Thursday, June 7, 2012


I sat on the deck out behind the house, contemplating.  The sounds of day transitioned into night.  Three quarters of the way through a creamy hand rolled San Lotano and enjoying about a jigger of 10-year-old Laphroaig, I stroked the black coat of Edward, our stray Lab mix.  He sighed, resigned to the fact that we weren’t going to play ball on the lawn this evening.  Dusk gathered and I thought about where I’d gone wrong today.

Pilot Hill (in the background) near Jackson, CA
A good day can begin with breakfast fifty or so miles away at a favored café, roadhouse or greasy spoon.  Today, that was Mel and Faye’s in Jackson California, an hour or more south on State Route 49.  I met two buddies who’d driven north in their Acura from Sonora.  Over coffee and omelets from the senior menu, we caught up, solved a few of the world’s crises and vowed to meet again in a month or so.  Departing, and taking a tip from the wise men of yore, I vowed to return home by a different route.

I hadn’t visited the Gold Country’s Shenandoah Valley outside of Plymouth for some time.  Here the roads course between vineyards and small farms.  A small clutch of wineries had developed into a larger collection somewhat reminiscent of the Napa Valley forty of fifty years back.  Always a pleasant tour.  East from Plymouth I decided to revisit the area.  A mile out of town, Shenandoah Road arcs north, but a smaller strip of pavement heads east toward a place I’d never been before: Fiddletown.  I like a calendar page that is blank because I can do this.

Fiddletown Road, I figure, will take me to it namesake town.  From there, I’ll find a secondary route north, down into the Cosumnes River Canyon, swing through the Fair Play appellation, catch US 50 and head home through Placerville.  I didn’t carry a map on the Guzzi.  No pocket for it.

Fiddletown, CA
Fiddletown is one of those bergs that recalls life decades back.  Entering town, a mid-50’s era International pickup sits backed into a driveway.  The owner is shoveling mulch out of its bed.  A few serviceably restored and nicely kept homes line the road.  Oaks, walnuts and, perhaps, elms shade the street.  Over a rise, buildings from the gold rush stand, some housing businesses, some just standing. 

The Express Office, Fiddletown, CA
The “Express Office” is one of those just standing, its walkway choked with wagon wheels, oxen yoke, iron mining artifacts and a safe that had haled from Boston.  Up the street a way, a chicken crossed the road, but I don’t know why.  I stopped for pictures and for one of those moments when I wonder whether I am still in the 21st century.  I frequently hope I am not.

Fiddletown, CA: Main (and pretty much only) Street
Removing the Shoei from my head, I let the helmet noise clear.  When my hearing returns to focus, the sounds of a latter day village become clear: the distant bark of a dog, the chatter of a Rainbird sprinkler, the taunt of a scrub jay, the putter of an unseen farm tractor, the cluck of that chicken or one of his cousins.  A soft breeze pushes through gently rustling the elm in front of the Express Office.

It takes five minutes to stroll town and pick up a bottle of water.  I joke with the clerk about the days when you could drink out of the stream and she nods.

Soon I am again asaddle.  Fiddletown Road climbs out of town rising from scrub oak and pasture to Ponderosa Pine.  I look for the turn to the left that will drop me down into the canyon and lead me over to 50.  And look.  And look.  Fifteen minutes on, Fiddletown Road tees into Shake Ridge Road.  Right would take me back to Jackson.  Left would take me to CA 88 and Hope Valley.  Still, there must be a secondary road that will complete my circuit north.  Twenty minutes further, I’ve found none.  At a wide spot where log trucks are entering the road, I turn around.

Following Shake Ridge Road past the former intersection, I trace a stream course into and out of Volcano, a slightly more thriving berg with a sweet little tavern, a period hotel and a nice B&B.  The local NPR station has spoken recently about production at the community playhouse there. 

Enjoying oneness with the Breva I, regrettably, don’t stop for pictures.  I dive into and out of the tight twists of, now, Sutter Creek Road, more than once being snapped back to reality by some decreasing radius turns.  In time, I find myself in Sutter Creek, the antique town I’d passed through 75 minutes before just after having left Mel and Faye’s.  

I don’t regret not carrying a map this day.  I do regret not stopping for pictures in Volcano or along the route somewhere.  I’m sure there is a way from Fiddletown Road across the Cosumnes, I just took the wrong turn somewhere. 

Stroking Edward’s ears, crushing the cigar, finishing the last dram of Scotch and listening a moment longer to those sounds of the night, I come to a realization: I didn’t take a turn wrong at all this day.  Not one.


Today’s Route:  CA 49 South to Jackson.  Return:  49 north to Plymouth.  East on Shenandoah Valley Road; east on Fiddletown Road; east on Shake Ridge Road.  Then west-southwest on Shake Ridge; right at sign for Volcano; east to Sutter Creek; north on 49.


Mel and Faye’s in Jackson, CA:

Fiddletown (Amador County) CA:

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Sounds like an awesome trip. It also sounds like the way I tend to navigate from point A to point B, much to my wife's chagrin.

  2. I must have the same disease, cuz that's one of my favorite Saturday morning activities. Go for a ride, stop for a nice breakfast, go explore some new or old twisties. About to do it again.

  3. Sometimes, when I want to make a loop I will take Shenandoah Rd. out and then Ostrom Rd. over to Fiddletown, and back to Plymouth. That makes a real nice loop, if you are just on a short ride. I have used that on poker runs.

  4. Thanks, Anonymous: Checking the map just now, I see that the Ostrom Road you mention would have done the job; as would a combination of Tyler and Lawrence Roads - which would've taken me to Mt Aukum. And, from there, I coulda found my way over to Highway 50.