Matt O'Donnell
Pacific Coast
Garberville, CA to Tomales, CA Have to start this segment off with an apology. The amazing place with hot food and cold beer was NOT right next to Burlington Campground. That was at the beginning of this segment, at Standish Hickey Recreation Area. So if you roll into Burlington with no food, you will die. Don’t do that. Feel free to totally do that at Standish Hickey, just a bit before Leggett. Leaving Standing, you get a good 1,000 foot climb for the last little bits of HWY 101. Just one more 6 percenter and then you turn onto HWY 1. It jolted me with a feeling of excitement, because HWY 1 is my highway. I ride it all the time in Marin. It was a sign (literally, there was a sign) that I was close to home.

As soon as I descended down towards the coast, Hwy 1 acted just as expected. I was folded into a blanket of fog and was surrounded by damp foliage. The highway twists and undulates like a snake cutting through the greenery as it makes its way towards the ocean. Then suddenly, right after Usual road, the fog breaks and the tree line pushes back away from the east side of the road. You can feel your closeness to the water, but you still have to cut across the inland side of Cape Vizcaino before you actually get to see it. Once I did get to lay eyes on the ocean it was a welcome sight. It had been a couple days since seeing it and when you spend a month riding alongside it, it’s a bit disarming to be away from it for so long.

Fort Bragg was my stopping point for the night of the 27th of September. I got to eat a first dinner and enjoy some beers at North Coast Brewery and then found an awesome locals sort of pizza spot.  

Earlier in the week someone following me on Instagram who happened to be on the same route I was traveling, but about a week ahead of me, told me there was something special I had to check out when I passed through Little River. Per there instructions, when I got to the local cemetery I walked to the rear and looked for a gap in the fence. I followed a well-worn path back into the trees and discovered a huge sinkhole that went down some 100 feet. At the bottom of the sinkhole is a cave that goes out to the ocean, through which travels waves, crashing through at high tide. Continuing further back on the path brings you to the edge of a cliff. As I stood looking out over the water I could see a group of kayakers going for an afternoon tour. It was a pretty magical little detour.

The riding between Fort Bragg pretty much all the way to Point Reyes was a lot of frustrating “rollers”. But that makes it sounds kind of gentle, whereas it was endless steep climbs and steep descents. Never a huge climb, but you weren’t able to gain much momentum or flow to the days ride. The descents didn’t flow naturally into the following ascent, it was all just too sharp.

The hiker biker site at Gualala Point Regional Park was nice and set up right next to the Gualala River. Some nice ladies that were car camping lent me a lighter and even offered me dinner, but I was so ready for bed I politely declined and just quickly cooked up some pasta and hit the hay.

I woke up the next morning of the 29th of September with a Blues Brothers level mission from god on my hands. I needed to put in some miles and I needed to get home to see my girlfriend. I’d been on the road for 29 days and I missed her bad. I was still 120 miles out, but I knew I wanted to be there on the following day, so I resolved to do 80 miles and get my butt to Point Reyes for the night. The slog was very real as I was right back into the steep, but short ups and downs this part of the coast gives you. This day ended up being a bruiser with 80 miles (the longest day of the trip so far) and over 5500 feet of climbing.

Lunch was a funny, overly fancy spot in the touristy Jenner. There really wasn’t much else around (as was lamented to me by the waitress). But the riding was gorgeous. Hwy 1 really is a magical road and should be ridden by everyone with the desire to do so. There were some intense road construction zones. On a few occasions the highway was reduced to one lane. One direction of traffic would be allowed to travel while the other would be held at a light. There was never a shoulder. The issue is this was for long stretches of highway that curved beyond what was visible. As a cyclist I’d wait for all the cars to make it through the light and then hop on their tail and do my best to make it through before the other direction was allowed to go. On a couple occasions if I had been waiting for a light and the line of traffic behind me stretched so far that I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to clear the zone if I went after them, I’d go ahead of them. Pushing as hard as I could to go as fast as I could so as to not have a mass of 50 angry vehicles barreling down on me from behind.

As I approached Tomales Bay I was excited to really start recognizing this particular stretch of the highway, but as the sun began to set and the delirium from a long day in the saddle started to sap me of energy, I tried to keep my legs moving and pushed on towards Pt. Reyes, doing my best to limit the amount of time I’d have to be on the road in the dark.

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Matt O'Donnell

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Matt O'Donnell
  • Genesis moment? A year ago I started a new company with a friend here in San Francisco. It’s been successful and I feel blessed because of that, but the hours were long at times, the stress high and I found that my fitness and riding is what took the biggest hit. I went from regularly riding 200+ miles/week to being lucky if I got in 40. When the holiday season came around I found myself with a week off and a huge amount of excitement to get back on the bike. I went for broke and rode over 300 miles in the six days I was visiting family out in Tucson, AZ. What did I get for my effort? A knee injury, seemingly caused from overuse; meaning I jumped back into the deep end too fast. I should have waded into the kiddy pool, I guess.
    I’ve spent some time in physical therapy and the knee is feeling good. This trip is going to be a great opportunity for me to get reconnected to my functioning body and to allow my head some time and space away from work, to reevaluate priorities, tell some stories, and to just ride bikes and sleep in tents.
  • Have you traveled in the past? My previous experience traveling distance by bike is pretty limited. I’ve done a few overnighters, but this will be my biggest trip BY FAR. I look forward to learning primarily by making mistakes and then trying not to repeat them.
  • Goal for the route? My biggest goal is to find some great characters and stories to share along the way. So much of the fundamental basis of American cycling culture spawned from the West Coast and I know there are going to be great examples of it along the way. In addition to that I hope to keep all my fingers and toes attached to my body.
  • What do you hope to get out of the journey? It sounds hippy-ish, but I’m hoping to come away from this with a bit of perspective. The sort of insight and calm that only many miles, the open road, and no cell phone reception can bring you. I’m also aiming for some real nice, crisp, tan-lines.
  • What's in your bag? #1 my Fallkniven F1 survival knife is my favorite camping knife. Seeing as how it is a fixed blade, I (for legal reasons) don’t want to “conceal” it. I tend to actually mount it right on the bike with zip ties holding the plastic sheath in place. Getting it through customs will be interesting.

    #2 My Coffee & Tea Collective tin mug. This was given to me by a good friend who hails from San Diego for my 30th birthday. I’ve never spent any time in San Diego, but since this route is going to take me right through I figure I should swing by and fill this baby up straight from the source. I will then immediately begin an epic burrito sampling to settle once and for all who has the best, San Diego, or San Francisco.

    #3 my GoPro Hero 4 Black. I have a variety of accessories from mounts, to filters, to nifty time lapse doodads that will allow this camera to do some heavy lifting for the mini documentaries I intend to produce while out on the tour.

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