Vancouver to San Francisco Tour 2016 – A Cycle Tour by someone who’s never cycle toured before – Day 19 -Burlington Campground, CA – MacKerricher Beach State Park, CA

Today was an epic ride. An epic ride which will result in an epic blog post. So please bear with me. I did mention yesterday that today was going to be a big ride and so it turned out to be.

In the book Bicycling the Pacific Coast, the ride from Burlington campground ended at Standish-Hickey State Recreational Area, just before Leggett, CA. It was a 46 mile ride, which was relatively short based on what we had been doing on a daily basis. It would also leave us with a lot of work to do the next day. We didn’t really fancy a 1,000 ft  climb straight off the bat so we decided to plough on and head for the campsite just before Westport. This wasn’t the full 2 days, about 20k / 15 miles short but it got us past those damn hills all in one go.


Phase 1 – Morning

The opening half of the day was actually pretty manageable. It was Jace, Corbin and myself that head off first. Scott and Andy were on their own schedule as always and the others had their own plans for tackling the day.

“Good Morning happy campers”

I started off where I left yesterday, a bit sluggish however I shortly got my focus into shape and I was ready. Ever since my puncture, I had a feeling that I was riding through sand. They were a little soft but in my head they were really slowing me down. This contributed to my sluggish efforts over the last couple of days. I stopped one final time and pumped them up to where they should be. In my mind they were far better and as a result I could focus on the ride and not the ‘flat’ tires.

I also wasn’t getting distracted by San Francisco. The previous days I had been looking too far ahead and not enough at the task in hand. Now, I was only concentrating on ‘Today’. I had identified that this is something I needed to do last night, and so I’d psyched myself up from that point onward.

Jace and I had very much got used to each others pace and cycling style, this is why we managed to stick together for so long. We took the ‘slow and steady’ kind of approach. We were the tortoises. Corbin on the other hand had a slightly different approach. He was the hare. He would steam ahead of us on the rolling hills, out of sight, only for us to see him 30 minutes later (depending on the size of the hill), smoking a fag at the top. We would bunny hop each other through the first 1/2 of the morning until one last time. We overtook and didn’t see him again for what we assumed would be the rest of the tour.

After Corbin, we crossed paths with Scott and Andy around Garberville. Because there were many hills, there was lots of opportunity to see other riders. We stuck with them loosely for the rest of the morning. Although we were cursing the hills every time we reached the bottom, to see another, it was a blessing in disguise. It meant that the 2,000 ft climb was done in multiple goes, and we would only have to do half of it in one go. They has also seen Corbin fly past them as but then managed to catch up with him later, using the ‘slow and steady’ approach.

Andy, Scott and myself

The 101 was pretty manageable over this time. Once past Piercy, I think we left the last of the big 101 behind. After about 10 minutes of riding a 3 laner 101 turned into 1 lane. It was joy to my eyes!

We reached the original camp site at about 1 pm, so it was a really good mornings effort. We had lost Scott and Andy (or they had lost us) in this time before but we rode past them at tat a cafe opposite the camp site. There was still something in me that thought ‘maybe’ we could just stay here. It was a fleeting thought which Jace put to bed. For the next 45 minutes we had a somewhat gruelling climb up to Leggett. We thought there would be a better place to go for lunch if we went there.

Finally at our destination, we head to Rising Sun Cafe. We had burgers and fries and lots of root beer. It was a dream way to end the morning. One thing that I did find difficult during these rides is being able to eat enough. Some days we should be eating up to 6,000 calories a day. When you’re cycling for 10 hours – that’s difficult to pack in. We certainly tried our best to get our fill here. As we were leaving we saw Corbin. He had somehow gathered the energy (he looked pretty tired after blasting up those hills) to catch-up with us. We hung out for maybe 15 minutes but then we had to leave him as we knew we had a lot of ground to cover – another day’s worth.


Phase 2 – The Big Hills

As we left we saw a fellow which was loaded to the brim . . . and he also had a trailer on the back! I would have to take my hat off to this guy as that bike looked HEAVY.We got speaking and he said that he had done this a few times before so it wasn’t anything new. He was wise enough to not do the 2nd hill of the day in one go. I thought that this may be because he was loaded with his worldly possessions, however I would soon find out why he said it.

After Leggett we would have another 1,000 ft to climb. After such a large and heavy lunch, it really was a slog. Highest gear. Head down. No talking. The usual. The hardest thing about this one though was that it was full of switchbacks. After a while you were convinced that every corner was going to be the last. However as you got there you could see another one ahead. And another. It seemed to go on forever. Unlike previous days where my psyche let me down, I felt extremely strong. The mental preparation that I had done was being put to good use. The previous hills also played their part here too, knowing that I could physically do the climbs.

After an eternity of climbing, I reached the top and waited for Jace. It was only for about 10 minutes. There was sheer delight and satisfaction at this point. We had done it. We had conquered our Everest of the tour and with relative ease (when compared to actual Everest). Looking at the map in the book, the rest of the day was going to be a relative breeze. It was only 35 miles until the end. How hard could it be? We could now enjoy 12 miles of downhill together. Jace is far less inhibited by fear when going down so he scooted ahead of me. We managed to gather a decent amount of speed! The added weight means it’s just that much easier to pick up speed! I managed to do a good job on this stretch to wear down my breaks as much as I could. My hands didn’t leave the breaks. There were just as many switchbacks going down as there were going up, so we had to be careful. If we hit a stone or a secret pot-hole we would have done some flying. After a while going downhill wasn’t as fun as I may have thought. You’re concentrating quite a lot, meaning you’re not really talking, and actually, you’re not really doing anything apart from leaning a bit left or right. I surprised myself but I don’t mind the flat or even some hills now and again!

Now at the bottom and ready for hill 2,  I can go back to that fellow with the trailer. He had warned us how much of a shitter it was going to be, especially after what we had done. I didn’t quite believe him. I mean, look at the map, it looks easy in comparison to what we had already done. It lead us into a false sense of security for sure. Although it was smaller I was soon reminded of the fact we had already ridden 60 miles.

Reading from Right to Left. 2,000 ft of Leggett and the ‘baby’ 2nd hill (on the 20 mile mark)

It was pretty similar to Leggett; it was full of switchbacks and it felt like it went on forever. However it felt steeper! I think one of the toughest things to deal with here is how the road angled into the switchbacks. You were contending with gravity on both the inside and outside of the corners. On the inside you tried not to go into the ditch or hit the mountain side, and on the outside you were forced to climb higher than you really wanted to. I think I’ve motioned towards this before but the bike is pretty difficult to control when going so slow so it was a challenge getting around these safely and in a straight line.

All the same, the tactics remained as before. High gear. Head down. No talking. Zig zagging across the road as I rode the switchbacks I finally made it up after over an hour. My shirt was drenched and my eyes were stinging from the sweat. I don’t think my eye brows were big enough to deal with this type of activity. On the way up I passed a German girl who was waiting for her friend. I tried to talk as I rode by but I don’t think they could make head nor tail of what I was saying. My breathing was pretty heavy and whispy.

I didn’t to talk however as I wanted to make to summit in one go. This was important to me. It wasn’t an ego thing, not only because there wasn’t really anyone to see it, but because that’s not really my style. It was more the personal challenge that these hills offered me. I had to know that both physically and mentally that I could make these hills with a loaded bike, without needing to stop. That’s another reason why we decided to go at our own pave for these hills, so that we could run our own race.

Once Jace got to the top, we had a 10 minute breather. We were both in shock about what we had just experienced.

“Wow, I did not expect that!”

We again had the benefit of a nice stretch of downhill. Jace made it down quicker than I. Finally, we could see the ocean again. It had been a few days since we were on the ocean so we stopped to take it all in again. Knowing that we had covered so much ground going down-hill our spirits were up for the rest of the day. NOW we thought that the final push wouldn’t be so bad.I mean, look at the map.


Phase 3 – Pushing on the Coast

Elated at being back on the coast we were relaxed knowing the worst was behind us. We didn’t have that far to go. We kind of forgot how far we had ridden so far that and so we were ready for this last stretch. Having stopped though it was quite difficult riding again.

The clouds are rolling in – This is the first point back on the coast after being inland for a couple of days

The hills weren’t very big but there came to us in high numbers. The rolling coastline gave us another challenge that we didn’t think we would come across. We reached our destination for the day: Westport Union Landing State Beach. It was a pretty beautifully placed camp site. It was right at the top of the cliff, so you had unobstructed views of the Pacific. Imagine what it would look like in the morning with the fog rolling in, and at night with the Sunset. We found the board and it turns out it was only $2 as well. It was cheap because it was a basic site. No flushing toilets or showers. This would normally have been fine but with what we had just ridden, we could have done with some home comforts. We thought it was well deserved.  With a mix of circumstance (Not actually able to find the hiker biker part) and desire for a shower we discussed the idea of making it to the next site, 20k away.

We both had to agree on this one though. I was tired but I felt strong enough to head on for another 20k. We had judged that it would be about another 2 hours ride based on an average of 10k an hour. This meant that we would get into camp around 7:30.

We got in past 9pm.

What we hadn’t really considered the 70 miles we had already cycled or respected what the last stretch of coastline had in store for us. Being back on the coast meant that we now had more wind to contend with. This meant it was just a little colder and generally less fun to ride in. The food from lunch was well burnt off so I was feeling pretty hungry and low on energy.

Although I felt like this I was more than confident that I would make it OK and in good time. Jace on the other hand seemed less sure. After about 3 or 4k I was wondering if we had made the right decision. Jace was certainly struggling. He was quiet, and when he did speak, they were expletives. The hills became harder and he was walking up them as much as he was cycling. I didn’t air my concerns to Jace as there was no turning back, so all  could do was try to encourage him on this final stretch.

I know how to motivate people

It didn’t get much easier over time. By 7:30, the proposed deadline, we have only just made it over 1/2 way. The sun was on it’s way down and the fog was starting to roll in. Safety was now my main concern. The roads were small and plenty of blind spots. Jace didn’t have any lights and my back light had run out of battery.

Jace would tell me to go on ahead and meet him at the campsite, but that certainly wasn’t an option.  I think Jace provided me with enough distraction to keep myself from thinking about how tired and hungry I was too. This made it easier for me to push on through these times. Although determined to make it to camp we did look for every opportunity to stop and camp. At each village we came across we would look to see if there was a BnB, campsite or hotel. They were either full or too expensive.

We managed to marginally avoid getting hit. Stupidly I had stopped just the other side of a hill in a blind spot, waiting for Jace. The car gave us an almighty honk, which I don’t blame him for. In my tiredness I had realised straight away that it was a dangerous place to stop.

Frustratingly enough we came to a set of traffic lights for roadworks that were no longer happening. No cars were coming the other way so this made for a very long 5 minute wait. This didn’t help much with morale either. Soon enough as I counted down every 500 metres, we were only 3 k from camp. This seemed to go relatively quickly. With a glance of my watch, it was 9:15, and we saw the signs for the campsite. Oh man what a relief. Our mood suddenly changed. I was elated, more for Jace than myself. I was extremely proud of this guy. Having never toured or even cycled much before, this was one hell of a ride for Jace. With a shitty bike too, it was a Baptism of Fire for sure.


Phase 4 – Camp

We found the entrance booth, paid our fee and got those shower tokens we had worked so hard for. We found our spot through the dark and met some regular faces – Scott and Andy, and here was Gerald. He was back again! It was like old times.

Scott and Andy told us that they had as much a troubled ride as us after the hills. Their’s mainly came in form of dehydration. The lack of water made that last stretch pretty painful. So it was nice to know that it wasn’t just us!

The first thing we did was pitch our tents. We were squeezed into a corner with the other 3. There was space on the other side, however this was occupied by an older man, his girlfriend and his dog. He wasn’t the most warming of guys at first sight. In his late 50’s, long white hair and beard, drinking tins of beer and smoking a joint. He had his hand held radio on, blasting out old rock tunes. We didn’t speak much, only for him to suggest we camp next to him. He sounded drunk already so we politely decline and moved close to the rest of the bikers.

Showers was next on the agenda. 5 Minutes for me to relax and made feel a little more human again. The first thing Jace and I spoke about was this new guy.

“I really can’t handle this now” I said to Jace.

I got into the disabled cubicle. Nice and large. I get myself unchanged and put the tokens in. It came out out the bottom. I tried again. And again. For some reason it wasn’t accepting the tokens. Here I was, standing butt naked in a shower cubicle, tired, cold and hungry, having just ridden 85 miles, climbed 9,500 feet and the shower wasn’t working. You can imagine the words that came out of my mouth. The agitation was clear.

I moved myself to the other cubicle. That one also didn’t work. I got dressed and cycled back to the front booth of the camp site. I exchanged them for some other coins, although they were not convinced that it would help. They pointed me in the direction of the camp caretaker and take it up with him if it didn’t work again.

Back to the showers I tried the disabled one again. No luck. Back to the 2nd one. Finally, after a 4th attempt it worked. ahh, was it worth the back and forth . . . I suppose so but I really could have done without it. All that was now left to do was to eat and sleep

Cleaned and refreshed I sat down for a huge meal of . . . noodles. I doubled up on the noodles and had 2 Cliff bars for desert. It wasn’t a peaceful dinner to say the least. In the time of our showers our new friend had probably polished off a couple more beers and was nicely sloshed by now. He came up to our table and asked us:

“Who’s the oldest of you all?”

There was a collective sigh (here we go), Andy replied that it was probably him. 54.

“I said who’s the oldest of you? Answer the question” he said with a long american drawl.

He wasn’t really being aggressive but it was something that we didn’t really want to deal with at the end of a long days ride. What followed was a monologue of his life. Because we got to experience it, you shall also. He was completely harmless and I’m sure in different circumstances it would have been far more interesting but he was the last character I was prepared to talk with after the day that we had. Jace looked like he could have cried.

“My name is Leeroy Brown – I used to be Leeroy White, but I changed my name” A drunken laugh followed.

“They all know me, the famous Leeroy Brown”

I tried to be polite in conversation, but my annoyance at this time was pretty hard to hide, and anything I said came across as very sarcastic. I don’t suppose this was helped by the English accent either. We are of course famous for sarcasm. With this in mind I tried to say as little as possible.

“I walked all the way down the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I did. Did you know you can get a cold beer and a beef burger at the bottom. 10 bucks for a burger! Every day they get horses to walk down cold beer and burgers for all the rich folk to eat. HAHA. Not Leeroy Brown, I went down with only a tin of Ravioli, me. Then I walked up all the way back. I’ve been all around these parts you know”.

“Oh yeah?” I replied. Again, came across too sarcastic.

Somewhere in the background his girlfriend (?) said something to him

“Shut up woman!”

“haha, Leeroy Brown has seen it all – and I’m 58 [real age cannot be remembered] years old”

[I’ve done some paraphrasing here. I can’t remember the full script however I think this gives a reflection of the man we met. I am sure there is some creative licence and constructed memories in here too but that’s what happens I suppose]

After a while of trying to ignore this guy, his dog pandering for attention, he left us alone and opened up another tin. We were all looking at each other and thinking “thank fuck for that”. Scott and Andy had already started to slip away into bed and Gerald looked traumatised. We all took this opportunity to follow suit.

His radio was still knocking out the rock classics out, but all that mattered was I was in my tent, belly full and thirst quenched.

Jace woes would somewhat continue through the night, but I shall tell you about that tomorrow.

  • Route can be found HERE

      Cheers, Scott

      Live in the Trees Logo

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