Today was a confusing day. Because the highway turned into a freeway at San Luis Obispo we had to take a different route that involved several changing roads and turn-offs.
After scribbling my own little makeshift map for the day on a scrap piece of receipt paper we set off. Little did we know that the most important section, the re-emergence of Highway 1 would be blocked off. When we got there we saw the big blockades and signs, but realising that we had no other map to go off, and that it would be unlikely any work was happening on a Sunday, we rode around the barriers and set off.
Initially the riding was great. For the first time since we entered America we had the road all to ourselves. Then it started heading up hill. After riding up, and then down, we cycled up and around a steep bend in a hill to find two huge machines completely blocking the road. Wondering what to do, we decided that as there didn't appear to be any work or danger, and as we'd just ridden up a big hill anyway, to carry the bikes over the machines.
Once we were past that obstacle, suddenly and bizarrely, the road seemed perfect and we were able to continue down highway 1 without any more problems. Actually, neither of us was able to figure out why the road was blocked in the first place...
Twenty kilometers later and we cycled into a town that looked like what I imagined a small Mexican town to be like. No-one seemed to speak any English, and the grocery store had lots of interesting things in it. Ironically we ended up eating a delicious hamburger and some Chinese, served by Mexicans of course.
Back on the road and the wind changes from a blustering crosswind to a tail wind and suddenly, we're flying. It's amazing how fast you can go with the wind in your back!
That night we pushed our bikes under a barbed fence and decided to camp in what looked like a National forest. We watched a beautiful sunset while cooking our carton of eggs. Then we fell asleep whilst looking up at millions of stars shining brightly out of the blackness.
We were woken intermittently by squirrels and raccoons scratching around the tent- when I'd shine my headlight on them they'd disappear, momentarily. But around midnight Coyotes began howling.
When I awoke Shanna was laying there silently, scared that the howls were coming closer...
Today we had a tough morning.
Everything started well, we left Monterey and managed to find our way back onto the One, the coast highway that has been a freeway for the last 100kms (making it a bit of an extra challenge to find the right roads and make the right turns).
Despite this challenge, thanks to some great navigating from Shanna we had found our way back onto the highway when it had turned back into the cycle route, somewhere in-between Monterey and Carmel. Patting ourselves on the back we rode into Carmel to look for a gas canister for our stove.
After riding around the entire town, checking seven different shops and having no luck, and in the process being told to f-off by a few tough guys driving massive 'cool' trucks we decided to cut our losses and get back on the road to Big Sur. After buying some supplies (apparently there isn't another super-market for 100 miles), we got back onto Highway One.
And then bang. The wind hit us like a sledge hammer. It became so strong that at times it was a struggle to stay on the road, which was I found pretty scary when there was a sheer cliff down to the ocean and no barrier to stop you from falling down there. Luckily though the sun was still out, so at least we weren't being rained on at the same time.
A couple of minutes of forcing our way through the wind and Shanna got another flat tire. By now we were wondering if we'd walked under a ladder or something.
Over the next four hours we pushed at the pedals as hard as we could and managed to cover another 40km. It was tough going, but whilst we were going slow we somehow managed to pass a few other friendly cycle tourists who seemed to be having as much trouble in the wind as us.
When we arrived at Big Sur we bought delicious (but expensive) burritos and sat by the river and ate them. An hour later, after meeting a massive team of road cyclists riding from San Fran to LA, and some other friendly people we rode off into the Big Sur woods where we found a fantastic camp site right by a river.
After a tough day, in more ways than one, we took off our shoes and crossed the river (I managed to drop/throw one of mine in). We laid awake in our tent that we'd set up right next to two huge Red-wood trees, listening to the soothing sounds of water rushing over rock.
It was another cold, misty morning on the Californian coast.
And the hills continued to take us up over small coves, around inlets and back down to the shore.
It was one of our cheapest eating days for a while, because the towns were so small there was nowhere to really eat. All we could do was stop at the small markets and buy some fruit, milk, eggs and the camping staple- a can of chilli and beans...
We didn't make it far past the town of Tomales. Our legs were still tired and the day had somehow run away from us.
Just outside the town we rode over a large bridge spanning a gently flowing river; we looked up and dark rain clouds were threatening, so we decided to check it out. This section of highway 1 was so quiet, and the few cars that passed over weren't very loud, so we decided to make camp.
While preparing food I noticed a car up on the hills, and a person seemed to be looking down, watching us. Did they have binoculars? I looked up at them for a while... and eventually they moved on.
Then I spotted them further around on another ridge, looking in our direction again... Now I was starting to freak myself out. I saw them a third time, almost out of site... the car paused, then drove away.
We've camped in many places like this around the world but this incident in such a remote part of America made me uneasy.
I was only able to fall asleep that night because Sam was still up reading. But when I awoke in the night I was sure I heard splashing in the river and movement in the bushes.
Six hours sleep would have been a dream!
Instead, it was less than four.
Last night it was a mission just eating our food, the raccoons were out and they were baying for blood! Either that or just our meagre rations!
At about 5am the crazy lady and her German friend started yelling at each other again... the German man was out and about, shuffling around in the bags, yelling at racoons... he was dressed and ready to ride, but the crazy lady was still in her tent.
After an hour of listening to them we decided we might as well get going.
Tired and cold, we decided to avoid these camping sites in the future. We think we'll return to wild (free) camping for a few days...
We rode up the hill to get out of the campground just as the sun was rising. It was actually quite nice to watch the world grow light, and the roads were so quiet... we could almost appreciate the early start.
But we were so tired and our legs hadn't recovered.
The day is all a bit of a blur - ride to small town, eat a little food, ride to small town... Oh - all of it up and down mountains of course.
We passed some spectacular scenery... but we were so exhausted.
About 2pm we stopped in Jenner and ate some food... after an hour of sitting there we decided to buy some supplies and then just find somewhere to camp. The thought of riding another 10 miles over the hills to the next town was too much.
Just outside of town we found some overhanging trees on state park land, that weren't actually part of the touristy state park site. Perfect. We collapsed and struggled to stay awake (slept on a tarp) for the few hours until it was dark, and we could safely set up the tent....
The morning saw us following a dirt path through some scrub, trying to find the path to Fort Bragg as directed by the park ranger... We finally found the right path (not in the bushes) and enjoyed a scenic ride to town.
In Fort Bragg we said bye to Ned and Charlotte - our paths were taking us in different directions and we weren't sure if we'd run into each other again.
It was a tough day on the bike; the rolling mountains seemed never-ending and the towns were small and far between. I'd been dreaming of a milkshake (more like icrecream put through a blender here in America) for days but these towns couldn't help me out.
Despite the tough hills and a late start to the day we still made it to our planned desitation - the regional park outside of Gualala. The shower here was minimum $1.50 for 5 minutes... and the hiker/biker area was tiny. We longed for the parks of Oregon.
We chatted to the hiker who was already in camp, and as we ate our dinner of canned chilli and beans and Ben and Jerry's iceream a pair of cyclists we like to call 'the crazy lady and her German friend' turned up. It was well and truly dark and we were getting ready for an early night after two long, tough days, but they spoke so loud they were almost yelling... but they are quite old so maybe they have hearing problems.
Just as we were settling a group turned up in a van - here to celebrate a birthday all weekend. And they were camping near us. There must have been a dozen of them in three or four different car loads... carrying all their things past us to their camp site. I politely explained to them at 8.30 about our trip and how we were getting ready for bed. They gave me a few 'Right ons' and said they'd be quiet...
With his earplugs installed, Sam fell asleep... but I lay in the tent seething as I listened to them get louder and louder. The guitar came out. In a particularly bad rendition of 'Oh-bla-de oh-bla-da' Sam was woken, despite the earplugs. It was 11.30. I strolled over and politely, but firmly, requested they be quiet.
An hour later Sam gave them a not so polite, and much firmer, demand to stop their noise. It was 1am, and we were hoping we still might get six or seven hours sleep...
We had a day off today.
Last night we watched a film at an old cinema. Before the film began we bought some buttered popcorn that you flavor yourself with a choice of almost twenty different flavors. We sat down in the massive hall and then the girl who served us the popcorn walked down onto the stage and gave a little speech. It was cool.
The film was called 'The Kids are all Right.' Has anyone else seen it, I found the story quite interesting, and we had a discussion about the plot and themes with some of the other cyclists we've been riding with lately the following night. One of the girls found the concepts explored offensive on principle, and decided she wouldn't watch it for that reason.
During the day while sitting in the main street we saw a woman throw two large garbage bags full of something over a fence. The fence turned out to be owned by a little Indian man, whose hotel grounds the woman now found herself to be in. She explained to the little Indian man that the bags were 'full of totally legal marijuana,' and then asked if he wanted any. Laughing, and a wry smile on his face the Indian man declined.
As it turns out Garberville is to Californians, a little bit like Laos is to the Golden Triangle in Asia, except here they produce 'totally legal' marijuana. (Just to clarify, actually it isn't legal, but even the law seem to turn a blind eye). Shanna was approached by a woman (respectable looking) who asked her if she wanted a job. Someone else in the town showed us the special code, or the snip, snip scissor action, referring to the harvest of Garbervilles copious, sprawling marijuana crop, hidden (or not so hidden) amongst the Red Wood forests.
And actually, there doesn't appear to be too many people in this little town that don't see smoking pot as anything but normal. In fact, it seems that many Americans have come to embrace this drug (addictive in my opinion) much more than I ever would have imagined. It appears to have become quite mainstream here. We've had several (more than two, three or four...) offers, and politely declined of course.
I've never been able to figure out what differentiates the casual user from the habitual, but what comes to my mind when thinking of how many people we've met here that either need it or see some intrinsic value to its use, is that I feel a little sorry for them.
If you need pot to enjoy life, or simply to get by, then I don't feel particularly envious.
But hey, each to their own. And who knows, maybe I'm the one missing out...
We met up with Ned and Charlotte again in Crescent City, and headed south on the 101 together.
The wind was calmer and our spirits were high - we all had a good laugh at a sign that boldly proclaimed 'Don't be a crab, eat one!' as we left the city. We saw a bunch of hippies with guitars sitting by the beach and realised we really were in California!
Just outside of town there was a mountain to climb - our biggest since arriving in the USA. Ned and Sam went ahead and Charlotte and I ground the pedals together. I was glad to ride with Charlotte - with Sam I tend to be a bit sooky and complain a bit... but with Charlotte I had to just smile and keep chatting through the pain. And there sure was pain! But we got to the top - and quicker than the boys expected! Partway up we even saw some gigantic trees - had we arrived in the Redwoods??
Going down the other side was so much fun. We all laughed and jeered and overtook each other - taking photos along the way. It was one of the most fun descents I've ever done! And the seaside scenery was beautiful.
Ned and Charlotte made a quick stop in a small town to try and buy some food but we had enough with us, so we continued down the road... Or rather, UP the road. We had hit another mountain. Not quite as big as the first one, but still enough to make my legs turn to jelly.
Partway up there were signs pointing that the bike route went right, off the 101. We debated what to do. Follow the main road? Or take the bike route? We'd talked about meeting up with Ned and Charlotte at the upcoming camp site but which road was it on? I tried to call them. No phone reception. We chose the bike route.
Around the corner the gradient got even steeper. Had we made the right decision? We keep climbing higher and higher. At least the road surface was nice and there were few cars.
Then we were in the redwoods. Around us was the densest forest I've ever been in. The temperature dropped. It got darker. Wow was it beautiful. The last five miles, flying downhill to the campsite, was some of the best, most beautifully scenic riding we've ever done, massive, ancient redwoods towering above us, lining the road like a procession, interspersed with deciduous orange and red leaves, hanging from trees coated lightly by silvery crystalized mosses.
At the campsite we were setting up when Ned and Charlotte arrived. This campsite had bear lockers to keep our food safe and it had cold showers for just 50 cents... But in Oregon campsites provided hot showers for free- so it wasn't such a tempting offer.
Another girl, Jodie from Cleveland, turned up after dark and the five of us stayed up far too late talking and laughing...
Distance: 101km (+12)
Just as we were about to leave the town we saw a wily old man, greasy beard hiding a crafty smile, on a face that looked weathered by centuries of strong winds. Motioning at us to pull over we slammed on the brakes, wheels screeching in the rain.
'Where y'all headed?'
'Not sure, we hear the campsite ahead is closed'
'Who told ya that?'
'Everyone in the town'
Well I got news for y'all, its open to bikers, so y'all head on down, it's only another seven miles or so.'
Seven or so miles through the blustering wind and sure enough, old mate was right. If he hadn't of told us, we never would have known, the place had signs and barricades everywhere indicating it was completely shut up.
The following day the wind started early, howling through the pass where we were camped between two mountains. But, as we would discover later, it was nothing compared to the mountains we'd have to ride up... All day...
By the end of the day I was, for the first time in months, close to not being able to go any further, so when we found an RV car park in the bay just on the other side of town I wasn't thinking, and started to set up the tent...
But soon the chatter and laughter from the group of retired, botoxed millionaires in their RVs the size of super-sized busses reminded us that we'd get no sleep in a place like this, and when the manager told us we'd have to move the tent to a place next to a car park filled with what looked like aspiring gangsters sitting on the front of their pick up trucks drinking beer, we decided to leave.
Despite the elderly peoples friendly protests for us to stay and join their campfire and listen to their travel stories, we packed up in the late twilight and rode back into the cold wind to find somewhere to free camp.
It was so dark now that we almost missed the state park amongst the beachside mansions. Down a gravel path, through some trees; and we found a perfect patch of grass behind some bushes. Relieved, and looking forward to a peaceful night I, (unlike Shanny) exhausted and still covered in layers of sweat and dirt, easily fell asleep to the sound of waves pounding against the cliffs beneath.
Rest day today.
We left our tent set up and rode into town.
Shanny asked the lady at the hairdresser if she could get her scruffy, sun bleached curls cut, 'sorry, I have to go to the village to cut the senior citizens hair, but you can come back tomorrow.'
So we rode on.
Next stop was DQ, or Dairy Queen. We hoped to get some internet here, but all we got was a soggy burger with bacon and cheese.
So we rode on.
Next stop was a cafe in Bandon's historic 'old town.' Here we picked up some delicious sausage and egg wraps that we wolfed down whilst hijacking the wifi. We met up again with the English cyclists (Ned and Charlotte) we'd met yesterday on the road and camped with last night. But then it was closing time...
So we rode on.
That night we pulled down some dead trees and had a camp fire with Ned and Charlotte... On the fire we sauteed onions, fried italian sausages and sizzled sliced potatoes whilst we waited for our sweet potatoes and sweet damper (with jam and cream) to cook from deep inside the flaming embers.
And then, with the sun slowly setting we enjoyed our delicious feast by the light of the crackling, fading fire, the flames warming our backs.
Riding off in the rain we were wondering the last time we'd felt so cold. Maybe it was in Scotland or the Netherlands, I'm not really sure, but whatever the case, it was freezing.
The rain began at a slow drizzle, slowly and steadily increasing to a heavy downpour. By this time we decided enough was enough, and soaking wet we pulled into a fudge and ice-cream shop.
As we scooped icecream out of the thick chocolate milkshake the rain began to ease. Back on the road we quickly warmed up and soon the sun was shining through the clouds. Oregonians keep warning us that 'the rains' are due any day... but looks like we've avoided them for another day.
Up and down the mountains we rode. On one mountain Sam noticed my bike was making a strange sound - the wheel rubbing on the brake perhaps - so next time there was a place to pull over we stopped. It wasn't the brake rubbing, rather, it was air slowly leaking from the tube. A check of the tyre revealed there were quite a few holes - it was an old tyre, bought in Indonesia - so we decided to fit the replacement tyre Sam has been carrying the whole way.
Near the top of another mountain there was a crowd of people looking down to the rocks below - sea lions were splashing in rock pools and sun bathing on rocks. With the sun shining they looked happy in their little cove, protected from the cold wind.