Sunday, July 3, 2011

Paradise Royale

Initial investigations led me to believe this ride was near Arcata, just north of Eureka.  It turned out it was a long way south - almost two hours' drive (back past the Avenue of the Giants & then some really twisty roads striking towards the coast). But as Eureka was very cloudy & generally bleh, there wasn't much to be lost by taking a day trip south.

The trail, near the Lost Coast (quite isolated for Californian coastline) is about five years old & it took me a couple of hours to ride the 18km. You can see the effort that went in to constructing it - it's beautifully built for mountain-biking (pleasing to see the bikers have right of way for a change). The trail was in great condition, I'm not sure it would need a lot of maintenance as it's so well built - but I imagine the fallen leaves (covered most of the trail) are trouble when they are wet. Also interestingly, at a couple of the stream crossings you are instructed to use the stepping stones as walking on the gravel bed disturbs the young endangered salmon.

Back to the ride itself - starting from the new trailhead it was pretty level for a while before passing the bottom of a recently constructed terrain park (looks fun, but I didn't want to keep Valerie waiting longer). There's a nice 150m vertical descent before the first stream crossing. From there it's an almost uninterrupted (there is a brief respite two-thirds of the way up) 400m vertical gain. This is mostly pretty good, but stubbornly trying to stay in the middle ring all the way up wasn't a great idea. Eventually I got to one bit that was too much for my legs, so I had to succumb to the granny ring for a few minutes. Most of this is all in thick forest & with all the switchbacks it was never too warm. As the trail levels briefly there are some small grass clearings, but never enough for a view.

The trail maxed out at about 760m above sea level before starting an excellent downhill. Most of the whole loop is pretty wide & this was no exception - wide & fast. There were plenty of little trail features that you could get nice air off & they all had really nice landings. Eventually there were a couple of places where you could finally see out to the Pacific - this wasn't one of the most photogenic of my USA rides. The downhill continued nicely before slowly levelling out to 460m & the final stream crossing & climb back to the car. A really good ride all up, but you definitely earn that fun downhill - a bit of pity it's so far out of the way (there is a campsite near the top of the terrain park).
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After I'd cooled down, eaten & packed up we continued out to the coast to look at Shelter Cove. There were a lot of kitted-out hikers in the parking lot - turns out it's one end of the Lost Coast walk (three days mostly along the coast). I got excited when I saw the black beach from a distance - but it wasn't ironsand, just grey pebbles. Swimming was actively discouraged due to the surf - some really nasty looking waves that just dump instantly a couple of metres from the edge. That & the rogue waves that occasionally further up the beach & sweep bystanders away.
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