On the Road With the Bearded Bikers (Part 3)
Welcome to California (Coos Bay to Fortuna)
Day Eleven, Sunday, June 2
We were up at our usual eight o’clock and had breakfast. My grandfather volunteered to take us to the other side of Bandon and past a long hill. We talked it over long enough to say yes.
We loaded up our speeders again just outside of town, pictures were taken, and we were on our way. No thanks to the wind, though, which had changed direction overnight, with the thirty miles chopped off by my grandfather’s good will, we hoped to make the California border by nightfall. We looked around for some wood to knock on.
The road soon began its undulations but we kept a good pace despite the hills. Our fitness had improved greatly, even though our rest had allowed our muscles to lose some of their sharpness.
The first stop of the day was an animal farm, where Steve bought some postcards and we both stripped to our cut-offs. We moved on, the next point of interest a restaurant between Langlois and Denmark where I had scratched my initials in a highway sign during an earlier journey. To our double disappointment, not only were the initials gone but the restaurant didn’t have any restroom facilities.
“Well,” I said, “the map says we should almost be to Humbug Mountain. I remember it from our last trip through here. It was a real bitch!”
The Bearded Biker Theorem came my way again: “Up one side…”
“And down the other.” I finished. “Say, do you like cantaloupes?”
I put the melon down again. “Oh well, let’s go!” Humbug Mountain was unseen in the fog ahead.
The going was slow, as we were hampered by the southerly winds. Finally, though, we had beaten our way to near Humbug Mountain State Park.
“You want to stop there for a rest?” asked Steve.
“Fine with me,” I replied, keeping my eyes on the narrow road ahead. A truck came up behind us, honking its horn. This went on for several minutes until I could stand it no more.
“What the…” I began.
“You guys want a ride?”
“Say what?” asked Steve.
A moment of silence. Then: “A ride — if you want one, meet us up ahead in the parking lot.” The truck roared by.
Fearing they were only putting us on, we hurried ahead. The truck was in the parking lot. There was the driver and two backpackers he had picked up a time back. With their help, we crammed the bikes and ourselves into the back of the truck, along with some large window panes.
“There are two things you can do wrong,” the driver told us, “scratch the paint or break a window!”
We assured him we would show great respect for his windows, and he climbed back into the cab of his truck. We were off! It was an exciting fourteen miles with the winding road, our precarious perch, and our driver nearly driving us off the road as the curves came up too fast for his wandering mind to comprehend. Steve had a large grin on his face and I asked him what was so funny.
“You look like a kiwi,” he said.
“Sure. Look at yourself in the window.”
I did, but still refused to concede to his opinion. The truck began to slow to a stop alongside the gauntlet-like roadway.
“This is it, folks,” the man said, and we painfully extracted ourselves from our cramped positions. We talked to the backpackers as we let the blood flow back into our dead limbs.
“Where are you heading?” we asked.
“San Francisco,” we returned.
“You’ll probably beat us,” they laughed, pointing to our speeders. We said goodbye and continued.
It was mid-afternoon now, and the road was climbing steadily. Our hopes for making the border dimmed as our pace slowed. We stopped at Mack Arch, a rock formation, for a rest.
“Steve,” I pleaded, “believe me — Brookings is near sea level, not on top of a mountain. You just worry about our fires, okay?”
On we rode, with little to break up the boredom. I started humming the music to a little song whose artist must have either been a biker or had a terminal case of brain damage. So, I broke out into the words:
“Back from the shadows again,
Out where an Indian’s your friend.
Where the vegetables are green,
And you can pee right in the stream,
Yes, we’re back from the shadows again.”
Finally, unbelievably, the road began to slope downward. With a rush of speed, we entered Brookings before sundown and stormed an A&W Drive-in. While we ate, we discussed our plans. It was either push on to California and the unknown or go back a mile and stay in the state park. Weariness overruling all else, we started back.
Heading through the outskirts of town, I suddenly heard Steve laugh maniacally.
“Look!” he said, pointing. I did, and it was beautiful.
“Oh wow,” I said, “what a street sign — Easy Street!” It made our whole day but the best was still to come, as we found when we pulled into the campground. NO VACANCIES.
We sauntered up to the girl in charge.
“Howdy. You sure you don’t have a site for two tired bikers?” She checked the files. “We’ll even take a picnic table!”
She looked up. “Well, we have a spot that was reserved, but nobody has showed. Since its past 8, I suppose we could give it to you.” She started filling out the forms.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“Seattle,” Steve told her.
“Oh really? What part?”
“Hey,” she said, “I know a girl who goes to South. Her name is Karen Brown. Know her?”
“Don’t think so,’ we pondered.
“Oh well. Now what county is that in? Polk?”
“Polk!” we cried. “No, no! We’re from Seattle — not Salem!”
“Wow,” we laughed. “Then you must have said South, not Sealth!”
We quickly explained about the rivalry between West Seattle and Sealth High Schools. When we were settled, we went and found our campsite.
“Need a fire,” Steve said, and we went off to pick up blocks of wood. Out came the hatchet.
“We’ll need the hatchet for a wedge. Grab a stick there to pound on the hatchet, will you, Young?”
“Okay,” I replied, finding one that fit my hand. “Ready?”
“Right,” said Steve. “Grabies on with the smacker-stick!” I let go with a bone-jarring swing and the wood magically swallowed the hatchet. A few more smacks split the block.
Astounded neighbors watched open-mouthed as we split enough wood to run New York State for a week. Soon the fire was climbing through the metal grating and we started making tea. As the water was heating, two nice-looking young ladies went by.
“Would you ladies care to join us in a spot of tea?”
They went back to their campsite to pick up some sugar and then rejoined us. We sat around talking of home life for about an hour before they departed. It was just becoming dark.
“I’m getting hungry again,” said Steve. “Why don’t you run back into town and pick us up something.”
“French fries and root beer?”
I blanched, grabbed my bike, and took off. The road had no strip to ride on and it made things interesting with all the traffic. I rolled up to the drive-in window.
“You again?” said the girl inside. I laughed and gave her my order. I had it a few minutes later and was ready to go. The bags of french fries were strapped to my bike rack and I carried the root beer in my left hand.
Battling traffic on the shoulderless highway was mickle unfun. I passed Easy Street, but lacked the third arm to make an appropriate gesture. With a wet and sticky arm, I had returned. During my absence, Steve had befriended the girl three trailers down. I was informed that we had been invited over. We grabbed the grub and went.
While I was placing the food on the picnic table, Steve asked me, “What do you know about Castle Rock?”
I countered, “Why do you want to know about that hole for?”
“I live there!” exclaimed the girl.
I quickly tried to make amends by telling her my father used to live in another hole — Kelso. It appeased her, but only a little, so I offered her some french fries. We all sat around eating and talking and it was late by the time we returned to our site and prepared to rack out.
I threw out my sleeping bag on the grass, climbed in, and passed on into Never-Never Land. During the night the fog vagrantly wandered in, not unlike a wet blanket.
Day Twelve, Monday, July 3
I woke up, wet from the tumultuous dewfall. The campground was surrounded by a sea of fog, and our old fears returned.
“Clear and sunny weather can be expected on the southern Oregon Coast,” I quoted in a monotone.
While Steve started packing his speeder, I wandered to the latrine. I was not alone; some turkey seemed to think it was a beautiful morning. Mumbling in semi-agreement, I looked at myself in the mirror. The mustache was coming along fine, and that gave me heart. For if I ever went bald, all I needed do was comb the hair back over my head.
I pondered this revelation as I relieved myself, and I pondered it as I walked back through the pea-soup fog to the campsite. A black shape blurred my vision, and I thought it to be only the black doubt of the unknowable future that was ahead of us in California. The resounding thud that shook my body told me it was not a dark future, but a darker building, that I had walked into.
When I reached our campsite Steve already had his bike packed, and he took out in the direction I had returned from. Upon his arrival, we were off.
Back in downtown Brookings again, we stopped at the A&W. It was closed and we cruised on. The Dairy Queen and several grocery stores told the same sad story. On we rode until we came to the boat basin at Harbor. We were just beginning to climb a large hill when keen-eyed Steve spotted an open store. We sat having breakfast and propositioning the passing trucks. No one wanted anything to do with us, which was not surprising, so we set out for the California/Oregon border. It was reputed to be only five miles away.
Several miles later, we noticed a sign reading, “Leaving Oregon. Thanks for Visiting.” We did not think this strange in itself, but the fact there were no signs telling we were in California made us wonder. And we wondered for two more fog-shrouded miles. The road we were on was for large amounts of vehicular traffic and, therefore, four-laned on the Oregon side. Suddenly, though, there it was — a monster sign reading. “Welcome to California!” We came to a stop at the border.
“What is this?” I exclaimed.
“Welcome to California!” laughed Steve.
The object of our consternation was the road. The moment it passed into California, it funneled down into a cruddy, two-lane roadway. It was a perfect line.
“Great!” said Steve. “With a change like that, one doesn’t even need the dashed line to tell him he’s passed into another state!”
We sat at the border for nearly forty minutes with our thumbs out; and then we finished riding the final miles into Crescent City.
One weird incident that happened on the way into Crescent City took place when we went through California’s customs stop. (Most of you thought California was still in the Union, huh? Surprise!) Seriously, though — since California grows large amounts of this country’s fruits and vegetables, a check for incoming bugs has to be carried out.
We pulled into the stop to talk with one of the agents, and he asked us, “Do you boys have any fruits or vegetables with you?”
“Just the carrot riding with me.” I said, pointing in Steve’s direction. The agent loved it and let us pass.
At Crescent City, we stopped at a supermarket and then went to the post office to mail some correspondence. The people in the post office thought we were weird; and if the letters and postcards we went got home, we figured the group back in Seattle would agree with them.
Another highlight of this part of the quest was the first mileage sign to give the distance remaining until San Francisco. It said 365 miles.
Now that we’d made it into California, our thoughts turned to how we were going to return home. We had already planned to take a train, but we chose to check Greyhound Bus Lines anyway.
We pedaled over to the depot and inquired: the bus turning out to be cheaper by ten dollars, but with the bikes having to be crated. With the train, we could place our speeders right on the baggage car without any hassle.
With that taken care of, we headed out into the country again.
One of the places we hoped to visit in California was Trees of Mystery. We had seen hundreds of bumper stickers on the cars heading north telling of this attraction. They gave us a great idea.
There were two tourist attractions just outside of Crescent City having these cardboard signs: Undersea Gardens and Sea Wonders. Why not attach these signs to our ten-speeders, we said.
And so we did. We hooked them on with strands of wire and then continued our journey, next stop the Trees of Mystery. It was surprising the marked change the signs made upon the traffic. Possessing a friendliness we never would have thought they had, people would pass, see our signs, and honk and point toward their own.
We were in Redwood Country now. With the crashing surf on one side and the towering trees on the other, it was too beautiful for words. We rode on in awe until we came to our goal. Those who have been to see the Trees of Mystery will remember the talking statue of Paul Bunyan.
A person sits in another building and controls its movements: making it wave its hand and talk to everybody who pulls in to visit.
Checking out the cost to enter, we found it too steep for our lowly budget, so Steve bought a postcard and we continued. As we dove out of the concourse and into the parking lot, old Paul told us, “You guys on the bikes drive carefully!” Dodging a truck, we hit the road.
It was growing late, so we thought we’d spend the night at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. We stopped in Klamath for our dinner food. Just out of town, the road crossed the Klamath River. On each end of the bridge sat huge golden bears — symbolic of the State of California. Steve took some snapshots and we ventured forth, up a long hill.
Back in Seattle, before the trip began, Mike White, to whom this book is dedicated, had asked Steve to bring him back some real, live California traffic bumps — the little dealies that warn you when you’re going out of your lane of traffic. As we labored up the hill, we noticed many of these bumps next to the roadway. We found several that were in perfect shape and they were stowed away for safe-keeping.
Over the summit of the hill now, we cruised along the narrow road past the old, tough redwood trees. Things were super-quiet and you could hear cars coming long before you saw them. Because of that fact, Steve tried prying the traffic bumps right off the road’s surface. He had no luck.
When we arrived at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, a nicely lettered sign informed us there were no vacancies.
“You couldn’t even let us have a picnic table?” we pleaded.
“Sorry fellows. It’s the Fourth of July weekend, you know!” replied the ranger. I had a strong urge to tell him it was Monday. “But,” he said, “there’s a good place on the ocean, just down the road a ways. It’s called Dry Lagoon, and you can stay there for free.”
A Theorem began to form in my mind: “Only trust a ranger as far as you can throw them”; but since we had no other choice, on we went.
There was a good breeze at our backs and the road was traveling downhill; and we made it to the ocean and Dry Lagoon without any trouble. Checking the beach where we were going to spend the night, we spotted a little shanty made of driftwood.
“Think anybody’s using it”? I asked.
“I doubt it,” said Steve; “and look, there’s a couple more scattered up and down the beach.”
Without further ado, we moved into our home for the night. It was large and roomy enough for two people to sleep comfortably, and we could have indirect heating if we built a fire. We started unpacking our gear.
We first gathered some wood for the evening’s fire, then we went inside to eat. We watched our neighbors ride their ATC 90’s and did some reading.
Several visitors dropped by, so we conducted tours of our abode. Up on a nearby road, a man in a car sat watching us for over an hour. We never did figure out what he wanted, and he left while we were occupied elsewhere. Very suspicious!
It was getting dark — and cold — so we lit our furnace. Very quickly, with the dry driftwood, we had a blazing fire with an appetite that wouldn’t quit. We were constantly going for more driftwood; everything that would burn went on, including our signs and the unneeded maps. Our nearest neighbor challenged us to see who could build the largest fire. Needless to say, with Steve on the fire detail, our competition had not chance one against us.
Our winning fire would not have been noticeable when compared with some of the monsters burning farther down the beach, but when you could get no closer than ten feet from it — and the opening to our lodging was eleven feet away — it was large enough. With a mad dash, we threw ourselves inside to get some sleep. It was so hot inside that we were sweating, but it was better than the chilliness outside.
There was one last word of encouragement from Steve before we dropped off. “I can see lights coming off a hill a ways down,” he said. “Looks like we’ll have a bit of a climb tomorrow morning.”
Caught between fire on one side, and water on the brain on the other, I fell into an uneasy sleep.
Day Thirteen, Tuesday, July 4th
The crashing surf woke us, and we crawled out into the morning fogginess. Of our fire, only ashes remained, the sand below multi-colored from the intense heat.
We ate breakfast, packed the bikes, headed for the Sani-can, and then started off. In the mists ahead loomed the hill Steve had spoken of the night before. We pushed on and soon entered another stretch of freeway. Some hour and odd minutes from our start, we were passing the entrance to Patrick’s Point State Park.
The reader is probably saying right now, “Big deal!”; and the reader is right, it is a big deal. During a reconnaissance mission to Los Angeles with my parents, we had stayed at Patrick’s Point. The next day we went all the way to Seattle. Now Steve and I were there; a little slower, but there nonetheless!
We dropped off the freeway a few miles later for a rest and a snack in Trinidad. After grabbing a bite to eat, we rambled over to a fireworks stand and eyed the wares. There was nothing worthy of the prices they were charging, so we went back to our speeders and rode them out to the onramp of the freeway. We didn’t feel like riding immediately after eating, so we held up a penciled sign (draped in red, white, and blue bunting, of course) reading SOUTH.
We received no offers, even with our marked patriotism; and several times we were passed by a steely-eyed Highway Patrolman. It was decided not to ride on the freeway for a few miles, but rather take another road running parallel to the freeway — whenever we got around to it.
While we were eating what we could find and waiting for our stomachs to settle, four other speeders came cruising out of the Northlands, all wearing riding shoes and protective helmets.
“What the hell do they think they are,” I whispered, “professionals?”
“Hi! Where are you heading?” asked Steve politely…
“Same here…good luck!” we called, and they were gone.
We made a last-ditch effort to flag down a truck and then headed down the secondary road. It went right along the cliffs above the water, and in several places the road was partially washed-out. The scenery was great, though, and Steve clicked more photos.
We paralleled the ocean to Clam Beach, where the road dove under the freeway and climbed to the top of a plateau affording us a fantastic view of the ocean. Atop this plateau was the Arcata Airport, which we passed on our way into McKinleyville and a local gas station. We struck up a conversation with the attendant, and the chatter turned to travelling the roads. We found the attendant was an old truck driver and could understand our traffic problems.
We went on, and suddenly the highway dove down towards sea level again. Outpacing the car behind us, we plummeted down; and with a rush, we were back on the freeway once more, threading the outskirts of Arcata and heading into Eureka.
Situated on a bay, Eureka’s land is very flat. We caught a wind at our backs, bringing not only extra speed, but the smell of an outgoing tide.
Puffing along, we eyed a billboard for a local A&W Drive-in, about five miles distant. It was too much to pass up. I glanced over at Steve and he nodded.
We headed directly for the drive-in, finding it without too much trouble, and placed our orders. As we waited for the food to cook, the waitress asked us the typical questions, such as: “How fast can you go? How many miles?” and so on.
Steve and had already agreed long ago, after the umpteenth person had asked us those same questions, that if we ever did this again, we would first print up a brochure telling all our statistics. We were patient though, and answered all of the young lady’s questions. And why not? She wasn’t that bad looking.
Just as we received our food, a guy pulled up in a sports car; and soon we had stuck up a conversation. We asked about riding on the freeway. He told us not to worry, and said that the Highway Patrol even picked up and helped hitch-hikers whenever possible. He said to watch out around San Francisco, though.
“Why,” I asked, laughing, “California Drivers?”
“You know what?” returned the Californian. “This’ll make you laugh. Down here we call them Washington drivers!”
He picked up his order, we said goodbye, and he was on his way. We finished eating and continued ourselves. Upon reaching the outskirts of town, the burgers were sitting kind of heavy, so we stopped for a few minutes to try our luck again with the ‘SOUTH’ sign.
We had no greater luck here than anywhere else so we moved on, still having no idea where to spend the night. Freeway for the next enchanting ten miles was our lot. It was afternoon now, so we decided to get off the freeway and get onto a secondary road so as to find a place to sleep.
Again, no luck. We were in Loleta and stopped for a conference. It was eight-to-one against our finding a spot to sleep on the freeway, or so we figured. On the other hand, though, could we be sure the secondary road would continue in the right direction to keep us on the path for the big S.F.?
We chose the freeway and cooked the final five miles into Fortuna, where we flew onto the business route and into the downtown area. As we came in, we scoped on the river to our right, and its plenty-fine beaches. We’d have a bite to eat, we figured, and then search for a sleeping site.
Across from the store at which we stopped was a large park, and we parked ourselves under one of the shady trees. (Shady because of the various surprises hidden in the foliage!)
As we sat feeding our faces, we espied several girls and a black dude sitting nearby. They saw us and motioned for us to come over, which we did.
After introductions, we sat around asking questions, finding that the dude hitchhiked around the country and was back visiting Fortuna. As we talked, we unloaded our machines and broke out the Miracle Wonder Cure: WD-40! The WD’s seemed to fascinate the natives, so we let them spritz our bikes.
I jumped out and tried pulling some wheelies, but the ground was too bumpy for much success. The black guy, who wanted to be songwriter, was singing out of his creations, so I went to make a phone call to Mike in Seattle. His mother answered and put Mike on the line.
“Hey, how’s it going?” he asked. “Where are you?”
“It’s going pretty good,” I told him. We’re in Fortuna, California.”
“For — tuna!” he exclaimed.
“Yeah. Say, how’s the weather up there…?”
“Pretty good,” Mike said. “Say, I heard you kinda got wet the first couple of days!”
“Hey! Shut up, huh?”
“How’s your money holding out, anyway?”
“Real good,” I said. “I’ve still got just under a hundred.”
The conversation went on about trivial matters. (The rest wasn’t?) I’d better be going,” I told Mike. “My mom is going to have a fit when she sees my phone bill!”
“Keep in touch, okay?”
“Right. I’ll send you a long letter from San Francisco. Talk to you later!”
I hung up and walked back to the group, just in time to hear the black guy ask, “Where you guys staying tonight, anyway?”
Steve said, “Well, we thought we’d stay down on the river.”
“You guys very well could stay with me. I’ve got a place where I stay. It’s up in the hills behind town.”
We told him we would, except for your bikes and the fact that we wanted to get an early start the next morning. We sat bullshitting for a few more minutes and then left for the river. Following the road south out of town, we stopped at a store to pick up something to much on later. We came out with a box of onion dip crackers and a bag of marshmallows.
We continued, expecting the road to cross the river at some time. But much to our simply unexcelled dismay, it did not; and sighing, we found ourselves facing yet another decision. The road, where we had stopped, divided. One way went onto the freeway, the other route took off into the hills. Because we wanted to sleep, we took off into the hills.
The first town on this road was supposed to be Rohnerville. When we had travelled, the correct amount of miles to take us there, we saw no town, only a couple of houses and a crossroads. There was a little kid standing on a street corner.
“Hey kid,” I said, motioning, “how do you get to Rohnerville?”
“You’re standing in downtown Rohnerville.” He told me. I consulted the map.
“Oh…well then, how do you get to Hydesville?” The pointed down the road to the right and off we went. After a few more miles and an ugly climb, we reached Hydesville. It was situated atop a plateau, and far below us we could see the river glistening in the setting sun. The road led down into the valley, so away we went.
Flashing down at suicidal speeds, we roared into Alton. About a mile beyond there we met up with U.S. 101 again. By going into the hills, we not only had to climb onto a plateau, but we could have saved six or seven riding miles — if we had taken the freeway in the first place!
The freeway crossed the Van Duzen River; and we decided to go under the bridge and spend the night on the river as we had originally planned. Finding a way down, we set up camp and hungrily tore open the food. Right in step with the rest of our day’s luck: The crackers were salty and the marshmallows were stale.
As we ate (gagged?), we spotted several mice scurrying about. We quickly assured each other that mice only eat grain, but threw some marshmallows around — just in case.
As we climbed into our sleeping bags, Steve soberly commented, “It looks as if the fog is coming in again!”
I shoved a cracker in my mouth.
“Hey Steve,” I mumbled. “Happy Fourth of July!”