The majority of our route to date has followed the busy and traffic dense US 101. Although safe, it requires a certain level of concentration to maintain our course with cars constantly whizzing by. Whenever we can, we try to take an alternative route.
Sometimes these routes are slightly longer and usually involve much more climbing, but they are usually quiet and allow us some solitude away from the traffic. Our favorite so far have been parts that are labeled as the "old highway". These sections were part of the original route for 101 but have been bypassed with a new highway designed for larger and faster moving vehicles.
These winding roads climb at a more enjoyable pace and hug the headlands. Sometimes they deteriorate into single lane roads or even gravel and always are cracked and slumped where landslides have pushed the road surface down. Our wide tires and steel frame float over these road obstacles with ease and relative comfort.
It's amazing how technology has evolved since the last time I was on an extended tour. I was without a cell phone and no one in our group had a smart phone. Now, we are traveling with a tablet and have the ability to download high resolution maps (using maps.me app) and plan our route. I am able to find quiet backroads quickly and easily just by zooming in to an area.
Some of these alternate routes are well known in the cycling community and are named: 3 Capes and 7 Devils. (Named for the number of difficult climbs) Others are more generic: Scenic Route or Ocean View. Some wind through small towns on side streets and will go by parks and scenic overlooks. Sierra and I always are ready to take a break off the bike for another scenic overlook.
Sometimes technology only helps so much when planning these small adventure detours. Our guide book described one of these alternate routes as a gravel road detour designed for mountain touring bikes. I wanted more details about the conditions before attempting something that was beyond our comfort level. We found the Redwood Information Center in Crescent City. The ranger on duty was helpful and said that the route we were looking at was a quiet gravel road that ended with a gated trail that was an old road that had some washouts but bicycles and hikers were allowed. This sounded perfect for the solitude we were looking for. The ranger followed that if we were up for this kind of riding, we should take a hike/bike trail that heads down to the coast from the Redwood Highway. We would be able to take the back way into the Fern Canyon (a place Sierra and I wanted to see). We left excited about some solid miles away from US 101.
Just after Klamath, CA, we turned to the coast and began a quiet climb through huge stands of redwoods. It felt like we had a private tour of a secret place. The sun was drifting down through the towering trees and a small creek flowed beside us. The climb topped out on a cliff with incredible views of the Pacific hundreds of feet below. The gravel road section was an adventuring tourist dream. Behind the gated road, we had miles of car free gravel road. Leaves crunched under our tires as we followed one of the oldest roads on this section of the coast. We were following a gold prospectors route from the 1850's and shared the same ups and downs that horse drawn wagons did 160 years ago.
Eventually the trail ended and we returned to a quiet paved road that meandered back to the main scenic drive.
The next section of adventure was a different story. We left the main road again for a trail that led down to the beach and followed the beach to Fern Canyon. Immediately we knew something was different. Instead of an old road, we were on a dirt single track trail. Our tires are wide, but not specifically designed for "off road" riding. Still spurred on by the ranger's suggestion and the previous glorious adventure, I thought that if we could get down to the beach, we would pick up the road again. We descended 500 feet in just a few miles. We were forced to stop three times to let our rims and brakes cool down from being too hot to touch. Finally we made it down to the beach, but instead of a flat gravel road trail, only single track loomed ahead. This would have been fun on a unloaded mountain bike, but for our tandem, it was a different story.
We pushed our tandem up steep sections of trail with blackberry and nettles biting at our legs. Twice we had to lift our bike over roots and over rocks. There was no option to turn back. It was only to go on or stop and sleep. We still had plenty of daylight so we pressed on. When we came to the first tree that was over the trail, our frustration levels were maxed out. We unloaded the bike and carried bags and then the bicycle over two large trees wondering the whole time what we had gotten into. The trail edged closer to the beach and became sandier and less stable. On a short steep section we stopped to get off and push the bike, but when we put our feet down on the ground, the side of the trail gave way and the we toppled over into the brush with our fully loaded bicycle on top of us.
I could feel branches breaking under my weight. Somehow Sierra and I both unclipped from our pedals but I was pinned upside down holding the bike from sliding further down into the ditch. Sierra was first up out of the ditch and started pulling the bags and bicycle off of me so that I could get to my feet. We were covered in dirt and twigs. We brushed ourselves off and looked over ourselves and the bicycle. Nothing was bent, broken or bloody, but we were bruised and shaken by the event.
Still the only option was to press on. The trail finally became flatter easier to ride. Our large bags fitting between logs, trees and huge sedges with only inches to spare. Eventually we could hear voices from around a clump of trees and we saw people walking toward us. They were shocked to see our fully loaded train heading down the trail but reassured us that we were almost back to the main road. We only had one more creek to cross. Balancing on a log while pushing our bike through 6 inch deep water we made it with dry feet to the other side.
Five minutes later, we entered the campground, found our spot and set up camp. We were sharing a spot with two backpackers from Australia and New Zealand. They built a huge fire and offered us sips from their bottle of spiced rum: two things that we were craving more than anything else.
We turned in for the night and decided to take a rest day in the morning, before heading back to tamer roads.