Wednesday, August 12, 2015


The Aborted Nor-Cal – Oregon Tour

The idea was simple.  Coordinate with a colleague on his ride north from the Bay Area to his home near Seattle.  Spend a night in Redding, and then head to Bend, Oregon, with a detour around Crater Lake.  Part there and return south, exploring some of the few Southern Oregon and Northern California roads I’d ridden only once, or better yet, only heard about:  OR 62 from Crater Lake along the Rogue River to I-5; CA 3 from Yreka down past Trinity Lake with, perhaps, a side trip out to Ramshorn Summit; Alder Point Road from Bridgeville through Blocksburg and down to Garberville. 

I looked forward to taking pictures of old barns and old bridges and old trucks, pausing at bergs and farmsteads one may fly over yet never see; places where people make a living but it’s not clear how they do (dismissing, perhaps, medicinal herbiculture.)

Fire season in the west, much like the presidential campaign season in the US, never really ends.  Two years ago, a wild fire coughed choking smoke over our home in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley at Thanksgiving.  This year, in mid-July, a wild fire across the ridge in Lake County would grow to over 70,000 acres – 20,000 of them in a three-hour run one Saturday afternoon.  And it wasn’t the first one in the area this go-round.

Meeting up with my riding partner in Winters (after lunch at the incomparable Putah Creek Café) we bolted up Interstate 505 to Dunnigan and I-5 toward the Shasta-Cascade Wonderland hubbed in Redding.  The further north we traveled, the more the blue sky deteriorated into a yellow-gray haze.  He on his Stelvio and I on the GSA, we reveled in being able to legally bat along at 75 mph through the smoky, 100-degree Sacramento Valley. 

At a stop in Orland, we were informed that a bunch of lightning caused blazes were torching the far northern part of the state.  Cal Fire’s central command post was set up at the Shasta County Fairgrounds in Anderson.  Perhaps we could worm our way in and take a look at the current incident map.

“How can I help you fellas?” The Public Information Officer (out of Riverside County) wore a snappy blue uniform – one that looked as if someone engaged in cutting much line hadn’t been wearing it.  The PIO extended a hand and welcomed us with a smile.  Pointing to the incident map, there were, indeed, over seventy active fires within this camp’s sphere, stretching from Del Norte County in the north into Napa and Solano Counties in the south.  It didn’t look good.

The Coast Range had been seared by a wave of dry lightning a few days prior and another wave was forecast to swing north this very evening.

After a gracious forty minute tour of the camp, covering personnel, sleeping arrangements, shifts, the difference between state and federal fire fighting protocols and technical improvements to assist the guys on the line, the PIO concluded:  “You’ll want to get out of Redding early tomorrow in case more of these things blow up.”  He swept his hand over that incident map.

We would hightail it in the morning.

Or would we?

I own a Moto Guzzi: a hoot to ride and, in my 11,000 miles of ownership, bulletproof.  But for longer trips, I take the BMW.  My riding partner’s ride of choice is his ’09 Guzzi Stelvio.  Quirky looking, tank a bit too small for long distance runs, but infused with Italian passione.  He loves the thing.

Unfortunately, some of that passione decided to burst through a blown gasket just beneath the left side cylinder head about fifteen minutes north of Redding that next morning.  The fix may have been simple and the tow to the nearest dealer would be covered by insurance, but the nearest dealer was 194 miles to the south.

The rest of my trip would be solo.

There was no reason for me to continue to Bend so I retraced steps to Redding.  The fire incident map had indicated that CA 3 from Yreka was closed south of Hayfork due to wildfire.  Alder Point road was closed at CA 36 at Bridgeville due to wildfire, which proved a moot point since I wasn’t going to be able to get to 36 via 3.

Recalling that incident map, I knew CA 299 was one of the few roads traversing the Coast Range that would not be closed by fire activity.  I opted to take it from Redding through Weaverville to Arcata on the Humboldt County coast. 

A 30-minute roadwork delay afforded the opportunity to visit with a distance running coach from Utah State U. and a young couple from Iowa – both parties concerned about the area’s thin pall of smoke.  “Unseasonable smoke is pretty common this time of year,” I said.

Beyond Weaverville, CA 299 crests at Oregon Mountain Summit and descends into the Trinity River drainage.  On a normal day, the view from that high point prompts the rider’s pulse to quicken in anticipation of a nicely paved highway twisting in and out of forests, through rustic, tiny villages and along a delightfully tumbling wild river.

Today?  Only smoke.

In cool mornings through early afternoons, airborne particulates settle into lowlands, valleys and canyons.  As the day warms, the smoke rises and dissipates.  The day hadn’t warmed yet.

The further west I drove, the thicker the smoke became to the point that, if there were city blocks in the area, you couldn’t see further than two of ‘em.  I stopped for a picture near Burnt Ranch wondering if they might rename the place “Reburnt” or “Twice Burnt” Ranch by the time these conflagrations played out.

Near Blue Lake, now following the Mad River, the valley opens to the sea.  On-shore breezes mercifully pushed against the burgeoning blanket of smoke.  Thus, the air was a clear and lovely azure.  Deep breaths yielded only freshness, no cinders.   

The ride south on US 101 into Eureka emphasized just how strongly that cross wind, on-shore breeze can blow.

A quick shower to rid myself of soot.  Dinner near the historic wharf, followed by an evening walk along the waterfront, then a night’s rest at the Eureka Inn.

Morning of the final day dawned gray and drizzly, a pleasant, fresh change from the hot, murky interior. 

South on US 101 and west on CA 1 led me to a crystal view of the Pacific over the rugged Mendocino coast. 

Dubbed the Shoreline Highway, California’s State Route 1 is one motorcyclists, worldwide, come to experience this most entertaining road. 

Along the way, riders enjoy quaint fishing villages, stately redwood stands, inviting strolls to the bluffs and views that reach beyond forever.   

I dawdled in the clean maritime air, and stopped for a plate of clams at Noyo.

Ninety minutes inland and I would be home.

Whether this loop at this time could be categorized as a great trip, I’d have to offer doubts, given the conditions.  But all in all, it was an excellent experience; just one I’d rather not repeat any time soon.

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Early 1970s – After about two years on my Honda 90, it was time for me to graduate into something larger.  A buddy of mine named John had been tooling around on a Honda 55 and was confronted with the same angst.

Living in Chico, on Sunday mornings only, we received the Sacramento Bee delivered to the end of our long gravel drive.  Perusing the want ad section as I had for months, one Sunday I came across a display ad from Spinetti’s Hardware (an authorized Honda motorcycle dealer) in far off Jackson, California.  It was the year that Honda had changed the tank on their venerable CB 350 from something rectangular to a more rounded shape.  The boxy tank looked better in John’s mind and my own and Spinetti’s was closing out last year’s model for a couple of hundred bucks off.

I alerted John.  “Look, man!  Only $875.00!”  I’d been working a concession stand and John was a lifeguard at the local pool.  We checked our bank balances.  Yep, we could do this.

John had his eye on a blue and white one and I favored the red and white one. 

Our plan was to pull money from savings – actually drain savings – and have John’s dad, John senior, ferry us the 110 miles down to Jackson in his Pontiac station wagon.  There, we’d seal the deal and, just like in “Easy Rider,” ride ‘em back north.

Ever’body’s talkin’ at me, I can’t hear a word they’re sayin’…

Apparently, among the everybody I couldn’t hear was Mom.  On the day of the deal, she put her foot down.  “That money is going to be used for your education.  You’re not going to buy another damned motorcycle!”

John’s dad didn’t need to ferry us down to Jackson.  Instead, we borrowed the Pontiac and drove there ourselves.  John consumated the deal and, wrapping his new CB in a couple of blankets, we slid the bike into the back of the station wagon and drove home.  (Insult to injury?  John bought a red one.)

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Dateline:  Healdsburg (CA) dump:  My daughter’s old upright freezer died and I was charged with getting rid of the thing.  With a little research, I find that Sonoma County landfills will recycle old major appliances charging twenty bucks per item if the unit has Freon in it.  All others are free.
So I truck it on over to the landfill.  The host waves me through without weighing my vehicle, telling me to see the fellows over in recycle.  “Take a left at the top of the hill.”
Recycle is a rich milieu of using building materials, windows, doors, toilets and such along with glass, aluminum and cardboard.  Not immediately seeing appliances in the mix, I pull in looking for someone official willing to take my twenty and give me some direction.
I don’t see anybody.  What I do see, however, amid barbecues and dressers and old couches, is a derelict spinet piano, some off brand, standing abandoned and alone, like Bogey at that train station in Paris. (My brother, who moves pianos for a living, says more and more frequently he is taking them to the dump because they are too old to tune and there is no market for them.)  Since everything in life relates in one way or another to a scene from Casablanca, I walk over to the instrument and begin to tickle out a few bars of “As Time Goes By.”
Another customer comes up to me, thinking I must work at the place and asks me where he should drop off his old RCA Victor TV.  “I don’t know,” I respond, “I was going to ask you where to put my freezer.”  I turn back to the keyboard and pick up where I’d left off:  Moonlight and love songs…

This incident got me thinking.  What if, on Saturdays, someone pulled a six-hour shift – say, ten to four – at the dump attending to an old junker piano.  He or she could play standards and take requests, perhaps placing a big glass brandy snifter on top of the thing for tips. 
Thirty years ago, my old buddy Tom and I used to trek out to the Jamestown landfill with our household garbage about once a month.  We’d look at what folks had discarded and comment on what a cultural experience it was.
A piano man would only make a trip to the dump more so.
Where are you Billy Joel?

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, August 1, 2015


People You Meet on the Road:
Ukiah, California edition

10:00 AM today:  Backing the Moto Guzzi into a space in front of Mendocino Book Company – one of the closer independent booksellers to our new digs – I noticed a gentleman, about my age, pausing before getting into the newish Grand Cherokee in a neighboring slot.  The Jeep had some random building materials tied to its roof rack.

“Man, that’s a beautiful bike,” he said as I killed the engine.  His eyes flashed like those of one anticipating a fine stretch of curves on a perfect summer day.

I gave my pat response: “Better than I deserve.”

He moved closer, staring at the gleaming chrome and polished black paint on my Breva.  “I had a V-65 Lario.  Thing was bulletproof.  Compared to a Ducati?”  He buzzed his lips and shook his head.  “Loved that Guzzi.  Sold it 20 years ago.  Haven’t ridden since.”

I nodded knowingly, though I knew nothing about a ’65 Lario or most any other vintage Guzzis.  “Haven’t ridden since?”  I asked.  “Why?”

“Bought a house.”

[The reader will note that folks who ride (or rode) often speak in phrases, or at best, very short sentences.]

 “Well, we should get you back in the saddle.”  I handed him a Church of the Open Road calling card.

He glanced at the card then returned the bike.  “Love to, but can’t.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Fixin’ the house,” he said gesturing toward the lumber on top of his Cherokee.

“You been fixin’ your house for twenty years?”

His gaze lowered to the paint stripe separating our vehicles.  “Yep.”  His now-crestfallen voice was nary a whisper.

Eventually, he looked up and, together, we laughed. 

He climbed into the Jeep, backed out and, as he drove off, said, “Some day…”

 © 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, July 27, 2015


…the Subaru’s third big adventure…

Long-time readers will know that a place called Simpson Camp holds a special place in my childhood heart.  On my to-do list has been to share this distant locale with my wife of nearly thirty years.  Recently, taking the long way home, I did just that.

State Route 162 heads west out of Willows to the defunct lumber berg of Elk Creek.  The store there burned a year ago, but the gent who owns the place has been visiting daily cleaning up with the dream of reopening the place, or so reports the matron running the town’s café/gas station/inn.  The old guy was a much younger guy 40 years ago when he frequented the wholesale house of my employ to pick up salables for his remote grocery.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t drop in for a Coke and some Corn Nuts.

Grindstone Canyon is a long and deep valley carved by its namesake creek.  Fires regularly race through this barren, rocky and dry landscape, usually with little impact other than to refresh the scant soils.

Back in ’53, however, efforts to quell one had devastating results for one nearly forgotten crew.

Up the road we pause to let Edward out of his Subaru to stretch his legs…

…little knowing that coiled and lurking in the grass would be…

It’s a long forty miles from Willows up a windy CA162.  The pavement ends at Alder Springs where the route enters the Mendocino National Forest and is known as Forest Road 7.  Much more nicely graded than I recall, the Subaru Forester seems to relish the gravel and the curves.

Most folks who fly through Glenn County on I-5 must think the parish is little more than a string of impoverished towns in the bottomlands along the west side Sacramento River.  But on its path to Mendocino Pass, SR162/FR7 climbs to over 6500 feet passing through forests and meadows rivaling those in the Sierra. 

After some connoitering and reconnoitering, we found the spur road that leads to Simpson Camp.  Fifty years ago, Dad’s hiking buddy, Zibe Simpson, marked the turn-off with a red bandana tied to a roadside shrub.

The last time I’d visited the area in 2010, the road into the site was eroded and impassable.  Knowing this, we parked the Sube at the top of the ridge and walked down the glade. 

Down the hill quite a distance, a copse of firs juts into the meadow.  The sight of this stand brought a familiar stir to my innards.  

 We hiked through knee-high mule’s ear... 

...successors of the very one’s Zibe’s boxer, Jovanna lazed in back in the 60s…

…until we came upon a handcrafted sign nailed high in a fir.  (I know the story behind that sign.)

This was where we’d camped some 50 years earlier, although the official Forest Service sign had been removed, according to the ranger in Covelo, “to not attract folks who might damage the archaeological remnants.”   

I remember that Zibe showed us where to find arrowheads.  I remember that there used to be an old Wedgewood stove standing beneath these trees.

Looking from under the shade of the firs, I found where our old Coleman canvas tent had been erected…

…and the ring of stone that once confined a campfire that held off the gathering dusk… 

…a fire around which Zibe Simpson told stories of running sheep up this way in the summer months, herding them with Model A Fords and picking off coyotes intent on thinning the flock.

I remember falling asleep, fifty years ago, with a cool evening breeze washing over my face, dreaming of tending sheep on this pleasant hillside thinking no place on earth could be better.

Not much is left of Simpson Camp: just the fire ring, Zibe’s hand-made replacement sign and the memories. 

After an hour or so of exploration, my wife and I (with Edward the lab-mix), hiked back up the hill.  I’m not sure she came away knowing what all of my excitement was about, but a part of me was reminded that few places on earth could be better.

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Tidbit Number 2

Perhaps the most magnificent interface of land and sea is just a pleasant day’s jaunt from our new Sonoma County digs.

Monterey’s Big Sur Coast offers exhilarating roadways with sweeping turns carved above a rugged shoreline occasionally tunneling through groves of eons-old redwoods.

Mornings may be shrouded in a gray blanket of moisture.

While afternoon views across the Pacific are often accompanied by howling winds off the sea and each turn offers a new expansive view.

The route is dotted with campgrounds, modest general stores, motels, curio shops and galleries.  We found a VRBO rental and home-based there for a couple of days.

Accesses to beach, grasslands and forestlands are plentiful, but you’ll pay a modest fee for their support. 

Still, it’s good to get off the saddle and discover the little things that are often lost to panoramas. 

The history of the on-going collision between the North American and Pacific plates predates humankind.  (We’re west of the San Andreas rift.)

But humankind has left our share of markings.

Sometimes functional.

Sometimes beautiful.

Sometimes simply odd.

Sad to say that in nearly fifty years of motorcycling, this was my first two-wheeled visit along this section of Highway 1. 

On this trip, we did not travel further south past Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park toward Lucia, San Simeon and Harmony. 

Perhaps this is why – along with this magnificent section of coastline – God created the term “Bucket List.”

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Old habits die hard while new ones are worth an embrace.  Relocated to new digs, I’m now within an easy day’s ride of Eureka, an historic and scenic city on California’s north coast.  Over the years, several trips up US 101 find me landing in this lumber/fishing town for the evening.  Three businesses up that way always successfully wrest some dough from my wallet.

The Historic Eureka Inn: I walked into the Eureka Inn years ago and was immediately overwhelmed by the aroma of history clinging to the darkened redwood beams crossing the massive great-room lobby.   
A fixture on the US registry of historic places, paintings of those who’ve overnighted here hang from the walls.  After shedding gear, I make my way down to the lobby to sit on a leather couch in front of a substantial fireplace.  At any moment, I expect to hear Teddy Roosevelt ask if the other end of the seat is taken.

“No,” I’d reply and we'd spend an hour or two with a whiskey or two discussing the difficulty of preserving the area’s ancient redwoods while the lumber barons seek to mow them down in an effort to rebuild San Francisco.

Café Waterfront:  Five blocks north and down the hill from the Inn is Eureka’s historic waterfront.  Moored here is a north coast fishing fleet and ghosts of the lumber scows TR warned me about earlier in the afternoon.

Several plain and fancy eateries live in Eureka’s historic district.  On a Monday evening, a while back, I’d wandered in to the Café Waterfront around 7:00 to find the only seat one at the bar next to an older gent who was nursing a glass of red wine.   

“Charles” was happy to have my company.  As I enjoyed some tender scampi swimming in a garlic sauce and a glass of Honig Sauv Blanc, my bar-mate shared about this being “date night” for him and his wife, who couldn’t make it this evening.  “It’s happening more and more frequently,” he said, admitting that is was difficult to get the folks at the memory care facility to let him take her for the evening.

On a recent visit to this elegant, yet rustic piece of waterfront history, I was informed that Charlie’s wife had finally passed, but that Charlie is still a regular on Monday.  It was a Thursday.  Unspoken was the word family.  I was sorry I’d missed him.

After scampi and that Honig white, I stroll the wooden wharf watching a purple dusk settle over a gently rolling fishing fleet, all the while accompanied by a soundtrack of the clanging of distant buoys and the doleful cries of circling gulls.

"Hey, kid..."
Back at the Eureka Inn:  Hiking back up the hill, I discover Bogey stayed here.  An oil of his image hangs next to an antique lift. 

Across the lobby, the Inn’s “gin-joint” is a buzz of activity.  I wander in for a splash of Bourbon, served by a crazy Russian named Sasha ready to enjoy some tinny piano music from a player named Sam.  If I play my cards right, perhaps Ilsa Lund will appear from the shadows to steal Bogey’s (and my) heart this evening.

Alas, it was “Open Mic Comedy Nite,” which more accurately might have simply been called “Open Mic Nite.”  But, the Knob Creek was good and the barmaid kind enough to ensure I received a full eight bucks worth.

Rooms at the Inn have recently been refreshed.  Beds are comfortable, carpet plush and periodesque, plumbing works and sleep advances easily.

The Black Lightning Motorcycle Café is a new attraction to the area.  Located on the northbound one-way that US 101 becomes, the view through the window is of a line of vintage two-wheelers back-dropped by racks of clothing, helmets and gear. 

Once inside, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee competes with the storied collection of bikes and gear for your reason to hang out – perhaps until the fog clears.  Owner Jeff offers a nice breakfast and lunch menu – plus beer and/or wine, if you’re ending up your day. 

He is interested in what you’re riding and where you’ve been.  He has thoughts about area don’t-miss roads and believes that word of mouth is probably his best form of advertisement.  Consider this, that, Jeff.

A short, pleasant walk from the Inn, the Black Lightning is the new habit I’ve formed when staying in Eureka.

There are plenty of wonderful roads spoking from Eureka’s hub:  The Avenue of the Giants to the south; Mattole Road along the Pacific shore to the west and south...

world class CA 36 east to Red Bluff (out of Fortuna); sweeping CA 299 to Redding and beyond; and US 101 along a craggy route north to Crescent City and the Oregon Coast.

One could spend weeks home-basing here.  Or a lifetime.


Notes and Links:

The Black Lightning Motorcycle Café: Check this site regularly for special events Jeff plans for the greater two-wheeled community.

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press