Leggett to the Sea

Distance: 44 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 6030 ft

This ride was suggested by Friend of Bestrides Brian.

The position of Bestrides has always been, avoid Highway 1 like the death-trap it is. The traffic is constant, irritable, and staring out to sea, and there’s no room for you.  But all generalizations have their exceptions, and this stretch of Hwy 1, the northernmost, while still busy, is more than worth your time.  It’s grand.  It’s a lot of climbing (only about 2 of the 44 miles are anything like flat), and there is only one break in the forest wall, at the turn-around.  But that one break is a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean, the forest wall is often primeval redwoods, and none of the climbing is brutal.  The road contour is perfect for descending—endless serpentining, curvy enough to be exhilarating, not so tight that you’re constantly on your brakes, all beautifully banked for speed.  And of course you can continue on from the turn-around point and ride as much of Hwy 1 as you want to.

There are two flies in this otherwise-blissful ointment.  The first is traffic.  It’s busy.  But it’s less busy than almost any other leg of Hwy 1, because most tourists are interested in the stretch between Fort Bragg and Big Sur.  And it’s nobody’s commuter route, so the drivers are not in a hurry.  The real problem is construction equipment: any wet winter causes damage along Hwy 1, so most summers there’s a steady stream of gravel trucks going to and from the construction site(s).  It’s not as bad as it sounds—there is little shoulder but room to pass—but if it bothers you you might choose to ride in the fall, when the construction is probably complete.  Even so, I did this ride midday on a Monday in July, the road crews were busy, yet I did long stretches of riding the center line in solitude.

The second ointment fly is the road surface.  It ranges from glassy to tooth-rattling chipseal.  When it’s rough, it definitely takes the edge off the descending.  When it’s smooth, there is nothing better.

Begin at the intersection of Hwy 271 and Highway 1, 40 feet down Hwy 1 from Hwy 101.  There is plenty of shoulder parking around the intersection.  You’re going to descend briefly, then climb a lot, so you might like to warm up on Hwy 271, which is relatively flat, and shows you downtown Leggett—just follow the unmissable signs to the drive-through tree and keep riding (more on 271 in Adding Miles).

On the climb

Descend .7 miles to a metal bridge and climb moderately through very pretty forest for 4 miles to a blissful mile of plateau riding with fragmentary views of the Hwy 101 valley through the trees.  Then descend, sometimes mildly and sometimes vigorously, to the 18-mile mark.  At mile 14.5 on the map it looks like you’re on the coast, but you won’t see the ocean until the turn-around point at Hardy Creek.

At mile 18 you cross the (signed) South Fork of Cottoneva Creek on an unmissable bridge.  Google “Cottoneva” (also spelled “Cottaneva” on google and maps) for some interesting local history.  The maps and road signs call this spot “Rockport,” but there’s nothing there except the bridge—I don’t mean “no services,” I mean nothing.

View from the turn-around

After the Cottoneva Bridge you have a fairly tough 2-mile climb, then a similar 2-mile descent.  As you labor up the pitch, note the road surface—it’s glass, so the descent when you return is the best descending on the ride and worth the work you’re doing now.  Drop down the other side and a short climb takes you to the ocean.  The water is a tough trek down a cliff, so don’t expect to cool your feet in the surf, but the views are typically breath-taking, unless it’s fogged in.

The ride back is a lot of climbing, and you seem to be with the majority of the traffic this way, but the pitch never gets nasty and there are two nice descents to reinvigorate you.  The 2-mile climb up from the ocean is as hard as it gets.  Don’t “just ride” the descent to Cottoneva Bridge—it’s the best 2 miles of descending on the route, so relish it.

You can rip these descents (this photo is looking uphill)

Afterthoughts: There are no services on this ride, and a lot of climbing, so plan your water.  Since it’s mostly downhill for the first 18 miles, you can carry extra water without a performance penalty and drop it partway in.

The usual weather warning for the Pacific Coast obtains:  Always be prepared for wind, cold, and fog on Hwy 1.  There can be a 40-degree drop in temperature from the start of the ride to the turn-around.

Adding Miles: Of course from the turn-around spot you have 200 miles of Hwy 1 between you and San Francisco, all of it spectacular and plagued with traffic from light to ghastly.  The first 36 miles, to Mendocino, are particularly gorgeous, with heavy traffic only from MacKerricher State Park on.  If you can arrange a shuttle or you’re through-riding, the ride from Leggett to Fort Bragg is really a better ride than the one I’ve mapped because you don’t have to climb back up the hill.

At the trailhead, Hwy 271, which you may have ridden some of to warm up on, is 10 miles of very pleasant, fairly flat riding that parallels and crosses over Hwy 101—well worth riding.

Our Branscomb Road ride is only a few miles south of the turn-around on Hwy 1, which offers the possibility of a truly spectacular loop: Leggett to the sea, down Hwy 1 to Branscomb, up Branscomb to Laytonville, up Hwy 1 to Hwy 271, 271 back to Leggett—total 74 miles, with a bearable 17 miles on Hwy 101.  This would be a ride you would tell your grandchildren about (and mighty bored they’d be, as they say in “A Bridge Too Far”).

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