Crater Lake had been an unfamiliar frontier for me and I had welcomed the opportunity to explore it for myself. After turning away from its captivating depths, I headed for a more familiar body of water: the Pacific Ocean. I should say that I actually don’t have a ton of experience on or in the Pacific, but I am uniquely familiar with its coast. During the summer of 2013, Mia, my co-leader, and I led a stellar group of teenagers on an Apogee Adventures cycling tour of the Pacific coast from Eugene, OR to San Francisco, CA. Averaging between forty and eighty miles per day, we pedaled through some of the most amazing scenery that the West Coast has to offer, spending each night camping out under the stars. Despite my inexperience on a bike, I fell in love with cycle touring as a way of seeing the world.
Now, I had the opportunity to relive that trip, which is why I had made such an effort to return to the coast after heading inland to see Crater Lake. As soon as I hit Highway 101, I began to remember the grocery stores we had stopped at, the places we had camped, the beach we had surfed at, the store where we did laundry, the stretch of road where one of our major accidents happened… Every second of the drive was a nostalgic overload of fond memories. Sam and I, however, could cover mileage much more quickly than a group of twelve cyclists. Our combustion-based advantage afforded me ample opportunities to explore the countless turn offs that permeate the coast of southern Oregon. One second I would be meandering along the road looking down at sea arches and crashing waves, the next I would be slamming the brakes, pulling off the road, and wandering to the edge of the cliff to get a better view. Although this leapfrogging between viewpoints surely added hours to my trip, it provided a dimension that there hadn’t been time for on my cycling adventure years ago.
Eventually, I passed the sign welcoming me to California and, after having declared that I had no fresh fruit or vegetables, I entered into redwood country. Suddenly, the coastline was not necessarily the most captivating sight drawing my eyes from the road. Leaving Crescent City, the road climbs quickly. The hill, which I remember struggling up on a bike at first light, rose dramatically from sandy beaches to skyscraping groves of redwood trees. Although I wasn’t out of breath at the top this time around, I was ready for the upcoming descent, which I remembered well. For the next three miles or so, the road weaves between forest and cliff top, effortlessly inviting motorists and cyclists alike to marvel at the unlikely pairing of sea and forest. When our group descended that hill, we sped cautiously through dense fog, only able to see fleeting glimpses of the mighty Pacific below. As I crested the hill, ready to descend, the sun shone through the trees, highlighting the rusty bark and the sparkling ocean below. I released the brake and we were off…
Later, I entered Redwood National Park, although I am not exactly sure where it begins or where it ends. Redwood National Park is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult parks to navigate that I have encountered so far. Its two separate sections are a cobbled together smorgasbord of state and federally protected lands. The delineations between the different protective bodies are murky to say the least. I rarely knew when I was actually in the National Park, which my pass allowed me access to or when I had inadvertently crossed into a state park with unknown regulations. Luckily, I didn’t make anyone angry, but also avoided taking certain roads or trails as a result. To combat my confusion, I stopped off at one of the visitor’s centers for some help, but the ranger on duty had no suggestions or tips for how to handle the interagency boundaries or how to navigate the park. I decided hitting the trails would be the best decision.
Somewhat frustrated with my inability to get a handle on the park’s layout, I headed for the trees. As I walked on the soft path, I suddenly felt calm. A dense quiet had fallen over the world around me. The background noise of driving directions, the highway, and accommodations for that night had melted away. I was small and my problems were small. In the presence of these ancient redwoods, whose dimensions defied gravity and the laws of physics, I felt connected to something larger than myself. Their intertwined root systems supported the ground on which I stood, while their canopy protected me from above. Their massive trunks hemmed in the path, guiding me onwards. They ushered me further into their serene world.
Eventually, I pulled myself away from the forest, returning once more to the coast as I ventured further and further south. Although I had originally planned on staying just south of the forest in Eureka, I continued driving south into the night, positioning myself for an early morning hike on California’s Lost Coast.
Maps make everything more fun!