Ann & Kent Moriarty's Dispatch from El Sobrante

Friends of Ann and Kent,

Here's Ann's dispatch from El Sobrante, CA, written on Monday 13 October 1997. They're planning to proceed south tomorrow, 14 October.

-- Phil Davidson

Dear friends and family,

We are finally ready to leave though it is hard, too, because we will miss you all. What a blessing it has been to be home, to know that we are loved and that we love. So it won't seem too long before we see you again, because you ride with us in our hearts!

Our plan is to ride south to Ventura where we will meet Ann's parents who will drive up from Phoenix. Then we hope to visit various friends and family along the way before entering into Mexico. We'll ride down Baja, take the ferry across to Mazatlan from La Paz and head east towards Mexico City. Somewhere in there we'll probably stop to study some more Spanish, especially Ann who is seriously lagging in language acquisition! Then, who knows?

The following dispatch takes us in a roundabout manner to the present. Hope you enjoy it! God bless and keep you all.

Love, Ann and Kent

Impossible. This could not be happening. It was going to be destroyed. As we watched in horror, the cat was climbing up our tent, every stretch of its paws digging its nails into the nylon. As we leapt to grab the cat, the pack of dogs gamboling around the yard nearly crashed into our fragile home. And if this wasn't enough, three children ran around with flaming hot dog sticks, waving them threateningly close to the walls. Which would it be? Cats, dogs or kids? And all of them were so genuinely friendly and happy that we couldn't yell at them . . . except the cat, maybe, which we eventually tossed across the lawn.

We were at the home of the Price Family, an exuberant collection of horses, chickens, turkeys, dogs, cats and, of course, people. We had ridden into Shelton, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula hoping to set up camp in the city park and as we sat outside the Safeway store deciding what we wanted for dinner, no fewer than three locals came up offering us help, directions, and advice. After Kent went in to buy our meal, John Price and his young daughter Alea walked up and invited us to camp at the family farm ten miles from town. Although I was tired and didn't really want to ride those extra miles, Kent and I later decided to take them up on the offer, wanting to spend some time with people instead of by ourselves in the park. Kent, for some reason, had bought hot dogs for our dinner that night, a first. But they were something to share with the Price's children in thanks for the family's hospitality and instead of having to boil them (yucch), we roasted them over the fire that John provided. But we had forgotten the dangers of hot dog sticks and kids, we worried as we sat around the fire, watching the kids make patterns in the sky with their glowing sticks dangerously near our tent. Thank God we survived, our tent survived and the cat survived (lucky for it).

The next morning, we woke up to a huge Rottweiler trying to poke its head into our tent. More dogs? But, we had met him the night before and knew him to be a big softy so it was all right. Dogs can be friendly and welcoming but can also be a bicyclist's nightmare, especially in these rural areas where they run free. Visions of dogs chasing us, slavering to bite our ankles, wandered through my mind. So as we rode away, I decided to pull out our pepper spray can in case any farm dogs decided to come after us. No more than five minutes later, as we rode past a house, I saw a huge dog racing to intercept us. It was intent on the chase, the bicyclist's nightmare come true. As it closed in on us, I instinctively grabbed the pepper spray from Kent's bicycle shirt pocket where I had conveniently placed it, turned and, waiting to see the whites of its eyes, sprayed the dog right in its face. Direct hit! It stopped without even a whimper and ran into the bushes. Exultation and relief replaced the adrenaline in our blood but were soon followed by guilt. "Was it really going to bite us?" "Maybe it was kidding." "Oh, I hope it's okay." "Pepper spray doesn't maim dogs for life does it?" Kent laughed at me as I continued to consider the moral implications of pepper spraying dogs.

At least dogs are a known - common animals that one is used to. One night we were wild camping with our German friend Franz near a logging road in Canada. We had finished dinner, cleaned up and Franz put our garbage and food away from the tents in case there were any bears roaming around looking for a meal. As it grew darker we went into our tent and prepared for bed, content with another day's riding, full of good food, and ready to sleep. As I lay my head down in the silence, suddenly a screeching noise "REE REE REE REE REE" filled the night air followed by a series of loud thumps. I froze, my heart racing, every muscle tense as the screeching continued. More thumps followed. I grabbed Kent and noticed that his eyes were as large as mine probably were.

"What was that," I whispered urgently.

"I don't know," he replied.

After a moment it became quiet and we gradually relaxed only to jerk tense again by renewed screeching and thumps. "It sounds like a bird," Kent whispered, "but what are the thumps?"

"A bear? Where did you put the food?"

"Franz put it over there."


"I don't know! Over there!" Kent softly called out to Franz, "What was that? Is the food far enough away?"

Franz replied, tension evident in his voice, "I don't know what it is but the food is on the other side of the road. It should be far enough away from us."

The noise stopped, only to begin again farther away, stopped, and began again even farther away. "At least it's leaving," I whispered to Kent, a nervous giggle escaping my lips. I willed myself to relax and sleep and heard nothing more for the rest of the night.

We never did figure out what the mysterious sounds were and in the morning saw no footprints anywhere. Our food and garbage were untouched, left exactly where Franz had placed them. What had it been?

Camping is not always so exciting. By now, three months into our trip, we have our routines down. We choose a campsite, maybe on a green grassy hill overlooking the road, maybe at a highway rest stop, maybe up a hiking trail in a grove of trees or maybe just at a park campground. Kent is the grocery shopper and cook; I am the homemaker. He gets the stove and food we have bought for that evening's meal out of the pannier and I remove the tent, ground cloth and other things necessary to set up our "home." We usually spend a few minutes "discussing" where the best place is to set up the tent and which section of the ground is "head up" but after that is decided, I set it up and as the water for our dinner heats, I throw in our sleeping bags and panniers and make sure the rain fly is taut. (After the "cat incident" we were afraid that rain would find its way into our cozy home but after enduring subsequent downpours, we thankfully remained dry.) Soon dinner is ready. Kent has mastered the art of mac and cheese but we both have concluded that mashed potatoes are not his best dish. There is nothing like trying to down a pot of cement potatoes! However, I must admit that Kent has become an accomplished outdoor cook and more often than not we dine well. After eating, we clean up, both the dishes and ourselves, taking sponge baths if showers are not available. Then it is time to read if there is any light left or if the wind is calm enough to use a candle. A very peaceful existence!

There are times, though, that it is nice to sleep under a real roof. Several people have invited us to stay with them in their homes and we always welcome the opportunity for comfy pillows and showers in addition to conversation. We met one such host at a campground in Haines, Alaska. Peter McKay walked up to our campsite and began talking with us about bikes and touring. It quickly became apparent that Peter was an experienced bicycle tourist and knowledgeable about tandems as well. After chatting for awhile, he invited us to stay with him at his home in Juneau. Who would say no? So when we arrived in Juneau after spending several days on the Inside Passage, we rode up an impossibly steep hill to his apartment which overlooked the cruise ship dock.

Peter is an adventurous person and spending time with him was like talking with a National Geographic journalist. He regaled us with stories of working in the Peace Corps in Colombia and with another organization in Ghana, starting a radio station for migrant strawberry workers in California, and rowing from Seattle to Glacier Bay (a several month trip) in a small dory that he built himself. And as we dined on fresh halibut and salmon, his sardonic insights regarding the political climate in Juneau were a source of hilarity. We especially appreciated Peter's willingness to drive us to the Juneau ferry terminal as the ferry left at 2 a.m., the terminal was 11 miles out of town , and it was pouring like crazy. He appreciated, I am sure, our willingness to call him after he arrived home, begging him to return once more to the terminal with the helmets that we had accidentally left behind. Oops.

Sometimes staying with people has been an adventure in itself. As we rode down the Oregon and California coasts into Arcata, we learned that Earth First had a base camp for protesting the cutting of the Headwaters old growth redwood forests. Having read so much in the newspapers in recent years about the situation we were interested in seeing for ourselves what was happening. Riding through Scotia, a Northern California company town dominated by its lumber mill, we noticed signs in front of homes reflecting their inhabitants' support of the timber industry. And just a few miles south we rode into the Earth First base camp in Stafford. There the signs were different, interestingly enough supporting the local timber industry but decrying the Texan multimillionaire Charles Hurwitz who purchased Pacific Lumber and its lands (including the ancient redwoods in the Headwaters forests) and now threatens to cut them down. "Loggers - yes, Hurwitz - no" read one of them.

They welcomed us into camp, invited us to set up our tent anywhere on the field, and told us to bring our dishes to the kitchen tent to get some dinner. Though we both care a lot about our world, neither Kent nor I are what we would term "radical environmentalists" and we have always been a little leery of Earth First "hippy-types." But we could not help but be struck by the order of the camp and the activists' obvious dedication to their cause. Every morning and night the entire group gathered to discuss current events, how they could support members in jail, what classes newcomers needed to take in order to participate in "direct actions," and camp problems like how dog owners needed to clean up after their "companions." Though the gatherings were perhaps a little chaotic to the organization freak in me, the leaders patiently listened to all speakers and decisions were reached by consensus. We learned at one of the meetings that Earth First was backing up its signs of support for local loggers by reaching out, initiating a sand bagging effort for a local landowner whose property had been victim to mudslides caused ostensibly by run off from a clearcut. So, when we left the following day, we left impressed, but we had to laugh - the final comment that followed us as we rode away was that of a young man who asked how much a tandem like ours might cost. "WOW, you could have bought a Volkswagen for that price!"

After that experience, we continued to ride south on Highways 101 and 1 through California and as we neared the San Francisco Bay Area, excitement and anticipation filled our hearts for we were nearing home. Several friends promised to meet us and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and on the appointed morning, we laughed with happiness to see them coming. The joy experienced in hugging my sister revealed to me yet again how truly blessed we are by those near to us. Tears filled our eyes as we saw Kent's dad waiting for us near the north end of the Golden Gate for the final crossing into San Francisco and the brilliant blue sky and warm sun were like a benediction, God's way of welcoming us home. And now as we continue to ride south into Baja, California and Mexico (the next leg of our journey), we go with the love of our family and friends. What better way is there?

Copyright (c) 1997 Ann Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.
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