Day 23: Hollister, CA to Pinnacles National Park - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

September 18, 2014

Day 23: Hollister, CA to Pinnacles National Park

Yesterday afternoon and evening take a harder toll on me than I thought they had when I went to bed last night. When I wake up I'm exhausted. In part it's because Kristen is awake and moving around at 5:30 and I can't go back to sleep, but mostly it has to do with the fact that the thoughts of the sprawl, the traffic, the waste, and all of the mechanisms of society that we've seen and felt at work since we left Davis have shaken me in a profound way. It's one thing to experience all of that from the clean, quiet, air conditioned interior of a car while listening to sports radio or Real Estate or whatever, with extra speed available at the extension of your ankle, but it's something very different to feel the heat, the noise, the stink, and the anger, and to have all of them laid bare before you. But that's both the blessing and the burden of traveling by bicycle; everything is visceral, all the time, whether it's wonderful or terrible. There's no escape.

I'm exhausted and kind of depressed. I may not have this right, but I get the sense that for all of the physical, environmental, and monetary costs of all of this stuff, most people still fall into the category of moderately satisfied. Despite all of this stress and anxiety and disruption and damage required to keep our culture moving, they still don't wake up every day recharged and ready to once again savor the life they've been given.

It surprises me how distraught I feel all morning. It's bad enough that the only way to get upright and keep this adventure moving is a hard reset. I have to tell myself that it's day one all over again, that nothing from the past three or four days matters now, and that it's all about embracing and enjoying whatever's coming next, for better or for worse.

Road fuel.
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And to my surprise, it works. We don't leave Hollister until almost 11:00, but when we do it's under skies the perfect mix of thick white clouds and faultless blue. They're backed by a cool breeze that becomes a tailwind that pushes us on through Tres Pinos and Paicines on the Airline Highway, which came to be named that way because pilots flying between San Francisco and Los Angeles before radio navigation existed would use the highway to confirm that they were headed in the right direction.

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Today we head south, which is without a doubt the right direction for us. The road winds through narrow sections of canyon at first before opening up to a broader valley covered by a patchwork of dry grazing areas, onion fields, olive orchards, and the long, thin, precise lines of immature vineyards. The rolling hills beyond reflect a sort of burnt yellow that stands in contrast to the deep green of the California live oak trees with their narrow, stubby trunks and thick tops that are rounded like helmets.

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The clouds brought moisture with them, and although it doesn't rain, the combination of the humidity and the tailwind that cancels out the breeze we usually get from pedaling has us drenched in sweat all afternoon. But it doesn't matter, because about seven miles beyond Paicines the irrigation systems fall away and we ride alongside only the hills and the oak trees. The lack of hard edges on the hills somehow makes them seem shorter at first glance, but when we look at the dirt roads that wind their way to the top the true mass of the things becomes obvious. From the highway's perch above the valley floor we're also able to figure out the path of the creeks, because a narrow strip of more vibrant greens and yellows follows every twist and turn. It's one of the rare places we've traveled that looks much the same now as it did a hundred or even a thousand years ago. It's the greatest thing to have the ability to stop in the shade of an oak tree and sit for ten or fifteen minutes — or however long we want — and appreciate the fine detail laid out before us.

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Just before we reach Pinnacles National Park the sides of the valley squeeze in toward each other and the road throws us a long series of tight turns, which we sail through at fifteen miles per hour with almost no effort thanks to the tailwind. After many days of tough riding and battling a long series of headwinds, knocking out miles with minimal effort feels like the greatest gift we could have received.

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It seems like we always hear about how the national parks are hard up for cash, how they don't have enough money to maintain trails or roads, keep campgrounds open, or fund ranger talks. Yet the first thing we see when we roll up to the visitor center at Pinnacles is a swimming pool surrounded by a well-watered moat of grass. At least we know that our combined thirty-three dollars in entrance and camping fees will be put to good use paying the salary of the person responsible for scooping out the turds left in the pool by all of the vacationing five-year-olds. We consider this over beer and marshmallow-less s'mores.

Pool not pictured.
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Afternoon fades into evening with the typical national park background music: deer crunching through the bushes, quail hooting and shuffling, cicadas crying, the twang of country songs from a distant stereo, car alarms, and the screams and cries of no fewer than two dozen middle schoolers — at least one of whom sounds like he's being murdered — spending one night in the park as part of a class trip. But it doesn't make much of a difference, because instead of going on the hike we talked about during the day, we power through a pot of black bean soup and rice and take naps. We don't wake up until the sun has gone and the cool of the evening starts to elbow its way in.

It's the perfect end to a perfect first day on the road.

Today's ride: 35 miles (56 km)
Total: 1,054 miles (1,696 km)

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