Sunny (mostly) California

One week and one state down!

We’ve come almost 500 miles north along the Californian coast, from San Francisco to Harris Beach in Brookings, Oregon, a few miles north of the California/Oregon border.  The variety of landscapes we’ve gone through has been amazing.  Just a few days ago we were in small-town, agricultural Ferndale in the Eel River valley, which looked exactly like a Vermont dairy town.  The day before, we had reached yet another stand of Redwoods in Humbolt State Park, and spent the morning walking through some of the biggest trees we’ve ever seen.  Just a few days before that we were on the coast, pacing with Ospreys, hearing Sea Lions bark on the coast, and scaring deer at every corner.  Our northerly route demands that we bike against the prevailing headwinds, but we couldn’t be happier to have included this section to our trip before heading east.

To catch you up on some of this past week’s highlights:

Day 1, 77 miles: After a glorious day walking San Francisco, we set out on May 25th, excited and nervous.  The hills of SF live up to their reputation, and we had quite a time struggling to the Golden Gate bridge.  That was an incredible experience–1.7 miles from end to end, and really really high.  Once north of the city, we spent a day biking through beautiful Marin county, populated with happy, sunny Californians in lush, beautiful gardens.  The flowers are unreal, and make the air smell so sweet.  We fell head over heels in love with the small towns like Sausalito and Ross, rising into the steep hillsides covered in foliage.  It ended up being a long day; as we headed onto the coast proper, we found ourselves fighting a steady headwind that started around 11am, and simply got stronger and stronger.  By the time we rolled into Bodega Bay around 7pm, we were pretty strung out. Luckily we met a gritty looking Australian couple that had been biking north for some time, and they advised we wake in the dark, and leave at sunrise to avoid winds–after a vaudevillian tent construction, a huge meal and a quick goodnight, we passed out, exhausted.

Going over the Golden Gate Bridge


Our view this whole week. Basically.

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Christine post-ride

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Christine post-dinner. Happier!

Day 2, 27 miles: Our second day was much less trying, to put it mildly. We toodled north to Stillwater Cove, a quiet county campground.  NOTE: State (and some county) campgrounds in California are AWESOME.  Hikers and bikers camp for $5 a person, and showers are cheap, if not free! Ian is struggling to adjust to a new regime of hygiene that he insists was not needed on his solo trip in NZ.  Christine points out that he was alone, and not directly upwind of his trip partner all day. We were met at Stillwater by C’s aunt Melinda, an angel with about 50 pounds of watermelon, cheese, meat, crackers, veggies, CHAMPAGNE, beer, and other goodies.  We proceeded to eat for 3 hours, enjoying an ocean view and sunshine.  Melinda then treated us to a delicious sea-themed dinner, and drove us, full to the point of comatose, back to our tent.  Yay Melinda!!

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Christine eats coastal views for breakfast.

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Californian shrubbery is quite pretty.

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Yay aunt Melinda, thanks for a wonderful break!

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Ian has a nature moment.

Day 3, 77 miles: We ponderously rolled out early the next day for another 77 miles, headed for Russian Gulch campground, another excellent state camp.  Early morning on the coast is beautiful–the sun is hidden behind the inland vegetation, and as it rises it streams through the misty air  above the trees, out to sea.  Deer frequent the roadside at this hour, and we have a great time scaring these comically large-eared, jumpy creatures with a ‘hello there!’ as we pass.  As the morning lengthened we moved on to talking to cows and gazing dumbfound at the shattered, dramatic cliffs we edged along.  By 11 or so the vultures, hawks, and eagles come out, followed by pelicans, osprey, and a multitude of songbirds, jays, etc. etc.  We’re never alone, really!  We destroyed a lunch of lasagna and carrot cake, and enjoyed mild winds until arriving at Russian Gulch in the early afternoon.  This left plenty of time for stretching, eating, and enjoying the beach as the sun set.


Biking past California wildflowers


Fog ascending the hills.

Day 4, 57 miles:  We left Russian Gulch at the crack of dawn and set out north for what would be our most challenging day yet.  The rain started about 10 minutes into our ride, and pretended to be a gentle mist.  The persistent drizzle followed us all the way to the tiny town of Westport where we found a general market, devoured a couple of breakfast sandwiches, and took shelter under a porch to do some stretches and leg swings before beginning our biggest ascent yet–a 1,800 ft. high pass to the town of Leggett.  Re-fueled and semi-dry, we hopped back on the bike, determined to beat the hill. The rain didn’t make it easy–as we moved inland and began the ascent, it began to pour.  To be honest, once we were thoroughly soaked, the rain wasn’t a bad companion on the hill–the beautiful, misty rain forest was a nice cool companion on the mountainside.  The climb took us several hours, but finally we reached the top.  Then came the worst of it: soggy and tired, we began the descent, which was just plain COLD!  The roads were quite slippery, so we needed to be extra careful coming down on the hair-pin turns.  We reached the bottom after what felt like hours, no longer able to feel our feet or hands and stiff enough to make pedaling quite uncomfortable. Luckily, the state camp ground, Standish Hickey, was right at the bottom of the hill, waiting for us.  And even luckier, across the street was a much-appreciated store with the most delicious HOT breakfast burritos, overflowing with bacon.  They didn’t have any indoor seating, though, so we huddled by the entrance, dripping, cold, exhausted, and completely in love with every morsel of that burrito.  The camp site was perfect for a rainy day–there were HOT showers, and three fellow tourers eager to pass the time chatting away on a rainy day.  Standish Hicky will always have a special place in our hearts.

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Drying off some very soggy duds 😦

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Breakfast sandwiches, a la Nor Cal

Day 5, 50 miles:  We slept in the next day, waiting out the last of the rain.  Then, we packed up all wet gear, and got on the bike, drying out on the road.  We took a great long lunch break on the edge of the Redwoods and found a sunny spot on the bank of the Eel River to unpack everything we own and dry it out in the sun.  It felt SO good to have everything dry again!  Warm, dry, and fed, we spent the rest of the day biking along the Avenue of the Giants, a flat, shady, cool stretch of road meandering through grove after grove of majestic Redwoods.  It was breathtaking.  We ended the day in Humbolt State Park, and set up camp under a canopy of giant Redwoods, with the soft mossy ground under foot.  We spent the rest of the day referencing Lothlorien, and generally being geeky.

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Drying off gear by some mighty big trees.

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We’re happy because we’re dry again.

Day 6, 49 miles:  Today was supposed to be a short day, but we added 10 miles to our itinerary in order to get in a few hikes in the Redwoods before we left the area.  We took a detour to Albee State Campground, and hiked along Bull Creek, where we saw the redwood “Champion”–the Redwood with the most mass.  It was pretty enormous.  We then continued biking along the Avenue of the Giants until we suddenly seemed to get spit out of the forest and into endless farmland.  Dairy farms galore!  And along the edges of these empty roads were the most beautiful wild flowers of all shapes and colors.  This landscape led us eventually  into the heart of Ferndale, an adorable Victorian town that we instantly fell in love with.  We camped in the county fairgrounds that night and got an especially early start the next morning thanks to a terrifying and mysterious siren alarm that seemed to go off right next to our tent at 4 am.

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Wild irises!

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Hiking through fallen redwoods.

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Persistent grass on the highway.

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Entering Ferndale, a great town.

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Writing and recouping at the end of a long day.

Day 7, 78 miles:  This day we deemed wildlife day!  Between Ferndale and Prairie Creek State Park, where we ended our day, we saw: a gray whale, pelicans, banana slugs, very frisky squirrels, some sort of rare heron, sea lions, osprey, and lots of elk.  About 20 miles into the day we made the Samoa Cookhouse our first and most important destination.  Christine’s angel/aunt Melinda insisted that we make the detour to this famous ancient family-style restaurant with all-you-can-eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.  So we did!  We arrived around 8:30 am, ready to pack it in, and pack it in we did!  We left around 10 am having stuffed our faces with 12 pancakes, 11 sausages, and probably about 15 eggs, plus an order of biscuits and gravy, tea, and orange juice.  And the restaurant itself was a very neat place–full of old logging machinery and saws and photographs of lumber jacks and loggers from a hundred years ago.  A fascinating, if also troubled history.  That breakfast really carried us through some tough terrain and winds and landed us safely at Prairie Creek, where we met several other tourers (all south bound) from France, Belgium, Austria, and the US.  We ate together, had a fire, traded travel and touring tips, and watched as the elk in the field next to our camp moved in close in the twilight.  Another beautiful end to a long, full day.

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Lion seals. Take our word for it.

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A gray whale. Take our word for it.

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Elk. No question.

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Entering Prairie Creek Redwood Park

Day 8, 71 miles:  Yesterday we left Prairie Creek for a long, hard windy day.  We had two relatively big climbs, each about 1,000 to 1,500 feet that dropped us off into Crescent City, CA.  The climbs weren’t terrible–not too steep, but by the time we reached the bottom we were ready for lunch.  We saw a little burrito restaurant and went for it.  Two SUPER huge burritos and a platter of nachos later, we saddled up again for the flat stretch into Oregon.  The problem with this flat stretch into Oregon was that the wind really picked up and fought us the whole way.  And, after a solid week on non-stop biking, out butts were about ready to fall off.  We’re talking about agonized butts- can’t-pedal-anymore butts.  We crawled along the cost line, bucking the wind and taking frequent “butt breaks” to keep sane.  We were at an emotional low at Smith River, a small, crumbling agricultural town where we stopped on the side of the road, collapsing in the shade of a social-services building, desperate for a cure for our achy behinds.  We spent a fine 20 minutes watching a cat roll around under a parked car on the other side of the street.  That little break did wonders for our mood, and we got a second wind as we crossed the border, victorious and delirious, into Oregon. Dancing on the side of 101 commenced.

From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to Harris Beach State Park.  The park is an oasis of state-grade comfort and beauty after slogging through a tough day. We decided this would be the place to recover a bit and take a much-needed day off.  We met two south-bound tourers next to our site, and delighted once again in the company of fellow travelers.  They were from London, and regaled us with stories about recent adventures in Peru, and future trips sailing across the Pacific and scary campers in Washington state.  It’s always a thrill to meet people fully immersed in their own personal adventures.  So, we set up camp for two nights, watched a very late sunset, and fell asleep knowing we had a WHOLE DAY to rest.

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The biggest. burritos. ever.

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ONE STATE DOWN!!!!! Hello, Oregon!

Day 8, 0 miles: Today!  Our first 100% rest day.  We spent the morning walking along the beach, checking out starfish and watching the birds play in a strong, strong wind we’re happy not to be fighting.  Then we made a bee-line right for the state-park sponsored hot dog BBQ in honor of state park day in Oregon! YAY!!  Our hunger barely eased by a normal-person-sized meal, we went back to camp to chow down on lunch # 2, and take a walk to the library to finally get this post off!

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Ian bundled up, but happy to be on the beach!

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Christine can’t get enough.

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Oregon beach wildlife.

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All smiles 8 days in!

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The Pacific really has a special kind of blue here.

So that’s our week.  Congratulations for reading through to the end!  It’s been an amazing start, and we can’t wait for more.

C & I

7 thoughts on “Sunny (mostly) California

  1. Great stories and memories! So glad you went to the old logging cookhouse and enjoyed yourselves. You hit my favorite places..Standish Hickey(told ya the store across the highway was put there just for the bikers getting done with the Leggett pass or preparing to hit it going South.) I hope you went into the fern forest at Prairie Creek as well. Magical place where the Elk gather for mating. Any bears? Keep on pedaling!

  2. Your story makes me smell the air, feel the ocean, hear the animals, taste the food, sense your moods – but I don’t feel the pain in the butt. 🙂 Thanks so much for taking us along!

  3. yeahh!! conquered burritos and Where’s Waldo (grey whale edition). I almost thought I could see what might be a grey whale right under one of the rocks in the foreground, to the right…

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