Brookings, OR to Fort Bragg, CA
Between Brookings and Fort Bragg, we experienced what could be qualified as sheer loathing. After Brookings came Crescent City, and just after that came a massive hill. By the time we reached Crescent City, our honeymoon with cycling began to fade. The sun
which blessed us nearly all day, every day in Oregon hid behind clouds. Quaint coastal towns in which everyone wanted to know where we were going gave way to run down, inhospitable cities where groceries cost way too much and the fruit was anything but juicy or ripe. This proved our most difficult batch of riding. Monstrously hilly, there were a few high points, but overall, I would rate this as the most frustrating leg (with the exception of San Francisco itself).
We rode through the Redwoods. They take my breath away every time. We took a couple jaunts through a pair of national parks highlighting the Redwoods. The experience humbled me. In the shadow of living skyscrapers, I felt a powerful energy pulsing through my lungs. Everywhere I looked, there grew life. Life exploded into such incredible heights not even fire could quell it, for many of the trees showed their ashy scars from forest fires long ago. Even the air seemed alive. Nevertheless, the Redwoods suffer from deforestation and the mighty threat of climate change. As I watched the cars slowly drive through like naturalist paparazzi, I felt seething anger and offense. The murderers came to the funeral, and treated it like a Disneyland ride. Still, they failed to ruin my heart’s unity with the living world.
Our night spent in the Redwoods brought us two wonderful new friends, Sally and Kelly. We would end up staying several nights with them. After we met them, we strolled into Eureka where we did laundry. An extremely kind old woman who worked at the laundromat helped us out, and she even gave us free detergent. Fresh and clean, we headed to the Humboldt County fairgrounds in Ferndale. This proved one of our most entertaining experiences. All the people from around the county showing animals or working either parked RV’s or pitched tents in a parking lot while they stayed at the fair. We joined them with Sally and Kelly. The fair was a little crazy, but we heard music for the first time in a long time. I learned of Tyler’s Avril Lavigne obsession (did you know she actually has three albums?). Ferndale is an awesome city, and I highly recommend visiting. I could make my observations about Ferndale and its covert racially-defined gentrification a whole post, but I will make more mention of it below.
After Ferndale, we meandered through what I unfairly deemed a bunch of hick-towns. It sucked. The abandoned buildings; the beaters being driven around; the dirty, emaciated men and women lining the streets; and many homes falling into disrepair characterized the dying cities which clearly suffered from job loss and the ensuing drug trafficking. We wanted out. Leggett pass stood in our way.
Leggett lives in bike touring lore. Everyone headed north talked of its horror, and everyone headed south waited in dreadful anticipation of it. I slept pretty bad the night before in a hideous campground called Richardson Grove. As a result, I awoke in a stubborn, pissed off mood which ended up being perfect. I tackled Leggett Pass, our first experience of Highway 1, under a searing sun, with tireless resolve. The downhill went on forever, and I chased cars down the sharp, shaded corners. Another brutal hill followed almost right after it, unfortunately. After finally getting over them both, I let out a primal yell as I cruised onto the coastline, exhilarated to the see the ocean and displeased to be shrouded in fog. Coming down Leggett taught us how, along the coast, clouds resisted the sun until about two miles inland. Consequently, from Fort Bragg to San Francisco, we saw the blue sky to our left all day; rarely did it grace us with its warm freshness. Sigh.
I promised more talk of Ferndale, and here it is. After the others hit the sack at the fairgrounds, I went for a little exploration of the town. I cruised around in the quiet city passed the two open bars and the two white-washed steeples on opposite sides of town (one Roman Catholic; the other Lutheran). For the most part, I saw the entire town. Neatly trimmed lawns in front of large, country homes lined the streets. I searched and searched for the poorer part of town. I looked for smaller houses or houses in disrepair. There was nothing. In this town, everyone seemed rich, and in a capitalist society, that means only one thing: they managed to externalize and hide their poor.
As luck (or perhaps G-d) would have it, earlier that day, we rode through a small town called Loleta. When we did, the small, squalid rows of houses surprised me. The town appeared like a Latin American slum, and looked much like the small cities I visited in the Colombian countryside. Of course, it is almost certainly towns like Loleta that provide the cheap labor and repressive conditions necessary for the extreme opulence we witnessed in Ferndale. When I began to think this through, Ferndale lost its magic. A beautiful city yet like in all communities of wealth, those upon whose backs that wealth was earned were nowhere to be seen. This disturbed me profoundly.
Another rather interesting experience came in the road conditions. I learned quickly that counties maintain roads. At some points, one could see the difference right at the county line. Humboldt County proved to have the worst road conditions of the whole trip. If you were unaware, Humboldt County’s claim to fame is its marijuana. Playing off pot’s common stereotypes, I want to discuss the relationship between Humboldt’s terrible roads and its drug addiction.
First, I do not want to claim that weed caused Humboldt’s road problems. What I do want to elaborate is a quote from Andy Alexis-Baker, “Drugs de-politicize people.” Oftentimes, pot smokers and drug-users carry strong political opinions. In Seattle, they tended toward the “liberal” camp, and in Humboldt, they seemed more libertarian. As I cycled the atrocious streets and smelled bud everywhere, I realized that drug culture accomplishes absolutely nothing. I know there are cultural stigmas about drug use. Personally, I do not use drugs, and I really could care less if someone wants to smoke pot. Nonetheless, drug use, like television, pornography, and even religious commitments, remains ineffective to insight true social change. The sharpest contrast I can think of comes in the Civil Rights Movement versus the hippie movement. Both occurred roughly around the same time. Both claimed a counter-culture. In contrast to one another, while black men and women marched, sat-in, organized, boycotted, and endured immense persecution for the sake of justice, a mass of middle-class white kids ran off into the forest to get high and laid. The hippie commitment to peace and love found no concrete expression between peoples amongst divisions. Instead, it displayed a certain cowardice. Rather than standing up against the system creating injustice in order to replace it with a more just society filled by peace, the hippies fled. Meanwhile, Martin and Malcolm endured the abuse of those kids’ parents and the politicians who typically made being black just as illegal as doing drugs.
I want to explore these ideas further, and perhaps I will some other time. I thought a lot about many topics on the trip. Furthermore, I have very good friends who live in gentrified neighborhoods, and I have many drug-using friends. To them, I want this to reflect a challenge. Have drugs de-politicized you? Do you want to flee the system rather than resist it? If so, you are doing the exact same thing as those who gentrify. Rather than face the problems and issues of poverty by turning the poor into neighbors, the wealthy build high walls to separate themselves from what might threaten their comfort. Likewise, drug-users flock to the safety of the woods and their addictions to avoid confronting the massive problems causing the modern ecological crisis, war, and the oppression of free market capitalism. Instead of retreating, step out and work for real change and a just world.