by Sara Dykman
When we started bike49 last May we would have been overwhelmed to think about the entire route. Instead we focused on more obtainable, short term goals. Our first goal was getting to Coos Bay, OR for our first presentation. The next goal was Alaska, and after that, we focused on making it back to the United States. When we left Sacramento last week our goal was to make it to Fort Bragg, a familiar bike touring layover for the five of us. And now, two days from Arcata, our final goal is Arcata. This is the home stretch, and it is good to be home.
We left Sacramento last week and biked to the bike friendly city of Davis, where bike lanes hugged every road and where there are enough bikers to need bike roundabouts at bike path intersections. From Davis we climbed out of the central valley, trading fruit trees for lonely oaks as we headed to the coast. The road lead us through the Napa Valley, California’s wine country, where the grapes are pruned and lined up like saluting soldiers waiting for the next order. As we approached the coast, redwood trees began to replace the fancy named vineyards with perfectly pruned rosebushes. And finally we were cruising through the narrow road shaded by the redwood forest.
The redwood forest is something special. We started our trip over a year ago in the redwoods, but we must have been jaded. We had been living among the largest trees on Earth, and though we saw them as beautiful and explored them on hikes and bike rides, we didn’t stare at them with awe. Now, one year later, we have pedaled through the forests of the Rockies, the Sierras, and the Appalachian Mountains; we have pedaled under cypress trees in the south, sugar maples in the east, and ponderosa pines in the west. Now I ride among the redwoods and stare at them in awe, like it is the first time I have ever seen them.
I forgot how big the redwoods are. The trees shoot skyward, impressively tall and impressively big. I picture them racing upward, fighting for the sky, watching the ground beneath them disappear. And as we race by, I could reach out and touch them. The highway curves, narrowly missing the giant trunks that seem to squeeze the road narrower. The road is dappled with the little light that travels through the canopy. The ground along the road is dappled with ferns and berries and sorrel; a carpet of green that seems even greener after our stint in the desert. We all hoot and holler as we ride through the redwoods, this is our home turf, this is it. We are approaching the end.
Even a week from Arcata, we are biking through our home turf. In college we spent our week long breaks for Thanksgiving and Spring Break biking loops around the North Coast. Now on familiar roads we remind each other of random events that made us love touring: “This is where we found 91 bucks”, “this is where we camped on the spring break tour part two”, “this is where Victor drank a quart of egg nog”. And when we hit Fort Bragg, we know exactly how to get to Uncle Tom’s cabin.
Uncle Tom and Aunt Susan are Tommy and Aaron’s family, but by now they are familiar friends to us all. Truthfully, their house is a legend. This was my sixth time stopping by Uncle Tom’s cabin, and like the first five times I was not disappointed. Tom and Susan built a wonderful house, but left the small cabins they lived in while building the house standing. We take showers, warm up by the fire, spread out our stuff between the cabins, and enjoy watching the rain from inside. Tom and Susan serve us pasta of gourmet caliber, and we eat till we can’t eat any more. Tom pulls out photos from previous bike tours, and we all laugh. We became friends on the tours that passed through Uncle Tom’s; we brainstormed and talked about bike49 on those tours even before bike49 had a name or route or website.
Fort Bragg was not just a great rest stop, but an important milestone. When we hit Fort Bragg on the coast of California, we were finally done heading west. And when we hurried out of the Pacific Ocean, during the half hour of sun we had that day, we had finally swam in the Atlantic, the Gulf, and the Pacific Ocean. I was especially happy because it has been a dream since high school to bike across the county. Since I broke my ankle last fall, I had not yet biked coast to coast. But atlast, in Fort Bragg, my dream had come true.
From Fort Bragg we headed north along the coast. The ocean is so blue and traces the slowly curving horizon. The waves crashing on the beach turn white from the powerful collisions and act as a highlighter where the land meets the sea. Wildflowers bloom on the hills and spray the roadsides with purples and oranges and yellows. Even more, our time on the coast is warm and sunny. More often than not we have seen the ocean in grays, our bodies cold and wet from the rain. Now the sun is out, the winds are gentle, and we are in biking paradise. I had forgotten how glorious the riding on the coast could be, living here I had taken it for granted.
It is not just the coast and redwood forests that we took for granted. It is the roads that curl around them, and the hills that lift those roads straight up from sea level. We have traveled many miles and descended many hills, but it is the hills here on the North Coast that I love. We climbed Leggit Pass, the longest climb on the Pacific Coast bike route. The climb was perfect: steady, beautiful, smooth, few cars. The downhill was glorious. I couldn’t stop smiling as we flew down the hill. We rode as a pack, chasing each other through the 10 mph bends we take at 25 mph. We leaned into the curves and I screamed part from the thrill, part to egg on the others, and part to be loud. But mostly I screamed for the fun of it, because bombing down a windy road, in a t-shirt, is my favorite thing in the world.
It has been wonderful biking so many new roads in new forests and along new coasts, but it has been wonderful to bike familiar roads, bomb down familiar hills, see familiar faces, and feel like we made it back home. Thinking about the route before we left was too overwhelming, but we took it week by week and now we are on the home stretch. Now it is too overwhelming to think about it being over. Stay tuned for that…