4.My First Ride
first ride was neither glorious nor heroic.
I left downtown San Francisco and symbolically caught a
ferry across to Oakland. The
next day I crossed the steep hills and pleasant valleys
behind the city now dotted with retirement villages.
Stopping to buy chocolate at a supermarket I noticed that
the illuminated advertising at the check-out was for such things
as “incontinence wear” and “over 50’s stool softeners”
and the parting comment was not “have a nice day” but “may I
help you to your car?”
crossed the Sacramento river on the steep Antioch bridge, the only
available to cyclists and rode on through the flat farming delta
country arriving in Sacramento late after a 100+ mile journey but
in good spirits.
next day the bicycle was stolen from outside the main city library
where I was researching the next part of the trip.
took a couple of days to find a suitable new one but I set off
again finding the monuments to the stations where Billy Richardson
had changed horses and climbed into the Sierras through pine
forest reaching the Sportsman
Hall where he handed the Mochila to Warren Upson by 11pm.
Not wanting to spend money on one of the expensive motels
here, I camped out in the woods nearby.
Monument to the first change of horses - now in the University grounds
next morning I was told that bicycles were not allowed on the
route ahead, highway 50, and I would have to use 88 to the
South-East. I had
suspected this but had hoped to find a way through on the original
rout. I returned down
50 and cycled through the old gold fields worked by in ‘49ers of
the gold rush to reach highway 88 and climb again into the
Sierras. About half
way up the bicycled collapsed.
The bearings in the rear gear cluster broke up, I veered
off the road into a ditch. By
the time I stopped the rear wheel was bent and somehow the air had
escaped from the front tire.
I was alarmed by this as the cycle was not yet fully
loaded. I was
carrying cold-weather and camping gear, but for the desert I would
have to carry a variety of spares and a great deal of water adding
a lot to the weight. If
the bike could not manage the lighter amount how would it cope
These two events and the fact that my somewhat creaky hip was giving me trouble (I was carrying drugs for it but they did not seem to work so well) caused a sudden and complete evaporation of enthusiasm, determination and courage. I didn’t have what it takes to be a Pony rider. I wouldn’t try again. I could hardly blame my age- Jacob Donner had been 65 when he set out across the prairies in a wagon train. Mind you he had died and been eaten by the rest of his luckless party but at least he had tried. The bicycle shop offered me a 90% refund on the bike. I took it, packed my bags and bought a Greyhound bus ticket back to San Francisco.