Sunday, May 9, 2010

Start of 10 Day Cycling Trip

Ok, I admit it, I was apprehensive about my planned nine-day bicycle/birding trip from home (on the coast), inland to the desert and mountains of eastern Kern County. I had never done anything approaching such a trip and I was going solo. The roads without shoulders and the less bicycle sympathetic drivers inland scared me ("you aren't on the coast anymore Toto"). I didn't know how my 58 year old body would hold up for 9 days of riding, especially since I had fractured several ribs while mountain biking about a month prior. On the other hand, I had done so much planning (taking vacation time from work, getting food and equipment together, mailing food to a remote motel, etc.) and telling friends about the trip, that I couldn't "wuss-out" now! So, with the threat of rain and nine days (it ended up being ten days) on the road ahead of me, I took off on my bike at about 7:30 AM on April 27. I was sure that I had forgotten something important! (Actually about 2 miles into the ride I did turn around for my keys to my bike and bike bag locks. Fortunately, that was all I had forgotten.)

My first day was a 68 mile ride to the Carrizo Plain. I stopped by work on the way, to get a spare pair of cycling shorts I kept there, and headed up the Cuesta Grade - the steepest part of Highway 101 between the Bay area and Conejo Grade near L.A. My legs felt good and Blue Grosbeaks and Lazuli Buntings sang as I pedalled uphill to the summit at just over 1500 feet. Thick clouds dominated the sky, but no rain yet. I cleared the summit easily enough and just before stopping at the Santa Margarita Mercantile (about twenty miles into the trip and the last town for 50 miles) to pick up a sandwich and drink for lunch, I paused to take a picture of a tame acting Yellow-billed Magpie (photo above). It hopped along the road. As I approached closer with my camera it flew up to a nearby branch and warily watched me.

It was a roller-coaster ride to the Carrizo Plain in the eastern part of San Luis Obispo County from Santa Margarita. There was no real summit - just one up-hill and down-hill after another, with the highest being just over 2,000 feet. The hills were still mostly green from the season's generous rainfall and wildflowers still brightened up many slopes and fields - California Poppies, yellow fiddleneck, and several types of blue lupine whose strong but sweet smell filled the air on several stretches of Highway 58.  I often recognized the smell of lupine before I actually saw them. I did not see or hear any new BIGBY birds, but enjoyed the ride except for the first (and only) flat tire of the trip (my new kevlar belted tires that I had put on the night before couldn't stop a steel staple). The wind this time was a tailwind and the rain did not materialize.

I got to the California Valley Lodge at about 3 PM, feeling good - a far cry from my late and exhausted arrival when I pedalled there in February. I greeted Ken, the owner, who seemed to remember the crazy bike rider from my last visit. The motel was having an invasion of small (match head size) iridescent beetles that gathered in piles against the walls and doors of the motel - an annual occurrence according to Ken. They were harmless and mostly stayed out of the rooms. I rode around a bit after dropping off some things in my room. Tricolored Blackbirds make their catlike calls from a bare tree next to the abandoned restaurant/store across the street from the lodge. A pair of killdeer, with two chicks, feed in a vegetated area between the plain's main road - Soda Lake Road - and a parking lot for the fire station. I picked up one chick from the paved road and put it in a safer area as the parent did a broken wing routine (below).

I returned to my room to eat, get everything ready for the next day's ride and get to bed early. As I checked the food in my mailed package, Ken came to my room with a plate of tri-tip, bread and fruit, which looked a whole lot better than the microwavable food I had. His generosity topped off a great first day of bicycle birding. I was also glad that my ribs were fine and the mileage had been comfortable.

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