Thursday, October 13, 2011

Exploring northern California - Full Article

Last updated 05:00 12/10/2011

Arriving into the northern California town of Mendocino in a bright red Smart car is a little like landing in a miniaturised Tardis, such is the curiosity it garners.

"What is that thing, a rollerskate?" one local chuckles, while a weathered, ratty-haired woman dressed in a felt coat, ugg boots and a red sequinned scarf circles my rental vehicle whispering, "Whooooaaaa!", clearly having some sort of acid flashback.

Born in the logging heyday of the 1860s but peaking in the 1960s when it was rediscovered by Bohemian artists, Mendocino, three hours' drive north of San Francisco, is a town frozen in time.

With pastel chocolate-box houses and wooden water towers, this quaint village perched on a peninsula overlooking the wild, woolly Pacific Ocean is seemingly uprooted from east coast Maine, impossibly endearing and as pretty as a Hollywood set.

It seems fitting, then, in this outpost of fewer than 1000 permanent residents, that I am temporarily trading in the Smart car for a more timeless form of transport - the four-legged variety.

I have been lured here by the reputation of Ricochet Ridge Ranch, widely considered among the equestrian community as one of the premier trek operators in the world, as well as by the promise of riding both on the beach and through the redwood forests that are so symbolic of this region.

With the afternoon sun victorious after a squally start to the day, it's the former attraction that Ricochet's owner, Lari Shea, is anxious for me to experience first.

"Quick, let's get you to the beach while this weather lasts," Lari, distinctively clad in red western shirt and cowboy hat, says as she greets me in the lobby of the Mendocino Hotel, my accommodation for the next few nights.

She then whisks me off to her stables 16 kilometres north in Fort Bragg. En route, this energetic, glowingly beautiful, 66-year-old dynamo shares a potted history of her credentials as one of the US's top endurance riders...

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