Friday, May 2, 2014

Careful- It's Dangerous Out There!

Going down the Fergusson-Nacimiento Road, the scenery changes dramatically from the Pacific Coast
Along with new terrain comes a whole new set of challenges…… and dangers!  I thought I was going to have to be careful with the weirdoes in The States, but it seems that nature and the geographical challenges are going to be the real threats!  My parents left two days ago and already the adventures have begun!

The view from above the bridge at the campsite (Lime Kiln State Park, Hwy. 1, California)

The beach at Lime Kiln State Park

On my first night alone since Tasmania, I rolled up to the campsite right before dusk. Luckily I had met my first tour cyclists this side of the Pacific just 5 miles beforehand, James and Alexis, and the three of us decided to share a site.  It was a gorgeous campsite right under a tall narrow bridge on the beach, surrounded my mountains and cliffs.  I was so excited to go to sleep listening to the ocean that I decided not to wear my earplugs.  Waves crashing weren’t the only thing I heard that night.  I woke up the first time to sounds of rustling through bags.  I told myself I must have been dreaming, stayed calm, and went back to bed. A bit later, the noise woke me again,…this time it crossed my mind that perhaps animals were out and about at the campsite.  Again, I talked myself into staying calm, thinking positively that is wasn’t animals, and went back to bed.  The third time I heard the noise, I was getting quite frustrated.  Whatever it was out there was disturbing my continuous night sleep and I didn’t want to be tired in the morning, so I made a quick move inside my tent and a bit of a grunt, and it seemed to work.  I scared, whatever it was outside, away.  I’d just come from Australia and had camped in wild areas with kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums, and large bats.  The only encounter I’d had there was with possums. One night they were above me in a tree and pooed on my tent.  Their poo is in pellet form, and bounced right off the tent, but their pee, which splashed up on my while eating dinner one night was rather disgusting!

I'm not the only one that likes my prunes!

I woke up the next morning, and sure enough I saw some of my food, which I had inside my panniers, out on the ground.  I had rolled them closed and clipped them shut, not tightly, but being the optimistic or perhaps ignorant person that I am, I didn’t think an animal would really get in.  Here, my first night camping on the Northern California, raccoons it seemed, had gotten in my bags.  There were sandy paw prints on the picnic bench, and they had managed to get food out of two of my bags, and tampered a bit with my toiletries.  One package of beef jerky and an energy bar was missing and my bag of prunes had been half eaten and was completely destroyed.  It or they had torn a hole in the bag and gone to town.  I tried to recover the prunes they didn’t eat as best I could, but they were covered in sand and wiping them off was practically useless! I hadn’t even had the chance to enjoy one prune, my parent’s had just brought them for me from Oregon.  as I’d just got them from my parents before they left.  I was mad, as my mom had brought down the bag from Oregon. I don’t wish bad things upon people, but I was mad at the raccoon.  I hope they gave that raccoon the runs,…after all, he ate about 20 prunes; if prunes have the same affect on animals as they do on humans if eaten in excess, then he’ll be sorry for messing with my food.

Nobody messes with my merino wool t-shirts and gets away with it!
I would have been able to move on if beef jerky and prunes was the only damage that had been done, but when I saw my new merino wool shirt, completely torn to shreds, I was enraged!  Here I had carefully placed it under the picnic table to air out and dry, hidden, to avoid the morning dew.   However, the shirt was in the way of the bike panniers, and so the raccoon had to step on it in order to get to the bags.  It probably smelled so badly that it tried to eat it.  I was furious when I saw my t-shirt!  My new wool shirt was only two days old.  It was a replacement shirt, since I have to purchase new shirts every 3 months when the old ones wear out.

James and Alexis, my camping buddies for the night, very experienced tour cyclist
If I only had seen this sign the night before.......

Those little rascals messed with the wrong person.  They completely changed the way I see those cute little animals.  People had warned me about the wildlife, but I just brushed their comments off!  Now, I was going to take them seriously and step up my protection.  If this was the damaged from a raccoon or two on the Northern California Coast, imagine what I’m in for in Yellowstone with the bears?!?!?   James and Alexis’ stuff had gone untouched (the raccoons were too busy going to town with my food), why?!?  James knew all the secrets and shared them with me later that morning. This meant war, Melissa vs. wildlife !!!

They call it the "Valley of the Oaks"

Speaking of war, I set out that morning with a bit of road rage, or should I say raccoon rage. My anger helped me pedal up a massive climb I that lie between me and King City, my destination that day.  The road was calm, only a few forestry vehicles coming down.  On the top was a deserted fire station, that had a water tap so I could fill my bottle.  I only had one small bottle because I had forgotten to get another at a supermarket before leaving Monterey.  I rode down the other side of the mountains and came to a vast dry valley, completely flat with very little shade.  There was no one around, not even a car passed me!  All of a sudden on the right I saw a road with a barrier and it said “Live Fire”.  I thought to myself,….that is odd, a forest fire?  I don’t see smoke, I don’t smell burning, and I passed the fire trucks, but they were going the opposite direction. 

I guess a real fire would not have been that likely if I had seen Smokey the Bear earlier...... 

A few minutes later I passed another sign, but again, no sign of a fire burning.  Then in the distance I saw what I thought were two tanks.  All of a sudden it vaguely dawned on me that I had seen an area of restricted roads on my Google Maps when looking at my ride for the day.  Sure enough, a few minutes later I saw a sign that confirmed my presence.  I was surrounded by a military base, some sort of training zone.  This wasn’t a small little base, it went on and on for miles, and live fire meant live as in live ammunition, and dud artillery in the field.  I was definitely not going to stop to go to the bathroom here or sit down for a picnic lunch.  I continued pedaling and sure enough I can to the entrance of the military camp with a huge tank on display.  It was a creepy place to be; isolated and desolate. I was hoping these soldiers needed a coffee stop from their tank training and was hoping to see a coffee shop, but there wasn’t anything, not even water to refill my bottle. 

That is a big time tank

Now I get what "Live Fire" means....

By now I was getting thirsty.  I had climbed over the coastal mountain range and I was dropping down into a huge valley in Central California.  The temperature jumped from about 70F (20C) to 95F (35C) in only a few kilometers.  It was HOT! I foolishly only had one little water bottle, and there wasn’t any shade to take refuge.  Even if I did want to stop and rest, well, I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable with all the warnings of ammunition and live firing going on. 

Justin literally saved me with cold water and of course good company
What was I to do?  From the map, I could see I had another 2,5 hours of pedaling through total desert without services. As soon as I exited the base and was on a rural back country road, I started looking for houses.  I had to ride a good hour before finding anything, rationing the water along the way and keeping my mind preoccupied with other thoughts.  Finally I came to a sign for a trailer park on the right and a cluster of 2 or 3 houses on the left.  I chose the cluster of houses.  I shouted out Hello several times until someone finally appeared.  A nice older guy had just woken up form his night shift as a nurse in the town 15 miles away and heard me.  He was loading up on his morning coffee and gave me plenty of water to get hydrated. I got so comfortable; I sat and ate my picnic lunch on his porch while we talked.  He was fascinated by my story and couldn’t believe I had just rolled up.  I was grateful for the endless supply of cold water! Again, people had warned me about going through Death Valley with the high temperatures and now I will take the planning of this section of my route more seriously.  I’ve had hotter temperatures in Malaysia, where that heat was humid, which in my opinion is worse than dry heat, which I will find out west.

I didn't think it was a rattle snake, no rattle...I guess it is just a baby one

Yesterday, all during the same day, I saw my first rattlesnake ever.  It was bathing in the sun.  It was just a baby because there wasn’t a rattle, but that didn’t matter, I HATE SNAKES!!!!  Yet ironically, I’m headed directly towards snake capital of The States: Canyon land in Arizona and Utah.  I’m going to have to get tougher-or get a gun!  Yikes, the true American in me is starting to come out!

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