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Cycling Along the Water 

To the end of the Humboldt Bay Trail

click to enlarge The Mad River and the ocean meet.

Photo by Simona Carini

The Mad River and the ocean meet.

Driving south from Trinidad, I got off at the Crannell Road exit and parked at the north end of Clam Beach Road. As I set up the bicycle, my gaze glided over the dunes — still in the shadow at 9 a.m. in mid-January — and the ocean, then rose to take in the pale sky. "How beautiful this view," I thought, "and I have it all to myself."

The ocean kept me company as I rode along Clam Beach Road until, at the south end, I entered the Hammond Trail. I saw the water again where the trail overlooks the Mad River estuary — high tide waves met the river in a high-energy dance.

I entered the shaded part of the Hammond Trail, chilly as the sun was still trying to filter through the trees. The trail winds through McKinleyville until, at the intersection with School Road, it briefly plunges downhill to the Mad River Bridge. Past the bridge, I turned right and followed the river to the county park's entrance. Ducks swam quietly, the water flowed, the sun started to feel warm on my face.

I retraced my path and at the bridge I turned south to ride across the Arcata Bottoms. Fresh grass had turned the pastures into brilliant green carpets, much to the cows' delight. Having recently returned from a visit to Tucson, Arizona, the grass struck me as even brighter after the pale green desert vegetation there.

A strange silhouette made me look twice: A great blue heron was standing among cows. As an attempt at disguise, it was not successful, but seeing animals share space as if it were the most natural thing to do always makes me smile.

I ended up on Alliance Road then turned right onto the Arcata City Trail, which brought me to the Arcata Marsh, the third water-centric environment of the ride. That's where I wish I knew more about birds; there are always so many of them swimming, flying, and fishing, and I can identify only a few. Even in the absence of names, though, I relish their presence.

Past the marsh, the bay was a silver blue mirror that morning, calm and calming. I cruised nicely, the crisp morning air filling my lungs, my eyes bathed in shades of blue, until the End of Trail sign halted my ride. Up to that moment, I had ignored U.S. Highway 101 and its traffic running on my left. I was on a dedicated space and felt safe there.

A Share the Road sign on the freeway side alerts drivers that from that point on there may be cyclists. For a long time after I started cycling longer distances a couple of years ago, I refused to ride on U.S. Highway 101. Then one Sunday, early in the morning so traffic would be at its lightest, I did it and since then I've done it a number of times. I still don't like it, though; I am tense and just want it over. The whole time I think, "I wish they completed the trail so cyclists can safely ride between Arcata and Eureka."

Staring at the End of Trail sign was not part of my plans, so I turned around and resumed pedaling. On the way back, after crossing Samoa Boulevard, I turned left on it, then right onto V Street. Past St. Mary's Church, I turned left into Foster Avenue and was again immersed in brilliant green.

Better paved roads in the Arcata Bottoms are my second cycling-related wish. It was hard not to think about recent rides on the Chuck Huckelberry Loop, Pima County's 137-mile system of paved pathways and bike lanes that connect destinations throughout the Tucson metro area. The Santa Catalina Mountains (north and northeast of the city) make for an impressive backdrop and the loop is well maintained.

Back to the car, I relished a special post-first-longish-ride-of-the-New-Year contentment. I have done some cycling around the world in the last couple of years and I can say that the Humboldt ride I've just described is first class — the variety of scenery, the views and the wildlife are quite special. Being able to continue along the bay to Eureka and farther to the Headwaters Forest Reserve via Elk River Road would make a stellar ride. Cyclists, long-distance runners and walkers would love to be able to go past the end of the trail — and, of course, to go from Eureka to Arcata.

The Humboldt Bay Trail website says construction of the final 4 miles is planned to begin in 2022. As I was putting the finishing touches on this story, I received the newsletter from the Humboldt Trail Council with detailed updates on the project that indicate 2023 appears to be a more realistic target for beginning construction.

As long as steps are being taken in the right direction, I remain hopeful that the day will come when we can retire the forbidding End of Trail sign and let people flow freely around the bay.

Simona Carini (she/her) shares photographs of her outdoor explorations (and of food) on Instagram

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