Erin and Nick instantly reminded me of my younger self and Andy; two good friends, fresh-faced and idealistic, intoxicated with the new-found freedom of life on the road in a wealthy and developed corner of the world. The summer of 2007 and that timeless four-month adventure across Europe remains one of the most enjoyable, chaotic and memorable times of my life.
I spotted their bikes on the sidewalk as soon as I pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store on the edge of Raymond (or, today, Graymond). It made sense to join forces, as a change of scene with new company could hardly fail to be worth having (plus it’d let me practice my American) and we pedalled through yet more drizzle for a dozen or so miles of damp late-afternoon murk until we found what we were looking for: a primitive state-run campground, still closed for the winter season. It would be the third such establishment we would use for a safe and easy (and hopefully this time bear-free) overnight.
We hopped the barrier. Locked facilities, but plenty of clear and level pitches… and then rejoicement! For down a rough track there appeared a big timber-built gathering area, with a watertight roof and two huge wooden benches, and more than enough space for four cyclists to dump bikes and empty panniers, quickly filling the giant tabletop with cooking gear, food bags, mini-speakers and music players, and a fire was soon burning in a metal grate as we swung from the big wooden rafters.
I honestly wouldn’t bother mentioning this, the latest of a countless train of makeshift camps, if it weren’t for Nick and Erin’s much-needed reminder of the great freedom the traveller has to let loose and experiment.
Over time and miles I had become fairly regimented in my approach to the routine aspects of bicycle travel. I saw camping as nothing but a means of getting a night’s sleep, and I rarely hung around when I could be on the move, shooting video or meeting people. Food was for functional purposes only, and the bike a simple transport tool.
But the contents of their giant drybags (the likely cause of two broken spokes in two weeks) revealed that even on the road Erin & Nick were pursuing their passions of cuisine, cookery and campcraft in a typically American fashion. By this, I don’t mean they carried a deep-fryer and cooked fast food. No: I refer to the way in which no stop is ever left un-pulled-out in America. Because if you’re gonna do something — even if it’s living minimally — you sure as hell gotta do it to the max. And why not?
A can of clarified coconut oil. A tupperware container as big as my head, containing zip-lock bags of dried oregano, sage, black pepper, kosher salt, mixed Italian herbs. A half-kilo tub of garlic powder. Dehydrated refried beans. Too many kinds of tea to count. Hot chocolate. Homemade bread. A bottle of flipping extra-virgin olive oil! Lemons, limes, roma tomatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions. Half a chicken. Fresh coriander and parsley. From Erin’s mum’s garden.
Noodles suddenly seemed ridiculously boring.
Was I becoming ridiculously boring?
Plates, bowls and chopping boards were extracted, a 12-pack of glacier-fresh Kokanee was cracked open, and we fired up three stoves with a Sublime SoCal ska-punk soundtrack drowning out the burners — and the blasted rain. And I was glad we’d met Erin and Nick. Even if I was in danger of becoming a world-weary and grumpy old man, these two, evidently, were on a mission to bring back the fun.
My U.S. Pacific Coast ride is kindly supported by Kona Bikes, Cascade Designs and Schwalbe..