48.6 mi / 11.6 mph / 1397 ft. climbing
Home: Burlington Campground hiker/biker campsite
In the midst of all this fear and avoidance of rain, we were surprised by one of the best days of pure bike touring so far, with clear enough skies not just for a beautiful ride, but to be able to camp overnight in comfort. Of course the camping is sort of a “must”, to balance our budget against the expensive nights behind and ahead.
We left the motel for the treat of a Denny’s breakfast, and took our time to both make sure the night’s rain was cleared out, and for the UPS location to open at 10am so Rett could pick up a package waiting there (yet another mail-delivery option we’re learning about). Unfortunately the office door, contradicting both UPS’s phone support and Google, said they opened at 11am. Ugh. Rather than burning another hour or ditching another package, Rett essentially just followed some guys who looked like they knew what they were doing into the employee side of the building and started looking for her package. Luckily a sympathetic employee eventually came out to help and make her legal.
The standard route included a lot of offshoots, but given our need to compress things and our comfort on the 101 expressway, we stuck mostly in its nice shoulder for the first part of the ride. One pull-off we did, mainly to avoid 50 feet of hills, fortuitously brought us through interesting little Scotia, a former (lumber) company-town that still has a huge redwood mill (with the “huge” thankfully modifying “mill” these days rather than “redwood”!)
The rest of the day was then on ‘Avenue of the Giants’, the old highway that runs through a narrow band of redwoods. The self-conscious branding that you can hear in the name, the limited connection to state/national park lands, plus the various tourist-trap “Drive Through Tree!” type attractions that appear on Google Maps had combined to set my expectations fairly low. But it turned out to be some of the most atmospheric redwood forest we’ve been through so far, and would have exceeded my expectations even if they’d been high. Some may have been due to the narrowness of the band of trees, allowing more light to filter in through the edges and create a warm glow unique to the area, some may have been the quiet empty road, and some might have just been the trees themselves.
The several small towns (pop. 50-250) that we passed through did meet my commercial/tourism expectations, but in the best way possible. They would generally have a “resort”, but small and faded and mossy and old, and in the filtered redwood light, you could almost see the summer ghosts of the 1950s families who once filled them on their auto-tour vacations. They would make us wistfully say “why aren’t we staying here?” as we passed by.
The Burlington Campground sits directly on this Avenue, which is not even a problem because it feels like a campground road at that point. And unlike earlier, the woods were so dense that it was nearly dark at our 4pm arrival. We were surprised to see the three guys we’d met three nights earlier at Prairie Creek there, since we figured they’d be well ahead of us, but I guess we did make that unexpected jump to Eureka to keep pace with them, and they were wise enough to spend an extra night in a Eureka motel too.
More exciting than that was a new trio of tourers who rolled in as we were making dinner in the near-dark. Younger and perhaps less-wise than us or the other trio, but more intrepid and self-discovering, Annie, Ahmed, and Rey were actually all solo travelers, who had been lucky enough to find each other in their individual times of need, and then open and trusting enough to bond together as a trio to ride together to San Francisco. That’s the sort of Coast Caravan Life that refreshes my faith in the future of humanity. They joined us in our double-site, and then generously added their firewood and conversation to ours. As a group we burned both deep into the dark, warmed as thoroughly by the camaraderie as by the flames.