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Head For Shelter

On The Lost Coast, Shelter Cove Delivers

You'll come up on it suddenly, a sign stapled onto a convenient Doug Fir on the side of a benign bend in the lane: “Dangerous Road: Watch out for Sinkholes, Potholes And Assholes”

I'll reserve judgment on the last bit, but I can confirm encountering the first two features on Shelter Cove Road - constantly. And with ubiquitous pine needles piled up in the damp corners and plenty of scattered dirt and gravel flung off the logging trucks plying the area, there are more than enough reasons to have your guard up in this part of the world. Welcome to Northern California's Lost Coast.

The Lost Coast encompasses roughly 100 miles of a rugged area backed by a dozen peaks rising more than 2000 feet; a landscape so treacherous the highway builders didn’t even bother to drive a cement truck up here. Of the four roads that attempt a run at the Lost Coast, two are one-lane dirt paths and all are twisting and steep. The key word here is " isolated," so check gas and water supplies before heading in.

Photo: Thanks to treacherous terrain and rough weather, the roads into the Lost Coast roads can be downright primitive - if they're paved at all. Bump up your suspension and go easy on the throttle.

A friendly gas station attendant gave me the scoop that Briceland Thorn road from the northwestern corner of Redway (off US 101) would make for an interesting day trip to the Lost Coast. This bumpy, undulating zigzag runs 23 miles to Shelter Cove (changing to Shelter Cove Road halfway through), becoming steeper and more winding as it unspools. At its 1600-foot zenith, the track meets unpaved Kings Peak Road on the right (for you dual-sporters), after which the roadway quickly begins its plunge down to the coast, ending just shy of the Pacific Ocean in Shelter Cove.

This tiny hamlet squats atop a marine terrace at Point Delgada, a protruding lip of land marking the unofficial split between the two halves of the Lost Coast. To the north you get long stretches of beach, but the southern half of the Lost Coast becomes almost impenetrable, with mountains like 4,087 foot King Peak charging straight out of the surf and a few random pocket black sand beaches opening up under the steep cliffs.

Shelter Cove, however, offers riders a rare ingress to the shoreline. It's a compact, interesting-enough place to spend the night if you need to, and it's where I found the Tides Inn, an unassuming lodge with small, clean rooms and a great location right on the beach. As a bonus, the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse stands close by, tempting you with photo ops.

You’ll have to pull on hiking boots to actually access the black sand though. To do that, head west on Beach Road (before you get into the main town) to its end, then proceed on foot along the trail to Black Sands Beach.

If you've had your fill of Shelter Cove - I get it, it's a small town - there are several interesting route options back to US 101. Head east 11 miles on Shelter Cove Road (the way you came in) and then take a sharp left onto Ettersburg Road, which is mostly paved but never smooth. Stay on Ettersburg going north (plug it into the GPS - there are some tricky intersections) and then merge onto Wilder Ridge Road, which winds along the aforementioned ridge and down into the town of Honeydew. It's about 30 miles all told, but be warned, it's a rough one-laner most of the way. In Honeydew you can jump on Mattole Road heading east to Weott and US 101.

The other option takes you a few miles farther east - still on Shelter Cove Road/Briceland Thorn Road - to the town of Briceland. There, take a hard right (east) onto Old Briceland Road - a fun, if jagged rollercoaster of a ride which sweeps east and south through ridges and squiggles into the town of Garberville, also on US 101. Here you can shack up for the night, or commence south 20 miles to California SR 1 (the Shoreline Hwy) at Leggett for another rip-roaring ride (Ride writeup to come).

Photo: The badly deteriorated (but no longer functioning) Cape Mendocino Lighthouse was transported from its remote location to Shelter Cove in 1999, where it was restored

[To reiterate: These narrow roads are poorly maintained in general and a right mess after a good rain, so go smooth on the throttle and choose your lines carefully].

Andy Cherney/July 2018


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