Cathedral Tour

California’s official Avenue of the Giants stretches from just south of Eureka nearly to Garberville, though smaller groves and isolated stands continue south for another 200 miles. Much of today’s record-setting (for us) 92-mile ride took place along this touristy but delightful, shady and sun-dappled alternate route paralleling Hwy 101, peacefully pedaling along galleries of towering redwoods like columns in a Gothic cathedral.

Traffic was surprisingly light.

The south fork of the Eel River frequently popped into view, its gravel beaches and bars sometimes speckled with bathers and boaters on this sunniest of days — in short, one of our loveliest riding days, and a reminder of how lucky we are to be here, and how lucky humanity is to have these last remaining groves of very large living things.

CalTrans wants to remove redwoods from this iconic grove in order to widen Hwy 101 to accommodate larger tractor-trailers.

Breakfast came in Eureka, just 10 miles in; more guac-and-lox and another scramble at the other Los Bagels. Here we were panhandled for the first time, and offered probably sound advice from a nevertheless dubious source: a somewhat sketchy local recumbent cyclist who looked a tad like Robin Williams in his bushiest-bearded phase, but sounded all too much like Peter Lorre (“heh-heh, you want a route with less traffic? heh-heh, come to my house”). These encounters left us ready to bid Eureka adieu.

These far-northern coastal towns seem a little like their transcontinental northern New England cousins, bearing traces of extractive-industry pasts — fishing and logging– and playing sometimes a little uneasily the new role of providing services — espresso, gourmet cuisine, luxurious lodging — expected by passers-by and affluent migrants. The waterfront mills, canneries and rail yards lie vacant or, in some cases, are repurposed into arts centers, breweries (like Redwood Curtain in Arcata) and other entrepreneurial retail.

In the little town of Rio Dell, right before the redwoods, we had lunch at a local cafe called The Green Bean, a couple of paninis and–a this-will-be-a-long-day treat–milkshakes. After lunch, heading out of town by way of a memorable historical marker (picture below), we stopped to chat with a father-daughter pair of bicycle tourists from northern Virginia, Mike and Christina.

David talked with Mike, a sensible friendly guy with touring experience. Ashley chatted with Christina, recent college graduate who admitted/bragged, “I’m not much into cycling.” Also Christina: “We’ve learned to keep a lot of snacks, because I’m a real b*tch when I’m hungry.” Christina requires coffee within five minutes of waking up and can’t handle any caffeine after that; Christina has struggled on this tour. They’ve got a hard deadline for San Francisco (where they’re to connect with the rest of their family), and, Christina said, unapologetically, they had to cheat “a little,” apparently taking a 150-mile cab ride to skip half of Oregon.

A local cop stopped to chat, and to offer some friendly advice to bike tourists–how to avoid a nearby long bridge you have to walk your bike across, where to get the best brownie to power you up the notorious and daunting Leggett climb, etc. Taking his advice, we four returned to 101 for a few miles before cutting back to the Avenue of the Giants, which we followed with few exceptions for the next 45 miles.

Our new friends stopped to camp pretty soon after we met up with them, so over the last few hours of the day the shoulder was all ours. We passed through a few tiny towns (populations circa 300), but it was a relatively rural, quiet Sunday until we got into Garberville, our home for the night.

The climbing today was gentle, almost always, steady and gradual, and after a couple of rest days we felt better than ever 75 miles in. The last few miles the climbing picked up, and we were a little more relieved than usual to see our hotel come into view.

Daily totals: 92.3 miles, 4039 feet of climbing, in 7 hours and 40 minutes.

Trip total: 947.5 miles–a little more than halfway.

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