Lost Coast


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August 16th 2008
Published: September 12th 2008
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Lost Coast (Aug, 16th 2008)



Map (captured with the GPS)

Once again I was on the road with Davide. And once again it was because his beloved was far away...
At any rate, the perfect organization of this trip surprised even myself...

We left Friday after work with destination Ukiah after abundant shopping at Trader Joe's (the food was enough for an army). We were lucky enough not to find any traffic on the road and - if you live in the bay area - you probably know how unforgiving 101 can be on Friday.

Crossed the Golden Gate we were on our way to the North. I guess that was the first time I drove Davide's jeep (last trip to Death Valley he was the only driver... and maybe it was a good idea...).

Ukiah came earlier than we expected and finding the Motel was not a problem. I booked it for an incredibly low fare, but the service was one of the worst ever. The receptionist gave us a key for a room... that was already occupied! Because of the noise we were making the unlucky guest opened the door. At that point I do not know how I didn't start laughing; he was one of the ugliest persons I have ever seen... (poor guy, if you ever read this don't take it personal). As a result, we were moved to a smoking room, which we didn't want.

We decided to head out for a drink, just to find out that Ukiah does not offer much night life. Found the bar, we stepped in. It didn't even look like California: there were people smoking (for some law workaround that is not very clear to me) and a couple of pool tables (free). I signed up for a game while Davide went out playing with his phone (he said he had to sign up for some soccer league). People in the bar were not friendly at all; many drunkards were part of the fixture and one very annoying guy called a foul on my pool game because I accidentally touched a ball with my hand (I would have won for sure).

We left that place disgusted and headed back to the motel. In the morning we didn't get the wake up call as requested (could we really expect that to happen?) and we slept overtime until 9 (I wanted to hit the road by 8). A large breakfast was the last thing we did in Ukiah. From there we were on the real road trip.

The first road we wanted to drive is the Fort Bragg-Sherwood road; I had never been to Fort Bragg before and I was really interested. The little unpaved road was hard to find but we managed also helped by my hand GPS (totally inappropriate for car navigation). At the beginning of the road there was a sign saying "road closed". We decided to shoot for it anyways and - fortunately - we found out that sign was lying.
The atmosphere was absolutely strange: we stopped for a picture in a big open space from which we could see the nearby forest and we noticed... a bunch of (unexploded) bullets on the ground! There was also a piece of car transmission... not really reassuring, since we didn't sight people in miles at that point.

Continuing on that road was fun; the packed dirt, in some points, seemed almost asphalt and we were able to keep a reasonable average speed. The book where I got the idea of driving it said "possibly impassable in winter", but we were trying to figure out what was the impassable part. Probably when it rains there are flash floods, that's the only explanation (we know that author... he doesn't lie. He's the same one that rated "easy" a scary road (for us) last time we were in Death Valley).

Driving in the middle of nowhere helps talking a lot and we started discussing about... pretty much everything, from mundane life to what was surrounding us (for instance some blue ribbons on the trees...).

After a few more miles the road starts narrowing quite a bit, with a lot of vegetation at the sides. Many dead trees lied on the road and we started to be worried it was actually closed. The speed dropped to 10/15 mph due to the potholes and the rough surface.
There is a plethora of side roads (all private) that probably lead somewhere... but we didn't even dare leaving the main road (especially after seeing the bullets...). A big animal (probably an elk) crossed our road right after we found a crashed (and burned...) car at the side of the road, just to increase the mystery of that forgotten way to Fort Bragg. Even though hwy 20 is only miles away (as the condor flies...) there is no way to leave it (even by foot).

However, by 1.30 the pavement resumed: we were in Fort Bragg. I wasn't expecting much from Fort Bragg and, as usual, my pessimism paid back, because that little village is not bad at all! The temperature dropped considerably (maybe 10C) but I find Fort Bragg worth a visit (I had never been there in 5 years).
We stopped for a coffee and continued North on Highway 1.

The next destination was Usal Road, the read gateway to the lost coast. Before getting there we passed in Westport, where there was a street fair (we could smell the ribs...). Probably it would have been very nice to stop there, but we were running very late.

I dare anybody to find Usal Road without a GPS: that place is incredibly tough to spot! But we did have a gps, hehe, so we found it with no problems.

The lost coast is called in such way because there is no easy access: highway 1 turns east from the ocean and merges to 101 in Garberville (where it dies), good 20 miles away leaving virtually no roads for several miles north. Usal Road is one of the very few exceptions.

The road climbs up several hundred feet, giving an impressive view of the ocean at the left and thick vegetation on the right. Unfortunately the fog was so thick it was nearly impossible to see the water... but the temperature was more than acceptable. We drove for hours, while the road kept narrowing and becoming much more disconnected. At stretches it was seriously hard to follow it and I guess we drove through a forbidden part at one point.

That area is famous for the elks and we saw a beautiful one that was in the middle of the road; when I see how easily they run away through the mountains I get very mad thinking how much effort I make to hike easy trails...

We wanted to get to this place, "the 4 corners" (not the famous point at the border of 4 different states...) where 4 major roads meet, but getting there was longer than we thought.
When we eventually got there we made a left to head to the ocean; that was the Sinkyone wilderness. Our final destination for the day: Bear Harbor.
After driving just for a few miles on this steep road (where Davide was driving a bit too fast...) we got to the ranger station at Needle rock but, instead of finding the ranger, we found a wedding! The celebration was really wild and the guys offered us beer and refreshments. Davide would have stayed with them, but I insisted to drive to the end of the road in order to be to Bear harbor before sunset.

From the road we could see a black-sanded beach, which is very unusual in the California coast; also, we spotted a bunch of elks (we realized, by that time, they are characteristic of the entire lost coast).
Bear harbor is reachable with a short hike (really short, about 1 mile) and is a really popular place (there were several tents there). The nice thing of lost coast is that it is the only place along the California coast where it is legal to camp and so we did. Totally unexperienced, we didn't even know if the low tide was at night or in the morning... Fortunately the ocean didn't swallow us (like it did with a beer that Davide wanted to chill) and we woke up in the morning ready to continue the adventure. The night before we went to bed pretty early, even though our "neighbors" (some fishermen) were playing with fireworks...

We went to Shelter Cove, driving the remaining stretch of Usal Road (which changes name after several miles) and found a beautiful little town. Finding an airport so close to the beach was really strange and I never saw anything like that in my life. There was also a nice camping spot also near the beach; I am planning to go back there sometimes, maybe by motorcycle (but Usal road is hardly doable with my huge GS).

The goal for Sunday was to hike Kings Peak, the higher point of the mountain range that dominates the lost coast. In order to get to the trailhead (called lightning trailhead) we had to drive the Kings Range Road, a winding mountain road that really gives stunning views of the ocean and of the surrounding mountains.

The trail is very well maintained and easy, but there is a significant elevation gain that make is semi-strenuous (the summit is a little higher than 4000 feet and the trailhad at 2250 feet). The kings range is bear country! I didn't know there may be bears so close to the ocean (and little elevation), but that's what the signs were saying.
The place is very desolated and we didn't see anybody for the 3 hours we were on the trail. Also, not a single drop of water can be found until the summit. The reward is a magnificent vista point, from which one can see miles of wilderness. I have never seen such a diverse place in my life, spanning from thick forest to the assertiveness of the ocean.

The hike was the end of the adventure; from there we started descending and, after a brief stop in Garberville, we were on our way home.
Thanks Davide for bearing with my crazy ideas once again.



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