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Guidebook offers new hikes to try on the Mendocino Coast

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Trail guides are a literary form all their own. Most will get you where you want to go. The most artful of the genre, however, will change your perception of a place for forever. You may even find yourself reading an especially inspired trail guide over and over like a beloved novel.

Such was my fate when I traded in my heavily dog-eared 20-year-old copy of Bob Lorentzen’s “The Hiker’s Hip Pocket Guide to the Mendocino Coast” for the new fourth edition, now available at local independent bookstores, museums and from the Bored Feet Press website.

When my copy arrived in the mail, I curled up with a cup of coffee and spent the next several hours lost in the labyrinth of ridges, canyons, pocket beaches, redwood forests, ghost towns and old logging roads that make up this wildest stretch of California’s coast.

The book covers 400 miles of scenic trails ranging from easy strolls and ADA-accessible outings to ambitious backcountry treks. Its 64 individual trip descriptions include many new trails since the previous edition as well as fully updated accounts of “the classics,” including that most isolated treasure — the Lost Coast. Other updated entries include trails through Jackson State Forest, Bowling Ball Beach, Russian Gulch, Gualala Point and Jug Handle, as well as the State Parks at MacKerricher, Russian Gulch, Van Damme, Hendy Woods and Manchester.

New trails include Usal’s candelabra redwoods, Big River State Park, Fort Bragg’s Noyo Headlands Park, the Point Arena-Stornetta area, Pelican Bluffs Preserve, the Newport/Kibesillah Coast Trail, the Caspar Headlands and Uplands and many others.

Although he’s had a lifelong passion for hiking and a critical eye for what makes a trail guide useful, Lorentzen surprisingly did not initially set out to become an author. When he moved to Fort Bragg in 1974, he simply started looking for places to hike. Working at the Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino, he soon became the go-to trail guy, happy to chat with customers about where they could hike.

“When people asked if the store had trail guides available, I jokingly would say ‘No, but I’m going to write one!’ ” he said. Fortunately for his readers, Lorentzen decided to take himself at his word. After two years of research, hiking and writing, the first edition of the Mendocino Coast guide was published in 1986. Lorentzen’s friend, Judy Detrick, provided the design and a local Fort Bragg schoolteacher, Jann Patterson-Watters and her daughter came up with the set of explanatory symbols that still accompany the text three editions later.

“At the time, I thought it was going to be a one-off — a hobby,” Lorentzen recalled. But about six months after it was published, the San Francisco Chronicle reviewed the guide along with other Northern California regional books. “After that, we sold out so fast it had to be reprinted,” he said.

The first Mendocino Coast guide was followed by three more “Hip Pocket” volumes, covering Sonoma County, the Mendocino Highlands and the Humboldt-Del Norte Coast, respectively. Each of these is enriched by Lorentzen’s encyclopedic knowledge of natural history, especially plants, and the human stories of the places he describes. As a whole, the Hip Pocket series covers well over 2,000 miles of trails — trails which Lorentzen and his friends have hiked, again and again, to keep the guides updated through multiple editions.

I asked Lorentzen which is his favorite among the new trails, which admittedly is as unfair a question as asking a parent to name their favorite child. Of course, Lorentzen loves them all, but he told me “hands down the most amazing” new trails are those in the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands Unit, added to the California Coastal National Monument by President Obama in 2014 (entries 55 and 56 in the book).

“The coastline here is jaw-droppingly beautiful” Lorentzen raved. Among the must-see features is a “gallery of sea arches” in the tidal zone and dramatic wind blowholes — air vents connected to sea caves or underground surge channels. These unusual features “may only whisper when the ocean is calm or the tide is low, or they may roar, breathing cool, damp sea air” Lorentzen wrote in the new guidebook.

Located just a 30-minute drive north of Sea Ranch on Highway One, the Point-Arena Stornetta destination is an easy day trip from Sonoma County.

Among the other useful additions to the book are entries called “Other Suggestions” which offer myriad ideas for extending your hike or choosing a less-traveled path. These additional notes may lead to a secluded beach with tidepools, a pygmy forest, a ridgeline with spectacular views or even an old hermit’s hut or historic barn. In addition to vastly multiplying the scope of the guide, the Other Suggestions include options for explorers of every ability.

With 33 years of sharing his passion and thousands of miles under his boots, it is no surprise that Lorentzen has the heart of a poet. Thanking the late Edward Abbey for his inspiration, Lorentzen echoes Abbey’s insistence that experiencing and loving the natural world is “the elixir of happiness, a key to a long and happy, rewarding life.” Mother Nature awaits, he reminds us, “and in her embrace, we can be healed.”

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