Randle – San Francisco: Ore-gone back to Cali

Kilometres: 2755
Hershey’s “Mr. Goodbars” eaten: About 2755

It’s been a while since my last post, more than one full Oregon ago! This is going to be a long one, I’m afraid, so I’ll break it into sections with helpful little titles and everything.

Mount St. Helens and the Cascades

So when I last left you all I was in the little town of Randle, Washington, about to cut south of Highway 12 past Mount St. Helens. After an age of climbing I finally got this view:

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Mount St. Helens was a perfectly cone-shaped volcano in a similar vein to Japan’s Mount Fuji. Then on May 18th, 1980 the mountain exploded quite spectacularly, flattened a whole swath of forest, poisoned nearby Spirit Lake and killed 57 people. The following sequence was taken on the day of the eruption from the same spot that I took the above photo.

A bloke named Dave struck up a conversation in the parking lot and offered me a lift up into the exciting-sounding “blast zone”, saving me a couple hours’ round trip. If you’re reading Dave, thanks a bunch!

The landslide rolled down into Spirit Lake, poisoning all life in there. While the ecosystem has managed to revive itself, the water’s surface is still carpeted with petrified logs, uprooted by the eruption and washed into the lake.

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The surrounding countryside is still stripped of all but a few scarred trunks, with younger trees slowly making their way skyward.

Washington’s Cascade Mountains are full of snowy peaks, most of which are visible from the foot of Mount St. Helens. My favourite was Mount Adams, which was wearing a hat made of cloud on the day I visited.

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I caught a lift with an Australian couple back to the spot where I’d stashed Baxter, and my heart broke when it became apparent that my climbing was far from done for the day. I felt like a boss as I reached the summit, Sister Sledge crooning from my portable speaker and telling me I’m the “cream of the crop, the tip of the top” (hey, my music taste isn’t on trial here). As I crested the pass, I found another peak waiting and my heart broke again. If it wasn’t for James Brown, I probably wouldn’t have made it.

Having cleared the pass, I pulled over and screamed at the woods and mountains for a full thirty seconds. It felt pretty good. A steep descent and endless hairpin turns finally brought me back to earth.

Portland, Oregon

Portland is a cyclist’s dream. As I rode south along the city’s two main bicycle paths – the urban Eastbank Esplanade and the leafier Springwater on the Williamette – I passed huge numbers of cyclists. There were the usual bearded hipsters on their fixies and middle-aged men in their lycra, but there were also curious amalgamations of the two – bearded hipsters in John Lennon sunglasses sporting lycra suits on carbon fibre road bikes. Older cyclists wobbled around like five-year-olds and homeless men pedalled ancient rust buckets or obviously-stolen swish mountain bikes. Pretty girls eyed Baxter, my bulging panniers and my grimy frame with something approaching flirtatiousness and if ever I stopped at a crossing, friendly locals asked where I’d come from and offered directions.

When I needed to tinker with Baxter a little, I was directed to the Community Cycling Center up on NE Alberta Street. The Cycling Center acts as a workshop where volunteers will help you identify and fix an issue with your bicycle. You can also use their tools. If you feel so obliged, you can donate however much or little as you like. Very, very cool.

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I also visited a place called Velo Cult, which has basically combined a bike shop and a bar. Drinking beer and watching people work on your or somebody else’s bike is pretty novel.

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I couchsurfed with Justin, a burly man’s man who, after years of travelling and couchsurfing around the United States, has opened up the entire first floor and basement of his house to travellers. At any given time, up to 26 people might be staying at his house. It has the air of a hostel and indeed, Justin does a better job of introducing outsiders to his city than the vast majority of hostels and hotels I’ve ever stayed in. Kevin the Kiwi and I arrived at the same time and Justin gave us a thorough tour of his house, pulled out maps to show us Portland’s various districts, and took us on a quick walk around his neighbourhood.

His house is in the southern suburb of Sellwood, a middle-class neighbourhood of big two and three-story houses. At an intersection just down the road, locals have painted a mural on the bitumen. At one corner you’ll find a community noticeboard, where people around the neighbourhood can communicate with one another. There’s also a local newsletter available for free.

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There’s a little playground for local kids to hang out:

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There’s also a book swap and even a tea station, where you can have a cuppa with your neighbours:

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One local has even taken to posting poetry in their front yard:

IMG_0521This all struck me as quite novel and then, at the same time, I thought “why aren’t more places doing this?” Portland does, it seems, live up to a lot of the stereotypes. It is very hipster, a little bit hippy and very bourgeois, at times insufferably so. But this is a place from which cities and towns the world over could probably learn a thing or two.

The Oregon Coast

After four days of blending in with the humans I was ready to become a dirty cyclist again, and after a day and a half of riding and yet another mountain pass, I hit Highway 101 and the famous Oregon coastline. After two weeks’ worth of riding without catching much more than a whisper of any other cycle tourists, suddenly I was surrounded by them. Highway 101 is a bit of a mecca for cyclists and at the tail end of the summer season, there were still plenty around. Oregon even has specialised maps showing gradients and scenic side routes to get you off the Highway which, unfortunately, has an even higher concentration of RVs than bicycles.

American highways, especially scenic stretches like Oregon’s 101, are full of baby boomers careening about in gigantic RVs (camper vans for Australian readers). There are two very strict laws for any RV driver:

1. The bigger your RV, the better. A trailer being towed by a big pick-up truck is OK, but what’s better is when your RV is actually a bus, a veritable mansion on wheels, which tows your four-wheel-drive behind it. Or even better still, when your RV-bus is towing a trailer upon which you’ve managed to fit your four-wheel-drive, plus two Harley Davidson motorcycles. Because it’s not really a vacation if Doug can’t bring his collection of singing fish now, is it?

2. Despite their size, there is absolutely no room in any RV for more than two people – a man and his wife. Otherwise you’ll just end up crowding the living room, bedroom, guest bedroom, kitchen, dining room, storage space and bathroom with all those extra people. How’s Beryl going to watch Ellen on the plasma screen with a third person in the way?

The RV driver has many hobbies. These include milling about to take photos for undoubtedly disinterested grandchildren, taking up the entirety of any given parking lot with the considerable girth of their vehicles and using old-timey phrases like “saddle up,” which actually means “let’s climb back into our heated leather seats”. However, the RV driver’s favourite pastime of all is murdering cyclists. Wherever you ride your bicycle in this great country, you will find RV drivers trying their darndest to hunt you down in your little scrap of highway shoulder (if you have a shoulder at all) and swat you like an insect on their tennis court-sized windscreen. Unfortunately, Doug’s eyesight isn’t what it used to be and Beryl never really learned to drive properly anyway so mostly they hurtle by, missing their quarry by mere inches.

Anyway, I think I’ve worked myself up quite enough about RV drivers. Feast your eyes on the Oregon coastline!

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Pacific City

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Seals! (bottom left)

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South of Coos Bay

Outside Florence I rolled up behind a guy standing with his bike, liberally spraying himself with sunscreen despite intensely overcast skies. His name was Miki and he was on his way from Seattle, where he owns a bike shop, to visit a friend near San Francisco. His load was almost comically (or admirably) small, and his bike’s frame was made of titanium, making it flexible and therefore ridiculously inefficient. We got ice cream in Florence and just like that, we were travelling together. IMG_0604

Miki just south of Point Orford.

He spends a lot of time in supermarkets comparing prices, which not only raised the standard of food I was eating but let me spend more time checking out the little towns we rolled through. His expertise in all things cyclical also saved me a few mechanical headaches. Go say hey at his bike shop – Hello Bicycle – if ever you should find yourself in Seattle.

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In Coos Bay we spent the better part of an afternoon riding from outdoors shop to sports shop to Walmart and back again, looking for a quantity of fuel for my stove that could conceivably be carried on a bicycle. Turns out this is pretty hard to find in bulk-buying America. I couldn’t get over the guns that were for sale – hunting rifles, pistols, shotguns, even automatic assault rifles which would look scary enough in the hands of a trained soldier, let alone the locals perusing bulk peanut butter in the Coos Bay Walmart. Hunting is big among the people of Oregon’s coastline. Gunshots can regularly be heard in certain areas and camouflage hats and shirts adorned with reeds and leaves are very much in fashion. As we left Walmart with several tons’ worth of kerosene I asked Miki, “who actually needs those big black machine guns? Surely you don’t go hunting with something like that.”

“Welcome to America man,” laughed Miki.

Then a guy in a green hat, sunglasses and – I shit you not – purple overalls sidled up and muttered, “Guns are the only thing that keep people at bay.” And with that he stepped into a waiting car, which sped off.

From now on I’m not going onto anyone’s property unless I have written permission, signed in triplicate.

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They like their wooden statues in the Pacific North-West.

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This helpful sign…

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…lead to this! Cheers to Miki for taking the photo.

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Thanks to Miki on behalf of my Mum for this one. 

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Beer and pretzels to celebrate my 2000th kilometre at Harris Beach, just north of Brookings, Oregon.

I could try and wax lyrical about the Oregon coast – the seals that look up at you from the ocean with puppydog eyes, the whales, the cliffs, the eerie morning fog, the friendly towns (Bandon and Pacific City especially!), the spectacular (if not entirely legal) campsites – but you’ll find that on any other blog. There’s a reason so many people ride it. It comes highly recommended.

Going (going) back (back) to Cali (Cali)

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I’ve already camped in a few different places during this trip. Behind a church, highway rest areas and state parks where I really should’ve paid. But as we rolled through the farms around Fort Dicks, California and the sun threatened to dip below the horizon, we tried something new – a school. Indeed, the cleaners and the guy running his dogs on the soccer field didn’t seem to mind us cooking dinner on the tables and chairs in the playground (despite the “No Trespassing” signs), and our tents were well-hidden behind demountable classrooms. Later, Miki decided he needed to use the bathroom and, finding the doors locked, used a knife to try and jimmy the door open. Meanwhile I ran around the yards kicking a basketball at the walls, climbed the monkey bars and swung on the swings. Passersby would’ve wondered what kind of nefarious activities the lock-picking criminal and his tweaking accomplice were up to on the grounds of a middle school late on a Sunday night.

In the morning we were up before dawn to avoid discovery by any early pupils and pulled in to wait for sunrise at the Fort Dicks Market. Locals were keen to discuss the local marijuana-growing industry – apparently the hills are full of weed and gun-toting gangs in those parts – and the cook who made my breakfast burrito, a heavily tattooed latina, said “Sorry lover” as she brushed past me on my way out of the bathroom. An older man with few teeth came in to tell everyone he was “braggin’ today”.

“Why’re you braggin’?” asked somebody.

“My grandson ran in 84 yards and scored himself a touchdown, that’s why. The backers came up on him and he got to zigzagin’, and then he went and outrun ’em all. I never even liked the little shit!” he cried. This same guy is apparently unable to read or write, but made two million dollars by buying and then selling off a garbage disposal company, or so I was told by someone else in the shop.

On top of all this, in a glass case on top of a fridge (next to a large tribute to a dearly departed family dog) sat a large stone, made of foam, that was in a past life a weapon of the Ewoks against Darth Vader’s imperial troops on the moon Endor. Parts of Return of the Jedi were filmed in the redwood forests just up the road, and the owners told us that crew members would regularly come into the shop for meals. When filming finished, they donated an Ewok rock. By this point I was looking around for the cameras – things were feeling almost suspiciously cliched.

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Completed a life goal I never knew I had.

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At first I thought “They do big things here too?!” but it turns out Paul Bunyan is supposed to be a giant. I’m not sure what the deal is with the bull though.

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Someone cut a hole in a redwood and now charges cars to drive through it. They were, however, “Out on erands” (the spelling mistake is theirs, not mine) when we visited so we did it for free.

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Above the fog

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Elk at Elk Prairie

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Standing in a tree with Ron. Thanks to his wife Sue for taking the photo.

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Redwoods are big.

Upon entering California we found ourselves running into several different groups of cyclists, overlapping each other and occasionally camping in the same place. Cycle touring is largely a solitary pursuit for a strange breed of person and getting together with a bunch of them is an interesting experience. There are the older gear enthusiasts, like the fluoro-clad Ron and Sue, who carry all sorts of gadgets and gauges. Jack from Jersey (“the Original Jersey”) wears John Lennon glasses, mutton chops and Dead Kennedys t-shirts while Martin from Canada marveled at the holes in my cooking pot-holder.

“Look at the weight savings!” he kept saying.

Discussions on the merits of camping behind churches vs baseball dugouts fly about, as do cooking tips (Sue-May from Malaysia was a guru in this field) and comparisons of the weight and durability of various types of knives. One morning, Martin decided he didn’t want to carry his olive oil anymore, so the bottle went around the table as we each took long gulps. “It’s all calories,” is a kind of mantra for some. Several days later, Miki and I mixed vegetable soup and porridge for breakfast.

We also ran into a German couple on their way from Alaska to Argentina and Brad the ex-cop from Darwin is doing the same route, only he did a large portion of the Canadian section in a canoe. Jeff, Ryan, Hamilton and Katie are riding a four-person tandem bike from their home in British Columbia to Mexico to raise money for early detection lung cancer research. Have a gander at their website here. Ricardo, Dyer, Riley and Thomas have been on the road for four months now, heading from Alaska to Argentina to tell people’s stories and paint a picture of life in the Americas. You can have a look at their website here.

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Ze Germanz. They’re also towing a trailer.

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Jeff, Hamilton, Ryan and Katie from the Tandem Tour Foundation. It’s very cool to ride alongside four people on one bike.

After a rest day in Arcata at Shannon’s place (who saved us from being homeless on the streets of her city) we got to see some northern California coastline, which is itself pretty darn gorgeous.

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Some places just seem abandoned.

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Eventually, just out of Gualala, Miki’s titanium machine finally gave out. More specifically, his rear wheel fell apart on him. We drank a beer overlooking town and he called his friend in San Mateo to come pick him up. I was on my own once again.

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He was four spokes down on the rear wheel by this point.

On my last night before reaching San Francisco I swam, cooked and camped at Goat Rock Beach.

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Dinner!

Here’s a video I took of one of the descents into Jenner. The actual descent was about double this, but I had to use the selfie camera on my phone as the other one is busted up and I must’ve turned it off at some point. It looks like I’m coming off right at the end on a hairpin but rest assured, I made it OK. You even get a close up shot of my finger a one point! Lucky you!

In the middle of the night, I was awakened by spotlights on my tent and a woman’s voice announcing herself as “Park Police! Open up!”

After over a month of not paying for accommodation, I was about to make up for it all in one big fine. I zipped open my fly and started with a cheerful “G’day!”

She informed me that I wasn’t allowed to camp at this particular beach and in any case, someone had been murdered in the carpark just over there a few weeks ago and I was a long way from the nearest payphone. She’d just wanted to make sure I wasn’t dead. I slept quite soundly after that, as you can probably imagine. But aside from the pouring rain next morning I got off scot-free, and my record remains intact.

So now I’m in Emeryville, just out of San Francisco, staying with Christian, who I lived with back in Brisbane for a while. He’s got a luxurious enough place and I’ll be around here doing not much of anything for the next week or so. I’m going to leave off this stupidly long post with one last photo:

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There’re just too many crazy things going on here. I didn’t know you could surf under the Golden Gate Bridge!

I’ll be heading a little further south along the coast next, and then cutting inland to hopefully go see Yosemite and the desert.

Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Randle – San Francisco: Ore-gone back to Cali

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