September 11, 2013, Wednesday
Standish-Hickey State Park to Van Damme State Park, California
59 miles (running total = 430 miles)
When one family in a typical large motorhome arises in the morning at a campground, begins their day, attaches their car to the motorhome’s trailer hitch, and warms up their diesel engine for several minutes prior to departure, all the other campers in the vicinity quickly become fully aware that this temporary neighbor is up and preparing to leave the campsite. Noise level is high, air quality takes a dive due to petroleum particulate matter being emitted everywhere, and sleeping any further usually is an exercise in futility.
That’s just one family, and there are many such families and motorhomes in most state campgrounds. Multiply this scenario by a fair order of magnitude, and that is what America sees as camping in the wilderness. I’ve camped for decades, witnessing this year after year. Regardless our individual opinions about this, let’s compare to a cycle camp.
It is September 11th at Standish-Hickey State Park. The sun is not yet up. Most folks would not even call it dawn. The “motorhomers” are still sound asleep. There really isn’t enough light to easily see to break down a tent and campsite, but with each passing minute, it does get a little bit brighter. In short order, headlamps can be turned off as dawn approaches. There are 17 of us cyclists here, confined to a relatively small area compared to what the monstrous motorhomes require. I hear a faint rustling outside my tent, somewhere in the faintly predawn air of the hiker/biker camp. Sure enough, some of us are now already up and quietly beginning our morning routines prior to hitting the road once again.
We are all like phantoms. It’s some kind of an unwritten law of the cycle touring world. We are part of a loosely confederated group of human powered humans, brought together for a few hours daily on our shared, yet individual, journeys south on the Pacific Coast. We all have our unique morning procedures, but they all lead to the same result: We wake up, get dressed in our tents, strike our tents and pack them away in our panniers, wash the sleep from eyes, eat something for breakfast to fuel the machine for what lies ahead, pack the final items in the cargo bags, and depart the campground. If words are even spoken, they float on the air softly in whispers, extending no farther than the ear close by. There are no engines, no toxins, no noise pollution to awaken all the neighbors. When the folks in the motorhomes finally do wake up and begin their routines, the hiker/biker camp is deserted … all without anyone else knowing.
By the time the typical camper is groggily walking over to the bathroom, the cycle nomads are all out pedaling the highway once again, using most of the daylight hours to reach the next overnight camp, a distance that the noisy petroleum powered motorhome humans will travel in only one hour. The two worlds are dimensions apart, and the only shared ground is the pavement upon which we all travel in our vastly different vehicles.
I start the day on Highway 101, the same road I have been pedaling since the third of September. My trike’s taillight is on, flashing its 10 LED lights, as the redwood forest engulfing me keeps out the light quite well this early. By the time I reach the tiny isolated village of Leggett, California, two miles south of Standish-Hickey, it is bright enough to easily see. Here is the sign coastal touring cyclists can’t afford to miss. This is where California 1 forks off of US Highway 101 at long last, and is also where the Pacific Coast Bike Route leaves the racing petroleum puffers to their high speed drive to cover as much ground in as little time as they can. I happily turn onto California 1, called PCH, or the Pacific Coast Highway.
Of course, there is a price to pay for making this right-hand turn at Leggett. That price is the abandonment of easy uphill grades and wide shoulders. The next 22 miles to the Pacific Ocean is very narrow, one lane in each direction, and often with little or no shoulder for the trike. Oh, and did I mention that much of the road is extremely curvy with a 15 mile per hour speed limit in places? And, oh yeah, one more little tidbit about this road: It is steep, very steep, for most of its miles, with two summits. So here is the picture: I pedal the ICE trike in the lowest gears for what seems like hours (probably because it is hours), reach a summit, begin rocketing down again (but I can’t go too fast because the curves are very tight in places, and can flip a trike), pedal easy for a while as I pass a sign that reads SHORELINE HIGHWAY, think I am nearly at the ocean, only to realize that directly ahead of me is, ugh, yet another summit grade I must ascend, just as steep as the first, but fortunately, not quite as long.
This traverse, called the infamous Leggett Hill, requires much of a cyclist’s morning, but it is not as bad as the picture painted by many riders. Why? Because it is all overcast this morning, 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and as I near the ocean once again, the Pacific’s typical weather pattern kicks in, namely fog. So, despite the effort needed to travel these 22 miles (24 from Standish-Hickey State Park), I am not dying of the heat or horribly exhausted as I was in the Redway/Garberville area recently. I have plenty of water to easily get me to the calm gray sea below the cliffs where the road opens up out of the forest.
As I reach the Pacific, I stop and have an Odwalla protein bar and a Clif Bar. The water is so quiet and still, with hardly any surf. It is almost eerie. There is hardly any traffic here. Not even three dozen cars passed me on the 22 mile ride over Leggett Hill. This is very peaceful territory. The road now flattens out by comparison, and I can see for many miles far ahead down the southern coast from where I am standing. Many pompous grass bushes grace the hillsides. They sway gently in the slightest breeze. They remind me of home, up north in Oregon, where there are also many, but the Oregon ones seem to be more yellow in tint, whereas these are more lavender.
Along this route, I also find more blackberries, and never miss an opportunity to gather some up to fuel my organic engine for the ride south. After riding for a while, I notice Alan from Arizona up ahead. He is stopped smoking a cigarette, but does not see or hear me pass by. I call out “Hi Alan” as I move along, which clearly startles him. Trike Phantoms are quiet. Nobody can hear us coming. Later, I pass one of the cyclists and his wife who camped at Standish-Hickey last night. She broke a spoke. He fixed it. Good thing he knows his mechanics. There are no bike shops to the rescue this far out!
At times along this Route 1, the trees form what feels like tunnels with their branches. They make for interesting photographs. This is called the Medocino coast, and today it is currently cloudy and muggy. By the time I enter the city limits of Fort Bragg, a large full service town, the sky is mostly clear and sunny. It is early afternoon, time for a Safeway market break, some Odwalla protein monster drinks, fresh strawberries, trail mix nuts, and a couple of bananas. This is a welcomed pause in the pedal pushing routine, having successfully crossed the Leggett Hill, and also making it up a grade that was beyond belief in steepness, short, but a pedal mashing low/low affair.
Here’s what happens continually along the Pacific Coast: I am pedaling along the bluff overlooking the ocean. Now and then, streams and rivers flow from the mountains into the ocean. Well, where these waterways enter the ocean, there is a canyon of sorts, often small, and rarely do government agencies spend money erecting long bridges over these frequent fresh water intrusions into the sea. So, I have learned that when I see the road ahead take a hard 90 degree turn to the left, often with an arrow warning motorists, I know that it is because a stream or river is flowing into the ocean. The road takes a sudden drop along the small canyon face, down to the river level, where a little short bridge has been built over the waterway. Then, it just as abruptly curves right, and up the canyon face on the south side, returning to the bluff overlooking the ocean once again. These are continual all along this Pacific Coast Highway, and the uphill segments, although usually short, are extremely steep, much more so than allowed on governmental highways built today. The higher the bluff, the more extreme and long these uphills become, and a few are mind blowing hard.
At Safeway, I come out of the store after buying my highly anticipated trail treats, ready to refresh myself and refuel the machine for more riding. Up rolls Fabian Brook from the far north country of the Yukon, the same fellow who played the ukulele last night, along with a couple of other bicyclists from our Standish-Hickey hiker/biker party camp. We relax together, share good times of the trip, and eat our freshly acquired food. We also stash some of it in our panniers for tonight’s camp, which will be at Van Damme State Park if all goes as planned. Leaving Safeway, I follow Fabian up the first hill out of town, and then he out-paces my trike and is gone. He is a powerful rider.
David, my partner for the first five days of this journey, is also a very powerful rider. I was duly impressed with his ability not only to usually keep pace with me, but sometimes pull ahead when I took my time ascending a steep hill now and then. David had trained well for this trek prior to his departure from southern California to Oregon, taking fully loaded training rides to accustom himself to the demands of overland triking, which, as you might guess, are many. Lots of trike pilots dream of becoming trike gypsies, but most find out soon enough that the gulf between dreaming and doing is indeed incredibly wide. The mind may want it, but the body cannot handle the challenges of the road. I have witnessed this time and again. If you plan on joining the ranks of overland trike nomads, plan on at least one full year of all-out physical conditioning ahead of time. That means frequent and fully loaded day rides of 50 miles, along with mini treks of 2-3 days to get used to the camping end of things. There is nothing easy about overland triking, on that you can depend!
This road soon flattens out with wide shoulders again, and I make good time south to Van Damme, arriving there well before sunset. This state park lies in a tight river valley that exits to the ocean. It is fully in the tsunami zone, meaning that if a tsunami occurs while I am camping in here, things will get really exciting, and really wet, really fast in the middle of the night. Ahh, all part of the adventure of triking along the Pacific Coast Bike Route on Highway 1.
When I roll silently into the Van Damme hiker/biker camp area, very small indeed, with bumps and potholes all over the ground, my Canadian friends Vic Krueger (on the left with blue cap) and Bert Lensink (on the right with red cap) are sitting at the table. They wave to me, and we are all happy to once again keep company. Good overnight road companions are an important asset to help keep one’s head together if things are going roughly. But today is smooth sailing, and all is fun. A little later, Fabian rides in (must haves stopped somewhere for a bit because he was ahead of me leaving Fort Bragg). Later still, female cyclist Bronwyn Wood rejoins this rag-tag group of pedal pushers. She was with us at Standish-Hickey State Park, one of the Wild Seventeen. Bronwyn lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but was born in Santa Barbara, California. Her family left Santa Barbara when she was an infant, so she is eager to cycle through there now as a young adult. I take a picture of her as she returns to the camp after her shower, blue towel on her head. She wonders why, so I tell her that I want to capture the true spirit of the gypsy life.
We all talk a while after dinner, and then, as usual, hit the sack shortly after sundown because we know that tomorrow brings another early rise and return to the asphalt. This happens every evening, and we all become precision machines without thinking. It’s kind of like the popular old movie called Groundhog Day, where the guy wakes up to the same day everyday, except that each day for us is new and exciting – only the start and end routines are identical.