In September we arrived in San Francisco from Costa Rica, and stayed with Ben and Lylia in their downtown apartment. We had an amazing time with them, exploring SF, doing bicycle maintenance and going on trips in the area.
We found San Francisco to have a high concentration of.. everything! Homeless people, hip people in hip shops and bars, cyclists, great food, bicycle workshops..
A very intense place to be!
Even though we had a GREAT time, we were happy when we cycled over the Golden Gate bridge, away from the urban craze into California’s beautiful nature!
Cycling north in California
One of the most popular cycling route’s in the world runs along California’s coast, all the way from Alaska to Patagonia.. north to south.
Cycling north to south cyclists follow the seasonal migration of birds, and coast along with the prevailing north > south winds.
We cycle north to Canada!
~ call us crazy, maybe we are 😉
Martin, a 60-something year old on a single speed beach cruiser(!) for more than 1.000 miles he cycled, to the redwoods in northern California, to spend time (the last time in his life, he thought) with the giant trees.. his elders.
An older retired couple from Arkansas cycled from Vancouver to San Francisco, staying in bed and breakfasts and sampling local wines and microbrews on the way.
And we met quite a few older men on bicycle with trailers that carry all their belongings!
~I guess we do this too, carrying everything we own on our bicycles!
We met a young man named Ben who called himself ‘homeless’. Interestingly so, as Mykal& I can be considered homeless too, as neither of us have a home. But I guess I’d refer to myself as ‘traveling’ rather than ‘homeless’. Maybe ‘traveling’ reflects a conscious choice, and not a problem? Young Ben, traveling by bicycle, with a tent and using hospitality websites such as couchsurfing.com for the occasional shower and foodbanks to pick up food supplies, found the smartest way to live without a home was being on the move by bicycle.
We agreed that the cost of traveling can be many a times lower than the costs of staying in one place.
We try to travel cheap, to make our money stretch so we are able to continue our travels for a while longer.
How? Well, we try to not pay for accommodation and creatively source our food and gear.
We made a ‘Guide on how to travel cheaply by bicycle in California’ which gives an idea of how we travel, and shares some tips and tricks for those traveling on a low budget.
how to travel cheaply
September-November is harvesting season in California!
Harvesting produce, yeah, but also the ‘herb’ named marijuana, cannabis, weed or pot, is being harvested around this time.
Northern California has beautifully sunny days, and quite fresh nights, which are the perfect conditions for this plant to flourish, and the result is a large semi-legal growing industry.
Cycling along country roads one regularly sniffs up whiffs of heavy scents and see the tops of large plants peeping over garden fences!
We had the opportunity to gain a bit of insight in the industry;
the set up of growing ‘scenes’, underground economy, the ‘grey area’ between legal and illegal business and different subcultures within the growing business.
We’re not experts by any means, but we can share some of the things we’ve seen or heard about, and the debates going on around the growing industry;
We came across one ‘scene’ that was a retired couple that had a dozen plants in the sunny corner of their beautiful flower garden. Their friends (all in their sixties) helped to ‘trim’ the leaves off the buds (flowers, and the smoke able part of the plant) and occasionally the 94-year-old great grandmother helped out. They claimed it was the perfect job for elderly people, as you sit down comfortably, exercise your brain and practice hand-eye coordination trimming little leaves of larger buds.
The 94-year-old loved the work, and she was very precise, as she used to be a hairdresser, and these skills came to good use in this setting!
Marijuana is a ‘cash crop’, earning the grower between 800 and 4.000 dollars per pound, and a single plant can yield 5-10 pounds of dried and ‘cleaned’ (‘trimmed’) end product.
Compare this with 5 dollars per pound for organically grown chili peppers!
Because of the amount of money that can be made, the ‘business’ attracts a variety of ‘growers’.
For example, there are the ‘old growth growers’ as mentioned before who are supplementing their pension/retirement money by growing a few plants. Then there are the young couples looking at buying their first house and land that ‘work the business for a few seasons’ with a fair amount of plants that will pay off a half-a-million-dollar-mortgage in the course of 5 years. And there are the ‘fast young guys’ that want to make it big, and grow large scale plantations with hundreds or thousands of plants, sometimes using lots of fertilizers and pesticides and causing environmental damage.
And all this is illegal.
But every one is doing it.
We’ve been told that there was a time when the county sheriff would come ‘certify’ your plants if you were growing organically, in exchange for a small sum of money. This meant that growers had the guarantee that the sheriff wouldn’t hassle them, and the sheriff made sure there wasn’t any environmental damage, plus he was earning a bit of extra cash..
But then the federal government came and arrested all those who were listed as growers in the sheriffs’ books, so obviously none of the growers want to get ‘certified’ any more!
In some areas of California as much as 90% of the local population is growing marijuana, and even though it is illegal, there is ‘safety in numbers’ for people growing.
The growers that typically get busted are the ones that are indiscreet about their operation (eg. large plants growing along the highway), or are growing on other people’s property (eg. in a national park) and/or causing significant environmental damage using chemicals or diverting streams.
The growing industry attract a large number of people looking to earn some cash as ‘trimmers’. We met a lot of fellow travelers in the streets of small Californian towns, looking for work of working.
We even ran into some people we met before in India, Australia or Haiti! Besides travelers the industry also attracts homeless and drug addicts, looking for some action.
We found ourselves in the midst of it all, feeling slightly uncomfortable while eating lunch on the town square, in front of the local food co-op (as we typically do whilst on the road).
We read in the local paper that local residents didn’t want people hanging in the streets, and there had been some acts of aggression against travelers and their vans, such as windscreens getting smashed and tires stabbed.
We were just about to leave, when we got invited to stay an extra day to join the community Harvest Feast on the town square, where a colorful and diverse community came out to sample local produce (food, and green) and danced to the local marimba band!
I can go on-and-on, I haven’t even written about the medicinal properties of marijuana, but.. on to new adventures;
The winter is setting in, and we are trying to cycle north before the wet and cold get us.
Cycling along the coast of Oregon we did come across we came across some wet weather and fog.
Many a times we saw a sign announcing a viewpoint; ‘Natural Bridge Viewpoint’ in dense fog, not much to see there 🙁
But.. there were some times that the weather cleared, and along the way there were also many generous hosts who offered us a warm bed &shower, great conversation and delicious food!
Thank you Steven, Mike&Brandy, Ken&Lynn, grandma Kate, Katie, and Dick&Kathy!
Since 10 days we are in Portland, the no.1 bicycle friendly city in the USA!
Some of the projects we visited are community craft workshop of thinkers and makers ADX resource center for used building materials named the ‘Rebuilding Center’ and we volunteered for ‘Food Not Bombs’ (an international non-violent volunteer movement that serves free food to the community) at Right2Dreamtoo a nonprofit organization that advocates the rights of homeless, and established a rest area for the houseless on private property in downtown Portland.
We’ve been eating better than ever, with an abundance of free food on offer on ‘free porches’ which are private homes where surplus organic food gets dropped off.
And we’ve been blessed with a variety of hosts where we can stay, one being an activist that introduced us to a bunch of cool initiatives and people in Portland, another a traveler living in a cosy ‘circus house’ where we played for a few days and a third a yuppie working for Nike with a fancy furnished expat apartment in a downtown skyscraper!
Thank you, Sissa, Kira and Katie!
Next big stops are Seatlle and Vancouver island, and then Cortes Island for the winter months.
Please wish us little rain and cold! 🙂