Sunday, August 19, 2018


notes from an eastern Oregon road trip - part 4

Over a period of eight or ten days, I'd spent many hours on Enrico, the Yamaha, touring much of Northern California and Eastern Oregon. Sadly, with the exception of a couple of hours ringing the summit at Crater Lake, most of the ride had been completed under hazy skies and, in some places thick, settling, eyeball-irritating smoke. Stands of dead timber cover acres and acres of California and Oregon forest lands. Homes and cabins that once were, are no longer.

Clearly, Mother Nature is displeased with us. And not without cause, I would guess. Our clever industriousness over a little more than a century has brought many conveniences – fossil-fuel-guzzling automobile travel, coal-fired electric energy, and honey-bee-eradicating mega-farm food production. Many of those things we now depend upon and once thought were relatively cheap come at a cost: a delayed one. 

The bill is coming due. 

On a haze-shrouded Thursday, after stopping for lunch at the Squeeze In in John Day, Oregon, I drenched my cooling vest in a creek out behind the café and slipped it on under my vented riding jacket. At speed, this garment will act like a swamp cooler making the smoky mid-day 98-degree heat much more tolerable. I mounted up and headed down US 395 toward my night-stop in Burns.

Climbing out of a canyon and onto the prairied tablelands around Seneca it turns out I may not have needed that trip to the creek. The sky suddenly turned dark and the temperature dropped about fifteen degrees. Clouds had gathered over this high desert: clouds eager to relieve their burden. Soon my riding suit was being peppered with marble-sized raindrops that flattened the sage and grain fields on either side of my route. In those moments, as the raindrops danced across the pavement in front of me, the air bloomed with a fragrance the folks at Chanel of Paris can only dream about. Sweet. Thick. Pure. Refreshing. Reassuring.

A gift, perhaps?

Twenty minutes of riding through the cloudburst and the cleansing it carried convinced me that while Mother Nature may be angry at us, she still loves us a lot.

That's how mothers are.
© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, August 5, 2018


…because you don’t want your future in my hands…

The view from the mid-point of my seventh decade looks pretty bleak some days.  From where I stand, it appears we have a less-than-competent President backed by an ineffectual Congress all paid for by interests whose love of money outstrips any love of country. (Please note: Some friends may see things differently than I do and that’s entirely okay because that’s how it works in America.)

The other day I counted up the number of letters I’ve sent to the President, members of his administration and leaders in Congress. 211. (Every single one, by the way, has been copied to my social media page.)  I’m fairly certain none of these missives get to the Donald, but there may be a folder somewhere in DC with my name on it.

Still, there’s more I can do, and I’ve decided to do it.

Our little town has a fledgling Democratic Club which I have joined.  It is a small group that hopes to have a positive impact on local issues such as homelessness, water security, zoning/business development, parks and many other things.  Additionally, the group vets candidates for local elective positions – the starting point for folks who may be crazy enough to one day occupy a seat in the state legislature or even Congress.  Conversations we’ve had over the past several months have been engaging and enlightening as well as frustrating and, at times, a bit depressing.  Still, participation makes me feel as if I’m more than simply the person who rants from the sideline (which I still do).

One common concern in our meetings is the apparent lack of engagement of younger folks.  The group acknowledges that the non-retired among us have more limitations on their time and, likely, more immediate family responsibilities.  But, it seems to us that a dozen or so old farts sitting around a room talking about the pros and cons of those individuals wishing to hold local office must be tempered by the reality that the future rests no longer with us, but with a generation of still-working moms and dads.  Indeed, the future belongs to them.

The late House Speaker Tip O’Neill sagely noted that “all politics is local.”  

With that in mind, if your community has a Democratic (or Republican) Club, or an “Indivisible” group, or a Central Committee (all California counties have one for each major political party), consider joining.  You’ll find yourself interacting with other engaged citizens, many of like mind and many who may offer you a broadening, food-for-thought different perspective.  Back in the day, as a fifty-five-hour-per-week school administrator, I found time to serve on my county’s Central Committee. It was refreshing to have a seat at the table with good people who didn’t happen to be educators.

Participation may involve as little as two hours a month but that two hours can be invaluable as you help shape your community’s future by plying your unique knowledge and experience in a venue different from that of your employ.  

Some folks will say that the two major political parties are lost-cause mirrors of one another.  THIS is how you ensure that they are not.  Be advised, however:  If you’re not careful, that two hours could grow to something more.  Note that former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (later Secretary of Homeland Security) began her political career as president of her homeowner’s association, which on, NPR’s Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me! she referred to as “the worst job I ever had in politics.” 

We can all be part of a more positive tomorrow – not just us old farts.

So: Teacher-buddy, realtor, barista, letter carrier, truck driver, administrative assistant, and/or friend from any walk-of-life: Think about where you might invest just a couple of hours in your community’s – and your country’s – future. And please give this some final thought some final thought:  

You can’t possibly want your future in MY hands.
 You want it in your own.

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


A Church of the Open Road mini-memoir

In the summers between my first three or four years as a classroom teacher, I picked up work as a truck driver for a small, north state freight outfit.  It was great! In ten weeks of trucking I could make about 2/3s of what I’d earn in nine months of teaching.  Normally, my gig was to deliver local freight to small towns in our area, but, once, when a wildfire broke out, I was tapped to haul perishable groceries from Willows, California to a fire camp about 30 miles west of Corning.
“You’ll get a ton of hours, but you won’t be offered any overtime,” the freight dock foreman told me mentioning something about the contract Peters Truck Lines held with the Forest Service.  “Toss in a sleeping bag and catch a little rest whenever you can.”

The run from Willows to fire camp was about sixty miles, thirty of which were on freeway, the rest divided between paved secondary and dirt forest roads.  The bobtail I drove was refrigerated, packed with steaks and eggs and milk and OJ and whatever produce firefighters would need to rekindle their energy and rejoin the fight.  Someone loaded the truck, I didn’t, and when I got to camp, inmates unloaded it.  All I did was drive, making the round trip four times in one twenty-four-hour period.
Arriving once at dusk, whoever was in charge of the kitchen pulled me from the cab and pushed me to the front of the chow line. “You’re the most important man in camp,” he said, slapping me on the back. “Eat up.” And the largest steak I’d ever seen was unceremoniously draped over the edges of one of the 10” round Chinet® paper plates I’d probably just delivered.  A steaming baked potato was plopped on top.
I guess I must have been important because I was invited to stand and eat with a group of uniformed US Forest Service firefighters twice my age, one of whom appeared to be in charge.  
“You know, kid,” he began, “In school, I betcha you teach about the fire triangle.  Well, it’s actually a square.  There’s four elements: heat, fuel, oxygen and the California Division of Forestry.”  He paused and then said, “You take any one of those things away and the fire goes out.” His colleagues laughed at the joke they’d probably heard a hundred times before.  Then he got serious, “Son, thank you for bringin’ up all this food.  I don’t know how long we’re gonna be up here. You see, we aren’t gonna put this fire out.  We don’t put fires out.  They go out.”  

No one was laughing this time.

Over the intervening forty years, our fire seasons have morphed from a finite early August to mid-October to something more like year-round. In that time, I’ve learned that fires die when there is no more fuel to burn, like when the wind shifts driving the fire line back over the already burned area, or when it arrives at a lake or sea shore; or when a cooler, more moist air mass moves in over the area or when a storm drowns the damned thing.  Change of the seasons meant that an August fire might be contained until a late September rain doused it.  
In our contemporary times, fires – big ones – have been sparked in July, June, May and even April.  And those rains may not come in October.

This smoky morning, as I pick up the paper and see the orange tint of the smoke-filtered sun on our freshly painted house, I am reminded of the words of that old Forest Service Fire captain…

We don’t put fires out.  They go out.

…and realize that what rainy season we might hope for is over three months away. 

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, July 26, 2018


… product test at 100-plus degrees

I was advised by a friend that, before our August trip to Hells Canyon in Eastern Oregon, I should get a cooling vest.  Because I always take this guy’s advice, yesterday, I purchased one to wear under my riding jacket. Today, with temperatures predicted to top out around 105, I figured I try the thing out.

Here’s the lowdown:

Step one is all about soaking the garment.  Initially, I placed it under the kitchen faucet.  After a few seconds of watching the water roll away, my wife suggested, “How about submersing it in the sink?”  Bingo.

Dry, the vest weighs about 14 ounces.  Soaked, it’s like carrying around a bucket of water.

Step two involves wringing it out.  It takes some pretty hefty twisting.  As I squeezed and twisted, I found myself momentarily thinking of Romeo, our house cat who, again, this morning awoke me at 5:00 AM wanting to go outside.  The thought disappeared; replaced with: Had I wrung this out in the shower rather than the kitchen, there’d be no extra time spent mopping up floors and counters.

Step three finds the vest draped over my shoulders, zipped closed and waiting for my Dianese mesh jacket to cover it.  The initial feel is that of extreme perspiration: wet, clammy, and odd.  But anticipation of riding in 100-plus-degree air prompted me to think this clamminess is going to be a good thing.

And it was.  North on US 101 at speed, I was immediately impressed with the temperature differences between my cooling-vest-laden upper body and my exposed-to-the-furnace-blast arms. It was almost too cool.  Almost.

Twenty-five minutes up the road, it was easy to forget about the ambient temperature.  I felt more as if I was riding on a spring day.

I stopped in Ukiah at Mendocino Book Company to look for a copy of George Orwell’s 1984 which I was going to ship to President Trump as a gift, but they were sold out. Sitting in 103-degree (according to the time and temperature sign at the Mendocino Savings Bank on State Street) downtown traffic, I felt my mind stewing about the stop and go and my body stewing because my personal space was so humid.  Perhaps this bit of technology has a drawback or two.

I headed to the east side of the Russian River Valley finding Mendocino County’s River Road for a relaxed fifty-five-mile-per-hour cruise around lazy curves, through oak studded foothills and past picturesque vineyards toward Hopland.  Were it not for the heat, this was a Chamber of Commerce stretch of roadway.  But, delightfully, the cooling properties of the vest had returned.  I could really enjoy this ride this day.

In an effort to gather some data, I stopped at a wide spot to snap a photo of the air temperature as measured by Enrico, the Yamaha’s, computer system.  The bottom number in the photo tells me it’s 104.

My little test loop measured about 70 miles and, with stops, took about two hours. Taking the cooling vest off to hang in the laundry room, I figured it now weighed about as much as a half a bucket of water.

I thought for a moment of the up-coming trip to north eastern Oregon and surmised that this item may well take a little bit of the hell out of Hells Canyon.

At a cost of about fifty bucks, I’m thinking it will be fifty bucks well spent.


Waterproof Cooling Vest marketed as Bilt (Cycle Gear) and – I think – Hyperkewl (Revzilla).  Constructed in China, they look exactly the same except for their branding labels.

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, July 23, 2018


…or simply misunderstood?

My 11:00 AM Saturday nap was interrupted by a rap on the door followed by a barking Edward (the lab mix) informing me repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly that strangers were on the property. Shuffling to the door, I found that two gentlemen visiting from Grass Valley wanted to alert me to a rattlesnake, “… a good size one with six buttons!…” that was heading up our driveway.

“Cool!” I replied and hustled off to get my push broom and my camera.

By the time I arrived on scene, one of the Grass Valleyans – gold country folks know their way around snakes – had placed himself between the critter and our garage door, causing the snake to downshift its reptilian brain into a well-practiced flight strategy.  By now the viper was slithering across our subdivision’s street.

Coincidentally, Wednesday’s Reveille, our hometown weekly, had a below-the-fold front-page feature entitled: “Watch where you step: rattlesnake season in Sonoma County.”  I hadn’t seen rattlers in the neighborhood in our four years of living here.  But maybe the little guy had gotten ahold of the paper and, viewed through his elliptical eyes, the headline read as some sort of an invitation.

In reality, the heat was rising on this mid-July morning and I suspect this guy was simply looking for a shady place to stay cool until after sundown.  I’m sure the concrete front porch stays cool and shady, a perfect place to curl up for a few hours.  Also, I know the garage floor is cool.  I looked down at my bare ankles and naked toes protruding from my Birkenstocks and shuddered a bit.  It was involuntary, honest.

The article in the Reveille reminded me that rattlesnakes would rather co-exist than view every other living thing as an enemy or threat.  I flashed, for only a moment, on Donald Trump’s recent press conference with Vladimir Putin, and thought, Well, some creatures are a threat, just not this rattlesnake.

Encouraged to move away from our driveway, he made it across the street, and although the mountain boys from Grass Valley and I had hoped to coax him into the storm drain, the snake opted for some shade under an oleander in a neighbor’s back yard.

The paper reported that not all snakes are bad guys.  Gopher snakes – often mistaken for rattlers – have no patience for their venomous cousins and often will chase the rattlers away.  King snakes do one better.  In a fair fight, a King snake will kill a rattler. Maybe that’s why they’re called King.  (I saw this happen on the Yahi Trail in Chico’s Upper Bidwell Park a long time ago.)  Rattlesnakes, themselves, do a good job of keeping the population of rodents – mice, rats, gophers, political operatives and door-to-door salespeople – in check. Rattlers are not necessarily bad citizens of the eco-system.  They’re just citizens.

That said, I felt it both wise and neighborly to report to my neighbor the new resident in their back yard.  They have a tasty looking little long-haired tea-cup terrier of some sort that would best be kept indoors for a spell.  And the dog was indoors when I rang, because no one was home, and his yippy little bark warned me to get away.  I returned with a note for the door.  The little dog was still barking from my first visit.  In fact, it’s an hour later and his caterwauling still going on and on.  Maybe I should let him go out back…

I’m not afraid of rattlesnakes and it is kind of cool to see one every now and then.  Perhaps it is nature’s way of letting us know we’re not in complete control quite yet.  Still, for the near future, we’ll be careful letting Edward – the lab-mix who enjoys chasing lizards out in our back yard – out in our back yard.  I’m fairly certain that having the black dog go face-to-face with this reptilian interloper would prompt something other than that flight reaction from the snake.

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


…and a few moments with my grandfather(s)

Recently, we drove US 101 to Southern California for a long weekend. A nephew was getting married and a wedding is a fine excuse for a road trip.  The nuptials were elegant and warm and intimate, the bride stunning, the party glorious.  Weddings and long wedding weekends are supposed to be all about family, but the following day, I had something I wanted to do – something I wanted to check off the bucket list.  

I set out for Forest Lawn.

Lots of famous folks are interred at Forest Lawn: Jimmy Stewart, Clayton Moore, Red Skelton, Walt Disney, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Larry Fine, Casey Stengel, even Bogie(!), and more recently, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher – as well as hundreds of others.  Among the famous and infamous rest thousands of lesser-knowns, including my two grandfathers.  Or so I thought. Neither name appeared on the register at the parking area’s information booth, so I was directed to the lobby.  “Yes,” I was told.  “They are buried at Forest Lawn, just not this Forest Lawn.”

In the era of my grandfathers’ passings, back in the 50s and 60s, if a man wanted to get a new suit, he went to a Bullocks store. There was one in every major town. Apparently, it was the same deal with cemeteries.  If you were going to get buried, you would first go to Bullocks for a new suit and then head over to a Forest Lawn cemetery.  There seems to be one in every major town.  Grandfathers George Clayton Delgardo and Edgar Wirt “Hap” Bagnell were both over in Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park about ten minutes away – twenty if you, like me, can’t effectively operate the Nav system in your Subaru.  “No, I don’t need an oil change today,” I explained.  “I just need to turn around.”

The concierge in the lobby of the Glendale branch provided me with three maps.  One outlined the general layout of the place.  The other two offered diagrams of the sections where my grandfathers reposed. Tiny, tiny squares the size of ant larvae marked the thousands of graves.  Tinier still – and blurry – numbers printed in each square referenced who would be where. The concierge marked one grave on each map and provided me with the section and grave’s location number.  I was coached to look for little round concrete markers, perhaps four or five inches in diameter.  “They may be a bit hidden in the grass, so you may have to look some.  Cast in each you’ll find a set of two to four four-digit numbers indicating the corner of a section of the grounds.  Or,” he suggested, “if you go outside of the lobby, you can download the Forest Lawn App, plug in the names and GPS will take you right to the spot.” “Thanks,” I replied.  “I don’t have much luck with apps.”  “Well then,” he said, “George C. Delgardo is in the Whispering Pines section. It’s closest, so you might want to go there first.”  

And I did. Cruising the gracefully curved roadways in the park, I passed a small but stately churchlike building: The Chapel of the Flowers.  I vaguely recalled it from a previous long weekend trip to Southern California six decades before.  This was where services were held for George, a grandfather I never really knew – or even met.  Still, at eleven years old, I attended.  It would be my first funeral and although I could not have picked Granddad, my own blooded lineage, out of a lineup of old men, I do remember sitting in the dimly lit, cold, cold room for a long, long time, not understanding what was going on but tearing up the three or four times the minister uttered the words “George C. Delgardo.”  I don’t remember the interment.  Perhaps I’d been excused from it.

Whispering Pines was close by.  I waded through a section where the dearly departed are packed too closely to be lying in any kind of repose.  Bronze markers are set maybe just a foot apart in rows and the rows themselves are less than a football referee’s pace from one another.  “Folks must have been buried feet first,”I thought, followed by, “I wonder if Red Skelton is nearby. After all, he did stand-up.”  [Pause for rim shot.]  

After about a five-minute ground search, I found my unknown grandfather in a tiny, tiny plot, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Addabell, a wife who had pre-deceased him. Next to her stands Gerald, his brother, about whom Mom disdainfully would say, “He drives around in a fancy yellow convertible like some sort of a rich playboy.”  Even to this day, I’ve never understood the problem associated with that.

Though it was a very small plot, I was pleased to find George’s resting place.  It seemed pleasant enough.  Little bit of a view.  Grass trimmed weekly.  I was glad he is with family.  I told him that I wished we’d had a chance to know one another when I was a kid and asked him if he’d seen his son Clayton recently.  Receiving no response – not even a hint of breeze – and with little else to say, I left a white rose on his marker and went off to look for Hap.

I hadn’t attended Hap’s funeral.  At age 6, I was deemed too young.  Hap’s resting place in the Sunrise Slope section proved a bit harder to find. 

I drove a looping quarter of a mile from where I’d stopped to find George, and parked neath the shade of a magnolia tree. Eyeballing the map of Sunrise Slope, orienting myself with the use of the Temple of Santa Something-er-Other at the top of the hill, I figured I was only moments away from a conversation with the one grandfather I did remember: Hap.  Hap’s name sits carved in a block in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum as one of those “early-birds” who’d engaged in powered flight prior to a date in December of 1917.  Sikorsky, Pratt, Curtiss – by whom he later was employed – and the Wright Brothers are etched in the same monument.  Hap who flew air mail using ground-based concrete arrows to navigate from Chicago to the west coast in the 20s.  I’ve seen the arrows.  
Hap who invented an electric toothbrush, and who painted in oils – I have two hanging in my house, one a still life and one a portrait of an old woman purported to be his mother.  Hap who lived at our house in Chico for a short while and who smoked Lucky Strikes. I think that’s what eventually sent him to this place.

Barely knowing the grandfather I knew the best, I was looking forward to this moment.  But the dot on the map provided by the concierge didn’t line up with the numbers on the rarely found concrete disks buried in grass.  Twenty minutes into my search, I pulled out my iPhone, downloaded the Forest Lawn app and punched in “Edgar Wirt Bagnell.”  Within moments I discovered I was within two hundred fifty feet or a mere two minutes walk from my quarry.  Stepping one direction I found the glowing disc that represented me was moving away from the static dot that represented him.  Correcting, I could see the two electronic markers close in on one another when my phone announced, “You have reached your destination.”

Edgar W. Bagnell’s name was not on any nearby bronze plates.  I moved up the hill.  Not there. Down the hill.  Not there.  Left. Right.  The white rose I held was beginning to wilt.  The damned phone kept telling me I’d reached my destination.  “No, I haven’t!” I uttered a little less solemnly than a body should while standing in the middle of a cemetery.  I arced here and there for a long few minutes.  Finally, out of frustration, I sat down next to a bronze marker recalling someone named Mills or Miller or Miles.  There I pondered whether or not to continue the search. The summer sun was hot, and I really should be celebrating with family.  The plots here are larger than over in Whispering Pines. I craned my neck to see who might be nearby.

Hap was right next to Mills or Miller.  An Elizabeth Bagnell rests at Hap’s side.  I’m not sure who Elizabeth is but Mom’s middle name was Elizabeth and although she always referred to her mother as “Mama,” Elizabeth might have been Mom’s mom.  Next to Mama rests an I. N. Bagnell.  Her portrait, it turns out, is hanging in my study at home.

I laid the white rose on Edgar W. Bagnell’s stone and sat at his feet for a few moments, feeling my eyes get wet like they did for George 60 years before. Turning, I looked at the panoramic view he enjoyed from mid-hillside.

“Not bad,”I thought.  “I’d rather spend eternity on that ridge above Simpson Camp, but this isn’t all that bad.”

“This is just fine…” someone said.  

I turned to see who was there.  


“…not that it matters much.”

I sat in grass at Forest Lawn under a warm Southern California sun for a while longer.  A wedding weekend is supposed to be all about family.  

And, as it turns out, this one was.

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, July 7, 2018


Riding through devastation and rebirth
in California’s Coast Range

One of the great positives of the changes in climate some say we are experiencing is that, in most of California, riding season is almost twelve months long. Unfortunately, so is fire season. September’s big blazes began in June this year.

Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties have experienced more than their fair share of wild land fires over the past few years.  Only a couple of months ago, a section of hills around the Dry Creek wine growing valley erupted. In October 2017, Santa Rosa lost 4,000 homes and 40-plus lives. Lake County’s Cobb Mountain resort area was lit up in the summer of 2016; the town of Lower Lake that fall.  Over Thanksgiving weekend of 2015, the hills surrounding the Geysers geo-thermal units smoldered for days.  More than the turkey, that day, was smoked.

I’d checked things out about a month after the October disaster.  Now nearly eight months later, Enrico, the Yamaha, and I decided to take another look at the aftermath.

Departing US 101 at Mark West Springs Road a few miles north of Santa Rosa, I am immediately greeted by a forest of standing chimneys.  (I so want to photograph this orchard of masonry but, like before, feel doing so invades the privacy of those who’d lost so much. Thus, I refrain.)  Continuing into the once-lush Mayacamas Range, the vegetation is now seared away as are the houses once shielded from passers-by.  Only their foundations, chimney and a few scraps of twisted metal remain.  

Mark West Springs Road sweeps along Mark West Creek and over and around denuded hillsides now cloaked in the golden grasses of summer.  Rebirth had occurred – subtle, but a start.  It proves to be a nice ride this day, but I can picture residents clogging that windy route deep one October night as the firestorm rolled out of the east like a fiery boulder at the beginning of an Indiana Jones movie.

Passing the Wildlife Safari exotic animal exhibit, I am reminded that the owner, that terrifying night of the Tubbs Fire, saved every critter in the park using only garden hoses linked end to end, screwing them together by the light of the approaching flames. His residence, however, didn’t make it.

The road dips in and out of the fire zone.  Ridgelines of standing scorched trees appear with some turns, with other twists of both highway and fate, green meadows, pasture lands and unscathed houses stand as if nothing had happened.  The whims of wind and fire, I think.

In Calistoga, I stop at the roastery to purchase my supply of the whole bean that “wakes up Napa County.” Across the street a fine breakfast is offered at the historic Café Sarafina.  A bookstore, a bicycle shop, several boutiques and tasting rooms make this a pleasant stop – although I don’t taste when I’m on the bike.

California’s State Route 29 forms Calistoga’s main street.  South of town, one would venture into the heart of the Napa Valley where, even on a good day, the traffic can slow to a crawl.  North, Route 29 corkscrews out of the valley affording tantalizing over-the shoulder glimpses.  As the elevation gains, I pass through Robert Lewis Stevenson State Park, a mecca for hikers and cyclists beneath a canopy of redwood and madrone.  I’m thinking I should have packed a snack and taken a stroll.

Out of the forest and over a rise and I enter the higher pastures of Lake County.  The wonderfully engaging twists of the route from Calistoga remind me why Lake County never received rail service.  Construction through steep and narrow canyons and over rocky ridges proved too daunting.  The pavement, however, offers a graceful experience for the me and the big Yamaha.  Cresting that rise, I view the denuded tops of ridges that ring the upper reaches of the Putah Creek drainage: Fire scars from two, three, sixteen and perhaps thirty years ago.  

State Route 175 curls away from Route 29 at Middletown heading up to Cobb Mountain and, until two years ago, the Hobergs Resort. In the aftermath of the 2016 fires up that way, sections of Route 175 has been resurfaced and some homes rebuilt.  Rusted derelicts remind me of what once was.  Some vegetation is beginning the slow process of regeneration.  As massive as was that conflagration, just moments down the highway, I enter a cool pine and fir forest as lush as anything one might see in the Sierra Nevada 90 miles to the east.

Route 175 rejoins 29 just south of Kelseyville, one of several California sites bearing the surname of a brutal Indian slayer from the 1850s.  His wife (or sister-in-law), history forgets to tell us, created the original Bear Flag that was raised of Sonoma in the 1840s.  State Route 29 skirts the west shore of Clear Lake, the California’s largest fresh water pond, ending at State Route 20 near historic Upper Lake.  

Looking well north beyond the end of the little town’s Main Street, evidence of a decades-old burn area catches my eye, but that’s not why I’m pausing here.  Upper Lake boasts the Blue Wing Café, home of one of the best bison burgers on the planet.  Garden seating invites me to linger, and, were I not on the motorcycle, the selection of on-tap brews would be more than tempting.  Perhaps some future evening will find my bride and me lodging at the historic hostelry next door.

State Route 20 is a busy east-west crossing of the Coast Range.  On it, I wind past the picturesque Blue Lakes.  A mile or two short of Route 20’s interchange with US 101, I divert onto “Road A,” hopping over a ridge and descending into Redwood Valley.  This area was torched the same October night as the huge fire that scarred Santa Rosa. Lives and homes were lost here, as well, just not as many as a few miles south.

I wheel past several lettered roads until I find Road J.  Heading east, I check on the site of a friend’s home that’d had burned to the ground that night.  Oddly, the fire had placed a fiery footprint on his house but left the one fifty yards away unscathed.  Two-and-a-half months ago, a buddy and I had planted some olive trees near the ashes of the house.  This day, those trees seem to be doing fine and evidence of a rebuild can be seen through the fence.

For the most part, fire is a natural occurrence.  Even after the worst of wild fires, rebirth is almost immediate.  It will be a personal goal to ride this route through fire country every six months or so to see how things – both natural and man-made – evolve.


Today’s Route:  Exit 494 from US 101, east on Mark West Springs Road which becomes Porter Creek Road. Side trip:  Franz Valley Road to Franz Valley School Road (windy and interesting) back to Porter Creek just west of Calistoga. State Route 29 through town then north to Middletown.  (Great twisty pavement!)  Left on SR 175 through Cobb and Hobergs eventually merging back onto SR 29. North on SR 29 to SR 20, right one mile to Upper Lake, left onto historic Main Street.  Continuing: West on SR 20, right on Road A, right on East Road, head north as far as you want.  (You could end up in Willits!)  Backtrack on East Road, follow signs to US 101.

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Church of the Open Road Press