Pacific Coast Tour – Northern California
Denis Kertz, ©1999
I ate breakfast at the same place as yesterday, right across the street and then packed up. It was 6 miles to the California border. Weather was already looking better than the last few days with some patches of blue sky and much less fog. Just after the border crossing, the route took off on a county road that paralleled 101 on the east side but had almost no traffic, a nice change of pace. After a while the route crossed 101 onto another county road parallel to 101 but on the coast side. Then the route met up with 101 to cross the Smith River on a bridge onto Lake Earl Dr that took me into Crescent City. Along the way while checking my Bible, a couple in their 60s passed me. They had started in Seattle and were on their way home in San Diego. Since they only had rear panniers and no visible sign of tent or sleeping bags, I assumed they were staying in motels.
In Crescent City, I stopped at the library and got lucky with a 20 minute session to check my email. Then I stopped at an info center but didn’t learn much other than Crescent City was hammered once by a tsunami, a huge wave created typically by an undersea earthquake that can reportedly travel at 600 mph in the open sea. This wave can have 100 or more miles between crests but only one foot high crests until approaching shore when the wave gets compressed and does its damage. I had seen a number of warnings about these killer waves but this was the first I had seen/heard about an actual one, which not only caused destruction but also deaths.
Leaving Crescent City, the ride started about a 4 mile steep climb before descending some and climbing two more crests. The Bible warned that this climb could be dangerous due to fog and minimal shoulder but the weather was not a problem today. Earlier, the weather had cleared up, then clouded over again, but now it was fine. In addition, there was road repair work underway which bunched traffic together so you could just wait for a burst of traffic to go by and then you had good cycling again. Some sections of the road were also “coned” off which made for a nice bike path.
After the climbing where I passed the San Diego couple again, I descended 3.5 miles to a sandy beach area and then a flat route into Klamath where I stopped for dinner, as it was the last chance for the day. In the Klamath area, 101 turned into an expressway. Then another ascent started but I took a suggested bypass that skipped the traffic and passed through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. As the name suggests, there were redwoods right along the road although it was hard to see their height while riding a bicycle (try looking straight up while balancing on a bicycle). But it was a nice ride and took me right into Elk Prairie Campground ($3) that, unlike many misnamed camps/creeks/etc, actually had elk - Roosevelt Elk, the largest elk in North America.
was a meadow right next to camp and I saw a bull elk with a couple of elk from
his harem. Later, another bull elk with
9 elk made their way into the meadow.
The bull appeared to have something other than grazing on his mind but
the subject of his attention was obviously not interested, apparently she had a
headache. Besides elk, bear and raccoon
were also present. I didn’t see any but
the campsites had a metal case for every site for storing food and any smelly
item that could be misconstrued as food. After storing my food, I cleaned and
lubricated my chain since I had some problems with chain suck on my granny
chainring today. I doubted that dirt
was the problem but it never hurts to have a clean chain.
On my way out of camp I saw 14 elk in the meadow including a bull elk, the same one I saw last night. I could tell because I recognized the broken right antler. Just down the road I also saw 7 deer including some youngsters, one who was very frisky, hopping around and enjoying life. Back on 101 about a mile south I saw 6 bull elk, one who had a 5 point antler (6 is the most) and a couple youngsters with 1 and 2 point antlers.
I stopped at Orick for breakfast. Just down the road was the Redwood National Park Visitor Center, which was OK. Next was an incredibly ugly sight, a long campground with about a mile long lineup of RVs right next to 101 and the coast. This was arguably as ugly as some of the clearcuts I had seen. It was a little hard to believe that people actually liked this “camping.”
The road started winding around the coast with some short climbs and several lagoons along the way. I took the Patrick’s Point side trip and once again heard a big ruckus - a bunch of barking sea lions on a tall pointed rock off shore. With my binoculars I could see them high on the steep rock point and it was amazing that they could even get there, given their limited land mobility. First, they had to get on a small rock, then leap a couple feet to get to the main rock, then lumber their way up a slope that seemed to be too steep. But I watched a couple of them manage in their awkward way so there was proof they could do it.
From there I made my way to Trinidad. A cyclist on a mountain bike passed me but it was not long before I warmed up and passed him. It’s always a good feeling when you are on a loaded behemoth to be able to keep up with an unloaded cyclist, not to mention passing. And if you aren’t able to keep up, well, it’s to be expected so the ego remains intact. In Trinidad I stopped for refreshments.
Back on 101, 101 was an expressway again. A short 2.5 mile detour off 101 helped with the noise but only for a short time. I passed the town of McKinleyville (pop 2000), “Where horses have the right of way” (I wonder about bicycles), that had 5 exits off 101!! Then it was on to Arcata where I wanted to find a bike shop. My granny chainring was still giving me problems with chain suck so I wanted to have it checked out. In Arcata, home of Humboldt State University, I got directions to 1 of 3 bike shops and fortunately they were not busy. The mechanic took a look at my granny and declared it was bent. This must have happened yesterday morning when my chain slipped off the granny when I was down shifting and the chain got stuck pretty good between the granny and the chainstay and apparently bent the aluminum chainring. This shop didn’t have a replacement but there was another shop about 5 blocks away that did. So I hiked over to the other shop, bought the replacement, and brought it back to have it installed. The mechanic also adjusted the front derailleur to hopefully prevent shifting the chain off of the granny.
After the bike shop, I stopped at a Mexican place, recommended by one of the guys in the bike shop, and then headed out to a KOA (Kind Of Awful) campground a couple of miles south on 101, about midway between Arcata and Eureka. Unfortunately, this KOA was the only camping option so I swallowed my pride and forked over $15 for what I had been paying $4. At least they had a grocery store where I was able to gorge on another VICCCS and guzzle a 24 oz beer. I also got a breakfast recommendation for Eureka in the morning. If I had been a faster cyclist, I might have caught up with Suzette and been able to get directions to her folks’ cabin in Arcata and avoid this Kind Of Awful stay.
I headed a couple miles into Eureka for breakfast down in the Old Town area near the waterfront to the cafe recommended by the KOA guy. However, the menu outside didn’t list any pancakes so I knew this wasn’t a real cafe so I headed a few blocks away to another place shown on my Eureka map. Before entering the cafe, I walked down the street to buy a paper from the newspaper machine. Learning my lesson from my last trip about keeping closer tabs on my money, I kept my money/valuables in a small waist pouch that went everywhere I did. With my pouch in one hand I put my money in the machine, grabbed a paper, and when I let the lid close, I somehow managed to have the belt buckle of my waist pouch inside the machine and the lid closed over the belt with the pouch in my hand and the buckle inside the machine. This was not smart since I had to spend another $0.50 to open the lid to get my buckle free although I suppose I could have waited until someone else came along who needed a newspaper. I did pick up another newspaper but closed the lid more carefully this time. I just hope somebody appreciated the free newspaper I left on top of the machine.
At least when I recovered from this incident and ordered oatmeal and 3 pancakes, the waitress looked at me and said “3 is a lot for a man” and I knew then that breakfast would be good. The pancakes were probably the best buttermilk pancakes of the trip so I got both quality and quantity. After breakfast, I wound my way through Eureka to stay off 101 as long as possible but finally was forced back onto 101 where it became a freeway just outside Eureka. After 16 miles of freeway, I took a short detour through Loleta but quickly was back on 101. A longer bypass was possible but it was an extra 11 miles so I decided to skip it. I crossed the Eel River three times within a few miles so I naturally guessed that the winding nature was behind the name. Later, an information sign said that was a common misconception and the name actually came from the Pacific Lamprey, an eel-like fish, which used to frequent the river. After 30 miles I took the Scotia exit for refreshments and a burrito. Weather was nice again after starting out nice and then clouding over.
After 38 miles, I left 101 to take the Avenue of the Giants, the main attraction for the day. AOG is a 30 mile tour through a narrow corridor of majestic redwoods. It was perfect weather, mid-60s and no clouds. I slowed down just to enjoy the ride through clumps of redwoods along the road. The redwoods were so big and tall that the area was pretty dark with only occasional light from the sun filtering through the dense trees. I spent a few minutes at the Immortal Tree, which has withstood fire, ax, and wind, and the Eternal Tree House, a hollowed out stump. These were OK but a bit touristy. The real attraction was The Founders Grove, just off the road. I walked a couple of trails amounting to about 2.5 miles and it was just perfect. Towering redwoods were everywhere with perfect weather. Sun light flit through the trees and the aroma was intoxicating. With hardly anyone around, there was a serene silence that made you want to stay forever. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t camp in the grove so I had to move on. I headed south and found the hiker-biker site at Weott. I checked the Weott store but it was either closed for the season or for eternity and looked like the latter. The lure of the redwoods was so strong that it had taken my mind off of food and the place I should have eaten was about 7 miles back. So I had to make do with my emergency food stash.
The hiker-biker camp was nice since it was self-contained
with no other campsites. It sat within
a stand of redwoods with no one else around.
Unfortunately, it didn’t have showers but that was remedied by a jump in
the river. Later, two other cyclists
showed up, one on a recumbent. They had
started in Crescent City and were on their way to San Francisco. Well after dark, another cyclist pulling a
trailer showed up but I never met this cyclist.
I packed up and left before anyone else was up. Another beautiful day, not a cloud in sight, and no traffic on a Sunday morning. The silence, fragrance, and easy cycling made me want it to last all day. I stopped at Myers Flat for breakfast, which was a little over priced but not too surprising given the location. I debated laying over a day. Today was the last day of the Ryder Cup golf matches, which can be a very exciting match to watch. Unfortunately, the Americans were so far out of it I was not about to waste time and money on this.
Leaving Myers Flat, I continued my leisurely cycling to make the redwoods last. But all good things must come to an end and after 18 miles I was forced to rejoin 101 as an expressway. At Garberville I exited for refreshments and then continued on. At Richardson Grove State Park, 101 narrowed to 2 lanes and I made a quick exit to check out the visitor center. Back on the road, after 34 miles I took Highway 271 for almost 6 miles to escape the 101 noise and then rejoined 101. Since leaving the Avenue of the Giants, 101 was actually pretty scenic as it wound around the Eel River which was now several hundred feet or more below the road and the hills rose above the river on both sides and high above 101 too.
After almost 50 miles, I stopped and camped at Standish-Hickey State Park Recreation Area. I paid $3 for a hiker-biker site only to find I had been assigned to a site already occupied by a cyclist. I rechecked with the ranger who confirmed the assignment. This was odd since the campground was obviously not going to fill up so there was no need to make it cramped. The guy in my site was on his way to Santa Rosa, hoping to find a job. He had all his belongings packed on his BOB trailer and was having some stability issues, probably because he had to pack too high to accommodate his belongings. He said he was eventually on the way to New Mexico and Mexico to see his daughter, which I presumed meant he was divorced. Later, another cyclist wandered in and he got assigned to a neighboring site. He had come all the way from Pensacola, Florida, to San Diego via the Adventure Cycling’s southern route. After working in San Diego as a construction worker for a while, he started up the Pacific Coast and was headed to Garberville tomorrow to catch a bus back home.
After setting up camp, I cycled a mile or so down the road to Leggett for food only to find both restaurants were closed. So I headed back to the park where there was a grocery/deli across from the park entrance.
I was up and gone before the other two cyclists were up with the guy from Florida sleeping in a sleeping bag on top of a picnic table. I rode a mile to Leggett where I was a little too early for breakfast, as the cafe didn’t open until 8:00. So I bought a paper and immediately saw the headline that said the US won the Ryder Cup, which I had debated laying over to watch. I was the only one in the cafe when it opened and when I left so I thanked the waitress for opening up just for me.
Up to now the Pacific Coast route was essentially Highway 101 with some bypasses to get off the main drag when possible. At Leggett, Highway 1 split off from 101 and became the primary route. Leading the way was the infamous Leggett Hill, which is the highest point on the Pacific Coast route at 2,000 feet. However, the climb started at about 800 feet and was really not that difficult. In fact, I kind of enjoyed it, as I was comfortable in my lowest gear as we meandered up the winding road through tree-covered hills. This was followed by a nice, winding descent. I controlled the downhill speed because of the winding road so the descent stretched longer than normal and the descent ended virtually at sea level. This was followed by another climb to 690 feet, which was harder because it was a little steeper even though it was only 1.5 miles versus 3.5 miles.
This was followed by another winding descent when suddenly the road broke into the clear with a very nice view of the coast in both directions, with a large hill to the north and flatter hills to the south. While I stopped to take in the view, another cyclist passed by who looked like a local, as he wasn’t carrying much. The route hugged the coast line until I stopped at Westport for refreshments where the other cyclist was already there. He was busy writing post cards so I didn’t bother him but I observed a racing bike with a rear carrier top bag and a bag hanging from his front stem so I guessed he was a credit card tourer.
From Westport, the road was a roller coaster weaving its way along the shore with the road cut into the side of hilly grasslands. Some of the hills were fairly steep albeit short and I found the rolling ups and downs harder than Leggett Hill where you could develop a climbing rhythm. Most of this route had no shoulder that, combined with the lack of straight ahead views, made traffic a problem, little as the traffic was. When possible I tried to anticipate potential trouble and pull off where I could to avoid conflicts with large trucks.
Eventually I pulled into MacKerricher Beach State Park shortly after 2:00. Since there was no ranger at check-in, I headed straight to the hiker-biker sites and picked a nice site and setup camp. Then I headed back to check-in to register only to find a ranger who told me the hiker-biker site was closed for a group camp. I was rather peeved when he suggested I should move away to avoid the soon-to-be mass of kids destined for the hiker-biker area. However, I couldn’t disagree with his suggestion so I trudged back, dragged my 4 panniers to my new site and made another trip to wrap up my tent with sleeping bag and dragged it to the new site as well.
This relocation took about an extra 30 minutes when I wanted to head into Fort Bragg about 3 miles south so I could get to a library and check my email. I particularly wanted to email my friend Gerry in San Francisco to alert him to when I might be coming through town. Finally I got on a back road to Fort Bragg on my unloaded bike and located the library after a query only to find it was closed on Sundays and Mondays and, when it was opened, it didn’t open until 11:00. Given the schedule of some of the libraries in these Pacific Coast towns, a guy could die of a thirst for knowledge in some of these places.
Next I checked the local bike shop, which had nothing of interest. When I spotted an “All you can east pasta” sign, I stopped for dinner even though I was pretty sure it was not going to be gourmet food since it was a lodge restaurant. But sometimes quantity is more important than quality and the food was OK. Then I headed back to camp where I hoped no one would try to shoe horn another cyclist into my site.
Later, I called Gerry in San Francisco to advise him of my schedule and to check his. I had thought it might be better to show up Sunday and avoid Friday/Saturday night but after discussion, it turned out that showing up Friday would work out the best as they had a dinner party on Sunday. Gerry said he and his partner lived only a few miles from Golden Gate Park so it shouldn’t be hard to get to his abode. I asked Gerry to email me directions so I could get a hard copy printout later.
I packed up and headed into Fort Bragg the back way to avoid Highway 1. It was only about 40F and my bare feet in sandals were feeling the chill but the sun was out and it was warming up pretty quickly. I stopped downtown at a gourmet breakfast place I had seen yesterday that had wheat pancakes - something different from the usual buttermilk. Unfortunately, gourmet costs and the pancakes weren’t that filling although they were good. After breakfast, I stopped at a Safeway to pick up some food and I was off. The first 15 miles were fairly level and easy. Then the route headed through open coastal grasslands, with the road descending, winding, and climbing around very scenic coves, looking down 50-100 feet at craggy rocks and sea stacks with wonderfully clear blue-green water.
I took a bypass to Mendocino, a quaint, artsy town with houses on a grassland peninsula that jutted out to the sea. Shortly after, I came across several ambulances along the road and watched a helicopter surveying just off shore. I could only guess they were looking for someone who went out and had failed to come back.
I stopped at the small town of Albion for refreshments. There a local told me that once I cross the Navarro River it would be really scenic. He told me that he often took this route when going to Santa Rosa even though it was 1-2 hours longer. Just at the intersection of Highways 1 and 128 at the river crossing, I spotted another touring cyclist who hailed me so I stopped. He was on a mountain bike and instead of the usual front panniers had two large metal containers hanging from his front rack. I had a little trouble understanding him at first and figured out why when he told me he was from New Zealand. He was trying to hitchhike to San Francisco to the NZ consulate because he had lost his passport, wallet, and credit cards and had $0.60 in his possession. Remembering what it was like to be penniless when I was once in a similar predicament, I gave him $20 to tide him over until he could get to San Francisco and get things in order.
After crossing the river, a mile climb was followed by more twisting, winding, up and downs with more coves to gaze at. One more stop for refreshments in Elk and then there was a steep triple switchback that was one of the steepest if not the steepest climb so far. Then the route headed inland a bit and the coast hid its scenic views. At the Manchester State Park turnoff, my planned stop, I debated going on as it was only about 2:30. I headed into Manchester about a mile away to see what food options existed and found only a grocery store. Agonizing a bit, I headed another 4.5 miles to Point Arena because they had restaurants and a library and maybe a bike shop. Starting yesterday, my rear bar end shifter had started shifting erratically and I figured I needed to have it checked out.
Unfortunately, the library didn’t have Internet access and there was no bike shop. So I decided another 14 miles to Gualala wouldn’t kill me and maybe I could find something there. It was a fairly hard 14 miles as the winding ups and downs continued. The road was inland but gradually moved closer to the coast where trees start taking over some of the grassland and tantalizing glimpses of the coast reappeared. At Gualala, I stopped at a pretty good pizza place and chowed down a medium sourdough pizza. I debated a motel since the nearby Gualala Point Regional Park didn’t have showers according to the Bible but the pizza guy told me the next door hotel was about $50 and the motels started at $75 and up. So reluctantly I headed to the Park, which turned out to be only a 1/2 mile away rather than the 2 miles I had thought. I pulled in, paid $3, and cycled to the hiker-biker sites and saw that the place did have showers after all.
Shortly after picking my site, my NZ buddy pulled in, having given up on hitchhiking. He told me had been cycling for 3.5 years in Europe, Asia, and the US since his divorce. This was the second time he’s been down the coast but he started from Alaska this time. When I asked, he said Alaska was his favorite place. Alaskans would see him riding along the road and insist he spend the night with them. And, probably even more important, he said he could never buy a beer in a bar since everyone else insisted on buying. He was feeling a little better now having spent some of the $20 on food in the Gualala grocery store and cooked up a big steak on a fire. Showing his priorities, he had also purchased 2 large bottles of Becks beer. He looked over my bike closely and nodded knowingly when I told him it was a Litespeed.
I packed up and left without hearing a stir from my NZ buddy. Back at the road I debated whether to go the short distance back into town or head on to Stewarts Point 11 miles away. I chose Gualala and stopped at the restaurant that my NZ buddy remembered and recommended from his 1992 trip. This turned out to be a good choice as the restaurant had a nice view of the bay from its second floor and also offered a 4 pancake option, which I chose.
Just outside town was Sea Ranch, a long community of expensive beach homes for wealthy San Franciscans that went on for about 8 miles. The first 10 miles or so were pretty easy miles with gentle ups and downs. At Stewarts Point, I congratulated myself on choice of breakfast place, as the only food here was a grocery store. Once again the route resorted to its winding ups and downs that individually were not that hard but collectively were taking a toll. The route was still scenic but not as much as before as it was a little farther inland from the shore.
At Ocean Cove I stopped for refreshments and spotted a whole wheat banana nut muffin. Since it was whole wheat, it had to be good for me and its taste restored my faith in muffins, the best muffin of the trip. After 30 miles, I began a climb to a 520 foot hill that the Bible called moderate, which meant the day’s cumulative ups and downs were taking a toll as this climb seemed hard. This climb cut into the side of a very steep grassland hill where there was no hope if you went over the side other than to hope the end would be quick and mercifully short. There were also gates at the two ends of the hill to allow the state to close the road in the event that rain induced mudslides made the road unsafe. Some sections of the road were also built up with a damn-like structure to hold the road together. Just after the road left the side of the hill, there was a trail that went even higher, giving great views of the surroundings.
All of the hard earned elevation on this climb was given up in a steep, switchback descent that lead back to sea level at Jenner where I took another refreshment break. After crossing the Russian River it was one more climb and then a relative breeze into Bodega Dunes State Park where the campsites were about a 1/2 mile from shore. After setting up camp, I started hiking around 3:30 over the dunes to the beach. Supposedly there was a trail to the beach but I didn’t know where so I just headed west, threading my way to the shore. The beach was nice and I found my piece of the beach at a driftwood log that was perfect for watching the waves and reading.
When I figured I had about an hour before dark I started back to camp, figuring it would take maybe 20 minutes and then I would have time to cycle less than a mile to town for food. However, it was not as easy finding my way back to the camp. The dunes were populated with tall grass that prevented visual sighting for any distance. I followed what looked to be a trail but soon it was obvious that I was lost as I was seeing housing and a bay I had never seen before. With not much daylight left, I start thinking about how I would spend the night in the dunes if necessary. Since I had no idea where I was relative to camp, I decided I needed to get back to a known point so I headed west again knowing that finding the beach again was not a problem.
At the beach, I discovered I was about a 1/2 mile south of where I had been previously so I walked north to get back to where I had been. Near my original piece of the beach was a little fort-like structure made from driftwood and a guy was in it. I asked about directions to the campground and he tried to offer assistance but wasn’t much help. Although he didn’t look like a bum, I think this might have been his home, at least for the night, and I was a bit envious at the moment.
This time as I headed back to camp I ignored any trails and just concentrated on heading due east. After climbing a couple of dunes, I saw what looked like part of the campground road and then I saw some campsites. I was relieved thinking it was a simple matter to get back to my site but it was not to be. The campground was a large one with several loops including a very large loop of about 50 sites. I walked through the large loop and came to another loop that wasn’t my area but I saw no other option. I asked a camper but he wasn’t much help and I began walking the other loop that had sites I had already seen. Just when I thought I might be lost in a never ending loop, I saw an EXIT sign and I finally knew where I was. By the time I got back to camp what should have been 20-30 minutes turned out to be a 2 hour walk. As it was pretty dark, I had to make do with my emergency food supply but I was happy to be home.
Thankful to have woken in my own campsite, I packed up and headed into Bodega Bay. Almost immediately I saw a grill that I could have walked to last night for food. I rode all the way through town without seeing a restaurant open for breakfast so I reversed directions and asked and got directed to a restaurant off the main drag, down a short hill by the bay. Being off the main highway I thought was a good sign but the breakfast was only so-so with mediocre pancakes.
The road headed inland to skirt the Estro Americano Bay and cut through some ranches with large, rolling grass covered brown hills, a welcome change from the constant up and downs of the past few days. There were some fair hills to climb but also corresponding nice descents where you could turn the bike loose. Then the road came back to skirt the east side of the long, narrow Tomales Bay. Along the way a local cyclist caught up with me and we chatted a while. He told me about his and his wife’s trip down the coast from Canada to Mexico. Shortly after he continued on, I waved to four touring cyclists heading north.
Looking for a refreshment stop, I decided to skip Tomales and continued to Marshall but there wasn’t much there so I rolled all the way to Point Reyes Station and arrived about noon. I hadn’t really realized but it had gotten very warm and was about 90F. I picked up two 12 oz Gatorades and they were quickly history. Then for kicks I checked the phone book and found there was a library in town. It took a couple of queries before I found the library off the beaten path but it didn’t open on Thursdays until 2:00 and it wasn’t quite 1:00 yet. So I had over an hour to kill to see if I could get Internet access. Fortunately, a librarian came along and said they did have access and she signed me up for an hour at 2:00. I assumed I would need more than their express 20 minute access since it had been over a week since my last email check. While waiting I met a guy from Holland who stopped by for the same reason and he told me about his trip from Alaska and to Yosemite. He had bought a van for $350 from a fellow countryman who had to go back home and a mountain bike for $50 and was now looking to sell his van for $1,200. After this conversation and with time still to kill, I polished off a 32 oz Gatorade and a VICCCS.
When the library opened, I went to work and checked my email. One email message, as expected, was from Gerry giving me directions to his house from the Golden Gate Park. I read and replied to several other emails. Then I checked my VISA bill and found that my application to pay online that I had submitted just before I left was approved. So I tried to pay my bill but I couldn’t get a confirmation back so I tried to cancel and couldn’t get a confirmation for that either. So I left the library not knowing the status of my VISA bill and would have to check again later.
It was now 3:00 but I only had 7 more miles to go to the Samuel P Taylor State Park. I headed out of town and realized I needed to take care of my evening food requirements so I stopped at an Olema grocery/deli a few miles down the road. From this point to San Francisco Highway 1 is reputed to be too dangerous for cycling so the coastal route branches off on to the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, which started with a long climb. At the bottom of the hill on the other side was a connection to the paved Marin Bicycle Trail that took me right into the park. This trail was literally and figuratively cool, as it took me out of the hot sun along a well-shaded path and a redwood forest - a total environment change from the bright sunlight and open vistas.
Once I got into the campground area, I had to hunt and search for the hiker-biker area as there were no rangers around and the campground map had no marker. Just as I was about to give up, I found a sign in the last campground loop that I searched. The search was worth the effort as the sites were in the midst of a group of tall redwoods.
When I settled into camp, I noticed a bunch of food in the food locker cabinet attached to the picnic table. I assumed someone was just too lazy to clean up and was tempted to throw it all in the trash can. However, later when it was virtually dark, a character in a long beard showed up with a load of groceries and started loading them into the locker. That’s when I realized that this place was his home. He seemed OK and as he packed mentioned some of the food bargains he had managed to come up with. After cooking dinner over a fire, he disappeared for the night.
I started packing and the homeless guy showed up again to start breakfast. I don’t know where he slept during the night but it was probably somewhere in the woods where rangers wouldn’t spot him. I pulled out and stopped in a cafe in Lagunita just down the road but they didn’t serve a real breakfast. After another 8miles, I picked up a bike path near Fairfax and got directions to a cafe in town. Up to now, I had used the Bible exclusively for directions and that worked out well since the directions were basically to follow Highways 101 and 1 with an occasional bypass. Now as I moved into the San Francisco metropolitan bay area, directions weren’t so simple. The Bible had linear directions of the form “go 0.2 miles and turn right on X street, go 0.3 miles and turn left on Y street ...” which I thought was kind of hopeless. If you missed a turn, you would have no idea what to do short of retreating back to a known point. So I pulled out my ACA map and found a nice map showing the basic route to the Golden Gate Bridge. I figured with this overview I would always know approximately where I should be heading and never get lost which turned out to be true. It also helped that a woman at the cafe counter reinforced that getting to the bridge was pretty straightforward.
On my way, a cyclist stopped to offer assistance when he saw me checking my map. He turned out to be the father of a professional triathlete who had recently finished second in an Ironman contest but I didn’t recognize the name. He suggested how to skirt an upcoming hill. As I continued on, another cyclist came along and offered to take me along part of the route, which was on his way to work. When he had to turn off, he tried to steer me around the upcoming hill as well with directions. Despite these efforts, I missed the turnoff and went up the hill that really wasn’t that bad.
I continued up and over the hill and found a bike path to take me under 101 and along the east side of Sausolito. This led me up a hill for a good view of the bay and then down to the road to lead me under the Golden Gate Bridge and up the other side. Unfortunately, the road was closed for repair at the underpass and I had to improvise, heading uphill a different way which led to an uphill tunnel. I had the option of going in another direction but I assumed I needed to get on the other side of 101 by going through the tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel, another cyclist told me I should have gone in the other direction so I retraced my way back through the tunnel to a turnoff to the GGB.
Just before the bridge was a scenic overlook that was packed with people, many who were foreigners. The top part of the GGB was obscured by the fog as were San Francisco and Alcatraz. Then I headed across the GGB on a bike/pedestrian path that was a bit tedious due to the unaware pedestrians. I talked to a couple of cyclists from New York and one of them two told me he had done the coast trip back in 1977. He also told me he had gone down the Baja, something I considered doing as a natural extension of the Pacific Coast trip. However, he had gone with a couple of other cyclists and didn’t recommend the trip for a lone cyclist.
At the other end of the bridge, I stopped for a view and then headed for the Golden Gate Park. From there I followed Gerry’s directions to his place a few miles away in the Castro district. Gerry and I spent a couple of hours getting caught up and then went out to dinner with his partner Chauncey.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 1999. All rights reserved.