Sunday, October 16, 2016
THREE CONVERSATIONS ON A LAY OVER NIGHT IN DUNSMUIR
Day One of the Bend, Oregon October Fogged-Out Ride
(Next time we’ll do this in September!)
Dunsmuir, California is a speck on the I-5 corridor about half way between Redding and the Oregon border. It is grounded in northern mines, logging and railroad history. Now, however, few people – other than folks looking for some world-class fly-fishing on the Upper Sacramento – may venture off the freeway at one of the three exits. But I did.
The big Triumph is not a sport tourer by any means. But it certainly proved able, stable and supremely enjoyable crossing the Coast Range and then ranging north of I-5 with a nice little detour to visit Shasta Dam through what used to be known as Project City. Three hundred miles of service was good for one day. I was ready to be out of the saddle. The room I’d reserved in Dunsmuir was quiet, comfortable and nicely priced.
Once I’m off the bike for the day, I make it a habit of not getting back on to run an errand or find a bite to eat. I like to walk around town and enjoy a few “what might it be like to live here?” thoughts.
From the little forties-era motel, town was at least around the next bend, because I couldn’t see it, so I asked the proprietor: “How far do I go ‘til I can find a place to get dinner?”
“Town’s three-quarters of a mile,” he said cocking his thumb over his shoulder.
“Ah,” I said. “Walkin’ distance.”
“Yes,” he replied, “but ya better be careful comin’ back this way after dark. You see, the old highway’s real dark and there are no sidewalks this side of the cemetery.”
“Well,” I nodded, “I guess it’s a good thing the cemetery’s there.”
“Yeah, except it’s full,” he said. “We’ve taken to just leavin’ folks by the side of the road.”
I walked into town cautiously though warmed by his delightful chuckle.
The Southern (now Union) Pacific runs freight and allows passenger service up the Sacramento River corridor. Dunsmuir, established as the rail line crept north, became a water station in the days of steam. I recall a stop there one morning just past midnight while riding Amtrak from Seattle to Sacramento.
Now, following the sidewalk on the town side of the cemetery, a baleful whistle echoed up the canyon. The low rumble of a half dozen GE Electromotive Diesels passed within a stone’s throw of my path – although hidden from view by railroad-town type company housing set amongst tall pines and black oaks – followed by the syncopated reports of a mile or so of freight cars being tugged toward K. Falls, Oregon.
Marvelous – maybe even a bit romantic – how the symphonic railroad seems such a part of town.
There’s a nice burger place on the main drag. Closer into the historic “city center,” the usual stores exist – or existed: tire shop still functioning; Diamond Match lumberyard, not; pizza joint not to busy for a Friday night; antique (junque) store where the hardware used to be; Mexican place was open and while usually, my go-to cuisine, I thought I’d explore further.
Five or six blocks into town from the south, a sign alerting me to ‘more shops’ pointed down a steep, paved street. I ventured down. Perhaps there’s a place to eat. If not, maybe a train will rumble through.
Café Maddalena, according to Lonely Planet, “put Dunsmuir on the foodie map.” I had no idea. I was just wandering around looking for a bite to eat when a fellow, who I later came to find out was named Ken – a regular – says to me, “You’ve gotta try this place out. You’ll love it!”
Okay, I thought, glancing at the posted menu, I’m not interested in my usual. This might be unusual. I entered, saying to the hostess, “Just one of us.”
“Have you a reservation?”
“We’re sorta booked tonight. I hope you won’t mind sitting at the counter.”
I settled in next to Ken. “The menu changes about every six weeks. I live in Redding and have worked my schedule down to about half time. So I come up here on Thursdays and leave Monday morning for work. We’ve got a little place in town.” He paused a moment to offer something familiar to the waitress, then patting my shoulder said to her, “This is….”
“…Dave. Dave, nothing they offer you will be a disappointment.”
And it wasn’t…
The man I saw was as big as Sasquatch. Maybe he was Sasquatch. After all, Sasquatch is a denizen of these parts. I’d finished my meal at Café Maddalena and decided to walk the lower street, parallel to the UP tracks, for a few blocks, perhaps hoping to enjoy a passing freight. At one juncture, the darkness looked inky, public lighting dim, prompting me to climb the cross street that would lead me to the main drag and home.
The civic center in Dunsmuir is comprised mainly of the fire company and the Siskiyou County sheriff’s substation sharing a large brick building. It is set at the corner of two streets about which I was set to round.
Sasquatch-man had closed the substation door and was descending a short stoop of stairs.
“How’s it goin’?” I asked apparently stepping into the corner’s light.
“You lookin’ for me?” he grumped.
“Nope,” I said. “Just staggerin’ home.” Then I said, “Not a bad beat you’ve got here.”
“Yeah, well, some days are better ‘n’ others.”
I held out my hand.
His grip was massive. We chatted about his profession and what mine had been. Finally he sighed, “I have this recurring fantasy that I’m out looking for work because there’s nothing left for me to do here.”
I laughed. “Think it’ll happen?”
“Naw,” he said. “You be careful walkin’ beyond that cemetery.”
“Thanks for your work, man,” I said. Slipping into the darkness I wondered if the deputy read any of Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. This guy was the spittin’ image.
Notes: Café Maddalena is a great and unexpected find. Open only Thursday through Sunday, I was lucky to stumble in on a Friday. Cozy and with great service, I enjoyed their loin of cod on a bed of sautéed fennel, onion and potato steeped fish stock and white wine. Man-oh-man! Owners Mr. and Mrs. LaMott – Brett is the chef – chatted with Ken and me at the counter: Brett sharing about locally sourcing his ingredients, his wife (regrets, I didn’t get her name) talked about a soggy fly-fishing trip with a cousin from Chicago. “Only day in about a month that it rained.”
After savoring (and I mean really savoring) my delicate entrée paired with a gently floral Lake County Sauv Blanc, the waitress asked if I’d like anything more. “Sitting on a motorcycle for three hundred miles doesn’t burn a heck of a lot of calories, I’m afraid,” I said. “The ginger cake looks awfully good, but I’d better not, so just a check, please.”
A few minutes later the paperwork arrived along with a nudge and a little carry out box. “Take this home with you,” she said.
Check out Café Maddalena at http://www.cafemaddalena.com/index.html#hometop
The menu here changes every six weeks or so. You might want to check back often and make plans not to miss this little gem when traveling the Shasta corridor.Church of the Open Road Press