Wednesday, July 29, 2020
...when national circumstance imitates art...
To escape the drumbeat of the both the news media and social media, I hopped on Enrico, the Yamaha and headed out to cruise the Pacific Coast Highway. The rhythm of the road and the waves, I was sure, would carry me to a happy place.
Often, when I ride, a soundtrack will filter into my mind and accompany me on my journey. Usually – whether it’s Sinatra or the Boss, Mozart or the Beatles – I don’t know why the playlist is what the playlist is. I just enjoy the melding of melody and that road rhythm.
Today was different. Today, the tunes came from “West Side Story.” (Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim. Ghostwritten by William Shakespeare.) We’d viewed the dazzling 1961 film the night before. Lyrics were echoing as I descended Sonoma County’s Colman Valley Road from Occidental into the marine-layer refrigerator that always is California’s Highway 1 in July.
The story lingered.
I do a lot of thinking on the motorcycle. Especially when fog or overcast mutes the scenery. Sometimes I come up with a new idea like how 2 plus 2 can equal 7; sometimes, I simply try to figure out the hand that the world has been dealt.
This day would be the latter.
Arthur Laurents’ “Westside Story,” like William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” is a tearful tale about forbidden love and ultimate loss. (If you haven’t seen the film lately, take time to view it so I don’t have to provide an inadequate synopsis here.)
Ultimately, whether it is the Montagues and the Capulets or the Jets and the Sharks that allow their blindness and hatred to prevent them from sitting across the table and simply discussing, the result is the same. An irreversible tragedy takes place, and only then do the opposing parties decide to seek some sort of common ground.
Somewhere between Point Arena and the eastward turn-off to CA 128 along the Navarro River – and while voicing Sondheim’s lyrics to “Somewhere” in my helmet – it dawned on me. (Granted, maybe this was simply another example of 2 and 2 equaling 7.) But here goes:
The differences and perceptions separating the families in Romeo and Juliet (1594-95) or gangs in Westside (1961) are not all that different from those dividing our nation’s left and our nation’s right (2020). Sadly, the irreversible tragedy that is about to befall us is far more crucial – far more devastating – than the mere loss of a handsome, ill-fated lover.
No. The loss will be that of what once was our grand Republic.
I believe that we can each play a hand in diverting the tragedy.
Church of the Open Road Press
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
...a chance conversation with a really good mom...
The woman must have been at least 80. As I rolled up on the Yamaha, she was sitting on a bench backed up to the Calistoga Roastery clutching a heat-sheathed cup of something. I suspect coffee.
I backed Enrico’s rear tire to the red-painted curb. (I’ll explain this later.)
“I don’t think you can park there,” the woman said. Her voice sounded as if it emanated from vocal cords made of razor wire.
“I know,” I said. “I’ll just be a couple of minutes and I don’t want to take whole parking space from somebody in a car just for the bike.”
“Oh,” she said. “That’s a nice idea. You go inside and I’ll keep an eye out for the cops.”
Parking along Calistoga’s quaint downtown main drag is a combination of parallel spots and diagonal slots. The transition is mid-block and at each transition zone, about twelve feet of curb is painted red. The northern-most Napa Valley town is a mecca for motorcyclists of all stripes with all of the roads leading in and out of the berg – CA 29, CA 128, Silverado Trail – motoring delights for folks on two-wheelers. Giving over about six of each of those twelve feet for motorcycle parking would likely ease stress on parking slots for cars. I'm gonna write the City of Calistoga about this stroke of genius on my part...
I popped into the roastery, picked up two pounds of whole-bean and was out in two minutes.
“That was quick,” the woman said. “Where are you going?”
“Home. Cloverdale. I come over here every few weeks to buy coffee partly because of the coffee and partly because the ride is so pretty.”
“We looked at Cloverdale when we moved. Too hot. Ended up here about 30 years ago.”
“That’s nice,” I said, unhooking my helmet from its lock.
“How far is it from Cloverdale to Boonville?” she asked.
“Twenty-eight miles,” I said. “I ride that road quite frequently.”
“You think the coffee’s better here?”
“My daughter just moved to Boonville. Husband got laid off and they couldn’t afford their place in the City. Bought a place with a cabin and acreage...”
“Boonville’s nice. Sorta remote.”
“My son lives in Sacramento. Well, El Dorado Hills. You know where that is?”
I was beginning to feel a bit stuck. “Yes. I used to live out that way.”
“What did you do there?”
“Education. What’s your son do?”
“Some sort of science. Something about rocket engines and the sort.” She paused – but not quite long enough. “Cloverdale’s nice. A bit too hot for me, but nice. What kind of people live there?”
“Oh, a nice mix.”
“We had Thanksgiving last year up in... in... Placerville.”
“Oh? You know it?”
|LA Times Photo|
“Historic downtown. Just like this.” I waved my arm up the street. “Used to ride up that way all the time.”
“Daughter said something at dinner and son replied with something about President Trump – he loves President Trump – and then he got up and stormed away.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Yeah,” she said. “People... We share so much in common. My kids even share blood! It shouldn’t be like this. I felt so bad. Keep asking myself, 'Where did I go wrong?'”
Social distancing protocols prevented me from approaching the old gal and offering a hug, but I sure wanted to. I waited for a moment and then asked, “Did you do the best you could do, Mom?”
She took a first sip of her coffee. Her eyes crept over the rim of the cup. “I think so.”
“Well, then. You did the best you could.” My smile was concealed by my helmet, but I think we made eye contact.
Straddling Enrico, I fired the Yamaha up. Lifting her paper cup and tipping it toward me, she nearly hollered: “You be careful on that thing.”
Church of the Open Road Press
Saturday, July 18, 2020
Part 2 of 2 – the Coast
In the collection of North America’s great motorcycle routes, it’s a gift to find so many out here in the west – an even greater treat when one can experience two on the same trip. Oregon’s State Route 242 over McKenzie Pass is world class: great pavement, challenging curves, wonderful views and a bit of history both recent and Cenozoic. Tough to beat, unless...
...unless one can make it out to the Oregon section of US 101 which traces our Pacific shoreline.
Departing Camp Sherman, we descend Oregon Route 126 along the McKenzie River. Back at the pass, we’d learned that the heavy winter snowfall melts into a subterranean basin – the chunks of basaltic aa are too coarse to allow pond to form or streams to flow. Snow melt rests in that underground lake for “from three to ten years” until it filters out into either the Metolius or the McKenzie River.
OR 126 is a delightful series of rises and falls, curves and twists, campgrounds and tiny bergs. It is a wonderful experience on most summer non-weekend days.
Crossing the Willamette Valley at Springfield and Eugene is a complex chore involving traffic signals and turns at intersections that sneak up on the unexpecting – but the whole process only takes about twenty minutes. Soon we’re on the road to coastal Florence rising over the folded Coast Range and following the Siuslaw River to the sea.
Huge sand dunes separate US 101 from the ocean south of Florence, but with moderate traffic and a few glimpses to the west, the ride is entertaining. A masterful bridge crosses Coos Bay – certainly worth stopping for a photo – which I did not. Why? Why? WHY?
Mid-afternoon finds us arriving in Bandon, a coastal village with all those coastal village charms: a wharf, a lighthouse...
...a quaint downtown with plenty of eateries and a soundtrack of seagulls and sea waves.
The coastal prairie in these parts...
...gives way to large expanses of sand and not-so-distant sea stacks.
I call this picture “My Dancer.”
Within walking range of the Inn at Face Rock (a Best Western property) are several Oregon State Park vista points from which one might catch a shot of the setting sun.
The following morning I realize I didn’t get a photo of the namesake rock, so we seek out that particular view point.
See the tilted face looking skyward?
On the road, south of town, we arrive Port Orford and while 101 swings east, one is encouraged to keep going south because painted on the tarmac like something the road department wouldn’t do are the words: “Ocean View ahead.” I always succumb.
A great place to pause.
Further south, we enter a twelve mile stretch of protected coastline dedicated to the efforts of Oregon’s first director of state parks (and visionary, I’d opine): Samuel H Boardman.
Several scenic overlooks dot the roadside, each connected by a coastal trail. Each beckons.
We had hoped to stop at the Oregon Welcome Station and, with GPS in hand, hiking over to the 42nd parallel and the northwestern corner of California, but the pandemic had rendered the Welcome Center unwelcome...
We motor through California’s Smith Redwoods and on into Crescent City where the great Alaskan earthquake of ’64 and its resultant tidal wave - here some 1500 miles south - wiped out blocks and blocks of downtown. Now the area is an open space park where ravens and squirrels are happy to prance around and steal your picnic...
Late afternoon finds us in Eureka – a favored destination for an evening at the historic Eureka Inn and al fresco dinner on the wharf.
Tomorrow we’d be home savoring two great experiences on one grand trip.
Church of the Open Road Press
Friday, July 17, 2020
Part 1 of 2 – the Cascades
We always vacation someplace new. Never return to the same place. The west is so vast, so enchanting. So many things to see. So much history to discover. So many roads to explore.
Yet, this would be our fifth trip to the Metolius.
The two-day run afforded us an overnight in lovely McCloud where stayed at the newly acquired McCloud River Bed and Breakfast. https://mccloudriverbnb.com
Formerly the main office of the McCloud River Lumber Company, the grand old house – just a block or so from “downtown” – is undergoing restoration.
We even got a peek in the old company vault where records for every employee were kept. It was like walking into history...
Up the road, what would have been an annoying traffic delay was mitigated by this view of the queen of Northern California: Mount Shasta.
Arriving Camp Sherman, we returned to the delightful accommodations of the Metolius River Resort. https://metoliusriverresort.com Twelve privately held cabins stand just a few manicured yards from the pristine river that slips past.
Trails trace each side of the river – one leading to the fascinating spring about two miles upstream from which the entire river emanates. (The next day, up at McKenzie Pass, we learn why.)
By mid-July, the spring season is almost a memory, but a few wildflowers dot the meadows, stream sides and even the fallen logs in the river.
The evening lullaby includes the symphony from the river and soughing of the sweet ponderosa pines.
The following day finds us traveling Oregon State Route 242, through several of the west’s more signature scenes – wild land burn scars...
... to McKenzie Summit, and a stunning display of the area’s volcanic heritage.
A paved trail offers views of the Three Sisters, Mounts Jefferson and Washington...
... leading to an observatory hewn from area basalt.
On a clear day, the views are dramatic...
Perhaps only more dramatic when some cloudscape is added.
The interpretive trail is an easy stroll where the nuances of the landscape are detailed.
We learn that Mt. Jefferson is the newest of the area volcanos by tens of thousands of years and that is why it appears far less jagged and weathered.
The ride back down OR 242 to Sisters is a delight on a bike that handles like Enrico, the Yamaha, but equally pleasant, I’m told by my travelling partner, in the accompanying Subaru.
When in Sisters, check out the Stitching Post Quilt Shop. https://stitchinpost.com We actually planned this trip to correspond with their world-renowned Sisters Quilt Show, an annual July affair which had to be canceled this year due to the pandemic.
Back at the cabin, we enjoy a few more walks and a few more evenings of peaceful rest and, upon departure, figure we’ll break that always-someplace-new rule and return again soon.
Church of the Open Road Press
Friday, June 5, 2020
In the vast universe of the all-together...
There is a place where all doors are open...
Where floors and furnishings are pillow soft...
Where it is always springtime...
Where birdies fly lowly and slowly...
Where grasshoppers are easy to catch...
Where black dogs don’t offend us...
...by incessantly nosing our butts...
Where people exist simply to stand silently...
...on their two legs...
...so we can weave figure eights around ‘em.
And the food bowl is always fresh...
No human quite knows...
...or can even imagine...
...where that somewhere is.
But I have faith that somewhere exists.
And as of today...
...I’m off to find it.
Monday, May 25, 2020
... remembering (and sharing) forgotten histories ...
California’s own “Trail of Tears” crosses Mendocino Pass where Glenn, Tehema and Mendocino Counties come together. Stretching from embarkation points (like Camp Far West – now inundated – in Yuba County), native peoples from the valley and Sierran foothills – Maidu, Yana, Konkow, Wintu, Nomlaki, among others – were forcibly marched along this route to a reservation in what is now known as Round Valley. Their story is devastatingly tragic.
Fifty years ago, with an old sheepherder from our neighborhood, Mom and Dad took the family to camp annually at the base of a high-county glade perhaps three miles distant from the pass. Sleeping under billions of stars, for several Memorial Day weekends, we heard the tales from the old sheep man who, as a kid, summered livestock up that way: tales of hustling sheep up the Grindstone Trail using old Model Ts, of mountain lions taking one or two head a week, of Saturday night “hooplas over ta Smith Camp...”
I only found out about the “Trail of Tears” while working on the Maidu Interpretive Center, a first-peoples museum built next to an elementary school where I once served in Roseville. That discovery prompted me to try to find our old camp spot, which after several attempts, I did. It turns out: the road to our old stompin’ ground IS the old “California Trail of Tears.”
I have long wanted to take a couple of next generations to that pristine and sacred spot and share some of the old man’s stories (and, now, a few more) with my children and grandchildren.
Mom died in October of ’17. On Memorial Day weekend, those newer generations met at the sheep camp to set Mom free and to hear a story or two.
Returning home, a mark was checked next to an entry on this old man’s bucket list. A dream had come true. I hope they’ll visit again...
Church of the Open Road Press
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
...What has magma done for you lately? ...
I like riding when the clouds give some texture to the sky. A day or two after a storm when the white fair-weather cumulus float across a deep azure backdrop. I like riding all the other times, too, but the clouds were terrific this day.
I hadn’t been out on Enrico, the Yamaha for a while. Chores. Priorities. No destination diners open to eat during the pandemic. All excuses. There comes a time, however, when “I gotta keep my skills up” overrides all the other excuses.
That, and those clouds, conspired to get me suited up and in the saddle.
Geysers Road, looping from Cloverdale, tracing Big Sulphur Creek, skirting Geyser Peak and descending into the Alexander Valley near Healdsburg offers a trip through time, history, geology, fire science, crumbling infrastructure and viticulture all in about 35 glorious miles. Along the way, we glimpse the largest geothermal power facility on the planet.
The route begins northeast of Cloverdale at the Geysers Road exit from US 101. Winding along a rushing Russian River, we head east at the confluence of Big Sulphur Creek.
Time and nature have not been kind to this section of off-again, on-again pavement. Heavy winters, slippery clay soil, rising and falling water flows all wear away at a route that is so little used that maintenance seems always to be relegated to the bottom of the list.
In some stretches the pavement are two-lanes wide and double-lined striped. A hundred yards later, the pavement could be gone, and the route reduced to a narrow strip along an eye-popping canyon wall.
Then back to pastoral hillsides dotted with oaks frequented by crows and scrub jays.
We cross a century-old steel bridge, the likes of which can be found on many lost routes in the west.
Climbing out of a portion of stream valley, we see remnants of mining operations from back when quicksilver was needed in the process of refining gold from its ore.
Gold, more prevalent in the Sierra; necessary mercury found in and about the Clear Lake region of the Coast Range.
Thirteen miles on, a fork offers the choice of heading to the geothermal facilities.
Roads spiderweb across the opposite ridge leading to many plants positioned on the opposite ridge. Pipes and powerlines complete the intricate and curious line drawing. Access is locked away from us.
A hundred and forty years back, steam was discovered rising from fractures in the earth. Water, seeping across otherwise impermeable layers of rock, slip into cracks and drizzle onto superheated magma, not far below the surface. A mystic and eerie phenomenon was created, sacred to native Americans and to be exploited by their European followers.
|Sonoma County Historical Society Archive photo|
A hotel was constructed – which later burned, twice – and water was bottled for its healing properties.
Now administered by CalPine Corporation, their website (see below) tells the story of what appears to be a model of magma-incited, clean, renewable energy production.
But not perfect energy production. In October of ’19, during a spate of 100-mile-per-hour gales cresting the ridge, a hot high-tension transmission line arced spawning the devilish Kincaid Fire that, in a matter of hours, raced across the Mayacamas and into stream courses...
...searing all within its path, including Mercuryville (population 2)...
|Purloined from somewhere else photo|
...and taking with it the sign I remember from a previous ride up this way.
From the eastern flank of Geyser Peak, it is easy to spot the fire, ranch and mineral access roads that web the hillside. One wonders when that first stretch of Geysers Road will be left to crumble to the same state.
The fire blazed hotter and with more ferocity and abandon than a presidential campaign rally, threatening Geyserville – a quaint throw-back farming community in the Alexander Valley, and Healdsburg – the up-scale mecca of shops, tasting rooms and Teslas. It was only through the heroic actions of legions of firefighters from near and far, that the sleepy bedroom community of Windsor was saved. More than one fire captain admitted, later, that he didn’t think they could do it. Living near-by, I’ll never forget the smoke.
Geysers Road on this side of the route provides preferred access to the geothermal plants. Wider, guard-railed, better paved, it winds through higher pastures which give way to vineyards...
...and superlative views of the verdant Alexander Valley below. Healdsburg is twenty-five miles from the junction, but it is difficult to not stop and take just one more photo of the developing scene.
Did I mention the clouds?
Resource: Information, including facility tour info may be accessed at: https://geysers.com Worth a look!
Church of the Open Road Press