Monday, February 22, 2010

Table Mountain Breakdown

[February, 2006] A FAVORITE STRETCH OF ROAD leads to Cherokee, off state route 70, where we’d explored as kids, always stopping at the mom ‘n’ pop for a soda. Atop Table Mountain, northeast from Oroville, springtime lupine and poppies and fiddlenecks and brodiaea grow thicker than the carpet in a rich man’s house. The landmark Needle’s Eye shows where hydraulic miners wore a hole clean through the mountain. The century old schoolhouse sits empty, but the nearby covered bridge still affords sheltered passage across some unnamed creek.

Up this way in 1850-something, a disgruntled and unlucky but entrepreneurial sourdough salted some diamonds in the mud up in a gully near Oregon City in order to create a land rush. Diamonds are typically mined from ore with a cobalt blue tint. No blue mud here. But who would know? Bastard made a killing selling bogus claims. Left the area just as the feathers were being plucked and the tar was coming to a boil.

Today, in Cherokee, not even the museum by the old WP caboose is open. No place to return to childhood and buy a Nehi or a piece of hard candy. Just a stretch of road lined with wood and wire fences. An occasional rock wall from a hundred and fifty years back. Ramshackle houses and some tired double-wides. Retirees getting away from it all. Cattle people and family farmers eking out a gritty living, enjoying pleasant, simple day-to-days.

SOMEWHERE NEAR THE TOP of Table Mountain, lush with tiny gold fields and emerging lupine, probably over by that covered bridge at Oregon City, I picked up the fence staple. Two nice neat holes out of which a hell of a lot of air could escape in a very short period of time. The back end felt like I was riding across a plate of mashed potatoes. Or a waterbed. Slippery. Slalommy. Loosey goosey. In an instant I knew many things. The tire was shot. I was 110 miles from home. And my cell phone was sitting on the dresser, not coincidentally, that same hundred and ten miles away.

People are more than kind. The joy of this spring day would not be defined by the intrigue of that new road through Rackerby, the view from Oroville Dam, or the fragrance of the gold fields and lupine and sweet cattle effluent. It would be defined by the three lovely red-headed ladies who stopped to repair the tire on one of their 18-speed Nishiki road bicycles. They loaned me a cell phone. Or the family heading back from the boat ramp that had seen me forlornly standing by the side of the road. They loaned me their cell phone. Or the four Harley riders who stopped to say that they’d rarely seen a Beemer “broke down” by the side of the road but admitted that anyone could pick up a nail. Offing their helmets I was impressed and surprised to see one male riding a Hog accompanied by three females riding Hogs. (Nice work if you can get it.) They, too, loaned me their cell phone.

Finally, that family who connected me with grandpa, two miles back up the road, across from the Cherokee cemetery, who put my bike up in his garage for two nights until I could retrieve it and ferry it home for repairs. Seems the seventy-one-year-old gent named Ernie had a couple of motorcycles in his garage – one a beautiful Honda 750 Harley cruiser knock-off called a “Shadow” – and he could most certainly squeeze mine in for however much time it took for me to get back up that way.

“Us riders,” he said, “got to stick together.”

© 2006
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Love this one. Got the phone number of any of the three red heads?

  2. What a beautiful dog!

  3. I'm taking the fifth on that first comment; and yes, ol' JTD is a beautiful dog.