Saturday, August 27, 2011

THE CYCLE OF DISENFRANCHISEMENT

We CAN’T fix poverty.
Unjustified response to reader’s comment 
regarding the recent post “Lost” and
what educators can and cannot do.


THE CHURCH OF THE OPEN ROAD got that wrong. Educators CAN, indeed, fix poverty, or at least contribute greatly to the solution. Researchers and pundits long ago concluded that the more education an individual receives, the greater will be that individual’s lifetime earnings. Even in times as tough as these.

The nut that needs to be cracked is the cyclical nature of impoverishment. If we relate poverty back to school success or lack thereof, we need only examine the parent’s school experience in order to predict the degree to which the student might succeed.
  • If the parent was disenfranchised as a student,
  • if the parent was unsuccessful in school,
  • if the parent struggled academically or socially,
  • if the parent felt like an outcast – or worse, a prisoner – for the length of his or her school career,
  • if the parent didn’t belong
…chances are, the child will experience things the same way and feel the same emotions.

Breaking the cycle of academic failure most certainly means offering additional assistance to the student either through Individual Educational Plans, if the child is so qualified, or through assignment modifications, homework clubs or social interaction groups.

But disenfranchisement is a cultural thing that’s part of the family. Breaking the cycle of disenfranchisement takes something more. Something that goes beyond “treatment” aimed at the student.


Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in.
From “The Death of a Hired Man”
Robert Frost, 1915


IN ORDER TO BREAK THE CYCLE of disenfranchisement, the school needs to become a place open to the parent - any parent - like a home. It needs to be a place where the parent feels safer than when he or she attended. It needs to be a place where the parent is shown respect, even if, initially, the parent cannot show respect in return. It needs to be a place where the parent belongs, where, when they go there, we have to take ‘em in. Gladly. Joyously.

How can schools embrace the disenfranchised mom or dad? We can:
  • Call them on the phone to report something good. More than once.
  • Invite them to visit the classroom any time.
  • Invite their questions.
  • Act, when possible, on their suggestions.
  • Determine an interest that the parent holds – hobby, vocation or concern – and take a few moments to “chat them up” about it. Make sure they know that for you, it’s not always all about school.
  • Find something in common to laugh about.
  • Specifically and personally ask them to serve as a volunteer or committee member.
  • Let them know that they are a resource you can’t be as successful without.
In short: treat them as more than just the parent of a student, rather treat them as a valued, critical and valuable member of the community.

When disenfranchised parents know that the school is a non-threatening place, a place where it is safe to ask questions, volunteer answers, and take risks, the feeling will be conveyed to the child. After all, asking questions, volunteering answers and taking risks: Isn’t that what we expect of our brightest learners?


SCHOOLS CANNOT FIX THE POVERTY of the parental generation. But by embracing that generation, by welcoming them, we can break down the barriers that seemed to have thwarted their academic success. For the first time in their lives, we can make school a normal and safe place for them. A place where they belong.

When kids see that their folks are cool with school, they will be too. They’ll likely match their parent’s emotions and feel safe, attend more, do better academically and socially, and perhaps graduate. Those graduates will find many doors open to them that were closed to their parents: doors to better employment and doors to further education. No matter which door they choose, they will be suited for better economic opportunities.

The school – and you as the educator – will have contributed to “fixing poverty.”



NOTE:  The post entitled "Lost" may be located at http://thechurchoftheopenroad.blogspot.com/2011/08/lost.html  You'll need to be sure to check out the comments section to "get" context.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, August 19, 2011

STEPPING INTO HISTORY

CHEROKEE ROAD



TABLE MOUNTAIN (Butte County) is a Mecca for wildflower lovers, bicyclists and those who’d like to step back in time. Decades ago the family would annually trek across the flats over to Coal Canyon to watch spring run-off tumble over a precipice on the mesa’s edge. Even now, when possible we venture back to enjoy the lupine and let the dogs romp.


But that’s in the springtime. Yesterday, I engaged in another one of those efforts to not return home using the same route, and found myself atop Table Mountain. It was a dog-day August afternoon.  The air had stilled and the temperature rose in an effort to steal the last moisture from the already-well-parched ground.



CHEROKEE ROAD exits State Route 70 about a dozen miles northeast of Oroville. The road is paved and patched – too narrow to be considered secondary but too surfaced to be considered primitive.


A mile in, Cherokee the town rests. Or what’s left of it. The corpse of what may have been the Wells Fargo office rises out of the weeds; the vault’s steel door long removed.


Across the way, one of the few remaining buildings – used to be a little general store and museum many springtimes back – stands with paint cracking and a “Closed” sign hung haphazardly from a darkened window.




Relics of the gold era litter the yard of the building…




Butte County Historical Society




…recalling a history in which the quest for gold literally knocked holes through solid rock.













Southeast out of town, Cherokee Road winds through dry fields and brittle oaks.   

A sign entices me to pause at the cemetery.  An acre or so of bare ground greets the visitor.  But markers dated as recently as last year gleam nearby in the afternoon sun.  Plots are still available. (Act now!) 

But history whispers its timeless tales a few hundred yards in.  A huge Juniper grows out of one grave…

…and more than a few markers remind us that, while times may be tough now, our tribulations cannot compare with those of generations past.








At a stoppage for roadwork, what appears to be a derelict cabin from years gone by is spotted beneath a stand of trees.   

Upon closer examination, from the seat of the idling Breva, curtains are noted: draped inside wood framed windows.  Certainly there is a mix of home from mobile to ultra-modern up this way, but someone appears to be eking it out in a manner that should, by comparison, make most of us feel pretty fortunate.

Down the road a sign alerts us to a covered bridge.  There are few of these left in the entire country and only two in Butte County.  I sojourn over.  The marker recalls the site as Oregon City.  In one of those full-circle moments, I read that the earliest white folks here had traveled with Peter Lassen across the Lassen Applegate Route I’d visited six weeks ago.  The Lassen Trail was a cut-off from the historic Oregon Trail.  These folks, formerly intent on finding Oregon, settled here and named it Oregon City.

The little covered bridge is in excellent repair.  It spans a seasonal creek that, this day, is dry.  The road passes through the shelter and leads to the marker, which, outside of an old yellow house and a much newer ranch, is the only immediate evidence that Oregon City ever was.


The Church of the Open Road endorses finding the long way home.  Those little roads sketched so lightly on the map often open doors to our collective pasts.  Stepping into history gives us a healthy perspective on our todays and tomorrows.

Pack water.

o0o

Note:  Clicking on any (well most) images will prompt them to enlarge.

Previous posts that may explain that “coming full circle” remark:




© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

LOST

RIVER ROAD AND GRIDLEY HIGHWAY, 
OUTSIDE OF COLUSA, CALIFORNIA



Going back and forth between two points, like when commuting, it is difficult to find something new to see or some new way to go.  Such was the case when, returning from Healdsburg to Roseville via Clear Lake, I avoided taking state route 16 south from state route 20.  Instead, I hopped over to Williams, thence to Colusa.  Having been reared in Chico, I know this area of the Sacramento Valley, or so I thought.

A left turn at the end of Colusa’s main drag found me on a new-to-me lane.  “River Road” crosses the Sacramento and immediately bends northward.  After seven hours in the saddle, this was counter to the direction I had intended to travel.  But I knew the checkerboard pattern of valley farmland from flying Southwest Air on approach to Sacramento Metropolitan Field.  I knew that, very soon, some secondary road would beeline east and I would hook into 99 just north of Yuba City. 

I just knew it.


38 years ago, I’d been appointed to my first teaching position in Durham, California.  Durham is a pleasant agricultural berg a few miles south of Chico.  Durham Unified, while serving a relatively small population of children, spans the largest geographical area of all of the school districts in Butte County: east to the gold country, west to the river.  In and around town, almond orchards predominate.  The southern part of the district is primarily laser-planed valley floor filled with rice fields. 

I’d hired on to teach a small number of seventh and eighth grade students who were deemed too – today’s term is – “at risk” to succeed in the regular classroom.  These kids weren’t dumb.  Just squirrelly.  And I’d have them for most of their day.


Mandy Scottschild (a pseudonym) was twelve, maybe thirteen.  She lived out south in the rice fields.   

She didn’t lack smarts, but she did lack something.  Often, she wore the same outfit for a week at a time.  I don’t recall that she smelled particularly girlish – whatever that means.  And I know she annoyed the boys, the majority of my charges, by running up to them, doing something I never quite saw, and then running away. 

“She’s about as welcome as a horse fly at a beach party,” said a faculty member in the staff room.

“Yeah,” said another, “but by sixteen, she’ll have one of her own.”

Mandy’s pregnant mother attended my very first back-to-school night.  She came up afterward but only to comment that they’d named their daughter after the song.

“The song?” 

Mandy’s dad showed up at school a few of times, mostly to complain to me if the girl brought home too much work or had a run-in with a classmate. 

“Look,” he said.  “I’m a common laborer.  I can’t fix much o’ nothin’.  But you’re a teacher.  College degree.  You need to fix my kid.” 

He was a big man who wore aged blue jeans and a sleeveless used-to-be white undershirt.  His face had been shaven at one time, perhaps, but on his infrequent visits, he looked much like the last iconic photos we have of Saddam Hussein.  Although, back in those days, Saddam was our ally. 

I don’t recall what I said to Mr. Scottschild in response, but I don’t suppose it would have mattered.


Motoring north on River Road, I’m waiting for that turn that will point me east.  To my left is the river levee.  To my right, miles upon miles of valley loam filled with bright green August-level stalks of rice.  Occasionally, a pair of ruts will run through the paddies to a singular house shaded by a willow or a black walnut.


As the school year progressed, Mandy’s toying with the boys subsided only once her new sister arrived.  For a couple of weeks, she regaled her classmates incessantly about the newborn and how she cared for it.  Soon, however, she returned to simply bugging the hell out of the boys.

Two years later, Mandy and her colleagues moved across the parking lot to the high school and I was moved to fourth grade.  By Christmas break, the community was abuzz that Mandy had left school.  Pregnant.  It was scandalous. 

Scandalous!


Further north than I wanted to go, the Gridley Highway tees off to the right.  I steamed east.  “Steamed” because the temperature was in the mid-nineties and the bottomlands were still dense with moisture from a late spring, but also steamed at myself for having detoured this far out of the way.

Unlike River Road, Gridley Highway divides acres of rice stalks.  The river’s course disappears in my rear view mirror.  I find myself in the southern-most end of the district that gave birth to my career in education.  A dirt path splits off to the north.  It follows one of those graceful little dikes the farmers use to separate the rice fields by elevation in order to meter the water they flood over newly planted seeds.  You can see them from the air on approach to Sac Metro.  Maybe a hundred yards up that path, a graying little house stands on some long-ago engineered high ground.  Clothes flutter from a line secured to the side of the structure opposite where the willow or walnut grows.   

I only glance up the dirty little drive as I ride past.  But in that moment, what I’ve reported here resurfaces.


It’s been 38 years.  Mandy is a grandmother by now.  Perhaps a great-grandmother if my math is accurate.  That is, unless, somewhere along the way, some young first-year teacher broke through and, you know, fixed things.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

FIRST RESPONDER

STATE ROUTE 65 – ONE MILE SOUTH OF SHERIDAN

THE TALL YOUNG MAN looked like me about forty years ago. I mean: the spittin’ image. He was doing jumping jacks next to the northbound lane of highway 65. Northerly traffic sped by.

About twenty miles from the barn at the end of a 300-mile day during which temps touched 100, I was thinking about how good a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon would taste. I’d just crossed the UP tracks and saw his antics. He was exercising next to a stalled motorcycle so I pulled the Beemer onto the opposite shoulder just to see what might be going on. Deliberately, I removed my gloves and helmet, then looked across the road. Furious traffic sped by in both directions. It would be futile to call out.

I waited. Breaks in the southbound rat race didn’t coincide with breaks in the northbound. This fellow’s problem, whatever it was, was not worth me getting crushed by an on-hurtling Subaru or a gravel truck bound for the Yuba River pits, so I looked across the two-lane and smiled. Two or more minutes elapsed before I could saunter across.

“It just died back there.” He pointed southward. “Back by those houses.”

Immediately adjacent to him rested a vintage Yamaha Virago, circa 1980. Its seat was removed, sitting in the weeds next to the pavement along with a jacket, a helmet and a duffle bag.

“It just died,” he repeated pointing at on-coming traffic, “and nobody stopped.”

More cars whizzed by.

“You must have seen me waving.”

“Looked to me like you were doing calisthenics for some reason. You know. Jumping jacks. You always work out next to the Interstate in 96 degree heat?”

“It just died back there.”


THE YAMAHA VIRAGO is a bulletproof motorcycle. Legendarily so. At least the old ones are. Being a Yamaha, the V-shaped motor and the shaft final drive are engineered so that nothing, nothing! ever goes wrong. But something had with this one.

I’m not a mechanic by any stretch, so all I could do was ask: “You got a cell phone?”

He pulled one from his pocket. “Yes. But I couldn’t pay the bill last month so it got cut off.”

I reached for mine. “Use this.”

He dialed a number.

I looked at the Virago and imagined its history. Clearly, it was older and perhaps far more experienced than its young rider. Once upon a time, it was smoke gray in color. Now most of the color had faded under decades of sun, rain and other elements. The machine reminded me of a trusted bird dog. Skilled. Smart. But just plumb tuckered out. During another one of those quiet two-way breaks in traffic, I heard the soft tink, tink of the hot engine cooling to ambient temperature.

“Who you calling?”

“Grandma. But she isn’t answering. I’ll try mom. They live together.”


PICK UP. PICK UP MOM. I’m broken down by the side of the road just below Sheridi… “Hello. Yeah. I’m okay. I just broke down on 65 just below the tracks at Sheridan… I don’t know… Yep… No… Okay.”

Graciously, he wiped my phone against a dry portion of his upper shirtsleeve and handed the unit back to me. “Thank you sir.”

“Ah. You’da done the same for somebody else, I’m sure,” I said. “Someone coming?”

“Yep.”

Another one of those sporadic breaks in traffic. I started across. “You gonna be okay?” I asked from the middle of state route 65.

He nodded.  And there was some eye contact.

“Where they comin’ from?”

“Just Lincoln.” (Lincoln, California is about six miles south.)

“Then you’re okay.”


LESS THAN FIVE MINUTES had elapsed. Hopefully, the young lad’s day would improve. I knew the beer would still be cold once I got home.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, August 13, 2011

NICE RIDE, NICE HIKE: SIERRA BUTTES LOOKOUT

Clicking on any picture should cause it to expand.  Should.
THE PROBLEM WITH A DAYLONG RIDE may be the daylong ride itself. Sitting on my ample arse for eight to ten hours, exercising only throttle, shifter, brake and sit-up-straight muscles, means that other muscle groups stiffen and begin to complain. I need to habitualize packing a pair of comfortable hiking shoes and spending a couple of hours off the bike to flex those other sinews and reduce the fatigue factor that rides along after too many hours on the road.

Traveling east on State Route 49 from Auburn-Downieville toward Yuba Pass, the tiny hamlet of Bassett’s rests in a crook of the North Yuba River canyon. At this point the Lakes Basin highway courses northward through a wonderland of primary and secondary roads, paved and unpaved – but more importantly – some very nicely groomed and little-used hiking trails. These paths connect countless alpine lakes crossing over and between the ridges and peaks of eons-old glaciation.

I drive the little Guzzi up the Lakes Basin Highway a short bit, turning left toward Sardine Lakes. Half mile later a right turn finds me on a nicely paved, narrow strip that rises tantalizingly toward a summit trailhead.

It would be two and a half miles from this point to the stairs that lead to the lookout cemented to the Sierra Buttes at 8800 feet. Those unused muscle groups would get their workout.


FROM THE TRAILHEAD, the goal, the lookout atop the Buttes is readily in view. In fact, as the trail – part of the Pacific Crest – weaves its way south, the lookout is never out of sight for more than a few hundred yards. There is some gratification is seeing the progress one makes when hiking at elevation.

North and east toward the Cascades
Views along this ridge alternate between those unfolding lakes just beneath your feet (about 1000 feet) as you look east, to views across the mountains and foothills of the Sierran gold country. On a clear day, the Coast Range, maybe 125 miles west forms a rim above the valley’s inversion.

Mules Ear
Even in mid-July and early August, the display of wildflowers impresses. Tufts of yellow-bloomed Mule’s Ear grow from the gravelly soil.

Indian Paintbrush poke through Manzanita and the Manzanita itself can be found creeping over eons-old chunks of metamorphic effort.

Prickly phlox
Blossoms of yellow, purple, red and white fill areas where snowmelt provides moisture.

The PCT gains elevation steadily but gently for the first couple of miles. It is only once I branch off on an old service road that the elevation begins to take a toll. The stands of fir, below, have given way to singular pines and junipers. These give way to only the occasional prickly shrub. Above about 8000 feet the winters are too long and harsh for anything substantial to take root.


ONE OF THE GREATEST THINGS about a fire lookout is that they always seem to have great views.

Upper and Lower Sardine
Walking around the expanded metal catwalk of the Buttes Lookout we are afforded a view as far north as Shasta, as far south as, perhaps, Yosemite, east well in to Nevada over a verdant Sierra Valley, and we’ve already mentioned the Coast Range to the west.

The tower is affixed to a very shear precipice.

EEEeee-yikes!
My knees get the willies when, typically, heights don’t bug me. I imagine that a small stone tossed from this walkway – DON’T EVEN THINK OF DOING THIS! – would travel the better part of a quarter mile before coming to rest on a scree slope or bounding against granite tilt and continuing its fall.


IT TAKES HALF AS LONG to return to the Guzzi as it took to achieve the summit. Muscles that didn’t get a workout on the climb, did get one gingerly threading down the pebbly path.

Straddling the little bike, one finds that first gear is the appropriate choice for safely descending the steep, narrow paved strip back toward Packer and Sardine Lakes.

The ride and the hike make for a full day. And memories that will linger long after the aches and pains of the stout walk have faded.


RESOURCES:

Sierra County Chamber of Commerce: Not as much commerce going on in Sierra County as they would like in these times, but a great overview of the area is located at: http://www.sierracountychamber.com/ Folks up that way deserve our business.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, August 5, 2011

FOR THE GREATER GOOD, LET’S RETIRE THESE TERMS

Admittedly, a rant.

The Church of the Open Road believes that the following terms (and, perhaps many, many more) are uttered for their emotional value, not because they have any bearing in fact or practice. If we blacklisted these terms, perhaps we could get back to having real discussions about the real problems that confront us – and along the way, come up with real solutions to achieve that elusive “greater good.”


1) THE LIBERAL MEDIA
2) THE LIBERAL ELITE

The media report the news. Legitimate news organizations send reporters into the field who make observations, interview individuals and write reports. Editors vet the reports for accuracy and balance before they are aired or printed. The fact that an individual doesn’t like what is being reported doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the report. It is easier, however, to vilify the messenger than to admit one’s own bias. Thus, we call the media “liberal” and permit ourselves to ignore the good work and warnings of the fourth estate at our peril.

Liberalism, it is said, is something folks achieve as they are exposed to more knowledge, ideas and thought. People are better equipped to weigh one against the other, good versus evil, right versus wrong, and truth over falsehood when they have a broadened range of ideas through which a fact or a situation can be filtered. Time was when a college education was something to which everyone aspired. The time has become that the average Joe’s kid likely won’t be able to afford that education. Under such circumstances, how does our society advance? Who wins?


3) REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH
4) CLASS WARFARE

Like the sands in an hourglass or the tides on a beach, wealth is constantly being redistributed. In some periods, the working class family does well, in some periods, not so well. Those who may be considered “haves” always seem to “have.” There is always that mansion on the hill that folks aspire to. Some folks, through hard work and smart decisions, climb the hill. Others borrow, and like Jack and/or Jill, are destined to come tumbling down.

Those at the top of the hill, it seems, are loath to allow too many people to enjoy the view. Specious arguments about taxation that benefit a small percentage of the wealthiest among us should raise questions about whether those in charge are actually acting on behalf of all of the people. Should the poor and middle class expect to be handed something from the rich? Absolutely not. But should they expect to have an opportunity to climb at least a portion of the hill? Absolutely. Who is preventing that from happening, do we suppose?


5) JOB CREATORS
6) JOB KILLERS
7) TAX AND SPEND LIBERALS

The wealthy have the potential to create jobs. But jobs are only created when there exists a demand for a good or a service. Not taxing the uber-rich does not create jobs. Nor does it stabilize the economy. Nearly a decade ago, the super-rich enjoyed huge tax cuts lowering their marginal rates to historic lows. Note what has happened to employment figures over that time period.

Government can create jobs. History is replete with examples. Tax moneys pay workers to engage in public projects. Those tax dollars go to workers who spend those dollars in communities in stores, restaurants, theatres and all manner of private enterprises. Thus, the economy is restored. Capping government outlay in times of need is anti-ethical to one of government’s most important functions. Capping government outlay serves somebody – just not “the people.”


8) DEAD ON ARRIVAL

My long-ago commute buddy, Evan, had worked as an ambulance driver for Mr. Van Hook in Chico while Evan attended college. On gray days, he would share the stories of those who were rolled into the Cadillac wagon with a pulse, but didn’t have one by the time they arrived at the ER. This is what “Dead on Arrival” is all about.

Mr. Boehner, Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Reid and Mr. McConnell, if you don’t wish to look at the fine work of those from the other chamber, kindly step aside and allow someone with more dedication and a stronger ethic to do so.


9) POLICEMAN FOR THE WORLD
10) CUT AND RUN

Long ago, we should have learned that our values are fine values but our values may not work in every culture or society populating the globe. We have yet to learn that military intervention is, at first, quite costly both in terms of the country’s treasury and in terms of the impact on the lives of the citizenry. Further, our intervention in far-off corners is viewed as saviorism only for a short time. An errant shell, an ill-advised remark, or malfeasance on the part of a uniformed nineteen-year-old – the exception, by all means, not the rule – can easily turn hearts and minds away from our sincere efforts.

The tougher decision is not when to intervene with our might, it is how not to intervene. The toughest decision is to know when to quietly slip out the back and allow those conflicted lands to resolve their conflicts with less help on our part. “Cutting and Running” means we somehow lacked courage, yet courage is all about making the right and learned decision in the face of forceful political opposition that demands something expedient and less reasoned.


11) TEA PARTY PATRIOT

The original tea party was organized after much thought and consternation by learned men who “more than self their country loved.” They pledged lives and sacred honor to a cause more dear than their own well-being or security. They forged this country by giving of themselves to others not by holding for themselves the paltry riches they may have had. Their argument was not about taxes, it was about representation. You can look it up.

The Tea-Party Patriots of the early 21st century fall short of recognizing this. Selected reading of history by self-described “constitutionalists” does not further the cause of the nation. Nor does selected reading of the Constitution itself.  Or the Bible, for that matter.


12) CHRISTIAN NATION

We were never designed to be a Christian nation. This is actually a good thing. Cynically, this is good because collectively, we don’t play the Christian game very well. On the world stage, we’re not very good at loving our neighbor, especially if our neighbor doesn’t have a product or commodity we need. On the freeway, we’re not so hot at this, either. Practically, this is good, because our nation is enriched when peoples of many faiths coming together in a land that supports and defends their religious freedom.


YEARS AGO FORMER PUBLISHER of the Sacramento Bee wrote an opinion piece in which he asked “when did America become so self-centered?” In a letter I asked not be published (glibly thinking that it might) I responded: I don’t know, but I suspect it happened sometime in the span beginning when, in a Presidential inauguration speech, a young Jack Kennedy said “Ask not what your country can do for you…” and ending when a successor asked: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

It is time we looked inward and turned outward. There is a greater good.

A CLASSIC RIDE ACROSS THE SIERRA

STATE ROUTE 49 – NEVADA CITY TO SIERRA VALLEY

“The only thing better than a 500-mile day
is two 250-mile days.”
Donya Carlson – Rider Magazine


Click - or maybe double-click - on any picture.  Some will enlarge. Not this one, however.)


I SOMETIMES SUSPECT GOD made the Sierra Nevada simply so S/He could test humankind’s mettle. There’s very little evidence that the Utes on the east side did much trade with the Maidu on the west. The Donner Party tried to cross ‘em. As did the Big Four. History is littered with tales of those who attempted to tame the mountains and failed.

Eventually, however, engineering won out. Rails cross the Sierra in a couple of places and highways, a couple more.

A classic route is the portion of State Route 49 which heads north out of Grass Valley/Nevada City, finds the North Fork of the Yuba River and follows it to its headwaters on Yuba Pass. From there, 49 winds down to the bucolic Sierra Valley and off toward Vinton.

I try to make this ride twice or three times a year. Today’s ride would be on the new-to-me 2007 Moto Guzzi Breva. I needed to see how I’d handle a 200-plus mile day on her and I needed to figure out why she wouldn’t start from time to time - especially if I'd been riding her a while.  Today was a day that, if I got stranded, I could work it out.


THE ROUTE NORTH out of Nevada City is nicely sculpted into the South Yuba and over San Juan Ridge. Trails explore mixed woodlands, venturing down to the river when bathers swim, picnic and imbibe. Closer to Downieville, the Indian Valley provides camping and picnicking spots along the free flowing North Yuba. The mining heritage is never far from mind. Place names and roads are linked to the homelands of those who came west.


DOWNIEVILLE IS A CLASSIC mining community struggling to stay viable in a time when dredging is restricted; timber sales are limited and tourism dollars tight.  The bell tower serves as a center point to town, screaming "time for lunch" each noon.  Belle Tauer also serves as the gossip columnist for the local weekly newspaper, "The Mountain Messenger."

A stroll through town offers several glances over history’s shoulder. Near the public restrooms, rusted relics look a bit like metallic dinosaurs. Of particular interest is a Pelton wheel. The Pelton wheel was invented just over the ridge in North San Juan. Shooting a stream of water into its iron cups, the machine turned harnessing the power that eventually industrialized the mining process in California.  Samples can be found in museum yards throughout the gold country.  (Note the pulley to the left of the photo, over which a woven belt was looped conveying power to stamping mills and other preposterous rigs.)

Less industrial was the manner in which justice was administered back in the day. The local pizza place is called “The Gallows,” and not without cause. Adjacent to the county courthouse, a noose appears ready for business (unlike the only grocery in town which is currently closed while the new owner renovates.)

Downieville blossomed at the confluence of the Downie and North Yuba Rivers. Highway 49 is reduced to one lane where it crosses, prompting passers-through to wait for the on-coming traffic and perhaps be greeted by one of the community’s friendly denizens.


TWELVE MILES FURTHER ON, Sierra City is a string of antique structures built on either side of 49.
The rush of the North Yuba provides soundtrack as one visits the art gallery or the mercantile. A nice selection of wine waits inside and must be tempting to those who journey the Pacific Crest Trail, which crosses nearby.

Prior to the advent of internal combustion, those who did not walk or slog a mule across, passed this way via stage – the stage being the bearer of passengers, mail, goods and the loot from which it was regularly relieved. The poet, Black Bart, I’m told, may have worked these hills.


BEYOND SIERRA CITY, the road gains elevation. The canyon narrows. Waterfalls lace the area. The mist from their cascade cools the area and provides microclimate for flowers not seen only a few hundred feet either way from the stream.

A Leopard Lily poses nearby.


AT BASSETTS (rooms, cafĂ©, sundries and expensive gas) the Lakes Basin Highway splits off to the north. This nicely maintained county / forest service road affords magnificent views of the alp-like Sierra Buttes. Tiny secondary roads – some paved some not –

...wind past the area’s lakes…

…and up to the highest ridges. There is a top-of-the-world feeling when I rest the bike on the side-stand and see nothing but peaked horizon for 360 degrees. This is where the ignition system crapped out, so basking in this Sierran glory, I remove the seat, fiddle with the leads coming off the battery and the wiring harness that powers the-way-too-much electronic gadgetry of the Breva, eventually getting a buzz and a restart. I think I know what to tell the service guy when I take it in.


THE LAKES BASIN HIGHWAY joins State Route 89 just south of Graeagle. A left turn takes me to the chiliburger I’d been craving for a while. Then, heading south on 89, I pass through high mountain meadows and stands of yellow pine, turning left (back on 49) at the rusting teepee burner…

…to head west over Yuba Pass. I stop and take in my annual view of the Sierra Valley and think about how things have evolved over time. The miners are gone. The timber men, too, essentially. Down in the valley, ranchers grow hay and raise cattle and eek out an existence in country too beautiful for words. I can’t help but admire these folks and, at the same time, be a little bit jealous of them.


THE BREVA WAS AN ABSOLUTE HOOT throughout the day. 250 miles did not seem like over-doing it. I have identified the gremlin, I think, and look forward to many more crossings of the Sierra.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press