Los Angeles, California, USA - May 10, 2003

Chapter 5 - Cold, snowy and rainy California...uh?!

I'm here in a motel somewhere between downtown LA and Beverly Hills. It was a sunny day outside, one of the few I had so far on this trip since leaving Toronto. When I arrived in LA, I drove down highway 1 past Santa Monica into Venice. I thought a motel down there would be cheap, but I didn't like the area. Too many people, so I went up along Santa Monica Boulevard toward Hollywood. The motels I checked there were asking for $70! So I tried downtown, where the guidebook listed a budget motel. The place was a dump and the guy wanted $45 plus tax, plus $20 for the key. Well, how is the room going to serve me if I have no key? I didn't know it was just a deposit and the guy didn't explain. Oh well, he didn't want to negotiate, so I left. At this point I was willing to leave LA and head for the desert, but I still had one option left. I had a coupon I found in Stanford for a motel advertising $39 plus tax. It wasn't far, so I checked it out. It looked a bit nicer. The guy wanted $50 plus tax with the coupon. I whined and told him I was on a budget. He eventually agreed on $52 with the tax (tax is 14%). I took it. I can see downtown LA from my room and from the street I can see the Hollywood sign in the distance and the mountains. There is an orange haze all over the city.

LA is huge. The roads seem to go on forever. Toronto has some similarities, but at least there is a well defined centre and and it's easier to navigate. Here it's a mesh of highways and roads. It's not too complicated, but without the GPS and the map from the guide, I would be lost. Not like in Las Vegas, which is a tiny town compared to LA. It seems a decade ago when I was in Vegas. The weather was similar then. Sunny and hot, but it was a lot windier.

I spend almost two days in Las Vegas, but only on the second day did I see interesting things. I stayed close to the main road, which is called the Strip. It runs from downtown south for a few miles. On each side there are dozens of casinos and hotels. Actually, each casino is a hotel. Or more precisely, every casino is a town. They all try to follow some theme. Be it New York city (the New York, New York casino) or ancient Egypt (the Luxor). When you enter a casino and there are doors to every side of the street, there is no natural light. It is permanent night inside. There are no windows. No clocks. No easy signage to find your way out. Lots of slot machines and gambling tables. It is a virtual trap, but it doesn't work with me. I don't find any appeal in gambling and thus didn't spend a dime there. I did watch some people, who were transfixed working the slot machines. They seemed machines themselves. Machines that keep the whole glitz of Las Vegas alive.

All the major casinos and hotels on the Strip are impacably clean and neat. It is like a Disneyland. There are lots of families around, but I think this Disneyland is really for adults. Aside from the gambling there is also a seedier side. Everywhere there are signs advertizing prostitution or whatever
A drive-in wedding chapel in Las Vegas.
they call it here. Anyway, during the day, the crowds are smaller and in downtown Las Vegas, away from the Strip, I found it more interesting. There are drive-in wedding chapels, where everything can be rented. Even the cake. Some of those chapels really look neat, but I doubt I would be caught in one.

I left Vegas and headed for California through Death Valley. It was very windy. I actually ran into a sandstorm in the Valley. The sand is more like a fine talcum powder and gets everywhere. I still have some on my tent after two weeks. Death Valley is a gigantic basin where a lot of it is below sea level. There is very little rain during the year. Something like 1 inch or less. It was very hot when I arrived, but like in the summer when the temperature can reach 45°C! The descent into the Valley is awesome. It looks very desolate, but that image is deceiving. There are plants almost everywhere, but no trees. Some bushes and flowers. As for animals, I saw insects, lizards and even fish! In a small creek that is salty, named the Salt Creek.

I stayed for two days in the Valley, at the Furnace Creek campground. I explored the area a little bit. You need to carry water and make sure you have enough gas. The distances can be enormous, so I didn't go very far.
The Devil's Golf Course in Death Valley.
I saw the lowest point in the USA, close to the Devil's golf course. This is a flat expanse, where the soil is formed by salt and humidity. It looks weird.

The campground was very busy and completely full. I met Craig and his wife. He has an F650GS and a Honda. He rode on some of the off-road trails two-up with his wife. We had some nice conversation. Most of the time I don't meet a lot of people. Even on crowded campsites. Most people, when they see me on the bike or in my riding clothes, avoid me. I think people in general don't like motorcyclists. Probably because of the false image they associate with bikers.

In the evening however, I saw that the family close to my campsite had a telescope and so I went and asked about it. It turns out, Oscar, who is from Ontario (east of LA), is an enthusiast about the stars. He had recently bought the telescope. I told him that that night Jupiter and Saturn would be good targets to see. We did see Jupiter and the four larger moons clearly that evening. They invited me to join them for dinner. Oscar and his family were
Me, Guillermo and his family and Oscar and his family.
from Mexico, and Guillermo came from Cordoba in Argentina. They now live in LA. They are really, really nice people

The next day, I left for central California. If you've never been to California, this state is a lot more than just LA and surf. There are mountains that pretty much run north to south. And I had to cross another such range. The Sierra Nevada. Most of the passes were closed due to snow and so I went through a southern pass, the Walker pass, just north east of Bakersfield. This is also the first place I saw Joshua trees. Or at least I think I did.

After some free camping at Lake Isabella I tried to go to Sequoia National Park. First, I had some cold and wet weather. Then I tried to go through some roads that show up on the maps in conflicting ways. I discovered that I couldn't follow those roads and had to turn back and go through the San Joaquin valley. This valley is an agricultural hotbed. There are orange trees everywhere and the smell of orange blossoms fills the air. There are also olive trees, which I believed only existed in the mediterranean.

Well, when I got to Sequoia NP, I was told to turn around, because there was snow on the road, so I camped on another lake, south of there. There I met Paul from Texas, who is cycling around the west, and Michael from Germany who bought an old Mercedes and is touring around until he ships it to Germany. While at the campsite, I also saw a brutal accident. Actually,
Michael and his Mercedes, and Paul. Yes, it was cold, but he's from Texas.
I didn't see it as I was busy cooking my dinner, but I heard the car when it crashed. I could see it in the bottom of a ditch with my zoom lens. There were fire trucks, a helicopter and an airplane circling overhead. One person was evacuated by helicopter.

The next day I tried going to Sequoia NP again and this time I wasn't turned back. As I ascended into the mountains, the weather became colder and wetter. There was a blanket of thick fog up there and then snow. Not only beside the roads, but also on it. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The binever wobbled. The worst was the cold and my inappropriate gloves. Well, Sequoia NP has the biggest trees in the world. Not the tallest, but the
The giant Sequoia tree General Sherman.
most volumous. And the trees sure are gigantic. The pictures I took hardly do them justice. The fog didn't help either. The biggest tree is called General Sherman and an american SUV could easily fit inside the trunk.

Because of the thick fog and cold weather there wasn't a lot I could see or do, so I left and headed to Yosemite. I figured this would be warmer as it is in a valley. However, the road into the valley first has to climb over a
The snowy road into Yosemite Valley.
mountain and I didn't expect snow again. There was even more on the road than at Sequoia, but at least the weather was nicer.

Yosemite Valley is beyond words. It's incredibly beautiful. On both sides the mointains rise almost vertically for over 1000m with their grey granite rock faces. It is similar to Zion NP, but even more overwhelming in beauty. Obviously, the place is bustling with tourists. I found a cheap campsite,
The overwhelmingly beautiful Yosemite Valley. El Capitan is to the left.
camp 4 and stayed for two nights. This campsite is mostly used by rock climbers and doesn't have any ammenities like showers.

On the other hand it's a great place to meet people. I met Mistina and Chris from Big Bear, California. We spend an evening playing cards (Rummy?). Mistina and Chris then played some songs with their guitars. It was quite nice and even funny, because some of the songs had funny lyrics. They both are science teachers and so some songs are clearly meant for kids (and adults with kids hearts). At one point while playing cards, Mistina pointed out to a tree, saying there was a bear. We could see it poking it's head behind the tree. Yosemite NP has an evident bear problem. This time, we saw one from a distance, but it didn't seem afraid. That's not a good thing. Mostly for the bears, because if they become too friendly with campers, then they usually end up dead. I think the main culprit are some campers who leave food out or even feed animals and I saw a few people feeding squirrels and birds. That's definitely not a good idea, because they become too friendly and even aggressive.

In Yosemite, I hiked up to the top of Yosemite Falls. These are the highest falls in North America and they are impressive. The hike up was very strenous. It took me two and a half hours to get to the top, but on my way down I
The Yosemite Falls from the top. Notice the small cars below.
couldn't go very slow, so I pretty much ran all the way down. I was sweating when I arrived at the bottom. It was kind of risky with all the rocks, but good exercise. It took me less than an hour to come down the mountain.

I also met another biker, Micheal from Oregon on an F650 going east to Virginia. We both left the same day, but I headed west to San Francisco, whereas he went south to attempt crossing the Sierra Nevada where it was passable. He gave me a good tip about getting a kidney belt to ease the riding position.

On the road west, I was miserably cold and wet. The rain was heavy at times and it was so cold I felt my fingers freezing. My riding suit is really bad in heavy rain and I get wet in the crotch area. Because of the bad weather, I didn't stop a lot until I arrived in Walnut Creek, where my friend Nuno Duarte and his family now live. We both used to work for Alcatel in Portugal. He now works for one of Alcatel's acquired companies in the San Francisco bay area.

In San Francisco I needed to get some rest and get a new rear tire for the bike. I also thought of doing some service on the bike, but I couldn't get an appointment until a week later, so I'll wait until Poenix to do that.

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