Archive for the 'Tour de Cascadia' Category



Citywide

unit a. mission district, sf. photo by dailytransit.

WE SAIL LIKE EAGER PIRATES over the pavement, sweeping down Columbus Street in search of food. Two circles of rubber meet road as lungs suck in gray sky for sustenance. Now we’re on Market Street, pushing pedals past Fourth, Fifth and Sixth. This ride is our morning salutation to the city, a yoga of caffeinated cadence. The periphery is a blur of human scenery.

Many rotations later we arrive at Momi Toby’s, a favorite Hayes Valley cafe from my last visit to the city. My teeth already have plans for an onion bagel smothered in cream cheese. We lock the bikes across the street, a breeze gently invades my hoodie and laps away the sweat. I open the flimsy screen door, and step inside.

The crimson walls are just as inviting as I remembered, almost as welcoming as the owner; when we don’t have enough cash and the ATM around the corner is found in disrepair, he offers us a freebee (no need in the end, I found an extra $5 tucked away). Sipping coffee out on the sidewalk and full of that desired onion bagel, Nick and I discuss how genuinely happy we are to be here; here, where the weeks don’t fly like days. The monotony is broken, an escape made, life feeling adventurous as we savor late summer.

“Summer hasn’t felt like summer since back in ’04,” I say. Working jobs killed youthful days.

We mosey a bit, check out the park, then roll to the Mission District. We walk there for hours, checking out bookstores and dining on painfully satisfying tacos at Pacho Villa (the hot sauce will love you, but hurt you in the end). But the highlight is when Nick gets mops randomly dumped on his head at 826 Valencia – what else can you expect from a store operated by pirates and writers? We marvel at how a block can divide worlds: Valencia and Mission are parallel in reality, but are really parallel universes.

The spicy beans in my belly are fuel to power up hills – or so I tell myself as I feel burning in my muscles and gut, pedaling a bike with one gear up the formidable rollers of Lower Haight. At the top now, nearly dying but feeling proud that I didn’t walk it, we cruise and memories float back; it seems like minutes since I was here last April, Nick says the same about being here three years ago. We marinate on that, then we ride through.

We flirt with Golden Gate Park before leaving the green for the busy streets of the Richmond (north of the park). Past the Chinese shops on Geary – like a whole other Chinatown – we roll (actually struggle) up to a nice viewing point in the Presidio, and take in the Bay as it begins to soak in the pre-sunset orange light.

The ride back to the hostel is a bit grueling, a bit hairy. Excepting ridiculous detours, there’s no real way to make it back without mashing up and down some serious hills – we are, after all, going through Russian Hill. We do what we have to, finally coming to the Broadway tunnel. Here the sidewalk/bikepath is not paved but is metal paneling. Friction hardly exists, and we have perhaps six inches on either side as we zip towards the light – on one side is wall, the other is railing, and cars. Keep ‘em straight.

An hour later, the bikes back at the hostel and our muscles weary, we stroll through Chinatown in search of cheap, delicious fare. Sam Wo’s is our answer – customers step through the kitchen on the ground floor to be seated in the low-ceilinged second-story dining room. Noodles (of any kind) are the specialty, and the waitress will kindly tell you what not to order (“Beef no good, how about chicken?”). And at $3 to $5 per plate, the price is right.

Sufficiently fed, we hoof it back down to Hayes Valley, amazed that what is a 15-minute trip by bike is a 40-minute trek by foot. But we have some drinking planned, and think that stumbling shoes are likely safer transport than wobbling bicycles.

We show up at my friend Danielle’s apartment and are promptly greeted by Sissy (a small, ferociously harmless dog) and the roommates. I see the small room where Jan and I stayed during our last visit and become unexpectedly nostalgic. Danielle offers champagne – she’s all dolled up for the Roots show tonight – and we toast and drink before taking to the streets again. Danielle and her roommate go off to to the concert, and Nick and I walk up Fillmore in search of a bar with thickly chilled atmosphere. Hello, Florio.

The room is saturated in a red glow. Nick orders a gin and tonic before heading to the bathroom, and I ponder whether I should splurge on some Chimay- I do, and I’m quaffing delightedly by the time Nick comes back for his bar stool. We chat and ponder, lulled into a buzz by our exhaustion, the city and alcohol.

Outside the sidewalks are quieting down – it’s only Thursday, after all. Not even two days in and we’ve done a citywide crash course, hitting up the four corners. The fog is rolling in, so we decide to shove off in a cab, and call it a night.

(Next: More San Francisco…)

Poetry in the Pavement

view from a pint glass. vesuvio’s, sf.

WE’RE SCRAMBLING FOR CHANGE. A line of cars is queuing up behind us, and the Russian woman working the toll booth looks unforgiving. “Could ya help us out?” I ask, chagrined and holding one dollar less than needed for the toll.

“I cannot take less than five,” she replies, stone-faced with a thick accent. We don’t have five in cash, I say, so what then? “You will get a fine for thirty dollars mailed to you,” she answers. Sweet. Welcome to San Francisco.

The day is cloudy and I’m feeling a bit pissed from a seven-hour drive and the Golden Gate toll debacle. We park around the corner from a strip club – coincidentally adjacent to our hostel – plug the meter and lug our stuff up to the Green Tortoise. The employees at our hostel are changing shifts and so we just sit there while the meter runs. The woman working says we should just sit tight. “I’m just worried about the meter,” I say, tired and feigning patience. Well go feed it, she says.

We eventually get set up in our small room, and then go in search of a place to park the car for free. The key is finding a curb that won’t get streetcleaned until the day after we leave – we luck out at a place near Hayes Valley right next to a park. We pull our bikes out of the trunk, lock the doors, and hope the car will still be there six days from now. Then we ride away, down Grove and into the mad flowing artery of Market Street. It’s rush hour, and the feeling of blood moving in our legs after two days of driving is good enough to make us feel a little crazy. It’s car-avoidance meditation. In between and around. Pedal. Concentrate. Pedal.

We hit the Embarcadero – the main road on the northern waterfront – and whip around to Broadway. We hit a couple good-sized hills and push up them with all we have. I’m gushing sweat. We wheel in front of the hostel sucking air and feeling a great high of endorphins, buzzing with excitement of being someplace new. My bad mood has worn off. We take the bikes up to our room and then hit the street again in search of food. We’re in North Beach so it’s got to be Italian fare, we decide.

On a Wednesday night North Beach (aka Little Italy) is pulsing, and suave Italian men are out luring potential customers into their restaurants. A couple try their bit on Nick and I, but our thin wallets are more persuasive. After touring a few blocks I bust out the trusty NFT Guide and find that “Steps of Rome” should have a solid meal and only has two dollar signs next to it. But when we get there it seems a little spendy – is a little spendy – but the Italian guy is selling it really hard and we give. “Fuck it, it’s our first night.”

Bellies full and wallets stung, we step outside. The fit, grey-haired Italian man who ushered us in the door asks us how our meal was – Great, we say. Then he says something about going out to find women. “How is the pussy in this city?” he asks. We laugh, not quite believing that a 50-some-old man just said that, and then say we wouldn’t know anything about it (both attached men).

Then we see it. Right next door to “Steps of Rome” is “Steps of Rome Caffe,” the stripped-down, less romantic, less expensive version of the place we just ate at. Damn.

We meander down Columbus to find ourselves at Vesuvios, the favorite watering hole of Jack Kerouac. The alley that runs between the bar and City Lights bookstore (also a famous beat haven) is even called “Jack Kerouac Alley.” Steel letters sunk into the pavement of that alley tell quotes of Kerouac’s and other writers.

Nick and I sit in the second floor of the bar and sip on our pints. He takes a phone call outside and so then I just sit there and feel kind of inspired. Kerouac was just a person who sat in this bar, I think to myself, and who wrote. I take out my journal. A gorgeous cacophony of conversations drifts from the cozy wooden tables and out into the neon city night.

(Next: More San Francisco…)

Past the Nowheres of America

NICK ROLLED IN AROUND 1:30 p.m. at the train station in downtown Portland. Wearing a plain white t-shirt and shorts he looked happy as hell to be out of dodge – the past week had been rough. We picked up his bike from the checked luggage counter, threw it in the back of the car and then dipped out of the station parking lot, over the Burnside bridge and into a little Deadhead pub in Hawthorne for sandwiches and drinks. He ordered a double gin and tonic, I ordered a 12oz glass of beer. I was driving, I guessed.

Our bellies full of food and excitement, we blasted out towards Highway 26. About ten miles out we shifted to the 6, and finally onto the 101 Coastal Highway. Around us clouds crept over the pine-tree hills like fingers running through hair. We took the road fast, and corners even faster it seemed, ’cause we didn’t want to set up our tent in the dark. But as we plowed South the night fell, along with the fog, and we slowed our pace trying to see where the road was.

Just past the small town of Florence, Ore., there is Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park – and there were plenty of campsites to be had for a mere $17. We set up the tent by lamp and car headlights, staked it down and then jetted back into town for burgers at A&W. The guy taking our order says we might have to go out the backdoor after we eat. Why, I ask, what time do you guys close? “Nine o’clock, only probably not any more,” he says, understandably surly. It was 8:45. But we weren’t the only customers, and we were starving enough not to really care whether this guy got off a few minutes early.

We bought firewood, chips and beer and headed back to the campsite. Glistening stars above, we blew our outside world concerns into the embers of the fire. Three drinks each and a couple makeshift pillows was enough for us to knock out until the grey morning light. We had eggs and bacon at a little house-turned-diner called Pauline’s Place – a few genteel local couples eyeing our unshaved, unshowered appearances confusedly – before we were on the road again.

Nick and I marveled as we barreled down the 101 how much of the country is really just small towns and nowheres. Indian reservations and trees, trailers and coastline. Old town centers trainwrecking with Targets and Wal-Marts. As we sailed to the fringes of Eureka, CA, a couple scrungy guys sat with a sorry piece of cardboard reading, “Get us out of this shit hole.” All I could do was wish them luck.

We saw a curious number of groups of hitchhikers as we drove through Humboldt county – supposedly famous for it’s huge crops of marijuana. I felt like I was back in the 60s as we rolled past their dusty faces, back when the roads were filled with rucksack wanderers. But who were these kids? Where were they trying to get to?

Our destination the second night was Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and we got there just early enough to set up camp and enjoy the scenery before darkness fell. The trunks of the trees were massive, one base sometimes giving life to three or four separate trees. Just across from our site six guys in their thirties and forties rolled in on touring bicycles and set up camp – I couldn’t help but feel a bit like a wuss for driving. But cycling the West Coast would’ve been an entirely different kind of journey…it was enough to have our bikes for urban touring this trip.

We rose pretty early the next day (Nick feeling a bit hungover) and rolled out towards San Francisco. The redwood forest sprawled endlessly around us for miles and miles until we hit the grassy rolling hills that are so characteristic of northern California. Somewhere in between we paused just to soak it in – to take in a moment of stillness, of not driving. We stood there feeling entirely free and far away. We breathed. We belted up and took off.

(Next: San Francisco)

Photos from a Journey

view entire set on flickr. stories to come.

2000 Miles

COMING TO THE END OF OUR JOURNEY was bittersweet, anti-climactic and utterly relieving. After seemingly endless miles on the road we rolled into Seattle feeling strangely normal. Our tired eyes gleamed in the dusky light as we struggled to stitch together the world of the past three weeks – of the open road, the outdoors, California, unfamiliar places – and the world to which we were returning.

Even as I sit here back at my parents’ house, wearing sweatpants and tapping away in front of this screen, I feel like I’ve been in a time warp. This summer has stretched forever, and this journey seemed to span over months. Does the theory of relativity apply to long road trips?

Either way, the long and short is TDT is back from an extended hiatus – I want to thank those of you who kept checking back even as my posting trailed off. Days spent on the road and in the woods gave little opportunity for updating the blog, but over the next few days I’ll be getting photos up here and recaps of my various destinations.

But for now it’s time for the first decent night’s sleep in 2000 miles – after all, I’ve still got 2000 more to go. Happy travels.

The Lights of San Francisco

I’VE BEEN A SHABBY BLOGGER these days – I’ll just go ahead and admit that. But in my defense it’s felt near impossible to muster up the energy to write a clever post after a day of cycling over massive hills, touring the city and soaking in the atmosphere over pints of beer. Waltzing into the hostel after midnight, the last thing I want to look at is a computer screen.

As far as what I’ve been up to, many of my explorations have mirrored my last trip. After all, San Francisco only has so many neighborhoods. But this trip has been somewhat like re-reading a favorite novel; combing over the streets I see things from a new perspective, can appreciate details I might have missed last time. Cruising the city on a bicycle seat has allowed both Nick and I the mobility to roam between neighborhoods quickly and easily, though we’ve certainly taken time out of the saddle to stroll streets at a slower pace.

The highlights have been bakeries in Chinatown, pints at Vesuvio, and mashing down Post Street blessed with a wave of green lights. The weather has been gorgeous, an endless sea breeze wafting in the sunkissed air. My normally news-addicted self has remained largely uninformed and unplugged – and I can almost hear myself think. The city is an inspiring place, a beautiful crush of people that is consistently intriguing. Imagination grows in its shady corners, while the city bustles in the light.

A Night at Vesuvio’s

NORTH BEACH IS PULSING on a Wednesday night. We’ve finally arrived in San Francisco after three days of driving and two nights of little sleep in national parks, and to celebrate Nick and I slurped several pints away at Jack Kerouac’s favorite watering hole here in the City by the Bay. A combination of beer and fine Italian food means it’s time for TDT to take a much deserved night of rest.

More updates to follow – Happy travels!


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