Day 8- Caker than Cake
Stats: Weott to Leggett – 49 miles
Today was supposed to be the day with the least mileage, a sort of rest-on-the-go, with a total of 39 miles. Unfortunately, between stopping to camp early the night before and taking a different route to avoid hills, we ended up adding 10 miles, making our easy day almost indistinguishable from a typical 50-something mile ride.
We set out in the morning wearing jackets and long pants to fight the chill in the eternal twilight created by the redwoods. As this was our last day on the Avenue of the Giants, we were eager to see the much-talked about drive-through tree and other anomalies that make the forest famous. We found what we sought…but it was not exactly what we had pictured.
These special trees, which we had kind of expected to just stumble upon somewhere down the road, had apparently become enough of a tourist attraction that they could no longer be left free to the public. Thus we found them secured behind a gate with a list of fees, where some capitalist (in the true spirit of the American economy) had made a business out of traveler’s curiosity.
After bartering the price down from $3 a cyclist to the car rate, which would be $6 for our whole group rather than $12, we entered the park. We enjoyed the adorable “tree house village”, which consisted of two tiny little houses carved intricately to have doors, windows, and even an in-wall bookshelf (complete with carved books and chess-piece bookend). There were also tiny little stairs next to the wood-carved love seat, which lead up to a petite attic with more windows (and lots of graffiti).
After this we went to go see the legendary drive-through tree, and were incredibly disappointed with what we saw. I expected a tall, broad redwood straddling the main road, rustic and hardy. Instead, we found a sickly tree; hole hacked roughly through the base, listing at a 45% angle, no longer able to support its own weight. Several cables supported by other trees nearby were the only thing keeping this sad tree from collapsing to the ground. Later we would find out this was the “Balancing Tree”, and that the actual drive-through tree was further in the park. Woops! But we got pictures with the tree we did find, “driving” through on our bikes.
As we began to make our way out of the forest, we passed through several small, unfriendly towns, of varying sketchiness. It was in one such town that as Kim, Eric and I watched a drug deal, Ben happened to overhear a conversation in which a shady-looking guy admitted that he was a fugitive from the law, on the run and hiding in this small town. It took every ounce of restraint Ben had not to chase the convict down the alley into which he had disappeared. (I actually think that if it weren’t for the fact that our only weapons were my small, dull pocket knife and Eric’s mini hand saw, he probably would have.)
Kim was eager to move on from this felon’s paradise before we got ourselves killed, but Ben couldn’t leave until he had eased his conscience by detailing what he saw to a police officer parked nearby (good job Ben). Thus on this odd and fairly creepy note, we left the cool, green Avenue of the Giants and rejoined the cranky loggers and semi drivers on a hot and dusty highway 101.
By mid-afternoon the day had become sweltering, 104 degrees according to some locals at a grocery store. The day that was supposed to be “caker than cake” had become a nightmare. The entire day was a steady uphill climb, so that even the downhill stretches were really only flat, and the recently paved road radiated heat from below us, combining with the blistering sun to make a giant convection oven, roasting us like turkeys.
When Kim started to come down with the beginning stages of heat exhaustion, we pulled off the highway to consult the map and take a break in the shade. As we poured our dwindling water supply over our arms and legs in an attempt to cool off, I spotted an oasis in the desert: lawn sprinklers. Laboriously biking through the park entrance to the grass area, we all but dumped our bikes on the side of the road, stumbling desperately to the spray of water.
I have never wanted, needed water so badly in my life. We ran with our arms stretched over our heads in blissful abandon, chasing the water with giggles of delight. Pouring water from a spigot over our heads and soaking our shoes, drenching every surface and then drenching it again. I cannot imagine a greater sense of relief, or fully describe how welcome it was.
After a good half-hour of frolicking, we got back on the road. The water had made the ride much easier, uphill as it was, and even though it was still unbelievably hot we fared much better than we had before. Several hours later, after most of the water had evaporated off our sodden clothes and we had again depleted our water supply, we found a second oasis.
A random tourist store on the side of the road called “The Legend of Bigfoot”, selling redwood carvings, postcards, t-shirts and all manner of knick-knacks. The kind owner was glad to hose off Ben and Kim as she watered her garden, and even allowed us to stash our now-hot water bottles in her ice chest. We also took the opportunity to chill with Bigfoot, and Murphy got a chance to meet his long-time hero Shrek. After rest in the shade and ice cream (yay!) we found enough energy to push through to Standish-Hickey State Park, where we camped among many of our friends we had met along the road, and shared horror stories of the intimidating Leggett hill, which we would all be climbing tomorrow.