The bus spit me out in the small lumber town of Rio Dell. It was nearly 3 p.m., but the weather was fair and my demeanor expansive. I called my mom and ate a few tacos. Then off, down that road, the mighty 101, still getting used to the weight of the bags, maybe 50 pounds making the bike a more sluggish, deliberate vehicle that resisted going uphill and then refused to stop going down.
In no time I was on the Avenue of the Giants, winding around ancient redwood groves and minivans full of Arizonans on the last legs of tourist season.
Just before dark, I floundered into Burlington campground and chatted with the host. I paid the man $5 and set up camp in the Hike and Bike section. Camping next to me were a couple from Switzerland, half through a trip bicycling around the world.
No matter where you go, if you see someone on a bike loaded up with gear zooming through the middle of nowhere, the odds would favor you to assume that they are Swiss, and their destination is the tip of some distant continent several months away.
The Swiss simply have shit figured out.
At the next site over I met Malcolm and James, both of whom had started their ride about a month earlier in northern Washington. I’d seen James a few days before, standing on a corner with his bike in uptown Arcata.
He is biking all the way to Argentina.
He'd better like the Swiss.
I took a walk in the woods. When I returned it was dark and I went to my tent to sleep. But then, a great noise aroused me from slumber – a voice, loud, assertive, incessant, engaging the couple camped next to me.
"I'm John! I'm the strange one! I'm going north! That's right, north! Straight back to Canada! Slowly but surely! What kinda bike is that anyways, hey? An old GT knockoff, hey? Well, I will be damned, I will be god damned! Ya know, I got a friend over there at the GT factory in New Mexico! Oh yeah, they all know me there! Crazy old Canadian John! Just another wacky Canuck, that’s me!"
Canuck John went on for about half an hour, requiring only the vaguest grunts of feedback from his audience to continue.
"Ya know there was this one time I was at a campsite a lot like this one! I lit up a doobie, a huge old thing, must have been about a foot long, and just about as wide! And this woman comes over, real hag, she says 'I don't like that!' but I just look at her and smile and say, 'Hey lady, look around you. You're in the woods!'"
Eventually, when John's grand combustion had finally expired, the campground was silent. The next morning he spotted me on the way to the bathroom.
"San Diego, hey? Let me tell you about this one time in San Diego..."
And off he went on some story about booze, buds, babes and bikes.
I liked the guy. It was 8:30 in the morning and he was already puffing a joint and working on a silo of Busch Light. He struck me as a sort of archetype, something out of a JRR Tolkien novel or an old Druidic folktale, the hapless fool who comes plowing through the woods at just the right time, spilling beer and stories and a laugh that makes your spleen contract.
We talked for a while. Well, I listened for a while.
A truck full of convicts in orange jumpsuits arrived and began hacking down tree limbs and sweeping things up. The campground was closing for the season. Everybody packed up and took off.
The last thing I heard was Canuck John hucking it up with the camp host saying, "Slowly but surely, that's me!"
The ride from Burlington campground back to the 101 was a mellow route down the Avenue of the Giants through the rural towns of Miranda and Redcrest. A short while on the 101 brought me to Garberville, where I stopped at a deli and ate an awesome Reuben sandwich.
A fellow out front struck up conversation. I thought he was a transient but it turned out he owned the art gallery across the street. Humboldt.
I stopped at a park in Benbow and stretched for a while, feeling unhurried and open to anything.
Eventually I found myself at the Standish-Hickey State Park, where James was almost finished with a six pack. The atmosphere was less festive than Burlington. We were the only bikers there. The sun set, and we sat around over a few beers.
James explained the problem of Canuck John thusly:
"The guy looks like a potato and he's full of shit."
Which was probably mostly true.
So we laughed like baboons, doing Canuck John impressions late into the night.
"So I woke up the other morning on top of this fine brunette thing and..."
"Did I tell you about the time when I...."
“So I’m friends with the guys over there at…”
What more can be said? The guy is a classic specter of the Hike and Bike sub-realms. One may take comfort in the fact that even now, Canuck John is out there somewhere, emitting strange odors and high-velocity plot lines to anything in earshot before hopping back on his bike and cracking a warm can of cheap brew saying, "Slowly but surely, that’s me!"