Sara and I are very different. The first time I met this gorgeous woman was at 2 a.m. in a wide pasture after a birthday party that was quite a celebration. She was almost silent and I didn't think much about it. More time went by and Sara came to Costa Rica with three other girlfriends to ride with me for a week, as I progressed on a longer trip through Central and South America.
When we had to cross a flooded river swollen with the previous five days' rains, she dug in her heels like a donkey and refused to continue. I crossed back and forth without my bike to demonstrate how safe it was. I carried a long stick to deter potential crocodiles, which was not convincing. A tree came loose and swept downriver where I had just been standing. If we had been portaging our gear at that moment, one or several of us would have been in serious danger. As it turns out, a donkey is the only animal in the barnyard with sense enough to stop when it feels danger and Sara was right on this one. The five of us retreated seven soggy miles to camp on the lawn of a closed hostel, puddles forming around our tent in that evening's downpour.
When I decided I wanted to do all 10 Sea to Summits, a series of human-powered Humboldt adventures starting at the ocean ("Sea to Summit Part 1: Bald Mountain," April 22), I started planning the nearby ones on weekdays and the most complicated ones on the weekends. I asked Sara, who had a flexible work schedule, to join me to Trinidad and Strawberry Rock, a ride we had both done many times.
We left my house on West End Road, thinking this would be a morning ride. We rode north through mostly sunny skies without much ado, catching up since we hadn't seen each other in months. We went directly to the beach, which was totally socked in with thick fog and bustling with a meeting of junior lifeguards. It was a strange, festive but muted atmosphere. We went all the way to the water, saying hi to the high school kids in their hooded wetsuits. They eyed us curiously as we awkwardly carried our bikes over the deep sand. On our way back to Trinidad proper, we decided to take a different route just to mix things up. Suddenly we were in some vortex of space, on a singletrack trail, crawling under and lifting our bikes over orange construction netting. No one was around. I have been in this area hundreds of times but I found myself asking, "Where the heck are we?"
Sara is always up for adventure, so I knew she was enjoying this mid-day, mid-ride cliff side excursion. We found our way back to pavement, cut through the Murphy's parking lot, and got ready for the next section, where we rode and walked our bikes on a single and double track trail.
This trail leads to Strawberry Rock, a high point offering breathtaking views of the surrounding redwood canopy that is unfortunately and definitely not on public land. The many people who take the trail up are actually trespassing on land owned by Green Diamond Resource Co. Vice President of Forest Policy and Sustainability Gary Rynearson says that while the company does allow access permits for scientific research, educational tours and special events, "Uncontrolled public access on actively managed timberlands poses a significant safety risk."
Since 2013, Green Diamond and Trinidad Coastal Land Trust have been trying to negotiate the purchase of an easement through the property ("Standing with Strawberry Rock," Dec. 20, 2018). According to Executive Director Carol Vander Meer, the Trinidad Coastal Land Trust is "still in the process of working with our partners to secure public access." But for now, unless you have one of those permits, it's still trespassing.
We ran into an old friend and a few others on the way. We hid our bikes in the bushes and continued on foot. When we reached the rocky, scrambling part, it was my turn to be scared. "I don't know if I can do this," I said. Sara's already wide eyes looked at me like I was a wimpy, wilting, pathetic celery stalk. Which maybe I was.
She said, "You crossed that crocodile-infested river in Costa Rica but you won't do this? You see that little girl up there? She's like 7. If she can do it, you can do it."
OK, fine. We went up, my heart racing a little as I vowed to reward myself with a burger upon my safe exit of this terrifying precipice. We reached the top and all (or most) of my fear dissipated when the sun and the views met my eyes. Wow. We could see the ocean, the incoming fog, thousands of redwood tops, as if we could hop, skip and jump over their soft tops.
We retraced our steps, riding what we could down the rocky trail, dismounting just before crashing into the bushes, occasionally meeting the bush before fully dismounting. We were on road bikes with skinny tires, after all.
I am known for my unrealistic time frames, always trying to squeeze too many things into too few hours, but this all-day adventure was a gross miscalculation, even for me. We rewarded ourselves by splitting a burger at the beloved Lighthouse Grill before realizing we still had more than 20 miles to ride home. The dazzling ride along Scenic Drive is always and forever delightful, stunning me constantly with the water's shades of sapphire turquoise and cerulean. The waves feel intimate, no matter how rough the chop is. The sun dappled through and life was good, pandemic or not. Once we got to West End Road, the final stretch of rolling dips and rises felt huge and Sara said she was done. I cautiously reminded her, not for the first time in our friendship, that our options were rather limited and we best keep pedalling. So we mentally broke up the remaining miles into sections and regaled each other with juicy stories from our pasts. I hope none of the ranchers could hear the salacious details. The gossip did the trick and before we knew it, it was time to pedal our separate ways to our respective houses. My husband asked how it went, and all I could say through my 52-mile sunburned smile was, "It was good. It was really, really good."
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, working, gardening and exploring the corners of Northern California. Follow her on Instagram @Hollie_holly.