Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bikepacking to Big Basin: Part II

In Part I Stephanie and I enjoyed a leisurely and scenic ride from San Mateo on our way to camp at Big Basin. On Gazos Creek Road, a few miles short of our destination, a catastrophic rear hub failure brought us to a halt.

I was profoundly bummed. We were 55 miles from home, up a deserted dirt road. Darkness was approaching, and there were plenty of mosquitoes. We had two options: limp back towards the coast or push the bike the last few steep miles to camp, maybe stopping earlier to pitch the tent illicitly if we saw a good spot. Although this would put us further from help, being a stubborn bastard I felt it was the best course of action.

This is when I realized some of the drawbacks of a tandem: with two solo bikes one person can ride to fetch help or spare parts. If someone comes to bail you out, a solo bike can fit in most passenger cars, while a tandem requires a large vehicle or a special rack. And spare parts? Any shop anywhere would have been able to sell us a 700c rear wheel to get moving again, but good luck finding a tandem wheel, much less at a reasonable price.

Postscript on the hub failure: At the time I thought we had stripped the freewheel threads on the hub, and I cursed Phil Wood's name. I discovered later that the failure was even more spectacular: the hub core had separated from the flanges. I contacted Phil Wood about it, and they said "oh yeah, we see a few of those older hubs do that each year", but made no offer to repair or replace it.

So there we were, pushing the tandem up the dirt road, when a large flatbed pickup pulled up. The back was filled with water tanks, gas containers and power tools, while the cab was carrying a rancher and several day laborers. The rancher, Erik, was driving down from building fence on a piece of property on the ridge near Big Basin, heading back to his ranch near San Gregorio. After a little discussion we accepted his offer of a ride. We squeezed into the cab, as Erik shoved aside handfuls of this and that, including the little rubber bands used to castrate lambs.

Erik joked, told stories and teased us with boundless energy, in spite of the fact that he had been building fence since six in the morning. It turned out he and his wife run a grass-fed livestock operation, something of a nexus between traditional ranching and new-age permaculture. The truck we were riding in was a biodiesel conversion they had done themselves, but it also carried the obligatory deer rifle.

Erik suggested we camp at a private beach near San Gregorio that he owned a share in, and was even kind enough to offer his barn for storing the tandem. While riding in the truck we heard a cow bellowing, which turned out to be his ringtone: we were making him late for dinner. When we arrived at the ranch, we discovered that the barn contained Erik's motorized hang glider, and he was talking on the radio with someone in a helicopter that we could see flying overhead. Erik is a study in leading an unusual and ambitious life.

We had a nice evening on the beach, and ended up pitching our tent just below the condemned mansion of singer Chris Isaak. Who knew? The next morning Stephanie's brother and his wife drove out to rescue us, which turned out to be a fortuitous excuse for us all to have brunch in Half Moon Bay.

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