Bike to Nature

“Bike to Nature,” New Era, Apr. 1978, 22

Bike to Nature

Henry Machado tugged the top of his sleeping bag over his tousled hair, rolled over, and tried to rationalize a few more minutes of sleep. Somehow, though, the sun stole its way past the folds of fabric and pried his eyelids open.

It was cozy inside the bag, and his stiff muscles, still aching from 70 miles of pedaling the previous day, urged him to rest as long as he could.

Henry was just one of a group of Explorers from Post 263, sponsored by the San Jose Tenth Ward, San Jose California South Stake. The post members were waking up to the second day of a 480-mile bicycle trip, and even though they had trained for three months to prepare for the effort, they knew they had been through a workout.

“We would get pretty tired sometimes,” Kurk Bakow recalled later, reminiscing about the trip with others in the post. “Some of the big hills nearly wore us out, especially when they came at the end of the day. But the work was worth it for what we got to see and for the closeness it brought to us, working together and pulling for each other.”

Henry knew the struggle was worth it, too. But it was cold outside the covers. Rousing himself, he unzipped the bag and ran to join the others clustered around the supply van as a mildly chilling breeze tickled the tails of their T-shirts. It was time for the daily briefing, an agreed-upon-in-advance procedure for the 11-day trip. Each morning the riders would review the agenda for the day (including the route to be followed, the menu for meals, cooking and clean-up assignments, and locations for lunch), review safety tips (such as wearing helmets while riding), and pray. They would also inspect the mechanical condition of each bike before breaking camp.

On the day the Explorers left San Jose, a ham-and-egg breakfast was served by the Mia Maid and Laurel classes, and then Brother Jensen, a member of the bishopric, gathered the cyclists around him, thanked the Lord for his goodness, and asked him to bless them with a safe trip.

“Most of us work together as a teachers quorum as well as in Scouting. It was reassuring to have the bishopric ask the Lord for his blessing before we left,” Danny Case explained.

Besides briefings and morning and evening prayers, the rest of each day followed a tight timetable, too. Travel began by 8:00 each morning and ended upon arrival at a predetermined camp for the night around 3:00 in the afternoon. There was always time to just lounge around, swim, or play football on the beach, but there was also an evening meal to prepare, and it didn’t take much coaxing to get everyone to bed early. They knew they would need the rest to have energy for the next day.

Some days were scheduled as long rides, consecrated to covering territory so that other days could be spent casually, touring at will. “The neatest part was being able to see so much at one time,” Mike Powell said. “We were out in the open, traveling through mountains and fields, sleeping on beaches, and were able to take time just to enjoy nature. It didn’t rush by like it does in a car. We were part of it. It helped me appreciate the love Heavenly Father must have for us to give us such a beautiful place to live.”

The distance covered daily averaged 65 miles. A one-day rest stop was planned Sunday so the Sabbath could be observed at Arroyo-Grande Ward, Glendale California Stake, in Pismo Beach. Another day was planned for the train trip home (nobody wanted to turn around and pump his bike the same distance the other way), and a day and a half were set aside for Disneyland. This left eight days of pedaling to travel 480 miles.

“It’s important to remember we just didn’t start out cold,” David Sackett said. “Sixty-five miles is a lot of bicycling for one day. We worked for months getting in shape.” The training program required each Explorer to cycle 300 to 325 miles a month for the three months prior to the trip. Each participant had to ride at least four days a week. In addition, once each month the trainees pumped the pedals through a 75-mile practice run.

Squeezing in training around a summer job might seem like a burden, but Steve Fowler managed it well. “Kevin Jolley (the post president) and I would get up early, around 6:00 A.M., and go out on his paper route. When the route was done, we’d just keep on going. I had a late night job, so I could go home and rest before work. When it got hard practicing so much, I’d think that if I didn’t push myself, I’d run out of energy during the trip, or maybe I wouldn’t get to go. That made me work harder.”

Training sessions on bike maintenance (including instructions about which parts to carry in a seat or handlebar pack), safety and first aid (a first-aid kit was attached to each bike), and physical care during periods of strenuous exercise were also conducted throughout the summer. A local bicycle shop provided training and parts. The owner kept his shop open late for classes and worked with each boy individually. He wasn’t LDS, but he seemed eager to talk with the group members about their Church-related activities.

Andy Carlstrom described the orange T-shirts the group bought with funds raised for the trip: “We had them silk-screened with the name of our ward, post, and a map of our route on them. The color made us more visible to traffic and worked as a safety factor in our favor, and the shirts also identified the post as a group,” he said.

Nine post members made the trip, along with Herbert C. “Chuck” Carlstrom, post advisor, and Chet Harmer, a post committee man. They were joined at the third stop by the Young Men’s president, Dale Van Horn, and his wife, Beryl. In the “Sag Wagon,” as the supply van was nicknamed, rode Hank and Olga Machado and their two children, Mike and Andrea. Hank is another member of the post committee. Scott Mortensen, a recently returned missionary, accompanied them. Janine Van Horn joined the group in another truck along the route.

Brother Carlstrom, in his daily journal, narrates the contentment he reveled in one evening: “We made camp. Some of us wanted to sleep on the beach, but after a while we were forced to higher ground by the unusually high tide. … The day’s end caught most of us watching the beauty of the coast as wild fowl flew … before us. As the sun sank … , it filled the sky with all shades of reds and oranges, with slight traces of pink. … It was replaced by the moon, almost full, as it came over the mountains in back of us, painting the ocean’s surface with flickering light. It was soon joined by other heavenly bodies and God’s handiwork was displayed before us. We had just received our compensation for an afternoon of hard, uphill riding, and we all were thankful.”

Danny shared similar sentiments. “Being able to see nature and many of the things the Lord has created on the earth strengthened my testimony of the plan of salvation and the creation of the world. I never realized how much there was to see.” Bob Nelson said he felt the most impressive part of the trip was following the road along Pismo Beach. On the left mountains jutted up into the sky. On the right hundreds of feet below, ocean waves hurled themselves into the rocky shoreline, jetting streams of water high in the air. At the tops of hills, the view continued for 15 or 20 miles.

The trip’s itinerary, along with the distance covered each day, included: Monterey (70 miles), Kirk Creek south of Big Sur (65 miles), San Simeon State Beach (40 miles), Pismo Beach (51 miles), Gaviota State Beach (65 miles), McGrath State Beach (65 miles), Santa Monica (55 miles), and Anaheim (46 miles). The route from San Jose to Anaheim was part of a 1,000-mile Bicentennial bikeway that stretches from Oregon to Mexico. Many of the stops retraced—only backwards—the route taken by the founders of San Francisco, led by Juan Bautista de Anza from Mexico.

The journey offered glimpses into the past, reflecting the colonizing efforts of Spanish, Russian, and Mexican explorers. Forts, lighthouses, missions, and old mining and lumbering areas were passed on the road. The route also showcased the modern agricultural bustle of northern California.

The cyclists divided themselves into sub-groups of two or three. “It was the buddy system used all the time in Scouting,” Andy explained. “Each person is responsible for the others with him. That way no one gets lost or left alone.” Kevin noted that those who were fast or slow were paired together.

Brother Harmer said he felt the Lord had protected the group. “It’s interesting that we went about 6,500 man-miles with only one slight tumble as an accident,” he noted. Others chimed in their agreement, noting that all the flat tires occurred on level ground instead of on steep downhill grades, and most of them at the end of the day, just as the group pulled into camp.

Still, there were a few difficult moments along the way. One morning during the first part of the trip, the cyclists were enshrouded in a damp fog. They had to stop and dig deep in their gear to find jackets. One night they reached the scheduled campground and found it closed. A friendly ranger let them camp a mile away on the beach at a picnic ground.

Later, anticipating an easy trip on flat land, the riders were buffeted by strong headwinds, which slowed their progress almost as much as an uphill grade. Another time they battled two large hills, one 15 miles long and rising 1,500 feet, in temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees F. at 10:00 A.M. What was worse, the road veered inland, away from the cooling effect of the coastal waters.

“We learned to appreciate the ocean more after that,” Mike Powell said. “When we got back to the beach that night, just about everyone went swimming to cool off.”

The rough spots were worth enduring, though. “There’s not one person who went on the trip, including the leaders, with whom I don’t have something in common now,” Danny said.

The final Saturday, having put the bikes on the train the day before, the weary travelers boarded to return home. There was plenty of room to stretch out and relax, and soon they were snoozers, not bikers.

Somehow, though, when the train finally halted in San Jose and they had to remount their cycles for another seven-mile jaunt to the chapel, they seemed almost eager to be riding once again. Soon they would be home recuperating, sharing a slice of their saga with their families.

Photos by Herbert C. Carlstrom

Scenery highlighted the trip, ranging from coastal hills …

… to tumbling surf at this seashore campsite near Pismo Beach

Post members relax on the beach after a long day’s journey

Single file (for safety), bikers pump pedals around another bend