Dwelling In The Land Of The Ancients: Day 2 Of My Northern California Bike Tour

Day 2 was the day of my tour where I had the least amount of riding planned. I normally covered about 50 miles a day. If I rode at that pace I would pass through the redwood region without spending much time there. Riding less would allow the day to be a sightseeing tourist day. Oddly that is a challenge for me physically. I can ride long distances on my bike but stopping for long breaks and starting up again is hard: I would rather only take a few short breaks and get in all of my riding in one session. That may seem counter-intuitive, but I picture my body like some kind of flywheel that takes a lot of energy to get rolling, and once it is spinning it does not want to stop. But alas, tourist traps and natural wonders are not distributed according to my riding preferences.

All of the villages along this section of the route were picturesque and nestled among the redwoods. Miranda and Phillipsville were both scenic and busy on a Sunday morning.

I am an early riser, and waking up in a silent campground in a place like the Burlington campground among the huge redwoods was a delightful experience. I prepared breakfast in my vestibule as usual, which allows me to get started slowly without getting out and setting up on a picnic table. Being an early riser also gives me the advantage of uncontested access to restroom and shower facilities.

Other riders began to get up and prepare for the day ahead. I said my good byes and a rode every bit of a few hundred yards next door and stopped at the park’s visitor center. It had a lot of history told in images and artifacts accompanied by detailed information and narrative. It included the “Travel Log”: a camper/RV of sorts made from a downed log of a tree estimated to be over 4800 years old.

After so many miles riding along the banks of the Eel River I finally took the opportunity to pull off the road and walk down to its banks. The crystal clear water held up to close inspection; I have seen manicured ponds that did not look as pristine. And the water was warmer than air temperature too. As I rode through the park that day, I saw many people setting up day camps along the river, usually in one of the few areas where it was deep enough to swim in.

Farther down the Avenue of the Giants I encountered the village of Meyers Flat and the Shrine Drive Through Tree. There were multiple drive through trees in the area. This one was privately run and a bit campy, but still fun and an interesting experience. While I was there several cars went through. One driver pulled up and decided that they might not fit, so they backed out and did not go through with it.

I bought a deli lunch at the Four Mori market in Meyers Flat so that I could take it with me and have lunch in a redwood grove farther down the Avenue. The nice lady running the place shared the location her favorite spot just off the road in the direction I was going, which proved to be a very nice place to have lunch. She also hooked me up with a small bag of ice, which I really appreciated. Ice is the one luxury that I cannot easily pack while riding. Coolers or thermoses that could handle ice are too big for me to deal with. In many locations ice is only available in bags too large to carry. I have gone so far as to buy a big bag of ice and throw most of it out. But the lady at the market was nice enough to open a bag of ice and let me take a small amount in a plastic bag, which was perfect for my beverage at lunch.

Enjoying lunch along the banks of a stream that meanders among the redwoods and empties into the Eel River

All of the villages along this section of the route were picturesque and nestled among the redwoods. Miranda and Phillipsville were both scenic and busy on a Sunday morning.

The nature of the towns changed as I went south, however. As I approached Redway I saw a man walking along the shoulder of the road. I presumed he was a rare hiker that might be traveling along the same route. As I passed him I said hello. But his look back at me was strange and he was filthy and not equipped for a long journey. Just down the road I saw a blue tarp covering a tent house just off the road, and I added it up: he was homeless.

I don’t want to dwell on the homeless situation throughout my blog, so I will cover it once here rather than bringing it up each day. I feel I should not ignore the issue. I encountered a lot of homeless people during my tour. Many were living along the bike trail in Eureka the day before and through the Redway/Garberville on this day of the ride. I saw more of them as I traveled south. In the city of Oakland and during my train ride home south from Oakland I saw numerous large encampments throughout the state. Bike trails and railways are where many homeless seem to be able to get away with living illegally without being evicted. The number of homeless people is a chronic problem in the nice weather of California historically, but their numbers have exploded in recent years due to many factors, the rise of Opiod abuse among them. Unlike the small numbers of homeless people I am accustomed to, the new larger groups make no effort to hide themselves. They gather, sleep, and build dwellings in very visible public places, and cities and the state seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it. While they are not all violent or criminal, some of them can be. Touring cyclists are not afforded the protection of an enclosed vehicle, and further, our bikes are target items of theft for the unscrupulous among the homeless. The topic of the homeless came up every night at the hiker/biker campsites, and all of us took extra precautions to protect our safety and belongings in areas where the homeless population was visible. Alison at Burlington campground was a social worker very familiar with the situation and I learned a lot from our discussion. No place was worse than Redway/Garberville, where the homeless seemed to outnumber the rest of the people. I had planned to stop and get food in Redway. There were dozens of homeless people in and around the market, nearly all of them staring at me and my bike as I locked it and went in for supplies. After a few minutes in the store I decided better of it and left quickly without buying any necessary food. I was watched closely as I unlocked my bike and rode away. I was so unnerved by this that I forgot to stop for food at the next village of Garberville also, where the homeless situation was similar. I was able to find supplies in Cook’s Valley just past my destination that night at the state park. I don’t want to discourage people from riding through this area. No cyclists I spoke with had any first hand experience of any direct problems with homeless people. And the homeless are not a problem in the remote camp areas where I stayed. If you ride through the area, be aware of the homeless population and avoid the large groups, especially if you are riding alone.

While making my way through Garberville I encountered another cycle tourist with his bike pulled off the road, all of his bags removed, and his hands covered in black grease. He was having a mechanical problem with his bike: he could not get his rear wheel to spin. I was worried the internals of his hub had seized up. On closer inspection I realized that his thru axle was not lined up right. I arranged everything properly and we got the wheel spinning so the hub was not the problem. But his bike had a strange thru axle I had never seen before, and neither of us could figure out how to tighten it all the way. It sounds odd and it was. After doing all I could, the rear wheel would not fully tighten and it had a lot of side to side play. The rider thanked me and said I was free to go. He was riding with a group and was in contact with them on his phone. I left without fully resolving his mechanical problem, but I did manage to help a little, and to the best of my abilities. Still, I am used to staying with people until they are able to get riding again. Fortunately I met him later in the day at the gas station/convenience store in Cook’s Valley and he thanked me and reassured me that I had helped a lot. I was happy to see him able to continue.

I stayed at Richardson’s Grove State Park campground that night: another lovely park set among the redwoods. My fellow cyclist at the site was Reuben from Sydney (Australia, duh!). He was a research assistant at the University of Sydney and later became staff, wearing many hats. He was riding the entire coast in one trip and we had the same destination in mind for the next day, so we would camp again if all went well. Reuben shared the story of staying in a campground where a mountain lion made the sound of a screaming woman in the middle of the night, which is not uncommon. It terrified some of the campers there including a couple of women cyclists who were unable to sleep for the rest of the night. Reuben, like myself, always slept with earplugs and an eye mask, so he didn’t wake up for it.

Reuben, my intrepid campsite partner from Sydney

It was also Father’s day that day. I would have never intentionally scheduled a trip all by myself for Father’s day, but I messed up. My trip was originally scheduled for the end of May which is usually well outside the rainy season for the area. But the area was hit by a big rain storm that week. If I were riding for months I would have dealt with some rain, but I would have been riding in the rain for my whole trip, so I decided to delay the ride. I rearranged all of my travel, reservations and work vacation schedule in a bit of a panic and unwittingly scheduled it to include Father’s day. I realized it only after everything was moved and I decided not to move and delay it a second time. I enjoy time with my family on Father’s day and there were reminders that it was Father’s day throughout my ride that day. Each time I was reminded of it I felt a pang of disappointment for messing up my schedule.

The park had spotty, terrible cell service, but my daughter called me for a Father’s day talk and we spoke for a long time. It was a wonderful talk and it helped make up for my feelings of missing out on the day. My cell service seemed to fade just as we were finishing up our conversation anyway, and I was not able to make another call during my stay at the park, it was like a little bit of magic during my journey. I think service got worse because more campers were showing up and overloading the local cell tower, up but I am sticking with the magic narrative.

Reuben was a disciplined rider who was taking the next day of riding pretty seriously. The route would include the fabled climb from Leggett, which is the biggest climb along the entire Pacific Coast Route. He turned down my offer of cheap wine I had gotten in town and climbed into his tent early to get in extra rest and an early start for the next day. I had looked at the elevation profile of the day and read about the ride on social media and I was expecting a climb, but not like Reuben seemed to be expecting. He was a younger, leaner, stronger rider than me so I was sure he would be fine. I retired only shortly after him, leaving most of my wine untouched, so maybe I was actually looking forward to the next day with a little more trepidation that I was willing to admit.

Relive ‘Morning Ride’

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
07:24:44 03:35:13 36.57 10.20 38.25 1,955.38
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

Let me know what you think