By Frosty Wooldridge
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost
Doug Armstrong, a seven-continent world cyclist with 130 countries under his wheels, and I, met on a trip through New Zealand. We decided to ride border-to-border in the USA in April, to follow the spring flowers and view the bird migration patterns. We started in Mexicali, Mexico on our way to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. We pedaled through logging country in northern California.
Four weeks into the ride, we woke up beside placid waters with a gray-mist hanging low over the mountains in northern California. Slender wisps of moisture played upon the mirror images of trees, while Canada geese, grebes and mallards trumpeted their morning songs.
(Standing by the Pony Express rider, Marysville, Kansas with Frosty Wooldridge, coast to coast)
After breaking camp, we pedaled down a logging highway. Monstrous trucks gave us pause when they rumbled past. Their first draft blew us off the road and seconds later, threatened to suck us back into their rear duel wheels. It didn’t make for peaceful riding. A glance at the map gave us an alternative.
We turned up a dirt road heading in a similar direction. It got rougher on a route less traveled. Because of the corrugated gravel, our hands took a pounding for hours. Nonetheless, we escaped the trucks. Our chances of seeing wildlife grew tenfold. Riding into the wilderness likened to looking at the surface of the ocean–nothing on top, but just below the water, a parade of creatures swims in those depths. The woods, too, featured an array of creatures living in its branches, on the forest floor, over the meadows and in the lakes.
Another thing along a dirt road is the peacefulness. Not quiet like silence, but a quiet away from machinery, where the wind purrs through the trees on its unhurried journey up a mountain side. I hear birds chirping, squawking, arguing and flapping their wings everywhere in the forest. A woodpecker rat-a-tat-tats against a dead tree trunk while chickadees fly loop-d-loops in the meadow. Insects, too, inhabit the woods; butterflies flutter from wildflower to wildflower. Crickets chirp a symphony of sound whenever I pass by a bog. Bullfrogs add their low notes. The admission to this grand performance is only the price of my pedaling efforts.
The colors keep me enthralled. Pine green becomes pointy and leaf green proves soft. Cattail green is long and white moss greens spongy. Yellow flowers dot the green along with white, purple and orange petals chiming in for contrast. Tree bark colors add their own special flavor.
This dirt road stretched for more than 50 miles in the middle of northern California snaking its way toward Mount Shasta. Not far along the dirt, we stopped by a lake with a dozen islands in the middle, loaded with birds and ducks. It was a sanctuary for raising families. A variety of calls echoed across the water.
We rode up to a clearing where four antelope bounded across the road, saw us, then hastily ran back into the woods, their white patched butts bouncing like pogo sticks until they vanished. Off to the side, a muskrat paddled its way across a pond where several ducks fed on grubs.
The woods grew thick, sometimes thin, and rose or fell depending on the terrain.
A group of mule deer hopped across a ridge. The road led down into a valley with Mount Shasta on the horizon and a pink sunset coloring long white clouds outlining the sky.
Our campfire flickered beneath a stand of pine trees that seemed to be in the midst of a whole mountainside of lava rocks. The rocks exploded out of the ground from somewhere up the mountain. This region was near the Ring of Fire, where volcanic mountains dominate the Cascade Range. As we sat there, a pack of coyotes howled at a crescent moon.
In the morning, the sun rose through the mist lighting up 14,179-foot Mount Shasta that dwarfed four other peaks around it. We soon enjoyed a clear sky and view of the snow-covered cone of the dormant volcano.
With a nip in the air, we began our continued slow descent on a 2 percent grade through thinning trees as we dropped to 3,300 feet. A wide valley stretched before us. We continued on hard packed dirt. A half dozen gray squirrels darted across the road, and we heard birds chirping in the woods.
Out of the trees, we rolled through farmland. Off to our right, a flat field of short grass had not been cultivated for more than a year. Above the field, a red-tailed hawk fluttered in midair. Suddenly, it dropped like a dagger and skimmed three feet off the ground at high speed.
“It’s looking for food,” Doug said.
“Yeah, but they usually look for it way up high.”
“That’s right,” he said. “That bird is too close to the ground to do anything even if it saw something. It would be going too fast to stop.”
Five seconds later, the hawk back-flapped its wings and in a cloud of dust, crashed into the ground much like a shortstop diving for a line drive, and when it caught a rodent, it rolled over with the prize clutched in its talons facing the sky. Abruptly, flapping its wings, the bird righted itself. No fight, no death struggle, no sound. Seconds later, the hawk lifted into the sky with a field mouse in its talons.
“My God, that was incredible!” Doug said.
“Did you see how fast she stopped?” I added.
“On a dime with a nickel’s change,” he said.
“What a way to start a morning ride,” I said.
As if nature tried to show her best effort, another show commenced before us.
We pedaled past a pond near the road. Because of our silence, animals become startled after we’re already on top of them. At the pond’s edge, six Canada geese suddenly sprinted across the water, wings flapping wildly, trying to break free of the surface. We saw their foot marks in the water as they ran across the pond. Within seconds, their black and white colors exploded out of the water with a flurry of wings climbing into the sky. Once airborne, they flew into Mount Shasta’s snowfields.
“Who are we supposed to pay for this morning’s show?” Doug asked.
“Maybe we’ll have to pull a ten-mile 14 percent uphill grade,” I said.
Another five minutes along the way, we crested a ridge. Three volcanic peaks thrust into the sky before us. Mount Lassen, Cinder Cone, and Shasta poked through cloud banks. Maybe California didn’t want us to leave. It had already shown us Yosemite, the Yuba Valley, the 49er trail, and now this.
Fifteen minutes down the road, five mule deer ran up a ridge on our right, and out of sight.
“Bet those guys are long gone,” I said.
“They weren’t waiting around for us…Hey look!” Doug yelled.
Five deer crossed the road, not twenty yards in front of us. They jumped over a fence. They leaped like a jack-in-the-box on four legs at once. One by one, they glided over the fence and vanished behind the hill.
“I can’t take this kind of nature overload so early in the morning,” I said. “It can’t get any better than this.”
We cranked along until we crossed through the middle of a marsh. Again, nature jumped up in the form of wings everywhere. Canada honkers poked their heads out from tall grasses, while mallards rushed into flight when we startled them. Grebes hugged their hiding places in the deep grass. Black birds, sparrows, and birds of every color and description lived in the marsh. Each possessed a different song and flew with a variety of wing beats.
“You know,” Doug said. “We’re so lucky to see these wild wings on parade.” “You got that right,” I said.
At the Route 299 intersection, we met a toy maker and his wife.
While we talked, more than 500 head of cattle bolted up the road behind us. A few cowboys on horseback drove the herd toward pastureland higher up the valley. We didn’t think much about it as they passed, but that was the direction we were headed. Five minutes later, we said goodbye to the toy maker and began climbing out of the valley.
Have you ever followed a herd of 500 cows on a bicycle?
Neither had we, until that morning. At first it was funny seeing how the males peed as they walked, leaving watery “S” trails in the road. When the females peed, they stopped and made a large splash. The big problem was how they did their morning constitutional. They filled the road with mushy land-mines in the form of cow pies. It got so thick at times, we couldn’t avoid it. At first, we navigated around the splash piles by steering in circle eights.
The more we pedaled, the thicker the minefield became, until cow poop squeezed up from our tires into our brake pads. At one tight juncture in the road, I was turning hard to miss one cow pie. It was one of those pies where the cow took the time to stand in one place and build up a large green mound. I swerved to avoid it, but my front tire, already mired in green goosh, lost traction. Down I went, left hand outstretched, headed for the steaming green cow pie. Splat! My hand made a perfect five fingered landing right into the middle of a rather warm, squishy, pile of poop.
My bike and panniers fell into two other piles near the one where my hand was now implanted.
“Nothing like getting close to the good green earth,” Doug said, as he pulled up next to me. “You always were one to get your hands into everything.”
“That’s not funny,” I said, pulling my hand from the cow pie.
We laughed. I grabbed my paper towel roll out of my day pack and began wiping the stuff from between my fingers, off my arm and off the panniers. Next, I squirted my water bottles over my hand to clean the remaining poop away.
We mounted the bikes and rode through the remaining mile of “natural obstacles.” Soon, we cranked up a 1,500-foot grade out of the valley. As we neared the top, the view from where we had come to where we stopped, filled us with memories.
Our experiences reminded me of what Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “We need the tonic of the wilderness, to wade sometimes in the marsh where the bitten and meadow hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.”
We turned up a dirt road today–more than worth it.
– Frosty Wooldridge
Population-Immigration-Environmental specialist: speaker at colleges, civic clubs, high schools and conferences
Facebook: Frosty Wooldridge
Facebook Adventure Page: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World
Six continent world bicycle traveler
Adventure book: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World
Frosty Wooldridge, six continent world bicycle traveler, Astoria, Oregon to Bar Harbor, Maine, 4,100 miles, 13 states, Canada, summer 2017, 100,000 feet of climbing:
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