Monday, February 1, 2016


And now for something COMPLETELY different

The autumn of my motorcycling career is about ten years off, but creaky joints tell me it’s coming.  Tossing my leg over the high seat of the dual sport equipped with panniers, on some mornings, is, at best, problematic.  And the scrunched seating position of the roadster is good for decreasing lengths of journey.  These two statements, of course, are blatant excuses.  Both the BMW and the Moto Guzzi are fabulous machines engineered for the long haul, eye catching and dependable. 

I just wanted something different.

Enter the Triumph Thunderbird.  Triumph introduced the Thunderbird model in the early ‘50s.  Purportedly for the American market, Triumph bored their standard 500cc motor to 650ccs.   Marlon Brando rode a T-bird in the 1953 classic “The Wild One.” A derivative the 650 engine became the backbone for Triumph’s signature Bonneville line.  Every kid I knew back then lusted after a Bonne.  But Honda came out with a 750cc four-cylinder bike.  Cheaper and faster, the 750-Four almost single-handedly crushed the British motorcycle industry.  BSA died.  So did Norton.  And in 1983, Triumph went into receivership and was shuttered.

The marque was revived in the mid-90s and Triumph was reintroduced to the US market.  Fast forward to 2016 and Triumph is again making motorcycles bearing some the old company’s most venerated models: the Speed Twin, the Sprint, the Tiger, the Trophy, the Rocket III (borrowed from BSA) and, yes, the Bonneville.  In 1994 the T-bird came ashore as a 900cc triple and was later discontinued.  Then, a few years back, Triumph reintroduced the Thunderbird as a big-bore cruiser.

And that’s what rests in my garage now.

The good folks at Santa Rosa BMW/Triumph made me an offer I could not refuse on a brand new last years T-bird.  I’d been eyeballing its long, low line and, a couple of times, dropped by the dealer to nestle my butt in its glorious seat and heft its eight hundred pounds to an upright position.  I’d sit on the thing, peer over the Plexiglas windscreen and sub-vocalize the roar of its massive 1700cc engine.  (My beloved ’71 Volkswagen had 1500ccs.)  Finally, because I wanted to reduce my motorcycle stable from two steeds to one, I took a test ride.  A quarter of a mile off the dealer’s lot, I knew this would be a change I’d be happy to make.

The Triumph Thunderbird is different from any motorcycle I’ve ever owned.  The folks at Triumph weren’t particularly interested in paring weight, nor did they scrimp on the chrome.  The exhaust note is deeper and mellower than what I’ve ridden before.  The thing turns heads when I’m cruising through town (as did the Guzzi) and those fellow riders on that big American bike offer their signature low-five as we pass (not that that matters.)

The first full day of ownership found me making a 120-mile loop from the Alexander Valley, over the Hopland Grade, into recently fire-ravaged Middletown.  With a twist of the throttle on the on-ramp, the bike’s torque feels as if someone has placed a hand in the small of your back and is pushing you and doesn’t want to stop.  On the “motorway” - as we Brits often refer to it - the T-Bird strums at a low gait while clipping along at seventy.  Then I engage the heel shifter – another something new for me – and click it into high gear.  The windblast over the windshield will take some getting used to, as because of my 6’ 4” height, my head is well above the bubble of still air.

The Hopland Grade, California State Route 175, is a combination of sweeping turns and tight twisting challenges as the road climbs to a crest offering views of the Russian River drainage as well as the Clear Lake basin.  On a crystal clear day, few vistas can beat it.  The bike likes sweeping turns on good pavement but I find it is less intuitive than my former BMW when the going gets tight.  Perhaps I am not one with the machine yet.

Dropping into Lakeport, I catch CA 29 and head to Middletown where, thankfully, my favorite coffee spot survived last year’s devastating fire.  Sipping some Joe on the sidewalk back of where the T-Bird is parked, two riders, heading north, eye the machine, flip a u-turn and pull in next to it for a chat.  One fellow, on a Triumph Speed Triple, comments that the Santa Rosa dealership is the best ever.  “I bought my first bike from them in the nineties and keep going back for more.”

CA 29 winds precipitously down to Calistoga, some seventeen miles south.  The big Triumph rushes through the straights and curves in a wide-ranging third gear, but I have to muscle it around when the highway becomes a series of tight corkscrews as it drops into the Napa Valley.  Again, probably due to my inexperience on the thing.  North on CA 128 the road is ideal for the T-Bird.  At fifty-five, the exhaust note is symphonic, the wind noise just right and I find myself able to enjoy coursing through the winter vineyards and gorgeous oak crowned hills.  Am I becoming one with the machine?

The first tank of regular petrol returned about 44 miles per gallon and as I park the big boy in my garage I walk away thinking that there’ll be some compromises in getting down to this bike for my one bike, but none of them are bad.  Just different.  I also think to myself, “I hope tomorrow is sunny.”


Note:  Santa Rosa BMW / Triumph is a small, family owned shop staffed by folks who take great strides to ensure you are satisfied.  They maintain a nice inventory of some beautiful bikes.  They regularly organize rides along scenic Sonoma County roadways. Know that two shop dogs will greet you in the parking lot with a demand that you rub their ears and say hello.  A visit is well worth your time.  Located in Windsor, CA (just north of Santa Rosa) you should check ‘em out at: or

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Words to live by:
Having been warned in a dream…
…they left for their own country by a different road.
Matthew 2:12 (ISV)

Necessity put me behind the wheel of the Nissan Frontier rather than a preferred two-wheeled conveyance, but that didn’t preclude me from enjoying an alternative drive home.  Just a month north of winter’s solstice and in a gap between storms, a low sun and a nice collection of clouds made this scenic journey very enchanting.

CA 273 amounts to the old divided highway linking Redding to Cottonwood.  Placer Road heads west through the Clear Creek drainage where the BLM has established numerous trailheads. 

Past Igo, a quick jaunt south on Gas Point Road affords a visit to the Northern California Veteran’s Cemetery – a tranquil spot to rest.

Also known as A-16, this stretch of pavement isn’t always smooth but there’s always something of interest around the next bend.

CA 36 from Red Bluff to Fortuna is a world-class two lane that attracts riders from just about everywhere.  The last time I rode it I was choking on smoke from a wildfire in the Trinities.  This day, they rose crystalline and pure, their snowy caps soothing way must lay beneath.

Along 36, vestiges of the last storm settled between ridges and, in some places cloaked out the view on the highway.  Headlights on.

But just as quickly as you drive into the fog, you descend out of it.  A barn across from the store in Dinsmore poses in the morning sunlight.

From Bridgeville, one can continue east through the redwoods along the beautiful Van Duzen River, or as Rider Magazine Clem Salvadori recently reported, you can travel south on a little-used Alder Creek Road.

Stopping for a perfunctory picture of a derelict truck, an area resident slowed waaaayyyy down and then stopped in the middle of the road as if to say: you ain’t from around hyere, are ye?

Down the road, another barn caught my eye.  I always think about the community effort that goes into one’s construction of a barn and wonder how long ago that effort happened for this one.

Around a bend, a sign warns me to slow down and immediately I find myself in the heart of Blocksberg – a town with few residents and a Zip Code.

A church, too.

South, I drop into the Eel River’s valley to check out the town of Fort Seward, but unless that little convenience store I passed is it, I missed it.

Back on Alder Point Road a curious concrete structure once did something to the course of a stream now running off copious amounts of water from yesterday’s storm.  Not sure what it was but the circular shape must have been an outlet for something.

Ten miles on, I passed through the community of Alder Point without stopping.  Usually, there’s pavement in town possibly turning to dirt on either end.  In Alder Point it’s just the opposite.  I drop one front wheel into a water-filled chuckhole that may have been eight feet deep, given how my teeth reacted.

Closer to Garberville, the road is more civilized making me, again, wish I’d been on a motorcycle.

A view from the crest of a ridge offered a final shot of the light playing with the clouds on what turned out to be a glorious alternative route home.


Today’s Route:  Fill up before you depart! Redding to Platina: South on CA 273, west on A16 (Placer Road) to CA 36.  Platina to Bridgeville: west on CA 36.  Bridgeville to Garberville: South on Alder Point Road* through Blocksberg and Alder Point (in between those two bergs, consider dropping into the Eel River Valley to check out the farm land around Fort Seward) then west to Garberville and US 101.  *Note: Employ extreme caution if choosing Alder Point Road on a street oriented bike.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, January 23, 2016


The process of trading in one perfectly good motorcycle for another is a study in the art of rationalization.  I generally keep a bike for six to ten years. My bikes don’t sit in the garage, they get used, plenty.  I usually log between 40,000 to 60,000 miles – which is to say “far from used up” – before my fancy is tickled by something new.

That’s when those rationalizations begin.

My current rides are a 2009 BMW R1200 GS Adventure and a 2007 Moto Guzzi B-1100 ‘Breva’.  Both are excellent machines.   

The BMW is engineered to be driven around the world.  It is reliable, tough, dependable, and comfortable and, according to a 2009 issue of GQ Magazine, “the world’s best motorcycle.”  The Beemer’s boxer engine is iconic and although because of technological upgrades they’re not as easy to work on as they once were.  I don’t work on my bikes anyway.

The Moto Guzzi is a timeless example of how Italians marry design and function.  The thing is beautiful with fluid lines coupled to a bulletproof chassis and drive train.  Guzzi may lack the cachet of other Italian brands, but the marque has been going strong since 1922.  My little Breva eats up windy country roads and garners attention wherever it is parked.  As a “second” bike I’ve put fewer miles on it since I acquired it used, but it had never as much as hiccupped on the road.

So why think about something else?  Here come those rationalizations.

·      Having moved and downsized numerous things, it is time to downsize in the motorcycle department.  I need to get down to one.
·      That perfect BMW can take on any road (or non-road, for that matter) but I find myself less excited about picking the thing up off its side after misjudging the depth of gravel in a turn.
·      With an arthritic knee that telegraphs me something unpleasant about the aging process, kicking a leg over the high seat and wide panniers is becoming, on some days, problematic.
·      Final drives on my generation of BMWs have a bad reputation – probably due more to how quickly a shred of bad news can circulate on the internet than justified by the part’s performance – and final drive failures are costly to repair.
·      The dealer for my beautiful Breva is over 100 miles away.  Local motorcycle shops won’t so much as change the oil or adjust the valves because difficulties related to getting parts from Piaggio, Guzzi’s current parent company.
·      I’ve always been a bit too tall for the B-1100 but have been willing to sacrifice a tiny bit of comfort for the experience of riding a bike with such mojo.
·      I’m not riding 14,000 miles in a year any longer.
·      I’m not riding 500 to 600 mile days any longer.
·      I’m sticking to paved roads.
·      I do need space in that garage.

So what’s next for the garage?  Whatever was featured on the cover of the latest edition of Rider magazine?

Seriously, I’ve been snooping through the world-wide web looking for a touring steed: one that is comfortable for 300 or so miles in a day (but 500+ if I have to), neutral seating position, good handling, storage for a week’s worth of clothes.  Something that would invite me to ride out to the coast or up to the redwoods at a moment’s notice.  And something with some degree of that magical mojo that you feel as much as see.   

The current apple of my eye comes from England and, because the local (yes, “local,” meaning closer than two hours away) dealer is closing them out, a well-equipped model is selling for about four grand less than sticker.  (Another rationalization?  Sure.)

So, gentle reader: if you’re looking for a world-class adventure mount or a crowd pleasing Italian, get in touch.  Both have been well maintained and, when they are gone, I know I’ll regret it …maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but soon. And for the rest of my life… But those rationalizations are wearing away at my better judgment.  No telling how long I can hold out.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


…the way things used to be…

Walling Road laces between vineyards planted on the south-facing hillsides of the Dry Creek Valley.  It’s an easy road to miss.  A mile or so on we pulled off and parked in a gravel area next to a vine that looked to be a century old.  Turned out, it was.  

We stood for a moment, embracing a magnificent winter view and headed toward the diminutive tasting room perhaps thirty yards away.  We noticed someone pruning vines back of the parking area.  Seeing us disembark, he propped his pruners against a vine, wiped his hands on his dungarees and met us at the door.

This would be our introduction to Bill Frick.

Sonoma County is home to more soil types than the whole of France, we’ve been told.  Her Mediterranean climate, rolling hills, lush valleys drained by scenic rivers and streams – along with her redwoods – provide the perfect place for vineyards to flourish.  With those vineyards comes a flourishing wine industry.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to harken back a century or so and find independent farmers setting aside a few acres for grapes with rootstock purloined from the old country.

Now, much of the farmland and orchards have been turned over to wine production and many of the old plots – I’d opine, far too many – have been corporatized: purchased by something big, but disguised as something craft-like.  And perhaps they still are craft operations, but many of the quaint “family” farms are actually owned by names like Gallo, Constellation, and Kendall Jackson.  (Gallo recently purchased a facility in Asti that, 60 years ago, was their biggest jug wine competitor fronted by “a little old winemaker.”)

So it is rare to visit a tasting room staffed by the craftsman himself; rarer still, I suppose, to have him interrupt his fieldwork to accommodate a visit.  “Pruning is one of my favorite pastimes,” Bill Frick said as we apologized for interrupting the chore.  I got the feeling that the winter pruning process is a bit like touching the future.  The results of a day’s efforts are not realized until next year’s vintage is produced, aged and bottled – three to five years from now.

We sidled up to the bar commenting, “This is what it must have been like years ago,” to hear in reply, “This is the way it’s always been for me.”  Always turns out to be four decades.

We had planned on pasta with a hearty homemade marinara and meatballs.  “Not here to taste,” we said.  “We’re on a mission.”  Sharing our menu, we asked, “What might you recommend?”

He had similar plans for his meal this evening pointing us toward his Cinsaut a Rhone varietal.  We sipped.  “Or the Lucia,” a blend, he suggested.  We sipped.

The discussion evolved from tonight’s repast to the delicate microclimates of his 7.7-acre vineyard, the variances in soil and exposure and year-to-year moisture.  We sipped.  He shared a bit about his history and how he and his partner chose this place, along with the sacrifices made in order to see a dream become reality.

In the end, we carted off several samples, the Cinsaut and the Lucia to be consumed with tonight’s pasta; the rest of which are in the little “library” section of our rack.  With each, a tiny toast will be raised to the craftsman who dropped what he was doing in order to share his passion.

By the time we wheeled off the gravel pad, Bill was back out in the vineyard, again engaged in one of his favorite pastimes.


Notes:  Frick’s website tells Bill’s story better than any post here.  Here’s a link: Check it out and plan your visit.

Our marinara and meatballs came from Guy Fieri’s More Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, William Morrow, 2009

Directions:  US 101 to Geyserville.  Exit Canyon Road and head west.  One mile, then right on Walling Road.  (Landmark: Pedroncelli Winery – also a nice stop.)  Frick is a mile or so up Walling Road on the right.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press


Edward, the Innocent, was out this morning making sure the forest floor was safe from squirrels while we were hiking trails.  Rocketing here and there, up the hill and down, he reveled in being off-leash.  Good boy that he is – REALLY good boy – he responded quickly to our sharp lip whistle, meaning “Edward, come here!” by racing down a hillside to our point on the trail.

Perhaps eighty years ago, someone settling the land constructed a hog wire fence using both posts (now gone) and existing madrone and oaks for stanchions.  They’re all over the place in these parts.  The tree Edward attempted to fly by had been one selected for post duty.  The fence fabric to his left was still affixed to the trunk.  To his right, somehow it was gone – knocked down or rusted through.  At speed and in the muted darkness of the early morning forest floor, how could he tell?  He guessed wrong – as if there was anything to guess.  He was simply responding to his masters’ call.  (He’s SUCH a good boy.)

The startled shriek of our beloved lab-mix is something we’ve always feared.  In his dog'zuberance, we harbor worries of crossing paths with a bobcat, a cougar, a bear or a snake.  But that joyful dog'zuberance is what makes Edward Edward.

He must have run head long into the eighty-year-old fence going full tilt.  His yip was involuntary and it echoed through the woods, rattling us to our bones.  By the time we could spot him, maybe twenty feet away, he was righting himself, shaking the bumble bees loose from his cranium, and ambling toward our spot on the trail. 

After some love and an inspection, he proved to be fine, ready to continue on his quest.  Had he been a player in the NFL, we’da needed to bench him for week or two.  But, with the possible exception of the New York Jets and maybe the Cleveland Browns, there are no dogs in the NFL.  And while I would likely have needed an airlift off the mountain after such an impact, Edward resumed his mission this day, albeit a bit slower than before.

Six hours later, he’s snoozing in front of the fireplace, probably dreaming about tomorrow’s Edventure.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


… in pictures

January: an annual trip to the Seattle area includes an annual trip to Moto Guzzi heaven: Moto International.  The church has coveted the California 1400 Touring for twelve months now…

By clicking on any picture, you can make all of 'em expand, if you dare.
… and although I’ve been very good, apparently Santa didn’t get the memo on this.

Returning to California, Folsom Lake approaches historic lows as the drought continues.
And we find the first of many photogenic old trucks.

February:  There’s still enough water in Folsom Lake to allow Edward (the lab mix) a shot at his favorite pastime.

March:  The “Church” is ready to try out more road worthy (less gravel worthy) tires on the BMW.
 Old truck II

April:  We search for our roots knowing that “the old timer” (Dad) worked on the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad as a kid out of high school.
We found the T and T station at Rhyolite but also found out that Dad, in his youth never worked this far north on the line.
On the same trip, we visited the lowest point in the United States somewhat disappointed that we didn’t run across the debate of a major US political party at this place.
The subtle colors of Death Valley inspire awe.
The drive home on the Beemer, however, still inspires shivers.  28 degrees and dropping over Emigrant Pass.  Damned happy, I was, to be sporting those new tires, I'll tell you what!

June:  We revisit old stomping grounds in Tuolumne County including Pinecrest Lake…

…and Sonora Pass.

July:  Yet another old truck

And a visit to the incomparable Big Sur Coast with its rocky shoals…

…and perched security posts.

Still, our Pacific Coast north of San Francisco Bay offers much to appreciate.

In another adventure, we revisit Glenn County’s Simpson Camp after a 50 year absence; the first roughing-it sojourn in the worthy Subaru Forester.

August included a planned loop including a trip through Bend, OR, cut short by the mechanical failure of my riding buddy’s Stelvio,

…prompting my smoky trip to the coast through the fire-ravaged hills along CA 299.

Fixing what ails those of us who age took me out of the saddle for a longer-than-expected period.

September’s trial run on the Guzzi proved I wasn’t yet ready for the long haul.

October: So we explored in the pickup and on foot.  The upside is that companion Edward could join on adventures.
Old Truck IV
And we discover a nearly drained Lake Pillsbury.  It seems the drought affected everyone, not just those of us who used to live near Folsom Lake.

November:  Trips to Chico found us crossing the Sacramento Valley enjoying its subtle beauties…
…and some of her denizens.
An old Victorian reminds us that something did happen in Artois, a town that I-5 later passed right by.
Rather than cook on Thanksgiving we sought out a hike at Point Reyes…
…and enjoyed a close up of a member of its repopulating elk herd.

December found us in Texas -  our home state’s greatest competitor for both jobs and cool.  A dogtrot cabin served as a nice place for a little break.
Not an Old Truck I
The top of a red granite knob proved that Texas, too, has some pristine places worth our pause.

Shot of the Year  Second Runner Up:  “I’ll have the Bourbon.  On the porch, please.”

First Runner Up:  “Wha’chu lookin’ at?”

Shot of the Year:  “The Works of Man and Nature.”

The Church of the Open Road wishes all a pleasurable and adventuresome 2016.  We hope to see you on the road.  Ride safe.

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press