Day 24: Pinnacles National Park to King City, CA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

September 19, 2014

Day 24: Pinnacles National Park to King City, CA

The morning fills with wildlife. Quail scuttle all over the campground, flocks of turkey vultures eight to ten strong hang on the tops of oak trees, and several herds of deer charge across the road and then up away from us into the hills as we approach. On our return to the highway, Kristen watches a bobcat cross a few hundred feet in front of her before it heads up onto a ridge and into the brush.

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We continue south on the Airline Highway through the Bear Valley, looking out at sparse oak trees, rusty old steel windmills, the grayish-brown of dried lake beds, and the occasional water tank. Even though there are only a few homes and a couple dozen cows out here, there's barbed wire along every foot of the road's edge. What we're looking at isn't beautiful in the sense that most people think of it, but its raw and untouched simplicity brings with it a restrained kind of beauty that we haven't yet experienced in Oregon or California.

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Later we ride alongside steep and rocky cliffs that shoot straight up from the valley floor and stand as clear evidence of the power of the San Andreas Fault, which has been grinding and subducting around these parts for millions of years. And then, almost as soon as they appear, the cliffs fall away and the hills drop lower and pick up a cover of trees so thick with leaves that they look like they're covered with one connected mass of green. Throughout the morning we ride in peace and stillness among the bird calls of the valley with almost no traffic.

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A long climb sends us to our granny gears and launches streams of sweat that work their way down our backs and into the friendly confines of our butt cracks. It takes us up and out of the Bear Valley to the crest of a hill that looks out through a bluish haze on the rippled foothills of the Salinas Valley and the angled peaks of the Santa Lucia Mountains beyond. On a far-off dirt road, a brown pickup truck travels to the south, leaving behind it a pale cloud of dust, but otherwise we see a world empty of all people and animals and sounds other than the wind.

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We drop for almost five miles, and as soon as we pass through a boulder-lined gap in the road everything around us changes. Coasting into the heart of the valley we see dozens of tractors, water shooting from a hundred sprinkler heads, and fields so thick with kale that we have to assume there's earth below it, because the plants grow so full and close together that they form an unbroken ocean of green that's impossible to see through. Up to our right it's unending lines of grapes. Out in front of us we see a patchwork made from squares in six shades of green, where the rows of crops run so straight they could only have been created with the help of some giant GPS-guided machine.

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King City has a different feel than the towns and cities we've passed through so far as well. Chain grocery stores and fast food joints and shoe shops cling to the exits of Highway 101, and the cars and homes and streets and the blank facial expressions that go along with the business of everyday life are the same as everywhere else we've been, but the main street through town is home to restaurants and mini-marts and insurance agencies where all of the owners and patrons speak Spanish, and all of the signs on the doors and windows reflect that. In the library we hear far more Spanish than English. And nine out of every ten people who pass into and out of Safeway are Hispanic. It's such a profound cultural change, to the point that it almost feels like a different country, and yet all we had to do to get here was cross over a mountain range from one valley to the next.

We're tired as we stand in front of the library. Part of it's because of the hard work of riding heavy bicycles, part of it's because we need to eat, and part of it's because the sweating of the last few days has left us dehydrated. But it's more than that. We're also growing tired of cities and towns that, because of their size, feel impersonal and unwelcoming. We're also tiring of seeing beautiful hills and mountains that sit untouched and unused but remain bound by barbed wire, off limits, accessible to no one, where you run the risk of getting fined or arrested or shot if you decide that you want to take a closer look.

And yet we realize it's important to experience all of these things and feel the way we do. So many of us have our theories about how America should be built and maintained and improved, but so few of us have the opportunity to step away from what we know and start to get a sense of how the disparate parts of this country fit together. In just a few days we've seen the homelessness of San Francisco, the marvel of engineering that is the Golden Gate Bridge, the wealth and breadth of Silicon Valley, the growth of the exurbs that extend beyond the Bay Area to the north and the south, the nation's newest national park, canyons that look much the same today as they did 2,000 years ago, and all of the mechanisms related to water and labor and transportation that have to exist to allow us to have perfectly green spinach and perfectly ripe tomatoes at the grocery store down the street every day of the year, at a low price, whether we live in California or Maine or Fairbanks, Alaska.

If each day on the road felt like a vacation we'd miss out on a lot of the lessons that thoughtful, measured travel can teach us.

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We're also tired of staying in unattractive campgrounds designed for motorhomes, but there's one option in King City and it's all satellite hookups and fifty-foot parking pads and signs directing retired RV drivers to the dump station. And so we set up on a patch of grass dotted with the brown mounds of gopher holes, with the tires and engines and trailers of Highway 101 screaming to the west, and the sound of a ukelele filtering from somewhere else in the campground. Inside the tent we talk about how we wanted adventure, how we wanted the unpredictable, and how we wanted to travel by bicycle in places that so few people travel by bicycle. In that we can consider ourselves successful.

Today's ride: 38 miles (61 km)
Total: 1,092 miles (1,757 km)

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