Monday, July 11, 2011

Through tree to shining tree - a Fourth of July ride like no other....

Well, I said it...that I had missed biking through the "drive through tree" at Leggett. Bill, that righter of wrongs, decided that we should do a training ride to fix that lapse on my part. Since he works most Saturdays - helping people train to run to raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society - available weekends are few, but with Monday as a holiday, we had some room to roam.
By my standards, this tour was going to be a pretty staid affair - heck, we even knew where we were going to be sleeping - the Willits Super 8 - a couple of days ahead of time, and we had collected up some restaurant reviews, eventually circling in on one that promised the "best burgers in town" because (a) it was an easy recovery walk from the motel, (b) the "best burgers in town" really ought to be investigated, and (c) there was a mention of milkshakes.
So - pretty simple: ride to Willits on Sunday, taking a slight detour to ride through a tree, and ride home on Monday. With the long days, we figured it would be relatively easy to beat daylight each day, so the heavy-duty headlight stayed home. (I did bring a flashlight for a just-in-case light, but never needed it).
We packed the few things we'd need for an overnighter. Bill ended up purchasing a pair of water shoes that squashed flat; his running shoes would've taken up half of his luggage space.
We planned an early departure on Sunday and nearly delivered on it: 7:24 when we rolled off the driveway and onto the mean streets of Arcata.
We made good time in the early miles, reaching the Avenue of the Giants a few minutes before 10AM. I'd been wondering what it would be like to have a touring partner. What we ended up doing, much to my delight, was to ride in a manner that I'd describe as "together-but"....we kept an eye out for each other, never let the other completely out of our sights, but we were riding individually, which left me free to dog the hills (a little bit, though perhaps not as much as I would've if it hadn't been for Bill, up there a ways) and push the flats (though perhaps not as much as I would've if it hadn't been for bill, back there a ways....).
Just about the time we got to a good point for a bathroom break, we were at a "walk-in" tree - the Eternal Tree House in Redcrest. I pressed for the privelege of a few minutes of off-bike time, figuring that this would be our "warm-up" tree. It was actually pretty neat!

From there, we pressed forward at a pretty good clip, coming to a screeching halt in Myers Flat....where there was a sign for - would you believe this? - a drive-through tree! Perhaps this was the "real" drive-through tree, and the Leggett sign was for an imposter. You couldn't tell from the road, so we just had to do it.
Six bucks later, we were in. Through the tree, many photos with help from a fellow tourist. As trees go this one was not a very happy looking specimen, but it was (a) big, and (b) you could drive through it. This was a cool little roadside attraction: they had a "Step-Through Stump" for kids, a "Drive On Log" for SUV's, and a very cute pair of Tree Houses.
Mugging for the camera: Me (left), Bill (right). We're tourists!!!!

By now it was late morning, and we had a ways to go, so we needed to step it up. And it was getting HOT. We'd checked the weather and had expected 60's. It was more like 80. Genuine sweat was rolling off my brow in several places as we approached Garberville, which was to be our lunch stop.
After making a couple of slow, hungry circles around the main drag we settled on Getti Up - a burger joint. Yes, I know - we had already set our sights on burgers for dinner, but there was a theme rolling. We were going to bag two trees, so two burgers didn't seem all that outrageous.
I rarely pan a restaurant. But the Getti Up has got some work to do. This Yelp review - which I found post facto - pretty much sums it up:
              "I should have just stopped when the 14 year old behind the counter 
asked me if I wanted cheese on my cheeseburger."
There was no paper in the bathroom. It took a...bit...longer than you'd expect to bring the food. When it arrived, they gave me fries (after I'd asked for no fries and not paid for them). And they gave me the wrong milkshake. On the plus side, they were very sorry for the mistake, didn't charge me for the fries, and re-made the shake quickly and without complaint, and the food was decent. Still, it would've been reassuring to catch any glimpse of an adult on the premises.
Bill had found a re-route in Google Maps for the one section of Hwy 101 that he figured he'd rather skip - the tight curves around Richardson Grove; it involved taking some back roads from Garberville, taking a hillier route to the west of Piercy and coming out somewhere around the non-hamlet of Dimmick. Looking at the terrain that direction, we were both getting nervous about this - me (sorta-secretly) because of the hills that were very clearly in evidence, and Bill because he knows that in Humboldt County, roads in places that look like that are seldom paved. So we started asking around. When the motorcycle riders didn't recognize the roads we were talking about I figured we would be in deep doo-doo if we went for it. A quick trip to the gas station across the street confirmed this. And a State Patrol officer positively told Bill that the ONLY way to get through to Willits was to take 101 through Richardson Grove. When a stater tells me to take the highway, I'm all over it.
So - 101 it was. And it wasn't bad. What traffic there was was pretty polite. I guess no one was in that much of a hurry.
From here, there's a bit of climbing to Leggiet - home of the second drive-through tree. The Leggett tree is a specimen. Really, really amazing. The park is a huge tourist trap...we stood in line behind a bunch of cars. Everyone stopped to take pictures  (which of course is the main point of the adventure so  you can't blame 'em). Christopher Cross blared from the gift shop speakers.
Same day, different tree....

We were hot enough to justify a couple of minutes' downtime to grab a couple of Dr. Peppers from the machine. After that - more climbing to Laytonville.
By this time, it was getting late in the afternoon. The sun was really beating down. There was a lot of rock and little shade. Lizards were common roadside companions. I was a little overdressed (microweight wool baselayer and knickers). My water was warm and swampy. "Now THIS is RAO training", I thought to myself...turns out that Bill was thinking pretty much the same thing. On the climbs, his big difficulty was staying with me (by that I mean, not totally dusting me). He complained that he just couldn't understand why I could spin up the hills SO SLOWLY at such a high cadence. He was (he thought) in his smallest gear, and was grinding at low RPM rather than spinning at a more reasonable rate. This should've been sounding warning bells in our road-soaked brains - but of course it didn't, because just at the point where things started to get intolerable, we reached Rattlesnake Summit and started a downward trend to Willits.
We made a quick pit stop in Laytonville - replaced the hot swamp water with some sweet tea (me), Coke (Bill), and water (both of us), and shared a sandwich. With 25 miles to go, Bill estimated it would be another 2 hours to get to the hotel. I'd been on this road before, told him it would be one-and-a-half, tops. Then I busted butt to make it happen.
As it turns out, downhill and a slight tailwind makes for brisk riding; 1:17 later we were in Willits, coasting through town, marveling at the gas prices ($3.56/gallon!!!) and settling into the Super 8. After we checked in and set the air conditioning to "Nuclear Winter", hunger won out: we cleaned up just enough to be presentable (using the loose, "not turned away at the door" definition of presentable) and saved the serious showering for after dinner.
Grimaldis was billed as having the best burgers in town. Sports fans, it did not disappoint.. The decor looks like it's been locked in place for a quarter century or more, though some recent touches (compact fluorescent bulbs, high quality tile on the floor) suggest that the owners are doing the basic upkeep.
The burgers were works of art. Bill's was on a French roll, I forget the specifics other than it was immense and made him smile that goofy, man-with-really-good-burger smile immediately. Mine featured grilled onions, bacon, and bleu cheese, and was stellar. The beef was nicely done and had that backyard bbq taste.
Milkshakes weren't on the main menu, but we'd passed an ice cream case and the online reviews had specifically mentioned shakes, so we asked. Yep: chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. Bill had strawberry (again). I had chocolate. They came in tall fountain glasses with whipped cream on top. They were good, but the burgers definitely carried the day.
Bill was giddy from our success, glowing with stories from the road, thinking about the miles completed, really, really happy with the notion of the open road, touring, getting on the bike in one town and stopping someplace entirely different. I added that one of the coolest parts of the adventure is how committed we are. We have no plan B: we will both be pedaling back to Arcata tomorrow. Unlike most riding days, we can't cut it short, or decide we'd rather not, and stay home. And today's tailwind is going to be tomorrow's....yep. Headwind, more likely than not.
We sent the victorious, through-the-tree picture to David, to let him know we were safe in Willits. He sent this back as a warning that our old dog, Cog, may have learned a few new tricks while we were gone:

We decided that an early start was in order, so we picked up some yogurt on the way home for an early breakfast. Hopefully we could be rolling by 6AM....
Without the normal household distractions, we actually rolled a few minutes early. A few miles in, as we were climbing, Bill motioned me over to the side of the road. It turned out that his rear derailleur cable was disastrously out of tension, which meant that he couldn't shift to any of the larger rear cogs. That explained why he was having trouble with finding a high-cadence gear to match mine! We were able to get that resolved just with the barrel adjuster. Life is better with climbing gears!
It was good to get the climb back to Laytonville out of the way early, before it got too warm. In Laytonville, we stopped for Second Breakfast - a bike-touring staple meal that I was delighted to introduce to Bill. Naturally, our eyes fell on Wheels - a local diner. Although it was mainly NASCAR-themed, there was a bicycle on the wall. The French toast was really, really good!
Overall, traffic on 101 was light. Maybe driving on the 4th of July is like flying on Thanksgiving: only the turkeys aren't already where they want to be. 
Laytonville, Leggett - check. We pulled over a bit north of Piercy for fluid replenishment, which meant that we could bypass Garberville. We did take a small detour around Benbow - the State Trooper who'd recommended 101 also mentioned that this was a scenic alternative. We'd not taken it on the way out because it required 2 left turns onto and off of 101, and because the road it bypasses is generally pretty good. But we were in an adventurous was extremely pretty. There was a bit of gravel in one spot, but it was worth it!
By Garberville, the sun and headwinds were indeed fierce. We ditched off 101 and back onto the Avenue of the Giants at Myers Flat, stopping for a bit of lunch. The selection at the minimart was rapacious: $7.00 for a pretty measly-looking sandwich of unknown origin. We opted to make our own, purchasing an avocado, some hamburger buns, and a half pound of roast beef. MUCH tastier. Bill even found a home for the leftover buns!
Compared to 101, the Avenue was shaded and at least partly sheltered from the wind. We tooled along at a reasonable clip, with one good speed challenge thrown in for good measure. I should NOT try to chase cars, even when they're clearly misbehaving. And Bill should probably not chase ME while I'm chasing cars, either. But I'm glad he did, and the speedwork was good for both of us.
Once we leave the shelter of the big trees, the headwinds are back in force. I'm sure it's slowing us down, but I'm not keeping track, really - just making sure that we're going to be home before dark. Fortunately by the time we're this far north, the temperature's down quite a bit.
Next stop - Fern Bridge. Smelling the barn now. We're both a little hungry, and we split up the last of the fluids (he's almost empty, and I've got some to share), with the understanding that we're going to make a beeline for home.
The rest of the way is familiar ground. Loleta, Fields' Landing, Eureka (somehow we managed to make all the lights!), cross over to the waterfront, and we're on the Samoa Bridge. By now I'm pretty hungry. I know we're *supposed* to go to the fireworks display with David and Mary, but I just can't see it happening. What I CAN see happening is a nice, big pizza. I'm actually fantasizing about it: a perfect mixture of meat and veggie toppings, not-too-thick crust, melted and slightly browned cheese....a ginger ale from the fridge. Heck, maybe we could have such a thing delivered and head out to the fireworks. Or - maybe we could have it
With all of this guided imagery going on, my legs were really churning...still into the remnant headwind. I could dimly sense Bill falling back. And I could smell that pizza. Just a little faster won't hurt him....
Whew! Home! Cog is glad to see us, of course. We rack up the bikes, take a good look around, and reach for the fridge. I grab a ginger ale. Bill grabs a root beer. "So I was thinking about tonight", he starts, slowly, almost sheepishly. "We could go to the fireworks..." I cut him off: "..but if we do that, we'll be out until midnight. Maybe we should stay home." He grins. We'd both love to do the fireworks, but - maybe next year. I put out that it would be good to hang here with Cog; sometimes he gets nervous about fireworks, and this is his first year here...."Sounds like a plan", Bill says. "How about we order a pizza? I've been thinking about pizza for the last few miles...."


  1. I would expect no less of an adventure from you two. Want to do it again next weekend? Burgers........

  2. What a wonderful ride report, Sandy! Thank you so much for letting us "tag-along".

  3. Thanks for the review, Sandy. Now we know "the rest of the story". It is always a joy to see you and Bill spinning down the road. I hope to accompany you two on one of your rides some day.