Tuesday, February 7, 2012


…on the world’s greatest tiddler.

Google Image
ARGUABLY, THE GREATEST TIDDLER of all time was the Honda CT “Trail” 90. Back in the late 60s, I bought one of the little Hondas – well took out a loan from Laurentide because: A Laurentide loan is as near as your phone – so I could access the many dirt roads and rocky paths that lead from Chico, California, into the volcanic hinterlands of the Southern Cascade Mountains. At twenty-four cents per and with a gallon giving me 100 miles, the underseat tank would serve me for well over a week on about a quarter’s worth of regular.

American Honda Corp.
The CT 90 had a centrifugal clutch meaning I didn’t need to coordinate my left hand with either of my feet – just toe the shifter down, again and again to reach top gear and, ultimately about 37 mph.  By throwing a tiny lever on the bottom of the pot-metal engine, the bike four lower gears were accessed enabling the rider to climb a stump if necessary.  What a machine!

Google Image
My high school chum, John, had the 55cc version of this little beast. His machine carried two rear sprockets instead of the lever.  When the going got tough, he'd have to break the chain, pull a half dozen lengths from his pocket, drape the mess over the bigger set of teeth, hook 'em together and then motor on.  Lucky him.

A sunny – or a rainy – Saturday did not go by that we were not gathering mud on the service road paralleling the EsPee Tracks heading north from town, or winding ‘em out up State Route 32 in search of some dirt logging road that would lead to adventure.

[Didn’t have a camera back in those days, so sorry – no pictures other than those I might swipe from Google.]

Friends of Bidwell Park
I WAS REMINDED OF THE TRAIL 90 last weekend when I introduced my 7-year-old granddaughter to a little portion of the rocky road that leads “up past the cross” in Chico’s Upper Bidwell Park. Today, the road is a hiking-with-dogs-off-leash trail that follows a rugged basaltic ridge forming the north rim of the remote area of California’s second largest municipal park. Wildflowers grace patches of spare soil for a few days in the spring.

Kite fanatics find this the perfect launch point in March and April. A clear day offers 60-mile views across the Northern Sacramento Valley to the highest points in the Coast Range. Even today, I can pick out North Yolla Bolly Peak way off in Southern Trinity County, where Dad’s ashes may or may not be less-than-legally scattered.

ONE OF THE GREAT RIDES on the 90 was that old trail when – forty years ago – it was open for us to take vehicles up that way. Buddy John and I donned Army surplus fatigue jackets, put about nineteen cents worth in the tanks, and headed up to the park. The road was dotted puddles of water that couldn’t sink into the solid hard pan and the only flowers showing were tiny yellow things whose genus I cannot recall.

Friends of Bidwell Park
The route past the cross was rough. At some point, some entity attempted to grade a fire path up this way, but the chunky hardened mud would have nothing to do with a ‘dozer blade. Baseball-sized chunks of rock were littered here and there, but the timid suspensions of the little Hondas gamely rose and fell over rough patches that, now, four decades later, seem little changed.

Chico Creek.org
The gradient, however, was quite gradual. The greatest gain in elevation occurs in the first few hundred yards. Beyond this, the road simply follows a rise that was established eons ago when volcanic activity in the region of Honey Lake (Lassen County) spewed viscous lava and steamy mud through the canyons of ancient rivers. In the intervening millennia, the soft ridges, that had once separated these streams, eroded and leaving a resultant negative print of the old landscape. Creeks have rerouted themselves into the new canyons. For millennia, lichens, frost and wind have worked slowly on the hardened flow, but to little avail. Putting along on the 90, I suspected the landscape was little changed from how it “set up” after that last ancient eruption.

A mile or two on, the east running ridge swings southerly for just a bit. A promontory exists. John and I stopped to smoke a Tipperillo – no kidding – and survey the portions of Upper Bidwell that followed Big Chico Creek and rested at our feet. From this point, we identified the Iron Canyon, pointed out the Salmon (swimming) Hole, approximated Devil’s Kitchen, a grand, dark fissure in the basalt, and recounted, like old-timers, our previous explorations of the park on foot. Before continuing, we pivoted the Hondas’ seats back, unscrewed the gas caps and realized that in the hour or so it took us to reach this point, we’d used about a half-inch of gas. Prius owners, take note.
Chico Creek.org
The road dipped from this point a traversed a draw. The steep slope caused a great deal of concern form me, but John reminded me that I could shift the 90 into low range, straddle the low bar and simply walk the thing down if I “wasn’t man enough” to ride down the hill. I wasn’t.

Less than a mile further, we came to the trail’s end. Like the stern of a great sailing ship, the basaltic bluff proved to be a great sweeping curve, doubling back on itself over a precipice that would never be negotiated by the little Hondas. A deer trail ran to the northeast. On this clear winter day, looking off to that northeast, a snow glistening Mount Lassen graced the horizon. With a long enough arm, we both agreed, we could touch it.

Two hours on this road, we’d packed no jerky or Snickers Bars or water. An apple would have been nice to kill the nasty taste of the cigarillos. We connoitered the unexplored regions east of the park, then remounted and tiddled our way back along the north ridge.

American Honda Corp.
THE LITTLE ROAD is now closed to vehicles. While I’m more than thankful for the three or four trips I took up that way, I am grateful that this little realm is left to those who wish to quietly explore on foot or on a mountain bike. Dirt bikers of today, I fear, might race along on their high-tech machines and miss the subtle majesty of the place. Still I would not trade the memory of puttering over that cavity-rattling little road as a seventeen-year old, thinking that this was what “adventure touring” was all about.

Now, I simply look forward to the day that Grammy and I can hike these four miles with a granddaughter or two, point out the Salmon Hole and Devil’s Kitchen and tell the kids some tales.


Friends of Bidwell Park advocates for the preservation and protection of the park. Their website offers a range of pages of history and volunteer activities to support this cause. http://www.friendsofbidwellpark.org/

The Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance coordinates community efforts to preserve and protect this vital ecological community as it runs from the peaks of the Cascade through the heart of Chico. http://www.bigchicocreek.org/

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. Were there room in the garage, I think I'd get myself another one of these. They are quite available on e-bay and parts, I've been told, are too.