“The problem with your trip is that you are missing the hiker/biker culture.” Kevin Cipolla tapped his unlit Marlboro against his hard pack on the table in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church hall in Crescent City, CA, where we were crashing for the night. He wanted a smoke, but was holding off. “There’s a whole world out there of people who sleep outdoors. We trade stuff, we live light.”
Kevin’s a 25 year old man-child with a scrawny beard, tawny hair, freckles, a history of odd jobs and a drug bust felony. “I went to Florida for vacation and came back a felon.” He jokes about being arrested at age nineteen and asking the officers for a souvenir. They gave him a 911 first responder patch that he always carries with him. You’d be hard pressed to find a nicer felon than Kevin.
Kevin’s from Franklin, NC, a small town in the mountains near the Georgia border along the Appalachian Trial. ”No one cycles there; they all think I’m crazy.” He left his job cooking in an Italian Restaurant and headed to Alaska for the summer, where he worked in a canning factory in Petersburg. “They hire anyone who’s not a violent offender.” It took Kevin nine days to greyhound and ferry from Franklin to Alaska. “I started at minimum wage, but got a dollar raise. The money’s not good but the hours are long. Sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. It adds up.” He made enough money to return to Bellingham, buy a used Schwinn and start cycling down the coast. “I was wearing jeans and construction boots. But when the rains came they were so uncomfortable.” Kevin shows off the new sneakers he bought in Crescent City and his nylon shorts.
This was Kevin’s second night at St. Paul’s. He was well versed in the protocol of the church hall renowned for sheltering cyclists riding the Pacific Coast. When I asked him out for a beer he replied, “Don’t bother; we can have beer here.” I gave him ten bucks, he returned with two six packs. “I don’t drink too much, but when I do, I drink fairly fast.” Two other cyclists joined us for the evening, a guy from Glasgow riding to San Francisco and another from Quebec going all the way to Mexico. They were each travelling more casually than me, though with more focus than Kevin. And they each brought their own beer, so we had plenty to toast the folks in the AA meeting in the adjacent room.
Every so often Kevin disappeared outside. He’s the only cyclist I’ve met who smokes. “I’d quit smoking, but then my legs would get tired.” He laughed, but I didn’t get it, so he explained that smoking made his lungs the weak link. Kevin only travels 40 or 50 miles a day, less than any long distance cyclist I’ve met.
When Kevin returned, he grabbed another beer and twiddled his next cigarette as long as his addiction allowed. “A guy left a bivouac tent in a campsite, so I took it. I thought I’d sell mine. Then I met this 65-year-old guy, Blue, whose been living off his bike for years. We traded my tent for some pot. I’ve had a hard time getting it since I left Washington.” I asked Kevin if he wanted to live like Blue. “Since I’ve been cycling, I’ve met my own people. But to live like Blue, an alcoholic hobo, I don’t think so.”
Kevin wants to travel to San Diego and then back to North Carolina. “I won’t make it that far. I’ll run out of money. Money just runs through me. I’ll probably get flat broke and then need to get a job for the bus fare. But I promised my sister I’d be home for her birthday, November 25.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“With a smile on my face.”