On September 29 I rode the Santa Cruz 600K brevet. I cycled alone and finished in 26:26, a bit longer than I had hoped, but not bad considering I’d spent two days at home with the flu the previous week. My GPS track is here, and the organizers posted a write-up here.

Save for busy urban stretches through greater Santa Cruz and Marina, the course was lovely. Northbound on Highway 1 in pre-dawn darkness, I could smell the ocean and sometimes catch a glimpse of the surf, a ribbon of silver against an otherwise black coastline. Sunrise found me climbing above the fog on Cloverdale Road. By lunch time I was in the redwoods, enjoying the shady climb up Haskins Hill. Tailwinds and golden sunshine welcomed me to the Salinas Valley, gentle rollers across gorgeous farmland. Dusk turned the eastern mountains purple, and a full moon rose behind them, and then stars appeared overhead. It was Saturday night in a land of Latino farm laborers: mariachi blasted from roadside barns, and vintage lowrider convertibles cruised through a gas station in King City while I refilled my water bottles. The night brought cold, and the cold brought surreal patches of ground fog that only thickened as I returned to the coast. For a couple hours I saw little more than a grey cone of mist in my headlight. But conditions improved in the last few miles, and I rolled into Santa Cruz along empty streets just as the sun rose behind me, a memorable end to a beautiful ride.

So this was in many ways a great ride. What I really want to write about, however, is not the ride itself, but what it showed me about how we treat our land and the people who work on it. Food production is a complex subject, and authors such as Michael Pollan already have explained the issues better than I can. But I do want to share what I saw in a full day of cycling through some of America’s most fertile farmland, the source of almost half of all strawberries eaten in the United States.

When I got home these images would not leave my head. I did some online research. Some random facts I discovered:

So there you have it. I have simply tried to describe what I saw and learned. I hope it provides food for thought. There are no easy solutions to these issues, but I do have a few closing comments:

After the ride I explained some of these things to my five-year-old daughter Marilisa, and she drew this — the sun crying while a tractor sprays strawberries. Ouch.