A 1600-mile adventure to discover the West

People & Partners

A 1600-mile adventure to discover the West
May 2018

For some people, learning about tax law is their life’s calling; for others, it’s learning ancient languages, like Aramaic for example.
There are others still who decide to spend their life on a bike. Why? Because they want to explore the world, experience its many sounds and smells, feel the wind on their faces, live every day in the moment, relish the feeling of true freedom, go on a journey that can be shared with people encountered along the way, or because they just happen to like cycling.

Roberto Cassa is one of these: he lives and breathes adventure, travelling the world on two wheels - his latest journey saw him pedal through the diverse and awe-inspiring settings of the west coast of America.
He set off a month ago, in the company of a Scientia, and is here to share his trip with Selle Royal, recounting stories and insights that will be must-read material for cycling enthusiasts.

Hi Roberto, welcome back from your US west coast adventure! Let me start by asking how you are. Was it a tough trip?
On paper, it looked like hard work - 2600 km in 33 days, with an elevation of 27,000 m. When you’re having fun, though, you don't get tired! It’s only now I'm back that I'm beginning to feel the strain of all those miles; when I was in the middle of it, I felt fine, even when it rained five days in a row in Oregon. It’s what I love to do, if I found it difficult, I’d do something else.

Before you set off, you'd planned your route (starting from Seattle and heading to Vancouver then down the West Coast to Los Angeles.) Were there any changes or did you stick to the original plan?
I followed the original route, more or less, with a slight deviation at Big Sur, south of Monterey in California – the coastal road was shut because of a rockslide caused by the heavy rain. I went as far as I could then had to back-track and take a train to make up for lost time and get round having to do 200km of internal motorway.

Did you go through any big cities or amazing nature reserves? Is there any one place you liked the best 
The west coast is so special because of its varying landscapes - every day the horizon changes dramatically. The landscape seems to go on for ever and ever, from tall, snow-capped mountains to the luscious vegetation of Washington State. Or the wind-hewn rocks, the wilderness, the jagged coast and the characteristic small towns of Oregon. After that, you come to the ancient forests and towering redwoods, where the sun and red earth strike a stark contrast with the blue Californian sky. Redwoods National Park literally blew me away! With every mile, I felt lighter and lighter as I looked at those giant trees, in that place for hundreds of years.

As well as the miles, the land and the road, your trip was also about meeting the local people and absorbing their culture. What was the most important encounter you had? And the funniest one?
It goes without saying that I met hundreds of interesting people this past month. I was a guest of a salmon fisher from Alaska who told me incredible stories about his adventures with the fish as well as making me one for dinner. Then I met a couple who were crossing Central and South America by bike; they told me about the trouble they’d get into because of his resemblance to Jesus. Instead of just saying hello, people would stop and cross themselves in his presence.
Most of my days ended like this, sharing stories with people I met along the way.

How did you get on with the equipment you took with you?
I've been travelling by bike for four years now, so I've learned what's important and how to travel as light as possible. Or, at least I thought I had.
Scientia saddle revolutionized the whole experience for me; on previous trips, I would often have problems with my saddle, both during and after the ride. With Scientia, I didn’t have to think about it at all and this had a knock-on effect on everything else - I could just sit back and enjoy the adventure. Scientia will now be the first thing I put in my bag for every long bike ride.

What are the cycle routes like in that part of America?
The West Coast attracts loads of cyclists, so a lot of room has been left for bikes on the coastal roads. There are also several very fast roads, with high speed limits, and I can’t say I felt totally safe, especially when it was raining.
There are no cycle lanes on those roads. But when you hit the big cities, there are a lot of routes just for bikes - in Seattle, for example, I took an amazing cycle path that crosses the city and goes north for thirty kilometres, through forests and along the lake.

Were there any surprises? How did you tackle them? 
Adventure feeds on the unexpected, it’s one of the things I love the most, and it’s what gives you that feeling of total freedom. One day, in particular, was fraught with surprises, the worst of which was both my brakes failing.
I was about to set off for what was meant to be, on paper anyway, the toughest part of the trip: 110 km in the rain, and an elevation of more than 2000m.

Very quickly, I found myself deep in the dense California forest - the trees were so tall it felt like I was pedalling through the land of giants; there was little traffic on the road, only one car every half hour.
I reached the highest peak in Leggett, then about 600 m from there, there was a 14 km downhill section before I had to start climbing again. As I rode into the first bend, I tried to brake to slow down but it was weird - nothing happened. Both brakes had gone at the same time! Despite the rising panic, I tried to focus so I could get round all the bends without brakes. As the first big one approached, I realized I was going too fast, so I put my foot out to slow me down. It was one bend after another, and with my foot planted firmly on the ground, I could slow down just enough to stop myself flying into the rock face!
Not panicking was the only reason the sole thing I damaged in that descent was the sole of my shoe!
It was just two and half hours until sunset by then, and I was running low on energy. But all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a storm blew up, with lashing rain and strong winds. I realized the situation had gotten serious and that's when I had a major adrenalin rush that completely recharged my batteries.

I pedalled non-stop through the storm until I finally reached the city and managed to take shelter in a place I found on Warmshowers, an online platform like Couchsurfing, but especially for cycle-tourists. I was tired but happy; I chose to go looking for adventure, and if I weren't happy at the end of the day, it would mean I had chosen the wrong life for me.

You're practically a veteran long-distance cyclist now - what advice do you have for anyone else wanting to do the same thing?
The first important step when you're organizing a bike trip is to gather as much information as possible on your destination and then, work out what equipment you’ll need to ride there; you can find out most things on the internet. Living the adventure in total freedom is exhilarating, but you need to put the planning in first. Travelling by bike means you're relying on yourself, so when the unexpected happens (and it will, you can be sure of that) you have to be ready to deal with it!

What is the strangest thing that happened to you during your month on the west coast?
I had an unusual experience on the island of San Juan, north of Seattle, where I discovered the Americans are incredibly friendly people. Through Warmshowers, I met Brendan who was out of town for work, but he let me stay in his house anyway. The weather was bad that night and I hadn't found anywhere else to stay. Thanks to him, I had somewhere warm and dry to go.
I was really surprised by the trust and kindness of people who let you stay in their house, even when they’ve never met or seen you before; it also meant I was never 100% at east during the night though.

These are the images, insights and snippets that our adventure cyclist brought back from his trip for us.
Roberto Cassa loves discovering new and varied places, and describing them from the vantage point of his bike. He has made it his mission, his dimension and his life.
After Iceland, Japan, Ireland on a scooter, Taiwan, New Zealand and the west coast of America, where will he go next?
We don’t know yet, but one thing’s for sure – he’ll certainly be going somewhere. Ancient Aramaic can wait.



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