Sunday, October 24, 2010

California Here We Come: Northern California (29th Sept - 10th Oct '10)

Our first night in California we stayed in a gloomy county park in the forest, which had a weird vibe, not helped by the fact that the only other campers wandered around with their hoods pulled up over their faces and that we could hear a “ghost radio” playing while we were in the toilet. After nightfall a police car came through the park and stopped to ask us if we had seen a “fugitive” he was chasing . Great. A little while later he came back out of the trees waving his giant torch around. “Oh dear, couldn't find them” he said and left us there. Needless to say we did not sleep well that night.
It was not the best welcome to California.... and our first creepy impression was reinforced by a couple of strange things we saw along the road, including a statue of a giant man and his giant blue ox, and some life-size statues of dinosaurs leering out of the forest at us.
However, our impression of California greatly improved when we hit our first breathtaking redwood forest. We climbed a couple of large hills that took us up among the towering trees . We then had about 5 miles of gentle downhill where we could glide through the awesome redwoods, the tallest trees in the world. We camped in Elk Prairie and the next morning we took Norma and Betty on a bit of a mountain bike outing. It was very pretty through the giant trees but hard to appreciate as we bounced our way over loose rocks, tree roots, sticks, and one log we had to lift the girls over (oh the injustice I could hear them crying). After 20 bone-shaking kilometres we got back to camp where we had to pry our hands off the handlebars in order to pack everything up and jump back on the bikes for our days ride! Hmm.. the girls are great but they are not built for mountain biking.
The second major section of redwoods that we passed through was the Avenue of the Giants, about 135 km south of Elk Prairie, a beautiful 50 km stretch of quiet road snaking through the trees. The campground in this section, Burlington campground, was just gorgeous so we decided to have a rest day here to walk in the trees and make ourselves dizzy by staring up at their canopies high above us.
Jules and I timed our run into the town of Arcata with the rematch of the AFL grand final. We had contacted Janet and Barry from Warm Showers, and were welcomed very warmly into their house. Janet made us a delicious dinner and we shared wine and stories. They had managed to get the footy final streaming on the internet and they both sat up watching it with us. We tried to explain the game as we went along, but in general we just drank beers with them and yelled at the screen. It was such a nice night and I can't believe Janet and Barry's welcoming natures, not just to feeding and housing scruffy cyclists but to sit through a whole game of men in small shorts running around, seemingly at random, and jumping on top of one other.
Ever since Oregon there have been a number of other cyclists on the road, and we all end up staying in the hiker-biker sites together. Usually you stay each night with the same people but then if you take a rest day, or someone else is cycling at a different pace you get to meet new friends, and hear new stories. We had lost the fun group that we rode through Oregon with, as we had had a couple of rest days, but a few days into California we met the lovely Carrie and Casey from the east coast of the US and Ryan the firie from Canada. We also managed to meet up with Team Krusti once more.
Team Krusti's route down the coast was determined by where the breweries are and one afternoon we got into camp early enough and went to join them at the North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg (about 5 kms from our camp). We had a lovely arvo/evening of beer tasting and then an exciting ride home along a rough bike track, in the dark. We had almost made it back to camp when I head a commotion and realised that Jules had fallen off her bike. Luckily it was dark enough so that only Kristin witnessed it, and that Jules had had enough beer that she just rolled on the gravel and didn't sustain any injuries. Our first serious stack of the trip, and we can blame beer.
One of my favourite sections of our entire trip was the coastal area along the Number 1 Highway north of San Fran, our last five days before the city. We came out of the forest, over Legget Hill, the biggest hill on this part of our trip, and back to the ocean on a day when the sun was shining and the sea was sparkling. This section of the highway was quiet and we passed through little towns and lovely farmland, accompanied by spectacular ocean views. It definitely felt like we were in California, with cute little cafes (featuring 'wheatgerm muffins'), surfing beaches and friendly, relaxed folk. The vistas were of brown rolling hills with golden grasses, groves of trees and brilliantly coloured water. Even the sea was more brightly coloured here than anywhere else. There were a lot of hills along this part of highway as the road follows the cliffs and then drops down to cross creeks and rivers, but luckily we were so distracted with the stunning views that the hills didn't bother us too much.
I was feeling a little disconcerted along this stretch because there are so many Eucalypts that the smell was in the air, and that, combined with the golden grasses and the gorgeous ocean made me feel like I was home in Oz.
We knew we were approaching San Fran, but we were still deep in farmland even a day before the city. We only got the feel of approaching a city in about the last 20 kms or so when we started coming into some outlier towns, then hit lots more traffic, and finally we had our first view of the city across the bay as we rode through the cute little town of Sausilito.....then onto the Golden Gate Bridge...

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