Trip Report- 5 Days riding the Lost Coast and NorCal
The Lost Coast always sounded awesome. There’s some mystery and intrigue up there, something about not many roads, not a lot of people, but it’s still in California. Years ago Bike Mag published an article about a mountain bike trail called “Paradise Royale” that was the beginnings of a BLM plan to flush out some of the sketchier marijuana growers. That name, and the location, stuck in my head for good. Eventually, that same trail won “trail of the year” in Bike Mag, and ever since reading that glowing article, I wanted to check the trail out. It’s remote location sounded cooler than anything else, and I had never really explored Humboldt county- this means it was time for a road trip- and what better way to do that than to do it all on a bike!
Just three days after the Santa Cruz Super Enduro, and after a very interesting work day on Tuesday, I drove up to Willits, which would be the jumping off point for the trip. After a huge weekend of racing enduro, I bit the bullet and spent the money for the first night in a hotel. It worked out, too- the next morning, I told the hotel owner, Micki, what I was up to, and he immediately offered the use of his parking lot for my truck for the next 5 days. Perfect! Thanks to Micki at the Lark Hotel in Willits!
About a mile into the ride, I spotted breakfast. Mmmmm chorizo and eggs! Then it was up the “shortcut” to Hwy 162/Covelo road.- Shimmins Ridge Rd. It was dirt immediately, and pretty dang steep. It was a bit of a kick to the nether region, barely warmed up, and still getting acquainted with all the weight strapped to my bike as well as the chorizo burrito. But the views were worth it- and I kind of wanted something hard at first just to shock the system into pedal mode!
The road popped out on Hwy 162, along the Eel River. After what felt like substantially more climbing than I had been expecting, the road popped over a final ridge and Covelo and the rest of Round Valley lay below. Pretty neat!
Riding across the Round Valley:
Covelo was supposedly pretty hard up, but everyone at the general store was super cool. This would be the last bit of civilization for about the next 130 miles- it was a great spot to top off the water and buy more beef jerky. This is where the ride got serous- it was time to pedal out of the valley along Mina Road, which turned to dirt pretty quick. And Mina road was pretty steep and rolling.
After the hundredth out-of-the-saddle, in the drops, granny ring grunt up yet another climb, I was beginning to realize there would be more climbing involved on this ride than expected. Friends had recommended checking for an elevation profile, but I did not want to give up before starting just because of some theoretical climbs. How’s that for wisdom? As they say, to be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid. Harsh expression, but I was looking for a challenge, and wanted a few surprises.
Chugging along Mina Road, cars were rare, but it often smelled like marijuana, especially when a fresh “No Trespassing” sign was posted, and those signs often had security cameras near by as well. Essentially, in this part of California, a “No Trespassing” sign literally means “giant weed grow operation right here.” It was startling how many of these dotted the road.
The road was tough. I’m down for a hard ride, but this was surprising. And also surprisingly awesome- it was a beautiful day, and something just felt right.
As the sun fell across the sky, my right knee was aching more and more. I have some IT band issues, and while constant yoga and stretching eliminate most problems, the knee was going nuts. And the road seemed to only go uphill at this point. Something about the weight, the gearing, and the steep climbs was making this a serious effort. As the sun was getting lower, I was on the lookout for a good place to camp and stretch, but also realizing I needed to make it to Bridgeville by 2pm the next day to meet my friend Natalie to pedal into Eureka. Progress tonight would be essential for a good Thursday.
That sign speaketh the truth!
After draining the 70 oz Camelbak, and two big water bottles, I had to stop and filter some water. There weren’t many creeks at this point, and this one flowed out of a gross pond, but hey, it was moving!
It was also getting dark. And I’d been warned by numerous folks to be careful in this area, especially at this time of the year. But the people driving by all waved, and anyone I had a word or two with, was super friendly, and actually pretty darn normal. Oddly, the tweaker count seemed much lower than back home in Santa Cruz- go figure. I had heard it would be sketchy, but it didn’t really quite feel like it. Then it got dark.
I wanted no more than to pull over and set up camp on this ridge, but I hadn’t made much progress mileage wise to Bridgeville, so I kept going. The road made its way onto a ridge top, and a full moon lit up the valleys off to the sides - even in just the moonlight, it was a stunning view to either side. And I realized that the experience of riding it in the full moon, solo, after all day in the saddle, was even more special than riding it in the daylight- how often do you get to have your adventures in those conditions?
Supposedly, Kettenpom had camping at the general store. And it was almost the exact half way spot from Covelo to Eureka. I pulled into the store- my dangling carrot- at 8pm. They closed at 7. And there was no camping in sight that looked legit, just a couple houses with yards and No Trespassing signs, and several posters on CCW permit classes and handgun classes.
Then I found it. After searching for quite a while, there was a hideaway without a No Trespassing sign. Bingo! Stealth camping!
86.7 miles for the day. 12,826 ft of climbing. However, I had no idea on how much vertical I’d gained until I get home and upload the data!. NorCal Lost Coast Day 1 by bicycleweed at Garmin Connect - Details
Relieved to be somewhere, it was time for a delicious risotto and sausage dinner.
After some stretching and electrolytes, just after 10pm, I started to crawl into the tent- then CRACK! A large bore rifle shot from the ridge right above me. It couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred feet away. Not a single car had driven by, and no dogs were barking. Not a whole lot of deer were in the neighborhood, either. Freaked out, I froze for about 5 minutes and listened- nothing more. The nearest driveway was probably a quarter mile up the road, but the shot was fired quite close. It had been a hard day on the bike, and considering my options, the best solution seemed to be to simply go to sleep and leave by dawn.
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Leaving my spot, I took a photo- not much in the way of tracks heading down there, and no signs. I’ll never know if that was a warning shot intended to scare me, or if someone simply spotted a buck nearby and owed their neighbor some venison. It’s probably better to never know.
Pedaling down the road, and warming my cold, stiff legs, I spent a few minutes riding with a local school teacher who was heading to work- she had some great advice on roads to take to Bridgeville. No photos of the teacher unfortunately.
The old Zenia store and sign are just plain awesome. And there is a cell tower right across the street- how is that possible?
Zenia queried a Google search for “zenia murders”, which mentioned Murder Mountain. I was about to descend Murder Mountain. And an epic descent it was- especially with the early morning sunlight poking over the ridges.
Check that house out!
Looking across the valley, I can see the road I’ll be on next- and it’s in the sunlight! Awesome!
And then my camera broke. At least I had a GoPro, a back up GoPro, an iPhone, a portable charger, about five batteries for the GoPro, and a handful of SD cards. We’ll be ok!
Alderpoint Road was quite up and down, and traffic was light, however, it was always moving super fast. Most folks roared by on the quiet two lane road at 65+ MPH. They always gave space, but there was clearly a fire to put out somewhere.
There were two notable NorCal treasures on Alderpoint:
1. Instead of a No Trespassing sign, one house had a large white sign with blood red lettering reading: WARNING: AGGRESSIVE WOMAN, PACKS GUN. Needless to say, I didn’t feel comfortable taking photos of that operation.
2. A large rock outcropping, a good 70 feet above the road, had a mannequin at the top erecting a flag pole in a moment of conquering the rock for all eternity.
Back in the bottom of the canyon, the road passed a great creek and I was able to fill the Camelbak and all 3 bottles. A lot of water, yes, but turns out I would need almost all of it on the next leg.
Once in Bridgeville, passing over Hwy 36 and the Van Duzen river, I received Natalie’s texts that she couldn’t meet me there- her ride fell through. Instead, she was riding from Eureka on the same Kneeland road that I was riding- we’d intersect at some unknown point out in the boonies. This would be more exciting, and it was also the only option. Sounds good!
Pedaling from Bridgeville, the road is steep and dirt almost immediately. And it’s awesome! The views from the top are fabulous, and any cars driving by would slow down to watch the dust. The road cruised along the ridgetop for quite a while before diving into a deep canyon to the next ridge. That descent was amazing- fully loaded, the bike handled the gravel nicely. Drifts were predictable, and the disc brakes were working proper. The day was great, but it was getting warm and the road seemed to never end.
After a particularly steep climb out of that canyon, I saw a figure waaaay out ahead, bombing down the road full-tilt-boogie. Of course, it was Natalie! We began our slow pedal up and up, and enjoyed some good NorCal dirt.
And we’re going up again.
A lot of this:
At the top!
Stoked after some salami and Emergency.
Bombing down to Eureka from Kneeland, Natalie suggested a road called Greenwood Heights. Honestly, I was skeptical- the GPS recommended Kneeland Road all the way to Eureka, and so did the routes I read on the North Coast Bike Rides site. It had been a long day so far, and she was going up hills faster than I wanted to, and I wasn’t ready to try some new route. But she persisted, and I listened. It was indeed a slight climb up to Greenwood, and the road rolled for a bit, but then it rocketed straight downhill. Visibility was decent, so I started to pedal in the 50x11 gear- the big one. 35 MPH came, then 40 MPH. And finally, 44.8 MPH! That feels about like 70 on a fully loaded bike. Greenwood continued on, and after the straights, had a serpentine down to town that is now one of my all time favorite descents. The corners were open enough to allow a full carve, and the Eureka fog in the sunset made for a surreal descent. Go ride it- it’s worth it! I’ll forever owe Natalie a beer for that descent!
We made it to Eureka shortly after nightfall, and after a shower and some complaining from yours truly about tired legs, we grabbed some food at Lost Coast brewery and did a load of laundry. Electronics charged, and I prepared a care package of stuff that I didn’t really need. All in all, it was a fantastic day- big climbs, big descents, and a lot of fun.
After a well deserved Lost Coast Great White.
Day 2: NorCal Lost Coast Day 2 by bicycleweed at Garmin Connect - Details
What's next? The real unknown- the Lost Coast.
Terrific report. Thanks for sharing! That looks like my favorite kind of riding, perhaps with less climbing. Well played.
Friday morning began with a full serving of Eureka split pea soup.
Jamming south from Eureka with some sore legs, the plan was to simply ride to a town called Ferndale. And it looked like the only road south was 101. Which clearly became a freeway at the south end of Eureka. With the limited visibility and the gobs of traffic, I got a little nervous and searched for an alternate route. After 45 minutes of dead ends and false leads, a lone cyclist pedaling along in the mist came into view, with logging trucks and semis speeding past next to him. Sure enough, someone else was pedaling the freeway.
I threw the bike into high gear and pinned it for the freeway, and luckily, I caught him- he was a bit older, but moving along at a good clip. We chatted quite a bit- sure enough, Jim was 74 years old, and rides at least 3 times week. Born and raised in Humboldt county, he’s only been riding for a half dozen years or so. As a treat to himself, he had just bought a new disc brake Roubaix, and he was stoked to see another bike with both drop bars and the newfangled brake contraptions. Jim invited me to coffee, and I would have loved to hear his stories, but Paradise Royal was still about 80 miles away.
Ferndale was an old fashioned gateway-type town. Looking up the hill to the archway to Petrolia, I had no idea what I’d be in for, and it kind of gave me the willies. It would be a ways to the next bit of civilization, and all I’d heard about the Lost Coast is that it’s California’s Wild West. I dilly dallied around Ferndale for a few minutes, then figured, what the hell, I’ve got a water filter, and pedaled towards that climb into the abyss. It was a typical Humboldt grinder- steep, dark, with little traffic, and some amazing views.
About 100 yards up the road, and still in cell service, I got a text from my friend Chris McNally. He was doing a more mountain bikey tour up north just past the Trinity Alps, and we had a very loose plan to meet in Eureka and ride south together. Unfortunately, his text mentioned mechanicals and a 1.5 day delay- he’d already made it back to SF as well. I had been hoping to ride with Chris, but another part of me also thought it’d be cool to keep going solo. It’s a tad more personal when riding solo, and it’s easier to stop for more photos!
Along the Lost Coast, the climbs never really gave way. Dropping down towards the coast, it really set in that this was the Wild West when a gray haired lady almost ran me off the road in her squealing, red Ford Fiesta. She was coming uphill, I was headed down, and she was swinging wide to early apex a pretty tight turn at full throttle, fully committed! The vision of granny, going that full-blast, far outweighed any nervousness about becoming a human pancake. It was time to let go of the brakes and find my own apexes!
A few more rolling climbs and wide-open descents, and the road hugged a lovely stretch of coastline. It was foggy, but the day cleared up momentarily, and that stretch was spectacularly beautiful and empty. It really felt like Baja- rugged, empty, and inspiringly beautiful. A particularly steep climb headed back inland towards Petrolia.
A quick V8 and beef jerkey stop in Petrolia and the next goal was Honeydew. It was starting to make sense- the Matole valley was high recommended from a few folks, and I
could see why. It was the antithesis of the trek to Petrolia- gentle gradients for once.
On one tight, steep turn, a small gray Civic with four mangy teenagers slowed down- they’d passed previously a few times. One of the kids leans out of his window, with a big grin, and yells “You’re making great time! Keep it up!”
His positivity really inspired me for the next few hours. Riding solo, it was great to hear that encouragement- especially when I was expecting a silver Coors Light can to get thrown out the window. NorCal in general is full of these characters- friendly folk that look as though they live on the levee in Santa Cruz.
Honeydew was cool, and the store was open, but the sun was getting low. It was time to keep on trucking up Wilder Ridge road. Which became steep! And every single house seemed to have a grow operation- the smell of reefer was overpowering in most sections. But once again, folks were exceedingly friendly. One fellar crossed the road with his ATV and a very large Rubbermaid tub ratchet strapped securely to the back. It was quite obvious that he wasn’t transporting golf clubs or vacuum cleaners, but he was quite friendly. Whew- I had been expecting intimidation and threats, but found quite the opposite.
At the well-earned top of Wilder Ridge , I turned right towards Kings Ridge road, a dirt road that leads to Paradise Royal. A steep descent and some more dirt road climbing and a few creek crossing later, and it was nearly dark out. This section of dirt wasn’t that far mileage wise- maybe about 15 miles or so- but it was still pretty steep and quite remote. I finally arrived at a campground, with a sign for Paradise Royal- turns out the main trailhead was a couple more miles down the road. Great. Out came the light for the third night in a row, and with thoughts of couscous and salami, progress was tedious.
The smell a campfire was a tell tale sign of the correct campground, then I saw a sign for a campground. But there was a sketchy looking (meaning it has custom curtains) Astrovan parked at the entrance, with a tall guy in his 20s standing awkwardly next to it. Expecting a tweaker and compromised safety, I approached cautiously yet cheerfully. “Is there another campground?” He asked with a thick German accent. Awesome! Foreigners! No one likes bicyclists more than folk from other countries! We proceeded to chat a bit, and he and his girlfriend eventually invited me to dinner.
Turns out he was from Switzerland, and he and his girlfriend were touring the CA coast. Florian and Sofia- they made an awesome pair. She had accepted a job at UC Berkeley as a “nuke-lee-ur re-surchar” (Italian accent, studied in Switerzerland) and began in a few weeks.
NorCal Lost Coast Day 3 by bicycleweed at Garmin Connect - Details
Saturday morning, yet another great day for riding!
Paradise Royal is famous not just for the trail, but also for the multiple jump lines and pump tracks at the campground. With no other options, I hit the skills park and pumptrack on my cross bike. Fearing a broken collarbone and a ruined trip, I kept it mellow and only rode the beginner lines, but that was pretty fun! After getting some shots on the GoPro, it was time to dive into Paradise Royale. Which was good fun!
The climbs were longer than anticipated, but the descent was a real treat- it’s a great combo of bike park style berms and jumps mixed with natural singletrack. The cross bike started to feel good, carving through the berms, and I even cleared a few of the jumps. The trusty carbon steed felt magical without the full touring weight.
At the end of the trail, on a final creek crossing, I filtered more water to get ready for the rest of the day’s pedaling. Packing quickly, I met Joe from San Francisco, who was riding his Mojo SL on the trail.
It was after 1 pm when I set off along the ridgeline, doubting my intentions of riding another 50+ miles. I was tired and sore- it’d been a lot of mileage up to this point. But the views were great, and the “just keep on chugging, bit by bit,” mentality was strong. Chemise Mountain road, along the ridge top, was fabulous- smooth asphalt and agreeable corners meant this section was quite soft on the eyes. And the small towns, like Whale Gulch, drove home the Wild West feel.
After entering Mendocino County, and passing the last chance to get to 101 easily, it was time to dive into Usal road. Reading about this road made it sound like either the best part of the ride, or possibly the worst part of the ride. It started off pretty small, and stayed that way. Eventually, it felt pretty empty. I hadn’t seen another car or human for a few hours, just remnants of their passing, noted with spent shell casings and old engine blocks.
Usal was constantly climbing or descending. It wasn’t crazy steep or anything, but hard enough to mandate eating as much as possible, but without stopping for too long. As nervous were getting fried, the road wrapped around a ridge and greeted the coast with a sunset right above the fogline, a view fit for royalty
This made my smile. That’s tattoo worthy right there!
Climbing back up from the coast, on a brutally steep section, I came across a few moto riders. They were doing a ride from Santa Rosa for the weekend. I told them about my adventures on my XR650R, they told me about their trips in NorCal. Secretly, I was glad to be cycling- the amount of gear needed for moto touring gets pretty excessive pretty quick. And it just felt more extreme and also organic to be pedaling.
Dropping back to Hwy 1, I was tired and grumpy. The fog was extremely thick- visibility was less than 100 feet. It was cold. My butt hurt from the 12+ hours in the chamois. But mileage was easy- pavement was a great change of pace.
And then, within minutes of hitting the smooth pavement of Highway 1, darkness set in.
Eventually, I made it to the Westport campground- shivering, in the dense fog, in the dark. And it sucked- the sites were full of RVs with noisy generators and yappy dogs. Tents were only a few yads away from Hwy 1, and it was pretty windy along the unprotected coast line. Screw this- I’m going above the fog line!
I pedaled up a private road (Old Creek Road?) but got shut down by a true gate. The next option was to just head up Branscombe road. Climbing and climbing, and it seemed just about remote enough, but there were houses every 100 yards or so, and many no trespassing signs. Just wanting to find a stealth camp site, I was getting frustrated. I needed a good night’s rest to not get sick after the day’s efforts, and awaking to gunfire and threats was not appealing. Every perfect little cutty spot had a huge No Trespassing sign. Every house reeked of weed. This road was full of grow operations.
Finally to the summit, I found yet another good spot- it was sketchy, and sure enough, had a barking dog. Weed grow. Defeated, I turned around, set to give up, ride back down the elevation painfully gained, and just camp by the RVs back in the fog- when I checked my texts. I had a note from Amy Wynn, that they had some couch space open if needed. It was 8:30, dark, cold, and I had ridden 70+ miles at this point, over half of that on dirt. Realizing their house, another 12 miles away, had a warm shower and no need to set up a tent, it made sense. A few miles back to the coast, and a really nice ride in the dark along HWY 1, and I pulled in to warm spaghetti and great company. Thanks guys!
NorCal Lost Coast Day 4 by bicycleweed at Garmin Connect - Details
Trip Report- 5 Days riding the Lost Coast and NorCal
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a true adventure. loving the story, cant wait till the next chapter
Thanks Jeff, great write up. I am so jealous! Maybe some day.
Thanks, really great read. Loving it.
Awesome! I did nearly the identical trip a few years ago in the opposite direction. I did it in Nov and had excellent weather and visibility the whole route, weird fog this year, not usually around this late.
Didn't get to stay on Nick and Amy's couch though.....You can get up onto Sherwood Ridge via some dirt roads from very near their home, perhaps that's how you got back to Willits.
Oh yes indeed! Timber company roads- from their spot by Casper all the way to Brookstrails, I feel like there wasn't more than 5 miles of pavement.
Originally Posted by Sean Allan
Great pics, and a fun read. Thanks for sharing.
Great adventure and great read. Thanks for writing/photographing a descriptive report. Nice to see a former Wheelmen tearing it up!
Thank you for chronic-ling* your journey. I envy those of you who set out on treks like this. Someday I'll join your ranks.
Great reading and nice pictures. Sounds like an exceptional trip.
*couldn't resist the bad pun.
Thank you for posting your "most excellent adventure". Great photos and narrative.
In the early 80s I traveled some of the same roads en route to San Fran from Dunsmuir via the lost coast - your report and pictures rekindled some of the rich memories I have from my trip.
Regarding the pot farmers farming on their own property if you stay on the public roads and do not trespass you will have no problems with them. They like to remain very low profile.
Also, I like your rig -------we share similar sensibilities in equipment >
Light and fast
That was a great read.
I can't quite make out what bike you have. What is it?
Thanks tangerineowl! I am riding an Ibis Hakkalugi Disc with an Ultegra build. it's almost completely stock, but I use Arch EX 29er wheels, an Easton EC90 carbon past, an Ultegra 34/50 crank, and Salsa 46c Cowbell bars.
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