We are getting closer and closer to San Francisco. Now travelling on California Route 1, we have left the highway that has been our constant companion since the Olympic Peninsula. We have also left the big trees behind us and have regained a coast that is, in its vegetation, most unrecognizable from the one we have travelled along before.
Day 33: Burlington Campground (Humboldt Redwoods State Park) to Richardson Grove State Park, 53km
I somehow manage to sleep in until 8am (yes, you read that right). But all the others (except Taylor) are still asleep, too. The trees must have a deeply calming effect on us. Furthermore, our friends are all taking a rest day today. So, their sleeping in makes sense – mine, on the other hand, not really.
It is also really cold this morning. Arm and leg warmers are a must, especially riding through the Avenue of Giants some more. We remain on this scenic parkway until Phillipsville, where it merges back onto Route 101.
And now that it has gotten sunny, the cold has been shooed away. It is actually really hot in the sun – between 25°C and 30°C. Needless to say, I am sweating.
We stop, first, in Redway for some coffee and blogging, and then again in Garberville to get internet access at the local library. This ends up taking several hours, as per usual when writing is involved. Both towns are extremely busy. There’s people about our age absolutely everywhere – hitch-hiking, with backpacks. Will and Dan mentioned to us that there are a lot of marijuana plantations in the area. And it is currently ‘trimming’ season, which is basically the harvest of the plant’s buds. Not unlike Canadians who go tree planting in the summer months, a lot of people come here to trim weed and get a bunch of cash.
From Garberville, it is just a little further to Richardson Grove. I’m happy to get away from all the hustle and bustle – the library was absolutely packed – and out of town again.
We are not the only cyclists to stay at the campground for the night. Phillip and Michelle are already there. Phillip is German, from Wuppertal (which is right next to where the German part of my family is from – I’m amazed yet again by how small the world is). Michelle is from San Diego, but has obtained her Masters Degree in Europe, which is how both of them met.
Day 34: Richardson Grove State Park to Wesport-Union Landing State Beach, 63.5km
We are on the road by 9:30am, in order to try to get as much biking done before it gets incredibly hot. Furthermore, we have our last big hills to climb today. It’s better to get them done sooner than later.
We push deeper into the hills, following the Eel River further and further upstream. The gradual elevation gain is noticeable. But it is not until Leggett that the climbing actually begins. It is on the outskirts of this little town that we finally leave Highway 101 after spending most of our trip on this iconic road. We are now travelling on California Route 1, and it takes us straight through the Coast Range from the get go.
The narrow road is luckily hiding from the sun under a relatively thick canopy of trees, thus making us sweat (slightly) less. Still, I can feel droplets running along my temples (and from the waistband of my riding shorts down in between the butt cheeks). This is the hottest I have ever been in the month of October!
As we reach the top of the hill, we spot one of those yellow road signs warning trucks of steep downhill grades ahead. We’ve dubbed them my ‘Signals to Send’ because, well, I always send it down the hill fast, especially after passing one of those!
But, as it turns out, climbing is not over, yet. There’s another hill that keeps us from enjoying ocean views once more. At roughly half the elevation of the previous one, it should be fine. But instead, it packs a punch – a big one, too. I am exhausted and it seems as if the uphill will never end.
This is obviously impossible. We do reach the top of the hill eventually – like we have for any other hill, ever. We ride down and it spits us out into a gulch opening up to the ocean. The air instantly feels fresher, and it feels nice to have an unobstructed view of the horizon once more.
The Wesport-Union Landing State Beach is only a few kilometres ahead. It is the most epic spot I have ever camped at. We are sitting right on top of the bluffs overlooking beach and ocean. No need to walk anywhere. There aren’t even any trees or shrubs to block the gorgeous sights. It is fantastic.
With around 1,580m of elevation gain (according to my little Garmin Edge 25), this was by far our steepest day yet – especially considering that we did not bike too far. Our legs can definitely feel it.
Day 35: Wesport-Union Landing State Beach to Manchester Beach KOA, 94.5km
At this time of the year, waking up at 6am is only recommended if you want to do some last-minute star-gazing before the sun slowly creeps up from behind the horizon. Taylor is already out of the tent, sitting at the picnic table. I decide to stay in the tent, and read some more.
When I eventually do get out of what has been our home for the past month and a bit, I notice that everything is soaked from morning dew – must be the proximity to the ocean. But, once the sun finally climbs above the hills, everything warms up and dries fairly quickly.
By leaving the beach at 10am, we make it to Fort Bragg slightly before noon on this novel stretch of coast. The timing couldn’t be more perfect to find a coffee shop with wi-fi in order for me to skype my family back home – it is my dad’s birthday, today.
Furthermore, we take the opportunity internet access gives us to buy us Amtrak train tickets back to Vancouver – departing Salinas on October 21. That’s it, then – this adventure has an end. Ensuring our return home adds definitiveness to this trip that we have not experienced before. We are approaching our end goal. It almost feels like doors are closing before us.
Mendocino, a quaint, tourist-y town just south of Fort Bragg is where we stop for groceries and a really late lunch. Considering that I was out of oats, bananas, bread, peanut butter, and avocados – basically everything –, this was a most necessary pit stop. I have to fuel up for the remaining 48km to Manchester Beach!
Calories turn out to be quite necessary, as the road dips down into gulches (of which we have to climb out again) and clings to hill sides above grassy bluffs. We even get to pedal up the three steepest switchbacks of the trip, at an estimated 12% gradient (that’s a lot when your bike weighs 100lbs). We take about five breaks on the way up, but manage not to walk! Taylor even does the first section in way too high of a gear – talk about making it even more challenging than it already is.
The physically demanding dimension of the route aside, it is really pretty. Especially around the tiny town of Elk. Dry pastureland sits above ocean-water-shaped cliffs, with small, wind-swept and scrubby bushes and trees here and there. Everythings glows golden in the late-afternoon light. We also see a flock of wild turkeys. It’s Canadian Thanksgiving, tomorrow. This must be a sign.
It is getting dark and my arms and hands – especially the left one – feel stiff and numb when we get to Manchester Beach. Unfortunately, the State Park is closed. But there is a KOA (‘Kampground of America’ – I don’t get it why they write it with a ‘K’ either) to which we decide to go after a two-second debate about wether we should stealth camp in the closed park or not.
KOAs exist all over the United States; they are extremely luxurious campgrounds. If anyone wants to experience a bit of wilderness, they are definitely not the place to go. We, however, are tired cyclists who just finished an exhausting, long ride; free hot tub, showers, and a bad-ass outdoor kitchen for only $10 (biker rate) each sounds like Heaven on Earth.
We set up the tent at top speed – difficult, with my now very numb left fingers –, get changed and hop into the hot tub before it closes. And – surprise (but not really, actually) – it is full of other cyclists, including Jackie! There’s also Tyler, from Edmonton, Rachel and Daniel, from Arkansas, and Rebekah and Nathan, from Vancouver.
After soaking our sore bodies for a while, we take a nice, hot shower, and have dinner around 9pm. This is very late for us. I end up not being in my sleeping bag until way after 10pm.
Day 36: Manchester Beach KOA to Salt Point State Park, 65km
I wake up too early, after too little and too bad of a sleep. Overall, I am feeling far from golden. Was it last night’s ravenous food rampage? The hot tub session? The exhausting bike ride? All of it? In any case, I need to take things slowly – also because my left hand is still not fully operational. Shifting gears is not going to be easy today.
Plus, my front tire (which used to be in the back before I switched them, remember?) decided to deflate over night. That’s five flats for me, and one for Taylor. I am definitely winning.
The weather is foggy and rather unpleasant, so I layer up. The headwinds are strong, too. I am not having a good morning at all and ride slower than usual.
I approach a turnoff and the couple standing there yells at me and waves me down. They are Liz and Brian, friends of Jane, Taylor’s mom! Liz is the one who gave Taylor the Starbucks gift card (to have access to free wi-fi). We knew that they are on holiday in the area. Even so, what are the chances of actually running (biking, really) into them?
We reach Gualala – we are still debating its pronunciation – for lunch. I am starving and close to hitting the wall. Luckily, their grocery store is on point and even has a picnic table outside. Food feels good. I get a hot tea, too. Still, I don’t want to get going just yet – it is cold.
However, the second half of our ride turns out way better than expected. I am finally back at 100% and the wind has eased up! I decide to listen to music and feel like I am flying through the somehow Scottish-looking landscape (gloomy, foggy, with scruffy grasses on scruffy cliffs). We bike the last section with Nathan and Rebekah.
We Salt Point State Park and its campground, 6 miles north of Fort Ross. The initial plan was to go just a little further to a regional park. However, tomorrow is not long whatsoever, so why push on for no apparent reason? Thus, we decide to stay. Good call – the campground is extremely quiet. I pass out around 8pm, in dire need of an early night to properly recharge my batteries.