The first day riding out of Portland was a challenge, being sad to leave my Portland family behind and opting for the more scenic of the options to the coast which also entailed the biggest climb. Alicia took me past the suburbs, wished me fair well and I continued alone. Heading into the Oregon interior again felt like stepping back 50 years and couldn’t help its charming ways, passing farmland and vineyards. I took on a ten mile climb with no water which felt at the same time ridiculous but also nice to be in a situation where water was the biggest concern again. The value of living simply appeared very clear to me, I was looking forward to a quiet week of reading, writing, camp fires, early nights and a step back from the proceeding six weeks of indulgence.
The next morning I rolled 40 miles to the coast with the road all to myself. Winding through dense wooded forest, In wet fall mist, hugging the netstuka river until the land flattened, hitting the infamous 101 which would take me through California. The ride was perfectly peaceful and being October, the route quiet and the mornings cool. I heard a bird singing as it accompanied me down the road but as I hard as I looked I couldn’t make it out. Stopping to brew up some coffee, a blue jay sat beside me and started chirping, it’s song I instantly recognised.
After spending the night by the beach where a couple between places joned me I hit the road again. I noticed I’d become a little scared. Cars were flying by me and I started to stop or pause. I had awoke that morning feeling beat, after 11 hours sleep and with eyes like a panda. I wasn’t sure if I was ill, tired or just worn. I’d lost a fair bit of confidence in my abilities and pulled in after just 50 miles to try and sleep it off. I happened across Matt from New Orleans, a neuroscientist fed up and looking for a career in social work, we talked of this and I told him I was meeting a friend in San Francisco in ten days. He nearly spat out his coffee and said he was taking 20 days and thought that a push. I hadn’t even looked at a map, I was just idly venturing my way down the coast, complacent, thinking it was easy. I double checked the map and realised I had some serious riding to do. Rather than being daunted, this filled me with energy and optimism. Things had begun to seem a little too easy that I was loosing focus. It felt important to have a challenge to prepare for again.
The 101 down the Oregon coastline was brilliantly dramatic, offering me a gray whale siting and the regular sight of lots of noisy sealions clambering on top of each other, playing around in the surf. Though beautiful the route was busier than I had been used to. I had to constantly choose between my own death or that of hundreds of pretty little caterpillars wandering through the shoulder. I started to apologise before flicking them into my mudguard and wondering if they would be missed, the kind of ridiculous stuff you start contemplating when your on a bike all day.
A constant battle with raccoons characterised a good few of my Oregon evenings. Seriously it was like living in a student house, you leave any of your food alone and it’s gone. They don’t even scare when you confront them. After having to punch one in the nose through my tent to find the little guy staring blankly, unaffected at me I decided to buy a BB gun, one thing wallmart was good for. This resulted in many fun hours working on my aim and shooting them until they decided it wasn’t worth their while, shining my headlamp into the trees there were as many as ten at one time surrounding me. I rejoiced when I saw raccoon road kill, any loveable charm they once possessed was long gone. The Oregon coast felt indigo, being October the tourists thinning out which made for peaceful riding. I got some good news from back from home and found out my dissertation was a success and was now a fully qualified social worker, an odd feeling with the best part of a years cycling ahead of me. A celebratory pecan pie was duly consumed whole!
I found company in the road flaggers who were always up for a chat and some welcome banter. One insisted I ate his sandwich, another called me a whole load of foolishness and then gave me his granddaughters number and told me she could use a man like me which I found hilarious given the state I was in and the smell of my three day damp feet. He had high hopes for her! Days of being hemmed in by leaded skies I crossed the Californian border and into the redwoods as the mist dissipated and the Mercury rose.
The redwoods were as epic as suggested, the avenue of the Giants meandering through the towering trees off the 101, a relief from the gas burning road trippers. After a few days in the redwoods the more stereotypical California presented itself, the coastline became more gentle and the rivers dried up. Gaberville being the weed trimming capital of Northern California was full of young travelling types kicking back in the squares, dreadlocked, playing guitar and juggling things, waiting for the lucrative seasonal work that was abundant since California decriminalised. The smell accompanied the road all the way through Northern California, an appropriate cure for aching muscles.
This was a popular cycling route abundant with hiker/biker sites which made for cheap and sociable camping, 3 dollar wine and the constant company of the ocean boosted my energy levels. I hooked up with a good few riders, Benjamin had lopped the tail from some roadkill which he stripped over breakfast as a souvenir , Aaron had almost completed a trip around the circumference of the state’s being fed up with North Carolina in search of a more appealing place to live. I found some musical companions in Luke and Jamie as we shared recommendations and me and Tamara spent a day getting well and truly soaked. Judy put me up in her trailer on a beautifully rustic emu farm she lived on with rusty her father, she told me of the serious water issues in the area and of some of the scary goings on at Bohemia grove, just miles south.
The next day feeling refreshed from a bed me and Gray were in jubilant mood, cheering as we hugged the Pacific Coast down route one. We cycled side by side and chatted away about all manners of things, I enjoyed his company and he tolerated my abstract musings in an encouraging fashion. He was about to complete a 5000 mile stint, just 2 days from San Francisco, we planned to cross the bridge together and he carried a lovely little Martin acoustic with him which I was stoked about. Riding side by side we talked of how safe we felt touring was compared to city riding, classic mistake as no more than minute later an rv rammed it’s mirror into Grays shoulder, descending a hill at a good 25 miles an hour. Gray flew off his bike and flipped three or four times with his bike before eventually coming to a halt. A hundred meters or so behind I expected limbs at right angles on my arrival and prepared for a gruesome sight. By grace or good fortune limbs were In tact and he was just about in one piece though understandably shaken, his bike unfortunately was not. I calmed him down with some inappropriate jokes, a smoke and some lunch. We patched up what we could and sorted out his travels back to San Francisco. I bumped into him later, ecstatic to find that bones and spirit seemed in tact, a sense of vulnerability however lingered.
A cautious, yet beautiful ride into San Francisco completed another leg of my trip, the hills of San Geronimo brought me to the wealthy suburbs of San Francisco. Without a decent map I asked Angie and Dave if they could ride me into town, they insisted I saw the hills of Pablo alto en route so we climbed the foothills and down through Sausalito where I was earnestly congratulated and kindly treated to a bottle of champagne before creeping through the crowds, full of sonder, over the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco instantly appeared more diverse than anything I had experienced for over 4000 miles and harboured the exciting energy this can give a city, complete with colonial Spanish architecture, pastel houses, huge hills and vistas. A rendezvous with an old friends uncle and then a visit from a best friend and old band mate from England were on the table culminating in a jubilant mood. A day short of four months since leaving Caren and heading of into the Alaskan wilderness this felt like another significant milestone, with the Mexican border just a few weeks away things were getting exciting.