Back On Track: Cycling The Pacific Coast Highway

I did something unthinkable this week. Something so against the fibre of my very being that it makes me shudder to even say it. Come in close, because I’m going to whisper it… I got a bus. In fact, I got two buses. Faced with a choice between a shorter inland route directly to Reno (meh) or getting back on the original planned coastal route via San Francisco (wahoo) – I opted for the latter. And, rather than drill myself with 100 mile days to catch up, I came over all sensible. Fancy that?

THE OREGON COAST, AT LAST

From Portland I threw Boudica on a bus South to Eugene, where it was just 66 miles to the coast, I hopped off and did what the Pet Shop Boys told me to do. I went West. To the coastal town of Florence.

I’d been looking forwards to meeting The Pacific for over a week now, and in my head it was to be a spectacular affair. Dashing ocean views, sunshine, Highway 101 sweeping dramatically close to cliff tops – perhaps even a light spattering of fireworks. Alas, when I found the 101 it was foggy, spitting (not even real rain) and I couldn’t see head nor tail of the ocean. Had I ridden the wrong way?

It had been an early start, and I decided that I at least deserved pancakes and so rolled into a little cafe. There I met Dave and Ron, who, clearly bedazzled by the Pink bike, asked me to pull up a pew. They shouted me brekkie with a side order of conspiracy theory chat and Ron shared his ‘rule of thumb’ (complete with amputated thumb, naturally). “Be patient, or become a patient he said.” With that I was gone. Down highway 101, past the insanely beautiful and quite surreal Oregon Sand dunes and on the 50 miles to catch bus number 2.

THE COASTAL EXPRESS

Bus number 2 ‘The Coastal Express’ was a bit of a gamble. It was the kind of bus who’s website was in different sized Comic Sans, included a photo gallery of ‘Mike at the wheel’ and as you waited in the car park of the local supermarket, you weren’t entirely sure if it was going to turn up at all. But sure enough, a little 12 seater mini van eventually rolled into view. Once aboard, I was catapulted into the slipstream of someone else’s life. It stopped to drop passengers off at their homes, everyone seemed to be called Randy or John, and they all greeted each other with knowing questions: “How’s Linda doing?” “Did your Mom come down to visit in the end?”. It made a fascinating ride. I could see Boudica bobbing safely around on the rack at the front, and I enjoyed listening to the locals patter to while away an hour down the coast.

I got off the bus with just 20 miles to ride, to finally catch up Lydia and a third friend of ours, Laura. It was getting dark, and I was determined to make it. I started down the road with a gritted determination. Suddenly ‘booooooofffff!’ – my back tyre exploded, leaving behind a big hole.

OOOO OFFICER

As if by magic (I’m honestly not sure where he came from) a Highway Patrol officer appeared. “You okay there mam?”. I babbled something about the back tyre and a bus and in true McNuff’ll-Fix-it-herself style “Oh I’ll be okay, I have Gaffa tape.” Then I stopped. And thought. Actually, this sort of is his job. And I was losing light. So I accepted his offer to throw my bike in the boot of his patrol car and drive me to town.

The poor bloke. I’m sure he regretted his decision within about 5 seconds. He relayed something rather official into the radio back to base “Um this is 90214, niner, we have an 1148, chaperone to the shoreline RV park for drop off, and return to post, over”. Well. How exciting I thought. And then I noticed all the pretty lights on the dashboard. And it began. The kid in the candy store was unleashed:

“What does this do?” One word answer.
“Ooooo. And this?!” Silence.
“What’s an 1148? Am I an 1148?” Two word answer.
Silence.
“So… Are you into sports?” “No, not really mam”
“Oh. Well. You must go to he gym or something – you look like you pump iron….”
Wow. I actually just said that.

He finally dropped me off 20 miles down the road with a smile and a nervous wave. I’m not entirely sure he thought I hadn’t escaped from the local mental asylum.

CALIFORNIA – NOT WHAT YOU’D EXPECT

The California coast is so very very different from how I imagined it to be. And I love that. I’ve seen nothing of the white sandy beaches, endless sunshine and abundance of beautiful bodies that Arnie likes to tell us about on tourism commercials. I think all of that business happens south of San Francisco. Northern California, is rugged, foggy, damp and windy. For the most part the sands are dark and the currents of the ocean too dangerous to take more than a quick dip. At one point, as the route left the coast and entered farmland, I turned to the girls and said “I love this, it reminds me of home.” I’m not sure if it was the whiff of cow turd in the air, the terrible road surface, the drizzle or the rolling fields, but something just screamed of England. Ah Blighty. How I miss thee so.

REDWOODS AND THE SONOMA COAST

California is nothing if not varied. The Redwood National Parks in the North are mystical places. Even more so when caked in a thick fog. We rode for miles along the ‘Avenue of the Giants’, clad in high vis jackets, surrounded by some of the biggest tree-beasts I’ve ever seen. Each one watching over us like old grandfather time himself. I thought about the things they must have seen in the 800 years they’d been standing. If trees could talk…

But the Sonoma coast took the bicycling biscuit for me. Route 1 is one of those car commercial roads – a baby smooth surface that wiggles its way round cliffs, in and out of coves and even takes you up above the cloud line. At one point we were riding with our faces only a few metres from soaring birds of pray. It. Was. Epic.

Finally, slowly but surely we began to see more and more people on the roads. We met the ‘weekend warriors’ on their way out from San Francisco as we descended into the city ourselves. Rounding the final bend and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge come into view made my lil heart skip a beat. It’s only a bridge. But when you’ve seen something so many times in pictures, to arrive there having travelled (mostly) under your own steam, makes it just that wee bit more emotional.

We’re exploring the city for a few days now before heading to the desert, and state number 5 – Nevada. It’s going to be hot like the sun out there, and there’s some big passes to climb. I cannie wait.

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