Tour of the Unknown Coast 2011

Saturday, may 7, 2011

Click here to watch a short video of today’s ride

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On Friday, Michael and I head north on Hwy 101 towards Humboldt County. We’re registered to ride The Tour of the Unknown Coast the next day. We stop at a few tourist sites along the way.

We take a drive along Main St before arriving at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds in Ferndale for the early check-in. There is free tent and vehicle camping at the fairgrounds along with restrooms and shower facilities. No reservations are required.

There is a mass start time of 7:00 AM for all century riders. Temp: 47F

We go south on 5th St to Ocean Ave to head out of town.

We continue through the Ferndale Bottoms on Grizzly Bluff Rd towards Waddington. We ride along the flats and see nothing but old farms, ranches and open fields of green. There is one short climb here; the gradient starts off at around 6% and maxes out at 11% as you near the top. Thereafter, it’s pretty flat with a few small rollers as we head towards Rio Dell. You can hear the water flowing along the riverside. The road changes name several times; to Blue Slide and Belleview Ave.

We turn onto Wildwood Ave, ride through Rio Dell and cross the historic Scotia Bridge. While riding through Scotia, we pass the Pacific Lumber mill and the old locomotive. We take the entrance to Hwy 101 southbound and continue on it for the next 5+ miles; the shoulder area is fairly wide and there is minimal traffic.

We take the Pepperwood exit and ride along The Avenue of the Giants for the next 4 miles. This area is absolutely beautiful! We reach the first rest stop at the Immortal Tree Gift Shop at mile 25. You get the standard food; bagels, PBJ sandwiches and fruit. I see Melinda and her crew here; we both first met while
volunteering for DMD.

The route continues on The Avenue of the Giants for the next 6 miles. It’s a flat ride with rollers in between. We take the Bull Creek Rd/Honeydew exit under the 101 overpass. The nice pavement eventually turns bad when the road narrows and becomes a single lane. Riding amongst the redwoods is awesome; I can’t get over how gorgeous it is out here! We reach the next rest stop at Albee Creek at mile 38.

We stay on Bull Creek which becomes Mattole Rd and begin the 6.8 mile ascent of Panther Gap Ridge. The initial gradient ranges from 5-8%; at the switchbacks it increases up to 9% along with several sections that hit the double digits, 11-13%! There is a false summit; the gradient eases up to 4-5% for a short period. At the last switchback, the gradient holds steady at around 10-12% before leveling off at the top.

The descent is extremely steep on this really bad pot-holed road. You must proceed with caution! There are two sections of loose gravel along with many tight hairpin turns. I am truly scared as my bike rolls through the gravelly sections of road. There is also the warning of loose sheep on the road.

We cross the old Honeydew Bridge; it’s a single lane wooden plank bridge with gaps in between. Once again, proceed with caution and take it slowly. There is a rest stop at mile 55 next to the Honeydew Store.

We stay on Mattole Rd for the next 7.5 miles; you get plenty of rollers on this stretch of road along with large sections of loose gravel. My mantra for crossing the gravel was “relax, stay upright, don’t hit the brakes, roll through”. I did feel my rear tire slipping a bit and it’s just scary, I don’t want to take a spill. There is one gravel section that you must be aware of, it’s like a huge dip in the road; a downhill followed by a quick uphill, the gradient hits 12-16%! You can’t even get out of the saddle to get over it fast enough. What a hairy experience, I never felt so tense! It seemed like a booby trap was in place to take someone down. If I ever do this ride again, it’ll have to be on a cyclocross bike with knobby tires. Oh yeah, watch out for all the cattle guards too.

We arrive at the A.W. Way Park at mile 63 for our lunch stop. They had different types of sandwiches and hot V8 vegetable soup along with all the other standard foods.

After lunch, we continue on Mattole through Petrolia. There are several climbs along the way. At mile 66, we hit “Surprise Hill” which is a 300 foot climb. The
gradient starts off steadily at around 8-9% with pitches of 10-13% in between.
You get a nice downhill that is followed by another climb of a 5% grade. There
is one short steep climb into town when you see the school Xing markings on the road. After crossing through town there is another climb as you head on out
towards the coast, it starts off at around 3-5% and hits 10-12% as you near the
top. Thereafter, the road levels out. Yes, those are zebras out there!

Mattole Rd takes us all along “The Unknown Coast”. The views are absolutely stunning! At mile 79, you can see Battleship Rock from the shore. The sights, sounds and smells of the ocean are actually very exhilarating! The wildflowers are out in force as if they were there to pave the way and to beckon us to continue on. I felt very drawn to it; like following “the yellow brick road”, I just
wanted to keep going to see what else was around the bend. I really love the
ride at this point! The slight headwinds and misty conditions made it all feel
very mystical and magical at the same time.

We arrive at “The Wall” rest stop at mile 81.5.

“The Wall” is a one mile climb with a 16-18% steady grade. I can see riders traversing the road to get to the top. I sit tight and spin my way up; thanks to my brother Rick for upgrading my bike! The views from the top are spectacular; it is certainly worth the climb!

The climbing continues on after you reach the top of ” The Wall’. There are more dirt and loose gravel sections for the next few miles. A few of the climbs have 9-10% pitches. At mile 84, the descent begins; it’s steep with very sharp turns and dangerous sections of gravel areas. Proceed with caution!

There is a unstaffed rest stop at Capetown, mile 86 with a porta-pottie, water and snacks at the side of the road.

We are now approaching “The Endless Hill” climbs. It’s 8 miles long with several false summits. The first section is the steepest; average 9% grade with portions holding steady at 10-12%. False summits are good; it usually means the road will ease up a bit to give you a break before the next climb.

The next section has a steady grade of about 6% with another downhill followed by another climb of 9-10%. Thereafter, the gradient hovers around 2-3% and that seemed to go on forever. There is one short 7% climb through loose gravel followed by a fast downhill through yet another section of loose gravel; danger, danger!

We’re at the top of “The Endless Hill” at mile 96. The fog is quickly rolling in and the temperature drops to 47F. The 3+ mile descent back to Ferndale is treacherous! It’s steep with more gravel and hairpin turns on a very rough narrow single lane road.

We get back to the fairgrounds at around 4:30 PM and cross the finish banner with people cheering us in and receive our finisher’s patches.

The post ride meal was great; BBQ pulled pork and chicken, baked beans, potato salad and cole slaw.

According to TUC’s website, this ride is considered “California’s Toughest Century”. They should also add “The Most Beautiful Century” as well. The route
itself was wonderful; you get the farmlands, the redwoods, rivers and ocean
views all rolled up within the rural back country with minimal traffic. The
“toughest” part was riding through poor road conditions with dirt and
loose gravel.

99.74 miles with 9021′ of elevation gain

Weather: Some morning sun turning to overcast cloudy skies with headwinds along the coast with a gentle mist. Starting temp of 47F, reaching a high of 64 at Honeydew and holding in the mid 50’s for a majority of ride. Temp dropped back down to 47F near the finish.

Nutrition: Maltodextrin mix, water, a banana, a few pieces of orange, a slice of roast beef, half of a PBJ sandwich and a cup of V8 vegetable soup.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>PUSH ON-KEEP MOVING!>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

This is the route for the Tour of the Unknown Coast:



  1. Nancy-I did this a few years ago and WALKED the gravel sections. You are one brave woman!!!! At Honeydew all the old hippies clapped for us.Congrats to you and Michael!!! xox Joan (from Madrid)


  2. Nancy, Thanks for the running commentary! Just viewing, I ate a power bar at mile 86! You have a poet's sensibilities and congrats on yours and Michaels success in the century! jim


  3. Brings back vivid memories of the year I did this century and lived to tell — and yell — about it! That picture of Michael nearing the top of the wall reminds me that I was going so dang slow that I actually fell over — that was a first for me! Congratulations to you both! I agree — more than anything, it was the road conditions that makes this California's toughest century. Good job and great photos!


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