November 2, 2006
I spend the morning at an internet café with cookies and coffee – cookies and coffee mmm – and updating my journal – finally posting pictures from back in Oregon. It’s a shame I’ve fallen behind here on the closing days of my trip. Oh well.
I ride out of Fort Bragg after noon, and the road south is much like yesterday evening – mostly inland, higher traffic, but cool-looking homes and trees.
Near Mendocino I spot a guy walking down the road with a fully loaded backpack, and a paper stuck to it that says ‘Walking for Cancer Research.’ His name is Matt. I actually met him briefly last night, and now I stop to walk with him a while.
I learn the details of his journey – he’s from Bremerton, WA, and after losing his mother, plans to walk from there all the way to Florida. So he’s essentially still starting out, though he’s been walking for two months already. He’s never done anything like this before, and here on the final days of my trip, I’m having some ‘passing of the torch’ feelings.
I’m reminded of my time with Troy and Mel as they were finishing their trip, and how they must have felt the same in my company. We get lunch in Mendocino, and I convince him to take my denatured alcohol stove with him and give it a try. I won’t be needing it anymore. Matt has a website at www.mywalkingadventure.com
The late start and immediate break for a long lunch doesn’t leave me with many remaining hours of daylight. Route 1 empties and turns desolate again – with rolling, grass covered hills – though the riding is relatively flat.
I parallel the shoreline, and am rarely more than fifty yards away from a drop to crashing waves. Every 5-10 miles there’s a creek or river that empties to the ocean, where I descend steep switchbacks inland to a bridge, and climb just as sharply back up and out. One is so steep I get off and walk, rather than dropping all the gears under high pedal pressure for such a brief speedbump.
I pass through Elk – population 250 – one of the prettiest little seaside towns I’ve seen. It’s quaint and silent, with maybe 10 or 20 main structures over the course of a half mile.
Shortly thereafter, I’m in the midst of another great stretch of nothing but grassy hills, road, and sea. The sun sets behind thick, gray clouds on the horizon. Darkness settles, and soon a thick fog with it.
So I’m riding in the fog – after dark. Hmm. Not exactly the wisest choice of circumstances. Good thing there’s no traffic. When the few intermittent vehicles do happen to pass, I dismount the bike and step well off the road.
It’s funny – sometimes when cars pass, my superior Jedi skills allow me to imagine and eavesdrop, albeit quite accurately, inside the vehicle to hear the driver mutter ‘Look at this crazy %$#@!,’ as they’re so hideously inconvenienced by giving me room on the road to pass.
Usually this notion simply causes me to smile to myself in that content, look-at-these-silly-people-getting-all-worked-up-and-mad-at-the-world-over-nothing, Forrest Gump-esque way. Then again, there’s the rare instance like tonight, where I’m scooting off the road in complete black fog, as it’s also becoming steadily damp and cold. I watch cars pass and thinking to myself, ‘This is awfully stupid of me, that person’s right to presumably think I’m a suicidal nutcase, I gotta get out of this, asap.’
It dimly reminds me of what is probably the single most unsettling experience of mine on the Appalachian Trail, over Mt. Madison. Madison is the final northbound peak of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire – notorious for quite literally the worst weather in the world – because it can change at the drop of a dime.
I’d crossed the summit of Mount Washington earlier in the day. Madison looked like one final, rocky, 1,000 foot hill in evening, during good weather. The view was deceiving, and it turned out to be a steep scramble the whole way up. I’m all alone – twenty-one years old – on this high, exposed spine of rock above tree line when a cloud blows in.
I watched it come in – one half of the sky was blue, and there was a distinct line where this gray mass approached. It enveloped me, and in a matter of minutes, visibility became about ten yards. Since there’s no timber above tree line in the Whites, they mark the trail with rock cairns, which are just piles rock you follow in a line, like connect the dots. I had to go cairn to cairn, one at time, so as not to lose the trail. The extent of the whole wide world was to me – at the moment – just me, fog, and bare rock. That’s all.
Then it started to get dark. And cold. And windy. And damp. It wasn’t raining, but the mist was so thick that it was soaking my clothes. I was so intent on pressing forward to get below tree line that I didn’t stop to put on any waterproof clothes or anything.
That was the unsettling stretch, for maybe half an hour or so. Of course I made it down into the trees in good time, where things were brighter and drier at dusk. There was another hiker tented out and already turned in, but it was comforting to descend near the company of another human being that night.
A few days later, my friends Hollywood, SoFar, and Buckeye caught up with me. I learned that they were caught up there in the weather that night, and rode it out with simple tarps for shelter. I guess I have the least impressive story of the lot.
Then a few weeks later in Maine, I heard through the trail grapevine that a middle-aged man died on Mount Madison – on September 11, 2002. There was a nasty belt of weather that day – it hit where I was too – I’d actually taken the day off in town with a cold.
The guy apparently slipped and hit his head or something – I forget the exact details. My friend Tumbleweed, who signed the guestbook here (Hi Tumbleweed!), was taking a wilderness search and rescue course at the time, and happens to be one of the people who carried his body off the mountain.
Anyway. I’m not exactly the biggest fool out riding in the dark tonight, because it’s only a few more short miles to Point Arena – population 474 – a most welcome sight. Thursday night. Life is good.