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Los Banos to Atwater

Los Banos to Atwater>

This day started early. I got up at the ungodly hour of 6 am to attend my local Chamber of Commerce. A few hours later, hopped up on good coffee and bad PowerPoint, I loaded my bike into my LeSabre (MSRIP) and drove up and over El Pacheco.

The idea was to leave my car with family in Los Banos, and gloriously ride 40 miles to Atwater, where I would stay with friends and glut on pizza and beer for a couple days.

Well, the riding gloriously part seemed good idea at the time. The reality was that the first 23 miles was a marshy wasteland with no potable water, and the last 20 miles was a goathead-infested wasteland that destroyed both spare tubes. The icing on the cake was a persistent headwind that reduced my progress to a jogging pace.

Just north of the Los Banos is San Luis Wildlife Preserve, the aforementioned “marshy wasteland. However, I’ll take a moment here to contradict myself, for the scenery is really very pretty:

Having grown up in the area, passing through over twenty miles of protected range for waterfowl and endangered Tule Elk was the joy of my daily commute to school. The scenery is especially (and I’ll soon explain how it is only) enjoyable from a climate-controlled and rapidly moving automobile.

I had found it so far to be the case, that beautiful scenery is even more so when taken from the immersive view from a bicycle seat. But I learned at considerable cost that it takes much more thought than to just swing a leg over the saddle of your six speed and try any country road with nothing but a liter of water and the weatherman’s promise there will be no rain:

I should have brought a lot more water, for a start. It turned out I probably needed three liters just to get out of the marshes, because there wasn’t a solitary source of safe water over the first half of the trip.

There was a great many things that came to mind that would have made the trip easier, faster, more comfortable, but none so essential to success as having enough water.

It was the first time I realized there were serious limitation to my bike, as it was very heavy at about 30 lbs and had six small cogs in the rear cassette to a single moderate crankgear. For those of you unfamiliar with gear mechanics, this makes for beautiful urban riding.

Unfortunately, my trusty comfort bike was not made for the long haul. All the extra weight counts when you’re pushing against a stiff headwind. The flat pedals meant I could only push the crank down and not also pull it up, so my pedal stroke was very inefficient. I actually lost all my momentum to the wind. It was like starting from a dead stop continuously, mile after mile. I walked a lot through the marsh, just because it was more energy efficient to walk my own body along and roll the loaded bike than it was to mount and pedal the sum of the burden against the wind.

I don’t remember how long it took to make it to the fruit stand at Stevenson. I rested for a long time and made damn sure I wouldn’t run low on water again. I also bought a pineapple by way of a gift to friends I was meeting. I had to jam it into the rear pack, it’s spiky green fronds jutting out the back. I laughed deliriously at myself.

When I got going again, there was relief from the wind when I turned east, but I ran into a new problem:

Goatheads, tribulus terretris, puncture vine. They infest the side of the roads in farm country, and in high summer they scatter the nastiest caltrops Mother Nature ever devised in huge quantity. They tend to land in the road point-side up and the thickest tires fall on them like little swords. I repaired so many holes that I exhausted my supply of patches and my pump broke down, and then I ran out of CO2 cartridges.

It was just as I crossed the Atwater city limit that I my last tube gave out. I had three options at that point: Either buy a tube in town, walk, or call in a rendez-vous. I hated to throw in the water bottle, after coming this far at such cost, to call in a ride with only four miles to go. I wasn’t too tired to walk, but the sunscreen stung my eyes and I was very much in need of a hug.

I don’t mean to make this entire blog read like a Series of Unfortunate Events. The trip was, in fact, an overall success, despite all the set backs. I got to see much pretty country, albeit for much longer than I meant to. I had some problems, but remained almost entirely self-reliant and gleaned a lot of insight about touring.

Needless to say there was much beer that night, and pizza topped with Stevenson pineapple.