September 06, 2013, Friday
Harris Beach State Park to Trees of Mystery redwood forest, California
44 miles (running total = 210 miles)
Up like a bunny at barely first light, I deflate my ThermaRest NeoAir Fast n Light mattress, slide into my clothes, and prepare to hit the laundry. David informs me it’s not quite 7:00 yet by the time my tent is packed away, so I eat my granola, brush my teeth, and leave last night’s dinner remnants in the private bathrooms. I am waiting at the door with my damp clothing when the official returns to unlock it. In no time flat, they are dry again, and my laundry boo-boo doesn’t even slow up our departure from Harris Beach State Park.
We fly into town, only a mile south, and drop into Fred Meyer to restock any supplies for our early morning ride into the next state south of Oregon: California, here we come! The sun has come up by now, and David poses with his trike in front of a large bear dressed in a Viking suit of armor. Then, it’s simply the final flat miles to the state line, where, of course, we come to a grinding halt to capture our obligatory “Proof of Being There” photographs just in case anyone doesn’t really believe we did all this crazy stuff. Of course, it also serves the purpose of stroking our egos that we have pedaled through the southern half of the Oregon coast and are about to enter another imaginary political container, one that is far more bankrupt than the one we are leaving. Why is California washed up financially? Well, one quick clue is that the pavement improves immediately at the line, from rough Oregon paving to glass-smooth California paving! Notice the state line photos and you can actually see what I mean!
We also enter Del Norte County, the Redwood Gate to the Golden State. This crossing into California is far removed from the crossing that I encounter on my inland trike route that enters the state in its northeastern corner, in agricultural landscapes as far as the eye can see. It’s all flat land out there, with potato farms and horse pastures everywhere. Here on the Pacific Coast, it’s all huge evergreen trees and even larger redwood trees. Wow, the difference is striking!
The day is warming up quickly. There is no fog this morning so far. Shade is what we seek. Up ahead! Look! It’s a gigantic tree, and David decides it needs some water, being out in the relentless sun and all, so we stop and perform our good deeds for the day by keeping this giant alive and thriving. As I roll up, David looks like a little ant under the tree’s spreading limbs. I capture another photo of the trikes from the front. My hat is hanging on the flagpole, a little trick I do when I am really pumping out the perspiration, as the breeze makes quick work of drying out the Outdoor Research cap I got at REI.
This western coastal section of northern California changes continually. One hour you’re in huge woods, and the next you’re crossing some agricultural farms. At times, we see orchard workers on platforms pulled by tractors, doing whatever they are doing with the particular crop they are harvesting. The terrain is pretty flat, so we make incredible time flying south in our highest gears, reaching flatland sustainable speeds of 15 miles per hour at times. With only a 52 tooth big ring, holding 20 requires a lot of extra effort when fully loaded, and is not worth the caloric expenditure or potential for joint injury. Holding at 15 for a while gets us down the road well, and our spirits are high. We pass several sculptures along the road made from horseshoes. Before we know it, the northern California town of Crescent City is right in front of us.
This town was devastated by a tsunami years ago, but we take a chance and stop at a Grocery Outlet discount market to eat some lunch. The speeds we sustained to get here used up our energy reserves, and the food was welcomed. We met some town officials who were really interested in our trikes. It was a fun visit. We are now only 351 miles north of San Francisco according to the state road signs. My, how time flies when you’re having fun! In Crescent City, I see the perfect delta trike for sale at a gas station: it has a huge fan that propels it forward. But today, neither David nor I need it because the road is so darn flat that we can go as fast as our legs, lungs, and gearing will take us! What a rush. We get some incredible photos of the trikes at the beach.
Of course, all things must pass, this we know. And so, the flat gives way to what cyclists call the Crescent City hill. This is no ordinary hill, but seems more along the lines of the Bellview hill we traversed not long ago in southern Oregon. Yep, my eyes were telling my brain that it is about time to “spin and grin” once again, a mental state where a triker puts the mind somewhere else, and the feet just keep spinning away at those pedals until the summit is reached. Maybe that fan powered delta trike would be just the ticket for this monster.
A sign at the bottom reads: NARROW SHOULDER NEXT 10 MILES WATCH FOR BICYCLES. Hey, what about tricycles? I’m getting a complex. Of course, there is a message carefully hidden inside those words, one not understood by petroleum powered humans, but deeply felt by human powered humans such as David and me. That message? Prepare to fry and cry for the rest of the afternoon. Well, that’s not all the message. The rest is to prepare (eventually) to fly down the other side. What goes up a monster hill must also rocket down at some point … if a triker can live long enough to see the top. Survive the torturous ascent and be rewarded with a heart-throbbing descent, the likes of which you have never known.
We enter the Redwood National and State Parks somewhere along the seemingly endless ascent. We pedal up for what seems like hours. I have not worn a timepiece for more than 20 years now, so my only clue is the position of the sun. David knows the details, but we do not speak on the way up. All our life powers are concentrated in the goal of summit acquisition. I see the top. I reach the top. It is not the top! It is what is known as a false summit. Bummer. Up we go again. More of the same. Death comes slowly and in measured doses as the sun knows no mercy. After a while, I really do see the top. I reach the top. It is not the top! Another false summit. How cruel this flat Earth can be. Christopher Columbus just had to go and prove it wasn’t flat, so now I pay the price. We pedal on, again, hoping for the top, but now mentally defeated, as if there really is no summit to the laughing colossus.
Time marches on. I see the top! I reach the top! It really is the top this time! Six miles, according to the roadside milepost markers, have passed since we have known flat ground. We rest. We eat energy bars. We prepare for what must be the ultimate yahoo ride, a real Mister Toad’s Wild Ride is in store for two very wiped out trike gypsies. Not far from the top on the descent, there is a traffic stoppage for a construction zone. I enter the line of cars and wait just like them. David went through on the last pass. The light turns green. The cars begin moving. I keep pace with them, actually having to brake because they are moving slower, believe it or not.
We all exit the zone together, and I am still pacing the automobiles. What a trip this is! The road is so steep, I am not holding anyone up. I am also not riding on the shoulder anymore because at high speed, trike riding on shoulders is simply foolish. I take a car lane. Car passengers and drivers are amazed to see the show of this little human powered trike coasting at such speed. It’s two miles before the road levels out. It was an 8 mile experience.
Our journey still has us up quite high in elevation compared to down at the beach. David and I pass the boundary to the Del Norte Redwoods State Park. Now David is taking a lot of photos also, amazed at the size of these trees, giants that even a camera with a wide angled lens cannot fully capture or do justice to. Only the eyes and our brains allow full appreciation of this amazing place.
At another high point, we see that the Mill Creek campground in the Del Norte Redwoods State Park is open. We are exhausted now, and turn in to camp, but what we see is heartbreaking. The sign indicates it is another 2.2 miles to the campground off the highway, and as we pedal forth anyway, the road plummets at a grade far steeper than what we have been climbing all afternoon. The road is so degraded from years of no maintenance that potholes and cracks are huge, and very uncomfortable on our trikes. About 100 yards down the insane hill, we stop, look at each other, and simultaneously realize that no, we clearly do not wish to descend this aberration after our hard-fought elevation gains today, and we most certainly do not wish to climb this monstrosity first thing tomorrow morning! Word is that this campground is a triker’s dreamland once there, but the price is just too stiff for David and me to pay, so we return to the main highway and pedal on.
This option we have chosen is also not without unknowns. There are no known campgrounds now for a very long distance, much farther away than we can reasonably pedal in these waning hours of daylight. Our destination tonight is fully uncertain. The road is extremely narrow, with practically no shoulder area much of the way, and the car traffic is exceptionally heavy. We use our flashing taillights, and car drivers are courteous. It is very dark in here because the massive redwood trees filter out much of the sunlight that remains this late in the day. We are too tired to slide into worry mode now. We just keep our forward motion, and realize we will make a spur of the moment decision at some point, perhaps a wild stealth camp in the virgin woods is in store for us tonight!
We finally descend again to the level of the mighty Pacific. Sun is low. The large sea stacks are impressive in this late light. The road turns inland, and before we know it, there we are! I see Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe standing there on the left. Paul is waving to me. Babe keeps him company. The light is almost gone from the gigantic statues, and no matter what, I simply must have a photograph of my ICE trike at Paul’s immense left foot. David pulls in shortly, and rides to get in on the action. He knows a great photo op when he sees it! While he is still shooting away, I have an idea, and ride off across Highway 101 to the Forest Cafe.
We are at the world famous Trees of Mystery redwood forest. This place, while certainly a tourist attraction of the first order, is worth the admission price. I have been through it, and highly recommend it to anyone who loves monster trees. I enter the Forest Cafe, greeted by a large stuffed bear who waves at me. I am also greeted by Billy Jo, the hostess, at whom I throw myself to her mercy. I relate our sad tale of woe, with no where to pitch our tents for the night. Might it be possible to inconspicuously pitch two small tents in the deserted gravel lot east of the restaurant? She says yes, and immediately our uncertainty is totally gone. When David pedals up to me outside, I relate the good news, and we decide to eat dinner at the restaurant, and also grab breakfast the next morning. It’s the least we can do for their generosity, for there is no charge to camp. I am even allowed by the other waiter, Joe, to use their private telephone with my calling card, since there is no cellular service in here.
David and I pitch our tents, physically wasted from today’s tests of endurance, and then walk into the restaurant for dinner. I order a black bean veggie burger, which is delicious, the first “normal” food I’ve had for a while – and, it’s hot for a change! David spends his time on their free Wi-Fi signal, updating his website and contacting his wife. We leave a generous tip and hit the sack. The tent flies are damp – something odd about the atmospheric conditions, for the sky is crystal clear, and the night brings a sky that fully displays the edge of the Milky Way. It is so awesome here. Serendipity has played a role. We are safe and having a great time, with two killer hills now behind us – but, of course, on this coastal route, there are many more where they came from! Sleep quickly overtakes us.