Crescent City – Orick – Eureka – Ferndale – Petrolia – Honeydew – Shelter Cove – Benbow – -Leggett- Mendocino
There’s no simple way to sum up this little (editor’s note- EPIC!) journey – it has been full of surprises.
The Plan: To take ourselves away from Route 101 and experience the Lost Coast of California. Miles of wild, rugged shoreline. Described as an area that has changed very little since today’s redwoods (some over 2,000 years old) were seedlings. After some research we decided to take Mattole Road from Ferndale to Shelter Cove (editor’s note – maybe not enough research in terms of gradient and contours! – Ruth Sturkey and Clare Fielding may recognise this as a commons theme from previous adventure planning!).
To the Lost Coast: A ride to Crescent City via Bald Hills Road in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, where there are some of the oldest Giant Redwoods. The trees are simply HUGE. They have a thick fibrous bark (up to 30cm), rich cinnamon red when freshly exposed (hence the name), giving good protection against disease, pests and fire. One of the reasons they can grow to such a size (up to 115m) and survive for thousands of years. This is a gravel road which has shrouded the undergrowth in dust, making it appear ghostly. The following day we had an equally spectacular ride through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, this time a wonderfully smooth descent and we glided through the trees. On both occasions (and apart from many mosquitos who also thrive in the cool damp coastal conditions) we had the road virtually to ourselves – a real treat.
Crescent City had a bleak and melancholy air, particularly after our serene time on the Smith River. We learnt the town is the tsunami capital of continental US – suffering 31 since 1933 (It is also the incarcerated home to 3,000 of the US’s most notorious criminals- nice!).
We wove our way in/ out of Route 101 to Ferndale. We had our first experience of really dense fog. We stopped at the arty Trinidad and Arcarta; Eureka, named after the (found it!) claims from gold rush miners, now another logging centre; Ferndale, a well preserved Victorian town. Quaint and looking like a scene in the movies. But a very alive community – we overheard some intriguing chats.
Along the Lost Coast: OMG! The epic day, Ferndale to Shelter Cove via Petrolia and Honeydew. It started well. An early, nourishing breakfast in Mind’s Eye Coffee Lounge in Ferndale. Then a long steep climb, winding up through the forests. The road opened on to grassy plains at the top, golden yellow with herds of black cattle, and isolated ranch buildings. It was spectacular with hazy distant views of the sea. We had an awesome descent. But it was tricky – very steep, negotiating potholes, ruts, gravel, cattle grids, occasional vehicles and all the time wanting to take-in the view which revealed more drama with each turn. We dropped down to the shore and followed a sweeping road. It felt remote. The beaches were windswept and deserted apart from the odd intrepid surfer.
We got to Petrolia where California’s first commercial oil well began production in 1865, but supplies proved scant and production ceased shortly after. We stopped at the Country Store, seemingly the hub of life of the small settlement (pop 360). It was getting hot and we took a breather. We were about half way, knew there was another store at Honeydew (even smaller, pop 99) and felt confident continuing (editors note: albeit that a few locals had a few raised eyebrows and gave us a number of suggestions on where to stay along the way should we get tired! – we smiled and thanked them and rode on (well we are made of strong stuff)).
The ride to Honeydew followed the Mattole river valley, passing apple orchards and verges crammed with wild fennel. We had hills but mild compared with earlier in the day – and what was to come.
We knew there was a shocker of a hill out of Honeydew, followed by another ‘blip’, and then (we thought) a long descent to Shelter Cove. These hills were tough, extremely steep in places, sections missing (heavy landslides) and gravelly detours. We had to walk long stretches. Tiring and slow. Hot sun. Mosquito central under the trees. We got to a fork marking the start of our decent, yet another gravel road. We flagged a passing truck and were told it was like this the whole way, 20km. We knew it would be tedious, very slow and time was getting on. We took the alternative – two sides of a triangle – longer but better road condition. What we didn’t know – we were on a ridge of mountain peaks. We subsequently discovered the day’s route was traversing the start of the highest coastal mountain range in the 48 contiguous states.
We had cycled 90km but were making such slow progress it was clear we wouldn’t get to Shelter Cove before nightfall. We needed a lift. Eventually, a truck passed and the galant Mike from Barcelona got out. He took us all the way. As the road continued to climb, climb, climb we knew our little legs would not have made it. We were so thankful. The drop down to Shelter Cove was dramatic and again steep. A dense layer of fog engulfed the bay. It looked like a steaming cauldron from above but once in it, visibility was barely a couple of metres – hideous and scary, had we been on the bikes. Mike saved the day for us, quite literally.
We learnt fog in Shelter Cove is commonplace. The next day it had lifted enough to see the beach, the relocated Cape Mendocino Light, a 9 hole golf course with a tiny airstrip running through the middle (good coordination required) and watch fishermen preparing their catch. Life in this tucked away spot.
From the Lost Coast: It started with a 10km climb (steep, of course) to leave Shelter Cove. We took it slow and steady, wound our way up through the fog to glorious sunshine and blue skies, a relief. Our hero, Mike drove past on our way up – a fitting departure. We had a gentle run through back to Route 101 and to Benbow.
The last leg on this journey – Benbow to Mendocino and our start on Route 1. A long but wonderful day’s ride. One big hill (out of Leggett) but a lovely (yes, truly!) climb through the forests. Route 1 took us right to the coast and stunning views of a blue, green, turquoise sea. We hugged the coast for most of the afternoon. We dipped in and out of fog as the road dropped down to cross small rivers. Traffic was really light (mid week and after Labour Day marking the main end of holidays), allowing us to cruise along. We briefly stopped at Glass Beach where the sea has ground down years of refuse dumping to create ‘gems’ – ruby reds from pre-1967 auto tail lights, sapphire gems from apothecary bottles. A long ride but rewarded when we arrived at Mendocino – big scenery and small ‘old’ town charms.
Our homes: We have stayed in some atmospheric places over this period – remote cabins (shacky chic style), historic inns with tales of legend film stars who stayed on their journey to visit the redwoods, a chintzy B&B and cliff top retreats. Very special!
Wildlife: Much to report. We saw the elusive Roosevelt elk, one munching and snorting by our shacky chic cabin. Jen saved a hummingbird that flew in to the cabin and who sat on her finger as she carried it outside. We saw zebra – yes – on Mattole Road (called LC – Lost Coast!). We also saw our first sheep. In Shelter Cove we passed deer munching the grass on the ninth green of the golf course, had seals basking right outside our room and watched turkey vultures devouring fish. We came across om-ing gnomes – ok, not wildlife but they need a mention!
The food report: The highs – bean creations (a la Ross Treanor), seafood stew (being prepared as I write this), vegan at Wildflower Cafe (Arcata), ribeye at Gyppo Ale Mill (Shelter Cove, particularly as nothing was open when we arrived after our gargantuan ride the day before), discovering porridge packets! The low – gluten free sour dough pizza base, don’t go there! The saviour – sushi, when faced with fast food options.
Next up….the Anderson and River Valley the home of big Californian Chardonnays – will we be able to overcome our Chardonnay-phobia? And then onto Sea Ranch (a utopian vision of some San Francisco planners and architects – so obviously a must!).