Day 19: Near Colusa, CA to Davis, CA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

September 14, 2014

Day 19: Near Colusa, CA to Davis, CA

Uneasy becomes impossible.

Anyone who's traveled in rural America has heard gunshots at night. People get drunk or bored, walk out into their backyard, fire a round or two at a tree, and then head back inside to watch the late edition of SportsCenter or whatever. But what we experience during the night and all the way into the early morning is something far different. We hear handgun shots, rifle blasts, long series of explosions, and some kind of weapon that howls the way you'd expect a missile to howl. It never stops, not even for two minutes. It's no joke or exaggeration to say that we hear close to a thousand blasts throughout the night. There's a real chance that Saturday night in the Gaza Strip is a calmer place to be than camped along the banks of the Sacramento River. It's inexplicable. We passed no more than one home per mile on the way here and yet it sounds like a bad night in Detroit.

And there's more. Because we're camped near a river, the underbrush is alive with creatures that crunch in the grass and bushes and leaves every few minutes. At one point a giant branch snaps off a tree and falls to the earth with a heavy thud within 500 feet of us. Later a weasel snuffles past, and after that a lone coyote. Then there's the sheriff's deputy that drives down the levee, stops right above us, shines a spotlight into the tent, and then within thirty seconds drives off. Hours later another vehicle — probably the same deputy, but we never find out for sure — crawls along the levee and then parks out of sight a tenth of a mile to the south of us for the better part of an hour. And the moon? It's nearly full and shines down into the tent all night.

We have ended up in what might be the country's worst place to camp. It's a complete and utter nightmare. We're never in any actual danger as far as we can tell, but the framework for fear surrounds us. Our hearts pound in anxiety without end. At best we sleep in chunks of fifteen or twenty minutes, but always wake up again to the booms of gunfire.

Mosquitoes descend in waves in the morning when at last it's time to pack up and leave, because fucking of course they do.

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By the time we roll into Colusa we realize two important facts. One, many of the gun shots we heard last night were not fired off by people, but these things called Zon guns that are used to scare away and then leave in a constant state of panic birds who might otherwise eat a farmer's crops. They don't account for the rifle blasts and the semi-automatic fire we heard at points last night, nor all the road signs out in the country that are riddled with bullet holes, but they do explain a lot. And second, Colusa was only two miles away from where we camped instead of the seven that I thought. Which means all of our stress and sleep deprivation could have been avoided if we'd ridden a little farther and not been so damned cheap and just paid for camping at the state park along the river in town.

But where's the excitement in that?

Beyond Colusa we ride next to fields of watermelons and pumpkins. We see hay bales stacked in uneven columns taller than the huge tractors that stand next to them. At the edge of every curve in the road we bump over squashed tomatoes that have fallen from the dozens of transport trucks that rumble past us all day. But more than anything else we see a lot of dirt — entire fields of dirt, dirt as far as we can see, farm implements moving the dirt around in patterns and in absolutely straight lines. Given this not so stimulating landscape we fall into the question game. If you had to run a restaurant, what kind would it be? (Burritos, but just one kind, no substitutions, and if you try to make a substitution you get yelled at. It would be a very Portland kind of place.) What's your favorite 90s music video? ("Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys.) What are you most looking forward to about New Zealand? (Finding out if the people are as scared of their fellow citizens as Americans are.) If you could live anywhere in the U.S. for six months that you haven't already lived, where would you choose? (Asheville, North Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; or Madison, Wisconsin)

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Tomato carnage.
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The roads in the Central Valley all run flat and turn only at ninety degree angles. You could ride for miles while looking down at your bike computer or your shoes or your beer gut and look back up and the horizon would appear much the same as it did when you started. When I ignore the mountains in the distance the landscape is a lot like Kansas. The most exciting thing that happens all morning is when I spit and inadvertently hit an orange and black butterfly and knock him out of mid-air.

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It's a long, hot, dry, windy twenty-mile run through Woodland and on to Davis, past giant fields of nothing but dirt, a massive Target distribution center, and miles of homes in subdivisions that didn't exist when I came through here on a bicycle five years ago. With a headwind bearing down on us and the temperature again pushing past ninety-five, we ride slower and slower, take more and more breaks, and feel heat and fatigue and hunger come together to form a kind of weak-kneed delirium where any stupid thing that one of us says turns into the funniest comment the other has ever heard. I'm not sure if you ever get used to riding a fully loaded bicycle in near-hundred-degree weather, but for whatever level of competence you can hope to achieve, we are without a doubt not there yet.

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Woodland, you can do so much better.
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That's the way, Davis.
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By the time we reach the motel in downtown Davis — our first so far — we are sweaty, overheated, dirty, smelly, and used up. It's hard to put into words the ecstasy that comes with stripping out of disgusting, foul-smelling, wet bike riding clothes, washing away multiple layers of sunscreen and road dirt from your skin, and then emerging from the shower feeling both like you're human and part of society again. It's a wondrous transformation.

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Full on spinach, kale, apples, raisins, blueberries, walnuts, pulled pork, and macaroni and cheese — and hazy from big bottles of cheap beer — the weight of having not slept more than two or three hours last night descends on both of us in force. We make it through dinner and lay around and listen to Broken Bells for about twenty minutes, but by 7:30 we've both lost our battle with sleep and lay spread out across the bed with the lights still on and the air conditioner chugging strong in the near corner.

Today's ride: 61 miles (98 km)
Total: 911 miles (1,466 km)

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