"Sal, we gotta go and never stop going 'till we get there". "Where we going man?" "I don't know but we gotta go" - Jack Kerouac, On the Road -

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Day 32: Highway 1

Fortuna, Ca - Fort Bragg, Ca : 128 miles. Total: 3920 miles

It's cold outside and I just want to stay under the covers, it's warm and cozy in here, why do you want to go out so early, rest a little longer, forget about the bicycle. This is what my body is telling me at 6.30 am and my mind won't listen. Stupid mind! One hour and 7 burgers with eggs and 5 biscuits later and with all the thin clothes that I have on me I position my ass where it will stay for many hours and off I go. By the time I leave the hotel the sun shines brightly and the skies are clear. It is only the second time that this miracle has happened since I left my beloved apartment in DC 31 days ago. Let's cherish the moment, let's savor this time, it's not as cold as I thought. I ride on the highway 101 which was teaming with cars yesterday but at this early morning hour of a lazy saturday only the crazy guy on a bike and a few vehicles that zip past me like bullets are to be seen. I realize that here in the West the two words 'speed limit' have a very arbitrary meaning and the concept of 'how to pass a cyclist' is totally alien to most of road users. Yes, the west is wild and people out here love it that way. Do they? They must, because this is what they wish for themselves. If I were to make a generalization between east and west, I would definitely argue that westerns are very pragmatic, direct, blunt, boorish and politically simple-minded but very conservative. This is probably the most shallow, ignorant, stereotyped sentence I have written on this journal but my brain does not stretch any further, especially after 130 miles. 

After 10 uneventful miles I enter the Avenue of the Giants, which is a 31-miles world famous scenic drive through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. As soon as the road disappears under a thick and impossibly tall forest I know that I am riding through a very special place. I spend the next two hours in total awe of the majestic trees. I just want to ride and ride and I wish it never ended. This is a place unlike anywhere else in the world and to cycle on this road which meanders around gigantic trees and is shaded by their immense trunks is another, yet another, unique event in my life. The trees are literally on the road and I can reach out and touch them as I ride by. These coastal redwood trees have been on earth for 130 million years. Dinosaurs thundered through redwood forests for 55 million years. What an intimidating thought. I just think that everyone should see these trees. If one tree was to be uprooted and planted in the middle of a city they would have to instal red lights on top to warn off airplanes. If one of these trees were placed next to the Washington Monument, the first President would look a very humble man and would cut a disconsolate figure next to the redwood. The forest is shrouded in fog which makes the place eerily  fascinating rather than diminish its beauty. I am cycling with my neck craned up and left and right as I don’t want to miss a single thing.
I cannot just stay on the bike the whole ride through, I stop to admire, take pictures and the moment I am back on the saddle I have to stop again to snap away. Never-ending, mind-blowing ecstasy. 

But the road does end and once I exit the avenue and rejoin the Redwood Highway the air is very hot and dry. I feel like I am in a different biosphere, a few minutes ago I was wearing my cover and my sunglasses were hanging from the zipper of my jersey and now sunglasses are on, the cover off and the zipper all the way down. I don't particularly enjoy this part of the ride as traffic is relatively heavy and cycling on a freeway is never fun; the shoulder is large but full of debris and little rocks that at contact with my tires just shoot off several feet away. I try to push on the pedals, I am keen to lose the highway and begin my battle against the hills on the coveted highway 1. That's right, everyone has been saying to me how hilly and steep this road is past Leggett. Leggett is the junction where Hwy 1 begins. Guys I am not worried about the climb, all I can think of is that I will be riding right next to the ocean. 22 miles and I will be there. This is going to be last highway I will ever take on this journey. 22 tough miles I admit, the first 4 mile climb is pretty steep and the descent requires even more attention as the road is very winding and blind curves are everywhere. Traffic is very sparse but when vehicles approach I tense up, they won't see me until the very end, especially if I am rounding a bend or descending a switch back. I do my best to check my speed and when I climb another long bit, maybe 5 mile, I am beginning to feel the effort in my muscles. After 23 miles from Leggett, from the mountains around I realize that the road can only go south very soon. No more hills, only a bright light that becomes even brighter as I ride. I know what that is.
Peeping through the trees is an immensity of color blue. Summiting Beartooth and riding through Badlands were two incredible events but seeing the Pacific Ocean on Hwy 1 is the most thrilling milestone of the whole trip.
The prospect of riding the road that hugs the coast of California from right here to LA reenergizes me instantly. I have fantasized about a traffic-free road that winds its way down the coast through lush forests and on jaw-dropping cliffs. Will it be like I am imagining it? I had this image of the California coastal towns as these quaint small town centers with touristy shops and charming cafes. Will it be like I pictured it in my mind. Yes, yes, yes. This is every cyclist's dream. I cannot quite believe. I smell the sea salt as I inhale deeply on the umpteenth climb of the day. I ride through the ocean mist that rises from the shore. I just throw my glance to the right to look at the wavy water and the sand which absorbs its waves. I don't even have to stop for all of this, and I don't even have to roll a window down for all of this. All of this is around me, around my body and I have earned the right to be here busting my ass for 31 days on mountains and deserts and hills and fields, the satisfaction is all-consuming, the hard work of these past weeks embalms this moment which is engraved for ever in my heart.  

The first town is just as pretty and authentic as imagined. Westport is the first town I hit on the Pacific Hwy. It is a small community with several beach houses all freshly painted with bright colors and a couple of coffee shops on the Main st. The hotel right in the middle of Westport is the biggest building and has tables and chairs on the porch. I am tempted but I want to continue south, after all I have only been on the coast for 8 miles and I cannot stop at the first charm that the road throws at me. I know that Hwy 1 will tempt me more than once so let's keep going. Every once in a while there is a pull-off with spectacular views of the rugged coast. This part of the Mendocino coast is a little slice of heaven. It climbs up and up, through lush woods, and in places clinging to the edge of cliffs. I carefully veer toward the middle of the lane as hwy 1 has no shoulder whatsoever.

After 15 miles I enter the biggest town between here and San Francisco: Fort Bragg. I reach the historic downtown and it is small and funky and charming, just like I imagined it. Not as quaint as Westport but very enjoyable. I revel in the coastal vibe that the town has, there is an air of beach life, a sea-based activity that only these towns perched on a coast far from busy urban life have. I am told that farther south the Mendocino coast will produce more coastal beauties and I cannot wait to explore them. Now, I have almost 130 miles in my legs with lots of climbs and I need a rest.

Fort Bragg was once known as a working lumber town. Downtown Fort Bragg's architecture dates back to the early 1900's, rebuilt after the same terrible earthquake of 1906 which destroyed San Francisco. This earthquake caused an economic boon because local mills furnished much of the lumber used to rebuild San Francisco.

On July 20, 1850, The Frolic, a brig hauling goods from China to San Francisco, was wrecked on the coast about 4 miles south of Fort Bragg. Those who came here seeking treasure from the wreckage found instead the richness of the redwood forests. This was the catalyst for settlement. Prior to this time, Fort Bragg was home to the Pomo Indianas, a tribe of hunters and gatherers. In 1856, the Bureau of Indian Affairs established a 25,000-acre reservation. The next year (1857) the Fort was established next to the reservation to maintain order. The military outpost and reservation was abandoned in 1864. During this time, a number of small lumber mills sprouted up in the area. In 1885 the Fort Bragg Railroad was founded and C.R. Johnson established the Redwood Lumber Company. In 1891, small mills combined to form the Union Lumber Co. Fort Bragg was incorporated as a city in 1889 and C.R. Johnson became the first mayor. The city was named after Colonel Braxton Bragg. Fort Bragg, NC, was later named after the same officer.

I ride to the south end of town where a motel along the highway will be my shelter for the night. San Francisco is way too far to be reached in a day, it is about 200 miles from here, but I will do my best to close the gap. However, highway 1 being so scenic and so hilly demands my full attention for both reasons, so I am slowing down from now on. I feel I should end the ride in San Francisco. It just feels right. 


  1. Luigi,

    You have plenty of time so slowing it down to enjoy the scenery is a great idea. Take in the coast and the red woods and relax a bit. You have conquered the ride and have help a lot of people along the way. Congrats and enjoy a few days.

  2. Dear Luigi,

    I am so happy to be back reading your blog. It has been a whirlwind with me in the East Coast. But, that story can wait. I feel as if you have reached paradise. The colossal trees are amazing and the salty ocean breeze well, I also remember that sense when I visited the Italian Riviera last year. That type of freedom is exceptional. I will share your story with my little ones one day and they will know that, 'The Little Engine that Could'…truly did!

    Congratulations Luigi, you made it to California. I hope you will find time to relax and take it all in before returning to the East Coast! Hugs, mcl