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Sea to Summit: Fickle Hill



Corrina still wanted to ride with me, which was remarkable, considering our last ride was a slightly hellacious, two-day endeavor. This time, we picked a Thursday evening to complete the "Top of the World" Sea to Summit challenge, glad to be ticking one off on a weeknight ("Sea to Summit Part 1: Bald Mountain," April 22). I loved that one of the designated peaks on the list of Humboldt challenges was this overlook just off Fickle Hill Road, because it meant that everyone who was interested in the series could do at least one. It was Corrina's brilliant idea to ride our mountain bikes up Fickle Hill Road and then drop into trails for the return trip.

We met up at 4 p.m., ambitiously late even for a long August day. We parked at Lighthouse Plaza Mini Golf in Samoa, only to realize the gates would be closed and locked before we returned. We shuffled the cars around the corner, unloaded the bikes again, ran into a co-worker of mine (because, apparently, I can't do a sea to summit without running into someone I know) and finally set off to touch the waves closer to 5 p.m.

We rode on the sandy path as long as we could, then walked our bikes through the dunes and their cordgrass, beach peas and yellow verbena. The sun was bright and the waves were a deep navy blue. This was my first time starting a Sea to Summit challenge in sunshine and the afternoon felt like it would last forever. To have a full day at work, then a small evening adventure made time feel stretched out.

We pedaled from Samoa toward Manila and passed Tuluwat Island, formerly known as Indian Island, which was violently taken from the Wiyot in 1860. One hundred and forty years later, the Wiyot Tribe purchased 1.5 acres of the island and, in 2004, the City of Eureka returned 40 acres to its rightful owners. Finally, on Oct. 21, 2019, the 200-acre island, where important ceremonies are held, was legally returned to the Wiyot Tribe, for whom it is the center of the universe ("The Island's Return," Oct. 24, 2019).

Around the northern mud flats of Humboldt Bay we rode, then it was up, up and way up Fickle Hill. The notoriously steep pavement reminded us of any and every shortcoming our bodies may have. We slowly pushed pedals to propel us and our carbon fiber machines uphill, conversation flowing between sections of heavy breathing. We talked about the Redwood Coast Mountain Bike Association and a trail builder that they had hired to work on the Hatchery Ridge trail system in Blue Lake. These trails are part of a partnership between RCMBA and Green Diamond that has developed over the years, and the trail builder, an old friend of mine named Shaggy Kidd, travels all over the U.S. and internationally building trails every summer. I kept an eye on the shadows crossing the road because this particular day he and his partner Caroline were on their way to my house. They would live with us for six weeks while he moved dirt and she worked remotely. We hadn't been able to find them their own place in times of COVID-19, so housemates we would be.

Corrina and I gratefully reached the top. The rocky outcrop is the perfect place from which to take in the 50 shades of fir and blue-green of the Mad River watershed. The circuitous path of the river leaves tightly folded, conifer-covered flanks from on it path Ruth Lake to the Pacific. Shadows had taken over the rock where we stood and were creeping north, reminding us not to dawdle. Did we bring lights? No, of course not.

Despite the gloriously sunny start, Humboldt is Humboldt and as we descended on the road, both of our hands became completely numb and white in color. From the community forest entrance on Fickle Hill, there are a few trails to choose from to get you back down to town, if you decide to go that route. We descended over roots through the redwoods with plenty of whoops and hollers as we embraced the forest on a Thursday evening while the fog rolled in. Twisting through the trees, handlebars narrowly missed the bark, tires gripped the loam and it almost felt like the terrain was made for mountain bikes. We hit the pavement and sprinted back to Samoa in the last dregs of luminous, gray sunset.

Shivering, hungry, satisfied and smiling big, we said quick goodbyes and planned to ride together again soon. I had to rush home because Shaggy and Caroline were due any minute, and I wasn't proving to be a great hostess at the moment. I cleaned up in my usual frenzy (how else do people mop, really?) and started making cupcakes for a friend's birthday ride the next day. Yes, we are a people obsessed. Our guests arrived after their multi-week cross-country adventure, unloaded their bikes and quickly melded into our cozy household. I talked to Caroline so much while baking that the simplest of recipes took hours and I forgot to add the water. The cupcakes were still delicious, if a bit dense. The next week, Caroline, Corrina and I rode together in the forest, cementing friendships over a shared love of bikes on dirt, wildlife and filling the fun bucket to the last drop.

Hollie Ernest (she/her) is a botanist and forestry technician. She is writing a book about her international bike adventures, gardening and exploring the corners of Northern California. Follow her on Instagram @Hollie_holly.

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