August 28, 2014

July 2014: Grand Canyon

In contrast to my recent verbose posts, (see: TL;DR), below is mostly imagery from my July Grand Canyon rafting trip.

I spent many days on the oar boats.

I joined the paddle boat a few times, mostly for the bigger rapids.

We hiked often and enjoyed lunch on the beach.

When the Little Colorado River met the (BIG) Colorado River, everything turned brown.

The roster changed halfway through the trip, as many guests hiked in or out. The paddle team was all new, but the rapids were much the same. ... Here it goes again.

The biggest rapid of the trip, Lava Falls, was very exciting. The audio is interesting.
Thanks to Chris for the alternate camera angle.

It all happened so fast... Here's a frame-by-frame view of the near-flip. (Click to enlarge.)

The GoPro is pretty fun in the whitewater, but I prefer photos. Of 1700 images, below are some of my favorites.

My dad at the oars, fulfilling a bucket-list dream of rowing the grand canyon with Morgan.

Suzie, rowing a gear boat.

 Rock formations at camp.

 Black Tail Canyon, my favorite place on the river.

 Jennifer, our paddle captain, spending a day on the oars instead.

 Even a wide angle lens doesn't capture the full view.

 Keeping everybody happy with a splash.

Chris and Coleman resting in the shade.

Enjoying a hike with my dad and sister.

Morgan, confident, skilled, and stoic.

My camera got wet and malfunctioned for an hour after this, but it dried eventually. It was worth it.

You'd never believe the story-book ending: lightning (not pictured), double rainbows, and cold beer at the last camp. What a finish!

August 5, 2014

2011 Grand Canyon

As I currently edit images from a 2014 Grand Canyon rafting trip, I recall that I never posted any of the 2011 images.

Here are some favorites from 3 years ago.

Dories at lunch.
Red Wall Cavern.
GC Pink Rattlesnake.

And flats.
 Blacktail Canyon.
 Don't forget to look up.
 Havasu Canyon.

 And of course, whitewater.

 Storm clouds at the end of the day.

August 3, 2014

May 2014: Climbing Mt Whitney

The word epic is often said during adventures, used mostly as an adjective to describe something beyond the ordinary, or at least, above average. “Skiing was epic today,” you might hear, or even, “Epic backpack, dude!” Though not necessarily misused, its overuse is common and its meaning is diluted. When I think of epic, I think of something grand, something wild, perhaps something dangerous or even perilous. At the very least, it’s something to write home about. In that sense, to me, epic is more of a noun than an adjective.
Among the adventure community, I’ve only seen climbers use the word as a noun. Some might warn, “If you miss the turn, you’re bound for an epic.” They don’t mean you’ll have an awesome good time. Instead, you’ll probably run out of food and water, struggle to stay warm, finish in the dark, and feel grateful to survive.
With that in mind, the following is an account of my most recent Epic.

Before you get nervous, know that we all walked out on our own power and we enjoyed cheeseburgers and a pitcher in the welcoming town of Lone Pine.

Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States. Alaska has nearly a dozen taller peaks, but Whitney holds much prestige at over 14,500 feet above sea level. Located in California’s Sierra Nevada range, it is a popular summertime hiking destination. Hikers begin near 8,000’ and usually spend 2 days completing the 13 mile (one-way) hike, camping at 12,000’ along the way.

The hike is long and strenuous, but there are other ways to get to the top. The Moutaineer’s route, requiring crampons and ice axes, ascends a steep snow-filled gulley all the way to the top. It’s like climbing stairs in the snow, for 4 hours or more. A fall on this 40-degree slope could potentially send a climber on a 1000’ slide. There are also steeper routes, for those who prefer ropes and harnesses to spikes and axes. The East Face and East Buttress routes offer over 1000’ of vertical rock climbing. Both East routes rise directly to the summit and descend via the Mountaineer’s route.
Judging the routes, the snow and weather conditions, and (mis)judging our abilities, we set out to climb the East Buttress.

Our guide book suggests the Buttress can be climbed in 6-8 hours, so we forego the traditional alpine (5:00am) start, sleep ‘til 7 and wait for the mid-20-degree morning chill to ease. When we rise for breakfast, two groups have already passed us. We aren’t worried about being third in line, so we take our time to gear up. By 9am, the sun is warm, the lead groups are clear and we make our way to the start.

The first few pitches go smoothly enough, but we are well behind the pace we had imagined. We hoped for 12 pitches in 8 hours, but our early pace is closer to one pitch per hour. At this rate, we’ll be 4 hours late to the summit, which means we’ll finish around sunset and have to descend in the dark.

Recalling the description of the Moutaineer’s route, descending in the dark is not ideal.

As the sun dips into the afternoon, shade envelopes the face. Instantly, we are cold again. I’m wearing only shorts and rain pants under my harness, but I add a down coat between my base layers and my rain shell. With a fleece hat and gloves, the cold is tolerable.

By the 4th pitch, I realize we are way behind schedule. There’s no way we will finish before dark. I explain my worry to the team; we need to make a back-up plan and find a way to descend. Ignoring the cold and wind, the group is optimistic; we’ll make it past the toughest section and find the easier moves ahead.

Despite the positive attitude, our pace worsens. Instead of getting into a rhythm as we hoped, we seem to be slowing. Standing in the shade between pitches, I’m starting to shiver. The wind picks up and pummels the exposed face.

Communication becomes difficult in the wind. We started the climb with two hand-held radios, but it’s about now, on the 5th pitch, as the wind howls, that my radio slips from my hand.  I hear it clink at my feet and ricochet into space. I turn to watch it fall. For 50 or 100 feet, the blue Motorola accelerates to its demise. Smashing into pieces and skittering over the ledges below, its last transmission is one of warning.

The GoPro camera can’t capture the true conditions, but to provide some idea of how strong the wind was, consider what we found when we returned to base camp.

I don’t have a wind gust estimate, but it’s interesting to note that the tent stakes and nylon cords are still in the ground at the site. Instead of pulling the stakes and rolling away, the tent ripped itself from the stakes and took to the sky. Though we found one tent 1/3 mile from the site, the second tent was lost, along with a variety of small items. Sleeping bags, pads, extra clothes, hats and more are all scattered somewhere in the range. We are lucky to find a backpack 1/4 mile away, and even a sleeping pad about one mile from camp.

Back on the Buttress, we are unable to hear each other through the wind. We can yell short distances but once the lead climber is beyond 50’, our communication is limited to pulls and tugs on the rope.

An hour before sunset, we reach the crux of the climb: a difficult off-width crack, followed by an awkward overhanging slab. As the lead climber struggles to make the move, we realize our mistake: we are veering off the route and into unknown terrain. We yell at him to move left, but he can’t hear us and continues right. He rounds the corner and we’re helplessly forced to follow.
Recall what climbers warn about wrong turns. This is about to become an epic.
The 2nd and 3rd climbers fight their way through the pitch, leaving skin and blood on the rocks.

Being the last to climb, I wait alone for the others to finish the pitch. What is taking so long, I wonder aloud. Eventually I feel 5 hard tugs on the rope and I’m free to climb. As the twilight turns to night, I race up the crack, smash my knees into the crevice, bear hug the slab, jump a 2’ gap onto a hanging boulder, and join my friends on a small snowy ledge above a 1000’ foot cliff. There’s blood everywhere.
I can feel warmth oozing down my legs, as my knees stick to Gore-Tex. I notice another trail in the snow, and realize a teammate has torn up his knuckles. With limited supplies and reduced optimism, he simply lets the blood run down his fingers and drip to the ground.

It is on this ledge, huddled together, where we realize the gravity of our situation. It is much too dangerous to rappel down this unknown face, particularly in the dark, and a 4 foot snowy ledge is no place to survive a night of howling wind. The decision is quickly made and our leader scurries around the corner as darkness falls.

His pace is excruciating. A foot at a time, or sometimes less, the rope pulls around the corner and into the gloom. A minute passes between pulls. I notice the stars are out and bright. I eat the rest of my food, a mere three bites of sugary stuff, thinking of the freeze-dried dinners, trail mix, and Clif bars we left at camp. My water bottle begins to freeze. After 15 minutes, or an hour maybe, the rope is finally taught and my partners climb into the dark.

The next hour is the most difficult I have ever spent in the mountains. Uncertainty becomes anxiety, which becomes fear.
I sit alone, in the snow, on a ledge, midway up a face of the tallest mountain, listening to the wind howl through the dark. I’m out of food. My water is now ice. I’m shivering. My radio is broken, there are no cell phones, and my only lifeline is coiled at my feet, slowly unwinding and dragging itself up the mountain. Like all reptiles, the 60 meter green snake moves slowly in the cold.

The anxious fear boils into anger. I curse the dark cold wind. I yell at the stars. I scold myself and my climbing partners. What were we thinking? Why didn’t we turn back? What the fuck are we doing up here? How are we going to get through this? I can’t help but think of solitary confinement. I’m trapped in a small, dark, uncomfortable space, alone with my thoughts, and I have no idea how long I will be there. Perhaps this is the punishment for making a few poor decisions along the route.

Suddenly, I feel 5 sharp tugs and I snap out of it. I click on my headlamp and turn to climb once more. The short pitch is not enough to warm my body. I shiver immediately upon reaching the next belay point. I coil my rope against the rock, sit on it, and wedge myself against my backpack to block the wind. I close my eyes and wait for a tug.

The snake slithers its way through boulders and ledges, back and forth before finally pulling taught once more. I sit up and notice for the first time how beautiful the night is. I can see lights from 100 miles away. We must be nearing the summit, I (mistakenly) think. My attitude instantly changes. The waves of emotion have settled and I realize everything is going to be fine. I know we’re going to make it. I no longer despise the wind, the cold, the dark.
I turn to the face, lift my head, and send the pitch easily. That is, of course, until I reach the next crux move just short of the belay.
Two large boulder ledges form a funnel, angling gently towards a 4 foot gap between them. In the dark, by himself, our leader jumped this gap with very little protection. If at ground level, in daylight, a 5-year-old could do it easily. But up here, in the dark, with 1000’ beneath my feet, the gap is suddenly impossible. I know the three climbers ahead of me have already jumped, but I ask anyway, “Are you serious?”
“Yeah, I got you,” says the belay…. OK. 1. 2. And 3. Right. Left. And leap.

It must be approaching midnight, we’ve been climbing in the dark for 4 hours, and it’s time to take a break and gather ourselves. On yet another exposed blocky ledge, we huddle against the wind. I can tell morale is low, and perhaps still dropping. We check our supplies. Food: empty. Water: empty, or frozen. Warm clothes: on, but insufficient. I notice, however, that I’m the only one wearing boots. It was so cold, 5 hours ago, that I had to remove my climbing shoes and replace them with wool socks and heavy boots. It impedes my climbing, but at least my feet are warm-ish. The others still have constrictive climbing shoes on and are all complaining about their numbed feet.
Time for a morale boost: everybody, remove your climbing shoes and put on some socks!

After my twilight low point, my attitude has steadily improved. I see the team is still very low, so I start making light of our situation. Stories, jokes, complaints, dreams, thoughts of food, anything that comes to mind, I spew it to the group. We sit for an hour on the ledge, recuperating our mental strength to continue the climb. We still have a ways to go, and it’s too cold to sit any longer.

Another major morale boost occurred on that ledge, and it involved a blue plastic bag. If you don’t instantly know what that means, here’s a g-rated version of how to use a blue bag in the mountains.

Our trip leader and I huddle shoulder to shoulder, minimizing our exposure to the wind. He proclaims, “Well, it’s gotta happen,” pulling a bag from his pack.
“I'll give you some space,” I say.
“Don’t worry about it,” he says.
Let me reiterate. We are sitting on a 4’ square boulder ledge, a thousand feet up, with our hips and shoulders touching, and he plans to remove his harness and shit in a bag without me getting in the way.
I know things are pretty bleak, but I am not about to go that low today. I gingerly step to the adjacent rock, providing a few feet of space, if not privacy.

With a blue bag filled and sealed with laughter, though still shivering, thirsty, hungry, and tired, we resume our climb. Desperate to avoid the punishment of climbing 4th, I propose a new strategy. We begin simul-climbing when the route allows. The leader and I now simultaneously climb, and belay the 3rd and 4th climbers in parallel. For the most part, we are now climbing in two groups of two, instead of the snaking relay that dominated the lower, more difficult, sections. Though no faster, it improves our mood. There is nothing, however, to do about the cold.

For the last few hours, I’ve done everything to avoid touching the rock. I sit only on the rope, or on my pack, or simply stand in the wind. I shiver when I stop climbing, but I feel stable. The others, however, are much colder. I see them collapse after each pitch, exhausted. Sprawling on the rocks and snow, they are losing heat. I watch a teammate shiver uncontrollably, barely able to breathe. He hyperventilates as his whole body tremors. I’ve not seen anything like it. My eyes meet those of another partner and we share our concern wordlessly.
I ask if the breathing is a voluntary way to warm up, but he stammers, “No.”
I wonder if the altitude is affecting him. Perhaps it’s just exhaustion, mixed with hunger and dehydration, amplified by cold, and wrapped in stress. No matter the diagnosis, the only cure is to get down to camp, get food, get water, get warm, and get off the mountain. And, of course, there’s only one way to do any of that; we must first make the summit.

Pitch after pitch, snake by snake, we continue upwards. As his exhaustion nears delirium, our leader makes another wrong turn, again pushing us into more difficult moves.
The monotony is numbing, or maybe it’s just the cold. Climb shiver belay. Shiver climb shiver. Belay shiver shiver…
Passing 3:00am, one of our altimeter watches says we are only 40’ from of the summit. We crane our necks upward but our headlamps only illuminate the same things we’ve seen for the last 8 hours: rocks and darkness. A second altimeter suggests we’re still 400’ below the summit. Uhg. It’s the classic backcountry mistake. As soon you think the end is right around the corner, there’s always another corner. One false summit leads to another, to another, to another.

Shaking our heads as we prepare for another few pitches, we notice the snake moving with a vigor before unseen. Suddenly, above the wind, we hear a shout. To our disbelief and relief, our leader has reached the peak and is standing on the highest summit in the lower 48. We hurry to join him, doing our best to avoid the other major backcountry mistake: becoming careless when the finish is near.

We share congratulatory hugs and high fives and immediately coil the ropes and scurry into the National Park Service summit hut. It’s barely more than a tin roof on a pile of rocks, but it does block the wind and provide the warmth of a safe place, even if the air inside is only 25 degrees.
It’s 4:00am. We lay our ropes and lean our packs, close our eyes and wait for the sun to rise.

Finally, mercifully, the sun crests the horizon and brings the energy of renewed optimism. The wind is still blasting, but it doesn’t feel so cold. We take summit photos to prove our existence, if not our success, and drop into the Moutaineer’s route to descend to camp. In only two hours, we arrive at the place where our tents used to be, the same place where we started our climb 24 hours prior.

We eat our remaining food (last night’s dinner), drink from the frozen lake, collect our scavenged gear, complete the 4-hour hike to the car, unload our bags (including the blue ones), return to Lone Pine, and promptly devour some epic cheeseburgers.

After 2 months of reflection, it’s easy to see our mistakes. First and foremost, we simply had too many people in our group. With only one competent lead climber, our relay method was inexcusably slow, even leaning towards dangerously slow.
Additionally, we weren’t strong enough climbers. Our fitness was decent, as we made the hike at a good pace, but we wasted too much time on climbing moves that should have been completed more easily.
Also, always obvious in retrospect, we should have better prepared for the long climb by bringing extra food and water, and warmer clothes too.
Lastly, much to our surprise, we should have had a stronger tent. The one we lost was designed for Everest expeditions, but that claim is laughable after seeing how it faired at 12K’ in the Sierras.

On the other hand, we must also reflect on the way we handled the difficult situation without letting a few bad choices become a disaster. We mitigated our risks when able, we climbed safely and methodically, we worked as a team, and we knew when not to hunker down and wait for help. Although our decision to climb in the dark sounds a little careless to some, I believe that we would have fared far worse had we stopped climbing at dusk and waited 10 hours for sunrise.
Another scenario that keeps playing in my head is the one where we summit near dusk, descend in the dark, and find our tents missing with no other shelter nearby. It would have been an impossible night on an open snow field with no tents.

It becomes one of those any landing you walk away from stories, when things go wrong but you survive nonetheless. Things certainly didn’t go according to our plan, but we landed on the summit and we all walked away.

Thanks to Nate Hansen, Nate Tang, and Andrew Yue for walking with me.
Thanks to the NPS for constructing a way-above-average-but-not-quite-epic summit hut.

April 3, 2014

Cycling San Francisco to Santa Barbara

In 2010, I rode the Oregon coast with Nate and Kimber Hansen. (Photos & Video) We covered 413 miles in 9 days, at a very comfortable 11 miles per hour and 50 miles per day. It was a stunning way to experience the coast, with ample time for photos, frisbee, and relaxation.
We told ourselves that one day we would continue the trip, down the California coast. Well, that day recently arrived on short notice. Nate found a few days off from podiatry school and we discussed a few adventure options. Considering weather, travel, and (least of all) fitness, we decided to ride another 400 mile section of Hwy 1, from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. In the time crunch, we only could afford 4 days of riding. Dividing 400 miles by 4 days is pretty easy math, but the 100-miles-per-day resultant is definitively not easy.
           Before this trip, my longest ever bike ride was 60 miles, and that was in 2008. On the Oregon tour, our longest day was only 55 miles. Since moving to CA in 2011, my longest ride has been a mere 20 miles. This is all simply to say that riding 100 miles in a day would roughly double my previous best. To do 4 consecutive 100 milers would break my personal measuring stick.

Day 1: Oakland, 7:30am.
            The first segment of our ride is the most circuitous, as we navigate the BART rails, weave through The City traffic, curve down the famous Lombard St, pass the Golden Gate, and finally hit the beach at Hwy 1.

            Pacifica, 10:00am.
            After 25 miles, we’re finally getting in the groove. Open highways, scenic terrain, and perfect weather dissolve the miles easily. Our rhythm becomes very simple: pedal-pedal-pedal-eat, pedal-pedal-pedal-eat, rinse-and-repeat.

Day 2: Santa Cruz, 8:30am.
Our daily pattern is fully developed. There is no time for anything but pedaling and eating. The morning is not so scenic, but the eating is terrific. The roadside produce stands are a treasure, the Whole Enchilada in particular, and it’s hard to beat a Sunday afternoon in Monterey.

            Monterey, 12:30pm.                                                                       After lunch, we tour the famous 17-mile-drive around Pebble Beach. Shortly after leaving Carmel, we develop a new component to our routine: bike repair. This year we forego the single-wheel bike trailers from the Oregon ride, and opt to load all our gear onto our rear panniers. It should be obvious that our aluminum and carbon bikes are not designed for the extra weight, as they have no braze-ons (fancy bike word for ‘mounting spots’) for rear racks. Nonetheless, we use a blend a jury rigging (link) and jimmy rigging (link) to affix our gear as best we can. Eventually, inevitably, things fall apart. First to break is Nate’s rack. We scrap some pieces, replace some screws, and continue south. Pedal-pedal-repair-pedal-eat, pedal-pedal-repair-pedal-eat… It just doesn’t have the same rhythm. We make it to camp with few other issues, but the physical strain of 190 miles in two days starts to affect us.


            Big Sur, 6:30pm.
            The scenery of the riding is unrivaled, and the downhill sections are exhilarating, but the highlight of each day is definitely the first few minutes at camp. Parking the bikes, putting on sandals, and resting at the picnic table with a beer… it’s even better than lunch in Monterey. A great component of our coastal bikepacking is that we can usually find a market within a few miles of camp. With some planning, we ride as lightly as possible, then bulk up on food and drink just before the finish. In this way, we always have fresh food and cold beer when we collapse at the campsite. Also of great benefit to bike campers is the $5 fee in most state parks. The regular sites are up to $35.
            Despite the lavish comforts of camp, the nights arrive quickly and the mornings quicker still. With many miles to cover, we wake at 5:30 to break camp. The sudden transition is difficult. Riding in the dark is a challenge, but it’s nothing compared to the hills that await in Big Sur.

Day 3: Big Sur, 7:00am.
            The camera battery dies as the sunrise paints pastels over the Pacific. This section of Hwy 1, ridden at this hour, is the most beautiful I've ridden.

            However, the hills, with a heavy bike and my out-of-shape knees, make it also the most painful ride of my life.
In 2010, I developed bursitis in my knee, causing shooting pain under the stress of pedaling uphill. It took 3 months to recover. As I fought my way up the Big Sur hills, I struggled physically with the same shooting pains in my knees. I struggled mentally with the idea that I was causing long-term damage to the joints. I feared that I was sentencing myself to a summer of rest and inactivity. It was painful, frustrating, even scary.
After 2 hours and only 20 miles, I near my breaking point. I consider the options: 1) quit and hitch a ride to the nearest train station, or 2) stop at the next available camp and spend the next two days limping to the next town. Either choice leaves us short of our goal. I am very stubborn, and I despise giving up, so instead of changing the plan, I ditch the plans completely.
Let’s just ride until you can’t ride anymore. One hour more. One mile more. One minute more. One more crank of the pedal. When even the smallest of steps becomes too difficult, I again throw out the plan. I curse the pain and something clicks: just do it. It’s no Nike slogan. It is just a realization that physical pain and mental anguish are temporary and beatable. I refuse to quit. Also, Nate is about a mile ahead of me. I can’t quit and leave him pedaling onward unaware of my absence.
Oh, I almost forgot, Nate is also now carrying the tent, my sleeping bag, my pad, my clothes, all of the food, and anything else we can strap to his bike. I can’t let him haul all of my shit up these steep-ass hills and then tell him I can’t do it anymore.

Ragged Point, 12:00pm.
I manage to drag myself up the last of the Big Sur hills and coast into a lunch break. In nearly 6 hours, we’ve ridden less than 50 miles. Again we discuss the we’re-not-quitting-but-we-need-a-back-up plan.
Can I ride 20 miles more? I’m not sure.
Could we make it another 60 to San Luis Obispo by the next day, to catch a train? I’m afraid to answer.
It’s still 180 to Santa Barbara. We’re barely halfway. We can’t quit yet.
Lunch restores our energy, our mood, our optimism, and our just-do-it attitude.

That is, of course, until the bike itself can’t ride anymore. Finally in a groove, making great pace along the gentler terrain, I hear an unwelcome sound: crack-ping-ping-ping-ping-ping. A spoke on my rear wheel finally gives out under the heavy load. Bike spokes provide tension on the rim of the wheel, distributing weight and holding its shape. When one breaks, the balance is lost and the remaining spokes take disproportionate loads. In practice, this means the wheel is no longer round, or ‘true.’ An un-true wheel wobbles and often rubs on the brakes. In my case, the wheel was so out of balance that it wouldn’t even spin.
We spent 20 minutes fiddling with the wheel, using inadequate tools, to straighten it enough to spin freely.

Another great thing about this ride is the beautiful road-side work benches.

I am impressed with our attitude. Instead of collapsing under another obstacle, we persevere again. Things are rolling so smoothly now that we forget about the back-up plans. We ride another 40 miles without a worry. Only 29 more to SLO.

Nearing SLO, we pass 100 miles on the day, along a winding country road.

After a quick stop for dinner, we press on to Pismo Beach. At mile 115, after sunset, we pass a campground that is unheralded in my guide book. We skip ahead to the next one, a few miles farther south. Upon arriving there, we discover it’s a total dump: 5 motor homes and a pit toilet. Back to the first campground, a few miles north, we discover there are no sites for bicyclists. Grateful to see a park ranger, he suggests an RV park down the road that has ‘limited space for bikers.’ We’ll take it! Another few miles south and we reach a mega RV park, poorly lit, with no instructions for cyclists. At mile 125, after 10 hours of pedaling, we’re too tired to go anywhere else.
Our luck finally turns when a local comes staggering through the parking lot, obviously well inebriated on a Tuesday evening. He guides us (See: bowling ball down a bumper lane) to a patch of dirt in the corner of the park.
Again, luck finds us when we spot someone exiting the pass-code protected showers. We revel in long, hot (and free!) showers.
We sleep soundly, despite being only 30 feet from Hwy 1.

Day 4: Pismo, 6:30am.
            We awake in the dark, again, to begin the last leg of the tour: 100 miles to Santa Barbara. I continue to push through the knee pain as the miles roll by. This day, it’s Nate who seems to be dragging. After 2 hours, he is spent. I’ve never seen him like this. I know my pace is mediocre, and if he can barely keep up, something must be wrong. We break for a snack, back in our pedal-pedal-pedal-eat rhythm, only to discover that he has broken a spoke.

            His wheel has been rubbing all morning. For 25 miles, he’s been riding with the brakes on. We were too tired to notice. Usually a mechanical breakdown like this might lead to a break down of a more emotional nature. Instead, we embrace the difficulty of the day, we flip the bike, we fix the wheel, and we celebrate the realization that the riding will get easier (now that the brakes aren’t engaged). We get back to pedal-pedal-pedal-eat, and summit the Purisima hills nearing Lompoc.

Lompoc, 11:30.
We stop for lunch in a vacant corner lot. Or, is it an art garden? Who cares. Let’s eat.

            We summit the last hill of the trip, at 1:30pm, with only 40 miles to Santa Barbara. I text my SB friends to proclaim our success: “Only 40 miles to go. All downhill and downwind. See you in a few hours.”

            Oops. Whether you believe in superstition or not, it’s clear that a big adventure isn’t over ‘til it’s over, and it makes no sense to get ahead of yourself.
            At the bottom of the hill, still 30 miles out, I blow a tire. I squirm the bike to a safe spot and take out the repair kit. A new tire. A new tube. Tire irons. A hand pump. A CO2 pump and cartridge…. While we’re at it, we true Nate’s wheel again. Other cyclists pass us while we work.

            We know the repair is not perfect. The tire pressure is insufficient. I ride gently, but cannot avoid the bumps in the road. Five miles later, over a bridge, I blow another tube. So much for “downhill and downwind.” We stop in the shade and I whip another tube on the wheel. In my haste, I scrape knuckles over metal and blood runs down my hands.
            Nate and I take stock of our gear. We have a tire and tubes remaining, but no more CO2. My hand pump proves worthless, which means the next flat might sink the trip.

            El Capitan State Park (off-ramp), 4:00pm.
            By now, you might know where this is headed. We ride a few miles more and Nate pulls off the road ahead of me. Flat tire. We try to fix it, but we’re short on supplies.
            At mile 383, it’s finally time to call it.

As if in a tv gameshow, I use my call-a-friend lifeline, and a truck arrives 45 minutes later to take us to town. Our heads held high, we do not admit defeat. We rode 383 miles in 4 days, and there’s no shame in saving the last 20 for another ride.

Route Maps
Day 1: 93 miles, 12.4 ave, 5300’ elevation gain.
Day 2: 85 miles, 13.1 ave, 4700’ gain.
Day 3: 125 miles, 12.3 ave, 9200’ gain.
Day 4: 80 miles, 13.5 ave, 4000’ gain.
Total: 383 miles, in 30 hours of riding, average speed 12.8 mph, 23,000’ gain.
95 miles per day.

Thanks to Nate for his relentless positive attitude, and for hauling my gear through Big Sur.
Thanks to Nate Tang for guiding us through SF.
Thanks to Adam for skipping out of work to pick us up on the side of the road.
Thanks to Adam and Lindsay for hosting us in SB.
Thanks to Steve and Melissa for joining us for celebratory burgers and beers.
Thanks to Kimber for the ride back to Oakland.

Thanks are also due to the songs in the above videos. I put a play list on during the painful climbs and it helped boost me up the hills.
Pumpin Blood - NONONO
I Love It - Icona Pop
Closer - Tegan and Sara
Miles Away - Years Around the Sun
Get Some - Lykke Li
Leave the Lights on - Meiko
...and more...