Archive for the 'Tour de Cascadia' Category



From the East Bay to the Pacific

beach @ golden gate park. photo by dailytransit.

THERE’S SOMETHING DISCONCERTING ABOUT speeding through a dark tube mere feet away from the crush of thousands of cubic tons of seawater. But you’ve got to get across the Bay somehow, and so Nick and I sit calmly as we zip along on the BART towards Berkeley.

We come up to street level to find ourselves amid crowds of Cal fans who’ve arrived for the day’s football game. People are hocking tickets, looking for tickets, and we cut a line towards the greenery of campus. The last time I came to UC-Berkeley we spent so much time wandering around shops that it was dark by the time we got to the main campus entrance, and so I never really got to explore the college that had rejected me years back – to see what I had missed out on.

I should preface what I’m about to say with this: I’ve seen some gorgeous campuses in my day. The University of Washington probably tops them all with its Gothic architecture, cherry-tree lined quad, and views of Mt. Rainier. Tied for second are the University of Wisconsin-Madison, nestled between two vast, clear lakes, and Seoul’s Yonsei University, with its old stone buildings choked by lush green ivy. And so as we’re wandering through Berkeley, taking in the fields and the orange-tiled roofs and all I can think is, “It’s pretty, but it isn’t that great.”

Campus snobbery aside, Nick and I do take the time to lay down in beautiful green field and soak in the day. A young coed is chatting away on her cell phone not far away, but it doesn’t break the calm washing over us. My mind feels delightfully untethered, my consciousness floating just above the spot where I lay.

After enough sun we meander down towards Telegraph – Berkeley’s version of the college strip, like Seattle’s University Ave or Madison’s State Street. But we do notice a key difference: the hippies here are old salts, sexagenarians who’ve probably been smoking gummy weed for decades. They sell tie-dye tees, knit caps to hold up natty dreads, and used reggae albums. Peace and love and fighting the empire are carved into their lined faces.

We grab lunch at Cafe Intermezzo – the same place I came when I was at Berkeley six months ago – and shove the massive quantities of salad into our fiber-deprived guts; a welcome change from the grease and beer that have been our diet’s staples. Sitting at the window bar we see a guy wearing cycling shoes holding a hand-made anti-war poster. “Silence is consent!” he shouts.

After our meal we browse at Rasputin Music – I scour the shelves for a collection of Cambodian music I heard at a cafe in Portland and for a punk album that a friend in LA told me was an essential listen, but come up with nothing. We decide it’s about that time, and walk back towards the BART station.

Continue reading ‘From the East Bay to the Pacific’

A Short Cappuccino & a Chinese Bun

sf chinatown. photo by SeenyaRita.

RED BEAN. LEMON-PINEAPPLE. BARBECUE PORK. Custard. I’m staring at the display case debating over which filling sounds best on this particular morning. The bakery is packed, and Nick and I are the only white guys in the place – a sign that the buns are good here. And I love a good Chinese bun.

We had woken up relatively early that morning, stumbled sleepy-eyed through the hostel to get showered before heading up to Cafe Trieste on Vallejo. With a mostly wood interior and an aged, bohemian feel, it reminded me of the coffee shop I once worked at back in Seattle. But the baristas at Trieste aren’t too keen on bullshitting – you order, you pay, you sit or you go. They show affection best through a strong cappuccino.

Both of us had been eager for a breakfast of buns since the previous night, when I had gone searching in vain for char-shu-bao (bbq pork bun). And so with coffees in hand we began to meander through the arteries of Chinatown, passing by produce markets as they stirred to life. We passed several bakeries, but stopped at the one with sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves steaming in the window. Inside, some of the pastries were as cheap as 50 cents – this was the place.

I decide on lemon-pineapple, while Nick settles on red bean. We take a seat and begin nibbling joyfully on the sweet dough, both reflecting on the fact that we could never get something like this back in our respective home cities. The sidewalk bubbles and churns with people and incomprehensible conversation, and by the time we step outside we both half-expect to be in Beijing.

***

We ride towards the Marina District in search of bike shop where Nick can get a bolt for his cycling cleats – one had unexpectedly popped out yesterday, producing an ugly “ka-CHUNK” as it exited. The guys at Bike Nut help him out, and suggest a good place for lunch to boot. We wheel just down the block to Real Food Company (strikingly similar to Whole Foods) and order a couple sandwiches, which we consume outside in a gentle breeze. We both comment the mustard is especially pungent – an overwhelming, nose-wrinkling taste that smothers the ham. We strike up a conversation with a guy sitting next to us who’s here visiting his Aunt, and searching for a new city to call home.

“Where you guys from?” he asks. Seattle, we say. “Ah…another affordable city,” he laughs. We collectively bitch and moan about ridiculous living costs, in cities nationwide. “When I was in Seattle it seemed like the streets rolled up around six o’clock,” the man says, puzzled at this observation. We tell him that there are districts that have better nightlife than others, but cede that it barely compares to the ceaseless pulse of San Francisco.

Bellies full (mostly of mustard) we scoot off towards the Golden Gate Bridge – today’s main event. We decide to make some exercise out of it and hustle into the headwind coming off the Bay and up a hill that will lead us to the bridge’s footpath. Winding around we stop just at the mouth of the bridge, which is choked with tourists on this sunny Friday. Opting to not be associated with the lycra-clad sprinters who are damn near knocking people over the railing, we just walk the bikes and take in the view.

From a distance the topography of the San Francisco peninsula is almost indistinguishable because of the urban blanket that covers it – buildings simply look inexplicably tall in some places. It is a beautiful, glittering mess. Nick says that for the former prisoners of Alcatraz having a barred window with a view of the city must have been the worst kind of torture.

Having done our touristing for the day we zip back towards North Beach, and it’s almost beer o’clock at the San Francisco Brewery (actually, almost 4 o’clock, when pints and pitchers are half price). We order a deep red, rich brew and sit outside in the company of couples and businessmen who are all getting a head start on their weekend. A pleasant buzz washes over me and Nick says, “Man, I could definitely live here.” I nod in agreement.

We spend that night back down at my friend Danielle’s place, drinking beers, eating pizza and watching Just Friends on TV. Perhaps a normal night if we did live in the city. After a few slices food coma sets in, and the hours are wearing thin – it’s time to head back up to the hostel. Nick and I step outside the apartment just as our bus whirs by, and we sprint off down the street towards the next stop.

(Next: More San Francisco…)

 

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)


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