Monterey, Calif. -- So this is bicycle nirvana.
About eight miles off the Pacific Ocean, at a car race track of all venues, is the bicycle mecca of California and the country for four days this long weekend.
Today, I bit the Bicycle Apple in the Garden of Pedaling Eden, trying out wonderfully cracfted bikes, making connections with bicycle people from across the country and topping it all off with a liquidy happy hour of cold Sierra Nevada suds at the Clif Bar tent.
It's called the Sea Otter Classic and it's all about 60,000 bicyclephiles, including 10,000 competitors in road and mountain races, descending on a venue of pavement and dirt and beautiful steep green hills off the mighty Pacific.
I test-rode a $3,000 full-suspension Jamis mountain bike and a lovely Haro single-speed 650B bike and a $8,600 ultra-light-weight Fuji road bike that a racer pedaled during the Tour de Britian.
I watched three races at once, positioning myself at a perch to watch a 20-mile cross-country mountain bike ride right next to the dirt course, while taking in a road race in the car race track. And a few minutes later I watched mountain bikers with full head helmets flying down a slalom-looking course and catching air about 30 feet from the finish line.
All around there were bicyclists on all types of bikes making their pilgrimage on roads leading to the Sea Otter Classic. And for once, bicycles ruled the roads, and cars gingerly and politely and respectfully maneuvered around the bicyclists in the ultimate mutual respect of the share-the-road ethic.
Let's just say I don't see much of that in the Tampa Bay area.
In the afternoon today I changed my bike shorts for walking shorts and I made a ton of new friends at vendor booths all around the bicycle vendor village. There was Woody at the Bend, Oregon off-road bike trip tent who leads wonderful bike rides through the woods of Oregon outside Bend.
Jaclyn was a marketing manager for a health drink who used to live in New York and hopes to have a tent at the Bicycle Bash by the Bay.
And there were dozens of other folks I met who were impressed that the Tampa Bay area has an event such as the Bicycle Bash by the Bay and they hope to have a rep there at a table at the BBbtB.
I had a ball talking with the folks at bikecommuters.com, the brethren of Tampa's famed Ghost Rider -- Jack Sweeney of Seminole Heights who also writes for that Web site. There were RL and Jeremy and Moe and we shared stories of bicycle life.
We took goofy photos of one another on cool bikes and promised to swap shots for our respective web sites.
And that's what bicycling at the Sea Otter is all about. As long as you pedal a bicycle, you're a brother or sister of another bicyclist -- regardless of the genre of bicycle.
It's a beautiful thing. Just the mere act of riding a bicycle -- any type of human-powered wheeled transportation -- makes you an automatic member of a wonderful fraternity/sorority of folks who would love to do nothing better but get around our earth with a stroke of a pedal.
Bicycling can transform you. You will lose weight and feel fitter. It will sharpen your senses and give you a sense of accomplishment. And it will make you happier.