Close to the end: days twenty two through twenty four
* Leaving Fortuna - Falling into a pack - Storming Fort Bragg *
The last we heard from the boys, they were posted up in Fortuna, CA enjoying a rodeo. The next day, the twenty second of their trip and the 19th of July, they began the final leg of their ride, Fortuna to San Francisco. At the time of this writing, Sergey is already safely back in Berkeley, and Sam in LA, so I write the following with the knowledge of the trip's completion. Pardon the quirks in time and tense.
Leaving Fortuna, we were ostensibly parting ways with Luke and Erika, for they planned to ride slightly longer than us the first day out. At a big visitor center by a state park in 36 miles, however, we ran into them having lunch, and at the same time found out that the campsite up ahead was closed due to budget cuts. There wasn't another campsite ahead for another thirty miles, so we all decided to stay at the Burlington campground, by the visitor center, for the night.
This must have been a common situation, because that night we experienced the fullest hiker-biker site ever: Luke and Erika, us, a group of two girls and two guys mostly from Austin, an old white-haired guy named Reid, a talking demon, and some more people I don't remember. Everyone, with the merciful exception of the talking demon, were all traveling South like us. We were to form a pack that would last for the next four days.
Riding out of camp in the morning, we spotted three more cyclists whom we dubbed the Professionals, who would also become part of the Pack. We rode strong to the Standish Hickey campground, through ridiculously hot weather and climbing several hills. Upon arrival, we were overjoyed to find out that the campground featured a swimming area in a river a short hike away. Needless to say, advantage of this opportunity to cool down was fully taken. Later in the evening, we talked more to the Austinites, and Luke and Erika hung out with a father-daughter pair of cyclists that also became part of the Pack. An Oakland couple arrived late and later proved to travel in the Pack as well.
The California coast cyclists live in fear of Leggett mountain, which rises to over 2000 feet and is the highest point on the pacific coastway (unless you take the Lost Coast detour, featuring a steep 2500 foot monster). Going North, I can see the hill being intimidating, but riding South as we were, the foothills of the mountains started quite far away from its peak, and at Standish Hickey we had already ascended a good 600 feet. In the morning, then, we only had 1200 more to go to the summit.
Cycling toward it, we saw a road sign on which was spray-painted "Leggett Hill is a pussy." And indeed it was, long but never steep; I remained a few gears above my lowest one all the way to the peak. After coming all the way down to sea level, another hill rose in our path, this one about 800 feet and much steeper. The hills behind us, and still relatively early in the day, we hauled ass to a campsite a couple of miles north of Fort Bragg, set up camp, and went into town in a pilgrimage to the library and the North Coast Brewery.
It may appear that all we did was go to breweries. I wish this were true. We visited four on our trip: the Pelican Pub in Pacific City, OR, the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, CA, Eel River Brewery in Fortuna, CA, and the North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg, CA. The North Coast was probably best for beer (Red Seal, Blue Star, Scrimshaw, Old Rasputin, Pranqster, Thelonius, ...), but the Pelican Pub was my overall favorite.
A curious coincidence of names: the majority of our pack, excluding the Professionals, went eight miles farther than us into Russian Gulch campground, while we stayed at McKericher campground. But we ended up in a far more Russian place than the others, because our campground was host to a Russian-American Christian youth camping trip! The reason people went farther is because Reid spread word that McKericher was tiny and awful. As it turned out, McKericher was far more spacious than Russian Gulch, and in a far better (flatter) location.
In the next chapter, the boys catch up with and overtake the Pack.