This city gal has become a bit more outdoor-minded as she’s gotten older -The woods have become less a place to burn one in secret and more a place to enjoy, explore, walk, swim, run, bike, and conquer. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about moving to San Francisco is how easy it is to hop in a car, whether it’s your’s, a friend’s, or a Get Around, and find yourself quickly outside The City and in a redwood forest, on the beach, or in an Old Western-style town surrounded by mountains.
In a rather whirlwind turn of events, I ended up agreeing to join three friends on a three-day hike of California’s Lost Coast, a sparsely populated area up in Humboldt and Mendocino counties in Northern California. It got its moniker in the last half-century since this rather isolated region experienced large-scale depopulation back in the 1930s – Back in the day there were train tracks linking towns and lumber yards, but the terrain was too rough and rugged, so today, aside from a sprinkling of “towns” like Whitethorn and Whale’s Gulch, you pass through or by lots that has been abandoned, from towns to ramshackle houses to school buses overgrown with weeds and moss. Nowadays much of the Lost Coast is now part of the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.
For a little reference, here’s where we were in reference to San Francisco:
And here’s what we ended up hiking! Essentially, we drove up to Needle Rock, parked the car, a local chap named Owen drove us back down to Usal in his 4×4, and then we hiked all the way up the mountains and on the ridges along the coast back to Needle Rock. The blue-dotted route shown below is not what we walked (I think it’s a fire road), clearly Google Maps did not take the scenic route.
It was my first multi-day backpacking adventure and I felt a mixture of wooo yea I can do this empowerment!! and why am I waltzing around bear country with 40-pounds of sweet and savory trail mix on my back? But Brian lent me his hiking sticks which were a game changer, biking up and down the San Francisco hills for the last 4 months was killer preparation, and the views were immediately blue and beautiful. In many vistas we came across during the day time it was hard to see where the horizon was as the blue of the ocean turned almost seamlessly into sky blue.
We hiked seven or so miles on the first day, which the guy at the Visitor’s Center had said would be the hardest because of all the ups and downs of the trail. It was definitely challenging but that was to be expected, and by the time we set up camp in a clearing at the Little Jackass campsite, we were all pretty exhausted. We ended up all sleeping 12 hours, the shady forest clearing blocking the sun from waking us early.
Day Two: Holy sh*t. The guy at Needle Rock said this was supposed to be the easiest because we’d just be walking along a ridge with a view of the ocean. Well, you’ve got to get up to that ridge first, don’t you? We decided they call our camp spot Little Jackass because you feel like one trying to get out of there – We spun circles around our campsite for an hour trying to find the path out, practically wading through poison oak and spikey needle bushes and then a tree legit fell on Kevin, who handled it like a champ. Then it was just straight up hill for an hour or so which made me very cross, so I kind of just put my head down and busted it out til the trail did level off like they said it would. I whined, but the hike wouldn’t have been so rewarding if there hadn’t been a couple of obstacles to overcome!
To keep ourselves occupied between the deeply intellectual conversations had by all, including one recurring conversation involving the correct verbiage related to former President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski, we sang. I had not sung like that since waiting around for dinner in the mess hall at Camp Kippewa for Girls. A shout out to Brian for filming and recording our musical debuts! Starting off with American folk songs, we spanned late 90s pop, 60s soul, and musical theatre, which exposed me and Chrysan as Sound of Music freaks of nature. We are waiting impatiently for the next Castro Theater Sound of Music Singalong. #JulieAndrews
Here’s us during a trail mix break singing along to the #1 played song during the candlelighting ceremony at your local bar mitzvah Saturday night:
We knew we were going to come up to Wheeler Beach, but figured we’d haul on to the next beach at Bear Harbor, which the next day would leave us with just three or so miles back to where we’d parked the car. On the descent down to Wheeler Beach, which, I admit I was glad not to be ascending, we passed by a father-son duo and asked them about the beach. The dad was just absolutely not having it that day, and grumpily responded that it was something along the lines of “open exposed black sand and water, no shade anywhere” mumble mumble boo hoo. Although to me that sounded like, you know, a beach, we were not sure what to expect…
There was a beautiful black sand beach fit with magnificent wave action, cliffs, a brook, pine, and elder trees. While the waves were too big too go swimming, and the water much too cold, there was a shallow pool that had formed with calm, warm water. Chrysan and I immediately threw down our heavy backpacks and on with our bathing suits as soon as we arrived, and quickly realized that all-purpose biodegradable soap, sun, sand, and water is pretty much the key to a happy and fulfilling life.
The sunset was obviously quite alright, and reflected itself into the wading pool as we drank hot toddies and made s’mores. At this juncture in time I will take a second to note that semi-melted marshmallows make for excellent roasting marshmallows, as the sort of dusty outside coating disappears and you’re essentially just roasting the entire inside of the marshmallow. It is game-changing and addictive.
Perhaps it was the hot toddies, perhaps it was the build up of endorphins after a long day’s hike and an epic bath, but Chrysan and I became Celine Dion that night, and it felt almost as good as Rose felt when she stood up in front of her tipy toes at the party in steerage. “Oh, I haven’t done that in years!”
Day 3: Final Day. Didn’t really even register that it was coming to an end. We woke up on the beach (which is just a great thing) and then set off past the deep elder tree forests up into the redwoods. Treked for miles and miles til Bear Harbor, which another grumpy old man had told us “was you know, just a beach”, except yea it was PHEN-OM! There seemed to have been a parking lot nearby, so there were a few groups of young San Franciscans playing football and drinking beers. But since the beach was so majestic and immense the proximity of people and parking lots didn’t really register, and it still felt like we were miles away from the real world and work emails.
The last part of the trail was mainly along the coast under the pounding direct sunlight, and I admit I was a little heartbroken when I saw the parking lot and Kevin’s sun bonnet in the near distance, knowing that the hike was over and accomplished. Giddy with emotion, Chrysan and I dealt with the emotional end the way any 90s girls would – a throwback singalong while we waited around for the menfolk to finish chatting up the park rangers. I was also pleased to find that my peanut M&M’s had not melted in the trunk of Brian’s car. They are a resilient candy.
We headed back down the same remote, winding country road we’d been on twice already, this time taking a minute to check out the haunting roadside abandoned bus which made us all whisper “Chris McCandless” under our breath 10 times.
We also stopped off at the annual Labor Day fair thrown by the town of Whale’s Gulch, summoned by two of the greatest words in the English language (aside from continental breakfast, which we had on the way up north) – bake sale.
People out in this area of Northern California certainly have a clear-cut style. My rural fashion expertise relies heavily on observations made during trips to visit my relatives in beautiful backwoods New England (which I now appreciate), which consists mainly of colorful Patagonia clothing and Life Is Good t-shirts from Cape Cod. Here is was a bit more down-to-earth – The Humboldt Country traditional Sunday garb consists of lots of long, white-haired pigtails for women, cargo pants or ripped jeans complete with hemp festival t-shirts and Teevas, and a sturdy pair of hiking boots. The people of Whale’s Gulch were super friendly, the food scrumptious and donation-based (although I admit I hesitated before taking a bite of a friendly-looking brownie), and children darted about amongst the pot smoke and vegan cucumber bread breadcrumbs. It was a very close-knit community.
We drove back to downtown Garberville, where we’d stopped off for coffee on the way to the Usal campground where we’d started our hike. It’s an old fashioned sort of Californian town with one main drag with a Western-style main street smack dab in the middle of a massive mountain range. It’s quite striking, but it’s got some pretty shady characters. Some methy characters, to put it frankly, of which Northern California seems to have many. Dusk in this town was sort of like a few scenes in particular from Fear the Walking Dead, which is a sad thing to say but yea, Frank’s Food Place was real.
We spent the night in a motel which was needless to say, glorious. Motels are great. Then we drove back down south the next day, stopping off at the Vichy Springs Resort in Mendocino Country to hit up the hot springs. I thought we were headed to a national park but it was actually a spa, which we ended getting day passes for. I didn’t take much prodding on that front. We spent a couple of hours in Northern California’s only champagne baths, full of magnesium and something about lactic acid. My skin felt soft and smooth again after a few days in the woods, and my muscles not so sore anymore. Elton John once bathed here.
Jamaican food in Ukiah, food coma, Brian drove, then we crossed the Golden Gate and were back in San Francisco.
Hike Soundtrack – The Songs We Sang
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
America the Beautiful
Proud to be an American
Home on the Range
I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad
There Was a Great Big Moose
She’ll Be Comin’ Around The Mountain
My Darlin’ Clementine
I’m a Little Teapot
The 50 States
The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music
Doe a deer
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?
Climb Every Mountain
Castle on a Cloud
Master of the House
At the End of the Day
90s Pop Music
Tearin’ Up My Heart
Bye Bye Bye
It’s Gonna Be Me (may)
I Want It That Way
As Long As You Love Me
Hit Me Baby One More Time
My Heart will Go On
Build Me Up Buttercup Baby
Stand by Me
Just around the River Bend
Colors of the Wind
Spoonful of Sugar