Finally the sun came out, and I left Palo Alto. Slowly, the way travel should be. Not a mad four-day dash from Colorado to the coast. But also not settling in with my friends to a routine of work, gym, and goofing off on the internet, interspersed with lots of sitting around talking. At last I was back on the road again, as I really hadnít been since before I headed east to begin work on the Malawi project. And with the sun shining, it really didnít seem bad at all. Maybe Iím not ready to settle down yet after all.

My initial destination was Santa Cruz. I thought Iíd just have a look around and then head on to Monterey, but when I got there, I was tempted by my bike, which I hadnít ridden in months. So I parked the van and headed out. For lack of a better destination, I set off down the coast to investigate a state park where I was thinking of camping for the night. California state parks are pricey, but I rather liked the idea of being able to boldly pop the top of the van, cook my dinner, and work on my computer in the evening with the lights on and the curtains open, without any fear of detection. Not to mention a hot shower and a clean bathroom.

Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

January 5, 2006. Monterey Bay

At last I seemed to have made it to the California I wanted to visit! I followed the Pacific coast bike route, sometimes right by the beach but more often on the bluffs overlooking the sea. The weather was glorious, the water was blue, the waves foamed and seethed as they splashed against rocks and piers and beaches. All along the trail, joggers were exercising, mothers were pushing babies in strollers, white-haired men were walking dogs, and people were staring out to sea. Especially staring out to sea. At one overlook, so many people were staring out to sea that I wondered if they were watching gray whales migrate down the coast, or a flotilla of tall ships, or something equally exciting. But no, a middle-aged lady told me, they were just watching the surfers.

Yup, surfers! I wasnít in LA yet, but all along the coast, men (and an occasional woman) in long-sleeved black wetsuits could be seen frolicking in the surf like so many seal pups. At one beach, a yellow road sign warned of surfers crossing. On the streets near the beaches they could be seen trotting along, carrying their surfboards from distant parking spots to the water. If Iíd had my wetsuit with me, I'd have been in the water too - to hell with surfing, I just wanted to be out in the sea!

The next day I left Santa Cruz and continued to Monterey. Aside from the famous aquarium, I didnít know what Iíd find there, but I liked it at once. A helpful man at the tourist office referred me to a city-run campground right in town, and gave me the name of the coffeehouse that all his friends liked. The campground proved to be a low key place with none of the emphasis on rules and regulations that bedevils the state parks, so I signed up for two nights on the spot. The coffeehouse was even better; a choice of twenty different beans, ground to order, and brewed to order in an individual cone filter. All this, and free wifi too! I was set, I had my home in Monterey and my home away from home in Monterey - what else could I ask for?

So I left my van behind and headed out on my bike to see what I could see. It was delightful. Maybe it was the weather, but the town just seemed charming and friendly and relaxed. The sun was shining, the ocean was blue, it was warm, the bike routes were fairly flat, and I cruised along by the sea. The path took me up past the aquarium Ė maybe tomorrow it would be cloudy and Iíd want to be inside? Ė and along the coast. It was busy with people; elderly couples in ďMonterey BayĒ jackets and cameras, a girl on roller skates hanging on to the

arm of her more stable mother, teen-aged boys with their pants falling down tearing around on bikes way too small for them, joggers with water bottles strapped around their waists, serious cyclists in yellow lycra printed with the advertising and photos of mountain roads, middle-aged women marching briskly as they chatted about their jobs or their friends or whatever we talk about, us middle aged women.

In the bay, harbor seals sunned themselves on bits of rock protruding from the swells, balancing in improbable poses with their noses and tails suspended over the water. In the air, a string of pelicans flew past, their huge beaks and angular wings flapping every which way. On the rocks, a flock of seagulls perched sedately, sunning themselves, preening their feathers, and peering in the water for tasty morsels. On the waterís surface a pair of harlequin ducks, the male brightly painted with stripes and flashes of white, bobbed up and down with the waves.

Past Monterey, the path joined a road called 17-mile drive, which doesnít seem to be 17 miles long, but whoís counting? Itís what they euphemistically call a ďprivate toll road;Ē cars have to pay $8.50 to drive it. And they do, too, lots of them. It turns out the whole of the Monterey Peninsula is a private golf resort, monstrous homes surrounding acres and acres of golfing greens, some of them right on the water and some on the hills overlooking the sea. Itís free on a bicycle - otherwise I wouldnít have been there - and itís reasonably pretty, I suppose. The sea is, anyway, I'm not so sure about the McMansions and the golf courses. At the other end of the road is Carmel-by-the-Sea, which I wanted to visit. But when I stopped at the Pebble Beach Lodge to pick up something for lunch at a rather pricey deli that mostly sold fancy wines to the residents, I realized that it was already mid-afternoon, and I wouldnít be back before dark if I kept going.

On the way back I realized that I hadnít yet put my feet in the Pacific Ocean. A dreadful oversight! Here Iíd been on the road two whole years, I was finally within sight and earshot of the Pacific, and I hadnít touched its waters! What can I have been thinking???

Well, those waters are freezing cold, and I sure wasnít going to go swimming with my wetsuit and my drysuit back in Virginia. But I pulled up at a pretty bit of beach and marched down to the shore. Just my luck, when Iíd just gotten my toes near the edge, a few big waves came in and I was drenched up my shorts instead of my ankles. But that was okay. It was good to know that Iíd finally made it from the Atlantic in North Carolina to the Pacific in California, with thirty thousand miles of road behind me.

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