The characteristic heavy, thick fog that greeted us upon arrival into the ‘sunshine state’ was the backdrop for our next day back on the road after a much-needed day off. Our first climb out of Crescent City was a slow but steady affair, awakening my legs again quite rapidly, and causing us to stop on a handful of occasions to muster the strength to carry on. What a welcome back onto the road- the hill stretched for over 5 miles before it begun to show signs of leveling out for the first time; it was a full 8 miles before we reached the ‘summit’. It was a bizarre experience, to feel so hot, clammy and sweaty with the effort of the climb while the cold mist enveloped you in a damp, wet haze. The sun attempted to break out, with true success on one occasion- but as quickly as it came, it was instantly gone.
It was under this setting that we re-entered the redwoods; the entire atmosphere was eerie and imposing, with these majestic trees rising on either side, their tops barely visible through the fog. We rode in silence, literally subdued by our surroundings. Twisted, broken, interwoven and intertwined- these trees were dark shadows literally rising out of the mist, looming, heavy, and foreboding. I was utterly in awe quite struck by them, by the entire atmosphere created by the combination of their presence and the weather that engulfed them.
It took some time, and 2 further steep and aggressive climbs, but as the sun finally begun to triumph over the fog, we pulled into the ‘Trees of Mystery’ attraction- a trail through a section of the redwoods, complete with a ski-lift-style ‘gondola’ lift that takes you above the forest for a birds eye view of the redwoods and surrounding hills. The attraction was impossible to miss; heavily publicized, it also had the legendary ‘Paul Bunyan’ – a mythological lumberjack- and ‘Babe’ -his blue ox- standing guard a the entrance. These are just one set of numerous monuments dedicated to this mythological pair whose folklore tales range from their creating the Grand Canyon (as Paul dragged his axe behind him) to being the cause of the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, resulting from their footprints while wandering lost in a blizzard. For us on this particular visit, however, they were vast statues- Paul reaching almost 50ft in height, his companion Babe, 35ft tall. I got the shock of my life when on approach, the statue in question gave me a broad wink, waved his hand and proceeded to welcome me to the Trees of Mystery and comment upon my bike. When he invited Theo to sit on his boot- using his name as he did so- Theo didn’t know what to make of it.
It took some persuasion for us to get him to clamber aboard the toe of the 10ft high boot- and when Paul then congratulated Theo and welcomed him, Theo promptly burst into bewildered tears and begged to be taken down! The concept of a 50ft talking statue was too great for him to get his head around – and actually I have to confess, though it made me giggle a great deal, it was kinda creepy to know that somewhere, there was a guy who could see and hear everything that was going on there in the car park- and we had no idea where he could see us from, or where to talk back to. It unnerved me ever so slightly!
We had to pay an entrance fee to the trail, which I’ll confess seemed a bit steep, but once we were inside I definitely enjoyed it. Along the trail, we saw a series of quirky, strange and unique trees that stretched the imagination and showed just how versatile and resilient these magnificent trees truly are- from the ‘family tree’, a main trunk from which large branches grew and then served as the foundation for no less than 12 more fully-grown individual trees on top, to the ‘lightening tree’, named so for it’s zig-zag shape, and my particular favourite, the cathedral tree- a collection of trees that grew in a close semi-circle, providing a beautiful and somehow spiritual alcove, in which several weddings are held every year.
The final part of the attraction was the Sky Trail, which climbs to 742ft for spectacular views. It was a nerve-racking experience for me given my ironic lack of head for heights (anytime I dared to peer out of the doors or windows, it was a sheer drop below- not helped by Matt, who kept making morbid jokes about wires snapping or us plummeting to our death in the trees below. Thanks, Matt.) The lift slowed down and stopped several times, which added to the anticipation (or, in my case, fear).
However, it was well worth the ride- views from the top were spectacular. Hill upon hill of redwood trees stretched as far as the eye could see on one side in a beautiful vibrancy of all manner of green imaginable; the glittering of the Pacific Ocean loomed from the opposite direction. The tranquility was just beautiful; it was a world away from the dust and sweat of our bikes. It was the perfect break from being on the road; and Theo enjoyed exploring the woods, climbing on every tree possible, crawling under raised roots, picking up leaves and racing along the trails.
Back onto the road once more, and the rest of our ride was characterized by yet more hills- we came to realize people weren’t joking when they warned us that the Californian coast stretch was the most hilly of the whole coast route. The wether had turned around and the un was radiant at last: eventually, it was actually with relief that we were able to leave the beat of the sun and the traffic of the highway onto the Newton B. Drury ‘Scenic’ Byway though the redwoods- though we couldn’t escape the hills, we could relish in the shade and enjoy some views to distract us from the climbs. This beautiful section of the redwood forest was made up of grove upon grove of mountainous trees, stretching as far as the eye could see above us, enveloping the road, each branch grasping for sunlight in such a way as caused some to lean dangerously inwards or distort into unimaginable positions. Many of the groves were ‘memorial’ groves dedicated to individuals or couples: a beautiful way to commemorate a memory, given the near-immortal nature of these trees. We found an incredible, huge hollowed-out tree (into which I could literally cycle!) and ventured off road to find ‘Big Tree’ also- an absolute monster of a tree, the circumference of which boggled my mind- truly vast. With the sun shining through the trees, the atmosphere was very different from the morning- the trees that had appeared so foreboding and almost sinister previously were now true works of natural beauty- from the incredible bark formations that seemed to spiral around the trunk to the deep, rich and characteristic earthy red colour from which these trees gain their name, which we could glimpse from the sliced-open remains of those that had fallen.
Our destination for the evening was the Elk Prairie State Park, set amongst coastal grassland with elk grazing around the park. The hiker/biker site was tucked away at the end of the campsite and was pretty much secluded- only one fellow cyclist was settled in the camp alongside, an older guy happily strumming his ukulele (albeit, rather tunelessly) who came over for a brief chat- I simply remember his main, iconic statement that has echoed in my mind ever since: “A bad day on the bike is still miles better than a good day at the office.” I gotta say… I agree.
The following day was a huge jump from the calm and scenic redwood escape we had enjoyed that previous afternoon. The ride to Eureka was largely on the 101, which changed from the two-lane, moderately busy highway into a four to six lane freeway: allegedly fast and busy, but with blissfully wide shoulders. The sun was shining from the outset and the temperature was rising, the sky a vibrant blue and for the first time in goodness knows how long, the ride was largely level- especially in the afternoon- and at last, we had strong, powerful tailwinds that literally pushed us along and aided our climbs up the hills of the morning. Our ‘Bicycling the Pacific Coast’ book offered alternatives to help us seek solitude off the highway, however, finding that the traffic flow was far from the chaotic busy nature we had anticipated (far from it!) and enjoying the chance to cycle on smooth, level roads with nature finally on our side, we decided to make the most of the opportunity to clock some miles. It meant long stretches on the tarmac with little or nothing alongside to spark interest or the imagination, but actually, it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride. Days of respite are few and far between for us on this trip: we enjoyed the opportunity to simply cycle without the strenuous climbs that normally await us every single day.
We stopped for lunch at the small town of Trinidad, seeking shelter at the Memorial Lighthouse right on the coast, tucked up high on the Cliffside with views over the harbor. It was ridiculously windy- we were being whipped up and thrown round like crazy from the moment we turned off the highway and dared to drift away from our south-bound position. We literally cuddled up in front of the lighthouse to escape he grip of the winds- but still struggled! Alongside the lighthouse was the two-ton bell which Theo adored: and views across the harbor were beautiful.
Later in the afternoon, we did get whisked off the highway for a brief section which was closed to cyclists (and which we hadn’t anticipated) and so had the chance to ride through farmland and along a dedicated cycle path built upon the old railway line. It was so peaceful after the highway and a welcome break, if a little bumpy (gravel track roads or old, broken up and dis-repaired tarmac roads formed the bulk of the route) but the quiet and solitude was a world away from the roads we’ve known these past few weeks.
We came off the route into Arcata, cycling past the University and then having to re-join perhaps the busiest section of the highway as he curved around Arcada Bay ahead of Eureka for the final stretch before reaching our campsite. However, we did make a faux-pas and neglected to get food ahead of arriving…forcing me to cycle back into Arcada and battle the winds that had so kindly helped us on our way previously. I couldn’t believe the difference they made. Along the same stretch of flat, smooth highway, my average speed went from 15mph southbound to a measely 5mph northbound. My legs screamed, my bike felt unstable, the wind positively whipped at me and froze me to the core. I’ve never been so pleased to be heading south on this section- definitely the right choice.
Another KOA campsite for the night meant, at least, a park to distract Theo and decent hot showers after a hot day on the road. We were happy with the result, however- a speedy day of flying through the miles with a surprisingly early finish. Thank you Mother Nature, for finally taking pity upon us!!!….
Miles Today: Crescent City to Elk Prairie State Park – 34.5
Elk Prairie State Park to Eureka – 48.6
Total Miles to Date: 1,414