The Last Hurrah in California: Ka-Ching, Ka-Ching

Gualala To Jenner 60 kms
Jenner to Samuel P Taylor State Park 82 kms
Samuel P Taylor State Park to San Francisco 50 kms

So we made it to San Francisco, 1946 hilly kilometres cycled since Lund where we lifted the boat out of the water and began our journey.

Unbelievably, my skinny capris still don’t fit! If that isn’t evidence of my family tendency toward fat metabolisms I don’t know what is :-0 However, I am much stronger and I am enjoying feeling that way. I am positive I did lose a few pounds (no scale here in the hotel room) but not what I was hoping for.

There were no flat sections on these last rides except for a very short section of trail into Samuel P Taylor State Park and maybe 15 kms of trail and bike route through Fairfax and other northern San Francisco suburbs on our very last ride. The hills after Gualala, before reaching the Russian River at Jenner, were switch-backed cliff rides and the most spectacular coastal scenery on the whole trip, which, given the scenery we have enjoyed, is really saying something.

It was a combination of wind and the cliff rides that had us stop in Jenner instead of carrying onto Bodega where we knew there was a campsite. After splurging a couple of nights on the upscale California inns our credit cards were beginning to smoke. We checked with the visitor center in Jenna for motels between Jenner and Bodega and there were none…only more and more expensive resorts and inns. But after climbing 500 feet on one hill and a whole day of lesser but strenuous ascents and descents, I called it and we decided to really splurge in Jenner. We ended up renting the only thing available, a vacation house. Let’s just say we could have been lodged in Thailand for the same dollars for an entire month…

The house was fun though, a turn-of-the century building with wood plank floors and exposed beams, boho-Victorian-inspired funky décor with a Jacuzzi and hot tub. And at least we didn’t go out for dinner…

After that splurge we were determined to make it to a campground and I know that Ian especially was hoping for one more hiker/biker campsite where we might meet another cyclist given it would be our last night on the road. The ride was long from Jenner and ended with yet another steep climb, this time off of Highway 1 and inland. Ian and I were both grumpy from dealing with traffic yet again on what was touted as a bike route (Sir Frances Drake Boulevard) when we finally stopped at what we thought might be a respite, a trail marked ‘bike route’ close to the campground. But the signage did not match our guidebook and there was no map or other indication as to where the bike route went. Just as we were about to continue down the busy road, Ian discovered he had a flat tire. We were grim as he began the repair.

Traveler serendipity kicked in and a local cyclist stopped to see if we needed anything. He assured us that the trail would take us to the campground and he stayed to chat while Ian fixed the tire. In ten minutes of conversation our spirits were renewed as we chewed through American politics, our cyclist friend articulate and funny as he confirmed a lot of what we have thought about Mitt Romney, the Republicans, and the failure of the American education system to produce an electorate that has the critical thinking skills required to make democracy function. How else to explain creationists and Richard Mourdock, the Republican senator candidate from Indiana who this week proclaimed that woman’s bodies have a way of dealing with pregnancy when they’ve been raped (yeah the Republican blooper of the week).

There was no one else at the hiker biker site when we arrived and given it was dark soon after that we resigned ourselves to sharing it with the raccoons who came out after dark and whose eyes were visible in my camp headlight as they stalked us and made their plans for a raid once we were in the tent. We were putting our food panniers into the metal lock-up that keeps the little buggers out when Mitch pulled into the campsite in the dark, headlight on and pulling his trailer.

Mitch, 21, had ridden from Wisconsin and is headed to L.A We had dinner together and climbed into our respective tents just in time to avoid getting soaked by torrential rain, monsoon style, that continued until 6 in the morning. When we all compared notes at daylight we discovered that both tents had leaked, inevitably, and we made jokes as Ian sang “nothing but blue skies” while we packed up our soggy gear.

The ride into San Francisco was euphoric as the day turned out to be gorgeous and we were ecstatic to be on bike routes in the burbs where the traffic moves at a reasonable pace. After the Golden Gate Bridge we headed down to a trail on the waterfront that took us to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a short ride up Columbus to get to Broadway and our hotel where we left Mitch as he was carrying on to San Mateo.

Ian and I spent our first evening in San Francisco checking out our favorite haunts (beer at Vesuvios, tacos at a close-by Mexican joint) and marveling that we had arrived here on our bikes.

And as we head into our second day here, except for the bikes in our room, it already seems like a bit of a dream.

We leave for Vietnam on Sunday and the cycle adventure begins again.

Our Last Day Off — Upscale California Inns and Barking Sea Lions


Redwood River Resort to WestPort 55.41 kms
WestPort to Fort Bragg 25.95 kms
Fort Bragg to Manchester Beach 65.08 kms
Manchester Beach to Gualala 34.82 kms

We’re almost there. It seems fitting to commemorate the ‘last day off’ as our days off have played a big role in the overall trip. We have been pretty consistent in our pattern of cycling for three days and then taking a day off and I’ve come to count on that pattern to let my quads recover. I’ve had lots of breakthrough days right after a day off, noticing that I am climbing more easily than I was the week before…or feeling really, really strong for the first 30 or 35 kms of a ride.

And tomorrow is the last day off…day after tomorrow we cycle to Bodega, a big day for me at 73 km with lots of hills; after that we head to Samuel P Taylor State Park and at some point during that ride get off highway 1 and start cycling on a bike route on Marin County trails. On our last day, we cycle through the ‘suburbs’ of San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge. We expect to be in San Francisco on Monday.

We had thought about dawdling even longer out here as our flight isn’t until a week Sunday and San Francisco is kind of expensive. But we’ve found that nothing is cheap this close to San Francisco and so we are just accepting that this part of our year-long trip has cost more than we planned. I take it as a challenge to write a few travel articles and do some cost cutting in cheaper places in the world and other financial juggling to make up the difference.

In the meantime, we are enjoying our second upscale California inn here in Gualala (Breaker Inn). We’ve got a four-poster bed, a fireplace and deck with a view of the ocean and tomorrow we get upgraded to an even bigger room and deck plus a Jacuzzi (for same price because we have to move). We had a great stay in WestPort at the WestPort Hotel, a treat after the 6 km long Leggett hill climb. The pub made a great crab fettuccine alfredo and we toasted having climbed the highest hill on the trip with two pints of California micro-brewery IPA.

The descent of the Leggett hill marked the end of the redwoods, a magical ride on a spectacularly sunny day. I think there may have been a break through for me on that hill…I understand that my challenge is more psychological than it is physical and I’ve had less anxiety on the last few rides as a result of accepting that. And that, not the physical challenge, is my real challenge and the understanding that I hope to extrapolate to other parts of my life. (But don’t get me wrong…the hills are still a physical challenge :-0 There are very few people out here moving as slowly as I am. Coyote and another guy Ian calls Whiskey Jack come to mind…they are both over 60 and smoke!)

The end of the Leggett descent took us out of the forest and into dry headlands covered in windswept grasses on the ocean side of the road and cattle ranches on the east side. It was after WestPort that we climbed switchbacks, stopping at cliff-side vista points to look out at the Pacific. Since then it’s continued to be a combination of cattle ranches and cliffs broken by the odd inland stretch of pine forest.

Today began as a challenge as my stomach was upset for some unknown reason for the first 25 kms. The traffic, which has been relatively light compared to the 101 has picked up and the combination of the odd bad driver and the lack of any stretch of flat road had me fighting being grumpy again. But the views were so amazing I forgot the bad drivers after every vista. And I was able to forget my stomach completely when I rounded a corner and heard sea lions barking. As I wound through a stretch of pine forest I caught glimpses of a huge sea stack that must have been covered with sea lions given how loud the barking was. Too far for me to actually see them but close enough for me to hear them – they got me grinning again.

This is the California I know and love – the wild pampas grass and brown hills, cattle ranches, Napa Valley wines, well-kept and prosperous small artsy towns, Spanish spoken everywhere, and great Mexican food.

And hey we got here on our bikes!

Land of Huge Hills, Huge Tress, Humboldt Gold and Hippie Kid Trimmers

Arcata to Rio Dell 58.94 km
Rio Dell to Burlington Campground 37.73 km
Burlington Campground to Garberville 37.73 km
Garberville to Redwood River Resort 27.79 km

We’re having our rest day before the Leggett Hill Climb although we’ve already done 900 feet in the last two days. We get to climb 1000 feet day after tomorrow and then we are done with what are nightmare hills for me. I wish I could say I have learned to master them – mentally – I obviously manage to get over them physically (still using the hikin and bikin method). But I still dread and worry and imagine the worst in between strategizing on how to get over them or out of having to do them! The secret is to not panic and to stop and rest and then keep going but I still give into panic too often. Today for example, I thought I couldn’t go another 10 feet when we arrived at the motel this afternoon. I was very grouchy and yelled at a dog who barked at me when we pulled into the motel (and he really just wanted me to pet him). But an hour after getting here I was walking around and carrying my bike up some stairs and realizing I could have kept going if I’d needed to as long as I took an appropriate break – like twenty minutes.

But here we are at the Redwood River Resort (our motel), six miles from Leggett, anticipating a quiet evening drinking a little wine and watching Monty Python’s The Holy Grail…there’s a dvd player and rental movies…not much on tv here…Tomorrow we get to do laundry and by the time we get up to do that hill on Sunday I will be rested with clean clothes and all will be well.

So, hippie kid trimmers and the county’s biggest cash crop – Humboldt Gold marijuana. We first noticed the dreadlocks and rasta hats in the plaza at Arcata where the shop owners grumbled to us about the army of kids that show up every year at this time looking for jobs as trimmers (pruning marijuana plants and picking marijuana buds). When they aren’t picking they hang about in groups and annoy shopkeepers and regular citizens. And I admit they are kind of annoying en masse, like any group of adolescents can be (loud, hormone driven: a kind of goofy that’s really only charming in small numbers or one-on-one). Yet, much of the economy here, including all the shop owners, relies on the money that is generated by the business. California legalized medical marijuana a couple of decades ago but was unable to completely legalize it in 2010 proposition 19 where the proposal was to regulate and tax it. As a result, it is still run illegally with criminal elements involved and the medical part of it is really a joke (everyone has a card that gives them a ‘medical’ reason to smoke or grow). What a way to make a total mess of a golden business opportunity. Here we have a bankrupt state, a whole bunch of out of work loggers and a cash crop that is grown whether government likes it or not. Instead of spending tax dollars trying to shut down an industry that carries on in any event, why not make the most of it? Proposition 19 estimated that 1.4 billion dollars a year could be generated for the tax man. It truly is a no brainer. Quit allowing the criminal element to make money and let the government collect some much-needed dollars. Remember alcohol prohibition???

In any event, we had a really nice time in Arcata where we met the brother of my good friend Sheila and had a great evening at his home visiting with him and his wife. We got the  lowdown on Arcata and some good travelling in Vietnam stories. Arcata is a together little town that has made some good decisions in its history, keeping the plaza in the center of town as a plaza and as a result, creating a pretty and functional main street with good restaurants and interesting shops.

We were able to get out of Arcata on a series of back roads through farm land and found ourselves at Loleta where we bought cheese at the Loleta cheese factory and bread at the amazing Loleta bakery. This netted us pecan/onion bread that we used to make sandwiches with our aged Monterey Jack cheese and jalapeno jelly. We began to climb as we hit the redwoods but we were happy to get off 101 and onto the Avenue of the Giants.

The Avenue of the Giants gave us a 31 mile tour of magnificent redwoods and we had a good camp in the middle of all those trees, sharing our campfire with Randy, an ex bike courier from LA on his way to a friend’s farm to trim some marijuana and make 150 a day. He told us he used to make the same as a bike courier before the 2008 recession but gave it up when he found he was down to 50 a day. He gave us some insight into LA bike culture – apparently there are great bike routes there now after years of lobbying and he told us how he lives in a housing co-op where cycling has become part of a whole community philosophy on urban best practices (along with recycling and composting, co-op businesses, and eating vegetarian etc.).

Today was a tough day on the 101 where we were intimidated by traffic again – there are parts of this route that truly are unsafe in my opinion. It is surprising that it is so heavily promoted as a bike route – especially in a country where people successfully sue McDonalds for making the coffee too hot – makes me wonder if anyone has ever sued the state for false claims regarding this being a bike route. So California, legalize your cash crop, generate some tax revenue and widen the shoulders. There are thousands of cyclists dropping money here every year.

In the meantime, we are off 101 tomorrow and onto Highway 1 which we have heard is much less busy…We shall see.

The Good, the Bad and Shitty Crescent City


Port Orford Oregon to Gold Beach Oregon 44.6 km
Gold Beach Oregon to Harris Beach State Park Oregon 43.94 km
Harris Beach State Park Oregon to Crescent City California 48.48 km
Crescent City California to Elk Prairie Campground California 23.97 km
Elk Prairie Campground California to Arcata California 70 km

Our ride from Port Orford to Harris Beach State Park was beautiful, showing off the Oregon coastline at its best. We were jubilant on the ride to Crescent City as we crossed the California border.

Tonight we are happily lodged at the Arcata Hotel in what looks to be a great small town. We also enjoyed a wilderness camp after a beautiful ride through the redwoods yesterday. Both experiences a nice antidote to one of the more depressing towns I have ever been in.

So starting with the bad and moving to the sublime…

We stayed at Harris Beach Campground our last night in Oregon. We ran into our friend Anita again and another guy named Jarrod who has some great cycling tales from his six years of travelling around the US on his bike. We also met a man named Stephen, close to our age, who told us some rather weird details about himself: that he has stage 2 pancreatic cancer that has moved to his kidneys and liver and how despite that he still manages the odd 70 mile day; and that he started his bike trip in Boston in December! He knew a lot about our next destination, Crescent City, which was a bit odd as he was travelling south and so should not really have been there yet. His tent was huge for one person travelling on a bike and he didn’t have panniers. He told us his ‘rig’ had been stolen in Seattle so he was making due. He had befriended Anita and seemed a bit besotted…she was oblivious to what became obvious to us…he was a homeless guy pretending to be a cyclist, simply to fit into the community.

Ian and I rode into Crescent City the next day passing into California (yay!) We had decided Crescent City would be a rest day as we had ridden for three and were facing the dreaded Crescent City Hill the next ride. The budget motel we stayed in was right ‘downtown’ across from the beach and RV park and campground. I think we were the only residents the first night, other than the owner’s son who seemed to hang around his room with sketchy looking friends smoking out of a sketchy looking pipe. The streets were mostly empty of pedestrians. The only people on the move were homeless guys on bikes…just like our friend Stephen whom we later saw at a bus stop with his bike. The city was grey, run-down and down-right depressing.

While checking out any possible routes that would avoid the highway we were told by a California parks guy that there is a bus that goes from Crescent City to Klamith, allowing us to skip the big hill ride. He said many people do the ride but he can’t see how it would be any fun as the road is narrow and traffic heavy and the climb long and steep. This echoed the Newport Bike shop owner’s experience, a guy who had just completed the ride to San Francisco and who said the Crescent City climb was his worst experience on the trip and he would bypass it and get the bus next time.

So we got up at 6 am to get the 6:30 bus and happily drove over the big climb and three summits…the road was narrow and under construction and we were glad to have given it a pass.

I was so happy I forgot about the second climb out of Klamtih on Highway 101. (I realize now that I never could have done the Crescent Hill climb and then faced another 900 foot climb right after). I was grouchy by the time we got to the Newton Drury Parkway turnoff and grumbled to Ian about how I wasn’t getting into shape fast enough and wondering if I could really do this trip etc. etc. He did his best to remind me we are two thirds of the way through and then cycled off. I followed, still climbing and cursing.

It took awhile for the clarifying air of those big redwoods to start shifting my attitude. But finally, I stopped a hundred metres from the top of the climb and finally noticed where I was – in the middle of a forest of giant trees – ancient redwoods. There was no traffic and I was alone in this grand, grand, silent world. The internal grumbling subsided and I slowly made my way down a very long descent, in silent awe, feeling like I think we are meant to feel in church.

I arrived at the turnoff to the Elk Praire Campground in an entirely different mood. The campground was also beautiful and more of a wilderness experience than most so far. We met Jarrod again and two other women cycling solo. I really appreciate the guts of these girls – it is more common than I thought for women to be out here on bikes on their own but that doesn’t take away my admiration for their courage.

The ride to Arcata was a little grueling (California, even on the ‘easy’ ride days is hilly and that is going to be a big challenge for me all the way to San Francisco, a challenge compounded by traffic conditions). Fortunately Ian found a side route off the 101. The 101 becomes a freeway on and off for the next few rides and despite wide shoulders the traffic is really intimidating. The side route Ian found was great: at first a bike path along the beach, paralleling the 101, then a bike path through woods and finally along a series of country roads winding around farms.

We rode into town and were euphoric to find a vibrant downtown built around a plaza, a place with stores not up for lease, a place with people walking around enjoying the day, a place without the grey parade of lost homeless souls on bikes.

We were downright giddy at dinner once we checked into the Arcata hotel, on the plaza and built in 1915. The hotel has been maintained properly and it is a lovely respite where we get to take another day off, this time to deal with a stuck seat post which may require a welder and a new seat post.

It will take some serious Zen practice for me to manage the rest of the rides in California. One pedal at a time…

Last Days on the Oregon Coast: Pigged out Raccoons and French Bistro Bliss


Lincoln City to South Beach Campsite 48.11 kms
South Beach Campsite to Florence 79.24 kms
Florence to William Tugman State Park 53.50 kms
William Tugman State Park to Bullards Beach State Park 63.55 kms
Bullard’s Beach State Park to Port Orford 49.46 kms

We booked our ticket last night…later than we would have liked but EVA Air has booked up over the last week. So, we are committed to October 29, San Francisco to Hanoi, Vietnam and will slow down if we need to between here — Port Orford, Oregon and San Francisco.

The last week of cycling has been a mix of more cliff-side, breath-taking, adrenaline spiking views of the Pacific interspersed with stretches of Highway 101 which turn inland where we see lots of forest and lots of clear cuts.

I’m getting braver or dumber. Hard to say.

I’m certainly getting fitter… we hit our half-way mark of 1000 kms a couple of days ago in Florence Oregon. I can feel my quadriceps muscles with my hands now – definitely popping out. The good news is my knees, as a result of those bulging quadriceps, are surviving the cycling assault. My hands and wrists are a different story and Ian and I are continuing to work on seat height and handle bar position to deal with tingly fingers.

We had a surprisingly lovely French meal in a bistro in this tiny town last night– the owner is from Brittany; he emigrated 20 years ago. My 50 km ride, now considered an average day, didn’t quite justify salmon with beurre blanc, vichyssoise, chardonnay and bread with garlic butter…but it was very good and Ian and I enjoyed popping into yet another little universe.

We find that every stop at the end of every day is like entering a different world…very different than travelling any other way, even slowly by car. Everyday we marvel…hey we got here, to this very spot, on our own power. Yesterday from my spot on the shoulder of the road I cycled around caterpillars and grasshoppers where I could and saw, in the trees, some kind of bluebird I don’t know the name of. And after a few solitary hours (Ian is always 5 to ten minutes ahead), I arrived here in Port Orford, in a new town, a new world.

The ride to Florence was another cyclist’s rite to passage…cliff sides, climbs, missing guardrails and finally an uphill tunnel with no sidewalk just before the summit. But again, all those amazing views of sea stacks, surf, and beach, in-between looking in my side-view mirror for logging trucks and honking big camper trailers towing pick-up trucks competing with me for a narrow winding highway 101 lane without shoulders.

After a day off in Florence where we checked out the local museum and then the local marina where we saw the fisherman’s catches of the day (Chinook is in season), we lived it up with real restaurant food two nights in a row (as opposed to pub food or camp food). We had lamb curry one night and a crab ceasar salad the next night (crab is plentiful this year and the salad was top of the line). We got up the next day and cycled and camped for the next two days.

The first night at camp we hit the tent early as it was/is chilly at night now. I was just drifting off when I heard something around the campsite. Was it a person? I yelled out. “Whose there?” No answer . I stuck my head out, shining my new headlight (which is on a strap that goes around my head…how geeky can you get) on the marauder who turned out to be about 4 raccoons. I yelled in my meanest voice, making direct eye contact with the ringleader, telling them to get lost. They looked at me and figured I meant business and all raced off. Ian and I then moved my food pannier up to my handlebar assuming that the raccoons could not easily reach it and might perhaps be scared off by the bike falling over if they tried to get into it. Ian woke up at 6:30 am to the sounds of a raccoon fight. They had knocked my bike over, gotten into the pannier and were at the end of a big raccoon party. They ate a 2 pound block of Tillamook cheddar, six pita breads, a box of ravita crackers, 6 granola gars (they knew enough to take them out of the foil wrappers), a bun, and 10 pepperoni sticks. They left the zucchini and the cucumber. My only solace is Ian’s vision of them all holding their stomachs and groaning, in line for what could only be futile mission to the outhouse, bunged up as they must have been on all that cheese. Grrrrr.

Our second night at camp we decided to try a yurt. Was 39.00 and nice to have heat. The yurts have vinyl-upholstered bunks and futons, basic furniture and lights.

Our third night at camp we met a German woman named Anita who started cycling solo from Anchorage Alaska with a dream of cycling to the tip of South America. Her English was a bit dodgy and she was a bit lonely. She’s cycled 5000 km so far, hooking up with people to keep her company on the way. I hope we did our share as I was in awe of her and felt compassion for her feeling a bit lonely. She was questioning herself in terms of tackling South America on her own.

We also met Robyn, another home renovation type carpenter fallen on hard times. He is now an entrepreneur foraging mushrooms and berries, setting up camp for 5.00 a night in the state campgrounds, where he bases himself three days at a time in a tent and goes out into the woods to do his thing. He ships his mushrooms by bus from a variety of locations in the Coos Bay area. He was a very sweet guy who offered his chicken and mushroom stew to Ian, Anita and I. He deserves a place to live – he certainly works hard for his money and he is now very knowledgeable about foraging. Hey Mitt, he probably works as hard as you. Try paying some taxes. No middle class is not a pretty picture. It leads to instability and a lot of barbed wire.

So a day off here in Port Orford and then we are off for two more days of cycling and camping in Oregon. We expect to be in California on Thursday.