North California Reminders of Home (and some pretty big trees!)
Rolling across the border into California the sun decided to make an appearance. All the more noticeable for the murky wet days along the Oregon coastline. They say that first impressions count and all that!
Back on the Oregon coast the American winter was setting in for sure. I love the changing seasons, and I love the weather – it is after all, being British, a talking point! With that, in travelling by bike you become so closely connected with the landscape that weather becomes a key part of the enjoyment! And much like traversing south across BC, the continued rain along the coast from Washington and through Oregon had started to get a little monotonous! Convenient timing had meant some pleasant company for the spin south through the US, and with that the opportunity to share the pain, the pleasure and the persistent 40mph headwinds!
Ignoring the hardships that Mother Nature was choosing to casually throw in our faces, maintaining some progress south was the continued aim and crossing the state border into California, the obligatory photo by the border sign was frustratingly silhouetted with the midday sun; but without complaint given the contrast to the preceding weeks!
Soon after crossing the border into CA our route diverted inland, away from the coast, though not far but with any luck away from the worst of the weather fronts that were once again backing up and about to unveil their wrath! Inland however awaited some of the most anticipated scenery of the west coast – the giant Redwood forests.
Redwoods had been on the tick list for some time, and with the plan having been cemented to take the coastal route down through the US, these were on route. In fact, the main coastal highway runs right through the middle of the two Redwood forests in the coastal region, but with some convenient parallel scenic routes that get you away from the main highway traffic.
I am often a little underwhelmed by the sights and sounds that other people seem to speak rather highly of. Probably from having seen and done quite a lot, and I’d seen big trees before, less impressive but frequently advertised as being somewhat monumental in size; but nothing really prepared me for quite how impressive these trees were. Rolling along in awe of their colossal proportions and rather humbled by how much they dwarfed me and my little bike. Even those that had fallen and were merely lying horizontal had trunks that towered above head height.
The sun crossing the Californian border, though a treat for a day or two, wasn’t to last. The Coastal Redwood forests are, so far as old-growth forest areas go, are confined to the two National Parks in the North California area, the Redwood National Park and the Humbolt Redwoods. The first of which were a stone’s throw from the border and after a pleasant evening staying in a local church hall the first of the Redwoods were on the horizon, so too was the next weather system as our route diverged slightly from the coastline south of the newly rebuilt harbour at Crescent City which had been destroyed by a tsunami some time before.
After a long day spinning south the challenge was on to find a camping spot. Whilst there are camp sites along the coast, none seem to have been particularly brilliant as yet. Though with cheap spots for hikers and bikers the sites are a poor comparison with the incredible venues across Canada. So with the next storm having rolled in we took refuge under the overhanging roof of a local primary school where the staff were eventually good enough to allow us to not only cook but also bivouac if we were gone promptly in the morning. The kindness of the teachers here was a far cry from the objectional and unfriendly stereotype that is all too readily associated with the US population.
Further south the route took the more distinct diversion inland as we rolled towards the Humbolt Redwoods park and the aptly named Avenue of the Giants. With some fine and clear weather developing over the day or two as we rolled south following a day off with some friends in Eureka. When the riding wasn’t sheltered by the towering giant trees the much anticipated California sun was starting to support its reputation and as we rolled back towards the coast the best was yet to come.
After the Redwoods the main highway would remain inland taking the direct line towards San Francisco, although my intended destination, the more appealing and scenic option was to follow a secondary highway back west to remain on the coast for a few more days. Turning west at Leggett the climbing began. Meeting a local trucker whilst taking a break at a gas station we were told that the California coast from here down was even more spectacular than the Oregon coastline. Albeit sceptical, in that Oregon seemed hard to beat and very much aware of how people often promote their own surroundings with rose-tinted glasses, this seemed something to look forward to none the less.
Descending back towards the coast the realisation of just how much height had been gained on the diversion inland dawned and led to some epic descents. The line of the California Highway 1 was one of the best descents yet on the road since Europe! Twisty hairpins, positive cambers and the chance to throw the bike around as if it had an R1 engine hidden inside! The additional weight of a laden bike makes for a fairly stable ride if for a little more effort required to force it through the turns. All I needed was to trust the bike, or more so the brakes, and my possibly slightly rusty skills!
Getting back to the coastline was quite something. Every bit as beautiful as the Oregon scenery. Perhaps more akin to the Devon and Dorset coastline back home than the Cornwall reference that I made towards Oregon but certainly everything my trucker acquaintance had exclaimed. But this time there was a difference. The sun was out and set to stay out for a few days – except at night obviously! But the clear stable weather was to make for some incredible night scenery, only putting the tent up once instead bivi’ing out and waking up to the sunrise.
Sun, sea (or better put – ocean), sand, beautiful sunsets, sunrises and incredible star-scapes – that pretty much sums up the North California coast; and finally some worthwhile photo opportunities.
Interestingly, although the Solstice hadn’t at the time passed; owing to the progress south, my shortest day of 2016 was actually three weeks earlier up nearer to the Canadian border. Since then the evenings had actually been becoming noticeably brighter. It took a while to realise this as I was aware of our change in longitude also having some effect and that the gloomy weather can throw things off in a similar fashion.
There was one last treat in store along the way through North California. Crossing from Sonoma to Marin county the scenery changed once again. Ultimately Marin would take us all the way into the city approaching San Fran but not before rolling through some of the most familiar terrain yet.
Marin has a fabled history in mountain biking and it’s easy to see why. Diverting again inland from the coast Marin had many of the beautiful characteristics of the rolling Wiltshire hills, the chalk downs and the wooded valleys nestled between quaint pastures and farmland but then some – in places just a little bit prettier. It felt a lot like home, with just a liberal sprinkling of the natural beauty found in the Lake District and the Yorkshire hills here and there! Wiltshire, England is an undeveloped wilderness for mountain biking and I’m happy to let it stay that way. The masses can have their trail centres, I’ll keep the Wiltshire back country, leaving it for those who really want to mountain bike. And Marin is too a place I can see myself returning to…
From here its over the Golden Gate Bridge and a diversion back north into the mountains. Stay tuned.