Day 23, Burlington to Standish-Hickey State Recreational Area, 45 miles
We roll out of the camp, heading to the espresso shop in Myers Flat. I warned Dan about this place, as I do all the cyclists I refer. A warning and a dare. “Ask him if the coffee is any good!” I laugh, and recount how I did this very thing, and the more than surly proprietor barked back, “No, it’s shit! What do you think?” I recommended after this recounting, not to ask any such thing. Like putting your hand out to a snarly dog. Or poking a bear with a stick.
Sure enough, the coffee shop is filled with its share of sarcastic signs. “No sniveling,” says one. Dan asks what sniveling is. I point to the “No whining” sign, and say “That”. The line of grungy hippies ahead of us moves slowly. At last our turn, quad espresso, quad latte. I’m buying. Proprietor is making the coffee. I’m sure to be polite, tipping. We sit outside where signs say “No bicycles on the sidewalk” We were sure to park off the walk.
Coffee is very good. Humor abounds between us. I’m laughing in stitches at the truck with says “Computer Guy(s)” with the “s” seemingly drawn on with a large marker. “It’s like the other guy asked if he could get some recognition, and the first one says alright there you go.” We joke that the dog in the passenger seat is actually the second computer guy. The coffee shop proprietor barks at a couple hippies, “No smoking!” even though they are 20 feet from his door. He says he’s allergic. Ah, it’s not just cyclists who bug him. It’s the tourist. The hippies looking for easy trimming work. Best sign is in the window, “Please DO NOT GIVE ANY SCRAPS TO DOG!” and in smaller print “Pay no attention to dog’s eyes”. I’m in stitches laughing. We try to ignore the dog looking at us, pleadingly.
It’s time to leave and I make a point to thank the proprietor, “Great coffee”. He thanks me, and wishes us a safe ride. Ah, he’s not so bad after all. Rolling on, is show Dan what poison oak looks like, an exceptionally large growth of vines heading up a large redwood just past Myers Flat. We’re headed to “Avenue Cafe” in Miranda, and I am motoring on with Dan hangs back taking pictures. I’m riding hard, over the level road, new asphalt since last year. I’m really feeling my legs, strong and pumping. I’ve found them again. Usually about 3 weeks into a tour, it takes, to acclimate to the daily rides, to the hills, to pushing on, to settling into my strength again. And it feels great.
I roll into Miranda, meeting Alex, a German cyclist who’s doing the Trans-America. Alaska to Argentina. Still blows me away when I meet these riders. He’s been on the road three months, about 5000 miles so far, of 18,000 miles total. Incredible. He shrugs, “It’s just riding each day.” Yes, that is how it is. Estimates he’ll complete the trek in 2017, Q4. A year from now. Epic journey.
Avenue Cafe is closed, apparent from the jack hammering coming from inside. Maintenance. So we all roll to the overpriced convenience store adjacent. Sandwiches for $7, everything overpriced. Welcome to the tourist trap. “How can one live this way?” Dan mutters. You can’t. I’m telling Alex later about the problem of “food deserts”, usually in under-privileges locales, inner cities, only convenience stores, no markets with real food. Closest one to Miranda is Garberville, some 10 miles away now.
We roll off separately, I let the two others pull ahead. I know my pace, though stronger, will still be slower than my spry friends. Besides, they will visit Garberville, the central gathering point of trimming-seeking hippies, quite a circus. Or as another sign from the espresso shop read, “Too many freaks, not enough shows.” Garberville is also a good place to get stuff stolen off your bike. Or your whole bike stolen. I warn Dan and Alex, always lock up, from now on south. A sad story: a British couple in Brookings just had their two bikes stolen, had to end their trip. Unlocked, leaning against a picnic table. Gone.
I skip the Garberville exits, pounding along, steadily climbing. Ah, 7% grade heading down! I post an Instagram with the witty comment, “Hills are fun, but what goes down must come up.” I don’t make this latter phrase into a hashtag, knowing this would likely link rather unpleasant pictures of hurling who knows what. I’m descending now, full boar, “letting her have her head” as my dad would’ve said. 38, 39, 40 mph. I tuck low, let’s see how fast I can go. Almost 43 mph! A great picture to follow the last, posted to Instagram. Of course, if I’d wiped out, might have had to post a picture of an ambulance. Or tombstone. These are jokes later, with the guys after I arrive. Cyclists sometimes have a morbid sense of humor. Keeps us light about the actual risks of this adventurous form of travel.
The highway elves for a stretch after Benbow, and heads into the Richardson Grove. The last part of 101 not straightened out by CalTrans. Here the ancient redwoods impinge upon the shoulder, just like along the Avenue of the Giants or the Drury Parkway. Except unlike those bypasses, 101 here as full on traffic. Cars, semi trucks, and the dread RVs & motor homes. And here I go, a cyclist.
Red flashers blazing, it’s downhill, so I head into the darkened curves full speed. I see the narrow choke point ahead, a small gap in the cars behind me. I thrust my left arm out, waving for the cars behind to slow down. Take the lane! I do, pedaling hard and fast through the narrow. roadway, traffic heavy in both directions. It’s only a couple miles, this spot. Seems longer, now that I’m blocking the cars behind. At the first widening, I’m back on the shoulder, now gesturing the same cars to pass. More than a bit thrilling, to conquer this dangerous point, again.
I stop at “One-Log House”, the next tourist trap, buy an overpriced scrawny hot dog, resting for a bit before the final leg, 10 miles, four large hills before the campground. Back on my ride, pumping hard up the next climb, then the next. Two bridges, crossing the South Fork of the Eel River. Skies have been blue all day, sun overhead pushing temps into the 80s. Feels like summer hasn’t left yet. I remember the many times I’ve ridden this stretch, all the way back to the 90s, when construction zones wound the old highway, dangling off the precipice of cliff edges dropping far to the riverbed below. I remember how adventurous that seemed, cycling through to work of heavy machinery, millions of tons of earth being moved to make the new highway, that I’m riding today.
Wider shoulders here, less adventure. I don’t mind a safer road. Plenty of adventures ahead. At last the few miles to camp, where I meet up with Dan and Alex. Tent up, shower, then over the Peg House for a colossal “Big Foot Burger”. The taste is as incredible as the sunset, now turning the skies brilliant pinks and blues. Back at camp, I invite Alex to join Dan and I in visiting Kirk at Gualala. A better alternate to the KOA at Manchester Beach, and we might have the wood fired oven up for pizza.
I’m tucked in, trying to text Jennifer. Cell signals suck here, for some reason. ATT dominates? I settle for a few messages, then we agree to talk on the phone tomorrow. I can’t wait to hear her voice again. I fall easily to sleep, after a strong day. Finding my legs.