. I shortened it to Peggy to make her female, and the Y is a tip of the hat to Yesi 🙂
I won’t lie – my first few days on the road were troublesome and I felt a bit lonely and overwhelmed. Getting out of the Bay Area and its satellite towns was torturous. I lost count of how many wrong turns I made, how many busy intersections per day I went through, and how many times I felt vulnerable. I wondered sometimes what I had undertaken, and if I would be able for it. Daily mileage was low and it was an error prone, nervous and stuttering outset. Eventually I made it to the California Central Valley, and although my newly acquired GPS sent me on an almighty 80 mile detour, it actually served a purpose. (Theres that positive from negative mantra again). The detour afforded me the chance to experience my first day of riding on wide open roads, and the ranch, orchard and vineyard scenery was amazing. It recharged me and gave me hope that I was actually able to clock some bigger mileage and man up to Trans Atlantic Cycle.
In Vacaville I stopped by a UPS and mailed 8 pounds of unnecessary stuff back to New York City. I have not missed any of it, and plan to shed another few pounds soon. I draw a parallel with life here. How much stuff are we carrying around that we think we need to carry, but can manage well without if we just let it go? Letting go of stuff is revitalizing and leaves room for growth. I am still carrying more than my body weight in the saddle bags. This may not be a problem on the flat, but as I was soon to discover, it made climbing uphill sections almost impossible. (Another life parallel and lesson).
Following a nervy night in a shady motel in downtown Sacramento, where the police helicopter swooped overhead, and ladies of the night and other hoodlums were circling around, I made it uptown the following morning. I bumped into Dan Donahue, a man in his 60’s who was out cycling. He told me he has clocked over 100,000 miles on two wheels since he first started commuting to work. His grandmother was Irish. A lovely man to meet, and it was a nice start to the day.
Once uptown, I made for Sacramento State University Campus, where I had read that a bike trail originated which would take me to Folsom. I asked for directions and met two absolute gentlemen, Dave Pratt and Steve Huddleston, who work nearby on a state sponsored geology study. They walked with me to the trail head, and we had a fantastic conversation about many things. Dave even gave his phone number should I need it, as he lives between Folsom and Placerville, where I was headed. That made the total of nice gentlemen I had met three, and did a lot to balance my opinion of Sacramento. Thanks guys.
After bidding farewell to Dave and Steve, I got on the American River Bike Trail, which follows the American River all the way to Folsom. It is beautiful, and in the absence of traffic and knowing that I need not waste energy worrying about directions for 20 miles or so, I got some great time to relax on the bike and meditate. Ive always been drawn to water (says he sitting writing this in the Nevada desert!), and I find it easy to relax when I am near it. I just love watching the flow of water, and find it very soothing.
Alas, the relaxed bike ride left me behind schedule, and I arrived in Folsom during Friday evening rush hour. After a quick snack I hit the road again, and a few short miles later started my first ascent into the Sierra Nevada foothills. I had left Sacramento too late, ridden too leisurely and was now struggling to get to Placerville. I wouldn’t use the word panic, but I was definitely worried about getting off the road before sun down. Highway 50 was very busy with California traffic heading up to the mountain resorts for fathers day.
I arrived in Placerville, got my head down at a Norman Bates styled motel and slept for 10 hours solid. I awoke, showered, had breakfast, got the bike checked out with Andrew at Placerville Bicycle Store and hit the road. It was immediately uphill, and I am not ashamed to say that it beat me. I stopped after around 20 miles, and freewheeled back to Placerville. I was feeling very low at this point, and it looked like Trans Atlantic Cycle had failed at the first hurdle. And then a long lost friend appeared! Lyle, who lives in Grass Valley – around an hours drive from Placerville – and who I had roomed with while at college in Ireland, swung by and came to my rescue. His trustee truck, ‘The Red Dragon’ carted my luggage up the hill, and although it took all day and left me completely exhausted, I made it over Echo Summit and down into South Lake Tahoe where I hunkered down for two days to recover. Thank you Lyle and The Red Dragon. She may me from 1993 but she saved me big time. And all while running on salvaged vegetable oil!
When needing to rest and recharge, I could barely have picked a better place. 968 Park Hotel in South Lake Tahoe is the kind of place where you feel like you have arrived at a new home. Neal, who checked me in and told me about his Irish heritage, was a total legend, telling me stories about the local area and giving me tips on where to find everything I might need. His best advice was to hit the hot tub in the hotel, which I did for about 45 minutes and it was the magic cure I needed. I slept well, rested indoors the following day, and was even greeted and given good wishes for my trip by the hotel manager Sean Pratt at checkout. 968 Park is part of the Joie de Vivre chain, and this particular hotel in Tahoe is boutique styled, with almost all of the interior decor made from recycled materials. Very cool, and homely. All of the staff are friendly and helpful, and I would highly recommend it.
Feeling recharged, I cycled my last mile on California roads and crossed over in to Nevada, following highway 50 as it meandered along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. I stopped at Logan Sholes where I had lunch and the most amazing period of relaxation on the entire trip so far. The view from here is breathtaking – almost heavenly. I really swallowed it in, and it helped to remind me just how lucky I am to be alive and healthy enough to be able to do this charity ride and see the great American landscapes.
The bear signs by the roadside as I climbed Montreal Canyon to Spooner Summit was amusing! Thankfully, Spooner is at 7, 148 feet, so pretty soon I was descending into Carson Valley at 38mph. That is beyond the pace of even the Usain Bolt’s of the bear world. The scenery was spectacular, and as I descended I could pick out highway 50 AKA ‘The Lonliest Road in America’, as it weaved its way across the Nevada desert. Thats the route I will be following on Trans Atlantic Cycle.
As another day ended, I was again on the road later than I had anticipated, but when cycling through such beautiful scenery, I found it hard to avoid stopping to take pictures and being thankful that I was experiencing such wonderful places, while also raising money for the Irish Cancer Society. Those two emotions are very humbling, and in my experience, staying humble and finding time to breathe in the great outdoors is a great recipe for inner peace and happiness. I am certainly feeling those emotions on Trans Atlantic Cycle.
If you would like to make a donation to The Irish Cancer Society you can do so here: Trans Atlantic Cycle
You can follow updates on several social media platforms by using the hashtag #TransAtlantic Cycle