Day 12, Leggett to MacKerricher State Park, 42 miles
A restless night. Anticipating the long climb ahead, Leggett Hill? Or the return to the place of my birth, which I have no memories of, save pictures in old family albums. I approach the Mendocino Coast, and Fort Bragg, with a mix of excitement and anxiety. Each visit on past tours has brought more questions, a strange longing, a hunger to know about my earliest days. And a desire to spend more time here than the brief day or two I will spend, passing through on bicycle, a wandering traveler.
We make an early start, after coffee at the Peg House. A brief descent into the town of Leggett, then we join Route 1 for the long ascent. This climb isn’t any steeper, or even that much longer than the Crescent City Hills. But the looming 2000 foot descent seems to add an edge on the way up, as well. Traffic is light, and Alice rides ahead, more spritely on the climbs than I am. Miles pass ever slowly, it takes me an hour to reach the top, then I give it all back at breakneck speed, winding through hairpin curves. The road levels out for a couple miles, then descends further, to Rockport, an old logging company town. Another hill to climb, then at last descending down to my beloved coast.
The descent ends and Route 1 dips into the first of many pocket coves. The highway immediately climbs around a headland to a stunning view. The Mendocino Coast stretches off the to south, sea stacks scattered amidst turquoise waters, deep blue skies above. The mountainous Lost Coast disappears to the north. Perhaps someday I will attack those forbidding roads. But for now, I turn south and begin a exhilarating ride, over wide coastal plains, into coves, climbing over headlands, such a joyous feeling. I’m home. A new thought enters my mind: Perhaps I will live here some day. Spend much longer exploring these hills, beaches, forests, people.
I reach Westport, the place Alice and I had talked about stopping for lunch, and there she is, along with Elgin and Magali, at the deli. I go inside and order a sandwich, replenish my water. We sit and talk about the climb, swapping bicycling stories. A young man drives up and introduces himself, Frank, from Georgia. He has his bike in a rental car, having tried to ride the Sonoma hills with touring gear and realizing he wouldn’t get far enough in the time he had. After talking with us, he says he’s excited about turning in the rental and getting back in the saddle. We don’t even need to encourage him. Bicycle touring is infectious.
Alice and I ride south over the remaining miles to Fort Bragg. Many spots for pictures, stunning views. High fog is moving in, but the temperature is still comfortable for shirt sleeves. Route 1 winds over hills, past groves of fragrant eucalyptus and cypress. We ride through Inglenook, then Cleone. At last, MacKerricher State Park. The friendly ranger checks us in. We set up camp with time for a walk to the beach. Crimson ice plants line the path, grey sands are scattered with bull whip kelp. The scent is pungent and briny. We climb over rocks and watch the many shore birds running in the surf, soaring overhead. The sun is ducking behind the fog, so we head back to camp to cook dinner in the growing dark.
Elgin and Magali soon join us at the table and we share food and conversation by candlelight. They will be flying to Honduras to volunteer at a school, leaving their bikes behind. Elgin says he’s sad about this, but Alice says their adventure is merely changing, not ending. I’m begin to consider cycling Baja again, leaving my comfort zone a bit further. Southern shores, warm sands, November skies are just around the corner.