"Sal, we gotta go and never stop going 'till we get there". "Where we going man?" "I don't know but we gotta go" - Jack Kerouac, On the Road -

Monday, September 16, 2013


Days cycling: 37

Days of rest: 0

Total mileage: 4601

Average miles per day:  124.3 miles

Amount of dollars raised for Charity:Water: $8,740

Average amount raised per day: $236.2

Average amount raised per mile: $1.89

States crossed: 14

Average amount of days per state: 2.6

Longest period of time in a single state: 7 days, California

Least amount of time in a state: 3 hours, Pennsylvania

Highest altitude: 10960 ft Beartooth Pass (Montana)

Highest temperature: 103F (Lovell, Wy)

Lowest temperature: 39F (Ketchum, Id)

Most scenic roads: Beartooth Highway, Montana; Spearfish Canyon Highway 14, South Dakota; Road 44, South Dakota, Sage Creek Road Badlands, South Dakota, Highway 1, California.

Roads with least amount of traffic: Highway 14, Wyoming. Route 44, South Dakota; Klamath Falls Highway 140, Oregon.

Roads with most cars: Highway 101, California.

Biggest city: San Francisco, California, pop: 812.826

Smallest city: Spotted Horse, Idaho, pop 2

Biggest dinner: 3 Big Macs, two large fries, one large coke, 700 gr of Nutella and one entire baguette.

Amount of sunscreen used: 264 ml

Longest day: 194 miles (Day 30)

Shortest day: 53 miles (Day 3)

Earliest start: 6.15 am (Day 21)

Latest start: 10.10am (Day 1)

Latest finish: 8.26 pm (Day 30)

Longest day on the road: Day 30, 13 hrs and 10 minutes

Shortest day on the road: Day 27, 6 hrs

Longest stretch without services: 90 miles, Oregon, Day 28

Most expensive motel/hotel: $209 .79 Yellowstone Canyon Lodge

Least expensive motel/hotel: $39 D-K Motel, Arco, Id

Days with rain: 22

Days with clear blue skies: 2

Days with headwind: 13

Days with tailwind: 1/2

Flat tires: 0

Tires used: 3

Chains used: 3

Day with most hits on the blog: Day 35, 259 hits.

Day with least amount of hits: Day 12, 49 hits.

Day with most comments: Day 2, 10.

Day with least number of comments: Day 24, 2.

Toughest days: Day 23; Day 26, Day 28, Day 35. 

Easiest days: Day 1

Toughest climb: 10% grade 6 mile Teton Pass.

Most emotional moment/s: Summiting Beartoth Pass; Crossing Golden Gate Bridge; Seeing the California sign; Arriving in Crescent City at 8:30 pm after 194 miles; Riding through Badlands in South Dakota.

My tips for prospective cross-country riders: Go from west to east because of the direction of the wind; put together your own route based on the places you want to see, forget about the ACA routes; if you are not used to be by yourself don't do it alone; if you are prepared to spend 100 bucks a day (all expenses included) you don't have to camp out; the more time for the trip you have the better. Cross-country under 40 days is really a race; plan your trip according to your real objective (seeing the country, meeting people, taking pictures of the scenery, etc..); don't over plan and don't bring too much stuff;  don't assume you have to be fit to do it, you will get strong as you go. If you want to do it just go, don't overthink it. Wear something bright so vehicles will see you easily.

Things to watch out for: the traffic, the traffic the traffic. And the weather (wind and rain) and road condition.

What would I do differently: I would spend more time interacting with people and I would just spend more time on the road for the scenery, crossing the country in under 40 days is a race against time.

The one place I would recommend everyone see once in their life would be: Badlands in South Dakota...and Redwoods in California.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Day 37: LOS ANGELES!!!

Santa Barbara, Ca - Santa Monica, Ca : 123 miles. Total : 4601 miles

I am a kid who has butterflies in his stomach because tomorrow he is going to see the girl he is so madly in love with. Can I use this stupid analogy? How do you sleep when a remarkably unique moment is upon you? You don't.

So of course I don't sleep well. I have never slept well on the ride so let alone the night before the last push. Did Mallory and Irvine sleep before their summit push out of their camp at 8300 mts? Probably not. Well, at 8000plus mts in thin air they were freezing their asses off and could hardly breathe, that's why they didn't sleep...anyway, the point is I am aware that tomorrow could be the final day of the entire ride and I would accomplish my goal. I toss and turn well past midnight and when I realize I can't fall asleep I turn the light on and just sit on the bed staring at the bike. I look at the dirty rims, I stare at the mud encrusted chain stay. Boy, if I were in the army I would wash right out. The bike is absolutely filthy, almost as bad as my clothes. I turn off the light and I lie down again, now my brain is working furiously at finding a way into the craziness that is Los Angeles, how do you cycle into it without getting crushed? What if I have a mechanical problem on the highway? What do I do then? I haven't hit a single snag, haven't had a puncture, a broken spoke, a loose screw, nothing. 4500 miles across America fast and furious, rain and sunshine, rough and smooth pavement, mud and gravel, dirt and dust, mountains and hills and the bike has not let me down once. I had 2 flat tires on my first trip in 2010 and 5 last year (3 in a single day). Why have I been so lucky this time around? Was there a guardian angel riding with me all the way? 

Lying in bed awake is bad for the mind and the body. I am restless. Why isn't 7am already? My legs are fidgety. I feel the callouses of my hands from hours of gripping the bike, I have dead blisters somewhere on my ass and I have the most ridiculous tan lines on my arms, my hands, my neck, my legs. If I look at myself in the mirror I see a cyclist's body but my face looks ridiculous, a grotesque image of absorbing capacity, an athlete body which has been chiseled not just by the hours on the road but by the mental strain of this long solo ride. I love to think that I can still change and surprise myself at this age.

I am awake every hour and when I finally fall into a deep sleep the alarm shakes me out of it and reminds me that today is supposed to be my final day of the whole ride. Adrenaline kicks in as soon as I get up. I do serious damage at breakfast and I wonder whether I overdid it. I lose counts of how many biscuits and muffins I chow down. At 7.15, I leave this uninspiring Days Inn in the middle of Santa Barbara. As I check out a tall Chinese guy lazily looks up and hands me my bill. "You take care now". No, neither of us says that and it doesn't even cross my mind to say "hey, you know what I am about to finish?" I can't talk about this with anybody, I can only write this blog, that's my only dysfunctional way to communicate with the world. 
It is the first time in California that the early morning temperature allows me to wear my short sleeve jersey. Boy, that's dirty, it used to be white and now there is a yellowish, brown shade all over it. First thing I will do when I enter my hotel room tonight is to throw away all the gear. It is useless anyway, even if I washed it all it is too worn out to be used again. 

It is a gorgeous day, clear blue sky and a gentle breeze that originates from the ocean. Fine, that's gonna be a cross wind, I can deal with that. I can deal with pretty much anything today. I ride through a very charming downtown where most stores are closed and others are beginning to come to life. The fresh morning air reminds me how good it is to be alive and free. I smile as I look at the clear blue sky, I feel happy knowing that I have cycled almost 4500 miles to get this far. A car is washing the street and the empty sidewalks and when I pass I smile innocently hoping that the man driving it will turn off the sprinkle for a second. He does and he shouts at me "I wish I was doing that instead!". Nothing intelligent comes to my mind and I just smile at him innocently. I am not a morning person but when I get up early I am happy I did it, how can you not be in love with a fresh morning air and an empty sidewalk in the middle of the world? I am so at peace with the world right now that I could ride anywhere through any climate, on any mountain. This is the best part of the day, the streets carry reminders of the previous day's activities and shenanigans but no matter how much crazy stuff goes on at night, the next day is always a brand new deal; the cool morning air with the sunlight so sharp and clear makes everything look new, afresh, rejuvenated, calm. I ride on the bike path all the way out of Santa Barbara, easy. But now what? Option one is to go straight to highway 101 but it is a freeway all the way to Oxnard and I don't want freeway traffic so I decide against it. I stay on the bike lane which is a slower and longer option but a safer one. I follow one bike path after another and then I ride on a very rough road which runs next to the highway for a few miles. Again, like so many times before, my bike bounces like a 4by4 on a dirt road, the bag rattles and I feel the shake going straight into my nerves, my arms and legs. Come on, you can take this, what's a few more miles? The bike holds well and at the end of this torture the only option is to slide onto the highway where I enjoy the large shoulder. But the trucks are there and they shoot by me leaving behind a swirl of air and debris that shakes me like a dry leaf. The air spits me out of my trajectory and then sucks me in like a vortex. I am familiar with this process by now so I know how to prepare myself for it. Remember the drill: don't fight it, loosen up and just let it carry you until you can control the bike again. I hang a right and exit 101 and enter Ventura on another bike path that spits me right onto the beach. I double back for two miles because when I reach the harbor the road ends and there are no bridges that connect the two sides of the harbor. After that I have ten miles on a smooth road with almost no traffic. Time to let it rip. I average 21 mph with my eyes glued to the white line; I don't shift, I don't twitch, I don't move an inch. Bike and body: perfect symbiosis. It feels good. Really good. I am good at this now. It's a shame I have to stop. I ride fast into Oxnard which is not an attractive town but the impressive amount of palm trees that line up every single street makes the place look like an okay seaside town, for senior citizens though. I stop after 53 miles for the first time to water up and get some chow. A few sips of water and two bananas. That's all. 

I have to focus now, a challenging bit, the last difficult bit before I hit the coast is coming up. I ride through a very dry area out of Oxnard, from the beach resort I am in the middle of a desert environment and the dry air swallows me up, I feel the sunlight beating down on me strong. I follow the road that takes me straight to the Pacific Highway. I begin to smile as I am thinking, this is it, all I need to do is to follow the road, no more turns, no more junction, my only opponent left is the traffic. Traffic yes but Pacific Highway is scenic and I am getting closer and closer to my coveted trophy. It's not over yet though and there's more highway riding to do. Shoulder is narrow and traffic increases by the mile. I was expecting this. I am approaching a monster city what do you expect? The hillsides are so dry they seem almost burnt out, I am surrounded by dry bushes and tumbleweeds which are being kicked around by the wind on the side of the highway. If it wasn't for the sea I would think I am in Arizona. On my left the rocky desert ends right a few feet from the beach, which is a sliver of about 20 feet of golden sand. The road snakes around the hills and hugs the coast line very close to the shore. I realize that since I have reached the coast I have never been this close to the shore. It feels refreshing, liberating. I can easily make out the seaweed and the details of the water as I push on the pedals. Dozens of surfers are lying face down on their surfboards waiting patiently for the perfect wave. I scrutinize the water as I ride and a smile forms on my face. I spot a big green sign which heralds a landmark I was waiting for, that's my perfect wave: Santa Monica, 25 miles. I let out a "come on" without even realizing it. The sign shakes me like the sight of my beloved.That's the signal that the end is really here. For the next few miles I pedal with legs so light it's almost like they aren't there, scanning the horizon and waiting for the first view of something recognizable. Okay, calm down, the bike won't break down and you will not get hit by a car, you will be there in less than two hours. Keep going. The road climbs a bit, maybe 400 yards and I do the whole hill standing on the pedals, there is no point in safeguarding the bike or my energy, let's go for it, all out. Malibu is next and it is a very unattractive town, a large piece of coast where space seems to have no value at all; house after house is built on the hillsides. I admit that some houses are really cool, beautiful villas and many small but attractive mansions dot the hills but they are all close to the highway and what's worse is the lack of privacy and space between them. The amount of buildings encroaching on the hills is striking and, regardless of the architectural originality of most residences, it is not a pretty sight. I don't stop at all in Malibu, it is crowded and filled with cars and trucks carrying long colorful surfs. Actually I must focus closely as the right hand side of the road is a long uninterrupted line of parked cars and there isn't much space left on the shoulder. The shoulder is taken by the cars and at any time I expect an idiot to open the car door right in my face so to prevent this death-inducing stupidity I ride inside the lane; some cars make it abundantly clear that they don't appreciate that when they honk or just pass within a whisker of my left hand. Yep, still some work to do and this is by no means pleasant riding. The odometer  keeps moving though: 15, 13, 10, 8 miles to go. Through the haze of this hot and dry day I begin to make out the silhouette of tall white buildings. Nothing recognizable, no familiar sight like the Golden Gate or The Empire State Bld but I know that the strip of land I see in the distance is Los Angeles. I check the odometer again and it is coming up on 4590 miles. Yes, you are going to make it and the bike won't let you down. I feel the callouses of my hands again, the same ones that I felt a few hours earlier in my bed in the hotel room in Santa Barbara where I couldn't sleep and I wonder whether these 37 days just flew by. I wonder how I made it. I wonder how I did not quit when I wanted to quit. What drove me to ride solo for 37 days across deserts and mountains with one mission in mind. I will never know the answer. But I know that these 37 days haven't flown by, it has been pretty tough and I cannot explain how tough the ride has been.

As I approach Santa Monica the amount of cars multiplies and by now all I want is to find the bike path on the beach because highway 1 is simply too crazy for cycling. I yell my last "asshole" of the trip when one idiot totally cuts me off on a stretch with no oncoming vehicles. But even as I shout I am smiling because I don't really care as long as I am safe. Here it is, I push hard one final time, one last forceful motion of my legs on the pedals and the bike obeys, the chains rotates quickly around its rings. LA is mine, America is mine the world is mine, I am in total control of my life again. I don't smile, I just look around me as I do my best to stay in the tiny shoulder and try not to get hit by a car. The moment is anticlimactic, there is no Los Angeles sign, of course there wouldn't be, LA is not a town, it is a never-ending land of towns or neighborhoods and shopping malls. Santa Monica is where I am going to end the ride. I can't believe I have made it. This is the same bike, the same clothes, the same man that was on the other side of America 37 days ago. I wanted something and I got it. The beach is now a broad expanse of bright yellow sand and I easily find a bike path. This is it. I don't feel almost any emotion as I see the wheel of the Pier and it is time to hit the breaks, I felt more emotional in San Francisco when I saw the Bay Bridge. Staring out at the ocean from the beach I don't feel a surge of emotion that makes me want to scream and yell and jump up and down. But I feel a subtle tingle traveling up and down my body, all through my arms and down my legs, and then out through the ends of my fingers and toes. And that is enough for the time being.

I had a hundred reasons to bail on this trip, from the constant rain at the very beginning which messed up my schedule and made me fear for my health to the menacing trucks and rough roads that would destroy any bike and sap energy out of every rider, to the crazy headwinds in Idaho and in Oregon, and the loneliness of riding through the deserts or the freezing mountains in Idaho or Montana and the killer grades of Beartooth or the Big Horn Mountains. But I didn't. I didn't bail on it. I was determined to fight, to not give up, to make it all the way between the ends of America and down the California coast.

You know what? I did not realize it but my memory reminds me that today is the 12th of September, 12 is a big number, 17 months ago I was starting my first round of chemotherapy which I knew would drain my body of all my energy. And now, on another 12th I have accomplished a decidedly ambitious goal and I am looking at life with a smile and with defiance. I've done it. I'm proud of myself today.

I also think back on the crazy, the kind, the hilarious, and the weird people I met along the way. Yes, they were very brief encounters but long enough to leave something. I think about the beautiful landscapes, the quirky signs and buildings, the ghost towns, the abandoned towns, the communities that have been lost to time forever and the places that unexpectedly piqued my interest. All of the elements came together to create an amazing and rewarding experience that I'll revisit whenever I want for the rest of my life. So many places that I would have never been able to see and were only a dot on a map now fill a place of my heart and it is real, personal and deeply meaningful. In every little town I rode through I either stopped to rest or to drink or to eat or I simply rode my bicycle chasing a dream; chasing myself. I am looking at the ocean from the beach and so many people walk by me. Nobody is aware of my adventure, nobody can even imagine the things I went through these past weeks. I look at the carefree tourists and wonder if I can spot a familiar face. There is nobody but the loneliness of the moment does not get me at all, in a funny way it makes me stronger, it makes me feel at peace. Because you can't walk to the summit of mount Everest hand in hand with someone. You gotta stand alone on the summit. And that's more less how I feel now. With 4601 miles and so much money raised for a good cause I feel I have used my time in the best possible way. I hope my small contribution will help some unfortunate people to enjoy a little comfort, a comfort that we don't even view as such because we just have it. I look at the black charity:water wristband in my right wrist, whitened by the sunlight. The wristband which I have had all throughout my ride, through the rain and the wind. I touch it with my fingers and I feel the warm and smooth surface of the rubber under my skin. I close my eyes and breathe in. I am really here, where I wanted to be. I am home.

Too early to process what has just happened but I know that I asked a lot and a lot has been given to me. And not just today.
 I ride on the bike path and I cannot keep my promise to strip naked on the beach but I take my jersey and shoes off and ask a bewildered couple to take a few pictures while I raise my bike in the air like a conquistador. The bike feels heavy and as I lift it up the mud falls on my head and it prickles my skin. It feels good. I look at the GPS and ride twenty blocks toward West Hollywood. At the local bike store they will box the bicycle for me; three blocks farther east and another Days Inn has vacancies. I am done. I look at myself in the mirror and my body has thinned and my legs have toned from conquering America. I have become mentally toned too. This journey forced me to face down challenge after challenge. It balanced those challenges with beauty and passion. It reminded what I love most about this world. It reminded what I love most about my life.

This was one hell of a ride.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Day 36: "Like a thought unchained, like a runaway train"

Cambria, Ca - Santa Barbara, Ca : 141 miles. Total: 4483 miles

I am already awake, 6.15am, I have a feeling the weather is absolutely crap, it is funny how you seem to know what the weather is like without checking, maybe because no bird is chirping or the muzzled sounds of the world outside suggest that it is moving in slow motion. Whatever it is, you just know. I move the curtain and the nascent day is just that: crap. Overcast, cloudy and heavy with rain all around. Fog hangs over the road like a skin on a snake and the beach is barely visible. The ocean looks as gray as the sky and if it wasn't for its timid ripples of water the whole thing would look like a solid block of gray matter. I am swathed in my gear and all pasted in sunscreen and ready to hit the slippery road by 7. No breakfast from Motel 6, thanks a lot. I ride 4 miles on highway 1 which is as empty as it gets and at the first gas station I pull in for a hot chocolate, two bananas and one big box of fig biscuits. As the world begins to wake up and cars take over the road I spot a big green sign: LA 235 miles. Boy, so far. I can't do it. I don't want to. 235 miles. I stare at the huge white numbers on the green background and I let air out of my mouth like they told me there is no hot water in my apartment for a year. A vague feeling of defeat hits me instantly. How is it that I'm only 250 miles from the finish line and I still find it so damn hard to go on to wrap this up? I am on the home stretch but it is every bit as hard as any other day. Is it the weather? I try to sing but it doesn't work, ok, head down and cycle, just cycle. Today I don't expect to see any sights, I don;t even want to see anything, my plan is to get my ass to Santa Barbara. 140 miles or so. It is going to be a long day. A lot of improv goes into it. Highway 1 merges into freeway 101 and I can't ride there so I make my own way through San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande and the huge valley of Los Padres National Forest. I hit San Luis Obispo fairly quickly, after 40 miles.

The first 40, 50 miles are always the easiest part of the day as you are kind of resigned to the fact that you have a whole slog ahead so there's no point in complaining, you've got to do it. Without any sights or vistas it is much harder though, miles are longer and time goes by slower. A minute bleeds into another and my eyes fall on the odometer about every 30 seconds. It is drudgery. Today my mind is not with it just yet, I need to put everything I have got into the ride. I stand on the pedals and push hard thinking about every stroke, every push. I move my hands from the underside of the bar to the sides, to the middle and back to the sides. I can't seem to be able to keep a position for more than 300 yards. What's the matter? My right thigh hurts, not now, with only two days left don't give me that. Shake it off, okay, that's better, it's gone. Where the hell is the sun? Well, at least there's no wind so shut up and stop whining about everything. Okay, fine.

I ride through a very rural part of California with fruit fields and vineyards all around. Although wihtout sunshine the whole place looks very ordinary. At San Luis Obispo I follow the bike route through downtown and I am surprised to find a charming little town with relaxing streets and some vestiges of the colonial past. Commander Juan Bautista de Anza was a member of the Spanish Crown. In 1775, he led 300 hard working settlers from Mexico all the way to San Francisco Bay where they could begin a new prosperous life. Within a year these settlers built a fort and established small farms. Soon their children were raising their own families and building new communities. These families would transform the West, creating a better life for themselves while preparing the way for new immigrants. The route of these 300 settles with the Spanish Commander as their guide is now called the Anza historic trail. I follow it. I am biking along it. Past Arroyo Grande the clouds don't follow me though and they give way to sunshine. After many hours I can finally look at some blue skies above me. It takes only a few minutes and I am riding totally bathed in a warm sunlight and I am too lazy to stop to change my jersey. I keep the long sleeves, at least I won't have to apply sunscreen on my arms. Let's be economical in the movements. Let's save energy, let's keep going.

I ride very resolutely for the next 50 miles but if the weather is my friend no, the road is my foe as I am dodging holes, cracks and all sorts of debris. The road surface is covered in dried mud which is as bad as potholes or deep cracks. I am alert at all times and my eyes are glued to the road just in front of me. The pavement is badly cracked and when I take 254 I realize I have made a huge mistake. The bike bounces at every crack and holes and my ass takes so much punishment that it is a miracle I am still all functioning. The bike shakes and rattles every 10 yards and the torture goes on for almost 20 miles. I curse at myself, why did you come this way you idiot? How the hell was I supposed to know? Always make a choice based on knowledge, never on a hunch! On the GPS it looked like the shorter route! The conversation between myself goes on and on and of course no one wins the argument. I ride through Solvang, a singular town established by Danes at the beginning of the last century. Everything is Danish and the tackiness of the place is only overwhelmed by the multitude of tourists that roam the streets. I fly past it and I find myself in open fields again.  

I feel I have been so busy fighting the road condition and finding a decent way to Santa Barbara that I don't even realize that my odometer reads 100 miles. And counting. Only 35, 40 to go and I am in Santa Barbara. That's not bad. The thought sends energy into my body and I am awake now. I am beginning to think positive things and all of sudden my burning love for cycling cross-country is back. I take 154 which has a tiny shoulder and a huge influx of cars and again I say to myself that I shouldn't take rush decision but that part of me will never really change. Riding on this road requires all my focus and takes a lot of energy out of me. Just stay alive, don't drift two feet to the left because the vehicles will blast you out of the highway. I glance at several crosses and flowers by the side on the road and out of me comes: fuck, I am not dying here. I tense up and grab the handle bar tightly and push on like I am another car, another RV, another truck that's just taking its time.

I know a big climb is coming up as looking south I only have the Santa Ynez Mountains ahead. And up it goes, I climb for four tough miles, the grades are steep and with no shoulder and blind curves at every turn this could probably be the most stressful bit of the whole ride. I just say to myself that this could be it, this could be the last real climb, the last difficult bit. Cars keep on zipping past me without moving an inch to the center of the road, this is really tricky. Vehicles don't give a shit about my plight and I cannot do anything about that. I concentrate on my ride and I try to stay as close to the white line as possible. That's my job. I pedal standing hoping that the cars would see me better if I pedal that way. The white trimmings of my shorts are usually white but they are black of dirt and chain lube by now. Come on, you made safely uo to this point, you can go a little farther. I am sweating like I am in the humidity of the Appalachians but I feel incredibly strong on the bike. The road rises up steep but it is not daunting for me, not anymore. I am only concerned about the traffic. The ride is mine, LA is mine, US is mine. It is done, I feel it in my bones, I know I am stronger than 5000 miles in 40 days. I am too confident, I am fast and I am light. I see the top of the climb and I can feel for the first time that I can actually make it to Los Angeles. A few more turns and I shall see the coastline, maybe a mile or two and I should see the Santa Barbara valley. Come on, you are almost on top and then the descent will hurl you right onto the beach. I glance at the odometer and the number 44.. about to change to 4500 miles takes my breath away. All on my bike, all those miles paddling with these legs, not a mechanical problem, not a puncture, was it just luck? But I don't believe in luck, was it because I wanted it so bad? I don't know, stop asking why, it just happened, enjoy it, take it, from an idea which sprung up in my mind at some point during an ordinary spring day to this very moment. Life is fast and I can't control it but what I can do is to fill the time that I have with the things that I want to do. The rest is clutter, doesn't make much sense and only slows you down. And I still can't get my mind around the fact that in a few moments I will crest this damn mountain and I will see the coast again. The road will take me to LA, that's a fact. The callouses on the lower part of my palms are there, a true sign of fight, the crazy tan lines are there, the veins that stick out of my body are there, the sinewy body is there and it is new to me, it has been built and shaped by 4500 miles of fight. I feel supremely happy at this point but I try to contain all my thoughts because after all I still have more than 100 miles to go tomorrow and a 6-mile descent of a 7% grade with a shoulder large enough for a pedestrian. I crest the hill, I wipe the sweat off my face with my soiled hands, the chain falls off again but in a second it is back in, I take one picture to celebrate the moment and down I go. I stop several times to admire the scenery and let the vehicles pass me. What's the status of my break pads? I don't know and I don't care; I don't want to check. I am not going to the bike shop in town, I am gonna try to make it to LA with what I have and then put this baby to sleep. At 6pm I hit Santa Barbara. 11 hours today: lots of energy used and lots of preoccupation over the route, the road condition and the traffic. All that took a toll. I am tired but the thought of being in LA tomorrow night, the prospect of successfully finishing my race overwhelms me. No, I am not tired.

Santa Barbara is the embodiment of rich and gorgeous. It is quite a striking image that the town casts as soon as I ride through State st. Gentrification as taken hold of the outskirts and extends well into the surrounding hills. It is not subtle, it is right there in your eyes. I am really impressed by how good this place looks. I don't go all the way to downtown, which I will save for tomorrow but the little I see leads me to think that this is the American Riviera par excellence; architecturally edgy villas surrounded by tall palm trees, spot clean sidewalks, trimmed lawns and beautiful fast cars, I am almost in shock after weeks of wilderness and shabby motels and dusty roads. What world was I riding in? Or, what world am I riding in now? The oak-studded hillsides are dotted with jutting estates and winding roads. Everywhere I look I see swathes of red-tile roofs and white-washed adobe walls. The city blazes in the late afternoon sun and with my smelly clothes I have something to show for: almost 4500 miles in 36 days. That's the way I am beautiful.

Time for a shower, a big meal and after I write my journal I will plan tomorrow's stage. My last, hopefully.