My alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. I immediately questioned why I torture my heavy limbs and black hole of a mind in this way. Then I remembered that Lizzie Odell was sleeping in the guest room of our small house, and her dad Errin was waiting for us at Freshwater Lagoon. The plan for this Sea to Summit mission ("Sea to Summit Part 1: Bald Mountain," April 22) was to touch the Pacific Ocean just south of Orick and reach Salmon Mountain above Orleans by the end of the day, by bike and by foot. Errin rode his bike from Somes Bar to the coast the day before and camped on the beach. If you know Errin Odell, you know this is not unusual. He is the strongest of the strong and the happiest of the content, his pinball machine of a brain moving from technology for kids to desolate roads to heirloom pepper seeds in microseconds, via rapid fire conversation with zero transition. I've always liked Errin and can follow his hyperspeed thoughts perfectly. His daughter Lizzie is just as strong, and, at 18 years old, she's a bit quieter but just as positive. Both are true delights to ride with.
My husband grinds the coffee and the smell alone lifts my eyelids. Street lights shapeshift across seatbelts as Tom drives Lizzie and me north. Errin, Lizzie and I would ride up and over Bald Hills Road, then on State Route 96 to Orleans, where we would meet Tom again.
The crashing waves gave way to a salty sunrise and off we pedalled in the silver morning light. Up and over Bald Hills we went, traveling through the unceded territory of the Karuk and Yurok tribes, on the border of the Yurok Reservation. I imagined the precontact landscape of mature redwoods interspersed with tall grass prairies, and wondered if the landscape would be healthier if it was still managed using traditional methods. Our lungs burned and the sun lit the trees from below, making each branch appear dipped in gold. Down the switchback descent to Weitchepec, we remained careful of swerving drivers. We crossed the wide bridge over the Klamath River and pedaled upstream in the still-morning hours. The day heated up and the air smelled like a blowdryer on asphalt and manzanita. My legs felt swollen and we were all a little drained from the heat. We met Tom, resupplied, and the Odells were all smiles as we dug into salt and vinegar chips. We loaded up on food and hiking shoes, and Tom pedaled with us up Red Cap Road on the gruelling climb to Salmon Summit Trail. This section took us four hours and included me walking my bike on several steep pitches near the top.
We filled our bottles with spring water, unable to filter it but accepting that we really had no choice. My legs and morale were flagging when we reached the trailhead, while Lizzie and Errin's good-natured spirits beamed through any fatigue they felt. Seeing an Odell tired is truly rare.
There was a family reunion happening at the trailhead, where the attendees peppered us with questions and offered to watch over our bikes as we prepared to hike. We started walking and I thought, "Holy shit, I am so torched." Then I ate some beef jerky, my body got used to hiking and I felt surprisingly good. We ran into two women who knew the Odells. Turns out even when you are quite sure you are in the middle of nowhere, after you dip into Siskiyou County, then back into Humboldt, you might still run into someone you know.
The summit felt elusive as we circled the top and sought the path that didn't draw blood with ceanothus spines. The summit brought an intense surge of satisfaction — I could have stayed there forever, taking in peaks from all directions. At almost 7,000 feet, you can see Mount Shasta from there. The late afternoon light colored the surrounding peaks fuschia, reminding us we still weren't finished.
On the descent, the rough gravel near the top was torture on my body. My joints ached from my skinny tires bouncing off rough rocks. When Tom asked laughingly how I was, I raised two middle fingers with a big smile. It was incredible and I loved it, but my body hurt in every place that still had feeling. We descended into warmer air and the surrounding ridges became silhouettes. How delightful, how magical the pink hues, the cricket song in my ears, embracing me in the summer night. The first stars came out and we climbed the small remaining climb by headlamp in the true darkness Greg Brown would call "kid dark," casually discussing mountain lion hunting methods.
After 13 hours of moving time, 93 cycling miles, 9 hiking miles and countless calories and belly laughs, we had made it. We crossed the Klamath River for the final time that day, utterly depleted. I was so delighted I howled at the almost-half moon. We piled into the truck and rumbled to Somes Bar, where Brenda, the unflappable matriarch of the Odell clan, was waiting for us at her parent's place. We pulled up at 10:30 p.m., and Brenda's main concern was that they had just put all the food away.
We got the food back out and huddled around the kerosene lantern in the horse packing shelter, overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of bratwursts, salad, chicken, bread, vegetables and rice. Lizzie curled up on the bed and declared herself done, goodnight. Tom and I put our quilt on the outdoor mattress and looked at the stars through the pines as we fell asleep.
The next day we all went tubing on the Salmon River. If summer was boiled down to the most concentrated, fresh, tart and sweet jam, this weekend would be it.
Hollie Ernest (she/her) is a botanist and forestry technician on hiatus from an international bike tour. She is writing a book about her travels, gardening and exploring the corners of Northern California. Follow her on Instagram @Hollie_holly