I went on my first bike tour last week from Fort Bragg to Sausalito along Highway 1. Kristin and I were driving south from Portland and I couldn’t pass up the chance. She left me at the Fort Bragg Safeway, a place we had last been while travelling in Madrone and staying in Noyo Harbor. By the time we got there it was almost dark. It was a stressful time. By accident I left my bike shoes in the car, leaving me with just flip flops and my clipless pedals. When putting batteries in my front light a spring flung out onto the ground. I put it back together and though flaky, it worked. I went the back way to the campground to avoid town traffic on Highway 1, but got lost in dark pine forests twice. When I finally got to the site and whispered to another biker in the dark “Is this the right spot?” I was glad the response was a friendly yes, and not a scream or a face full of mace.
The next morning I got myself sorted out. I purchased plastic pedals to match my flip flops. I had a good breakfast and I was on my way. The weather was perfect. Highway 1 must be the most scenic route in the US. I enjoyed seeing the California coast from my boat but land really is where the action is. The slow pace of travel allowed me to take in all the strange yard decorations, neat stores and restaurants, and notice changes in climate. I even found edible mushrooms (Boletus edulis) while rolling. Great fun.
But it was also hard work. Highway 1 is a never ending succession of hills, small and large. I couldn’t go more than 40 miles in a day, even though that left several hours of daylight. My knees and butt got sore and I started to depend on ibuprofen to get started in the morning. In that way I certainly prefer travel by sailboat. It does all the work, and you just have to steer it.
State parks offer a class of campsite called “hiker biker” sites. These sites are not supposed to fill up and cost only 5$ a night. A hiker icon in addition to the familiar brown tent icon will let you know the state park offers hiker biker sites. The idea is that after a long days ride you need not worry that there will be a place for you when you arrive. The hiker biker site is usually a single campsite. This puts all the non-car travelers in the same place at night. There are only so many campgrounds, so bikers often find themselves in the same company night after night.
I was surprised by how similar bike touring was to travelling by sailboat. Campsites are like anchorages, and you need to have one in range towards the end of the day. Travel planning revolves around the distance you can cover in a day, and what interesting waypoints are within that distance. A major hazard is collision with truckers on the narrow roads, while boaters live in fear of tankers in the shipping lanes. You really want a shower and may not get one. If you do, it may require quarters or dollars. Bikers even prefer the south-bound route down the coast for the same reason as sailors - the prevailing winds are best kept behind you. You see the same people again and again, because you are headed the same way at the same speed and using the same guidebooks.
One notable difference between bike camping and sailing- in the bike crowd I felt old, while amongst sailors I felt quite young. No matter their age or mode of transport, they are all awesome. For instance, I met a couple who started in Nova Scotia, biked west across Canada and are now headed south with surfboards on their bikes, surfing every day. Another couple from Montreal were taking breaks from their day jobs - leading adventure tours in South America and Africa - to bike from Portland to San Francisco. Near the city I met a group of 5 who left San Francisco after work on Friday and biked 4 hours out of town to camp for the weekend.
Meeting people who have decided to “get away from it all” is addictive, they are all different from each other and all interesting. But it is tragic that the nature of the meeting makes it impossible to stay friends. Ships in the night, as they say.