Wednesday, September 8, 2010


ONE WOULD HAVE TO KNOW that Usal Road exists in order to be interested in taking it. There is no sign off California State Route 1; just a gravel skirt leading to a cleared path, wide enough for a rugged vehicle, heading up the mountain to the west. I’d seen the marking on the map. Clement Salvadori rode it and wrote about it in Rider Magazine. It has long been on my list of routes to explore. Usal Road traces the Pacific Coast twenty miles north of Fort Bragg splitting off the state route once it heads inland. It connects Rockport, which used to be a town, with Whitethorn, a location that may be nothing more than simply a place name.

This area of California is known as the Lost Coast. At the mouth of Usal Creek, the Sinkyone group of Eel River Athapaskans may have summered or wintered in the meadow. If they did, they probably hunted elk and black tail deer along the course of the creek up into the hills that overlook the Pacific Coast. Their trade route may have taken them to what is now preserved redwood. Certainly, along the way, they were struck by the immensity of it all. The relentless surf. The eternal glade. The towering redwoods.

Modern man approached things differently. Usal Road follows no stream course; rather, it switchbacks upward for a mile until one is afforded a magnificent view of the ocean several thousand feet below. Then it slides back down the mountain on the inland side, crosses an unmarked stream and heads back up. The road is unsurfaced, dusty, rutted and rocky. There is no place to stop to behold the view because the road is narrow, the avenue for passing or pausing non-existent. Even on the most stable of vehicles, this mountainous route catches one’s breath. Drivers pray their brakes will hold; and that no one happens to be coming up in the opposite direction.

On the Beemer, I glanced down the bluff to the roiling surf breaking over shattered rocks and offered general prayers.

It is a six-mile route from CA 1 to the mouth of Usal Creek. After 45 minutes, it was clear that the only reason the road exists is because a few intrepid boar hunters keep taking it. Way out toward the primitive camp, a road grader stands cloaked in decades old weeds. I suspect the operator finally said “To hell with it!” hopped off and walked back.

THE MAP SHOWS that Usal road progresses about 30 miles to Whitethorn. But at the Sinkyone Camp, a sign is posted: ROAD NOT MAINTAINED BEYOND THIS POINT. I considered the bulk of the last hour as I examined the course of what lay ahead: a scar that rumbles over the hummocks and slumps of the next hill and ask: Who says it was maintained this far?

Several groups of campers had staked out remote sites and morning campfires smoldered into wisps of fragrant smoke. I set the bike on the side stand and hailed a bearded man.

“Road any good?” I asked, pointing past the sign.

“The fellow with the hat’ll know,” he replied cocking a thumb over his shoulder.

Six or eight campers spotted me. All wearing hats.

“Nice bike,” one said as he approached.

After pleasantries and comments about his motorcycling youth, our conversation quickly turned to matters at hand: the condition of Usal Road beyond up to Whitethorn.

“I did it in a pickup last year, but, hell, I got me stuck in a rut that musta been eighteen inches deep. Had to drop a tree and pitch the log into the crack and drive up on top of it. Kinda snuck up on me.” He laughed and eyed the motorcycle. “You could do it, I suppose.”

A few of his compatriots gathered as we mulled the options. Soon, a woman, seventy-five years of age at least, clad in ancient khakis and a weary plaid shirt wandered up and listened to our exchange. She’d found a pine needle and was cleansing the gaps in her teeth with it. After a moment, she interrupted. Pointing at my shiny German motorcycle and then up the road, she looked me in the eye for a moment. Then she shook her head.

“Bike as beautiful as that,” she said, “should NOT go on that road.”

I MUSCLED THE BIG GSA about and made my way back to Highway 1. The Lost Coast would remain lost.

Culture, history and genealogy of the Sinkyone Indians. wilderness
Sinkyone Wilderness State Park information. Park overview, detailed park information, maps of park, links to nearby parks, links to park related businesses.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. CB: Thanks so much for the view! Fond, fond childhood memories of camping in this place. :)

  2. PA: Very nice....but I wanted you to go down that road :-(.

  3. I got all the way to the camp, but the route, beyond that seemed a bit too rugged for the motorcycle. Had I a Honda 90 - like the old days, I'd probably done it. Seems if I am to see the Lost Coast, it will be on foot. A danged fine way to see it - the way the Sinkyone did.

  4. DH: "Many years back I tried that very same road in a tiny little Datsun sedan. We were lucky to get it turned around and back out of there before getting it completely destroyed! (It never was quite the same after that...)"

  5. Heading up there tomorrow morning...

    1. Would love a report back on how your adventure plays out...

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    1. The "Church" does not accept advertising and does not warrant posts to commercial enterprises - although we do like to hear that folks like the posts....