Trip Log – Day 190 – Ocotillo, CA to Brawley, CA

to BrawleyNovember 11, 2015 – Sun, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 41

Miles to Date: 9,735

States to Date: 25

My first day in the desert. Eleven hours sleep last night; pot of coffee courtesy Ocotillo Motel; breakfast burrito courtesy The Red Feather; gentle breeze and gorgeous day courtesy whatever God you favor. Everything was perfect, except the lousy pavement on the side road alternative to Interstate 8. Then again, the minor annoyance helps us appreciate the perfection of everything else.


IMG_5222The Imperial Valley is full of hay farms. Most of it is exported to Chia and the Middle East. Some say it is due to Colorado River water regulations. Others say its because the land is too contaminated to grow crops for US consumption. Either way, it’s bizarre that we’re irrigating the desert to grow hay to ship halfway around the world.

IMG_5225The Imperial Valley is the lowest place in the USA, well below sea level. Everything from here is uphill.

IMG_5219The fields are full of birds. Dozens of snowy egret feast upon mown hay. At sunset, whole flocks rise out of the fields and fly in graceful formation overhead.



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Trip Log – Day 189 – Spring Valley, CA to Ocotillo, CA

to OcotilloNovember 10, 2015 – Cloudy, 55 degrees

Miles Today: 79

Miles to Date: 9,694

States to Date: 25

Bicycle touring is ripe with contrast. I rose with the sun and breakfasted on Greek yogurt with fresh blackberries and excellent coffee with my host Matthew. The sun shimmered off the Pacific Ocean and San Diego skyline when we rode away from his spacious hillside home. By sunset I was grinding the final kernels from a bag of microwave popcorn in my concrete block room at the Ocotillo Motel, the only guest in the four-room compound set in the middle of a dusty trailer park. The Red Feather general store was already closed for the day and it was too early to go to the Lazy Lizard Saloon.

IMG_5197In between, I made the physical and psychic shift from coast to inland, a shift aided by favorable tailwinds and the excitement of turning the second corner of my journey. I’m heading east! The ride was a series of big climbs, over 6,600 vertical feet, with small dips until the end, when I had to join Interstate 8 for a harrowing eight-mile descent. As I moved east, the close-cropped hills began sprouting boulders. Then the mix of soil and rock equalized. By the time I reached the western edge of the Imperial Valley, the mountains were literally gigantic piles of rock.

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IMG_5200California 94 is a superb road with fun twists and great views despite the clouds and chill. I figure it’s so well maintained for security reasons: there’s little traffic except for Border Patrol and Sherriff vehicles. It’s quiet except for the helicopter’s tracking the corridor overhead. I stayed off I-8 as long as possible by taking Old Highway 80 through Jacumba, a remnant place within a stones throw of Mexico bypassed by the freeway. I took a break and contemplated the wall. When it comes to nations, I don’t agree with my fellow New Englander Robert Frost that good fences make good neighbors. This fence inhibits our ability to be good neighbors. It may be an obstacle to immigration, but it is not a solution.

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Dinner at the Lazy Lizard (home of the Testicle Festival) was a low-culinary experience worth remembering: microwaved sandwiches and soft pretzels. The food hardly mattered since I got to wash it down with Shock Top on draft. I was the last customer when I left at seven p.m. Walking back to the Ocotillo Motel, the night was pitch black, except for magnificent stars.


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Trip Log – Day 188 – San Diego, CA to Spring Valley, CA

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 2.57.14 PMNovember 9, 2015 – Cloudy, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 59

Miles to Date: 9,615

States to Date: 25

IMG_5162I really love bopping around cities on my bike, and metropolitan San Diego is a place of great variety to explore. I started early and cruised along the harbor, past downtown and the bike path along the port and Navy yard. At 8:00 a.m. the Star Spangled Banner plays on loudspeakers throughout the entire base and everyone, I mean everyone, stops what they’re doing and salutes in the direction of the nearest flag.

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South of the base, the bike path continues through a light industrial maritime area. The road is lined with mini-vans, old trailers, and recycled motor homes. I saw many fewer street people in San Diego than in any other West Coast cities, but there’s an entire community of people struggling to hang on by living along these roads.

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IMG_5172The Mexican border is almost twenty miles from San Diego by my circuitous bike route, but worth the trip. There’s a big outlet mall tight to the border fence in San Ysidro. I pedaled up the ramp to the pedestrian bridge. From the top I surveyed one of the most complex urban spaces anywhere: vehicle lanes, stop points, trolley terminus, pedestrian aisles, fast food joints and open retail stalls; a gigantic Mexican flag and human chaos. The Tijuana border crossing is lively place, though I could hardly interest anyone in my question. Legal or not, people here are close-lipped.

I rode back up through Chula Vista and National City and returned to San Diego to explore Balboa Park, a preserve since 1835 and site of two expositions, in 1915 and 1935. The Spanish Baroque pavilions have been repurposed into a variety of museums and a lovely botanical garden.

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IMG_5174In the afternoon I cycled through the working class neighborhoods of East San Diego to my host’s in Spring Valley. Everyone was in hats and sweaters, unaccustomed to the heavy clouds and intermittent sprinkles.

A highlight of my day was this wall at the entrance of the public library in National City. A quote by Jorge Luis Borges in multiple languages: “I always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

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Trip Log – Day 187 – Carlsbad, CA to San Diego, CA

to San DiegoNovember 8, 2015 – Sun, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 46

Miles to Date: 9,556

States to Date: 25

Sunday morning in Southern California seems to trigger dual devotions: coffee and the ocean. Dozens of coffee shops were jammed with cyclists, surfers and motorist’s starting their day. But the dead end overlooks along the Coast Highway were also lined with solitary souls contemplating the sea.

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Swami’s in Encinitas is both a mystical self-realization compound and an internationally famous surfing spot. There’s logic in that, sort of.

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I visited Louis Kahn’s renowned Salk Institute. The older I get, the less impressed I am by architecture designed to shape behavior rather than allowing human potential to blossom. Unlike Richard Meier’s nuanced and suggestive work at The Getty Center, The Salk Institute is heavy-handed. Despite Kahn’s signature attention to hand and body dimensions, humans are subservient to the relentless order. The complex doesn’t even relate to the sea very well, which I suppose is the point. You’re always supposed to focus on the architecture. Despite my misgivings, I can appreciate Kahn’s discipline in creating his vision. Unfortunately, that vision isn’t weathering well. Wood is splintering, concrete’s spalling, and terrazzo’s cracked. Buildings conceived as monumental testaments need to be solid.

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LaJolla is full of extravagant houses. Any style will do, as long as it looks expensive.

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I rather liked Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, which are funkier, tighter neighborhoods.

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But what is ultimately cool about San Diego is how the sea and the city sit tight to one another.

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Trip Log – Day 186 – Mission Viejo, CA to Carlsbad, CA

to CarlsbadNovember 7, 2015 – Sun, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 57

Miles to Date: 9,510

States to Date: 25

Summertime! The sky was clear, the breeze was light, the surf was up, and everyone was out on a sunny Southern California afternoon. I rode from Mission Viejo to San Juan Capistrano, which has one of the most extensive Missions I’ve seen. The rest of the ride was well marked bike path along the coast through San Clemente, Camp Pendleton Marine Base, Oceanside, and Carlsbad. Aside from teh sun setting before 5 p.m. for the first time, it could have been a July day.

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I didn’t see much wildlife, but birds of paradise were in bloom all along my route.



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Trip Log – Day 184 – Fullerton, CA to Santa Ana, CA

to Santa AnaNovember 5, 2015 – Sun, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 31

Miles to Date: 9,436

States to Date: 25

Poor Richard Nixon, the Rodney Dangerfield of Presidents. He gets no respect. After visiting the Ronald Reagan Library, teeming with people, upscale cafe, and Air Force One suspended in a hanger-size pavilion, I decided to visit Nixon’s Library in Yorba Linda.

IMG_5090The first thing the Admissions staff said was, “The permanent exhibits are closed.” Nixon’s birthplace home and the Marine One helicopter were open, as well as the gardens and personal timeline. But there was nothing juicy – nothing about Watergate – to whet my appetite. Even small things seemed to denigrate the man and his office: as many books on Kennedy and Nixon in the bookshop, and a presidential seal on the ice cream case in small convenience store that’s called a cafe.

images images-1  Architecturally the library is terrific, less derivative than Reagan’s, yet appropriately formal and Mediterranean. And Nixon’s birthplace is a gem. When his parents died, Dick’s brothers kept all their original possessions knowing that Richard M. Nixon was a force whose birthplace would warrant preservation. The 1920’s kit house bungalow is perfectly preserved. And the helicopter is cool, every bit as cool as Air Force One, though ever so much smaller.

imgresA smattering of people dotted the grand foyers and halls; I can only hope more people visit when the main exhibits are open. What I wanted most to know, of course, was how Nixon’s official memorial addressed Watergate and resignation. But whatever spin was appropriate when the library opened in 1990 is now history; completely new exhibits are being installed. When they open next year, Nixon will be reinvented yet again.

IMG_5092The most effective exhibit is the wall of Nixon Time Magazines. Nixon was on the cover of Time fifty-four times – more than any other person. Growing up, the man was always smiling or scowling at me from the coffee table. From the first cover, as Eisenhower’s VP choice, to the last, when he died, Nixon reflected his time. He did great things, which are now overshadowed by terrible things. He exuded confidence that was ultimately feeble.

I left the library with plenty of time to get to my host’s house, but missed a turn in Anaheim, wound up adding miles to my route and doing what I strive not to: riding at night. My mistake required me to make two sizable climbs. Fortunately Anaheim has great roads with wide shoulders, and I witnessed an incredible red sky over the basin.

images-2The night harkened me again after dinner. My host, Reza, whizzed me through a labyrinth of freeways to the immense scrap operation for which he runs the trucking operation. Every day six trucks haul scrap from all over SoCal to the yard. A huge claw machine deposits it into hoppers, a forklift weighs and loads the metal into containers, and a bobcat compresses the mess. They work until three in the morning to fill thirteen containers a day to empty the yard for the next day’s scrap. The containers are hauled to the Port of Long Beach and shipped to Asia. We buy finished goods from China and export our debris in return. See what Nixon ‘s China diplomacy has wrought.



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Trip Log – Day 183 – Long Beach, CA to Fullerton, CA

to FullertonNovember 4, 2015 – Sun, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 37

Miles to Date: 9,405

States to Date: 25

People ask me if I am on this trip to find my perfect place to retire. I am not. However, if I were, I would have to consider Long Beach. In twenty-four hours I pretty much fell in love with the place.

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First, there are the usual reasons – near constant sun, great temperatures, ocean breezes. Then there are my own idiosyncratic reasons. I spent time in a different public library each day, and the libraries are great. The bike path system is terrific, probably the best in Southern California. And, it’s a real place. Yes, Long Beach has condos along the beach and a big Hyatt and conventional tourist stuff, but it also has the Port of LA / Long Beach, the largest port in the United States. Having ‘real’ industry saves Long Beach from the ‘plague of being precious’ that permeates places like Santa Barbara. A guy like me could grow old, happy and healthy in Long Beach.

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imgresThe Community Relations Director for the Port of Long Beach gave me a fascinating tour of the port in the morning. Before I left town I indulged in a California fast food ritual: In’n’Out. That fueled me to Fullerton where I stayed with Kevin, a Korean-American adventurer and deep-sea photographer. We exchanged hours of great conversation and I enjoyed my first Korean barbeque.

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