Monday, September 26, 2011

The scenic detour

And then there was this incredible day. It was one of those days that have a very different ending than you could have imagined the same morning. It is hard to describe it in words or pictures, but I'll try.

We left our great host in Bayside and cycled back to Arcata, which was not far, and Christine could get some new camping equipment, which had gotten lost in the pannier the day before. There was a very cool natural store with lots of organic food and coffee and we spent the morning there, as we were not in a rush. We planned to stay on the main coastal highway 101 for a while, but then leave it to take a scenic detour. We do scenic detours very often to avoid the sometimes busy highway, and a lot of them are described in 'The Book'(*). The one that we planned for today was not in the book, though. But there was a smaller road on the map, that seemed to parallel Highway 101 and led the way along the coast. It looked like this:

Scenic detour (orange road, left) via Ferndale

We had some brief chats to locals about this route, one of them said 'yeah, it's really nice there, but ... I wouldn't wanna cycle there.' We didn't take it very serious, as there are many people who don't like cycling. Others were talking about 'the wall', which is what the locals call the mountain that lies on this route. It is a popular route for a bicycle race that seems to take place from time to time. But we would cycle the tour counterclockwise, so we wouldn't have to go uphill on the steep side of the hill. Everything fine. Also the sign where we entered the road to the scenic detour, saying something about 45 miles (72 km), didn't bother us much, I heard Chris and Christine talking about it, that it is a little strange, as we expected our detour to add another maybe 10 km to our schedule, so it must have meant something else, or the comma was missing, which would make it 4,5 miles, also strange because there are usually no commas on mile signs, but whatever.

We had a lunch break before the hill, luckily.
Then the hill started, and it never ended. It really didn't seem to have a summit. And it was not like the slopes we had had until then. Very narrow, extremely steep winding roads, and another turn and another turn and so on after every turn. And sometimes so steep that I had to walk the bike. At a fake summit, which I thought might be the summit, I asked out loud ' why DID we do this!'. This was the wrong question, it should have been 'why have we started doing this', but I didn't know that this was just the beginning. We were soon distributed along this long road, everyone fighting his way up alone.
Every hill eventually has a real summit, so did this one. I reached it after an eternity. Hoped to see the others there, but didn't. And there was an intersection (approximately at the cross on the map). I spent 5 to 10 minuted there checking all my inexact maps and the signs pointing back to Ferndale (6 miles (10 km)) where the climbing had started, and another one pointing forward to Petrolia (24 miles (39 km)!), which was on none of my maps (the map above was actually in my handlebar bag, I found it some days later). And there was a turnoff to the left. I knew that the highway, which we eventually wanted to return to, was somewhere to the left, but the straight route looked like the main one, and cars were coming from there and heading there (not many, but every now and then). I decided to go straight. The scenery by the way was awesome, but due to all this uncertainty about everything, difficult to enjoy. Very dry, yellow open fields and it really felt like being high up.

And then I had the downhill ride of my life. It didn't look like a slope at all, but there was a strong tail wind, and there must have been a slope, because the computer said 40 km/h and I did nothing. I was occupied with avoiding the numerous pot-holes that shaped the bumpy road. It was incredible. I never had these two feelings at the same time: scared (because I hadn't seen the others for at least an hour or two, the speed was incredible and I didn't know if I had taken the correct way (or whatever was the correct way, at least the one that the others had taken)), and enthusiastic (because of this unique downhill ride, the speed, the scenery, the whole situation). I decided for the latter one and kept talking to myself all the way down (Krass, das ist Wahnsinn, wie geeeeht das, kraaaassss, huuuuui, waaaaa, unglaublich), while constantly concentrating on the pot-holes.

The further I flew down, the more it became clear to me that this was not the last 'hill'. This slope would only lead me into the next valley, and I realized that I was on the way into a kind of huge mountain range.
Then I saw Ross and Chris after this downhill ride was finally over, and I was so glad and relieved to see them. Ross was repairing his breaks, that had given up on the way down. We all had the same astonished expression on our faces. It was certainly not what any of us had expected this detour to be like.
After about 15 minutes, Chris mentioned Christine, and said, hopefully nothing has happened to her. Ross pointed at a car that was approaching and said, that they would probably have seen her and would tell us if something had happened. The car stopped. It was a red pickup. And inside was Christine, and her bike on the back of the pickup. Her breaks had given up as well, but everything was fine. She had hitchhiked down the hill. This hill was the famous 'wall', which now became obvious when looking back.

But it's hard to see on the picture. There is a road.

The couple in the car that had picked up Christine provided us with information about our interesting detour. We were in the middle of the 'Lost Coast', it was another at least 10 Miles (16 km) to Petrolia, where they lived, and which has a campsite a little further. There would be another hill like the one we had passed. And it was impossible to get back to the Highway this day, as there would be more of these 'hills' after Petrolia. It was already past 5 pm and this campsite was what we needed. Jib also gave us his and Janes address in the little town of Petrolia, in case we got lost or needed a beer when getting there.

Jib and Jane turned out to save our day later on. Ross, Chris and me got back on the bikes while Christine had to continue on the pickup, as the brakes wouldn't make the next (down)hill(s). The next hills came and we had to keep going. The extremely bad road conditions didn't make it easier, sometimes unpaved gravel sections. But then the most incredible moment was to see the ocean. We had a long relieving and flat section along the coast in the evening sun which already created long shadows.

Leaving the coast again

There's no downhill without uphill, and soon the road left the coast to climb some more steep slopes. It never seemed to end, and suddenly the red pickup with Jib and Christine appeared! They were concerned that we wouldn't make it before darkness (as the estimated 10 miles to Petrolia had been a little inexact) and had come back to give us a ride. Chris and me didn't hesitate to accept the offer after this day. I was so thankful. Ross (far ahead) had decided to make the last miles on the bike.

The pickup ride was awesome. Chris and me sat at the back and had some mandarins while enjoying the wind and the scenery and every steep hill that we did not have to climb any longer. I didn't feel bad about not riding these last miles by myself. We arrived at Jib and Janes house after 20 minutes, which I don't want to imagine as cycling minutes (hours). Jib provided us with beer and the situation was just overwhelming. Then they allowed us to pitch our tents on their lawn. And the day was more than saved. Ross arrived just before darkness.
We had more beer by the fire, a very nice chat with our incredibly helpful spontaneous hosts. Suddenly, all the struggle of the day was forgotten. And now everything made sense. The strange 45 miles sign, the reactions of some people, the 'wall'.

The next day

Despite the great ending of yesterdays 'detour', we were still in the middle of the lost coast and had to get out of there. The difference to yesterday was: We knew about it. We knew there would be hills today, and we knew where we were, and we started these hills early and not after a late lunch break like yesterday. These are small but very important differences.
To make it even more perfect, our hosts provided us with coffee and pancakes for breakfast.

There was one big hill like the first one of yesterday, this time in the burning sun. Stopping after every turn, in every shade of a tree, drinking water, while trying not to use up too much, as we didn't know when we would have a possibility to refill the water bottles.
The downhill ride was less scary than the day before. Soon we reached 'civilization' and WATER at a campground. We happily discovered that the road led through a valley from now on. This means: it was over!
Hearing the sound of highway 101 almost made me happy for the first time.
We reached the campsite in Humboldt Redwoods State Park and camped beneath big redwood trees.

The detour had eventually taken us two days instead of two hours. In retrospective, it was great.

(*) 'Bicycling the Pacific Coast' by Vicky Spring and Tom Kirkendall. Very useful source of information

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