Klamath Falls, Or - Crescent City, Ca : 194 miles. Total: 3674 miles
Do I have an exam tomorrow? A job interview? This is how I feel, I am afraid I will sleep in and I won't hear the alarm and I will miss some unmissable event but how irrational is that, it has never happened on the ride and knowing how anxious I am to haul ass out of here I won't sleep a wink. Tomorrow will be just another day on the bike anyway. Will it? At 5.50 I am lying on the floor trying to stretch my hips and back, the room is practically dark, just as dark as the sky and outside all the street lights are on, the traffic light is flashing yellow and virtually not a single car transits on the road, through the window I can see a burly man cleaning a bench outside the gas station and after a few seconds a large white truck pulls in, the engine hisses before it goes quiet and the dawn is silent again. I grab my right ankle with my right hand and I bring it up to my right ass cheek, I keep looking outside with glassy eyes, after a minute I say out loud "what the hell is wrong with you? what are you doing?". I shave. That feels good, the absence of facial hair reveals two slightly hollowed cheeks and marked bags under my eyes. I figure on average I sleep 4 to 5 hours a night on the ride. Day 30, how I am still going strong is a half miracle. I stare at my face in the mirror letting water run from the tap. I still look tired and sunburnt and emaciated but having a fresh face reflects on my soul. I suddenly realize that I am hungry and at 6.25 the buffet must be open already. I do some serious damage at breakfast. Today I go heavy on eggs and burgers. I always stay away from this stuff in the morning, I don't want to feel bloated on the bike. But today I am in the mood for it; 4 burgers, 4 biscuits and a large spoonful of scrambled eggs, what a pig! Too much food? This could be a mistake. Let's see. I am on the road at 7.15 and the air is really cold. I am glad I have my long sleeves on. I wait to wear the rain cover but I know I will need it soon. I ride through downtown, which is tiny, basically just one main st lined with a few stores, restaurants and the courthouse and the public library. I take 66 west and for the first few miles yellow school buses dodge me and pass me. Kids turn their heads and look at me laughing, sneering, who is that crazy guy on a bike? What is he doing? Yes, kids laugh now but wait a few more years and you will get crazy ideas into your heads too. My eyes are watery, my hands, nose and feet frozen solid and my nose is producing the usual slimy mess me that splashes all over my clean clothes. There is no shoulder on the road and the lane is narrow and slippery from the night dew that I don't dare take one hand off my handlebars to blow my nose. It just runs continuously on its own. I know I already look like a mess and I am only 5 miles into the ride. Past Keno the road enters a thick forest and traffic totally thins out. I ride the next 30 miles completely alone, which is weird because the whole area surrounding this forest is relatively densely populated so I am surprised that I don't bump into a single vehicle. At any rate, I quickly don the rain cover because the temperature stays low, at Keno the clock reads 50F. The road goes up and I do work a little to climb the 5-mile hill but the grade isn't steeper than 6% at best, so I just take my time and begin to feel some life traveling back into my feet. My hands are still frozen and so red that I can hardly use my fingers to take pictures. Despite the cold I feel good, a little heavy on the stomach but full of energy. I want to get far today, the original plan was to stop in Grant Pass but the weather looks good so far and if the wind stays asleep maybe I could shoot for Cave Junction, on the Redwood Hwy, only a few miles from the state line. That would be great, it would mean that tomorrow morning I will be in California.
The climb ends and instead of a decent the road stays flat, like I am riding on a ridgeline. I don't see any slopes to my sides so I guess I am on a plateau. The land is completely covered in thick green trees. I cruise in the cool morning with the sun beating down on my back which does nothing to warm me, it is still very cold and I wish I had another sweater. After a few miles I descend for maybe a mile and then I climb again. I fly past rolling hills with pine trees on the tops and rocky outcroppings and large patches of sagebrush lower down. I am really enjoying the ride through the forest, the smell of pine trees is strong and makes me smile; from the Oregon desert to the Oregon hills, wild, lush, full of fragrance. I close my eyes and breathe deeply, like I have just buried my nose in a bucket of freshly cut flowers. It is so incredibly quiet and all I hear is the whooshing sound of my wheels on the pavement. I am surprised at this solitude, I did not expect this today but I love it.
As I move west the weather begins to change a little, heavy clouds move in from the south and the road climbs up again and this is the second and last pass, just like the guy at the bike shop told me yesterday. This climb is shorter but steeper and it takes me well into the clouds where the air is sharper and cooler. This must lower than 50F now. I am gritting my teeth and my whole body is almost shaking, the prospect of the hot California sun doesn't do me any good because that land is too far. I just try to focus on the next mile and nothing else. I am very keen to move my legs as fast as I can to keep the blood circulating through my body. Fog spills thickly but silently over the road as I gain altitude. I hear only birds and crickets when I stop to take a picture. As I gain even more elevation the fog turns thicker, and soon the tiniest drops of water form at the end of the hairs on my arms. Not long after, gray fills the road almost entirely and I can't see more than a hundred feet in front of me. I talk to myself about how amazing it is as I pedal. I feel like I am on another planet or I am the only person within 500 miles. It is cold and eerie but it is all so beautiful. I stand on the pedals to gain speed and pass a couple of wild turkeys, who instantly bolt into the woods, heads bobbing wildly back and forth. The farther I go, the more subtle the terrain becomes, with gently rolling ups and downs taking the place of long climbs. When I crest the pass I am so cold that I don't even think about stopping. Then just after the pass the road drops abruptly but the usual signs that warn such peril are not there. The descend is fast and long, almost 8 miles. Initially I thought it was going to be a gentle drop but as soon as I exit the clouds I see the road meandering around the mountain and hugging the side like a lace on a corset. Wow, as I glue my stare to the white line and my fingers on the breaks, I realize that this is it, the road will take me down and I will never ride above 2000ft again on this ride. I am saying goodbye to this kind of elevations. I am saying goodbye to the mountains. I shake uncontrollably on the way down and, aside from a few seconds when I shoot a video, I don't stop at all, all the way to the valley. 8 miles of cold air and pent-up tension. I finally reach the bottom of the Ashland valley and it is a whole new world. Cars again, people again. The valley is incredibly prosperous-looking, filled with vineyards, classy wine tasting places, fruit vendors, elegant signs to eateries and the likes. I feel like I am back to a civilized world after riding for more than two hours in a forest all alone, in the company of a few deers and free range livestock. As I ride though the town of Ashland, which is incredibly clean and organized, something clicks in my brain. I want to go far, maybe I can even try to make it to California today. It is barely 12 pm and I have already 65 miles under my belt. Serendipity finds me a wonderfully paved bike path which leads right into Medford. I ride on it like a professional racer, zipping past other riders. I am a man on a mission. The creek that runs under the path is pretty, shall I stop to take a picture? No, can't do sorry, I've got to go. No touring today, just racing. Before Medford I turn left on 238 and past the historic town of Jacksonville where I stop for a few seconds. I mount up and after the last serious climb of about 1000ft I ride for 30 miles through gorgeous valleys and hills that stand tall on the sides of the road and just watch me like sentinels speed by like a possessed man. More vineyards and cattle and creeks and farmland. I stop at a grocery store for some needed sugary food and drinks. The stop is brief because the weather turns quickly. As I approach the town of Grant Pass the sky booms to my left and dark clouds move from the north to the west. Oh no, if isn't the wind, it's the rain. I put on my rain jacket again and the rain comes quick and thick. I ride for awhile until I decide that I am too drenched to continue. I take shelter under a bunch of trees by the side of the road. I was doing so well, was going so fast, damn! After 15 minutes the rain lets up a little and I ride 10 miles through more valleys and a tiny town with an abandoned soccer field, until I come to the junction with Redwoods Hwy. This is it, this is the moment I was waiting for today. This road will basically take me all the way into California and then to highway 1. It feels pretty simple. Follow the road. No turns. Just go straight, follow the highway and love the scenery, love the ride, love yourself.
I turn south and finally the rain stops and a beaming sun hits me from the front. In the past four hours I have ridden in the clouds, in the sun and in the rain. Now that I am riding south I have the sun right into my eyes. I can hardly see where I am going as the wet pavement blinds me under the sunlight. I stay close to the white line, the shoulder is wide but full of debris, what's better, a puncture or death? I work hard because the terrain is hilly, the road meanders through steep hills and climbs a mile then drops and then up again. At around 4.30 pm, I enter the small but lively town of Cave Junction, which is just a series of restaurants and shops along the highway. With 140 miles on the odometer any other day I would have stopped. Today is a different day. Knowing that the California sign is only 15 miles down south unsettles me. This is what I am here for. This is what those ridiculous tan lines are for. This is what a month worth of sleepless nights is for. I enter a grocery store and a silver-haired, bearded man with his pudgy arms covered in tattoos is manning the counter, he throws an unfriendly glance at me and does not even smile. 'What's his fucking problem?' goes through my mind. I am mean today, I take no shit from nobody, I am in the middle of a race and nothing or nobody will stand in the way. All I know is that I will be in California soon. That's all I care about. I ask him if he knows whether they are any motels between here and Crescent City. Yep, there's one 20 miles south. Thanks a bunch and say hi for me to those tattoos you fatty. Past Cave Junction traffic loosens up and I can focus on the highway which is really scenic by this point. I just cruise in a blessed state of mind. Nirvana-like. The highway follows the Smith river, which is a narrow creek with large boulders in it; the trees on the sides of the hills are lush and tall and provide enough shade to make one wonder what time of the day it is.
Almost 5 PM and with a thick forest ahead for another 20 miles I had better know what I am doing. I gather my thoughts, I do a 'gut check' and decide that I am 100 per cent cocksure of what I am doing. I get my game face on and I am done with planning. Crescent City is 58 miles away, I would get there way past sunset but when your mind is made up, it is too late for changes. You either listen to your mother or you listen to your guts. This is what life is all about. I am riding on adrenaline and whatever was taken from me by the wind or by life, I am simply taking it back, right now, right this very moment. Feeling in total control doesn't come very often but when it does you are on top of the world. And so the ride becomes a fast and incredibly beautiful race on the Redwood Highway. All I need to do is to find the ocean.
I shoot at 22mph, adrenaline and the road allow me to, it goes up but it drops again, it stays flat and winds around the hills. It is pure heaven, as the highway approaches California it gets better and better. Yesterday I was yelling obscenities at the wind and now my mouth opens and lets out a "Oh my God" at almost every turn. The scenery is incredible. I see the California sign and I just smile and look up like I have somebody to thank up there. Maybe, maybe not. I take pictures I smile, I smile more and I just know that this is it, this is the moment that made it all worthwhile. I look at the word CALIFORNIA and I am thinking I earned this, I conquered it, mile after mile, from Washington DC. Pretty cool. No time to be complacent. I soldier on in the best possible mood and physical shape and when I see the Lodge that Mr. Tattoo was referring to I stop by the entrance. I look at my odometer, 167 miles. Then I look at my watch, 7.30 pm. The ocean beckons, with a sliver of sunlight coming from the top of the hills I take on the highway. I stick a back light on the pouch under the seat and with renewed zeal, if that was even possible, I shoot down Redwood Hwy free as a bird, feeling capable of anything, of conquering America or achieving anything I set my mind to. This is what the bike is about today, allowing it to make you feel good, great, happy. I don't think I will ever feel like this on a bicycle and that's great. This moment is by far the best of the ride.
The sun disappears behind the hills and the road becomes really narrow when it winds around the rocky hillsides, at times it is so narrow that I can touch the side of the wall with my elbow. Signs that warn about the hazards of the road are aplenty. 20 mph limit, 30, now watch out for the narrow section, no shoulder, winding road for the next 8 miles, curve, narrow curve, and so on. You feel a road does not belong here but you are oh so grateful that they built one. My excitement peaks when at 7.45 pm with dying daylight I enter one of the several Redwoods State Parks that exist along this highway. By the time I ride thought it, it is almost pitch dark but still bright enough for me to amaze at the intimidating silhouette of these monster trees which shoot up in the air like gigantic pieces of rock. I have never seen anything like this. They look majestic, fearless, indomitable. I ride through these impressive trunks and at times the road meanders around them like the tree is a policeman guarding the traffic. I have never ridden in a place of this unique beauty. I urge anybody to come here and drive on Hwy 199. Just do yourself a favor, come.
As I realize that I have reached the zenith of my bike ride with the very last remaining streaks of daylight I see the Crescent City sign. I know that I won't be able to make it to the Ocean front at this time. I ride for about 4 miles on a highway in absolute darkness. Thankfully the shoulder is wide enough for a truck so I am relatively safe from danger. With the corner of my left eye I know vehicles are approaching when I see the shaft of the headlights piercing thought the night. It is surreal. I can only hear the sound of my bike and my breath. I feel like I am climbing high altitude in the early morning hours. By the time I leave the highway and enter the city center it is nighttime so I can't go to the ocean front now, I will save that moment for tomorrow. The first motel I see will do for me. I stop outside the entrance and I check the odometer. It reads 194 miles. It is 8.25 pm. Now adrenaline will simmer down and I will feel the weight of it hitting me like a rock. I'm so tired that I feel seasick, my feet have been wet since 3pm, the cold I took this morning has sipped into my bones, the rain has soaked my body and the stress of the traffic and the tension to win my race have absorbed any rationality from my mind. I slide the card key several times before I get it right but finally the door opens. I take my socks off and my feet look like two white wrinkly pieces of cloth. I run hot water in the shower and I just sit on the bath tub unable to move. Adrenaline is now ebbing in and I'm just in a numb state but oh so freaking happy!
It has been all so effortless, it has been all so awesome. I won my very own personal challenge. I won. I am on the other side. I will never ever forget this day.
San Francisco is 350 miles away. I can do that in 3 days, easily. LA is back on the table. Things are looking up. I love my life.