With a feeling of excitement and apprehension, I scooted back towards Highway 1. I wanted get back on the coast as far north as possible, so I headed south briefly on I-5 before angling northwest towards Fort Bragg. In the end, my detour to Mt. Shasta and Lassen Volcanic National Park only meant that I missed about 100 miles of the California coast. Not bad if you ask me…
Immediately I succumbed to the nostalgia of my 2013 cycling tour. I spent a few hours grabbing coffee and hiking in Mendocino, the quaint town where our group had one of its most relaxing layovers. I even gave the Apogee Adventures office a call just for good measure. Continuing south, I followed memorable roads as they snaked up (or down) valleys cut into the coastline. I kept wondering how well I would handle those hills nowadays, without my car. Sam handled them wonderfully, charging up and coasting down without a problem. At every turn, the ocean opened up before me. Sometimes, the coast was impenetrably rocky and bleak with roiling waters and powerful waves. Then there were calm inlets, cut into landscapes of pastoral tranquility. The shifting mood of this landscape had not escaped me during my cycling trip, but it was much more apparent when moving at high speeds.
Dozens of small, funky communities dot the contours of the California coast. They range from artistic to touristy, from bustling to dormant, yet each is beautiful and perfectly at home in its own way. Mendocino, my early stop, was one of the most memorable, but I couldn’t forget Elk, Gallaway, or Jenner. Nor could I forget riding through Salt Point State Park or the environs of Fort Ross. Each road sign or turn in the road brought back memories. One of my final stops, however, was Point Reyes Station. One of the larger and more established communities on the coast, Point Reyes Station is the gateway to the Point Reyes National Seashore, one of the Pacific Coast’s treasures. My memory of this town, however, is not due to its optimal location. Instead, I remember it as our last stop before we hit San Francisco. We stocked up on tasty treats, lounged around in the sunshine, and readied ourselves for the next day’s ride. Moreover, one of our group members who had sustained a concussion earlier in the trip, returned that day. Her presence was a positive factor that brought the entire journey back into perspective for our group. We were united again. As I parked outside the market, I remembered the joy we all felt when we saw her coming towards us down the main street.
While Point Reyes Station had been the end of the day for our group, I decided to push on towards the lighthouse. My memories of Point Reyes National Seashore were vague, so everything felt fresh and exciting. The rolling hills, grazed to perfection by cattle, led gently towards the rocky headlands where the water meets the shore. I was just in time for sunset, so the color playing across the landscape couldn’t have been more beautiful. The deep greens, the cloudless sky, and the growing shadows behind each hill were more than a little distracting. After about 45 minutes of driving, I pulled into the Point Reyes Lighthouse parking lot. I jogged quickly out to the overlook, hoping that I wouldn’t miss a moment of the sunset. I did miss my opportunity to walk down to the lighthouse, but the best of the sunset was still to come.
Seascape sunsets are notably different than sunsets over a landscape. The horizon lies flat and uninterrupted, while the sun hangs gently above it. The refracting sunlight passing through thin clouds or particulates is often what makes for an especially dramatic or colorful sunset. Unless there is an incoming storm or a passing cloud, I have noticed that Pacific sunsets are often very empty. Believe me, I don’t mean “empty” in a bad way. I simply mean that there is less interplay between light and atmosphere. The quintessential warm yellows slowly fade to deep oranges as the sun dips below the horizon. The eye-popping pinks and vivid reds are less common without clouds. That said, I learned long ago that staring into the sunset often means you are only seeing half of the beauty. Behind me, cloudy wisps of lilac and pale pink trailed across the sky. I spent the better part of an hour watching that sunset, talking with a river surveyor for the state of California.
As always, night quickly followed the sunset, making my drive across the peninsula slightly more nerve-racking. It was made all the more exciting, however, by the fact that I would be seeing friends in San Francisco that very night! Onwards!
One road: one map