Tuesday, 27 October 2009
As I was making breakfast I ran out of gas for the first time. It's not that easy to find the white gas that I use in my stove so I got some tips from Joe on where I could likely find some. I can of course burn unleaded petrol if I need to but the additives clog up the stove so I prefer not to. I headed into town and managed to find an enormous 5 litre can. I decanted it into smaller bottles but had to throw most of it away as I couldn't carry such a large amount of gas on my bike.
Once on the road I was passed by 6 guys on 3 tandems. They were doing a tour but they had a support van to carry all their equipment. They were a little embarrassed to explain this to me after looking at all the gear I have to carry.
Later on a Dutch man rode alongside me. He was riding a triathlon bike that probably weighed as much as one of my water bottles and cost as much as a decent car. He asked if I had any sun lotion as he was getting burned. I pulled over and gladly gave him some. In return he gave me a pack of hydrating jelly shots. I'm not convinced they did anything other than taste delicious. I downed the whole pack of 6.
Near the end of the ride I reached Santa Cruz. It seemed like a really fun town where everybody was either surfing or riding a bike.
I arrived at New Brighton State Beach, a nice hobo-free spot next to the beach. For dinner I ate macaroni cheese out of a packet. I had to add plenty of soya bacon bits and chilli flakes. There is a direct relation between the quality of the meal I prepare and the amount of overpowering spice I have to add.
I noticed my right hand had swollen up and was quite painful to use. I wasn't exactly sure why but I suspect it was to do with the way I was positioning my hands and changing gears whilst riding. It was painful enough to make me think I may not be able to ride the next day. I was unable to type my blog and it was too painful to hold my book so I had to lie down and listen to my iPod until I fell asleep.
Monday, 26 October 2009
Today the weather was good and so was the forecast for the foreseeable future. I stayed at the hotel until check-out time and grudgingly hit the road. I'd been really happy with the way the concierge at the hotel had looked after my bike so I tipped him. Tipping a concierge isn't something I'd done before. As I casually slipped him $5 I felt like Richard Gere in Indecent Proposal.
For the first few minutes the bike felt a little alien to me but before long I was riding well. As I tackled a few of San Francisco's famous hills I was happy to notice that I hadn't lost too much fitness during my time off. I left the city via the Golden Gate Park, an impressively large city park with some really beautiful wooded areas. As I exited the park I was once again riding alongside the Pacific. The coastal road I'd planned to take had a large barrier blocking it with yellow tape bearing the warning, 'Police line do not cross'. I considered my options for a moment then decided I could get my bike under the barrier so it was worth a go. Once past the barrier I hopped on the bike and pedalled down the wide, empty road. A deafening siren bellowed out behind me. I thought the cops were on my tail. My heart skipped a beat. I was only a couple of miles from Alcatraz. A pretty boy like me wouldn't last a day in jail. I turned around expecting to see a couple of squad cars on my tail. There was nobody there. The siren stopped and a loud voice boomed, 'This is a test. This is test of the outdoor warning system. This is only a test.' I figured this must be some kind of tsunami warning system. I was in the clear. I relaxed and continued down this abandoned highway running alongside the beach. This was pretty good, I was starting to get back into the swing of things.
As I continued along the coast I got my first taste of the thick sea fog that is so common in this area. It moved across the road like thick smoke.
I stopped off at a supermarket near Daly City. As I locked up my bike I was reminded of the mock-celebrity that a heavily loaded bicycle brings during any stop-off. I noticed everybody in the car park staring at me with fascination. I was approached by a young man. 'You look like someone who appreciates art and literature.' He was holding some small books. 'I do but I don't like to carry extra things.', I replied. He told me that he was selling children's books for adults. I did not envy this man. I cannot imagine it's too easy to shift something like that in a Safeway car park.
As I walked into the shop a man said he liked my shirt, the second person to do so today. I was wearing my new cycling jersey I'd bought a few days previously in San Francisco. The shirt has the California State flag on it which features a Grizzly Bear. It is an awesome shirt, I was pleased to see the public were receiving it well.
After buying some groceries I sat outside and ate PBJs. I missed Kate, Beth and Brian. Our car park picnics were always fun. Sitting there on my own was simply not the same.
A few miles down the road I began a climb up Devil's Slide. At the top of the hill the sea fog was thick and the visibility was down to only a few metres. The road had no shoulder and it was a pretty scary ride. To my right I knew the cliff edge dropped away into the ocean but all I could see was a wall of grey fog.
As the road descended back below the fog I saw my first pumpkin farms. I found it almost comical to see these fields filled with giant orange pumpkins.
As I arrived at Half Moon State Beach I was unsure what to expect. Having rested for 10 days and it now being late in the season I didn't know if I would find other cyclists. I was happy to meet a friendly couple who'd coincidently spent the last 10 days resting in San Francisco. The campground was quite good. The hiker/biker section was infested with rabbits but pleasingly right next to the beach and showers.
I set up my tent. I felt clumsy compared with how well-practised I'd become before taking a break. I sat down to read my book. I was happy to be camping again. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed what I had come to recognise as the signature of a crazy state park homeless guy. Despite there being loads of free space in the campground he decided to set up camp right next to me. This could really ruin my evening. He came over and introduced himself and shook my hand. His name was Joe Galloway. Certain names lend themselves easily to the addition of a Crazy prefix. Crazy Joe Galloway rolls so easily off the tongue. I looked at Joe's bike. He had mounted a laundry basket on the handlebars. It was filled with used cans and bottles.
My preconceptions about Joe were gradually swept away as we got talking. Joe was not crazy. He was a smart guy. Intentionally homeless rather than unfortunate in some way. He busked and made jewellery to avoid 'working for the man'. He introduced his dog to me as Bru, apparently named after the last high king of Ireland. Bru sat on the table in front of me and attempted to lick my face at every opportunity. Bru had little understanding of the human concept of personal space.
Joe got a camp fire going and said he hoped I didn't get homesick as he was about to play some English folk songs. He was a pretty good guitarist but a fairly weak singer. This meant his interpretations of Fairport Convention and Pink Floyd songs were sometimes a little hard to recognise but quite creatively presented. I enjoyed listening to him play but not as much as Bru who fidgeted around the table and barked excitedly during some of the bits he liked best.
Joe cooked a lamb curry for himself and Bru. I wasn't sure whether dogs should eat curry or not but Bru looked in excellent shape so I guess his diet of human food wasn't doing him any harm. Joe offered me some of the curry. Had I not been vegetarian I'm still not too sure I would have wanted to eat the same meal as a dog.
It was a pretty good first day back. I needed a good day to ease me back in to the outdoor life. I think I'll sleep well tonight. Things could be a lot worse. I could be sharing a tent with a curry-eating dog.
Sunday, 11 October 2009
It was a short ride today and I'd ridden in the San Francisco area before so I was expecting an easy day.
All 4 of us rode together today, stopping after 10 miles in the large town of Fairfax for second breakfast. Leaving the town we missed our turn off and nearly ended up on the freeway. There were hundreds of cyclists around today on training runs out of San Francisco. Many offered directions and got us on the right path. We followed a complicated series of directions, following mainly a good network of cycle paths into San Francisco.
As we rode through Sausalito, a pretty town just outside of San Francisco I barely recognised the place. I'd ridden here back in January when it had looked like a sleepy little place. Today it was packed with tourists and countless clueless people on hire bikes from the city. It's a shock to be riding in such busy places when you've spent the last 6 weeks riding through 1 horse towns and remote countryside.
Things got a little stressful on the confusing approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. The road was busy and extremely steep. We eventually found the bridge approach thanks to a local guy who mimed instructions to me from the other side of the road. All of us had been excited about this moment so we took a deep breath and began riding along the bridge's dedicated cycle path. I'd ridden this way back in January and had the bike path pretty much to myself. Today it was filled with a million meandering fools who thought nothing of stopping without warning in the worst possible place to take a photo. Add to this a very strong, cold wind doing it's best to blow us into the water and you end up with 4 disappointed riders entering San Francisco. It wasn't the momentous entrance we'd all hoped for but we stopped for a photo opportunity and considered our next move.
We'd ended up entering the city on the worst possible day. There was a navy air-show in town. The roads were gridlocked and every cycle path was full of gawping plane fans doing their best to get themselves run over by 4 heavily-loaded bicycles.
We were to stay in an apartment belonging to a friend of Brian's who was out of town for the night. We ditched the cycle path and took our chances on the heavily-congested roads. I had my GPS so led the pack through town. In the last thousand or so miles we'd all encountered some pretty beastly hills but none as steep as those in San Francisco. At one point we had to admit defeat and push our heavy bikes up the near-vertical street.
It was a huge relief to arrive safely at the apartment and relax for a bit. It was our last night together so we went out for a meal. We ate enormous burgers and drunk Fat Tire, a beer from our fallen comrade Elon's home town.
Back in the small apartment we all crammed in to sleep inside for the first time in a couple of weeks. We all slept terribly. Having been conditioned to the silence of night time in the woods, central San Francisco at night was an unpleasant contrast.
The next morning we headed out for our last 2 breakfasts together. The first was at a small coffee stand operating out of a garage in an alleyway. It was 8am on a Sunday but the place had a huge queue. This place was obviously a well-known secret. Next we headed to an indoor cafe where I ate porridge cooked indoors for a change. None of us were cycling today but we were still eating as if we were.
We returned to the apartment and packed up our bikes. Kate and I said an unwilling goodbye to Beth and Brian before heading across town to a hostel where we would be staying the night. It was such a shame to leave Beth and Brian but hopefully I will see them again when I pass through San Diego.
So this is it for a while. A break from the bike and a chance to spend some time with my girlfriend who I haven't seen in 6 weeks. I certainly need the break. My body and mind need to rest and I need to build up a thirst for riding every day again. I also need to work out a plan for the next leg of my trip. I'm still not sure whether to go into Mexico or make an alternate route following all the advice I've had about the safety of riding down there. It will be strange starting up again having become used to riding with the pack everyday. I'm sure I'll meet others further south but I expect that the further south I go, the fewer riders I'll see. It seems hard to imagine I would ever meet such a great, like-minded bunch of people as Kate, Brian and Beth but I set out on this trip happy and alone so I'm sure I can continue that way.
Over breakfast we got chatting to our neighbour, a old retired guy who now spent all his time touring on his bike. It's nice to think this is something you can do pretty much until the day you die if you so desire.
Once on the road it was just a mile before we reached Bodega Bay. I was quite excited to see this little town as it was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock's film The Birds. I was slightly disappointed not to recognise it at all despite having seen the film about 10 times. Perhaps they filmed it somewhere else, perhaps it's changed a lot in the last 50 years, I'm not sure. I was distracted from my disappointment for a while as I saw a vulture tucking into a skunk on the side of the road. It's good to see some predatory bird activity still going on in Bodega Bay. This was fun to watch for a while and it made me feel a little better about some of the things I've been eating in the evenings.
Kate and I pedalled on for another few miles before joining Beth and Brian for an amazing second breakfast. It was at a small cafe run by a Mexican couple. I'd never had Mexican food for breakfast so was keen to try. I had hash browns, eggs, tacos and salsa. It was delicious and made me excited again about going to Mexico.
The ride today was fantastic, a great contrast to yesterday's lengthy slog. The sky was blue, the roads were quiet and scenery spectacular and quite different. We'd travelled inland and were moving through wonderful rolling hills made up of dry, dusty farmland with ramshackle barns dotted about the place.
Later the ride returned to the water and we moved alongside Tomales Bay, a large inlet of water separated from the ocean by the San Andreas Fault. Large eagles and vultures soared above and in a few places large cacti grew at the side of the road. It's great to see these clear signs that I'm moving south.
It's worth returning to the subject of roadkill briefly. As I've moved south the roadkill has become bigger, more common and often quite grizzly. Every few miles I become aware of a strong smell of decomposing flesh, this is usually followed by a sighting of a large mangled mammal of some kind. On the occasions when I don't notice the carcass, I can usually rely on Kate to point at something at the side of the road. This forces me to look at something that will cause me to gag and Kate to laugh at me.
After what seemed like a very short ride of 40 miles we set up camp in a circle of redwoods in Samual P. Taylor State Park. Tonight would be Kate's last night camping before she reaches her final destination of San Francisco tomorrow. We were all looking forward to riding over the Golden Gate Bridge into the city.
As we made dinner we began the now nightly ritual of fighting off the raccoons. The further south I go, the more cheeky, greedy and fat they become.
We travelled 10 miles and ate second breakfast in a cafe. I had an amazing muffin, banana bread and 2 coffees. We were aware of our slight foolishness in wasting time in a cafe given the 55 further miles we had yet to do.
There was a headwind making cycling hard work for the next 15 miles. It was around 1.30pm when we stopped for lunch at a supermarket. We ate with some of the noisy Americans that we've been camping with for the past few days. I haven't taken to these guys particularly. They're pleasant enough but I'm a little tired of talking about cycling all the time.
Another ill-advised leisurely stop passed and we were on the road again. Nobody was enjoying the ride today. The weather was grey and dreary, the headwind tiring and the psychological barrier of a 65 mile day hangs heavy. The riding was very hilly throughout the day. A seemingly infinite number of drops to sea level followed instantly by a climb to the top of a steep headland takes a physical and mental toll on any rider.
At around the 45 mile marker Kate and I stopped for a snack. I could see Kate's spirits were low so I tried to motivate her by reminding her the next hill would be her last big challenge before her final destination of San Francisco. It was true but I don't think either of us were really helped by my motivational speech. The next stretch of road began with a gate that is shut sometimes as the road frequently slips into the ocean. Unfortunately the gate was open today so we had no excuse. A long climb began. We passed cows which were allowed to wander freely over the road. Once at the top the road snaked along the edge of the cliff, mostly without barriers on the edge. The traffic was pretty constant things more stressful. I was not enjoying the ride much, Kate was really not enjoying it.
A man passed us in a truck and yelled, 'You better find a bush to hide in.' It took me a while to figure out what he was talking about but we came to the conclusion that he was advising us to set up camp before it got dark. It was nearly 6pm. It would be too dark to ride this section in an hour. Neither of us had working lights and the fog was setting in a little. The ups and downs were frequent and there was no sign of civilisation in sight. We didn't know it yet but the guidebook we'd been following was wrong. The ride was longer than we thought. We still had another 20 miles to go to reach the campground.
An incredible descent began. The road was steep and full of tight switchbacks. Without the traffic and fading light it would have been spectacular. Yet another climb began and at the top, backlit like angels by a small break in the clouds were Beth and Brian. They had been waiting for us for a while to suggest stopping at a nearer campsite, shortening the ride by 10 miles. Kate and I were of course happy to agree to this plan.
The 4 of us rode in the twilight to the supposed location of the nearer campsite. The campsite didn't exist. This wasn't good. It was nearly dark and we were left with no choice but to ride another 10 miles to our original destination. Kate donned her head-torch and took the lead. Brian had a rear light so rode at the back. Beth and I were sandwiched in the middle hoping our florescent jackets would protect us. It was now pitch dark. There were no street lights and it was quite foggy. To make things more dangerous we were riding along the edge of a cliff with no barrier to prevent us plunging hundreds of feet into the freezing black water below. We stopped for a bit and I took the lead after fetching my head-torch from my bag. It was the brightest out of everybody's but still only showed up the white lines marking the edge of the road. I made sure to keep the white line to my right hoping we wouldn't come across a hole in this landslip prone road. Frequently cars coming the other way with their fog lights on would blind us all, temporarily making even the white line at the edge of the road invisible. I would turn around occasionally to check the others were still behind. My head-torch showed only their reflective strips making them look like skeletons running towards me. Every time a car would come up behind one of us would shout, alerting everyone to its imminent passing. It was great to have everyone working as a team, looking out for each other, I was very glad not to be facing this ride alone.
After 10 miles of extremely tense riding we saw a sign up ahead. It was Bodega Dunes State Park. We'd made it. It was such a relief. It was difficult to find a decent campsite in the blackness. We had to pitch our tents on sand which made things even more difficult.
We prepared dinner and I noticed a raccoon staking us out from the bush behind. I tried to frighten it off. Each time I pretended to charge, the raccoon barely flinched. It actually came a little closer, it wasn't at all afraid. In the end Brian ran at it, pretending to be a Cougar. It worked, the raccoon didn't dare show it's beady little eyes again.
This was the longest, hardest ride of my life. I believe I said the same of a ride a few days ago. Just 2 more days riding until I reach San Francisco and rest up with my girlfriend for a while. I cannot wait.
Having had to put up with the children I left the campsite feeling in no way guilty about not paying the $3 fee. We stopped for our second breakfast in the town of Fort Bragg. It was an unusually pleasant town with only a handful of weirdos. After breakfast we stocked up on supplies at the Safeway. It was quite exciting to shop in a supermarket after so many days of poorly-stocked remote grocery stores.
It was only another hour of riding before it was time to stop for lunch. Kate and I stopped at a small beach and sat on a driftwood tree to eat. Almost every day so far I've struggled to find something satisfying and vegetarian for lunch. Today, having seen everybody else making peanut butter and jam sandwiches (PBJs for short) all the time I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I'd bought a loaf of bread and the PB and J earlier at Safeway. I couldn't believe I was just discovering the goodness of PBJs. They were delicious and great cycling fuel. This will be my lunch of choice from now on. As we were leaving we got chatting to quite a few curious locals. A couple of mountain bikers thought our trips sounded 'rad'. Another guy, similarly impressed gave us each an apple to help us along the way.
The next 20 miles were winding and hilly as the road hugged the headlands. This was excellent riding, exactly what I'd signed up for. The edge of the road disappeared directly into the sea without any barrier much of the time. Take your eyes off the road for a minute here and you would fall several hundred feet into the sea.
In places the sea in the shallows was an incredible clear emerald colour. Quite inviting for a swim but almost certainly ice-cold.
We came to a winding hill, far steeper than anything I've so far encountered. As the hill switched back there were times I wasn't sure if it was even cycleable. I made it to the top and felt quite proud of myself.
The ride flattened out and turned to large swathes of dry farmland. On my right the land disappeared to the ocean and to the left the mountains. Vultures circled overhead, perhaps picking off cyclists who didn't make it to the top of the last hill.
The day ended at Manchester Beach State Park. A very basic campground with pit toilets and no showers. I usually insist on a shower at the end of the day but I've been gaining a bit of a reputation among my fellow cyclists as a bit of a princess so I was keen to demonstrate how tough I can be. Beth gave me some talcum powder to put down my shorts. Apparently this was supposed to be an acceptable substitute for a shower. I wasn't sure about the talcum powder but I figured if I was to prove to everyone that I'm a tough mountain man then I'd give it a try. It wasn't too bad in the end not having a shower or proper toilets. I guess in Mexico I may need to get a little more used to roughing it. I'm not even sure they have talcum powder down there.
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
We began the 1,000 foot climb to the 2,000 foot summit, we were starting the day half way up the mountain. I appreciate it may be difficult to visualise a 1,000 foot climb so I will try to explain what it's like. First, imagine cycling up a hill. Now imagine cycling up that hill without stopping for an hour. Then imagine cycling the whole way with a 10 year old child strapped to your bike.
It was a beautiful day and the winding mountain road provided a very gentle climb to the top. From the summit the descent lasted for 10 miles. The road was narrow and very winding, it took a fair bit of concentration to make it to the bottom in one piece.
Once at the bottom Beth informed me that the worst was yet to come, a hill much steeper than the one I'd just conquered. I was in a fighting mood so I powered my way to the top. It was tough but enjoyable to be able to make it to the top without having to stop. As I descended I caught my first glimpse of the ocean for quite a few days. It was amazing to see the transformation in landscapes within the course of one day. Emerging from the shade of the forest to the rugged coast.
After 10 miles of stunning coastal scenery we stopped in Westport for lunch. We ate on the patio and played fetch with the grocery store dog. The town was so quiet the owner seemed perfectly happy for her dog to play fetch on the road. The grocery store sold very little food and I struggled to find anything suitable for lunch or dinner. The store had only 1 loaf of bread but had 200 plus rubber ducks for sale. I felt as the only grocery store in 40 miles it had a duty to focus a little more on the essentials.
The afternoon was tough. Coastal roads have a tendency to go up and down steeply. By the time I reached McKerrick Beach State Park I was ready to stop. It was nice to be camping by the beach again, it's a little too cold to be camping in the shade of the trees. On my way to the showers I bumped into the hippies. They starting telling me about the 'clothing-optional' bath house they'd been trying to persuade Kate to go to the night before. I found out they'd been telling Beth and Brian about it too. They're obviously trying to get a sauna full of naked cyclists for some reason. It's odd that the enthusiastic naturist is so keen to show off a body that nobody else wants to see.
After my dinner of spaghetti and canned chilli I went to wash up. At the sink I found a family of 6 raccoons raiding the bin. It's funny when you confront a raccoon in the act. They stare at you and in their eyes you can sense their shame at being driven to this way of life.
I rode with Kate for an hour before meeting with Brian and Beth at a small grocery store in the town of Phillipsville. According to the sign that marks the start of Phillipsville the population of the town is 250. Having spent nearly an hour in the town I would hazard a guess that 200 of those spend a good proportion of the day drunk. In the grocery store we stocked up on supplies and bought coffees and drank them outside in the welcome morning sun. We took our time, I don't think anybody was really in the mood to ride today. We watched the town's people come and go. A lady walked her cat up and down the street on a leash. Numerous other misfits came and went as we watched with amusement.
A little while later we were approached by a man dressed in a fur-lined waistcoat with no shirt underneath. He wore a cowboy hat and a long grey ponytail. He told us people called him Gnarr. If you saw him in a movie you would think he was a slightly unbelievable character – a little too clichéd for a town weirdo. He'd had a fight with his woman. I expect this happens most mornings. He told us we were cycling through 'God's country'. As he told us this he thumped his heart and looked as if he was holding back a tear. This could have gone on for some time so we made our excuses and left.
Rolling out of town at least Gnarr's pride in his local landscape rang true. We were riding alongside a large valley cut by the Eel River. Lining the mostly dry riverbed were steep hills lined with redwoods. It was quite spectacular.
An hour later we stopped for lunch outside a supermarket in Garbersville. A larger town but with a similar proportion of local characters. One of the supermarket staff offered to sell Brian some weed. We discussed our disappointment so far with California. Every town so far has been full of poverty and drunks, leaving us feeling a little uneasy.
The afternoon was mostly freeway riding, another disappointing aspect of California so far. Kate and I took a break from the freeway for a while on a much quieter back road. We stopped to check a map and were approached by a collarless dog. It looked like a Staffordshire Bull Terrier crossed with something a bit bigger. It seemed friendly enough but a little skittish. I thought I'd managed to befriend it as it had a little lick of my leg. It soon became apparent it was less a lick and more a preliminary tasting. We cycled off and it gave chase. It barked incessantly and looked like it was lining itself up to take a bit out of my leg. I weighed up my options. I though if I kicked it I would be pretty much putting my bare leg inside its mouth. Also if it was just playing then I may anger it. I decided to make a break for it. I pedalled hard, it kept up for a while and then dropped back. It's difficult to outrun a fit young dog on a loaded bike. Kate was behind me and I was worried by sprinting off I was leaving her as dog food. Luckily it was only interested in me and we made a clean getaway. It was a great introduction to being chased by a dog and reminded me of another danger that will face me in Mexico.
The ride ended at Standish-Hickey State Park. A fairly mediocre park with little get excited about. As we set up our tents a lady started chatting to Kate. She told Kate about a place she must visit further down the coast. It was a spa resort with saunas and hot-tubs. She casually dropped into conversation that it was all 'clothing-optional'. As she said this I was blowing up my inflatable mattress. I inflated the whole thing with laughter as I listened to Kate feigning interest and trying to sound genuinely like she would pay a visit. Many of the crowd at this state park seemed to be descendants of the 'Summer of Love'. I didn't like the look of them, I was worried some of them may want to stay up past 9pm.
Unusually the park was opposite a shop. Generally once camped your nearest opportunity to buy food or drink is at best 10 miles away. It seemed like a good excuse to get some beers. The shop was pretty great but very expensive. $3.50 for a can of baked beans! I bought some spaghetti hoops and a couple of beers.
Dinner was fantastic. I had instant mash with my spaghetti hoops and beer to wash it down. I've really been living it up recently.
Tomorrow we climb from our current elevation of 900 feet to 2,000 feet. This is the highest climb of the Pacific Coast route in the US. Perhaps foolishly I'm not too concerned about it. I have found the hills fairly easy recently, sometimes I feel I could keep climbing all day. I am actually quite looking forward to the view.
It was absolutely freezing so we spent some time in the games room warming up. Kate was talking about something to do with touring when a man on the other side of the room butted in. 'Are you talking about the Orr family?', he interrupted. 'No I was talking about bicycle touring.', replied Kate. 'Well they just died.', he said. 'That's not what I was talking about', said Kate. 'Well you should be more careful what you say. Your words can end up hurting people.', said the man and then stormed out. It was time to leave this campsite.
I rode from the campsite to the nearby town of Eureka. Most of the towns I've ridden through have been pretty uninspiring but Eureka was different. Many of the buildings were colourful, Victorian and beautifully maintained. It was the sort of town you can imagine horse's leading carts, people panning for gold and gunfights. I passed a cafe, saw the others had stopped for a coffee and so decided to join them. It was a nice lazy start to the day. I ate an incredible apple and blackberry muffin with my coffee. After Eureka the first 30 miles of riding were on the freeway. Boring, noisy and stressful. I caught up with Kate after about the first 10 miles. We rode together and chatted which made the ride much more enjoyable. To pass the time we tried to identify road-kill. Some of the more interesting creatures included skunks and opossums.
The weather took a turn for the worse at around lunchtime. The first rain I've experience while riding in more than 3 weeks. We took shelter in a supermarket. The shop was warm and dry so we took a very leisurely stroll around the aisles. Beth and Brian arrived. If you stop at a supermarket you will inevitably meet other cyclists. The supermarket had some tables and chairs for customers of the deli counter. We decided to eat our lunch on them. I found the whole experience a little amusing. I can't imagine shopping at Tesco back home and then sitting inside the supermarket making sandwiches while all the other shoppers go by. We took our time and the rain cleared.
Back on the bikes we soon left the freeway and headed off onto a smaller scenic road known as The Avenue of the Giants. I'd been looking forward to this since way back when I started planning the trip months ago. The quiet road winds through a forest of giant redwood trees. It was a real change of pace. After the hectic morning ride along the freeway we now coasted slowly along taking in the incredible surroundings. Brian and Beth caught us up and joined us to take pictures of each other mucking about amongst the trees. We stopped off at a tree known as the Immortal Tree. In its thousand year life it has survived lumberjacks, fires and floods and still remains pretty much intact, albeit about 50 feet shorter thanks to a lightening strike. We all had a go at trying to knock it down but failed.
The journey ended at Burlington Campground. A great site set in an isolated section of redwood forest. A welcome opposite to last night's camping experience.
Sunday, 4 October 2009
Once on the road it took a while to warm up. The giant Redwoods block out most of the sunshine. Riding downhill through the shade is a pretty nippy experience. I had to keep wiggling my fingers to keep them from getting losing all feeling. Passing through the first nearby town of Orick I saw at least 6 bikes parked outside the cafe. The previous night at the campground there had been 20 or more cyclists camping. I think I preferred it when there wasn't so much 2-wheeled company.
I noticed a herd of Elk on the other side of the road. I slammed on the brakes and crossed the road to take a look. There were about 50 Elk, the biggest were as large as big horses. There seemed to be a main guy in charge of the herd. He was the only one with antlers. Enormous antlers. I could now see why there were signs everywhere warning about the dangers of approaching Elk.
I was riding well today. All the hills seemed easy in comparison with those I'd encountered yesterday. The scenery was good. Large freshwater lagoons lined the coast.
I stopped for lunch in a town confusingly called Trinidad. I bought some things in the supermarket and had a car park picnic. I guy pulled his car up in front of me. He said he was a cyclist too and wanted to recommend a route to me. He told me about a back road that would take me off my planned route on the freeway. I was very glad I followed his advice. It was the best road I've ridden on the entire trip. I can see why the road didn't appear on my map. It was literally falling into the ocean. The road was partly dirt track but the views were stunning. The Pacific was much clearer and greener than I had seen further north. There were small forested islands with sea-lion colonies living on them.
I was having stomach cramps again after rushing off after lunch so I stopped at a beach to read my book for a while. I got talking to a surfer. He said the surf was great today. As I rode off he shouted, 'Have a good ride bro.' I liked being called 'bro' by a surfer, it made me feel pretty cool for a minute.
The day ended with 10 miles of freeway riding. Not much fun and a bit scary at times. I reached the campsite. For a change it was not a state park but a commercial campground. I was given a spot right next to the noisy freeway in a forgotten about part of the campsite. Nobody else I knew was there yet and I was starting to worry I'd be staying there alone for the night. Before too long Brian, Beth and Kate arrived. They were all in good spirits having just met up with Elon in Arcata. He'd told them that his bike would be too costly to repair and finish the trip. It was a shame to hear Elon wouldn't be rejoining us.
Brian and Beth made dinner for everyone and Kate had bought everyone a mini bottle of wine. We had a great feast of burritos and wine in the campsite's game room. It was too cold to eat outside.
It was supposed to be 6 degrees Celsius tonight so I put on all my clothes and went to bed.
Saturday, 3 October 2009
It was 7 miles to the California border – an exciting milestone. At the border there is an agricultural checking station. You have to surrender any fresh produce to avoid any risk to California's precious agricultural industry. There was a sign that read: $1000 Fine for Animal Abandonment. I guess one too many Oregon cows had been ditched at the border in order to merit the erection of this sign. I was waved through whilst everybody else was searched. I guess they didn't know I was a vegetarian.
I was disappointed to see there was no Welcome To California sign to take a picture of as I entered this new state. Surprisingly California appeared immediately different to Oregon. Flat farmland stretched out in all directions for miles. The first 30 miles gave unusually flat riding. I knew what was coming though. A 1200 foot hill with 3 summits, one after another. I stopped in Crescent City just before the climb. I ate a foot-long Subway and 2 cookies. I needed all the energy I could pack in.
The climb wasn't too steep but the road was mostly without shoulder to ride on. At one point a truck literally ran Kate and I off the road. It came so close to us we had to ride off the road into the dirt. I descended slowly for 5 miles to make the most of the high elevation views of the coastline.
After another 10 miles I reach Klamath, the only place to stock up on food for dinner. It was not a good place to shop. It was not a good place. The grocery store had recently closed down so the only shop in town was part of a petrol station. I met Brian and Beth outside. Brian offered to watch my back in the shop. You can tell a lot about a shop when you see a sign on the door saying, 'No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service.' I immediately noticed one of the customers was dangerously close to not meeting their dress-code. He was wearing dungarees with no shirt underneath. Everybody in the shop was buying booze. Everybody in the shop was drunk already. The most appetising food in the shop was for cats. I ended up buying some Doritos which I thought might spice up a bowl of rice later.
I was keen to leave Klamath, even if it did mean facing another massive hill. This one was also about a thousand foot climb. It was far more enjoyable than the first hill of the day. The shoulder was good and half way up I turned off onto a small road and entered Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. As I climbed higher I got my first taste of California's giant Redwoods. Some of the trees are 300 feet tall. I'm guess that to walk around the base of some of the older trees would take anything up to a minute. The fun really started on the descent which seemed to go on forever through miles of Redwood forest. I felt very small among these ancient giants.
At the campground I met Kate, Beth and Brian. The hiker/biker site was almost full so we had to squash up a bit. There were no free picnic tables so we all sat on the ground and ate together. I'm camping in bear country again now so was instructed to put all food, pans, toothpaste and lip-balm in a secure bear-proof locker. Brian and Beth realised their new shower gel may not have been the wisest choice. It was honey scented.
We were all pleased with ourselves for making it through today's ride. It was incredibly challenging but I was pretty pleased with how I got through it. Thinking back to those early days in Canada it seemed relatively easy. My fitness has improved so much in the last month and I've learned to eat much more effectively. After today I feel like I could do anything. Well, anything less difficult than today's ride at least.
Thursday, 1 October 2009
The homeless man left before 8am, saying good morning to me as he left. I was happy to see that he looked ok but wondered where he was headed. We were far from anywhere, even by bike.
We all left at roughly the same time but mostly, as usual, other than Beth and Brian we cycled individually. I saw a 20 foot Tyrannosaurus Rex on the horizon, luckily it was just a model. As I neared it I could see everybody else had pulled over to have their photos taken with their bikes and the T-Rex. I stopped and did the same of course. I looked around the gift shop for stickers. I wanted to find something to make it look like my bike was called a Long Haul Truckosaurus. I didn't find anything suitable unfortunately so headed on down the road.
I headed off the main route 101 for a scenic route, I met Paul and we rode together for a while. I really enjoyed talking to him about the trips he'd done in the past. He has cycled in many of the places on my wish-list. As we rode together my cycle computer ticked over to 1,000 miles since starting the trip. I was glad to have Paul around to share the moment. He's done 4,000 miles of course since starting his trip but was still good enough to shake my hand and congratulate me.
The route today took in the last parts of Oregon. Tomorrow I cross the border to California. The whole of Oregon has been filled with highlights but the coastal scenery today was the best so far. Every mile or so there was a place worth stopping to take in another collection of enormous sea-stacks.
I met with Beth, Brian and Kate for lunch. We all sat on the pavement outside a supermarket in the town of Gold Beach. Shoppers seemed bemused by our little picnic. We are outdoor creatures now. We eat wherever we get hungry.
10 miles down the road I pulled into a lay-by to find everybody gathered around talking. I noticed Elon's bike lying on the ground, the back wheel was severely bent. He'd had an accident and fallen off at fairly high speed. He was ok but the bike wasn't even rollable. He'd managed to hitch-hike this far and was trying to hitch to the next town of Brookings where there was a bike shop. This was really bad news. Elon was unsure whether there was further damage to his beloved bike and he didn't know if he'd be able to afford the necessary repairs to get it back on the road. This accident could end Elon's tour.
For the rest of the day I think we all rode a little slower, sobered by Elon's accident. It must have been 2 hours later that a truck sped past and I heard Elon shout, 'Hellooooo!' It was good to know he'd been picked up but he'd obviously had to wait a very long time to find someone willing to take him and the bike.
It felt like a long ride today and I was glad when I rolled into Harris Beach State Park at the end of the day. We all set up camp next to each other but it was very quiet with Elon's loud voice. I tried something new for dinner, cheese-flavoured instant mash with cherry tomatoes. It was a great success and I shall be having this in rotation with my other 2 dishes now which should liven things up a bit over the next couple of months.
Brian got a message on his phone from Elon. He'd managed to get a ride to his friend's house a few days further south. He'd been planning a stop off there anyway. It should be a good place to spend a few days sorting out his bike. I hope we'll get to meet up with him when roll through there in few days.
Tomorrow we cross the border to California. It's set to be my longest and most challenging ride ever. Around 70 miles and 2 climbs of over 1,000 feet. Let's hope my legs are up to it.
The next 30 miles were quite boring. Nondescript road with forest either side, blocking any possible interest. The ride seemed purely functional today. Just a way to get further south. This all changed a few miles from camp. The road hugged the coast again and gave a spectacular descent toward Mount Humbug. I whooped with delight. This was exactly the kind of riding I'd been hoping for when planning this trip.
I met Kate at Mount Humbug State Park and we set up camp. Beth and Brian arrived not long after. A little later I returned from a rather lukewarm shower to find a strange awkward feeling at camp. Another camper had arrived. He appeared to be homeless and was quite severely mentally ill. He was large and talking loudly, at first we were all quite threatened by his presence. Normally State Parks are the kind of place you can leave your valuables unattended and not worry about your personal safety. Nobody was sure tonight if we had anything to worry about with this guy being around.
I began preparing dinner. The homeless man approached me and asked if I had a tin opener he could borrow. I gave him my Swiss army knife. My first worry was that I'd never see it again. This was quickly followed my the more significant worry that I'd just handed a potential loon a knife. I extended the tin-opener attachment and asked if he knew how to use it. He said yes but I had the impression he didn't really understand so I offered to show him. We walked to his campsite. He had no tent, just a light sleeping bag on top of a couple of bin bags. It was already quite cold so I was shocked to see his bed. He told me he thought he'd sleep really well because he'd been gathering some firewood. I began opening his tin for him. He hadn't seen this tool before and was quite impressed. I asked him where he'd travelled from. He gave me a rather confused list of places he'd visited: British Columbia, Yukon, Alaska, Seattle. From his pocket he produced a wallet and offered to show me proof. He showed me an $80 fine he'd received in Seattle for drinking in public. He tried to piece together other fragments of paper from his wallet. It was difficult to tell what they were as they were quite disintegrated. I opened another tin for him and left him to his dinner. After spending some time with him I could see he was unlikely to be a threat. He was gentle and seemed quite harmless.
An hour or so later he approached me again and tried to talk to me. It was impossible to understand what he was talking about. He would repeat words like, highway 101, Yukon, domestic violence, millions of dollars, government surveillance over and over. The words were spoken clearly but he seemed unable to form sentences properly.
I sat down and tried to read my book. I couldn't concentrate on it. All I could think about was that sleeping bag on the ground and his meagre meal. It seemed unfair that I'd been having such a great time this last month, living my dream, while he was living such a difficult life on the fringes of society. I could do nothing other than go to bed.
It was cold in my tent. I hoped for the man's sake it wouldn't rain tonight. I slept badly. The cold kept me awake even in my expensive tent and sleeping bag. It was unimaginable to think what it was like for him, lying nearby in the open on those bin bags.
I walked to the tourist information centre to find out where and when I could catch this bus. Public transport is not like back home. I hadn't seen a bus stop since Canada so I had no idea where one could actually catch a bus. The tourist information was closed so I went to ask at the hostel office. I spoke to the lady who runs the place. She wasn't sure about the bus but said her husband would know. He was out fishing so she gave him a call. She made the call from the other room. On returning she told me that her husband had told her the bus only runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This was a Tuesday. She told me her husband would be back in 10 minutes and he may give me a lift in his truck. I couldn't believe this. I'd never met these people before and they were rearranging their day to help me without my even asking. Her husband returned, a jolly, rotund man named Larry. He smelt like a salmon. We talked a little about the problem with my wheel. He told me to come back in 20 minutes. He would collect his bike rack from storage and drive me to North Bend. I told him how grateful I was and that I'd pay him for his trouble. He said he didn't want anything.
We loaded my bike onto the back of Larry's truck and hit the road. I asked Larry about his fishing. I was genuinely interested as I used to be a keen fisherman in my younger days. Regretfully I had to give it up as a teenager when my morals and subsequent vegetarianism kicked in. Despite the moral difficulties I am still very interested in fishing. He told me how he'd been fishing for the salmon that are returning from the ocean to spawn at the moment. I was keen to learn about techniques used for catching salmon and their fascinating life-cycle. Larry was full of interesting information about this.
The rain was pouring down as we drove to the bike shop, I was very glad not to be facing the 25 mile journey on a broken wheel in these conditions. We found the bike shop and before I opened my mouth the owner, Moe recognised me as the person who'd called that morning about the wheel. He set about replacing the wheel and I watched with interest. It was obviously going to take a while so I told Larry he needn't wait, I would cycle home. Larry insisted he would stay until the wheel was fixed.
While we waited Larry and I looked around the shop. It was quite unusual. Moe obviously had an interest in vintage bikes, tandems and unicycles. Moe told me about a chap he'd met who'd ridden across the US on a unicycle. I was sort of impressed but at the same time thought this was a pretty dumb thing to do. A young chap rolled in to the shop on a unicycle with a massive 36 inch wheel. He was a very strange young man who I imagine loiters annoyingly around Moe's shop most days. People who ride unicycles are weird. I know because I used to ride one.
The wheel was fixed in about an hour. It cost me $95 for the wheel and the labour. This is pretty cheap for a rear wheel. It's not a bad wheel but not as good as the one it replaced. As long as it lasts another 2,000 miles I don't really care.
On the way back Larry said he'd take me the scenic route. We were having a good old natter and this was turning from what I thought would be a nightmare of a day into a fun road trip. Larry wanted to show me some salmon so we stopped of at a small creek. We walked down to the water and saw 4 salmon, each around a metre in length. They were an awesome sight, clearly very powerful fish. There was another chap down at the water and we got chatting. He told us about a salmon hatchery down the road where we could probably get a much closer look at some salmon in the hatchery's tanks. Larry and I were pretty excited by this idea so we drove over to the hatchery. Unfortunately we were a few hours late. They'd just released 6 fish that morning. One of the guys who works at the hatchery was happy to tell us all about the work they do at the hatchery. The basic idea of a hatchery is catch salmon swimming up the river toward their spawning grounds. The females are stripped of eggs and the males are 'milked'. The eggs hatch and the young are reared in the hatchery for 2 years. The young are then acclimated to the waters in a controlled area of river near the hatchery before being released. Salmon spend most of their lives at sea. Years later they use their incredible senses to return to the place they were born in order to spawn. The journey of thousands of miles to return to their place of birth in order to spawn ultimately kills the salmon. They breed then die. So by acclimating the salmon to the local water they ensure it will return to the same river to spawn in years to come. The purpose of this being to create a healthy salmon population and a fishing industry in the local area.
I enjoyed listening to the man at the hatchery talk about salmon. Larry said he could talk the hind legs off a jackass but still learnt a thing or two. On the way back from the hatchery we stopped at a river to chat to one of Larry's fishing buddies. Larry introduced me in the same way he'd been doing all day - proclaiming that I was from England - as if people should be impressed by this.
As Larry dropped me off at the hostel, I thanked him again and insisted he take some money for petrol. I was completely blown away by Larry's kindness to me as a complete stranger. He spent half his day driving me 60 miles. I had a great time with Larry, I liked to think he enjoyed himself too.
Back at the hostel I hung out with Kate, Brian and Beth. We were all in good spirits, enjoying our day off. It was great just to sit about and chat. I hadn't had a day off the bike for about 3 weeks. Brian and Beth had been to the store and bought me a present. I'd been complaining about my cold feet when wearing only flip-flops around camp in the evenings. To remedy this they'd bought me some socks with individual pockets for each toe. The perfect sock to wear in combination with a flip-flip. I was delighted with my present. It's amazing what you can get away with wearing on a trip like this.
Elon returned from the library and we began celebrating Kate's birthday with a few drinks and some party music. I noticed a couple of people outside, looking through the window. It was Nick and Callie, the young Canadian couple I'd camped with a few times back in Washington. I opened the door, delighted to see them again but rather confused how they'd found us. By coincidence they'd checked into the same hostel and noticing the bikes had come up to investigate. It was really starting to feel like a party now. Having embarked on this tour alone, knowing nobody on the west coast it seems incredible that now I regularly bump into people I know all the time. I opened some Champagne and Elon unveiled the cake he'd had specially made for Kate. It was iced with a bike wheel and decorated with Kate's own beeswax candle.
We headed out for a meal at a restaurant around the corner. It was nearly 9pm and we were all quite merry. The meal was delicious. I ate a spinach pie with lots of vegetables and a salad. The first decent meal I've had in 3 weeks. We were hurried out of the restaurant, we got the feeling 9.30pm was pretty late for Bandon on a Tuesday night.
Back at the hostel we were up until nearly midnight, well beyond our usual 8.30pm bedtime. It was a great birthday celebration between some really great new friends.
Just over 10 miles passed before reaching a rather large bridge. Ever since my terrifying experience back in Astoria, bridges make my stomach do little cartwheels. This bridge had no shoulder so I decided ride on the pavement. Even on the pavement, crossing a high, windy bridge is not a relaxing experience. At the end of the bridge the pavement narrowed to the point where it would've been impossible to get off and push. It was near-impossible to continue on my widely loaded bike too. My only option was to edge along the high pavement on tip-toes, hoping I wouldn't topple into the road.
The next challenge was a detour from the highway on a section known as the Seven Devils. The Devils are hills, 7 in a row. It was some of the steepest riding I'd encountered for a long time. It was manageable though. Some helpful cyclist had spray-painted numbers on each of the devils, it was good to get an idea of how many hill were yet to climb.
I stopped for lunch in a lay-by after devil number 3. I made it half way through my sandwich before a truck pulled up in front of me. 2 guys got out of the truck. It was Chris the surfer and his friend Steve. Chris had been picked up by his friend and they were now travelling south via the best surfing spots in the truck. It was great to see Chris again and catch up, I thought I'd said goodbye for good a few days back. I was a little jealous of Chris' plan. In a few days he would be out on a boat with his marine biologist friend, working with sharks.
At the top of Devil number 7, the message read, 'Let the fun begin.' I got into race position and prepared to enjoy the descent. I noticed a gentle tapping from the rear of my bike. I pulled over to take a look. What I found was far worse than I could have possibly imagined. The rim on my rear wheel had split open on the braking surface. The split was nearly 2 inches long and was causing the tyre to bulge worryingly around it. This was definitely terminal. It was a matter of time before the wheel completely collapsed. I was about 15 miles from the nearest town of Bandon on a very quiet back road. If the wheel became any worse I may have been unable to push the bike. If this happened I had no idea how I would make it to town. Luckily Kate arrived. I asked her to cycle with me to Bandon. If the wheel did give in she could cycle on and send help. It was a very tense ride, with every bump in the road I feared the wheel may give way. Thankfully we eventually made it to the hostel where we would be staying for the next 2 nights.
Once in the hostel I started working on a plan. I had 2 options: find somebody to rebuild my existing wheel with a new rim or buy a replacement wheel. Rebuilding the wheel was the better option but it would take a day or 2, assuming I could find someone who could do it. I had to buy a new wheel. I couldn't afford to waste 2 days with such a strict deadline to reach San Francisco in time to meet my girlfriend off the plane. I knew there were no bike shops in Bandon. I'd seen one 25 miles back in North Bend. On checking some maps I found that the next bike shop I would come to on my route would be in Brookings, 83 miles south. I called Moe's Bikes in North Bend. The shop was closed on Mondays so I would have to call first thing the next morning. I tried not to worry about the wheel. I didn't want it to spoil our time off in the hostel for Kate's birthday.
The hostel was great, more like a guest-house really. We had the loft apartment between the 5 of us. It should have been a little odd to be suddenly co-habiting with a bunch of people I'd only known for a week, but it wasn't. Elon, Kate, Brian and Beth are all such easygoing, great people that we immediately settled into shared living. We had a few beers and chatted. The rain had begun the moment we'd checked-in. It was excellent timing. We all found it smugly enjoyable to listen to the rain from the comfort of our loft apartment.
I didn't sleep too well. I preferred the comfort of my tent and the worry hanging over me about the broken wheel didn't help.