Part IV: On the Road Again

Sunday, October 7?

I’ve lost track of what day it is. After a leisurely breakfast, I leave Springfield at  crack of eleven. I am climbing this kickass road of steady 8-9% grade, and I don’t see the end. There must have been a massive mudslide as Caltrans workers are working on removing dirt on Sunday. It is a strikingly beautiful canyon, and I am sure I’ll be rewarded again at the end. 

One good thing about the climb is that I have a bit of a tailwind. I talked with Jim as I rode out of town this morning. His Parkinson’s is getting more real each day. At least we are able to talk about it now. We actually have a better conversation on the phone then at home. Maybe talking over the phone is a safety barrier. He opens up more, shares his feelings, his concerns. We have to attack this together, Jim. I remind him. I promise I’ll be by your side faithfully for the rest of my life. Just let me finish this ride. Allow me to accomplish this goal I set for myself. I am not running away. I am running toward you, my love. We’ll be together soon down in our Baja.

Well, there go my sunglasses! I just stepped on them getting up from a water brake and eating a banana. I know it’s steep because I keep looking for the lower gear that I don’t have. My Gluteus Maximus on my left side is on fire. My left side of my body keeps compensating for my weaker right side. I have to stop often to massage my back and my leg that spasm. Come on wind, give me a push. I will be forever grateful. As I turn the corner, a strong gust hits me in the face. No, No No! Don’t change direction on me now! I need help! Come on- not fair wind! With all the climbing I’ve done now in over a week, I do feel my body is getting stronger and leaner. When I left home, I weighed 110 pounds. My bike weighs 65 pounds loaded with gear and water minus the food. My bike is an Ibis Mojo 3. I was thinking about calling it a Stallion, which it is. A lean, mean carbon muscle machine. Sturdy, yet responsive. My friends at Olympic bike shop in Tahoe City were just incredible helping me set it up. They are a bunch of awesome guys and girls working there, including my son Tilen. Thanks to all of you for your support, advice  and help!

I keep talking to Jim today in my mind. I am telling him he’s going to be OK, that we are going to be OK. We are not going to let this disease take over his, our lives. And then I cry and damn it! That doesn’t help when I am climbing such a long and steep hill. 

 A bike rider on a road bike passes me, and he flies by like the wind. “Hey! not fair!” I yell after him, and I laugh at myself. I am going whopping 2.9 miles an hour. At least it lifts me out of my somber mood.

Camp Nelson

Camp Nelson

At a turn-off, I pull over to have a GU gel and some water. Just as I am writing down my experiences on my I phone notes, the bike rider comes back down. He stops, and we strike up a conversation. He and his wife spend weekends up here, and he rides all the time. He reminded me of our friend Mark Boitano. His name is Mike. He tells me what awaits ahead, that I’ve done the hardest part of climbing- (thank god for that) but still have to get over the crest of 7200 feet and nine miles more of climbing. All useful information for me to make a decision to camp at Camp Nelson for the night. I set up the tent with plenty of light still left. The camp owners, Nancy and her husband came, and we have a most pleasant chat about kids and grandkids and life. They bring me wood for the fire pit. It is a bit wet, and it takes me a while to get the fire going. I use up a third of my gas from fuel bottle for my stove to kickstart the fire. A very loud goose chases a gang of ducks back into the pond I am camping by. A small herd of deer is grazing not more than ten feet from me. After I set up a camp to much of my satisfaction, I go to take a hot shower. Luxury camping or almost glamping.

Then I ride my bike up to the bar to have a beer just so I can get on WiFi to send an email to my parents and a text to Jim telling him where I was and that everything is honkey dory- I have no idea how to spell that. On that note, good night. The owl is hooting. The creek is running, and I love listening to its soothing gurgling sound. Other then that, all is quiet. The stars are shining brightly above me. I watch them for a while sitting by the fire. I am cozy warm in my down jacket, hat, long underwear under my sweat pants and I am tucked in the sleeping quilt. It’s going to get down into the thirties tonight.

I sleep till 3 a.m. and wake up freezing. Yup, it got chilly alright. 34 degrees Fahrenheit. I have to keep rubbing my legs to stay warm. In the morning I have trouble starting the stove. It keeps burning with high yellow flames instead of just short, powerful blue ones. I am not in love with this fuel stove system. It’s actually a pain in the arse. After many tries I get it working, so I can heat up water for coffee and oatmeal and then I even start a fire with very damp pine needles, sticks, and logs. Everything is saturated from rains from a few days ago. As a matter of fact, the road was closed from mudslides the heavy rains caused. 

I guess I’ve been fortunate with the weather, considering. The sun came out finally, and I dry out the tent as best as I can. I repack the bike, grease the chain, and tighten everything up a bit. A well-packed bike is like a well-rigged sailboat. You have to maintain everything and take care of all the details every day. If you keep the sails well trimmed, the boat will sail effortlessly. My bike, which I haven’t named yet, rides really well even with all the weight on it. I hope it proves itself down in Baja on dusty, rough roads. 

Up we go for another 2500 vertical feet for breakfast. The air is crisp and getting colder as I ride toward yet another summit. Tall sequoias, waterfalls, golden-kissed quaking aspens pass by. The climb today is more gradual then yesterday’s. It feels good. I am on M-50, also known as Western Divide HW. 

As I climb and climb, alone submerged in my thoughts (if only I could remember one-tenth of the stuff when I want to write it down), I pass a red balloon hung up in a tree like a limp dick. It said Happy Anniversary with golden letters. I wonder how far the balloon traveled. I wonder whose golden anniversary it was. I hope they really did have a happy life and a joyous anniversary celebration. 

After three and a half hours, I reach Ponderosa. I was going to continue, but I pull a u-turn when I see the lodge with a sign, Great Food! I think it is time to throw a two-day-old burrito away. The Ruben sandwich is big enough for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The biggest Ruben sandwich I’ve ever seen

The biggest Ruben sandwich I’ve ever seen

The lodge has WiFi, so I text with my kids. I am so proud of them! They are truly amazing people doing incredible things. I also want them to be proud of their mom. I want to show them that you have to embrace and face everything, the good and the bad that comes your way. Face adversity head on, accept it, and keep on moving forward. Life and time don’t go backward. You only have what’s in front of you, and you create your own destiny by actions you take. I know this sounds like a cliche, but I genuinely believe in that. I’ve been through some tough shit by now. I have experienced it. You can roll over and moan about it or keep on moving forward.

Maybe my literary agent, my very own daughter Mateja who has Masters in Literature can fix the cliches for me. She’s a lot better writer than I’ll ever be. I feel close to my kids. I feel like we are a tight bunch. Jana, my middle daughter, has a Masters in Speech Pathology. She is a mother to us all. A lamplighter and tough as nails. My son Tilen, my pal, my mountain biking buddy, my fellow ski coach extraordinaire, who is roaming Europe at the moment visiting our Slovenian family and in Spain at a sales meeting for a ski company he works for with his father. He is gaining a lot of business experience and is definitely seeing the world. 

I am also proud of my stepdaughter Jenna. She has grown into a beautiful and confident young woman. She recently married the man of her dreams. Brett, welcome to our crazy blended family. Jim is in heaven to have you for a son in law. 

It’s freakin’ freezing up here. I have to stop to put my down jacket on to ride. I can’t wait to get to the warmer climate. I ride over crunchy pine needles and dry oak leaves. It reminds me of my childhood favorite time in the fall. On our numerous hikes through the woods, hunting for mushrooms with my dad and picking chestnuts, my brother and I would run and dive into huge piles of fallen leaves to swim in them. We would come home smelling like forest itself. Damp, musty and sweet. The air around me right now reminds me of a misty forest smell of my childhood. And what a childhood I had. I can thank my parents for every minute of it. It’s going to be my mother’s 79th birthday in a couple of days on October 10th. I hope I am in range to call her. I miss my parents. I miss my family back home. They are my rock, my solid ground I need to walk on when things are not going well, and I feel so far away from home. They are there for me, and we are all connected. Distance and time are irrelevant. 

After I ride on the Trail of a 100 Giants, which is magnificent, the road finally starts to go downhill. What a thrill and what a view. Peaks and ridges all around me as far as the eyes can see. Where is this road taking me? I fly downhill and The Beast and I break our previous speed record- 34.8 miles an hour! Seven hours and 43 minutes in the saddle and we climbed yet another 3648 feet. It is getting late, and I am nervous about where to spend the night. I need to get to the lower elevation. I do not want to spend another night freezing. Even during the day, the temperature doesn't get above 50. I was hoping I’d make it to Kernville, but it is still 20 miles away. Wait- what was that sign I just passed!? I slam on the brakes and pull a U-turn. Durwood Creekside Inn. I pull into yet another funky lodge right out of the thirties.

1939 Ford

1939 Ford

The lodge was initially built in 1931 to host employees of the Johnsdale Logging Company working up the hill. The original building is from the late 1800s and was a blacksmith shop. It blows me away what remote parts people traveled back then. It’s remote even nowadays. When I pull in, it looks like everything is closed. Then I hear a noise in a tent that has an old antique truck pulled halfway in, being worked on. 

Out comes a gray-bearded man with a cigarette dangling in the corner of his mouth. “Hello there! Do you have any rooms available for tonight?” 

“Sure we do,” says Eddy, the caretaker. 

“How much a night?” 

“$147 “ 

“Oh dear! That’s way over my budget. Is there a campground close by? “

“How about $70 for you since you are crazy enough to be riding your bike like this out here by yourself!”

“Deal!”

My new Bavarian friends

My new Bavarian friends

Eddy the caretaker making killer breakfast

Eddy the caretaker making killer breakfast

As soon as we strike a deal, four Harleys pull in. “Da Germans” as Jim would say. They actually have reservations for this place. And then another person pulls in, and then a bunch of hunters. Well, this place is busy! The group of Bavarians from Munich have been traveling all over the West from Colorado and are now on their way to Fresno and San Francisco. Super nice people. The bed is a bit lumpy but the room is warm and clean, and hot shower feels heavenly. I finish the other half of the sandwich I had for lunch and wash it down with cold beer Eddy gifted me. The Inn and the grounds are like a living museum. Eddy is restoring a 1939 Ford truck. The Restored engine which he proudly shows us, sits in the middle of his bedroom. The truck is very rare I guess- only 29 made of that kind. Dave, another caretaker, has a 1938 Ford pickup truck. 

Muscleface

Muscleface

The third guy, who goes by “HeyYou” cooks us a killer breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and bacon. Jim would love this place! I hope we make it back here with our van. It’s worth a trip for sure. I exchange emails with the Germans, and I have to say goodbye to this unique place where time stopped a long time ago. I say goodbye to their three-year-old pit bull dog Muscleface as well. Beautiful but not the most pettable creature. 

Today I will reach Lake Isabella, and it’s a milestone as I switch to my second part of a California map and more than the halfway point on the way to the border. 

Alenka Vrecek