It was my last full day on the bike, and I had a lot I still wanted to do, and I was a long way from San Fransisco. So I obviously headed further north into the wilds. After over a week of deserts and mountains I was hungry to see the ocean again, and I really wanted to get to Redwood National Park.
It is so beautiful up here, with a real sense of the untouched wilderness that the pioneers discovered. It isn’t virgin forest at all actually, this whole was logged, and this is second growth. It couldn’t be more different from southern California and feels more like Montana – real ‘a river runs through it’ country.
It is vast and wild, and the forests seem to go on for ever. Also there aren’t many options in terms of roads. At the brilliantly named ‘Happy Camp’ I tried to head north into Oregon on the Greyback road, only to be flagged down by a motorcyclist heading in the opposite way who said the road was under snow ahead, and impassable. Then I had a brilliant moment when after about 160 miles down route 96, at a tiny town called Weitchpec, at the junction of the Trinity and Klamath rivers I’m stopped by a roadblock, and told that the road was closed for repairs after another landslide, and would be only open for half an hour later that afternoon. The expectation seemed to be that we would hang around and wait. So didn’t have time for that so had to take a very sketchy looking Bald Hill Road which started out paved, and eventually turned into a dirt track, over the mountains and took me through the most fabulous country over the crest of the coastal range, until ahead of me was Redwood National Park and in the distance, the Pacific ocean.
Standing up on my pegs riding on the dirt is an absolute joy. And as the road starts to descend around you rise up some of the most dramatic forests on Earth. In these steep ravines logging was too difficult, and so these are the survivors of the vast ancient redwood forest which once cloaked the whole coastline. This is where they filmed the Endor scenes in Return of the Jedi, and it feels so familiar you can imagine you are riding on a speeder bike and being shot at by an Ewok.
There is no way to convey the scale of these trees. I Stopped at Lady Bird Johnson Grove and took tonnes of picture trying to capture their grandeur. But nothing gets close.
Riding down the mountainside, through dense forest as the dappled sunlight illuminates the road is magical. But as I get near sea level, all of a sudden everything is swathed in mist, there is one of the famous northern Californian sea fogs has rolled in and the mood becomes quite dark and quite mysterious. The trees loom out of the mist and disappear into the clouds. But then I can hear the sound of the waves again, and I’m back on the 101 at a tiny town called Orick. I pull over and wander down to the beach. The sand is warm under the sea fog which must be a sign of how quickly the mist rolls in. I take of my helmet lie down and have a nap. Lovely.
South from here is another of the greatest sections of road in California, if not the world. Weaving in and out from the coast, up over the headlands and down along the beaches, and in and out of the sea fog I travel south, loving being back at the ocean. They call this the Redwood Highway, for good reason. Often these giants are right next to the road. I can imagine generations of families in station wagons travelling up this road for their holidays, stopping to drive through the hole carved in the Chandelier tree and looking out for Yogi Bear and Boo-boo.
The road goes on and on, and never gets any less wonderful. You see signposts to the Avenue of the Giants, which is a scenic drive through the Redwoods, next to the highway. It is warm now, and I slow down to try and take it all in, knowing it will end soon.
I have another petrol drama at the next stop. My fuel light came on a few miles back and so pull into a little gas station. But I’d forgotten it was a Sunday and this one was closed. There were two cars there in a similar predicament, wondering which way to the closest gas station. We were just at the junction where between the 101 which becomes a freeway here, and route 1, which sticks closer to the coast, which I was meaning to take, but it was getting late and I’m still a long way north. According to the Satnav there was a Chevron 22 miles down the 101. We set off that direction in convoy in case anyone didn’t make it.
It has now been another massive day, brilliant but tiring, and in my fatigued state I am failing to make decisions about accommodation. I look out for a campsite near the road, but somehow never spot one. Then at Cloverdale, the road descends out of the uplands into the Russian River Valley, and the end of my adventure starts to sink in. It is nice here, vineyard country, but it is familiar, suburban California. And there isn’t much road left ahead of me until San Fransisco.
I faff around badly until it gets dark, order Pizza from a road side place at Willits, and sit outside on this warm evening eating some of the finest pizza I have ever tasted. Then I find a slightly odd, but very nice Wild west style motel and crash out on the deepest, softest mattress you can imagine.