The exact point of change seems to not exist. Maybe it happens in minute evolutions, so pint size that only if you were paying close attention and knew what to look for you’d see it. Trees in the north, grew even larger by Northern California and transformed into mammoth sequoias, muting the light from the sun, a natural roof of green and brown. Wild flowers were more colourful in So Cal, yellow, purple floral lining between the road and the endless stretch of baked white beach. Even bushes, one of the most unrecognized plant for it’s beauty, now grew up the side of steep inclines, A Van Gogh of dotted, precise colours, that as that landscaper could tell you quite frankly, needed constant maintenance or it would burst forward, a continuous growth of foliage, enveloping all living and inanimate things in it’s path, a picturesque, less gelatinous blob. Kudos California bushes, Canadian bushes….take note, that’s how you get attention, not by being prickly.
Growing up as a big fan of hip hop I recognized the name Crenshaw Blvd as I pulled into the parking lot of a small strip mall on the corner containing a bank, a Chinese restaurant, a KFC and something that was either a laundry mat or an old folks home (hard to tell). The street’s name was synonymous with gangsta music to me with images of 2pac riding by in a Cadillac, screaming profanities at the 5-0 and Eazy-E playing bones on the corner with his homiez. I didn’t relate to that life style, no, and never tried to emulate it all too much (I did have a FUBU shirt, that was multicolored and glowed in the dark…I wore it once). I admired the spirit behind the music, the unabashed enthusiasm, a window into a world I didn’t know. I wasn’t interested in “the struggle”, “the hustle”, “the grind” or anything else political, economic or social relating to the music, I was infected by the fat beats and the stories from a place that was as far away as Mars.
So here I was. After biking through the pretty arty streets of Malibu, and catching the Bohemian vibes and reefer induced rhythms of Venice Beach, 20 minutes or less away, I was smack dab right in the middle of my musical oasis, something I had heard of countless times, but had never thought would ever live up to it’s hype. But with everything, that music describes no just a place, but a time, and a right exact time to be exact.
I had met up with my friend in Santa Monica and she was showing me around the city for a few days. Chance had it that I really needed to use the restroom. My friend spotted the random parking strip and pulled in. As I stepped out into the humid air, the glint of the blue, swinging sign with white lettering above the intersection caught my eye immediately. BAM. There I was. Crenshaw. I took a deep breath. My friend waited in the car, gave me the thumbs up. I looked around. Just an average intersection in a big city, nothing too special. My first choice for bathrooms was the Chinese restaurant. Nope, no English and no bathrooms for non-patrons. Wasn’t too keen on entering the non-descript purpose buildings, men stood at the window staring out like inmates shoved into a holding cell that was too small to do anything but be squeezed against the caged walls, eyes bulging towards a dissipating freedom. So it was KFC.
And how gangster a KFC was it? It actually was! I entered into a stark room. There was no open counter, no waiters with smiles to greet you, just a two way glass wall with small slots in it. It felt like I had entered the visiting centre of a prison. I approached the glass, not knowing where I was to address, I started into my own reflection…..”Hello?”
“Hello, welcome to KFC, can I take your order?”
“I just need to use the restroom, please”
Click. Click. Clackity. A door, appeared out of no where.
I braced myself, I expected a flickering fly filled single florescent bulb highlighting all the murky, gut wrenching details of all types of matter. Quite the opposite, I could eat, say, a popcorn chicken, off the ground it was so clean. Crenshaw, a real mind fuck it was, but I am so glad that the bottomless Mimosas had kicked in and I had to stop and see this shit hole to most, but this childhood fairytale to me.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria. While the city is filled to the brim with Roman, Ottoman and many other historical people’s traces, I found this piece of art exceptional. As modernist as it is, it fits in perfect harmony with it’s ancient surroundings. Plovdiv is such a hodge podge city as I found many of the larger Eastern European cities. Weird clubs shoved in between mosques shoved in between a mall and an odd out door/in door restaurant. This was one of those few moments of perfect symmetry.
So GPS, is a nyet for me. So what should you bring on a long haul bike trip that I think is vital for survival and sanity? Alright, here it is, I can do this…Two more things to add to your bike list
With all of the following stuff…make sure that at least the bike repair stuff is new. The paniers, the bike, etc etc can be hand me downs, but if you are even thinking about replacing a shotty tube with it’s equally as shotty brother, you are going to hulk smash something or someone sooner rather than later.
1. A Bike Pump – This is one of those things, along with a Patch Kit that you most definitely cannot skimp on. A friend of mine learned that the hard way. Pop goes my wheel and my friend offers me her handy dandy, generic, completely made of plastic pump. The purpose of a pump for this cyclist, in layman’s terms, is to fill my tube (inside you wheel) full of air and make my bike happy to ride again. Well, for with this little blue devil, being a helping hand was not in the cards. POP! Part of the bike pump is launched into a German cornfield, almost making it’s way directly into the noggin of an unsuspecting cow (or maybe it did suspect something, I think it’s just in their demeanour to always look lost). Make sure you know what your tube’s valve (the metal part you attach the pump to) type is. There are a few types, which I shall explain later in Numero 2.
A patch kit is also a very important thing to have with you. While there are many ways to jerry up a substitute (with pieces of rubber, glue…twist ties…I’ve heard many interesting inventive choices) nothing beats the actual thing. It’s the choice between tobogganing in the snow or tobogganing down your stairs. The end result with a real patch is lasting results and no surprise ending. Also patch kits come with everything you need, including the sandpaper and the adhesive, so you don’t have to play Inspector Gadget. Both a pump and patch kit can be bought at pretty much any bike shop or Canadian Tire.
By the way. This is not a bike pump, this is a pumped bike:
2. Xtra Tubes – That’s just an extra tube…I’m trying to be cool with the kids (last time I was cool with the kids, staircases was a rad type of haircut). First off, with the tubes and wheels that on your bike currently, there are a few things you should know. These are basic, kiddlings. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t know about ’em either. Puncture Proof. Know if your tires are puncture proof. If they aren’t, I would highly suggest you pick up a pair of puncture proof tires. Just go into any bike shop and say that you are going to do a bike tour and they will say the same. Unless you have a fetish for patching tires, sitting on the side of the road, ear to your tube, trying to hear air escaping above the sound of whizzing cars, then please, please, please get puncture proof tires.
Okay. Now that I got that out of my system. I can get to your tubes. Make sure your bike tube valves match your bike pump. Some bike pumps can pump numerous types of valves, but some do not. I recommend getting the multiple system pumps, just in case you find yourself on the road with the other option as your only replacement. Here are your options:
Learn these well, the names are quite universal. Also, dependent on what country you are traveling to, one valve type may be more common than another. Just do a quick search on the inter-ma-nets and stick with the most popular valve type.
3. Paniers – Do not try to do a bike tour with a backpack, please, or by the end of it you will be as bent over as that perverted old man in Family Guy (talking about his physique, not his perversion). I did the backpack thing and could barely lift my head while riding to see straight. I looked like a reject costume for the Rocketeer movie and was in constant pain.Each person has their preference for paniers and their setup. I am a big fan of zippers (even though they break) and only doing back paniers, because for me, less room to store stuff means less crap I decide is necessary to haul along with me and weigh me down. Lots of compartments means more places to separate things into some form of organization, but it also means that banana you forgot about two months ago may be the culprit for why your panier smells like a dead or dying skunk. Whatever setup you try, test it out before the big send off day. While wear and tear is a way of life, starting off on the wrong foot can be avoided. Make sure the securing system to your rack, actually secures the paniers. All you need is one of them to fling off, mid pedal, into traffic behind you (or into that unsuspecting/possibly suspecting German cow).
More to come with Part Trois!
This post is for anyone who has driven down the coast or ridden via the 101. The 101 has gone through many different stages and this is one of them. The current road in California at this point goes through the valley. This more treacherous and scenic portion was closed the vehicles years ago and now used primary by Camp Pendleton near San Clemente to test tanks and as an emergency runway. When it’s not being used by the military the path is the perfect bike path on top of a large mountainous sand embankment along the shining bright blue ocean. Cycling the path, I saw some version of a futuristic looking helicopter take off and land several times. Before leaving the base, I stopped at the near to the barracks Micky Ds, eating among staff sergeants, corporals, majors and some very big and you don’t want to fuck with privates (tee hee).
I have a point and shoot camera from 2008. It has no bells and whistles, barely turns on due to constant inhumane abuse and takes meh pictures. It does shoot Macro. For non-camera people, macro makes details kept in focus while the background looks out of focus, giving the image a depth. With my camera if you want to achieve this you have to go really, really close to the subject.
These are my subjects. It’s a hot, sweltering day in California, just outside one of the various Spanish Missions that were set up throughout the state in the 18th century. My eye caught these little critters milling around, seemingly aimless, around their hole of a home. Dare I? I dared. Holding my breath, because that for sure will defend me from their painful bite, I jumped into the centre of the melee, making sure as to not crush any of these vicious pint size red bullies. SNAP SNAP SNAP and dash, I was down the dirt path, faster than it takes a Canadian to name all the US states (if he can…I sure can’t). Did I get a good shot with my camera that is Lumiere Bros not certified. You be the judge. Was it worth it? Well, the tyke tourists and school students who weren’t too keen to learn the history of the place, sure did have a snicker at the Jesus like fellow running with quarterback speed in no apparent direction. Happy to be of service.
The morning had been spent with a lovely family that I was staying with just outside of Raymond, Washington. When I waved goodbye, it was not just to those people, but to that landscape. Biking through mudflats lined with small towns with restaurants advertising the oysters that made the area famous, I felt that something foreign was near at hand. I had to think a bit, gather my thoughts, sort out what was happening. I found the perfect place to do so. In a non-distinct town, on a bench, that if you looked over your shoulder while sitting on it, you’d be met with the blinkless stare of chocolate cows munching on all things green across the river.
Not just any bench, a dedicated bench to the beloved town historian. If I had met him, I think my first question would have been “what town?” After I got over the sting of the deserved slap I would incur, I would have shook his hand in honest respect for being so dedicated to keeping this random part of nowhere’s history alive, written down and accessible. Maybe that’s why he was so beloved and had this bench put where it was. The bench presented a view of the unique character of this place, distinct from everywhere else, something that Ol’ Gilbert respected and knew was worth preserving. I sat and smiled at the tradition, the cows, the honest to God identity of this special piece of yummy cake.