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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Waves to Wine - The Grapes of Wrath

In John Steinbecks heralded Novel 'The grapes of Wrath' he traces the fortune of the Joad family.
They travel  from Oklahoma to California leaving behind them their arid flat lands which have turned into a dust bowl.
There journey takes them in search of 'better' land on which to till and toil, and ply their trade.

Like most of Stienbecks work, the richness of this novel is as much  to do with the characters as it has to do with the story. He not only takes the reader on a physical journey across the United States but traces out the respective internal journeys of his subjects.
He lets us feel their pain, their anguish and sometimes their desperation.
Having spent much of my life travelling, both geographically and emotionally, I like Steinbecks literary inspiration.

For me any journey of consequence, is an adventure.
The more 'bolt ons' the bigger the adventure.
Often the experience can become ingrained inside you and deliver up long lasting multiple emotions.
Mostly positive, but other times, as in the case of the Joad Family things don't quite live up to their expectations.
In September there was mini migration of Mules following a similar ambition.
For us it was to take part in a two day charity ride called 'Waves to Wine'.
No ordinary journey - but from San Fransisco way up into the wine region over some big lumps on the way !!!!!!

The Mules came from afar.
Some from the arid flat lands of Houston, but others from further a field, China, Boston, and for myself Beverley in East Yorkshire.
Like the Joads we set out to California to find something different, something life changing, something spectacular.
In the Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck introduces his own Mule of sorts in his character- Muley Graves.
Muley is stuborn, he sees the attraction of moving, but fears the unknown and ultimately remains in Oklahoma.
How many times in your life do you say 'I wish I didn't go?
How many times do you say 'Awwwwwwww I wish that I had gone ?'

Its curious, as I get older, experience would traditionally dictate that I take less risks.
I'd be expected to look for my pipe and slippers, before my cleated shoes and helmet.
But putting tradition aside 'Experience' can also be liberating.
It teaches you that you must grasp things sometimes, or the chance will be gone for ever.

Like San Fransisco, I prefer my life with peaks and troughs - rather than stagnating in the flat lands

And so for the trip.......
As the plane swooped down over the surrounding mountains and made its final approach I could see the land on one side and the sea the other.
Fish nets and Fruit Trees,
Trawlers and Telecom Industries,
Wine and Waves.
Good name choice for the ride I chuckled to myself

Walking the streets of San Fransisco was certainly different from Houston.
For a start - there were pavements that you could walk on.
Secondly, you did not feel like you should be carrying a tin full of coins and carrying a plaque.
I'm sure you would have seen it - drawing attention to the fact that your dog was ill and that you had not eaten for a week.
Lastly when you walk in SF you are accompanied by others, hundreds of them - a living rainbow of diversity.
Cosmopolitan with a big Capital C.
With limited time to fully explore I found my 2nd visit ending like my first.
With a mental note to myself - demanding a future visit.

Us  Mules  turned our wheels at 7am on a Saturday Morning in late September.
We left San Fransisco along the Coast towards the 'GGB' as we affectionately called it.
By rights its burnt ochre structure should have been shrouded in fog or low cloud, but sensing our arrival it decided to show off.

The wind was turned off, the morning light intensified, and the clouds were chased off towards the horizon.
The Golden Gate was golden alright.
In its true majesty, It strutted across the watery void like an arrogant king.
As I crossed the divide I enveloped it and tried to memorise every second..
I knew what I was experiencing was a big tick, very close to the top of my bucket list.

After crossing the bridge we dropped down into Sausalito hugging the shoreline up Richardson Bay.
The water was so close you could smell the seaweed.
By this time the Morning coolness had departed and as the sun warmed our shoulders.
The calm waters provided an alluring aquatic invitation.
Thankfully I was strong willed, so my wheels remained dry. 

We followed Highway 1 north of Sausalito before turning north, towards Stinson Beach.
Not wanting to delude myself, I knew there was some real cycling to do before we might get sand in our shoes.
Ahead of us was 2,571 feet of rock in the form of - Mount Tamalpais
File:SE view of Summit of Mount Tamalpais near Mill Valley, California .JPG
The only way was up, made possible by a steady succession of switchbacks.
Prior to the ride we had all promised to stick together as much as we could, but accepted that when it came to the climbs we all had to go at our own pace.
After watching Charles move steadily away from me and Lee come alongside, I remained focused and tried to keep a comfortable rhythm whilst being as relaxed as I could.
On the switch backs I was forced out of my  saddle much to Paddys annoyance by neglecting my domestique duties.
File:Mt. Tam coastline.jpg
Even though it was tough - I loved the climbing, the scenery was  breath taking.
With constant turns and switchbacks there seemed to be a visual gift behind every corner.

Although some of my fellow Mules (The antipodeans)  were great climbers this was not really their territory, they were more used to the Texas flat lands.
Going up was great but coming down was very Technical.
It was like flirting with the devils daughter, exciting but F**king dangerous, and I flirted like mad.
I am sure my fellow riders 35 mph descent was thrilling and very exhilarating.

My 48 mph roller coaster ride to Stinson beach was just plain bonkers.
It was also by far the greatest cycling experience of my life.
Yes even better than my chance encounter with meeting Bradley Wiggins.

The rest of the day was tough. It got hotter and hotter and as we moved inland the lush green turned to  a scorched arid terrain. The climbs came thick and fast and we reassembled to look after one another.
Charles asked Paddy sympathetically  'How you doing mate did you go into the red Zone.
Paddy replied solemnly. 'Charlie..........I have never left the red zone.'
By own support for Sam also back-fired.
As we climbed the wall in the Midday sun Sam very flatteringly used me as a pace maker.
At one point she started to slip back so realising I was close to the top, encouragement was the obvious course of action.
Come on Sam I cried....nearly at the top.
Moments later I reached the visual crest only to see the road rise up again even steeper.
The smile on her face lasted only a few seconds, as I finished my first sentence.
Sam........Its not the top.
As we moved closer to the finish the thought of beer came to mind.....Cold Beer.
Not far away.
In such a momentary lapse of concentration I failed to see what could only be described as a small chasm on the road in front of me.
My last minute bunny hop only made things worse as my back wheel landed in the hole.
It was my first puncture for the year but I was in good company.
The hazard took a number of scalps as a samll posse assembled around, rider after rider cursing the highway agency.
It did not stop there after we had got going we then had puncture after puncture.
I felt guilty. Obviously I was jinxed by my earlier downhill dalliances with the devil and brought a curse upon the Mules.

Eventually we made it 104 miles of love and hate, pain and pleasure........Waves and maybe a few drops of wine.
On the journey I made some great new friends, not only my fellow riders of Charlie, Lee, Sam, John, and Dave but also BJ and Sonni who without there help in transporting our gear the trip would not have happened.
They also did 'Intel' checks on the beer and Vineyards.
Now thats what I call support.

Sonni from Aus is also a blogist who writes about Houston and what attractions you can find on and off the beaten track. Its called Finding Houston
When I was not drinking or cycling Sonni and I bored everyone else talking about writing.
She also tried to make sure I had a hangover every morning.
Thank you Girls