Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Final View of the Pacific: Bigfoot, Whales, Baby Dinosaurs, and Breaking the Comfort Zone.

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Seventeen, Tuesday June 19

When I first starting cooking up a “some-day” tour of California, a few little grey lines at the tippy top of the state map caught my eye.  There’s nothing overtly special looking about the loop comprised of CA 92, CA 299 and CA 3, no can’t-miss (relatively speaking) destinations along the way, and although grey squiggly lines on any map call out “For a Good Time, Ride Here”, when you’re sitting at your kitchen table in Tucson, AZ, those particular routes just seem so… far away. Exotic, even.

It must have been a good instinct, because an 89 mile stretch of CA 92 is also known as the Bigfoot Scenic Byway. How could you not ride the road that “takes you through the region boasting the most sightings of Bigfoot of anywhere in the country?”

So, after coffee, scones, conversation with yet more generous camp neighbors, and a little canine playtime with their German Shorthair Pointer, I leave Joseph Stewart State Recreation Area in Oregon, and head that direction.  If I told you CA 92 was a fearsome test of cornering skills, I’d be lying.  But even the humble corner is made to be enjoyed, and I’m having a party on the asphalt, with a pirouette here and high kick there, ho ho**... I’m on my way!  No wind or fog, no rain nor bitter cold, no black-as-night redwood shade,  distracting world class views (although the Klamath River is simply lovely) or must stop destinations keep me from my appointed rounds.  I’m riding in that perfect place, brushing the very outer edge of my comfort zone and life is simply grand.

The day brings me another gift!  The Salmon River Outpost in Somes Bar stocks not just the usual ice cream sandwiches, but fresh organic fruit and espresso as well.

Salmon River Outpost Somes Bar, CA

I haven’t really decided where I’ll be staying tonight, which is unusual for me.  Evidently there are whales to be seen at the mouth of the Klamath River, but I missed that opportunity a few days ago. Plus, in a desperate search for fuel, I skipped the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway through the Redwoods on that same day.  Although I’ll be taking a chance at finding a camping spot if I head back in that direction now, It Makes Sense At The Time to do so anyway.  Besides, after my last few short days of riding, I’m in the mood to put some miles behind me today.

So after my snack I take a 140 mile detour to the Klamath River Overlook, back at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. The viewpoint turn off doesn’t feel like an official park road, and I’m starting to wonder exactly where I’m going. The road is becoming alarmingly narrower and steeper the further I go, and I’m having very clear visions of having to stop to turn around, finding myself in a situation where I can’t reach the ground, and consequently having to pick up my loaded bike on a blind hill.  Yep. I do indeed miss the parking area.  Instead of continuing on, hoping to find a place to safely if not comfortably turn around, I chicken out  and gingerly balance and tippy toe my heavy-to-me bike backwards down the steep hill. I am, admittedly, rather terrified if not in a life-threatening sort of way, then definitely in a don’t-want-to-drop-much-less-have-to-pick-up-my-pretty-motorcycle sort of way. But I manage my awkward, wimpy maneuver, and, even better, no one sees me do it. Hah!

Although you can’t see them, there are, indeed, whales down there.  In fact, I could hardly see them.  "They look like ants!"  - errr, minnows, maybe, I'm so high over the sea.   I stare at a rock for a long time before deciding it’s not a whale.  But I do see a few and they delight me to no end.

Klamath River Overlook Whales Feeding

I’m having another bone chilling moment in a very windy place, so I eventually need to move on. Plus, there is the pesky matter of still not having a place to stake my tent.  It’s getting late, and for the third time today, I’m stretching my comfort zone, although this time it’s not in the fun way.

I head south, towards CA 299, my starting line for tomorrow, and begin the hunt for a campsite.  They are full, full, and fuller.  It’s getting late, late, and later.  Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time, eh?  By the time I pull into Big Lagoon County Park, I know I’ll be camping there whether there’s a space for me or not, and I’m already working out a pathetic “but I can’t ride at night” plea, should I need to deliver it to a stony faced camp host. I’ve simply run out of daylight, and I really can’t safely ride even another mile.

It’s not comforting to spend the night in a place that has the distinct menacing vibe of a suspense psychothriller.  But if you’ve got night vision problems like mine,  and Door Number One offers possibly getting slashed and murdered, while Door Number Two offers definitely crashing, definitely wrecking your pretty Ducati, and possibly sustaining serious injury and/or dying, you will stride steadfastly and confidently through the former portal, without so much as even knocking. The campground is threatening in the creepiest of can’t-quite-figure-out-why ways.  The usual signage is absent, and I’m having trouble determining if the space I’ve claimed is actually an official site or not. The host seems to have abandoned his post, and other campers are walking around looking a bit dazed and confused. The washrooms are locked and campers are expected to make use of a couple of soiled and overflowing porto-lets instead.  There’s not much to do, and it’s getting dark fast.  If I build my tent quickly enough and hide within, perhaps the axe-murderer (or - eep! - Sasquatch!) will pick on someone else.  I turn on my little emergency GPS transponder thingy.  You know.  Just in case.  A few moments later another motorcyclist rolls by and stops to chat.  I don’t bother to hide my relief, and, honestly, neither does he.  We are Motorcyclists, and We Are In This Together.  He can’t quite figure out the sketchy scene either, and invites me to share his spot.  Since I’m already set up, I decline (gasp!  maybe he’s the axe-murderer?), but I do take him up on his offer to share his campfire for a stretch.  (Campfire?  Axe-murderer or not, I’m IN!)  Turns out he’s not an escaped criminal (as far as I can tell, but who can really know these things?), but “NolaNomad,” a Super Duke riding chef, on his very last day of a five week motorcycle tour of Colorado.  We have an enjoyable evening discussing the finer points of the culinary uses for fennel pollen (Gah!  Why did I not collect some on the Channel Islands earlier??), camping hammocks (he has one hanging up – very cool, but I would freeze), and, of course, motorcycles.

It’s early morning and I’m awake, happy to discover that I have not been slashed by an axe murderer or carried away by BigFoot overnight.   But I realize the sound that brought me to premature consciousness is a loud chorus of what can only be baby dinosaurs.***  With this level of noise, there must be an awful lot of them and they’re right next to my tent.  And although I went to bed thinking anything could happen in this creepy place, assault by baby dinosaurs is not one of the potential hazards that came to mind.

I blow a hasty kiss goodbye to the Pacific, as it shall be the last time I see her on this trip, and flee to the mountains.

*I can’t help myself. Thanks again, Sausage Creature.
** Turns out, I'd see the same grey whales, at a different point in their migration a few years later in Baja.
*** Not really.  Turns out I was sleeping right next to a cormorant rookery.  I poked around a bit out of curiosity, but wasn’t going to disturb the demarcated area.  I couldn’t see them, but for a few early risers flying overhead, but – wow! - what a sound!  Fascinating.

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