Monday, November 30, 2009

Relief Hill Road - North Bloomfield to Washington


I’M SURE THERE ARE TROLLS in the world. I always had thought that they were little three-fingered, rubbery creatures with long purple or orange hair stemming from the sides of their otherwise bald heads, like the ones I bought at the Eighty-eight Cent Store in Chico as a kid. But this is just ignorant. Trolls are the size of us. People size. I know because I’ve seen um.

I WONDER ABOUT THOSE who live out where there is nothing for which to exchange coin. How do they survive? Do they hunt? Fish? They can’t grow grain where grain doesn’t grow, so what do they do for bread? Up and around the derelict townsites of foothill California, gold rush era apple trees and fig trees still, I suppose, bear fruit. But apple season is October and fig season, who knows?

In and about Relief Hill’s odd collection of 150-year-old buildings, long devoid of glass or paint – amply marked with “Keep Out” and “No Trespassing” signs – trolls exist. The ones I’ve seen all were male, all of a certain age – edging toward old. Long gray-white hair – perhaps not shorn in this decade – and string-thin beards, same color, except about the lips and brown-toothed mouths, where the whiskers are the color of mud – dyed by tobacco juice or some other sort of spittle.

VIETNAM was more than a generation ago. Many of my era who served never came back. Or came back to places like this. Away from a society that chose to assume a holiness to which it had no claim. Away from those who spat in their faces. Away to a place where time didn’t exist. Or right. Or wrong. Or someone else’s definition of what’s moral. Away to a place of distance. Of peace. Of relief.

Relief Hill. Why not?

I DIDN’T SEE MANY OF UM. Reclusive lot they are. Gripping the bars of the too-big-and-expensive-to-drop GS, I held on, crossing wash-boarded ruts and ball bearing gravel. Stopping seemed not an option, given the gravity of the postings on each side of the road. When I passed one, though, I made a conscious effort to nod my head. He glanced and lifted a hand in acknowledgement – the other hand pinching a handcrafted Marlboro Light. In the seconds when I wasn’t focused on negotiating the road, I did see his eyes. Old, deep blue eyes. Eyes that knew something. But what? How to live from apple season to apple season? How to snare a trout down ta the Yuba sans license? Maybe poach a deer or wild boar? Or a squirrel? How to dodge the wild fires that rage through the region every late summer – that somehow leave the ancient buildings of old Relief Hill standing? Or how to keep warm in the damp winters at 3000 feet – too warm to snow, but too cold to warm aging, arthritic bones and joints?

This old troll knew something. In just an instant, his blue eyes told me so. I wished I’d stopped the bike and hiked back a few yards for a little visit – or, at least, to pay tribute, as one must do when encountering a troll.

TWO OR THREE MILES LATER, down at the bottom where the Relief Hill Road crosses the South Yuba, I paused and thought about “the grace of God.”

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mr. Brilliant Recommends...

In honor of not shopping on black Friday, I visited my localest independent bookseller – “The Book Seller” in Grass Valley, California, and selected (or ordered) several titles that may have been overlooked by big publishing or the corporate bookstores. Here is a short list of books worth gifting this season.

The California Atlas and Gazetteer: This atlas truly has the 1000 places you need to see before you die. And most of them are accessible within a day or two – best if on two wheels or on foot. Mr. Brilliant has worn out three copies and is on his fourth.

The Sierra Nevada Natural History by Storer and Unsinger; The best all-around guidebook to the flora and fauna of the Sierra. Know what you're seeing when you are driving through what you're seeing. Mr. Brilliant is on his third copy. Keep this in the car or saddlebag.

Motorcycle Journeys through California by Clement Salvadori. Never run out of places to ride! Clem’s moto-journalism is the absolute best. He recently autographed my copy, which I now keep under my pillow at night. I’m going to have to get a new copy.

The Virginian – Owen Wister; defines the western cowboy. Written in 1903 and set in late 19th century Wyoming, Wister’s depiction of the nameless young man from Virginia sets the bar for character in the west and should set the bar for character period. A slow read but one you’ll want to read twice.

Merle’s Door: Ted Kerasote who presented at the Wyoming Writers Conference speaks to the relationships between man and dog; and the lessons learned when the dog is allowed to be free and independent. Set in Kelly, Wyoming, this book breathes the Tetons. (We met Merle’s ‘successor’ as we rented a place across from Ted’s this summer – after the conference.)

The Cold Dish is the first in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmeyer series. Great read(s)! Set in contemporary Wyoming, the land is as important to the story as the characters, relationships, police procedures… …and the murders. Craig spoke at the Jackson Hole Writer’s Conference in Wyoming and happens to ride a BMW GS, much to his wife’s chagrin. Read Dish first; you’ll run to get the others.

Five Skies by Ron Carlson – A great story about coming to terms with loss, drawing a parallel between hard work and the hard work of relationships. Set in rugged, rural Idaho, this is a short novel to be savored slowly so that the images don’t pass too quickly. Mr. Carlson is on the faculty of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Make Way for the Ducklings: Bumpa’s favorite kid’s book.

If you have a favorite book, please pass the title along using the Church of the Open Road’s comment section.

Happy reading.

- Mr. Brilliant

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Up I-80


MY FRACTURED RIGHT FOOT sufficiently healed from last month’s dog toy incident, I straddle the GSA for a quick loop in the Sierra. The foot works okay and the weather is of those late November gifts that makes one thankful, in a selfish and perverse way, for climate change. It lengthens the riding season.

Above Colfax along the Interstate, the Tahoe is decked in her finest fall fashion. Dying leaves cling to stands of black oak creating acre-sized swaths of gold lamé across the cool evergreen fabric of pine and fir. A late autumn sun admires its part in this work from the southern edge of a crystal, azure sky. “God gets color,” I muse.

Approaching the turn-off for state route 20, I pause at the summit between Nyack and Yuba Gap. The mountains have survived another growing season. Above, their granite flanks dazzle. Below, their expansive forests hush. Snow glazes the highest peaks, and at this elevation, the leaves are gone. The gentlest up-slope breeze prompts me to zip my leather jacket tight around my neck and seek a sunny place to stand for a moment. Remnants of what ploughs pushed aside border the pavement warning me to drive gingerly. Resuming the road, daggers of cold pierce my heaviest riding gloves. All foretells the advent of a winter cold and still.

I HOPE THE SNOW FALLS. I hope it falls in great quantity this season, renewing our aquifer and satiating our over-taxed environment. But I am thankful that the old man had held off until my foot repaired itself so that I could – one last time – touch the beautiful Sierra.

My spirit arrives home soothed.

And my mountains may now rest until spring.

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, November 22, 2009

BSA 441 Victor


IN ABOUT 1968, maybe 1966 or ’67, after a really wet winter, my brother and I decided to take the family’s eighteen foot Old Town “Guide’s Special” wood and canvas canoe from the One Mile recreation area on Chico Creek about a mile east of downtown, to our house, about a mile west of down town. We donned our heavy army fatigue jackets for warmth this February day, and put in just below the One Mile Dam.

The creek was running full and swift. The two-mile run would probably take much less time than the hour or two we had planned.

Had it not been for the snag.

Winter’s rain had toppled an ancient sycamore. It lay partially tipped into the creek about a quarter mile upstream from our house.

The bow of the classic canoe slipped under this white barked skeleton and the current pushed the stern so mightily that the ribs of the venerable vessel cracked. Out we tumbled. Down the raging creek we were carried, weighted down by those damned army jackets. We struggled out of the water and hot-footed it back to the scene of the now-derelict classic. How we rescued its remains is of no consequence.

AN ENGINEERING STUDENT from Chico State, one who minored in industrial arts, was commissioned to repair the damage. He arrived one day on the most classic of all thumpers. A BSA 441 Victor.

He had modified the exhaust (meaning: chopped off) so his presence was advertised long before it was realized.

This single cylinder machine was as rugged as Steve McQueen and as powerful as one of the battleships on which he served in some war movie or other. The Four-Forty-One’s tank was yellow on the front and aluminum silver on the back half and with a red-winged BSA logo tattooed on the yellow part.

Simplicity. A couple of wheels. Knobby, no nonsense tyres. An engine made mainly of cast iron. A single headlight, black with a pitted chrome ferrule. A cracked and worn seat that had probably seen about a million miles. And the tank: Red-winged “BSA” on a field of yellow paint and scoured aluminum.

If there were poetry in anything mechanical, this thing epitomized it.

The student came and departed many times on the BSA. The neighborhood kids soon knew. And after that first visit, we listened for the distinctive, throaty thump of its British motor and while the young man worked, we just stared at his bike: little boys imagining adventures in Ceylon, or Rangoon, or Malaysia, or some other far-flung point of the empire, doing something pithy, something British.

The college kid didn’t fix the boat, but he had a hell of a bike.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mosquito Ridge Road Fire


THE ASSAULT HAD BEEN INTENSE. And effective. Fire engines, pumpers, tankers, the ambulance, a couple of green Forest Service pickups and some supervisory Cal Fire vehicles choked the road. Amidst the collection, positioned at an angle to block passers-by was the white Law Enforcement Ford Explorer. Now covered in an orange slime looking a bit like a layered birthday cake with twenty-minute old dollop of orange sherbet melting on its top.

A squat man, crew-cut hair, in a no-nonsense green uniform, and packing a no-nonsense side arm, looks beyond the two civilian pick ups that were in front of me in line and pointed.

I flash on him passing me as I snapped pictures from the wide point three miles back.

“You!” he yells above the equipment. “You’re next.” His left hand rests on the butt of his side arm. In his right hand he clutches a walkie-talkie with which he traces a line on the pavement for me to follow. Diagonally. Onto the shoulder. Between the upward cut bank and his frosted Ford.

“Go! Go! Go!” He yells swinging the hand-held in a giant circle.
I felt as if I should parachute over the edge.

I pass him and nod. Fifteen feet to the catty-cornered vehicle. I select my route.

“Wait!” he commands. “You…”

I looked over my shoulder.

“You! Wait.”

Oh great!

I thought of the pictures residing in the Leica. And of Joe Friday of the Forest Service spotting me snapping them as he raced toward the scene of the incident.

My blood ran cold, as if up-upslope wind had sliced not only through the Mesh Tex, but through my skin as well.

“Got a question for you.”

I pulled in the clutch lever, put a foot down and raised the visor on the Arai.

He crosses the pavement and puts a firm grip on the shoulder of the jacket.

“Armor, huh?” he asks.


“The jacket,” he repeats. “It’s padded, right?”

“Ummm. Yeah.”

“Elbows, too?”


“Elbows, too?” he asks. “This looks like a pretty neat thing. Is it cool?”

I’m flummoxed. “Ah, well, yeah.”

“You like it?”

I’m sure the gentlemen waiting in their pickups are none to happy that I got cuts.

“Well, yeah.”

“Where’d you get it?”

I can’t remember breakfast today, let alone where I bought this First Gear summer jacket two, maybe three years ago.

“Cycle Accessories? No. Cycle Barn. No, A&S. No… Heck, you can get them anywhere for about a hundred bucks.”

He squeezes the shoulder, then the elbow. “I gotta get me one.”

I look at him, full-face helmet covering most of the perplexity of my face.

“Just started riding about six months ago. Got me a GS, too. A 650.” he grins. “Well, have a nice day…”

Winking through the visor I throttle up. I catch Joe’s reflection looking at me in my rear view mirror.

Not like a cop. Like a brother.

I stop, put a foot down and motion him over.

“You take the motorcycle safety course yet, brother?” I ask.

He shrugs, “Nope.”

I point at the fire and its devastating aftermath. “And you think this stuff is dangerous?”

He grins like a sheep and off I ride.

(c) 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Iowa Hill Road - to Colfax


A LATE AUTUMN TRIP up the hill and I find Iowa Hill, a spot forgotten by time. Maybe not literally, but I sure didn’t see any power lines on the road in or out. Houses are dotted here and there, along with a store, a fire station and a school supported by a solar collector rigged next to it. No gas station, but a nice assortment of battered old pick-ups and equipment. There’s a church, the congregation of which meets the first Sunday of the month, and two cemeteries. Back in the nineteenth century, a bar was a bend in the river where the deposition yielded color for some stumpy-fingered sourdough. In the twenty-first, a bar is something that tells you how much clarity you can expect from your cellular phone. Except in Iowa Hill. In Iowa Hill, a bar is right there in the general store.

Iowa Hill Road slips from the crest of the ridge and curves west into the deep recesses canyon of the North Fork of the American River. The pavement is narrow – perhaps two arms-lengths wide – carved into the rocky canyon wall. Blotchy asphalt patches the worst of the potholes. On this dusky November afternoon, whispers of moisture hang in the canyon’s shadows and the distant view finds the rugged rock walls of the Royal Gorge melting into a soft afternoon vapor. The remains of a chorus of fallen rocks litter the narrow pavement. The route asks for agility, not speed.

At the bottom, willows and berries consume the 1890 suspension bridge. The American slips between boulders and willows and wild rhubarb and burbles beneath the rusty, ancient span. I walk across, broken plank decking and all. The road takes “new” bridge – circa 1954 – crossing just down stream of a campground. People encamp in cars, well past the fourteen-day limit. And send their kids to school where? Up the hill to Colfax? Or back up the hill to Iowa Hill? Is this one of those “pockets of poverty” that Spiro Agnew talked about remedying 40 years ago?

Looking up the nearly vertical wall on the other side, chiseled across the top, is the Cape Horn route. The infamous point on the Central Pacific where “Chinamen” were lowered from the cliff’s edge in wicker baskets to chip out and blast away ton after ton of granite – and sometimes their own souls – to make smooth the path of progress. A few years back, the hill side stretching from the North Fork of the American twenty-five hundred feet to the top of Cape Horn was burned bare by the work of a transient who was said to have got himself pretty messed up – probably with product from the chemistry set up found in the abandoned travel trailer a few hundred yards away – and set to entertaining himself by lighting toilet paper wads and sling-shotting them into late September’s dry grasses.

Brilliant. This is the progress those Chinese laborers blew themselves to smithereens for.

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Iowa Hill Cemetery


I’D PASSED THE IOWA HILL CEMETERY many times, and today I stopped. On the north side of Iowa Hill Road, graves date back to the 1850s. On the south side, the Catholic Cemetery dates back to the 1860s. Why the Catholics and the rest of us cannot be buried together is a question I’ll have to research. Perhaps it’s easier for God to sort us all out if we do a little presorting in advance. I entered the gate and contributed five dollars to the donation box that must be in place to defray maintenance costs of the departed. Inside this park, under a canopy of black oaks and sugar pine, the temperature is notably cooler. Inviting. The plots view a distant valley carved by a tributary of the North Fork. First impression is that this is not a bad address for one to spend eternity.

Closest to the road, the markers are oldest, each in a different state of decay. I note that the names of those who pioneered this section are different from those of my contemporaries. One settler had the first name of “Plummer.” Plummer Baxter. Great name! I make a mental note to use this moniker for a character in an as-yet-uncomposed story and begin to seek other names that would be more mysterious or period-like than Steven or Jane.

A marker on the Catholic side indicated a fellow came to his reward in 1871 at age ninety-three. I did a little math. Walter Cronkite, coincidently, had passed quite recently at age ninety-two. Tearfully, a nation recounted the monumental events that this titan’s calm personality led us through. I was prompted to think of the romp of history that this Iowa Hillian had seen in his time – beginning just two years after the boys met in Philadelphia to set our nation on its course and ending just two years after a gold spike was driven at Promontory, Utah.

Across the way, a marker listed Martha Irish 1858-1865, John Irish 1861-1865, and Clarence Irish 1865-1870. The travails of our failing economy what with the increase in unemployment, the numbers of folks losing their homes and the political fallout of the cyclical nature of all things economic fell into their rightful place. Unlike the children named Martha, John and Clarence, prosperity would, one day, return.

The stories whispering inside the gates of gold-rush era cemeteries: a good reason to get off the bike.

© 2009
Church of the open Road Press

Friday, November 13, 2009

Capay Valley - Hwy 16


I WONDER, as I cruise through little bergs like Madison, Capay, Brooks and Rumsey, if the folks who live out here know what they’ve got. We sometimes view folks who live in rural spots as being somehow less. Less fortunate. Less well to do. Less intellectual, maybe. (Now THERE’S a damning statement.) Maybe because they possess less stuff. And the stuff they possess is dinged up. And bent. Or rusted. Or worn out. Or maybe just worn. Don’t these folks aspire for more? Don’t they want?

California State Route 16 leaves Interstate 5 just north of Woodland and heads west toward the first of the Coast Ranges. The late winter almond orchards near Esparto have yet to bud, so whizzing by, naked, black trees stand in a beds of tender green winter grass, with spindly, wicked sticks reaching into a crystal blue atmosphere. A storm passed through a couple of days ago, so the air is pure – tastefully sweet. The morning fog had dissipated. When the angle of the sun is just right and the color of the sky the right shade of azure, and the bank of the motorcycle perfect, the occasional pond or stilled creek water just beyond a bridge becomes a cold, sapphire mirror. Glass.

The Coast Range and the little hamlets and outposts dotted there-through are among the last undiscovered gems in California. One day, I always think, I’ll explore all the inner-mountain valleys that hold such delights as Lodoga, Stoneyford and Elk Creek. Hit the mom and pop stores along the way. Taste the honey and wine. Take a week, I think, and start at about Fairfield and head north to Happy Camp riding only the secondary roads that slip in and out of the folds of the Coast Range.
Today I would do just a bit of that.

THE PROPRIETRESS at the Guinda Corner Store remembered when you could drink water out of the creek, a comment she made as I bought a bottle of Aquafina, “but not this creek.” A leg stretch around this little crossroad town finds a mud and concrete bridge, rounded smooth by the passage of decades, spanning an abandoned ditch that may have supplied water to both the community and the orchards: “1911” the dedication plaque states.

Back down the road a piece, I’d passed the Cache Creek Indian Bingo and Casino. A tiny piece of Las Vegas misplaced in the tranquil Capay Valley. Not that the Indians shouldn’t be allowed to have casinos. Fleece all the white folks whose ancestors took it all away. I only wish those who are going to use Highway 16 to get there would get the hell out of my way when I’m on Highway 16. It is too fine a road to waste on a Buick Park Avenue, in my opinion.

Physically and, at some points, spiritually, I’m one with both the machine and this road as each lifts itself into the mountains following the rocky course of Cache Creek. The curves are inviting, open and enjoyable once the casino traffic has bowed to its Mecca. Out of the sun and into the shade and back again, I experience the temperature: a little chill, a little golden warmth, a little chill again and a little of that thick humidity that the morning sun has failed to yet vaporize. Aromas of an early spring: pastures, mown grass. A wisp of diesel from the pump working the creek. And music that seeps out of my head and floats around inside the helmet. This time, I think, it’s Strauss. Maybe Bizet. Your music will be different.

Presently, there’s another little village. Rumsey, the sign says. Diesel repair shop with a big American flag. Closed up bar. Post office not much bigger than a postage stamp. Really! I’ve got a garden shed out back that’s bigger. And, was there a store?

Then more hills and creeks and pastures and turns of pavement.

HIGHWAY 16 ENDS at Highway 20 and a left turn there leads me toward Clear Lake. South on Route 53 to 29 and I wind down into the Napa Valley. A wonderful Dolomite / Tuscany style road that snakes through redwoods and oaks on the hillsides and descends into vineyards and traffic.
Still a beautiful day, but now I’m a-mid a string of about fifteen other vehicles stuck behind an RV with a little girl jumping up and down on the bed in the rear. I see this through the big slug’s back window and shudder to think what might happen if Grandpa ever lost control. He’s pulling a trailer with a fishing boat and two bicycles strapped securely, I’m hoping, on top. The guy behind me pounds an irrational rhythm on his horn button. Soon, several others join the chorus. Some Sunday drive, I think.

My mind goes back about two hours to a bit of the conversation with the proprietress at the ancient counter of the Guinda general store.
“Mighty quiet,” I’d said.
She’d replied: “Perfect.”
And I realize that these people – at least some of them – want exactly what they’ve got.

© 2004
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Meanwhile, in the Neighborhood

The big houses so many people HAD to have...

THE MANSION stands stately and still. Remnants of its grandeur flutter through unglazed window cavities. Downspouts and electrical wires hang lifelessly from cracking eaves. Paint scales, peels and lays bare the stonework and masonry of decades ago’s craftsmen. Landscape overgrows, proliferates and dies.

Life’s cycle.

An imperceptible squall kicks up from the west as a storm of European starlings – not native to this portion of California – flush themselves from an upper reach.

Swiftly, they form a disorganized cloud, mindlessly turning and twisting.

In a heartbeat, the black, beating swirl disappears through a vacant upstairs window into the house next door.

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Delta Artist


“THE PLACE IS INSPIRATIONAL.” I said. “The old buildings. The orchards. The river…”

“It’s the pace,” the painter said. Something in his voice matching the soft collage of oily hues rainbowing each of his thick hands. “Everything just slows down here.” He chuckled, “About thirty years ago, I got drunk down the street and I woke up and never left.” Sheepish grin. “Or maybe I just didn’t wake up.”

I judged several pieces hung up in the old studio’s wall or leaning against it from the floor.

“We… my partner and me… we use real paint, you know.”

“I know.”

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, November 2, 2009

Day Ride, Injury and Aftermath


SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE OF PIKE CITY, (population about three – four if you consider the dog whose Sunday reverie I’d interrupted) Schoolhouse Road kinda disappears. There’s a sign at the intersection by the old red schoolhouse that reads “Schoolhouse Road.” And, referencing my Sierra County map, the road is listed. So I take it. It isn’t paved. And after a hundred yards or so, it isn’t graveled. And after a bit farther, I can’t even see tire tracks. To either side of whatever I am on are “No Trespassing” signs, so I know I’m on something. I am divining my route by the widest distance between the pines and oak trees and the levelest flank of land leading between ‘em. Sorta like playing croquet – aiming the big Beemer through the wickets. But that’s not the story.

Somewhere out here, all the bars go away from my cell phone. There’s no coverage – so in my mind, “nationwide coverage” is a slogan. A myth. I say to myself, “I hope I don’t get a flat tire out here because no one will find me until the thaw in the spring. If then.” Then I think: I hope I don’t fall off this thing and break a foot or something because no one will find me until the thaw in the spring. If then. Then I think: What if I’m lost? Then it really won’t matter that the phone doesn’t work because I won’t know where to tell ‘em I am.

As I’ve done so many times before, I find myself gently tiptoeing the bike over new-to-me, uncharted territory and wishing I’d given better direction to loved ones as to where I was planning to ride this day. That thought, of course, presupposed I had planned where I was going to ride this day. Which is never the story.

In about the amount of time I would have expected it to take, Schoolhouse Road tees into Pliocene Ridge Road, a paved thoroughfare that goes to points-known to me. Sigh of relief. Only at the intersection Schoolhouse Road is now called Anderson Ranch Road. So I was lost! But that’s not the story.

A pleasant day ride on both paved and unpaved roads, through tamed and untamed regions proved beautiful, if uneventful. No story here.

IT IS EVENING. Dusk. I am home, sharing the above non-story travelogue with wife and folks. Also grilling our weekly fare – this time teriyaki salmon – on the smoker out back. The fish is done. I ease the spatula between the grill and skin and gently slide the main course onto the serving dish. It is savory.

Stepping from the deck upon which the smoker is placed, my right foot twists atop a strategically placed red ball. A dog toy. Both pups were peeking around the corner of the shed. I’d seen the twinkles of anticipation and delight in their eyes that I was about to understand. I should have known something was up when I heard Jax the older, say to Edward the younger, “Shhhh! Watch this.”

My unbalanced course threw me from the brick path into the six-inch rock cobbles landscaping the area around our heritage oak. Momentum carried me into the tree and by this time, my right foot was throbbing. I am found leaning against the old oak, moaning, it was reported. The perfectly grilled teriyaki salmon slipped off the platter onto the rocks and was thoroughly enjoyed by my two “best friends.” But that’s not the story.

Over the phone, the advice nurse tells me to elevate, take ibuprofen, avoid Scotch and she’ll schedule an appointment for me with my primary care doc for the morning. I attend and a fracture is confirmed. The busted foot I deserved to get out in the woods somewhere, I’ve gotten in my own backyard! I am fitted for an e-boot and hobble to the car thinking, I used to work in Chester, now I walk like him. But even that’s not the story.

THAT EVENING, my betrothed is a bit later than usual coming home from work. I am concerned, but I do not call. I am assuming she is dropping by the local Rite-Aid and picking up some ibuprofen for the pain. Or aspirin. Or maybe even whisky.

Noooo…. My loving wife came home with three new dog toys. THAT’S the story.

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press