For the full photo diary of this part of the tour please click here
When I was younger one of our family Sunday afternoon recreations was to venture out to Cliveden House, an impressive stately home set amidst nearly 400 acres of Thames-side Buckinghamshire countryside. A summer stroll around such National Trust properties is a typically English pursuit and one that serves to reinforce our rich history and cultural elegance. The attraction that drew me to these visits over other alternative weekend jaunts was a section of Californian Sequoia Redwood that owned a far-flung corner of the estate. Imported in the late 1800’s, this section of tree was bought over to be marveled at and that is exactly what my younger self did. It was beyond my comprehension that trees could grow to have 5 metre diameter trunks and it still is. We don’t do things so big at home in England (apart from Empires of course) we are more refined than that, so anything oversized retains a freak show fascination. Far from simply fueling boyhood fantasies, this otherworldly piece of tree instilled a long dormant curiosity and yearning to one day travel to the exotic prehistoric land where these behemoths persist. Over the last couple of weeks these dreams and imaginings became tangible truths, realities that continue to send a tingle up my spine and not so long ago had me prancing around a wet December forest like a Leprechaun around a rainbow.
But first let me once again reinforce the fact that I am a physical specimen, a hero and a legend. I have reached San Francisco and bought the Pacific coast section of my tour to a close. In order to successfully time my arrival to within five minutes of my Mum and Dad (who flew in from London), I fairly coasted down the last few hundred miles, enjoying seven days of unseasonably severe Californian rain and two days of life affirming sunshine. The rain has been unrelenting and the headwinds unforgiving but I have already covered this subject and it is boring; no one decides to cycle down the Pacific coast in December and expect anything other. I knew when I started out from Prudhoe Bay two months behind schedule that I was in store for some challenging weather, an understanding that I accepted by turning east in Canada towards the Rockies. Much more impressive in my mind has been the necessity of coping with a collapsed saddle, an occurrence that left me hundreds of miles perched on just a steel frame… a real pain in the arse (sorry). Nevertheless there was not a single moment of a single day that this plucky Englishman ever lost his stoicism for the conditions and respect for the karmic forces that afforded him the gorgeous weather and enviable experiences through Alaska and Canada. Only once did I admit to myself an impatience to get to San Francisco for any other reason other than to be reunited with my parents, evidence of this ‘low’ (if you can call it that) will feature down the page. I am quickly discovering that in cycle touring all hardships are rewarded in equal or greater measure.
I have cycled exactly 1,200 miles since leaving the Gatsby household in Vancouver and ascended 63,513 feet. This has taken me twenty-seven days, all the nights of which have been spent cost-free in stealthy tent camps save for two Warmshowers hostings and two welcome invites from new-found friends. The upshot of living in my tent and spending nothing on accommodation is that over this period I have spent less than $200. Proudly living off just $7.50 a day and well within my $10 a day budget, I am making a step in the right direction towards redressing the deficits from earlier in the trip. I am becoming ever more stealthy and managing to live handsomely by frugal means, and in doing so find myself becoming increasingly content and attuned to life. If you ever fancy the ‘holiday of a lifetime’ and have only a couple of tons in your sky-rocket then you could do a lot worse than getting on your bike and riding it.
A famous Brit once frequently declared: “He who dares wins Rodney, he who dares wins”. This is a motto I have taken to heart in finding places to lay my head at night. When darkness falls I become invisible, safe from human intervention and nearly always somewhere I shouldn’t be. I am becoming addicted to the buzz of riding away from improbable camp spots after a night undetected. The more I dare the greater the buzz and the nearer I inch towards becoming truly feral. On the night of the first day of December my cheek reached new highs and saved a wet slog through uninspiring Eureka from going down as a truly shitty day. That night I slept behind a small shed in the grounds of the busy Humboldt Swiss Club. In a space barely big enough to pitch my tent behind a shed narrower than my tent is long, I cooked, ate and slept as people came and went from a popular event at the club. Obviously when I found the spot the club was empty, it was only at about 6 pm that the first car arrived. Initially I worried I might snore and alert them to the vagrant living behind their shed but it quickly dawned on me that there was no reason for them to ever suspect my presence. On a day when most people would stay in to avoid the appalling rain, the idea that someone should be sleeping just yards away in the bushes behind the shed is so improbable that I was always onto a winner.
I talk of finances, I boast of my daring, but what does it all really matter? Such thoughts sit meekly alongside love, hate, war and peace in the insignificance of the human condition when you stretch out your arms and embrace a 2,000 year old tree. Northern California is full of hippies; a fair few shells of 1960’s hippydom litter the streets of places like Garberville while in Fort Bragg I was introduced to the Raw Food movement and glimpsed the sharp end of neo-hippy Californian sentiment (aka middle class people with figuratively full stomachs in need of a cause to champion and an enemy to fight). It has been mentioned in one or two circles that there may be a bit of the hippy lurking in me somewhere; a hairy little chap buried beneath the aggression of a twenty-first century urban fight. As this trip unfolds and I outwardly become hairier (although I may soon succumb to maternal pressure on the beard front), my inner hippy is certainly rising in unison, fighting to express itself through optimistic acceptance of realities, Jaw-Harp practice and most recently… tree hugging.
Despite the lure of the Rockies, when loosely planning a route south I had always figured I’d ride the Pacific coast down to San Francisco. The big draw being the Giant Redwoods that grow in relative abundance around the coastal regions of northern California. From the time I came across my first seriously big Redwoods when pedaling through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park to the time I dropped out of the southern end of the Avenue of the Giants, I felt tiny and insignificant, humbled not just by the mesmerizing physical presence of these 300 foot photosynthetic masters but by the history that lives within them. These giants have bark so thick and a constitution so resilient that only man, the great raper of the sod, has managed to fell them. I am grateful that the remaining groves are protected but still fear for the disrespect some continue to show them; it makes me sick to think that a 1,500 year old tree should have a hole cut through it to satisfy the bizarre urge some simple folk have for a trophy photograph.
I respect the giant Redwoods as much as I’m spun out by their sheer unadulterated majesty, yet even I was provoked to the point of hypocrisy in how they should be treated. Despite towering so tall, these trees have only shallow roots that spread out over an area that allows them to interlink with surrounding trees. We therefore do them no favours by trampling excitedly around their base. Although just my feet will not harm these hardy souls it is another component in the respect we should afford them. Still, on encountering a particularly awesome specimen I could not help myself. Giggling like a school girl I launched myself at this giant beauty, clambering around its base, excitedly throwing out my arms and then wrapping them around the chunky wedges of bark that encase this most soulful of natures creations. I completely forgot the rain, the cold and even myself as I planted my ear against its gigantic trunk not just hoping, but expecting to hear the heartbeat of history. I got just a little bit over excited!
In riding the Avenue of the Giants, a thirty mile stretch of Redwood rich forest, my route took me away from the coast. Forests are damp places at the best of times, a forest of the tallest trees in the world during a time of unseasonably high rainfall is a downright wet place. But I did not even really notice this until the end of my time amongst the giants loomed and my focus returned from the distractions of the flora and fauna. When I pitched up camp a couple of miles short of Standish-Hickey State recreation Area and the climb over to the coast, I was fine. When my alarm sounded at its usual 6:30 the next morning things had changed; for the first time as a solo rider I awoke to the feeling that I had left my mojo with my dreams. It was like I had a hangover, hit by a come-down from the incredible highs of the previous days. I pulled on my wet clothes and for some reason instinctively picked up my camera and started talking to it. I’d been thinking of the potential value to my future-self of recording video diary pieces but the thought was never there at the right times. Here is that recording:
As you can see, the monotony of dampness was starting to ware me down. But I had bucketfuls of hope for the coast, hope that that evenings follow-up recording aptly shows to be well placed:
(No drugs were involved in the recording of this piece)
I don’t know whether I’ll do any more talking to my camera but I thought this was worth sharing to help demonstrate the power of emotions and the passion that I have invested in my days. My mood seldom deviates from various levels of optimistic contentment these days so this was by no means typical, all the more reason I believe for me to share it.
One final question that’s worth pondering from this latest episode on the bike is whether Fort Bragg is actually the most friendly place on the west coast or if I just struck lucky. Having snuck out of Westport Union Landing Beach State Park at 6 am the morning after the video diary day, I was ready for a good solid days riding. The temperatures had climbed to fifteen degrees celsius and as I rode the sun rose on the start of a beautiful morning. Finally I had what promised to be a day of perfect riding conditions; nice temperatures and a steady cooling headwind. Then I stopped in Fort Bragg to quickly fire off an email and everything changed. On the advice of a Park Ranger, I dropped in on theMendocino Cookie Company Cafe for a quick coffee (my one luxury item these days) and to use their internet connection. A five minute stop quickly turned into a couple of hours as people kept coming over to talk with me. I had all sorts coming in just to talk, a real surprise in a town through which cycle tourists often pass. Special mention goes to Ron Bloomquist who is busy preparing for his own bike adventure, planning to coast-to-coast the USA in celebration of reaching 70! I love conversing with people and believe it is extremely important to respect the time of anyone who takes the effort to inquire after my adventure. It only takes one rude cycle tourist to taint all our reputations. Anyhow, during my time in the shop the weather turned horrid again, deciding to revert back to pounding rain. Annoyed but not perturbed I graciously accepted some delicious gifts from the lovely Wendy, the daughter in this fantastic family business and went outside to pull on my rain gear.
There I was balancing on one leg trying to pull on a stubborn overshoe when Ed and Denise came out and another conversation was instigated. In no time we were joined by Erin and I soon found myself whisked off to KariAnn’s place a few blocks away. In a quirky turn of events that no longer surprise me I found myself showered and enjoying lunch with Erin and KariAnn. It turns out that I had unwittingly stumbled into the world of raw food. Fort Bragg boasts one of the leading schools for proponents of Raw Foodism and my new friends had just completed their training there. The idea behind the essentially vegan movement is that food should not be cooked for many reasons including the fact that many important enzymes are destroyed in the cooking process. Its something I’d heard of but never thought about. Contrary to popular belief they eat much more lavishly than just raw apples and carrots and I was impressed by their creativity. Devotion to Raw Foodism is an extreme (and expensive) lifestyle choice, it is a commitment that I can’t see standing up in the lives of most working folk but one that I can appreciate the motives behind.
I was lucky enough that evening to go to Matt Samuelson‘s house for a lesson in making raw chocolate. A real treat, this raw food master had a refreshingly sensible and pragmatic approach to the movement, its motives and ethics. But I still left KariAnn’s house (or should I say garage) the next morning confused by the true underlying motives for devotion to this cause and slightly angry at their idealism in the face of a huge American underclass who are neither educated enough to avoid, nor wealthy enough to choose anything other than fast food. Still, KariAnn and Erin were refreshingly inspired characters who had actively chosen life over drudgery.
A couple of days ago I crossed the Golden Gate bridge under glorious blue skies and arrived in the beautiful San Francisco. By five o’clock I had met up with my folks and was settling in to our amazing apartment on Taylor street. It is a great feeling to be with my fantastic family again having experienced so much in the seven months since I left them. I am no different, they are no different and the world continues to spin on its axis. I will enjoy our coming days together as tourists in a strange land before forging on and continuing my journey of discovery.