The Legend of Leggett (or, The Hearty California Coast Butt-Kicking)

We first heard the Legend of the Leggett hill two months ago from a scruffy old ranger in northern Washington. “You’ve heard about Leggett haven’t ya?” he asked. Reading our blank faces, he continued, “It’s the biggest hill on the whole coast. It’ll take you 2 1/2 hours just to get to the top. And just when you think you’re done, and you’re coasting downhill thinking it’s over, then then next hill hits you. And what’s really happened is that you’ve allowed your legs to cool off from Leggett and the second hill is even STEEPER. They call it ‘killer mountain’.”

The myths only got scarier from there. We heard of cyclists ditching all their gear in the middle of the hill, hitching their way up, or even renting a U-Haul for the Leggett stretch to avoid the misery of the climb. So naturally, I was terrified. Every steep hill we climbed on our way down the coast was, in my head, training for Leggett. If the climb was 800 feet, I would think “this is less than half of Leggett” and wonder if the Killer Mountain would strip me of all dignity and sanity when the time came.

It didn’t help that passing north-bound cyclists would say of each upcoming hill “I’m sure it’s nothing compared to what we’ve already done”. It also didn’t help that our elevation maps literally had to double their scale in order to fit Leggett on the grid.

Around evening campfires at the hiker-biker sites when the macho cycling dudes would compare their gear, cycle technology, and general macho-ness (“oh that hill out of Crescent City was hard for you? I thought it was a speed bump…”), no one joked about Leggett.

Wednesday was the fateful day. We got lots of rest the night before, stretched for a good half hour, ate a big breakfast and chugged some strong coffee before heading off. It wasn’t long into the day’s ride that the uphill began. ‘Here we go’ I told myself. There was no turning back. I switched into my easiest gear and let Brandon ride ahead, focusing only on my breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Around each curve there was only more uphill. Inhale. Exhale. One mile in Brandon stopped to wait for me and have an electrolyte-full snack but I decided to keep my pace and chug on. Inhale. Exhale. In that moment, I decided that I was going to go the whole way to the top of Leggett without stopping. This, I decided, was my chance to face the beast. Inhale. Exhale. If I could do this, then for that day, I would be my own hero. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Whew.

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In 45 minutes, we were 2000 feet high, at the top of Leggett, and I felt invincible. Though much steeper, the second hill (~700 feet) didn’t break us either. I did that one without stopping too.

I intended to end the blog post here when I wrote it in my journal on Wednesday night. To end with some message about taking it little by little, building strength, and not getting psyched out by the hype, the myths, or the macho macho men. To say “I AM A POWERFUL WOMAN”. Roar!

But ALAS! The California coast (route 1) is KICKING my BUTT! I have been humbled by the road. My muscles ache again like they did at the beginning of the tour. Rather than one long uphill like Leggett, the topography of the California coast looks more like the heart rate monitor for a rabbit on crack. Every downhill is followed by a steeper uphill. California doesn’t seem to understand the concept of “flat” – so I am reminded again and again (and again) of the greatness of the earth beneath my feet.

It’s all overwhelming, eye-opening, confidence-testing, and beautiful.

5 thoughts on “The Legend of Leggett (or, The Hearty California Coast Butt-Kicking)

  1. Barbara Bangser says:

    Oh, Claire. . . I love your description of this ride. You ARE a powerful woman and I am so proud of you. Ride on!
    Mom

  2. Don & Kathy says:

    B&C. Hope you remember meeting us at the Orick cafe. We were the 60 yr old couple from Vanc. Wa. We wholeheartedly agree with your description of the hilly Calif coast. Finished our trip in San Fran with 465 miles. Have enjoyed your blog.
    Don & Kathy

  3. Don & Kathy says:

    We are the 60 yr old couple you met in an Orick cafe. We wholeheartedly agree with your description of Calif coast hills. We have enjoyed your blog.
    Don & Kathy

  4. […] Route 1. It tops out at nearly 1800 feet and was easily the highest point on the coast route. People talk about this hill with awe and respect, for days in advance. Burn your legs at Leggett. The hill that separates the men from the boys.  On most maps, which […]

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