Part IV: On the Road Again

Sunday, October 7?

I’ve lost track of what day it actually is. Left Springfield at crack of eleven. Been climbing this kickass road of steady 8-9% grade and I don’t see the end. There must have been a massive mud slide as Caltrans is working 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 tail wind. 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 more now. We actually talk better on the phone then at home. Maybe it’s 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. Just let me 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 the break eating a banana. At least I didn’t step on a banana peel and break my leg.

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. 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 109 pounds. My bike weighs 65 pounds loaded with gear and water minus food. My bike is an Ibis Mojo 3. I was thinking about calling it a Stallion, which it is. A lean mean 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 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. 

And then it happens. 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 changed my somber mood and my sadness. 

At a turn off, I pull over to have a GU gel and some water. Just as I was writing down my experience, 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 was Mike. He told 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 good 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 a fire pit. It was a bit wet and it took me a while to get the fire going. I used up a third of my gas from fuel bottle for my stove in order to kickstart the fire. A gang of ducks ran by being chased by a goose back into the pond. A small herd of deer was grazing not more then ten feet from me. After I set up a camp to much of my satisfaction, I went to take a hot shower. Luxury camping or almost glamping. Then I rode my bike up to the bar to have a beer just so I could get on WiFi to send an  mail to my parents and a text to Jim telling him where I was and that everything was honkey dorey- I have no idea how to spell that. On that note, good night. The owl is hooting. The creek is running near by. Other then that, all is quiet. The stars are shining brightly above me. I watch them for a while while sitting by the fire. I am cozy warm in my down jacket, hat, long underwear and tucked in the sleeping bag. It’s going to get down into the thirties tonight. 

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I slept till 3 a.m. and woke up freezing. 

Yup, it got chilly alright. 34 degrees Fahrenheit. I had to keep rubbing my legs to stay warm. In the morning I had trouble starting the stove. It kept burning high flames. I am not in love with this fuel stove system. It’s actually a pain in the arse. After many tries I got it working so I could heat up water for coffee and oatmeal and then I even started a fire with very damp pine needles, sticks and logs. Everything was saturated from rains from a few days ago. As a matter of fact, the road was closed from mudslides the rains caused. 

I guess I’ve been really lucky with weather, considering. The sun came out finally and I dried out the tent as best as I could. I repacked the bike, greased the chain, and tightened 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 Ibis Mojo 3 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 feet for breakfast. The air is crisp and getting cooler 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 climbed and climbed, alone submerged in my thoughts (if only I could remember one tenth of the stuff when I want to write it down) I passed 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 happy anniversary. 

After three and a half hours, I reach Ponderosa. I was going to just keep going, but I pulled a u-turn when I saw the lodge with a sign, Great Food! I think I’ll throw a two-day-old burrito away after the Ruben sandwich I had for breakfast/ lunch and half of it leftover for dinner tonight. It was huge. 

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I texted with my kids at lunch as the lodge had WiFi. 

I am so proud of my kids! 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 good and bad thing that comes your way. Face adversity head on, accept it, and keep on moving forward. Life and time don’t go backwards. You only have what’s in front of you and you create your own destiny by actions you take. I know this sounds cliche, but I truly 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 lamp lighter 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 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 had to stop to put my down jacket on to ride. I can’t wait to get to 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 in the fall, looking 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 and 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 is irrelevant. 

After I rode on the Trail of  a 100 Giants, which was magnificent, the road finally started 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 minuets in the saddle and we climbed yet another 3648 feet. It was getting late and I was nervous about where to spend the night. I needed to get to lower elevation. I did not want to spend another night freezing. Even during the day, the temperature didn’t get above 50. I was hoping I’d make it to Kernville but it was 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.

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It was originally 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 was closed. Then I heard a noise in a tent that had an old antique truck pulled halfway in, being worked on. 

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

“Sure we do” says Eddy, the caretaker.

“How much a night?”

“$147 for a room “

“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!?”

“Deal!”

As soon as we strike a deal, four Harleys pull in. Da Germans, as Jim would say. They actually had 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 was a bit lumpy but the room was warm and clean. The Inn and the grounds are like a living museum. Eddy is restoring a 1939 Ford truck. Very rare I guess- only 29 made of that kind. Dave, another caretaker had a 1938 Ford pickup truck. 

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The third guy who goes by “heyyou” cooked 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 have to say goodbye to this unique place where time has 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. 

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

Alenka Vrecek