May 22, 2004: The Lost Coast
The only problem was, I'd heard the road is in pretty bad shape. Not wanting to get stuck in quicksand or anything, I did a little bit of research before leaving for the weekend. Pashnit.com had mixed reviews. Diana had done the route last year, and reported that it was, in fact, pretty bad. "Bad, as in the top of Page Mill?" I asked her. "No," she said. "Bad as in I really wished for a support bra." Whew. As a B cup, I figured I could handle the Lost Coast.
Somehow I managed to convince Karl (katzke) to tag along. We made plans to meet at the Dennys next to the Super 8 on Saturday morning. Bill and I had breakfast together, along with several other relatively late-rising ST.Ners. Between breakfast and loitering out in the parking lot, I talked a few other people into going along on the Support Bra Ride. By the time we had all assembled to leave, there were nine of us: myself, Karl, Gil, Becky, Jordan (Rogue_Biker), Ken (ksann), Jim (TheExplorer), Russ (Green01SprintST), and Chris (naked_sv).
And then....as we were leaving....we were struck by.....The Napkin of Doom!
Gil was in the lead, and as he was rolling out of the driveway, he managed to try to stop exactly on top of an old discarded paper napkin. Napkins don't have the world's best traction, unfortunately, and the poor Sprint plopped over on its side, making the third (and final!) mishap of the weekend. Out came the duct tape again.
Once the Sprint's turn signal was taped back on, we headed out towards 101. We were full of confidence: what could the Lost Coast possibly throw at us that would be worse than The Napkin of Doom? We had already stared Doom in the face that morning. It would be clear sailing from there on out.
Fritz (Captain Flake) had suggested that we ride the Lost Coast from south to north, so this we did. We took 101 to the Avenue of the Giants, which intersects with the beginning (or ending, I suppose) of Mattole Road. The first part of Mattole twists through the Rockefeller Forest and was pretty crazy. Diana was not kidding about the support bra. The road was fairly clear of gravel and crap, but it was bumpy. We're talking potholes, ruts, frost heaves, tree roots, the works. There was nothing much to do other than relax and just ride over all of it. Luckily, I've had enough experience up at the top of Page Mill to know to relax my grip on the bars when the bumps come, rather than tense up. The most intense part for me wasn't the road condition, but the oncoming traffic: most of this section is technically "one lane", but with all the bumps and roots and etc., it's actually more like a half a lane in places. We came across a few pickups heading towards us, which was very exciting. Fortunately, the drivers all seemed to realize that they were better equipped to handle the "shoulder" than we were, so I never had to do any real off-roading.
Rockefeller Forest, incidentally, is the largest expanse of old-growth redwoods left in existence. The oldest tree in the forest is over 2000 years old; the tallest is 362' high. The latter is found in the center of the grove (a short hike from Mattole Road), and is called, creatively enough, "Giant Tree".
During this first section, we learned to trust the road signs. I was in second gear through most of this section, but by god, when that yellow diamond sign popped up with a 90-degree arrow on it, I downshifted. The entire route was like that: it got to the point that whenever I saw a flash of yellow out of the corner of my eye, I automatically and immediately downshifted to first gear. This worked well, except for one time on a straightaway when I was fooled by a small patch of poppies.
We stopped for a break towards the end of this first section. Everyone had a "The Turn That Almost Got Me" story.
While we hung out trading stories, Damon (Dinolee), Chris (Thatman) and Ariana (aplejax) rode up from the other direction. We told them about the horrors that awaited them, and they returned the favor. One of the things they mentioned was an old wooden plank bridge, loose planks and everything. Score! This sounded like the perfect spot for taking pictures of our friends doing stupid things.
I don't know exactly how long it took to get to the bridge, but it's probably safe to say that we encountered crappy pavement and 10mph hairpins on our way there. To be fair, there were also some sections of gorgeous 50mphish sweepers. Mattole Road is fairly schizophrenic. We did make one stop before the bridge, to take pictures of the gorgeous scenery. Chris and Ariana told us that it resembled the hills of Ireland: I've never been there, but it certainly matched my mental image of that country.
Arriving at the bridge was cause for celebration. After all, we'd made it to the booming metropolis of Honeydew, California (named for the sweet-tasting dew that early settlers found every morning beneath the cottonwood trees), population 73.
We all took turns riding over the bridge. Here's a fascinating (but large) movie of a group crossing.
Shortly after crossing the bridge, Jordan came zipping up from the back of the group. He signaled for us to stop, and we learned that Karl had lost a muffler bolt. Ken had some zip ties on him, so he offered to ride back to Karl to see if they could rig something up. In the meantime, the rest of us pulled over in some poor farmer's driveway and took pictures of his cows.
A big group of touring Harleys passed us from the other direction while we were hanging around. As we all waved, our group was relieved to see that they were all smiling and looked happy. It's never a good thing when people coming from your destination have the fear of God on their faces.
Ken and Karl rode up a few minutes later. It turned out that not only had the VFR spit off the bolt right in front of the only store along the whole route, but this store also sold bolts. Apparently, Mattole Road has a tendency to bump, bounce, and vibrate parts off of many vehicles. At some point, the farmer walked out to check his mail. He looked completely unsurprised that there was a group of nine motorcyclists just hanging out in his driveway. Despite his hospitality, we decided not to push our luck; we took a few more pictures, and then headed back out.
The town of Petrolia popped up between the cows and the coast. Its claim to fame is being the site of the first oil well dug in California, in 1865.
At some point along this next section, you round a corner, and BAM! Ocean! It's absolutely stunning. I couldn't stop for a photo (cambered downhill road + 28" inseam + stopping for photo = SVS on its side), but I know Jim and Karl got a couple. I'll link to them when I can. The rest of us continued downhill until a relatively flat spot near the ocean where we could stop for another eight million photos.
Unsurprisingly, we hung out here for quite a while, enjoying the sun (!) and the ocean.
As we veered away from the coast again, we came upon what Clement Salvadori dubbed "The Wall" in his book. The road suddenly goes Straight Up. It's very disconcerting. There's really no way to ascend it other than by gunning it and yelling "WOOOOOO" in your helmet the whole way. The Wall also marks the point of Cape Mendocino, the westernmost point in California.
The top of The Wall has the double benefit of being poorly paved again and also being sloped like a muddafugger. This section had the longest patch of loose gravel (well-marked). There had been three or so short sections in earlier parts along the route, but this one was about 100 yards long and was slightly downhill. The road flattens out afterwards, so we stopped to trade stories again.
After The Wall, the road twists back inland. I don't remember there being any particularly hairy sections north of The Wall; just the usual pavement ruts and sharp turns (again, all still well-marked). This last section is forested and pretty darn fun to zip through. It theoretically goes through the community of Capetown, but damned if I can remember a town there.
And then, suddenly, we were in downtown Ferndale. Yikes! Talk about culture shock. One moment we're flicking around trees and gravel and insane slopes and the next, we're eye to eye with non-stop Victorian houses. Weird! The plethora of Victorian buildings in Ferndale is a direct result of its thriving dairy economy. Dairy farmers and businessmen, predominantly Danes, flocked to the area in the late 1800s to take advantage of the fertile Eel River plain. These dairy magnates poured their wealth into the buildings that are now referred to as "Butterfat Palaces". Downtown Ferndale is literally lined with these Victorian palaces, giving it a somewhat disconcertingly Mayberry atmosphere. We stopped at Curley's Grill -- located in the ground floor of the Victorian Inn -- for appetizers, lemonade, and root beer floats. Yum!
Apparently, we arrived at Ferndale a week early: the Kinetic Sculpture Race is being held next weekend. A three-day race every Memorial Day weekend, the KSR runs from Arcata to Ferndale; its main rule is that all entries must be people-powered. And, preferably, look really goofy.
We were back at the hotels in Fortuna by 4pm or so, making it an approximately 5.5 hour ride (including a lot of stops). It ended up being almost exactly 100 miles, so that should give you an idea of our average speed. It's definitely not a route that you'd want to take if you were in the mood to ride fast and tear up the corners. It's probably also not a very fun route to do alone -- a lot of the fun for me was trading "ohmygod!" stories with the other riders. There's a big sense of camaraderie while riding this route. It's very intense: everything from the shitty road conditions to the uber-tight hairpins to the spectacular scenery is larger-than-life and seems almost surreal. Definitely bring some friends and a camera if you do this route.