Our ATM card still wouldn't work, the Bank of America wouldn't give me cash over the counter, and GE Money in Australia hung up on me five times... I don't care if it's 2am in Melbourne, I want to speak to someone!
I was in a foul mood.
I had enjoyed the comforts of the motel and didn't want to leave. We were close to San Francisco international airport... maybe we could just ride there?
We had to use our NAB credit card to withdraw some money, which we hate doing because it costs us a fortune in fees. But at least we could buy some lunch.
The friendly man running the motel told us the scattered showers would clear by midday. We didn't worry about checking the forecast ourselves. If we had, we probably would have stayed put!
It was uphill to get out of Daly City... Despite following all the clearly marked 'Bike Route' signs we had cars yelling at us to get off the road. The headwind gradually built up and I thought I felt some drops of rain.
But back on the coast we couldn't help smiling to each other as we watched groups of surfers, walkers and cyclists enjoying the beautiful coastline. We lingered perhaps a little too long, because as we left the town of Pacifica and climbed a steep, narrow hill, the rain felt a bit heavier.
We'd ridden steep, narrow sections of highway 1 before, but this time the shoulder was virtually non-existent, and there were LOTS more cars. And the cars didn't like us slowing them even for a few seconds.
We've never been beeped and yelled at so many times. And we hadn't felt so much at risk since the roads of Indonesia.
Through all this, the rain fell harder.
At the top of the hill we debated turning around and finding the first train/bus/plane out of this place. But, being tough, (or trying to be!) we kept going.
We turned a bend and started down the mountain - down the side along the water. Gusts of wind immediately hit us and we struggled to keep on road. The barrier protecting us from the cliffs was low, and the gale felt awfully close to carrying us over the edge. Plus the pouring rain felt like small daggers, slicing our faces, and the grit flying off our tyres was blinding.
We stopped every time there was space to do so. We leant our bikes against the low barriers and huddled between them, trying to protect ourselves from the rain.
It was hard to get going again in the wind. We've ridden in the wind innumerable times, but this time it was impossible. We were stuck on a narrow road shoulder on one of the steepest, busiest roads we've ridden.
The wind dropped for a few moments and we were off again. Being blinded by the grit and rain and troubled by the cars flying past, just inches away. Were they allowing room for our bags?
We took a break behind a truck that had pulled over. The guy offered to take us down in the back but it was full of dirt... not a good option for wet bikes and cyclists...
He told us the name of this mountain road was Devil's Slide
'Last year the wind was so strong a 65 year old woman was blown across to the other side of the road'
Me: 'That must have left her shaken!'
His matter-of-fact response: 'She died in the head on collision'.
Soon after he left we pulled over under some trees. We must have sat there for hours. Soaking wet. Waiting. Hoping the wind and rain would die down enough for us to get to the next town.
We had all our rain gear on, but we were soaked through by now. After huddling under the trees for a couple of hours we succumbed to the shivering and decided to get out of there, even though the sky hadn't cleared. At least the wind had relaxed enough to let us out.
It had been one of our worst riding experiences. Neither of us would voice it, but we were both thinking of going home. If one of us had dared to suggest it, I'm not sure if the other would have had the strength to say no...
Just as the road flattened at the bottom a lady in a van motioned for us to pull over.
'Got somewhere to stay tonight?'
'Yes you do'.
And with that both our bikes, all our dripping bags and two soggy cyclists were somehow crammed into the van.
She was on her way to San Francisco to take her disabled son to a rodeo show, but they detoured back home (about 20 mins each way) to settle us in. She even arranged for her tennant on the property to bring us some food since she was going out.
Now, we've showered, put on dry clothes, eaten a delicious meal, and Sam has fallen asleep in the bed while reading. Simple things we never expected earlier today, when we thought we'd have to camp on Devil's Slide, because we couldn't get out.
And it's thanks to the kindness of a woman who pulled over in a storm, even though she was taking her son on a special outing.
Maybe we'll keep heading south afterall...
As we'd prepared our dinner at Richardson campground near Garberville, Ned and Charlotte turned up, their orange vests irredescent in the twilight. We had plenty of food and they had none, so we happily shared some spaghetti bolognaise with them and they ate it with stale bread.
We hadn't seen them for a couple of days so we caught up on who'd done what since we'd last been together. As it grew dark, Jodie arrived too... a pattern was emerging...
We had a big day ahead of us - a mountain to cross and many smaller hills too - before we made it back to the coast. One stretch was 43km without anywhere to buy food... we needed to be prepared!
The mountain was long (about 700m high) but the gradient was good and we felt refreshed after our rest day. I actually enjoyed the climb and flying down was one of the best experiences of the trip! So beautiful through the redwoods, winding down the mountain... Even though the mountains were tough, the downhill sections always made them worthwhile. And riding with friends made the pain more bearable.
Back on the coast we met a group of American cyclists; touring the coast without their bags - they would take it in turns to drive the van with all the gear. Boy were we jealous! They rode fast and Sam jumped on the back of the group until the small town of Westport.
Our group decided to push on from here to the state campground just north of Fort Bragg... We set up camp with the deer, as far away from the noisy group of school kids as possible.
Distance: 101km (+12)
Just as we were about to leave the town we saw a wily old man, greasy beard hiding a crafty smile, on a face that looked weathered by centuries of strong winds. Motioning at us to pull over we slammed on the brakes, wheels screeching in the rain.
'Where y'all headed?'
'Not sure, we hear the campsite ahead is closed'
'Who told ya that?'
'Everyone in the town'
Well I got news for y'all, its open to bikers, so y'all head on down, it's only another seven miles or so.'
Seven or so miles through the blustering wind and sure enough, old mate was right. If he hadn't of told us, we never would have known, the place had signs and barricades everywhere indicating it was completely shut up.
The following day the wind started early, howling through the pass where we were camped between two mountains. But, as we would discover later, it was nothing compared to the mountains we'd have to ride up... All day...
By the end of the day I was, for the first time in months, close to not being able to go any further, so when we found an RV car park in the bay just on the other side of town I wasn't thinking, and started to set up the tent...
But soon the chatter and laughter from the group of retired, botoxed millionaires in their RVs the size of super-sized busses reminded us that we'd get no sleep in a place like this, and when the manager told us we'd have to move the tent to a place next to a car park filled with what looked like aspiring gangsters sitting on the front of their pick up trucks drinking beer, we decided to leave.
Despite the elderly peoples friendly protests for us to stay and join their campfire and listen to their travel stories, we packed up in the late twilight and rode back into the cold wind to find somewhere to free camp.
It was so dark now that we almost missed the state park amongst the beachside mansions. Down a gravel path, through some trees; and we found a perfect patch of grass behind some bushes. Relieved, and looking forward to a peaceful night I, (unlike Shanny) exhausted and still covered in layers of sweat and dirt, easily fell asleep to the sound of waves pounding against the cliffs beneath.
Today we were having too much fun taking photos of Oregon's spectacular coast line to do much riding.
For lunch we stopped at the Italian RIviera for an $8.95 all you can eat buffet.
It wasn't near a riviera, and the place didn't even seem all that Italian, but the food was delicious.
Pizza, pasta, lasagne, chicken and vegetable soup, all of it tasted fantastic, and an hour later, barely able to move we clambered back onto our bikes, and sauntered off down the coast at a pedestrian pace.
We left our strange campsite early in the morning, the nudists and their accomplices were already up and about.
Both a little tired from having to blow one of the sleeping mattresses up around six times during the night, we struggled to push our bikes through the trees and up over the rocky path, finally getting to the road after helping each other over the steepest section.
Stopped at a small mini-market to buy breakfast- nectarines, plain and flavored yoghurt and milk for the cereal we'd been carrying.
Back on the road, pouring with sweat, temp today ends up touching 35 degrees. The coast road is steep and winding, but amazingly beautiful. At one point we pause at the top of a hill to catch our breath, sweat dripping into our eyes, and look across to see an archaic little town built upon a small islet. It looks old, thousands of years old, and we wonder who lives there, have they lived there for centuries, lucky them...
In the evening we're nearing the border to Croatia (25kms) and decide to look for somewhere to camp. We stumble upon a small and isolated road closely following the bay around, and stop to marvel at its beauty. Leaving our bikes against an ancient stone wall we jump into the ocean, its cold, refreshing, and after cycling amongst the cars, the trucks, and through the heat for most of the day, extraordinarily soothing.
Swimming out, around a yacht, looking up, seeing the water splash gently against its bow, I can feel the sways of the tide, the pressure of the water swelling about me, and the sweat being washed away by the clear coolness. And just now, at the moment you're reading this, thunder erupts, lightning flashes across the sky, and I can see a storm pushing in, over the mountains that look as though they are rising from the depths of the ocean beneath.
Sometimes its moments like this that make it all worth it.
We sit in a small restaurant, the storm ceases, the water so close is almost beneath our feet... and watch the world cup.
Shanna decides to look for somewhere to sleep, to check if there is anywhere cheap, although we don't think there will be, and plan on camping somewhere- but she finds the most beautiful place we've stayed yet... for only 25 Euro per night.
And a wonderful Montenegren lady makes us feel like family. 'Do you love our place' her face seems to wonder, to implore us, a simple kind honest face... knowing we will.
'We love it,' it says to us.
Sitting back on the balcony and looking at the water we wonder to each other, 'how come nobody knows...'
As we rode out of Bar we found a bushland area that was perfect for camping. So perfect, we decided it shouldn't be wasted. The beaches were secluded, the ground flat and the whole area shaded by beautiful trees. The perfect spot to spend an afternoon and then do some free-camping.
As we scouted for the perfect spot strange looking characters walked past us, including one that looked suspiciously like Super Hubert (Novocastrians know what I mean)... We found a perfect spot, overlooking a small protected beach - which was covered with naked bodies. Mostly old, overweight and wrinkled. That explained the suspicious looking characters...
We didn't want to seem to be watching the sunbathers, so we found another place on the other side of the headland, where there was a path down to another little beach. Also with nude sunbathers. Wow, these Montonegrians love a bit of nudity! We found ourselves a different patch of water where we kept our clothes on. Or did we?
It all turned a bit sinister when Sam noticed a guy hiding amongst the rocks with binoculars... And we realised many of the men weren't getting their kit off, but were sneaking around amongst the rocks, trying to stay hidden. One man even sat on the rocks with a video camera, pretending to point it ahead, but then changing his aspect to include the nudists. What a strange country!!
Hours later, as I noticed Super Hubert leave, I knew my view of Montenegro would always be coloured by the day we camped outside Bar.
It was a fairly sleepless night on the mountain, and we got an early start to roll to the bottom.
I was worse going down than I had been going up. I was terrified of the edge. And this got worse when I misjudged a bend early on and ended up in a pile of gravel. Gravel this time, the rocks below next time?? When three angry dogs circled my bike and snapped at my heels - one connecting with a rear pannier - I was upset and thought I'd never make it down off the mountain. I fought to hold back the sobs welling up in my throat.
Sam gave me some descending tips - about feeling confident and leaning my body into the curve- and we headed down again. Luckily the road became straighter after this, and I was able to safely (and fairly happily) make it to the bottom.
We stopped to take off our jackets and noticed another cycling couple riding towards us. I looked forward to warning them about the mountain, but they didn't stop. Despite our waves and friendly "hellos" they just smiled and kept riding.
We made it to the seaside city of Vlore in the mid-morning. We stopped for a swim and to rest for a few hours. It was a strange beach - more dirt than sand. Yet people were sunbathing and kids were playing soccer as if it was nice sand. There was also a lot of broken glass on the dirt. We had to pick our way amongst it, and clear a spot just for sitting. It was like the beach equivalent of the grocery store we have in Melbourne 'Not Quite Right'...
In the late afternoon we headed out. The city of Fier was just 36km away and we thought we'd easily make it before dark. But the 'road' returned to the rocky, patched up state we'd experienced near the border. And the wind was so strong. I rode behind Sam the whole way, mostly protected, but couldn't avoid the ups and downs afforded by the road. The traffic was heavy and the driving terrible - it almost felt like we were back in Indonesia - where we ended up on the train in an effort to preserve our lives and our bikes.
When we got to Fier we found just two hotels, and both too expensive, so we kept riding...
Awoke to sound of waves rolling along the beach... and noisy kids running around our tent. So we packed up and left as quickly as we could, with the fat mans angry dog trying to bite Shanna's heels, until I got off my bike and chased it into the damn ocean, were it drowned... At least I imagined doing this anyway.
After we'd bought some milk and had some breakfast we felt a little better, got back on the bikes and cycled to Igoumentia. Our legs were much more tired and sore today, and we had to cycle up a more hills than usual. The first of these began from the ocean and stopped at 240 meters in altitude, went back down quickly (past a huge landslide that had spilled out onto the road) to 40 meters and then back up suddenly to 230.
Although not so high, the hills kept on coming, and we struggled through the heat, having to go our own pace up the hills, rather than cycle together to block the wind. Around 6pm we began looking for somewhere to camp, and actually ended up cycling around ten kilometers in the opposite direction to were we thought we'd find a perfect secluded spot.It wasn't to be, the cliffs continued along the oceans front and we eventually gave up, riding into the city itself.
From here we cycled another five or so kilometers further along the exposed Greek coastline until we came to an Isthmus. As you can see from the photos it was an amazing beachside camp spot, with the first real sand beach we have seen since Thailand, warm ocean temps, and even a fresh water shower close by were we washed ourselves and our clothes!!!
Despite the disco/parties that blasted music from who knows where, again, the men cruising past staring from their 'fully sick cars', and the almost gail force winds that preceded the incredible lightning, hail and thunder storm (amazing, scary!!) that erupted during the early hours of the morning, we had a memorable time here, one I think we'll both reminisce about fondly years into the future.
We both felt great after a day off from riding the bikes, but by the time we finally got ourselves organised and left it was 11am and already the temperature was 35 degrees celcius.
Despite this we marvelled at the incredible view the road presented us with as it wound its way around the coastline, and even began saying to each other that this made the Great Ocean Road look tame...
By 6pm we had covered 100kms and we finally arrived at what we thought was a bridge but what turned out to be a tunnel, connecting one side of the peninsula to the other. Without the use of this tunnel, a 600km round trip or a ferry ride would be necessary, so we were surprised to find that bicycles were not allowed, particularly as the tunnel was only a kilometer long, shorter even than some of the unlit tunnels we rode through in China.
Eventually a man pulled up in a ute though, so luckily we were able to load our bikes on the back, getting a free ride across. Two hours later, our stomachs full with 1.60 Euro lamb gyros and we had finally found what we thought was the perfect camp spot on the beach, with only one caravan 00 meters from us in sight.
We dozed off to sleep almost immediately after swimming and washing our things in the ocean, but were woken at 11pm by some sort of disco somewhere (it was so far away we couldn't see it but loud enough that even with ear plugs in we struggled to get back to sleep.)
Sleeping once again and at 1am a couple with two young children and two dogs arrived. Deciding they liked our spot even more than us, they camped right near us, and set about setting up camp for the next year, or so it seemed... Finally back to sleep and two hours later at 4am the family's caged dogs began letting loose with a cacophony of growls and barks...
Often it is the difficult days that we end up covering the most distance... I started the day feeling like I was pedaling through quicksand, and skeptical that I would make the 60km to the bridge near Patra... but I was surprised at how much distance we covered. Especially given the fierce headwind, that seems determined to plague us no matter where we are in the world, and which direction we are riding. We often dream of what it would be like to be going the other way, and firmly believe we're going the wrong way around the world.
Around lunch time we stumbled upon a sight familiar to us in Bayswater, but which we haven't seen for the past 5 months. Aldi. We dumped our bikes at the door and excitedly scoured the aisles. 500ml chocolate milk for 50 cents. Chocolate and vanilla pudding for 28 cents. The bargains were even better than at home! We grabbed a heap of food, spent 6 euro, and proceeded to gorge ourselves outside. Boy did I feel sick! There are very few occasions I can remember feeling so sick...
Once I regained my ability to function we rode to the huge suspension bridge (for my roads friends I read that it is the world's longest multi-span cable-stayed bridge) joining the Peloponesse to the mainland. It was quite a sight! The bridge is considered an engineering masterpiece, as the difficulties around its construction were deep water, insecure foundations, seismic activity, and expansion from plate tectonics. But the engineers met the challenges and the bridge stands! We were lucky that a lane was closed for roadworks, but no works were happening, so we ended up with a whole lane to ourselves while we crossed the 2.25km structure.
On the other side we met a German couple cycling the 'right' way. In a combination of English, German, French and Italian we managed to communicate about our trips and the conditions of the road each was about to face. We were told no hills. Less than 10km later we were hit with two massive hills. Through the wind we battled. We were inland and we wanted to make it back to the coast, so we could wash before going to bed.
In the late afternoon we arrived in Mesologi. Our legs ached and we were tired. We ate some delicious souvlaki pitas for 2 euro and rode to a pier for a swim. The water in this area was surrounded by land on all sides, not really an ocean after all, so a bit dirty and stagnant. We found a pier to jump off, but when we landed we sank into various silt and sea plants that made us even dirtier. We crawled out not sure if the plunge had been worth it.
Our camping spot for the night was on a patch of dirt, behind some trees along the main road into the town. Barking dogs, noisy cars and the heat made sleep hard to come by...