…and now for a Bike Carson special report from the road!
On Tuesday I got to explore a very special section of back country road on the northern California Coast. This area is known as the Lost Coast, and is so rugged that there is very little development. The main road that goes through this area is narrow, very steep, and looks like it was last maintained by the German Luftwaffe during World War 2.
Not surprisingly, these rugged conditions have attracted cyclists. The Tour of the Unknown Coast, a ride that advertises itself as one of the toughest rides in California, uses this stretch of road as part of its 100 mile trek. There were some sections of this road that looked like a cyclists dream, and others that looked like visions from nightmares. Nightmares with pretty scenery. The pictures on the TUC website show riders with skinny tires, but even the smoothest sections of the road looked pretty rough. The bad sections were undulating, uneven, and pocked full of cannon ball size potholes everywhere. There were even a few gravel sections, where I’m guessing the whole road must have washed away.
One particular section of road is so steep, it is known as The Wall. The Tour of the Unknown Coast ride starts this climb at Mile 81.5, and climbs at an 18%-22% grade for 1 mile! Even climbing this road in my little car was tough, and it was steep enough that my dash board cover fell off. I straddled the center line just to make sure my car didn’t fall off the edge. I can’t imagine doing this climb with standard road bike gearing, and it would still be tough in mountain bike granny gearing. Descending was just as bad, and possibly worse if you have acrophobia, since it feels like you’re just going to fall off the edge into the ocean below. If The Wall isn’t enough for the Tour of the Unknown Coast riders, mile 86.7 takes them up “The Endless Hill”. This section has several switchbacks, and climbs for about 8 miles up out of Capetown (not really a town…just a few barns).
Once down at sea level, the road mellows out, and you can actually enjoy the scenery. We went as far south as Petrolia, and then took Lighthouse Road along the creek all the way to the beach. There was an excellent campground behind the dunes here that would make a good base camp for cycling adventures. The ideal bike would be light and rigid enough for the road, but have tires fat enough to handle gravel, and several miles of rough pavement. The area is very remote, but Petrolia did have a few services and supplies. Almost everyone waved at us too, as if to say, “Congratulations for surviving Mattole Road!”