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Canada to Mexico 2005

Aaron’s Ride Journal

September 30, 2005: Mexicali, Mexico: Mile 1955

What just happened? Did we really just ride nearly 2000 miles from Canada to Mexico? Maybe it was 3 days of cycling in the desert, but right now I feel pretty confused.

The last day was adrenaline charged. The entire day was completely flat (the first portion was along the Salton Sea, which is a surreal body of water in the middle of the desert sitting just below sea level), so Eric, Tim and I got into paceline formation and finished the first 50 miles in just under 3 hours. It was basically a race to beat the heat that was sure to take over around noon... and take over it did. By noon, we passed a thermometer that read 105 degrees. The last 30 miles should have been celebratory, but they were overshadowed by extreme discomfort. Not many words were exchanged as we pedaled through the sweltering heat and stench of cattle ranches (cattle in the desert?) and putrid sulphur odor. The last 20 miles were a mental game, where I was talking to myself constantly begging for my mind to stay sharp. I would just stare at my cycling computer and watch the miles eek by at a seemingly snails pace. It was brutal. Finally, we rolled into Calexico, and celebrated by sharing a 40oz bottle of Tecate, complete with brown paper bag. As we went to cross the border, Eric discovered that he had a FLAT TIRE! Talk about bad timing. A few minutes later we were rolling again and rode through the border crossing to Mexicali. I felt so overwhelmed with emotion and excitement as we dodged the traffic in this chaotic but charming town. After photos were taken, we found a small bar and had tequila shots and discussed the trip. We could have sat there for hours and reflected, but we were exhausted, so we packed up the bikes and headed out to find a hotel room.

Am I happy that I won't have to get on the bike tomorrow? Am I sad that this amazing journey is now over? A little of both. There is just too much to process right now. So many stories to tell, so many experiences to share. I'm not sure at this point how this trip has effected me, but one thing is for certain. It has had a profound effect on me. I think what I will remember most is seeing the changes in landscape, people and culture as we rolled through so many towns and cities along the coast. When you're seeing these things at 10-30 mph on a bike, they are absorbed so much more completely when in an automobile.

This week I'm going to spend some time on the beach in San Diego, then drive (WHEW!) to Arizona and Southern Utah to see some national parks. Check back in a week or so. I'll post photos and video from each day, and provide some closing thoughts and final stats (you will not believe some of them). Thanks to everybody who sent emails and voice mails of encouragement throughout the trip. I know that this just seemed like a bike ride along the coast, but there were points when I was literally at the mental breaking point, and those little sentiments kept me going for one more day.


September 29, 2005: Mecca, CA: Mile 1865

Amazing ride through Joshua Tree National Park (my favorite NP). Such a surreal and beautiful place. After a 25 mile descent, we rolled into the town of Mecca with a mostly Mexican population. (made a few friends that asked about our trip after seeing our van). At 250ft below sea level, temp 105.


September 28, 2005: Yucca Valley, CA: Mile 1775

125 mile ride through the Mojave Desert. One of the most physically and mentally challenging days of my life.


September 27, 2005: Palmdale, CA: Mile 1650

Over 100 miles in the mountains today... with a cold. But we finally made it to the valley. Very hard day. We're all feeling it. Staying in a hotel that feels luxurious compared to last night's hell hole. We got cat-called by a car full of young women. That was our pathetic ego boost for the day.


September 26, 2005: Camuya, CA: Mile 1540

Was actually very glad to leave the cold, wet coast and begin our journey through the foothills and into the arid desert. Unfortunately, I've developed a head cold, so the remaining 4 days will be all the more challenging. Staying in a very seedy motel behind a diner in the middle of nowhere.


September 25, 2005: San Luis Obispo, CA: Mile 1450

To elaborate more on my post from yesterday (now that I'm at an internet cafe and don't have to type on my cell phone), we had a very interesting camping situation last night. When we arrived in the town of Lucia, what we found was one restaurant, and 2 booked campgrounds. This is not what we wanted to find after a grueling 95 miles on the road. After asking around a bit, a woman at the restaurant suggested that we go on a road in town that led into the hills and camp there. She said we wouldn't be bothered there. The whole situation was a bit sketchy, but we were stuck in an area where the nearest lodging was 50 or more miles in either direction, so we made the best of it. It actually turned out to be a nice night, other than the fact that we had to take paper towel baths on the back of the truck. (If you can imagine your car after a day-long road trip, you'll understand what we look like after a day of riding in the mist.) We bought our dinner in a small store attached to the restaurant and all ate in the van. The view from our little ridge was just amazing. We could see countless stars, the moon lit the campsite nicely, and an owl serenaded us with his gentle hooting throughout the night. It was very, very, peaceful.

The ride out of Lucia was extremely challenging. We were immediately faced with one of the largest climbs of the trip. After completing this monster, I sat down for breakfast with Eric and Tim and had a ham and egg sandwich and a chocolate milkshake. I've really become a human garbage can on this trip. When you look at the menu, you're thinking calories, not quality. Yet I still continue to lose weight. Bummer. After the wretched climb, the terrain flattened out as we continued down the coast. We passed Hearst Castle and with about 40 miles left in the day, I decided to get into my aero bars and hammer the ride home. It was one of those days that I just really wanted to be at our destination, so I cranked the miles out as quickly as I could. Passed a very large pack of seals (about 80) lying on the beach, and many critters that appeared to be a type of beach squirrels would dart out of my way as I rode by. I'm not sure if I've talked about the road kill situation, but as you can imagine, you see a lot on a ride like this. The detail and odors that we get to experience are extremely unpleasant. There was one road that we named "the avenue of death" because it smelled of dead animals the entire time we were on it. Being on the side of the road for 1400 miles with cars flying by, I can truly sympathize with the fear that these poor little creatures must experience when trying to get across the highway.

After our night on the side of the road last night, we agreed to stay in a hotel tonight. The hot shower and laundry facilities were much needed! Had dinner at a great little Italian restaurant with an outdoor patio in town. I think this will be the last decent meal we have, since tomorrow, we cross the mountains into the desert, where chances are, our meals will consist of those found at road-side diners and truck stops. This week is going to be very challenging. I just saw the weather report and it looks like temperatures in the Mojave are going to be around 100+ (it will be like training in DC before I left, but without the humidity!). Will be hot, but it will be beautiful. I truly love the desert. I'll be thinking of everybody back home this week, as I do every day.


September 24, 2005: Lucia, CA: Mile 1365

95 miles on some of the most stunning coastline in the country (Big Sur area). Very hilly and difficult ride. No place to stay tonight so we're camping in a state park (made our own campsite). You can see every star in the sky and hear the ocean from our spot on this hill.


September 23, 2005: Aptos, CA: Mile 1270

Tailwinds rule. Very fast ride down the coast from San Fran with a hard and steady wind at our backs. 35mph on the flats and 45mph descents were the order of the day. Terrain is changing quickly as we move south. Becoming more arid. Camping by beach. I can hear the waves as I lay in my tent.


September 22, 2005: San Francisco, CA: Rest Day 2

Had a nice day in and around San Fran today. Spent some time at the Fishermans Wharf and in the Berkley area which is where we are staying. Also made our standard stops at REI and a bike shop for supplies and bike adjustments. I bought 2 more tires. I should have bought stock in rubber before I came out here. The new tires I bought in Portland already have small slashes in them. They should be good for the next couple hundred miles, but once we get into the desert, I don't want to take any chances. Having dinner at Kelly's cousin Matt's house tonight in Berkley. Very nice guy.


September 21, 2005: San Francisco, CA: Mile 1185

Very fast 85 mile ride into the city. It was a bit of a shock to be in an urban area again after being in such an isolated area for so many miles. The Golden Gate bridge was a wonderful sight. Much needed rest day tomorrow. I have no idea what day of the week it is... it's a beautiful thing.


September 20, 2005: Jenner, CA: Mile 1100

Very hilly and difficult ride today. Tim and I rode the whole day together. We shared grumbles about the hills every 5 miles or so. At about mile 50, he looked at me and said "we still have 40 miles left". We just grumbled more. We met the van at about mile 80, and Bill our driver for the 2nd leg said that he'd meet us in 10 miles in the town of Jenner. Little did we know that the next 10 miles would be the most technical, treacherous and exciting of the trip. They were through winding roads, with cliffs in excess of 400 feet (no guardrails for the most part), guys having fun in their expensive sports cars, and to top it off, there were cows wandering around on the roads! When we got to the peak of one stretch, we looked below us and saw a 5 mile descent snaking below us. Tim took the lead as we overtook the lane to avoid cars from passing (the speed limit was 25, we were going 30+, they could wait). One tense moment involved a cement truck barreling down on Tim as he stood his ground. Finally, when the truck passed him, he immediately caught up to the truck and cursed the bastard that busted his heavenly descent for a moment! Jenner is a cool little town on a bay that also has a view of the ocean. We're staying in some quaint little cabins with a wonderful view. In my opinion, these are our best accommodations yet. San Fran Tomorrow.


September 19, 2005: Little River, CA: Mile 1010

Great ride today. Felt very strong during a very long 1000ft climb. Payoff was awesome... a 10 mile winding descent to the coast. Great brunch with some fellow tourers from Vancouver. Camping tonight. Camped among redwoods last night. Amazing.


September 18, 2005: Bembow, CA: Mile 935

If there is a heaven, it looks a lot like Avenue of the Giants in Northern California. It's a 30 mile road through some of the largest and oldest redwoods in the United States. It was one of the most beautiful rides, and one of the most amazing days of my life. I got teary eyed when we had to leave the park. It was really that amazing. I think this is something that everybody should see. It will stay with you for a very, very long time. Seeing it on bike was such a wonderful way to take in all of the grandeur of this park. Some of the trees are up to 1500 years old. I felt insignificant among them.

In the last entry of my training journal, I mentioned that I was mentally prepared for this trip but not sure about physically. I'm finding the opposite to be true. I feel like a machine on the bike. There are long stretches of time that I forget that I'm even riding. The true challenge is the mental aspect. This is so much more than a ride down the coast. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to explain what one puts themselves through to accomplish something like this. There are certainly times when you ask yourself why you're putting yourself through this. Eight hours of hard and stressful exercise a day and the almost constant stress of passing vehicles and bike troubles takes its toll on you. This has not been a pleasure cruise. Some days have been good. Some have been bad. Some have been very bad. Some have been good and bad and then good again 10 times over. I just keep thinking of the final goal. I think we all are.


September 17, 2005: Eureka, CA: Mile 845

Difficult ride today. About 20 miles of climbing in heavy fog and cold drizzle. But the payoff was great. Began our ride through giant redwood country One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Was by myself for much of the day. Lots of time to reflect. Camping tonight.


September 16, 2005: Crescent City, CA: Mile 765

Cold, rainy, windy ride over the Cali border. Glad to be in a warm (yet crappy) hotel room. Frightening encounter with a pissed-off meth junkie in OR. We were all shaken, but ok. Watch "The Salton Sea". That will give you an idea of what this guy was like. Overall, not a great day.


September 15, 2005: Humbug Mt Park, OR: Mile 685

Today was a much needed gift. Perfect 70 deg w/ blue skies. Legs felt strong and morale was high. Met an interesting cycle tourer named Peter. Quite a character. Camping by one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.


September 14, 2005: Winchester Bay, OR: Mile 595

The relentless stream of passing tractor trailers & RVs wore on our sanity today. A 20mph headwind for 15+ miles prior to the coast didn't help. Not much conversation. I snapped at Tim at end of ride, but he understood. We were all spent. Yet, I dread the day we reach Mexico. Camping tonight.


September 13, 2005: Junction City, OR: Mile 505

Very long but enjoyable 120 mile ride from Portland today. Beautiful, seemingly endless vistas. Funny moment when Eric and I fought for position behind Tim to avoid getting hit by a huge farm sprayer. 2 more flat tires. Legs feel great, but hands and wrists hurt. Tomorrow we head toward coast.


September 12, 2005: Portland, OR: Rest Day 1

Well, today was supposed to be a rest day, but we ended up running around taking care of bike repairs and stocking up on supplies. I picked up an extra set of tires and 4 new tubes, since I've had such bad luck with flats so far. Also got a tune-up, so hopefully the bike will be a little tighter for the next leg. The last leg was 5 days. This leg is 9. I've been trying to, as Eric would say "fatten up" for the next leg. I've eaten piles of high-calorie food all day, including eggs, bacon, biscuits with gravy, mac and cheese, sausage and about 3 beers. I've already lost about 8 pounds, so I'm concerned about how much I'm going to lose in the weeks to come. It's basically impossible to eat the amount of calories that you burn in an 8+ hour day of cycling, so you try to eat as much and as often as possible to maintain. I slept in Ian and Kate's back yard last night (in my tent) and was awaken by a critter scratching at the screen window next to my head. I was startled at first, but then realized it was their cat Otis paying me a visit. Went to eat at a cool place called Montage tonight. Met my old friends Kevin and Michelle there who now live just outside of Portland. I need to get some rest. Tomorrow is going to be a long day. Possibly 100 miles. Back to business.


September 11, 2005: Portland: Mile 385

Today was a big day. Very, very difficult mentally and physically, but we made it to Oregon, which was a big reward for the week's work. We're staying at Ian's place... a very cool little 1940's era bungalow filled with eclectic art. He was with us from Vancouver, and now he unfortunately has to go back to the daily grind. We're also losing Lauren and Ian's brother Jason, but we've gained Todd, who is planning on riding from here to Mexico with us.

So back to the day's ride. Originally, we had planned on today being an easy 60 mile ride, followed by a rest day in Portland. The morning was cold and damp, but as the day went on, the mist burned off and the sun shined down on us. All was relatively well until we hit an extremely difficult 2 mile climb at mile 35ish. From there, things got tough. I was tired, looking forward to the end, and quite frankly, my ass was really starting to hurt... and I got another flat tire to top it all off. At about mile 45, we stopped by the van to grab some snacks and regroup. Eric, Tim and I had a beer thinking we were 15 minutes from the ride's end. Wrong. After finishing the beer, we realized that it was another 35 miles to our destination. This was a painful 35 miles. About 8 of the 35 miles were in a very quiet and fast pace line (when riders get into a straight line to reduce wind resistance. Each rider takes his turn at the front to block the other riders from the wind). At one point Tim looked at me, laughed and said "your face says it all". Crossing the border into Oregon helped our spirits, but then we realized that we still had another 15 miles to go. All of us jumped off our bikes and fell into Ian's grass when we got to his house. I'm really glad tomorrow is a rest day. We went to eat at this really cool place Northeast of Portland that was in an old school house. Very cool, artistic, a bit creepy (ghosts of WWII era kids playing hopscotch perhaps?). So far, Portland seems like a great town. We'll head into the city tomorrow, take our bikes in for tune-ups (our bikes have taken a beating as you can imagine). The house is packed, so I'm going to roll out the sleeping bag in the back yard and sleep under the stars. Hope no critters crawl in the bag with me.


September 10, 2005: Castle Rock, WA: Mile 305

Cold, rainy, miserable ride today. Several frightening dog encounters. I think every house around here has a loose dog! Last 15 miles were decent. We're staying close to Mt St Helens at the Timberland Inn. Tomorrow we ride to Portland. Monday is our first rest day.


September 9, 2005: Elma, WA: Mile 223

Celebrated end of days ride with tequilla shots. Fast ride w/ Tim and Eric. The team is really coming together. Was overcast w/ a little rain. About 60 deg. 2 flat tires today! Going to put new ones on tomorrow. Old ones getting thin. Got a good scare from a log truck. Not fun. Camping tonight.


September 8, 2005: Silverdale, WA: Mile 150

A very interesting day of riding today. About 20 miles of our 77 mile ride today were in extremely thick fog. I had a blinking spotlight facing toward traffic, which gave me some amount of comfort. We had a 30 minute ferry ride to Port Townsend, WA, which gave us a good opportunity to regroup, have some coffee and see some sights. Eric, Tim and I broke off immediately after the ferry landed (about mile 30) and managed to hammer out the remaining 47 miles in good time. We arrived in Silverdale around 4pm. Silverdale is one of the more commercial towns we've been through so far. It pretty much has all the typical suburban stripmall bullshit that you'd expect, but we managed to find a local mexican restaurant with some decent food (although Tim begs to differ) and excellent margaritas. I also managed to find a massage joint and got a decent 30 minute rubdown before dinner (get your minds out of the gutter... no happy ending folks). The lady said I was tense and needed to relax... yeah lady, try riding a bike with log trucks passing you at 70mph for 8 hours and see how relaxed your are! Speaking of, we had to cross a truly terrible 2-lane bridge today, complete with speeding trucks, open grates, flimsy guard rails and road-kill seagulls to dodge.

So, as long as I have a computer to type on as opposed to my cell phone, I'll tell you about our little adventure at the campground in Deception Pass State Park last night. As the sun went down, we quickly discovered that we were next to a Naval base jet fighter training facility. Jets flew LOUDLY overhead until about 11pm, and then stopped... until about 4am at least. I was awaken from a dead sleep by a fighter jet flying about 100 feet over the tree tops above us. I honestly thought we were being attacked. I had that feeling that you get when you pass a state trooper going about 30 miles over the speed limit, x100. Most of us were groaning from our tents and shouting profanities as the jets continued to zoom overhead... with the exception of Eric who was apparently snoring the entire time. I had this vision of the poor animals in the forests around the base with nervous ticks and losing their hair from all the commotion every night. Speaking of forest creatures, you see a lot of road kill when covering this many miles. I've seen (and smelled) a wide variety of dead wildlife (and pets). Very sad.

I'm thinking about my friends and family a lot. Trust me, you have lots of time to think. One thing I'm NOT thinking about however is work. (Sorry friends at CSC).


September 7, 2005: Anocortes, WA: Mile 73

Lying in my tent after a great day of riding and a pizza and beer dinner. Saw some beautiful sights... and got chased by a pitt bull! Was really cool crossing the US border. I can't even imagine how much we're going to see in the next 3 weeks. Check out Eric's journal ( He has pics.


September 6, 2005: Vancouver: Tomorrow We Begin

We're here in Vancouver, staying at a place called the the Ocean Promenade Hotel. Has been a busy day, running from Seattle to the hotel in Canada, picking up last minute supplies, TRYING to see some of the city. (It is an amazing city and beautiful area, as is Seattle). Had dinner at a little Japanese diner in town called "Guu with Garlic". Bizarre name, interesting food. Not exactly what I had in mind for a pre-ride day meal, but it did the trick and was a great opportunity for the group to share ride stories and talk about the trip.

Tomorrow is the big day. We will start a few miles north of the Canadian border and begin the 65ish miles that will be our first leg on the trip. There will be 6 of us riding. Eric, Tim, Melba, Lauren, Jason, Ian and myself. We've spent so much time running around the past couple of days, so I'm really itching to get on that bike and just ride!


September 5, 2005: Seattle

Just arrived at Seatac airport. Rest of the crew should be here shortly. Looking down the coastline from the plane window, I now have a better sense of the magnatude of what we are about to take on. We stay in Seattle tonight and drive to Vancouver tomorrow.