Day 114: Losing things

Day 114
Miles: 33*
From Port Orford Heads to Bullards Beach

Not even the crack of dawn, and we’re strapping down our gear and rolling out. It’s windy and cold – it’s supposed to be beautiful and calm, right? We aren’t supposed to have a headwind till the afternoon. Life is supposed to go as planned, right?

We go screaming down the steep hill and brake into the coffee shop to warm up. If it’s already windy there’s no point in hurrying. I discover I’ve lost my sunglasses. It’s not too far to where we slept, as the crow flies, but there’s no way I’m riding back up at hill. Darn. I’ve had those glasses since Campo.

We compensate for the wind with long and frequent breaks. I don’t think we’ve been biking more than four hours a day… going back to thru-hiking may be a shock to the system.

We’re inland all day until arriving in Bandon, where we while away a few hours at Face Rocks, yet another spectacular stretch of coast, but it’s as windy here as everywhere else. There’s some debate about what to do or where to go but I’m antsy to get to a camping spot. I so often feel like I don’t have a place – like I’m homeless. I never felt homeless on the PCT. I felt like I was home all the time. Somehow that feeling didn’t transfer to the tiny strip of asphalt right of the white line on the highway.

Food and supplies at the local grocery store – Pacman gets in an involved conversation with a passerby about our trip just as I want to go. He’s posted a cardboard sign on the back of his bike that says “Mexico to Canada”. He uses it to get people’s attention, and from there, to try and talk them into giving us stuff. It’s had a mixed record, attracting more crazies then road magic. Lots of people will talk to us, but no one gives us a cold soda.

From the grocery store it’s a short trip to Bullards Beach campground, set mercifully into a little lowland between the coast and the hills behind us, and we get out of the wind for the first time. The hiker/biker section is small and cramped and packed with cyclists. The rest of the (huge) campground is packed with (huge) RVs. Tent camping is dead here too, I guess. It’s like we’ve kennel-trained our own selves, taught ourselves that we can only be comfortable when we’re separate from each other, hemmed in by walls. We take our boxes with us. Even the other bikers (all in tents) are flabbergasted by our tarp and lack of separation from -outside-. Pacman is cowboy camping tonight and they can’t even start to wrap their heads around that one.

Hopefully we’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight in this campground. It was a bit brisk on the top of the headland last night. I’m thinking fondly of bed when I realize that I’ve lost my titanium spork. My spork! I’m devastated! I was going to pass that thing down to my grandchildren! I hate to lose things. It’s somehow worse when the thing was free. It’s like I’m squandering gifts from the universe.

We spend the evening hanging out with the other cyclists, a motley crew tonight. I think a bike allows for a greater range of traveling styles than backpacking does. There may be some seriously heave packs roaming the trail, but none that weight 150 lbs+, like some of the kits here tonight.

J and I tuck ourselves into the back of crowded campground for bed. “Well,” I say to him, “another day of biking and we ain’t dead yet.”
“Not yet, not yet,” he replies. “Good night Gizmo.”
“Good night Dirtnap.”




Day 113: leisurely afternoons

Day 113
Miles: 27*
From the Rogue River to Port Orford

There’s a man out there, fishing. I rouse myself. “J, did that guy have to walk down the trail by us while we were sleeping?”
J, laying beside me, answers, “I think so.”

I’m creeped out after all.

Pacman is already packed up. We get up and get our stuff and our heads together. The guy finishes fishing and walks past, obviously uncomfortable. “Don’t worry!” I want to tell him. “We’re all respectable, lovely people! Tax-paying good citizens!” I don’t say anything besides good morning. It’s strange to be suspicious. I’m not generally considered to have any dangerous potential.

Even with a stop at a diner for some biscuits and gravy, we’re on the road by 8:30. That’s the time we got up yesterday, so I feel good about that. It’s not windy yet, and we cruise easy out of town, over some hills, through forest, across a long stretch just above the sea – then I catch myself. “Gizmo!” I think. “Are you enjoying yourself??”

I’ll be durned. I am.

We take a break at an ocean overlook. It’s spectacular, like the rest of the coast. “Pacman,” I tell him. “I was thinking about what you said yesterday, about bicycling with a headwind being better than hiking through snow. I haven’t tried that, so I can’t say. But I was thinking about other scenarios.”
  “Oh yeah?”
  “Yeah. Like, would you rather bicycle with a headwind, or ride big mountain passes?” I pause.
  “Passes,” we both chorus in unison.
  I laugh. “Exactly! How about headwinds, or twisty roads with no shoulder?”
  “Headwinds!” we say together. So things could be worse. So far, Oregon has had lovely shoulders, and a lot less traffic. It’s nice to not be terrified all the time. We pass lots of south-bound bicyclists, and one pair on roller-blades. The woman looks absolutely petrified with fear. I hope she’s not planning on taking the 101 south of crescent city. She’ll get killed for sure.

We’re almost to Port Orford when the wind starts picking up. Noon, just like yesterday. It looks like we’re going to have to do all our riding in the morning. Riding into a headwind is a waste of time. It’s only 27 miles from the Rogue River to Port Orford, but it’s our stop for the day. Pacman has some mail to pick up in Bandon, another 27 miles from here, but it’s Saturday. We can’t leave Bandon until the post office opens, so we might as well take our time.

We get seafood, hang out at the dock, hang out at the library. I’m still dreadfully behind on blog posts.

We go up to the Port Orford Headlands, a day-use area with a totally unnecessary hill to get up to it.. The Oregon coast is probably as incredible as the backcountry of Kings Canyon, with the cliffs dropping down to the sea. We cook dinner – a huge pot of spaghetti. “Cheers to the best travel companions,” says Pacman.

Four hours of pedaling, we’re all exhausted. We lay down our sleeping pads for a an illegal camp and fabulous views. We’ll have to clear out early tomorrow.



Picking blackberries by the sea




Day 112: going the wrong way

Day 112
Miles: 27*
From Harris Beach to the Rogue River

Bicyclists aren’t quite the same breed as hikers… 8:30 in the morning and every biker in the campground is still here. We’re the same as ever – last ones out of camp, even here. We haven’t really meshed with the bicyclists that we’ve met so far. It’s obvious that we don’t belong – I feel like we’re the biking equivalent of a wannabe thru-hiker that shows up on the trail with an external frame pack and blue jeans, heading southbound. The thing about the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route, see, is that everyone is SOBO. We’re the only northbounders we’ve met. The other cyclists all think we’re crazy. We know, because every single one of them tells us. “North! Ha ha don’t you know you’re going the wrong way?!” they tell us. I swear, the next person who tells me that… Our steadfast denial of the existence of the seasonal headwinds has so far served as a prophecy.

The plan for today is Port Orford, a fifty mile ride. We’ll see how it goes. It’s a beautiful day, mid-seventies, sunny. The ocean gleams like hammered metal to our left, with tucked away beaches and rocky shores. It’s downright spectacular really. My pictures all look beautiful, all look the same – ocean, cliff, ocean cliff, sunset ocean cliff.

There are couple good-sized climbs today, and my legs burn. I’m having to learn how to watch out for this. When hiking, I can hike through the burn into a steady cruise, but with biking my legs burn and burn. I think on a bicycle I can hang myself out there a little too far, stay geared up a little too high and get myself into a pace I can’t maintain.

We’ve only been going for an hour, but the wind that everyone keeps blabbing about has finally blown in. The headwinds aren’t a hoax after all, a myth of the road planning department in order to keep all the bicyclists on the same side of the road. Our uphills are uphills, but now our straightaways and downhills are uphills too. I feel a strong sense of moral outrage at having to pedal to go downhill. I guess this is what I get for going the wrong way.

At a pullout we stop and drape ourselves over our handlebars, spent. “So this is the headwind everyone kept talking about,” Pacman remarks dryly.
“No kidding,” says J.
“Yeah, this kind of sucks,” I add in. We’ve only done ten miles and we’re exhausted. “Maybe let’s not go all the way to Port Orford today?” I suggest. Everyone else is ok with that.

I’m looking forward to walking again.

The wind gets much worse, but we battle through it for another 16 miles to Gold Beach and a Subway restaurant. We eat our sandwiches and cookies while we try to figure out where to camp. There are day use areas, but no campgrounds nearby, and we don’t have another 10 miles in our aching legs. A chat with a local guy at the Subway diverts us to the south bank of the Rogue River, just north of town, to hopefully find a spot on the river bank to stash our bikes and stealth camp.

About a mile in we find our spot – a little parking area and paths to the river bank. It’s not even creepy. I’m ok with some mild concerns about getting washed away in the high tide or getting attacked by sea lions (why do they sound so close??) and whatever that noise is in the trees in the dark… as long as it’s not people I’m worried about. (So many friends have told me to be sure to be safe on the trail, but as far as I can see, it’s about the safest place around. The fewer people around, the safer you probably are. Just based on personal experience.)

We’re going to try an early start tomorrow to beat the wind, which appears to escalate throughout the afternoon. I hope we have a respite, at least for a little while.



Watching the sea lions hunting salmon in the Rogue River.


Day 111: back in the saddle

Day 111
Miles: 28*
From Crescent City, CA to Harris Beach State Park, OR

This morning is miraculously clear – like we carried the sunshine back with us. It’s our first sunny day since we left hwy 36 – a good day to restart the journey. I’m nervous but it’s time to go.

We meet Pacman at the Burger King, his bicycle leaned against a bench out front. There’s another bicycle there as well. It matches all of ours, but it’s a local itinerant, not a bicycle tourer. I can never decide if we have more in common with bicycled homeless or the lycra-clad vacationers with $2000 machines. We’re our own sub-category, I think.

“Damn son, so good to see you guys,” Pacman tells us. “I fell in love with a homeless girl, gonna come back and marry her.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Well, maybe not. You guys ready to ride?”

And we’re off, riding into the sunshine, happy to be together. It’s good to be reunited with Pacman, our last link to the PCT. This journey feels so derailed, directionless. We’ve left our path and our fellow pilgrims for beaches, redwoods, fog. Restaurants and hot showers. Cell phone service all the time. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Part of me doesn’t believe that this will ever loop back around, but the road is there, it goes north, and that is our cardinal direction of choice.

Roadside blackberries, a pleasant day, the Oregon Border. Oregon! Done with California at last! One hundred and eleven days in California. I wish we’d been able to walk the entire way, to be able to say we walked California one end to the other… Well, we’re still self-powered, and we’re here. Oregon!

As soon as we cross the border the highway shoulder gets wider. This is a good sign. (Almost as good as the Welcome to Oregon sign, ha.) We ride the wide shoulder to Brookings, stop in town. I go in a thrift store on the main drag to try and maybe find some bicycle shorts that aren’t size XL mens, but I buy a pair of gleaming white Nike hi-tops instead. Pacman and J go across the street and spot that says: Brewery. The arrows point down a set of stairs to the building’s basement, and they follow like it’s the Pied Piper. We go down a long hallway into a very small tasting room, with a few locals inside, drinking pints. We plant ourselves on the stools and pretty soon the tiny room is packed to the brim with a friendly crowd from town, pans of food and desserts filling the countertops: it’s their Thursday afternoon potluck. (What is this, Cheers?) They fill our plates and make us tell our stories, egging us on (as if I needed encouragement). One couple offers us a place to stay for the night, but I’m still not very good at taking advantage of hospitality and I somehow flub it, and after everything we end up back on our bicycles, looking for a place to stay. I don’t know if being so reflexively self-reliant is always a virtue. Maybe I should learn to accept help.

Luckily there is a state park just down the road, and we ride the two miles just before sunset, pay $5 each for our hiker/biker spots. J and I go down the cliffs to the beach, a wonderland of gleaming sand, cliff faces, water and light. Cormorants skim the waves. A family of sea otters runs down the beach. Sea otters are terrible runners. They look ridiculous.

The state parks here in Oregon come with free hot showers, but it takes me half an hour of wandering through a vast parking area of RVs to find the bathrooms. I see one family sleeping in a tent, and hundreds of RVs. When did “camping” turn into “RVing”? Why does one night at a camping spot cost $35? I though camping was supposed to be the cheap option, the way for families on a budget to get out and see the world, or at least a way to make your kids learn how to entertain themselves for at least one night without electricity. This place is so lit up you can hardly see the stars.

I’m not even grateful for my shower. The coast is fabulous, but this campground depresses me. I miss being able to sleep under a tree for free.

Goodbye Crescent City



Harris Beach State Park


Day 110: Dunes and lagoons

Day 110
Miles: 0
Crescent City

Another gray morning, a diner breakfast, sea lions on the pier – a bunch of blubbery comics flopping around on each other, only to slide into the water as sleek torpedoes. Dunes and lagoons are the plan for the day.

A (thankfully) short drive and we’re out of the clouds again, in sunny, windy coastal dunes. The whipping grass is an ocean itself, but a mile or so of walking through deep sand takes us to the water. Blue! Like we’ve been transported to a parallel coast – there is no fog bank here, and the sun beats warm on our heads and on the golden sand. I’m sweating and warm from wading in sand, warm enough to get in? J and J’s dad might beat me to it, as we all strip to our bathing suits (or discreet black quikdry undies, if you’re a hiker) and dash into the surf.

I’m always surprised at the power of the ocean, swirling kelp and sand around me, blasting salt under my eyelids as I duck in. I want to be totally immersed, if only for a moment. “I can’t believe you got in!” J exclaims as I stumble out of the breaking waves, gasping.
“Me either!” I call back. “I hate cold water!”

We find smooth bits of shell and tiny agates on the beach, decaying dead seagulls, feathers, kelp. A seal surfs the breakers, looking for fish. I take a nap on the sun-warmed sand, my back just a bit too warm, my wind-blown front just a bit too cold. We leave the beach and hike to the lagoon, pick blackberries until J’s hat is totally full.

Pacman has made it to Crescent City as well – he’s hanging out at the local church, which has a place for traveling bicyclists to crash. We’ll meet back up tomorrow morning, resume this journey. Hard to believe I’m still on a journey, not just on some strange island of time, bordered by the sea. I’ll probably believe it tomorrow when I’m back on the ride of terror.



Dunes and lagoons


Day 109: be still my beating nerves

Day 109
Miles: 0
Crescent City

To wake up inside, a window pane away from the damp and the gray, with no roads to face or miles to make – a luxurious morning. J and I join his parents looking out at the sea, and I sit back while other people make our plans for the day, which is another luxury. Just along for the ride.

The ride takes me along to the Smith River, in search of sunshine and a swimming hole. We find them both, but not before becoming horribly carsick. Carsick?! Me??!! I’ve never been carsick in my life! I am, in turns, outraged and nauseated. Whoo boy, this is what I get for making fun of people getting carsick or motion sick in my old life… I think back to a summer internship in college, spending hours doing science research out on a boat, sitting on the front with my legs over the railing, laughing while everyone else puked over the side… “Well,” I think, “I guess I deserve this.”

A long lazy mid-day at the river, then off to one of the remaining redwood groves. We’re there just about long enough for me to stop feeling woozy, and I stop to think about this little island of giant trees. This entire coast used to be giants – one huge primordial forest, carpeted with ferns, silent with mist and long years, and now it’s just this, little groves so small you can always feel the edges, all named after one long-dead tycoon or another, like pets. I think about the PCT, and it’s amazing that they could put the trail together at all, that there was enough wilderness to string together from one border to another, that the development you’re forced to confront from time to time is still such a small part of the experience. We’re so bad at taking care of this place, this world. Birds that shit in the nest.

As we walk out of that theater of time we pass a family arguing about something – “Hey,” they stop us, then ask: “Is it worth it?”
“Pardon?” I ask, baffled.
“The grove, is it worth walking around in?”
“It’s a half-mile loop,” I answer, confused. It’s a half-mile loop of flat, smooth trail, among some of the biggest, oldest, most beautiful living things on the planet. Is it somehow not worth their time?
“Yeah, we’ve already been into one grove though, so we were wondering if it was just more trees or what.”
“Uh, yeah, just more trees. If you’re into that sort of thing.”

The family continues to debate getting back into their car or walking the half-mile of trees they already drove to. I don’t know why they bothered saving all these little circles of giants. They could have just saved one and have done with it. Put a parking lot at the bottom and charge a $5 entrance fee and an extra $2 to get your picture with it. “Is it worth it? Is it worth it?!” J’s dad shakes his head sharply.

On the way back to the hotel I have to remember to sit up straight, look out the window, eyes straight ahead, and it’s ok. Better to have my stomach tied in knots than my nerves though – hopefully with another day or two off I’ll be ready to face the RVs again.

Father and son


Walking to dinner