The soldier eyed us coldly as we cycled up to the military checkpoint.
“Can I help you sir?” he said, in the kind of impassive tone that suggests he actually means ‘what the hell are you doing on my turf’?
I (James) took off my sunglasses and looked the marine in eye because I once saw on TV that eye contact helps build trust.
“We’re cycling the Pacific Coast Highway and I we think we might be allowed to cycle through your military base” I said. “If that’s alright with you?” I added hurriedly.
I tried to appear relaxed I but couldn’t resist a nervous glance at his gun, a flicker of the eye that he noticed. He said nothing.
As the marine continued to stare at me betraying no emotion, I worried my ploy to gain his trust might in fact been seen as a sign off aggression. My mind flashed back to growing up in Essex when making eye contact with someone in the pub was often interpreted as an invitation for a fight among the angrier locals.
“Show me some ID,” the marine said. He looked at Pierre and my driver’s licences and I buried the urge to tell him that it wasn’t our choice to make them pink, that’s just how it is in the UK.
“Where have you cycled from?” he added sternly.
“From Canada,” we both said rather meekly.
By now I was starting to wish we’d taken the freeway rather than look for a quieter route through Camp Pendleton.
“From Canada!” the marine boomed, taken us both by surprise. “You’re kidding. That’s awesome! All the way from Canada on bikes? There’s no way I could do that.”
With the ice broken, we told him enthusiastically about our journey and were waved through the check point feeling proud that we’d impressed a marine with our physical endurance. Although we were both pretty certain that if we could cycle the length of America, then a marine definitely could.
As we made our way through the military base a helicopter gunship past slowly over our heads with what seemed like feet to spare, almost as if it was taking a look at us. It was a thrilling encounter.
We had started the day in Los Angeles before riding 75 miles to San Elijo State Beach campground, which is located next to the town of Cardiff. It was a great ride and marked the penultimate day of our bike ride. Tomorrow we plan to reach the Mexican border which marks the end of our journey.
It’s a strange mix of excitement and sadness knowing that we’re so close to the end.