I drove through much (all?) or Northern California in just a few days, from the border to San Francisco.
I’d hurried to Crescent City, CA – which is basically the first northernmost town along the California coast. Here, I would start my meandering down the entire California coast. This is the most popular and desired road trip in America. The most beautiful highway. The exclamation point on the western edge of the United States. The manifest destiny fulfilled.
Climate-wise, I got down to Northern California later than I should’ve. It was cold. So I moved south to and through San Francisco quickly – in a week or less. Once I got past San Francisco, I stopped to pause in some towns – mainly Santa Cruz and Carmel-By-The-Sea. But basically, I went quickly down to Carmel and then paused for about 5 days before going through Big Sur.
The Northern California coast is a difficult place to live in a van. There are some long stretches without towns big enough to blend in or even park off the highway. From the border to Big Sur there are no National Forests. I’ll cover Big Sur in a future post, but the National Forest at Big Sur is closed entirely because of a big fire. Normally that would be a great place to pause for quite a while and go between the coast and campsites in the Forest.
Many days I drove south in chunks of about 150 miles. That would take me a long time because I’d stop a lot to walk around, relax, and take pictures.
Avenue of the Giants
This is a really cool stretch of 20 or 30 miles. The original highway 1 was rebuilt at some point. Avenue of the Giants is a stretch of the original Highway 1 that was kept and is still maintained (and is now highway 258). The new highway runs basically parallel to the old, but the old passes through a number of redwood groves:
This first one is in Crescent City. I spent a few afternoons in spots just like this.
Bike Ride Surprise
One morning, I was parked at one of the little turnouts/parking lots next to the road that overlook the coast. I had breakfast and was doing whatever, and I noticed a lot of people bicycling on the highway. So far the only cyclists I’d seen on the highway were bicycle tourers. At first I figured there were people riding was because it was Saturday. There were so many that I decided it would be a good (safe) day for me to ride along the highway. As I was getting myself and my bike ready to ride, I realized that this was a large organized event.
There are a lot of cycling events where people pay money to ride ($30-$100), and some person/group organizes it – they get routes planned and mark them with signs on the road, they hire police where needed to direct traffic / encourage drivers to drive safely and not road rage on the cyclists / set up food stations at various points along the routes / get “marshall” riders – who know the area and route and who ride along and will help people as needed. I joined the ride and had a whole string of good luck:
1 – They were riding south, so I also went that way. 200 meters from where I started, the route turned left to go inland. That morning I had actually driven back north from the little town I slept in. If I hadn’t done that, or hadn’t driven as far north, I never would’ve seen the riders.
2 – As soon as we turned onto the road inland, it went up a big, fairly long hill. A ride like this includes a lot of old guys and people who don’t ride a ton, so I was passing nearly everyone. One thing I noticed about this ride is that there were a LOT of ride marshalls (they all had bright orange/yellow jerseys identifying them). Only two people passed me going up the hill, and the second one was a marshall. I had been wondering where the route was going. These rides include really long routes (up to 100 or even 150 miles). I’m not in the greatest shape and there’s no point in riding really far, so I needed to figure out how to get back to the van. I didn’t want to just turn around and go down the same road because there were so many riders coming up that me going down against them all would be kind of unsafe. So I rode along behind this marshall for a while and then asked him about the route. This marshall was the only person I spoke to on the ride.
3 – He told me about the route and which turns I should make to get back to the van. He also told me about the event, and explained that it was put on by a guy named Levi Leipheimer, who was a top level pro racer for many years. He said there were a couple other pros here – Jen Ulrich (a very very good rider from Germany. He won the Tour De France once or more and then was 2nd place behind Armstrong like 4 times), plus a current pro named Andrew Telansky. He said they were riding on an entirely different route than we were. Then we were talking about my bike. I have a cyclocross bike, not a normal road bike. I got this bike so I could ride more comfortably on gravel/dirt/rough roads and trails. He said there’s actually a gravel road, a shorter path back, and that he was thinking about taking this route. So, I stayed with him. When we got to the gravel road, he pointed it out for me and decided that he’d go this way. It was more of a trail than a road, and was a really fun. It was all downhill, mostly going through thick trees/forest.
4 – We were going the opposite direction of the route. Since we were going backwards, it was sometimes a little surprising or confusing for the riders that were going the normal way. (This gravel road was part of a really long/challenging route, and there weren’t very many riders on it, probably 3% as many riders as the route I had been on initially). Sometimes we’d pass a person and they would ask if we were ok, or they’d as if they were going the right direction. Since this was a tough route, the guys we were passing were quite fit, and some of them were going up the hill really quickly. We passes one group of three riders and the first one asked if we were ok. The marshall tells me “Hey, that was Levi Leipheimer!”. Then we pass another guy – this one was Andrew Telansky and was recognizable because he still races and thus had his team clothes on. We also figured that the third rider behind Leipheimer must have been Jan Ulrich. You folks reading this have probably never heard of these guys, but they are huge stars. This is sort of like going to a local pick-up football game and seeing John Elway and Randy Moss playing there (though not exactly, because they were there to promote the event).
So anyways, that was a pretty cool string of unexpected and lucky turns.
Omar and Laura
One day I was in a little parking lot off the road. There was a pretty nice beach down a path from this lot. Another van pulled in (A Dodge high top conversion van), and a guy with an accent came over to my van and asked me if I minded him taking a shower over by his van, and how far it was to the beach. I spoke with one of them a bit more later on, and then they invited me to have lunch with them. The guy (Omar) is from Spain, and the woman (Laura) is from France. They had flown into San Francisco within the lat week, and found and bought their van a few days ago. They found a nice deal: $2,500 for a good condition van with 90k miles in San Francisco. They are both world travels and actually met fairly recently at a free outdoor Rolling Stones concert in Cuba. They were quite new to van dwelling and had some technical questions that I was able to help them with. Of course, we had wine with lunch :-). Before leaving I asked to take a picture:
Omar joked a few times about being together 24 hours a day and getting a bit tired of each other. When they came over for the picture, instead of standing together, Laura claimed ownership of my van:
And Omar volunteered to take a picture of me: