PC12: Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area, CA — Russian Gulch State Park, CA

Thursday, August 17th

Today featured one of the most talked about, and feared sections of the Oregon/California coast – Leggett Hill. It also marked the first day riding the famous Highway 1, and a return to coastal scenery and sea breezes, leaving the busy 101 behind for a while.

I was one of the first to leave the camp in the morning, heading back over the road to pick up a coffee and use the wifi before starting my day. The idea was to begin the climb before it got unbearably hot like it had the day before. Thankfully the climb was well shaded, quiet, and really not so tough at all.

It began a couple of miles from the campsite at Leggett where the first Highway 1 sign appeared. A domed green sign with a white one in the middle of it.

The climb lasted about 4 or 5 miles, reaching 1950 feet before plummeting back down for 10 exhilarating miles. It was a steady incline and passed in a much easier way when compared with the climb out of Crescent City. I’d battled traffic, the fog, and the hill back then, but here the road was mostly quiet, well lit, and enjoyable.

Traffic was scarce, the corners were sharp, and the speed limit was sometimes 15mph though I’m sure I was pushing 30 at times on the way down. The only thing lacking was a hard earned view at the top. The Pacific was still out of sight though you could sense it’s presence.

After a few level miles a second climb began – perhaps tougher than the first, but shorter – up to Rockport Hill at 690 feet. The descent from Leggett had cooled me down, and now the sea was close again the sun faded and the air was fresher.

After a final push uphill I emerged at a vista point overlooking the sea. I’d missed it. Not just because riding inland had been a little tougher and less interesting (aside from all the glorious trees) but there was something calming about having it there on your right to look out at.

The road hugged the mountain and the sea closely, winding its way southwards over the contours of the coast. Rather than a highway cutting a straight line from A to B, you felt that the Highway 1 respected every curve and bump of the coastline. Riding it was like a wave. It was slightly nerve wracking, though traffic remained quiet and surprisingly respectful given the lack of shoulders.

After passing Westport-Union Landing State Beach, I stopped at the town of Westport – the first and only services of any kind between where I’d began the day and Fort Bragg a further 16 miles away.

It had one grocery store which I stopped at for coffee and a cookie. I’d followed the days mapped out by the book exactly up to this point, but since I was only 10 miles from this days suggested end point and it was only 1pm I decided to continue.


Happily around his time I also bumped into Ben and the two girls from the camp the night before and we continued together along the highway as it continued to carry us toward Fort Bragg.

A cycle path through MacKerricher State Park took us the final few miles into town – an old logging road that was bumpy but free of cars and other dangers.

We pulled onto the Main Street and stopped at Mendocino Cookie Co. for some time. I enjoyed a large ice coffee, a bagel, and one of the finest cookies I’ve ever had. I bought two more for the road.

The internet sucked our attention and energy before we finally got on our way at around four. The town was a notable improvement on any of the previous stops in Humbolt county. People were friendly and looked healthy and generally normal.

An exception to this came outside Safeway which we stopped at on the edge of town. As I waited with the bikes a guy carrying an industrial size jug of orange juice asked if we were cycling down Highway 1. He then took on a sinister tone and said something about how so many people get hit on it and how he had a tow truck and had to clear up after these apparently very frequent incidents. This was the third time I’d been warned of cyclists being nailed, ‘smoked’, or hit and generally maimed. I took these warnings with a heap of salt. Of course no doubt accidents had happened, and probably quite a few over the years, but often the warnings seemed to come from people who couldn’t grasp what you were doing, or empathise – it was much easier to trade on fear and doom rather than care.

I parted ways with the other thee about 7 miles out of town. They were going to stay with a warm showers host in Mendinco, I was going to camp at a state park just before.

Ben was going to have to get a bus to San Francisco to meet friends. I’d probably cross paths with the girls at some point in the next day or two. We said goodbyes then I took my turn off into the park.

Russian Gulch State Park was a quirky place positioned below and around the Frederick W. Panhorst Bridge bridge – an iconic concrete structure which crossed Russian Gulch and carried the highway toward Mendocino just the other side.

Camping cost 10 dollars now. Still cheap, but twice the price of Oregon, and showers weren’t free here either, you had to feed quarters into a slot before the water clunked on for a few short minutes.

After paying for the night I took a quick look out over the bluffs towards the bridge before descending to sea level and the small beach and setting up camp.

I would miss the routines I’d gotten into: setting up my tent, showering, cooking dinner. Inflating my sleeping pad which smelt like wet dog and made me nostalgic for damp Oregon mornings. Thumbing through my now dog eared, weather beaten, and coffee stained copy of bicycling the Pacific coast looking forward to getting going the following morning.

Life becomes quite simple for a while when you’re bike touring. Eat, bike, sleep, repeat. I had just four days left, and this was only my 12th day, but it felt like I’d be on the road for a month – in the best possible way. It would be hard to go back to work on Tuesday, open a laptop, read emails, remain stationary.

I bought firewood off the camp host who drove around the campsite offering seven dollar sacks of logs which came with three to four unbearable bear puns – he said there had been nightly visits from a garbage hungry black bear for the last week. I was less scared of bears now, having seen one finally, though still felt a little vulnerable in my small tent at the side of the park under a tree.

I fulfilled one of my things on the bucket list for this trip – making a fire. I watched and listened to it burn in the circular pit, to the crickets, the far off echo of some campfire song, and the muffled rush of the highway above.