Thursday, July 12, 2012

The epic past, the liquid now

Woke up at 6:30am to a couple of loud thumps against the house. Eventually, Tupelo's brown goat face emerged around the corner as she snacked on foliage. Later I came upon the contents of my canvas Bike to Work day bag strewn around the deck. Mostly OK, just a little nibbling on the corner of The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick. Also, the bag collected an amazing amount of dirt. And a little of the foam padding was liberated from my helmet. Goat-ed!

A bittersweet farewell to Dad and a hug. Out of Trinidad in the grey mist. Lots of touristas pushing south out of Patricks Point State Park. Full saddlebags with camping gear. I feel a little guilty with my fast-packing setup.
Morning light on Big Lagoon
As I will tell the waitress at breakfast tomorrow morning, the idea of this ride is the unknown. To ride roads that are new to me. And to meet the other crazies in Ashland the day after tomorrow.

When I was a kid we rarely headed north. The route to Portland, 8 hours in a car. Cyclists also rarely head north on 101. Moss invades the northbound shoulder, already miniscule in spots. Glad for my neon yellow jacket.

Leave the highway at Prairie Creek. The sign says 'no commercial vehicles allowed'. Over 20 years I might have visited the park a couple of times. Couldn't really understand what the fuss was about. This quiet road stretches north past the park entrance.

Then, unbelievable trees. Trees upon trees. Along the road and deep, too, as far as the eye can see. Old, huge giants. Redwoods, yes. Can these be Coast Redwoods? The SMALL ones? These are huge, silent, elegant witnesses. Not just redwoods but also cedar, spruce, and fir. From their root systems, patterns of bark, green offshoots at eye level, 300 feet upward into the sky. Incredibly moving just to be in their presence. I  ride slowly. Even the cars show respect.

After this 10-mile reverie, back on 101. Not every road can be the Redwood Scenic Parkway, but in the midst of Pacific vistas and old growth forests the highway somehow manages to be an ugly experience. I imagine three generations of logging trucks hauling away the corpses of trees. A 5-mile hill with bad pavement. Then a fast, long downhill with no shoulder and the aforementioned moss. Semis and cars steaming down the hill behind me. It's never good when the sign says "Watch Your Downhill Speed". Hard to believe this is part of the Pacific Coast Bike Route. I (and the other cyclists) survive.

To restore some faith in humanity I'm gonna bypass Crescent City. Right turn on Humboldt Road before town. Past the Elk Valley Casino, now called Howland Hill Road.  A sign "trailers not recommended". The road tilts upward. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The surface becomes dirt, extremely smooth and well-graded.

All around me is, improbably, another old growth forest. This one-lane dirt road winds through it, trees all around. It's possible to put a foot down and touch them. I've stumbled on some kind of ancient tree vortex. A healing vortex. The world's largest redwoods are here. And unlike us the trees do not run or turn away. They bear everything, with silence.

Signs lead to the Stout Grove and a trail down to the Smith River. I ramble to the river bank, gaze at the water. On a gravel bar a group of school kids enjoys their lunch. Lots of people walk the interpretive trail, their expressions peaceful, open, smiling.

A young woman emerges from the river bank and we talk on the way back to the parking area. A local from the other side of the river, for her it has a mystical, therapeutic presence. She loves its clear, cold, cleansing properties. After spending four years in Davis she was drawn back to the Smith River. Probably as some kind of guide. There's a good swimming hole near Gasquet, according to her, and I have to go in the river to experience it.

A few hours later, after a lovely gradual incline along the river up to Gasquet and Patrick Creek, I do just that.


  1. Wow, those trees put Tunitas to shame!

    1. Totally. These trees are in a whole different league from anything we have near home. They are literally ancient. I love them.