Day 22 – Outside of Arcata, CA

Over the past few days, I manage to make some slow progress in more rain and hail as I cross into California. Crossing the border into California, I have no idea how the state parks and campgrounds function. The information online is little and usually outdated, and nobody answers the phone at any of the parks I call.

The Redwood National Forests are coming up, and I make plans to camp at Millcreek Campground. Passing into California, the sun starts shining and I wave goodbye to rainy Oregon. The coast has been beautiful, but I am super exhausted both mentally and physically from the “bad” weather. Constantly being wet and alone and having to rush setting up my tent, inhaling breakfast, etc., gets old after two weeks.

After some highway riding, I stumble upon Crescent City fighting against southerly headwinds. I can’t complain though… the city is beautiful and quaint and has tons of rock features along the coast.

I decide to stop at the National Redwood Park visitor center to get some insight into how California’s parks work. Oregon was so organized and evenly spaced out, which made cheap tent camping easy. But I have no idea how California is laid out in this regard.

The visitor center informs me that the National Parks Service co-operates some of the National Redwood Forests with California’s State Park system. This is why there is so much contradictory information online… because the state site will have different information than the national site.

I learn that Millcreek Campground has been shut down for 2 years even though the website says it’s open. Awesome. It sits at the top of a massive hill, so I’m very fortunate to not have tried to camp there and arrived with no Plan B.

I am informed to return north and head to Jedidiah Smith Redwoods and camp at the campgrounds there. $5 hiker/biker sites among the famously massive redwood trees. It’s a bit out of my way, but I can make it before sunset.

Within a half-hour of heading out, I ride over a rusty nail or something sharp. I never did identify the culprit. My front tire explodes off of my rim, leaving me riding my bare wheel on asphalt for a few feet before stopping. My rear tire has a puncture and hisses out air too. I spin the tire fast and the sealant in my tubeless setup does the trick and clogs the hole well enough for now.

There is sealant everywhere from the explosion. It looks like a crime scene, but instead of blood, bright turquoise liquid stains the ground and smells like an artificial lemon-lime flavored sports drink.

Luckily, I have some spare tubes with me and put one in the front. My front wheel is now super wobbly from left to right, but it gets me to camp.

Sleeping under the redwood trees is something else. However, my brain has been everywhere but the present moment lately, and will continue to be for the next few days. I begin to worry about each next step, about how lucky I was that I discovered Millcreek was closed, that I was able to fix my tire, that it wasn’t pouring down rain and freezing when it exploded… I know that whatever comes up, I will figure it out. I have to. I won’t have a choice. Maybe that means getting a stranger with a pickup to bring me to the nearest motel… but I’m not going to be left stranded.

I know this in my head, but I don’t feel it in my body. This anxiousness of the “what ifs” leaves me planning more than usual, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it brings me out of the present moment. I find myself talking to my girlfriend Ana a lot these days to try and “snap out of it” and get back to a positive perspective, but my brain is playing tricks on me.

I hit another day of crazy rain and headwinds as I cycle south towards a different national redwood forest called Prairie Creek. I camp for a night here and my tent gets absolutely soaked. I meet an elderly hiker with Parkinson’s that tells me he has been told he has two years to live. He is extremely friendly and offers to share his food with me in case I didn’t stock up on groceries.

The kindness of strangers has been amazing on this trip. I have a mental list going of all the things people have done for me or offered me during these days on the bike and I return to it every other day when I need a reminder to be grateful.

The park rangers at this campground explain everything to me about how California operates. They answer all of my questions and even give me an iPhone charger after mine short circuits from being wet when I plug it in. That could have been a major setback, as I don’t reach another big city with potential chargers for sale for two days. It’s amazing how much I rely on my phone for planning, navigation, and security.

The rangers give me heaps of trail maps and I get studying in my tent at night. I imagine all of the days I could spend exploring just this one park. I can’t wait to come back with Ana in my van and do some proper backpacking and primitive camping.

People are really curious about my bike whenever I stop. I have lots of older people stop to talk for anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes at a time. It gets tiring after a while, but it is cool to hear their stories and slow down for a bit. Why am I in a rush, after all? The sun sets around 8 PM… I’ll get there.

Waking up the next day, I take a morning hike for a little under two hours because the scenery is too beautiful to pass up. More incredible “old-growth” redwood trees. Old-growth refers to the redwoods that were never cut down. Something like 4% of the remaining redwood trees in the world are old-growth, while the rest were cut down in the early 1900s by the logging industry and replanted in the 1920s. The new-growth trees are much skinnier and shorter.

I encounter another group of four older couples. They’re all friends and on a trip to various vineyards to “drink, laugh, and have fun,” as one member tells me. They’re really fun to talk to for the hour hike. They take pictures of me and I take some of them. It’s nice to have social contact. I’ve been alone and in my head a lot lately.

I then ride to Sue-meg State Park, which is only 35 km south. Somehow, the wind, the rain, and my negativity make it one of the most difficult days. I ran out of fruits and veggies too, so that may have been a factor. One can only eat so much trail mix in a day.

Arriving at the unassuming Sue-meg Park, I continue along the long road to the hiker/biker section. It sits at the edge of a cliff, with massive rock structures and trails to watch a (finally) non-rainy sunset over the ocean. All of this is out of nowhere and totally unexpected. Sign me up!

I needed this. I take a long moment to catch up with Ana and I feel my spirits get better as I talk on the phone overlooking massive Pacific Ocean waves crashing into cliffs. Even though she’s in Brazil, I feel closer to her than ever. Life is good. Reality is fine. Things will work out. This is an adventure. Get on board, Alex.

My bike is making lots of concerning noises, shifting poorly, braking weirdly… it’s been time for a tune-up, but there haven’t been any bike shops along the route for a while. The next day, I cycle like a madman to Arcata to try and get to a bike shop in time before they close for the day. I have found a potential campsite for the night at an RV park… $27 to set up a tent. Very steep! For some reason, I forget that Warm Showers exists until after I arrive and pay… I later find multiple hosts in the area. Oh well… next time!

The bike shop tells me they are too busy to help me, and I have to be in Eureka tomorrow morning to pick up my tent’s footprint/tarp from the UPS Store. I can’t stay in Arcata (which is unfortunate, because it’s a hip little university town with lots of cool vegan eateries and cafés).

My older sister shipped this piece for my tent from Florida, where I left it behind before flying to Vancouver. After crossing two states without somehow ripping the bottom of my tent, I can’t wait to have this for more peace of mind. Plus, I will now be able to set up my tent in the rain… something that has left me damper than I’d like one too many times during the past two weeks. Without the footprint, I have no option but to lay my tent in the rain and put it up as fast as possible to minimize getting the inside soaked. Needless to say, one can see why that’s not a good strategy.

Anyhow, this bike shop has a sister shop in Eureka. They schedule me for 10 AM on Saturday. I’m camping about 45 minutes away from Eureka by bike, so tomorrow I will get to the UPS Store around 9:30, the bike shop at 10 AM, then hopefully make it to the next campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park before sunset. It should be another 100 km day… and I won’t get to start until around noon, once my bike is hopefully finished and ready to rock!

Jam-packed, but it will all work out. It has to one way or another! Today marked a shift in weather. It was sunny all day (really, I swear), and the winds died down. Tomorrow, the southerly winds will switch to northerly and give me that long-awaited Pacific Coast Bicycle Route tailwind that I keep hearing about. Blue skies and tailwinds? Yes, please!

Here’s to more adventure and getting up before sunrise.