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Cycling the US - A series in 5 parts about a trip from Boston to San Francisco

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Cycling USA: San Francisco and the fine lady in the mist

After a dozen or so tricky situations, broken spokes and other defects on the journey from the East coast, the target destination was in sight: San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in California was unfotunately hiding in the haze.

Arrival in California on the US 395
Picture by T. Micke

It was a cold, foggy morning when we took our last break 15 kilometres from the San Francisco Bridge. Nothing but a milky veil could be seen of the sun that had lain before us hot and burning in California and the wind blew uncomfortably damp air along the waterfront of Millvalley.

Actually on a clear day we should already have been able to see the the harbour of San Francisco and the nightclub district "Fisherman's Wharf", but the only thing that protruded out of the thick fog were the howling foghorns of the ferryboats, which brought the tourists to the prison island of Alcatraz.

We had longed for this day for more than 2 months. Whenever an 18-wheeler shot by us covering us with another truckload of rainwater, whenever a road sign had smirkingly announced a hill with a 10% incline at 40 degrees in the heat, then, when it couldn't get any worse, I imagined our little triumphal march to San Francisco and the feeling of satisfaction upon seeing the Golden-Gate-Bridge for the first time in my life. And today it lay in fog!

The only thing we could see was a thick, four-laned highway, which wound up a hill in two long snakes and then disappeared behind the curtain of cloud. Like colourful steel lemmings the cars crawled along the streets, droning quietly before us, and dove in slow-motion into the milky soup. What remained was just the sound of the foghorns.

We followed the motorway on the pedestrian and cycle path until the last bend: nothing, just fog! Suddenly a gust of wind tore open the curtain. Giant, red and majestic, the bridge lay before us in all its beauty for just a moment. Elegant and chaste like a fine lady she let the veil of cloud surround her once more, as if we had already seen too much of her. The short view was however enough for a small dance of joy and the unbelievably beautiful feeling of finally reaching our destination!

Nothing on the whole journey was as difficult and strenuous as getting along with my companions. Nothing on the whole journey was as beautiful as experiencing all of the adventures and stories with someone.

We totally got on each others nerves. I will never forget how around a third of the journey in on the hard shoulder of a four-lane highway just before Madison/Wisconsin we bawled at each other for a good forty five minutes because of a misunderstanding, until neither of us had any voice left.

Unforgettable how I hated him for cycling up to and away from me on many a hill race, just to turn round to me at a safe distance every so often ("yeah, where are you then?"). Legendary, how I always pulled away from him on the endless, demoralizing straight strips, because I imagined myself sitting on an exercise bike so as not to drive myself crazy from the monotonous view of the eternal horizon.

I hated the way he ate. He hated the way I snored. He constantly stopped because of a serious problem with his bike. I wanted to take a break at every drinks machine.

A quarrelling, bickering married couple cannot go through as many crises in ten years as we had to cope with in two months. Your brother will always be your brother, even if every so often you could "kill each other".

Sometimes we were even really nice to each other. After my third flat tire on one and the same day I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but he found (despite mischievous laughing) a few comforting words ("Look, you can do it a bit faster each time!"). And when for the first time one the spokes of the (fully overloaded) back wheel broke on a narrow mountain road, I naturally made sure that the cars didn't run him over whilst he (unsuccessfully and cursing loudly) tried to change the culprit on the roadside.

Sometimes we both found it funny. For instance, when we arrived just before dusk at the completely overbooked campsite at Yellowstone Park and there was no other option but to spend the night on the cold tile floor of the mens washroom, because we had been thoroughly warned of bears on the hunt for food. Or when we realised after a lunch break in a Californian cherry grove, that we had laid our bikes in a copse full of dastardly, needle thin prickles and that there were more holes in our four tyres than patches in our repair kit.

The total damage for 6724 kilometres: twelve "dramas", five broken spokes, a broken wheel rims, a ripped-off saddle, a defective handle bar, a twisted chain, a broken gear mechanism, two damaged valves and two worn out pairs of cycling trousers.

If you consider that I had almost killed myself for the first time on this trip on the escalator at the airport just before our return journey, we actually had quite a lot of luck...

< End of this series. Back to Adventure/Travel

© A report by Tobias Micke (03-10-96) – Contact