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


  1. What a great trip - rain and all. Some days I think unseasonable weather has become the new normal. Whether that means Oregon getting 90 degree days in April or California getting rains in June.

    1. No kidding! I've found I can enjoy the ride in the cold or the rain if I simply dress for it, rather adding to the adventure of it all. Snow, however? Not so much. And heat? Well, I like the fact that the big Bird doesn't generate a lot of heat that impacts the rider...