Wednesday, 24 April 2013

California part 1

It's getting dark here in a campground in the small town of Manchester (population 195). The birds have quietened down; I've spent a large part of today surrounded by a variety of strange little birds, some with crests hanging off their heads. I also see and hear small black birds that puff up their chests like a frog before emitting a sound like a can of coke being opened. That could just be me though, food and drink are almost constantly on my mind.

A few days ago an elk skipped out across the road while I was riding, and I found myself wondering what she'd taste like. Later that day I picked up a $2 steak from Ray's (cheap supermarket) and cooked it on my stove. It tasted incredible, although the dish was tackled with some difficulty - cutting up steak in a bowl with a multitool and plastic spork can be a frustrating business.

Today has been a good day, not least because it is my day off from riding. The cycling has been beautiful over the last week, but the miles have taken their toll. I arrived in a state-run campground in Manchester last night after a hot and dusty day. This was the most primitive of the hiker/biker grounds I've visited - no hot water or basins in the restrooms, no showers, with said rest rooms being a hole in the floor. Nothing wrong with that, and it was a nice spot, but I was in the mood for facilities. I woke up this morning and moved to the KOA next store, which is a private chain. This one, to my surprise, offered a hiker/biker rate of $10, offering laundry, WiFi, a decent shop, proper hot showers, pool, and - a hot tub! I spent a bit of time resizing images, I've uploaded these below in no particular order (limitations of blogging on a phone).

I've stayed in some interesting campgrounds - I was surprised on Saturday to find a reggae sound system set up opposite my home for the night. I found out later this was part of California's 4-20 celebrations, which is a huge celebration of smoking weed. A biker I met on the road explained this to me, '4-20' was the police code used in dealing with a pot smoking offences, so school kids decided it would be fun to smoke joints at 4.20pm after school each day in return. This has turned the 20th of April (4-20) in to party time, which explains why I slept badly due to truck stereos pumping out tunes at 4am. I heard some fights kicking off in the night - apparently things got a bit trippy. A guy told me this in the morning, he'd taken 3 tabs of acid at the party, so it might have been him I heard crashing around the forest in the night. Another girl spent literally hours the doing turns round the campsite on an electric scooter, shouting "wheeeeeeeeee!" as she whizzed past, regular as clockwork.

But back to the hot tub - It's no use trying to describe how good it felt getting in there, but it has definitely helped soothe the aches in my legs which were exasperated by my decision to ride a detour called the Lost Coast (Matthole road from Ferndale through Petrolia to the Avenue of the Giants). The Lost Coast is easily one of the hardest but most rewarding rides I've completed. The text on my map says it includes about 8,500 feet of climbing in 60 miles. It's a good thing the road was so quiet, as I had to zigzag across the road to make it up the climbs. The largest of these took me a couple of hours each to complete. The road surface was patchy, ridged, and potted tarmac that turned in to asphalt in sections. One of the climbs was too steep for my 45 kilo load- I'm not too proud to say I got off and pushed for five mins or so (the only pushing of the trip so far!). The views were worth it, mountain vistas, deserted beaches, and another awesome redwood forest at the end.

I started this monster detour about 3pm after riding 30 miles previously. This meant I had no chance of making it to a campground, so I'd already decided to rough it, hobo-style, when I set off up the first hill. Most of the land around there is farmed and fenced off, with plenty of signs warning hunters and trespassers away. When I reached the ocean about 6pm I decided to make do with camping on a section of sand dunes just off of the road, and invisible from it.

A key technique when roughing it is not to set up camp too early, but wait until just before dark and do a stealth job on pitching the tent. Although I chose my spot carefully, I still found myself getting nervous everytime a truck or car drove past. Would the engine slow down and stop? Had they seen me? I had a tense moment when a truck did slow to a stop, and I heard voices. But they moved on quickly enough, and may have just stopped to admire the view. The reality is that no-one would have cared too much, and the road was too remote to attract any bad company. The occasional traffic stopped about 10pm and I got some decent sleep. I remember waking up about 4am and looking out of the tent to check no one has made off with my bike. It was dark and silent, and the dunes were completely wreathed in mist. The bike was still there-it was a nice moment.

I woke before dawn to get away early and found I'd been raided after all. The food bag that was bungeed on the front of my bike had been pulled off, torn open with either teeth or claws, and my bread and liverwurst (a sort of pate) was gone. The following day's riding was pretty epic, I saw some small towns that made me feel like I'd gone back in time. Wooden cabins covered in moss, ancient rust-bitten trucks and tractors. I rode past the only grocery store too early to get supplies, but was carrying enough food to get by. I quickly ran out of water, so sterilised some I took from a stream.

Very early that morning, I cycled past a house with two men working outside, one in the yard, one on the grass bank by the road. The latter was busy either weeding or looking for mushrooms or something. He was scrawny with loose fitting clothes, a huge tobacco-stained beard, and wild long hair. I said 'morning' as I cycled past - he said nothing, but looked up at me for a second, and actually tipped his hat to me as I rode past.

It was about this point on my route that the days started heating up. I'm becoming more and more tuned in to the changes in weather. It's 24 celsius when the sun is up, and there are no clouds. Yet it's too cold to sit out after dark without a fire, as it drops down to 8-10 celsius almost as soon as the sun sets. I'm still wearing 3 or 4 layers to keep warm at night, when the mist rolls in off the sea. My tent is usually wet in the morning, and it stays cold until the sun burns the mist off.

As well as the weather, the sounds of the road are becoming an integral part of my daily experience, and have started to play tricks on me. I'll often be riding along on the heat and start hearing a spitting, crackling sound, which I think is a bad gear change on the bike, before realising it's the power lines overhead. Likewise, I hear a dry screeching sound that fits in time with the rotation of my pedals, only to realise that its a grasshopper or cricket by the side of the road.

I've had a relatively quiet and meditative week riding down through California. The people I meet are friendly and lots of them are impressed by my bike ("awesome rig!") and my ride. I feel like I'm almost done with the coast now, so am looking forward to turning inland towards Yosemite.

P.s. -underneath a road bridge near my camping spot on the lost coast was some blue graffiti displaying the phrase 'I MISS U WIFI'. I empathise with the author, even though I realise he was probably talking about his wife, not decent wireless internet connection.


  1. An eye for composition mon frère, I'm impressed! Keep up the good work. Glad you had a close call with a bear already too (it was a bear that raided your food stash, I've decided!)...
    Keep on trucking and keep us posted!

    1. Dude, I was gonna ask you how the pictures came out cos still have only seen the blog on my phone. Resized the jpegs (got camera to shoot raw and jpegs both) to 600 dpi width (i think) using some linux programme on the notebook. If they haven't come out all manky, I'll keep doing them the same way!

      I'm going to buy a bear canister in San Francisco tomorrow!

  2. Dude, having _driven_ sections of the Lost Coast, I have to tip my hat to you, Californian old dude with long beard-style! I burned through some serious brake pads on our rented (automatic, so no engine braking) Ford, and was super grateful I didn't have to do anything but press the gas pedal to get up those hills from Shelter Cove. Serious respect.

    I love the little snippets of experience you relate with single sentences. Great stuff :)

    1. Thanks Kai, honestly the first afternoon on that ride was nearly the end of me! Cool you did some of the same roads, those little ones really are stunning. Drank some Old Rasputin beer from Fort Bragg the other day, hope you came across that too!

  3. You paint such an interesting picture,Al! That Lost Coast detour sounds amazing, I'm hoping the "thief" was some little, cute, fluffy animal...the cat didn't hitch a ride by any chance? Talking of stained's yours doing? Really, really proud of you and thank you for my brooch, I had a lovely birthday and it was very thoughtful of you to text. Stay safe xx

    1. Nah the cat stayed at the campsite I met it at. Made a good friend there, gave it some food and water out of my spare bowl. Always carry a spare bowl for guests! But I washed it carefully for the next one. Glad the present found you ok and isn't too much like one you already have! It's from the 50s, apparently!