Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Crescent City, CA to Eureka, CA- Our Eureka Moment

Well friends, we are hanging out at a hotel in Eureka, about 270 miles north of San Francisco, packing up our panniers and readying them for the flight home. After almost exactly one month on the road we've decided to return to base camp a bit ahead of schedule.

It is fitting that our tour is ending in Eureka, because yesterday it was a true Eureka Moment that convinced us it was time to head home. We were biking along a scenic alternate route that took us alongside some beautiful coastline. But instead of feeling that uplifting of spirit that we usually experienced when we saw coastal beauty, and which made all the hills and the cold and the fog and the homesickness worth it, I didn't feel anything. Arik took some perfunctory photos, but at that moment we realized the negatives outweighed the positives. It was a conviction that had been a few weeks in the making, but that we'd hoped would pass with time and distance.

In the movies, it's moments like that that make heroes. They dig deep, persevere, and are rewarded in the end. But, and this is tough for someone as prideful as I am to say, we aren't heroes. We're two kids who set off on an adventurous vacation and ended up struggling through a vacation-less adventure. And though we are confident we physically and mentally could have climbed the hills and negotiated the traffic and powered through the crappy weather that loomed ahead, it just isn't how we wanted to spend another month.

What we've known all along, but what was really driven home by the challenges we faced, is that there were real heroes along for the ride- they were on our shirts. With cancer, there is no returning to base camp or taking a breather. It's a constant, wearying battle, and it's one I'm glad we were able to take some small part in with our fundraising. I wish we could've crossed the finish line in San Diego on behalf of the people we ride for. It was certainly what weighed most heavily on our minds during our decisionmaking process: we didn't want to let anyone down.

Ultimately we painted ourselves into a corner a bit by making our post-school, pre-working world vacation also a goal-oriented, cause-fighting task, and trying to strike that balance ended up wearing us down. Despite that, we don't regret a thing. There are certainly things we could have done differently that would have made things go a bit more smoothly: we could have trained more and gotten some touring experience under our belts, or we could have left without a particular destination in mind and just aimed to get as far as we could. But the month long tour we ended up doing was the toughest, coolest, most rewarding thing we've done, warts and all. We traveled 931 miles, and covered half the country, under our own power. We are proud, we are humbled, and we are ready to go home.

For completeness' sake, here's what happened in the days since our last update:

First, I forgot to mention 2 funny episodes that happened on prior days:

1. We've had to get creative with doing laundry, and Arik's been trying out some unusual methods. The night we stayed at Bullard's Beach State Park (here's the post) Arik took a shower in his dirty clothes and scrubbed them clean. We didn't have anywhere to tie a clothesline, so he just draped the clothes over our bikes. In the morning, he found his yellow tank top laying on a bush close to another campsite. He was confused and walked over to pick it up when the campers told him they'd found it on the ground that morning. Was it the wind? It seemed strange that the wind would've picked up that shirt and flung it 20 feet away while leaving the other clothes undisturbed. Still flummoxed, Arik walked back to our tent, at which time I spied some small gashes on the back of the shirt. I said "did some creature get ahold of your shirt?" Bearded Tom called out, "oh yes- that must be it! There was a raccoon roaming around this morning!" So Arik's shirt, which has already been smeared and stained, just gained a little more character.

2. The following is a tale of danger, chivalry, and death: A number of times we've encountered road construction on our tour, and a common scenario involves a 2 lane road that winds through mountains and along the coast. The construction crews close the road down to 1 lane, then hold stop signs on each end so each lane eventually gets to go. Arik and I usually ride to the front of the line of stopped cars, then wait for them all to pass before bringing up the rear.

At one such stop, Arik decided to go without waiting because we had a shoulder. I wasn't expecting it, and in my haste to get moving my feet slipped off the pedals and my bike wobbled. Anxious to right myself, I turned the handlebars and ended up turning onto gravel, where I promptly slipped and front of the whole line of slowly passing cars and the construction guy holding the stop sign. Arik leapt off his bike, laid it on the ground, and hustled over to help me up. The sting from my skinned knee was nothing compared to my bruised pride. Saved by my knight, we remounted our steeds and rode off.

About 10 miles later, while struggling slowly up the hill, Arik cried out, "oh no! Where's my sabre!" After looking around on the ground, we realized that it must have come unvelcroed when he put his bike down to help me. We mourned its loss but decided it had died as it had lived: valiantly.

8/30/09- Crescent City, CA to Elk Prairie State Park- 35 miles, 3 hours, 50 mins on the bikes

We picked up cookies and jam at a great natural foods store on our way out of Crescent City and tackled the biggest hill of the trip so far just a little outside of town. It was cold and foggy, but we made it up pretty well and enjoyed a big, fun descent. Arik was freezing after the downhill and had to put on another layer. Not long afterward, we climbed the second highest hill of the trip. Though not as steep as the first, it was much longer and I started to feel nauseous and light headed. We had to stop every mile or so so I could collect my wits.

Cold and Foggy

I felt a bit better once we got to the bottom and started cruising through the Redwood forest. The trees were incredible- towering and huge. We stopped for some pix and as Arik was setting up I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, basking in the serenity of the woods.

Evil Redwood





We rolled into Elk Prairie State Park, which was indeed located right next to a prairie set aside for wild elk. We saw baby deer and for the first time dealt with a park where the bear threat was quite real. We had to put all of our food and anything that could give off a scent (shampoos, deodorant etc) in a bear locker and report any aggressive behavior to park rangers- it was intense! It was also the first park where we didn't get any cell reception, so our parents ended up a little worried.

We enjoyed a great shower and afterward met Bill, a 60-something tour veteran who was biking from Eugene, OR to San Luis Obispo, CA with his wife. They do a ton of tours together, which we thought was pretty sweet. Had some red beans and rice and shared a tasty cookie, then retired to the tent to read. This was pretty tough b/c a huge flock of blue jays decided our site was a cool place to hang out and squawk- it felt like we were caught in a Hitchcock scene.

8/31/09- Elk Prairie State Park to Eureka, CA- 52 miles, 5 hours, 33 mins on the bikes

We got movin' pretty early and saw a beautiful deer on the way out of the park:

A little down the road we happened upon a huge elk just chillin' in somebody's front yard, totally unperturbed by the cars flying by or the curious onlookers who stopped for a peek:

We took a scenic alternate route and experienced the turning point I talked about earlier. There were some stretches where the road became a mess of sand and gravel- I have no idea how people tour on skinny tires since we were slip-slidin' along on our hybrid ones.

We made it to McKinleyville ("Where Horses Have the Right of Way") and rode along a bike path that went parallel to the highway- it was nice to not have to worry about cars for a change. The path turned into a rural road that curved through farms, went over a bridge, and then into Arcata. We rode by Humboldt State University and maneuvered through skateboarders and bikers. We got a bit turned around and ended up having to decide whether to get on Hwy 101 (there was a sign that said "Pacific Coast Bike Route") or to try to follow our map (we'd made a wrong turn somewhere). After much debate, we opted for 101, which ended up being a bit scary because it was a true freeway, with cars going above freeway speeds. It was also frigid, but it had been all day.

As we rode along 101 I spied something sticking out of Arik's back tire, flapping as the wheel rotated. I thought it was a piece of cardboard and told him to stop so I could swat it off. Turns out it was a nail-type thing and he had a flat. We pulled off the highway close to some old railroad tracks in the cold and both had a mini-breakdown. Despite our best intentions, in the past week or so the trip had stopped being about the journey and all about the destination: we counted down the miles, dreaded the hills, and looked forward to just making it to the train at the end. We both said we wanted to go home but agreed to think about it as we finished our ride.

Checked into a good hotel in Eureka, called our parents for advice, and decided to go home. It sucked that we wouldn't be able to meet our pals in San Francisco but we couldn't imagine another month of this stuff. Once we made the decision we felt a huge weight lift off our shoulders. We joked and laughed and were full on happy for the first time in a while. We bought plane tickets, then celebrated with burritos and margaritas at a place called Rita's.

Updated: 9/1/09

Got up early, went to FedEx to ship some of our bulkier gear home, then rode to a bike shop called Sport and Cycle. Dan, the bike mechanic, was awesome. He boxed up our bikes for a fair price and even offered to drive us to the airport in the morning. We left a FedEx label with him and he'll have them pick up the bikes. The walk back was long but pleasant- all the big stuff we had to do was taken care of and we could just enjoy the day. We stopped by the Northcoast Co-op, a massive Whole Foods-size co-op, and got some tasty treats, then headed back to the hotel. Reserved an airport shuttle for the next morning (the hotel paid- woo hoo!), then chilled in the room.

We hit up Lost Coast Brewery for dinner, and enjoyed veggie burgers and their homemade brews (Great White for Arik, Raspberry Brown for me).


Thanks to four connections, we actually made it all the way down the coast, just not the way we'd originally intended. We flew from Eureka to San Francisco to San Diego to Denver and finally, 10 hours later, to Dallas. We had a beautiful view of San Francisco and got to see the Golden Gate Bridge as our plane did a loop around the city.

My parents graciously picked us up and Arik's mama stayed up to meet us at home. We also finally got to see our little bear cub Guido. We were worn out from a long day of traveling but pumped up about being home.

Some General Thoughts on Touring

Despite the premature end to the trip, I still firmly believe that seeing things by bicycle is awesome, and usually far superior to glimpsing the world from a speeding car. We did have to put up with a lot of crap you take for granted while driving (bad weather, bad roads, steep hills, feeling invisible etc) but we also saw things we never would have seen from a car. The bikes forced us to slow down and gave us incredible flexibility. We could pull over to look at a vista without having to wait for the "scenic outlook." We saw hawks and deer and elk and rabbits that would've been missed from the driver's seat. We felt the wind in our hair and the sun on our skin on the good days and the rain on our chests and the cold on our fingertips on the tough ones. For better and worse, we felt alive. And I would highly recommend touring as way to travel. Some tips we wish we'd known ahead of time though:

- Start with smaller tours. For 2 big reasons: 1. You can test out your gear and work out the kinks ahead of time. Our gear ended up working out perfectly but we lucked out. 2. You can get your daily mileage up. We averaged around 40 miles/day, which is why our tour ended up taking so long. Many riders average 60-90 miles/day, and can do so comfortably. We would've been a lot less homesick if we had a higher daily average.

- Have a fat wallet or be cool without showers. We initially planned to camp every night a week but one, which we'd spend in a hotel. The trouble was, we wanted a shower every night- can't sleep after sweating all day without one. That meant the county parks and primitive sites (which don't have water at all) were off the table. We also didn't want to stay in RV parks (not big fans of RVs at all). So our options were mostly limited to state parks, which weren't always available on the route. We ended up in hotels/motels much more often than we'd planned, and that made a big dent in our wallets.

- Most essential gear: helmet mirrors. We picked these up in Vancouver and do not think we could have made it without them. I found myself looking up to check the mirror even when I was walking around helmet-less in town- that's how much we loved and relied on those things. Here's the one we bought, but I'm sure any one that clips to a visor would work: 3rd Eye Helmet Mirror

- Essential, but not as essential as the mirrors
A funny touring observation: one of the highlights of our trip was meeting all the tourers along the way. We determined they could almost without exception be divided into two categories: 1. The Type A overachievers who like doing hardcore stuff and/or were crossing things off the "Things Accomplished People Do Before They Die" list and 2. The super chill, go with the flow tourers, who were usually bearded (a la bearded Tom) and/or over 60 (these guys were our favorites). When we set out on the tour, we made a concerted effort to stay in category 2, but as the tour progressed, we ended up creating a third category, and one I would recommend avoiding: 3. People counting down the days till the tour's over.

A Few Final Thoughts

To those who donated, followed the blog, or sent us words of encouragement, our deepest thanks. I don't know how many times we'd come in drained by a tough day of riding and be instantly perked up when we heard your voices or read your words. To those we rode for, keep up the good fight. Thinking of you kept us riding longer than we would have and was sometimes the only reason we kept going.

Be well,

Arik and Mia

P.S. Arik's gonna pretty up some of the best pix and make a slideshow- check back if you wanna check it out