Bicycle Tour of the West
Day 4 – Paso Robles to Frazier Park
A first taste of remote“At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman, and these hills, the softness of the sky, the outline of these trees at this very minute lose the illusory meaning with which we had clothed them, henceforth more remote than a lost paradise… that denseness and that strangeness of the world is absurd.” - Albert Camus
Today is the longest planned day of my trip – 146 miles. The first 75 or 80 of those miles are across a remote section with no towns, no services, and barely any houses. I’m up well before first light, wolfing down leftover steak from the night before, and topping off the hydration tank. I’m on my bike and riding as the faintest light streaks the eastern sky.
It’s only a few miles until I’ve left town, and am gliding along an old road with very little traffic. It’s quite cold this morning. I’m happy to have brought leg warmers and arm warmers, as the temperature continues to drop before the sun rises – hitting 35 and staying there for about 30 minutes before the sun begins to pour some warmth down.
As the eastern sky begins to cast light onto the landscape around me, I see that I’m in the midst of wide and rolling wine country, with vineyards often stretching on both my left and right. There’s no wind at all so early in the morning, and the crisp air is delightful as I ride along, trying to maintain a healthy pace but staying out of the glycogen tank.
The sun is just cresting the horizon as I hear the pounding of hoofs on my left. I hadn’t noticed in the low light, but there’s a horse track over there, and a big beautiful set of buildings behind it. A couple folks are out running some horses on the track at this early hour, and I stop for a minute to admire the beauty of the scene with the brightening eastern horizon behind them.
I’m concerned about making the 146 miles today. If I get a tailwind, I feel confident I’ll make it, though it will be a very long day. No wind at all and I’m still pretty sure I can make it, though I might be getting in after dark. A headwind, and I’m probably out of luck. These first 80 miles don’t worry me much – I’ve got enough water to make it through that – but the ability to get 146 miles under my belt into a headwind is something I’m just not confident of.
The rolling hills continue, becoming more arid and remote as the miles pass. The country is quite beautiful really, and were it not for the headwind growing in my face, this is a ride I’d really enjoy. I’m following highway 58 across an open and arid region that reminds me a lot of eastern Colorado and Western Kansas. The traffic is extremely light, with a car passing me every 10 minutes or so.
At one point, I pass through a ranch where buffalo are raised, increasing even further the impression of Kansas and Colorado. The magic of these animals is pretty hard to argue against, as I stop and enjoy a snack while they watch me. Sitting still like this, there’s no denying a growing headwind. While I’m enjoying the quiet presence of the buffalo, I’m weighing my options for getting through the day. It’s possible I’ll find a little hotel of some sort in one of the little towns I’ll pass through, and I’m thinking this might be my best option. It will put me a day behind my schedule, which means I’d have to give up a rest day up the road somewhere, but I may not have any real choice in the matter.
After nearly 80 miles, I connect with Highway 33 just outside the little town of McKittrick. McKittrick is back north on 33 about a mile, and when you get there, it’s pretty remote and run-down. But there’s a little store there.
Highway 33 is not bicycle friendly. This is an understatement. It’s in the midst of old oilfield country, and the highway carries a lot of heavy truck traffic. It’s clear to me before I reach McKittrick that the headwind has taken a big toll on me and on my ability to ride the miles I have planned for today. While I might be able to make it, it would be a very late night for me, and I have another big day planned tomorrow. Tomorrow I end my day well into the desert, and I’m a little concerned that sucking my tank dry today might put me in danger tomorrow.
So I opt to hitch a ride across the busy part of the ride, headed south along 33. I never regret this decision, as the road is treacherous, has no shoulder, and is crowded with heavy trucks.
I end the day much earlier than I’d feared, thanks to the fella’ who stopped and picked me up along the highway in his pickup truck. He was listening to Rush Limbaugh, professing that he was actually a Democrat. As we talked, I came to learn that he had a nice job with good pay and benefits, thanks to a strong union. Yet, he seemed to blame teachers’ unions for bringing ruin upon our great nation, and even when I tried to subtly point out that his nice pickup truck and secure job might not reconcile with his vitriol for teachers who seek the same sort of security and fair treatment in their job, he continues his rant, apparently oblivious to the clear disconnect.
As we cruise along, I snack on some food, and learn all about how much our country has been damaged by our continued tolerance of folks who are <fill in the blank>. Sometimes it’s gay folks, sometimes it’s brown folks, sometimes it’s black folks… He’s pretty open-minded about who he includes in his list of folks to blame the demise of the country on. I also learn that before Obama took office, we had no debt crisis in our country, as the previous administration had done a stellar job of keeping us out of debt.
The absurdity of the conversation is mind-boggling, but I’m delighted to chew on my granola bar, drink a little water, and be entertained. At one point he’s talking about how too many people get to vote in the country, and how we need to do a better job of cracking down on all the illegal voting. I jump in and suggest that perhaps a civics test would be in order before a person could get a “voting license”, and perhaps to vote a person would need to display some basic understanding of actual facts, just to prevent people from voting who are completely out of touch with true facts rather than hysteria-stocked propaganda.
He thinks this is a great idea. The truck is quiet for just a second, and he turns the volume up on the radio – apparently Rush just said something particularly inspiring…
I’m grateful for the ride, and figure listening to this fella rant about the world he wants to believe exists is just part of the payment for the ride. As we get to a point where I want him to let me out, he comments on the fact that he’s getting low on gas. I drop him a $20, and thank him for the ride.
As I ride the rest of the way to Frazier Park, I try hard to shake the nonsense out of my tiny little brain…