Eureka to San Francisco, 1996

Riding out of Eureka on the first day into cloudy skies put some fear in my heart, despite reassurances from the weather channel that day that we were due for good weather. The freeway between Eureka and the avenue of the giants (Humbolt Redwoods State Park) was slick and wet, and the little wobble in steering due to my putting on my front panniers the wrong way did not bode well for the future. It would take me a couple of days to find and fix that problem.

I got caught in two rain-showers-both times, just after I got my rain-gear on, the rain stopped. Which is fine-at least I now knew that my rain-gear works with my bike. Fortunately, as soon as I hit the redwoods the skies cleared up, and gloomy skies gave way to sunny, puffy clouds. Fresh smells filled the air as I sat down at Redcrest to eat a quick lunch. Leaving my stop, I met the first cycle tourist on my trip-he was in a hurry, though, and didn't talk much though he laughed a lot.

The day ended at Hidden Springs Campground, a nice place with showers, and a ranger nice enough to let bicyclists pick a full campsite and pay the hiker/biker fee ($3 a night in California).

Day two started with more beautiful redwoods, at the end of which I encountered more cyclists-a couple of German tourists (Frank and Mike), another tourist from Eugene (Mike). As usual, I'd forgotten to pack something on this trip-usually, I forget toothbrushes. This time, I forgot a flashlight and unfingered gloves. Worse yet, I'd brought 2 right-handed gloves-I'd packed the night before the trip in a hurry and was paying for it. All things considered, as long as I don't forget crucial things like sleeping bags, thermarests, or tents, I feel like I'm doing quite well.

As long as you're riding in the Redwoods, things are quite cool. But as soon as you ride out in the open on the freeway (101), it gets hot quite quickly. I took advantage of every off-freeway route available, including a stop at Garberville to pick up a flashlight. All throughout this coast trip, I'd see signs that said, "Earthquake Retrofit-Road construction ahead." Usually this means a couple of people and some heavy equipment at the side of the road doing something incomprehensible, but some sections were incredible. The section at Richardson Grove State Park, for instance, required pilot cars to lead the way, as the two-way road was turned into a one-way road while construction was happening. Well, while one side was going, the other side had to wait. I rode merrily past car after car with its engine turned off. People looked rather unhappy stuck there in the middle of nowhere in the hot afternoon sun. I smiled at them and pushed on.

As I got near the front of the line, the cars started moving, and I rode with the flow, getting out on the other side of the construction zone after a mile of riding with traffic. I stopped and thought about it then: if I pulled over and waited for everyone to go past me, I'd have the road to myself for quite a while! So that's what I did, and sure enough, I got the roads to myself. The following miles were almost entirely quiet, with no one passing me, and I had this big 3 lane freeway to myself-I hadn't had that much fun since highway 85 was first constructed and I found myself running time trials on the freeway before it was opened for cars.

By and by, the roads got narrower, and the weather hotter as I neared Leggett, until I found myself at the Bell Glen youth hostel. Bell Glen is quite a nice place, with showers, a hot tub, and a lovely river you can skip rocks all the way across on. After lunch, I sat around and watched cyclist after cyclist roll in, take the bus in, and generally just filling the place to the brim. It was quite amazing for me to see so many cyclists of all sorts in the same place. I even had a couple of people recognize the Rivendell name-Dan and Barb were apparently on the internet-bob list too, though they signed off before I announced I was going on vacation.

Come Tuesday, I found myself climbing Leggett hill early in the morning, while it was quite cool. I've driven this route before, when taking a 3 day weekend with my parents, and the feeling is quite different. First off, the hill does seem a little longer, but what was amazing was how cold the descent was. Having had an extremely hot ride yesterday, I kept waiting for the day to warm up, but as I descended into the valley between Leggett hill and Rockport hill, I felt like I was cycling into a refrigerator instead. So I shook and shivered and eventually gave in and put on more clothing. That promptly started the road inching upwards over Rockport hill, and before I knew it I saw the Pacific blue coming at me and had to stop and take photographs. The ocean just north of Westport was quite a sight for my eyes-sparkling water under shining sun, and a cool, gentle north breeze coming off the sea. Under such circumstances, how could one do anything but slowly ride down the coast.

Lunch at Westport, where I would learn from Dan and Barb that Frank had bent his deraileur hanger, and was hitch-hiking to Fort Bragg to get his bike fixed. The rest of our German crew showed up-Mike, and Ebi and Sabina, a German couple. Together with Frank, these four would adopt me as one of their own the rest of the way down the coast. But for now, we would just be fellow travelers.

MacKerricher Beach State Park's a lovely stretch just before Fort Bragg, and the ride to it was gentle and curvy, a precursor to the deep challenging canyon traveling we would have to do later. Frank finally joined us at the camp after I was done with the shower, and all 8 of us just sat around shooting the bull, using Frank as the interpreter between the German-speakers and the English-speakers.

Wednesday started off with us all hunting for lunch and money in Fort Bragg. Mike, who was big and strong, decided that leaving his thermarest back in Germany wasn't a good idea after all, and bought a sleeping pad at a sporting goods store, and who all rode out towards Manchester state beach. I stopped in Mendocino to look at a museum, and found myself again riding alone. But soon enough, I caught up with the crowd again, and joined by Rob, who had ridden from Seattle with his wife before she bailed out because of a bad knee, we rode in together into the KOA just before the Manchester State Beach. Dan and Barb had elected to ride the skunk train in Fort Bragg, which would take them all morning. They had an advantage on the rest of us, having done this coast route before. As I rode along the twisty winding bumpy road, I heard some rattling from the bike, but couldn't find anything wrong with the bike. Upon reaching camp, I looked carefully at the bike after removing my panniers and finally noticed that one of the bolts holding my racks to the bike had fallen off, causing the rack and fender to rattle. Fortunately, Mike had a spare bolt that he cheerfully proceeded to screw onto my bike, saving me some worries.

Camping out at a KOA is more expensive-$8 a person where there are 6 of you ($27 for a 2-person site, with an additional $5 a person), but given that they had a hot tub and unlimited showers, and an outdoor cooking area, I was quite happy with it. I didn't have much gas left in my stove, and wasn't looking forward to begging for more gas-I wasn't about to buy a gallon of gas that I'd then have to lug around. The Germans and I decided to pool our resources, making a big pot of rice, and buying a loaf of bread, ham, and grilling it all. I'll admit that while eating rice with pasta sauce is an innovation, it is hardly an innovation I'm going to consider a step forward in the culinary arts. I called a friend in San Francisco and arranged to stay with her when I rolled into the city on Saturday.

Thursday was a long day, crossing several rivers as we headed down the coast. All down the coast I've been using Kirkendall & Spring's "Bicycling the Pacific Coast." It's generally quite a reliable book, but this section of the coast is their weak spot. I would not have picked they picked. For instance, Stillwater Cove State Park also has showers, which would put the big set of hills between Fort Ross and Jenner at the beginning of the day, when it's still relatively cool, rather than at the end of the day. Bodega Dunes State Beach campground is also easily the worst hiker-biker site I've seen yet-it might be cute for car campers to camp out on the sand, but when you have to move your bike onto the campsite, it thoroughly sucks to have it kick and shovel around you making you worried about the integrity of the drive-train.

Be that as it may, at that time I didn't know any better, so after separating with the rest of the group because they stopped for lunch and I completely missed the stop, I rode on alone. Every time we went over a river, the road would turn to the left and descend sharply, losing up to a hundred feet of elevation and then climbing steeply back up the next ridge. Well, this pattern worsened as I headed down South, and came to a head right after Fort Ross, where the climb went up to 520 feet, and between each set of ridges you could lose as much as 200 feet. The sun hung high over me, and the gentle tail wind that had been so helpful so far turned the road into an oven, giving me no relief. I sweated buckets. It did not help that I was getting hungrier and slower with each ridge.

Yet the descent was fast and furious, and before I knew it I was at Jenner, having a pleasant lunch and admiring the views and then heading into Bodega Dunes State Beach. I cooked a quick dinner, using up the rest of my gas, took a quick shower, and went right to bed, tired and sleepy. Apparently, my German friends also stayed at the campground, but could not find a hiker biker site, and went for a full-site instead.

Thus it was that I started Friday, my birthday, once again a lone tourist. Breakfast at the Tides in Bodega Bay left me feeling quite good about myself as I rode inland. Again, the heat built up quickly as soon as I turned the corner and could no longer see the ocean. I was quite happy that I started early. Still, the climb out of Valley Ford into Tomales was hot and windless, and I was quite grateful to head into Marshall to once again enjoy Tomales Bay. I was nearing home now, and my pace quickened. There was now a bit of spike in my steps as I turned corners-I was one with my bike, feet spinning as I headed into Point Reyes Station.

Lunch, and then into Olema, a town I've come to many many times before. Sir Francis Drake was hot, but I knew I was nearly there-besides, I was feeling quite strong, and before I knew it I was coming down the hill and into the redwoods along the cross-Marin bike path and everything was cool. I putted around slowly, soon arrived at Samuel P. Taylor state park. The hiker biker site there is nice, especially if you get in early, since you then get to camp right in the midst of a Redwood Grove, with trees so closely knit that there are only a couple of spots where you can move through. I took a good spot, and walked around and begged for white gas and then made dinner.

Being a Friday night, we got cyclists coming in for the rest of the day, till 10pm. Among them was Barb and Dan, and also my German companions. They wanted to go down highway 1 the next day, however, so that would be the last I would see of them. I woke up on Saturday to the sound of the other solo cyclist moving around. We had stayed up the night exchanging tech-talk, and stories of being graduate students in the scientific fields-he was just done with graduate school, and I was a graduate school dropout. I made breakfast, and then rolled out, heading towards San Francisco.

I had done the ride from San Francisco to Olema before on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, but it wasn't that hard at that time, and I guess it's a combination of me being more willing to ride on crowded streets when I have an unloaded bike, as well as my being worn out by my efforts over the last 6 days. Whatever the reason may be, after an early pleasant climb in the redwoods, I found myself riding into Fairfax at top speed, and then negotiating city streets for several miles. At some point, I missed a turn off mentioned in Kirkendall and Spring, and somehow found myself in Tiburon on Paradise Drive. Well, even I had heard of the famous Paradise Loop, but doing it on a loaded bike wasn't what I had planned for the day. Soon enough, however, a cyclist passed me, and I asked him how to get to Sausalito. Well, he was kind enough to lead me to the bike path back into the Sausalito, and once there, I knew enough to get out onto the bridge.

Negotiating the Golden Gate bridge on a loaded touring bike is not particularly hard-if you remember that the wind doesn't affect you all that much. But try stopping to take pictures-well, it's not easy. But I somehow made it over the bridge in one piece, without colliding with other cyclists (who were all going the other way, for some reason), and ended up on the other side of the bridge wondering how to get to my friend's house. Well, I knew the Pacific Coast bike route would take me near there, so I got out onto Merchant St. and followed Lincoln Blvd. As with Tiburon, soon enough, I found someone passing me and I asked him for directions-again, being the kind soul that he was, he offered to put me on the bike path into the Richmond district, despite having already climbed Mt. Tamalpais that day. Proud resident of the city that he was, he also showed me nice parts of the Presidio that I had never seen before. In the lovely sun, Baghdad by the bay lived up to everything her admirers said about her.

Soon enough, I found myself riding down the bike lane on Lake St., and rolled slowly into the driveway of the address I was looking for. Once there, I parked my bike, rang the doorbell and waited for the door to open.

Saratoga, California.

Sunday, September 22nd, 1996

Appendix A: Equipment

Most of my equipment was pretty much the same as the last time I did a fully loaded tour, so I'll just highlight the differences. The biggest change was the bike-my new Rivendell worked quite well as a touring bike, though I'm afraid that the Tioga City Slickers 1.25 are not the world's best touring tires. I'll try out something different next time, probably Ritchey 1.4s.

Robert Beckman's panniers, in conjunction with Bruce Gordon racks, are every bit as good as everyone says they are-once you figure out how to use them. If you set it up wrong, you could end up with a nice little shimmy on your bike, hardly the world's best setup. Fortunately, you only have to figure it out once.

I missed beeswax-that would have saved my bolt. I'll remember to bring a hunk next time.

I know I keep saying this, but next time I do a solo camping tour, I have to remember to leave my stove and pot behind. It's just easier to eat out when you're by yourself, and you don't get so damned sick of pasta or pasta sauce. Everyone else I met on the trip was smart enough to do that-it's just that when I get on with packing for a trip I automatically think: camping = stove, and so pack everything as though I was going backpacking, not cycle touring.

Appendix B: Conclusions

Riding the California coast was a great idea-I'd love to do this trip again, as well as the rest of the coast. Ending the trip in San Francisco with a friend who knew great restaurants was a wonderful experience. I will never forget the look on the faces of the people next to our table as they watched, aghast, as two very skinny people wolf down an enormous quantity of food very quickly and shamelessly (I, at least, was particularly shameless). The pleasure of good food after a long trip was secondary only to the delights of an old friendship renewed.

I lost weight on this trip-I still don't know why. I didn't start the trip in great shape, but still, the amount of riding I did should have built enough muscle mass to create a heavier body. Certainly, climbing back on my RB-1 the day after I came back was an amazing experience-I felt like I was flying. Jumping every traffic light and sprinting whenever I could made commuting fun. I was quite happy with how much strength I had gained.