Robbie and I lock our bikes a couple of minutes before the Herrick Avenue Park and Ride off U.S. Highway 101, where the Hikshari' Trail veers left. Then we walk ¼ mile over a wooden bridge and along the railroad track, turn right and stroll through grass to the closest thing to a beach this side of the Samoa Bridge.
I disrobe, deciding to have a quick dip in Humboldt Bay. Unlike the "real" beaches, this half-beach is usually calm, though not warm enough to seriously swim. Since Lycra is a pain to get in and out of, Robbie watches me from her perch on the sand. I dry off and we sit and talk: about our different camper vans, the road trip she took to the Southwest with an 88-year-old friend who still loves to hike, her daughter and grandchildren in Alameda, her son in Budapest, my sisters and hers, my 100-year-old father, the challenges of backpacking in wildfire-fraught California, and my winter in Mexico, where my husband, Barry, and I live part of the year.
I love the bicycle rides we take every couple of weeks along the Hikshari' Trail, the Wiyot place name for this area, but the diversion to the beach is especially fun because we get to talk. The only downside of riding a bike is that it's not easy to chat side by side.
We met through a mutual friend. Robbie and a pack of other bicyclist nurses who all worked at St. Joseph Hospital decades ago gather in San Francisco once a year, staying at the hostel at Fort Mason and spending a weekend cycling around the city, going to performances and doing fun city stuff. I was invited to join the group and rode down to the city with Robbie in her car. (No, we didn't cycle!)
Today, she showed up at my door around 9:15 a.m. with her road bike. Robbie had already ridden a couple of miles, having driven down from her home in Kneeland, parked her car at the Open Door clinic and cycled on the Waterfront Trail to my and my husband Barry's apartment in Old Town. In her younger years, Robbie was one serious cyclist. When her kids were little, every so often she'd come home from her nursing job and cycle 30-40 miles before dinner. Before joining me, she not only would have ridden down from Kneeland, but then ridden all the way back up.
I knew intimately how steep the road up to her home is because one year Barry and I cycled there for a party. We took turns riding my folding bike and the electric bike Barry jerry-rigged a few years ago from another one we had. When I was on the folding bike, I could only go about two minutes before my calves were screaming. Never again.
I climbed onto my bike and off we went, crossing C Street to the start of the southern section of the trail. Occasionally, we cycle all the way to the Headwaters trailhead, past the covered bridges I love. But this time we planned to turn around at the parking lot off the Herrick Avenue and U.S. Highway 101 interchange, then ride back a little way to the trail that leads to the beach.
We headed out past the Balloon Track, passing walkers, runners, people with dogs and other cyclists — such an improvement from when Barry and I first moved here 21 years ago, when there was no paved pedestrian path to the Bayshore Mall. Now plans are underway to extend the trail to Humboldt Hill.
As we passed the Wharfinger, I told Robbie how Barry and I spent a night in our Westy camper on the road past the building when we were on our reconnaissance trip to the North Coast, trying to decide where to plant ourselves. We'd never have guessed we'd still be renting the same loft-like apartment all these years later.
Soon after, the bike trail crosses First Street. We passed Costco on our left, the fisherman's pier on our right, and the dog park with the Adirondack chairs perched on the small hill, facing the bay. Nice touch. Robbie told me how when she moved here from Southern California in the 1970s, she was delighted by the clean air and beauty; she took her camera everywhere.
We were riding parallel to the mall now. Grateful as I am for the Hikshari', I wish the planners had directed a bike path to the mall itself. To reach it, you have to get off your bike and awkwardly negotiate a narrow, muddy path, making sure you don't get your shoes wet — doable, but not simple. Instead, the trail was built in the compartmentalized way of the U.S., assuming no one actually uses it for practical matters like going shopping, the way they might in, say, Amsterdam.
At the end of the mall, we reached Truesdale Street, which takes you to the far end of the mall. Then we passed what used to be the infamous Devil's Playground, the homeless encampment dismantled in 2016. I wondered where all those people are staying now.
Now the trail was framed in gentle spring green, making up for the lack of bay views that the northern part of the waterfront trail has. Before long, we reached the parking lot by U.S. Highway 101. By June, farmers will be selling cherries and other goodies on Elk River Road, on the other side of the highway.
After our interlude at the beach, we retraced our ride back to Old Town. Once Robbie brought her recumbent bike. I tried it but was nervous I'd topple over. They say once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget but I think it's different with a recumbent.
We paused at my apartment before Robbie set off to finish her ride back to the clinic and hugged goodbye for the first time since the start of COVID. It was only 11 a.m. and a whole day of promise still lay ahead.
Louisa Rogers (she/her) is a leadership coach and writer who lives in Eureka and Guanajuato, Mexico.