An Unexpected End

Before my parents arrived to meet us in Southeast Asia, Yann and I had already been discussing our onward travel plans for several weeks. We settled on Sumatra and even got our visas in George Town. But as the heat beat down on us day after day, our keenness for two months of the same climate had waned significantly. By the time we had reached Singapore, we both agreed that we wanted to ride somewhere cooler. Several options were suggested, but we eventually settled on a fairly inexpensive flight to San Francisco. From there we thought we would ride up the coast to Vancouver and make our way across the Canadian Rockies as spring set in.

We flew with China Eastern Airlines, which, despite serving absolutely disgusting food, didn't charge us anything to transport our bicycles! As usual, our inexpensive flight was accompanied with a long layover. We spent 12 hours sleeping at the Shanghai Airport before boarding our connection. We arrived in San Francisco in the morning, found the "bike assembly station" at the airport and began the bag organization/bike reassembly process. It took Yann almost 4 hours to put the bikes together, but we were able to conveniently ride out from the airport on a bicycle path! If only all airports were so bike-friendly.   Doing his least favourite task at SFO: bike re-assembly

We were hosted by the lovely Martin and Heidi at their equally lovely home in Little Russia. We didn't get much of a chance to visit the city, we were busy stocking up on camping supplies and some warmer clothing than what we had dragged through Asia (we had actually tossed most of what we'd been wearing for the past few months, our cycling shirts were mold-encrusted and our cycling shorts had disintegrated). We still managed to discover the amazing network of bike lanes across the city while we ran our errands. We left the city after two short days, but we were well-fed, well-rested and well-equipped.   Leaving San Francisco

Since my parents visit, we hadn't been on our bikes for nearly a month, so we decided to enjoy the scenery and ride shorter distances every day. We also wanted to slow down so that we wouldn't arrive in Vancouver with snow still on the ground. We hadn't done a huge amount of route planning, and it wasn't until we purchased our map that we realised that the biggest North Coast city after San Francisco had a population of about 35,000 people. Typically, the towns we crossed had populations between 500 and 1000 people. As it was still the cool, rainy spring season, the highway wasn't busy with the hordes of summer tourists. The camp sites were completely deserted. Most nights we were the only campers in huge multi-site state parks. Other than drizzle on a few days, the weather was perfect for cycling and sleeping especially after months of Southeast Asian heat but I was beginning to feel pretty lonely on the empty highway.
  First night of camping at the deserted Samuel P. Taylor State Park

  North Coast, outside the town of Jenner

  We're the only campers at Stillwater Cove Regional Park

  On the way to Gualala

We slowly made our way up the coast until the small town of Gualala where we stopped to re-evaluate our plans. Yann had been complaining about a sharp pain in the back of his knee since getting off the plane in San Francisco. After more than a week, the pain had not subsided at all. He could still cycle, but he had difficulty walking. When he first mentioned the pain I had attributed it to sitting weirdly and had largely ignored his complaints, but it seemed unusual that over a week later he was still in so much pain.

We checked into a small hotel and called our insurance company to inquire about our coverage in the United States. After describing Yann's symptoms we got the instructions to "go to the hospital immediately", they suspected a blood-clot from the long flight. It was Sunday evening, we were in a town of 500 people, the nearest hospital was a three hour drive away. I felt pretty panicked, I had been totally downplaying Yann's pain to make him feel better, while simultaneously reading about scary blood clots.

Within minutes of calling 911, the local firemen and paramedics were in the parking lot of our hotel. Yann was pretty embarrassed as they carried him off in a stretcher. Even though his condition was potentially dangerous, he felt fine and the situation seemed somewhat absurd. We ended up at the local clinic, where the doctor concluded (as we already knew), that he'd have to get to a larger hospital where they could perform an ultrasound. The staff were incredibly kind, and even suggested that we load our bicycles and equipment into the ambulance so that we wouldn't be stuck leaving everything behind (we ruled it out pretty quickly though). It took us three hours on the winding highway, backtracking on the route we had ridden over the course of a week. The sheer cliff-side seemed a lot scarier in the dark from the front seat of an ambulance.

Hospital staff were waiting for Yann when we arrived at the hospital in Santa Rosa. Yann's ultrasound revealed a small blood clot in his leg, but since it was not in a major vein there was no danger of the clot travelling to his heart or lungs. It would just be painful until it would eventually dissolve by itself. We were discharged at midnight, relieved, but in a bit of shock. We had gone from cycling the coast, to sitting in a county hospital hundreds of kilometres away. Exhausted we checked into a hotel and made plans to get back to our bicycles the next day.   Last photo of the trip, sitting in Gualala waiting for the bus to San Francisco

It took a full day of public transport to get is back to Gualala where we spent another night. We had already made the decision that this would mark the end of our trip. We were tired and unenthusiastic and Yann was still in a lot of pain. We felt it was the right time to head home, about 6 weeks earlier than we had originally planned. It wasn't a particularly difficult decision, although it did feel like a pretty disappointing finish line. We travelled back to San Francisco, the fourth time on the same stretch of highway. A series of public buses connected us to the airport and we arrived in snow-covered Ottawa the next day, with our relieved family waiting for us.

Stats for SFO to Gualala, California:

Days of cycling: 5
Days of rest: 3
Kilometres cycled: 237
Metres climbed: 2916
Cycle-tourists crossed on the road: 1
Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop Expedition Support