09.20.11 – Over the Devils and Through the (Red)woods

The last time I camped in a State Park was back in West Virginia and like it goes there, it was raining. This time there was no rain, no barking dogs and no creek beds with road names. Before breaking camp from my first night on the Oregon coast, I consumed the ever-necessary breakfast, last night’s leftovers of chili-mac-n-cheese. Something felt different as I set off down Highway 101. I had heard Highway 101 was a very popular stretch of road. Aside from the occasional detour, this highway and Highway 1 were the only roads I would travel for the remainder of my ride. The thought put a smile on my face. Traveling to Bandon would present a few hills and 8 other touring cyclists. I met two women from Belgium and Germany, who decided to come all the way stateside and travel what they too had heard, was a very popular ride. For brownie points and perhaps a couple more rain-free days from the coastal gods, I took a moment to adjust the stem for the Belgian woman who complained of some discomfort. The deed would prove good for the day since no rain, not even clouds, came my way.

What did come my way, however, were hills, 7 of them. Seven Devils Road took me away from the coast and through a beautifully wooded section of Oregon. As I slaved up each devil I was reminded by spray painted notes on the pavement just how many more devils I had to ascend. Despite the grueling climbs, the road was overall a fun and adventurous experience. Only a few cars passed by on this 15 mile stretch and at the top of the final hill I was provided a fantastic view of the coast, packed with evergreens as far as I could see. So close to the coast did they grow that it seemed like they might just continue growing right into the ocean, under water for miles. The descent from the peak of Seven Devils is on the video page but I must warn you that it was a lot more fun doing it than watching it. I guess that means you’re just going to have to go do it yourself!

Back on 101 I traveled about 20 miles down a newly paved stretch into Bandon to stay with my hosts, the Kraynik family. Just north of town, Brian and Nichole’s humble abode looked out over the Coquille River to a section of land on the other side that was part of Oregon’s largest land reclamation project to date. Taking down fences and levies, the river was free to fill in this section of land that had previously been used for cattle grazing. Their two children had ample room to rough house with their cats and dogs both inside and out. For dinner, Nichole crafted the most delicious pot of beef and pasta that a traveler could ask for. The Alaskan amber ale completed the meal and sent me into a sound sleep on their unusually deep but exquisitely comfortable couch.

In the morning, Brian woke me up before the sun to paddle into town. Paddle into town? Don’t people drive around here? Well yes they do – after they’ve paddled. You see living on the river has allowed Brian to get out on his kayak or standup paddleboard whenever he liked. This morning he gave me the kayak and with a few of his friends, we float down to the center of Bandon, enjoying the sunrise on the water. What a great way to be introduced to the town of Bandon where the early morning community huddled in the local coffeehouse with the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve had yet.

Leaving Bandon meant leaving behind the last hosting connection I was able to make until San Francisco. Having experienced the great State Park in Florence and the other cyclists on this route, I was not at all concerned about finding places to camp. Most of the riding to Port Orford took place at or near sea-level, where tsunami warning signs were prevalent. Lucky for me, it was another beautiful, tsunami-free day. In Port Orford I got my first glimpse of a rocky adventurous coast to the south. While gathering food supplies at the supermarket, I met Stephanie, a French-Canadian girl from Quebec. As we stepped outside still talking, there appeared 3 other bikers, all French-speaking! Suddenly there were 5 of us and only one, me, who couldn’t understand the conversation. I looked around to make sure I was still in the states and hadn’t stepped through some portal while in the supermarket. While everyone else decided to stop at Humbug Mountain State Park, I decided to continue past the park and see what I might find in the way of stealth camping with a view.

The five miles to the park were right up against the coast, allowing for great views of haystack rocks in the shallow waters. As 101 wrapped around the backside of Humbug Mountain, I passed by the entrance to the park. With the noise of traffic right next to the campground, there was no hesitation in my decision to continue on. A long gradual climb out from behind mountain put me back along the coast where I began my hunt for the ultimate campsite. While scouring for a path towards the water I noticed…a whale! What I almost passed off as a boring rock was in fact the back of a whale surfacing for just a moment. I jammed on my brakes, backed up to the gap in the trees and to my disappointment, it was gone. I stared for 5 intense minutes, hunting for the hump once more but with no success. As I moved on, I relished in that miniscule sighting as a major event of the day. It would prove to be the only whale sighting I would have. Leading behind a small embankment I found a path of sorts that was established enough to imply something was back there but grown in enough to imply people rarely went back there. Too uneven to ride and too thin to walk with my bike, I had to stumble through the brush, pushing my bike along the path. Tucked away from the road I came upon a clearing with more than 180 degrees of coastline view. Further past the clearing was waves of thick brush rolling down to the water’s edge and abruptly dropping off, leaving what I assumed to be a cliff straight down to a sandy shore. Safe from sight and sound, I laid out my footprint and decided to camp under the stars for this glorious night to come. Though much of the heat seemed to be sucked out to sea, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening. As the sun set and stars made their evening debut, I enjoyed the sounds of waves and crickets while dining on a fancy meat and cheese wrap and writing in my notebook. Far from any amenities I felt completely comfortable and slept tucked tightly in my mummy bag.

Before the sun had a chance to peak over the coastal mountains and penetrate my eyes, I was awoken at dawn to another person in the clearing. With only my face poking out of the mummy bag, I sat up like an awkward writhing armless creature and turned to look. Dressed in fatigues and sporting a large bow was a hunter. In my early morning haze I greeted him as best as I could. “Seen any elk or bear around?” he asked me. Shocked by his question, I was happy to tell him I had not. “Are they around here?” Clearly I did not do my wildlife research. Honestly though, why would a bear cross the highway from the safety of the mountains and come to this little strip of land? What could be here that isn’t in the mountains? The prospect of bears tends to stifle one’s desire to snooze so after quick pack job I was back onto the road, making my way south. It took a while for the sun to peak over the mountains and warm me up but by the time I reached Gold Beach for lunch, the morning clouds had moved out to sea and things began to warm up. Somehow, every touring cyclist in that area that day seemed to stop at the same coffee shop. During my half hour hiatus, I counted 12 of us. Some popped in for a bagel to go but a few of us sat down to check email and charge electronics. One of the last to walk in was Stephanie. We talked about our adventures the night before and she confirmed that the state park was not a good choice. I simultaneously felt bad for her and happy that I had seemed to make a good decision. We talked about our plans for the day and since we planned on stopping at the same campground, we decided to ride there together.

Almost immediately south of Gold Beach, we entered into thick fog. Having never really experienced anything like this coastal fog, it was both exciting and a little concerning. At times it was so thick that I had to use my rear flashing light. By the time we arrived at Harris State Beach the fog had vanished and presented long sandy beaches, which Stephanie and I ventured out onto after setting up camp. Climbing on some haystack rocks out into the water, we came upon the most amazing site. There against the rocks both above and below the splashing water were starfish; orange, purple, gray and brown ones. As I gently ran my finger along the leg of one, it felt like rough sandpaper wrapped around soft rubber. After a shower, I rode into town to watch the Eagles figuratively and literally drop the ball against the Chicago Bears. To drown the disappointment, I purchased a McDonalds chicken sandwich and fries before heading back to the campground. When I returned, there were a total of 10 touring cyclists. Seeing all of these people without even trying made me think how many must travel this route any given season. It felt good to be amongst them.

Stephanie and I continued to ride south together and early in the day we arrived at the California border. Of course it didn’t look any different but it sure felt different! Staring at a map of California since Seattle, I had some pretty high expectations. We passed through Smith River, which was quite small and eerily uninhabited. It was the first place I ever witnessed a mobile home and an actual home permanently connected. Then in Crescent City we ran into a few other cyclists from the campsite the night before. It seems I wasn’t the only one with the bright idea to go to chamber of commerce and get a paper map of California. I chose to stop for coffee before leaving town so Stephanie traveled on without me. When I did finally leave town, I was reminded how enjoyable it can be to travel alone. Knowing that friends awaited me on the other side of the upcoming hill helped but there certainly is that great feeling of self-reliance that comes without the presence of others.

As I climbed into the first of many Redwoods National Forests, my legs burned but excitement soared. I found myself enjoying the hills along the coast and enjoying the challenge without concerning myself with how slowly I was moving. There was something about this part of the ride that was different. Maybe it was the comradery of other cyclists; maybe it was the plan to “rough it” a bit by camping more often. Whatever it was, it was different and great. At the bottom of the hill I came upon Stephanie sitting with Guy and Bud, the two Israeli guys I had met my first night on the coast. Guy was wearing fairy wings. Until now I thought I had seen it all. The wings, he said, came from Burning Man, a festival in the Nevada desert where pretty much anything and everything goes. Again, with plans to stop at the same campground, the four of us traveled together, enjoying the large coastal redwoods on either side. In Klamath, we visited it’s only attraction, a drive-thru living redwood. We paid 2 bucks to ride through it and, well; you get what you pay for.

As we climbed the final hill into Prairie Creek State Park, the trees closed in on the road and seemed to get taller. Blocked by these enormous redwoods, the setting sun provided little warmth this late in the day and the last few miles proved quite chilly. By the time we settled into camp and took much needed hot showers, dusk had all but disappeared. Under the dim light of our headlamps, the four of us shared conversation and food before falling back to our campsites. I slept with my tent again and marveled at the stars like I’d never seen them before. Out here you see them all. You really see them all.

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