Cue the Willie Nelson. As we do every year or so, Lucy and I are on one of our themed roadtrips. In the past, I undertook The Mission Mission where I attempted, in one long haul, to hit most of California’s Missions. It was a great trip, but would have been more fun to share it with a companion. Poor Andy works so hard, that when he has a vacation, the last thing he wants to do is go meandering backroads on some vaguely themed adventure. Especially because I brake for roadside attractions — the crazier, the better. So when I formulated a trip called The Road Less Traveled, where I endeavored to cross the loneliest road in America and hit the country’s least visited National Parks, I got myself a terrier co-pilot. It had to be Lucy, because Little Oscar is a terrible car passenger. He braces his feet against the side of his crate and hyperventilates. From San Jose to Sonoma is about the longest road trip he can handle. So Lucy has become my go-to terrier for roadtrips. We’re on one now. We’re calling it The Lost Coast and then Just Lost.
Today was Day One. And the goal was to get further north than I’ve ever driven in California. Along the way we hoped to see Redwoods and the craziness that we are told is California’s Lost Coast, the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the state.
Here’s the thing about California Route One above San Francisco: unlike below San Francisco, where it is called the Pacific Coast Highway, the northern stretch isn’t all about the coastline. In fact, somewhere in Sonoma, it starts being called The Redwood Highway. It’s as twisty as the Pacific Coast Highway and as scary in parts. But it also meanders back inland quite a bit. In fact, there’s a northern stretch above Leggett where Route One just gives up and merges into Highway 101. I’d read that that the coast in this area is so inaccessible and rugged, the State scrapped plans to make a seaside route. Which is just fine, because there are all those redwoods.
While the coastal portions are dotted with little Victorian towns that time forgot — or that stayed just the way they were when the lumber industry was mostly chased out of the coast — the redwood portions of the road are a whole different thing. The road takes you through long stretches of pristine redwood forests. Then suddenly, you round a bend and you are in a kitchy 40s style touristy town with saloons, general stores, campgrounds and vintage neon.
Trees are big business here. Besides the Drive-Thru Trees, there was the One Log House and many large chainsawed sculptures. I struggle to understand what kind of person, when confronted with something magnificent and nearly 3000 years old, suddenly feels the need to cut a hole in it so cars can drive through. But hey, I’m complicit. I paid my $5 and drove through the tree. It was horribly unsettling to inch through to the middle where the tree started its life sometime in the Bronze Age.
Then the roadside kitch started warning me that I was in Bigfoot territory. While the road does take you through redwoods, you have to stop at one of the many turnouts and walk in a way to see the really big trees. Nervous about Bigfoot, I was inclined to keep on truckin’. But Lucy had refused to potty all the way up from Sonoma. In Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck reported that his companion, the standard poodle Charley, refused to lift his leg on the giant redwoods, perhaps out of respect. Luckily, Lucy held just the opposite view. She decided that soft fragrant redwood mulch was just what she preferred.
Suddenly, we decided we needed to get a move on. Unfortunately, I’ve picked the week with absolutely no moon to do this traveling. And I didn’t want to be out on this road after dark. We reconnected with 101 and headed north for Arcata where we had reservations. Oh, and another thing about this route: we crossed and recrossed the North Fork of the Eel River at least a dozen times.
As we hurried along, we took a quick driveby through the charming Victorian town of Ferndale. If you’ve seen the movie Outbreak, Ferndale was the ground zero of the epidemic. Not a good recommendation for this lovely little place.
There’s one more odd thing I’ve noticed about this route: while there aren’t many people about, a good number of those who are seem to be old hippies. And many of them appear to be walking the Redwood Highway — long stretches of it, if we can go by the huge backpacks, bedrolls, and destination signs they carried. Several questions came to mind: Is there some sort of hippie migration that’s happening now? A second Woodstock, maybe. Or are they coming up here for the marijuana that they tell me is the cash crop around here. And finally, when does one stop being a hippie and become just an old hobo? Pondering these weighty questions, we cruised into Arcata, which my guidebook tells me is so to the Left that the Greens Party are considered moderates. The guidebook also suggests I might want to start a political discussion with some of the locals. Thanks, but no thanks. I might be interested in talking to an former hippie, but from what I’m seeing on the highway, quite a few of them have already transitioned into being old hobos.
So that’s Day One of the Lost Coast Then Just Lost Tour. Find additional pictures here.