30 June, 2007

Aptos, California

In the morning I e-mailed my friend Richard and was invited down to his house. Richard and I had met in 1986 on a campsite at Fort William when he was cycling around Scotland and the rest of Europe. Later he came to stay at my house and somehow, we had managed to keep in touch over all these years.He had since married Alberta and had two very funny wee girls, Anwen and Tegan.

That evening we went out for dinner at the local Mexican restaurant - not a chilli or a lime in sight - where Richard's brother Russell told me he thought he had made everything foolproof, but then they just made bigger fools. He works running summer camps - much like Ardroy. He also thought he had left the rat race, but then they bred faster rats! I could sympathise with much of his sentiments.

Richard's is a keen cycling family and they have a cycle that can sit four people! Richard also makes excellent cycle maps as a sideline to his day job. He works four ten-hour days so that he can have a long weekend every week. Normally, Richard works on building improvements onto his tumble-up house, but this weekend the family were going camping with some of Anwen's friends as a birthday 'camp out'. Certainly beats filling your face with 'food' at Mcdonald's!

I took the bike to Michael's recommended BMWizard, Wayne, who ironed out all the problems I'd been living with and gave me back another new bike. He even managed to remove the rounded-off sump plug and replace the oil (first change since Nairobi 18,000miles ago!!!) and filter.

If you want to find some really fantastic roads, it might be wise to ask a local cyclist. If that cyclist happens also to be the local cycling cartographer, he can show you the way to motorcycle heaven! Richard told me to expect some fantastic scenery all along a route called 'The Summit', but I saw precious little of it as I concentrated heavily on the windy, twisty bit of thin tarmac in front of me. I had a great time on a wee roller-coaster of a road with hardly any other traffic. I was physically tired after wrestling the overladen bike through these massively tall redwood trees and around sharp bends towards the campsite. The bike was only upright momentarily as I went from left to right-hander, and I was scraping the toes of my boots on turn after turn, bend after bend. Bliss!

At one point I saw a sign. James, Will and I had mused on these previously. We were a bit confused, wondering who or what might have upset all that traffic. When we got there however, there was never any problem, and the traffic often seemed quite genial.

Another confusion emerged in the form of 'four-way stop signs'. These are a bit like what we do with roundabouts, but there are no roundabouts. Four vehicles appear at a crossing at which none have an obvious right of way. It's all to do with who has been there the longest, but sometimes it's to do with who might be to the right. All very odd. And there often isn't any particular 'need' to stop. Whereas stop signs in Europe are for some (usually obvious) reason, there are even more stop signs here, not the 4-way ones, which some police will insist you physically stop at. But this seems low on logic to me, since I can see, often, that there is no other traffic. So why stop? Nothing's there! It seems that stopping prevents you from getting a 'ticket'. So people stop for no other reason than to keep policemen at bay. The idea of 'give way' at junctions doesn't exist. I'm told it wouldn't work in America - people wouldn't do it! How do Americans manage to drive around Europe then? Sometimes here they have a 'Yield' sign when filtering onto a motorway, and that's the closest there is to 'give way'. Alberta quite reasonably insisted that her visits to the UK were always disappointed by signs announcing 'zebra crossing' when there were never any zebra crossing anything. It was just that someone had painted some stripes across the road! But the most interesting sign they ever saw in Britain was "Beware of Sheep." They didn't know sheep posed any danger. Each to their own, indeed.

Deep in the redwood forest covering the hills north of Santa Cruz, Anwen and her pals were camped up and playing happily in the creek (burn). One, Carly, immediately began telling me that her dad had only recently sold his motorbike since he had so little time these days. "That's fatherhood for you," I grinned at her. Happily, she got the joke and laughed before going on to tell me all about how bees find and make honey. Quite an education! Coincidentally, some bees came out and stung one or two of the girls, as well as Richard! There was a distinct lack of greeting and bawling of the sort you might expect of 10year olds. None were put off by such a minor inconvenience and, after some recovery time, we all went happily off into the woods. The surrounding redwood trees were hundreds, sometimes thousands of years old and as many feet tall. Some were wide open in the middle and you could get inside them and be quite comfortable there and sheltered from the rain, if ever it rained.

After tea (dinner), Richard had organised an ancient hand-operated machine with which he could make home-made ice-cream. He put in the mix, some ice and salt around the outside, and we each took turns at churning. It was hard going on such an elderly machine but the results were well worth the effort. I'd never tasted such delicious ice-cream! So that's what it's supposed to taste like! When it got dark, the girls made patterns with some flourescent necklaces Alberta hadbought them. Top idea, night light in the tent, they could be spotted at a distance and find their way to the loo.

US campsites are quite different from European ones as they have no lights or showers. Campers are not encouraged to stay too long. But they all have good, safe fireplaces with cooking griddles, and you can usually organise a shower somewhere nearby if you smell so bad that it becomes really necessary. The campsites here all seem to be in woods too. European trees all drop sap in the night which makes tents (and motorbikes) sticky in the morning if you camp beneath them.

The day after returning from Anwen's camp, Richard's pal Carl took me out for a run. He has an R1150G/S and knew some top routes to the south of Aptos along Highway 1. We visited some interesting sites, including a restaurant by a river where the clientelle were encouraged to sit on wooden chairs in the river, soaking their feet in the cooling waters. We took part and it really was very refreshing in that day's heat. He also showed me Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey and we went along a 17mile long road normally closed to non-residents. Very twisty and pretty. It was refreshing that whenever we stopped, we could just leave our crash-helmets on the bikes and not worry about them getting pinched.

In the City of Carmel, Carl told me that the actor Clint Eastwood had been extremely popular during his time as mayor. He could sometimes be seen shopping in the town. My day was not made since I didn't bump into him. We had a great day which I really enjoyed, and I didn't get back to Aptos until after dark. Riding up Highway 1 with the sun dropping into the Pacific on my left was a rare treat however. It's usually foggy, I hear.

Alberta 'home-schools' both her daughters so they don't go to day school but stay at home for their education. This might sound great to most children until you remember that your parent is also your teacher, is there all the time, and rarely misses a chance for teaching something. The result is NO HOLIDAYS!! Well, none that don't include some sort of educational element. The home-schooling scheme is popular in this part of California and is monitored by visiting teachers who can offer advice to parents, but who also check on progress from time to time. Anwen and Tegan are developing perfectly well.

I was happily camped in the garden of their house for a whole relaxing week before I found out that I had to be in Los Angeles in just two days. This if I was to have any chance of getting the bike onto the next boat to Melbourne. I packed up, said my goodbyes to the family and their most welcoming friends as best I could in such a hurry, and headed south. I hope to see them in Scotland before very long. Should be interesting frightening the lives out of Anwen and Tegan with a day's visit to the wild fun and organised chaos that is an average Scottish Primary school! Not Denend though. That runs like a clockwork version of peace and tranquility!

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