Wednesday, August 16th
A tough hot and long day leaving behind the shade and grandeur of the redwoods for the dirt and sweat and noise of the open highway.
I started the morning at a relaxed pace, thinking it would be an easy 46-mile day. I walked around a short nature trail through the trees near the campsite after packing up, and made it down to a shallow part of the river crossed with a bridge. It suddenly hit me that I’d been in this exact spot, this bridge, almost exactly two years ago with friends which made me rather nostalgic for that trip and a version of me which was two years younger and more naive. After pondering this on the bridge for a while and enjoying the sun I headed back to camp, enjoying the unique aroma of bacon cooked outdoors which was hanging sweetly in the air, before collecting my bike and leaving – it was the kind of campsite it was hard to let go of.
I stopped by the visitor center and looked at taxidermy wildlife, a truck made out of one gigantic piece of wood (a travel log), various redwood artefacts – black and white photos, old maps, and animal skulls.
I bumped into Dan and Stella as I left, and after wishing them well continued along the last of the Avenue of the Giants. Around 10-15 more miles of treee, shade, and solace, interspersed with twee tourist towns and wood themed attractions.
I knew the day was off to a bad start when I chose the wrong place to have coffee just four and a half miles in. Outside the store I was accosted by a 84 year old man who would talk for minutes at a time, I’d say something or ask a question, he’d point at his ear and lean on slightly, then carrying on talking. He proudly pointed to a sporty looking car he had acquired after selling his farmland to pot dealers which led to a long conversation I wasn’t interested in or invested in so I drank my coffee to fast and left with a loud ‘have a nice day!’ aka please stop talking and leave me alone.
Out of the shade of the redwoods it soon became clear how hot the day was going to be and from there on out it was a struggle.
The 101 was busy, noisy, lonely. Californian drivers seemed less keen on cyclists and I got shouted at twice for doing something not to someone’s taste. Humbolt county was generally not a welcoming place to be a traveller. Almost every town i’d seen seemed to be struggling in some way. Even the normal people seemed crazy.
My one and only stop in a town, at Garberville (aka Garbageville), exemplified this. Outside the supermarket as I tried to seek quiet refuge in the shade on a pallet of water bottles some guy made garbled conversation and heckled every new customer who entered the store. It was tiring to witness and almost made you forget that there are places in the world where you can go and buy Cheerios in peace.
I left without eating lunch, partly because I’d eaten too much sugary junk in the morning but also I didn’t want to linger another minute longer, so I reluctantly rejoined the 101, climbing for sometime before a long bumpy descent on a rough shoulder where at the bottom I noticed one of my front panniers hanging from my rack. When things aren’t going quite to plan it’s easy to succumb to confirmation bias, to add up the negatives and get further disenchanted, but today I felt enjoyment levels really were hitting a low.
Inspecting the pannier and rack I noticed I’d lost the grey shim which clips the pannier snug to the rail. I improvised a fix by wrapping a spare few centimetres of bar tape around the rail to increase its circumference and kept on going. I stopped a few miles later at Richardson grove state park to sure up the bar tape with some PVC tape. Though I made the mistake in stopping too soon, in the sun, rather than a few miles on in the cool shade of a small patch of redwoods.
Things improved a little when I diverted off the 101 on a scenic alternate route – highway 271 – which ran parallel to the main highway for a while then took off it’s own direction. It was underused and overgrown, and had a dry and deserty feel in the afternoon sun. It was the kind of road I imagine someone in a Tarantino film driving down to dispose of a body or torch a car.
Despite that, it was an improvement, and something interesting at least, as my mind was able to wander more freely and think about the abandoned RV, the cone with weeds growing through it, or the sticker someone had slapped on to one of the roadside markers I passed by.
I also thought a lot about when this day would end. After grasping snatches of the highway from the 271, I eventually rejoined it. The sun had dimmed a little and it was more enjoyable now but still slow progress. It crossed the south fork of the eel river a couple more times, before narrowing, descending, climbing, then levelling out as I reached my home for the night – Standish Hickey State Rectration area.
Just over the road from the entrance I pulled into The Peg House. A shop / bar / bakery / gift shop all in one. To reward myself for a tough day I went around the back to a beer garden and ordered a Dr Pepper, a pilsner, and a burger. It was all fantastic.
At my I spotted Ben – the guy I’d camped with the night before who was in a rush to make it to SF by Saturday. He’d also had a rough day, a much rougher day – having to hitch back and forth from Garberville to buy an inner tube. He looked a little defeated, but I imagine i did too. We were soon joined by two girls he’d cycled with over the last week, and an Austrian guy.
I headed over the road to make camp then wandered down to the river with the idea of swimming which I gave up on after looking at the water and realising it would be dark soon. I hiked back up the steep road I had come down, and crossed the road again for a can of beer.
It was dark now. the recreation area felt a bit strange – it wasn’t quite a State Park, and sat just off the highway, but the hiker/biker setup was great – electricity, loads of space, and a covered area for sitting or drying clothes.
Three new faces appeared: firstly the Indonesian man i’d not seen since Oregon who somehow had caught up, then at the shop a Chinese man who cycles 200km+ each day trying to make it from Alaska to Panama in 80 days, then a Catalanian guy who was hitchhiking his way around the world – he’d left Barcelona 9 months before and cooked potatoes and carrots in the dark.
The day I’d had cycling was forgotten now. The fact that so many different people from around the world had happened to converge at this one roadside park in California on some Wednesday evening in August occupied my mind. The conversation trailed into the dark as I retreated to my tent, happily distracted from the road behind me, and what challenges lay ahead tomorrow.