Dual Purpose Riding the Lost Coast


The Lost Coast


     The day had finally arrived to ride the Lost Coast. Immediately upon being stationed back in Northern California I traded in my BMW RT 1100 for a 2008 KLR 650. What far better route for an inaugural ride? After many years of “hotel” touring I was transitioning back to my “pack it light, freeze at night” mode of travel. The Usal Road and Lost Coast road conditions were an unknown. The winter months of 2008 had seen a lot of rain on the North Coast near Eureka California and my research indicated that the roads could be impassable if wet.  Would the KLR be able to conquer what the King’s Range and Sinkyone Wilderness threw our way in late March? To hedge my bets I packed two motorcycle tie down straps that could achievable double as tow straps. My riding partner for this trip would be a college roommate from 19 years ago. Glenn had called the day prior with a cryptic, “I’ve bought some thing that will manage anything the road will throw at us.” Cryptic messages are normally never great. Maybe the extra space the straps would take was inexpensive insurance. Where we had been going Triple A would fear to tread.

Sunday’s early morning begin was delayed until 3:00 pm due to Easter commitments. The afternoon came and went. I received a call from Glenn that his new mystery machine would not start. Undoubtedly a dark harbinger of things to come. The afternoon ticked by and 5:00 pm turned to 7:00 pm. Glenn limped into Rohnert Park, CA around 8:30 pm, cold, lost but armed with a hearty appetite and an equally hearty and upbeat attitude; absolutely the kind of partner  and attitude you require when venturing into the unknown. The said mystery machine came in the form of a 1985 KLR 600! The .00 museum piece was a steal until the challenging starting bike continued to flood the aftermarket two stroke carburetor and killed the battery (steal was the correct term but only time would tell who the victim was). Ever resilient, Glenn fixed the issue that Sunday and forged ahead from Sacramento to Sonoma County. My mom was all too happy to feed the tired road warrior with a house cooked meal. We modified the game plan that night and decided not to ride the Trinity Heritage National Scenic Highway (also recognized as Hwy 299/3) and the Bigfoot Scenic Byway (Hwy 96) loop out of Eureka. The bikes had been prepped and ready despite a little incident with my newly bought mount. I realized I shouldn’t have procrastinated in buying a center stand. Even though filling the tires earlier in the day the bike fell over as I pushed on the stems with a bit too a lot vigor. To the KLR’s credit, the new plastic radiator shrouds withstood the tip over and the “Bug” (as my daughter calls it) came away with only two minor scratches.


The next morning we headed north on Hwy 101 in the early Northern California chill, the two extremes of the KLR spectrum thumping along in harmony. At 8:30am we decided to pull into Cloverdale and have a fast bite at the local McDonalds. An old timer took an interest in our trip and told us how he utilized to race his Harley Davidson against the British invasion of BSA’s back in 1949 but lost to the lighter, faster bikes when it came to cross country racing. Over coffee talk turned to younger days. We shared our experience in the Cavalry (Glenn a pilot in the Air Cav, I a ground scout, and Don a sixteen year old Horse Cavalryman back in 1938). Soon after his horse cavalry days Don was prowling the South China Sea. His new ride was the USS Snapper, a 1928 era sub that made it out of Manila Harbor prior to the fall of the Philippines. He wished he could join us on our bike trip but his knee replacement was in a few days. Any adventure we would encounter paled to his depth charge experiences during the war. We thanked him for his sacrifices and service to country as we headed northwest.

The bikes made fast work of Hwy 128 to Mendocino as we fell into a smooth pace through the vineyards and redwood trees. At Fort Bragg we attempted to locate a dirt route east towards Glenblair and back to 101 in order to shake down our load plans and bikes. We had been thwarted by dead ends and gated access but rewarded by the single lane dirt roads. Doubling back we proceed up Hwy 1 picking up the pace, energized by the crashing waves and redwoods. Passing Rockport we scanned for Hwy 435/Usal Road but were so enamored with this component of Hwy 101 that we were nearly in Leggett before we discovered we had missed our turn. Backtracking we discovered 431. If it wasn’t for the fact that we knew it was at mile marker 90.88 we never would have discovered it. The begin point looked like a private dirt drive. How this employed to be a stagecoach route is beyond me. They need to have gone by means of multiple teams given the steep hills and rough conditions. The views had been stunning as we peered down on the Pacific. Accompanying the breathtaking scenery was a chance encounter with a bear cub ambling across the road. Startled by the “Bug’s” growl he ran back to mama and we continued our journey. The KLR weren’t challenged by the roads and we thought the estimated three hrs to reach Shelter Cove was an erroneous estimate. We would soon learn 6 hrs was barely sufficient. I also discovered that years of “hoteling” had taught me to over pack my Givi top case. The very first and only flaw of my KLR became evident when Glenn yelled for me to stop. Rolling down the hill was my Givi and half my KLR luggage rack! The tie down straps were pressed into service sooner than I had expected.


            Soon we encountered the very first of several delays. Mud, and lots of it. The KLR’s could not make it through the think soup, rear ends spinning out of control and flopping on their sides. Glenn and I ported our gear when needed and then manhandled our mounts, pushing and cursing the machines by means of the muck. At the worse point, after we discovered a bypass to a seemingly impassable portion of the road, Mark from San Jose (in a tricked out Jeep-the only other human encounter on the scenic roadway), destroyed the bypass (for bikes at least) as his Jeep chewed up the ground. Bouncing off a tree he succeeded but erased any notions of turning back. For greater or worse we were committed. No further than 200 yards down the Usal Road we had been forced to unload the KLR’s again and push our mounts as the rider “paddled” along a foot and half wide path. A fall to the proper and the bikes would disappear below the murky surface like the USS Snapper did to evade the Japanese warships seeking revenge. A fall to the left and the KLR’s would tumble down the cliff face to the Pacific.    Riding the bikes across the narrow path was too risky as the path itself was muddy and the tires could possibly slip. A couple of adrenaline filled heartbeats later, the bikes had been safely across, loaded and moving at speed. Usal Road may well support KTM Adventures and BMW GS’s in the dry seasons but in the winter months anything larger than a KLR would be challenging to navigate the quite a few mud bogs. The bigger bikes would be exhausting to manhandle by way of calf high mud. When we finally reached Usal Beach we had been rewarded by pristine beaches. The ocean front was all but abandoned and the KLR’s proved capable of crossing numerous streams as we explored the beaches. The “Bug” loved the fresh ocean air but the KLR 600 began to show her warts. On the last stretch prior to reaching Shelter Cove the KLR 600 very running on 1 of the steepest parts of the route. Glenn rolled his chicken bones and sprinkled blood on the carburetor with no luck. Un-strapping 1 of the tie down straps from my Givi I hooked it to the 600 and the “Bug” transformed to “El Burro” as I towed the 600 up the hill. A day of quite a few very first. A quick dance to the motorcycle gods and the 600 fired up and we had been Shelter Cove bound. The night at Shelter Cove was one of the most stunning I have spent on the Northern California coast. The wind was totally absent and the stars shone brighter than the light in the decommissioned lighthouse. A couple of touches of Kentucky Bourbon made the night complete.

            A late begin on day two due to Glenn locking his clothes in the dryer room and a non-responsive “steal of a bike” delayed us until 10:30. I began to sense who was the victim on this buy and it wasn’t the “master mechanic” in Sacramento who sold Glenn the bike. One more quart of chicken blood and his bike roared to life. We entered King’s Range Road and crossed into yet another world. The range had received far more than its average share of rainfall that winter. The fog shrouding the greenery reminded us of the rainforest of Costa Rica and Ecuador. Taking a wrong turn we followed the rocky dead end road to the Lightening Trailhead. The rocks took a toll on our tires but the scenery was worth the cost in rubber. The tight, twisty, uphill, climb on the way to Honeydew was 1 of the finest parts of the trip. It was only challenged by the route from Petrolia to Ferndale. This portion of road twisted along the shore and then paralleled the crashing waves. Glenn played the part of ranch hand as he herded an errant cow off the road and back into the field on his temperamental steed. Anything can be thrown your way on the Lost Coast.

 Leaving the ocean behind us, we rapidly climbed 2,400 ft. to Bunker Hill and then descended into a gorgeous valley. As we crossed Bear River were it emptied into the ocean, Glenn pointed to the switchbacks climbing the hill. I pumped my arm in response and rolled on the throttle. In the ensuing climb we became one with our machines to the point where it felt as if the bikes disappeared and we had been “skiing” via the picturesque Northern California scenery. The environment was a mix of Switzerland and Southern England, the narrow two lane roads lined with shrubs, trees, and cattle racing by. We had been sad to see the Lost Coast disappear in our rear view mirrors but looked forward to exploring Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the Avenue of the Giants, and the Eel River.

            Unable to locate a camp ground in Eureka we headed to Fortuna were the KLR 600 died on Main Street. Coaxing the bike to life Glenn met me at the RV park had been we secured a log cabin for a pittance. Funds well spent thinking about the rainfall that night. After filling our belly’s with our fair share of ale at the Eel River Brewery, Glenn filled his ego flirting with the really attractive female body builder bartender. We needed sleep as the road began to take its toll. Tomorrow would be really attempting for us both.

The next morning the KLR was DOA but Glenn was loathe to admit it. After coaxing him into acquiring a U-Haul we doubled up on the “Bug” and made our way by way of Ferndale. We were already pushing 11:30 am so time was a factor as work loomed the next day. In route Glenn spotted an ATV and Tire shop. Tom, the owner and mechanic, took pity on us and gave us the keys to his truck and the KLR 600 received a new lease on life. In two hours we were rolling south on Hwy 101 thanks to Tom and his prompt attention. While this was my fourth time down the Avenue of the Giants, I was amazed by the 40 miles of beauty. The coup de grace was when we received a free of charge “Drive thru Tree” experience by a fellow KLR rider.

 The low point came 11 miles north of Laytonville. The KLR 600 gave up its ninth life and died on the west side of 101. Suspecting fuel starvation I made desperation run to Laytonville for gas. False hope as the bike had pulled itself off of life support.  A CHP officer radioed a tow truck which arrived at 6:30 pm and Glenn was on his own. Facing 35F weather  and a 2 hr plus ride from Laytonville I raced south. Two things helped me survive that trip; the Hotgrips on my KLR and singing every cadence at the top of my lungs. By 8:40 pm I was eating hot chow on the objective whilst Glenn was writing a new chapter on motorcycling on the edge. A day and a half later he made it back to Sacramento. A story best told over a number of cold beers.

            For pure diversity of terrain, vegetation, animal and road conditions nothing can beat the Lost Coast of California. Dual purpose riding milks the most fun per mile than fairly much any bike I have ever ridden. Despite all the web noise about the fairing falling apart due to vibration and the new KLR consuming quarts of oil, it is just has not happened with this bike. Despite an operator induced tip over, the KLR fairing survived an encounter with a concrete parking block and after 2,000 miles the “Bug” has not consumed any oil. The KLR will remain in the stable regardless of whatever type bike comes along in the future. For pure versatility and “bang for the buck” enjoyable, this bike cannot be beat.

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