The more the merrier!
Halloween is behind us, but the next load of holidays is already approaching us. For a first time we celebrate Thanksgiving in the USA and at the end of this month it is time for Christmas and New Year. A time of gathering with friends and family, although this year will look very different for us. We keep our eyes open for fun encounters and spending holidays with a Travel Family. Super fun, but not always easy because these special families make us think about our loved ones at home. The more the merrier, but sometimes we feel a bit homesick.
Homesick on the road
November 18, 2022 - In the morning we say our goodbyes to John, Kathleen, Ella, Max & their poodle Winston. We already got to know this family during our trip through Europe. Totally soaked, we arrived at a campsite on the end of our first day of cycling in Iceland when we got to talking with John and Kathleen. They warmed us with a nice cup of tea and good cake. With the words "If you are ever in San Francisco give us a shout, you are always welcome to stay with us!" we said goodbye then. Now, four months later, we gladly accept this invitation.
A few days ago, after a 25-hour train ride from Colorado, we arrived in San Francisco in the early evening. The sun had already disappeared behind the horizon when, after a half-hour bike ride, we arrived in Albany. A cosy little town with a bit of distance from the vibrant city life in San Francisco. The entrie family welcomes us and a beautiful cottage is available in their garden. We are given all the privacy we want. Over the next few days we are spoiled with good food, get invited to one of Kathleen's work events, take some walks with their poodle Winston and daughter Ella and they show us the most beautiful places in the neighbourhood. Whenever we spend time with an amazing family like this during our trip, in addition to feelings of gratitude, we are often overwhelmed with another feeling. A feeling of missing, missing our own family and friends, missing home. Homesickness, in other words.
A difficult feeling for us to grasp and a little bit overwhelming as well. Niels had this feeling only once, very briefly, during his solo world trip. Stefanie did not have it during her internship in Suriname. We never had this feeling during our previous trips together either, which is probably why it feels so strange to experience. Sometimes we feel this together, sometimes one does and not the other doesn't. Sometimes we crave for a safe place to call home, other times we crave for a cozy moment with familiar people around us. Who we always miss are our godchildren, as they are currently growing like cauliflowers. Whoever it is we miss, there is not really a remedy for. A short video call or message can make us feel better, but for a short while sad as well. How can something feel so close and yet so far away. Would life without technology be a better way to deal with feelings of being homesick?
And so we leave San Francisco with some tears in our eyes, but they quickly disappear as we see the California hills in the distance.
Do not turn down any invitation
November 20, 2022 - One of our rules during this trip is that we don't turn down any invitation. A rule that causes us to shorten cycling days, make detours.... anything to respond to people's goodwill. Unfortunately, we have to decline an invitation for the first time during this trip.
We bike out of the Redwoods Big Basin State Park and are cold after a long descent. Near a grocery store in Boulder Creek we soak up some sun when Fiona strikes up a conversation with us. She immediately invites us to her parents' house, but we had already arranged a Warmshowers stay for that evening. Unfortunately we have to decline the invitation. Nevertheless, we continue to chat with her and she tells us how her family lost their home in a forest fire two years ago. The loss of the family photos and her father's ashes remain particularly difficult to deal with till this day. We say goodbye and cycle to our sleeping place, where we have a pleasant evening with Chelsea and Isaac. Their adorable 4-year-old daughter Mia reminds us again of our godchildren. That same evening we get an email from Fiona. She wants to introduce us to her husband and children and invites us to a picnic at Santa Cruz beach, which we accept gladly.
With a beautiful drawing from Mia and a big smile on our faces, we jump on our bicycles. The destination is Santa Cruz with a short cycling day of only 20 km planned, but also many meetups with people. We meet up with Ben & Linda (@Xplorid), we have been in contact with them since 2020. COVID has also seriously changed their cycling plans but in the meantime they have been traveling for 2.5 years. They are going to travel a bit longer than us, because they are going to spend at least another five years exploring the world by bicycle. They had another appointment later in the day so the meeting was short, but since they are heading in the same direction as us we will definitely run into them again.
Meanwhile, we also meet Morgan and Barrie who are in Santa Cruz to celebrate Thanksgiving with their family. Phone numbers get exchanged and soon we are invited to their place to spend the night in Santa Cruz. First, of course, we meet with Fiona and her family. They provide a delicious picnic for us and we get to know her husband Peter and 2 sons Sterling and Bryn. It was such a pleasant afternoon on the beach and we enjoyed their company immensely. An invitation to Thanksgiving soon follows but unfortunately they do not live in the direction we are going.
Just before the sun sets, we move toward Morgan & Barrie's house. The family house is located on the beach overlooking the sea, beautiful! It is not permanently occupied but everyone in the family uses it for vacations and get-togethers. This week promises to be busy as the whole family will be there celebrating Thanksgiving. Morgan and Barrie have plans tonight, we get to enjoy the beautiful view and some us-time among the two of us. We edit some videos and get cozy, along with their dog Nova. What a day!
Boring cycling days with fascinating encounters
21 november 2022 - Spoiler alert for anyone wanting to go on a cycling vacation, not every cycling day is special. Views get boring, traffic is often busy and we don't really encounter anything spectacular, in our opinion. Sometimes it's simply going from point A to B without too many highlights along the way. On these days it is extra important to keep our eyes open, looking for new experiences and interesting stories. For example, we spend an entire day biking past farm fields where they are harvesting fruits and vegetables. Not a surprise knowing California is one of the largest suppliers in terms of food, worldwide.
On one of the fields we see as many as almost 100 people working. They are all Mexicans and we get talking to Antonio. Nice, our first Spanish-speaking experience on this trip! With a big smile he explains what they are doing, while his friends stand in the background waving at us somewhat awkwardly. He doesn't hesitate and grabs a tray that he fills with fresh strawberries from the field, delicious! Nice to already feel a piece of Mexican hospitality, that's a good sign for in Mexico. The many Mexican-style stands along the roadside are also interesting. Five avocados for 1$, six kiwis for 1$.... a revelation after all these expensive months in Europe and North America.
The days are short, at 4:45 p.m. the sun sets and by 5:30 p.m. it is dark. Around 4 p.m. we try to find a place to sleep so we have enough time to get comfortable in our tent. There is one hike/bike campground in Monterey but we haven't hear good things about it. When Niels goes shopping, Stefanie manages to arrange a place to sleep with Kyle. A sweet guy who came to do some quick grocery shopping with his dog Goose (for the Topgun fans) and takes all the time he needs to chat with us. He calls his girlfriend Taylor to check with her if it'd be okay for us to stay for one night and when she gives her okay we meet at their house. A huge climb at the end of the day, but it's all worth it. We sleep on their giant couch and get some inspiration for motorcycle travel, something Kyle absolutely loves and has experience with, via Itchy Boots' YouTube, definitely check it out!
Cycling Big Sur
We say goodbye to Kyle and Taylor and cycle along the Monterey coast. The Pacific Ocean will be our companion for the next few weeks, maybe even months. In the distance we see the sea lions and as many as hundreds of seabirds. They sometimes make a hellish noise, the sound is overwhelming. At the entrance of Monterey we already see a huge number of homeless people, a little later at Carmel by the Sea we see even more. The contrast between poverty and wealth could not be greater in one of California's richest areas. Our mind curses and spins, how is it possible that people bathe in luxury and a little further so many people live on the streets. It also suddenly feels unfair that we manage to find a warm place to sleep every time, we who already have so much, knowing that there are people who are much less fortunate. We try to make small gestures by striking up a short conversation, offering some food, etc. Something that may feel scary, but try it and you will be amazed how you can give color to someone's day by just giving a sign of recognition.
Once we have passed the greatest wealth and biggest houses, it is time to cycle along Highway One towards Big Sur. A piece of nature that has been on our minds for a long time and that everyone talks about in a hugely positive way, a must-see. And rightly so, the views are insane. The wild ocean crashing against the cliffs, surrounded by the green hills of California, it sometimes resembles a Jurassic Park landscape. The northern wind feels a little chilly at times, but it does give us that extra tailwind to get up those tough hills in this rugged landscape. It's never flat and we keep going up and down, up and down. It's been a long time since we've had to climb like this!
In the distance we see another cyclist and in the evening we meet at the beautiful campsite in Pfeifer. An American guy Craig keeps us company for tonight and food, snacks and even wine are shared. Tired but satisfied, we crawl into our tent at 8 p.m. We wake up between giant redwood trees and are ready for another day in Big Sur. After a first climb we come across the Big Sur Bakery, a famous spot and, according to many locals, worth a stop. Unfortunately, there is a line of 20 hungry people. We don't test our patience and decide not to join them, wondering if there should be a fast lane for cyclists?
During this insanely beautiful day of cycling, we are joined by Craig. Everyone at their own pace, but we switch back and forth. Just before the end of the day he is stranded by the side of the road with a broken seat post. Unfortunately we don't have the right screw to help him out, but Niels helps him out by coming up with an inventive duct tape construction. A little bit later we stop at a small taco stand where Craig treats us to a Coke for the help. Water bottles get filled as we are informed that the campground has no running water. At Kirk Creek Campground, we pitch our tent at the hiker/biker site (5$ pp) and install ourselves to record a video, do some yoga and cook some good food while watching the sunset. When the Milky Way appears we eat some delicious spaghetti and with the sound of the waves we fall asleep exhausted.
24 november 2022 - It is the third Thursday in November, which means they celebrate Thanksgiving in America. Our Thanksgiving starts early. Around 2 a.m. we are awakened and hear the lid of the food storage box fall off. Two thieves take off with our food, the raccoons clearly know what is good because they take our Clif bars and cookies. They leave our cheap granola bars alone, at least their Thanksgiving meal started of well.
In the morning we see Ben and Linda again, whom we saw for the first time last week in Santa Cruz. They tell us they are cycling towards a campsite to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and say we are also welcome to join. We gladly accept their invitation and fly through the day. One last long climb to the campsite and there we are, suddenly in the midst of a family of 40. Before we realising it we have the talking stick in our hands with which we may say what we are thankful for. One is thankful for his family and friends, the other for his health. We are grateful that we are able to make this journey and for all the people who cross our path and receive us so hospitably.
In Belgium, we do not know the tradition of Thanksgiving. Over the past few days we already noticed that the background of the holiday is quite controversial, and rightly so in our opinion. Apart from this, many Americans do not look at it from a political point of view and spend time with their friends and/or family. The thing we liked about the holiday is that there are no presents involved. Both young and old label Thanksgiving as one of their favorite holidays, despite the lack of material gifts. Expressing gratitude is key, spending quality time together and communicating open and honestly about how things are going. All things we want to learn from and bring back home. "Don't we all have too many things already? Do the kids need yet another toy to trip over?" If there's anything we learned at Thanksgiving, it's that we'd much rather bring home stories than another package.
Later in the evening a plate is pushed into our hands to get some food, a glass for a wine and we finish with dessert and an amaretto coffee, delicious! Many people immediately come up to us, introduce themselves and are grateful to have us there. Before they know our names we already get invited to stay with them in San Louis Obispo. We feel so lucky to have come across such a warm family.
By now we are halfway through the holidays in the USA, Christmas we will most likely be celebrated in Mexico. The traditional "around the Christmas tree feeling" is not for us, but thanks to all these beautiful moments along the way, we realise we will miss the coziness with our loved ones back home. Going up and down for a quick cuddle would be great, although this would be very time - and budget consuming and maybe make us miss them even more.
To all the people who received us so warmly during our trip, thank you. You are our Travel Family and without you we could never miss our family and friends back home for such a long time. To everyone back home thank you too, for all the support and dreaming out loud with us. This trip continues to be an amazing experience and we are curious to see what the journey brings next.