We didn't get far from San Francisco before some problems with Sam's gears (he couldn't use half of them!) and a desire not to ride in the rain on Sam's birthday led us into Daly City.
We got a great deal from the terrific hosts of El Camino Inn and enjoyed cheap meals up the road at Wendys.
It was far from a glamorous celebration but, for us, it was heaven (even if Sam did spend half the time fixing his bike and then our ATM card stopped working so we couldn't buy donuts...)
San Fran is nothing new to most people, but when I cycled into the city for my first ever visit I was blown away. The fog rolling in over the Golden Gate bridge and then billowing over the high city hills above the water beneath was bordering on majestic.
The sheer number of homeless people in this city is startling, and Brooke told us the fascinating and bizarre story of why there are so many of them here.
We spent a few days staying with Brooke and Dave while we explored the city, bought a new camera (an amazing Sony Nex5, review will come shortly), picked up Shanna's new wheelset, cassette and chain, and a front wheel for my bike, and then we spent a day servicing our bikes. That night we went to the movies with our new friends and saw 'The Social Network.'
The morning we left Brooke and Dave's I walked down to Golden Gate Park and found some homeless people who I gave Shanna's 'ex' wheelset to. I wrote down for them the details (Spinergy Xyclone Race and Deore XT cassette so that if they didn't want to recycle them they could sell them on ebay or something- they still work great so I hope they can get some use from them.
Thanks again guys, most of what we were able to do over the last couple of days was only possible because of you!
The smudge of light I could make out was welcome - I'd survived the night.
We set off early. It was warmer than it had been for days but an eery mist lingered over the water of Point Reyes National Park.
It was like riding through a dream. The road was fairly flat, the tiny towns empty (though their welcome signs indicated populations of 30-50 people) and the air was still. We were the only ones around to enjoy this peaceful scene.
When we stopped for a mid-morning snack, we didn't have far to go to San Francisco, maybe 60km. We calculated we'd be there at lunch time.
But we underestimated the mountains we had yet to cross.
After Stinson Beach the road wound up a series of coastal cliffs. It must be one of the most amazing roads in the world, with scenic views of beaches, rocks and waves below.
There were some steep sections that required my concentration to keep the bike from grinding to a halt, but we made it to the top and enjoyed a thrilling ride down the other side. There were few barriers and the winding road was narrow... it was the most dangerous road we'd ridden in America.
As we coasted around a headland an amazing panorama opened up - we could see the road curling down around the mountains and then back up again... It took some of the enjoyment away to know I had to climb back up again.
After the second set of mountains we hoped that was it, no more climbing. But we were headed inland to join highway 101 and the road went up again. It was a difficult few hours of riding and our legs were tired.
After our third hair-raising downhill spiral we were relieved to find a 7-eleven. It was the first chain of its kind for days and we knew we were close to the city. We'd made it! Only about an hour of riding to go.
Highway 1 joined the 101 and led to the Golden Gate bridge. But without any warning we were suddenly on a busy freeway, climbing mountains again! We tried to go as fast as we could in the narrow shoulder but exhausted legs and nerves made it difficult.
We had to get off this road.
A highway patrol officer tried to get us to use a gravel mountain bike path through a huge national park, but we opted to keep going to the next exit and ride through Sausalito.
After brief stop at a laundromat to wash our putrid clothes, we were back on our way to the Golden Gate bridge. We found it fairly easily, followed some bike signs and just like that we were riding over one of the world's greatest bridges (safely in the dedicated bike lane).
The fog, sunlight, city and beaches made for a magical view as we rode through the wind. The whole day had been worth it.
A brief stop at a sports store we passed (and my stinky shirt was replaced) and we headed to Brooke and Dave's place - more terrific friends of Mari and Jenny.
We had to go up Divisadero St to get to their place - one of the longest, steepest hills I've ever seen! Somehow Sam rode up the whole thing. At one point he felt like gravity was going to pull him backwards off the bike, and he was close to vomiting more than once, but he rode it. With all the bags. Me, I rode partway then walked. And boy was it hard!
Brooke and Dave are super cool and took us to a great Mexican place around the corner for dinner. It was good to be back in civilisation!
Extra info: If you want to know more about the cycling specs of this route this site has info and charts.
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...
As we'd prepared our dinner at Richardson campground near Garberville, Ned and Charlotte turned up, their orange vests irredescent in the twilight. We had plenty of food and they had none, so we happily shared some spaghetti bolognaise with them and they ate it with stale bread.
We hadn't seen them for a couple of days so we caught up on who'd done what since we'd last been together. As it grew dark, Jodie arrived too... a pattern was emerging...
We had a big day ahead of us - a mountain to cross and many smaller hills too - before we made it back to the coast. One stretch was 43km without anywhere to buy food... we needed to be prepared!
The mountain was long (about 700m high) but the gradient was good and we felt refreshed after our rest day. I actually enjoyed the climb and flying down was one of the best experiences of the trip! So beautiful through the redwoods, winding down the mountain... Even though the mountains were tough, the downhill sections always made them worthwhile. And riding with friends made the pain more bearable.
Back on the coast we met a group of American cyclists; touring the coast without their bags - they would take it in turns to drive the van with all the gear. Boy were we jealous! They rode fast and Sam jumped on the back of the group until the small town of Westport.
Our group decided to push on from here to the state campground just north of Fort Bragg... We set up camp with the deer, as far away from the noisy group of school kids as possible.
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...
My ears were hurting, it was so cold! We started riding at 7am and I felt about as cold as I've felt on the whole trip. My feet were numb, and my hands were stinging inside my gloves.
The headwind was strong and my legs were tired already - it was day six of riding and we'd had some tough conditions during this stretch. I wondered how I'd be able to get anywhere today...
About 9am we arrived at the turn-off for the Avenue of Giants - home of the redwoods, the tallest trees in the world. We'd had a sneak peak of their majesty a couple of days ago and I was excited about riding through them for the next 45km or so...
It was still cold, and the trees blocked any warmth from the sun, but as soon as we rode amongst them my legs felt stronger, the wind calmed down, and I forgot my weariness.
It was like riding in another, magical land... a land where mystical creatures live in tree hollows and fairytales seem real... I felt like I could walk across one of the massive fallen trucks and end up in the Land of the Faraway Tree... It's no wonder the Bigfoot legend began in this area; I could imagine him peering at us from behind the trees.
As the morning wore on the temperature soared... by midday it was quite hot. The warm sun felt so good! Much better than the biting cold of the morning. We stopped in a small town, population 110, and bought some fresh burritoes with salad from the general store. Delicious!
Mid-afternoon we left the Giants behind and climbed a final hill into Garberville, where we devoured burgers and fries and washed our stinky, sweaty clothes...
Saw lots of wild Elk today, amazing!
Cycled through a beautiful morning fog, mist, straddling a freshwater lake on one side of the road and the ocean on the other. Magic!
In the afternoon we left Eureka and headed south into the wind.
Tough day, sore legs.
But worth it. Of course... Three months to go.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia