Saturday, June 25, 2016


The Sea Ranch is a several thousand-acre development of gracefully designed homes set above ocean cliffs or nested deep in the coastal woods.   

It used to be a center for logging activities supporting San Francisco’s growth, then sheep property.  Some evidence of that ranching heritage still remains.  California’s Highway 1 – one of the world’s greatest motorcycling roads – ask anyone – bisects the development.  For a ten-mile stretch, small, well-maintained private roads reach into the prairie grasses that top the coastal rim, and amongst those grasslands are ribbons of houses most people I know could not afford to own. 

The Sea Ranch was going to be a modern coastal community located between Marin County’s wealthy enclaves to the south and Fort Bragg’s gritty, working-class outpost to the north.  There’d be grocery stores, hotels, galleries and recreation – all placed on this windswept tableland west of the San Andreas Fault and east of the Pacific.  It would be a play land for the affluent who could, in essence, have it all with them as they left it all behind. At least that’s my rudimentary understanding of it. 

At the time of The Sea Ranch’s origins, private coastal properties could change hands – change from ranching to subdivisions – change from open range and to privatized beaches and bluffs – without much oversight, coordination or discussion of opportunities gained or lost beyond those monetary.  Enter the California Coastal Commission whose existence owes itself to the threat of a widespread locking up of our coastline.  Visionary one time Sonoma County Supervisor, the late Bill Kortum lead a charge suggesting that the coastal expanses belonged to the citizens.  Excess, as it was proposed, needed to be curtailed in the interest of access. 

Many times I have traveled this section of highway thinking how great it would be to stroll along the tops of the bluff with that on-shore breeze whipping at my face.  Signs warned me off in all but a handful of designated access routes to specific postage stamp sized beaches.   

Now, however, because I dropped about a grand on three nights in a beautiful house only steps from the shoreline, I can access over fifty miles of trail with views stretching nearly to the Golden Gate, nearly to Cape Mendocino – the lower 48’s westernmost point – and, one imagines, nearly to Hawaii.  Not bad.

The conundrum is this:  When the land was privately held, cattle or sheep ranchers fenced and gated miles of the coast between highway 1 and the bluffs.   

Riding along on the BMW or Guzzi, I never considered parking at a wide spot, squeezing through the rail fence and traipsing across private property in order to glimpse a section of rocky coastline or roiling sea.  Why, then, should I be upset that a development of privately held homes restricts my access?

I know the answer to this, of course.  The Coastal Commission had it right.  Their argument that the coastline belongs to all and that access is for everyone is just in a socialistic sense.  Perhaps not so in a corner of the world where private holdings bring esteem and demand respect. 

Nevertheless, the kibosh was placed upon such urbane development and a more modest, but certainly quite upscale plan evolved: 

A clubhouse, some preservation of historic buildings, tended and groomed trails and CC&Rs.

From the porch of my mine-for-three-days home I determine that not much could be better than sipping a piping cup of Point Arena’s locally roasted coffee while the morning unfolds before me. 

Buzzards roost nearby. 

Swallows flit here and there. 

A grazing doe slips past. 

I can always hear the sea’s murmur punctuated by the distant bark of harbor seals and the occasional screech of a hungry raptor. 

This is a place where you can take that book you’ve been meaning to read with depth, the one that takes all your best and most focused concentration to fully appreciate, and although interrupted only momentarily by a kit fox carrying off a hapless vole or field mouse as he scampers between your house and the next, finish the book in a deep and satisfying manner.  (Mine happened to be Ian McEwan’s 2005 morality play: Saturday.) 

Later, I watch the afternoon breeze pick up, worrying and bending the coastal prairie grasses to its will. 

Members of the non-migrating herd of deer will soon be out for their evening forage.  Edward, the lab mix, will see them and downshift into his predator mode from behind the picture windows. “Can’t I just have one of them?”  “Sorry, Ed, No.”  The Sea Ranch is a pleasant, controlled place, “and you must be on a leash at all times.” 

The sun sets and the winds calm and the sea air floods the house through the home’s open windows, inviting us out for a moonlight stroll. 

Perhaps there’ll be harbor seals again tonight.

Yeah.  I like this.  But I’m not sure about the fairness of it all.  I think I’ll need to secure this rental for a few days in October, and again in February – perhaps yet again this time next year – to further research my feelings on the matter.


Accessing “The Sea Ranch”:  Located on California’s legendary State Route 1 about midway between Tamalpais Valley where it leaves US 101 in Marin County and Leggett, north in Mendocino County, where it rejoins it, there are several engaging routes linking the coastal highway with 101.  Get a good map or atlas and explore.

Rental information is readily available.  We secure ours through

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, June 18, 2016


“Unseasonable weather is typical this time of year.”
- Dad

This would be the first “tour” on the Thunderbird LT.  LT reportedly stands for “light touring.”  We’d find out.  Our goal was to drive north to Eureka, east to Yreka, where brother Randy would split north on his Guzzi Stelvio, and I would head further east to Burney and Lassen Volcanic National Park.  Summer being but a week away, the weather should be perfect.  But, as things turned out, unseasonable weather is typical this time of year.

Upon my return home, I realized I did not stop frequently enough for pictures, as is so frequently the case.  But oh, well…

Every good ride starts with a good breakfast and we are never disappointed with the fare at the Bluebird Café in Hopland, California.

We pose the bikes at a lovely rest stop north of Willits on US 101.  A nice place to pause even if you don’t have to “rest.”

Having stayed at the historic Benbow Inn, just south of Garberville, I insisted we stop there for coffee just to show the place off to my riding partner from Washington State.  The historic bridge and the inn are sublime.

North of Garberville on the old 101 at Redway, a route heads west toward the Kings Range National Conservation Area (great, remote Lost Coast hiking) and Shelter Cove.  Bearing right on Ettersburg Road toward Honeydew the pavement tunnels through oak woodlands and across dry pastures.  I’d taken this route on the more capable BMW GSA a year ago and, about forty-five minutes into this leg of the trip, I realized why I swore I’d never take it again.  Just two-and-a-half miles from Honeydew the road begins a very steep descent, corkscrewing down perhaps 600 feet in elevation in what seems like about a four hundred yard section the way the crow flies.  The problem is that, with no turn around and with a stupid desire not to revisit the previous forty-five minutes of travel, this is where the pavement ends.  Hidden beneath a four inch layer of dust and grime is a jumble of brick-sized rocks each intent on throwing the unsuspecting motorcyclist off his or her mount.  And I was on my pristine, new, 800-plus pound Triumph Thunderbird with, as yet, no scratches.  Second note to self: Don’t do this again!

Mattole Road is paved, sort of.  We follow it west of Honeydew and past Petrolia, the little wayside where oil was first discovered in the state.  We find reward for our gritty recent travel after several chunkily paved miles: a six-mile run just north of the Lost Coast.

Brother Randy opines that the Mattole Road could provide someone engaged as a pothole filler employment for life.   

From this remote section of coast, we climb over Bear River Ridge and drop in to Ferndale for a slice of pie and a little time out of the saddle.

Day 1 ends at the historic Eureka Inn a short stroll to that city’s picturesque fishing port and some pretty good dining at the Café Waterfront  

The route from Eureka to Yreka would be less challenging to either bike’s suspension.  US 101 north along Humboldt Bay is a delight in the early morning mist.  East on CA 299, we pause at a vista point to glimpse the coastal-most hills, but the big blue Triumph somehow gets in the way of the photo.

CA 96 junctions 299 at Willow Creek where we’d stopped advisably to top off and inadvisably for coffee.  96 passes through Hoopa, crosses Mill Creek Ridge and then drops into the Klamath River Canyon.  With sweeping curves through rocky canyons and into and out of remote burgs, state route 96 may be one of the great motorcycling roads in all of northern California – which is saying something.

An oft-forgotten historic fact is that California’s gold rush reached this far north and west.  Mining claims are still active.

A fine suspension bridge crosses the river at Orleans, worthy of a photograph, but, once again…

To further animate our ride, an early wildfire was active west of Happy Camp; helicopters swoop into the depths of the canyon to capturing Klamath River water to be dumped on the blaze.  Seeing the various stages of fire-scarred hillsides on this drive, one wonders: Is there ever a time when some portion of the Klamath National Forest isn’t on fire?

All in all, it is 156 miles from Willow Creek to Yreka.  The highway traces the Klamath in a most engaging fashion, but toward the end of the run, the limited fuel capacity of the ’09 Stelvio becomes a concern.  Topping off in Willow Creek was the right call, indeed.

After a late lunch in Yreka, brother Randy headed north while I sojourned east into the Cascades.  A leadened sky portended showers, but it wasn’t until twenty minutes down I-5 that I stopped to wriggle into my rain gear, placing my camera a layer or two out of easy reach.

California’s route 89 is also a keeper.  Coursing from Mount Shasta City south to Topaz Lake on US 395, it crosses the Cascades and the Sierra past lovely lakes (including Tahoe) warranting several days simply to appreciate its diverse beauty.  I’d get only as far as Burney, enjoying high pine forests illuminated by dappled sunlight as the series of thunderstorms bumped overhead.

Arriving at my lodging early evening, I shuddered to think of my newly beloved Thunderbird getting soaked as the night’s rain set in, but there are some things you can help and some things you can’t.

My plan for day three involved touring Lassen Park on CA 89.  Reports indicated that its winter closure ended two days ago, but by morning, the snow level had dropped to 5,000 feet.  With the park road’s summit at over 8,000, I chose a westerly escape route down a curvaceous, but wet, CA 299 to Redding and then home.

Disappointed?  Nope.  As a six or seven-year-old on my first backpack trip – mid-June in Lassen Park – sleeping bag in a plastic tube tent as rain and hail pounded Dad and me to sleep, I’d learned early on that, in these parts, unseasonable weather is typical this time of year.  Dad said so.


Tour Route – Day 1:  US 101 north; at Garberville/Redway, west on Briceland Road bearing right onto Ettersburg Road (I’m tellin’ ya: don’t ever do this!), at Honeydew west on Mattole Road to Ferndale; north on 101 to Eureka.  Day 2: US 101 north to Arcata; east on 299 to Willow Creek (get fuel!); north on 96 toward Happy Camp and Yreka.  South on I-5 to Mt. Shasta City, east on CA 89, west on 299 to Burney.  Day 3: Live right and it won’t have snowed in Lassen Park, otherwise, continue west on 299 to the North Valley around Redding.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, June 17, 2016


Escaping LA, my folks moved us to a five-and-a-half acre spread on a creek near Chico.  The back four acres were planted in almonds; the front was a fruit orchard that would soon succumb to too much water when Dad decided to put in a lawn.  The lawn Dad envisioned turned out to be an acre-and-a-half predominately made up of weeds. 

As the task of tending of the grass-weed parcel grew to an enormous reality, Dad purchased a heavy-duty lawn mower from a power tool shop around the corner on Nord Avenue.  A Jacobsen by brand name, it was unlike any mower any kid in the neighborhood had ever seen before.  The thing looked like a weird mechanical grasshopper with big, big bicycle wheels on the back, a smoke belching two-stroke engine set between the wheels and a nasty, spinning blade propelled by a V-belt under a cowling that stretched about three feet in front of the motor.  A long, black, custom-bent steel pipe shaped like a squared off U formed a handle.  It was about eye level for me.

By the time the peach and plum trees finally gave up, brother Bill was about ten and I was eight.  Both of us needed spending cash so Dad arranged that if Bill would mow the acre-plus to the left of the gravel driveway, he could earn about a two bucks a week.  I was in charge of the smaller parcel on the right for seventy-five cents. 

Wow! I thought. Almost a whole dollar for an hour’s worth of pushing the grasshopper-mower around the yard?  

In my mind’s eye I could see all the neighborhood boys perched on our rail fence watching me with envy as I operated the thing.  On top of that, there was this: A little mom and pop called Neal’s Market was located about a block off my route home from Rosedale Elementary.  The Neals sold homemade tacos for a quarter from a counter toward the back of the store.  I figured with that kind of money, I could get me a taco almost every day of the week on my walk home from school.

“It’s a deal, Dad!”

For I don’t know how many years, brother Bill and I dutifully tended the grass and weeds in front of the house until Bill found other interests and my mathematical prowess informed me that two-and-a-quarter for three hours mowing an acre-and-a-half of grass didn’t pencil out no matter how many tacos it would buy me down at Neal’s Market. 

Dad would be on his own. 

Soon, a bright red Toro riding mower arrived, and while we were once again eager to contribute to the lawn’s upkeep, Dad was loath to let us mount up and race around the yard and pull wheelies on it.  At some point after the appearance of the Toro, the Jacobsen disappeared.  I thought it might have been sold back to the mower shop around the corner, but brother Bill insists Dad just gave it away to someone who had weeds to knock down somewhere else in town.

Chico is a small northern California city that, once many folks move to it, they don’t move away.  It is a beautiful example of small-town America.  In the mid-50s, there was a state college and a nice main street with train tracks down the middle. The creek we grew up on coursed through town splitting the streets to the south from the avenues to the north.  The watercourse offered a pleasant, musical burble while its pools proved to be a cooling place to swim on sweltering summer afternoons.  With the passage of time, those who moved in but not out of Chico have brought growth, but not much has really changed.  The college is now a university and the tracks down Main Street are gone.  Some shopping has moved from downtown, but the creek still provides a soothing soundtrack on quiet evenings.

Our five-and-a-half acres was sold and subdivided decades ago and career moved me away.  But brother Bill stayed near town, purchasing a parcel not dissimilar from the one we grew up on.  Lots of ground.  Lots of weeds.

I visited the other day and something caught my eye.

Seems brother Bill was right.  Dad did pass the Jacobsen to someone who, like Dad, ultimately gave up on having acreage with weeds to conquer.  When the person decided to downsize, by one of those small town quirks of fate, Bill found himself helping with the process.  His compensation?

“I’ll take that old mower, if you don’t have a use for it.”  

© 2106
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, June 3, 2016


A Church of the Open Road Report
about family, food and bigger things…

The restaurant is called Scopa (  Tucked into a narrow space across from Healdsburg’s town square, the venue seats about thirty inside and, through the window that opens onto the street, another eight at a common table on the sidewalk patio.  Intimate. Italian. Perfect for the evening.  Our dinner was in celebration of the 24th anniversary of Candi’s 39th birthday.  Attending would be our wine-making daughter, Jessica, a young professional who knows her way around this wine-centric town and its wine-centric wine lists.

After some small talk with the waitperson whom she’d known through various encounters in the industry, she settled upon a Piedmont Gio Dominico Negro Arneis for the salad course to be followed by a “big” 2012 Aglianico from friends Ryan and Megan’s Ryme Cellars (  Both bottles would arrive at the same time with the red decanted in order to breathe, volatilize and do other stuff a country boy like me lacks sufficient sophistication to fully understand.  The red would accompany a rib eye which was ordered not rare or medium, but “perfect.”  And it would be enough for three.

About halfway into salad, a group of thirty-something gents hailing from Dallas, we were to discover, sidled into that outdoor table just though our open window.  As Californians, we’re supposedly not ‘spozed to think much o’ Texans, now are we?  Cultural differences?  Conservatives versus liberals?  They’d brung a couple of magnums of something red purchased on the square.  Overheard were questions about which white wine from the list that might precede their repast.

“Try this,” Jessica said as she handed the half-full remains of the Gio Dominico through the opening.  “Really.”

After a bit of Dallas Cowboys / San Francisco 49er ribbing, the Texans learned, thanks to the waitperson, our daughter’s roots in viticulture and our celebration with three became, for a time, a celebration with ten.  They were visiting the area intent upon checking out some of the area’s 400 wineries and, as a result of our cordial chitchat, at noon the next day, they’d be visiting Jessica’s Passalacqua by-appointment-only winery. (

Dinner came.  Salted, peppered, seared, barely transitioning from red to pink on the inside, and accompanied by crisply roasted Yukon Golds, the rib eye was, indeed, perfect.  (“Bet they can’t find steak this good where they come from,” I said just loud enough to elicit chuckles from the guys out the window.)  Ryan and Megan’s Aglianico paired perfectly, and to top it off, a mysterious man-about-town, sitting deep in the recesses of the restaurant’s narrow footprint divined that this was somebody’s birthday and provided a molten chocolate soufflé which proved to be dessert.  Again, perfect.

Dinner out in small town America – where everybody knows everybody else, or soon will.

Concurrently, a couple of hours south, in San Jose, protesters engaged in a violent confrontation at a rally for a rather polarizing political figure.  Made the front page. A yuge unflattering image, to say the least. 

Sad.  Counterproductive.  Unnecessary.  Behavior that makes ‘Murica look doltish.

Better, might I opine, had those factions sat down and shared a delicate Arneis or a big Aglianico with something chocolate and, I don’t know, chitchatted…

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press