Words and photos by Chuck Graham

A dense ceiling of dewy overcast hovered above a redwood forest canopy, while the steady flow of Big River ran beneath me toward the icy Pacific. My carbon fiber paddle gently sliced through the glassy river, creating the only breach in silence as I followed the flight of an osprey. I could feel the tug of a low tide pulling me out of the coastal range and eventually along the breathtaking Mendocino Headlands.

About two hours north of San Francisco, the quiet coastal town of Mendocino is a place where time slows down to a crawl along serpentine rivers that flow like veins running down a forearm to the Mendocino coastline.

With a population of just over 87,000, Mendocino County is known for dense redwood forests, America’s greenest wine region, microbreweries, and liberal views on cannabis. It is estimated that roughly two thirds of …