Fort Bragg, and some musings about safety


Today my Redwood Valley hosts Spencer and Esther were kind enough to allow me to load my rig into their fully electric car (so cool!) and hitch a ride with them out to Fort Bragg, where they serendipitously happened to be heading today for a social engagement.

Along the way, driving through beautiful redwood forests, we hit a delay: cars were stopped and backed up on the twisty road. It turned out that a redwood tree had fallen across the road, blocking traffic in both directions.

Fortunately, someone in a car ahead of us happened to have a chainsaw on hand, so they used it to quickly clear the blockade. We were probably stopped for only about ten minutes.

While we drove, the two shared some history of the area (the forests, the solar industry, the cannabis industry, and various economic and legislative aspects of all of the above) which added to the knowledge I’d been picking up first from Kitty and Creek, and then Henry. It’s cool to have connected here with three separate households of people who have decades’ worth of personal history and knowledge of this area.

One thing I learned yesterday, which saddened me, was that apparently the company of Real Goods is no more, as of the past year or two. The owner and founder had tried to sell the business, and ended up partially turning it over to another company, but the solar energy showroom and demonstration center no longer exists; the company operates only online now. I had really hoped to visit the center during my stay in Ukiah, so this was a disappointment. It also hit me like the end of an era: the end of a certain kind of promise, at least within my own mind. Of course, solar energy has come so far since those days in the late ‘80s when my wide teenaged eyes first discovered the Real Goods News catalog/magazine, so it’s fair to say that the company paved the way for bigger and better things. Of course we need a larger scale of solar and renewable energy than the pages of that catalog reflected. But there was a certain grassrootsy, idealistic promise that I felt from that publication which I think may be lost to the sands of time now. And I’m sad about that. When I spoke to my parents on the phone this evening, we reminisced about the solar shower and solar-powered hats my sister and I had purchased way back in those days. In fact, as I prepared to embark on this trip, I gave away a Real Goods-branded small solar-powered fan that is designed to clip onto the brim of an existing hat. A neighbor in my local Portland Buy Nothing Group said that her son would be thrilled to receive it. I was glad to hear this, although at the time I didn’t realize what a rare treasure that item had become.

Another thing has also been weighing on my mind these past few days. It’s kind of complex, and multifaceted, but I’ll do my best to condense it here:

I haven’t been on my bike much in the past month. I’ve taken many trains, a number of buses and shuttles, and many rides from friends (including newfound friends!) both in the Southwest and here in California. I have felt extremely grateful to have these options, and to accept people’s kindness. And, for me this journey has always been about traveling in the way that feels right in any given moment, rather than  sticking exclusively to pedal power.

At the same time, part of me worries that I’m “cheating,” both in terms of what people may expect of me on this trip since I dreamed it up as primarily a bicycle trip, and also just in terms of environmental impact, since that is that primary reason I’ve chosen not to own a car all these years.

It’s complicated, though.

I’m not particularly an athlete. Some of these stretches are way too hilly/mountainous for me to be comfortable using my own power to put in all the miles, especially since I’m pulling the trailer.

I’m also not a camper. I need lodging—preferably with people, rather than paying for hotels, since my budget is very limited for the trip—and in many of these long stretches (Flagstaff to Prescott, Prescott to Phoenix, Joshua Tree to the southern California coast, Mount Shasta to Arcata, Eureka to Willits, and most Oregon and California coastal areas I’ve looked at) there simply aren’t options for lodging—paid or not—within 40 or 50 miles of each other.

Perhaps most important, though, is the question of personal safety.

I know that bicycling is an inherently dangerous way to travel. I’ve written about that a few times here already. But just yesterday morning, my Warmshowers host from Oakland (herself an avid and car-free cyclist) messaged me, worried for my safety, because she’s home with family in Texas, and just saw this news story. It reminded me of this news story.

So tragic.

My Willits host, Kitty, absolutely insisted on driving me to and from their place, because of all the fatalities on the roads near them, even for people using motorized transport.

After 31 years of living in Portland, I’d always wanted to visit the redwoods, but somehow never had. Given the relative proximity, I had been wondering why that was. But now that I’m here, I get it: it’s nearly impossible to do without a car. I have relied heavily on people driving me to these wonderful places in the past couple of weeks.

Again, I am deeply grateful for this, and I’m doing my best not to criticize myself for not being totally hardcore, environmentally, athletically, and outdoorsy-wise.

But here on the ground, I feel the tension. I feel, plainly, that in many parts of this land, one must choose between environmental responsibility and life-or-death safety. And I’m sad about what this reflects about our individual and collective priorities, as a society.

Of course it’s not black and white. The car we took out here today is fully electric, and partially powered by solar panels. Kitty’s car is a gas-electric hybrid, as are the cars of several other people I’ve stayed with. And, being out in these rural areas, seeing and feeling how rugged the terrain is, I understand that it doesn’t necessarily make sense to pave a perfect smoothness onto remote roads, nor to run urban-style transit to rural areas or build urban-style bicycle infrastructure there. Heck, I grew up on a remote, potholed gravel road back in Virginia. I felt those tensions, and saw the complexity of the issues, back in my teenaged days as I perused that Real Goods catalog.

Having said all this, though… I want to see this nation become a place where people can choose to live lightly on the earth by choosing to bicycle as a primary means of transport, without worrying that at any moment someone will barrel by in a motor vehicle and kill them or injure them. I hate reading these stories about these idealistic cyclists taking trips like mine, whose lives are tragically cut short because people are driving unsafely.

I’m going to make another personal plea, here—two days before the start of my 50th year on Earth—and then get back to “the fun stuff”:

Please, when you get behind the wheel, think of vulnerable road users. Don’t look at your phone while you’re driving. I’ll say it again: Please don’t look at your phone while you’re driving. Look at the road, and be aware that a bicyclist or pedestrian could be around that next blind curve. Drive slowly enough that you can reasonably stop if you find that to be the case. I like to think that my, and my fellow cyclists’, lives are worth those efforts.

OK. Having said all that, I do expect to take some more transit to get back to 101 from here on Monday. But after that, I think as I near the Bay area—and hopefully some warmer and drier weather—I will be spending more time in the saddle.

Speaking of which, I did get out and ride today! Fort Bragg is beautiful, and since I arrived two hours before I could check into my hotel, I took Spencer’s suggestion to ride along the bike-and-pedestrian path that overlooks the ocean.

Wow! Incredible.

Then, I ventured south with the hope of seeing the Pygmy Forest Spencer also told me about, just south of Fort Bragg off of Hwy 1. However, as I started out there, later in the day than I had planned, I realized it would be too dark and chilly to really see it and get back before dark. So, instead I made a brief foray into a roadside hiking trail, then turned around and headed back toward the hotel.

Tomorrow, I plan to take an excursion railroad I’ve been curious about for years, as well as visit a highly recommended botanical garden.

What fun!

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