Day 15 – On Paper, A Bad Day

Good morning! Flat tyre… I thought when I woke up that I wasn’t quite lying level. That slow leak on my right rear tyre had sped up, probably had something to do with the bogging escapades from yesterday. I noticed when I walked back to the car after going to the bathroom. On the one day that I had somewhere to be at a specific time! Oh well, hop to it. It wasn’t too cold this morning so that was a plus.

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My alarm had woken me up at 6:30am, so in theory I had plenty of time, but I didn’t waste any. I pulled a bunch of stuff out of the car so I could get to the rear side panel where my jack and crobar are. I lowered the spare from beneath the car, which I’d checked the pressure of a few days ago so had full confidence in (responsible Sarah). I lay out my Thai mat next to the car and got to work on the wheel nuts. Only four out of six of them required me to stand on top of the crobar to loosen them, the rest came easy enough. I used my trusty bottle jack from the Paj and a few loose bits of timber to lift the car up (I think I’ll throw out the factory diamond jack as being slow and useless). After lifting it off the ground and have the car roll forward off the jack, I applied the park brake, then tried again (sorry Dad, rookie mistake I know). Second time’s a charm, car lifted, wheels swapped, flat tyre stowed, car back down, wheel nuts tightened. Arranging the stuff (solar panel, milk crates) back in the van wasn’t too painful, I was done in about twenty minutes and didn’t get myself too dirty.

I listened to the BBC daily news podcast while I ate my breakfast of cereal (which had only cost me 99c from the Grocery Outlet) and banana. I got dressed for the ride and filled my small riding backpack with essentials then was off to town just after 7:30am. Plenty of time.

I found a park just off the main road which was closed off for the event. While I was getting myself and the bike ready, the couple I’d met yesterday rolled up. We talked about our rides the day before. They’d gone a lot further than me and ridden back along the road since it was getting dark by the time they’d finished, which explains why I didn’t see them. They were also on their mountain bikes instead of their roadies, so they’d be riding with me on the 30 mile marathon! We introduced ourselves, then Joanne and Tom rode off to the main street to get on the bus. I followed shortly after and found that the bike trailers were getting loaded up, but the bus hadn’t arrived yet. I loaded my bike, then went and stood in the sun with Joanne and Tom, which was warming us up nicely. They are from West Colorado and travelling around in a caravan (known in the U.S. as a tow-behind trailer) with their mountain bikes and road bikes. They are hill-climbing fanatics, travelling around with a book called “100 toughest road climbs in California”. At just past retirement age, I was impressed! We chatted away about what they’d done and what I was doing and swapped information when they offered me a place to stay and some local riding knowledge when I get over to Colorado. So nice! Just past 8:30am the bright yellow school bus rocked up and we all piled on, eager for some activity since we were all dressed for riding and underdressed for standing around. We drove south along highway 89, all of us chatting away like school students, for about 12 miles, then turned off at Agoma campground, where the River Trail ends. This is exactly the trail that Joanne, Tom and I had ridden yesterday! They’d stopped at Camp 4 and I’d turned around before them. This time, we’d be riding it the opposite way and getting all the way back to town on two wheels.

The bike trailers were unloaded without any drama, there was a lot of people escaping to the bushes for a pre-race nervous one, then we had a very impromptu pre-ride announcement, during which a lot of people rode off! I stuck around listening to the man’s instructions, Tom gave me a fist bunt, then we rolled off. Everyone was there for fun, there was even a 2-parents, 2-kids family getting on it. I rode behind one guy eating his dust for a few miles, then passed him to go on and catch two other guys, then I was solo for the rest of the ride. It was nice to ride the trail again, it was very flat on pine needles, some sandy patches and some rocky patches. Nothing too challenging, but pretty to be following the river. It was nice to hit the patches of sun and get a warm pocket of air with it. Before the falls, there was a rest station, which I rode through, but the volunteers there instructed me to turn off onto a dirt road. That was the end of the singletrack. After following the fireroad for a few miles, I checked that there was no one behind me and had a sneaky pee in the bushes before crossing highway 89 to get onto more fireroad. Shortly after, the course turned onto the historic rail trail. This used to be a railway which has long been torn up and replaced with a nice gravelled path. Apparently it runs for over 80 miles! It is very flat and straight and originally I was disheartened at how monotonous the remaining 15 miles would be, but I was soon entertained by the views of Mt Shasta that suddently appeared. It really is an impressive mountain sticking up in the middle of nowhere. Eventually I started seeing other riders, but they were coming towards me. This was the group doing the shorter event that did a loop from town, mostly on the rail trail. There was a rest stop at their turn around point where I hoovered into some pre-cut oranges (best riding food) and a muesli bar. Everyone was cheery and full of smiles, they let me know that I was the second one through. I asked how far infront the next guy was and they said five minutes, so I didn’t bother busting my ass for glory (not that I’m competitive). It was nice to have more riders around as we all came together on the same route. I passed most of them, each of them returning my “Hiya” with a cheery “Hi!” The rail trail faded into the outskirts of town which were historic logging buildings I think. Again Shasta was showing her good side.

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While riding I pulled my phone out to take a few photos. As I turned away from Shasta, I returned my phone to the back pocket of my jersey. Unfortunately, I completely missed the pocket, so effectively slid the phone down my back and onto the floor. I heard it hit the ground and shouted a list of profanities. I slammed on the brakes, dropped the bike and ran back to retrieve it. I knew before I’d even picked it up the screen was broken. Turning it face up, not only was it broken, it was bloody shattered. The only intact piece was the home button. Ooh I was mad. I continued my profanities as I properly placed the phone back in my jersey and picked up my bike to carry on. Little did I know, there was a man taking photos of riders with Shasta in the background meters away. He probably saw and heard the whole thing. I gave him a smile and waved. I wonder if he got my “pissed off” face. I was already getting over it as I rode on, annoyed at my carelessness, but also in acceptance that it would be a $100-200 mistake. Life goes on.

The last parts of the ride were through the town which was a nice tour and the finish line came up quickly. They had a small finishing banner which I made a point of riding through, then looked around for someone to tell me what to do. It was all very casual and for fun. The lady that was supposed to be ringing the cowbell for finishers was occupied doing other things. I returned my race number in return for an $8 lunch voucher and a really cool keyring. They confirmed that I’d came in second place. I soon found out that the first place rider had been a guy from Redding that sat behind me on the bus. I wandered over to shake his hand, he seemed pretty chuffed with his victory. He was one of the first guys to ride off after he got his bike off the trailer. I ran into the organiser, an older lady with a kind face and encouraging smile. I thanked her for putting on such a wonderful event and she was glad I’d enjoyed it. Embarrassingly, I asked if she could take my photo under the finisher’s banner, horrified to present someone with this shattered phone. She aimed and shot and I think it turned out alright.

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I sat down to do a survey at the organiser’s request and in exchange got a free buff. So chuffed with that since I use them all the time. I wanted to see Joanne and Tom again so figured I would go get out of my riding gear and get the bike stowed away, then come back for food. I did all that, then wandered the main street, considering my options for my free lunch. In the end I got a burger and drink from the pop-up stand which was devine. I hung around, chatting to a few riders and watching the live band set up then, as the band start playing, decided to head off. I looked around for my new friends, but as they had warned, they must have taken it easy. I resolved to email them later to say my goodbyes. On the way out, I walked over to the girl scouts’ tent and made a $5 donation to get a watermelon cupcake and choc/cranberry cookie.

Feeling well fed and very warm from the sun (finally, it had arrived), I was back in the car to head south towards Mount Lassen. I inspected my phone a little closer once in the car so I could set up my audiobook. Everything still functioned perfectly, but it is now almost impossible to see anything on the screen. I will get it fixed as soon as I’m back in the Bay Area. I did not appreciate the feeling of running my fingers over the deformed glass, I’m sure I am getting splinters under my skin.

A few miles out of town, I remembered that I was nearly out of petrol (I had intended to fill up before I left McCloud). I had a quick look and saw that the next servo was fifty miles away and my trip meter read 420 miles. Considering the luck I’d already had today, I didn’t want to push my luck, I turned my van around. Tank full, I properly head off, full of purpose!

Per the lady’s advice at yesterday’s rest area, when I saw Barney Falls come up 30 miles down the road, I dutifully pulled over to check it out. It was a state park, so lo and behold there was a fee to enter. $8 says the park ranger to me at the booth. I don’t hide my disappointment, I ask if there is a parking spot outside of the park and she explains it is one mile away. I try to understand what there is to do in the park apart from look at a waterfall and she is complacent. I cave and pay the $8, just because the lady at the rest area said it was worth it. Maybe this is a scam. I parked, and wandered eagerly over to the falls to see what all the fuss was about. The lady was right, they are very pretty falls. Interestingly enough, they are fed from Mt. Barney which is many miles away and the water flows completely underground up to a point only a mile before the falls where it surfaces. You couldn’t count the number of paths and fountains within the waterfall, it created a beautiful landscape. I did the 1.5 mile river loop which was a good shake out for my legs, but didn’t offer any better views of the falls than the initial lookout. Was it worth $8? Nah. There are much better things out there for free, but I’m not sour about it, I got to see a pretty waterfall.

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While at the post-ride party, I’d checked my emails and discovered that the application I’d submitted to Travelicious to become a freelance travel writer had been accepted a few days ago and they had sent me a hurry up email to accept their offer and complete the next steps to set up a website domain. My sister Tina had put me on to this and I’d applied not thinking much of it, now it seemed it could be a reality! They offer $40 per 1,000 word article. At this point the exact process isn’t clear to me, whether they grade the writing or what, but I figured I’d give it a shot! Thanks Tina! Because of this, I wanted to find some WiFi and complete the application on my computer (since my phone screen was useless). In the town of Barney, five miles off highway 89, I found a Maccas (McDonalds for those American readers) and parked out front and connected to their WiFi like a thief. I went through the process of creating a domain name www.astrotracks.net through GoDaddy at the price of $12, which I think Travelicious will reimburse me for not that it matters. It was a lengthy process that I didn’t quite understand, but in the end I had created three separate logins, one for GoDaddy, cpPanel (whatever that is, something to do with a server) and WordPress. I submitted all of this to Travelicious for approval. As part of the package, apparently they will provide me with training on how to blog, how to set up a website etcetera, so it sounds like it will be a cool experience if it all goes through!

About an hour later I carried on my journey towards Mt. Lassen. It was getting too late in the day (around 3pm) to do any hikes in Lassen so I was taking my time and starting to eye out a good camp spot. Since it was nice and warm now, I was open to an early camp where I could set up my hammock. After entering Lassen National Forest, I saw a few people bush camped a little away from the road so was getting inspired. I came upon a turn off for Subway Cave which I drove past initially because I had a guy driving right up my ass, but I turned around to check it out. Totally free, there was a cave you could walk through. What a surprise! I fetched my headtorch and a jumper out of the car and made for the entrance. There were stairs leading down into the chasm which was a massive tube, almost perfectly formed like a subway tunnel (hence the name) by lava flow. This was intriguing.

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Walking in and getting closer, it was less perfect, with horizontal lines carved into the walls that showed the different levels of lava flow that travelled through here. Not far into the tunnel, it was completely dark. The voices of a family ahead of me were my only company, which honestly was comforting. After they’d exited the tunnel, it felt eerie to be in there alone. I turned my light of at one stage to see how I would feel and it was absolutely pitch black, not a shred of light. Scary! Light back on, along the way, there was information signs about the different cavities that had formed which was super interesting. I couldn’t stop gaping at the size of this tunnel and could only imagine the force and colour of the lava that once flowed through it. I exited feeling like I’d just been to a very special place. The heat was welcome after the airconditioned feel of the tunnel and it was nice to feel the sun warm my back after so many days of cloud and rain.

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There was a visitor’s center just up the road, so I pulled in, only to find it was closed (on a Saturday at 4pm?) so I head back the way I’d come. “Cave” campground was on the opposite side of the road to the actual cave, but they wanted $16 a night, so I went back to the Subway Cave road where there was a dirt road leading into the sparse forest. I checked that the road wasn’t in any way sandy, then drove in far enough so that I was relatively out of sight. This is the best camp of the trip so far. I set up my hammock between two trees, opened my book and relaxed. Here I stayed until the sun went down, reading, writing my journal and I started a spreadsheet for my expenses (to be shared later). There was a chill to the night as the sun set, but a comfortable one, not cold enough to stop me having a bird bath shower.

Considering the flat and a shattered phone screen, you’d have thought this was a bad day, but in fact, it wasn’t!

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