Part V: SoCal





The ride downhill along the beautiful Kern river is most enjoyable. Yes, I have a bit of headwind- we don’t want to make this too easy, do we?!

I stop for lunch at Kernville Brewery for a chicken caesar salad and a blonde beer. My first salad in a while. I meet a nice young couple with a three-month-old baby named Dot and a golden retriever named Lucy. Lucy helped me get my golden retriever fix. I miss my Monty. I am having an easy day and will hopefully find a nice campground where I can regroup, recharge, fix my damn stove and ride into the southern part of California. Looking at the map ahead, there is no way I am done with climbing.

I am drinking coffee that’s really just black, tasteless liquid and it smells of last night’s miso soup. The sun is pleasantly warming up my muscles and bones. I am alone in a deserted campground, but the morning symphony of the birds is keeping me company. After I finally get the stupid stove working and heat up the water for coffee and oatmeal, I manage to lean on a loose board on the table. Down goes the stove and the pot of boiling water on my leg. The words that fly out of my mouth are unpublishable. The temp got down to 40 last night, but I stayed reasonably warm. I had to put my down puffy and sweatpants on in the middle of the night, but it was one of the most comfortable nights camping so far. 

I call my mother for her birthday, and it is so great to hear her voice. The whole family is gathered in my parent’s living room for the celebration. I can just see them all. It is pretty amazing that we can call people so far away whenever we want to nowadays. When I first arrived at the states back in the eighties, a phone call was a luxury I could only afford every so often. Airmail letters which I have stacks off were the form of communication. Each letter was so special, and I awaited it with great anticipation. I would read it over and over. I missed home terribly. Many letters hold food recipes from my mother, grandmother, my sister in law and my cousins. It ’s how I learned to cook. When I was younger, I was busy with ski racing and climbing and didn’t have much interest in being in the kitchen. I did enjoy good home cooking though. Later, as I left home and was so far away and feeling homesick and lonely, I began to understand the meaning of food connecting people. My grandmother had a sister who left the war-torn country after World War 2. I was very fond of my Tante Ladi who ended up living in New Jersey. When the war was still raging in Europe, she got on the boat with her two very young daughters and headed to Argentina. Through their friends, her husband got the message, and they reconnected there, then headed up to Columbia. He passed away after they had two more daughters. She raised four girls by herself. She and I corresponded for years, and almost every letter holds one of her recipes inside. After she died, her daughters gave me a stack of letters that were written in the Slovene language. As they were raised speaking German, Spanish and later English, they weren’t able to read Slovene. My aunt had letters from corresponding with family members back in early nineteen hundreds. I remember one particular one even contained drawings of how to properly butcher a pig and make sausages. Emails and all new technologies have changed our form of communication so much. Will we be able to retrieve and keep some of our communication for our future generations. It does make me nostalgic for receiving a real letter I can touch and smell.

As far as technical difficulties, my second map on Garmin from here to the border magically disappeared. I have a backup on my I phone, but I haven’t figured out how to use that yet. I hope it works. Dealing with technology has been my biggest challenge. Just when I think I have things figured out, something else happens. Luckily I still have time before crossing the border, where I will be in a lot more rugged terrain, and proper navigation will be critical. 

So, I heat up, or better yet, burn a now three-day-old egg burrito and pack up my gear, which is a process in its own. I pack slowly and methodically. I call it packing meditation. At the moment I can’t find my one and only bra - yeah, I know, hard to believe! It's not like I have that much gear. FYI, I am still using a fork for a comb. I can’t find a place that will sell just one stupid comb. Everything is in a pack of three or more. How many combs does one have to buy, for crying out loud? Do we have to have ten of everything? Ahh, the bra revealed itself under my Thermarest, which is where I looked twice before. Third time is always the charm. Speaking of gear, I still find it difficult to comprehend how much gear I can actually pack on the bike. Here is a list of some, if not all, of it:

    •    Big Agnes Fly Creek HV1 Platinum Tent

    •    Thermarest Corus HD 45-degree F quilt 

    •    Thermarest NeoAir pad

    •    Thermarest Trekker chair

    •    MSR Whisperlite International Stove

    •    Primus titanium pot

    •    Titanium cup

    •    Nonstick pan 

    •    Light Camelback pack to carry food and extra water when needed

    •    One solar charger

    •    One Ubio Labs power bank 

    •    Tear gas red pepper spray

    •    Bear whistle 

    •    Gortex light rain cycling jacket

    •    Millet down puffy

    •    Light sweatpants

    •    Two riding chammie shorts- one SWAT bib (which is the only one I’ve been wearing but don’t worry- I wash it every two days)

    •    One silk/ Merino wool T-shirt by Janus

    •    One hoodie zip Merino wool by Sherpa 

    •    Two pairs of Merino wool socks

    •    One lightweight riding jacket by Sugoi which I always keep at ready

    •    One pair of Specialized stretch riding shorts in charcoal gray

    •    First aid kit

    •    Medications ( a round of antibiotics, steroid medication for bites and infections, anti-diarrhea pills, Advil, morpheme  pills in case of real emergency)

    •    Bike cleaning and repair kit which contain: a Blackburn Mammoth 2 pump, tire repair kit with plenty of extra plugs, two 2 oz bottles Stand Tire sealant and tool for removing air valve to fill, spare derailer hanger, spare brake pads, extra chain links, chain lube and rag, spare tube valve, duck tape, extra zip ties, Gear clean brush and last but not least Crankbrothers bike multi-tool

    •    Leatherman multi-tool

    •    Garmin 1030

    •    Garmin Inreach mini 

    •    6 Voile Straps

    •    a mix of bike packing bags and rack systems: Baryak mule mounting bars for Salsa anywhere cages on my front forks 

    •    Ortlieb bar bag 


    •    Ortlieb 15 l waterproof stuff bag for tent and Thermarest and down jacket which I attach to Salsa bar cage

    •    Ortlieb accessories bag that sits on top of the other two in the front where I keep miscellaneous things like a ziplock bag of  Heed powder, Recoverite powder, notebook, some food, etc

    •    Salsa bar cage

    •    Nuclear Sunrise seat bag and small bag mounted on top of the frame along with small Ortlieb bag for knick-knacks like chargers, cords and GoPro Hero 6, sunscreen, lip balm

    •    Two Nuclear Sunrise grab bags, one for the water bottle with drinking hose attached;  and one for GU and bars and nuts 

    •    Custom-made Nuclear Sunrise frame bag for all my bike tools, pump, first aid kit and whatever food I can stuff in

    •    Two water bottles holders in the back with zip ties and they work great so far.

    •    Last but not least, besides water bottles (at the moment 3), my reading glasses which I cannot live without.

In the town of Isabella Lake, I stop at a coffee shop to have a proper cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich and, of course, get WiFi so I can deal with loading the route I am missing. After an hour with Lee from Garmin tech support, we finally pair my phone and Edge 1030 and manage to load the missing map. My mood is lifted, and I take off following the purple line. My Garmin starts beeping that I am off course while prompting me to make a U-turn. What the heck!? I look at the map again, and it is stuck in the direction from south to north. You dumbass! I sit in the park under a tree as it is 80 degrees F and try to load a new map to no avail. The hell with it! I ride following the map backward. It works, but everything is in reverse, and Garmin keeps yelling at me. I ride through the small town of Bode. I pass a gun shop and wonder which school will be the victim of the next shooting in this gun-obsessed country. If you simplify American politics, it comes down to two things at the end of every election: guns and abortion rights. 


I climb out of Kern Valley, leaving Lake Isabella behind. The wind is at my back, two red tail hawks are circling looking for their daily meal, and I climb looking for shade in trees that hang over the road every once in a while. I am in a completely different environment now. High dry desert. I reach the top and pass through a perfect V, wedged between two mountains finishing a 1350-foot ascent for now. I check to make sure no straps hang off the bike. I deeply inhale the clear air around me and saddle my Beast. He loves to go downhill, as do I. We have some pretty strong headwind though. At another pass, out of the historic town of Havilah, after which the road was so steep I had to zig-zag back and forth, I see what might be a general store or a restaurant. When I get to it, I am disappointed. Just a fenced-off house. I stop to take a picture when around the corner comes barreling the biggest, most ferocious pit bull. The chain stops her just before the fence. Holy crap! My heart is in my throat, and I scramble on The Beast and take off. That was not a friendly place. We fly downhill with the dogs (there were actually two of them) barking after me, and I can hear them for a long time. 

Most vicious Pit bull charging at me

Most vicious Pit bull charging at me

Across the flats, I battle some strong headwinds, so when I reach the base of the next climb, I pull over at a corral with two miniature horses and some baby cows. I was going to have a shot of GU and some water that I’ve been starting to savor. 

A car pulls to the house across the road. Out comes a young woman. I hear her talking Spanish to someone in the house. I run across with my water bottle and ask for some water. The girl doesn’t speak much English, but she says; 

“Yes, yes, water- no, problem!” 

I switch to Spanish, and when she goes into the house for water, I meet the father who works for the rancher. They have 50 horses and guide multi-day tours into the mountains. Estrella comes out with three bottles of water while the mother calls out to ask me if I want a taco for the road. 

“Por supuesto que si! Gracias señora!” 

In the meantime, while the mother is preparing food inside, Estrella, who just had a baby six weeks ago, and I chat some more. I tell her where I am going, what I eat, where I sleep. She tells me they are from Michoacán; I tell her that I am riding to Mexico. Her baby daughter’s name is Amber. I go back across the street to put the water on my bike. She follows me with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich and a bag of fruit. Oh dear! I try to explain that I don’t have much room on my bike, but I can’t refuse such generosity. Then the mother comes with another bag full of snacks. They insist! Somehow I stuff two hot slices of pizza, something wrapped in heavy white piece paper, a cup of instant soup, string cheese, yogurt, and some snacks I’ve never even seen before. I hug them and wish them the happiest of lives. I don’t know if I’ll be able to repay them, but I can certainly pay it forward. They wave me off with wishes of safe travels. I am so filled with gratitude that I fly up the hill.

My bike is loaded with bags off food

My bike is loaded with bags off food

 I stop little ways up because the emotions overcome me. These are those rapists and murderers our president wants to send back; my friends. These same people are hardworking; they are family-loving people that clean and cook and build and run this country quietly, behind the scenes. This country was built and is continued to be built on the shoulders of immigrants from all over the world. I am an immigrant. I worked every job that came my way, from painting houses, bussing tables, working cleaning boats in shipyards, sandblasting masts; you name it. All so I could finish college. 

It’s getting late, so I am starting to look for places to pitch a tent. As I have a signal, I talk to Jim on the phone as I ride, yes, you guessed it, uphill. It looks like Caliente is just five miles away and downhill. 

I literally ride into the sunset. There are clouds on the horizon as the sun sets behind them and a bright orange line is outlining the top of the clouds. It looks like a Renaissance painting; all that is missing are a few of Raphael’s fat cherubs with bows and arrows.

I’ll be in Caliente in no time. I am loving riding the steep serpentine downhill until I come around the corner and almost run over a cow. I slam on the brakes while the cattle are all over the road. They are staring at me, not moving. My headlamp mounted on my helmet reflects in their eyes which shine bright red, and they look like they are possessed. They are as black as night. I start moving slowly, observing how they will react.

“Good cow, good cow, stay where you are!”

I talk to them in a calming voice, hoping my red jacket won’t excite them. Two of them, a mom and not-so-small calf separated by the road, start running. I keep riding slowly, hoping they’ll stop and get away from the road, away from me. There is a turn in the road, and a car is coming fast from the opposite direction. I am sure the car is going to hit one of the running cows. Luckily, all ends well. I ride slowly, and just a bit down the road, a rancher on a quad comes to corral the cattle into a gated pasture. 

Historic Keene Cafe

Historic Keene Cafe

It’s the time of the evening when bats are darting in all directions feeding on insects. Their echolocation system is precise, so there is no worry they’ll ever run into me. The first sliver of the moon keeps playing peek-a-boo from behind the hills depending if I am ascending or descending the hills. I should be hitting Caliente by now. I keep riding but come upon nothing. It is now completely dark, and my track is taking me on a quiet, lonely country road. What is going on? Jim is calling me, and of course, he’s concerned, as am I. I am looking for places to pitch the tent. I keep riding, climbing for another thousand feet until the track actually takes me onto HW 58. Huge semis fly by me. I am on the phone with Jim, Jenna, and Brett and they are looking at maps at home. The closest possible stop is Keene, which is still another 10 miles away. No big deal in a car; a big deal on a bike. The road keeps climbing more; I am tired but finally reach Keene, which consists of a coffee shop and a fire station.

53 miles, 5,6K of climbing, and more than 10 hours in the saddle make it a long day.

Alenka Vrecek