I reluctantly climb out of my down sleeping bag and get up in the cold, damp, dark, foggy morning, headlamp on, and scurry around the campground. There are 15 of us looking like miners as we fix breakfast, prepare lunches and snacks, take down tents, stuff sleeping bags, check maps and start heading out for another 60 miles on a bicycle going south. I’m usually off by 7:30 a.m.
I’m out at our big pond, the Pacific Ocean, the terminus of our Putah Creek watershed. I’m biking from Canada to Mexico, about 2,000 miles, mostly along the Pacific Coast but sometimes routed on less trafficked and more scenic routes. I am with 15 people from four countries — Norway, England, Canada and all over the United States. We are camping out and sharing the cooking. A van carries our food, cooking gear and suitcases.
I feel like a migrating bird. And I now feel more for them. We distance bikers share some attributes and similar challenges with those migrating birds. We are both focused on food, hazards, challenges and opportunities. There are great stretches of beautiful habitat but also conditions not made for bikers or birds.
The days are shortening. We rise early to hurry along and make sure we arrive at the next campsite before dark. Bird migration is also based on shortened days. We are constantly hungry. We usually meet about 20 miles down the road for a second breakfast.
Sometimes there is a third breakfast. Especially with the colder weather, we are always hungry. It’s mainly food that drives the birds to migrate. And as they fly toward better eating, they stop to eat voraciously. I remember watching a huge, silent flock of robins in Cold Canyon, gorging on red berries. Most people walking in the reserve didn’t notice them because they were so quiet, absorbed only in eating. Colder temperatures spur some birds to migrate and those temperatures move the bikers along, too.
There are hazards in migration. For birds, there is high exertion and predation. Many smaller birds migrate at night because there are fewer predators. There are power lines, habitat destruction, drained wetlands, offshore oil rigs, less food due to drought or unusual early freezes — all things that affect the migratory bird.
For bikers, the hazards are many. High-speed logging trucks that barely fit on some two-lane roads; roads with no shoulders; junk of all kinds on the roads; steep grades to climb; surprise fractures, potholes and bumps in the road; wide recreation vehicles driven by inexperienced drivers; dogs that give chase; loose gravel; shoulders that change inexplicably from a few feet to nothing; tunnels with no shoulders; and loud, fast traffic. A bicyclist can push a button to alert drivers that bikes are in the tunnel but they seldom slow to the mandated 30 mph.
But people are getting more enthusiastic about bikers. We usually followed the frequently marked Pacific Coast Bike Trail. Signs warn to watch for bikers. Drivers usually tried to go way around us. Few dogs give chase, a very different experience from what I had biking across the country seven years ago. In the South, we would sometimes have five dogs chasing us.
So this is adventure. And adventure implies risk. As I write this, sending it ahead of deadline because I have rare access to the Internet, we have gone 1,000-plus miles, a little more than halfway. Fifteen strangers have come to feel like a biking family. In the first 15 miles coming into California, we watched pelicans diving, saw four herds of Roosevelt elk, watched sea lions cavorting on rocks, and camped in the Avenue of the Giants, surrounded by majestic redwood trees thousands of years old. We were in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home to many of the biggest trees in the world.
While we experience breathtaking beauty as we ride, we are reminded of the geological fragility of our coast. All along the way, we see tsunami hazard zone warnings. One town even had flashing signs reminding citizens of a 10 a.m. tsunami drill. Signs also were posted advising people how to bag tsunami debris and what to do with it.
I am using the ride to call attention to multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that my brother Roger and two friends have. There is no cure for multiple myeloma. New drugs are helping people live longer. I am raising funds for research. I welcome your online donations at http://tinyurl.com/Jeans-ride, or you can donate by check. Please write Jean Jackman in memo and send to MMRF Endurance Events, 383 Main Ave., Fifth Floor, Norwalk, CT 06851, attention Alicia O’Neill.
I pay for my own ride. All funds raised go to Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, a four-star charity. Donations of any size are gratefully welcome.
Please don’t forget your feathered friends migrating through your yard. Give them water and appropriate bird food in clean feeders. Create bird habitat with native plants for food and shelter. You will be rewarded.
And October is one of the best birding months. Go to the ponds and enjoy the shorebirds. Watch in the night skies. And kiss each day.
— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident; her column is published monthly. Got a story, correction, comment? Contact her at [email protected]