“Do you want to bike across California with me this summer?”
I don’t think my friend Jake expected me to say “yes” when he asked me this question midway through my final year of high school. I didn’t expect myself to say “yes” either…I didn’t own a bike, I didn’t know the first thing about changing a tire, and I had never planned a trip on my own before. But as the summer drew closer, I couldn’t shake the feeling that sometimes you have to do things that surprise and scare you in order to make the best memories and learn the most about yourself. So I said “yes.”
As soon as I graduated, I began the frenzied trip-planning process. Jake and I put a lot of effort into preparations, yet it felt like I was planning a trip for someone else — a trip I would never actually go on myself. But soon enough, it came time to fly to San Francisco!
We landed in San Francisco, and my predominant feelings were ones of excitement, awe, and a bit of anxiety. I couldn’t believe we were actually doing this! Before we could begin our trek across the Pacific Coast Highway, I knew we had to get some things done. After settling into our hostel in downtown San Francisco, Jake and I went to run all of our errands, and we walked around the city and talked about accomplishment. We discussed how, even if you have to struggle to achieve a goal, the pride that you get when you accomplish something that you had to fight for is one of the best feelings in the world. That feeling is what we were chasing.
After our first day in San Francisco, we began our 500-mile bike ride along the PCH. It took us a couple of days, but we eventually got into a routine: Wake up early, pack our stuff, eat some Cliff bars, hop on our bikes, conquer the road ahead of us, arrive at a new campsite, set up our tents, explore, make and eat enough food to feed a small village, hang out, chat, go to bed, repeat.
Each day was similar, but in a way, every single day was completely unique because of how incredibly diverse the California coast is. Some days, we biked through strawberry and artichoke fields, where we could see nothing but farmers doing backbreaking work for miles on end. The smell of strawberries was so strong and sweet that it felt like we were biking through a cloud of fruit. On other days, we spent most of our miles in the forest, surrounded by tall trees and winding roads. Sometimes, we would be biking along the coast and would have nothing but views of the turquoise waves crashing into the grassy mountains surrounding us. Other times, we’d be biking on a rainy day, and the fog would be so thick that we couldn’t even see our own hands gripping onto our bike handle bars for dear life. Every day was exciting and new.
Even more diverse than the topography of PCH are the people who travel on it. Every night, Jake and I would stay at a different campsite, and every night we would meet cool new people. One of my favorite memories from the trip is the night we spent in Kirk Creek Campground. We were sharing a campsite with a couple from Glasgow and a couple from Chattanooga Tennessee. The couple from Chattanooga invited us all to join them around a bonfire. Jake and I sat down, and we ended up talking with these strangers for the next 3 hours as the sun set and the fire burned out. We discussed gun laws in America, the upcoming presidential election, same-sex marriage, health care, Brexit, and war. Jake and I are pretty liberal Canadians, and the couple from Glasgow was liberal as well, whereas the couple from Tennessee was more conservative and had very different worldviews than the rest of us. It was wonderfully eye-opening to be discussing these heavy topics with people who see things so differently than I do. It was one of the most memorable conversations I’ve had.
Every night of this trip was colored by interesting conversations, and every day consisted of endless miles of biking, aching quads, nonstop consumption of disgusting and delicious food combinations (my favorite was the Nutella, cream cheese, Oreo bagel sandwich), and exploration of interesting new places.
After 10 days, 500 miles, and a few misadventures, we finally arrived in Los Angeles. As we approached the Santa Monica Pier, we began to slow down. Before this, every day had been about crushing all of the miles as fast as we could. But now that we were done, we didn’t want our ride to be over. We had come to realize this experience was about the journey and not the destination. Yes, we had arrived in Los Angeles and accomplished something amazing! But even more important than accomplishing what we had set out to do were the accomplishments we hadn’t even anticipated. I experienced exhaustion like I’d never known before. I met some of the most interesting, eccentric people from all over the world. I saw beautiful parts of California that literally took my breath away. I had wonderful, eye-opening conversations. I laughed so hard that I cried. I experienced happiness in a rare way — it was a feeling that I was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing, and that there was nothing in the world that would make me happier than being in the place that I was with the person I was with.