There’s this alternate route listed on our map. Nick had been talking about it for a while, always mentioning that his heart wasn’t set on doing it, that we’d see how we felt about three weeks into the trip, that it was a lot of climbing but there’d be spectacular views, and that he wasn’t trying to convince me to do it. The we’ll-wait-and-see, no-pressure tactic is one he uses often, especially when it’s something he really wants to do, and is afraid of spooking me too early. I knew from the beginning we were going to take The Lost Coast alternate, and I agreed, and was willing. Let me make that clear: the past two days were brought upon me by myself.
That fact is one I dwelled upon at length yesterday, when I found myself climbing yet another hill at seven pm, less than three mph, with only the vaguest idea of where our campsite was. The fact that it was I who chose to climb more than four thousand feet and ride what turned out to be sixty eight miles actually worked out well. No one aside from civil engineers and discourteous drivers bore the brunt of my anger, and with no one really to blame, I got on with it.
We left the hotel from our rest day in Arcata early Sunday morning, eager for a mountain climbing breakfast of eggs and potatoes, but the restaurant wouldn’t open for another hour. We decided to try our luck in Eureka, and ended up on the sole beautiful street of old town at a great bagel place. Breakfast achieved, we headed out in search of a supermarket for more bread and bananas, but only after fixing the first flat of the trip-Nick’s, broken glass-and adjusting my new saddle to not hurt as much.
We made it through farmland to the cool Victorian town of Ferndale, apparently one of the few coastal towns not destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, and had lunch. We rolled slowly past the gorgeous buildings, and then turned right onto a street above which was mounted a spindly wrought iron sign –the kind you usually only see announcing particularly haunted graveyards–with an arrow and the name Petrolia. Good start to the climb, which began immediately, and far too steeply. If we hadn’t spotted the flags and reflectors of the Canadian couples who’d also stayed at the same hotel and had left much earlier than us, I might have stopped, or at least settled into a deep gloom. The distraction of trying not to pant too loudly as you slowly pass four people walking their bikes up one of the steepest hills you’ve ever attempted, nevermind the load, is great. The satisfaction of having passed four people walking pushed me on father and father. Eventually we reached the top after a few water breaks and had lunch overlooking the hillside. Usually the descent makes up for the climb, but not this one. It was an incredibly steep grade and a terribly maintained road full of potholes and gravel and poor patches that hadn’t been tamped at all. My hands and shoulders were aching from braking so hard, and at the bottom, a huge crater unseated me and I nearly fell. Yesterday was a crying day.
Immediately after the descent from hell was an even more ridiculous ascent. I tried to climb, but there was just no way. Nick was standing up and pedaling quickly and going nowhere. I pushed my bike up most of the hill, which isn’t much easier, just without the danger of faking.
When the road finally became reasonable, I tried to get back on, but I ended up not being able to get enough speed quickly and fell to my left. (I usually clip in on my left first, and am less practiced quickly unclipping than on my right) Did I mention it was a crying day? Luckily no trucks came round the corner before I got myself out of the middle of the road. Nothing damaged aside from scuffed bar tape and a scraped knee. I pushed my bike up to a more reasonable spot and managed to get to the top. An even crazier descent followed. We finally got to see the lost coast for about six miles before climbing into farmland again. Someone had two zebras, and they came close, but wouldn’t let me pet them.
More hills, then finally a campground. Shower, food, rolling out muscles, bed.
Since the next day was supposed to be a tougher climb, we decided not to set an alarm and didn’t leave camp till past noon.
The climb started around mile eight and lasted until about sixteen. Nick says the grade was just as steep as the first hill yesterday, but it felt better. We listened to Cake from a Bluetooth speaker strapped to the back of Nick’s bike and took our time. Twenty seven hundred feet. Only one snack beak at mile two. We didn’t really get to see the redwoods until we had basically rejoined the original route.
While I’m glad to know what I am capable of, and I’m glad that nothing from here on out will be as hard as yesterday, I feel a little betrayed by the mapmakers. The Lost Coast was all in all a terrible road through farmland with the slightest hint of ocean.
It might be fun in a car, but then you’d have to avoid crazy people on bikes.
We’re in the avenue of the giants right now. It’s awesome.
Pps. Though it was the worst thing I’ve ever done, I’m amazed that I did it, and glad. Can’t say I would again, but I think pushing my limits was incredibly valuable.