Absorbing California's great shake, rattle, and roll

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

The Point Reyes Seashore
Absorbing California's great shake, rattle, and roll
By Langdon Cook

Unclipping from our pedals and dismounting, we stare out over the void, doing our best impression of an indomitable, you-can't-kill-me cowboy stare. Not that the place and the ride haven't tried. Consider what this region tends to produce: earthquakes and Carcharodon carcharias, the great white shark. Behind us the desiccated hills of Bolinas Ridge bunch up like tossed blankets. In front, Tomales Bay separates the peninsula from the mainland. Breakers smash against the already dented and broken coastline.

Welcome to the slowest collision you'll ever experience in biking: Point Reyes National Seashore, an accident of tectonic plates. A trip to the overlook at Point Reyes is really a border crossing, from the North American Plate to the Northern Pacific Plate ù a risky maneuver, geologically speaking, since this vagrant peninsula yearns for the Arctic, inching north each year while its antagonist plate marches west. The result is the San Andreas Fault and, more to the point, piles of huge, jagged rocks along the coast that would seem at home topping a mountain range.

Resting atop this violent stretch of earth, we're feeling surprisingly cocky and invincible. We have, after all, already survived one of the world's greatest long stretches of asphalt. For miles we've hammered up Route 1 through pasturelands filled with cattle, sheep, and Morgan horses. Slowly, the grade steepened and the land grew typical of coastal Northern California: stands of firs, long stretches of open grasslands, and the closer we came to the ocean, chilly breezes.


(M) mountain bike ride
(R) road ride
W water available
C camping available
F food available
I inn nearby
O other liquid refreshments
X no services

Now, having finally arrived at the overlook, we stand shivering. Not because of the temperature. Nor because of the scenery, spectacular as it is; below us, wraithlike mists burn off in the wind-swept canyon. Rather, our goosebumps are anticipatory. We're looking down from this point at the far end of the continent over the final few miles of the ride ù a fast, smooth strip of asphalt heading directly to the Pacific. A killer downhill. How perfect.

Route: Out-and-back from Bolinas on California 1 to Bear Valley Road and then to Sir Francis Drake Highway to the overlook. Distance: 76 miles.
Contact: Bear Valley Visitor Center, 415-663-1092.

Hana Highway (R)
A favorite drive of the tourist set, Hana is more spectacular on two wheels. (Leave early to avoid traffic.) The ride has panoramic Pacific views, overhanging jungle foliage, and, near its end, a memorable 15 percent grade on Wailua Hill. Thoughtfully, Ku, the Hawaiian ocean god, placed 54 refreshing streams and rivers along the route. W F C I

Distance: 56 mi. Elevation Gain: 2,400 ft.

Route: Point-to-point from Kahului to Hana on Hawaii 36

Contact: Maui Visitor's Bureau, 808-244-3530

Flume Loop (M)
No neon, plenty of Lake Tahoe. This famous ride traverses a ridge high above the lake. And for those who want to gamble, it also throws in a 4.5-mile stretch of skinny, snaking singletrack that hugs a sheer 1,400-foot cliff. W C

Distance: 24 mi. Elevation Gain: 2,600 ft.

Route: Loop from the North Canyon Trail at the Spooner Lake parking lot to the Flume Trail; connect to the Rim Trail to return

Contact: Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, 702-831-0494

McKenzie River Trail, Willamette National Forest (M)

You expect picturesque dampness in Oregon, and you get it. This water-drenched ride starts near the headwaters of the McKenzie River, bumps across nubby, forested lava rock, comes within spraying distance of two hurtling 150-foot-high waterfalls, and passes right beside the icy Blue Pool at the foot of Tamolitch Dry Falls ù a great place to cool one's heels. W

Distance: 52 mi. Elevation Gain: 1,750 ft.

Route: Out-and-back from parking area just east of Clear Lake on Oregon 126

Contact: McKenzie Ranger Station, McKenzie Bridge, 541-822-3381

Ape Canyon Trail,
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

A ride that takes you straight up the side of Mount St. Helens for a sobering little lesson in the fury and the fractured beauty of volcanoes. You begin by gliding through thin stands of Douglas fir. Then suddenly you break out into a profoundly empty, blackened landscape ù the scar left by the peak's 1980 eruption. Near the summit, an overlook allows you to see the rim of the crater, where lava still boils below. After that, you may want to make your descent a little faster. X

Distance: 11 mi. Elevation Gain: 1,350 ft.

Route: Out-and-back from the Ape Canyon trailhead on Forest Road 83

Contact: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Amboy, 360-247-3900

Resurrection Pass National Recreation Trail,
Chugach National Forest
A true wilderness ride, roadless and woolly. Brown bears and caribou are nearby, rescuers are not. Ride sensibly. But the scenery merits the challenge, especially the 2,200-foot doubletrack climb above timberline to the top of Resurrection Pass. This is why people dream of Alaska: a miles-wide vista of dense spruce forest and the whitened peaks of the Kenai range. Have a long picnic: In summer, the sun never really sets. C

Distance: 77 mi. Elevation Gain: 2,200 ft.

Route: Out-and-back from the north trailhead parking lot on Resurrection Creek Road, 4.5 miles south of Hope.

Contact: Chugach National Forest, Seward Ranger Station, 907-224-3374

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