Newport, OR to Healdsburg, CA: Rain and redwoods

I decided to take a rest day in Newport as I had been riding for about seven days and I try not to keep going for too long without a break. The motel I was staying in, the Money Saver Motel, felt like luxury to me after a lot of the hotels I had been in, it even had a bath…with actual hot water.  This was good as it was pretty chilly outside with a very sharp wind, enough to make me glad I was not on the bicycle.
Staying in a motel also felt a bit like being on a film set as they are in countless American movies and the one I was in didn’t seem so different from those on screen.

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Newport, it turned out was quite a nice little town with a few separate interesting historical districts that I strolled around.  It did become clear that not many people walk around much in America – it appeared to be pretty much me and homeless people who were not travelling by car through town.
Newport also had a very noisy sea lion colony that was so loud I could hear it in my motel room about a mile away.

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Down there in the bay they also had a piece of a Japanese dock that had floated all the way across the Pacific after the 2011 tsunami.  It was quite poignant to see that piece of concrete left as a reminder of what could happen as easily over here.

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The day I was to leave Newport I rose bright and early ready to set out on some long days.  Unfortunately the only thing that rose bright was me.  The weather was terrible, with rain sheeting down and wind gusting in a headwind.  I needed to ride, so I checked my bags and clothes were as watertight as possible and set out.

In some ways I was lucky in that the worst weather happened in the first half an hour, as I crossed a bridge over the bay of Newport and was battered by wind and rain on a narrow roadway.  This meant that everything else felt merely unpleasant.  On the other hand I got so wet that my shoes and gloves were overloaded with water and I spent the whole day with soggy hands and feet. Thankfully everything else stayed pretty much dry.

I just had to grind along trying to get through it.  At a town I stopped at, to eat a snack under shelter, a lady told me about some of the upcoming sights – a pod of whales I would be able to see and Sea Lions too.  I smiled and thanked her knowing that inside I wasn’t going to see anything in this weather.  This was especially the case as after that town I started riding right on the coast and I was concentrating on keeping my bike on the road in face of high winds rather than on anything to either side of me.

At one point the rain let up for a period and I got a photo of this lighthouse and the coast:

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Throughout the day I’d been trying to find a couchsurfing host to stay with in the town of Reedsport but when I reached the town I had had no luck.  I thus decided to camp but was a bit nervous about doing so as it was already nearly dark and was still raining.
While riding through the town I saw a big RV park with lots of space so thought I would see if I could camp in there.  I could not.  I guess my two man tent would take up too much room. When I see signs for camping and it is just for RVs I can admit that I get a little vexed.

So I rode on hoping to find somewhere, though I couldn’t really see off the road for camping spots.  Then I came upon the Best Budget Inn motel and cracked.  I stopped and went in to ask how much it was and when it was the same as the cheap motel in Newport I gave in and took a room.
This let me dry everything out and meant none of the stuff in my bags got wet which is what would have probably happened if I tried camping.

The next morning dawned pretty much the same as the one before – totally miserably. I steeled myself for another day of unhappy wet riding and began cycling. Luckily it never got as bad as previously and while it was mostly unpleasant I never felt as chilled to the bone and just had to grind through the rainy tedium.

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Incredibly in the afternoon it brightened up a bit and stopped raining. I had been expecting bad weather for the next couple of days and it felt very good to be riding along without getting soaked.

The coast looked really beautiful once it had cleared a bit.

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I didn’t have anywhere specific in mind to stop that night so when I saw a State park with camping coming up I decided to see what it had to offer. In the end it turned out that Humbug Mountain State Park had a lot for a campsite: toilets, showers and nice pitches. All for $5 for hikers and bikers. I was in.

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As I was paying my fees a man came over and said he was going to have a fire and had plenty of food where he was camping and that I should come over. This sounded a lot nicer than spending the whole night slightly damp in my tent so I went over to hang out with the man, who was called Daniel.

This turned into a very nice evening as we got a fire going – although with a lot of effort in the damp. We almost gave up a few times as nothing would take. In the end it did and Daniel cooked a delicious meal over the blaze in a wok and I got to toast my damp toes.

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Daniel turned out to be an interesting chap – he was one of the most disorganised people I’d met, he’d lose his flashlight every five seconds and his car looked like a massive bomb site but he still managed to get things done and done well. He explained he was a US army veteran who was now living up in Newport refitting a boat so he could live on it.
It struck me speaking to him how the US military, at least where I had travelled so far, pervades American society in a way I never felt in Europe. The majority of the people I had spent evenings with thus far had been veterans for instance. In the UK I feel I seldom meet veterans at all, at least that I know of.

Come the morning I rode off with good weather again planning on making it down to Crescent City in California.
I was glad that my last memories of the Oregon coast would be of stunning scenery rather than lashing rain.

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Then the road came off the coast and Oregon was over and it was time to head into a new state.

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And I was pretty excited because it was the Golden State itself: California! Home to Hollywood, Malibu, San Francisco, Disney land or world (I can never remember) and Giant redwoods and a lot more of course.

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After all I had heard about the place I was a little disappointed not to be met by Mickey Mouse and a host of celebrities. Instead it was these guys:

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Which was cool but not what I was expecting.

As I rode through California I eventually found myself in an avenue of large trees and I started to wonder to myself if these were the redwoods I had heard so much about.

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I learned when I reached my Warmshowers hosts for the night, Gerry and Trudy, that while these were redwoods they were new growth. The really impressive old growth trees would be coming up as I rode down through the state and I would see a few tomorrow. Apparently redwoods grow tall quickly but take centuries to fill out their girth.
Gerry and Trudy were a very kind couple of retirees who made me feel very much at home. They were old hands at warmshowers hosting and must have made the lives of countless cyclists much easier who were following the same route as me.
As vegans they made sure I ate much more healthy food than I would have done if I was left to my own devices with some delicious salads and beans. I also got to drink my first glass of wine in I don’t know how long – it had definitely been a while as I could feel it go to my head!
Moving into California I felt that things had changed politically somewhat as well, Obama no longer felt like a dirty word and I didn’t get the impression that Gerry carried a gun while riding his bike (though I didn’t ask).

I was excited to head off from Crescent City as I had been looking forward to seeing the Redwoods for a while and it wasn’t long before I was in amongst them. I found this amazing. I was riding along the normal highway and there were huge old growth redwoods there to see. I was expecting to have had to ride off into some distant national park to see them but no, it couldn’t have been easier.

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The only problem with the trees is that they are so huge and epic that it is beyond my skills as a photographer to fully capture them in all their glory.

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The day’s riding was truly spectacular, I saw pelicans

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and more elk as well as redwood trees and another day without rain felt like a blessing.
For a lot of the day I was on a scenic alternative route that ran alongside the highway which was fantastic. There was hardly any traffic on it so I was free to gawk up at the trees without worrying too much about becoming a smear on the front of some huge truck.

After a solid days riding I made it to McKinleyville where I managed to get in touch with Ryan, a warmshowers host, just as I was about to give up due to rubbish wifi connections.
In the end I was very glad – I spent a great evening with Ryan, who, with the patience of a saint, went over the rules of American football with me while we watched the game. He also, as a biologist working for a forestry company, was able to explain a bit more about redwoods and the nature of California which helped me enjoy it as I rode on in the future.

When he agreed to host me Ryan said that he would be starting for work early and asked if that was OK. I was confident he couldn’t possibly be waking up earlier than I wanted. I was almost wrong as Ryan was leaving at 6:30 meaning a 5:30 wake up time. 5:30 is my target for waking up in the morning which I normally miss by half an hour as it is still dark then. Armed with the knowledge that I had to wake up or inconvenience Ryan that morning I was able to do it and got off for a nice and early start.

It was cold, very cold. I was glad I had been inside over night as there was a lot of frost. On the other hand it was really beautiful, everything was very clear and crisp and I got to see the sun burst over the hills.
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Ryan had said that camping in the area might be an issue as they have a problem with homeless people in the area and I could see that was the case when I passed through the nearby larger town of Eureka. Everyone I saw looked like they had been sleeping on the street. It was quite surprising and something else that I had only really noticed riding in the US. India is perhaps the only other country where I have seen more people who seemed cut loose from society to me.

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That day I would ride through more redwoods. It was clear that they were to some extent a bit of a tourist trap with places advertising drive thru trees and houses built from them too.
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The fact is though that the trees by them self are enough!

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I was once again riding without a specific goal that evening and just pulled off and camped by the highway in the end. I managed to find a spot where the ground sunk away below the level of the road and I was well out of view and felt pretty cosy down there. I was definitely in the middle of nowhere because as soon as darkness fell I could see a sky full of stars, one of the best of the trip. There were clouds of galaxies on view to start with and luckily by the middle of the night clouds of clouds which meant the morning wasn’t freezing.

That night as usual when I am camping I had some haute cuisine, it was some black beans from a can I found by a rubbish bin with some canned chicken chunks thrown in.
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Better than you’d expect!
Followed by a great breakfast of cold oatmeal and trail mix.

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The morning dawned misty and quite chilly and my feet didn’t really warm up until the afternoon. I was now fairly inland, passing down route 101 towards Californian wine country.
First though I had to apparently pass through Californian weed country. I had heard from someone else that marijuana is a big clandestine crop in northern California, behind the so called Redwood Curtain. This became even more apparent when, as I was climbing a hill, a man with a large dog called me over. ‘Do you want to see something cool?’ he asked. My initial thoughts were ‘only in clear sight of the road and preferably with adult supervision’. It transpired that he owned the land I was passing and that there was a large natural bridge down by his place and that I was welcome to go look. It also transpired that he was a weed grower and that according to him everybody else I would see in the area was as well. He said that there were greenhouses everywhere in the dense forests. All of this I found incredible but not as incredible as the fact that national geographic had, according to him, been up filming a reality TV show in which he was starring as the ‘Wildman of Weedville’ in a show called ‘Welcome to Weedville’ (later confirmed by google). He was certainly a character and I will certainly look out for the show – if he isn’t arrested the next time he pulls over a random cyclist and he turns out to work for the FBI or somesuch!

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I saw some more interesting redwood trees on the way.

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I had much fun at seeing all the uses that people seemed to put them to.

That night it was camping time again and I found a spot just off the highway again outside the town of Willits.

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The next day I had arranged to stay with a Warmshowers host and they had told me that I should expect rain the next day. Expecting it didn’t make riding in it any easier. It was another miserable day in the saddle, compounded by the fact that I had been expecting a nice easy ride.

I did though reach my first American summit, it sounds more impressive in feet.

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The rain would continue on and off throughout the day and instead of riding through beautiful sunny wine country and I went through grim rainy whine country as I moaned internally to myself.

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I also got a very unpleasant puncture as well with a massive shard of glass hammering into my tire, too much even for my Schwalbes to take and something I will watch with interest hoping the hole doesn’t get worse…

I was very glad when I arrived at my Warmshowers host that afternoon and was made to feel very welcome in the lovely home of Taya.

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