Thursday, November 5, 2009

LaPorte Quincy Highway


(June 2004) ATOP THE 6500 FOOT SUMMIT of a 31-mile stretch of the LaPorte Quincy Highway, one can see Lassen Peak off to the northwest, and to the east, the course of highway 395 as it escapes Nevada and heads toward Susanville – and everything in between and around for 360 degrees. The highway follows the top of a ridge crisscrossing it first on the east side, then on the west side then back again. Expanses of green glades sweep down from minor peaks, one with a distant, inviting fire lookout perched atop. Stands of rich timber carpet the hillside. Snow patches dot the higher climes. Icy snowmelt brooks feed meadows of a late spring.

Past the summit, the road, shaped like a miles-long serpent, descends nearly 4,000 feet in about five miles, crossing the middle fork of the Feather River. Just over the top, a guy in a huge red Ford pickup pulls over and waves me by. What a nice guy, I think. Not the typical big-assed Ford truck driver, I prejudge.

At a particular point, the LaPorte - Quincy Road is chiseled into the rugged canyon wall. About a half mile from the bottom, the road is vertigo inspiring as it fairly clings to the side of the mountain. Slide rubble litters the pavement and, while I want the unfolding view, “I need the road.” Hitting a chunk of rock would surely render a badly broken bike and a few broken bones at best. Or I could simply drive off the cliff into oblivion. That’d be the opposite of “best.”

I glance to my left at the river course about 300 feet below at willows along the stream course and summer-dried grass on the flanks. I correct to miss a piece of roadway scree and wink back to my left again. There, riding a vesper lifting off the warm canyon bottom, about thirty feet to my left and traveling my direction about my same languid rate of speed is a graceful black raptor with a white head and tail. He bats a golden eye at me, rises further, circles back and dives back into the canyon.

I stop on whatever side of the road I can find and fumble for my camera, wishing I didn’t have to battle my riding gloves. Can’t pull them off with your teeth when your teeth are inside a full-face helmet.

Baldy comes floating back and tips a wing at me as if to say, "Try to get a shot of this." Up he sails on some invisible lift and up canyon, eastward, he goes, disappearing and reappearing into and out of a background of verdant firs and pines that 'scape the hill side.

I wait. The guy in the truck rumbles to a stop and his lady friend rolls down the window to ask if I'm okay, stalled in the road as I am.

I explain myself, salute and they continue their descent.

Baldy had only teased me. He wasn’t coming back for a third pass. There would be no picture. After a while, I remount and head down the canyon bottom and back up the other side. Any photo I might have taken would simply be an image of blue sky with an indiscernible black dot somewhere in it. I know this because I’ve photographed big black birds on updrafts before.

Five or six miles further, I come up behind Mr. Big-Red-Ford. Again, he pulls over to wave me by. I draw up next to him and pause: "You must be the most considerate driver in all these parts. Maybe all of California!" I exclaim.

"Naw," he says, "I ride one of them and I just wanted to make sure you weren't broke down."

"Not broke down, yet. Just lookin' at the eagle," I say.

“Us, too,” his companion says. “Ain’t it great?”

Our conversation lasts only a moment longer and I pull out ahead of the couple in the big red truck.

I felt like I should have said, “God bless you, man,” for the act of this driver being concerned about another human being traveling the same road. A tiny piece of my faith in humankind was restored.

After all, aren’t we all traveling the same road?
Church of the Open Road Press

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