The most feared climb on the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route is between Westport, CA and Leggett, CA. Going North, you have to first warm up with a 650 ft plus ascent before cruising all the way back down and then climbing almost 1900 ft. It’s the kind of thing you don’t take lightly, and you’re really glad when it is over despite the incredible views.
However, for months there has been a road closure on Highway 1, one mile south of Leggett due to a mud slide. From asking around, it seemed like we could not pass, so we had to take another detour. The thought crosses the mind that maybe we would avoid the feared climb. Nah, think again. Our best option was heading up Branscomb Rd. to Laytonville, CA, and then up the 101 to Leggett, where we would rejoin the route. So, just a one day set back. The climb, of course, would be over 2000 ft.
We crushed it! And it was steep! When we hit the top, I was sure there was still more. Our biggest issue turned out to be lodging, since Laytonville is not your seaside tourist town. We had no options and no cell service. We contacted some couch surfing hosts in the morning before departing, and luckily one of them got back to us. She was not able to host us, but she referred us to Dan at EcoVillage.
The Laytonville EcoVillage is a sustainable living development in Laytonville. In addition to offering parcels of land for sale to build on, they offer an Airbnb and camping on the property. It’s a really cool place. There is an outdoor kitchen, firepit, and solar shower, in addition to the fully furnished and updated first floor rental of the main house. Dan was a really kind and generous host, allowing our dog to stay in the house as an exception to the general rule. Suffice it to say, we were more than happy. It was a far cry from our next best option, which was to try to sneak Monte in to a nasty looking Budget Inn that didn’t allow pets.
Next, we were cruising down to Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area, or “Spanish Hippie,” as “Bicycle Steve,” a friendly, pot growing, former bike touring man we met a Rest Area called it for no apparent reason other than it rhymed. We made a pit stop for a beer at The Peg House which is a funky, cool general store and grill with a big outdoor patio.
The hike/bike site at Standish-Hickey is like what we would imagine a hike/bike site to be if it were built by bike tourists. It had a shelter with a concrete base and picnic tables, a power outlet with a little ledge to put your devices, a bike repair stand, and it was easily accessible and adjacent to the bathroom and showers. Oh, and you didn’t have to bike up or down any hills to get to it. We were and still are pretty much amazed. Apparently, the park was slated for closure by the state, and the city lobbied to keep it open, thankfully. The upgrades have been made since. A lesson to fight for what you want and you may just get it. Bike tourists everywhere are forever grateful.
We decided to stay an extra day to rest. We had been biking every day since Tiburon and it was supposed to rain. With such great facilities and The Peg House (“Never Don’t Stop…”) across the way, we had no reason not too. Avenue of the Giants was ahead, as we were entering the big tree area.
We were up and ready to go with clear minds and fresh legs. The host came by as we were about to leave. We thought, “Oh, we forgot to pay last night.” He approached and said something like, “I hope you’re heading south.” Shaking our heads, he broke the bad news. A rock slide occurred overnight just 4 miles up the road, and it closed the 101 to vehicle traffic. He did not think that bicycles could pass.
We could not pass. A flagger said it would be at least a couple of days, Caltrans District 1 (yes, Phil is his name, and he is surprisingly reachable and even returned my call) said they were hoping Wednesday it would be open. Locals were saying Friday or maybe Saturday. It looked like were stuck there for a few days. More rain was in the forecast. There was the Drive-Thru Tree, there was the Peg House, which had free wifi. We were okay to hunker down.
Well, the rock slide kept sliding. The expected opening went from days to weeks to no estimate in a hurry, and we had to find an alternate route. There was the river. But we are not amphibious. There was a dirt road, which apparently was in such bad shape, only locals with 4WD were able to pass it. Oh, and it was 50 miles with no services and a lot of steep hills. On the internet we came across some badass women with fat tire bikes who blogged about taking that route for fun and to avoid the 101 a few years ago in what looked like to be summer. Apparently, every local driving the road had stopped them to say you are crazy and to turn back, except one who cheered them on in support. But we are not them. 🙂 Then there was…wait, are you serious?! Those are the two options? Oh, we could hitch a ride on the mountain road? Yes, bike 12 miles back up a hill and hope someone who is crazy enough to drive up this closed dirt road will pick up us, our dog, our two bikes, trailer, 8 bags, and drive us all the way across and then back to his/her house. Maybe? Maybe not.
There was another option that we devised, and it was somehow the only reasonable option. I negotiated a ride with another camper, Brock, who along with his buddy and countless others, (comically) drove up to the road closure without knowing and got hit with some revelatory news: you can’t get through, like for serious because the hill is still sliding across the road and into the river, and the way around is over 400 miles. Yes, 400 miles! So, Brock, the kind, seasoned traveler that he is, said, “Sure, I can give you a ride back to wherever. I’m heading to Oroville.” So, I reserved a rental minivan in Ukiah, and I got a ride with Brock and his puppy Joy in their camper van. I then drove back to the campground, we loaded up our stuff, and we departed the next day for Eureka, the long way around, a 375 mile one-way trip.
This was no ordinary 375 miles either. This is not the 10 freeway from Los Angeles to Phoenix. This is almost 150 miles on a two lane, sometimes one lane, highway through the Klamath Mountains. It turned out to be a beautiful drive. We got glimpses of the snow-capped Sierras from I-5. And we climbed up to 4000 ft and back down through some alpine mountains. Monte was a bit car sick. My stomach was acting up too, but maybe it was the Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich (what exactly makes it spicy?).
We ended at a “bike only camping” spot in Eureka, which is an airbnb for bike tourists in a family’s backyard. They have the full set up: outdoor shower, kitchenette, and sink, as well as a bathroom in the garage with outdoor access. They also have a pop-up camper, which we stayed in because it was unoccupied. It was very nice not to have to set up camp after driving all day and Monte really enjoyed the yard.
A couple of days later, we made it to Elk Prairie State Park Campground, which is appropriately named for the elk that hang out in the prairie. There were actually elk blocking the path to return to our campsite in the morning. This was a fantastic hike/bike site. It lacked the amenities of Standish-Hickey, but more than made up for it in location and privacy. We had a view across the prairie of redwoods that reflected the warm light of the setting sun late in the evening.
Just beyond the park, however, was another road closure. We were a bit nervous when we saw the sign, but we had encountered some bike tourists on the way up that had biked through. Sure enough, a volunteer at the campground said we could pass through, and we had nine miles of traffic free riding through the giant coast redwood groves of Redwoods State and National Parks. Finally, a road closure in our favor (well, we also had one in San Francisco). Monte got to run, at times leash free. It was perhaps the most serene part of our trip so far.
Part way through, we encountered a downed tree across the road. We had been told the tree had been cleared, but this looked like a more recent one. Luckily, we were able to squeeze under it after moving some branches around.
Our destination was Crescent City, a place we had never heard of and knew almost nothing about. It’s apparently the only incorporated city in Del Norte County. We had arranged to stay at a Warmshowers host’s place, which was a community room attached to a church. One of the bikers who had told us about the scenic route through the redwoods, also mentioned to stay with this host. She also warned us about the road leading up there, although she came from the other direction. We knew about the climb, but there was also apparently fast traffic and little to no shoulder, making for tense riding.
As we began the ascent, which by the way was beautiful, we saw more construction signs and warnings of a closure. This time it was the right lane of the 101 North. We had the whole lane to ourselves for much of this stretch as we “inched” up the 1200 ft. climb on the other side of the trffic cones.
There may be more road and lane closures to come. Some will likely be good and others bad. Hopefully, we encounter none like the one that stranded us in Leggett.
Day 45 – Thursday April 13, 2017
Miles – 14
End – Westport Beach RV Park & Campground, Westport, CA
Day 46 – Friday April 14, 2017
Miles – 30
End – EcoVillage AirBnb, Laytonville, CA
Day 47 – Saturday April 15, 2017
Miles – 26
End – Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area, Leggett, CA
Days 48, 49, 50, 51
Miles – 0
End – Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area, Leggett, CA
Day 52 – Thursday April 20, 2017
Miles – 374 (driving)
End – David’s House, Eureka, CA
Day 53 – Friday April 21, 2017
Miles – 32
End – Emerald Forest Campground, Trinidad, CA
Day 54 – Saturday April 22, 2017
Miles – 27
End – Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Orick, CA
Day 55 – Sunday April 23, 2017
Miles – 35
End – St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Crescent City, CA