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We've come to Shelter Cove to witness a different kind of miracle: Paradise Royale. A meticulously built 22.5-kilometre loop, the track was recently ranked by Bicycling magazine as one of the best new trails in America. There is not another car in the parking lot. Don't bother asking why such a wonder was built here in the middle of nowhere, in a land largely empty of riders. (Some say it was to lure visitors from San Francisco; others suggest it was because a local land manager wanted his own playground.) What matters is this: The ride is magnificent, or "flowy," in mountain biking parlance. Gentle and forgiving, well drained, devoid of roots and ruts, it sweeps through misty forests of madrone and pine. Paradise Royale serves up the most fun I've had on a bike in years.

Lost Coast is a surfers’ paradiseThe Lost Coast is a surfers’ paradise, with big swells and very few people. If it were up to them, this part of the U.S. would remain a hidden secret.

"Whatch'all doin' round here?" asks the bartender in Myers Flat (pop. 146) when our biking crew wanders into the town's only saloon looking like a box of Skittles, one fluorescent jacket after another. Unsmiling, bearded men in camouflage fleece sit motionless in the shadows. Firewood is stacked to the ceiling beside a pot-bellied stove, and a ferocious stuffed boar glares down from above the bar. We almost turn around to leave, but in the end succumb to a quick round of Mendocino Brewing Company's flagship Red Tail Ale.

Soon the bartender joins us. He's just arrived from San Francisco to help his Uncle Bill run the saloon. Bill is the one wearing velour pyjamas, sitting in a leather reclining chair shoehorned between two pool tables, watching baseball on a television with the volume cranked to max. Someone overhears that we are biking. "Here? There are no trails," claims one man, his moustache bigger than a squirrel. Another disagrees, and maps are soon drawn on napkins. At least everyone agrees we "gotta see the giants" – the redwoods. Hours later, mildly drunk, we stand in the rain with the bearded men, engaged in a comedic attempt to haul a tarpaulin over the roof of a leaky trailer behind the bar.

garden gnomesEven the garden gnomes protecting this Eden – and the people who pass through it – are giant. (We figure it must be a combo of mild weather and lots of rain.)

With every drive and every ride northward, we're inching closer to the largest remaining stands of old-growth coastal redwoods in the world. On the way, we see their decaying stumps. We see the tacky roadside attractions: the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree, the Drive-on-Top Log, the Walk-in Treehouse. We see the historic photographs: 10 horses and 57 men atop a single fallen trunk. But none of that prepares me for riding in the presence of the survivors.

Trunks press skyward like marble columns, more than a football field's length in height. Mist seeps through a damp understorey peppered with moss and ferns. Swords of light dance down from above. The scale is impossible to accept, our bikes like Lego toys in the land of Tolkien's Ents. These oldgrowth giants are the tallest living things on the planet.

Embraced by this enchanted realm, we pedal up to a middleaged couple, software engineers originally from Brazil. We pause together in silence. (Words feel pointless.) After a few more hours of breathless climbing and breakneck descents, we pass a work crew of prisoners on the trail. Wearing bright orange coveralls, they all point eagerly upward with shaking heads and broad smiles. And, at last, we spot the elves – or something very close. It's a group of young hippies, with wispy beards and peaked elfin hoods, gasping in awe. As we near the van, it begins to drizzle, and the other bikers sprint. But I decide to linger, soaking in as much as I can of this other Lost Coast world.

Travel EssentialsLumber-camp eatery Samoa Cookhouse near Eureka

01 The 12 Beer Sampler, including Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout and Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale, at the North Coast Brewing Co. in Fort Bragg is sure to quench any biker’s thirst. 

02 The last surviving lumber-camp eatery in the West, the Samoa Cookhouse, near Eureka, serves up meals large enough to sate a logger’s appetite. The adjoining Historic Logging Museum brings the era of redwood lumberjacks to life. 

03 A Victorian Mendocino landmark, the MacCallum House boasts six guest rooms furnished with antiques and a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence-winning dining room. Sign up for a tour of the area’s boutique wineries. 

04 For information on local history and culture, steer to the Gallery Bookshop, overlooking the ocean in Mendocino. 

05 The Humboldt Redwoods State Park, featuring hiking trails, the Avenue of the Giants scenic drive and a comprehensive visitor centre, is a must for tree huggers. 

06 Whether you’re into rolling through the Lost Coast’s quaint villages or testing the area’s most technical trails, Sacred Rides has you covered on its eight-day, guided mountain-bike journey through the rugged region. And regardless of your skill level, the company will make sure you’re sitting tall in the saddle.

Tags

BIKING     CALIFORNIA     LOST COAST     OUTDOOR TRAVEL    

Getting There

Air Canada offers non-stop service to San Francisco from Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. The Lost Coast is three hours away from San Francisco by car.

Comments… or add another

Marilyn and Mike from Shelter Cove

Sunday, June 16th 2013 12:02
Thanks for the write up. Lots more things to do here in the Cove. A fishing village for salmon, halibut and rock fish, winding roads and beautiful redwoods that end in the crystal blue-green water of the Pacific.

Bill

Monday, June 17th 2013 01:07
We live in Shelter Cove: heart of the Lost Coast. It is all that has ever been written about it.

Want to extend your life on earth? Move here too.

Mark Baeder

Friday, June 21st 2013 17:40
Great story! So glad how it turned out and honored to have been a part of the trip. To join the full adventure check out: http://www.sacredrides.com
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