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Horse Story-Lost Coast Backpacker

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 25 September 2008

 The picture at the bottom of the page was taken at sunset on Usal Beach. And it was the end of an excellent day at Usal Beach, on the Southern end of the Sinkyone State Park, which contains the Southern 14 miles of the Lost Coast. The next day I headed North into the temperate rain forests that characterize the Southern part of Lost Coast.

But that evening I dined on fresh abalone caught by the most interesting person I had ever encountered at Usal Beach.

I had driven my truck in the 6.8 miles on a well-maintained dirt road from an obscure turn-off about 35 miles North of Fort Bragg, California. I had found a nice camp site in the Aspens a bit behind the beach, and I had decided to walk to the beach before sunset.

On the grassy flat just before the beach, there was a strange site. There was a horse grazing about a hundred yards from an old '40s red and white international pick-up. The truck was strangely equipped, with chuck wagon style boxes set-up along the length of the bed's sides. Their downward opening doors made shelves, on which there was a Coleman white-gas four-burner, a cast iron skillet, and various food stuffs and cooking implements.


But even stranger, the bed behind the chuck wagon boxes was surrounded by that heavy-gage chicken-wire stuff on both sides and the back, but was left open in the front. The guy sitting in a folding chair, with his elbow on a folding table beside the truck, motioned me over with a wave and a shout, "hey, come on over."  

I pointed at the beach, and said "before sunset." He nodded his head up and down, smiling, and said, "stop by on the way back." I pointed at the horse, and he laughed, and said, "I'm his."

I screwed around on the beach for awhile, and headed back by the truck. The welcome mat was still out, and so was a handle of Jim Beam, and I was instantly offered a drink, and asked if I had any smokes.

Well, I had no drinks, and he had no smokes, so my smoke and his drinks were put into a common kitty, and I took up the other folding chair by the truck and table, and proceeded to smoke and drink. 

I asked about his horse, and he whistled. The horse came running. A frkn trained horse. He lets the horse loose to graze, and whistles to call it back in. The horse rode in the back of the truck. His horse watches the road, and leans and braces for corners.

 He got up, and showed me a huge abalone that he had just swum out into the ocean and pried off of a rock. He had a sleeve of saltine crackers and a bunch of garlic that he breaded and seasoned the abalone with, then he threw it into a cast iron skillet full of hot olive oil and fried that bad boy up.

After this delicious dinner, I was stuffed, smoked, and snookered, and it was dark. I had brought no flashlight as the walk from my campsite to the beach had started in late afternoon, and I certainly did not anticipate running into a situation like this.

It was a pitch black moonless night.

He was as lit up as I was, so I did not ask for assistance, but set out into the pitch-black night to slowly feel my way back to my camp site.

This was one of the best starts I've had to any of my backpacking trips.

Lost Coast flowers.

 The above was taken a day later near Wheeler Beach

How to get there: Highway 101 from Legett to Highway 1 South for about 25 of the twistiest roads you have ever seen to County Road 427 (?) on right going South, left going North.

From the South: Highway 20 East will bring you from Willits on Hwy 101 to Highway 1 South of Fort Bragg. Head North to Fort Bragg, and from Fort Bragg you continue on Highway 1 for about 50 miles. The google map's depiction of the road to Usal Beach and the Lost Coast trail head is wrong: the road they show coming off of Highway 1 near the coast is now a private road and no longer accessible. About  15 miles inland, North on Highway 1, is where County Road 427 (?) takes you to Usal Road, and Usal Beach.

Another option from the South is to take Highway 128 West at Cloverdale, through Boonville and eventually miles of  beautiful Redwood Groves to intersect with Highway 1 where the Russian River empties into the Pacific Ocean. You are about 20 miles South of Fort Bragg, and it's a beauitiful 20 miles.

Backpacker's Treat

Backpacking the North Coast of California is most beautiful, but a couple of things about it must be observed and monitored by backpackers. 

First is the weather. Despite the expanding length of Summer with the change in the seasons we have experienced, Spring, Fall, and Winter still bring fierce storms off the Pacific Ocean. Backpackers must be sufficiently geared to survive and prosper when wet, very cold, tired, and lashed by wind.

Lost Coast is where I learned that NOTHING IS WATERPROOF. Lost Coast is where I learned that we must have sufficient gear to maintain wind protection and body heat when everything is wet.
This is vital for all folks who travel into unprotected wilderness. We must be ready to deal independently with the potential worse weather changes the specific environment can throw at us.
Everyone has different levels of required insulation for different situations; you MUST find and have yours in hand for the possibilities and potentials of the environment you are entering, sufficient for the duration of the time in.

Backpackers constantly tell me that the best times they've ever had were when things went "wrong," when the weather turned bad, they got wet, then the situation brought out the very best of the assets and skills within themselves that would have never been pried out of them under "normal" circumstances.

This involves the shedding of expectations. The expectation that our personal joy is dependent on a lack of "discomfort," that what we call "pain" is actually pain. We find our expectations have a deep relationship with how we interprete experience.

Pain exists. Don't get me wrong! I am not saying you can change reality through interpretation, that you can make pain go away. Not at all!
I am saying that our interpretive mind can create pain where it does not exist.

That has been man's greatest "gift" to nature.

A new perspective on joy will grow from within you once you have these vital survival factors under control, and you allow nature to test your expectations against its greater reality.

The second thing backpackers must protect themselves against is ticks. Lost Coast is full of ticks. Ticks are like any other trail hazard.

First, you gotta know it's a hazard. Your potential as a victim of anything is determined by your knowledge and understanding of the hazard. What you don't know can kill you when you find out about it...

I employ a tick stick, observation, and inspection. Tick Stick is a long slender branch I use to part the long grasses, and move grass tips into my range of observation. I can see the little devils positioned on the tip of long grass. Tick Stick also is good for beating the dew off the grasses during morning.

Second, you've got to wear long pants and shirts. Tuck pantlegs into socks, and shirt tails into waistbands.

Third is inspection. Carefully inspect all tick-friendly locations at least twice a day.

These practices keep me tick free backpacking Lost Coast. Honestly, the first time a tick buried itself in me was the last time a tick has since had any chance of exploiting me. No way. Once was enough, and it was a bloody mess. I cut that frker out, and I had to cut deep to get below its fully buried head.

Never again. Once bled, twice shy...


Horse Story-Lost Coast Backpacker
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