So, weary and bleary after two flights I find myself in the car park of San Francisco airport with a large box and a rough idea on how to get into the city. It’s a real test to be able to get everything right when you are out on your feet. Anyway half an hour later with tyres pumped hard I start riding the busy roads towards San Francisco.
An hour later I am in my hotel and know if I don’t keep moving I’ll conk out. Wandered up to The Saloon, a legendary blues bar and sipped a couple of beers and tapped my foot in time to the laid back blues. The dimly lit, poorly cleaned bar has changed little since the sixties flower power revolution.
I met a farmer / musician guy further up the coast at Howard Creek Ranch he escaped San Fran and when I said I’d been to the Saloon his eyes welled up. He told me he’d been thrown out of UCLA for printing anti Vietnam war posters on the university printing press. Anyway the following morning I was back on the waterfront trying to find my way in the soupy fog onto the Golden Gate Bridge heading North. Meanwhile a whole bunch of health conscious office workers were getting their early morning exercise riding the other way.
It took a couple of days of riding to really get into rural California. The high costs of San Francisco accommodation continued up the coast for three nights or three hundred klms. Ironically it was replaced by despair, I have never seen so many homeless people wandering about. Each coastal town seemed to have more. Where an old motel had been abandoned it would quickly fill with old cars, shopping trolleys and piles of rubbish. A step down from the trailer parks. Some say it is the drugs, others the inability to manage the mentally ill. Evidently there a number of returned soldiers who also fall through the cracks. Whatever it reeks of despair and no one can tell me the answer. Australia can’t talk, we closed all of our mental institutions without putting anything else in place but the problem is so much bigger here.
The poverty diverts my eyes from the beauty. The magnificent coast line scattered with tiny islands slowly eroding away. I stop at a headland looking down onto a river mouth and see nothing but a handful of photographers targeting the river mouth. I slowly focus in on what they see. There is about sixty seals laying basking on the sand after a hard nights fishing. I snap away. As I leave I ask if the seals come here often ? Seals ? Seals are here all the time it’s the three grey whales playing behind the surf break we are interested in. And sure enough there they were lifting their massive bodies out of the water and enjoying life like toddlers at the beach before heading further North for the Summer.” Do you think I could get a shot of those whales !
After three days of head winds there is a calm. It aligns with me entering the Avenue of the Giants. Those monstrous Redwood trees which are so commanding. I ride amongst them for two days. The second morning I leave Myers Flat early and see barely a soul. I feel like I am in the enchanted forest, the tree canopy high above let’s in no light yet it doesn’t feel so much gloomy as mystical. Ok, ok sorry, enough of the heeby jeeby but it was rather special. Again, I feel privileged to have seen these ancient species.
Just before I reach the border between California and Oregon I spend a night at Klamath it’s in the middle of nowhere but it has a native Indian Hotel / casino ? Over dinner I watch a highly animated group at another table discuss plans for tomorrow. They get up to leave, each stretching tentaively as they turn to leave. I ask one are they a tour group ? No, we are a walking group mainly from San Diego.
Fifteen years ago, inspired by a book on walking the whole Pacific coastline of America we started walking from Tijuana, on the Mexican border heading North each weekend. Eventually it became more difficult the further we got from home. As the years rolled on, age started to advance on the group who were all around sixty when they started. The grand plan has had to be pared back. This will be their final year and they will reach the California Oregon border instead of their original plan, the Canadian border. The author of the book that inspired them will meet the group at the border. They left me totally inspired. You’ve gotta live your dreams, it doesnt go on forever.
I plod on, each day another 100-120 klms. Admiring the rugged coastline, sampling the local brews and generally shaking my head at the food. I need good food for my engine and often it’s limited and always, always fried. I come across a handful of other riders heading North into the wind, none are locals. A couple of French and a couple from Newfoundland and a rather crazy guy from Sydney who took days to shake ! The fact is the winds are predominately Northerlies at this time of the year, all the smart locals ride South….
All of us have been shocked by the homeless or have had bad experiences with them as many have mental issues. I cannot believe Australia won’t end up with a similar issue with house prices beyond most and full-time job opportunities shrinking. An article in the weekend USA TODAY told the story of a homeless campfire that got away in the hills around Bel Air burning down neighbouring mansions. One house there is twice the size of the White House and valued ? At $500 million. Talk about disparity.”
The days are cool rarely getting over 14c but it’s beautiful rolling hills and the wind is either non-existent or behind me, perfect.I find myself in another small lumber town, Garibaldi. I’m directed to the local cafe near the port, I’d have never found it myself. I sit at the bar where you are open to conversation from all and sundry mostly good. The guy next to me bows his head in prayer before starting his meal, I cannot remember the last time I saw that. He then lifts his head picks up a rib and sucks it clean before sipping his beer. We get talking, the beer bit won me over. He was working at the local lumber yard testing timber moisture. He had worked in Tasmania and couldn’t believe just after he arrived in Hobart that everyone went to the beach for a month at Christmas. A month he mumbled twice, a month….
He told me a story of hunting elk with bow and arrows last winter with a friend and his son. That they spotted an elk and were preparing to shoot when a coyote showed up growling aggressively. It then started howling and all around the nearby hills others started the same eerie pack call. He had a gun and let it off as they headed back towards their car. You could see the fear in his eyes as he described the scene. Bow and arrow what was Chief Sitting Bull thinking. Today’s local paper had news of a mountain biker killed by a cougar on the weekend near Seattle… and they think Australia is dangerous.
The road is disappearing in front of me and I start to think of my last ride here fourteen years ago. I started in Portland on that that trip and met the sea at Astoria. I had a terrific meal there and checked to see if The Silver Salmon was still open. Still open alright and the same chef owner. I made contact booking a seat online. Later that day he rang me as I was riding up a hill in steady coastal drizzle. I am cooking at a special wine dinner this Saturday night and there is a seat if you are interested. I take him up on the offer and ride into Astoria at 3pm. Scrub the road grime from every part of my body , put on my cleanest clothes then leave my rather sparse, no threadbare hotel room for dinner. I soon find myself at a table of twelve local wine lovers and David O’Reilly a respected local wine maker. The meal is terrific and really showcases the beautiful Oregon wines. Talk flows at about the same rate as the wine and some hours later we all wander off into the dark. What great hospitality I was shown I recall as I lay in my bare bones hotel room.”
I turn inland at Astoria. It’s 100 miles away. I split it into two days to give my body a rest. The wind is kind to me and I watch the grass bend in the same direction I’m heading. The sun even shows its face and the warmth loosens my muscles. I am not ready for Portland. I’m not ready for the end of my adventure. Portland is bigger than I remember but for the last two weeks My world has shrunk to tiny coastal villages where five minutes on the bike gives me the lay of the land. I warily navigate the big city streets, bikes are given a high priority here with many designated paths and cycle activated traffic lights. For a big city it has quite a layback feel with most local neighbourhoods within easy sight and reach of the downtown.
I have an added reason to stop a while here. My two Irish-born cousins have made Portland home with their local partners. I mix family catch-ups with a few local bike rides unable to stop the cycle momentum cold turkey. Like a junkie needs a fix my legs want to keep on spinning, I have no say in the matter. The city is really different from any I have visited in the States. Far more liberal and cars don’t completely rule like they do almost everywhere else. Bikes truly do get equal billing to the cars with many dedicated paths and traffic lights. People actually walk for the sake of it whereas in most of America they just lean out of their car to pay bills, get cash or another quarter pounder. Dogs here are treated like royalty check out Sniff, the ritzy purpose-built dog hotel in the centre of the city !
My days take on a rythm wherever I find myself. Some riding, some wandering about Downtown where an amazing bookshop called Powells boasts two million. It’s almost too much, where do you start exploring, they have it all including second hand copies. In a world that is all about crisp, non dog-eared pages I was impressed. I try a variety of small meals from the vast array of food trucks the city is famous for. Too many local craft beers and all within staggering distance of Lucy and Paul’s house. So, the bike’s boxed up ready to fly home with me, it barely made a whimper. I have one last night of sampling the local craft beers then tomorrow I squeeze into a plane for the long haul home. I couldnt have wished for a better finish to my trip.