Biking the Pacific Coast: Arcata, CA to San Francisco, CA

I needed to get back to San Francisco. I left my touring bike there a few weeks ago. I finished the ride from Portland and flew to Iowa to ride RAGBRAI with my family. Then in an unexpected twist of fate, I ended up in Tacoma, Washington by way of a giant Penske truck rented by some big rock singers with golden fingers, (and yes, that does mean that they have been on the cover of Rolling Stone).

So anyhow, as I make my way back down the Pacific Coast in a slightly quicker fashion than last time, it seems only fitting to reflect on the last leg of my bike tour down the same route.

So allow me to rewind approximately one month…

Arcata, CA to Humboldt Redwoods State Park (55 miles)

I left Arcata a crying sick mess. I wasn’t quite sure why I was leaving. As we may recall, the whole place really had a hold on me. I hadn’t been on my bike in a while, and I was worried that the 55 miles to the next park would be too much for my land legs.

On the way out of town I took Old Arcata Rd and avoided what the locals called a “dangerous stretch of the 101.” This lesser known route had few hills and spat me out in Eureka. I had already done this stretch of road once before. I had tried to leave Arcata several times. This time, however, I was planning on being more succcessful.

From there, I continued down the usual bike route, trying to knock out the remaining 45+ miles to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. I left late. Sunlight was a commodity. I was worried that I would just whiz through the legendary Avenue of the Giants without being able to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, but to my suprise, the campground was located right in the thick of it. I settled back into my routine of camping, cooking & sleeping with the company of a few cyclists.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park to Standish-Hickey State Park (41.9 miles)

Since I made friends for this leg of the journey, I was moving a bit faster than I am accustomed. Most cyclists cover about 60-80 miles per day whizzing through towns and past the scenery. I am more comfortable stopping nearly everywhere and biking about 30-40 miles. This was a pleasant comprimise.

The morning started with a leisurely stretch through the last leg of The Avenue of the Giants. We stopped for lunch in Garberville. I like Garberville. There were plenty of cute stores and restaurants and even a natural foods store to stock up on a few essentials. I bought a new phone charger at the local Radioshack and had a 6 foot blonde Rasta guy follow me around asking me about Portland and my neon pants. Of course.

We ended up at Standish-Hickey State Park which was quite nice. There was a well stocked store just across the street which had a small restaurant with w-fi. Allelujiah!

Much of the park was closed due to budget cuts, but there was still a great trail down the mountain to pretty decent sized hiker-biker camp centered once again around a bathroom. Since I was much later along in the “bike the coast” season there were a lot more people sharing the space with me. Just a month earlier (May-June) it was entirely possible that I would be the only one in an entire hike-bike area. This time around there were about a dozen other cycle tourists and a group of teenagers from the east coast all making their home in Standish-Hickey that night. Nearly everyone had left before I woke up, but that’s just the way I roll.

All in all, I learned a few things on this stretch of land. Mainly that there are many “world’s only one log house,” and also there are many “world famous drive-thru trees.”

Standish-Hickey State Park to Van Damme State Park (60 miles)

Shortly after Standish-Hickey State Park cyclists start following Hwy 1 instead of 101 bringing cooler weather and more pictureque scenery. I was dreading the ride out because of the ever feared “Leggett Hill.” Essentially its the largest hill on the West Coast standing at around 2000 ft from the ocean. Thankfully, the previous night’s park was halfway up the hill and a mere 1000 foot climb was needed to summit it. It was a challenge, but not completely unreasonable. The unreasonable part was that right after you think you have climbed the worst of it, another identical hill rises out of no where. Great, just great.

I stopped for foods and internet in Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg had beautiful beaches and tons of things to check out. There were also plenty of beautiful parks and campgrounds along the way, but I was trying to catch a plane in San Francisco by this point. I needed to get as far as possible each day. Sixty miles seemed like enough.

Van Damme State Park was also brimming with cycle tourists. The ocean & beach was just across the street, but I was too tired to really enjoy it. Oh well.

Van Damme State Park to Gualala, CA (53 miles)

By this point I was getting pretty used to the view. The terrain, while still breath-taking was becoming repetitive. You ride along the ocean and then dip down around a pristine ocean cove only to immediately climb back up to the top of the cliff over looking the horizon. Over and over and over again. Okay. Okay. So that probably doesn’t sound so bad, but the constant up & down really ruined the whole pretty scenery thing.

Along this leg of the ride I met a few cyclist friends and was invited to stay with some locals in Gualala, CA. The conversation all started when were sitting at a grocery store in small town California when the post office lady mentioned that she was on www.warmshowers.com and had had many cycle tourists stay with her over the past 10 years. Unforunately, however, she lived about 20 miles north of where we were, and there was no way were backtracking just for a place to sleep. Luckily, other locals at the grocery store really liked the idea of taking in cycle tourists and happened to live 15 miles south from where we were. They invited us to come stay with them for the night. We were able to cook meals in a fabulous kitchen, take real showers and do our laundry. Cheers to the kindness of strangers.

Gualala, CA to “Wilderness Camp” outside Tomales Bay, CA (61.5 miles)

With only two days left and well over one hundred miles to go, there was no time for tired. This was one of the only times I didn’t stop and eat out somewhere. I just pulled over along the side of the road and worked my way through a whole loaf of artisan bread, two avocadoes, a slab of smoked salmon and a box of cookies.

I passed up staying at the Bodega Bay Campground because I thought I could cover way more ground before nightfall, but as it turns out, there are not any campgrounds for a very very long time. By the time the sun started to touch the horizon I was scanning the ditches and fields for a place that I could hide my tiny wilderness sanctuary.

There was nothing.

I was able to fill my water bottles at some lady’s house, but she didn’t seem to interested in having a stranger camp in her yard. I tried to crawl in under a bridge, but a team of drunken teenage boys were yelling at me from across the way ruining my potential safe haven.

I tackled two more hills tired and cranky when darkness started to fall.

I settled for an overgrown bush next to a field of cows. I got a horrible nights sleep mostly because I was sleeping in a ditch, but aso because I was convinced that I serial killer was patrolling the area knowing full well that hundreds of ill prepared cycle tourists venture down that stretch of road everyday without being able to make it to the next state park. I woke up with the sun and was on my way.

“Wilderness Camp” outside Tomales Bay, CA to San Francisco, CA (59 or so miles)

The hardest part about this stretch of the ride was keeping straight all the directions. Granted the hills coming into San Francisco were some of the meanest I’ve ever encounter, but really, getting lost about four hundred times was really the kicker. The trick is to take the ferry.

I did, not, however, take the ferry. Instead a took the wrong rode, which led to another hill and another wrong road followed by another hill. I was about to break down when I stopped to charge my phone and checked my location. I was trying to get to the Mission District. I was only 2.6 miles away, but there were hills in every direction. I thought there was no hope until I learned of “The Wiggle,” a local bike route to avoid all the hills. My savior.

I wiggled my way to the heart of the Mission District where I was met with the smiling faces of Mono’s (of Mono Rides) parents waiting with paella on the stove. I had made it.

I never had a working spedometer. I have no idea how many miles I went (all my estimates are taken from Google maps which caters to car routes not bike routes). I don’t even knw how long it took me. I rested. I took time off. I made friends and had a wonderful time. But unfortunately, I think that I am done with bike tour. I think. Maybe. If I can quit, that is….

Other places I biked…

Portland, OR to Pacific City, OR (106 miles)

Pacific City, OR to Coos Bay, OR (142 miles)

Coos Bay, OR to Harris Beach State Park (109 miles)

Harris Beach State Park to Arcata, CA (107 miles)