Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lost Coast Trail: Day 1

 Saturday June 30, 2012: I woke up on the bluffs in Ft. Bragg to a clear, calm morning. My sleeping bag was only slightly damp from the previous night's fog and ocean moisture. It was just after 6 am and the sun was already up. I was scheduled to meet Spillz and Kyle at 8am. I walked back to my car and saw that the two of them were sleeping in their car. Knowing that they probably arrived at 3am, I decided to go for a walk along the bluffs and let them sleep for a couple more hours. An hour and half later, I received a text from Spillz, "We are awake. Where are you?" A few minutes later, I met them at the vehicles and we were ready to go. Spillz requested that we stop and get some coffee first, and I suggested we'd better fill up on gas because the day had potential to be a long one. In hindsight, this was a very good idea.
 After filling up on coffee and gas, we hit highway 1, and were headed north out of Ft. Bragg. I had planned on taking us up Usal road to Needle Rock, where we were going to drop off one car. I had a vague idea where Usal road was, although I had only driven past it once last year while exploring the coast. In fact, I wasn't really sure that what I saw last year was in fact Usal road, it was more of a hunch. I was aware that Usal was going to be an unpaved, dirt road.

The drive up the 1 was beautiful in the morning light, and it wasn't too long before the 1 curved away from the coast and began heading east. Usal road, I assumed, would come soon. When we arrived at the spot I thought we should turn, there were no signs. I slowed down my car and looked for any indication that the road would head to the Lost Coast, or any sign that said "Usal," but there was nothing of the sort. I decided to continue east, assuming that Usal road would appear any moment. After driving east another 10 minutes or so, I pulled over and asked Spillz and Kyle if they thought we had missed our turn. They weren't quite sure either, and Spillz suggested we head to Leggett, which is what her directions indicated. We continued to drive east, and it soon became clear that we missed our turn. I had a hunch it had to be the unsigned road I had passed by. 30 minutes later, we arrived in Leggett and the 101 junction. We definitely missed our turn. After checking Spillz directions, they were written from the direction of taking the 101 north and then making a left turn west from Leggett. We screwed up.

We turned around, drove west on the 1 until we reached the turn off where the unsigned road was. To our dismay, someone had painted "Usal :) Lisa" on the road to alert westbound drivers of the turnoff. Too bad the paint had faded on the east bound lane and I totally missed it.

So, in conclusion, if you decide to take Usal road to the Lost Coast, IT IS NOT MARKED! LOOK FOR THE NAME "USAL" PAINTED ON HIGHWAY 1!
 Usal road is unpaved and extremely rough. While driving up the road, I pulled over to let a pickup truck pass. The man in the truck was going to park his truck in the pull off and take his ATV up the rest of the road. Spillz, Kyle and I decided to continue on, hoping to God that our tires and our vehicles could weather the beating they were taking. Along the way, I saw this fantastic Douglas Fir growing near the road. I had to stop for a picture. This tree is probably the largest Douglas Fir I have seen growing in California so far.

After 30 minutes or so, we reached the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park boundary and were continuing up Usal road when it suddenly diverged in several directions. I got out of my car to take a look for any signage, although there was nothing to be found yet again. All of a sudden, a couple guys in a pickup truck barrelled down one of the side roads.
"Where you headin'?" one of the men asked, sporting a grizzly beard and a tide dye shirt.
"Up to Needle Rock," I responded.
"In that?" he gestured towards Spillz's Honda civic.
"That was the plan." I answered again.
"You ain't heading up the rest of Usal road with those cars," the redneck responded. I don't think I'd even take my truck up there now. There are mud pits 300 to 400 ft long. You just finished the easy part of the drive. I'd suggest you turn around and head back up the 1 towards Leggett, and then take the Briceland Thorn Rd. in Garberville."
"OK, that's what we are doing!" Spillz responded, not needing further convincing. We screwed up again. We were going to add another extra hour to our drive to retrace our steps again.

In conclusion: Unless you have a four wheeled drive and are willing to risk serious damage to your vehicle, possible flat tires, and perhaps even getting stuck, DO NOT TAKE USAL ROAD TO NEEDLE ROCK!
HEAD UP TO GARBERVILLE AND TAKE THE BRICELAND THORN ROAD. Briceland Thorn Road is paved, and is well worth the extra time and miles. In fact, it may be quicker considering how slow we had to drive on Usal. Your car and traveling companions will thank you for it.
 We turned around and took Usal road back to highway 1, took highway 1 up to the 101, and then north to Garberville. We were now 2 hours behind schedule, but it was no big deal. Once we reached Garberville, I filled the car with gas yet again and asked the gas station attendant where The Briceland Thorn Road was. He instructed me to take the road out of town to Redway, about 2 miles away. The turn would then be on the left just outside of the town. By now, it was beginning to rain and mist off and on. As I said before, Briceland Thorn road is paved and it didn't take long to work our way towards Needle Rock. After 45 minutes or so, we reached the junction to Bear Harbor road, another dirt road that leads to Needle Rock. Despite some crazy scary drop offs and the road caving in in sections, we made our way down the 3 or 4 miles of dirt road to the parking area in Needle Rock. Phase 1 was complete! It was now about 2:00 in the afternoon, and our first car was situated. I remembered to bring my car keys. DON'T FORGET YOUR CAR KEYS IF YOU ARE DOING A 2 CAR PLACEMENT! Now we needed to place car two in Mattole. I joined Spillz and Kyle in their car, followed our road map back up the dirt Bear Harbor Road, back onto Briceland Thorn Road, left onto Ettersburg Road which changes into Wilder Ridge Road, made a left in the town of Honedew onto Mattole Road, and then another eventual left on Lighthouse Road to the parking area along the beach in Mattole. This drive took over 2 hours, but very scenic and simple as long as you are paying attention. Also along paved roads. After parking our car in Mattole, we could finally celebrate the completion of Phase 2! Now to actually begin the hike!
 Spillz, Kyle and I packed up our packs in the Mattole parking area. We talked to a group of  4 hipsters for a while who had just finished their hike. They were driving cross county in an old Volkswagen beetle. How they fit all of their stuff in their car is any one's guess. After saying our goodbyes, we hit the trail. It was now cloudy, overcast, sprinkling, and the wind was gusting in our faces.

 Within the first few minutes of hiking, it was apparent that this was going to be a different kind of hike. There were a lot of random things to look at lying on the beach. There were a lot of dead sea creatures littering the sands. Way more than one usually sees in other areas.
 Hiking was also pretty difficult in the sand. It was tough to get a good pace going because the sand's consistency would change often. When it was harder, it was easier to walk. When the sand became soft, the going was slow. Also, there were a lot of rocks to avoid or walk over.

 Despite these minor setbacks, it felt great to be hiking again. We passed a large colony of seals lying on the beach. They all seemed curious and perhaps a little cautious of us walking past. It was a little unsettling to see so many eyes staring at us as we walked by. We also saw some black otters eating and playing in the sand.
 Pretty soon, it was getting dark. I knew Kyle and Spillz must have been exhausted after such a long day after very little sleep. We decided to pitch camp just after the Punta Gorda Lighthouse. We had fresh water coming down the hillside into camp, and some driftwood structures had been built to block the wind a bit.
 I set up the A-frame, a shelter that bodes well against raining weather. Not long after setting up camp, Kyle found a couple of ticks crawling on him. The ticks were going to be a constant worry and companion the rest of the hike.
 After Spillz and Kyle crashed for the evening, I cooked some dinner and savored the sights on this rugged coastline. It was hard to believe that we had actually made this trip happen. Everything fell into place perfectly at just the right time.
It appeared that flexibility was going to be important yet again. We had already made some major mistakes, but they were learning lessons for sure. Despite the mistakes, day 1 was coming to a successful end.


  1. Nice read. Long day of driving, though. Surprised about the ticks. I always think of them as being on grasses. No grass on the beach, though. Weird.

  2. Hey Skyhiker, it was a very long day of driving. There were a lot of ticks out there unfortunately. I wonder if they came down out of the grass onto the beach? Maybe they were picked up along the way and we only noticed them once we sat down on sand.