To all those that have said, “Try It You’ll Like It”, they have never devoted 5 hours of their lives driving down Humboldt County’s Lost Coast. And if you are a bicycle-Nazi, braving that 70 mile loop, from Ferndale around to Hwy 101 above Garberville, you either have a death wish or some misplaced allegiance to merit badges.
No my friends, while subjecting my vintage ‘72 Chevy Blazer to the brutalities of what is kindly, but mistakenly, referred to as a “road”, the reality is that trek is something I would prefer to forget, if only I could get it out of my mind. If there ever were a reason to commission one, a socio/economic/mental stability study would definitely be in order for the residents of Mattole, Petrolia and Honeydew, California.
Now I’m no stranger to isolation and rural living. Coming to California, as a child, in the mid 50’s, our first residence was a 40’ mobile home in the mountains about 20 miles east of Arcata in the Mad River Valley area. The roads were gravel, windy and in many spots single lane and made more treacherous by logging trucks making about 200 passes a day down the road, on their way to and from the woods.
But the Lost Coast highway adds new meaning to the notion of a challenging byway. I believe our average speed was somewhere between 20 and 25 mph. I mused seeing one speed limit sign of 25 mph on one of the more perilous stretches, “In your dreams”, I said out loud. About the only reward to the slow speeds was the diversity and outstanding views of the land we were passing. Rubber necking all round were us two Boon Dockers.
In about 20 miles and one hour, we descended from a grassy mountain top to a large ranch below. I swear we dropped at least 2000 feet in a mile and a half. I’m no stranger to switchbacks, but some must have been well over 10 percent grade. Enough to make our sphincters pucker and prayers that our 41 year old truck’s brakes would hold out. It would not be our first encounter on pitches designed more for mules, pack trains and Sherpa, rather than motorized vehicles.
Once down, however, the drive up the Mattole River was beautiful, as was the 6 mile stretch on the beach later. Too bad there was more bad than the little good road we endured. Not to be too critical, but it looks like the County road crews just threw out shovels of cold mix asphalt, about the size of cow patties then backed the truck over them for good measure. We did notice that there were many short stretches of smooth pavement. Probably because the road had completely dropped away forcing outside contractors to rebuild the road bed then pave the area. Other than that stretches any longer than a few hundred yards were few and far apart.
Near Petrolia was our most outrageous sight. Passing by an unfinished, but humongous two story house, I noticed two Zebras grazing in the field. Wifey was late to notice, so she made me turn around for a photo op. Let’s face it, nobody is going to believe there are Zebras in Petrolia unless you bring pictures.
Ranching seems to be the main industry on the Lost Coast, cattle mostly with some goats and sheep. Other than that, there are a couple of schools, 2 post offices, 2 small mom and pop groceries, a CDF fire station, a small construction company (probably cleaning up after the cow patty asphalt repairs) and I’m sure plenty of cannabis growers. I am told that retirees, escaping high density cities, makes up a considerable portion of the area’s population.
Now I don’t want to go out on a limb here, but propane delivery, UPS, Fed Ex, mail truck drivers and Dish technicians must be the most anticipated callers, in and out of the Lost Coast. You know, you can get toilet paper and groceries from Amazon!
I know, if I were going to start a business down there it would be a tire shop, with a front end and brake service on the side. Given the steep terrain, bone jarring pavement and arm wrenching switchbacks, it would be busier than a ‘kegger’ at a frat house. Unfortunately, since the locals have a built-in distrust for new-comers, it would only take ten or twenty years to build a client base.
No, the Lost Coast is a place everyone should visit once. Chances are you will never forget it and better chance you will never go back.