Wow. What an introduction to California today was. I think this had a bit of everything. Big town, Big hills (x2) and Big Trees.
As I mentioned in yesterdays post, I was excited to be heading into California. California is an iconic State and it has many connotations to the name. It’s probably the state that I had the most preconceptions about, which of course mainly came from TV. And this was why I was excited, because I had pre-written expectations. During the last leg of this tour, I found that some of these expectations were met and some were challenged. All however would shape a wonderful experience none the less.
It’s about 8 miles from the campsite to the Californian border. Jace and I rode together and we caught up with Becca on the way. The main topic of discussion was ‘crossing the border’. It had come up once when talking about State drug laws (as long as you don’t cross the border with weed . . . you should be fine, so I’m told) but I hadn’t really thought about it. Borders don’t really exist between European countries, let alone Counties, so it was a strange concept between states. I believe the border measures are put in place mainly as a control for the introduction of invasive species of plants, small beasties or anything harmful to the native environment. Boats are rigorously checked for cleanliness and there were signs that no fresh fruit or vegetables were supposed to be let in.
We reached the border and took the obligatory photos at the California sign. As we all did this we discussed our tactics for avoiding the hand over our grapes and bananas. Do we own up? Do we risk them getting squashed at the bottom of our panniers and saying that we don’t have any? As we rolled up we saw there were actual turnstiles that the cars had to drive through with booths for border control.
“ah man, this is serious”
They just waved us through. It was like they were relics of a bygone era but still needed people to manage traffic as they had yet to get rid of them. Phew – No one had to lie or fend for fruit. They were safe.
Once in California Jace and I pushed on. Becca was going at her own pace so she said that she would see us at camp a little later. We took a detour off the 101 just before we hit Smith River. It’s hard to put my finger on it but it felt like we were in California (beyond knowing we were). Oregon was sandy, Washington lush green, and California seemed slightly redder and earthy. This may purely be because I knew I was in California and this piece of information changed my outlook. Either way, I certainly felt it. The roads we took were empty. The only other vehicles we saw were a truck and maybe a couple of tractors. We were meandering through the local farming roads. It was great again to be off the 101.
We took our first main stop in Crescent City. To be honest, I didn’t want to hang around for too long. It was one of those ‘through’ towns. It was peppered with cheap Motels, fast food restaurants and neon signs (clearly seen in the day). As noted already, I don’t really like the big towns . . . nor most of the small ones either. We found a patch of grass next to the bay and had a swift snack break.
The sooner we got out of there the better really. It was clear from Jace’s face he felt the same. Bring me the Nature!
What faced us was the climb of the day . . . so far. The first hill in Del Notre Coast Redwoods State Park was a bit of a killer. It was about a 1200 ft climb over about 5 miles. This was really slow going. Jace and I seemed to have an unspoken understanding that on hills like this we need to go at our own pace and meet at the top. With something that required concentration we couldn’t go faster or slower than our bodies could go. Rhythm and breathing for this was super important. I was up in my highest gear for this one.
My tactic for these king of hills were as follows: Head down, look no further than 5 ft in front of you and concentrate on your breathing. You can’t go wrong then. You’re not going fast so it’s safe enough not to look so far ahead. The shoulder was narrow and all other vehicles had to make an effort to over take. As I got maybe about 2/3 of the way up there were traffic lights. It was funny as all the cars that had been over taking me were now stationary and I was over taking them. I could see them looking out of the window and see the expression of ‘why?!’ on their faces. There were a couple nods of appreciation on the way, which was great! When the traffic started to move on they of course over took again. I tried to smile at them but it was difficult through gritted teeth. As one car passed, they wound down the window. I peered in and they were a car of young guys. I was expecting the worst however I got a shout of encouragement from them “YOU CAN DO IT DUDE!”.
I felt like I was in the mountains in Le Tour de France.
The most difficult part of this was when I had to cycle through the traffic light area. It was one way through this part meaning that the road was narrower and harder to over take. I felt sorry for these cars. I did for the most part try to cycle inside the road work area, inside the bollards, to make it easier for the cars to get past. They were repairing the road was that falling down the hillside and so some parts were just not safe to ride on. Back on the road for me.
Near the top on the last corner there was a traffic barrier which had lots of graffiti on it. I took this as a sign to stop for a breather. I had probably lost a stone in weight on that climb from sweat (it was also extremely hot, even in the shade of the trees) so it was a perfect time to re-hydrate too. There were some great messages on there.
I waited maybe 10 minutes for Jace. Poor guy, he didn’t have the high gears that I did on my bike so it really must have been hell for him. We could not leave here before making our mark. This was probably the first bit of graffiti that I’ve had the pleasure of doing!
After a breather and a beautiful descent down the other side of this epic climb we decided to head to the slight tourist trap that was Trees of Mystery. We had seen the signs saying ‘Only 100 Miles to go’ so it felt like it was our real destination for the day. It was good for us to go here – we could spend a couple of hours relaxing and do something different from cycling. It also breaks up the day and you get to walk through the woods in Spandex.Everyone’s a winner.
I would describe Trees of Mystery as an open museum, dedicated to creating a better understanding of the Redwoods and trees of the forest. Saying this, Paul Bunyon, the 49 ft legendary logger is their ‘mascot’. A strange guy to have as your mascot.
We walked the interpretive trails and followed the groups of young families around the forest reading up on Paul Bunyon and his little Ox. We were rightly out of place but it did mean people would talk to us more, asking us “err, what . . “. Not only was it nice to be doing a different activity, it was great to be a little slower through nature rather than just riding past / through it.
The one thing that did amaze me was near the exit. It had a cross section of a 1,000ish year old tree openly facing those exiting. Against the rings, they had added labels to some pretty big world events. This really made you feel small and insignificantly young.
Although welcomed, we could have timed this stop a little better. By the time we got out it must have been around 2pm or 3pm. I was starving and Jace will confirm that I was starting to get pretty hangry. All I wanted at this point was to have food. We spoke with some other tourists and found out that there was a village around the corner for us to have lunch at. Before we came to that we saw a gas station, general store and restaurant all in one. I made a call and decided to just do it. I really could not be bothered to go any further. It turned out to be a good decision. The Woodland Villa Cabin / Market made us a pretty epic pizza that we ate between the two of us. Well and truly stuffed we sit back for about 10 minutes as there was no way in hell that we would be able to ride after that.
In this time a couple next to us had left 1/2 a pizza and gave it back to the staff. The teller beckoned Jace over to the counter. He explained that they couldn’t finish it, didn’t want to throw it and couldn’t take it with them. So as a true gent he gave us the other half. We took it with us for dinner that night.
This decision had turned out to be better than we had initially planned for. The village that we were aiming for, Klamath, ended up not really having too much for us to eat there. It was pretty dead.There wasn’t much there apart from a gas station and a casino and Native American Community buildings. We said this at the time but it felt a little eerie. One of those towns that once you enter, you will never exit.
We rode over the Golden Bear Bridge out of Klamath and started on our nice climb to end the day. This was really hard and no one enjoyed really it. It was still warm, the pizza was sitting . . . just about, and we were somewhat taken out by the first one of the day. Again we did the climb at our own pace. I was clawing my way up this climb, trying not to zig zag too much. One thing that is different on a touring bike is with low speed and a heady load, your ability to ride in a straight line is very much hindered. I probably did twice the distance on these hills from swerving so much. With grit and a lots of swearing we got to the turning point that took us off the 101 and onto the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.
The climbs didn’t stop here however. If anything it got quite steep. However there was one added benefit for this route. The roads were smaller and therefore covered in more shade which did a great job at cooling us. Scott and Andy had mentioned that when you’re in the Redwoods, it’s amazing how quickly the temperature drops. True dat.
The last few miles was a deserved downhill coast. I must have had a cadence of about 2 a minute. This, along with the what we saw at the Trees of Mystery, were a great introduction to the Redwoods. I actually felt extremely lucky to be in this position to be riding through such beautiful and magical forests. It was difficult to keep your eyes on the road because you’re either looking to the side or up. THIS is what living is really about.
Last night, in Brookings, we had met a couple of people that had stayed in Elk Prairie Camp Ground. They had said that it has its name for a reason. They had woken up in the mornings to see Elk standing in their camp, only feet away from their tents. These are big animals, so although it was beautiful, it was still a little scary. I was very much looking forward to the prospect of seeing more wildlife.
When we arrived there wasn’t anything there however I did feel a little like a kid at on Christmas Eve, looking forward to the morning.
Tonight was very busy. Scott and Andy were there, Gerald was there with his tins of beer (he always had one or two in the evening) and Becca. However there were a good few more. I didn’t meet them but we would actually meet properly at a later date (Tomorrow evening). I shall introduce you to them then.
As camp was shaded it was cold. It was toque (that’s a woolly hat for the Brits at home) and fleece weather for sure. This forced us into our tents and sleeping bags relatively early to warm up and get some rest
- You can find the route HERE