Monday, July 25, 2011



LIVING IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA and riding a motorcycle must go hand-in-throttle. Proof that God rides is found in roads like Highway 70 (portions recently repaved!) through the Feather River Canyon, Highway 49 from Mariposa, through the gold country, crossing the Sierra at Yuba Pass, Highway 36 out to the coast from Red Bluff, and Skaggs Springs / Stewarts Point back in. The list is as long as the number of paved miles - longer if one considers the magical nature of graded forest service routes throughout the Sierra and Coast Ranges.

Finding a previously unridden route becomes more difficult with age – make that “experience.”

California 3 courses through the Siskiyous and Trinities between Montague – east of I-5 – and Peanut north of 36. This road has rested on my short list for far too long. So, in returning from the Northeastern loop across the Modoc Plateau, it was fitting that the tour would include “3.”

THE JAUNT FROM MONTAGUE to Yreka is a nicely paved five-mile stretch that proved to be a blessing after the 120-mile dirt and gravel run across the Modoc Plateau. Yreka, the county seat of Siskiyou County and in the running for capital city of the State of Jefferson, has long been a crossroad in far northern California. The I-5 corridor runs through town thanks to the late Congressman Harold T “Bizz” Johnson. A less formidable route for the Interstate would have been east through the Shasta Valley, but Bizz was a native of Yreka.

After a night’s rest, the cool of the morning causes the moisture and the aromas to settle. Driving west toward Fort Jones, Etna and Callahan, one can easily become intoxicated by the pine scent at the summits, the jasmine blossoming in towns and the pasturelands in between. The road traces Moffitt Creek to where it joins the Scott River in Etna, all ‘neath the shadows of the Marble Mountains.

Beyond Callahan, the highway twists up and over Scott Mountain Summit. I find myself shifting between third and second gears as the GS rumbles to the top of the pass. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses here and I pause. The Old Timer (the author’s dad) had hiked the Marble Mountains from this trailhead decades ago. I add this to my short list.

Heading south, the road makes a quick descent with luscious curves that demand a conservative right hand. Thirty-miles-per-hour presses the issue on the tall BMW and for a moment I question why thirty is exhilarating on highway 3 but exasperating on I-80 between Roseville and Sacramento.

Another tight corkscrew sneaks up on me, snapping me back to reality. They’ve done a good job engineering the pavement here with good surface quality, good banking and lots of erosion controls. The culverts are so huge that one could camp inside were it not for the late, late spring run-off.

Too quickly, the route has cleared the pass and made its way down the other side. Trinity Lake awaits, brimming from the fullness of the wet winter. There is no telltale bathtub ring is evident to suggest that the lake’s waters are sequestered by an earth-fill dam some ten miles or more further on.

“3” joins 299 at Weaverville and splits off after crossing the Trinity River at Douglas City. The last leg carries me through the cattle and hay country of Hayfork, then down through Peanut.  I was going to stop there for a Coke, but somehow missed the town, truly one of those "don't blink" kinda places.  The glorious Route 3 hooks up with route 36 five miles further on. Right would have taken me to Fortuna and the Humboldt Coast. Left finds me 90 minutes out of Red Bluff and a steamy Sacramento Valley.

"Old Fort Jones" (c) Cal State Military Museum
HEADING DOWN THE VALLEY, I ponder the tiny bergs that dotted my three day tour – Beldon, Canyon Dam, Westwood, Adin, Cedarville, Tule Lake, Macdoul, Montague, Fort Jones, Etna, Douglas City, and bunch of others – knowing why they exist, but wondering how they exist. I resolve that I am glad that they exist along with all of the territory in between.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

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