Garberville to San Francisco

‘Barn storming,’ Highway 1 and a golden milestone

Posted by Gordon Dunlop on January 29, 2016

Our final flirtation with the Redwoods involved the steepest climb since the Lillooet to Pemberton stretch in southern British Columbia. The ascent from Leggett was tough though the legs felt much stronger, thanks to the experience of the climbs in Canada, and we made good time in reaching the summit. As we scaled the mountain, we could hear thunder clapping in the distance – at first I thought it was the crashing of waves as we neared the Pacific – but no rain was forthcoming. We then had a fun, fast descent towards the coast and just as we rounded the last bend coming off the descent…wham! I was blasted by a gust of wind and a barrage of rain and was literally blown off my bike! Meg and I doubled back and raced to a dilapidated old barn we had just passed which would offer some shelter. The fallen rafters and the remnants of what had once been a roof, just about provided enough shelter!

We lunched in the barn then got back on the road as we still had 40 miles to go to reach the town of Fort Bragg where we could conduct our evening’s interviews. After a nice ride of rolling hills and one more intense climb, we made it to Fort Bragg in time for our 4:30 interviews. While sat at the coffee shop we got chatting to Michael, a well-travelled type from Malta, as the heavens opened once again. This time we knew it was on for the night and so Michael kindly invited us to sleep on his living room floor. He was a lovely guy and it was such a relief not to have to camp through such a stormy night.

The next two days were all about racking up the miles. Meg’s parents had very kindly used their air miles to fly us from San Francisco to Florida for the Christmas period, though we were still over 200 miles north of San Francisco and the flight was in four days! The next morning took us on a beautiful ride on the flat past Mendocino, then some amazing ups and downs along the coast towards the quaint little village of Jenner. The ride along Highway 1 was beautiful as it hugged the cliff side and the steep climbs mattered not as each one gave us spectacular views of the crashing surf below. Jenner was a pretty little village on a river inlet which, after a year of drought, was sadly now flooded. We had a couple of climbs as we left Jenner before making great progress on the flat with the wind behind us.

We clocked up the miles and neared Stewart’s Point as the sun disappeared. We knew we were in for a rough night of weather and so were desperate to find any form of shelter in what was a tiny place of just a couple of houses and a post office. For the second consecutive day, we passed a dilapidated old barn just at the right time. Despite the copious amounts of sheep poo on the floor, the barn, for us, was luxury as it afforded us enough shelter to pitch our tent and sleep through the overnight storm!

From the barn at Stewart’s Point, we got a nice early start after a spectacular sunrise. After a steady ride to the coastal town of Bodega Bay, the road took us inland and some gradual ascents for the next 20 miles until we came off the highway and onto the back roads. We reached the coast again, north of our destination of Point Reyes Station, but had misjudged our mileage. We still had 13 miles to do, as well as finding a place for our evening of interviews - beginning in an hour! Thankfully the roads were favourable and we somehow managed it. We found a nice little bar where we completed our interviews and enjoyed a well-earned beer – celebrating the fact we were now within striking distance of San Francisco!

It was a good thing we were in such high spirits as we were to endure our most challenging night yet! The tent which Simon and Wendy had lent us in Bellingham - after we were relieved of our original home during the bike theft – finally gave up on us. One of the tent poles had snapped a couple of weeks previous and was being held together with duct tape and a toothbrush which acted as a splint. On this stormy night at Point Reyes, another pole snapped and proved too much for our replacement tent. We spent an uncomfortable (and not to mention claustrophobic!) night lying with the tent tarpaulin draped over the sleeping compartment with no poles to give the tent any height. It was perhaps a blessing that we had a 6am start for some more Operation Groundswell interviews and we were thankful that one of the local coffee shops opened early enough where we could sit, warming ourselves with a coffee as we conducted our interviews, while sheltering from the stormy conditions!

From Point Reyes Station, we had a beautiful ride through the forest around Lagunitas and into suburban San Francisco. We had some nice easy riding through the northern suburbs as we neared the Golden Gate Bridge and what was a long anticipated milestone in our trip. Nothing was stopping us now (not least another apocalyptic rainstorm or my dubious navigation skills taking us on an 8 mile detour!) as the finish line - and the Golden Gate Bridge - were almost in sight. We had some more tough climbs through the suburb of Sausalito, at the top of which we got our first glimpse of San Francisco Bay. A long downhill finally took us down to the bay and the world famous view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Such an iconic sight and such a momentous milestone for our trip!

At the bay, we asked an effervescent woman to take our photo. Clad in red cords, leopard print jacket and a Stetson, she took a photo of our heads and the bridge. Asking if she could step back a bit in order to fit in the bikes, we heard a commotion and turned around to see her sprawling in the mud having tripped over a kerbstone! This scene of carnage set the tone for our afternoon with the delightful Cynthia. After taking our photo, we were about to leave when she said, “My friend’s band are playing in the Yacht Club, come on and I’ll buy you kids a drink to celebrate this milestone.” We spent two hours in her company, sharing many laughs, great stories, toasting my Dad with a Guinness and a view he would love, and not forgetting the great music from her friend’s country jazz band. We had such a great laugh with the charismatic drama teacher, Cynthia, that we lost track of time and forgot we still had a bridge to cross!

As the sun was beginning to set, we set about attacking the Golden Gate Bridge. It was such a thrilling crossing and quite the energy rush. I thought of all the times in the last two years I’d cycled to work across Sydney Harbour Bridge, as I trained for this adventure, and here we were cycling across another imposing steel icon having cycled 4000 miles from Anchorage. I felt an amazing sense of achievement. With fading lights, charging them on our laptops as we rode, we managed to negotiate our way through downtown and, after conquering a couple of San Francisco’s famous hills, we made it to Meg’s friend, Dan’s place and the start of a well-earned Christmas break. Despite the intensity of the last few days, we were both totally energised upon arrival. We felt absolutely great and excited to see what San Francisco had to offer!