After a couple of relatively short days where I'd spent as much time riding ferries as bicycles, I felt fit and strong, and not just a little home sick. I was at the beautiful Fort Worden camp site in Port Townsend and I was supposed to give myself a day off. But I also felt I was so close to the finish (after all, I only had to cycle the breadth of the United States) this would be an unnecessary indulgence. So in three days I sped across Washington State and crossed the Columbia River by ferry into Oregon.
The seals in Astoria gave me a friendly welcome, but it felt like few others did. Astoria considers itself a small town, and by American standards I guess it is. But it seemed an awful lot like a thriving city to me, especially as I plied the coastal freeway south of town. Voom, Voom, Voom, Voom every second in my ear as more than a thousand cars an hour ripped passed my panniers. All I could do was concentrate on holding a straightish course between the endless glass fragments on the road's shoulder, never able to look at anything else without stopping. Not that there was much to see, just big neon decorated boxes and car parks.
Seemingly without warning (and this is unusual in America as there are roadsigns warning of every possible real or imagined hazard) the road narrowed and shot alarmingly up the side of a cliff revealing then most magnificent oceanside vista. From dull and mundane to dangerous and exhilarating in the blink of an eye. This is America!
For the most part I found the legendary Oregon coast rather dull. Most of my time was spent with my head down, dodging glass where I could, and fixing punctures where I couldn't. But then, for every 100km of boring and not entirely safe cycling, a beautiful section of back road, or mountainous coastal vista, or beach side riding, or cycling cliff tops with eagles would make it all seem worthwhile. I suppose it helped that I finally ditched the headwind and the sun came out, but it was only my last day in Oregon that I really enjoyed. Sunny California beckoned.
As a cyclist I've always found America to be either very very good, or very very bad, with not much in between. Nowhere more so than in California. As soon as I crossed the border I was instantly more traffic, but I was just as quickly guided onto a delectable, smooth and ultra enjoyable back road.
Highway 101 in California is a major road, and for the most part it's a 6 lane super highway/freeway. California is also home to one of the world's largest growing trees, the magnificent California redwoods. And where the highway meets the few remaining preserved patches of old-growth redwoods the road changes from super-highway to narrow mountain track, with massive trees creeping onto the carriageway. In some ways, cycling among the redwoods is an enchanting and endearing, and on the narrow dangerous roads where people drive like they are still on a freeway terrifying and exasperating. And just when I'm cursing every redwood and wishing they'd get on with cutting the last one down, I'm spat off the freeway and onto a deserted section of old road through old growth redwood forest which are just magic. This lead to an idyllic camp ground nestled among grazing elk. Either very very bad, or very very good.
Scotia is an unashamed timber town built around the industry of harvesting Californian redwoods. The town's museum is a former bank, built in the classic style with huge pillars guarding the entrance. But these pillars are not made of concrete stone or marble. All the more impressively they are made of massive redwood trunks.
One of my few gripes about traveling in America is how hard it is to find public toilets. In most places you are expected to buy something to be allowed to use the toilet, and even then this is no guarantee a teary eyed cross legged cyclist won't be told “five miles down the road". It took me so long to find somewhere to pee in Scotia by the time I'd returned to my bike I discovered the bike computer missing and an unsuccessful attempt had been made to remove my rear panniers. Either that or I dropped it running around holding my crouch.
I cycled on through the Valley of the Giants, a 50-60km stretch (it's hard to tell without a bike computer) of old road through sensational Redwood forest. I then ditched the main coast road onto the quieter (in places) highway 1 that lead me down the coast towards San Francisco.
Every 20 miles or so there would be a warning sign of the ilk: “warning, narrow roads watch for cyclists". But much to my surprise and pleasure, this road got less busy the closer to San Francisco it lead me. No more Oregon headwinds, the sun was almost permanently out and the coast line was getting better, something approaching the beauty of the NSW coast. I was riding faster, feeling more travel weary and jaded, but still America was impressing me.
I picked my way through the stop signs of northern San Francisco to the Golden Gate bridge, and then did battle with the thousands of tourists on foot and hire bikes to cross it. I then detoured downtown to take my obligatory cable car photo and enjoy a lunch at the unbelievably kitsch Fisherman's Wharf. I had a “clam chowder", because I've always wondered what was in this all-American dish. I still don't know.
I was tired, not cycling as well as earlier in the trip, but equally desperate to return home. So I was on a mission as I sped down the wonderful and misty coast, through the Spanish architecture in downtown Santa Cruz (twice, as a result of getting lost), to the magnificent and expensive shorefront at Monterey, then onto the Big Sur Coast.
The Big Sur coast has a well deserved reputation as one of the most spectacular and demanding bike rides on earth. For more than 120km this narrow day-tripper strewn road snakes up and down, in and out around and over cliffs that separate North America from the Pacific Ocean. Massive concrete arch viaducts decorate the route, as do the endless lookout points and patrolling eagles.
The Santa Anna winds pushed me on into Santa Barbera on a glorious Sunday afternoon. Next to the art stalls and rollerbladers on the promenade I fixed another puncture. Less than 200ks to go, but my tyres, which had been cut to pieces in Oregon, looked unlikely to make it. Same deal again the next morning at the beautiful Ventura beach, where I watch Californian surfing. Like everywhere, surfing seems to involve a lot of sitting around waiting for nothing to happen.
Just as I was expecting the sprawl of LA to engulf me, America had one more jewel to surprise me with. The coastal hugging road from Ventura down the Malibu coast was sensational!
Only the last 10ks after Malibu resembled a traffic soaked city approach, and just as it was approaching nightmare proportions, the Santa Monica bike path (laid directly on the sand) had me cruising to the famous Santa Monica Pier. A wave of personal satisfaction splashed over me. Not only had I made it, I'd done a 10 week ride in just 6 weeks.
Just one thing left to do: go for a swim in the Pacific Ocean, and fly home.