Smoke and heat on the Sonoma Coast

Day 24, Manchester Beach to Bodega Dunes Campground, 70 miles

I wake before dawn, peek out my tent to see a waning crescent moon and twinkling stars. I roll over, sleep some more. I’m not looking forward to the long hilly ride ahead. A couple more hours sleep don’t make the ride any shorter, so I rise and resign myself to begin.

I’ve ridden this stretch many times before. Realized with steady, careful progress even these tall hills aren’t impossible, not even an ordeal. But this tour, with my current condition, I’m feeling great apprehension. And then there’s the smoke from the Kincade Fire, still hanging in the sky. Will I be able to breathe? Why didn’t I pick up an air mask? I remember riding this stretch two years ago, when the Napa Valley fires were raging. Much more smoke then.

I set out and climb over the hills before Point Arena, then along to Gualala. A lingering stop for breakfast, then on south past Sea Ranch, climbing through Salt Point State Park. Then I reach the approach to Fort Ross, and soon cross the first of several cattle guards that mark this hilly stretch. The chill of the morning has been replaced with summer-like heat from the sun blazing overhead.

I begin the first long climb, slowly creeping in my lowest gear. The normally stunning views are dimmed by smoky haze. I’m sweating heavily, as I usually do, worried I’ve drunk my water too soon. I pause several times before the crest, then at the crest. I gaze out over the ocean, remembering the many times I’ve searched for clarity in the distance. Here, in this moment, I see my need, to focus of the immediate: climb this hill, breathe, feel my muscle, the pain, the strength. Allow my condition to guide me.

The second hill rises and is passed, now the long winding descent towards the Russian River. Once more crest, now the straightaway to Jenner. My favorite cafe is already closed, so I pause for dinner at the rest area. The sunset is glorious, colors I’ve never seen. I think of this contrast, with the tragedy of fires that are creating this spectacle in the sky. The seeming paradox between grief and gratitude, lessons I’ve been studying these past several years.

At last, I don my lights and head over the remaining ten miles to camp at Bodega Bay. Traffic is light, my legs strong again, cool air now a blessing as I climb the rolling highway. I turn into the campground, cycling up to the hiker biker camp, where I recognize a certain blue tent.

“Hello Tanguy!” I call out to my French cycling friend, who I haven’t seen since Westport, where we shared lunch at that little market. I meet two other cyclists from Columbia. Remnants of a fire are burning, but I don’t have the energy to enjoy the embers. I shower and retire up my camp, sleeping in a grassy patch under a massive eucalyptus tree.


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