Date: Thu, 7 Nov 96 20:59:00 GMT
Copyright (c) 1996 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Chapter 31 - Sept 30 to Oct 12 Port Orford, OR to Calistoga, CA - 11,939 miles cumulative
Equipment failures --- sigh --- there's nothing quite as frustrating or depressing as equipment failures. I know, I know: with all the miles we put on these bikes we have to be prepared for things to wear out and break. But, I'm the kind of person who wants things to work forever. I want to be able to climb in that car, turn on the ignition, and always hear the soft hum of the engine. Or climb on that bike without worrying about whether something serious is about to happen. Our last day in Oregon was one of those equipment failure days. Now why do problems have to happen in bunches, not just one at a time.
The first problem, Brian's seat broke. The stainless steel rail that holds the seat to the post cracked right at the post clamp. Now this is not just one of your "el cheapo" $15 dime store seats. This is a $100 Brooks Professional leather saddle with those fancy schmancy brass rivets. I bought it for Brian as birthday present just after we bought the TREK bikes. So we get on the phone to Rivendell Bicycle Works who we discovered from searching the WWW while visiting one of our keypals, Tim Paterson, in Brookings. They led us to a former Brooks distributer who tells us that seat rails normally aren't included in the warrenty. What do you mean they're not warrenteed!!! That's an integral and very critical part of the bike seat. I can't believe it's not included in the warrentee. After going around in circles wondering if we should pursue the issue further, long distance across the Atlantic Ocean to England, we decided instead to get him a different, cheaper seat.
The next failure was my rear wheel. Once again wheel problems. These are the same wheels we replaced back in Florida just last December. I had gotten a Ritchey rim and Brian had another TREK Matrix. My Ritchey rim started giving me trouble almost immediately. In Texas I started getting a sudden jerky vibration when putting on the brakes. I ignored it figuring I had done something to the rim. Later, in Whitehorse, we had it looked at. Turns out the rim had develobed a sine wave ripple in its side. We decided not to replace it at that time figuring we'd get ourselves a couple of real good custom built wheels in San Diego. But for the past few days the jerky braking had suddenly gotten much, much worse. Pulling over at a rest stop to see if my wheel was straight I was shocked to discover that the rim weld was coming apart. This was a problem that could not wait. Just a bit more separation and the wheel would colapse.
I decided to try calling TREK Bicycle Co. Ever since arriving in Alaska we've heard on no less than 5 separate occasions that the TREK Matrix rims are prone to cracking and that TREK will replace them, if you ask. But, we already paid $250 to replace the wheels in Florida and the wheel now giving me problems had a Ritchey rim. However, I felt that we shouldn't have had to buy these rear wheels in the first place much less having to get another now. Trying to explain this long story to the nice TREK representative, Dave, he first commented that 5000 miles wasn't too bad. I had this big speech prepared where I would discuss metal fatigue curves and how a properly designed rim under normal road riding even at my load should not see stresses high enough to cause fatigue cracks no matter how many cycles. But before I could say anything Dave said, "Let me see what I can do." Off he goes while I stand listening to a dead phone. When he returns he tells me he's got two new rims of a newer design ready to send via overnight mail to Arcata. We'll have to pay the labor to have them fitted with spokes and our old hubs, but they are brand new rims. With much relief, we continued on to Arcata, nervously watching my rear wheel all the way.
Unfortunately things were not to work out quite as well as we'd hoped. Upon our arrival at Arcata we found the rims had not yet arrived. Also, TREK was charging the bike shop for the rims, to be reimbursed when they returned the defective rims. Since my rim was a Ritchey the bike shop refused to exchange a TREK for a Ritchey. Also, we would have to wait a while for the new rims to arrive. The bike shop mechanic was also saying that 5,000 or 10,000 miles of loaded touring is about all you could expect to get from any wheel. I'm not convinced. I still think there is some wheel out there that will give over 50,000 miles touring without rim or hub failure. And this still would not account for the bad reputation TREK wheels have. We'll talk to a custom wheel maker in San Diego about this. But in the meantime, we wound up buying another off-the-shelf cheap factory wheel just to get us to San Diego. I admit, so far we're not all that excited with TREK's response to this problem.
Our equipment failure day did have a good ending. Stopping in the cheapest RV park in Klamath, we discovered the RV park managers were nowhere to be found. Up walks Julie, a young looking just turned 50 woman about 5' 5", slender build, dark, dark brown hair tied up in a pony tail, and one of those chins that seem to disappear into into the neck. She looked a bit like a prim and proper librarian dressed in sweats. She was our savior for the day. We pitched our tent next to her RV, borrowed her stove, watched her videos of the Salmon run fishing on the Klamath, and scarfed down the ice cream she gladly offered. She was so excited about everything. Recently from the bay area she came north where she had lived for 13 years some time ago. Her dream job, to be a nanny. But, nanny jobs are far and few between in these areas, so she's found a place to park her RV in exchange for garden work and housekeeping and she's got a job teaching the indian children lined up. She's very religious and firmly believes that the Lord will look after her as long as she takes some precautions. She promised to pray for a safe journey for us and I suspect her prayers may have worked the very next night.
"Crunkle .... Shhh". I woke up. Something was not right. That was the sound the tarp covering our bikes makes when moved by the wind. But, as I strained to hear nothing but silence I realized, there was no wind. I climbed out of my sleeping bag, fumbling with the zippres, feeling for my glasses, I crawled out of the tent not even bothering to put on my pants. All was quiet and still under the silvery light of the moon. I scanned the field. Our bikes were not as we had left them. Pulled away from the picnic table and lying on their sides with the tarp still lying on top they were still there. The small cable we normally tied around the table seat was cut, but the big lock tying the rear wheels together was still in tact. Our would-be bike thiefs had been foiled. We learned two very important lessons that night, first our method of defense does work, the bikes are still ours. Second, we'd better do more because next time I may just not wake up.
In the morning the sun came out for the first time in 5 days, the ride was smooth and flat along back country roads. We rode along feeling as if once again our journey had been smiled upon.
After two weeks riding through some of the best bicycling regions of the country, Washington and Oregon, riding through northern California is a rude awakening. Gone are the nice, wide, smooth shoulders of Rt 101, gone are the yellow diamond shaped "Bicycles on roadway" warning signs, gone are the push buttons activating flashing lights warning of bikes in tunnel, gone is that endless string of coastal state parks and waysides, gone are the patient drivers who wait for us to crest a hill before passing. Instead we have narrow roads, rough or nonexsistent shoulders, rude drivers who all seem to be in just a bit too much of a hurry, angry logging truck drivers, RV drivers who don't know how to drive, unruly teenagers and just plain ugly towns. We grit our teeth as we plowed through Crescent City, McInleyville, and Eureka. To complete the perimeter of the U.S. we need to ride the California coast. Never the less, we're beginning to realize that northern California bike touring leaves much to be desired.
So just how does one ride in a straight line, not running off the road or into an oncoming car while looking straight up? If someone figures that out, let us know. For as we road along the Ave. of the Giants our inclination was to strain our necks looking up at those magnificant redwoods. Avenue of the Giants is a short 30 miles stretch of the original Redwoods Highway, later to become 101, built in the early 1900s. It's a narrow, 2 lane road that gently twists and turns between the enormous pillar trunks of the trees. Black/brown bark with deep vertical furrows show hints of the orange hartwood beneath that gives these trees their name. The ground is covered in redwood sorrell, a very Irish looking clover that actually in not related to clover at all, sword ferns with their rapier shaped leaves, and layer upon layer of dead stuff called duff (I'm convinced that's where the name came from). Large felled trees provide nurishment for smaller trees growing right on the dead trunks. High, high overhead branches of the trees meet to shade the road. They tell us there are all sorts of little animals and birds living in the canopy who may never set foot on the ground. It's a multilevel environment much like the skyscraper lined streets of New York City, but much more serene and quiet.
There are actually 3 types of redwood trees, Coastal which reside in a narrow strip along the west coast, Giant Sequoia on the west side of the California coastal mountain range, and Dawn which are native to China. Coastal redwoods produce the worlds tallest trees. The tallest at 367 ft is located in Redwoods National Forest. However, until March 1992 Humbolt State Park was home to the tallest. Named the Dyerville in honor of a now gone town, its height was estimated to be 370 ft. A storm in 1992 blew down an adjacent tree that proceeded to knock down this giant. The Dyerville, now lying on its side, can be viewed from bottom to top along a short nature trail. I admit, as I stood at the base looking along that 370 ft long trunk with its 15 ft diameter I was reminded of the Saturn V rocket also lying on its side at Johnson Space Center in Huston. One giagantic cylinder extending off into the distance.
Giant sequoias are not as tall as coastal redwoods, but they are far larger in diameter. Trunks of the sequoias easily exceed 20 ft making these the most massive living things in existance anywhere. Their needles are a darker green, shorter, and more jagged in appearance than the coastals. The dawn redwood, an example was growing in the Humbolt Park's visitor center garden, has light green almost feather like needles and is deciduous? believe it or not. Putting these trees side by side it's hard to believe they have anything other than the color of their hartwood in common.
With all this height and huge diameter trunk it's amazing that the cones of the coastal redwoods are not much more than 1 inch in diameter. Each cone holds 12 to 24 tomatoe seed sized seeds. These tiny seeds can produce one of the giants but only under the proper conditions, good sunlight and lots of water. Since in an old growth forest competition for these two resources is so great, the trees tend to regenerate by sprouting shoots from burls on their roots. Often a dying tree will send up shoots all around creating a ring of new trees that are thriving on an old root system. A great example of this type of regeneration is found in the Burlington campground. Stumps having been logged in the early 1900s are surrounded by 60 year old trees, all about the same height and diameter.
Coastal redwood trees have an incredible lineage dating back millions of years to the age of the dinosaur. In those times the moister, cooler climate permitted a much larger growing range. Most of North America was covered with redwoods. But climatic changes and a general warming and drying trend limited them to just a 40 mile wide 450 mile long stretch from north of San Fransisco into Oregon. They live to an incredible age, the oldest having been estimated to be about 2,200 years old, although no one seemed say whether this old grandfather sucummed to the loggers axe or not. Why do they live so long? The major threats to trees are fire, flood, winds, and bugs. Redwoods have a real thick, fire resistant bark. The wood is filled with tannin which the bugs find most distasteful. When the root system is covered by silt from a flood they can send new roots up to the nutrient rich surface. Finally, despite having a very shallow root system the roots can spread out over a massive area and often intertwine with neighboring trees to give more support. These aids have given us these magnificient trees that can date back to even biblical times. An incredible window on the past. Oh if only they could talk, what things we could learn about the migrations of early travelers who may have passed this way.
Early 1900s logged redwood stumps are quite strange to look at. At the base the trunks are incredibly hard, nearly impossible for men to hand saw. Being the clever loggers that they were, these men devised a way to make a platform using the tree. Cutting notches into the tree at heights of about 4 to 6 feet, they'd pound in metal tipped planks. Balancing precariously on two planks on either side of the trunk, two men working with axes at first and then a hand saw could fell a tree in one day. Consequently each stump is about 6 to 8 ft high and all have these square notch cuts.
Back in those days the process of felling and cutting a single tree into pieces suitable for buildings, rail ties, shingles, and other saleable items could take weeks. Yet with large work crews the logging companies were still quickly depleting this precious resource even in the early 1900s. With the advent of modern machinery and those terrors of the roadways, logging trucks, trees can be felled, trensported to a mill, and chopped up in a matter of days if not hours. This has increased the rate of cutting to astronomical levels. At the time Columbus sailed the seas there were estimated to be about 2,000,000 acres of old growth groves of predominately redwood trees. This has now been reduced to 300,000 and only about 52,000 are preserved. The rest is open for logging. If it hadn't been for the forsight of three men who traveled the Redwoods Highway soon after it was built and who saw the devestation of the logging, there might not be any of these gaints left for future generations. In 1921 they formed the Save the Redwoods League which has been buying and preserving old growth redwood groves ever since. Today you can for $50 buy a seedling or for $500 buy a tree in the Honor Grove or for $15,000 to $125,000 buy an entire grove and have your name attached to that grove. There are a lot of signs pointing out dedicated groves along the Av. of the Giants. So get that checkbook out and pitch right in. Well, maybe we could afford one of those seedlings.
Fall turned into middle summer weather literally in one morning. Foggy overcast coastal weather suddenly became a record shattering heat wave. Previous record temperatures of 94 degrees seemed cool compared to the 98, 99, 102 degrees measured on our thermometers. As we headed to the wine growing capital of California, Napa valley we trudged away in searing, dry heat over hills only to find Clear Lake filled with ugly, smelly green algea colored water. Wondering if its name was a joke, we learned that this coloration only lasts for a short time in the late fall. Despite locals reassurances that the water was just fine, we decided it was not inviting in the least. Perhaps the advice given by Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire is right, the more scummy and buggy the water the better. Crystal clear water may be an indication of something toxic. But I think that advice applies mainly to water found in the desert. Not a huge inland lake. We bypassed the lake and stayed in a nice, air conditioned motel with a crystal, clear chlorine treated swimming pool and hot tub. It was the nicest motel we've stayed in for many months and sure felt like luxery.
One more steep, hot 1000 ft climb and we zoomed into the town of Calistoga, of spring water fame, in the vinyard packed Napa valley. It was a lot of hard work, but our reward was at last in sight. Time for a little wine sampling. This time we'll be in for a treat, the grapes are currently being harvested and for once we'll actually get to see some action. Every other time we've toured winerys we've stared at still machinery while the tour guide provides vivid descriptions of how the grapes are rolled, crushed, and strained and the liquid poured into the shiney fermenting vats. I've always wanted to see the machines doing something and now's our chance at last.
Nestled between rolling hills covered in brown dry grasses and those dark green scrub oak trees lies perhaps the most fertile wine growing valley of the U.S., Napa valley. Located just north of the San Fransisco bay, this wide flat bottomed valley extends north for some 30 miles into the California coastal mountain range. Riding was flat and easy as row after row of the vinyards rolled by. Vines covered with light green heart shaped leaves just starting to show the golds and orange of fall, espalliered gracefully over the taught strings used to hold the vines erect. The grapes were gone, having been harvested in a hurry during the recent hot, dry spell.
Winery buildings come in all sizes and styles. Some are old, or made to look old brick or stone designed in the tradition of European wineries. Others were modern, concrete looking not much more than a warehouse or some modern architects attempt to look avante garde. The smallest almost look like someone's house or garage. The larger, more well known have fancy entrances with rock walls and pillars, flowers, and real nice landscaping. We even passed four wineries that where currently building brand new entrances and tasting rooms. But, what is most surprising is the shear number of them. Brian read that the recent fad among supposed wine experts is to find that previously unknown, tiny winery just waiting to be discovered. Recognizing this, several of the larger Napa valley wineries splintered into smaller wineries each having their own custom designed label. So the wine drinker may get a different bottle and label, but the fields, plants, and very probably the expert vinter are all the same. I imagine the wineries are laughing all the way to the bank.
The valley runs north to south. There are two roads that follow along its entire length, Silverado Trail to the east and Rt 29 to the west. Perpendicular roads with name like Zinfendel connect the two at regular intervals. Silverado is a reasnably quiet country road with just a few wineries. It passes vineyards and occasionally curls up into the foothills of the surrounding mountains. The cross roads all have almost no traffic and each has its own 1800s rock bridge crossing the river. Rt 29 has all the traffic, three small towns, and is a nightmare for riding. Never-the-less we spent one day riding up Silverado and then back down Rt 29 to our campsite. We weren't overly impressed with the towns. Each and every one was one of those articficially neat, clean, perfect towns created just for the tourist trade. Shops selling the usual trinkets, T-shirts, and just plain next year's garage sale junk lined the streets. Super expensive restaurants catering to the upscale San Fransisco diner were all over. We searched in vane for one of those small, hole-in-the wall taco shops and wound up in a way overpriced Mexican restaurant instead.
Swallowing our disappointment with the towns we headed back to camp. Deciding to check into one of the winery tours and wine tasting rooms we found our biggest shock of the day. The wineries now charge $3 to $6 per person just for tasting. Oh, but you do get to keep the glass, big deal. The last time we came to Napa valley was about 11 to 12 years ago. At that time the valley was still a fairly quiet place and the wineries were still anxious to have folks stop by, try a few, and consequently take a bottle or a case home. Now, just the wine tasting itself has become the tourist attraction. I'll bet what happened is one day some winery decided to try charging. People still came and willingly paid the fee. So it caught on. Doing some research we discovered that there are only one or two that don't charge, but I'm sure they will soon. As far as we're concerned, they can take their wine tasting and shove it. We were disgusted with the whole idea. After all, we can just as easily buy an entire bottle in the stre for less money, which is exactly what we did. So that "treat" we expected to find in Napa valley just didn't pan out at all. It took a lot of effort and hard work to get there and another day of real tough riding to get out and it wasn't worth it. We will probably nnever visit Napa valley again and wouldn't recommend visiting either.
Appendix A - Route
Rt 101 to Brookings Beach roads back to Rt 101 Rt 101 to Humbolt State Park and Ave. of the Giants New and old Rt 101 to Calpella Rt 20 to Clearlake Oaks Rt 53 to Lower Lake Rt 29 to St. Helena
Appendix B - Campsites
Beachside RV Park in Brookings city park ($)
Klamath RV Park ($), Patrick Point State Park ($), Widow White RV Park in McKinleyville ($), National 9 motel in Eureka ($), Burlington campgrouns in Humbolt state park 2 nights ($), Richardson State Park ($), Sleepy Hollow RV park north of Willits ($), Motel in Clearlake Oaks ($), Bothe Napa Valley State Park 4 nights ($)
($) indicates fee camping
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.