(Warning: Picture heavy post!)
Ok so has everyone recovered from the foul chewing gum wall…? No thought not, go and have another cup of tea and come back to me…
That’s better. Right, moving on then.
The drive north from Santa Barbara was stunning with beautiful views presenting themselves around nearly every bend in the road. As we whizzed along in the car at a speed which was undeniably necessary given our time limits I could only sit and wish that I was on my bike. I wanted to take it in slowly, appreciate the scenery, stop whenever I felt like it, meander along at my usual slow pace and really savour it.
However, it is in the real world that we live and in the real world there are visa restrictions and time constraints so move at speed we sadly must. We stopped whenever we could, or at least whenever the view was so stunning Dad found himself distracted enough from the road as to be putting his family in mortal danger!
One particular corner presented us with a bigger surprise than expected when we stumbled across a beach completely full of elephant seals! As a lifelong David Attenborough fan (I challenge anyone to “out-Attenborough” me!) and nature geek I was beside myself with excitement! It’s funny how we see things on “the box” but never expect to actually see them in real life. It’s as though we forget that they do in fact exist and live somewhere… like this Californian beach for example! Anyway, it turns out elephant seals are bloody massive (much bigger than they look on Frozen Planet!)… seriously they are huge. In fact according to the helpfully placed information board which we noticed just as we were debating one particularly beefy male’s length, they grow up to 4.5 meters. Lumbering and flopping around the beach like massive sacks of blubber, which I suppose is actually quite an accurate description, we were all pretty damn impressed!
As the afternoon approached our road wound higher and our view over the ocean was fabulous. It was just after the photo above in fact that Alex had a bit of an outburst. Before I continue I should say that my little sister is usually very well spoken, it’s my baby sister (the body boarder you all met in the previous post!) who has the foul mouth and she’d be the first to admit it. However as we cruised along peacefully all of a sudden Alex frantically wound down her window and shouted at the top of her voice:
“IT’S THE F*CKING WHALES… THE F*CKING WHALES ARE FOLLOWING US!!!!!!!!!”
After all the false sightings during the actual whale watching tour the day before I didn’t believe her – not for a second.
“Don’t be ridiculous Alex, it’s probably just a… SHE’S RIGHT IT’S A F*CKING WHALE!!!!”
And would you believe it, it bloody well was a whale! Quite a few as it turned out! In fact we spent the remainder of the afternoon shrieking in delight at the blow hole sprays shooting up into the air, highlighted by the afternoon sun! The whales journeyed north with us all afternoon and were the cherry on top of an already breathtaking drive. What a nature filled day we had had! By the end we were basically cetologists (yep had to look that up!) and I have no doubt Attenborough himself would have been envious!
After our elephant seal and whale excitement we arrived that evening in Monterey. Up bright and early the next morning we spent the day sight seeing; the main tourist strip of Cannery Row (to party with Mack and the boys), a small Jazz festival notable only for it’s complete lack of jazz and abundance of dodgy rock bands and local youth dance troops, Carmel beach for a beautiful sunset and then Carmel town for a delicious dinner where, as per usual, food envy struck me (mine was good but Mum’s look amaaaazing!). Perhaps the highlight of the day however was the hiring and subsequent riding of this hilarious contraption:
After a super day in Monterey we were suddenly nearing the end of our Bush-1 road trip. The next day we were to head to San Fransico and an incredible AirBnB house rental! We couldn’t believe our luck (or I should say Mum’s organisation) when we arrived to the wonderful house and we were almost reluctant to leave it to go and see the city! But of course, we had a San Fran itinerary to keep (an itinerary very successfully although somewhat bizarrely based entirely on recommendations from Mum’s dental hygienist!!) and we had an Alcatraz tour to get to!
Alcatraz! How iconic! It is of course an incredibly touristy place to go but I thought it was fantastic even if the hyped build up to the cell doors opening and closing was a little ridiculous (what is America without its melodrama)! Nonetheless it was incredibly well organised, well signed, informative, interesting AND we even met an ex Alcatraz prisoner on our way out (prisoner 1259) who wished me well on my journey before stealing my camera. No of course he didn’t actually steal my camera but he did manage to persuade us to part with some money by way of purchasing his book! We wondered how he could bear coming back to the prison day in and day out having been incarcerated there for so long but I suppose the lure of excitable tourists looking for an opportunity to buy something can be quite powerful!
Unbeknown to us, our visit to Alcatraz also coincided with an art installation by Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei (incidentally an instillation that took 3 years to construct yet one that will never be visited by its creator whose passport is firmly in the hands of the Chinese government). Not knowing it was open we went into it with no expectations and were all really impressed. Walking into the old prison factory we came face to face with a huge, colourful dragon, it’s body and tail sweeping backward, weaving between the columns and drawing you into the exhibit.
The next room was large and contained over 1.2 million pieces of lego. Specifically a carpet of lego faces, and not just any faces, rather each a political prisoner. Men and women from all over the globe staring back at you from the floor of America’s most famous penitentiary. I found the exhibits both dignified and touching particularly that in the dining hall upstairs where post cards addressed to the detainees are blank and ready to be written, by you, the visitor. I sat and took my time, I wrote my postcard and dropped it in the delivery box, I wonder if it has yet been received? I wonder if it ever will be?
So I thought Alcatraz was brilliant and I would recommend it highly; and if you’re there when the Weiwei exhibition is on then that’s all the better.
Of course, a trip to San Fransicso would not be complete without a view of the fabulous bridge. We might not have had the time to bike across it as many people were doing but drive it we certainly did and it was awesome! I have a bit of a thing about bridges – I really like them. I know that’s not a very cool thing to admit but the truth remains, crossing the Golden Gate bridge has been on my “to do” list for a long time! Sadly, as per usual, my photo does it little justice… in fact it’s a particularly dire one but you get the idea!
Wandering along Fisherman’s Wharf on the way to our restaurant we were approached by a pedicab driver and persuaded to hop in his cab for the rest of the journey. I say persuaded but actually we took very little convincing… he was possibly the most handsome man in America, certainly in San Francisco and my New Orleans trumpet player suddenly had some very serious competition!! Not only was he beautiful but he was also friendly (the fact he works for tips I’m sure had nothing to do with it!) AND he was into bike touring! Now how about that!
I can’t remember his name although I don’t think that really matters, suffice to say he was quite lovely and should he have wanted to cycle around the rest of the world with me I’m not sure who would have been happier, my Mum for knowing that I was no longer alone or me for having such a beautiful companion!! Ahh well, we can all dream can’t we!
But sadly, back to the real world…
Our restaurant that evening (another dental hygienist recommendation!) was in the aptly named sea lion harbour and describes itself as the world’s only floating island! Now whilst I can’t quite believe that can be true the restaurant itself was quite an experience! Arriving a little early we were taken out to the entrance on a small boat and had pre-dinner cocktails on the “lighthouse” viewing deck.
When our table was ready we headed back downstairs… and then downstairs again. The restaurant, you see, is actually underwater – kinda cool huh! The two small ports holes behind Alex and I occasionally drew gasps from Mum and Dad when, as they claimed, fish swam past! We eventually had to swap places when Alex and I found the excited points and exclamations through mouthfuls of sea food chowder and wild mushroom ragout just too distracting; especially as we continually turn around only to see nothing but blue water and algae! Once positioned facing the port holes I had hoped that one of the sea lions would pop over and push it’s face up against the window but sadly I had no such luck… although it turned out Mum and Dad hadn’t been winding us up after all as various nondescript fish did present themselves fairly frequently!
So after our lovely dinner it was time to head back to our amazing house. The following morning, with lots of help from Dad I packed up my bike and all my gear and we headed to the airport.
With lots of hugs and one or two tears I waved Mum, Dad and Alex off. It was sad to see them go and I sat dejectedly on the airport bench for a while by myself wondering, yet again, what on earth I was heading into. I knew things were about to get tougher. Cultures were going to change and with language barriers communication was about to get much more complicated. The terrain was going to get more daunting and the bureaucracy troublesome. However whilst apprehensive I was also excited. I was only just starting to appreciate what I had already done… I’d cycled across a county. “You’ve cycled across a country” I whispered to myself… it felt so good to say it, to mutter the words and realise they were real. I felt strong, both mentally and physically, more so than ever before and I knew that although I was likely to have bigger challenges ahead of me than any I’d experienced thus far boy was I ready for them!
“Oh little blue bike…” I whispered to the cardboard box next to me “my dearest friend… our adventures have only just begun…”