Our day started back on the buzz of the busy freeway, with the wind still in our favor and the sun shining once more. This stretch of good weather, it seemed, was here to stay- at last. We entered the city of Eureka and were guided from the main route through onto a quieter bike path past residential areas and some beautiful old Victoria buildings, still wonderfully maintained and granting the city some much-needed character. We sped through Eureka with ease and at the south end, the 101 ‘freeway’ became quieter and smaller once more, and beautifully flat. We positively raced along those level miles, clocking them with such speed and ease as I’ve never seen us achieve on our trip before. We left the coast behind as we headed inland, but continued to see hints of the water as we passed over numerous rivers and creeks and enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine as we went. 25 miles literally escaped us without much notice, until we started to ascend into the Redwoods and finally saw the sign we had been looking for: Avenue of the Giants Scenic Alternative Exit 2 miles. A quick stop off in Rio Dell for some food and we were ready to approach the much-anticipated old highway through the woods.
If we thought the Trees of Mystery and subsequent forest areas were beautiful, these were literally something else. The road switched from the large, fast highway to a windy and narrow road, shoulderless, but contrary to the warnings we had been given, blissfully quiet. For the first 5 miles we had perhaps 3, 4? Cars pass us; the only sounds to be heard were the rustling of the trees, the spinning of our wheels as we raced over the tarmac…oh, and Theo, singing “OOOHH! The HOKEY KOKEY! OOOOOOOOOOOHHHH THE HOKEY KOKEY!” over and over. What a break in the tranquility- thanks little man.
It’s hard to find words or take the correct pictures to do these spectacular trees justice. They literally stretched as high as skyscrapers; with trunks so vast, it would take several fully grown men outstretched to reach all the way around. The bark on each was weathered with age and the experience of a thousand winters or more: bizarre burls twisted from the centre of many with an alien-like appearance, an additional form drawing strength from these bigger trees. There were no branches until a good 100ft+ above us as the trees sought sunlight, elongating the trunk still further in appearance and causing the clusters of leafy branches above to create a deliciously cool shadowed canopy over the road. The breaks between the leaves caused a flickering, sparkling light to glitter down on u as we rode and the entire road boasted that earthy, woody smell- almost sweet, deliciously fresh. Grove upon grove of these magnificent trees stretched as far as the eye could see on either side- and despite their vast size, they congregated closely together, some growing in clusters or groups attached to one another in the same manner of the ‘cathedral tree’ from the Trees of Mystery, huddled closely for further protection from he elements. The entire atmosphere was serenely calm and peaceful- therapeutic, almost. I fell hopelessly in love there and then.
We saw ‘Immortal Tree’, which boasts the scars of the disastrous flood of the 1960s, the rugged axe marks of a failed felling attempt, scorch marks from fire and even a decapitated top following a lightening hit. A perfect example of the resilience of these trees and their capacity to survive and thrive where others would inevitably fall.
We passed through Redcrest and crept inside the ‘Eternal Tree House’ which had Theo giggling away in fascination- “I’m inside a tree, Daddy! INSIDE A TREE!” and stopped for a bite to eat in the tiny café alongside. We also succeeded in identifying one of the infamous living ‘drive-thru’ trees and managed to cycle through the vast trunk of this cut-out tree. It was utterly bizarre to realize it was still living, still growing…and yet man had cut this huge piece from it, for our entertainment, for our amusement- it was fascinating, enthralling…and yet somehow sad. On our exit, we also visited some incredible tree houses: hollowed out trunks with beautifully crafted cut-in stairs, ornaments, even wooden books cut into the side of the trunk- amazing workmanship.
Once again, we had surprised ourselves with the mileage we had succeeded in covering in such a short space of time- the terrain upon entering the Avenue of the Giants was so level and the tailwind pleasantly steady, so we decided to use this to our advantage and clock as many miles as we were able in the time we had. Ignoring the advice of our cycle guide to stay in a ‘primitive’ hiker/biker site with no hot showers or facilities, we spotted a sign for a further campsite an additional 20miles on in Myers Flat that seemed a viable alternative, and so headed in that direction.
We were sorely disappointed.
The family-run campsite was in a shameful state of general disrepair and overpriced as such. We don’t mind staying in state parks or cheaper campsites for a reasonable rate when we know we’re getting what we’re paying for; but this site, having the audacity to charge us over $30, was severely lacking in anything to justify such a price tag. The overgrown grass clearly hadn’t been tended in many, many months; the creaking old playground had paint flaking from every beam. The toilet block had mould growing in every corner and was filthy, old and musty. Old, abandoned cars and caravans huddled in the corners; an overgrown basketball court had piles of debris collecting in the corners. It was in desperate need of some TLC and attention.
For me, however, the worst was yet to come. As I came out of the shower, I was cornered by an older woman- local- who was, well, shall we say…not quite ‘with it’. She proceeded to bombard me with (one-sided) conversation, relating horror stories of the many cyclists she had known and seen killed on these very roads, of the aggressive nature of the neighborhood and some of the more frightening goings-on that dominated the culture, infrastructure and economy of the surrounding area. She’d come down from her home in the hillside to seek ‘security’ in the campsite as it was ‘too dangerous’ for her to stay there at this ‘particular time’- and urged me strongly to leave promptly the next morning. She told me of her desire to own her own business in the area and the failure of the plan to take off as the town was controlled by certain individuals who ‘wouldn’t allow it’. When she discovered we’d brought along a toddler, the horror on her face spoke volumes.
The worst part of all this? She somehow managed to portray all these frightening stories in such a manner as came across as having my ‘best interests at heart’. You know the kind- people who manage to say something truly malicious, nasty or rude…and yet mask it and dress it with such sincerity, such warmth and manipulate it in such a way as leaves you incapable of actually determining the exact nature of what they’re saying. I felt unable to leave and in spite of her frightening stories, found myself bound to remain polite and continue listening.
I got a restless nights sleep that night.
The following day we set off promptly, with more than a small degree of relief on my part. We enjoyed the peaceful tranquility of the remaining miles of the Avenue of the Giants before the shade was cruelly snatched from us in a sudden return to the heat of the highway. Being inland and away from the relieving breeze off the sea, we were ill-prepared for the sudden, dramatic rise in temperature that greeted us. The heat radiated from the road, shimmering in the distance like the faux-oasis of the desert. Before long, all traces of shade and respite had disappeared entirely and we were under the full force of the midday sun. The sweat poured from us; the dry, hot air made it hard to breathe and the dehydration begun to set in, in spite of our efforts to continue to down water at every available opportunity. The hills returned with enthusiasm and we forced our legs to continue turning the pedals, but felt our bodies screaming in protest under the heat. This was the hottest we had ever felt since we begun this trip: we suddenly realized that actually, there is something far worse than climbing hills in the rain: climbing hills in the scorching hot sun.
We were intending to reach Standish-Hickery State Park for the evening, but as the hours passed and the miles failed to accumulate, we begun to feel that goal was far too ambitious for such circumstances. When we passed Confusion Hill and realized we sill had a further 10miles to clock in the raging heat, I was close to despair. Thankfully under eh shade of a redwood grove at last, and yet still no cooler, we passed by a sign for another private campground- and saw the beautifully alluring words, ‘Outdoor pool’ and ‘laundry facilities’. A short pleading look at Matt sealed the deal: it was early hours of our riding day, but we were spent.
Climbing into that pool was the most deliciously welcome feeling- beautifully cool and refreshing, it finally brought my temperature back down to somewhere close to normal, after feeling as though I might never feel cool again! And the campsite was a welcome contrast to the previous night’s disaster- beautifully maintained, exemplary facilities, helpful staff AND cheaper than the previous night. We’ve come to realize that price far from parallels the facilities you can expect when it comes to campgrounds: and some basic research, word of mouth, or even just a simple look around before committing the cash is invaluable to avoid such a disaster as we experienced the night previously.
Two days of riding with utterly conflicting outcomes: one, a beautiful, calm, scenic ride with significant mileage and yet a difficult evening; the second, a difficult, hot and troublesome ride but with a relaxing and enjoyable evening to follow. Swings and roundabouts: but that, I suppose, is merely the nature of cycle touring.
Miles today: Eureka to Myers Flat: 60
Myers Flat to Confusion Hill: 37.5
Total Miles to Date: 1512