Hills and chills on the Mendocino coast

Day 25, MacKerricher Beach to Sundog School of Natural Building, 62 miles

Groggy morning, slept in later than I’d intended. Now, starting the ride late, and such a long one. Sometimes I wonder why I schedule my tours to be so rigorous, timing too tight.

With this in my mind I head down the old haul road from MacKerricher Beach to Fort Bragg. The road is rough in patches, but also away from the busy Route 1. The morning is brisk, the ocean crashing past the dunes. Then haul road ends at the old trestle over Pudding Creek, one of the first beaches my mother brought me to as an infant, so many years ago.  The trestle as been converted to a nice pedestrian bicycle path.

Rolling through town I pass the Skunk Train. Originally a logging railroad, the Skunk is now a passenger spectacle with tours into the redwoods. I stop at the Mendocino Cookie Company, where I am soon joined by Dan. I end up spending too much time on Facebook and emails, delaying my ride even further. Past 11am, I finally head out, knowing it is going to be a very long day.

The first 20 miles are easy, very level and a good tailwind, on past Russian Gulch to the Mendocino Headlands. I stop for second breakfast at a cafe with ravens perched to poach the unwary customer’s food. I’d never seen a raven so close, beautiful birds, quite intelligent, and uncannily human vocalizations at times.

On down the road again, past Van Damme State Park, a good spot to camp on the Little River. Eucalyptus line the Route 1, their pungent intoxicating scent wafting after the morning dews. A rain would bring even more of California’s fragrant flora to life. I cross the Albion River, and am again amazed at the massive wooden trestle that supports this crossing of the major highway from north to south. CalTrans must be keeping up with the painting.

Route 1 now is winding in and out of coves, over headlands, a lot of short, steep climbs followed by short steep descents. Usually the hairpin curve at the bottom of the cove will slow down the speed needed to start the immediate climb which follows. I’m good at shifting into my lowest gear, before applying climbing pressure to the chainrings. But it makes for very slow going. Foggy most of the ride, then the sun and blue skies make a brief appearance just south of Elk.

I’m still in Elk when Alex messages me from Point Arena, he’s already there, and I’m 2 hours behind. I’ve invited both Alex and Dan to Kirk’s place for the night, the Sundog School of Natural Building in Anchor Bay. I message Kirk that two cyclists may arrive long before I do, and not even waiting for his reply, tell Alex it will be fine for them to head out, that Kirk will welcome them. He’s just that kind of guy.

I finally arrive at Point Arena as the light is already fading. I’m chilled from sweaty descents, and shaken a bit by how late it has become. I’ve got at least another couple hours. I pause briefly to grab some food at the Arena Market Co-op, then turn on all my lights and ride on. Steady, plodding, up and over hills south of Point Arena. By the time I finally turn up Iverson Road, the sun is gone, my headlight blazing a path up the steep incline. Near 10% at several spots, I get off and walk, too tired and not wanting to topple over from going less than 2mph.

I recall the first time I climbed the ridge to Kirk’s place, in 2010. Back then, I had a weak LED headlight powered by 2 AA cells, barely adequate and batteries failing. My phone had no GPS access or map, with no cell service, battery failing. I pedaled on, in the darkness, not sure whether I was taking the right turn or not. I resigned myself that I might have to camp in the bush by the side of the road, when Heidi drove up in the truck and found me. I followed her taillights the last few miles on in.

Tonight, my tech has vastly improved. I’ve got a 700 lumen LED torch on my helmet, as bright as a car headlight, plus two bright red blinkers. Google Nav has added the “offline” feature, which allows me to download the roadmap when I know there will be no signal. So I’m watching the GPS track my progress as I inch closer and closer. Eventually I reach the crest, then follow a long descent to Kirk’s road.

I park my bike where I’ll pitch the tent, grab some dry clothes and head to meet with Kirk and the others. Dan and Alex are there, whew! I was hoping they’d make their way down the dirt road marked “Cob” to find the Sundog. Kirk has the wood fired cob oven fired up, making pizzas and feeding a gang. He’s laughing and telling stories, a great host and entertainer. I forget how cold I am, until after I head to the shower. I strip off my wet clothes in the chill air and feel immediately warmer, even before the hot water cascades over my aching body.

Ah, that feels so much better. I throw my clothes in the wash, pitch my tent, flopping down exhausted on the sleeping bag. I start texting my dear friend Jennifer, excited to tell her of the day’s adventures, but fall asleep in the middle of writing. She somehow notices I’ve faded and writes a sweet good night.

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