Welcome to carbonstories.org. On this site you can learn about Michael Johnson-Chase and follow my blogs. With some exceptions, this site follows "theme based" cycling tours focusing on social and climate related issues. Slowed down observations of the world over days, weeks and months at 10 to 15 miles an hour can reveal a depth and quality of understanding about our environment often missed by faster modes of travel.

Southern Tier, Posts 1-8

Southern Tier, Posts 1-8

The following posts were all written on the Southern Tier cycling route from San Diego, CA to Jacksonville, FL. 

Day 0, Post 1, The Pacific Ocean is behind me. Photo courtesy of my wonderful host, John Tessmer. Tomorrow I begin riding the "Southern Tier" from San Diego to St Augustine, FL. Spent the afternoon restoring my bike after shipping it out here. Have a broken clasp on one of my Ortleib Panniers; otherwise a very smooth start!

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Day 1, Post 2, This morning I biked down to Dog Beach on the far western end of San Diego where the San Diego river meets the ocean. This is the starting point for the "Southern Tier" route. From here there's only one direction to go on the route - east. And that's what I did. Tonight I'm in Alpine, California; a small touristy town in the mountains just east of San Diego. It's lovely and surprisingly chilly. I took a motel because there's nothing east of here for probably 40 or 50 miles and I was losing sunlight. I'm sure it will get warmer as I get out of the mountains. Not sure how far I'll get tomorrow, but no doubt it will be further than today. Today involved a lot of climbing, and I'm not in the shape I was a few months ago when I finished my last trip. Hopefully in a few days I'll have my cycling legs back. One last thing worth mentioning – it's extraordinarily green here. One would not know this is a desert, and one would not know that historically the San Diego area is extremely water stressed. But California has been having one hell of a rainy winter, and although the intensity of the rain is another attribute of climate change, it's still a welcome relief.

Day 2, Post 3, After a good nights sleep in a motel bed with temperatures outside dipping to high 30's, l left Alpine, Ca on a flawless sunshiny day to find myself climbing 4770 feet, mostly on old scenic highway 80. Damn! I am still getting my cycling legs back. The worst is over, though - tomorrow is almost all downhill and/or flat. Hope I can up my miles. Came into Jacumba, Ca about 3:30 with the nearest next choice for lodging well over 20 miles to the east. Since the sun sets at 5:30ish my days are short. Jacumba is right on the border - as close as I'll get until El Paso. I found a lodge with a sulphuric fed hot springs pool - and for $25 I was able to set my tent up in the backyard next to the pool. It's warmer here.... Then I soaked in the hot springs, showered and after a few beers and food will probably sleep deeply. The border fence sure looks like a wall - do we really need another one? It's kind of a WTF question.... do Americans even know that a fence was constructed while Bush was President? It works except for the tunnels underneath. Maybe Trump needs to build a basement along the border, not a wall?

Day 3, Post 4, You may recall that I slept in my tent last night. Well, it got pretty cold. In fact, this morning at breakfast I overheard a local saying that it hit 24° at his place. That would explain the ice on my tent from condensation, and my frozen biking shorts that I had hung out to dry after sitting in the hot springs. But the desert sun is as warming in its appearance as it is cold in its absence so I was almost ice free for packing an hour after sunrise. Love the desert - it creates extremes that are life threatening but quite pleasant at the same time. And then I was off. To my chagrin, I had to climb again after I left Jacumba Springs. Yet, once I reached the final peak after about an hour of climbing (it felt worse than it was) I had pleasant downhill ride that lasted for at least 20 miles. About 15 of those miles were on Interstate 8 - a section of freeway that one can cycle on legally because there's no other way through the pass out of the mountains into the valley. The shoulder was very wide and the road was about a 6% grade down the hill. Frankly, after all that climbing, it was well worth enduring freeway traffic on a wide shoulder to bike 15 miles in about a half an hour. At lunch I talked to Canadian Air Force pilots who were training/exercising at the local Naval Air Force facility in El Centro. Well I get it - it's not the time of year to be a flyer in Canada.... I saw some fabulous flying as I headed east into the Imperial Valley, where I ended up for the night at Brawley.

Check out my road cycling activity on Garmin Connect: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1591818544

Day 4, Post 5, There were no choices for either food or accommodation for over 80 miles today. Fortunately I had a long descent and a back wind. And that was a good thing, because I almost stayed over in Brawley since I can feel a cold coming on... I can't tell it's status right now, which might mean it passed even as I was pushing myself. I'll know when I wake up tomorrow... tonight I'm in Blythe, not far from the Arizona border. Lots of dune buggies around here. And enormous RV's. And a few Confederate flags. I'll let you draw the conclusions... I'm beat! Imagine I'll sleep well...

Day 5, Post 6, Odd things can happen on a bike ride. Yesterday toward the end of a long ride when I was pretty exhausted, I pulled off the road to ...well, give some fluids back to the earth. I found a telephone pole and leaned my bike against it. When I began to leave I realized I had parked in some deep clay-like mud. A lot of it, apparently, even though it was disguised to look dry. As I pushed my bike onto the road the wheels ground to a halt. Mud was in the fenders and oozing around the caliper breaks. I pushed harder, thinking the mud would drop off if I could get the wheels to turn. My logic worked to a point. I hopped on the bike and because I was losing sunlight fast I rode on in spite of a sense of heaviness and the sound of my wheels rubbing against ... something. If it was mud it would drop off as it dried, I reasoned. Which it did a little as I biked on, helped by an occasional kick at my front and back fenders as I rode. But I couldn't shake the sense of weight. The mud was off the fenders as far as I could see. I finally got to my destination, Blythe, a town situated in a pretty agricultural valley in SE California about 7 miles from the Colorado River and Arizona. There I found no fewer than 3 motels boasting $35 rooms and one at $40. Because of it's proximity to a restaurant I chose the $40 one. I had biked 86 miles and I didn't think I manage more than walk across the street to eat. But I wanted to take care of what was making my bike heavy... I asked the motel owner if I could use his hose. I said mud, and he said, "Oh yea, and here's a paint stick." I looked at him quizzically. "You have to dig it out. The hose won't be enough." Well, he was right. For about 30 minutes I alternated between hosing and scraping under my fenders. The right side, the left side, front tire, back tire. I couldn't believe the mud. It might as well have been cement. But finally the wheels recovered their easy spin. I lifted the bike. I had shed five pounds of weight at least.

This morning called for rain. By the late afternoon it was 80% probability for about an hour in the late afternoon. I thought about staying in Blythe. But Quartzsite in Arizona beckoned, at only 22 miles on the other side of a mountain range. I decided to go for it, thinking I could beat the rain. I started climbing. It was about 10 am. It started to rain, ahead of schedule. The wind starting blowing out of the southwest. I got to Quartzsite. Pretty town, I imagine, when it's dry, which is probably 363 days a year. But not today. It's evening and still raining. But this is not a complaint. I found another inexpensive motel room, my laundry is now clean and my feet are warm again and I'm thinking about how much I love Americana. There's an RV Park here I would have gone to, had I not been so wet (and cold) and in need of drying out. But the Stagecoach Inn is worth all of its $60. There is a restaurant attached that serves chicken fried steak as it's fancy dish (with mashed potatoes and corn), and beers (for a couple of bucks).

Last month my friend Carolyn and I both read "The Art of Travel" by Alain de Botton. One chapter was on the traveling addiction of Edward Hopper and his love for simple Americana eateries and motels. As I read I had an insight. I didn't need to feel ashamed of my heretofore inexplicable attraction to home-spun restaurants, middle century motels and RV Parks. It's not poor taste that leads me to appreciate this stuff so much. I am touched by nature's beauty and humankind's beautiful, funky and banal attempts to address our endless eternal struggle to make life livable, if not better. So I make no apologies. I like what I see around me, especially when I haven't seen it before. I would like to believe that underneath all the pain of the deteriorating quality of life in rural America (and its probably ineffective current scream for attention in our national political drama) is a quiet and eternal core of kindness, dignity and ingenuity. It's obvious that rural America is in decline, and will have to reinvent itself eventually in a new image. But first her inhabitants will have to realize that a "great" past won't return, that there won't be an "again" if there ever was one in the first place. For that's how life works. No matter how fertile our imaginings about the past might be, genuine reinvention is always about something new. And it rarely is comforting, especially in the beginning. But as a good Buddhist would say, "the only way out is through." And in the meantime, let's love all our all too human fragility. 

Day 6, Post 7, In Wickenburg, AZ, about 50 miles out of Phoenix. Long day and I have little time to write tonight. I'm well, tired and enjoying myself. And really enjoying the Arizona countryside. And the culture, in an Edward Hopper kind of way. Funky, quaint and lots of snowbirds...

Just stopped in Harcouver, AZ at a bar and grill and RV Park for lunch. I'm eating a cheese quesadilla because I used the bathroom and there are signs all over saying no business, no bathroom. And I met the owner on the way in. Not a guy to mess with. 

Day 8, Post 8: On my way to Tucson to visit my cousin Karen. Had a great visit and hospitality from a cousin (once removed?) in Phoenix. Rode into Phoenix yesterday from Wickenburg, about 69 miles to the NW. All is good - rain is long gone and the sun is intense. One thing about Phoenix that I knew already from experience but had forgotten - it is the most car dependent place I've ever been - and it may also be the worst city for biking in the US. Puts LA to shame -- maybe it's the unrelenting 3-4 lane roads with no bike lanes, nor sidewalks for that matter... in any case it's taking me a long time to get out of here today...  but I am now in the southern outskirts....

More to come,

Michael

Southern Tier, Posts 9-11

Celebrating GRID Alternatives

Celebrating GRID Alternatives