Cyclists for Cultural Exchange
Is this trip right for you? Read this insider's view
by Alla Sargsyan
The right time has come to put my feelings on paper after reflecting on all the emotions and experiences I am now happy to share.
The California trip changed my life in some profound ways. It was my first visit to California, so I was ready and open for new discoveries, new cultures, new people and new emotions, but what happened, in fact, was much stronger. The warm greeting was the first sign, my friends made me feel at home, even though there was more than 12,000 km between our homes. The next day, I visited my business colleagues in California and then… the real adventure started!
First of all, we took a test ride around Watsonville, as all the bikes had to be tested and fixed up by our talented bicycle mechanics before the trip. All the camping gear, including tents, sleeping bags, travel oven and kitchen equipment, was collected and packed. The next day, we bought and prepared food and refreshments for the participants of Strawberry Fields Forever, the annual CCE fundraiser ride through the Santa Cruz region. We served as volunteers at the rest stops, serving riders food, fruit, beverages and other snacks. Some of the funds go to support the CCE spring program in California.
In 2019, the weather in California was very atypical, as it rained heavily the first days and we had to adjust our riding schedule accordingly. We started in Santa Rosa, staying the first two nights at Casini Ranch Campground. Despite the heavy rain, our first evening around the campfire was unbelievably warm and cozy, and it was an opportunity to get to know each other better. We spent the whole evening discussing trip details, and then playing games—our first cultural exchange. I am sure that all my 23 fellow riders were full of anticipation looking forward to what tomorrow's first long ride would bring…
Santa Rosa – Casini Ranch – San Francisco – Half Moon Bay – Santa Cruz: Every leg of our journey was a real discovery. We visited amazing places, met interesting people and had wonderful activities. Every evening after dinner, we shared our experiences and emotions around the campfire. Our group included riders from Armenia, Australia, China, Poland, Russia and the US, and it was amazing to experience how we became like a family sharing the same aim: riding and discovering. It is hard to imagine, but we even managed to sing a song in three different languages at the same time, and it actually sounded unbelievably harmonious! Communication was easy, despite some slight language issues, and we understood each other perfectly.
I have to mention the great organizational component of the trip itself. It was thoroughly planned to make it comfortable for every rider. Throughout the trip, the routes were always adjusted for different groups of riders: there were some challenging paths with steep uphill roads, but also some with relatively easy tracks, so everyone had an opportunity to choose the route and the corresponding group to match one's own abilities. Within the riding groups, there was always plenty of support, so even if you were the last in the group, you could be sure there was someone there to support you. The riding plans for the next day were always discussed around the evening campfire.
National cuisine evenings were another way to explore the cultures, as each nationality was responsible for cooking one dinner. This made dinners very special because it was not just tasting the national cuisine, but also talking about the country, including some related quizzes and games. In one game, for example, each group of compatriots had to make three statements about their country, two of which were true and one false. We had to guess which statement was false, and that was sometimes quite tricky!
One evening around the campfire I remember in particular was when we discussed our hopes and dreams. Personally, I was so impressed by the event in general, the Californian nature, the Pacific Ocean, that my first thought was about the ocean: I longed to walk along the shore, put my feet in the water, feel the pull of the waves. I had seen the ocean before, but that feeling of happiness from enjoying the sensation of a union with nature happened for the first time in California.
Later, revisiting those memories, I feel that the best part of that trip was meeting unique and wonderful people sharing a common idea. It was an incredible opportunity to share a part of your life with the group and gain a piece of true happiness from each participant. Back home after the trip, I felt a huge power inside myself, full of emotions and containing a mixture of smiles, voices, colors, smells, cultures and everything else that made this a truly unforgettable cycling trip. Thank you CCE for making this happen!