A Path With Heart–The american discovery trail, part 7

A Path With Heart–The american discovery trail, part 7


By Tom Bauschke

Travel Writer

On May 28th, I began a three-month, 4,800-mile odyssey across this wonderful country, and it suddenly came down to these last few days. I left Virginia City, Nev. on August 29 with the whole world behind me. My body was beaten from more than 4,500 miles of highways, gravel roads and trails. I was tired of riding a bicycle.

My obsession with finishing this ride was the only reason I made it. Doing the ADT alone was my greatest challenge. Virtually everyone I met was home. Comrades were few and very far between. Onward I pushed as the pioneers had, ever seeking my destiny in the setting sun.

I missed friends. I missed music and singing to the radio on Sunday drives. I longed for home in the San Juan Islands, truly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I missed my easel.

Lake Tahoe began my culture shock. Idiot tourist drivers ran me off the road twice at 40 miles per hour. They were so close, I smelled the car’s interior, their perfume and after-shave, the soaps they washed with and gum.

I used warning lights at the Zephyre Cove tunnel entrance, yet a tour bus almost took me out anyway. A handwritten cardboard sign, duct taped to the panel, read, “press button and wait 20 seconds, when the light starts flashing you have 30 seconds to make it. GOOD LUCK!” That trumpeting bus horn in the narrow tunnel scared the B-Jesus out of me.

I had ridden more than 4,500 miles and anxiously pressed on toward the last 300 miles to the Pacific Ocean. Nevada casinos and shopping malls welcomed me to California: The Golden State. I’ve been to Lake Tahoe a few times before. This time, though, hostile traffic pressed me onward, and I only stopped long enough for a light lunch and California state map. I camped in the woods off Highway 50 just past Two Bridges. There was a small creek and 150-foot trees. Beautiful. Sadly, this was my last night in the Cascade Mountains.

Leaving the Tahoe basin west of Echo Summit on August 30, I rode all the way through Sacramento and beyond. It was time to finish this thing. At dark, I arrived at the Ryde Hotel, in Ryde, along the serene Sacramento River. Herbert Hoover announced his candidacy for president here in 1928. The hotel still reflects the Roaring 1920’s ultra-modern, sleek and stylized look. The bar is absolutely amazing.

The liquor store owner in Locke gave me a Royal Jamaica cigar. Minutes later, I stood puffing on the front piazza of the Ryde Hotel amidst palm trees and flowers, and my stinking arse waving in the wind. My numb, tingling hands were shaking from exhaustion. I’d held onto my bicycle handle bars for 14-plus hours that day. I reckon I don’t need to describe how my back side felt.

The next day brought me through Auburn and then into the Bay area. San Francisco and its surroundings were simply spectacular. I spent the night near Berkeley with old Rockford friends before heading down to Jack London Square on the Oakland waterfront.

An excerpt from my journal entry for August 31 reads: “I’m sitting at a San Francisco Ferry landing. Salt air again fills my lungs and heart. It’s cloudy, typical Pacific Rim weather, but that’s OK. I have just crossed a continent. Unbelievable! Even though I sit here just actually having done it. How am I ever gonna top this?”

The many sights, sounds and scents of San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront dazzled me. Music surrounded me. My haggard body wanted to eat every bit of food I saw. I discovered my new favorite Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream flavor: Phish Food (look for the smiles). Tourists in sandals and black socks took my picture for me as I stood at and later rode across the sun-drenched Golden Gate Bridge. From Sausalito, I rode Highway 1 north along the magnificent northern California coast.

Camping at Pan Toll State Park, I cooked and ate my dinner standing in blowing rain. My spirits could no longer be dampened, though. I began this journey on the Atlantic coast in Delaware some 4,800 miles east. I camped in a thunderstorm my first night out, only to ride through many more storms and a summer-long blistering heat wave. The highest I rode and pushed my bicycle was 12,573 feet over Ten Mile Range near Copper Mountain, Colo.–what madness. Now this year’s gallivanting came full circle by riding these last days across the coastal mountain range through life-giving rain. California is a desert, after all.

On Friday, September 1, I rode through the lovely coastal town of Stinson Beach in pouring rain and fog. Groovy hippies hung out in cafes that so reminded me of home. I had lunch with some adoring fans at The Farmhouse in Olema before heading out to Limantour Beach, where the ADT officially ends. Point Reyes National Seashore is a lovely place to fulfill this wonderful journey.

I lingered on the beach, waiting for an old Madison, Wis. friend to pick me up. I had kept a good journal this summer, sometimes sketching views or drawing cartoons summing up the mood or a day’s humor. Lying in the sand, daydreaming of greater things, I slowly puffed on my last Habana cigar.

It was 69 degrees. A few tourists and families milled about. Children laughed and screamed as they played at the ocean surf. Some nuns had a picnic in the slight breeze. Fishing boats circled back and forth in the distance. Seagulls loitered about. And finally, the sun peeked out, if even for a moment.

I was reminded of Jack Kerouac, who wrote, “No one knew and far from cared who I was; 3,500 miles from birth all opened up and at last belonged to me in great America.” When I explained I had ridden such insane distances in one summer, people figured on seeing me in the magazines. “Sure,” I’d reply, “Psychology Today… Neurotic m-m-Monthly…”

My favorite day of any journey is the first day–always. The rest of this summer sabbatical had become an adventure I could never imagine. The American Discovery Trail, in fact, lives up to its name. I have now carried my tent almost 9,700 miles. I’ve watched a thousand sunsets and never tire of the wonder–comfortable and eternal, like the warm, soft company of a woman.

Where to next? Around the world on a unicycle, perhaps! Maybe I’ll cross an ocean under sail. Actually, I’m thinking about canoeing down the Mississippi River in 2002, all 2,100 miles of it. Some people raise families. Others build companies. I seek and know the horizon. Whatever be your path in life, follow it with all your heart–and never look back.

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