Halfway up the mountain to Escalente - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

July 3, 2014

Halfway up the mountain to Escalente

It took a while but we got there
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THE TOP did come in the end. And not in "10 miles", as first the London girl and then Captain Grumpy and his pal had predicted. It came 13 miles after we left the campground, just as the quietly friendly but unsmiling campground host said it would.

"I come from round here," he said with an air of assurance, although the motor home in which he lived was decorated with a big flag from Hawaii. It seemed too complicated, when I was tired and didn't really want to know, to inquire further.

Birds chirruped and small animals ran across the road faster than the occasional RV could catch them. Three young deer played and, seeing a cyclist for the first time, paused to wonder what to do next, then stared and finally bounced rather than ran away. Only to reappear a little later. Curiosity was irresistible.

Birds and animals abound up here, from the smallest to the largest. Vole-like animals hurried in front of me and lazy brown cows stood in the road and gazed, chewing whatever they'd found by the road. A small hold-up appeared where three of them had seen no point in moving, and the driver of the first RV to get by them lowered his window and shouted: "Look out for them cows - they're crazy!"

Green and leafy right on the summit but weak-custard colours in the valley
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A slender woman, riding a bike unladen but for a handlebar bag to which a Western Express map was clipped, freewheeled drowsily and waved an arm. "Nearly there," she shouted. And indeed I was because, after close on a day and a half, the road stopped leaned back and yawned and took a final bend to the green sign at the summit. The glory of conquering both gravity and this unnamed pass was witnessed with no interest by another three, dark brown cows, none noticeably crazy.

Nobody but a cyclist understands the satisfaction of a col. You ride and grumble and feel awful and wonder why you ever embarked on anything so painfully foolish. But the moment you take that last bend and the summit comes into reach after so many hours of struggle, you know it's all been worthwhile. But what does anyone else understand? Walkers like cresting hills but they gaze and then move on. Motorcyclists may be aware that something has happened but they never stop and snap their machines in front of the sign. And motorists? Well, what do motorists ever. notice? I am a motorist from time to time myself and I know the difference. You too, probably because - like I said - only cyclists understand.

These old wagons look realistic but sometimes I wonder if there isn't a factory churning them out for the tourist trade
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We started the long drop to Boulder, convinced it was shorter but steeper from that side. On the last run into town, a bearded man who may have passed many laundries without stopping, came slowly towards me. I moved to the other side of the road to greet him, as cyclists do when they want news of faraway lands where dragons breathe fire and maidens lean from conical towers.

I thought he might have the same interest. But no. He rode straight at me without slowing, then moved out to pass. It's hard to judge where bearded men are looking because they appear to be studying you from behind a hedge. But I was determined to make him ackknowledge the trouble I'd gone to in interfering in his life and interrupting his climb.

"Hi," I said.

There was no reply.

"Where are you from?", I tried.

"United States," he growled without slowing. By now he was past me.

"Good luck!", I shouted after him, I hope with a touch of irony.

"Sure," he said.

A bit up the road, Karen tried again. After getting nowhere, she called: "You talk with my friend back there?"

"Yeah."

He neither paused nor stopped. And he never spoke again.

This is genuine enough, though: the road moved and times changed and another family lost its livelihood
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The role of Boulder is to provide coffee for tourists. Which raises the point, something I have been pondering since Maryland, of why a nation which has landed men on the moon has yet to master a good mug of tea and a slab of fruit cake.

You turn off left in Boulder to get to Escalente and once there was enough trade going in all senses for a small store to have two petrol pumps and someone to work them and to clean windscreens and check the oil. And then the road moved a few metres and the garage was too distant to be worth stopping and times changed and people favoured neon-lit gas temples that sold fuel for a couple of cents less but left you to work your own pump and pointed you to a bucket of dirty water to wash away your own bugs and splashes. The world is less expensive but you wonder if it's really much better.

Glorious views from the Hog's Back ridge road
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You climb sharply out of Boulder and in time reach half an hour of Hog's Back, a ridge road unprotected on its open side, which falls to a landscape of grey and butter-milk valleys where the light dances and plays tricks. Not for the first time, I noted that cyclists and walkers can stop where they like, whereas drivers committed to stopping at areas provided for them presumably go home with identical photos.

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It's not an easy ride from the Hog's Back to Escalente. It includes the steepest hills of my two months on the road. But, as with the hill that started the day, what's life without the rewards of effort?

Only a cyclist would understand.

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Today's ride: 86 km (53 miles)
Total: 4,692 km (2,914 miles)

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