Author Archives: NeuroPolitics

7 Lessons Learned from 4 Years of Nomadic Cycling


Four years ago, I embarked on a journey that permanently changed the course of my life. The journey started as a desire to do something out of the ordinary and as a resistance to the status quo. This journey has taken me throughout the US, from Alaska to Florida. It has forced me out of my comfort zone a million times over and has challenged me to face many of my fears. I have been fortunate enough to make countless friends along the way and find a loving companion, who is just crazy enough to join me in my travels. Four years ago, I left Portland, OR on my bicycle, heading south with not a single plan set in stone – just an openness to experience something new. That journey continues today, and I’d like to share with you a few lessons I’ve learned from my extraordinary life of travel.

IMG_1234The first few steps might be the hardest, and it never gets easier – Whenever I’m about to embark on a new adventure, it’s the act of taking those first few steps in a tangential direction that are the hardest. The thing that has surprised me the most about this is that in the past four years I don’t think changing course has ever gotten easier. I guess that’s why it’s often those first few steps that make the biggest difference between an ordinary life and an extraordinary life. This principle is probably best summed up in Newton’s first law of motion – an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion. I still find leaving home to set out on a two-month bicycle tour just as difficult as coming off that bike tour at the end of two months to set-up a new home. The thing that does get easier is the adaption process. The more I put myself outside of my comfort zone, the more tools I gather and the easier time I have to adapting to a new way of life.

Come up with an ‘ABC Plan’ – What’s an ABC Plan you say? Well, this is a little tool that I’ve developed over the years to help me feel more comfortable in taking those first few steps toward my goals. The “A” in ABC is the best case scenario. I imagine the best case scenario for whatever my next adventure is and what actions I will need to take in order to achieve those results. The truth about the “A” is that it often doesn’t require much more input other than getting started. If everything works in my favor, that scenario is usually self-sustaining and doesn’t require anything additional from me.

You might be able to guess now that the “C” in ABC is the worst case scenario. Mentally I can usually come up with at least half a dozen “C” scenarios, and I try to think about what I will need to do to resolve them or at least reduce the risk of them happening. With cycling these scenarios usually involve: getting my bike/panniers/wallet/cell phone stolen, running out of food/water/energy or ending up in a ditch/hospital/graveyard. While these aren’t pleasant things to think about, they will provide you with a much needed back-up plan and risk assessment strategy, which I have found will make you both more likely to survive a “C” scenario and actually downplay any fears you might have going into a new situation.

The “B” in the ABC Plan is the scenario that is most likely to happen. This is the part where I think you gain the most insight. When it comes to cycling this usually involves things like flat tires, broken chains and spokes, and running behind schedule. This part of the planning phase tells you how to pack and plan for things that are most likely to happen and will once again help alleviate any fears that you have going into your next adventure. The great thing about the ABC Plan is that you can use it in almost any area of your life where you have fear, even if you aren’t embarking on some big new adventure. Looking to ask for that promotion, but afraid? Develop an ABC Plan and explore your options. It might not seem like such a big task anymore.

A life of travel ranges from exhilarating to exhausting – I’m not going to lie, I have felt more exhausted, more times in the past four years than I ever remember feeling the 30 years prior. I’m not talking about the kind of exhaustion you get from riding a 100-mile bike ride or running a marathon. That exhaustion usually dissipates in a day or two. I’m talking about the exhaustion felt from life on the road. In the past four years I have moved my home base from New Orleans, LA to Newport, RI to Portland, OR to Skagway, AK to Durango, CO to Providence, RI to where I’m at now…which is looking for my next “home.” It’s not easy living a nomadic lifestyle, but I do have to say that I have been thrilled with the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met and the once-in-a-lifetime experiences I’ve encountered. I have actually looked back on the past four years of my life and thought to myself “I really do lived a charmed existence.” Though it is rarely easy, it is often rewarding, and that’s why I continue to live this way.

Less really is more – There are so many ways I see this principle apply to my life, and it has truly made me happier. The house with the least possessions is the house that’s the easiest to clean. What I’ve found out about the “less is more” philosophy is that it’s continuing to evolve for me. What I considered traveling light a few years ago is completely different than what I consider it today. I expect that four years from now that idea will have evolved even more. A question pertaining to my nomadic lifestyle that I’m often asked is “Where do you keep all your stuff?” My reply is often as simple as “What stuff?” I’ve learned that I can pretty much find anything I need in just about any town in America, even if I’ve entered that town empty-handed and having no connections. Things like Craigslist, email list-serves and eBay have made it easier than ever to walk into a new place and make a life for oneself. The great thing about the “less is more” philosophy is that it’s going to mean something different to everybody. We will all have different wants and needs. I’ve just found that I’m personally happiest only having to worry about the few possessions that I can carry on either my back or bicycle (and maybe a box or two of nostalgic items that I can keep at a relative’s house), than being bogged down by furnishings of a typical American household. This idea has also led me to purchasing more quality products, often reusing nice used items and focusing on longevity as an economic strategy.

Every experience is enhanced when it is shared – Before I met my Sarah three-and-a-half years ago I did most of my traveling alone. I had some great, I’d even say truly amazing experiences while traveling alone, and I encourage everybody to take on solo travel at least once in their life. Never having to compromise on things like where to go, what to do, where to eat or what to see is what tops my list about solo travel. What I’ve found though, in my own experience, is that when you don’t have another person with whom to share those amazing times, you tend to forget just how amazing they were. There is something about reminiscing with another human being about things that keeps those experiences so much more alive in our memories. After all, what’s the use of a life full of experiences if you have nobody to share them with?

What advice would the future version of yourself give you today? – When I find myself at a crossroads or in a moment of fear or uncertainty, it helps me to look to the future and imagine what advice a future version of myself would give me today. The amount of years I usually use is 10 because that’s a number I think of as being close enough to imagine yet far enough away to hold a different perspective. Maybe 5 years or 8 years or 20 years is a better benchmark for you, it doesn’t really matter. The thing about this exercise is that I find it can help even with the small decisions. Should I work out today? Future me says yes. Do I really need to eat this entire box of cookies? Future me says please don’t. Will this $100 be better off in my savings account or buying some new electronic device? Future me says the $100 does more for him in savings than in an electronic device that has been outdated for years. I’ve found that it helps the most with the big questions though. Should I continue working at this job that I hate because of the short-term fear of quitting or should I take a stab at something completely new? Future me says that I will benefit more from trying something new, even if that means failing, than continuing to do the same thing expecting different results. What would the future you have to say about your recent decisions?

All things considered, humanity is alive and well – Whenever I’ve found myself in a truly tough situation, I’ve found that there was a person there that was willing to help. In fact, something I’ve often said is that if I ever lose my faith in humanity, the best thing I can do is go on a bicycle tour. There’s something about cycling in particular that really seems to bring people together. With websites like WarmShowers and CouchSurfing, connecting with like-minded strangers has never been easier. These websites take away a lot of the fear of meeting new people too, because they require identification verification and you can read what others have to say about these people. I’ve also been shown such beautiful acts of unexpected kindness while bike touring. I’ve had complete strangers offer me a place to stay, buy me dinner, give me money and donate to charities that I support. One of the most touching acts of kindness I’ve experienced came at one of the lowest points in my years of bicycle touring – right after Sarah and I had our bikes stolen. Unbeknownst to us, some friends of ours reached out to strangers, friends and acquaintances and pooled together enough money to allow us to continue on with our travels. At my lowest point, I was shown the most amount of love.

IMG_1278As I continue on my journey through life, I understand that this list is not exhaustive and is just a drop in the bucket of lessons to be learned. What I’m hoping to show you is that a major life overhaul is possible, and it doesn’t have to be as scary as we humans tend to make it out to be. Even failures, if done in a thoughtful way, can be insightful steps in the right direction. While my ideal life right now is that of a nomadic one, I know that this too can and will change. I’m not recommending that everybody jump on a bicycle and ride across the country, but I do think that everybody can benefit from a little more adventure in their lives, whether that means taking your kids camping, asking your boss for a raise or simply taking your bike for a ride around the block. Two truths that continue to show up in my life: You’re never going to be as young as you are today, and this is the only life you’re guaranteed…so you better make the most of it.

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A Mysterious Email and the Case of the Stolen Bike

As some of you might remember, Sarah and I had our bikes stolen while we were in Portland, OR back in April of 2013. They were locked together with one lock on a bike rack outside of REI. It was a quick in-and-out mission at REI, yet it was apparently long enough for somebody to cut our lock and get away with both our bikes. Needless to say, we were heartbroken.

Brandon & Bike

My good friend Brandon in PDX, crazy excited about the bicycle recovery!

Amazingly, after a year and a half of separation from our bicycles, we have some partial closure…I GOT MY BIKE BACK! I’d like to share with you now the story of how bikeindex.org, a random email, some close friends and the Clackamas County Sheriff all helped in the recovery process. Sorry if it’s a little lengthy, but I was really excited to share as many of the details as I could!

The morning of September 30, 2014 started out like any other morning. I was a little groggy, made some breakfast and sipped some coffee as I went through my inbox. Only on this day, there was a strange message in my inbox from bikeindex.org with “Stolen notification email” in the subject line. My first reaction was that it was probably some sort of spam and that I should be wary of opening it, and maybe even just delete it. After going through all my other messages I came back to it and wondered what to do. The truth is that I didn’t know what bikeindex.org was. I had posted my stolen bike info to a website called stolenbikeregistry.com, but a quick internet search indicated that stolenbikeregistry.com had merged with bikeindex.org earlier that year. I decided the message was worth a look. Lo and behold it seemed to be a legit message from a stranger, basically saying that if I hadn’t recovered my bike yet there was one for sale on Portland’s craigslist that bears some similarities to the one I posted. Keep in mind that almost 18 months had gone by, and I had pretty much written off any recovery of my bicycle.

Obviously it was a long shot but I did a quick search and found the craigslist post in question, and my first thoughts were that even if the bike were mine I couldn’t prove it being that I was physically in Providence, RI. Although it was the same size, color and model of my old frame there were some differences. The bar tape was a different color, there was no front rack, it looked like a different saddle and there were no recognizable decals/stickers. Despite this, I copied the grainy picture from craigslist and blew it up so I could compare it with other pictures of my bike I had saved on my hard drive. There were indeed some similarities. The wheels looked the same, despite missing their decals. There was residue where a decal had been on the wheels in the same shape mine had, and the proximity of those decals to the valve stems were the same. The rear rack looked exactly the same from what I could tell. I questioned whether I was just looking for similarities or if I was actually seeing them. It took a couple hours, but I had eventually convinced myself that there was enough to go on to make it worth investigating further. There was still the small problem of being in Providence, RI while the bike was for sale in Portland, OR!

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Sarah and Maní building a new rear wheel for me. When we received the bike in Providence we realized the rim had been destroyed.

I sent a group text out to my best friends in Portland explaining the situation and asked if anybody would take a closer look. Almost immediately I received several responses from my friends saying things like “we’re going to get your bike back!” and “this guy’s going down!”. I was trying to keep a level head about it and just needed further proof that it was indeed my bicycle…I mean, nothing had been proven yet. I told my friends about a few things that would help identify it. For one, the wheels were unique. The front hub was a Phil Wood and the rear hub was a White Industries. I also mentioned some things like how I had to drill holes in the rear fender so I could zip-tie it to the rack. My friends took note of everything I was saying and told me that they would take it from there. I couldn’t ask for better amigos.

My friends contacted the seller and they agreed to meet with him after work. The seller suggested meeting, of all places, directly across the street from where the bike had been stolen! Despite trying to keep a level head, I really started getting my hopes up as I looked at all the coincidences. My friends also contacted the Clackamas County Sheriff’s office (which is where I filed the report) and the sheriff agreed to meet with them. The whole thing was unfolding into a kind of sting operation, and I was watching it come into fruition from across the country! I just hoped it was indeed my bike and that I wasn’t wasting anybody’s time.

The meeting went down like this: The sheriff was supposed to meet my friends before they met with the seller. The sheriff would be strategically parked around the corner from the meeting place. If my friends got a positive ID on the bike they would text the sheriff and he would drive over and they would take my bike home. Things didn’t work out quite that smoothly. The sheriff had been busy with higher priority things leading up to the meeting, so he was nowhere to be found. My friends met with the seller at the planned time and they were able to identify the bike right away, but had to stall before the sheriff would arrive. I guess they argued with the seller that this was their friend’s bike, but the seller denied everything. Finally, the sheriff shows up. My friends point out all the identifiable pieces that make it my bike, but there’s a problem…the serial number on the police report can’t be found anywhere! They search high and low all over the bike frame and can’t find it. The closest that they come are finding 3 digits sticking out from under a cable guard that match the last three digits of the serial number on file. The sheriff says that without the full serial number, there is no positive way to identify the bike. Things were looking grim.

Riding

Reunited at last! Happily riding my recovered bike through Providence.

While all this is happening, I’m getting a play-by-play via text messages. Eventually I get a call from one of my friends saying that the sheriff won’t let them take the bike without seeing the full serial number. They asked if I knew where it was, but I couldn’t remember. They knew that if they let the craigslist seller take the bike home, they would never see it again. My heart sank. They assured me they would do what they could to take the bike home, but things weren’t looking good.

At that point I stopped receiving text updates from them. I think maybe 30 minutes went by without any communication, but it felt like hours. The suspense was killing me! I finally received a call from my friends. The sheriff had seen the obvious conviction in my friends faces and agreed to let them take the bike home, under the stipulation that they had to find that serial number within 24 hours or else give the bike back. Luckily, as soon as they brought it home they got a screwdriver and removed the cable guard and found the rest of the hidden serial number. I was so relieved! I was going to get my bike back! I couldn’t believe it! Less than half of stolen bikes are ever recovered by law enforcement, and only about 5% are ever actually returned to their owners! I feel extremely blessed. Christmas was coming early this year!

Now, there’s still the question about Sarah’s bike. If this guy had my bike, there’s a good chance he had Sarah’s too. Sadly, that remains a mystery. Sarah didn’t have record of the serial number on her bicycle so although she filed a report, it was more or less meaningless without a serial number to match the bike to. I think that’s the biggest lesson I got from all this. No matter how many specific points of identification you can make on a stolen bike, the only thing that matters is what is in the police report, specifically the serial number. I urge anybody who has read this to please, record your serial number. It’s usually located on the bottom bracket of the frame. It’s easy enough to snap a picture of it with your phone and file it away on a computer or in an email. I would have never gotten my bike back if I didn’t have a record of the serial number somewhere. Although the chances are slim, we still hold out some hope that we will find Sarah’s bike.

bikeathome

My bike and friends, as it looks today, with new grip tape, decals, rear wheel and lights.

Many thanks to bikeindex.org, the vigilant stranger that sent me a message, craigslist, my amazing friends in Portland (Gerrit, Jayson, Brandon, Alyssa, Michaelangelo and Travis) and the sincere efforts from Deputy Brown of the Clackamas Country Sheriff’s Office. If you would like to help support bikeindex.org, here’s a link on how to do that: https://bikeindex.org/news/want-to-support-the-bike-index-heres-how

One last thing – here’s a good overview about bicycle theft if you’d like to learn more about what you can do to protect your bicycle: http://www.bicyclelaw.com/p.cfm/bicycle-safety/about-bike-theft

Day 14 – Gallaway to Doran Regional Park

It was a cold night. I woke up several times because  I was so cold. It wasn’t until I took all the clothes out of my bag and laid them out under me and my sleeping bag before I slept well. It was just that the sand on the beach was so cold, I needed a barrier between me and the sand. After finally getting a few hours of rest I woke up to the sound of waves, and seagulls and something splashing around in the creek outside of my tent. A lot of things went through my head, but I finally thought that it might be a deer or elk. As I gained the courage to look out, I unzipped the tent and startled a man that was throwing a stick for his dog to catch. It was his dog jumping around in the water and he said that my tent blended in so well with the scenery that he didn’t even see me! I guess I picked a good spot.

Somebody had a good breakfast...

Somebody had a good breakfast…

I packed up camp and ate some breakfast on a big piece of driftwood and then walked my bike back up the trail to the road. As soon as I started riding I went past a gutted rockfish. I wasn’t sure if it was a good omen or a bad one, but either way it never surprises me what you’ll see.

I figured I had about 12 miles until the town of Gualala and I would try to get some coffee and warm breakfast there. The morning was foggy and cold, but the ride warmed me up and was quite pleasant. My phone was dead though, so I had to wait until Gualala until I could see what the day had in store for me. I found a nice little market that I remembered from 2 years before and got some yogurt, fruit, pastries and coffee and found a place to plug in my electronic devices. I still didn’t have service and couldn’t get good WiFi so I found a crossword to do while I waited for everything to charge.

While I was stuck trying to figure out a 7 letter word for converse I saw another cyclist park his bike outside. His name was Nate and was working his way down the entire coast, from just over the border in Canada all the way to the border of Mexico. He had actually started the trip back in August, but had to fly home when he got to Portland, and had recently just returned to finish his journey. It was his first bicycle tour and planned to be traveling for the next year. He said he had sold his house and spent the last year in Africa and didn’t know where he would end up after this trip. It always nice meeting likeminded fellow travelers.

As Sarah knows, this is a common scene for me...

As Sarah knows, this is a common scene for me…

It seemed like it took forever to get my computer and phone charged, and I finally got back on the road a little after noon. As soon as I started on my way, I heard some noise from my rear wheel. I couldn’t deal with it any longer, and stopped about 2 miles up the road to fix it. It was a loose spoke in the rear wheel. I think I had this problem before when I was traveling on a newly built wheel. I tightened it up and while I was at it realigned my brakes, cleaned my rear cassette and readjusted my fenders. This should definitely fix any noise (I hate little noises!).

I finally got back on the road around 1:30pm. I wasn’t off to a good start today, but the sun had finally come out and I was enjoying the ride. I saw a bunch of hawks and falcons along the road. Some with black and white striped tails, and some with long red feathered tails. Then maybe about 10 miles down the road I crossed a pack of wild turkeys. Sometimes I wish I was more of birder so I could identify all the cool birds I see.

Stillwater Cove

Stillwater Cove

The coast was beautiful, but the 180 degree turns and ups and downs didn’t stop with yesterday’s ride. I found myself climbing quite a bit, but it was definitely a lot more pleasant with all the weight I left behind. My phone didn’t have service for most of the day and the towns were few and far between. I eventually stopped for lunch at a place called Stillwater Trail around 3:00pm. I had also just crossed over the 700 mile mark for the whole trip, which made it about 33 for the day. I ate some fruit and pistachios and an energy bar and figured I had another 15 miles or so until I could get a good meal in Jenner.

Sonoma county along the coast is absolutely breathtaking. It was such an awesome day today. The 15 miles to Jenner took a little longer than I expected because I had a ton of climbing to do along the way. The climbing though, also added to the scenery and I found myself high above the clouds and the ocean with nothing but sunshine surrounding me. I got so warm in fact that I decided to take my shirt off and work on my tan as I climbed higher and higher.

High up on a mountain

High up on a mountain

In Jenner a lot of the restaurants looked kind of fancy so I found a gas station with a deli. I got a spinach and feta calzone and some iced coffee and took a nice long break to eat.  It was starting to get late and I had about another 11 miles to get to Bodega Bay. I could see the road ahead of me was foggy too, which meant it was going to be a little cooler than the last part of my ride. A few miles up the road the fog got so thick that you could just make out the faint disc of a sun, and if I didn’t know better I would have mistaken it for the moon.

As I past the Bodega Bay Campgrounds, the sign on the outside said it was full. I stopped to check my phone to see if there was anything else available and was greeted by a man named Silas (sp?), who I had been leap frogging with all day long. He was traveling with an RV and some bicycles and a few other people. He was super friendly and had met Eli (who helped me camp the night before) and had heard a little about my travels. He seemed like a super happy guy and had travelled up and down the coast a lot over the years. It sounds like they were from Seattle but head south every fall to get warmer weather. He didn’t know if I’d find anything in Bodega Bay, but encouraged me to go on since I still had some daylight.

Locked 3 times, just in case...

Locked 3 times, just in case…

I couldn’t find a place to stay in Bodega Bay and it was super foggy. I had my two rear lights flashing and my two front headlights on, as well as my reflective vest and yellow jacket in order to be seen. I decided to continue on and wasn’t looking forward to sleeping in the cold again. Just a mile or two up the road I came across the Doran Regional Park. The park was apparently closed, but I needed to get off the road. I found a super sweet spot to camp in the sand next to a picnic bench and could even hear sea lions in the distance. It was quiet and warmer than the previous night. I was happy with the spot, and decided to wake up early just to avoid any confrontation that may occur with workers or security or people. I wasn’t sure why the park was closed, but I wasn’t bothered by anybody and it made for a serene night of sleep.

Total miles for the day: 61 mi

Total elevation: 5161 ft

Day 13 – Navarro River Junction to Gallaway

Sarah and family dropped me off at the Navarro River Junction, where highway 1 meets 128. They were all heading inland to drive through wine country and some redwoods, and I was continuing on down the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco by bike on my own. Lucky for me I was able to leave some weight with Sarah which minimized my load to just some essentials on my rear rack. My bike was still not light, but it would definitely make the 180+/- trek to SF a lot easier, especially with all the coastal climbs and descents. So, with that said, what better way to start the ride with an ascent!

My plan was to make it to the Manchester KOA which our fellow cyclist Adam told us about earlier that morning. It should only be about 20 miles up the road, but since it was already 4pm I figured it should be just about the right amount of time. The ride was nice, but it had a bunch of ups and downs. In fact, it started to feel a little like a reoccurring nightmare. The road would veer left, go down hill into a little river gulch, make a 180 degree U-turn to the right and head back up. This happened dozens of times throughout my ride. Down to the left, up and to the right, down, up, down, up…

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Some of the 180 degree turns continue going uphill

I tried not to stop too much, and was feeling so free with how light my bike was. I was a little worried about feeling unstable since I had all the weight moved to the back and nothing up front, but I got used to the new balance quickly and was moving pretty fast. I think I was averaging about 15mph instead of the usual 10-12mph. On the steep hills I was used to going about 4mph, but now was easily maintaining about 6-7mph. The big difference was that I was able to keep a higher cadence. With how my bike is geared (not having a lower gear on a third chainring), the hills would quickly kill my cadence which kills momentum and is less efficient overall. With my drop of weigh I was able to keep my cadence closer to what is most efficient. I also noticed that I was building up speed quicker on the flat sections, and able to keep it up near 20mph without the effort I was putting in before. All this made for a very pleasant ride to Manchester, and I passed the KOA a little after 5:30. Having still another hour of daylight I continued on and figured I’d find something in the next town up, Point Arena.

The blue sky to my left taunted me all ride...

The blue sky to my left taunted me all ride…

I arrived in Point Arena around 6:30pm and stopped at the natural foods co-op market. They were closing at 7pm, so I didn’t have much time. My phone was dead and I was hungry so my plan was to just get a snack and some tea and charge my phone so I could hopefully find a place to stay. As I searched google for hotels and campgrounds, I was sad to see that nothing was close. I decided to charge my phone until they closed and then I took my hot tea to go and headed across the street to a restaurant/bar to get a proper meal.

I ate at a place called the Pacific Plate. It was tasty but a little pricey. The black bean soup and salad with homemade pesto ranch hit the spot. It was about 8pm when I hit the road again and it was dark and starting to fog up. I found a place just outside of town on my phone that looked like it would be a good spot. As I turned off onto the dirt road I started having second thoughts, and eventually when I made it 1/2 a mile up the road to a private residence, I knew it was a bad decision. I turned around, made it back on highway 1 and continued south. I eventually crossed a gulch and saw a beach down below. I pulled off the road to take a closer look and was greeted by another cyclist. His name was Eli and he had been camping down on the beach for the past few nights. He assured me it was the best place around and told me how to get down to the beach. I had to backtrack to the other side of the gulch again and headed to find a place to set up.

I dismounted my bike to walk it down the trail to the beach since it was so dark. I’m glad I did too because I saw something moving up ahead. At first I thought it was just the shadows from my light bouncing down the path, but then I saw it…a big bushy tailed skunk heading up the trail right toward me. I stopped in my tracks and made some noise. The last thing I wanted was to be sprayed by a skunk. The little guy looked up at me and then took his time getting off the trail and into the bushes. Skunks always seem to have a swagger to them, and I haven’t ever seen them move too fast. It’s like they know that you’ll wait for them because if you don’t they have not fear in spraying you.

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My sweet little campsite

When I got to the beach I found the perfect spot tucked away behind some driftwood. It was cold and misty but I was so happy to find a good spot. I set up camp and put on my long wool clothing to try and stay warm.

 

Total miles for the day: 64 mi (28 for this section)

Total amount of climbing: 7,067 ft (2542 for this section)