Day 108: another day of terror

Day 108
Miles: 34*
From Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park to Crescent City

Can’t say I’m excited to get back on the road this morning, but we’ve only got 26 miles to get to Crescent City, which is where we’re meeting up with J’s parents for a few days. I hope I don’t die before I get there, and I also hope that a couple days off of riding will let my nerves calm down a bit. The riding hasn’t been as physically tough as hiking was, but hiking also didn’t involve a second-to-second contemplation of the fragility of my mortal existence and a day-long struggle to embrace the final moments of my life before there weren’t any moments left. Well, it’s a new day, maybe today is a good day to die. It’s been great, it really has – I’ll be ending on a high note.

The sun is back behind the low, gray clouds, and we start the day with a gnarly, big uphill. We’re riding the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway out of the park though, and it’s nearly car-less and lined with redwood giants rising up into the mist. The exertion and damp drenches us in sweat during the climb, and the downhill is exhilarating but hypothermic.

Then we’re back on the highway. Oh man. I’m still so rattled from the ride yesterday – I can barely stand this. I didn’t know you could be this terrified for so long – I pedal in a blind wash of fear – hold my line, hold my line, hold my line – the road turns into climbing hairpins, the shoulder is gone, the fog sinks down on us so the drivers can’t even see us – I pedal faster, faster, breath ragged, sweat-drenched.

We crest the last big uphill and stop at the Damnation Creek trailhead, an enchanting misty forest of redwoods and ferns. “I’m going to walk up the trail a bit,” J says. “Do you want to come?”
“You know, I’m just gonna lay right here,” I tell him, and I lay on the side of the trail. My body sinks into the unmoving soil, relaxing into its contours. I look up at the green lace of the maple understory, and a beam of sun comes through it all, through the mist, through the trees, and warms my face.

But the ride ain’t over yet.

We start the downhill. The pavement has been ground down for resurfacing, and my bicycle and I vibrate wildly, getting the speed wobbles, careening around the hairpins. I’m not slowing down, I’m going to ride this downhill all the way to Crescent City. I ride in the middle of the lane so cars won’t pass me on a blind turn in the fog, but they do anyways. I can feel my nerve cells exploding from adrenaline.

We pedal into Crescent City on jelly-legs. J’s parents are waiting in the motel parking lot. They just drove that same section of road, and are horrified about how dangerous it looked. I confirm all their fears.

I’m so glad I don’t have to ride tomorrow.



Day 107: hold your line

Day 107
Miles: 22*
From Patricks Point State Park to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Another gray morning – I notice a trend,
Out here on the coast, I don’t think it ends –
Silver sea, silver sky, and imposing black rocks,
Sights to delight on our late morning walk.

The fog is now lifted, my spirits? Not really.
J and I fight again, over something quite silly
Or at least inconsequential, so we brush it away
And instead see the view of this silvery day,

Watch the whales as they spout, out on the horizon,
Sea anemones quiver in tidal pools rising,
Cormorants swoop back into their cliffs,
Sea lions bark, ocean otters are swift.

Pacman sends a text; let’s us know that he’s coming,
So we relax instead, laze away the gray morning,
And then reunited Team Whiskers moves on
Many long hours past an alpine-start dawn…

We ride past lagoons on highway 101,
Just one more day with no sight of the sun.
The vast, green, swaying sloughs with great elk herds transfix us,
The swooping of gleaming great white herons bewitch us.

But I think the RVs are out to destroy us,
These behemoths with blind, short, old men might deploy us,
On a transfer straight out of our mortal existence
And my bicycle shudders from the air resistance

Of trucks passing so close I get blown off the road –
With all this adrenaline my heart may explode.
And I surf through the day on a great tide of fear,
Each truck a death-spectre in my rear-view mirror.

I’m not surfing, I’m drowning – time for metaphor-switching,
I’m a sieve – fear goes through me… I’m in love with existing.
I don’t know if I’m really road-biking material,
I’m looking for something a bit more ethereal,

Something like walking alone on a trail,
“Oh man,” I think, “the PCT sure was swell”.
But on we go, on we go, down our chosen way,
Through forests of redwoods and mists of sea spray.

In the small town of Orick, Pacman again leaves,
For him cash isn’t meant to pay park campground fees,
So he throws in his lot with a tough-looking crowd,
“Not quite enough teeth here,” I observe aloud.

So it’s just me and Dirtnap pedaling on into sun,
Into sun! Into sun! And now our day’s end is a wonderful one.
We set up camp at the park campground just for bikers,
The crowd that’s replaced our old circle of hikers.

One old cyclist with scrawny old legs comes quite near,
We wouldn’t happen to have any aspirin here?
No aspirin, but we’ve got Vitamin I,
And we’ve got him fixed up in the blink of an eye.

“How do you do it?” I curiously wonder,
“Without constantly thinking about being six feet under?”
“‘Hold your line!’ is the old man’s solid advice,
‘Hold your line’ says it all, it’s very concise,

“Don’t look back or get worried, there’s nothing to do
If a truck’s going to swerve and run over you,
All you can do is pedal straight on, without wobbling
Hold your line, keep your balance, don’t go about toppling.”

‘Hold your line’, I think, as I fall into my bed,
Maybe that’s a thing to put in my head,
I can’t let the fear once again overtake me,
I’ll hold my line, let the impassive universe save me.

So I sleep next to Dirtnap amongst the great trees,
And sink into the night with a soft, gentle breeze.
Tomorrow will come, and again I will ride,
Tomorrow I’ll take all those RV’s in stride…




Smartphones are the worst for wildlife photography.


Day 106: Moving on

Day 106
Miles: 55*
From Ferndale to Patricks Point State Park

After a late night, Blake got up at 4 am to make some beet deliveries. We slept in. We played at farmer for a couple days, and we’re exhausted – so we sleep in, wake up on the margins of the beet field, next to blackberry hedges and beehives. Pacman is at work already, trying to squeeze just a little more cash out of this work break.

Time to part ways – Blake promises to mail us some home-grown quinoa, and Pacman, who is staying on the farm for another day or two, promises to catch up with us in Crescent City. We ride out into the gray, dim day, leaving behind the dairy farms and country roads and the wide Eel River, and get on the freeway and officially onto the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route.

The road is still a scary place for me, my tender, woodland soul shocked by the roar of giant steel machines barreling past me, but the shoulder is reassuringly wide: at least two feet! My laser-like hyperfocus on the road doesn’t leave much brain-space for rumination, but I have to wonder how many people would take up biking if they didn’t have to share space with cars. Probably a lot.

As we roll into Eureka, I wonder if the cars aren’t the problem so much as the people… In the vast store of unsolicited advice and opinions that we’ve gathered in the past week, it’s seemed like every single person has told us that Eureka sucks. It turns out that “Eureka sucks” means “Eureka is full of meth-head tweakers and flophouses”. The day has gotten even grayer, if possible, the sky dirty and low, and the boarded up (but obviously still occupied) motels ringing the town echo the greasy grayness and it’s a rough-looking crowd wandering the streets. This ain’t the PCT.

A quick side trip to the downtown area blows our mind – it’s beautiful! The drab skies suddenly seem like they fit for the old victorian seaside vibes this place has going on. Lovely white, red, green buildings, old bookstores, brick streets. A little jewel in a circle of trash. We stop for lunch and park our bicycles directly in front of the picture window, suddenly acutely aware that we never bothered investing in a bicycle lock. “I’m going to buckle my helmet around my tire. How much time do you think that’ll get me if someone jacks my bicycle?” I ask J.
“I don’t know. What about putting it in lowest gear? Isn’t that what Pacman does? So the thief has to pedal like mad?”
“Either that or the highest gear, so they can’t get cranking?”

We spend our entire lunch with both of us staring fixedly at our bicycles. Makes for bad conversation. We buy a bike lock in Aracata. (I also buy a rear-view mirror for my helmet, so if I’m about to smushed into a Gizmo-road-pancake, I’ll get to see it happen.)

On the way out of Arcata, the official Pacific Coast Bicycle Route routes us off the 101 and through farmland, where we waver in the margin of cloud and sun, the line where the permanently installed coastal clouds melt into the California summer. The outrageous pink lilies are back, in front of little farmhouses. And then the bike lane turns into gravel, and the blue skies turn gray, and my butt hurts, and my legs are exhausted, and you know what? I’m not having a great time at the moment, I’m just whining and being miserable. (Misery is for sharing? Right?)

The fog begins to roll in, the afternoon is slipping away from us, but we are not there yet. We push through the darkening day to Patricks Point State Park, exhausted as if we’d been hiking the PCT. We pay our five bucks apiece for the hiker-biker campsite and finally dismount from our mechanical steeds. I sit at the picnic table and stare at nothing while J goes to explore a bit. “Hey Gizmo, come out and check out the view,” J says as he walks back into camp. “It’s really great.”

I follow him out to the lookout, where the fog has just rolled in, and I can see absolutely nothing. It must be time for bed.

Heading into Eureka

The very scenic “warehouse” stretch.



A lane of our own! At least for a little while…


Day 105: to the races

Day 105
Miles: zero

“It can’t be worse than last night.” The thought from last night rings like a taunt. The only mosquito in a five mile radius found me last night, and we hadn’t set up the net-tent. But c’mon. What’s one mosquito compared to an entire crew of acid tripping teenagers?

I wake up in the morning with my entire face lumpy and one eye swollen nearly shut with mosquito welts. I haven’t been this sore since ever, and I’m as exhausted as when I went to bed. Shucks. Time to hoe some beets. “Morning,” I grumble to J, who has turned towards me. “Happy birthday.”

I’m in a foul mood. I put on a pair of sunglasses to hide my deformed face, get my hoe, and start down the row next to J in the gray, foggy morning. Pacman has been at it for hours already – he needs the cash. We stop for lunch after a couple hours and Blake is horrified that we are hoeing his beets on J’s birthday. “But it’s your birthday!” he insists. “You can’t hoe beets on your birthday!”
  “Well, what do you do for your birthday?” J inquires in return.
  “Well, my birthday is the one day a year I can do things fir myself and not feel guilty.”
(“Huh,” J says to me later that day. “I never feel guilty doing things for myself.”)

Truthfully, we don’t need any encouragement to put down our hoes. Thru-hiking is tough, but hoeing beets… I’d need to train for this. We get our bicycles and ride to town – Ferndale is hosting the county fair. The gray skies have lifted, my eye swelling has gone down, and darn if it ain’t a beautiful day.

We’d been seeing posters for the Humboldt County Fair as far back as Mad River. (“Bounty of the County” reads the poster. “What, are they going to just have displays of bales and bales of weed?” we joke.) I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a county fair before, and we buy tickets and go in. It turns out that Humboldt county does grow things besides marijuana, and the fair has performing sea lions (amazing and depressing), live music, overpriced pieces of pie, and lots of animals. I get a kick out of the fluffy rabbits, the sheep, the goats. In the pigpens there’s a stall with two very large pigs and one small girl. I do a double-take – she’s laying back against one pig and has her feet propped up on the other, like they’re pillows, not hogs. The pigs don’t seem to mind.

The other thing the fair has is horse races. They make you pay three bucks for another ticket, but it’s not J’s birthday every day. After a phone-a-friend horse betting consultation, he’s losing money like a pro. “The races aren’t any fun without some skin in the game,” he explains. We put our noses to the fence and watch the hyper-strung, neurotic racehorses thunder across.

We meet up with Pacman at the local bar at the end of the day, where he tries to pick up a local girl, oblivious to the giant, fuming, dairy-farmer boyfriend lurking behind him. We’ve talked Blake into meeting us at the bar, and he gives us a ride back to the farm, where we stay up talking about organic farming and the Peace Corps and the PCT for long past hiker midnight, and farmer midnight, and midnight midnight.

Finally back at our tarp we string up the net-tent before the blissful moment of becoming horizontal…

Let the races begin!








Day 104: heeeey, I said heeeey! (and, why is hoeing beets so hard?)

Day 104
Miles: 1*

Blake recommended we camp to the other side of the cliffs on the beach, but have you tried to move a loaded bicycle through beach sand? We set up the tarp right in front of the parking area, where a log and a signpost give us something solid for our pitch. The gray sky and the gray sea slowly fade to black, and we wrap up against the mist and the chill for the night.

I wake up with car headlights beamed straight into the tarp, and curse to myself. We’re getting evicted. Or are we? I rub some of the sleep out of my eyes and try to figure out what’s going on. It’s not the cops, it’s a bunch of drunk kids who got their ford taurus sunk axle-deep in sand because they missed the parking lot. I try to settle my nerves and go back to sleep, but it’s tough with all the shouting and engine-revving and lights in my eyes. Exhaustion wins, sort of, and I drift in unsettled dreams. The kids give up on the taurus and get down to the business of partying and dropping acid. I know this because they are about thirty feet away and they are talking REALLY LOUD.

It’s going to be a long night.

The partying goes on for a long time – the kids finally notice us, creep on us, leave us alone. My blue tarp doesn’t seem to offer as much protection as it did back on the PCT, where it’s smooth blue walls meant home. The kids leave, and it’s quiet. At last. It starts to rain. Pacman didn’t set up his tent but we squeeze him in. I wake up again because I can feel someone looking at me. One of the kids partying on the beach is still here – he’s laying on the sand right next to us, staring into the tarp. My heart flips with surprise. “Hey man, you ok?” I say to him.
“Heeeey,” he replies in a creepy falsetto. “Heeey, she says, heeeey. Heeey!”

Ok, now I’m creeped out. Holy sh**. “J,” I whisper, “this guy is freaking me out.” J sort of mumbles. “Pacman,” I try. “Pacman, this dude is creeping me out.”
“Hm,” he mumbles, “what’s up?”
“This dude,” I whisper, “he’s freaking me out.”

Pacman wakes up enough to take stock of the situation, then gets up and goes out of the tarp. He makes the kid drink some water then tells him to go back to his car (the ford taurus is still stuck in the sand), and he wanders off. “Nothing to worry about,” Pacman says, “he’s too high to do anything.” Then he adds, “that’s the nice thing about people high on acid, you can just tell them to do something and they will. Then they forget what they were doing. Totally harmless.”

Harmless, whatever. I don’t need somebody who’s tripping laying two feet away from and saying creepy things to me.

It’s a long night.

And an early morning. The engine-revving and tire spinning resume at dawn. The two guys left on the beach have been abandoned by their friends, and they’re trying to free the taurus again. One is wandering around with an empty handle of booze. Someone calls the cops. It’s time for us to go…

Quickest packup ever and we skedaddle before the trouble spreads. On our way out we overhear the kid with the empty handle telling the cop: “I don’t even know where I am!”.
“First-rate example of what not to do…” Pacman shakes his head. The kids are getting cuffed as we ride away.

Breakfast in Ferndale, then time to go to work. (Feels weird to say out loud.) Blake has a crew of hippie kids in carhartts and chacos harvesting greens, and one of them gives us hoes and some instructions, and we start down the rows.

We’re very bad at hoeing beets – that is, we’re slow. Not only that, it is destroying us. We limp off the field at the end of the day in rough shape. “I think this is the most sore I’ve been on the entire PCT,” moans J.
“My back feels terrible,” Pacman adds.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk tomorrow,” I join in.

Blake is too nice to tell us to quit wasting his money and beat it, so we’ll try and finish the hoeing tomorrow. He also takes pity on us after our eventful night of beach camping and says we can camp next to the field tonight. What a relief.

We pedal to town for pizza, then call it a night. Can’t be any worse than the last one.

Blake is one of only two farmers growing quinoa in north America.

Hello, Mr. Goat.

Alpacas! I <3 Alpacas


Day 103: the coast

Day 103
Miles: 27*
From Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park to the ocean

Mr. Snore-man in the site next to us is still at it in the morning – except he’s also managed to somehow collapse his tent on himself in the middle of the night. Loud, rasping snores emanate from a big, yellow puddle of silnylon. The rest of his family sleeps in the camper. I indulge myself with some feelings of camper-superiority, but otherwise am not too excited about the morning. Gray mornings are good for sleeping. I get up and battle with resident campground Stellar Jays instead.

We have no clear destination today, and we’re not sure where we want to stay. J’s parents are coming out to meet us in a week in Crescent City, which is only 120 miles away. That would be six hard days of hiking, but on bicycle? We’ve got some time to kill. Anyhow, Pacman needs to hit a grocery store, but otherwise, there’s no hurry. I feel like I’m in a holding pattern, circling, circling. (My life-purpose crisis is doing the same, but above me, like a vulture, waiting for the right time…)

“Do you guys want to stop by the Cheatham Grove on our way out?” suggests J. “It’s the redwood grove where they filmed the star wars scooter battle with the storm troopers and the ewoks.” Are you kidding? Of course!

The grove is still dim with the low clouds that move in from the ocean every night, and in the cool, damp gray the redwoods rise. It takes a minute to really appreciate their immensity. I have to touch their splintery bark, look slowly from the roots to the crown, walk their circumference. I imagine all the settlement of the West: LA, Seattle, Phoenix, San Francisco… vague dreams of an unscarred earth – of an unbroken coast of giants –
“It’s so damn peaceful here!” exclaims Pacman. “Can you imagine when the entire forest was like this?”
“We’re pretty good at screwing things up,” replies J.

There are so few of the old trees left. We walk the entire grove in minutes, never out of earshot of the highway. Pacman finds a giant blunt just lying on the ground. Humboldt county, man.

We ride the rest of the way to Fortuna, through classic picturebook countryside. Old farmhouses, apple trees, horses, blackberry bushes, garish pink lilies. We come up on a rise before town, and I swear I can see the ocean.

Fortuna sucks us into the town vortex: hours at the library, the grocery store, time on the phone trying to re-route food packages we sent to trail towns in Oregon that we won’t be getting to. It’s six o’clock and we’re still here, with no plans for the night and no place to stay. Can’t just throw our tents on the nearest flat spot out here… All google can come up with is the Ferndale county fairgrounds, ten miles down the road and past the end of highway 36. We pedal on the 101 for the first time, then take the 211 over the Eel River and a narrow bridge.

The signs on the bridge tell cyclists to take the lane while crossing, which means we hold up a whole bunch of evening traffic despite our panicked pedaling. “Please don’t kill me, please don’t hate me, please don’t kill me,” I pant desperately to myself. Off the bridge, we pull over to let the long line of traffic pass. One of the trucks behind us zips forward then pulls off the road as well, just in front of us. The guy in the truck gets out to confront us. Oh no.

A small, compact man with a ponytail and dusty chacos hops out and comes up to Pacman (I’ve dropped about twenty feet to the back, ready to pedal for my life.) Are we looking for work?

Work? He’s a local organic farmer, he explains, looking for some people to hoe his beet fields for a day or two. “I’m pretty hard up for help,” he explains, “and for some reason you seemed like you might be hard workers? You might be interested?”

No kidding, he’s hard up for work. He’s pulling over bicyclists on the side of the road! (To be fair, our bicycle setups do sort of communicate a lack of cash… we have not been confused with vacationing bicycle tourers yet…) Well, as it turns out, it’s his lucky day. Pacman has been searching for work for the entire last week. He’s in the condition known as straight-up-outta-cash. J and I are fine on funds, but not in any rush – no reason to split up Team Whiskers yet. I’ve never hoed beets before – might be fun?

Blake, our new employer, meets up down the road at his beet fields and shows us around. We ask if we might be able to camp for the night on the field, but Blake’s partner is feeling a bit paranoid after a recent robbery, and requests we stay elsewhere. (Shoot. We still have no place to stay. I miss the PCT.) Blake feels terrible about this, so he gives us the keys to his old truck so we can drive ourselves to the beach. “Camping isn’t actually allowed,” he explains, “but no one will bother you there, just go around the corner a bit.”

So that’s how, one week after hitting the halfway point on the Pacific Crest Trail, we find ourselves in front of the vast sweep of the Pacific Ocean.

We made it.

Pacman, riding through the redwoods.

(“I’m only going to jump once, so don’t screw it up.”)

In the Cheatham Grove

Tree-hugger for a day.

The Pacific


Blog update and spoilers

This is just a quick public service announcement… as you may have noticed, I have done a terrible job of keeping this blog updated. Trying to write a daily blog in addition to the heavy physical lifting that the PCT requires, with all sorts of technological and electrical power obstacles thrown in the mix, has turned out to be one of the most difficult parts of this journey. Sometimes it’s a joy to write, much of the time it is an onerous burden I’ve bestowed on myself. I am still writing because first, I like to write. Second, I have found writing to be a wonderful way of sorting through my experiences and making sense of it all. Third, I get to have and keep a record of this crazy summer. Finally, I get to share that with other people, which has turned out to be interesting and challenging, fun and terrifying.

At this point I have about fifty days left to get onto this blog. It’s a mish-mash of posts written but not yet uploaded, partially written posts, and extensive notes that I started keeping when my fingers got too cold at night to write these posts on my smartphone. Over the next few weeks I plan on getting this all dumped into the giant maw of the internet. So stay tuned!!!

If you’re interested in seeing a visual record of my journey, I did a one-photo-per-day PCT series that I posted via instagram. You can check it out @oneofmanycircles. And yes, (spoiler alert) I made it to Canada. So stay tuned! (And thanks for reading.)

We finished!

We finished!


Day 102: relocation

Day 102
Miles: 2*
From Swain’s Flat to Grizzly Creek Redwood State Park

We straggle out of our sleeping bags late, tired and groggy. The coast doesn’t seem so far away this morning with a gray wash of clouds hanging over the forest on the hills around us. I wander out of the backyard to the front of the store, where I find Pacman and J on the porch, nursing cups of coffee and chatting with local dudes about sustainability and community development. I’m happy to sit on the porch myself and listen.

The cool, overcast morning is disorienting after so many days of burning summer sunrises. It’s hard to tell what time it is, and next thing we know it’s almost noon. “We should probably get going, huh?” asks J.
“Yeah, I guess.” We bid farewell to our hosts at Swain’s flat (“be careful out there!” “watch out for trucks, man!”) and ease our sore backsides onto our bike seats. Two miles and we’re here – the redwoods. The road is roofed and pillared with tall, stretching trees, and the light is green and dim. We ride into the Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park for showers and some time in the trees. At least, I ride in for a shower. Apparently, dudes don’t need showers. We’ve turned into hiker trash.

There were vague plans of moving on today, but they don’t happen. I feel like the threads connecting this crazy ride to the Pacific Crest Trail are fraying – what am I doing here? What am I doing at all? My PCT crazy-self is creeping back, my neuroticism looking for a new channel. Without having to masochistically punish myself, physically and mentally, with unrealistic expectations for mileage and my own body, what’s the point, right? I’m not sure how to say all this. It’s just that I think I got so wrapped up in an arbitrary goal that I forgot what the point was in the first place. I mean, what’s the point of thru-hike after all? Is there a fairy godmother waiting for me at the northern terminus, to magically grant me a happily-ever-after?

I started this hike to be happy – to be happy now, not later, not after. The northern terminus is only supposed to be a crutch, an aid to getting up in the morning and doing something hard – but it’s not the point. The point is all the days in between, right? Everything is confused and mushed-up in my head. The PCT – for me – isn’t a racecourse, where the culmination is the end. And it’s not a pilgrimage either, quite, where the destination is still as important as the journey to it – the PCT is only a middle, a place to be, a place to move and stay in place, a place where I have to work hard every day, but also a place where I am incredibly free. Which takes me right back to the question of what I’m doing now. I’m not even on the PCT. I don’t even seem to be making a point of trying to get back to it.

J and I have a huge fight, there in the soft ferns under the old, old redwood trees. Life-purpose crises can be tough on relationships. We work it out, plan on making moves tomorrow. I go to bed with a headache, fall asleep to the snores of the campers in the site next to us.