After my ventures through the Pacific Northwest, I arrived in California on September 26. California is the last state in the U.S. I have to cross before I finally move on to the next leg of this trip in Central America.
Northern California’s Redwood National and State Parks preserve some of the world’s most impressive Redwood forests which I wanted to experience for a couple of weeks.
The Redwoods seemed endless 150 years ago when the Europeans first arrived in this area. Hundreds of thousands of acres were cleared for housing, commercial forests, and agriculture. This almost unrestricted forest clearing eventually resulted in the depletion of major parts of the Redwoods.
Since the 1980s, California State Parks and “Save-the-Redwoods” League, a nonprofit organization, have been acquiring these altered areas adjacent to the park and replanting them with redwood seedlings, thereby attempting to restore the landscape of a more natural forest condition. Coastal Redwoods may exceed 2,000 years in age, and many of the larger trees you can see in these parks are about 800 – 1,500 years old. Some redwoods exceed 100 meters in height, and are regarded as the tallest living trees on earth.
I reached Jedediah State Park, where I met Mike, Steven, and Tyler who were headed down the coast as well. Over the next few days, we would always run into each other at various campgrounds. When you are cycling alone for an extended period of time, it’s nice to see familiar faces along the way.
On September 27, I was back on Highway 101 which I had already followed at its very beginning all the way up in Washington before I explored the mountains of Oregon. The 101 winds down the entire Californian coast, my route over the next few weeks. In Crescent City, a small town in the upper northwestern corner of California, I directly faced the open sea for the first time after my visit to Sitka, Alaska two months ago. I can tell you, it felt great to smell the Pacific Ocean again. That day, my destination was a mere 65 km ride away, so I chilled a bit at Starbucks, charging gadgets and catching up with the news. It was the day after the first U.S. presidential debate, so I was quite amused checking out the highlights. This topic becomes hotter by the day, even as I cycle through towns, I can feel people’s frustration whenever I hear them talking about it.
On the way to Prairie State Park, which is another part of the Redwoods, I had to deal with two key climbs which apparently are the longest and steepest along Highway 101. Well, I was cool with that since I had brought my bike across much more challenging passes up in British Columbia. Nevertheless, the high humidity in this coastal geography squeezes the last bit of sweat out of your pores. I really would not call that section a piece of cake.
Ever since I experienced the massive trees in Olympic National Park, Washington in 1996, I have loved Redwood forests. Because of this, I decided to take a day off and go on a longer hike through Prairie State Park. It was a beautiful walk, on which I followed a canyon overgrown with fern trees down to the beach, and back up to the campground, across a ridge. It was amazing and a great change from my daily biking routine. It was as if I had stepped back 300 years in time, when only Native American Indians, animals and birds passed beneath these trees.
While reading about the history of the Redwoods, I came across an interesting statement from John Steinbeck: “From them come silence and awe”. That’s so true. Ferns that carpet the forest floor grow beneath tan oak and huckleberry, and the ancient Redwoods tower above all. If you ever get to this area you have to spend some time in those forests, whether it is the coastal forests in the Pacific Northwest or the Redwoods in California. They radiate such calmness, and sooth and destress you immediately which is really amazing.
On the next day, I could clearly feel the effect of my 20 km hike, which was something my legs hadn’t felt for a while. In fact, there are muscles located at your lower shin which aren’t used when you ride a bicycle at all. That soreness was for sure unexpected and accompanied me for a couple of days. It was not too bad though, since my next stops, Patrick’s Point followed by Eureka, were easy rides.
Eureka is the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland, and the westernmost city of more than 25,000 residents in the Lower 48. It’s a major commercial fishing port, but I didn’t explore the city much further. Many streets looked questionable with an obvious number of homeless people and quite a few who appeared to have drug-infested minds wandering around cluelessly like zombies. No kidding!
I knew I needed to rest a couple of days but instead of hanging out there at the coast where the weather was just mediocre at the moment, I contemplated about going on a road trip for a few days. Since I had been reading about the famous Yosemite National Park for a while, I already had a destination in mind. It was not on my original itinerary and much too far to ride there on my bike from Eureka. Winter in Yosemite was approaching, and by the time I would arrive by bike, mountain passes would probably be closed and night temperatures would definitely be below freezing. So, on October 1, I spontaneously decided to rent a car for a few days and explore the High Sierra. I will post more on that in a separate blog soon.
The week off the bike was great, but honestly, I was so happy to be back in the saddle. That’s where I belong and that’s the means of transport I find most suitable for this journey. My first day after the break, October 8, was awesome. I headed to Burlington and explored more Redwoods and added a little detour into Ferndale. The latter is a small town just south of Eureka and is home to dozens of well-preserved Victorian storefronts and homes built by the many Europeans who settled there in the 1800s. I wondered how there could be such a difference between this place with its artists, craftsmen and neatly kept gardens and the streets of Eureka where I had been that morning, and saw more meth heads in one day than I had ever seen in years.
I stopped at Mind’s Eye Manufactory & Coffee Lounge, an amazing cafe situated on Ferndale’s Main Street. The coffee shop occupied the front section of the building from where you could see a well-equipped workshop. Among other crafts, the owner kept up the tradition of building Alaskan skin-on-frame ocean-crafts. Besides that, he makes an annual effort to teach indigenous people up in Alaska, who have lost the heritage of using those custom kayaks in their daily life. If you are around the area, I highly recommend visiting this place.
After my extended coffee break, I moved on to experience another famous section of the Redwoods, the Avenue of the Giants. That road meanders through the forests for dozens of miles. At Burlington Campground, which is located right next to this scenic route, I met several other bikers again, which is always great company while you cook your dinner and conclude the day.
The following day, I crossed more Redwoods and met Ocean and Dan, American and British bikers, respectively. We rode together for four days before we parted ways into different directions. It was fun passing each other a few times each day and then ending up at the same campgrounds. Many State Parks along the US west coast offer a so-called hiker/biker rate if you arrive without any motorised vehicle. Usually the cost is around 5-7 $ which is a nice privilege us bikers have earned. 🙂
We passed through vast areas known for marijuana production. Coincidently, October/November is weed trimming season in Northern California which attracts hundreds of hippies of various types from all over the country. It is definitely quite an experience to watch those “trimmigrants” in places such as Myers Flat or Garberville. Out of that fascination, I did some research and found an interesting article which summarizes that annual phenomenon. If you are keen, click on this LINK.
The closer we got to San Francisco, the more we spotted vacation homes along the coast and the more expensive they became. The landscape was beautiful but due to the fog that is actually common in summers, we could often see the ocean only several hours after sunrise. In Point Reyes Station, Ocean and Dan rode off into the CITY (that’s how SF is often called). I had a long lunch in this town, loaded my food bag, and continued pedalling towards Point Reyes National Seashore where I stayed at the hostel in the park for two days. It is only 12 km from Point Reyes Town but cut off from any phone signal and wifi. So it feels really remote.
On October 17, I only had to bike 50 kilometres before I could finally climb one of my favourite hills in Marin County and enjoy the view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I say favourite hill because I was in this area last year exploring various routes on my road bike. The crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge is another milestone for me since I expect better and warmer weather for the next months from now onwards. 🙂