California has more people than all of Canada. It’s one of the biggest economies in the world. It’s home to Silicon Valley and Hollywood, centres that have been driving innovation and popular culture all over the world. It’s also a non-stop freak show for a couple of slow-travelling cyclists.
We had all kinds of strange encounters with people along the way, some of them positive and others not so much. I know I’m generalizing but northern California strikes me as a bit of an isolated, conservative, slightly paranoid place, fiercely protective of its way of life. Is it really necessary to post a “private property” sign on your front door? Please, don’t answer that.
Somewhere in Humboldt County, while standing in a pull-out along the road chatting with a couple of other cyclists, an old school bus painted in the red, white and blue of the US flag, came grinding up the narrow highway. A bunch of people sitting in the front of the bus beside the driver looked at us and gave us the finger. This happened a few times.
Homeless people wandering the highway, talking to themselves or a lamp post, obviously in need of help but perhaps not interested or unable to get it. In Eureka, on a street just outside the town’s centre, a group of about 100 rough-looking men sitting and standing on the sidewalks on both sides of the street, many of them with fierce looking dogs.
And then there was the guy who roared up beside me while we were taking a break on the side of the road to have a snack. He was shouting something but I didn’t understand what he wanted, something about picking up a cigarette. His passenger window was rolled down only a little and he again shouted at me: “Hey buddy, can you pick up that cigarette. Open the door and pick up that cigarette.”
I cautiously opened the door and he asked me again to “pick up that cigarette.” On the passenger-side floor there were two cigarettes. They had fallen off the seat and he was unable to reach down because he was so huge, his giant body wedged between the seat and the steering wheel of the large Volvo SUV. I’m not sure how he had gotten in, never mind how he was going to get out. Maybe he won’t. I picked up the cigarettes and put them on the passenger seat for him and he yelled: “OK. Close the door. I gotta go.” I had barely let go of the door handle as he peeled out, leaving me standing in the dust.
In Anchor Bay we met a fit-looking, 30-something guy in front of a store who asked about our journey. He was genuinely interested and thought it was cool we were travelling on bicycles. He said he lived in the area and did a bit of farming and a bit of surfing. He warned us to be careful on the road because it’s narrow and mostly without a shoulder. Not far from there, Christoph and I were both run off the road by a cement truck. It came within a few inches of me and I bailed into the ditch. I looked behind me and saw Christoph also in the ditch. We were both shaken up a bit by that close encounter and pulled into a park at the top of the hill where we took a break, had lunch and tried to calm down after that close call.
These are just some of the impressions that stuck. Others are cycling through the northern redwood forests in awe of the giant trees, but at the same time feeling sadness there are only so few left.
The beautiful central plaza of Arcata.
Or the burger and beers we had in a tiny tavern in the equally tiny town of Klamath.
Or screaming down the mountain for 20 kilometres on the Shoreline Highway, west of Leggett, on our way back to the coast.
And camping with other cyclists, swapping stories from the road.
And the beautiful beaches along the Shoreline Highway.
The superb breakfast we had at a roadside café in Jenner, and Fort Bragg, and San Geronimo and…
And finally, cycling into San Fransisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, arguably one of the most dangerous stretches of road I’ve ever ridden as we dodged hordes of pedestrians, and tourists on rented bicycles holding selfie-sticks to record their wobbly ride along that narrow two-way path. For some inexplicable reason, only one path is open for pedestrians and cyclists, alternating at different times of day with the path on the other side.
And so, after 25 days and 2,079 kilometres of cycling from Vancouver, we arrived in San Fransisco. We had taken only one day off along the way but now had a couple of days to relax and stroll around San Fransisco before I would fly home and Christoph would carry on south to San Diego.
It was a great tour with a great friend. Christoph, thanks for the ride. It was totally “asshole.” 🙂
Here is a map of our journey through northern California. Click on it and it will open a new page where you can dissect all the data, if you wish to do so.
Here are some more photos from the final section of our tour.