Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Mendocino County, California

My new best friend rides something called a “Big Dog.”  Up until recently, I always thought a big dog was the Great Dane named “Queenie” that lived down the street when I was a kid.  No.  A Big Dog is a chopper.

“S and S engine?” I asked.  I know just enough about choppers to be marginally conversant.  (The same could be said for my knowledge of the NBA, NFL and husbandry, as well.)
“Yeah,” he said with a grin. The friendship was struck.
How fate thrust us together for ten minutes is of no regard, but this Fort Bragg-based conversation ended with a recommendation that I take Branscomb Road, north of town, east to 101. “Can’t take it on the Big Dog, it doesn’t handle the curves all that well, but I've been out there before.  A lot.”   

On my last trip north of Fort Bragg, about the time the road winds inland for a 30 mile run over to 101, I found myself behind an Itasca 32-footer pulling a Macgregor fishing boat.  The set up was driven by a fellow who must have thought “turn out” had something to do with voting and since it wasn’t an election day, no need for him stop and let folks by. 

Coastal Cottage - Mendocino County
This morning on the leg of California 1 between Fort Bragg and Westport, the fog had crept back off the coast offering views all the way to Asia had the earth been flat.  Faint wisps of moisture clung to the highest reaches of the hills to the east.  Westport flanks SR 1 about 18 miles north.  The quaint village makes me wish I hadn’t tanked up on coffee as a cup of Joe on the porch of the inn certainly seemed like a good way to knock off a half hour.

The Branscomb Road turn-off lies about two miles north of town.  The road traces DeHaven Creek for a little bit and then climbs steeply to the top of the ridge.  Pavement is not great as I’m sure the Mendocino County road crew more eagerly serves larger populations than those who might live out this way.  At points I find myself dumping the bike into second and even first gear negotiating the twisting climb through sun-streaked redwood shadows to the top.   
Pacific Ocean on the horizon
A pause affords a final shot of the Pacific a mile and a half the way the crow flies but about four on the odometer.

Once over the summit, the road widens and the twisties become a bit less radical.  Elevation drops rather quickly into the drainage of some other creek.  The floor of the little valley provides homesteads for tiny farms, small herds and a bit of cash crop commerce, one might suspect.  The cool moisture of the coast has given way to a warmer clime.  It is a pleasant chug through an environment that appears to have changed little in the past 80 years or so.  Derelict logging equipment can be seen here and there, encrusted in weeds, portending a story of what must have been better days for at least one industry.

The little berg of Branscomb proves this point.  A relatively modern mill lays idle.  Weeds poke through the paved drives and parking areas.  Large racks that look like they may have been aluminum once probably sorted or dried lumber.  A few stacks of logs rest on the other side of the yard.  Clearly they weren’t cut yesterday.   
Downtown Branscomb
Downtown boasts an all-in-one old time country mercantile, single pump, post office and, I think, community hall.  Across the way, a park of mobile homes is clustered.  The Laytonville Unified School District runs a pre-school for the tykes of the area, but school-aged youngsters appear to be bussed further inland.

A couple of nice looking properties sort for sale signs, but it is not clear what one might do to make payments on such places.  Admiral William Standley Redwood State Recreation Area is nearby.  I wonder whether, given its locale and small gate, the park will survive the cuts.

Thirty minutes further on: Laytonville and US 101.  Laytonville is bigger than it appears from the highway, but the economic times have not been just to the community.  Nicely paved streets, cute houses – many well-kept – provide a bit of civilization in this remote quarter of the redwoods.  I noted that, near the high school, a bus yard is home to dozens of school buses.  From this I assumed that a yellow bus frequents every little road in the area at least twice a day.  Oh!  The expense of free education.  (In the days before cable and well before satellite TV, I’d applied to teach in this region.  The superintendent warned me that I’d better like to read a lot.)

Branscomb Road is a nice alternative to being stuck behind a motor home on State Route 1.  Traveling from west to east, one can’t help but be carried through eras of logging and ranching, booming and busting.  At Laytonville you can either head north to Eureka, south to the city or further east over Forest Road 7 past the fabled Simpson Camp of yore.  When I see that guy on the Big Dog again, I’ll be sure to thank him for the tip.


Today’s Route:  From Fort Bragg, SR 1 north to two miles beyond Westport.  Right on Branscomb Road, 32 miles.  Arrive at Laytonville and US 101.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. Not at all a bad road in an agile little car like my Ford Fiesta ST! Had to stop at Boomer's in Laytonville just to calm down. Basically zero traffic, but respect the locals. This is a jewel.