Dayton to Carson Pass, California - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

July 17, 2014

Dayton to Carson Pass, California

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CALIFORNIA is supposed to be waxing down your surfboard and having fun, fun, fun. It's not intended to be a thunderous downpour that drives you into the shelter of the nearest house porch. Although, to be fair, had that not happened, we would never have met The Farmer.

All we wanted was shelter in the lee of his garage, but the danger of being shot in similar circumstances to those back in Colorado weighs heavy on Karen's mind and she went to knock on the door. And it opened instantly, to the round and smiling face of a man in blue shirt and jeans who, we worked out, must have been well into his sixties but looked far younger.

"Sit out here on the porch, if you like," he said. "Maybe I'll join ya."

And he told of how his grandfather had come to the region way back in a party of other farmers from Hanover, in Germany. He bought land and began farming, and then the son - the Farmer's father - took over and now The Farmer himself. In time his son will make the fourth generation.

"And he's interested?" I asked, knowing that sons no longer rush to take over their father's farm.

"Certainly is," he smiled.

I asked why there were so many Angus cattle in the valley, black beasts from Scotland but almost a rarity there.

"It's their size," he said. "You get an Angus and it's not too big. You get a steak this size..." - he put his fingers together to indicate a steak you could imagine eating. "Some of these other European breeds, they're so enormous that... well, who wants to eat a steak that big?"

I asked how many cattle he had - and struck a rough patch.

And if you haven't spotted that there should be an apostrophe in it's, your teacher wasn't as good as you thought...
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"That's a question we never answer," he said. "That's a really macho question. Would you feel happy telling me how much money you've got in the bank? Probably not. And that's the same thing."

I realised that an American farmer measures his wealth not by the profit of the enterprise or even the thickness of his wallet but by the number of cattle he could take to market if he wished.

And then the mood lightened and he smiled as he remembered a story. "Used to be there were a lot of cattle up there in the valley," he remembered of one of his predecessors, "and every year they used to bring the cattle down from the hills and drive them through the next town down the road there. Well, the guy who ran the store there, he decided to count the cattle as they passed, see how many there were. And when they spotted him, someone put a horse between him and his window and he was bobbing one side and then the other to try to count but in the end, he gave up!"

To a farmer, it matters.

We chatted about farming, about our ride, about cycling generally. And then the clouds passed and we rode on, up nagging hills at first and then, from where the shopkeeper had tried to count the beasts, up the start of Carson pass. It's not quite the highest on our route but it's the most significant because, when we have crossed the Sierra mountains - in reality a single ridge, much like the Pyrenees - we will have an increasingly rapid downhill to the plain that holds back the ocean.

Tonight we are camping in a Forestry campground around a third of the way up, plenty enough of a mountain to ride this late in the day.

Today's ride: 86 km (53 miles)
Total: 5,799 km (3,601 miles)

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