Wednesday, September 8, 2010

FedEx Touring - There and Back Again (Reprise)

I biked to Arcata - and back again - from Florence. The last time I made this trek I did it from my doorstep in Eugene. This time I was riding home, so I fudged. I was pretty sure that I'd not be happy making the right turn up Hwy 126 - so I drove to Florence, neatly cutting 60 miles off of the trip. About 265 miles all told.

I rolled into Florence at about 7AM and hit the Safeway for coffee and a scone, then looked for a likely place to park my van. Where do you leave a van that's visible (so it won't be vandalized) but out of the way (so it won't be towed), for a week, in a town you know nothing about? I picked a spot adjacent to a vacant commercial building that was for sale. I figured it was a safe bet.I got out and started checking over the bike, making my last minute clothing adjustments, etc, when a guy walking his dog came by. He is a Gold Rush owner, had just been to the recumbent retreat. We talk a little about my bike, his bike, ! He might actually keep an eye on the van while I'm gone.

I rolled out a little after 8. Since I'm too much of a bum for credit-card touring, I've invented....FedEx touring. I send the stuff I'd rather not carry down to David's house ahead of time. So I was traveling (relatively) lightly: a spare tire, three tubes, reasonably good tool kit, patch kit, two bottles, a bit of traveling food, and a lot of spare clothes. The race bag was still full to bursting, so I'd have to rely on food stops for the bulk of my nutrition. Not a problem as I'd scoped them out pretty well the last trip: Wendy's in Coos Bay, McVay's in Gold Beach (macaroni and cheese STILL rules!) Oh, yeah - ice cream in Langlois...the market advertises "free water for bikers", which I thought was a good enough reason to stop.

Weather was indifferent - sorta spitty mist - for the first 4 hours, then the promised sun and tailwind made an appearance around Bandon.

I had a headstart on last time, so I ended up crossing into California just at dusk. I pulled into the agricultural inspection station and turned on my lights...The inspector was a bit incredulous..."Awful late for a bike ride, miss". "Yes, sir". "Where are you going?" "Arcata, sir". "Do you KNOW how far that is????" "Yes, sir, I'm visiting friends. I've done this before." "Are you SURE?". "Yes, sir. I have NO FRUIT, sir..." Since he had nothing on me but potential insanity, he let me go.

Last time I'd (famously) stopped at the Crescent City Denny's for the ultimate in randonneuring "coffee stops" - a 4-hour stint where I "couldn't sleep, but"...courtesy of a very kind waitress. This time I made a very quick stop - it was only 9:30 and I didn't want to lose my momentum. I figured that if I made it through to Klamath well before midnight the road would be safest. As it turned out, I was right. The only close pass I got was courtesy of a Franz bread truck. I'd had a lot of trouble managing the bike (handling skills) on the slow-speed climbing on this hill in May. This time, no problem...just slow going.

Past Babe and his Blue Ox right around midnight (I think). By now the fog was starting to settle in and I was glad to have extra light. It was starting to get chilly so I stopped to add a layer. By now it was Really Foggy and I was not feeling confident descending. Plus there were rumble strips. Ask any member of my RAAM crew how I feel about rumble strips; they'll just roll their eyes.

Another good climb, more foggy descending, and I'm bearing down on Arcata. The AM traffic is barely starting to pick up. I didn't remember exactly how to get in to town off the freeway so I accumulated some bonus miles, backtracked, took the Janes Road exit (hey, I'd BEEN on Janes Road...), managed to fumble my way to Alliance and a minimart where I had my AM coffee and a treat, and got my bearings. I left there around 5:40 and figured I'd cruise David's house, see if anyone was up...not having much hope on that, but - HEY! His car is missing. At 6AM. He must SPIN CLASS!

Tracked him down at HealthSPORT. I did a slow lap of the parking lot, trying to figure out if this was the sort of place where they'd give me grief for breaking into David's van and taking a nap in it. I guess I hoped that it was, but...OK. The spin studio is on the front of the building, so I can roll up and bug him. Before I know it, David has my bike, I'm being ushered in, and I'm on..a spin bike??!! To make matters (worse?), Bill is teaching - it's not his usual day, so I guess I got lucky? - and it's a hard class with a lot of hills.
Sports fans, I'm here to tell ya' that it makes good sense to be warmed up adequately for one of Bill's classes, but I may have overshot slightly. That spin class made me a little sore the next day.

Fortunately, Friday was a day of rest, unless you count a particularly gluttonous trip to Costco, where David and I picked up supplies for the weekend bike camping trip. Just after noon on Friday is definitely the time to hit Costco, sample-wise. We stopped by the ribeye station so many times they had to switch to New York steaks just to give us some excuse to come back. I also cleaned my bike, and inspected the tires and brakes - very necessary for the upcoming couple of days' riding.

We were shopping for David's version of the 2-day TUC - a camping weekend punctuated by sporadic biking, epic firebuilding, really good food, and a lot of good storytelling - some of it truthful. The ride goes Saturday and Sunday, over some pretty gnarly territory. I wanted my bike to be in good shape mechanically.
Saturday AM, I rode the 30-something bonus miles to the ride start - a good warmup as it was mostly flat. I left well after Phil - but got there sooner. He was riding 35 very hilly bonus miles, starting from the campground where we'd all spend Saturday night. A good reminder that Sunday's ride was not going to be trivial...

The ride starts tame enough - some warmup miles with a couple of hills, and a great run through the redwoods. I find myself riding with none other than Phil Plath. I entertain myself by convincing him that I've not seen a movie since Blazing Saddles. This is not quite true; anyone who knows me at all knows that I've seen Apollo 13 numerous times. For unexplained (inconceivable?) reasons, Adrienne and Mandy forced me to sit through The Princess Bride. And I guess for the sake of full disclosure I'll admit that I will never make it through Shrek (I) with dry eyes. But I digress...

An excellently staffed lunch stop at the Immortal Tree (thanks, Mary!!!) and off we go. A well-fed assault on Panther Gap means that I'm toting a few more M&M's than was strictly necessary, but - there you go. Up, over, turn at Honeydew, and I rolled into camp. Jim and Phil are already there, Michelle is on the way, Robin has been hanging out in camp, and Mary has gotten there a few minutes ahead of Jim and Phil. We have fudge, but critical errors have been made: the beer is in David's van, which is supporting the second wave of riders. We make do with wine until he gets there, but there's nearly an insurrection.

A quick dunk in the creek is at least as good as a shower - and maybe better. The sun is shining, it's warm, and not too breezy - much nicer than the weekend before. More arrivals - Steve and Noreen - then Tim, Genevieve, and Wendy. Dinner, epic campfire (I'd been a bit taken aback at the quantity of wood David hauled up there, but we managed to do in most of it), stories...Jim brought out the guitar and some more good times ensued. No one knows the words, but we're making an honest effort.

Sleeping under the stars - amazing. I'm looking up at them, just can't imagine how I'll ever fall asleep with so many stars to look at...oh - it's morning!

Great breakfast, and off again...into Petrolia, around  the corner, up the beach (HEADWIND!) and...naw, I'm going to hike The Wall. I've got 400k ahead of me and I don't need to blow anything up. I did ride it out as far as the end of the Tsunami Hazard Zone - it's good to know that you've got what it takes to be safe, just in case. Michelle passed me along this stretch, and Jim caught me and hung around to make sure I was okay, which I was. Downhill all too quickly, then back up. Endless Hill is a little easier going, but the wind is fierce. I let the faster climbers go and took a pee break. A few switchbacks later I found myself in a bit of a jam...stuck in a switchback with a quick grade change, a wind gust, a horse trailer, and...a barbed wire fence. The fence won my business. Fortunately the race bag made first contact; I just sorta "stuck" there and had to slowly undo myself. No damage. I thought I'd snagged the shoulder on my jersey, but even that was unscathed. Lucky!

The herd of Aerosmith-hating cows were out, along the way to the top. I considered humming a few bars to see if they remembered, but I couldn't think of anything appropriate so I let the moment pass. Not far from the top...recumbent...yellow jersey...Bill! Woo-Hoo! Let's ride...over the top, and down we go. Bounced along the road to the fairgrounds. Somewhere in there Bill ejected a water bottle - I never saw it leave, so I'm not sure where. It's probably not the only water bottle on that stretch of road.

Bill had ridden to the fairgrounds, so I went back with him. Because I need the bonus miles - NOT! Great ride, good to have an escort through Eureka. I'd done it early Saturday morning on the trip out but I wasn't 100% certain about the turns on the way back. FUN! The wind played some tricks on us - a soda can was rolling at us at a pretty good clip on the bridge across the bay, making some really impressive noise in the process.

Sunday evening we hung out, regrouped, and made plans for Monday's bike ride. I was heading out, and David and Bill decided to escort me partway. We took the scenic route - very nice: bike path, Clam Beach, Trinidad, Patricks' Point.
Bill (L), and me (R) at Patrick's Point. Sunny Labor Day!

The guys turned around at Big Lagoon, and after just a little bit of stalling, I headed north. The headwind was starting to pick up (nice tailwind for those south-bound). Traffic was pretty heavy - a lot heavier than I've experienced before on 101 - and the northbound lanes didn't seem to have as much of a shoulder. The road in to Crescent City was pretty tough. I "de-biked" a few times to  make sure that cars, trucks, and RV's could get past safely. I pressed through Crescent City with just a convenience store sandwich, and pressed on. By the time I got to Brookings it was after 7PM - still quite light - but when you simply, physically CAN NOT ride past a Dairy Queen it's time to concede the inevitable, grab something to eat, and settle down for the night.

I found a room on the far side of town. The Blue Coast Inn is inexpensive, has clean rooms with space for bike parking, and paper-thin walls. The guy next door snored. But it didn't matter for more than a minute or two...after I parked the bike and grabbed a shower I headed to Rays Food Center a few blocks up the street to pick up breakfast, since I was planning on leaving before breakfast hours the following morning.
Well...that was the plan. I did get out a little after 6 - later than I expected. I was treated to a brilliant blue and pink sunrise moment as I cruised through Boardman State Park. The colors looked oddly familiar - OH! Robin's Fire and Ice fudge! Shortly after, it starts to rain. Just a little...

Breakfast, Part II, in Gold Beach. Double D Cafe. NICE big plate of food, really fast service. I'm there just long enough to get warm-ish and dry-ish. On the road again.

MORE rain, and more, and more. Before I hit Bandon, it's raining hard enough that it really doesn't matter if  it could rain harder - it can't get me wet any faster than it's doing. But it rains harder anyway, pretty much all the way to Reedsport. It's slow going in the rain. Traffic is heavy, and they don't seem to be anticipating northbound bikes. I do see a LOT of bike travelers - fully-loaded touring - heading south, and I got to spend some time chatting with folks. There was a good sized group heading to San Fransisco, and one heading to LA.
The conditions were so sloppy and crappy that I decided to walk the bridges at North Bend and Reedsport. Between the rain, the traffic, and the lack of shoulder, I was at the limit for feeling safe. Shortly after Reedsport, the rain slowed and ultimately stopped, so I was actually starting to dry out when I got back to the van. I crawled into the dry clothes I'd left there, slammed a Boost, and turned on the heat.

The long drive home validated my choice to drive to Florence; if I'd have had to ride back, I'd probably have spent another night. Sure, it's only 60 miles, but - given the conditions, I was glad to be done.

Weekend damages: just over 700 miles. And I'm happy to report that I've gone well over 1200 miles since my last flat tire. Knock on carbon....Next stop: Ring Of Fire.


  1. Sounds like good times! Good luck at ROF...

  2. Sure glad you treated the week like a vacation and not a race! It was great to have you out for the two day TUC. Know that you are always welcome in Arcata. We have plenty of hills yet you be discovered!