Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The End.....of the PCH!

The fog was missing! I hurried down to a vista to confirm it, the Golden Gate Bridge was in full view, a striking contrast to the day before. I had only seen it in pictures, although I had driven over it a couple times, but every time it was shrouded in fog, this time though it was undiluted, in full effect. I jumped in my car to cruise across the bridge and back. The towers rose up, for the first time I was able to see their apexes, reaching high into the sky, holding up the enormous steal ropes that suspended the highway above the water below. 

I returned happy, I had crossed a fog free Golden Gate Bridge, a feat I’m sure some San Franciscans have yet to achieve. I packed my stuff and hit the road, I had a long day of driving ahead of me, as I intended to put the last miles of the Pacific Coast Highway behind me, although this leg of Route 1 was referred to as The Shoreline Highway, running north along the coast up to Leggett, California, where it would meet up with The Redwood Highway, or Route 101. 

The road was slow, packed with people out to enjoy the beautiful day. I decided to check out the seaside towns that hugged the Bays northern shores, creeping along from one town to another. Each town had the same mix of old time charm and new money ritzyness. Each house had a commanding view of the bay, as the road climb higher and higher into the hills. If you are looking for where the 1% live, I found a small community, each boisterous house trying to out do the one before, each jockeying for a better view of the bay. I climbed higher and higher, the road so steep I start to wonder how it was built, or if anyone had ever dared to try and walk up it, it’s steep flanks not unworthy of a mention by those who had dared to summit them. 

Finally I rejoined Route 1, just as it was entering wilderness, leaving behind the millions dollars homes, in favor of tree covered roadway. The road slugged along, the landscape unchanged for miles on end. I reached Point Reyes, where I had planned to do a short hike in hopes of seeing some whales, but the parking lot was packed, evidently this was a popular day trip for the city folk from the bay area, and I had little interest in sharing the trails with gleeful children and their absentminded parents. So I jumped back in my car, after hundreds of mile of coastlines I had still yet to see a whale, but I pinned my hopes on that life achievement for later in the week and headed north. 

The air reeked of manure as I passed by a series of farms, huge and expensive, their lush green fields stretching out across the hilly landscape. As I buzzed through one town I wondered how long it takes one to get use to this overwhelming stench, as locals sat on outside a restaurant eating, seemingly unaware of the odor surrounding them. Cows grazed, at times right along the highway, even was the hills gave way to mountainous terrain the bovines remained, gnawing on the vegetation, an arms length from cars speeding along the highway. 

I have never heard anyone talk about the Shoreline Highway, which is surprising because for a long stretch it’s view rivals that of the famous Big Sur. The road climbing steep cliffside’s, winding higher in higher, leaving little room for error as one cruises along the side. The ocean here was even rougher, the waves colliding violently with the rocks below, sending giant sprays high into the air. The surf crushed into the shoreline, showing its ferocity and landscape changing abilities. Birds still danced on the waves, as if unmoved by the tumultuous activity happening below them, only occasionally taking flight to find a less deadly perch. 

With each break taking turn I wondered if I was the only one who knew of this coasts awesome beauty, the road was empty, I was just me and the amazing vistas laid out before me. I drove on, trying to figure out how such pure beauty has gone undiscovered. Then the road turned inland and the finale took over. 

Route one weaved into a Redwood forest. The tall trees sheltering the road from the sun, turning midday into dusk. The road was so unused  thin layer of moss grew atop it. The road turned climbed up an unseen mountain, the trees disguising the view. The air was saturated with the smell of pine needles. Higher and higher the road climbed before I reached the summit, then it was all downhill. I flew around switchbacks, each more demanding than the last, the sun poking through when it could, blinding me for a moment before being blocked once again by the ancient giants that guarded the mountainside. The wet road winded down, the ferns hanging over the edge, nearly touching the car as I whizzed past. 

A light rain began to fall, I slowed down, exhausted from trying not to lose it on the switchbacks. The road continued on, the Redwood groves seemed unrelenting. I drove on enjoying a world I didn’t belong to, a world that has stood the test of time, and will outlive me, an ancient forest just patiently passing the years. 

The end of Route 1 was fairly anti-climatic, not the drive, that was spectacular, but the announcement. A simple green sign read, “California 1”, like hundreds of them before, only this time the addition of a second sign read “End,” and that was it, 655 miles of Route 1 were now behind me as I joined up with Route 101, The Redwood Highway. 

Route 101 instantly began to live up to it’s title, coursing from one Redwood grove to another, only 150 years ago this entire region would have been redwoods, 2,000,0000acres worth of Redwoods stretching from Southern Oregon down the California Coast, but due to logging throughout the 18 and 19 hundreds less than 5% of the old growth forrest still survives. Route 101 cuts amazingly through some of these surviving groves a stunning spectacle to see from an otherwise unnoteworthy highway. 

The sun as setting as I pulled off of Route 101 and onto The Avenue of The Giants, a road that runs parallel to 101 and take you through a massive collection of redwood trees, dwarfing everything else on the highway. Avenue of the Giants is speckled with tourists traps, designed to lure people into wasting their money of shallow gimmicks instead of enjoying the bounty of beauty nature has bestowed upon the land here. I buzzed past them shaking my head that these attractions still manage to garner enough income to stay in operation. Eventually Avenue of The Giants enters Humbolt Redwoods State Park, where I would be camping for the evening, and the tourist traps thankfully cease. I pulled into my campsite and stood in amazement, all around towered giant stalks, reaching up so high they disappeared into the darkness of the evening sky. 

The wind coursing through the trees sang a haunting tune as I set up my tent, tree branches could be heard falling in the forrest, causing me to look up in horror at the giant limbs hanging hundreds of feet above my bed for the evening. A flood marker near my campsite showed that during a flood in 1964 the water was 34 feet deep, making me ponder if I could have chosen a site with any more possible risks.

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