by Scott Menzies,
My biggest fear, driving down the highway before dawn in a large delivery truck, is deer. The concept of roadkill – that wildlife should senselessly suffer and die because of automobiles – is abhorrent to me, not to mention dangerous. And, of course, dawn is one of the worst times for wildlife on the roads. Fortunately, what I have encountered has been safely on the side of the road, or crossed well before my arrival. Other drivers and wildlife haven't been so fortunate.
That said, dawn on Highway 1 along the Mendocino Coast is beautiful. I've been to a lot of places in my life – Nepal, Taiwan, Southeast Asia – and the Mendocino Coast is high on the list of the most stunning places I've been. Seeing the sun break on the Coast is a gift I get every time I do this run, which, as a cover driver is not always, helps keep me from taking it for granted. The days may be long and hard (especially for someone who is subbing), but the “office” is unreal. I feel very fortunate to have the chance to deliver along such a beautiful region.
As the sun rises, I'm always assured of seeing the ridiculous view at Cuffy's Cove, greeting me just around the bend from the Catholic cemetery before I reach the little town of Elk (also called Greenwood). Its full splendor is only really visible when you're coming from the north. Unfortunately, cruising south to get to my first delivery on time makes it hard to feel I can justify stopping on the tiny pull-off to snap a shot to share with you, though I would certainly have the view to myself if I did so.
Later in the day there are often a few cars pulled off, folks gawking at something that's just hard to describe. One of my colleagues told me it often catches people off guard, causing them to come to a screeching halt on the side of the road to take it in. It really is that beautiful.
The South Coast deliveries span from The Sea Ranch on the northern Sonoma County coast to Albion, a few miles south of Mendocino Village. The first deliveries are to the two, interestingly-facing, supermarkets in Gualala (virtually across the street from each other): Gualala Super and Surf Super. I'll let you guess which is on the ocean side of Highway 1. Gualala, derived from the original Pomo Native American descriptor for the area, and pronounced “Walala” or “Gwalala” depending on who you talk to, sits at the southernmost part of the Mendocino Coast. After stocking the fixtures at the two supermarkets and bouncing down to The Sea Ranch in Sonoma County, the deliveries are all on the northbound trip back toward our Noyo Harbor plant in Fort Bragg.
Driving north, by far the most interesting building I deliver to on this route is St. Orre's, with its “unique structures that honor the romantic Russian heritage of the area,” according to their website. If you go up on the little hill just off the parking lot, you will see the grave of Charles the cat, “The King of the Meadow”, who passed away at the ripe old age of 23 a few months back. I was bummed that I never got the chance to meet a feline who was born in 1989, as when I first started delivering there, Charles was still around. Alas, I waited too long ask to ask how I could visit him, and Charles decided that he was done with this plane. By the time I delivered again, I could only meet him at his memorial. I love cats.
The rest of the day takes me through Anchor Bay and up through Point Arena, where we recently installed a new coffee fixture in their local member-owned co-op, Point Arena Market & Café. A trip down to Pier Chowderhouse and the Wharfmaster's Inn affords me the opportunity to see up close Point Arena's impressive cliffs. It's hard to imagine the old wooden chutes that use to exist at each and every one of these ports to load logs onto ships during the period of timber extraction that originally brought these places into existence. I understand that the job of receiving the logs on the ship-end was particularly dangerous, and many a worker was killed for being unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of an errant old-growth redwood log.
Of course, nowadays, most of these places rely on tourism to function, and, well, there's certainly good reason for it. In places like The Sea Ranch or Irish Beach you can find vacation rental houses, for those who need a getaway from their everyday lives. I remember, well before moving to Fort Bragg in late 2011, spending time with my parents at a house in Irish Beach, visiting the shops in Elk and stopping at S&B Market in Manchester for supplies, which, nowadays, is notable as my last market fixture delivery for the day.
To think back to the wonder I felt being on the Coast with my parents as a visitor to now, being a resident (but still full of wonder), makes each delivery down there a trip partially of nostalgia. My Dad's not around anymore, and as I wind along the hills, coves, and cliffs - in a Ford van not unlike one my father had when I was younger - I think about how happy he'd be about the new life I have living in Fort Bragg and being a TCC employee who periodically gets to deliver the Mendocino South Coast.