O’er The Land Of The Free, My Thanks To Thee

I found myself in Eureka, CA on a bright crisp morning leaving Arcata. Home to the funkiest fairytale buildings, they almost look edible. From here we would leave the coast for a while and make our way inland and thankfully back to the warmth away from the brisk coastline.

At a lunch stop in the charming town of Ferndale me and Eal both ordered the Gardenburger, it was incredible. The most perfect sautéed tomatoes and onions with a pesto spread on the underside of the bun. Thinking of the burger joint in Fargo with Flavia, this cafe should advertise its veggie options as “So good meat eaters will choose them.”

The heat came straight after lunch, back to shorts and short sleeve jersey. We entered the Avenue of Giants early evening, a 25+ mile stretch of quiet redwood highway, amazeballs. Hiker/biker camping in the state park was busy again, Eal had given me all coins for the deposit packet which I then found made it too fat to fit in the deposit box, I left it by the office instead.

I left early the next morning having agreed a destination with Eal, I generally wake up early and Eal likes to get trucking later so recently when the directions have been straight forward we have been riding separately for most of the day. To make things simpler for myself I stuck with the 101 which was shouldered well if a little busy. Mornings are chilly but by 10am I am stood by the road, bike perched on a sign, stripping down to my kecks and fishing out shorter attire from my bags. Very amusing for the passing cars to see my pasty white torso, especially for the ones that slow down, you’ve seen it all before love.

The first few town stops still had a major hippie invasion with the aforementioned marijuana harvest about to go down, most were friendly but some characters seemed shady looking to blend in and make a quick score. I wasn’t very comfortable leaving my bike outside stores with my flimsy lock and had to be quick with transactions. One guy told me he would ‘watch’ my bike before I went to get a drink, he was friendly enough and we talked a while. He was making his way down to San Diego and asked if I could spare any money for food. I happily gave him all the shrapnel weight out of my wallet. Not long left in the country and I probably wont shift those coins. He was buzzing, nay bother lad.

I was going to have lunch in the town of Leggit, on arrival I found the gas stations and cafes all shutdown so had to make do with P+J sanga’s before tackling the 2 huge climbs. I love climbing when its like this though, short steep climbs tend to irritate me but I find great peace of mind in these long traversing pinches of several thousand feet. Sweaty work though, looked like I had taken part in a 1 man wet T shirt comp. After the second of the big climbs I was thrown out onto the coastline again to chilling sea air, its cold magnified by the sweat on my skin. Jacket on I located the hiker/biker campspot on a beach cliff edge. Eal turned up shortly after, pitched, ate. Sleeping that night I kept waking thinking I was being swallowed into the sea. If you imagine the foot of my tent was sloped down towards the waves 50 feet below which crashed loud as thunder. Yikes.

The light was amazing breaking camp, hitting out over my shoulder as it rose from the east (Sun sets in the West for those who forget ;-)…) I had to remember to look back now and again. I noticed what I thought was a cat on the roadside up ahead, I screeched on my breaks when I realised there would be no cats knocking about in this area. It was twice the size of a domestic with an almost leopard like coat. I looked it in the eye whilst trying to unzip my bag and grab the camera, when it shot like a bolt into the bush. I later found it was a little lynx which are present around here. Look them up, incredible animal, no pictures so if you want to see one in the flesh you will just have to come out and ride for yourself.

The morning was glorious the afternoon not so much. Deep fog rolled in which made certain stretches of narrow road and bridges quite scary with the local log trucks seemingly in a rush to make deadlines. Then some brutal switchback climbs did their best to beat my seasoned yet tired limbs. We rolled up to a KOA camp, normally ignore because of high prices but being on the coast this one offered a biker rate to compete with state parks, magical and overdue hot shower followed by a heart warming gesture by an old couple who we talked with by the front office on arrival. They had sent a worker on a golf cart to our plot with an envelope wishing us well and $20, the cost of our camp. No signal and I needed to make some calls so had to trek in foggy darkness away from the campground where I was told reception was stronger, I lost count of how many times I tripped over branches but made it back safe as houses.

Fog seems to be set in for good at the moment, leaving camp again to the same old narrow roads and close shaves with traffic. I really wasn’t feeling the ride. Eal was up ahead an neither had breakfast so I was surprised to see he had passed up the first cafe a few miles in, I continued expecting him to be by the next one, he wasn’t so I stopped anyway hoping the sun might come up and burn through a little. It still hadn’t made much impression by the time I left so up and over the coastal bluffs I went, only escaping the suffocating cloud when I rose above them onto a high lookout point.

Scary descents followed back into fog, we were joined at camp that evening by Tim from Maine, and older guy who I had seen at breakfast. He had put down 100 miles that day in what was incredibly tough terrain, kudos.

Managing to scout out coffee and a cooked breakfast was essential on yet another foggy bone chilling morning. This would be the last days riding in the USA, destination for the evening was with John & Jessi, friends of Flavia’s in San Francisco. Judging by surroundings it was hard to see that is where we would end up. The riding was pretty glum, not a thing to look at accept cardboard brown grass with annoying short hump climbs and rough road that made riding feel like I was treading water. Mentally I was beat this morning, possibly a little fatigued and under-slept. Whatever it was I stopped for second breakfast just 15 miles in looking for and answer in the bottom of a coffee cup which was shortly followed by a pesto twist from the adjoining bakery. Somewhere between there, grabbing some wifi and just chilling out contemplating the last few months riding across the USA again I hopped back on my bike and started riding. I’ve road bikes long enough to know the road will take care of the rest and it did! The sun came out and the town of Point Reyes made for a delightful lunch stopover. In the afternoon me and Eal rode together for the last stretch, something we haven’t done for a while.

Drawing ever close to San Fran, in Marin county traffic picked up, stop signs every 50 yards made for slow progress. We meandered along several bike paths happily acknowledging our recent milestone just as the golden gate bridge came into view. Crossing it was thrilling, the wind, bustling traffic, outlook over the bay, fog, a movie script ending. We navigated toward downtown as I pedalled with phone on google-maps in one hand as the Garmin wasn’t playing nice. John had told us he would be taking part in a Critical Mass bike ride and we could meet at his apartment afterwards  Well we rode right into the ride, a congregation of hundreds of cyclists on this a special anniversary for the event which literally takes over the streets grinding cars to a halt. The most surreal, bizarre yet perfect end to the USA tour.

We had a few days at J & J’s  to organise bikes, bags, Auckland accommodation and just generally rest the legs and soak in our last few days in the Northern Hemisphere. It was a very retrospective time, I thought about all the wonderful people I had stayed with, the incredible generosity and hospitality afforded to me once again. The bad towns to the good towns, the baron places to the beautiful vistas. From Massachusetts to California via a whole heap of incredible summer and not forgetting meeting Flavia, my absolute highlight of the ride and another friend I will cherish dearly until we next meet, which I am already excited for, the same goes for Joe C Meyer and Coop! Days on the bike are so highly concentrated with physical and mental exertion whether it be my poor thighs sluggin’ up a hill or my eyes taking a million pictures with every blink in each new town or landscape. You can sometimes forget to take a step back and soak it in. That’s why afterwards I find experiences like this are best shared.

Toodle-pip USA! I’ll be back again or maybe you can come visit me?

6 Replies to “O’er The Land Of The Free, My Thanks To Thee”

  1. Congratulations on the ride across the States and keeping us all entertained, loving the pics – the boys are missing you so much but so proud of their big brother. The next adventure is about to start….. looking forward to NZ. Take care and safe riding, love from us all xx

  2. Well done Ryan & Mathew on completing your USA bike ride ,its brilliant being able to follow you on your blog ,love the pics, Good Luck in New Zealand, love Mum xxxx

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