Friday, April 29, 2011


YOU CAN FIND OUT A BIT about the towns you ride through by just scratching around. Every place has history. Every place. Every place also exists because someone at sometime saw something about the place that was perfect, or at least, necessary. History or knowing history – or just nosing about – will tell us what.

We have found ourselves in Elk, California a couple of times recently. Located about twenty minutes north of Point Arena and twenty minutes south of Mendocino, Elk is a town one can drive into, mistakenly assess that there is no viable market or eatery and keep on going. In so doing, the sojourner would miss a fine little pub, and nice place to eat and a market which will re-open – refreshed and with a new business attitude – in May [2011.]

A walk down the bluffs to the beach reveals artifacts man thought would stand certain tests only to find out that nature had other tests in mind. A chunk of concrete lays half-covered in sand. Weathered by winds and tides, at first the thing looks natural. It is not until one examines the aggregate that it becomes clear that this is a manufacture of man, not nature.

That, and the ironwork imbedded in the carcass. Similarly, a steel rail protrudes from the sand, rusted beyond shape. Paired with another, something once ran here for some reason – something not invented by the coastal Pomo. Yet, ‘ashes to ashes’ is the axiom at work.

Generations ago, San Francisco was built out of straight grained, old growth redwood. The stuff was so plentiful that when the city burned in the late 1800s, it was readily rebuilt – the raw material so cheap and plentiful – only to burn again after the great quake of ’06.

The mechanisms of that lumber harvest involved felling trees just inland from points such as Elk. Masterfully, inventive folks, who probably did not enjoy degrees from Stanford or Cal, engineered tracks and cables, wharves and moorings so that the felled timber could be yarded from the forest, milled into lumber and loaded onto schooners or scows in the cove and transported to market.
Only fourteen hours, if the seas cooperated. The hills around Elk – formerly known as Greenwood – are not denuded and probably never supported redwood forests. But just inland, State Route 128, the Philo – Greenwood Road and several other paved and unpaved routes, slice right into the heart of the old redwood country.

That’s probably why these old routes exist snaking inward from the coast. The climate is ideal. Mild, wet winters, cool summers. Sequoia Sempervirens flourished and still do. Little Greenwood Cove, at the base of the bluffs below Elk, perfectly filled the bill as a timber transshipment center during its day.

Now, there’s a Catholic Church, and just up the road, both a Catholic and a community cemetery; a hippy-dippy plant nursery, some elegant inns and B&Bs. Soon the market will re-open. Perhaps people will stop when they drive through. Perhaps, also, they’ll scratch around a bit and discover why this place is this place and begin to wonder about other locales through which they may journey.



Buchanan, Flora and Yerda Matson Dearing, Memories of Cuffy’s Cove and Early Greenwood, 1850-1930, © 1977, 1985, 1996, The Greenwood Hobbyists. A compendium of old photos and Flora and Yerda’s recollections. Miss Buchanan was born in Cuffy’s Cove in 1888. Both she and Mrs. Dearing (born 1894 in San Francisco) taught at Greenwood Elementary School, as well as other schools along the Mendocino County coast. This site serves as a mini-Chamber of Commerce for this oft-overlooked stretch of the California Coast.  The site provides historic photos and a little narrative about the area in a posted piece entitled “Greenwood/Elk: A Town with Two Names.”
© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I TOOK A TEST RIDE on the 2008 Moto Guzzi Breva Sport today. The good folks at Elk Grove Powersports were kind enough to lead me on a nice spin through rural aspects of the valley out near the delta. I was very much taken by the 1200’s performance - not nasty fast but gracefully smooth; its styling - very Italiano: everything flows, everything tastes visually as only the Italians make things taste; and its solid fit and finish - it feels like a tank and floats like a feather all at the same time.

ALL THAT SENSORY STUFF said I did not jump today. There are too many pros and cons to weigh, however, the pros are very compelling. So like all good former manager/administrator/leaders, I made a list of plusses and minuses. Here goes:

+ It is an absolutely beautiful machine. It reminded me at first, of my 2000 BMW R1100R, the first bike I purchased when I reentered motorcycling about ten years back. It also recalls the “flying brick” era K1200RS BMW that a riding buddy nearly purchased. Both the Breva and the "K" are visually stunning in black with beautiful lines. Even the mirrors are hot looking.
+ The Breva’s excellent fit, finish and build quality are complemented by a gorgeous instrument cluster – retro, yet modern – and over-informative at the touch of a button.
+ The bike produces a wonderful exhaust note. I’m thinking “Tosca.”
- Seating - almost immediately, I thought, "Well nuts! The pegs are too close to the seat," but...
+ …after riding it just a bit, I realized there's something about the way the seat is positioned that doesn't pinch my hips – my old R1100 had this problem – prompting me to have to dismount and walk it off for several minutes in order to reconcentrate on the route.
- My legs are accordioned quite a bit more than on the GS but...
+ …my weight seems distributed more evenly between my butt and my shoulders, so I got the impression my rear end might not wear out as quickly because of this curious distribution of my weight.
+ The “bikini” faring is sexy and understated. There is no wind buffeting against my helmet, just a continual whoosh. I really liked this, reminded me of riding the KLR where the wind was part of the symphony.
- My nearest dealer is 40 miles away and the local dealer franchise has changed three times in the last eight years proving to be a bit of a moving target.
- Current dealer only has limited number of 2010-11 bikes in stock.
- Guzzi imported very few 2010 units. Rumor suggests they may be building only V-7s and Grissos this year according to another buyer on the floor. However, the Guzzi web site shows both Stelvio (big-bore dual sport) and Norge (long distance touring) models in their 2011 line up.
- I hold concern about the longevity of the marque, however, since its acquisition by Piaggio, that company’s appreciation for the Guzzi heritage should stand it in good stead for many years to come.
- Finally, there are much better things to do with eight thousand – make that nine thousand (with taxes and fees) American dollars, but…
+ …I can't think of what they might be right now.

AFTER THE TEST DRIVE, I took the 110-mile long way home on the GS, up through the foothills toward Georgetown in El Dorado County, stopping a couple of places along the way. This was an effort to rationalize NOT buying the thing. I came away thinking that the maximum usage of the Guzzi would be the 150-mile picnic ride through the foothills or up the coast if ever we were to locate in that direction. The bike would be absolutely perfect for such duty. It would be NOT nearly as good as the GSs for the Gold Country – Monterey Coast tour undertaken a couple of weeks back. At least not with my long inseam.

This machine is something I do not need, but boy, oh, boy, it is like driving a Maseratti with a base price of entry below 8 grand. Pinch me. I am strongly considering a purchase. I have told the sales manager I will call her on Thursday with a yes or no.

Monday, April 25, 2011


THE END WAS EMINENT. The night before she died, the family matriarch was asked if she felt afraid or scared. We clutched her hand.

“No,” she replied in a whisper, squeezing back. “Just sad.”

“Sad?” we asked.

“Yes, sad.” There was a moment of hesitation, then: “Sad that it all happened so quickly.”

Quizzical looks.  “What happened so quickly, Mom?”

Now, no hesitation: “Life.”

NEARLY FIVE YEARS elapse. Truly only moments. From a bluff above the ocean, I listen to the tide break and watch it wash over a tiny beach strewn with drift.

The words of the mother resonate.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, April 22, 2011



Skaggs Springs / Stewarts Point - from a former ride
YESTERDAY, we rode ninety miles from Healdsburg on US 101 to Elk on California 1 via Skaggs Springs Stewarts Point Road.  We detoured through a little berg called Annapolis sticking to roads that sport bike riders might refer to as "Meccas." Each blending riding challenge with stunning views.

Sam's wonderful Bonneville Black
The routes corkscrew in and out of countless canyons and hollows, across rusted steel bridges, atop ridges and through groves of redwood forest. Along the way, we enjoyed a mixed bouquet of silage, wood smoke, honeysuckle, diesel exhaust, must, and salt air.   The eighty degree temperature of the Dry Creek wine growing region dips to 53 on the coast at Gualala and maintains that through Point Arena and Manchester: all the way up to Elk (nee: Greenwood.) What a delightful ride!

Evening view from the cottage
 Today would be different.

FROM MY MORNING VANTAGE POINT on the couch situated in a tiny cottage across Highway 1 from the bluffs and beach, I can see the Pacific and the storms that are to come. The constant rhythm of the waves on the tiny beach provides a subtle symphony for relaxation, contemplation and calm. A second cup of coffee would be nice. The rain, light though it is, curtains the horizon line. The sky and sea are one. The universe seems but various shades of gray.

I venture out to see rainwater beaded up all over the GSA. I swipe the tank with my hand, scan the sky and ponder. Riding in the rain is not a favorite activity. Still, on this layover day at the cozy house in Elk, it is probably a good idea to practice those wet riding skills, especially if a hot shower awaits. I have a rubberized suit that goes over my riding pants and jacket, but a couple of years back, I purchased a BMW “Santiago” jacket from Santa Rosa BMW. It was last years model so I got a break on the price. It came without a waterproof liner – extra at additional cost – but I told the nice lady that I had a rain suit. “Try this,” she said. “If you have a Gore-Tex® shell, put it on under the Santiago. I bet you won’t need your rain suit jacket nor will you miss the liner.”

I DON THE SANTIAGO with my REI liner over a layer of recycled pop bottle (fleece), slip on the rain suit pants and head off. Immediately I realize that it is a misstatement to suggest that everything is gray. The clouds and the sea are muted tones of blue and purple, the coastal hills muted greens and golds; the red barns softened. Riding in this weather, the most brilliant color comes from the owl clover, aster, ice plant and poppy that ribbon the sides of the road.

Note the curving center line to the upper left
I use an anti-fog wax on the face shield of my Shoei helmet, but it doesn’t work worth a damn. The best option is to crack the windscreen a fraction and let the cool outside air vent inward and prevent condensation on the plastic. This chills my cheeks and causes my nose to drip, all of which is part of the multi-sensory nature of the riding experience. But the Touratech wind spoiler diverts most of the rainwater up and over my helmet.

My route takes me east over the Philo-Greenwood Road. The road rises to a ridge top where an apple orchard is completing its bloom, then dips into stream courses supporting stands of redwood. I suspect the origins of this road have something to do with the harvest of those giants. The rain picks up as I scale the west-facing slopes and turns to mist or fog as I descend into the hollows.

The road is wet but not particularly slick. Still, I use caution with the throttle and the brakes. Every action is gentle and gradual. I don’t want any firsthand knowledge about the coefficient of friction and the effects when one exceeds it.

AT A POINT, I am one with the weather, impressed with the subdued nature of a muted, misty world. The rain has pushed the wood smoke and diesel from the air. The honeysuckle is faint. Just as the colors have faded, so the air has become an aromatic meritage – each element indistinguishable, but the resultant blend delicious.

I battle the drippy nose, the cold hands, and the slippery pavement, deciding to ride a little further and explore a little more before turning homeward. My jacket and pants are keeping me dry and the long-gauntleted winter gloves are keeping my warm – critical for both comfort and safety.

California Highways 128 and 1 are Mecca routes. Places like Navarro, Comptche, Little River and Albion take form and then fade in a veil of mist in the rear view mirror. Running along the bluffs, the view to the west extends into the fog and thus, well past infinity. Where the road dips into the mouth of the Russian, Garcia, Navarro or some other river, engineers built switchbacks and twists that, when dry, require judicious jabbing into second gear. When wet? Just keep in mind that coefficient of friction.

With the right attitude and the right gear, the rainy ride is not something to fear. The day is good. But that hot shower back at the cottage in Elk makes it even better.


Note:  Thanks to Sam Bilbro for his constant efforts to introduce and reintroduce me to Sonoma County's coastal roads.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
Dad quoting John Keats to Mom – seldom with any success

“Don’t knock rationalization. Where would we be without it? I don’t know anyone who can get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex… Ever gone a week without a rationalization?”
Geoff Goldbloom portraying Michael, 
a “People Magazine” stringer, 
in Lawrence Kasdan’s classic 
“The Big Chill”

THERE’S A 2008 MOTO GUZZI BREVA SPORT – brand new – sitting at the Guzzi dealer in Elk Grove, California. (Note – all salespeople of this fabled Italian marque are taught to somehow place a ‘t’ sound in the word Guzzi – making it “GOOT-see” not “GOOZ-ee.” This practice make us lookie-loos feel like neophytes if we let it.) Moto Guzzi has been building motorcycles on the shores of Lake Como in Mandello del Lario, Northern Italy, since 1921. (BMW started in ’22.) Guzzi uses a drive shaft to connect a transverse mounted 90-degree “v” twin engine in a frame. Two wheels are applied and somehow they come up with more than the sum of the parts. Italians do this a lot.

Piaggio SpA
The Breva in question has a rich coat of paint so finely polished that one feels as if something’s going to come away wet if one touches it. The 2008 being the last of the three- or four-year run of the Breva model, the Guzzi factory adorned the front in with a this-year-only bikini fairing said to push a bit of the wind away from the rider’s body, but leaving enough to remind the rider he or she is riding. It sports a broadening white stripe and flying eagle badge harkening back to the original logo of decades past. Moto-journalists commented that at first, the Breva Sport appears to be a rolling piece of art. Guzzi aficionado Danillo Gurovich (his blog: “As the Dude Abides”) says that this bike could be the mount for “the most interesting man in the world” of Dos Equis fame. Having ridden one for an extended test, he tells us “Guzzis are the ‘Saabs of Motorcycles.’ Always respected for conservative yet stout engineering, comfortable and quirky.” Clement Salvadori (Rider Magazine, January 2008) commented that all the factory need do is let the riding public know this bike is out there.

Well it was out there. Its four valve engine has given way to an eight valve engine set in a redesign now known as the Griso – a hot bike in and of itself. Like the last of any run of anything, either they sell out right away at retail and appreciate, or they sit for a while as the price lowers itself to some market-driven floor. That’s what has happened to the Breva. Now three years old but still brand new, the dealer is pushing this model at a five thousand five hundred dollar discount ($5500.00) off of retail. The beast could be mine for a mere eight grand!

THAT’S WHERE THE RATIONALIZATION ENTERS. Readers know that my BMW R1200GS Adventure is considered by many both in and out of the moto-press as the best motorcycle on the planet. It is a comfortable tourer, a competent sporting machine and it does not shy away from gravel roads or the trackless reaches of the most remote places on earth. I like mine a lot. It is as reliable as a Swiss watch, as loyal as a pound puppy and the service I’ve received from my local BMW store has always been top notch, if a bit pricy at times. But many suggest that BMW service is pricy no matter where you go. Something about the excellence of German engineering and the similar excellence one might expect when service is rendered. So, no complaints, just realization about the price of admission. Still, the Guzzi costs less to maintain – or so I’ve read. That would be rationalization number 1.
Number two might be how the folks from Mandello del Lario blended simple function with timeless form. The lines of the Breva seem to flow over the air-cooled engine as if designed by the wind for the wind. The little fairing leads the eye up and over a sculpted tank, dipping into a seat that the press proclaims as most comfortable and an “all-dayer.” Finally there is a luggage rack feathered into the line rather than bolted on. BMW accomplished something similar with their 1996-2001 R1100R roadster, one of which I owned when I reentered motorcycling about ten years ago. Both are bikes one can simply sit next to and look at. I’ve personally wasted hours. From the front, the Guzzi’s V-twin is physically more compact than the engine in the German marque. It gives the impression of being muscular and svelte all at the same time. Like me.

Third might come the riding experience. The GSA does everything very, very well, including protecting the rider from the wind. The Breva won’t address a forest service road and it clearly won’t keep all the wind away, but among the essences of motorcycling is the freedom associated with the wind in one’s face. Think James Dean, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper. Think Egan and McQueen. Think “On Any Sunday.”

I have talked myself into reserving a test ride on this, the last of the Breva breed. My bank account will be very pleased if the bike hurtles and lurches like a piece of space junk about to incinerate upon re-entry into the atmosphere. My heart tells me that the press is probably right about this functional piece of art. My head is struggling with whether or not to bring along the checkbook.



As the Dude Abides
Dan Gurovich maintains an excellent blog called “As the Dude Abides” focusing, in part, on the Guzzi marque. His is an insightful resource for those considering a Goose.  Danilo took this portrait of the 1200 Sport during his week-long extended test.  His work may be accessed at:

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Part 4 of a 3-part series.

Sometimes the road just gets to be an obnoxious partner. And no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t seem to find harmony. It happens. And when it does, it doesn’t make sense to push things.

Eric Trow
“Riding Well” column in Rider Magazine, May 2011.

THE SECOND WEEK IN APRIL is considered a pretty “sure thing” as far as riding weather goes. But this year, abundant rains fell in January and March pushing the beginning of spring back a few weeks. As mentioned earlier, the weather gods fooled with our original plan to explore the Redwood country up north. And, Thursday, riding from Monterey to San Francisco seemed like a giant game of cat and mouse, one where the cat came armed with thunder, lightning and huge pellets of rain.

It wasn’t until after my riding partner and I parted north of San Rafael that my luck ran out. Heading east from Napa over the familiar route 121/128 toward Winters, the climb out of the valley carried me under a cloud that was blacker than Simon Legree’s hat.

(c) Missouri University of Science and Technology

Oragraphic precipitation occurs when moist air is pushed up and over ridges of mountains. Figure that for every 1000 feet in elevation gain, the temperature drops about three degrees. Water droplets form around dust particles. Gravity pulls them earthward. But an uplift within the cloud grabs these tiny droplets and yanks them back skyward.
On their journey, more droplets attach. They gain weight and begin to fall until again captured by the uplift. As the physics intensify, the drop rises higher into the atmosphere where super-cold air turns it to ice. It falls and rises, gains layers, falls and rises, falls and rises until its mass becomes too great for the rising column of air. At this point, it is a pellet-like hailstone. It breaches the bottom of the cloud mass and falls to earth.

ABOUT THIS TIME, I come tooling along on the BMW. I’m wearing the proper gear for wet weather, but my thick, waterproof gloves fail to keep my digits nimble. And the layer of slushy ball bearings tends to counteract any tractable qualities of my relatively fresh Metzler Tourance tires.

In moments, the landscape turns white and the inside of my helmet fogs up. I crack the Shoei’s face shield a bit and the fog disappears, but I have to use the index finger of my clutch hand to wipe the sleet off the outside. I slow. The fellow in the Ford pickup I’d raced by only a mile or two back, is now just behind me. At the slightest wide spot, I let him pass. He must be laughing. The day before yesterday, I’d taken this at forty-five miles per hour in fourth; today I’m doing fifteen in first and second. There is no place to pull over and wait this thing out; no shelter from the squall. Twenty-five miles ahead is the Putah Creek Café which harbors hot coffee and closed about thirty minutes ago. I press on-ward thinking about the hot-buttered rum I shall concoct once I arrive home. If I arrive home.

As quickly as I entered it, I passed under and through it. The road turns from icy pebbles to wet pavement, then to dry. I’d outrun - well, out-crept - the storm.

Google Images
Just as I start to grin and congratulate myself on the steeliness of my resolve (read: cojones), a young man on a sport-style “rice rocket” blasts toward me. He is wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a full-face helmet. No leather. No mesh. No insulation. No brains? He gives me the requisite low-five – the signature wave of sport bikers – and races into the storm.

Either I’ll read about him in tomorrow’s paper or his resolve is a hell of a lot steelier than my own.



Eric Trow’s Motorcycle Safety website:

Rider Magazine is published for folks who tend to keep both wheels on the ground. It is available at newsstands and by subscription:

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Part 3 of a 3-part series.

The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

- Alan Jay Lerner, 1960

THE POST-DUSK STROLL from Abalonetti’s on the wharf to our digs at the downtown Monterey Best Western was cool bordering on cold. Clams and linguine were nicely complemented by a local Sauv Blanc, but our concerns rested with a weather report to which we’d tuned prior to headed out for dinner. A thin layer of cloud cover masked any stars and only a gossamer-like thread of new moon sliver could be seen through the gathering overcast. We talked about the previous two sunny days and agreed that we were due for some bad weather luck.

The next morning, the weather reporter for the local television station stood before a telestrator upon which fluorescent green Doppler dots swept inland from the Pacific. “Expect unsettled weather throughout the morning and into the afternoon.” We engaged in a misty walk to a breakfast place noting from the wet pavement and running gutters that it must have “rained like hell” last night. But, by the time we returned to the Best Western, packed and saddled, the sky was as azure as a gemstone.

A bullet had been dodged. Or had it?

HIGHWAY 1 NORTH of Monterey is a freeway. Without yesterday’s crosswinds, the ride was smooth. Above Castroville the road pares down to two lanes and the cruise through the fertile coast valley is pleasant, if cool.
Our plan always is to take a break an hour or so in to every day and every hour or so there after. As luck would have it, Santa Cruz boasts Moto Italiano, a Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Aprilia and sweet little scooter shop just off the highway 1. A good bike shop always makes for a nice stop. On a relatively slow Thursday morning, sales guy Scott eagerly shares about the new-last-year Multi-Strada, a Ducati designed to perform favorably with our BMWs, all the while looking as dazzling as, say, Anita Caprioli. Randy straddled a red one, gripped the throttle and twisted.
Piaggio SpA
Meanwhile, I found a brand new three-year-old Moto Guzzi Breva that I felt would complement my GSA should I decide I needed a stable of motorcycles. (Save that one for me, will ya Scott?)

An hour quickly passed and once back on the highway, the specter of “unsettled weather” appeared on the horizon. Coursing north, an angry, black billow sat off shore. Beneath it, the Pacific’s horizon was lost in a gray, streaked downpour.

The bottom had, indeed, fallen out. Highway 1’s west-northwest cant seemed to be driving us directly into its core. Progressing toward Half Moon Bay, we couldn’t help but alternately eye the road and eye the incoming storm. The further north we ran, however, the further toward due west the thing seemed to rest, by the time an hour has elapsed, the beast was behind us. We stopped for photos.

Dodged another one.

ONE THING I’D VOWED never to do was to operate a motorcycle in the city of San Francisco. Clutches. Hills. Buses. Trolley tracks. Wacko drivers who squeeze through intersections on the red. But after a chilly detour up 35 and over to 101 – past the famed sport bike rider hangout Alice’s Restaurant, the temperature had dipped to 38 – we found ourselves heading north through the Sunset, across Golden Gate Park and over the bridge.

About mid-way, with a slight wind buffeting the motorcycle, I glanced at the waters below. I thought back to the gold country we visited as recently as yesterday – of the towns, the homesteads, placer mines and coyote holes – the evidentiary clues that history had happened. I thought of the people that changed California from pastoral to powerhouse and realized that a hundred and sixty years back, fully half of them sailed through the strait I was now crossing. The diversity we’d experienced, at once, seemed interconnected.

The three-day trip had come full-circle. We stopped at the north end for a view of the city and for farewells. Riding buddy Randy would return to Santa Rosa to turn in the GS although I know he’d just have soon continued north to Seattle on it. I would head across state route 37 to Sonoma, Napa, Berryessa and home. A grand time was had by both of us and the only thing we missed was the storm.



Moto Italiano Santa Cruz:

Again: Adventure Touring Santa Rosa:

Anita Caprioli:

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Part 2 of a 3-part series.

CO-RIDER AND GOOD BUDDY RANDY BOEK comes from the private sector. Me? Public schools administration: 34 years. In real life, Randy is a leadership development expert. We’ve known each other for well over thirty-five years. Honest with each other to a fault, he lets me know when I’m full of it and, in return, I agree. Over dinner at the Diamondback Grill, we talked about leadership and both the private and public sector’s current dearth thereof. Talking about the day’s riding would have been much more satisfying. The conversation on the evening of the second day would be much different.

WHEN I LIVED IN TUOLUMNE COUNTY twenty years back, Washington Street boasted at least three breakfast joints, The Miner’s Shack, Wilma’s (nee: the Europa) and a place on the ground floor of the Sonora Inn. As things evolve, breakfast seems to no longer be the most important meal of the day and pastries at The Gunn House would have to suffice.

At the crack of 9:00 AM we boarded the BMWs. Choosing a non-state highway route, we wound through springtime on Lime Kiln, Algerine, Twist (aptly named) and Jacksonville Roads. Grasses approached knee depth. Pasturelands were quiet grazed by cattle, sheep, goats and llamas. The cool, dense morning was heavily ladened with the aroma of these livestock. It felt like country. Good country. A scenic overlook at Don Pedro reservoir invited a stop.

(click to expand)
I’ve driven 49 from Sonora to Mariposa in an automobile. It is, at best, a chore. On the bikes it is a carnival. Beyond the San Francisco deeded water units at Moccasin, route 49 continues to snake through foothills for the entire southern length of the Mother Lode. Riding this ribbon of pavement is much like a dance with one delightful move inviting another and another. You hope the music never stops. Vistas to the west take in the broad central valley. To the east, on occasion, we glimpse the high Sierra east of Yosemite.

Gold seekers from throughout the world flocked to the narrow band of rolling hills from 1849 through the mid fifties and beyond. They built towns of brick and timber, many of which have returned to dust, some of which are mere place names and some of which still stand as reminders.

Arriving at Coulterville, we dismount for a close up look at the remnants of our heritage. A massive wisteria climbs through the second story porch at the Hotel Jeffrey, its trunk bigger in diameter than the posts supporting the veranda.

The streetscape includes the abandoned brick general store with evidence of its conversion to electricity. Our heels echo on the boardwalk that may have been first constructed at a time when roads turned from dust to mud in a matter of hours.

Placed at one end of town is Whistling Billy, a narrow gauge tank side engine, workhorse from the mining era through the lumbering era. An example of which was recently discovered up north within the basin of a drained Butt Lake (Plumas County) when the dam was retrofitted for seismic safety.

Mariposa C of C
49 slinks along creek sides, over ridges, through pastures and gentlemen farms. John C. Fremont trooped this way sometime back. Someone named Bagby got a town. Trabucco means firearm. Pendola, we’re not sure. Ophir’s named after the Biblical land of gold.A bootjack was an early implement for boot removal but the town was named after the v-shaped lay of the road or the streams in the area. Mariposa has to do with butterflies. And Oakhurst?

Oakhurst is at the southern foot of highway 49. On a whim, we skimmed along the ridge tops the route takes for its final nineteen miles. I hoped to park the bike under the marker reading California 49 with a rectangular sign reading “end.” There wasn’t one. There was that typical mix of brick and board buildings harkening back a century and a half. We lunched in Coarse Gold.

THE AFTERNOON found us racing westward through the foothills into the orchard plains of the San Joaquin Valley. Almonds. Pistachios. Citrus. And wind. Between Los Banos (so named “the baths” for pools in the area, not “the toilet”) at the east side of the Coast Range, a nasty north wind blew across our track. At highway speeds on route 152, it felt as if at any moment we could be plucked from one lane and deposited in the next. Or across the median. Up through the San Luis Reservoir, each time the road turned or crested a hill, we had to be ready to correct for windblast. Once over Pacheco Pass, the winds abated. Past Casa de Fruita, we pulled over swearing in general, but also swearing specifically that neither of us wanted to ride through such conditions again.

Over the ridges, skirting biker Mecca Hollister, we routed through San Juan Bautista, where Patty Reid’s doll resides at the state park. Names on the landscape are more Hispanic. The hills rolling, green and pastoral. It is understandable why Fr. Serra and his ilk found this land of milk and honey fit for civilizing. If one didn’t save a soul on a particular day, at least the weather would be pleasant.

Miles further, we connected with State Route 1 and, like Fremont a hundred and seventy years back, aimed for Monterey. A sunny spring day had warmed the coastal plain and the air mass above it lightened and rose. Furiously rushing in would be the cold, bitter air from over the Pacific. The winds of the San Joaquin became mere child’s play as we batted down 1, gripping the bike’s saddles in a manner we had not assumed our butts could actually grip, peppered by blowing sand, and greatly concerned that the next gust would blow us into the path of a passing Freightliner.

Google Images
We did not talk leadership at Abalonetti’s on the wharf that evening.



Gudde, Erwin G, California Place Names – the Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names, University of California Press, 1949, 1960, 1969, 1998.

Randy Boek (rhymes with “heck” or “wreck”) is a business consultant. He works in leadership development. He believes in the power of people working together toward clearly articulated and commonly understood goals. While much of his focus is on private sector success, there is much that he has to offer leaders in education and other public endeavors. For more information, see His insightful blog may be found at

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Part 1 of a 3-part series.

AS A YOUNG BOY, flabbergasting my mother, I walked down to Chico Book and Stationery and ordered a copy of Remi Nadeau’s Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of California. I was, perhaps, eight. For days – well evenings – I poured over the book’s photographs and stories of life in the gold country of California – the corridor along state route 49 – and dreamed of one day buying a practical car (at the time, either a Jeep Wagoneer or a VW Combi Bus) and spending the rest of my life camping out like a 49er. In the fifty intervening years, I have traveled most of 49, achieving its northern terminus at Vinton (Plumas County), but never to its southern end at Oakhurst. Little did I know I’d make it this trip.

Our plan had been to meet in Santa Rosa and travel up US 101 to Eureka, using the Eureka Inn as a home base from which to explore 299 east to Redding and return on the most glorious state route 36 west from Red Bluff. But the weather gods frowned on this, sliding a hillside across 101 north of Garberville and prompting us to scrub those plans for no plans in particular.

CHURCH OF THE OPEN ROAD original parishioner, Randy Boek, hailing from Washington State reserved a 2010 BMW R1200 GS from Adventure Touring in Santa Rosa, California. Proprietor Mike Bongiovanni meticulously maintains his rental fleet of GSes and when Randy and I met up at the plaza in Sonoma, it was immediately evident that we were in for a good time.

I’d ridden from home in the Sacramento area, stopping in Winters at the Putah Creek Café for breakfast – if you can find a better breakfast sausage anywhere on the planet, please contact “the church” and let us know; we doubt if you can – and pausing at the Monticello Dam to see if the waters of Lake Berryessa had eclipsed the Glory Hole. They hadn’t.

© 2011 Suisun Valley
WE TRACED MY ROUTE from Sonoma to Napa on 121. Nine miles east we slipped into the bucolic Wooden and Suisun Valleys, rustic land of wineries, local farmers’ markets, bergs and hiking trails. Often overlooked by those traveling I-80 to or from “the City,” this little part in the Coast Range offers a view back to slower times where drivers pull over to allow passing, quite possibly, locals know one another by first name. In the highest reaches, every flat half-acre homes a vineyard; and as we approach Fairfield, row upon row of varietals are just in bud for the new growing season.

Crossing I-80, we rode along state route 12 toward the Delta. A pause at Rio Linda. The public restrooms are barricaded by steel gates slipped into concrete dikes. Silt rests upon the river-side of these arrangements, reminding us that flood stage means things really, well, flood, in these parts – as recently as last week.

We devised a simple plan to cross the valley floor on state route 12, catch state route 49 at San Andreas and spend the night in Sonora. Phone reservations are made at the Gunn House there.

Not far east of Lodi, route 12 begins a graceful waltz through the foothills. The spring grass is tall. Blue gilia and lupine decorate the berm and I recall that an edible bulb lives at the base of the former.

San Andreas is the first of many towns along the Golden Chain Highway that we will pass through. Each will have brick buildings with aged and cracking plaster exteriors revealing, well, brick buildings. Highway 49 bypasses the oldest part of San Andreas, but the “business route” steers one through a town with one foot secured by history.

I know this section of 49 well, having once worked a mining claim near “Mark Twain’s (rebuilt) Cabin,” and later having served in education in both Jamestown and Sonora. At the time I drove an ’83 R65 “airhead” BMW, a bike for which these roads were specifically engineered. 49 sweeps into and out of the canyons of the Mokelumne, Stanislaus Rivers and several smaller creeks. The sun dips below the ridgeline south of Angels Camp. The ride past Columbia into Sonora turns cool.

(c) Gunn House Hotel
Our room at the Gunn House is comfortable, affordable and historic. An evening there with my wife would have been far preferable to an evening there with my riding brother, but oh well. We hiked down to the Diamondback Grill for some oriental ribs and local wine, ran across some friends from long ago, then returned to the hostelry and turn in. All in all, a most excellent first day.


Downtown Sonora: circa a while ago.  Source: Google Images
NOTES: Owing to the fact that we dropped the ball on stopping for pictures, many images included in these posts are swiped from Google. They are noted as Google Images, but may be the copyrighted work of other photographers, artists, sojourners, or others in league with ne’er-do-wells. When possible, I will credit the photographer or their URL and regret my inability to do so in every case. That said, the pictures are used for illustrative purposes only. The Church of the Open Road profits in no monetary sense from their use.

I recently lost track of my old copy of Remi Nadeau's Ghost Towns and Mining Camps.  I must locate it.


Adventure Touring Santa Rosa: Mike’s main business involves offering guided tours of some of the best roads found anywhere. Repeat: Anywhere! But Mike rents maintained, state of the art BMW GSes when they are not being used on a tour. Randy’s bike was flawless.

The Putah Creek Café was recently featured in the Food Network’s Diners, Dives and Drive-ins. Fine small-town atmosphere, offering killer burgers for lunch and, oh, yes, that house-made breakfast sausage.

The Diamondback Grill had just opened up when I relocated from Sonora, but I remembered the ribs. They have moved across Washington Street from their original location and have added greatly to their menu and wine list. This is a must-stop-at eatery.

The Gunn House is conveniently located on Washington Street near restaurants, watering holes and shopping. Its ambience takes one back a century and a half. Nice rooms, nice staff, nice price.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press