Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Learning to relax in comfort

The wooden drawer pull on the antique desk had slipped free of its screw.  In order to remedy this circumstance, a trip to the hardware store was in order.  I hoped there’d be such a mercantile in Bolinas, California, because I’d never been to Bolinas before and with clear skies and highs in the mid-70s, it was a perfect day to explore a bit more of the California coast.

I’d purchased a ’15 Triumph Thunderbird new in January.  The local dealer (Santa Rosa BMW/Triumph – ask for Bill) offered this big cruiser at a deep discount and I was eager to try a motorcycle genre different than any I’d ridden before.

Did I say different?  Boy Howdy!

The big cruiser rests heavily on its side stand, generally an off-putting first impression for the likes of a BMW / Guzzi veteran.  But once I balanced it between my bent legs, feet flat on the showroom floor, I knew a test ride would be necessary.  About a mile into that experience, different felt pretty compelling.

Now, with nearly 1500 miles on the clock and while engaging in that 180-mile round trip to the hardware store, I took stock of my new mount.

California’s Route 1 has to be one of the world’s best motorcycling roads.  Except for a very few cliff-side spots where the Pacific Ocean is showing the civil engineers who’s really the boss, the road is well paved and nicely maintained.  Stretches along the tops of bluffs affording views of a vast ocean and gorgeous hills are punctuated by short twisty sections into and out of streams that empty into the sea.  The State of California offers many places where the rider can pause and be enveloped by the grandeur of it all, several with access to beaches.

With each pause on the T-bird, I was greeted by at least a wink or a nod and frequently a question or comment that lead to conversation.  The thing invites attention: those seeking anonymity need not apply.

 At about 3:00, fellow on a bruised Gold Wing eyeballed the engine and the seat and the acres of chrome and asked how I liked it.  Since early morning I’d been studying for this exam.  I shared some of the following with the Wingman:

  • The motorcycling press says that Triumph has set the standard for seating comfort on this ‘Bird.  After over seven hours in the saddle, I have to agree.
  • Many cruisers emit quite a bit of heat from either exhaust heads or from rearward cylinder (if a Vee-twin) but due in part to the parallel twin design of this 1700cc engine, I’ve felt zero discomfort in this regard.
  • The exhaust note is a soft rumble.  Others may prefer something that announces to folks in the next county that somebody on a bike may be coming, but I like the tenor of the music this machine plays.
  • The thing is not awash in technology.  I don’t need to know my lap time, the altitude, my average speed, current status of the Dow Jones Industrials or my MPG.  I do like to know the current time, number of miles until empty and length of my trip.  A button on the right grip offers this and only this.  (I also didn’t pay for a radio I wouldn’t use.)
  • The T’bird has a couple of hundred pounds on my former GSA, but it plants itself well on the pavement and seems much more stable when crossing those stiff, late afternoon on-shore breezes.
  • The bike likes sweeping turns and the engine’s massive torque doesn’t necessarily require me to downshift when powering out of one.  Tight, twisty turns are a bit more work for the rider.
  • It is really easy to throw my leg over the low seat and being flat-footed in filling station is a pleasant change that I was ready for.
  • The nature of the powerful bike – perhaps due to the cruiser style seating position – allows me to feel more relaxed, engaged in the ride in a different way that the brisk Moto Guzzi or rugged BMW (both very fine scoots!) of my recent past.  That takes a little getting used to.
  • A downside?  The thing is so flashy with its Caspian blue and white livery and hand painted coach lines that I feel obligated to keep it particularly clean.
  • Did I mention that you meet a lot of people?

The story goes that the folks in the village of Bolinas guard their privacy so greatly that they’ve removed the directional signs on CA 1 indicating where you turn in order to find their coastal Brigadoon.  I used a map.  A gentle hill with a nice two-lane separates the town from the world on the east side of the San Andreas Fault.  From the county beach a few blocks through town, the Farallon Islands – some twenty miles distant – seem close enough to touch.

A homemade chicken tamale waited for me at the Coast CafĂ© (Think Globally – Eat Locally) and the tiny hardware store did, indeed, have just the piece my old desk needed.

Clouds began to slide in on the way back up the coast offering a graying cast to the roiling sea.  With slightly muted light, the ride seemed different, but just as delicious reminding me that any road you take in the opposite direction is a different ride. 

Seven-plus hours in the saddle and, now, a thousand-and-a-half miles on the clock and I am beginning to feel one with the bike.  The different I was looking for has proven to be so captivating that today, when my wife suggested I could use a haircut, I found there was a great barbershop in a neighboring town about 28 miles north of home.


Today’s Route:  From San Francisco and US 101, head north on CA 1 toward (and past) Stinson Beach; from Santa Rosa and US 101, follow any route to coast range and coastal towns such as Guerneville and Jenner (on CA 116) or Bodega/Bodega Bay, head south on CA 1 through Valley Ford, Tamales and Marshall.  Coming from either direction on CA 1, good luck finding the turn off to Bolinas.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Last week, I visited New York City for only the second time and I could never rid myself of the perception that I was somehow a latter-day Dennis Weaver playing a bumpkin-esque Deputy McCloud navigating a land that might as well be foreign.

The buildings seem taller than some of our western mountains.

The favored hue for automobiles seems to be yellow.

Park trails look somewhat like sidewalks and the songs we hear are not from meadowlarks.

And the trains look far different than the freights that rumbled through my boyhood town.

Food is plentiful – but very expensive, unless you know where to look.

It is crowded and noisy and busy and, at first, confusing.  But the music and the rhythm and the change of pace is somehow good and refreshing. 

There may be more culture in any four-square-block area of Manhattan than in any other so-sized spot anywhere else on the globe.

Art is on display for all to behold.  Sometimes, just like riding along the road with a writer, you find yourself standing elbow-to-elbow with a master in his studio.

Bridges invite you to cross.

Corner cafes invite you in for a bite.  Memory if the pastrami here at 52nd and 6th still causes me to salivate.

Central Park in spring rivals the almond orchards in Butte County (CA) of my youth and I can’t imagine Paris being much more beautiful.  Ask me again once I’ve been there.

Coney Island was nearly empty of people – the rides don’t fire up for a few more weeks. 

And I was surprised when I snapped a picture Under the Boardwalk, that this is all I got…

The subways are not the cleanest places on earth, but they are efficient and run on time.   

Note: the best way to get from point A to point Q is to toss away the cell phone with its NYC Transit App and simply stand on the platform with a quizzical look on your face.  In under a minute one or more gracious citizens will ask “Where ya goin’?” and offer spot on advice as to how to get there: “Ya take the C line to 54th, get off and catch the L across town two stops.  Your restaurant’ll be a five minute walk…”

New York City presents big lessons to folks from small towns like me.  The biggest is at “Ground Zero,” the monument for those who perished on September 11th in 2001.  Two huge reflecting ponds no lay in the footprints of the original towers.  Into each of the 176-foot long sides is engraved the names of the nearly 3,000 people who perished that day.  

Most impressive was that fully one and a half sides eight sides of the pools was used to honor the first responders who rushed in while everyone else was rushing out.

In place of the Twin Towers is a new structure that, dominating lower Manhattan, inspires the visitor to look heavenward.

My thoughts upon visiting this place were two.  One:  I had many, many difficult days over my career as a teacher and school principal – one was explaining to parents on 9/11 that no, we weren’t going to close schools in light of the attack.  “If we did,” I improvised, “we’d be letting the bad guys win.”  But that difficult day for me didn’t hold a candle to the day the men from the ladder company directly across the street experienced.  Few survived.

And two: When looking at the memorial grounds we are filled with a range of silent emotions.  If dominant in those is anger coupled with a need to “get even” with those who flew the planes into the towers – even though it is a very palpable and realistic thing to feel – if we allow that emotion to command our behavior, we will have missed the bigger lessons: the ones about might and restraint; about power and diplomacy; and about peace and its necessary coupling with understanding in order to be realized.

I harbor no regrets if the reader does not share this final conclusion.

© 2106
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, April 11, 2016

Suggested Reading: “The Oregon Trail – a New American Journey”

by Rinker Buck (Simon and Schuster, 2015. $28.)

Embedded deep within every Church of the Open Roader is an urge to see new places, confront challenges (either real or in one’s simple mind) and enhance our perspectives on self and the world.  And maybe resolve a thing or two.

Rinker Buck, a my-aged writer for Connecticut’s Hartford Courant, disenchanted with the change that is thrust upon most of us during our careers and harkening back to childhood days camping from a New England horse-drawn wagon with dad and family, undertook a Church of the Open Road adventure of a lifetime.  Starting near Kansas City bound for Baker City, Oregon in a replica Schuttler wagon, Buck and his brother traverse half a continent tracing a perilous route used 140 years ago, the route that opened up the west: the Old Oregon Trail.

With a reporter’s eye, he tells of verdant fields, thunderstorms, flooded camps, treacherous descents down rocky cliffs, parched desert runs, busted axles and of people – wonderful people whose spirit embodies that of our westerners: curious, helpful, joyful and strong.

As a historian, he weaves stories of 19th century heroism and pig-headedness, politics and plague attached to the place names through which he passes.  On this romantic journey, Buck dispenses with the romance of the west outlining how cholera decimated hundreds, how helpful natives were abused and how religious persecution played a large role in seeing the land west of the 100th meridian settled.

As a brother and a son, he chronicles trying relationships with a father and a sibling – a sibling who turns out to be an excellent muleskinner – sharing how both resolve.

As pages turn, vast expanses of Kansas plains or Rocky Mountain crossings are vehicles for Buck’s examination of his greater circumstance and the circumstance in which, we, as a nation, find ourselves.  Western wanderlust is elemental to who some of us are as individuals.  Western expansion is most certainly elemental to our narrative as a nation.  What we learn on our journeys can, and must, inform our tomorrows.

Looking at the possible history of our future - through the author's eyes after 2000 miles of heat, cold and hunger, self-doubt, worry and, finally, jubilation - one can take solace in Buck's conclusion:  

The impossible is doable as long as you have a great brother and good trail friends.  Uncertainty is all.  Crazyass passion is the staple of life and persistence its nourishing force.  Without them, you cannot cross the trail. 

Rinker Buck has given us a rewarding look at our country and ourselves.  He has engaged in an ultimate adventure.  And whether he knows it or not (or cares) he clearly has earned membership in the Church of the Open Road.

See your local independent bookseller.

Monday, February 29, 2016


…make that “endearing…”

The Avenue of the Giants was once US 101, winding through Humboldt County’s majestic and humbling redwoods.  Now, it’s the old road.  About thirty miles in length, it had been the sole artery – outside the ever-present Eel River – serving the lumber and small farming communities of the area; bergs bypassed when progress gave us a new 101.  Today, it is easy to miss those little points of history as we efficiently travel north or south, rocketing through the stands and groves as if it were just any old forest.

Yet, finding that old road and spending a day exploring, hiking, listening to the whispers of the woods, proves to be a day well spent.

The “Avenue” offers many places to pull out …

… and many trails to explore.

We can be dwarfed by the massive trees …

… and easily miss the subtle beauty resting on the forest floor.

Heads up: Your pictures won’t do justice.

Due to our modern day need for speed, those quaint farming and logging communities are stuck with a lousy choice: either find happiness (and a living) in service to of those of us who’ve found the old road or simply die becoming a historic place name with no ‘there’ remaining.

I’d purchased gas here once, a while back.  No longer.

This rig used to haul produce between some point A and market, I suppose.

Perhaps this one, too?

Maybe from a farmstead like this one?

But the attraction – the profits – would always come from the standing timber.

Before the commercial logging boom of the 19th century, the coast was covered with redwoods from Big Sur to the Oregon border.  What once accounted for 2.4 billion acres of old growth forest had, by the end of the 20th century been reduced to a mere 120,000 acres.

More would be gone had the Texas financier who succeeded in a hostile takeover of Scotia’s once-sustainably managed Pacific Lumber Company been able to cash in on the old growth remaining on the company’s land holdings back in ’65 by cutting 'em all down.

Cal State Humboldt archive
 What, one must wonder, is the legacy of the man who plunders, pollutes and renders intractable harm simply so he can die with stacks of money in his account?

Thankfully, the forest is dotted and laced with groves and trails commemorating those with the wisdom and tenacity to protect the grandeur of it all.  Isn’t our collective heritage better served by folks like these?

These folks understood something.  Something about place.

Something about balance.

Something about beauty.

A day wandering through the forests and glades along the Avenue of the Giants will linger for quite some time.  As, one hopes, will the forests.


Notes and Resources:

Here is an on-line guide to the Avenue of the Giants:

Regarding the Humboldt Redwoods State Park:

The Save the Redwoods League has taken the forefront in preserving our north coast forests.  Here’s a little bit about their history:

The “Profit Above All Else” mentality some may decry isn’t something particularly new.  Here’s a piece about the corporate raider who, in a hostile takeover, wrested the historic Pacific Lumber Company from a sustainable, responsible operation (I recall touring the mill back in the 60s) to a poster child for short term profits and bald faced greed:

Need a place to stay while visiting the area?  Want to step back in history for an evening or two?  Check out: Be forewarned: You may never want to return to the present…

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, February 28, 2016


…while up in Redwood country…

About 35 years ago when I left Chico to pursue my career in education elsewhere, my dad began writing a (really bad, sorry Dad) novel centered on a character not unlike his younger son.  The boy had left town to become a sheriff’s deputy in a far-flung northern California county.  At one point, the boy-deputy was investigating some crime or other occurring at a place called Ishi Pishi Falls, a name I was sure Dad had concocted on his own.

The other day, at a grocery store in Garberville, California, a bottle of red boasted fruit from a ranch of exactly that name.  How could Dad’s younger son resist?


Tasting Note:  Briceland Vineyards sourced fruit for this substantial Bordeaux Blend from a dry farmed hillside above the hamlet of Orleans off CA 96 along the Klamath River – a locale which could legitimately claim to be in a “far flung northern California county.”  We enjoyed this wine with some rustic French bread and a selection of Humboldt County cheeses, but we believe it will pair nicely with grilled lamb, roast duck or a hearty winter's stew.  Better find a second bottle…

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, February 27, 2016


A journey back to the earliest days of road travel

With the advent of the automobile almost a century ago, the opportunity for folks to explore the nation grew exponentially.  No longer would a trip to Yellowstone or Yosemite involve securing camping tarps to buckboards and locking down the homestead for three or four months.  Crude emigrant trails became rustic roads that would evolve into concreted (and numbered) highways.  The spectacular red rock country of Utah would be but a few days’ drive from almost anywhere.  Likewise the Grand Canyon and the Tetons, the Great Lakes and the Great Smokies.  And California’s redwoods.

(c) Benbow Inn
In those early days, lodging may still have been strapped to the Hupmobile’s bonnet or pulled behind as an early travel trailer.  But soon, enterprising folks dotted the west with elegant hostelries offering sophisticated accommodations and fine dining in some of the most remote corners of our land. 

Over time, things would continue to evolve and routes like the old US 40 over Donner Pass would become Interstate 80 and those elegant inns would fall into disrepair as motel chains with numerals in their names offered much less for much less.

Still, some of the grand hotels of the early twentieth century still stand – a few refurbished to reassume their former glory.

How many times had I cruised north on US 101 passing the Benbow Exit just south of Garberville and said to myself, “I’ve gottta check that out?”  The answer?  Too many.

A period neon sign pokes through the trees where US 101 crosses the south fork of the Eel River.  The sign simply says “Benbow Inn” and is laced with an arrow pointing toward a 20s era hotel perched on a flat above the confluence of the south fork and its east branch tributary.  It’s easy to fly by the exit.  Try not to.

Designed by Albert Farr, a Julia Morgan contemporary, and completed in 1926, the Benbow Hotel became a popular wayside for those traveling the new Redwood Highway between San Francisco and Eureka.  (Ms. Morgan designed and built her little haven just down stream – tours are available.)

Entering the heavily timbered lobby, we are informed that tea and scones are offered: “Please relax and the bell will carry your bags to your room.”  Glancing through the shadows of the vast room, simple pleasures and ornate works combine to beckon the road weary to rest: soft chairs, a welcoming fire, and that tea.

A great and elegant dining room affords views of the river and a bridge.  A varied and inviting menu complements those views, as does an extensive, multinational wine list.  The service from staff recalls the earlier era as well.  With the first sip of a north coast Pinot, we downshifted into a relaxation mode that wouldn’t leave us even two days later as we departed.

Across the historic lobby is an even-on-a-February-Thursday hoppin’ saloon with a large selection of spirits and warm vibe.  Stepping out onto the patio with a little nip of really good hooch, it is easy to imagine yourself engaged in conversation with Spencer Tracy, Alan Ladd or even Herbert Hoover or Eleanor Roosevelt as a full moon dances across the waters only a few yards away.

Early on, energy for the enterprise was provided by a small hydroelectric facility built just below the confluence.  A concrete, steel and wooden structure tamed this small section of the Eel.  The pool backed up both the south fork and the tributary forming what became known as Benbow Lake.

Likewise in 1931, a modern rock and concrete bridge spanned the becalmed east branch, it’s lovely arch accenting the stream view from the terraced hillside upon which the old hotel sits.  Just add a canoe and, say, a Mountie. (Yes, Nelson Eddy once stayed here.)

The desk clerk shares directions to interesting walks in and near the grounds adding, “This is one of those places where you could do absolutely nothing for a few days and not feel at all guilty about it.”

Indeed: the comfortable, historic rooms, the crackling fire in the lobby, the manicured grounds edging a whispering Eel River – it takes little imagination to feel you’ve shucked your 1920s duster, taking a break from the old redwood highway, and if you never got back on that highway, it’d be more than okay to stay right here.



The historic hydro dam was breached about a decade ago owing to both fishery and seismic concerns.  It is scheduled to be imploded sometime during the summer of 2016.  Understandable, but too bad.  The relic, as it sits now, is a fitting testament to the ingenuity of those pioneers of tourism early last century.  The dam site is a short walk from the Inn.

A fine day may be spent enjoying the redwood groves and trails along the famed Avenue of the Giants, about a dozen miles north on US 101, using the Inn as a home base.  Sojourning so is highly recommended.

The Benbow Inn website contains details about the old gal’s colorful history and its impact on the region.  Accommodations. Prices and menus are listed.  It may be accessed at:

© 2106
Church of the Open Road Press