Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Vicarious Life through Others’ Travels

In 1971, I purchased my first new car: a Clementine orange VW Super Beetle.  I loved that car. While it still resides in my heart, I wish it still had a place in my garage.  It was truly the one that got away.  If I still owned the Bug, it likely would travel no further from home than the coffee shop on Sunday morning, because, well, what if it and its forty-plus-year-old technology broke down?

I was reminded of this the other night when visitors from Tasmania, whom we were yet to meet, tooled into our neighborhood on a 1975 Moto Guzzi El Dorado.  Paul and Kerry Dickson (again, from waaayyyyy down under) purchased this classic a couple of months back from a seller in Nova Scotia, Canada, basically sight unseen.  Her name, they were told, was “Ellie.”

The story goes that the Dicksons flew into New York, caught a hop across the border, took Ellie for a short spin, laid down their money and headed west.

That takes some measure of guts, I’d opine.  I suppose if I found a seventies-era VeeDub, I could attempt a similar journey because those old Volkswagens were not all that uncommon.  We still see a few of them belching about and parts still pretty available.

But on a vintage Guzzi?  Trying to find parts for a forty-year old Moto Guzzi must be a bit like finding the third tablet upon which the rest of the Fifteen Commandments are chiseled.  But Mr. and Mrs. Dickson were undeterred.

They rode and camped and rode and moteled and rode through some of the most scenic territory in all of North America seeking small museums, enjoying mom ‘n’ pop cafĂ© meals in tiny towns and sticking, whenever possible, to America’s less travelled by-ways.

The story of their introduction to Ellie, the El Dorado, has a love-at-first-sight poignancy to it.  Photos of the motoring to the top of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington and Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower added more bullets to my burgeoning bucket list, while shots of Montana-Wyoming’s Beartooth Pass reignited the excitement I felt on my trip a few years back on my then four-year-old BMW.  Except they did it on Ellie, a contemporary of my beloved, long-gone ’71 VW.

Along the way, these travelers stopped in at our house for some ribs, some rest and this reminder to self: As long as we continue to expand our view of the world and our appreciation for the diverse gifts it offers, we can keep our thus-engaged selves young.  Perhaps there is no better way to do this than through travel on a motorcycle.

Better still if her name is Ellie.



More exact details of the Dickson’s transaction and amazing trip can be found on their blog “Sure – Why Not?”  Plan on being captivated by the pictures and the narrative.  And keep checking back as Paul and Kerry are still composing thoughts and selecting pictures that represent the completion of their journey. Here’s the link:  

Special thanks to Patrick Hayes (left) for arranging the connections necessary to allow for visitors from the other side of the globe to come to our little place for a meal and a night’s rest.  Patrick is a moto-aficionado (and Church of the Open Road reader) who somehow hooked up with me through the blog during my Guzzi ownership days.

And kudos to the Guzzi community – as Kerry refers to them – both in the states and in Canada who helped ensure that Paul and Kerry’s adventure would be the utmost success.  I'm thinking I need to make an effort to "rejoin" that community...

And this...

“You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”
- Corporate slogan ca 1964

I spoke with my 94-year-old mother the other day and shared that visitors from Tanzania would be stopping over.  “Where’s Tanzania?” she asked.  I explained and she said, “My, you do lead an interesting life.”

No, I thought to myself, but I certainly have met some inspiring people who do.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


A product review

Over the nine-plus years that I’d owned my trusty Tour Master Coaster II leather jacket, somehow the thing had shrunk – just hanging there in the closet.  The process was gradual having occurred hand-in-hand with an increased consumption of bacon-cheeseburgers on my part.  Regardless of the cause of the “shrinkage,” it was time for me to find a replacement, so I did a little shopping around and recently dropped five bills on a Fox Creek Vented Racing Jacket. 

Shortly, I hopped astride the T-Bird and, with the chest and back vents open, headed out toward Napa, then across the Sacramento Valley with temps rising to mid-80s.  When the mercury started to embrace 90, I transitioned to the summer weight Dianese I was carrying along. 

The following day found me at the 5,000-plus foot level in the Sierra, where the jacket was again employed, vents closed for a while, against the chill.

My impressions of this jacket are quite positive.  The thing is heavy like that lead apron they put on you when they’re doing dental x-rays.   

But with the vents open, it is cool and makes me feel secure – if that's the right word – no matter what the traffic conditions. The quality of this jacket is superior to anything I've ever owned and I thought I'd been buying good stuff in the past. The zippers are substantial and appear not prone to failure.  Their antique bronze finish is a nice touch.   
The leather itself is supple and thick – doubled in impact areas – very nicely finished and smells terrific coming out of the box.  Seams and stitching appear flawless. 

Having heard about this while doing my research, I did find that because of the thickness and structure of the front pockets – there are inside and outside pockets to contend with – I get a little "Dolly Parton" effect as the bottom of the jacket tends to migrate northward from my waist when in the saddle.  This is just an observation, by no means an annoyance.  Besides, those pockets are quite commodious capable of stowing extra gloves, the cell phone or the camera easily. 

I am looking forward to how this performs as the temperatures cool in the fall and through the winter as I zip in the liner that seems easily deployed and comes with a neck muffler designed to keep cold air from entering your helmet from beneath your chin.

I appreciate Fox Creek's corporate story – a Vietnam era entrepreneur who dabbled at one thing and another until he struck upon making really good stuff out of leather.  Stateside.  Equally impressive is Fox Creek’s customer service.  They took the time to contact me prior to shipping the jacket to ensure the size I ordered was correct for my build.

Not only do I think this may be the last leather jacket I'll need to purchase, I am now hoping for a grandson who rides to whom I can pass this on in about twenty-five years.  Earlier, if I don’t cut down on those bacon-cheeseburgers.


Note:  Fox Creek Leather’s web presence:

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, August 5, 2016


I have a soft spot for silvering barns, rusted wire fences, weathered, hand-hewn livestock chutes, and old trucks.  The west is full of ‘em and each of these relics of our west has a story to tell, I’m sure. I’ll stop smack-dab in the middle of the road if I think I can get away with a decent shot at one.

Particularly the old trucks.

Some of the best “retired” trucks are found near the middle of nowhere, parked in a wheat field or subsumed by a thicket of brambles. 

Some you see a great distance away as you travel a rifle-shot straight section of road across the plain. 

Some spring upon you as you round a bend or crest a rise. 

Some rest in junkyards, but good photos are hard to shoot, given all the other good junk so near by. 

Some are displayed in front of farm stands or outside wineries, but these, posed as they are, seem a little less like an artifact and more like an ornament.  I don’t think they really count. 

Some are behind fences although I’m not certain the fence is keeping ‘em from escaping to somewhere.

Through decades of pausing for a photograph of an old GMC or International

– or worse, not pausing and wishing that I had –

I have begun to spin my own yarns about a flat bed delivering fodder to cattle in a parched August pasture, the stakeside fording an angry creek down from the bridge washout, or a workhorse ranch pickup getting spiffed up for a Saturday night on the town.

But all of those tales were made up, products of my romantic fantasies about ranch life with its early mornings, hard work and dreamless sleep beneath peaceful, starry midnight sky.  Yep, all of these stories were little fictions – little personifications – because derelict trucks can rust by the side of the road or out behind a collapsing barn, but they can’t tell stories.

That is, until one spoke yesterday.

Yesterday’s truck, a 50s era Studebaker was locked inside a cyclone enclosure designed more to keep passers-by such as myself from getting too close rather than having the thing roll off somewhere under its own power on its rusted wheels and arthritic ball joints.   

In faded paint on the driver’s side door were the words “Hopson Dairy.  Anderson California.”

I was nowhere near Anderson, California so I visited the Internet in search of the old truck’s story.

In bygone days, milk came from dairies and was delivered directly to the consumer’s door.  Milk came in glass bottles, the likes of which you may find at an antique shop nowadays.  In the northern end of the Sacramento Valley near Anderson, California, the Hopsons owned one such dairy.   For decades, the family maintained a small herd of cows, the facility to milk them and the means to distribute product throughout a small region of Shasta County. 

Up that way in the 50s, Redding Motors on Market Street (the old US 99 though town) held the Studebaker franchise.  I can’t help but wonder how many of these workhorses passed through that dealership’s doors.  One of them may have been the old crate I spotted so many miles from Anderson.

According to the Redding Record Searchlight, the Hopson Dairy was established in 1943 and ended production in 1987.  Twenty years later, on a Saturday in March, heir Ben Hopson auctioned the place lock, stock and milk bottle.  And the old Studebaker. 

Courtesy and (c) Redding Record Searchlight
It was included in the picture of the about-to-be-disposed-of dairy, published in the March 14, 2008 edition of the Record-Searchlight next to a stock trailer and some aging agri-implements.

We do things differently now. Mom and Pop groceries have withered as Safeways and their ilk have grown.  Many local hardware stores have succumbed to the presence of the Home Depot and Lowes.  Countless downtown haberdasheries and five ‘n’ dimes have faded away as Target stores and Wal-Marts have appeared.

On the plus side, these big stores offer value – or, at least, a perception of value – to the buyer.  The downsides – perhaps more romantic than economic – include the demise of some family farms, the loss of some independent businesses, and death of some of those chores for trucks like the old Studebaker.  

And their stories.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, July 30, 2016


Sweetwater Springs Road leaves Sonoma County's Westside Road (out of Healdsburg, California) taking you on a trip back into the hills about 75 years.

Structures that were likely community projects dot the landscape.

The substantial ones may still be in use.

A rustic brick oven lends credence to my off-the-grid imaginings.

Is it square? Is it plumb? Is it flush? Was it ever?

Bridges - several of them - are substantial, but narrow; as is the road up a piece.

Having owned one of these at one time, I wish for my copy that it enjoys a better fate.

Thinking this was a quarry of some sort, now being reclaimed by the woodlands.

This old Studebaker once hailed from Anderson, California, where a now-defunct dairy once employed it…

…or so sayeth the fading paint on the door. Wondering how it ended up here.

Viewing these pictures, someone commented that she thinks she may have gotten lost on this road at one time.  My thought was that she must have been lost just to find this decrepit ribbon of busted blacktop.  And aren’t such routes among our best discoveries?


Note:  I did a little internet look-up on the dairy from which that old pickup hailed and guess what I found a picture of?

Today’s Route:  US 101 to Healdsburg.  West on Westside Road (past the Safeway shopping center); bear right onto Sweetwater Springs.  [Note: if you get to the historic Hop Kiln Winery, you’ve gone a couple of hundred yards too far.  But don’t despair!  Hop Kiln is lovely; pause for a taste.]  Sweetwater Springs Road goes in and out, over and through for about sixteen miles, ending at Armstrong Redwood Road.  Right to the park; left to Guerneville. [Note: if you wind up in Guerneville, know that your time machine may have only returned you as close to the present as the 1960s.  Enjoy that!]

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, July 22, 2016


Living closer to the northern California coast than ever before in my 60-plus years, I now frequently enjoy a run out there with a leg of it incorporating at least some of California’s legendary highway 1.  Whether on my departed GSA or Guzzi, or now on the T-bird, the ride is always a rewarding departure from the news, the job or any other part of reality I wish to escape.  Yesterday, I rode a 200-mile loop which included US 101, Mendocino County’s Branscomb Road to CA 1, then south through Fort Bragg.  The sky was overcast, the sea gray, the cypress somber but the ride still incredible.

At a construction delay, a fellow on a lithe BMW F-800 sidled next to me.  Chatting, I found he was an engineer from the Puget Sound area relocating to San Diego.  His possessions were packed and being shipped.  He’d owned his F-series less than ten days and figured his transfer was as good a time as any to experience, for his first time, our country’s Pacific rim.

Several years ago, when I worked in an impoverished school district, as a reward for good behavior and perfect summer school attendance, the superintendent and I arranged for a bout three dozen youngsters to attend their first professional baseball game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.  As we entered the stadium, I sprinted ahead of the kids so I could get a look at the expression on their faces – the delight in their eyes – as the kids got their first view of the glorious, sun-drenched playing field.  Awe struck; clearly this would be an experience they’d long remember.

That same indelible, delighted little-kid expression lit up the face of the fellow on his Beemer as he gushed about his journey thus far.

This is why I love the road.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


The driver must have been going really fast.  The passing lane on US 101 north of Hopland was about to end – it was a mile-and-a-half to the next one – and it wouldn’t be well to have to sidle in behind someone traveling slower, now would it? 

So this fellow just couldn’t be second; his now somehow more important than anything.  Anything!  Or, perhaps, as he raced along in his tiny red Civic or Corolla – by the time I happened along it was hard to tell – and because he’d gotten away with it before, he simply felt he was invincible.  He would live forever.  This thought would be proven irreversibly misguided in just moments.  And instantaneously.

Traffic had backed up only about a half mile from the scene, stopped first in one direction, then the other, choked down to one lane at the scene.  Damn!  Would I miss my appointment in Ukiah?  Approaching from the south, the rescue crew moved about their business in an incredibly slow and apparently deliberate manner.  They knew this: Why rush?

The battered car rested upright, doors shut tight but windshield violently punched out, beads of glass scattered into the open travel lane.  Almost blocked from view by a fire truck, the unfortunate lay, and except for his still-shoe-clad feet, fully covered by a yellow plastic tarp.  No ambulance was yet present, nor would there be any need for a Code 3.  Somberly, Highway Patrol, county sheriff, and first responder folks milled about above the covered carnage, writing notes and chatting.  Hushed voices, I assume.

Ninety minutes later, heading back down the highway, I find that the scene is clear except for a pair of wild, curving tire ruts and an arcing course of bowled over, dried weeds up and then down the embankment, and four spray-painted rectangles indicating where the sedan came to rest on its feet.


Passing by at speed, no one would know of the death of the invincible motorist.  It was all over in less than a heartbeat, and that last heartbeat was nearly two hours ago.

All over except for this: One of those peace officers would soon be knocking on a door or dialing up a telephone number, delivering a message no wife or husband, mother or father ever wants to receive.  For family that remains, time will stop.  A different definition of normal will descend on them waiting, sinisterly, to be embraced.

And after the paperwork, the officer will return to the beat and then home – likely not to sleep well this night.  Again.  Tomorrow?  He’ll be on patrol protecting us hoping that his yesterday does not repeat itself.

And by spring, the green grasses of winter will have covered up those ruts.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Interesting stuff – natural and human –
too easily passed by…

With the marriage of motorcycle and really good pavement, I commonly am lulled into a rhythmic pattern of enjoying the ride while, at the same time, missing the journey.  Falling into this trap is easy on California’s Route 1 in Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.  Sure, there are turnouts, wide spots and vista points where millions have taken the same snapshot I’m about to take, but pausing for a more in depth experience – even for only an hour or two – is something for which I do not budget enough time.  Recently I planned a trip where I decided not to let that happen.

Here are some highlights I’m glad I didn’t miss on that recent coastal tour.

Point Arena Lighthouse:  I used to be an elementary school principal.  On those few bad days working, I’d go home thinking how nice it would be to be anything other than a school guy: ditch tender for some mountain water district; fire lookout on some remote peak; or light house keeper on the rugged Pacific shore.  This foggy, windswept morning, I stopped I at Point Arena to check out one of those theories. 

The Point Arena Lighthouse is an historic facility, once run by the Coast Guard. Now it is maintained by a foundation dedicated to preserving the light facility and its storied history. 

A fine little museum rests in the old light keeper’s residence where the history of the lighthouse is chronicled and the Fresnel lens in preserved.  Five dollars gets you in.  

For additional two-and-a-half bucks, you can climb the nearly 150 steps to the tower’s top where the lens refracted light to be seen for twenty or more miles from the point’s rocky shoals. 

Stepping out onto the tower’s circular balcony, an icy, seemingly unrelenting on-shore breeze took my brimmed hat away.  I watched it whip and sail and finally land several hundred yards east of the tower’s base.  It rolled to a stop in some ice plant.  I drew a mental line through one of my better job options leaving ditch tender and fire lookout to be further explored.

Seriously: Great views from the top and well worth both the fare and the time out of the saddle.

The Hot Spot: Located on the eastern edge of the Sea Ranch development, the Hot Spot’s enchantment is not a factor of roiling seas and crashing waves.  Rather it is a stroll through sublime redwoods tucked into a canyon carved by a little creek accessed on an old paved road that, at one time, lead to somewhere.

The woods are cool, dark and deep. Flora, not adapted to the rugged coastal environs, take root and stay for an extended spring.

The road in is private (as are all roads in the Sea Ranch development) but relatively unused.  It is accessed off the public Annapolis Road, which winds inward from the coast.  Turn north about a half-mile in at about the fire station.  Note that in the immediate area of the CalFire station is a small shopping area with a bang-up bakery offering great breads cooked daily and sandwiches well placed there-upon.  And since you’ve stopped at that bakery, splurge!  Try the chocolate-dipped macaroons.  They do not disappoint.

Down at the Hot Spot – not sure why this place is so named – there are a few picnic tables set along the banks of a creek near parking where one may enjoy that sandwich purchased just up the hill.

Annapolis Winery:  Our reason for heading out to Annapolis was to check out the winery that’s been established there since the late 70s.

Operated by a second generation, a visit feels much like a step back to the time when winemaking (and everything else) was simpler and more straightforward. 

The fruit is local, hand picked and pesticide free.  The Zin is particularly big.  A bottle waits in my rack for the next rack of lamb I’m going to roast; the Barbera I’d been meaning to save didn’t make it past the chicken we grilled the evening of its purchase.  Quite nice!

A visit with the proprietress opens one up to the varied and diverse dynamics of the area populace and that conversation, alone, is well worth the twenty-minute sojourn from the coast.  Nice picnic area next to the enchanting, rustic facility.

Fort Ross:  Little known to many is that the Russians maintained a foothold in California long before western Europeans claimed the territory.  The Spaniards were happy to let trappers from Mother Russia hold a presence if it would deter the Hudson’s Bay Company from becoming too familiar.  The Californios knew well the consequences of that. 

Fort Ross was the eastern most and southern most outpost in Russia’s eastward expansion across the Pacific. 

While their main economic interest involved fur trapping further north, the climate and soils of the Sonoma Coast provided a market basket for their efforts.

Alas, the outpost was a bridge or more too far and after only a few decades, the Russians abandoned it to John Sutter who salvaged the milled lumber from its stockade, transporting to Coloma to build part of his sawmill there.  My old buddy John Bidwell (I grew up in Chico, the town he later founded) was placed in charge of the deconstruction. 

The State of California has seen that this unique historic feature will not be lost to history.  The walls have been rebuilt and many of the buildings replaced.  Only one of the originals still stands.  

A wonderful interpretive center has been established and the day-use fee is a bargain.  Camping is available.  More info?  and ,

One could easily spend two or three days exploring a very few miles of the Sonoma Mendocino Coast and not feel as if not a minute went to waste.  The challenge is to not be lulled by the marriage of motorcycle and Highway 1’s glorious pavement.


Accessing the area:  Located on California’s legendary State Route 1 about midway between Tamalpais Valley where it leaves US 101 in Marin County and Leggett, north in Mendocino County, where it rejoins it, there are several engaging routes linking the coastal highway with 101.  Get a good map or atlas and explore.

© 2106
Church of the Open Road Press