[ Day 23 — July 5, 2012 ]
Erin and I had lunch in Brookings, at a cozy little restaurant with generous portions and friendly service. This was our last town before the California border and also a point of temporary divergence: Erin’s knee had been bothering her, so she decided to catch a bus to Crescent City, saving her about thirty miles of riding. We hoped to reconnect at a campground later that evening, but that hinged upon whether she could handle the climb out of Crescent City.
I opted to continue riding on my own. When it was time for Erin to catch her bus, I gave her a hug and wished her well, wondering whether I’d see her again.
Oregon bid me an understated farewell: quiet, comfortably spaced homes gave way to even quieter ranch land. There was more of the same across the state line, though California announced itself with a characteristically large sign. The border crossing was yet another milestone—the last significant barrier between here and home. A remainder that was once measured in states and weeks was now appropriately done in counties and days.
South of Crescent City, I hit my first real climb of the day. The Redwood Highway was true to its name, and the higher I climbed, the bigger trees I found. I was now biking through the northern portion of Redwood National and State Parks, a jointly administered chain of protected land home to the tallest trees in the world.
My evening destination was Mill Creek Campground, a real gem nestled in a basin two miles off the highway. The otherwise thrilling ride down to camp was dampened by the knowledge that I would have to reclaim the 500 feet of elevation the next morning.
At any rate, the effort was worth it. The campgrounds were gorgeous, nestled beside some of the largest trees I’d ever seen. Ferns and other shrubs filled in between the trees, with not a bare spot in the forest. Vegetation dominated the landscape; at that moment, there was no doubt that I was part of a larger living thing.
By the time I’d set up camp in the hiker/biker area, Erin rolled in, much to my delight.
“Hey you!” she said with a smile, “I found us a friend!”
Another cyclist rolled right in behind her.
“Dan—meet Charlie. Charlie—Dan.”
We smiled and exchanged friendly greetings. I selfishly wondered whether Charlie would affect the trajectory of my friendship with Erin, but the more he spoke, the less concerned I was.
Charlie was 22, visiting from the UK. He was riding from British Columbia to San Diego, where he hoped to surprise his sister on her birthday. He proved to be a friendly but obtuse ambassador.
In a progressively non-consensual discussion of vernacular difference between the US and the UK, Charlie claimed that he had met several Americans who didn’t understand the words bathroom or green pepper. “It’s like you haven’t quite learned to speak English,” he remarked. On cultural differences within the US, he offered the following insight: “You’re much more homogenized over here; you’re basically all the same.”
I assured him that bathroom and green pepper were accepted terms throughout the lower forty-eight. I also pointed out that his encounters on a west coast bicycle route might not be a representative sample through which to make sweeping demographic statements about of country of over 300 million, and even if it were, that most Americans wouldn’t appreciate being regarded as a great mass of uniformity.
I share this not to paint Charlie as a bad guy. He was generous with his food, which goes a long way in my book. I share this to make two things clear: one, Charlie would not be writing a sequel to de Toqueville’s Democracy in America; two, this story would not involve a John Hughes-esque love triangle on wheels. Whatever was to develop between me and Erin would develop, and Charlie was but one particularly vivid character in a series of memorable two-wheeled encounters.
[ Daily Miles: 70 ] [ Total Miles: 1180 ]