Day 7, Jedediah Smith Redwoods to Elk Prairie Campground, 47 miles
I awake from a good night’s sleep, sweet dreams fading, leave my tent and enter the redwoods wonderland. Tall trees seem closer this morning, the massive twisted trunks soaring into the heavens above. The forest floor is covered with rust colored needle fronds, contrasted with brilliant green fern and wood sorrel. We pack our gear silently, perhaps in reverence to the woods. I appreciate the quiet, lost in thought. Then we embark.
We follow 199 past the intersection with 197, where gracefully most of the traffic seems to veer south. On over the Smith River, then through memorial groves of redwoods, climbing over the ridge and swooping down to 101. Roberta suggests the side road, on the official ACA route, which we follow on into Crescent City. A brief stop at the visitor center, Alice asks for maps and I gawk at the “Bigfoot I Believe” paraphernalia. Across the street at the small farmer’s market, I talk with a perhaps dyslexic gentleman about our rides, but too embarrassed to ask about his creative spelling of corn. On around Crescent City bay to our breakfast stop at the Good Harvest Cafe. French toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, we are all fueling up for the big climb just ahead. The server is curious, asks which way we are headed. I gesture to the south. “Oh Geez!” is her reply, knowing the highway which lays in wait.
Outside, the clouds have lifted and sun broken through. We head down 101, soon encountering the first of the Crescent City hills. Here the crew disperses, Alice and Roberta climbing faster than me. Slow moving, but steady, up the 900 feet, I pedal along the busy highway. On hills like these free my mind, calling all my focus to the burning in my thighs and my rapid breathing, keeping the oxygen supplied to my aching muscles. More and more redwoods appear as I climb higher and higher, away from the ocean. A brief descent from the first summit, followed by two, actually three somewhat lesser summits. Then the reward, a long descent down a 7% grade, highway returning to ocean vistas. The waters have turned deep turquoise under the brilliant blue sky. Ah, what I came here for.
The highway passes a lonely beach, then turns inland again, following the Klamath River. I stop at Trees of Mystery, where Roberta is enjoying an ice cream. We ride on to the town of Klamath and the last store, the Pem-Mey gas mart. The convenience store offers little to satisfy, a couple bananas and more water will do. Ahead lies the last climb of the day, up the highway to the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Construction slows the cars and motor homes, which I appreciate. Motorists do not. Roberta flies ahead as I crawl up the long hill. I bear left onto the Newton B. Drury bypass, a straight climb which joins the old 101. I remember the first time I rode here, before the bypass was finished, back in the early 90’s. I remember struggling then too, more emotionally than physically. Stopping at a huge tree, wailing in my grief and anger. A motorist came over, said he thought someone was being killed. I sheepishly rode on. Today, my spirits are high as I crest the final summit, descending rapidly then leveling out to cruise through grove after grove of towering giants.
The highway emerges from the tall canopy into a wide prairie of grasses and ferns, and I turn of the the campground. No elk today, though we may be visited by bears, according to the stern ranger. The hiker biker site is empty, save Alice’s tent. I shower, then set up my camp. A talk backpacker walks through, Viktor from Denmark. He’s hitchhiking Route 1 with a cardboard sigh, “Denmark to North”. Alice and I share a satisfying dinner, more conversation. Apparently I pronoun “dunes” incorrectly. Many laughs. It’s growing dark, so I light my beeswax candle. Surprising the light from a solitary flame. Alice looks about, wondering at the bear warning. “They don’t come out when you’re here do they?” Probably not, I say. “Let’s light the fire”, I suggest.
I’ve scavenged wood from the empty fire pits, enough to make a good hot blaze. Viktor and Roberta come over immediately, and soon we all become engrossed with Viktor’s tales of his three week hitchhiking adventure. “I wanted to traveling in the spirit of Kerouac, Ginsberg, the Beats” He talks of reading “On the Road”, how it was written on a single scroll, in a complete stream of consciousness style. That’s the way hitchhiking is, Viktor explains, speaking rapidly in his Danish English. “I have to let go of everything, the goals, where I will sleep tonight.” He tells of people picking him up, then offering him food, laundry, a bed, a bicycle to cruise Monterey, attending a wedding, and then getting a return ride to San Francisco offered by another traveler he hit it off. He’s talking rapidly, near ecstatic. He’s infectious. I wonder at this experience, how he received such generosity. Was it because he’s an attractive, tall, blonde haired Dane? Or was it his openness, exuberance, joy of life, that makes him irresistible. I want some of that, I find myself thinking.
And here it is, that precious gift that I too receive, on the road. The same inspiration and adventure, through the simple acts of pedaling my bicycle along the road, of letting go of agenda and pretense, of being open and exposed to the elements and to inevitable generosity. This is what I’ve long suspected about American culture, there is a radical generosity just laying in wait, beneath the consumerism and closed walls and divisive political rantings. Thank you Viktor, for shining so brilliantly, helping me see again all the beauty and love.