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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by swedstal, Jun 5, 2017.
Nice! Good news indeed.
Realtime update: Hooooo boy....where to begin....
I guess first of all, I'll say a deep, sincere thanks to for all of the kind words and encouragement that has been offered to me here. It has really kept me going and energizes me to finish this quality publication. Normally I try to respond to every comment, but I'm just a bit too far behind to do that right now. I'm going to focus my efforts on finishing up the narrative for now. Please know that I do thoughtfully read each comment, usually multiple times. I really do appreciate them all!
As you have surmised, the journey is done. I'm back in Nebraska trying to readjust to normal life and figure out what comes next for me. I've needed to "unplug" for a bit to re-orient myself. Thank you for understanding.
The story left off on Page 124, in case you'd like a refresher about what was happening then. I still have so many good stories to tell, involving bear droppings, snow banks, the search for the quintessential "dusty Winnemucca road," the return to Ombabika and many more.
Let's get to it....
Friday, September 13th, 2019
Bakersfield day! This California city lies at the southern end of the Central Valley.
I was still feeling out of sorts—tired, sluggish and still adjusting to bouncing around on my blown rear shock—but I had a couple of wonderful things to cheer me up. First was that I would be visiting song place 88 of 92, Bakersfield. Second, my old friend Adam was coming to town. (“Old” refers to the age of our friendship. Adam is still just a young pup.) Revered readers of this quality publication will remember that he was my host in Joplin, MO.
Adam and Natalie have been such tremendous supporters of my quest in more ways than I am able to recount and many more ways than you would prefer to read. From early on in my trip, Adam had been hoping to join me at some point. California was the perfect setting for a weekend reunion.
Bakersfield is in the middle of Kern County, which is roughly equal in area to the state of New Hampshire. The first thing to strike me about this region was the number of oil pumpjacks.
(Just a reminder, Sonic’s leg went flying off the previous day. I hadn’t fixed him yet.)
I would learn later that Kern County is one of the most prolific areas of crude oil production in the world. The most recent, reliable data that I could find was from 2011. In that year, it produced more barrels of oil than any other county in the US, nearly three times the amount of the second place county. This was a huge surprise to me, given California’s reputation for being so eco-friendly.
The photo above is an appropriate representation of the area at large: An oil well surrounded by fruit trees. This area is also a powerhouse of agricultural production, with table grapes, almonds, pistachios and citrus fruits being the leading crops. Even before reaching Bakersfield, the region was fascinating to me.
I rolled into town and made my first stop at the visitors center. I met the manager, David, who just happened to have some free time to answer all of my absurd questions about his city. I spent about an hour and a half there and left with more information than I could have hoped for. David was a huge help.
I made a stop into the local Honda dealer to see if I might get lucky with them having a rear shock. Unsuccessful, I stopped into the library and did some internet searching. I eventually found a used shock in Canada for about $100. I didn’t feel comfortable trying to receive it along the way in the US, as I knew it might get held up in customs. The best bet seemed to be sending it to my sister’s place in Vancouver, BC. This would mean well over 1,000 more miles in pogo stick mode, but I was already getting used to it.
I had lunch in an antique store which used to be a Woolworth’s department store. Inside is America’s last Woolworth luncheonette still in operation.
I’m too young to feel any nostalgia about this experience, but these stores were ubiquitous for much of the 20th Century. The food was good and cheap and I enjoyed perusing the store briefly.
There are a number of good options for iconic pictures of Bakersfield. There is a big shoe which is a fully functional cobbler shop….
…a clock tower which is incorporated into many of the designs that represent the city….
….as well as the impressive honky-tonk, Buck Owens Crystal Palace.
The Bakersfield area saw a population spike when many immigrants from the Southern Plains arrived seeking relief from the devastation of the Dust Bowl. They brought their music with them which evolved independently of the mainstream country music being produced in Nashville. This genre came to be known as the “Bakersfield Sound.”
“Streets of Bakersfield” is the city’s most recognizable musical mention. This is just the latest city in “I’ve Been Everywhere” to be featured more prominently in another song, joining the likes of Winslow (“Take it Easy”), Barranquilla (“En Barranquilla Me Quedo”), and Amarillo (“Amarillo By Morning”)…just to name a few.
I never got to take in any music at the Crystal Palace unfortunately, but they did have a nice statue of my friend, Johnny Cash, inside.
Spanning the street next to the Crystal Palace is Bakersfield’s most prominent landmark: The Bakersfield arch.
This sign has had a number of iterations and locations, with this current version being installed in 1999. I find it bold but tasteful and it is arguably even better looking at night.
I knew I’d have an extra set of hands the next day, so I decided to wait on getting Annie and myself into the frame.
Though I still had some daylight, I decided to retire to my hotel. Yes, that’s right! A hotel! Adam was flying in to LA and driving up that evening, so I had a nice place to stay. I spent the rest of the day relaxing and getting some work done. Adam got in late and it was wonderful to see him. We had to laugh about the incalculable happenstance of circumstances that led us to meeting up in Bakersfield, California.
Saturday, September 14th
We had a nice breakfast at the hotel, then got down to the sign around 7am. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a pretty big deal. Accordingly, the city of Bakersfield had shut down a traffic lane for me just so I could take my picture. I appreciated this gesture.
Bakersfield, 88 of 92:
Adam was a patient photographer and worked with me until I got the shot I wanted. Perhaps the greatest compliment you can give a friend is to tell them that they are better than a tripod. Of my friend Adam, this is surely true.
Annie had earned a day off, so we took Adam’s rental car up to Sequoia National Park. This was one of the NPs I was most eagerly anticipating to visit. I’d seen a lot of things on my travels so far, but our scenery had definitely been lacking in giant trees.
It was a bit of a drive up to the park, but that gave us lots of time to chat and catch up. It was so nice to have someone so familiar in a place so far from home. I knew we were going to have a great time.
Describing the park, puts me in a difficult situation. Neither my words nor my pictures can do it justice. The scale of the Sequoia trees is otherworldly.
Though the park was busy, we were able to get off of the beaten path and have some trees to ourselves.
Many of them have been partially consumed by wildfires, which are common in the area. Some are hollow shells, having their centers completely burned away, but they persist in reaching for the sky.
We also hiked up the the Moro Rock trail for some spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada.
The mountains were higher than I expected, with a number of peaks above 14,000 ft (4,267m).
We had thought about adding another National Park to the itinerary, but Sequoia easily occupied our whole day. We returned to Bakersfield where Adam treated me to a tasty BBQ supper.
Sunday, September 15th
We had debated doing some more sight seeing this day, but decided to just take it easy instead. We walked around downtown a bit, where there was some sort of convention taking place. I accidentally got interviewed by a guy named Reggie who was doing a radio show. I can’t find the broadcast, but it was a nice interview.
We went to a sports bar to watch the Chiefs game. Like me, Adam has been a committed Chiefs fan through good times and bad. We’ve suffered through many difficult defeats together, most recently (and perhaps most bitterly) the AFC Championship game in January.
The game this day was much more pleasant.
The rest of the day was calm and relaxing, which was just what I was needing. Though Adam was heading back to LA that night, he and Natalie got me a hotel room for the night. Before he left, he crossed Bakersfield off of my sign.
Verse 3 is definitely the hardest to complete of the whole song. It features the two most remote and hard to access locations, Schefferville and Ombabika. It includes a Central America location, Costa Rica, as well as two in South America, Argentina and Diamantina, Brazil. With the completion of Bakersfield, Verse 3 had officially been finished. It was great to reach such a milestone with such a good friend.
This weekend was a definite bright spot amidst a difficult portion of this trip. I know that Adam and I will long recount memories that we made during this special time together. Inland California seemed a bit more palatable for me and there were still more experiences to be had in the state.
Keep reaching for the sky, everybody
The awesomeness continues!
Good to hear from you again Brett. Take all the time you need to realign yourself after such an epic journey. Can't wait to hear the rest of this wonderful adventure!
So great that you are rejuvenated enough to finish up your mission Brett.
So looking forward to the rest of this marvellous epic trip/story.
I really don’t mean to cast any negativity here, but when I see how Bakersfield recognizes your trip and helps you out (as did so many other places); and then I recall how the Johnny Cash museum did “nothing” to recognize what you are doing, it literally boggles my mind they were so shortsighted.
In fact I feel bad even mentioning it as it gives them exposure they don’t deserve.
You being such a nice guy never said much about that but it bothered me when I read it.
If my mentioning it is out of bounds for you let me know and will immediately delete it.
Ha. Funny enough, that museum is about to come up in my next update. Your timing is impeccable. I'm at peace with how that all happened. Not angry, just disappointed. It's obvious that some museums are for the passionate preservation of history and cultures, others are just looking to make a buck.
Panning and Prison
Monday, September 16th, 2019
Bakersfield, California, USA
There would be many “lasts” over the coming weeks. The last that happened this morning would be the final time I would wash my clothes in a sink. I was glad to be done with this one.
I stayed in my hotel room until around checkout time before I started heading north. Reno, Nevada was the next song place on my radar, but I had some sights along the way to see first.
David, the manager of the visitors center in Bakersfield, had asked a casual question while he helped me plan my route north. “Do you have any interest in Swedish culture?” My response to this query was anything but casual. He informed me that the city of Kingsburg was a Swedish enclave and I was eager to check it out.
Though I thought I was in a proper mindset to have a pleasant visit, nothing could have prepared me for the spectacle which is the Kingsburg water tower.
It is painted to look like a Swedish coffee pot, one below for reference.
The streets are lined with Swedish flags, murals, dala horses and viking carvings. It was enough to even make a non-Scandanavian say “Uff da.”
I met some nice people who unanimously directed me to visit the Svensk Butik (Swedish Gift Shop) on main street.
I met the owner, June and had a wonderful time chatting with her. She has owned this shop for around thirty years and her dedication and passion are evident. We shared traditions and talked about recipes.
There were lots of things in her store which I’d only ever seen for sale in Scandanavia. From food to utensils to decorations, she had it all.
Glögg! (a warm, festive drink)
Osthyvels! (the world’s best cheese slicer)
June actually grew up speaking Swedish in the home so she naturally left a Swedish signature on Annie’s top case.
I hope I get to come back someday for their Swedish festival in May. I left with a new cookie cutter for making pepparkakkor and a dala horse sticker for Annie’s rear fender. It’s a good thing I’m so limited on space, or I would have left with a lot more.
Further along, I stopped for some library time to do some writing. Keeping updated was starting to feel like a real slog. Being behind in my documentation of this journey always affects my attitude at large.
Perhaps the biggest issue is just how expansive this publication has become. In the early days, I used to be able to publish a post in 3-4 hours. Now, with all of the multimedia (and that I often feel like I’ve run out of words), a post generally represents about 12 work hours. It’s difficult to chisel out room for this in the schedule when there are so many other things that I want to do.
I found a free campsite near the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
It was going to be a chilly night, with the temperature around freezing. I was up around 5,000 ft. (1,500m), so that wasn’t too surprising.
Tuesday, September 17th
I broke camp with frigid fingers and reluctantly hit the road. I really should have been excited. Today I was going to get to visit Yosemite National Park for the first time.
The roads in and around the park were choked with traffic due to both congestion and construction. I spent more time this day idling than sight seeing. I eventually got a few pictures, but I didn’t stay very long.
The Yosemite Valley:
It really bothered me that I didn’t enjoy myself there. My bad attitude was becoming more of an impediment and I worked to diagnose why that was. I think it came down to a feeling of compunction, that I had to go see this place. By this point, the deeper desire for me was to finish off my quest. These side missions, while usually enjoyable, were just a distraction from that over-arching goal. Accordingly, I decided that I would be forgoing any future sight-seeing that was not directly related to my current quest. It was time to narrow my focus and finish strong.
Another thing coloring my attitude this day was that I lost the little dove which had been blessed by the pope that hung from my right mirror. I received this little keepsake from some dear people in Canada and it featured in my official photo for place 61 of 92, La Paloma, Uruguay. Page 63 (La Paloma means “The Dove” in Spanish.)
The only silver lining of this was that I would now get some empirical data about whether my successful journey up to this point was driven entirely by papal-power.
I had a pleasant ride through some mountainous terrain before stopping to work at a library for a little bit.
I once again went back towards the base of the mountains to find a camping spot. I was trying to be selective, especially considering where we were in bear season. With winter looming, they would be eating everything they could find before hibernation. Speaking purely statistically, you are more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than a black bear. That said, very few people sleep in a tent all alone in the fall in the Sierra Nevada.
I was ready to set up my tent in what looked like a good area, but then I saw a large mound of bear droppings. I went a little further and found a different spot. I got set up, ate a little bit, then did the final step of pushing Annie a good distance away from my tent (since I had food in the trunk).
While walking back to the tent, I was chagrined to see another mound of bear droppings, this one even larger than the first. I decided not to move since I was already set up. Besides, I was almost certain that there were no falling coconuts in the area.
Wednesday, September 18th
My night was completely bear-free and I got a good, early start.
I rewarded myself with a gourmet breakfast at McDonalds in Angel’s Camp. In the parking lot a friendly guy in a pickup truck asked me where I was going. His follow up question was whether or not I was in a hurry. I responded that I sort of was.
“Well that’s too bad. If you had time I’d take you gold panning.”
Very suddenly, I was no longer in a hurry. This was how I met my new friend Mike and his dog, Jack. Mike is a guide for gold panning adventures and he offered to show me the basics free of charge. I eagerly followed him to his “claim.”
Now let me say this: Some people have theorized that I have such wonderful experiences since I am such an amiable, friendly fellow. This concept might hold some merit, but this case is sort of an antithesis. I’d probably spoken just 4-5 sentences to Mike before he invited me to come along. This particular experience had a lot more to do with his personality than mine.
Mike’s claim was old-fashioned and simple. He prefers to go about his process the same way that prospectors have done it for centuries. He has found gold on his claim, but this day he was mainly panning some samples he’d dug up from other sites.
I absolutely peppered him with questions, as this was a completely new experience for me. The mixture of art and science in the process was really intriguing. With deft swishes and swirls, little chunks of the precious metal began to reveal themselves. It was exciting!
His particular claim has a tumultuous history. Stories of greed, murder, revenge and fortune kept me captivated.
I stayed way longer than I should have, but I have no regrets. This was an unforgettable experience and just what I needed. He even sent me with a little vile of some of the gold we collected. This will always be something I treasure.
Here is a link to his website. Tell him hello from me if you find yourself in the area.
This was a very timely experience for me. To the untrained eye, these big bags of dirt and rocks look worthless. But with patience and perception, something incredibly valuable can be obtained. Though my attitude was still wavering, I resolved to keep looking for the little specks of gold hidden in each difficult day.
Next on my agenda was Sacramento. There is nothing here which is specifically song related, but I had long been planning on a visit. In the downtown area, there is a large Johnny Cash mural which I knew I needed to photograph. With all of the traffic this is the best I could do.
In the mural Johnny gazes towards Folsom Prison, a place that was near and dear to his heart. More on that a little later.
I had recently had some phone conversations with my Mom and she knew that I wasn’t quite feeling like myself. She offered to get me a hotel for a few nights in Sacramento to get some writing done in a comfortable place. Though I was hesitant to accept, I had to conclude that mother (especially mine) knows best. Thanks, WingMom.
Thursday, September 19th
Friday, September 20th
I worked through the morning, but had an excursion to take in the afternoon. Though I’d surprisingly avoided it up to this point, we all know it was bound to happen: I was going to prison.
Folsom Prison is perhaps the most iconic correctional facility in the US. “Folsom Prison Blues” was one of Johnny Cash’s first big hits, being released in 1955. Cash performed two concerts within the walls of the prison. Below is his version from 1968:
Johnny had a deep compassion for those on the edge of society. Perhaps most significantly, those serving long prison sentences. He performed dozens of unpaid shows in prisons and even testified before the US Senate about prison reform. Folsom hasn’t forgotten. Johnny Cash is well featured in the Folsom Prison Museum which is adjacent to the correctional facility.
I was really looking forward to visiting here. Surely the staff of the museum would be huge Johnny Cash fans and take a deep interest in my quest, right? The reception I received at the Johnny Cash museum in Nashville was tepid at best, so I thought I might find some true fans of the Man in Black here. I strode through the door triumphantly and told the guy behind the desk about my incredible journey….
“Why would you want to do something like that?”
The museum was small but really nice. There is a whole room dedicated to Johnny Cash memorabilia which I enjoyed perusing.
The museum also told the stories of the many fantastical escape attempts, including one involving a homemade scuba suit (it did not end well). There is a wall covered with confiscated shanks.
There is also space dedicated to more benevolent creations by the inmates. This ferris wheel made from 250,000 toothpicks is the main attraction.
The city of Folsom has also embraced their Johnny Cash connection. There is a Johnny Cash Trail which winds through the city.
I had seen images online of a 50ft. Johnny Cash statue, but couldn’t seem to locate it. I eventually stopped by city hall and they told me that it had been displayed briefly, but was not yet permanently installed. I’ll have to get a picture with it at a future date. From the internet:
Saturday, September 21st
I worked in the hotel until checkout time, then began making some eastward progress. Reno, Nevada, on the other side of the mountains would be my next song place, but I would have one more night in California.
I made some headway into Eldorado National Forest before looking for a spot to set up my tent.
I found a little dead end road to set up camp. Though I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be back in my tent, the low for the night was only going to be in the 50s. It was a pleasant night.
There were some highs and lows throughout these days, but they are ultimately ones that I am very thankful for. I was still making new friends and still learning new things. And once my parole hearing comes around, I might even be able to finish this journey.
Keep looking for those specks of gold, everybody.
You're going to have to write a book and I for one want a copy.
Edit: I'll ride to NE to get it autographed. I can't rule out springing for dinner. My paternal grandmother was born in Beatrice, NE.
And some are good at neither.
The Vacuum Cleaner Museum ["and factory outlet"] has closed.
"With the various online and digital options available to vacuum enthusiasts, we were experiencing a decline in physical attendance at the museum."
That sucks. 
Stay Geeky, everybody!