Oregon and Redwoods

Published: August 1st 2012
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Wednesday 18/07/12 – Of course it was raining and misty this morning, it seems like that’s what happens along this coast! We took Highway 101 which is renowned for being the most spectacular road on the west coast of the United States. It runs almost the entire length of the coast from Seattle to LA. However I don’t think this is the right time of year to be doing it, as it’s mostly blanketed in fog. From what we could see it appears to be similar to the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. We had only been on the road for about 20 mins when some jerk in a Ute came around a blind corner on my side of the road and almost wiped me out! After what felt like an incredibly long time of careful riding and endless foggy corners we came to Honeyman National Park, which is situated amongst a large section of the Oregon coast that is covered in sand dunes. We set up camp and then went for a walk up the dunes. The sun was setting so we sat on a tall dune and watched the enthusiastic kids on dune-boards wiping out and rolling down the dunes.

Thursday 19/07/12 – After another morning of low-lying clouds and mist, we decided to leave Highway 101 and head inland looking for blue skies. We headed towards Crater Lake National Park along a spectacular road that followed a raging river which weaved in-between huge forests, mountains and cliffs. Crater Lake was formed when a volcano collapsed forming a huge crater at an altitude of over 2000m. It filled with water creating a lake that has a circumference of just under 50 kms, and is 594 m deep. We rode about a quarter of the circumference of the crater before heading into the small village nearby to setup camp. We hit the sack early, only to be woken up at about 9:30pm by the local ranger playing country music at ear-splitting volume; I thought I was having a nightmare. I was so angry (and offended by the music!) I went storming off to tell them in no uncertain terms to shut their music off, but when I found out it was the ranger what could I do?! I just smiled (through gritted teeth), said hello and went back to my tent for some earplugs.

Friday 20/07/12 – We rode around the rim of Crater Lake this morning, today was a totally different experience as there was low lying cloud covering one side of the crater. We did the cloud covered side first; it was so cold that we got a thin layer of ice on our arms, and our helmet visors also got a thin layer of ice on the inside due to our breathing. We had to ride with our visors up; I could feel the skin on my face screaming with terror! The views were definitely worth the pain and personal anguish as there were hardly any other vehicles on the road yet which added to the feeling of being alone on the edge of this mysterious crater.

By the time we had ridden the rim loop road, the low lying clouds had blown away and the other tourists had woken up, so it was time for us to move on. About 380 kms later we arrived at our next destination, Cave Junction. It’s a small city on Highway 199; it is nestled below a mountain range that is home to an extensive cave system.

Saturday 21/07/12 – After a decent sleep-in we headed into town to make a few phone calls in preparation for our upcoming trip to San Francisco. We headed to a money-eating machine cleverly disguised as a payphone and wasted about $2 before moving on to another seemingly identical machine, but this one actually connected our calls. Available accommodation was scarce in San Francisco at this time of year, but we managed to reserve one of the last spots at a government run campground in the suburbs for later in the week.

We headed to the sole reason Cave Junction exists, the caves! Kenz has been pretty sick with a head cold over the past week and had been getting headspins whenever she looked up, so we thought that she would be best suited to the tame, everyday caving experience where you go on a tour with around 10 other idiot tourists and about 5 – 8 screaming lunatic children who run around playing hide and seek, kicking each other in the shins and trying to bring down the roof of the cave using nothing but their screaming voices. I have been on a few of those kinds of tours before and decided this time I would go on a proper 3 hour small group caving experience. I suited up into a sexy modernday-pirate style jumpsuit which included a bandana, helmet, and knee and elbow pads (I bought my own beard). Three of us headed into the cave and after walking in about 150 feet, we jumped over the railing and headed off the beaten track into the blackness of the deep cave. We spent about 2 hours exploring big caverns, squeezing through tight crevices, crawling through tiny holes that were barely over a foot in diameter, crawling along chutes where my stomach, back and hips were scraping the floor, roof and sides, and rappelling into a deep dark pit with just a head torch for light. At one point (at about 500 feet deep) we were lying on our backs in a tight crevice where I could barely move my head from my right shoulder to my left as the width of the helmet would scrape the floor and ceiling of the cave. Here we all turned our head lights off and lay there in silence for a period of time. It was absolutely black, it made no difference if you opened or shut your eyes, and you couldn’t see your hand when it was right in front of your face. There was also no smells (there is so little life down there, including bacteria, that there are no real smells except a very faint earth smell) and no sounds. I have never been in a situation with so little outside stimulation, it was almost like nothing existed anymore (no light, no time, no earth, no body!). After a while it was hard to tell which way was up! It’s an experience I won’t forget, and I later found out that a 65 year old woman did the same trip last week! How is that for inspiring!

Sunday 22/07/12 – We left Cave Junction this morning and crossed into California. I was expecting sunshine, palm trees and hot girls rollerblading in bikinis; instead it was fog, mist, shivering cold and gum trees. We wound our way through the various National Parks in Northern California which are home to the tallest living trees in the world: the Coastal Californian Redwood. They can reach over 370 feet tall, be over 2,000 years old and have a base diameter of 22 feet; scattered amongst these giants are Giant Sequoia trees, which can be 310 feet tall, have a base diameter of 40 feet, and have been aged to 3,200 years! These stats only mean so much; you can’t really get a sense of the enormity of the forest until you go for a walk in them. We jumped off the bikes on a quiet patch of road and walked into the forest, after about 10 metres, it felt like you have travelled back in time to some ancient forest where dinosaurs roamed (apparently, parts of Jurassic Park were actually filmed here). The forests also have an abundance of wildlife: Kenz almost got run off the road by a frisky deer, there were vultures tearing some roadkill to shreds, eagles cruising in the sky above us, and a herd of over 50 Elk crossed the road and were crazing on the grasses beside the road.

The bases of the trees are so wide that they have carved out a hole into one of the living Redwoods and you can drive your car through! We paid our $3 and jumped in the queue with all the other tourists for our cheesy photos! I had previously read about this opportunity and had had visions of riding up through the mist and to the base of the tree in a serene patch of wild forest all alone... It was actually really touristy and gimmicky, there were other tourists everywhere (about 10 cars in the queue), people were standing next to the tree smoking cigarettes and on their mobile phones with their cars idling and standing in the way of the photo you want to take. But it was still pretty cool.

We camped the night at a campground on the Avenue of the Giants in the Humboldt Redwood State Park. Whilst setting up the tent I bumped into a small electricity pole and a big wasp’s nest dropped to the ground right next to me with 8-10 wasps all over it. We quickly tipped the salsa for tonight’s dinner into a saucepan and put the jar over the nest with a rock on top of it. Luckily they were still all crawling around and have been successfully contained. (One of my weaknesses is wasps, I can’t help freaking out when I see one; I don’t like spiders much either – but at least they don’t fly! I got stung by a wasp in the corner of my eyelid when I was younger and have never gotten over it; I can’t afford the therapy…)

Monday 23/07/12 – As I can’t allow my fear and ignorance to kill things, we packed up, moved our bikes and I made Kenz get a big stick to knock the jar over and let the wasps free. We headed down the Avenue of Giants which is a road that winds through forest that has been standing for over 1000 years. Some of the trees here are huge, we stopped at one tree that had previously fallen across the road and had been chopped in half. After lunch, Kenz found one of the offending wasps from the campsite crawl out of her helmet air vent! He was killed by my fear and ignorance. We continued south to a coastal town called Jenner where a great number of Harbour Seals haul out on the beach to sunbake. There were around 30 seals coming and going this afternoon, they seemed to be struggling to move out of the big surf and up to the dry sand; they cannot move their hips underneath their body so they move like fat caterpillars.

We kept riding south till we ended up in a town called Petaluma at sunset. Unfortunately there was only one campsite within 100 miles and it was $44 for an unpowered site. After painfully parting with the cash, we went for a swim in the pool, relaxed in the hot tub, patted the goats, sheep and donkeys in the petting farm, said no to a tractor ride around the camp, and declined the invitation to go on the jumping castle (it was unlike any campsite I have ever been to). Also the camping area was dust, the WiFi wasn’t working and the cows and donkeys kept us up all night.

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