31.9 mi / 10.2 mph / 2483 ft. climbing
Home: Howard Creek Ranch Inn ‘Captain’s Quarters’
After a two-night stay under a roof to wait out rain, we had another briefly-open window in which to make a hop southward to a different roof, following the hop-when-we-can strategy we decided to adopt a week earlier in a parking lot in Orick. But we had pretty big doubts as to whether it was the right move, simply because we’d found what felt like the perfect place for us to wait out rain at the Redwoods River Resort, and there was a substantial risk that our next stop, the Howard Creek Ranch, wouldn’t suit us as well. But, we’d already booked three nights there (the worst stretch of this endless rain was predicted for that period), and it also still felt risky to not make miles when we could, so onward it was.
The summit of Leggett Hill is at 2000 feet, by far the highest elevation of the entire Pacific Coast Route. Luckily (and strategically!) we had been building up to that elevation over the last couple of riding days by following the Eel River upstream, but it still left us with an 1100-foot climb over the pass, followed by an even-steeper 700-foot climb, before returning us to the ocean. So the mountains are something that’s been looming in our minds, especially since, while we’ve come to trust the weather reports to know we wouldn’t be climbing during a gale + downpour, we still might have some amount of rain and wind to fight through on top of the hills.
And yes, there still was pretty good rain at our now-customary wait-as-long-as-possible 11am checkout, but it stopped shortly after and only light sprinkles affected the rest of our day. After a short and uncomfortable stretch down a disappearing-shoulder 2-lane US-101, we finally saw the sign we’d been waiting for: keep right for the start of California Highway 1! Even though it was (and will continue to be) far more shoulderless and twisty than the 101, we were thrilled that the traffic volume dropped to nearly nothing at the start of this storied highway, allowing our relaxation level to shoot way up.
And those mountain passes? Pfft! What hills? It turned out that the rain-enforced rest has continued to do Rett’s body good, and by letting her exercise the power that she’s built up over the last month rather than inducing pain, the hill-climbing workout gave her a feeling of strength and joy that she hasn’t felt until now, making one of the toughest-on-paper days of riding be her favorite yet. That joy gave us the freedom to stop and explore side-paths (like a lumber-company’s surprisingly gorgeous and well-kept creekside redwood picnic grove) at a whim, which just further improves the feelings of the day.
Climbing up through all the switchbacks, with golden leaves mixed into the green under occasional breaks of sun, and vistas of the forested hills below us, I said to Rett how I thought it was lucky that we had this multi-day inland section of riding as a contrast to the coast riding, because as awesome rocks and waves are, we both truly feel most at-home in the forest, and we can get burned out on even the greatest thing if fed too much of it.
And when I said that, I truly believed it! But then we got over the last of the hills, crested a final rise and made a left turn that brought us back to the oceanside cliffs for the first time in six days, and the drama of wind and water immediately reached out, smacked me in the face, and said “Neil, your pontificating back there was the biggest batch of bullshit you’ve ever spouted!” And I had to admit it was right.
Soon after, we turned into the Howard Creek Ranch, saw the shambling carriage house where we’d be staying for three nights, and crossed the swinging footbridge to check in, where Sue said “please, take my car into town to get whatever you need” (we’d been thinking of riding the 6-mile round trip to stock up on things we weren’t willing or able to pack over the hills). Our morning doubts about making this hop had completely vanished. We were in the right place.