Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ridin' with the Myrmidons


“IF YOU CAN’T SEE MY MIRRORS, I can’t see you.” And apparently this long-haul trucker couldn’t see me. Or it may have been he was just figuring that whomever was behind him couldn’t miss his merge from the number one into the number two lane. With the courtesy one trucker always offers another, the gent pulling this fifty-three footer was giving way so that the big Kenworth tractor pulling the Ruan Company fresh water tanker could slip onto eastbound 80 at Douglas. My new BMW GSA has the power to accelerate out of a dangerous situation and the anti-lock brakes to avoid one.

To my left, two gentlemen on “American Iron” advanced; to my right the rear end of a utility reefer with Idaho plates. The trucker courtesy is missing from these two big-Vee guys. They bombed up to a point where I could not slide into the number three lane and there was no number four. One tipped his head my way and from beneath his FTC shorty helmet, his silk balaclava grinned a screen-printed skeletal grin. Gingerly, I applied enough brake to avoid contact with the truck and slipped in behind the boys. “Myrmidons” was arched across the backs of their sleeveless leather jackets. [Note: The group name has been changed to protect the author’s butt from being kicked out to the curb in case any member of the “Mymidon” brotherhood is literate enough to somehow access and read this piece.] A quick glance in my rearview mirror and I found myself riding with about fourteen of ‘em. Six more pair were advancing.

The thing about a American Vees is that in order to make it perform, after one shells out twenty thousand dollars for the bike, one must add another four grand in pipes, chips and a performance enhancement kit. The additional cost is enough to make an eagle scream. Even then, while the thing goes faster, it doesn’t go as fast as something costing half the dough, it just makes more noise.

The other thing is the mystique. Bold. Tough. Powerful. Many riders make these machines into works of art. Many dealerships have done yeoman service broadening their appeal to include a family aspect. Yet many riders think that by straddling iron they are immediately bold, tough and powerful. They’re not. They’re simply people who enjoy riding big, good looking motorcycles that don’t return particularly excellent fuel economy and don’t always handle with the greatest aplomb. Like driving a two-wheeled SUV, I unfairly opine.

Then there are the Myrmidons.

MERGING ON TO INTERSTATE 80 is not at all taxing on the GS. 105 horsepower is more than enough to safely assume a position in a lane and throttle down to traffic flow speed. Except when the big boys are jockeying around in their eighteen-wheelers and the Myrmidons are on the prowl. The Myrmidons weren’t driving all that fast, but they did seem to think they owned the deed-of-trust to the fast lane. So between Mr. Ruan, Mr. Idaho and these guys, traffic began to clog behind them.

It probably took two-and-a-half miles to eclipse the Idaho trucker, all the way through Roseville going eastbound. The wind off his high trailer buffeted the BMW just a bit and I didn’t much care for it. I gave some consideration to splitting between the two in front of me, but courtesy prevailed.

There’s a funky Country and Western love song that states rather unequivocally that “it ain’t right to go slow in the left lane,” and while decorum would dictate that once past the Kenworth dragging the 53-footer, Misters Myrmidon should assume a more rightward lane so that those of us with places to be could get there, these gentlemen had this deed of trust thing going on in their reptilian sized brains. So I notched over to the right.

Tiers two through seven roared up and as I prepared my departure from the freeway, Mr. Myrmidon in the right hand side of tier three, slipped in front of me, blipped his throttle creating an explosive roar, and slipped back over to his lane. I’m sure he saw me startle. I instinctively took evasive action, but saw that huge, chrome KW radiator just over my shoulder in the neighboring lane. I barely resisted the urge to gesticulate rudely to this fellow rider, but the Ruan water tanker was creeping up, limiting my options should any of the Myrmidon Brotherhood be offended by my actions.

LIKE SO MANY THINGS we enjoy in America, motorcycling is a gift. Open roads. Vast scenery. Freedom. Independence. Exhilaration. Something so grand we want to enjoy it exclusively our self, while at the same time, share it with others. Unfortunately, some riders don’t appreciate or perhaps deserve the gifts we are given. At least one of them (perhaps several) wears sleeveless Myrmidons leather and rides a really loud “American Iron.”

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, October 30, 2009

To the Dance


THE DANCE HALL IN FOREST CITY is tiny and worn, but back in its heyday, it must have burst at the seams on a Friday night. Lola Montez sang here. A historian of sorts, at the recent Forest City preservation group’s potluck picnic, shared that in the old days, the boys from Downieville would tie their dance shoes together, drape them over their necks and hike in their work boots seven miles over the hill to the big dance in Forest. I drove about that hill after having left Forest City that day and I can say that it was more than seven miles. That or they actually went over the mountain rather than around it. In any case, Lola must have been a hell of a draw, because by no means was the commute an easy one.

On the occasion of the preservation group’s Apple Festival potluck, the boys from E Clampus Vitus fired up the steam-powered stamp mill positioned at the downhill end of town. Stamp mills were used to separate gold from quartz by simply crushing the brittle white rock to power and leaving the malleable gold to be picked away and either bagged or melted into bullion bars. Stamp mills can be found throughout the Mother Lode, most of which are decayed or rusted into a state of inoperability. This one, the Clampers restored. And from its operation came the rhythmic racket of huge pile driver-like weights rising and falling accompanied by mechanical chugging and whistling. Walking up the main street of Forest, away from the industry of separating gold from its ore, one can imagine how the hundreds of folks living there must have acclimated to the incessant clank and rattle. Even at the far end of town, past the half-dozen remaining houses – each with an unkempt but yet-yielding apple tree on the premises – and the turn off to the school some two hundred yards up stream, the cascading water and the wind in the pines was drown out by the sounds of the stamp mill: the sound of the town’s bread, butter and grit.

I suppose that when the work was done the dance was the celebration that punctuated things. An old barroom serves as a lobby of sorts. Through back doors at either end of the bar one may enter the dance hall – a dark-at-daytime area of perhaps twenty-five by thirty feet. A stage appears to be cut out of the rear wall like an afterthought and cantilevered out over nothing. Inspection of the exterior of the building shows this is so. Throughout, the wooden floor gives under one’s foot, but must have been more substantial when Lola sang. An upright grand sits to the left and two double hung windows are position on the western wall to the right. The hall houses a wood heater, an aged American flag, a tarnished old tuba and a half dozen vintage wooden skis-shoes leaning up against a wall. (There’s a dingy old couch against one wall, but I don’t think it’s period.) When the sun set over the hills, oil lanterns around the entire perimeter were lit and festivities roared until the last light failed, I’m sure.

Then there was the seven-mile walk home. And it would be a long one.

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Forest City to Goodyears Bar

Mountain House Road

Sierra County is dotted with tiny settlements and the gold sources that supported ‘em. Following Mountain House Road out of Forest City the route descends past the cemetery into a creek drainage that flows west; then climbs the ridge to look down on Goodyear’s Creek, or a tributary thereof that appears to flow east and north. As I drive these rustic roads, at some point I pass through a portal that carries me to a yesterday of 100 years back. Perhaps the portal is that canopy of brilliant fall colors flecked with darts of low October sun where the road feels like a kaleidoscope for a few hundred yards.

At the top of the ridge, I pause and look into the depths of the canyon. Five or more miles distant, and perhaps two thousand feet or more below, I can see the community of Goodyear’s Bar – a place with a bath, a good hot meal and a warm feather bed – and the wagon road that carries goods and people up to Downieville. Today, the old hostelry is a bed and breakfast and arriving on the BMW after thirty minutes, patrons look up from their games of checkers on the sunny porch to nod quizzically, wondering, perhaps, what this mechanical beast is. Didn’t the last person leaving town have his kit lashed to a burro with a fresh supply of grub from Major Downie’s encampment four miles up the Yuba?

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ghost Lady of Paxton Lodge

Highway 70 - Feather River Canyon

Paxton. It’s across the river from the highway, just underneath the WP tracks. We stopped on our first trip to Bucks Lake. Up the new road. Highway 70. Smooth paved highway that snaked up the canyon. Mom and dad oohed and ahhed at the water cascading down the canyon walls in various places. We twist our heads around and maybe get a glimpse of yet another trickling waterfall. Big deal. Brother Bill and me, we just wanted to get there. The old road, the Oroville-Quincy Highway was shorter but it was hardscrabble dirt. The longer route up Highway 70 was quicker, overall, and the old ’54 Ford Ranch wagon wouldn’t need a washing once we got home.

Paxton was a little more than half way. Brother Bill and me had had about enough of each other – Mom would attest: “That’ll be about enough!” more than once on this trip. So we needed a break and dad would be happy with a cold can or bottle of Lucky Lager.

Across the Paxton Bridge and up the hill, we tumbled out of the station wagon in front of the once grand old hostelry.

There was a great room adjoining the bar where dad ordered his beer. Maybe a dance hall? In it was an upright grand piano that I wanted to pound on. A tattered woven rug covered at least a portion of the pocked, nearly black wood floor. Filmy, aged-to-yellow curtains danced in the gentle breeze that slipped through the almost closed double-hung wood framed windows.

Positioned to look out one of those windows, the one with the best view of the tracks was an empty rocker. I advanced toward it and slipped my fingertips along one arm.

“I wouldn’t do that, boy,” came a voice punctuated by a spasmy cough. The man who’d served up dad’s beer had come around the end of the bar. He was half the size of Dad with a tattered plaid shirt tucked over a round belly and partially into blue jeans. A half-spent Chesterfield dangled from his gray lips.

My hand retreated.

“Boy,” he said, “the woman who owned this old place, why, that was her chair.”

I looked at the old wooden rocker. It was just an old wooden rocker.

“Yep, she and her husband built and ran this old hotel way before the turn of the century. Ever’thing’s original, just like she left it.”

I remember looking at the faded curtains, the old piano and into the shadowy darkness of the dance hall room. Then out the window again at the WP tracks that wound down the canyon and disappeared.

“One day, her man, he hopped on that train to head down to Oryville to conduct some bid’ness or other.”

The barkeep had grown closer. I could smell the toasted aroma of his cigarette. He gently put his hand on my shoulder and pointed down the tracks with the hand holding the smoke.

“Yep. The train pulled a whistle stop and let him on and off he went.” Barkeep exhaled some and coughed a deep phlegmy cough. “Never returned.”

“Never?” my voice squeaked wonder.

“Nope. Never did.” He paused. “Old woman, why she positioned that rocker just exactly so and sat at that window mornin’ ‘til night, rockin’ ever so gently. Waiting. Just waiting…” A thoughtful pause and an exhale. “Waiting for her man to return.”

I felt my eyes getting big.

The barkeep took a final drag on his Chesterfield and snuffed it out in one of those old glass-yellow Harrah’s Casino ashtrays.

“One day, ‘bout dusk, she was sittin’ in that chair when a train rumbled up the canyon. Why you could hear the engines straining to pull a mile o’ box cars up the hill. By and by, it passed…”

I looked up at the man.

“…and so did she.”

I stepped away from the dead lady’s chair.

“But you know what, sonny?” he said resting his hand on my shoulder and giving it a little squeeze, “’Round midnight, ever’ night, when I come down stairs to kinda check things out an’ make sure the doors is all locked up, why, she’s here…

“Right there…

“Rockin’ in that chair…

“Ever so gently.”

Another spasmy cough.

“I figure she’s still waiting for her man, her true love to return.”

I turned to find dad.

“I seen her…” the unkempt little barkeep whispered as I wiggled away.

I needed to find dad or mom. Dad was finishing his beer at the bar singing, “It is Lucky when you live in America.” Mom was standing by the door, wishing we’d a get a move on. I found her skirts and clung to them.

In a moment we opened the door. A shaft of afternoon light bathed a section of the wood floor. A breeze quaked through and disturbed the yellowy curtains. I shot a glance over my shoulder back toward the pot-bellied barkeep and squeezed mom’s hip ever more tightly. The proprietor was tapping a fresh Chesterfield on the old bar.

He coughed a bit and acted as if he needed to spit. “We’ve got rooms tonight,” he laughed, “Spend the night, sonny boy. I’ll wake you and you c’n see her too.”

© 2004
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

MORE un American Graffiti

On Sunday, October 25, while driving down highway 49 from Grass Valley to Auburn, I stopped and removed three “Obama Sucks” signs from their postings on the public highway right-of-way. The signs were crudely written in black and red felt tipped pen on flat Styrofoam and stapled to trees and public signposts. I did this about a week ago as well.

If you live up that way - or if you live anywhere where you see this type of incivility happening - and you know who is contributing to this un-American graffiti I would encourage you to hold a little “beer summit” and remind the individual that the election is over and that the people who won, won. Further, you might suggest alternative and more constructive means by which the individual might bring about his or her desired change next time around.

It is time to let the elected govern. It is time for us to raise our sights toward intelligent conversations and debates about the issues of the day. Energy spent on name-calling and defamation of others is energy we cannot afford to waste, given all of the vital issues confronting our nation today. (And no, I don’t care what anyone thinks somebody or some group did or said about the former occupant(s) of the office. It wasn’t any more right then, either.)

Please know that I will continue to exercise my right to freedom of expression by removing defamatory signs on public property (but only from public property) regardless of who is defamed. I would encourage all responsible passers-by to do the same.

Mosquito Ridge Road ii

Glass Ceiling
Mosquito Ridge Road

It was about two weeks after when John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate. Hilary Rodham Clinton had shattered the glass ceiling into “eighteen million pieces,” but Barack Obama was on his way toward shattering something else.

Mid to late September in the high country is the time of change. As night creeps up toward equality with day, temperatures fall. Leaves turn. The sweet aroma of the forest floor dissipates as moisture from an eon-ago spring has long evaporated. Pine needles and dust. At mid-day, the sun is not exactly low, but the shadows cast by pines arching over the pavement provide an optical challenge as one rides out of and back into the shade. Squinting becomes a skill. A life skill.

On the north facing side of the Mosquito Ridge, south of the river, the shade is predominant. As the road twists south, tracing a north-rushing tributary, one cruises from soft and comforting mutedness into flashbulb like sunlight. And quickly back again. Once back again, those little circles of light cross the cornea left to right and upward and cannot be blinked away. Blinking only returns those illusions to the lower left where they start upward again.

Eighty-five percent of California’s population lives within twenty-five miles of the coastline. Or, at least, that’s the way it used to be thirty years ago or so. Now, places like Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno may have chipped away at that imbalance, but in the foothills of the Sierra, the population density mirrors more of our nation’s interior than California’s coastline. Fewer folks. More space. And seldom-used roadways. Roads one can travel for an hour and never see another vehicle – another soul. I often get off into the woods and wonder why they ever bothered to pave whatever strip of asphalt I find myself on. Some roads, I imagine, mayn’t be used more than a couple of times a week - ten times a month. Maybe ten times in a whole year. ‘Cept for hunting season. Or fire season. Or when some tree-hugger wants to wander off in the woods in his or her Camry or Accord or Subaru.

Out of one flash-pop of sunlight and into a long expanse of shaded roadway way, my eyes battle to readjust. Those little circles won’t blink away. But I was aware of objects ahead. Left side of the road. Moving objects. Lumbering. Too many of ‘em to be bears.

I slowed the KLR to a crawl. The muffler on this little machine whispered a rhythmic puh-puh-puh-puh as I gently stole up behind the herd.

Cattle. Range cattle.

Two horsemen are riding toward the rear. A big one and a littler one. Managing the flanks were two or three cattle dogs. Shorthaired mixed-breeds. Aussies. Smart. Trained. Working dogs. From a hundred yards back, I could hear the dogs yipping and see them nipping as they wove in and out of this herd of maybe twelve or thirteen head.

I crept forward. The bigger rider waved a gloved hand motioning me to pass. But I was timid. Didn’t want to spook anything.


The rider turned. “It’s okay,” she said, a smile emanating from beneath a broad-brimmed hat. A pleasant thirty-something cattlewoman. Handsome, and hard working. Yet feminine. A tight, dusty blond braid was flipped over her right shoulder. “They’ll stay fine at the side of the road.”

I opened my helmet and said something like, “You sure?” And since she was, I gently powered up, short shifting into second gear to keep the revs and engine noise down. Didn’t want to spook anything.

The second rider was much, much smaller. In fact, about six years of age. Maybe five. Maybe seven. Riding a real full-size horse that was three-quarters the stature of what her mama rode. The little lass, too, had a dusty blond braid. One that slipped off her right shoulder and swung freely across her back as she looked down at me while I passed. In one little gloved hand were grasped reins. In the other, a coil of rope. A neat coil. Her teeth were clenched just so, and as I passed, I heard one of those whistles, the likes of which commands a well-behaved working dog.

I smiled at the little one before I flipped closed my helmet and slipped around the next bend. In to and out of the light.

In all of California, there are perhaps thirty-four million people. Within the age-span of five to seven, maybe million or so. Of all those little kids, on this Sunday afternoon, I’d ‘spect maybe a dozen of them were ridin’ herd somewhere out on the free range. And of that dozen, I’d wager only one of ‘em was a girl.

Sarah? Hillary? There goes your glass ceiling.

© 2008

Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Trip to the Local Redwoods

A Trip to the Redwoods
Mosquito Ridge Road

As the season of low sun approaches, short journeys and small pleasures are the order. Those grand road trips miles and miles from home will need to wait until after the mountain snow ceases to fly; after the valley fog clears.

A little more than an hour east of Rocklin there’s a grove of redwoods. It’s a small grove of just around a dozen of Sequoia Gigantea: the one that isn’t the coastal variety. The walk from the parking area one-half mile off Tahoe Forest Road 93 (Mosquito Ridge Road – east of Foresthill; east of Oxbow Lake) provides a brief fifteen-minute loop. When no one else is around, it is a cathedral of near-perfect silence. The trail is maintained and by Mid-October, a summer of pedestrian travel has rendered its surface a fine dust that cushions and mutes the footfall.

Starting down the trail, one may be confused by the red cedars spotted here and there among the firs and pine of this forested glen. Red cedar bark always throws me when looking for redwoods. But a few yards further and there is no doubt. A cluster of three massive red-barked monsters looms above the forest floor. I know these ain’t cedars! The area madrona and red oak is dwarfed. As am I.

Further down the path, one of these behemoths has fallen. Long enough ago in history that its bark is gone and its exposed timber turned to silver. It rests flat among ferns and litter, and near its unearthed roots, the carcass proves nearly twice my six-foot-four-inch height. Had I been disposed to clamber atop and walk its distance, I would have found it to be perhaps sixty paces in length. Around the bend, its twin brother still stands.

For reasons left to the wisdom of Ma Nature only, there’s a pocket of microclimate tucked into this remote corner of the American River drainage precise enough to support thirteen or fourteen of these impressive individuals.

In an era of instant this and instant that, to look skyward over two hundred feet and to contemplate the time and gentle energy that went into this production gave at me wonderful pause. This was a small pleasure I hadn’t expected on a short-ride: Tall ancient redwoods, rooted on earth but reaching toward heaven to tickle God’s underbelly – just for my personal enjoyment this day.

© 2008
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, October 24, 2009

On a Rural Road

The skidding stopped.

A mule deer lay dying some fifty yards back. Drawing feverish last gasps.

A two wheeled roadster crumpled halfway through a range-wire fence. Up against a silvered, split cedar post.

And a hapless rider splayed in shadows on the icy pavement – protective fabric melted – wondering why his left thigh felt so warm. And moist.

He took a quick inventory. All body parts attached. Motorcycle “over there.” No on-coming traffic. No sign of God. Or Saint Peter.

So he rested in the road. Laid his helmeted head on the pavement.

And waited.

A good day ruined.

Absolutely ruined.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Gorman Ranch Road

Conversation with a Black Bear

[July 2007] As much as I would like the reader to believe that I am a man of the woods and the wild; that I have confronted ice storms by glaring into their teeth; faced down mountain lions by the force of my singular, alpha-dominant persona; and leaped from forested ridge-top to forested ridge-top in single, graceful, arcing bounds – seeing a bear in the wild is darned exciting. And affirming.

They’re still out there. Untamed. We haven’t killed ‘em off.

A grand idea it was. An evening ride up the canyon of the American River. After dinner. Spouse out of town. Dog secured in the side yard. Time belonging to no one but me.

The objective would be to investigate Ox Bow Lake, about 12 miles east of Foresthill on Mosquito Ridge Road, to see if it might be a fitting place to put in with kayaks and explore. The little reservoir proved to be delightful. A fine parking area is located where the Middle Fork flows into the pool. The sun retreating over the high ridge left hints of its daytime glory creeping up the canyon wall. Reflected into the water, an emerald-like grotto-green slipped through the glass-like surface. The wind was calm and the bugs had gone to bed. This would be a perfect place to paddle when the time came.

My evening foray causes me to think that my then-new KLR would be a great tool for exploring the backcountry. Second only, perhaps, to foot travel. The bike is quiet. Stable. Fuel efficient. And when called upon to, it pulls like a Jeep. On the windy pavement strip back toward Foresthill, a sign that called “Michigan Bluff – 9”, intrigued me. Up the canyon wall and out of sight, the gravel road curled. That was enough for me.

Twilight was about to descend, but it was still light enough to see. The bike has knobby tires that call out for unsurfaced conditions, and I had been remiss in not succumbing to this call during my prior two months of KLR ownership. Gravel roads on my pavement-eager BMW RT are approached with a timidness that removes any hint of fun or sport. In contrast, only a few minutes worth of experience on the dual sport promotes a confidence only dreamed about on other conveyances. Puttering up this graded, gravel road was a breeze. I could feel the rubber knobs of the tires reaching through the dust and rock bits to grip something solid below and then to release so the knuckles of the next section of the Dunlops could perform similar duty.

In moments, the American River was several hundred feet below me. The waning sunlight clung to the canyon top still several hundred feet above like a golden crown over some royalty’s emerald robe.

A stop to try to capture this on film. Well, electrons. Zoomed in. Zoomed out. Zoomed in. Then out. Frame. Focus. Zoom… Pause… I discovered that even with 7.1 modern-day mega-pixels at my command, it would be a waste of electrons to even attempt to capture the subtle glory of the descent of evening.

Back on the road. Enjoying the dusk. Impressed by the scope of the headlight on the little machine. And how the suspension smoothed the light’s beam. Gaining elevation out of the canyon, I explored around this switchback and that.

Uris Americanus is the American Black Bear, common, they say, to these parts of the west. Not so common that one who lives in a subdivision of the greater Sacramento region ever sees one. We’ve pushed them well away from our urban scourge.

A guy who knows a little something about bears is this correspondent’s barber – a fixture in town. Everybody who’s anybody gets shorn here. And it’s not the superb quality of the haircut that matters. It’s just hanging out with the sage, hip and funny hair-cutter for twenty minutes. Even though the barber is Rocklin, he lives east of town outside of a little foothill berg. Up in the piney country. He reports that he sees bears “every night.” Rummaging through the garbage. Licking salmon grease off the uncovered grill. Gently peeling the screen off the porch to get at the fresh peaches left there to ripen.

“I own the barber shop,” he says, “but I’m just borrowing the house from the bear.”

Unsullied by human contact, the black bear lives in the woods, generally below the snow line, doing many things in those woods, including foraging for grubs, beneath the decaying bark of downed timber, catching rodents and, perhaps, fish, grazing on willow shoots and leaves and nuts and berries. While those that frequent towns like Downieville and Colfax and Foresthill and Pollock Pines get fat and complacent raiding dumpsters and unsecured back porches, those in the wild are a bit more timid and a bit smaller. They work for their keep. So I’m told.

The route from the canyon bottom to Michigan Bluff is about thirty miles east of Rocklin. The breadth of the headlight beam from the KLR is broad, and, as dusk has settled, it nicely lights up the road and the obstacles moving in front of me as I round the bend.

Astride the Kawasaki, I sense movement ahead – lumbering, hulking movement. I try to down shift, but I’m already in first. The “moving obstacle” was a black bear. Ol’ Uris Americanus himself. Biggest one (of the about six) I’d ever seen!

He stops. Looks over his shoulder. Sizes up the floodlight coming at him. Assesses the burble of the one-cylinder engine. Supposes the prey isn’t really prey. But turns, none-the-less and rears up onto his hind legs, placeing one forepaw one each hip.

“Hey,” he growls, with more than a hint of disgust in his voice.

By now, I’m stopped, wanting to fumble for that camera.

“Hey,” he repeats, moving one forepaw from his hip and striking himself in the chest with a thumb. “I’m talkin’ to you.”

Like a dope, I look behind me. Nobody there. Of course there’s nobody else there. “Me?” I open the face shield of my helmet.

“Yeah. You.” Uris pauses. “What the hell you doin’ up hear this time of night?”

By now, I’ve killed the engine. I shake my head, amazed that this might be going on.


“Ridin’ my new bike.” I stammer.

“In the dark?”

“It’s not all that dark.”

“Of course not. You got that damned chunk of sunlight stuck to your front end.” He points. “You mind gettin’ it out of my eyes?”

I crank the handlebars to the right a bit.

“Now,” he continues, taking a step in my direction, “just what the hell are you doin’ up here at this hour?”

I repeat: “Ridin’ my new bike.”

The bear lets out a raspy exhaling noise. “Can’t you ride it during the day?” He pauses and puts his paw back on his hip. “You know what the matter is with you people?” he asks.

No, I think, but I’m sure I’ll find out.

“The problem is you’re people! It’s not bad enough that you tear around on those damned things during the day disturbing my sleep – and everyone else’s in the forest, but now you’ve got to be tearing around at night! When I’m tryin’ to work. Make a livin’. Stay alive.

“I’m nocturnal!” he growls. “You’re not! Go to bed for crimeny sake!

“Hell! You know, about three hundred yard off that way,” he points over my shoulder, “there’s a nasty-tempered mountain lion, just hoping I’ll stub my toe so he can pounce on me.”

I look over my shoulder.

“You can’t see him, but I could hear him just fine until you roared up on that damned thing.”

“I thought this thing was relatively quiet,” I countered. “It’s got a U S Forest Service approved spark arrester.” For my own safety, I hoped he couldn’t discern the sheepishness in my voice.

“That’s the thing about you people,” he retorted, narrowing his focus on me in a way that made me wish the KLR came with reverse. “You don’t know what quiet is. Everywhere you go, you bring you damned noise with you.”

I was stunned.

But Uris was right. Jet skis. Jeeps. Snow mobiles in winter. Battery operated radios. Aircraft overhead. And rifles. Rifles going off all the time in the forest for no damned reason! The forests of the west haven’t been quiet since the Indians were wiped out.

This poor beast was more petrified than threatening or scary.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got my hide to save.” The bear turned on a heel, fell to all fours and lumbered into the underbrush along the side of the road. Again, the earth quaked with each footfall.

By the time I slowly motored up to his path, he had disappeared into the brush and darkness.

I continued up the road to Michigan Bluff, thence to Foresthill, Auburn and home.

Along the way, I thought of several things. Not the least of which was: I’ve got to remind myself to ask the barber, next time I get a hair cut, if the bear that steals peaches off his porch, ever stops to talk with him.

© 2007
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hwy 49 - Grass Valley to Auburn

Un American Graffiti

The other day, riding south on highway 49 I spotted a hand-lettered sign: “Obama Sucks.” Actually there were three signs all clustered together so that one could view it coming and going from and to Auburn or Grass Valley. The signs were affixed to the fence separating the highway right-of-way from private property.

Shortly thereafter, I drove back up there with the express purpose of removing the signs. And I did so.

For those concerned, let me be clear:

1. Everyone has the right to free speech in this country, but only the government is prohibited from denying free speech to individuals. I’m not the government. I am me. I can take action to shut up anyone I want to shut up and anyone can take action to shut me up as well.

(Right about now, if everyone would just shut up – and listen – the country’d be a whole lot better off, but I digress.)

2. The signs affixed to the fence were not an exercise in free speech; they were an exercise in graffiti. Graffiti has no place in public restrooms, Union Pacific box-cars or on fences next to public thoroughfares.

3. Fences separating public from privately held lands are public, just like courthouses, police stations and the gang mail-boxes found in many neighborhoods. They are not billboards or bulletin boards for advertisements or public expressions of private individuals. Nor should they be subject to graffiti.

4. The content of the sign looked a whole lot stupider than the average IQ of the average Nevada County citizen – Nevada Countyans are very bright folks, just look at where they live! – so as a public service, tangential to my actions, I believe I made everyone up that way look a little bit smarter than the sign would purport.

For your information: If you know of the individual who placed the sign on the fence, you may pass along access to this blog. I will gladly inform them that I will happily take down any “Obama Sucks” sign they choose to place on public property along the highway. This, I will tell them, will serve as my exercise of free speech. I will also invite them to “have a nice day.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

State Route 1 - Marin and Sonoma Counties


[February 2009] THE MISSION WAS SIMPLE. Transport Jessica’s 1000 cc Ducati Monster from the repair shop in San Rafael, forty-eight miles to her home in Healdsburg where she would put the thing up for sale. Seems the S2R race bike was too formidable as a first bike for a fledgling rider. One flop and seventeen hundred dollars in repairs later and Jessica was done with it. So as a favor to my daughter, at 10:30 AM on a Saturday, at Hattar’s Ducati of Marin just off the 101, I thumbed the starter and blipped the throttle. A reflexive and grin broke across my face. I knew was that this mission would something a little more than simply driving 48 miles north on the 101, if I made it so.

The forecast called for rain. I had packed my rain suit just for such an eventuality. However, in Marin, the sky was only slightly overcast with the temperature kissing the underside of 60.

Unlike the mellow response of the 1150 BMW, the Ducati rumbles and seethes and so wants to sprint wherever it is pointed. The on-ramp from Francisco Boulevard West to US 101 was the first indication. I found myself not blending into the traffic flow: rather I was knifing into it. The silver-gray S2R transformed me into one of those crotch-rocket riders folks decry and I simply shake my head at.

The first exit was mine and it took me to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard – the route from the cocktail suburbs of the 101 corridor to the bucolic pasturelands of west Marin. Those verdant fields within the morning fog-line of the California coast. In this short stretch, the environment transformed from diesel exhaust and impatient drivers of Mercedes, Infinitis and Acuras jockeying to be first at the light – to the sweet stench of cow manure, alder and redwood fireplace smoke and to folks on motorcycles waving joyously at the completion of what, for me, would be an adventure up the coast.

Especially the Ducatista. (Rhymes with “Sandinista.”)

Once out of the Saturday go-to-Whole-Foods traffic, the stop and go, and getting use to the clatter and pull of an abominable clutch, I could think for a moment about the Ducatista. In fact, this afternoon, I could be one. I’d already ridden like one. I could think like one – cavalier. I could suck in my belly and dress like one. I could wave like one. On-coming Ducati riders never raise their left hand to wave when passing. They simply drop it from the handlebar and open their palm – giving a rocket-fueled “low five” as they whiz by.

And best of all, I could park with them!

ROUTE 1 FROM OLEMA divides the pastureland of the Olema Creek drainage. Cattle grow fat on one side of the road. Sheep shear the grass on the other. Farm homes built in the early twentieth century dot large tracts of green rangeland and highway one rises over small hills and sweeps around others. Traffic is thin and only bunches up behind the occasional motor home, which should, by law, be banned from all such roads.

At a relaxed fifty-five miles per hour, the Duc whispers a sultry tone. Lulled, just a bit, I begin thinking about the ergos of the machine. This is considered a standard. A naked bike. There is no wind protection and the seating is upright. While the fairing on my BMW directs the wind right at my helmet, riding the Duc, the wind is constant but the noise is subdued. And unlike the Beemer, the Monster is not built for folks with a 34-inch inseam. The bike is designed for a normal length person – a rider the size of Jessica. My long legs are coiled between a short seat and high pegs, but they are not crying to uncoil. The reach to the handlebar is just right and business at either end easy to conduct – save for the clutch pull. The throttle likes to be blipped but does not like driving at idle in trafficked situations. The front brake is massive but I must remember that it is neither anti-lock nor is it linked to the rear. The switchgear is amazing simple: thumb left to indicate left; thumb right to indicate right; and simply push the thing to cancel. BMW should have figured this out. The silver-gray tank has a bold black racing stripe painted to the right of center and while by another law, in my mind, every Ducati should be painted red, the color on this one works well.

Two Multi-Stradii (Latin – plural of ‘strada’) and a “ten-nine-eight” pass giving the perfunctory low-five salute. I reciprocate. I belong.

I belong because in a few miles I enter the community of Point Reyes Station. It is noon and my Jack-in-the-Box breakfast has worn off. On the left is the Point Reyes Station Café and out front, three Multi-Stradii, a 900i Monster, a Tri-Colore and an older BMW R1100 GS. Even had I been on my RT, I probably could have parked here, but on the little Duc, I knew that I must. I switched off the ignition and swung my leg over the seat. Immediately, I caught the gaze of other riders and sucked in my belly. I fumbled to figure out where to hang the helmet on the bike and just as immediately, blew my cover.

“Clam Chowder and a Coke,” I requested upon entering the café.

“Clam chowder. That’s what folks come to the coast for,” replied the waitress.

“Actually,” I didn’t say, “I came to the coast to wring out this Ducati S2R before it was sold out of the family.” I just ate my soup, tipped nicely and left.

FOR SOME REASON, the route north along Tomales Bay is posted at 35 miles per hour. The road is relatively straight and the adjacent bay affords nice sight lines. One could go faster.

Apparently not the one driving the seventeen-year-old Corolla in front of me. Apparently, this person thought the speed limit sign was quoted as saying “31.” The line was double yellow. I didn’t have the registration for this bike. I didn’t want to do something untoward. Yet, after four or five excruciating miles, there was a straight stretch that I assumed the 96 horsepower L twin might make short work of.

Out I pulled. I cracked the throttle with great purpose. I’d never done a wheelie before. Always thought they were a dangerous act promulgated by riders with reptilian size brains. I’m sure, however, that the driver of the Corolla thought I was just another moron on a motorcycle more interested in speed than in enjoying God’s handiwork along the California coast.

About the time the front wheel touched down, huge raindrops began to spatter the face shield of my helmet. My rain suit was strapped to the back. Now, I would either need to pull over and let Mr. Slo-Mo pass me in his antique Toyota, or ride a good distance getting a good soaking, until I could hop off, toss on the rain suit and get back out on the highway before the offending (or offended) driver overtook me. I opted for the latter and throttled down from my unintended 78 to a more reasonable 10 over.

IN ALL OF MY ADVENTURES on the BMW, I don’t think I’d ever visited this lower section of Highway 1. Once into Bodega Bay, however, the route was familiar. The ride just different. While the Beemer takes the curves and twists of the coastal roads with ease, the Duc charges and dives into them. The Beemer’s aristocratic approach is calm and controlled. The Duc’s breathless.

After 90 minutes in the saddle, I am now developing a one-ness with this machine. Everything works well. Its reflexes are athletic and exciting. It sticks nicely to the road and it inspires my confidence to plunge into turn after turn with enthusiasm.
I’ve decided that I’ll always have a BMW, but I’d most certainly consider a Ducati as a second bike.

At Bodega, I use the cell phone to check in with Jessica and her mom. “No, I won’t be joining you for lunch…”

“Bodega Bay…” I ho-hum, feigning terribly-sorry-I’m-going-to-miss-lunch-with-you.

“Probably Jenner.” I ho-hum some more.

“A couple of more hours, perhaps…” Ho-hum.

“Oh, it rides okay, I guess…” Ho-hum.

“Yes, I’m having fun, I suppose…” HO-hum.

“No. No. Don’t wait for me…” Sigh.

“Probably about 4:00. Maybe before…”

I take a moment to call my riding buddy who lives in Washington State. “Unless you are kissing the prettiest girl in the world at this very moment, I’m having a hell of a lot more fun than you are,” I suggest, adding: “Ha ha!”

“Do tell,” he replies.

THE BLUFFS BETWEEN BODEGA and the mouth of the Russian River are those typical of the Northern California Coast. They are steep, rugged and while scenic, quite foreboding. It is said that the eastward expansion of the Russian empire was halted because the Washington-Oregon-California coastline rarely afforded safe harbor.  The Russians did build a community. Fort Ross. North several kilometers from the mouth of the river. John Sutter, arguably king of the Central Valley some eighty miles to the east, did business with them. But the Russians never ventured inland, never gaining foothold in the golden state. The riches with which they found satisfaction came in the form of sea otter pelts. A persistent and cold coastal fog, it seems, masked other openings to the inland and the Russian foray into North America was easily halted by the Spanish-later-Mexican-later-Californio dominance of the region.

The ride along these bluffs carries one back to those untamed days. Thoughts of weeks or months at sea. Longing for landfall. Then seeing angry waves chewing at these rocky cliffs. Knowing there is no place to moor. No getting off. How long and discouraging the trip back to Alaska would be.

I didn’t turn inland at Jenner and didn’t follow the Russian River to Healdsburg. Instead, I wanted to let this little Ducati gobble up just a bit more coastline. Climbing out of the river course on the north side of the Russian River, California State Route 1 corkscrews like those roads one might imagine grace the Dolomites of Central Italy. The bike loves everything about this section except for the Buicks that are driven by people who have confused their sedans with a motor home.

Half way to the top of the hill is a secondary road. Meyers Grade. “Narrow Road. Sharp Curves. Next 9 Miles.” Don’t bother asking me twice.

Meyers Grade courses northward while Highway 1 veers to the north-northwest following the coastline. No big sedans or motor homes here. The pavement is broken and patched with splotches of asphalt. The little bike jumps and chatters over them and I can feel my fillings begin to loosen in my teeth.

Atop the ridge is a narrower and windier road breaks off to the east. It is an adventure waiting to be experienced. Every new road is. Foolishly, I think this. Because, if it’s paved, then somebody’s been there before, right? So what can be the adventure? But I suspend disbelief and turn eastward. I love roads not taken by others.

Called Fort Ross Road, it descends into nameless stream courses and canyons. I wouldn’t engage in the following, however, if I were to engage in the following, a sunny spot on a hill side in one of these nameless stream courses would be the ideal place to do it, I’m sure. Moderate climate. Ample moisture. Filtered sunlight. Seclusion. A number of perfect spots for tiny, independent pharmaceutical plantations, I would suspect. Wonder if anyone’s ever thought of doing that in these parts. I mean, they do moonshine in the hollows of Appalachia, banjo music begins to strum inside my brain, why not dope here?

I drive in and out of curves and past innumerable side roads that lead to houses and hovels and wonder about the people who live in rural Sonoma County. What do they do? Where do their kids attend school? How close is the nearest store? Or bakery. Are they on the grid or off?

Cazadero, a mile or two further on, offers an answer to the school question. And the bakery question.

IN SHORT ORDER, I find myself back on a major highway, swinging through Guerneville and making a left onto Westside Road. This will take me to Healdsburg past the site of the place where Jessica took her spill on her new (to her) and very able machine. This one.

I fill up at a station about a half-mile from my daughter’s house and think: The Ducati is sweet: far too much bike for my dear little kid to handle, but an intoxicating blend of Italian styling, sensual whispers and incredible road manners. Wish I had room in my garage.

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Skyway - Humboldt Road

Skyway and Humboldt Road

Butte and Plumas Counties

At Inskip, California, the Skyway turns from pavement into dirt. As a kid growing up in Butte County, I always thought the name Skyway seemed rather implausible – like going from wherever I was to heaven. In reality, the Skyway does leave Chico and head east toward Paradise, replacing the windy and steep Honey Run Road that crosses Butte Creek at a covered bridge that was once destroyed when our neighbor’s kid hit it in his dad’s truck while driving drunk one night. Good thing the Skyway had been in place for some thirty years by then or all of the residents of Paradise would have been isolated from Chico, the then-center of my eleven-year-old universe.

Beyond Paradise, the Skyway breaches forest land heading east northeast through DeSabla, Lovelock and to Stirling City. Stirling City earned its name not for a sterling reputation or for yielding sterling amounts of gold, but because the boilers on the steam donkeys used to yard timber had been manufactured in Stirling, Ohio. Good a reason as any, I suppose. Two parallel streets and five or six cross streets form a grid of ramshackle houses with derelict automobiles as yard art. The Post Office and a house converted into a purveyor of beer, ice and snack foods are two of the only remaining businesses. An evening on the town would be somewhere down the hill.

Beyond this berg, the Skyway loses its painted centerline having narrowed to a two-lane width, safe enough so long as one does not come head-on into a Diamond Match log truck – when they used to run – easing down the grade, belching smoke in low gear. The storm knocked needles from the pine trees creating a slick blanket atop the pavement over which I drove warily – especially into and out of turns.

There’s a delightful old inn in Inskip. I think I once bought a pop there for fifteen cents from the Nehi cooler out on the front porch when out and about with dad. In the recent past the inn closed and fell into disrepair although I could swear folks live in the building. Across the road is the cabin in which two Butte County deputies met their maker when confronting an area meth head some fifteen years back, putting Inskip, population 28, on CNN for its fifteen minutes.

Leaving Inskip, a newly installed sign reads:

Road Improvements – Next 4 Miles.

Expect Delays on Skyway

between Inskip and

Humbug Summit Road Junction.

It appeared work had not yet begun in earnest; rather signage had simply been erected foretelling this little public works prophecy and a few trees were cleared on the right side of the road.

The Skyway runs from Inskip to Butte Meadows and on to the source of Chico Creek at Camp Lassen, the Boy Scout complex where my wife and I married 25 years ago. The road is graded dirt, far wider, in this iteration than the paved part that leads up from Paradise to the old, retired inn. It having rained in record amounts three days prior, what with low October sun, the tall Ponderosa Pines and the turns in and about the lay of the land, sections of the road were either dry, but not dusty, or slippery with rainwater that would not evaporate until April.

I thumbed the Electronic Suspension Adjustment on the left grip of the BMW GSA regulating the preload to accommodate the washboard surface of the unpaved road. The bike absorbed primitive road imperfections in a manner that inspired confidence and ignorance all at once: confidence that I could twist the grip and go just a little faster than I should and ignorance that the Metzler Tourance tires had traction anywhere near like they’d grip on a paved surface.

On a particularly straight and relatively level stretch, about a thirty-foot section was flooded with water that seemed unable to drain to the side of the road. It covered the entire width. I’d dodged puddles along the way and had wide latitude in the use of the roadway in that there was no other traffic this day and probably none in the foreseeable future – until April – as far as I could tell. I considered slowing down and tiptoeing the big Beemer through this water hazard, but did the counter-intuitive. Not knowing whether the bottom of the pond was hard or soft, not knowing how deep the filled depression actually was, not knowing whether I’d bog down and die in the middle, I cracked the throttle and plowed through at thirty-two miles per hour.

On my previous BMW, a fiberglass fairing protected the rider – me – from all manner of wind and water when riding. On this virgin Adventure Touring model, excessive plastic is gone to afford lightness, a rugged appearance and a little less to repair should one go down.

Virgin no longer. Just after entering the puddle, water the color of overly creamed coffee enveloped the entire being of motorbike and me. The bright red tank was speckled with that iron-oxidized dirt so infamous on the Paradise ridge – the type of grime that wouldn’t wash out of a little boy’s jeans, Mom emphatically believed, so when we were considering our move from Altadena to the north state back in 1957, Paradise lost out to Chico, where the dirt, presumably was more wash-out-able. Rust colored, muddy dots covered the tank, windshield, steel panniers and every exposed portion of the engine casings and electrical doohickeys. My white Shoei helmet would sponge off, I was sure, and the now-soaked mesh-tex riding jacket was due for a wash anyway.

The following day, I invested two hours spit cleaning my new BMW GSA, but concluded that there are places on the bike that shall never be clean again. And the jacket? The red dirt did rinse out, Mom.

Do they need to improve the Skyway east northeast of Inskip running toward Butte Meadows? No. It’s perfect exactly as it is.

East out of Butte Meadows, the Humboldt Road tracks up Scotts John Creek drainage through Jonesville and up to Humboldt Summit. Starting 35 miles west in Chico, this was the old route to the Idaho mines frequented by frustrated forty-niners whose dream of quick fortune hadn’t been beaten out of them by experience. Past Jonesville a bucolic section of the Humboldt Road, nicely graded and graveled tunnels through a canopy of evergreens and arching black oak with their autumn colored leaves. Toward the crest, a formerly wildfire scorched hillside is tangled with Manzanita, nature’s intermediate step toward the return of the conifer forest. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses at the top and I respect more highly of those traveling this section on foot than I do my lazy-butt self.

Beyond the summit, now in Plumas County, the road twists down the mountain past the Robbers Roost, where Black Bart more than once plied his trade; Ruffa Ranch, where a hundred and twenty-five year old cabin, barn and outhouse still stand; and toward its intersection with state route 89, some twenty-two miles east at Lake Almanor.

My last visit across this route had been on my first bike, a 1970 Honda Trail 90 model K2, nearly new at the time. The little beast had a seven horsepower engine with a block made out of cast aluminum. There was a small button one could pull on the top of the carburetor if, because of increase in elevation the thing started to sputter and choke. By altering the mixture due to reduced oxygen at elevation, the little 90 hummed along carrying my carcass with nary a complaint. Humboldt Summit was one of only two places I ever pulled on that little button. This day, the Beemer carried me quite comfortably and ably over the roughest of roads and the highest of elevation with me needing to pay little more than attention.

The first freeze of the fall had visited or, at least, the air at the five-thousand-plus foot elevation had cooled to the point where the sap thickens and cannot carry life through the smallest of capillaries, thus the leaves on the willows along Scotts John Creek and those of the aspens in the meadow where some fortunate built his homestead and called it Ruffa – the leaves of all the deciduous trees in the area turned golden. Stands traced area streams, ringed area meadows and painted swathes on the sides of mountains amid vast expanses of Ponderosa Pine, Red Cedar and Douglas fir. Green and golden yellow.

Parked at Ruffa Ranch, a location for a recurring whimsy again materialized. This little flight-of-fancy contains only a few elements: a remote, rustic cabin; five or six cord of seasoned pine for fuel; perhaps three dozen books divided equally between titles I know I should read and titles I just would like to read; a store of food to last a winter; some companionship; and blessed, simple time equal to a season’s worth of snow pack. The fantasy has no real higher purpose other than to, in April, say, “Yeah, I did it,” and, perhaps, kiss the companion.

The mid-October day had changed from blue skies in the Sacramento Valley only a couple of hours before, to a foreboding pewter gray, darker where, close to the summit, the cloud cover hung a bit lower. Reaching from the forest floor, those Ponderosa Pines looked to be clawing at the bellies of those leadened clouds inviting them to dump their contents on me and my GSA. Me with my rain suit safely stowed in the garage at home. The air is warm; I’m comfortable in my mud-tinged summer jacket, so I know it won’t snow, although my sources tell me it snowed here with that record-breaking event of earlier in the week.

Coursing along the Humboldt Road, five miles shy of state route 89, a dirt road angles in from the right – the Humbug Road. Seven miles up that route, back toward Stirling City, lay Humbug Valley, a beautiful mountain high-grass meadow currently home to summer grazing cattle. The little valley earned its name at the hand of an early-day financial advisor who commanded booty from hungry miners living in Chico in the 1850s still yearning for that one big strike.

“There’s a valley up ta the other side where’n you c’n simply scoop gold nuggets up outta th’ crick,” the huckster reported. I picture eagerness all over him with tobacco spittle dribbling from the corner of his mouth. Then he’d wink and add, “I seen it, boys!”

So with logic common to discouraged sourdoughs of that age and folks succumbing to the Wall Street prognostications of today, they paid him his tribute and followed him off into the wilds of western Plumas County to – just at dusk – the banks of Yellow Creek. In the morning he and their loot would be gone.

Humbug indeed.

The skies had cleared the further I traveled east from the summit and rain was no longer in my forecast. I continued to Almanor where, hopefully a piece of apple pie and a hot cup of coffee would provide lunch at 2:00 PM. But the café at Prattville was closed. Not just for the day: really closed.

I remember dining on the deck of that place fifteen years back when serving at the principal at Chester Elementary School, at the north end of the lake and living on the east shore. We’d been shuttled across the lake in a speed boat that didn’t handle the waves too well, and while skimming across the lake to breakfast on a Sunday morning sounded like a good idea – like spending a hearty winter warmed by a wood fire at Ruffa Ranch – in practice, hopping in the Mazda van and driving over there would have been a better option; especially when considering the digestion of omelets and pancakes and mimosas offered that morning.

Plan B would involve a café down the road a piece in Greenville.

Highway 89 anywhere – including from Almanor to Greenville – is, I’ve said this time and time again, the reason God created pavement. We know she rides a motorcycle and we know it is one that dives into curves and eats miles of pavement. I suspect it is an Italian marque of some sort. I also suspect that God, when she rides, rides portions of highway 89.

The incredible thing about the GS Adventure is that one can ride at the pace of a hiker in first gear over rocky or slippery terrain and feel safe and confident, yet when the dirt road meets the asphalt, easily keep up with God on her Ducati. The GSA handles the sweeping turns of the Almanor-Quincy route as if riding on a rail. The bike bends to my will with little more than a thought. There’s a sweet spot at 66 miles per hour in fifth gear that is perfect for these eighteen miles and I keep my eyes peeled for deer wishing to engage in suicide by biker.

Swifting past campgrounds, the warm aroma of campfire smoke deliciously fills my helmet. Past a stand of cedars, their essence. Behind a flat bed hauling a load for fresh lumber from the Collins Pine mill in Chester, his exhaust. Two out of three ain’t bad. Collins manages their forestland better than just about anyone in the industry, but it still hasn’t helped. The mill is down to one shortened shift these days, so seeing a little commerce come out of the hills is a good thing, in this time of recession. A few more loads and perhaps that café back up at Almanor might rise from the dead.

My back-up-plan diner at the crossroads in Greenville hadn’t succumbed to the times. It did, however, close at 3:00. It was 2:54 when I walked in.


“What kind o’ pie you got?”

“Punkin. And cheesecake.”


“Nope. Just Punkin.”

“I’ll have a piece. And coffee.”

“Not a very balanced diet,” the motherly woman opined.

“Don’t tell.”

“Our secret,” she said placing her index finger across her lips.

I ended up eating two generous slabs making this a meal I would pay for, as I headed homeward, in terms beyond simple cash.

I once took out the AAA map of northern California and found that, in the nearly ten years of riding since I got back into two-wheeling, I’d ridden damned near every route in the north part of the state. I think there are only about six or seven more I really need to check off my list. Nothing about the ride home would be new territory, even though every ride on the same road is unique due to the time of day, time of year and what folks are burning in their woodstoves and fireplaces as I whiz past. The object behind moving from the BMW RT road bike to the GS Adventure was to access some of those roads that don’t appear on the AAA map. Today proved that this shift in conveyance was a good call.

Now, if we could just get them to not pave the Skyway beyond Inskip.

© 2009

Church of the Open Road Press