Old men’s beards and naked ladies

As we’ve already established on this blog, Mike is a bit of a train spotter. The sound of an American train horn blaring or level crossing bell clanking cause his ears prick up!

It’s now time to out myself as a plant spotter, although this won’t be much of a surprise to those of you that know me. As we’ve travelled southwards I’ve loved watching the fauna change. In British Columbia fir trees and ferns predominated, through Washington State more huge pine and poplar forests. In Portland we saw the most beautiful roses, the city is called the ‘Rose City’ as the climate is near perfect for these blooms. In Oregon we saw the rain forests; so-called because of the damp climate that provides perfect conditions for the moss and lichen that grows all over the bark of the trees. Sometimes the moss hangs low, apparently it’s called ‘old man’s beard’ by the locals.

Following the coast through Oregon the plants were similar to those you’d find on the British coast: broom and gorse growing wild and Agapanthus and Hydrangeas popular in gardens. The giant redwoods were amazing, but they have already had a mention on the blog.

Not until we reached California did we start to see more arid plants. Succulents, palms, Red Hot Pokers, Douglas Fir, lots of wild fennel and of course Californian poppies. The bright orange flowers are so synonymous with the state they are in fact the state flower. The other plant that grows wild in all of the verges is Pampas grass – they’ve been everywhere since we arrived in California. It’s strange how a plant considered synonymous with the 1970s naff in the UK are so dramatic and impressive here. The other plant that has stuck out on our journey through California is what locals call Naked Ladies. These bright pink lillys have been growing everywhere. The stems are bare of leaves (hence the naked phrase), but the flowers are incredibly pink. Thankfully, they are the only naked ladies we’ve seen so far on our travels!

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Summary – day 12 – Fort Bragg to Sea Ranch (Tuesday 6 September)

Summary – day 12 – Fort Bragg to Sea Ranch (Tuesday 6 September)
Posted by Mike

Estimate: 65 miles, actual: 70.62 miles
Avg. speed: 15.0 mph
Cumulative distance: 1,006.41 miles – we’ve gone through 1,000 miles – well over half-way now. About 800 miles to go!

As we weren’t going to be cycling so far today, we stayed in bed a little longer than usual and had some time to look at the attractive and well-maintained gardens at the Surf Motel and Gardens. The gardens were arranged all the way around the building and in the centre of a large courtyard/car park. There were fountains, gazebos and benches among the planting – it looked really quite special and quite unusual for a fairly inexpensive motel.

We knew that there was a rather nice bicycle store in Fort Bragg and we’d spotted the Fort Bragg Cyclery in a rather large impressive-looking building on Main Street as we rode into town the previous evening. We went back into town to pay them a visit; we needed some spare inner tubes and puncture repair patches, (the ones in Matthew’s puncture repair kit are self-adhesive … these are useless and shouldn’t be used!). The Fort Bragg Cyclery is on the major north/south Pacific coast cycle route, so does good trade with touring cyclist. They have a visitor’s book – so I left an entry telling of our trip celebrating my upcoming 50th birthday and left our blog address – I wonder if the number of hits will increase as a result?!

Matthew picked up a ‘Buildings to Bragg About’ leaflet – a short guide to some of the historic buildings in Fort Bragg and since there was still plenty of time before we needed to set off, we decided to take a bicycle tour of the town and check them out. Many of the older buildings along the Californian coast were destroyed in the 1907 earthquake. So most of the older buildings are from just after then. We had a look at St Michael and All Angels church-a 1902 shingle-style building with a lovely arcaded entrance to a hall on one side; an arts and crafts house and a fantastic 1938 ‘Streamline Moderne’ house – painted white with corner windows; the 1938 Cotton Auditorium built as part of the New Deal and part of secondary school buildings; the 1922 Fort Bragg City Hall, with a big US flag on the side and finally there were lots of interesting wooden shop buildings with apartments above.

Outside a Starbucks coffee shop, we spotted a bicycle, heavily laden with touring equipment. Inside we met Torrie, from Portland and a student of Marine Biological and Art at Oregon State University. An unusual combination, I thought. She’s yet another cyclist who’s interested in a career in environmental conservation work after she graduates. We also spotted two hitchhikers in Fort Bragg (separately); the first that we’ve seen on this trip.

We eventually left Fort Bragg at about 1.00 and headed south on Highway 1 through Caspar, Mendocino, Little River, Albion, past a rather curious little Catholic Cemetery high on a bluff at Cuffeys Cove and bathed in mist, rather reminiscent of a 1950s horror film!

On to Manchester, where we met a delightful woman who was staffing a Save Our Libraries desk in the entrance to the general store.

Point Arena and St Orres followed before – where we passed a Russian-style inn and restaurant.

Puncture #4 (Matthew – rear – again) just before we arrived in Sea Ranch. I didn’t notice that Matthew wasn’t right behind me when I arrived, so had to go back to find him!

It’s been a day of real contrasts: up and down, warm and cold. The road was quiet and characterised by short steep climbs followed by longish curving descents. We were often right by the sea and the cold fog was fairly thick all along the coast. If the road moved inland a little or climbed higher up, we’d find ourselves enjoying warm sunshine. It was an odd sensation. Mostly we were riding in fog, so the few good views out to sea were really appreciated. As we riding along in the mist, we could often hear the waves and once we heard sea lions.

Sea Ranch doesn’t have a town centre, as such. Rather, it’s a series of very nicely designed houses that are well-spaced out in roads that run off Highway 1 towards the sea. There’s a lovely unity of design and appearance to the houses – fairly square and angular, single storey, with large picture windows, wide verandas and all in a uniform silver-grey wood. The houses stand in a wide open grassland, just a few metres from the sea.

Bob and Sophia (+ Tender the beautiful doe-eyed greyhound + Cecil the cat), gave us an extremely warm welcome and made us very comfortable. Bob is a computer programmer, working on games software. Sophia works to prepare environmental impact assessments/reports for new developments. We were little surprised to learn that although they’re listed on Warm Showers, they don’t cycle themselves. Bob is a big hiker, though. Still, it’s really wonderful to come across such generous, warm-hearted, interesting people who are prepared to open up their home to passing cyclists and tourers.

We had a wonderful dinner of pasta and fresh warm bread and told stories from our trip and learned a little about them, too. They’re aiming to live small and minimise their impact, which was quite a boost to some of the things that I’ve been thinking about the importance of consuming less, wasting less and just generally trying to think more about how we live. After dinner we talked until late, while Matthew tickled Tender’s tummy – she looked fantastically relaxed on her back with her fine big paws in the air – it reminded me a little of being back home with our cat, who likes having his tummy tickled, too.

Bob and Sophia are planning a trip to Spain at Easter and we talked about some of the places that they could visit there. Hope they get to the UK, it would be lovely to see them again.

Fighting the muffin-top

Americans are well known for their big hospitality, they are also renowned for their large portion sizes! The global rise in food prices does not appear to have dampened the American desire for ‘super-size’ portions. In a recent interview, the actor Rob Lowe said the thing that he most disliked about his appearance was his ‘muffin-top’. With this I concur with Mr Lowe.

For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase ‘muffin-top’. The muffin-top refers to the bulge that occurs above the waistband, similar to the bulge that appears around the top of a muffin when the content has expanded and overhangs the case during cooking.

I’m afraid that my dreams of being able to eat whatever I like on this holiday have been somewhat confounded by the stubbornness of my muffin-top to reduce – in fact some persons, (I’m sure you can guess who) have suggested that my overhang has increased! I know that all this cycling is likely to increase muscle – but not in this particular part of the body, so I’m afraid that avoiding action is required. It’s easy on the muffins from now on – so less of the ‘eating for England’ and more skinny portions methinks!

Riding high

Our day began with the final few miles of the Avenue of the Giants. The scent from the redwoods and the wild fennel was almost enough to give us a natural high for the rest of the day. The sun was scorching as we left Miranda and stayed with us for a good while.

Passes the first road sign for San Francisco –

Most of today was downhill from the redwoods to the sea, but two significant climbs took us high up through pine forests before bringing us back down on a fast and twisty white-knuckle descent. As we climbed, so did our body temperatures and we built up quite a sweat. The temperature stayed high too – until we descended. As we whizzed down, so did the temperature. By the time we reached the bottom of the descent we were back in the sea-fog. This stayed with us pretty much all the way in to Fort Bragg. It’s a strange kind of fog, not the thick stuff we get in the UK that hangs close to the ground. This fog hovers overhead, blocking out the sun and appearing very spooky as trees and mountains vanish into it above our heads.

Before we started our ascent we stopped at a garage to get sone refreshments. We took advantage of the facilities while we were at it. As we stood by eating, one of the customers heard us talking and asked if I was French! He then went onto ask if ‘we wanted to get high before we set off’. We politely declined as neither of us have ever taken weed or any other mind-bending substances, (I’ve always found there to be plenty of daily occurrences to bend my mind without further assistance). As it turned out the climbs ahead of us provided plenty of highs for one day.

Cycling with giants

Today has been our longest day’s ride so far and the longest of our trip. 122 miles covered today from the foggy coast of north California to the sun-dappled giant redwoods. The final 30 miles were along the Avenue of the Giants – phenomenal, words can’t really describe how awesome these trees are. As it turned out, an unfortunate puncture (a thin piece of wire put three holes in the same inner tube), that held us up by about 30 minutes earlier turned out to be a blessing as it meant we had the avenue virtually to ourselves – hardly any cars at all. We were treated to wafts of cedar, pine and fennel that grows wild along the roadside wherever the sunlight gets through the trees. Tonight we’re sleeping amongst the trees in a wooden cabin – magical. If we weren’t both so sleepy after our long ride it would also be romantic!

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Just one of those days!

Every holiday has them – the days that don’t go to plan or the off-day. The days that you’d quite like to delete. This was one of them. Today should have been an excellent day, beginning with the final 40 miles of Oregon coast and ending with the start of the superb giant redwood forests. Although we got both, fate also intervened leading to some less favourable occurrences. First we had headwind almost all day, as any cyclist knows this saps your soul. It also holds your speed right back, (so we didn’t reach our goal of averaging 15mph today).

Second we had punctures. Not one but two – one of which was a slow one which we pumped up twice to keep us going.

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Finally we had cold fog. So much for welcome to sunny California! From the moment we passed the state border it was a virtual ‘white-out’. It made climbing through the redwoods pretty eerie – although reaching the viewing point above the clouds was amazing, (it was like being in a plane above clouds) before we descended at high speed (terrifyingly) into the fog again. All of this made our ride the longest yet and very tiring. It was a huge relief to get to the Ravenwood Motel in Klameth, our (very comfortable) refuge for tonight. A good night’s rest is what’s needed and a less challenging day tomorrow (fingers crossed).

Air-con for bikes

Cars in the USA are huge. Almost every one that passes is an SUV (the equivalent of Land Rover in the UK). Of course they’re fitted with all mod cons including air-conditioning – but who needs all that expense? As the temperature rises, the touring cyclists can take advantage of the free air-conditioner provided by mother nature. Not only do we get free air-con, we also get free air freshener in a variety of scents. We’ve had fantastic pine forest (think magic tree car air fresheners – but a million times better), ocean breeze (with real ocean), sand dune spray (with exfoliating sand) and cedar sensation (courtesy of the redwood trunks being transported by logging trucks along our route). It’s only a pity that there isn’t a ‘nose-press’ option on this blog for me to share these scents with you. I’m afraid you’ll have to use your imagination (or just visit the toilet cleaner aisle in your nearest supermarket for a very poor approximation!).

Eating for England!

Before we set off, when telling people about our trip lots of people would say “Why do you want to cycle 1800 miles?”

There are clearly many reasons: the thrill of travelling, seeing sights we’d miss if travelling in a car, the challenge and sense of achievement of doing such a journey by bicycle – all very good reasons. There is of course one other good reason – cake! The average male needs to consume about 2500 calories a day. When you’re pedalling around 100 miles a day you can add easily an extra 1500 calories to that.

So ‘guilt-free’ indulgence is the name of the game. Cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and while we’re at it, throw in a few muesli bars to munch on whilst in the saddle. So far I’ve sampled several local delicacies: blueberry fritter, blueberry muffins, blueberry scone (can you see a blueberry trend here!), Portland coffee cake, morning buns, (we all like nice morning bun, don’t we!), oatmeal cookies, (not to be confused with biscuits), banana bread, croissants … the choice just goes on and on … all delicious!

I should point out that we are also consuming more nutritious food stuffs too, (fruit, veg, soya protein etc) and that so far not so much as a lick of ice cream has passed my lips. 1400 or so miles left to go though, so still plenty of time for that when we reach sunny California.

The power of nature

Today has been our first full day of cycling on route 101 along the Pacific Ocean. You don’t have to travel far to be reminded of the power of the sea and wind. In Neskowin, our port for last night, our room looked out over the creek towards the sea. Washed high up on the beach was a huge tree stump that could only have been moved by an almighty storm. Further along the coast there were several signs of the ocean’s attempt to take chunks out of the road. The most startling reminder of the danger from the sea are the frequent road signs telling you that you’re entering a ‘Tsunami hazard zone’. Alongside the usual fire evacuation signs in our hotel were Tsunami evacuation emergency procedures. It’s a very stark reminder that the awful scenes we saw in Japan recently could easily affect any part of this coastline. Fingers crossed that the earth won’t move while we’re here. Thankfully the power of nature helped us on our way today – blowing us all the way! It would be nice if that keeps up all the way to Mexico, but I don’t expect that it will!