The Tour of the Unknown Coast

Diving into the forest on the Avenue of the Giants

Of all the writing I do, some of my very favorite work is travel writing. More than ten years ago, in a job review, I was asked what I wanted my job to be in five years. I responded, “Sniper.” Feature writing is in my blood and bringing to the reader an extraordinary experience in a far-flung locale is more fun than video games.

Some years back, when I was in graduate school and facing an ennui only those privileged enough to go to grad school can experience, I wondered what the hell I was up to. (Big surprise.) Over Christmas break I ran across the book “Out of the Noösphere,” a collection of features from Outside Magazine. It recalibrated my mission, so to speak and has informed my travel writing ever since.

Currently, the only real travel work I do is for Road Bike Action Magazine. Their editor, Brad Roe has given me pretty broad latitude to work. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s as fun a relationship with a magazine as I’ve had. And given that Hi-Torque’s Mountain Bike Action was only the second magazine I developed a real affinity for (after Sufer Pub’s Skateboarder), to work for a Hi-Torque publication on a regular basis is big fun.

Zap even remembers my name now.

There are those days on the bike, days that are revelations. While a day can be memorable because of your form, your results, your company or your location, the way memory works, the more of those elements you pull together, the more memorable they are.

I had one of those days at the Tour of the Unknown Coast. Held in Humboldt County, California, it is the hippiest of the hippy holdouts. A different sort of place, and a different sort of ride. While there are a great many century rides, the TUC seemed to draw only those riders with a certain love for suffering. Harder than your average bear, Booboo.

If you enjoy travel writing, whether mine or not, I hope you’ll pick up the March issue of Road Bike Action. You might even want to check out the ride, which I can assure you, is one for the scrap book.

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  1. souleur

    will do, Padraig! thanks for the heads up.

    These types of rides are becoming very popular now days, which is good. We need more of them, but so few of us really love the suffering side of cycling, in the grand scheme of things, that there must be other offerings as well. I am looking forward to some good ones like this myself this spring/summer. Vino Fondo is one for sure, for me.

    I look forward to reading of your account.

  2. Blake Barrilleaux

    TUC would be a great stage for Tour of California. Great natural century loop and tough as nails. Very hard last 20 miles. No infrastructure for big groups though. It could be a state road race championship course though. TUC was a cool 4 event stage race in 1990- Trinidad Head TT, Arcata circuit race, Eureka crit., TUC R.R.

  3. Brian Gatens

    Read your blog post about TUC, went out and bought the magazine today at B&N and just finished the piece. Thanks for putting it together. Hopefully it’ll inspire me to put pen to paper for a ride that three buddies and I did from Philly to NYC last August(175 miles in 10:36 and we finished at a Belgian Restaurant in NYC…umm burgers.) RKP is regular reading for us Cat. 4 duffers in NYC. Keep up the the good work!

  4. Rick Vosper

    Big thumbs-up for this one.

    I rode a big chunk the TOUC route solo with full touring equipment in 1982, before may of the current generation of whippersnappers were born. It was as hard as anything I’ve ever done; the kind of ride people have in mind when they describe their trip to the coffee shop as “epic.”

    The route absolutely lives up to its billing as “California’s Toughest Century”, complete with 18-20% grinds and twisting descents it’s almost impossible to work up any kind of speed on. But it was also the single most spectacular 100+ miles I’ve *ever* ridden, and one of the most isolated. (I did it in the opposite direction of the current route, from Ferndale out to where Ocean House is now and on out to Humboldt Redwoods State Park)/

    In those days many of the roads were dirt and the natives were definitely not friendly. The Reagan administration had just instituted Apocalypse Now-style Paraquat spraying and strangers– even those on bikes– were regarded with suspicions and, in at least one case, a shotgun.

    The village of Ocean House didn’t even exist as such. They just laid some asphalt down on what looked to be the beach. With a herd of sheep in the middle.

    But I’m not trying to turn this into one of those “when I was a young man we had to ride uphill against the wind in both directions” rants. I drove the route a couple of years ago and while the roads are paved and it’s not quite as isolated as it was then, most of every bit as challenging. And spectacular.

    This is one worth adding to your Life List. And the thought of the TOC doing it is just awesome


    1. Author

      I can’t freakin’ imagine doing that ride on a loaded touring bike. Gadflippinzooks.

      Anyone interested in joining me for the ride this year needs to drop me a note. I’d like to see a few RKP kits cross the finish line together.

  5. Vic in Arcata

    “While there are a great many century rides, the TUC seemed to draw only those riders with a certain love for suffering. Harder than your average bear, Booboo.”

    And this year those with greater than average penchants for suffering can do the TUC200. Right, you do the usual 100-miles with 9400′ of climbing, and when you return to the start/finish line in front of the Humboldt County Fairgrounds, you tell yourself “That’s one,” and then continue on to do it all again…”Just one more to go!”

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