500 miles of bikepacking down the Lost Coast of California, captured with film.
By Erik Mathy
Departing San Francisco, arriving Crescent City. Glenn and I had never met in person before this, while Andrew and I had been great friends for over a decade. It was going to be an interesting trip. I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect.
The only hotel on the beach is where we stayed. It was cheap, comfortable, and exactly what we were looking for!
We got up fairly early, packed up and ate breakfast while enjoying one last view of the ocean. Little did we know what was in store for us.
We rolled straight into something that was so much harder than any of us expected, compounded by an early onset of rain that wouldn’t stop for the entirety of the day.
On skinny tires, Andrew promptly proved himself more than worthy!
The reward, however, was well worth the price of admission. Thousand year old redwood groves seen while riding on the remnants of the original Highway 1.
The Coastal Trail dominated the majority of Day’s route. It was unrelentingly hard, rugged and beautiful.
Towards the end of the day we were short of our intended goal by nearly 30 miles. We were tired, wet and exhausted.
At the odd little Palm Motel & Cafe we found much needed shelter, food and warmth for the night.
We rolled out with into a mix of sun and rain. Our first real destination was Arcata, where Glenn and I could get our bikes looked at. Neither of them were shifting exceptionally well. Which was worrisome, considering that we were only on Day 2 of the ride!
In a recurring theme throughout the trip, the views on the Lost Coast never disappointed.
The second recurring theme of the trip was people’s reaction to Glenn’s Salsa Mukluk. The 4” tires caught everyone’s eye, and the comments would rapidly ensue. Two college age guys working for the local municipality even chased us for miles just to ask about it. And, of course, once we got to Arcatca Andrew just had to know the mechanic at Adventure’s Edge. We have a running joke about Andrew: You can’t go anywhere with the guy without him knowing somebody. There we were, Day 2…and he knew someone. It was inevitable!
At the end of the day we were completely spent. We’d turned inland after Arcata. The increasing heat and wind, combined with rolling hills and traffic, sucked the energy right out of us. When laying in a gravel parking lot is better than being on your bike, you know you’re cooked.
After sharing a campsite at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds with an Aussie named John, we changed our route on the advice of some locals and tackled the infamous climb up and over Mattole Road to the coast.
The Mattole Road climb was brutal and seemingly never ending. Near the top a local let us refill our bottles from a tap on her barn. She then warned us about the road ahead. It was rough, strewn the potholes, short gravel sections and random crevices. The logging trucks drove like mad men and the locals weren’t much better. If we went too fast on the descent, she said, we’d end up off the side of a cliff and she’d have to call 911, so don’t go too fast was her obvious advice. The views of the valleys were a rich, rich reward for all the work and the risk.
On the other side was the coast, it’s fog and black sand beaches. They were so, so, so good!
After continuing on the coast, the route made it’s way to Petrolia, a tiny little town made famous by being the site of the first oil well in California. From there the effort of climbing over Mattole Road started to take it’s tole. We got to Honeydew and camped nearby at a state park campground.
It was there that we were joined, not just for the evening but for the rest of the trip, by Ryan and Elisha, a wonderful couple from Colorado Springs. They were celebrating their 11th wedding anniversary by bike touring down the coast to San Francisco. They lightened our spirits tremendously!
The next morning Glenn, Andrew and I were debating on what path to take. Continue on the rough Lost Coast roads to Shelter Cove, or head inland and take the smoother Avenue of the Giants. As we packed and debated, Ryan and Elisha were quietly hanging out, reading books. This in and of itself was an eye opener. Here we were, hustling and being aggressive with our time to GET GOING…and there they were, relaxing. Ryan, overhearing us, said, ”There is something in this book I am reading that could help you with your choice. Can I read it to you?” And so he did, and our choice was made. We were riding inland with Ryan and Elisha. Our party had gained two more people, and our trip got more entertaining as a result.
On the Avenue of the Giants, we looked up in awe at the redwoods, hit the tourist spots, ate a civilized lunch (while ordering extra meals for dinner), picked up supplies and eventually made our way to our campsite.
The first half of the day was filled with surreal man made sites. Stickerd up Blue Brothers cop car replicas, giant carved wooden statues, and the abandoned Hobbiton were amongst the highlights.
Making our way down the coast, travelling a path well worn by cars, motorcycles, bicycles and a lone hiker who was going much farther than I can imagine. Well, at least on foot, anyway!
We ended the day in Ft. Bragg. The beaches in MacKerricher State Park were breath taking! As well as wind swept and cold.
After a short stop in the little town of Mendicino, it was all Highway 1, all day long. Which, I have to say, now that I’ve done it once? I don’t feel the need to ever do it again. Take a narrow, winding road with little to no shoulder, plus traffic, and you get not a whole lot of fun. We eventually made it to Gualala and checked into a little hotel there. They had a fire pit and the local grocery store was well stocked. The scene was set for possibly one of the best nights of the entire trip!
We had an amazing sunset, a fire pit, wine, bourbon, bread, cheese, salami, and good friends. I don’t think any of us could have asked for much more!
On the second to last day, I think all of us were feeling the miles in our legs. The infamous rolling terrain of Highway 1 was brutal, as was the continued traffic.
Bodega Bay was a welcome respite. The miles from there to our campsite at Dillon Beach were crushing. We passed out, in the lowest spirits of any point in the trip, looking forward to one last day in the saddle.
On the final day, after hitching a ride in a pickup from Dillon Beach to Tomales, we set out.
Under Andrew’s guidance we rolled the pure bliss of the Cross Marin Trail. We were literally laughing with joy to be on that after so many miles on the highway.
There was both great joy and sadness upon reaching our destination. Joy for all of us to have finished such a long and hard journey. Joy, in particular, for Andrew to get back to his two little ones and his wife, Jessica. But also sadness that, like all good bike trips, it had to end. We learned alot over the course of those 9 days…about ourselves, the world and each other. Life long friendships were forged. We three, now five, are going to meet again. You can count on it!
To view other work by Erik Mathy, visit his website, A Sometimes Photographer: http://www.asometimesphotographer.com/