Monday, 31 December 2007

Orientation...then Oceano to Santa Barbara

Having just 'beamed' back into the blog, I have spent a little time this morning reacquainting myself with the basics of the geography of California and so I thought I might produce a simple map for reference....

Mark began his Californian journey at San Fransisco where the waters of the two rivers which drain the Central Valley (Sacramento from the north and San Joaquin from the south) flow out into the Pacific Ocean. Much of his journey so far has taken him through the Coast Ranges and along the Pacific coast between San Fransisco and Los Angeles. Although the web diary reports several steep climbs in the Coast Ranges, they rise only to an average of 1000m compared to the 3000m+ peaks in the Sierra Nevada.
Climatically, California enjoys a Mediterranean climate - not unlike the climates of Perth and Adelaide in Australia with their hot, dry summers and warm/mild and wet winters. This climate graph for Sacramento ( east of SF in the central Valley) is probably average for the state but there are huge variations across the state caused by altitude and relief. In the south, the rainshadow effect of the coast ranges, and with prevailing NE winds combine to create desert conditions while in the Sierra Nevada altitude lowers temperatures sufficiently to give 'sub arctic' conditions in winter with heavy snowfall.

After the rains of New Zealand, it looks as if it could potentially be the same in California - January is the wettest month!
Relief and climate have much to do with the distribution of population in California as the map (left) shows. Lowest densities correspond with the highest and driest areas.

Orientation over...... this is the route which Mark followed yesterday from Oceano to Santa Barbara. It suggests that he reached Santa Barabara around 5pm local time (01.00 on the 31st GMT). As you can see from the map, there was a significant change of direction... more of which later.

The first part of his journey yesterday took him across the apparently dry Santa Maria river at Guadalupe and into the intensively farmed plains around Santa Maria
At the time the Google Map image was taken, the river would have been dry for two reasons a) seasonal summer drought and b) its headwaters are dammed as part of a water management and conservation scheme . Only in winter is there sufficient rainfall for the channel to carry water. Clearly, therefore, the river does not bring significant irrigation potential to the Santa Maria area. Agriculture must be based on crops which can grow in the wetter winter or survive the summer drought. In the latter category are vines which are widespread in the region.

There are also several large areas of greenhouses such as these - similar to the greenhouses now found in many parts of southern Spain where the enclosed environment helps to control moisture loss. Elsewhere, small reservoirs holding water stored from the winter, dot the farming landscape..

South of Santa Maria, in the hills between Santa Maria and Lompoc, Mark will have cycled close to the Vandenberg Air Force Base which, as you can discover if you follow the link, has played an interesting strategic, defence and space reserach role over the years.

As readers of this blog will know, I have had several opportunities along the route of Mark's journey to explore 'large white blobs' in the Google Earth imagery. Today there is another one! This time it's at Lompoc (apparently pronounced 'lamb poke'). It took a bit of research but I finally got an answer - these white blobs are the Miguelito Mine where diatomaceous earth is mined. Never heard of the stuff? Neither had I until I read this.

South of Lompoc both the coastline and the trend of the coastal ranges change direction. These are the Transverse Ranges which according to Wikipedia " lie between Santa Barbara and San Diego counties. They derive the name Transverse Ranges due to their East-West orientation, as opposed to the general North-South orientation of most of California's coastal mountains. Their orientation along an east-west axis as opposed to the general southeast-northwest trend of most California ranges results from a pronounced bend in the San Andreas Fault". So now we know! Mark crossed a part of the Transverse Ranges - the western end of the Santa Ynez Mountains -after joining Highway 101 and heading south to the coast at Gaviota. A narrow pass, seen below on Google Earth ,carries the route through a tunnel...And here, the rest area at the southern end of the pass....

The coastal stretch between Gaviota and Santa Barbara is scantily populated - indeed, several sources note it as one of the last remnants of undeveloped coastline in California. One feature, however, caught my eye when viewed from the air..... not a mine as it seemed at first but a huge landfill zone which copes with most of the 'trash' generated by Santa Barbara county.

Which brings us finally to Santa Barbara !
..with a guided tour of the city by young Jay

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Beaming in at Oceano and 'Marking' time

Reporting back for duty after a week in the Alps........Firstly, many thanks to 'guest presenter' Alan Parkinson who has geo blogged so enthusiastically in my absence and has written a fascinating account of the second part of the New Zealand leg and the first part of the USA leg. When I last geo blogged, Mark was in South Island NZ - today he's cycling down the Californian coast not far from Santa Barbara . That's an amazing change of environment in just 9 days. In the interim , I've been to the Alps and back and today, I'm picking up Mark's trail at Oceano where he overnighted yesterday. I feel slightly jet-lagged!

The aerial view of Oceano shows the feature with which the town is most associated - an extensive dune system to the south of the town....

The extent of the dunes is emphasised in the Google maps view. The dunes are a state park but are unique in the USA in being the only state coastal park where vehicles can be driven onto the beach and through the dunes. It is officially a 'State Vehicular Recreation Area' (SVRA)! With dunes as beautiful as the image below shows, there will almost certainly be a few conservation v recreation issues ..
There is lots of video footage of 'vehicular recreation' on the Oceano dunes available on You Tube if you find boy racers on quad bikes interesting!

Local time for Mark is now 8 hours behind GMT and so he has not yet finished his day's route when those of us on this side of the Atlantic are heading to bed. What I therefore intend to do for this leg of the journey is to write up each day's route the following day... starting tomorrow.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

'Lettuce' see where Mark is today...

A short post today as it's my birthday and to paraphrase 'Withnail and I': "I've had a few ales.." (hic)

Mark is continuing to make good progress down the Californian coast and has carried on down Big Sur and according to the tracker is approaching San Luis Obispo.
He has also passed near Salinas which will be familiar to those who have read the work of John Steinbeck, as it is his hometown.
The area is known as "America's Salad Bowl", particularly the SALINAS VALLEY.

Agriculture dominates the economy of the valley. In particular, a large majority of the salad greens consumed in the U.S. are grown within this region. Strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, and artichokes are the dominant crops in the valley. Other crops include broccoli, cauliflower, wine grapes, celery, and spinach. Due to the intensity of local agriculture the area has earned itself the nickname, "America's Salad Bowl."

It has a particularly clement climate owing to its physical geography:

Salinas enjoys cool and moderate temperatures due to the "natural air conditioner" that conveys ocean air and fog in from the Monterey Bay to Salinas while towns to the north and south of Salinas experience hotter summers as mountains block the ocean air. Thus Salinas weather is closer to that of the Central Coast of California rather than that of inland valleys and thus enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate with typical daily highs ranging from the low 50s (°F) in the winter to the low 70s (°F) in the summer. The difference between ocean and air temperature also tends to create heavy morning fog during the summer months (known as the marine layer) driven by an onshore wind created by the local high pressure sunny portions of the Salinas Valley which extend north and south from Salinas and the Bay.

I liked this photo and description from FLICKR user base10 who cycled through the area, and made photos available under Creative Commons license:

Riding through the lower Salinas Valley is quite striking. The fresh smells of everything from strawberries to artichokes to celery being grown. Throughout the day and on other days of the ride, we'd see workers in the fields, bent over picking or slicing and racing it to the edges of the field. There was frequently music playing, generally mariachi, from a boom box on a truck bed, putting the sound into the fields. Every now and again, farm workers would rise and raise their hands and wave to us as we rode by. They work incredibly hard in frequently difficult conditions and that they would take time to wave to us, riding our bikes silently, was greatly appreciated. But just as often, they stayed as they were, moving up and down the rows, efficiently.

I am a great fan of John Steinbeck's writing: "The Grapes of Wrath" is a classic with a clear link to themes of drought and soil erosion, the dustbowls and migration of the Okies to California with their dreams of a better life.

One of my favourites, which I must re-read, is "The Winter of our Discontent". Just checking the details I was reminded that the theme is strongly related to that of illegal immigration.

To check out the scenery that Mark has been cycling through, search Flickr for "Pacific Coast Highway"...

On the Artemis World Cycle site there are also a few new images of Mark in Australia, and some new audio from New Zealand.
This is my last blog post, as Mrs. V will return tomorrow. Thanks for reading !
Best wishes to Mark for the remaining part of his journey... Keep those wheels turning...

Friday, 28 December 2007


South towards Watsonville today through the Coastal Ranges. Also a day of adjustment:

4.45 local time - Reached Aptos, 12 miles passed Santa Cruz - just under 82miles today. In Best Western Motel. Would have gone farther but dark by 4.30pm and another 20 - 30 mile stretch before another night stop. Been a day of working everything out - daylight 7am to 4.30pm, getting to know and understand new maps, carry lunch to save daylight cycling time (took half an hour for lunch to arrive today after ordering), hotels/motels seem to be out of towns rather than in them, no camping - too cold. Feels weird wearing long cycling clothes.

Hilly out of San Francisco. Stunningly beautiful coast - people surfing (in wet suits!). Road busy but good space. Noticed the stillness though a tail breeze. Not been still like this since before Turkey. Still adjusting to different time zone, weather etc. Off for big sleep and on the road tomorrow by 7am.

California's state governor is Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Earlier in his career he played Conan the Barbarian in a classic film, and explored the realms of Hyboria.

South of Monterey Bay is the famous Big Sur area. In the hills behind are some Coastal Redwood trees. Image by Flickr user (nz) Dave under Creative Commons

Monterey has famous kelp forests.

This is a classic coastal landscape with the highway running alongside the cliffs.

Some useful maps are provided by the USGS. They are particularly active in California as it is a state which is prone to multiple hazards.
Mark is about to enter an area which, judging by the USGS diagram below is prone to lots of hazards. Click the diagram to find out more:
One of the many hazards is the risk of a tsunami...

Tsunami warning sign by Flickr user davebluedevil under Creative Commons

One issue for the state is immigration. The BRACERO program is something which is included in my AS / A2 specification, and is worth reading about. It was followed by Operation Wetback. It has a link to the more modern trend for the location of maquiladoras across the border into Mexico. As Mark heads further south, the Mexican influence in the landscape and culture is likely to become more apparent...

Alan Parkinson

AKA "Mrs V"

Thursday, 27 December 2007

California pedallin'

Image by Flickr user timparkinson under Creative Commons

Mark is southbound today on Highway 1He is having a lighter day today, according to Joe:
The day will warm up and he should have a tail breeze. Good weather is expected in general for the coast route, though much cooler than New Zealand.

Joe also reported Mark started his day with 7 eggs, 3 toasts, box of cereal, lots of juice and a coffee. First day on the bike after stopping for a day, can be a challenge to get back into the zone. So, a recovery day is planned today keeping the heart rate to 110, and may make 89 miles to Watsonville for the night.

Mark now has the Pacific on his right hand side as he moves down the Cabrillo Highway. Here's a taste of the ocean for you...

The road passes through a series of small towns: Half Moon Bay, San Gregorio, Pescadero and Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz lies on the northern end of the famous Monterey Bay. To the north lie the Santa Cruz mountains, a high point of which is Loma Prieta: epicentre of the 1989 earthquake I referred to in the previous posting.

Like many settlements nearby it has its origins in the founding of a Spanish mission. As with New Zealand, there is a thriving industry based around whale watching, and of course surfing.
Pictures of any location along the CALIFORNIAN COASTLINE can be found on the website of the Californian Coastal Records Project.
A few minutes ago for example, Mark crossed THIS BRIDGE.

Now that Mark is in the USA, there should also be plenty of opportunity to exploit the various layers produced for GOOGLE EARTH by the Google Earth community bulletin board. One addition is the ability to see Traffic levels on the roads that Mark is cycling along.

Thinking about California got me thinking about the long list of songs that mention California. I thought of about 8 ...
The Eagles: Hotel California is an obvious one...
Going to California by Led Zeppelin...
California Girls by Dave Lee Roth, and the Beach Boys of course...
California One by the Decemberists

and then looked up Wikipedia and discovered a long list of songs...

Did you do better than me ?
Many places are mentioned in songs: geographers are often looking for that 'perfect' song to put with a set of pictures for a slideshow...

California Dreamin'...

Alan Parkinson
AKA "Mrs V"

San Francisco

Image of San Francisco taken a few minutes ago from WEBCAM

San Francisco, California

Play word association and what does it suggest to you ?
Earthquakes ? (1906 and more recent...)

For a great discussion of this event, and more recent events, try Simon Winchester's book: "A Crack in the Edge of the World" - follow the link by clicking the page to see some maps and read an extract from the book...

Golden Gate BridgeImage by Flickr user Mumbley Joe under Creative Commons

The Golden Gate bridge is one of the most recognisable symbols of the city. It costs $5 to cross (although tolls are only collected in a southbound direction) It is vital for traffic as the only alternative is a trip of several hundred kilometres around the bay. Over 12oo people have unfortunately decided to take their own lives by jumping off the bridge. Any damage to bridges in San Francisco, such as the problems with the Bay Bridge following the 1989 earthquake.

As with Hamilton, San Francisco is also famous for its fogs.

Interestingly, a search for San Francisco Fog brings you to the details of the gay rugby team of the same name !

Alcatraz Island: The Rock

San Andreas Fault
- Mark didn't leave the threat of earthquakes behind when he left New Zealand...

The car chase in BULLITT.

In-N-Out Burgers
Image of In N Out Burger by Flickr user Slice under Creative Commons

Rather nice looking burger from a local burger chain.

Fisherman's WharfImage by Flickr user Leo Reynolds under Creative Commons

The Cable cars


Mark's tracker has JUST woken up in Daly City, down by the coast, and a place which apparently has an issue with coastal erosion. (Article from the Bay Nature Journal)

The steep sandy cliffs from Ocean Beach in San Francisco south to Pacifica are composed of sedimentary rocks so young and weak, geologically speaking, that they hardly qualify as rock. At most a couple of million years old, they consist of particles that are only weakly compressed and cemented together. A brush of the hand sends sand grains down to the beach. A heavy rain brings them cascading down from the cliffs in a torrent. An earthquake starts a landslide. This is a landscape in motion. Flowing cliffs have been the story in these rocks for as long as people have lived along this coast. And long before that.

Rates of erosion in these rocks can average up to two to three feet a year. That doesn't mean two feet every year; it is an average rate of erosion over the past half century or so in which measurements have been made. Decades may pass with little erosion, relaxing concern about living at the edge of the sea. But in El Niño winters, coastal erosion can be rapid and severe. El Niño events bring a warming of ocean temperatures that can result in heavy rain in California (and drought elsewhere). In a major El Niño storm, especially if it occurs during a time of high tides, waves crash against the sandy San Mateo cliffs. Ten or 20 feet of backyard may be lost in a few days or weeks, and houses set back from the cliff 40 years ago may dangle over the edge.

Coming up: an American adventure...

San Francisco, CA, to Santa Barbara, CA - 378.5mi
Santa Barbara, CA, to San Diego, CA - 246.5mi
San Diego, CA, to Tempe, AZ - 425.5 mi.
Tempe, AZ, to El Paso, TX - 540 mi.
El Paso, TX, to Del Rio, TX - 451.5 mi.
Del Rio, TX, to Navasota, TX - 431.5 mi.
Navasota, TX, to St. Francisville, LA - 423 mi.
St. Francisville, LA, to DeFuniak Springs, FL - 438 mi.
DeFuniak Springs, FL, to St. Augustine, FL - 445 mi.

Alan Parkinson
AKA "Mrs V"

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

In the air, finally....

A hectic last few hours according to Mark's diary:

Over 11,000 hours on the bike and 13,540 miles cycled since the start on 5th August!

Set off from Huntly at 8am on last 90km to Auckland. Been raining through the night but dried up. Planned to been in Auckland by 1pm, but came into Bombay Hills and lots of traffic lights, so estimated 2pm. However, our great contact in Auckland, Paul Robertson decided to go out on the road - met up with Mark and guided him in through roads and traffic to Queen Mary Avenue - there by 1.3opm! A big help Paul!

Leaving for airport at 5pm so time get bike boxed, have massage etc. DHL package from home base waiting with warm cycling clothes, new bike seat, maps etc for Leg 6 in the States. Behind the scenes, package was delivered on Monday to Queen Mary Drive, but no one in so, they took package away to the city depot. By the time base camp heard this, depot was closed for Christmas and not open until Thursday 27th - too late for Mark! Told to phone DHL Customer Care Boxing Day morning but little could be done until Thursday.

To forward package with DHL would have taken a week including USA customs and similar problems sending package as cargo with Air New Zealand on same passenger plane as Mark but one day later on Thursday 27th. After many calls, spoke to Suzanne at Air New Zealand International Cargo at 2am GMT Christmas Day, explained the situation which she immediately understood. She volunteered to phone DHL and see what she could do and then phone Base Camp back. Twenty minutes later, she called back, having spoken to DHL, and arranged for package to be brought to airport depot by lunch time Boxing Day! The very best result wished for and a huge thanks to Suzanne.

DHL actually delivered the package to Queen Mary Avenue Boxing Day morning! Many thanks to them.

Though no time to spare, everything else went smoothly with the great help of Paul. Anna gave a great sports massage and then a detailed report to Fiona Lindsay, Mark’s physio at home. This will be handed on to next therapist in San Francisco - essential after 12 hr 15 min flight.

Waiting at San Francisco airport at 10.45 will be Joe Legallet and his son-in-law Paul Lusk - Paul is a cyclist and also has a 4 x 4 for the bike box. Joe and his wife Annette live in San Mateo, 20 mins south of the airport and are kindly having Mark to stay for a night before starting Leg 6. Whilst Mark has a sports massage in the afternoon, his bike will be looked over by a Rohloff retailer.

So, Mark left New Zealand 19.30 Boxing Day evening (13hours ahead of GMT) and he will arrive San Francisco 10.45 Boxing Day morning (8 hours behind GMT) to live the day over again!

Alan Parkinson

Auckland - end of Leg 5

Mark cycled into Auckland today after an eventful Christmas Day.

Poured with rain all day and head wind, so rain straight in the face all day. Made it to Huntly and in hostle 5km out of town - the only one between here and Auckland, 90km away. Everything shut en route, including office of hostel. Went around the back and found kind lady who gave a room. No food available, but lady produced leftovers from their Christmas lunch including pudding - so had Christmas lunch after all!

En route from Huntly he passed through Bombay, before following the route into the suburbs of Auckland.All pictures of Auckland by Simon Hathaway

Auckland is also known as the 'city of sails'. It is the largest urban area in New Zealand and has a population of over 1.3 million. It size has attracted the attention of local cartoonists, such as GOOD EVANS.The most prominent landmark is the SKY TOWER. This is the largest free-standing tower in the Southern Hemisphere.
There is also a rather good view from the top, as can be seen from the panorama image below (click for biggery...)
Panorama made available by Wikimedia user Antilived.

Another landmark is the volcanic bulk of Rangitoto Island.
Ferry services run out to the island, which offers the chance to walk through lava caves, which were formed by earlier lava flows.

There is a famous pre-Christmas parade in Auckland (see below), which this year featured the mascots from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Mark now has an extra long Boxing Day because his flight will cross the International Date Line.This means that as he travels to the west, he goes back to the start of Boxing Day, and lands in San Francisco on the same day that he took off from Auckland, around 13 hours flying later.
On arrival in San Francisco, Mark's route will take him across to Miami as he completes Leg 6.
Image of Golden Gate by Flickr user disneymike

Earlier in the journey, Mark put in some extra miles, which means that he will not now need to make his way to Seattle and down the West coast. Given the recent weather in the USA, particularly the ice storms which hit the mid-west (but also WINTER STORMS in some of the southern states), this is is perhaps just as well...Ice Storm detail by Flickr user Allie's.Dad

Let's hope that the weather calms down for the next week to allow Mark to make progress through the United States.
I'll be back once Mark gets under way from San Francisco. Safe journey !
And in Aotearoa, it's already the 27th...

Alan Parkinson
AKA "Mrs V"

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Auckland on the horizon...

It may be Christmas Day, but the wheels keep turning ! Mark is making excellent progress now that he is over the meandering route since Wellington and on a more direct course.

Hamilton is the 7th largest city in New Zealand. It is on Highway 1, and there are apparently plans to build a bypass to reduce traffic congestion. The Fairfield Bridge across the Waikato river is shown below. This is apparently the bane of commuters and long queues form here morning and evening.
I imagine that it was fairly quiet on Fairfield Bridge this morning. Hamilton is also known for being particularly foggy, as it was on the day that Flickr user Talden took the image above.

Onwards towards Huntly, and Lake Waahi. Huntly produces huge amounts of coal which are then burned in the conveniently located thermal power station (Weber was right !) with its two red and white chimneys which Mark would have seen. Lake Waahi has been affected by the coal mining in the area, but water quality is apparently improving.

Auckland is the ultimate destination for Mark in New Zealand.

A friend of mine has just moved there, and he and his partner say that it is a great small city to live in. They have a flat with a view of the famous SKY TOWER. Will post more about Auckland tomorrow...
Images of Auckland by Simon Hathaway

Oh, and it's been pouring with rain all morning in Norfolk...

Alan Parkinson
AKA "Mrs. V"