At 7 a.m. on Sunday, the forest is quiet, the temperature cool, the road sparsely used by cars. This is an ideal time to ride my bicycle on the Avenue of the Giants. Once sunlight starts filtering through the canopy, the asphalt and I are dappled with light.
Although I have lived in Humboldt County for years, only recently did I drive to the Avenue to bike ride there. In my defense, until less than a year ago I was not much into road biking and the closer-to-home Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which runs through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, answered well my redwood forest bathing needs. Indeed, it is a beautiful ride, particularly on a day when the road is closed to car traffic. The Avenue of the Giants offers a longer ride and the towns that dot it at regular intervals bring variety and a chance for stops along the way.
Driving southbound on U.S. Highway 101, I take Exit 674, Avenue of the Giants/Pepperwood. After about 600 feet, there is a parking area where cyclists can get set up and start their ride, while drivers can take a pamphlet describing the auto tour (also available online), which guides them to eight stops along the way offering hiking and viewing experiences. (On the pamphlet and on the website the tour is described for northbound travelers starting at the south end of the Avenue; if you start from Pepperwood, the first marker is No. 8.)
The bike ride starts in the forest's shade and alternates between full immersion in the redwoods and open views of the Eel River. I enjoy the variety. It's cool in the redwoods and I feel embraced by the trees rising high on both sides of the road. I see the complex community of the forest: redwoods large and small, and dead ones lying across the forest floor — acting as substrate for vegetation — vigorous ferns, a carpet of sorrel. When the redwood tunnels end, I am in broad daylight and glimpse the river mirroring its banks and the sky. Every few miles, a town interrupts the regular sequence: Pepperwood, Redcrest, Weott, Myers Flat, Miranda and Phillipsville, the last town of the Avenue and the one I have not yet reached.
The straight stretches of road allow my eyes to sweep ahead, observe the light's pattern on the road, the trees like a colonnade on both sides. The redwood forest is often compared to a cathedral but I believe the reverse is the case — Cathedrals, particularly Gothic ones, reference the redwood forest. The sense of sacredness of the space is a projection but I know these are not just a set of trees. They form a community, a complex environment where each plant, each animal plays a part. Often my imagination travels up to the canopy, that other world high up, with its own microclimate, flora and fauna.
Traffic increases after 9 a.m., so I pay extra attention. In my experience, most drivers are considerate: They have their headlights on, which makes it easier to see them on my helmet mirror; they slow down if there isn't enough visibility for passing safely; and give plenty of space when they finally drive on. In the quiet, a vehicle approaching is also audible (though in certain areas the sound actually carries from the nearby highway). However, you only need one inconsiderate driver to ruin your day, so defensive riding is always the best approach. While the Avenue does not have a bike lane (that would be fantastic), the shoulder often offers enough space for a bike to move there if needed.
Riding with a buddy is preferable, for safety and company, sharing the experience, chatting along the way. As you consider your itinerary, keep in mind that there is no shuttle along the Avenue, so estimate your energy level and make sure you have enough to ride back to your car.
I pedal on, stop as needed to drink water, eat an energy bite, adjust my layers of clothing. On the way back, past Pepperwood, the final mile and a half feels never-ending until I finally come to a stop next to our car. While I gave a lot to the ride, I received a lot back — physical effort and amazing views combine to release endorphins, erasing whatever tension I carried at the start. The redwood forest has worked its magic.
In this difficult year, in this time of uncertainty, when we are all dealing with anxiety — for different reasons, with different intensity — spending time outdoors, silencing the continuous chattering in our heads and letting thoughts run ahead only as far as the next curve of the road can help us better handle the next day, and the next.
Along the Avenue there are opportunities to get refreshments, including Redcrest Resort, the Daily Grind and Redwoods Market & Deli in Myers Flat, and Avenue Café and Sips in Miranda. After the ride, I like to drive to Pepperwood and shop for fresh vegetables and fruit at the farm stands (open until the end of October), including the Corn Crib (Sarvinski Family Farms) and Flood Plain Produce, home of the blackberry popsicle. To make sure they're open, I recommend calling ahead.
A final note from my cycling advisor (aka my husband): Pepperwood may be foggy and chilly. One option is to drive farther south where the fog breaks. Riding southbound in the morning from that point forward will almost certainly keep you in the sun.