Friday, November 11, 2016


…a good news story…

Ukiah, California is an old-school town and in the heart of downtown Ukiah stands MacNab’s, an old-school haberdashery.  In business now for over seventy years, walking into MacNab’s is like walking into the past. 

I’d set the big T-bird on her side stand in MacNab’s free off-street parking, sauntered around the corner and walked in.  Pushing the door open rings a bell and immediately, though not directly related to the bell, all of the other senses are embraced.  First, there’s the aroma.  Like fine wine, it is layered: wool and denim with hints of leather and dust.  Then the sights: racks stuffed tightly with shirts, dungarees and jeans folded and stacked on shelves around the edge.  Belts near an aged checkout counter smack-dab in the middle of the store.  Figures are calculated on a working, antique Monroe with row upon row of numbered buttons and a right hand side lever that when pulled, crunches the math.  The transaction is handwritten on a pad from which the customer gets the original and the MacNab folks keep the carbon.

I was on the hunt for a khaki tan work shirt, sized large and tall.  If anyone were going to have what I was looking for, it’d be MacNab’s in Ukiah.  I explored the racks and rows of sardine-packed shirts working my way deeper into the dark recesses of the old store until I found the large-tall collection.  Knowing that if I came home with another plaid – my favorite color – I’d be sleeping with it in the garage, I found first one, then another, then another solid.  Greens.  Grays.  Navies.  And then, Khaki!  I glanced at the tags once, then twice to confirm the size.  Eureka!  My heart leapt as I fingered the shirt’s sleeve and began to pull it away from its brethren. 

At just that moment, a fellow, younger and shorter than myself, peered around the corner of the rack and asked politely, “Excuse me?”

I stopped wrestling with my quarry for a moment.  “Yes.”

“Is that your motorcycle outside?”

Uh oh, I thought.  This rube’s backed over it.  “Yes, it is.”

“Well it sure is beautiful.”


“How long’ve you had it?”

“Bought it in January.”

“It’s a Triumph.”

“Yes it is.”

Now this is the problem with the Thunderbird LT.  When you go stop to get gas, somebody’s going to ask you about it.  When you park it on the street, a passer-by will tell you his grandfather used to have a Triumph.  If you’re at the rest stop and you really need to pee, sure as shootin’, someone is going to mention Steve McQueen or Marlon Brando or their great Uncle Leo who used to own a Triumph.  “…or was it a BSA?”  Allow twenty minutes.

Such interludes don’t often happen often when I’m inside a retail establishment, but heck, this was MacNab’s.  And truth be told, I’m just proud enough of it – or vain enough – to enjoy the attention the big Triumph garners.

“My dad had a Bonneville that leaked oil a bit.  I rode it once when I was in high school,” the fellow continued.

“I think the build quality is much better now than back then.  I’m not expecting to leak much oil.”

“Dad didn’t know I’d took it to school.”

MacNab’s is never full of customers, but a tall fellow, about my size, bumped into me, excused himself and rustled through the rack finally pulling something off.

“I’ve had a few Harleys and some dirt bikes,” my new best buddy shared.  “Been off ‘em a while, but yours sure makes me want to get back into it.  Where’d you get it?”

I explained that I lived some thirty miles distant and that my closest motorcycle dealer actually sold both BMWs and Triumphs.  “The cruiser style is completely new to me.  Something different,” I said.

“That thing is beautiful.  What’d you have before?”

I explained my BMW and Guzzi history and my most recent ride and the seat’s comfort and the purr of the exhaust and on and on.

The conversation was pleasant, lasting the requisite twenty minutes, ending with, “Mind if I look at it some more in the lot?”

“Course not.”

As he left, I took a moment to reorient myself to the task at hand only to discover, to my horror, that the khaki tan long sleeve work shirt was gone.  Gone!

I checked and double-checked then resolved to settle for a different color.  I found something in gray.  A nice soft gray.  But not khaki.  Approaching the checkout, the proprietor asked, “Find everything, okay?”

“Well, I had my eye on a tan one, but somehow, I can’t seem to find it on the rack any longer.”

The clerk began to write my goods on the pad he kept at hand. “Big fella, just left with it.  All I got is what you see on the rack.” The clerk punched a few numbers into the antique calculator.

“This’ll be more than fine,” I said.

Completing the transaction, the counterman thanked me when, from behind the standing rack of denim overalls, someone asked, “Is that your bike out there?”


“I had me a 500 Tiger twin when I was a kid.  Got a minute to chat?”

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Day Four and Five of the Bend, Oregon
 October Fogged-Out Ride
(Next time we’ll do this in September!)

Rider magazine contributor Donya Carlson once offered: “The only thing better than a 500-mile day is two 250-mile days.”  To the extent that I’ve matured as a rider, I’ve grown to agree with her.  Except when after a week or so on the road, you start to smell the barn.  Smelling the barn is what the plough horse or the draft team does at the end of a day’s labor.  Release the harness and the animal makes for the stall and the straw and rest waiting therein.

Day four of our visit to Bend and its volcanic environs found us planning an up-n-back route on the vaunted Cascades Lake Highway. If the weather were to be anything like yesterday’s, the ride would be enchanting and the photography – what with razor-sharp peaks reflected in high country lakes – amazing.

But the day dawned with a thick drizzly overcast.  Our Internet friends in charge of predicting all things climatic suggested that by 11:00 AM, the low overcast should burn off.  We marked time and checked maps and salivated.  By the appointed hour, things had not improved, but the angels of our optimism suggested that conditions down the road might be better.  So we suited up, saddled up and proved those angels wrong. 

Years ago, bad timing found us riding the incomparable Selkirk Loop well after dark.  Tough to enjoy those world-class views with only a headlight.  Similarly, traveling the Cascade Lakes Highway in the fog is not only futile, but damned cold.  We were back home in and hour and ten minutes.  Perhaps tomorrow.

“Tomorrow” dawned much like what was now yesterday.  And a Pacific storm – a big one – was predicted for the next day.  So, at about 10:00 AM, I decided it was time to head for the barn.

With two layers under my new Fox Creek leather jacket and my rain suit easily accessible, I left Bend, heading south on US 97.  Perhaps I’ll make it as far south as Klamath Falls, maybe Weed, before my hands cripple up from the chilling windblast. 

Interesting note, here: although the fog was drippy enough that I considered stopping and pulling on the rain slicker, at speed, the windshield on the big Triumph T-bird directs the wind past the ends of the handlebars.  Nice surprise.  Hands functional.

Near Chemult, I stopped for fuel, spending the usual twenty minutes at the pump explaining to a local that, “Yes, Triumph has been reborn and they’ve been making motorcycles now for about twenty years.” 

“My daddy used to race a Triumph.  I think it was called a Bonneville,” replied the nearly my aged woman.

Continuing south on 97, with K Falls getting closer, I thought about how the lack of sunshine and the thick blanket of gray removed a dimension of pleasure from the ride.  Tomorrow was forecast to be worse, I knew.  Perhaps I’ll power through to Weed, or maybe Redding.

Six-point-three miles south of Chemult – I checked – the sun began to glare on the pavement and a mile further, the fog was gone.  Swatches of pine forest reached across the rich volcanic plain to the east and a rugged rim of peaks edged the western view. Soon, it felt like I’d put on too many layers.  A few miles south of Klamath Falls, I stopped for rest and to shed a sweatshirt.  And to have another conversation about the T-Bird: “Hey!  That’s not a Harley!” 
“No it’s not.” 
“Shore looks like a Harley.” 
“No, it doesn’t.”

Butte Valley, between Dorris and Weed is a lovely landscape of ranches and hay fields.  The mountains ringing the area make me wish I liked to backpack as I once did.  The rail line, which I’d traveled once at night, harkens back to the days when that was the most efficient and engaging mode of transport. Remove the pavement and the semis and the huge, red Massey-Fergusons working the fields and it could be a hundred years ago in this fertile high country of yesterdays.

Driving south, Mount Shasta comes into view welcoming me back to my home state.  

Just past the scenic pullout for the Queen of the Cascades, the Siskiyou County veterans have constructed a sculpture garden dedicated to those county residents who served.  Masterfully placed metalworks pay homage to the many roles of our military personnel – each of those roles calling upon the heroism many among us would not know we possessed until thrust into a particular – arguably untenable – circumstance.  Allow an hour.  Bring tissue.

But I didn’t stop.  I’d visited once before and the barn was smelling closer.  Maybe I’ll get to Redding and find a room.  Maybe some place a bit further south.

Travelling I-5 at eighty miles an hour is something built into the DNA of the big Triumph cruiser, I’m discovering.  Not severely impacted by crosswinds or passing big rigs, the Thunderbird is stable and true.  The seat is supremely comfortable.  It’s been five-and-a-half hours and I can’t remember fidgeting until just now.

South of Anderson, I fuel up, choosing a pump furthest from passers-by.  I want to see if I can make it to Williams.

It was five-forty when I made it to that little Colusa County berg and interchange.  Maybe two hours and change on CA 20 and I’m back at the barn… err… home.

Highway 20 is one I am beginning to know too well what with frequent trips through those mountains to visit an aging parent in Chico.  In the past couple of years, I’ve learned of her ins, her outs and her alternatives.

The Hopland Grade between Clear Lake and the Russian River is a bit of a shortcut, mileage wise.  CA route 175 twists and corkscrews. There are few wide spots, no designated turnouts and zero passing lanes.  It is steep and treacherous under the best of circumstances which would include daylight and dry pavement.

Smelling the barn causes compromise in reasonable thought.  An example would be traversing the Hopland Grade on a behemoth of a motorcycle in the dark – think Selkirk Loop – after eight hours in the saddle. Crossing gingerly was my plan, but that plan didn’t fit well with the driver in the aging Civic who, because I was lumbering along, thought flashing his brights in my rear view mirrors might hustle me to wick things up a bit.  It didn’t.  And it didn’t make the bad ride any more enjoyable.  Or safe.  I guessed right about a wide shoulder I thought existed just this side of the summit.   The decrepit Honda rocketed past as I promised to myself that I was never doing this again. 

Rider’s Ms. Carlson is most certainly correct about 250-mile days, but home felt particularly good after having done twice that.  A glass of wine and a hunk of cheese were all that I needed before retiring to the stall.  I was asleep long before I could reflect too much on the day’s adventure.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, October 20, 2016


Day Two and Three of the Bend, Oregon
 October Fogged-Out Ride
(Next time we’ll do this in September!)

I live on the eastern edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, that great and ever-changing zone typified by volcanoes and earthquakes brokered by pressure from the mid-Atlantic Ridge a half a world away.  It pushes the North American continent over the Pacific plate creating everything from the ice-capped Sierra Nevada to the deep and frequently devastating San Andreas Fault.  And it’s wonderful.

Ranging from far northern California to Alaska, the Cascades have risen through cracks and fissures caused by this slow motion collision.  Central Oregon offers some of the best examples of volcanism’s many signatures.  And Bend, Oregon was to be home base for several explorations of this fire formed region.

I arrived at Bend by traveling the new-to-me Oregon Route 62 out of Medford.  This lovely highway ascends to the crest of the Cascades following the course of the Upper Rogue River.  The Rogue has carved a narrow canyon through seemingly impenetrable rock.

Just west of Union Creek, a short interpretive trail walks one through the eons-old processes that resulted in the dramatic gorge.  “You should see this after a big rain or the spring thaw.  The canyon can’t contain it.  You could stand right here ‘cept you’d be swept away,” reported a fellow hiker, showing out-of-town guests his treasure.  “Once a guy tried to go down in a kayak when the flow was up outta the banks.  Poor fool.”

Further up the road – now OR 230 – dramatic Mount Thielsen, an ice-carved arête reaches skyward.  A roadside scenic turnout offers insight into the mountain’s origins and how it continues to be an active member of the Cascades.

Oregon’s state highways are delightful.  Well manicured, in combination routes 234, 62, 230 and 138 stair step from valley pastures through stands of pines and fir to high country meadows with sweeping curves toward ever greater vistas, skirting around the western and northern flanks of Crater Lake.  Out east, we experience the rain shadow that portends the high desert.  Sage offers the west’s iconic fragrance.

Long on my list has been a visit to the caldera at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. 

Beneath the pristine pine and sage surface of the far western US, molten rock boils.  In places it leaks (or blasts) forth producing fields of basalt or pumice or obsidian.

In other places, huge plugs of viscous lava have been extruded left to cool and then weather through millennia of wind, snow and ice.

In still other places cinder cones, huge red or gray piles of tiny rock and dust, look as if they’ve just been sent through some gigantic flour sifter.

The Newberry formation appears to have been a subsurface caldron of molten rock and gas that expanded and then collapsed.  What remains are two glorious high country lakes separated by a growing dome and flanked by one of the largest obsidian floes anywhere.

Nearby – but easy to pass by – is the “Big Obsidian Flow.” Shouldn’t it be spelled “floe?”  A trail leads us from the parking area through vast acreage so depleted in nutrients plant life has failed to yet take hold. 

Where silica flows, it seems nothing grows.  Signage tells us that the chemical basis for obsidian and pumice is silica.  Wildlife is sparse in the floe, but occasionally, you may see something unusual, something Big-Foot like. 

A wonderful stretch of pavement unlocks this area.  About twenty-three miles south of Bend on US 97, turn eastward onto County Road 21 and enjoy eighteen miles of sweeping turns and expanding horizons. 

The lucky among us may scale the route on a comfortable touring bike like my Thunderbird, and descend on a corner eating three-cylinder screamer like my riding buddy’s Triumph Trophy.  His black beauty begs to have the edges of its tires challenged.  Crack the throttle and the engine sings soprano.  Nicely.

Returning north on US 97, we pause for a little education at the Newberry National Monument Interpretive center.  It offers great graphic displays and trails into a rugged and foreboding lava floe.

Icing on this ancient, tumultuous cake would be the corkscrew drive to the summit of Lava Butte, a red cider cone upon which an active fire lookout is perched. 

(Curiously, visit a fire lookout and you’ll always enjoy an amazing view.  Go figure.)  The cone has a crater at its summit and a ten-minute walk around its rim affords great views of the lava fields stretching in all directions and, to the west the Three Sisters. 

We return to our rental house highly anticipating tomorrow’s grand and glorious roads and visits.  There’s simply so much to see!


I believe his name was David Harrow.  He was the teacher who, when I was in 9th grade, sparked my interest in geography.  With maps and slides and films and a well-worn textbook titled Eurasia, we learned about people different from ourselves and why they were where they were.  Mountains and rivers and deserts and ice caps; everywhere populated.  Fast forward four years: The first course on Monday (9:00 AM) during my first freshman semester at Chico State was Dave Lantis’s “Elements Physical” where he defined geography as “the study of man and land and the interrelationships between the two.”  Dr. Lantis caught it all with that phrase.  And Geography became my major course of study.

Fast forward again – this time decades – and I now understand at least a portion of my attraction to piloting a motorcycle along distant roads through environments foreign to the little world I inhabit daily.  It’s the geography of it all.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, October 16, 2016


Day One of the Bend, Oregon October Fogged-Out Ride
(Next time we’ll do this in September!)

Dunsmuir, California is a speck on the I-5 corridor about half way between Redding and the Oregon border.  It is grounded in northern mines, logging and railroad history.  Now, however, few people – other than folks looking for some world-class fly-fishing on the Upper Sacramento – may venture off the freeway at one of the three exits.  But I did.

The big Triumph is not a sport tourer by any means.  But it certainly proved able, stable and supremely enjoyable crossing the Coast Range and then ranging north of I-5 with a nice little detour to visit Shasta Dam through what used to be known as Project City.  Three hundred miles of service was good for one day.  I was ready to be out of the saddle.  The room I’d reserved in Dunsmuir was quiet, comfortable and nicely priced.

Once I’m off the bike for the day, I make it a habit of not getting back on to run an errand or find a bite to eat.  I like to walk around town and enjoy a few “what might it be like to live here?” thoughts.

From the little forties-era motel, town was at least around the next bend, because I couldn’t see it, so I asked the proprietor: “How far do I go ‘til I can find a place to get dinner?”

“Town’s three-quarters of a mile,” he said cocking his thumb over his shoulder.

“Ah,” I said.  “Walkin’ distance.”

“Yes,” he replied, “but ya better be careful comin’ back this way after dark.  You see, the old highway’s real dark and there are no sidewalks this side of the cemetery.”

“Well,” I nodded, “I guess it’s a good thing the cemetery’s there.”

“Yeah, except it’s full,” he said.  “We’ve taken to just leavin’ folks by the side of the road.”

I walked into town cautiously though warmed by his delightful chuckle.

The Southern (now Union) Pacific runs freight and allows passenger service up the Sacramento River corridor.  Dunsmuir, established as the rail line crept north, became a water station in the days of steam.  I recall a stop there one morning just past midnight while riding Amtrak from Seattle to Sacramento. 
Now, following the sidewalk on the town side of the cemetery, a baleful whistle echoed up the canyon.  The low rumble of a half dozen GE Electromotive Diesels passed within a stone’s throw of my path – although hidden from view by railroad-town type company housing set amongst tall pines and black oaks – followed by the syncopated reports of a mile or so of freight cars being tugged toward K. Falls, Oregon.

Marvelous – maybe even a bit romantic – how the symphonic railroad seems such a part of town.

There’s a nice burger place on the main drag.  Closer into the historic “city center,” the usual stores exist – or existed: tire shop still functioning; Diamond Match lumberyard, not; pizza joint not to busy for a Friday night; antique (junque) store where the hardware used to be; Mexican place was open and while usually, my go-to cuisine, I thought I’d explore further.

Five or six blocks into town from the south, a sign alerting me to ‘more shops’ pointed down a steep, paved street.  I ventured down.  Perhaps there’s a place to eat.  If not, maybe a train will rumble through.

Café Maddalena, according to Lonely Planet, “put Dunsmuir on the foodie map.”  I had no idea.  I was just wandering around looking for a bite to eat when a fellow, who I later came to find out was named Ken – a regular – says to me, “You’ve gotta try this place out.  You’ll love it!”

Okay, I thought, glancing at the posted menu, I’m not interested in my usual.  This might be unusual.  I entered, saying to the hostess, “Just one of us.”

“Have you a reservation?”


“We’re sorta booked tonight.  I hope you won’t mind sitting at the counter.”

I settled in next to Ken.  “The menu changes about every six weeks.  I live in Redding and have worked my schedule down to about half time.  So I come up here on Thursdays and leave Monday morning for work.  We’ve got a little place in town.”  He paused a moment to offer something familiar to the waitress, then patting my shoulder said to her, “This is….”


“…Dave.  Dave, nothing they offer you will be a disappointment.”

And it wasn’t…

The man I saw was as big as Sasquatch.  Maybe he was Sasquatch.  After all, Sasquatch is a denizen of these parts.  I’d finished my meal at Café Maddalena and decided to walk the lower street, parallel to the UP tracks, for a few blocks, perhaps hoping to enjoy a passing freight.  At one juncture, the darkness looked inky, public lighting dim, prompting me to climb the cross street that would lead me to the main drag and home.

The civic center in Dunsmuir is comprised mainly of the fire company and the Siskiyou County sheriff’s substation sharing a large brick building.  It is set at the corner of two streets about which I was set to round. 

Sasquatch-man had closed the substation door and was descending a short stoop of stairs. 

“How’s it goin’?” I asked apparently stepping into the corner’s light.

“You lookin’ for me?” he grumped.

“Nope,” I said.  “Just staggerin’ home.” Then I said, “Not a bad beat you’ve got here.”

“Yeah, well, some days are better ‘n’ others.”

I held out my hand.

His grip was massive.  We chatted about his profession and what mine had been.  Finally he sighed, “I have this recurring fantasy that I’m out looking for work because there’s nothing left for me to do here.”

I laughed.  “Think it’ll happen?”

“Naw,” he said. “You be careful walkin’ beyond that cemetery.”

“Thanks for your work, man,” I said.  Slipping into the darkness I wondered if the deputy read any of Craig Johnson’s Longmire series.  This guy was the spittin’ image.


Notes:  Café Maddalena is a great and unexpected find.  Open only Thursday through Sunday, I was lucky to stumble in on a Friday.  Cozy and with great service, I enjoyed their loin of cod on a bed of sautéed fennel, onion and potato steeped fish stock and white wine.  Man-oh-man!  Owners Mr. and Mrs. LaMott – Brett is the chef – chatted with Ken and me at the counter: Brett sharing about locally sourcing his ingredients, his wife (regrets, I didn’t get her name) talked about a soggy fly-fishing trip with a cousin from Chicago.  “Only day in about a month that it rained.”

After savoring (and I mean really savoring) my delicate entrée paired with a gently floral Lake County Sauv Blanc, the waitress asked if I’d like anything more.  “Sitting on a motorcycle for three hundred miles doesn’t burn a heck of a lot of calories, I’m afraid,” I said.  “The ginger cake looks awfully good, but I’d better not, so just a check, please.”

A few minutes later the paperwork arrived along with a nudge and a little carry out box.  “Take this home with you,” she said.

The menu here changes every six weeks or so.  You might want to check back often and make plans not to miss this little gem when traveling the Shasta corridor.

Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, October 1, 2016

“A Full Life – Reflections at Ninety,” by Jimmy Carter

Off the sale table, I picked up a copy of President Carter’s latest memoir.  Unlike many of his previous works, reading through “A Full Life” is much like sitting down with my wife’s late father – one who is willing to tell all the little stories that come to mind, stories that might or might not have been told before.  So many of the tales are engaging and you can’t get enough.

Chapters are arranged chronologically but within each are paragraph-to-page long reflections and reminiscences ranging from growing up poor in rural Georgia to Carter’s ever-unfolding, ever-widening view of the world.  He speaks of the successes and disappointments of his presidency and shares his post-presidential interests both across the world and at home.  I found that as Mr. Carter laid out his accounts, rancor was absent and judgment about those with whom he interacted was left up to me.  Which is not to say he doesn’t hold strong opinions about folks who have succeeded him in the Oval Office and the world’s corridors of power. But, we find, one can disagree with the actions and views of an opponent and still treat that rival with dignity and respect.

I closed the book reminded of how this humble man brought his Christian beliefs with him and used those tenets as guideposts not only for much of what he did as president, but more importantly, what he has done as a human being.


Note:  Several years ago while living in the Sacramento area, the publisher of the Sacramento Bee asked a rhetorical question: “When did we as a society become so self-centered?”  My reply was this:  “I don’t know when we became so self-centered, but I believe it occurred sometime in the twenty years between when a president suggested, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,’ and another presidential candidate asked: ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago?’”

Much occurred in those twenty years as those of us who lived through them will attest: three assassinations, a questionable war, a summer of love, a presidential resignation; and the result was a nation unsure of itself populated by a growing number of individuals for whom the term “greater good” equated with “self.”

Jimmy Carter was arguably the last president who lead us during times less polarized politically, times more aligned with the ideals of outlined in the Preamble and upon which our nation was founded.  He worked with Congress and seemed more interested in service than prestige.  I recall that economic cycles and the downfall of an American-propped middle-eastern strong man conspired to end Carter’s presidency after one term.

It could be argued that the result of the wave that swept Carter out of office has led us to become a nation of disenfranchised have-nots, angry about a what-might-have-been that was never realistically attainable (big house, second home, fancy car, speed boat, no debt) and concerned more about our personal dominions than the future of a once viable “shining light on the hill” that a successor seemed to talk so much about.

The Church of the Open Road recommends this book to those of us who recall Mr. Carter’s administration and for the generation(s) following.  It is a primer on values, justice, compromise, and, an elusive greater good.


“A Full Life – Reflections at Ninety.”  Jimmy Carter.  Simon and Schuster. 2015. $28.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


New life comes from the old Peugeot

X-rays of my troubled right knee show the doctor that it isn’t quite time yet.  “Tone up the muscles.  Stretch.  Do some non-impactful exercises.  Go to the gym and ride the stationary bike.”

“I have a stationary bike,” I reply.  So I make a commitment to go out on the back patio and ride the thing ten to twenty minutes a day just after rising in the morning.  My commitment lasts less than a Middle Eastern cease-fire.  Why?  Boring.  The view of the back fence from the patio never changes.  I guess I’ll just settle for a bum knee.

Rummaging around my garage, I frequently move my old Peugeot ten-speed because it’s always in the way.  If I move it from in front of the shelves, it’s blocks the workbench.  If I move it away from the workbench, it blocks the door.  Some times I just lean it up against the side of the house.  If it weren’t for the sentimental value, I often think, I’d donate the damned thing to the nearest charity.

Then recently, as I’m rolling the bicycle out of my way to access a shelved box of nails or screws, an inkling inkles: Riding the old ten-speed around the neighborhood and into town, might be just as beneficial and non-impactful an exercise as cranking on the stationary bike for ten minutes at a time.  And the view would change.

I pump up the gum-walled tires and hop aboard. 

Our neighborhood is relatively flat, but on the Peugeot, even the slightest downhill is a rush.  With no more than about fifteen turns of the crank, I’m a mile from home passing the coffee bar, not breaking a sweat and my knee feels great! 

Three or four cyclists are there, outfitted in form-fitting pants, garish cycle-centric nylo-fiber shirts with big empty front and back pockets and velo-ads plastered all over them, and helmets. 

Even though my cargo shorts and ball cap headgear looks as if I just stepped off a road grader or out of a retirement neighborhood, I stop for a cup of dark roast.  One of the fellows says, “I used to have one of those,” pointing to the bike I’ve had since college.  After me not contributing to their conversation about their latest “run out to the coast (66 miles),” I mount up and head home. 

Did I say we lived in a relatively flat community?  The four-minute glide into town is a fifteen-minute grind back into the neighborhood.  Rusty in my use of the derailleur, the chain stutters and jerks as I search for the ratio that will allow me to pump my way back home.  I concentrate on staying on the seat as opposed to falling forward onto the steel crossbar that looks – from directly above – menacingly similar to one I painfully recall from a very early incident of my bicycling youth.  Finally, I reach our driveway, gently touching the toe of my shoe to the ground.  I wait there straddling the seat, while my breath catches up with me.  It seems it was about a block and a half behind on the final climb to the house.

Yet, the following day, I do it again, modifying my route and lengthening it a bit.  I want to check the construction progress on the new Renner gas station going in just south of town.  I decide to pick one gear and stay in it whether I’m whizzing along a flat stretch of road or pushing myself to get up the hill.  I don’t stop for coffee.  I do twenty minutes.

On the third day, I add a bit more and tackle the hill that fronts the Hamburger Ranch Barbecue joint.  I enjoy that becoming-familiar rush by coasting down the other side past storefronts and into town.

I’ve ridden the old Peugeot on a daily basis for longer than the most recent, ill-fated Syrian cease-fire lasted.  I’m up to between thirty and forty minutes, exploring neighborhoods and country roads, viewing hillside vineyards, paralleling the old railroad line and using the paved path next to the Russian River that we’ve walked many times. 

I’m packing my camera now.  The scenery is much better than the view of my back fence. 

The other day, I saw an old Ford Ferguson tractor rusting in somebody’s front yard.  It was like the one upon which I learned to drive.  

There’s a great “stairway to heaven” leading up to the oldest part of the town cemetery.  

And the Northwestern Pacific right-of-way has all manner of eighty-year-old railroad memorabilia and clutter. 

My knee is wrapped and on ice as I type.  And as I type, I plan tomorrow’s little itinerary. 

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


high point of my day

Seventy-five miles to the east, Mount Lassen rose in tiny blue splendor over the gray, smoggy haze of the North Valley.  By pivoting 180 degrees, I could make out a thin fogbank just off the California coast.  Lassen and the coast: two of my favorite and most inspirational places.  Standing atop Hull Mountain was sure to be the high point of my day.

Chatting with Jim, my new-to-me barber – I’m a relatively new resident of this town – he shared that growing up in Potter Valley, on hunting trips, a hike to the top of Hull Mountain made up for the fact that he rarely shot a buck.  “The view is 360 degrees of marvelous.”  He’d mentioned Lassen and the coast, but also talked about nearby Snow Mountain, highest point in the Coast Range and one of my dad’s favorite hikes; the Trinity Alps, due north; North and South Yolla Bolly Peaks, short of the Trinities and the place where, I imagine, Dad hikes toward eternity; and a number of other sites and promontories more or less meaningful to a kid who grew up in Chico. 

My bucket list had received yet another an addition.

Hull Mountain (6837’) is located near the Lake and Mendocino County line, twelve rocky miles north of the Lake Pillsbury airstrip at Gravelly Valley.  The closest pavement is at Lake Pillsbury, but getting to that tarmac involves twenty or so miles of graded gravel.  Don’t bring the Lexus.  No longer owning a dual-sport, and never quite competent enough on the one for my own comfort, Edward and I embarked on this journey in the trusty Nissan Frontier, although I’m sure this would be an adventuresome blast on a KLR or like motorbike.

As Mendocino Forest Road 1 ascends from the Pillsbury basin, we wind from oak woodlands trough a pine and fir belt.  Along the way, views unfold as the road zigzags in and out of creek drainages and across the spine of Coast Range.

Various campsites – I assume frequented by hunters – offer places to pause and take in the view.  As Pillsbury shrinks in the distance, the far rim of Clear Lake becomes visible on the horizon.

The canyons are deep and the ridges to the west seem infinite.  Distant trails and tracks make me wonder how you get to them and what you’d find if you took ‘em.  There is a nicely maintained, but strenuous trail from near the lake to the summit of Hull Mountain.  I used a knee-in-line-for-replacement excuse not to hike, thus I drove.

At one sweeping turn, a view to the immediate east-southeast affords a look at Snow Mountain.  Dad was about my age – maybe a little younger – when he and his hiking buddy first climbed it.  It became an annual trip for them and his knees were in far worse shape than mine.

Almost twelve miles to the tenth from the landing strip, a far more challenging road hangs a tight right and bumps, jostles and snakes to Hull’s summit.  The main road, M-1, would carry us to Windy Gap and the trailhead to the Yuki Wilderness and then, twenty miles on, to Mendocino Pass.

I parked at the base of the Jeep road and pretended I was Dad, even if it was only a few hundred yards to the top.

Several routes wind toward the summit.  Switch-backing from where I’d parked, I chose the most moderate route, one which circled around the east face of the mountain.  Those infinite canyons and ridges to the west?  They’re on the east side too.  Were one to draw a straight line across the Coast Range from the Sacramento Valley to the Pacific, this mountain would be almost mid way.

Near the top, the tangle of roads end.  A beaten and derelict steel stairway leads to foundational remains of what once was a fire lookout tower.  At the top of those stairs I am reminded that fire lookouts always have fabulous views.

Barber Jim was right.  There was Lassen.  Opposite, the coast with a rim of melting fog off shore. 

To the south: Lake Pillsbury and a bit more of Clear Lake – and Mount Konocti, sacred for centuries to the local Xa-Ben-Na-Po Band of Pomo Indians and one of the more impressive landmarks in Lake County.  North, indeed were the Yolla Bollys, but it was too hazy this day to make out the Trinities. 

Stumbling around up there, Edward and I found remnants of that old fire tower as well as myriad shell casings from those who likely collectively bagged more than a few nice sized bucks.  Unfortunately, the USGS benchmark for Hull Mountain had been purloined as a souvenir for somebody’s bookshelf.  Damn them.

Enjoying the clear freshness of the late September alpine air, we came across an area denizen sunning peacefully in a crevasse.   

I reined Edward close knowing that the nearest veterinarian would be three-and-a-half torturous hours away.  We hiked back down to the truck extra alert for any of this critter’s cousins.


Notes:  Here’s a link to an interesting blog highlighting special places in Northern California.  In this post, the author has taken that trail from down below to the summit of Hull Mountain, encountering some snow along the way.  Great commentary and a cool narrative video which proves to be much better than the photos I was able to grab.

“Arturo’s been bad.”  There is limited (read: no) cell phone coverage in many reaches of the Coast Range.  Back down the road toward Potter Valley, I checked my messages, finding one.  A frustrated young voice reported:  “Hello Mr. (garbled).  I will be calling you on your other line to discuss with you Arturo’s bad behavior today in school. (click)  I don’t have an Arturo, but as a former school principal I’ve known several “Arturos.”  I thought about returning the young vice principal’s call to say, “Before you lower the boom on his dad, think of something positive about Arturo that you can share.  It’ll make things go easier for you.”  But I didn’t.


Today’s Route:  Lake Pillsbury may be accessed by following the signs from Upper Lake on CA 20 or through Potter Valley turning right at the store.  From Lake Pillsbury, travel north and then west through Gravelly Valley and the airstrip on forest road M-6.  About four miles east, turn left at the junction of M-1 continuing for about eight miles.  Return:  Retrace, or continue north on M-1 past the Yuki Wilderness Area Trailhead, Monkey Rock and Bald Mountain to the junction of FR 7 at Mendocino Pass.  From there, east will take you to Elk Creek and Willows (allow three hours); or west to Covelo, then south on CA 162 to US 101 north of Willits.

© 2106
Church of the Open Road Press