Northern California - Taring Down the Coast - CycleBlaze

Northern California

Fog, colds, tyres, Sun, gran musettes, police

We rode across the Douglas Bridge near the mouth of the Klamath River on "Old 101". One year later it was washed away. Photo taken on a 2008 tour.
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We stopped riding in Crescent City, California.  Ed had a cold and we ran out of spare tubular tires.  Ed's mom air mailed four more tires to us in care of general delivery at the Crescent City post office.  We got a motel room for $5.00 a night.  Hot showers were badly needed and soft warm beds were greatly appreciated.  We found where the loggers ate and knew we would get lots of calories there.    Pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy with overcooked vegetables, and iceberg lettuce salad with Thousand Island dressing and a hot dinner roll with butter for $1.45.  We spent two nights in Crescent City.  Ed nursed his cold and I wandered the streets and waterfront of the town.

By the following afternoon Ed was feeling well enough to go out and we did our laundry, which was in dire need of hygienic exorcism.  There were barely enough items to fill one washer and we only had one clean article of clothing left in our saddlebags, our Speedo swim trunks (tank trunks).  As an aside, here is a peek into surf culture of the early 1960s.  In the day, Speedos (tank trunks) were called "bun-huggers" and "tourist briefs" on the surfing beaches of Southern California.  There were exceedingly strict surfer dress codes in Southern California that only permitted tattered and Clorox bleached cut off jeans or other fabric coverings that paid more attention to the disdainful sub-culture of surfing than any hydrodynamic efficiency in the surf.  The surf culture and image was that of the lone individual loosely grouped on the fringes of mainstream society, but it had serious internal social controls.  Ed and I who both surfed were just one step further out from even that cultural fringe with our bicycles.  Outside of a swim meet or water polo matches we would never be caught dead in bun-huggers.  A few years ago when I visited Hawai'i, surfers there referred to Speedos as "nut-huggers," and my Hawaiian nephew insisted that my sister-in-law buy my son, my mainland son-in-law and me currently acceptable Hawaiian beach fashions before he would take us to the beach even though we were wearing nothing close to nut-huggers.  

I make the above diversion from the road adventure to give some background and credence to how embarrassed these two teenage boys with their now pronounced biker tans felt standing on display, nearly nude, in a public place covered only with the briefest film of blue nylon just below our waists.

Crescent City, as most veteran bikers of the Pacific Coast Route know, is shrouded in a depressing fog most of the year and we didn't experience the exception.  Another high calorie dinner with the loggers cheered us up.  The local cinema was showing Bye Bye Birdie, 90¢ per ticket, and 10¢ for popcorn with real butter.  The laughs were good for us and Ann-Margret was an interesting diversion.  There was very little for sixteen year olds to do so we went to see "Birdie" again the next night.

(When Ed read this journal a half century after the fact he was mostly muffled in both praise and criticism, but he took strong exception to my portrayal and recollection of our extended stay in Crescent City. Without providing details in front of his wife and two clients he announced that I had left out some socially unacceptable behaviors typical of sixteen old boys. In defense I had completely blocked them out. Truly by today's standards they weren’t all that bad besides we were bored, very bored. I choose to add nothing more.)
The new sew-ups came in on the second day and we were on the road again the next morning.  Enveloped in fog we rode through the giant redwoods in awe as we dodged the log trucks stacked with these giants' dead brethren on the exceedingly narrow section of Hwy 101 that ran right through the middle of the Redwoods National Park (Today it is named the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.) .  The redwoods were protected in a very small area by the Redwoods National Park, which has in subsequent years greatly expanded and cobbled protected areas together with the California State Parks.  Back then it was cut as fast as the economy and the market for lawn furniture would allow.

We camped some place south of Eureka, maybe near Fortuna, still in the fog.  For those readers who have ground out the miles up Mt. Leggett on the alternate route, Hwy 254, recommended on the Adventure Cycling maps this was our route except it was Hwy 101 and back then in the middle of the redwoods there were constant shadows cast by these majestic giants.  I remember feeling in awe of their presence.  There was the gusts of wind from log trucks passing us in both directions as the primeval forest of the coastal range were being decimated.  We thought about riding through the "Drive Through Tree," but they would charge $5.00 for each of us and even more to take a photograph.

Then we climb out of the fog and into the Sun.  We knew we left the fog behind us for good.  When we reached the Leggett Village it took only a minute to decide to stay on Hwy 101 and not turn out to the coast on Hwy 1.  We knew the 101 we were riding was going to be history in a few years.  We stayed with our plan, and besides we would be riding in comfortable warm sunshine for the rest of the trip and we should make very good time in the long low valleys leading into San Francisco.  Riding into the valley south of Leggett was the cyclist dream that is the climb seemed shorter than the descent.  The odometer, of course, fizzled out on us, but to ride a steady down hill for an hour was bliss.

Perhaps I had a little touch of Ed's illness or a  some road weary homesickness, but my legs just didn't have much kick in them that day.  In short I was feeling blue.  We were hit with a ferocious afternoon head wind and the days were getting shorter as we rode south.  Nearing sunset with twenty to thirty miles to go I was worn out.  I turn to Ed and said I was ready to quite.  He must have sensed it coming on because he immediately gave me a Knute Rockne halftime talk that lifted my spirits and he pulled me the rest of the way into town through the wind.  We camped some where near Laytonville; I have no recollection.  It was our second longest day's ride at two hundred thirty kilometers.

We rode through Ukiah, California about 11:30 the next morning and we usually stopped for lunch fixings at a grocery store about 1:00 in the afternoon.  There staring us in the face was a sign advertising an all you can eat lunch buffet for 75¢.  It was too early for lunch and rode on.  We stopped for our midday topping off the tires at a gas station (remember we were riding on narrow tubulars with latex tubes.) and by the time we were a few miles out of town it was past noon.  We looked at each other and turned back.  We ate slowly at a deliberate pace for at least an hour.  We carefully picked high protein food and knocked off any breading and fillers that were used.  We only drank the free water and not the 50¢ Pepsi.  By the time we finished with the dessert table I am sure we each consumed 3,000 calories - maybe 2,000 who's counting.  We were a little bloated and rode more slowly than usual, but with a smile on our faces and contentment in our stomachs.

It was blazing hot, one hundred ten degrees Fahrenheit (44C) in the shade on one gas station thermometer.  I carried a quart of water in twin pint bottles on my handlebars.  Ed only had a single pint bottle on his frame.  Anywhere we could find water we had to stop.  I did much better in the heat than Ed.  I sometimes think it was because I was tall and very thin and I dissipated heat faster.  At one store we each bought an ice cold quart glass bottle of Coke and finished it without breathing.  We went inside and bought another.  When we came to an inviting beach along the Russian River we dove in to cool off.  

We had continued to blow tire up at an alarming rate.  Finally it dawned on us not to top off our tires in the hot afternoon Sun.  You could feel the heat radiating off the blacktop and it was putting tremendous stress on the tires.  We had no more flats of any kind after that decision the whole way to Mexico.

We made Santa Rosa by nightfall and found a pretty grass filled park in a glen near the middle of town.  Our usual bunks, the picnic tables, were made out of cast concrete.  Concrete is so much harder that wood I had a hard time getting to sleep.  I woke up in the middle of the night with a flashlight shining in my face.  It was the local police.  "Who are you?  Where are you coming from and where are you going?"   He informed me that no camping was permitted in the park. I gave our impressive story that was becoming more historic fact than dream by the day.  I offered my father’s note and my driver's license, but he didn't want them.  He told me we should have notified the police that we would be camping in the park because there had been some very unsavory people and events in the area recently.  I thanked him (for scaring the crap out of me) and said good night.  In my fitful sleep I notice a squad car drove by once an hour checking on us.  Ed slept through it all and I had to recount it to him during the morning ride.  

It was on to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.  North of San Francisco we hit our first stretch of freeway or what was officially called a limited access highway, "Bicycles and Pedestrians Prohibited."  Of course we had talked about riding across the Golden Gate since the time our ride was still limited to riding from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  A Highway Patrolman pulled up and listened to the sixteen year old's plea to cross the bridge of legend and song.  He thought it could be done and gave us a route through Sausalito.  We followed its nips and turns and wound up at another freeway on ramp with the requisite prohibition signs.

The same Highway Patrolman drove up and stopped.  I think he realized his mistake.  He called his sergeant who pulled up in ten minutes and they counseled with each other on how we could get our bikes to the bridge.  They then called their lieutenant who also drove up.  We had three Highway Patrol squad cars and patrol officers trying to help two out-of-town teens complete their quest and cross the Golden Gate Bridge.  They decided they could give us a flashing red light escort to the bridge, which was only a few hundred yards away, but when they called the Chief, permission was denied.

It was not until February 28, 1970 that bicycles were allowed on the Golden Gate Bridge. It wasn't until 1998 when my wife, Mary Jane, and I took a day ride on mountain bikes across the bridge into "The City" that I felt I had completed this important part of the journey.  Now there are hundreds of bikes on the Golden Gate at anyone time going both ways on both sides with a park and ride at the north end to make things even easier. (Society is slowly learning bicycles not only reduce pollution but also reduce traffic congestion.)

We called Ed's cousin in Hayward near San Jose and he drove all the way over and picked us up  in Sausalito and drove us to his house.  Laundry, showers and lots and lots of food, home cooked food!  They cooked a second pot of spaghetti, which we devoured, and then Ed and I finished off a half-gallon of ice cream.

Ed's cousin was a junior high school teacher so he didn't have to go to work in the morning.  The next day he drove our bikes and us to San Jose where we found an Italian bike shop that spoke fluent Campagnolo.  We left the bikes to be worked on and hopped on a bus to The City. We had a great time in San Francisco. No one seemed to care or comment on our bike costumes. We rode the cable cars (The conductor stopped the car mid climb on a steep hill to tell Ed not to hang off the side of the car with one arm.), went to the old expo site, Fisherman's Wharf and lots of touristy places and had a great day palling around doing the tourist thing.  We took another bus back to Hayward and another great dinner.

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