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.