Thursday, September 29, 2011


State Route 128 at Lake Berryessa

IT’S TOUGH TO RIDE A NICE MOTORCYCLE and not be stopped from time to time for conversations with a total stranger. Outside of the other day over near Clear Lake when an aging man in house slippers wandered across the street, engaged me about my BMW and then tried to panhandle me for “enough money to, you know, get a hot dog or something,” conversations usually start with the bike and may move on to topics or those proverbial points unknown.

Monticello Dam
THE FIRST LEG of the “North Coast – Volcanic Legacy Tour” found me crossing the Coast Range on State Route 128. This sinewy highway leads from the hot dry floor of the Sacramento Valley, through rolling hills, vineyards and redwoods until finally emerging at the coast below Fort Bragg. An hour into this ride, I find myself at the overlook for Monticello Dam which serves as a good place to stretch legs and take on a slug or two of water.

Two gentlemen approach from the west on bikes – one on a Cannondale the other, I think, on a Novara from REI.  (I find I know bikes, but I don't really know bikes.)

Berryessa's Glory Hole
Walking back from a look at Berryessa’s glory hole, I appreciate the bare-naked geology of the area and found myself reflecting upon the upward thrusts of our earth’s rather fluid crust. I recalled how I’d taught some very basic geology to fourth graders. The vicinity around what used to be the Monticello Valley illustrates how layers once well below the ocean’s surface have been lifted and bent by tectonic forces as far away as the mid-Atlantic. I was wondering about the advisability of putting a solid concrete dam across a gorge made up of clearly mobile strata.

“How far to Davis?” asked one. “And is it down hill?” chimed the other.

I responded.

“We’re thinking of taking the Pleasants Valley Road,” one said as the other looked at his watch.

Having just ridden it myself, I explained that such a detour would add quite a bit of climbing and mileage if Davis were the goal.

The first one looked at the GSA. “Trade ya,” he said with a grin. “I’ve got a Dakar at home.”

We laughed.

“Can’t do that,” I said, “but I can put one of you guys on the seat backward and you can take footage of the other one coming down the hill. That’s what bicyclists like BMWs for, isn’t it?”

More laughter.

THE GENTLEMEN, probably each eight or ten years my senior had pedaled west from Calistoga. I calculated that this had involved more than a little up and down and was glad my bike was outfitted with a motor.

October 2010 - file
One of them pointed to Monticello Dam’s moorings across the canyon. “Some pretty dramatic tilt."

“Yeah,” I said, remembering about my days as a classroom teacher and preparing (like a fool) to show off a bit. “Seems strange to build a dam and hold up all that water where the crust moves around so much. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live down stream.”

His riding partner shook his head. “Oh, no, no, no.” He pointed down the valley, then turned and pointed across the pool of water. “These rocks, why, they haven’t moved in the past six million years. Maybe eleven and a half million.”

“Mid-Atlantic ridge…” I began.

“…Nope. Now out eighty miles west there in the San Andreas rift zone, there’s where you’ll have some movement. Wouldn’t be smart to do a reservoir like this there. And yeah, I guess it does start back in the Atlantic, but the critical movement is on the coast.”

I decided to shut up and listen. (This is rare.)

Layers - tilted layers
He continued, “You go down the road a bit and you get an excellent view of the different layers that used to be on the floor of the ocean back about the early or maybe the mid-Pleistocene Epoch. You’ll see some thin layers of shale that had lay on the floor and compressed. In between, there’ll be these thicker layers of more granular material that had flowed down from the Sierra and settled to the bottom.” He pointed across the highway from the dam. “There’s a pretty good example right there.”

I thought I knew most of this stuff, but in no way did I know it like this biker.

“Those rock slides you see every once in a while along here? Exfoliation.”

“The onion skin effect?” I asked.

“Similar to the granite in the Sierra. Except not technically onion skin because the rock isn’t…”

Courtesy US Geologic Survey Bulletin
I didn’t catch the word he used. But it turns out he is a retired Ph.D. and taught this stuff to university students for a career. As he went on, I thought about the additional units I could use on my college transcript. I wondered if he’d sign off on ‘em for me.

AT LENGTH, his partner tapped his watch and asked if I could recommend a lunch spot, stopping the geologist mid-sentence.

A view toward the San Andreas Rift Zone
Hopefully they stopped at the Putah Creek Café in Winters. I know I had something to chew on as I mounted the Beemer and headed west toward the rift zone.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, September 26, 2011


I only [fill in the blank] when I’m alone or with somebody.
College roommate’s comment
about drinking beer

MY FIRST EXPERIENCE on a motorized two-wheeler involved a high school chum named John who owned a Honda Trail 55 with a chrome front fender. Somehow we talked my mother into letting me buy a Trail 90 back in about 1969. Our favorite ride was to access the Southern Pacific’s service road where the tracks crossed 8th Avenue west of Chico, California and race in and out of mud holes and dust patches, emerging three miles further up the line at Muir after about an hour and a half. Riding with John was great fun. We laughed and shared the common experience and always looked forward to the next opportunity to defy physics on our little tiddlers.

My college roommate – the one quoted above – moved me onto a more vaunted machine: one with a clutch. We commuted from our shared trailer to class on our Honda twins for a semester or two. When co-eds weren’t the topic of conversation, the bikes were.

After quite a hiatus, I bought a BMW R-65. The time was right and I decided a solo road trip to Washington State might be a suitable adventure. And an adventure of discovery it was. I discovered I could rise in the morning and take off when I wanted to. I could eat when I was hungry, unencumbered by anyone else’s pangs. I could stop for pictures, change routes, and take a nap or a piddle without fear of holding anyone up. I was experiencing the freedom of the sunrise, the sunset and the open road.

MOST OF THE CHURCH OF THE OPEN ROAD’S entries chronicle solo trips I’ve taken – some a day in length, some several days long. I find myself doing all the things I learned I could do on that R-65 and then some. With a good map, I could chart a course different from what I might have planned. With my notebook or Alpha-Smart I could write down thoughts about the things I saw, the people I met or the little spiritual moments that overtook me.

Once in a while, I ride with somebody else. Within the last few years, I have been accompanied by my brother on a couple of day rides. Until just recently, the eras when he owned a motor were the exact opposites of the eras when I did. Now we both do. Our excursions help determine what, if any, common ground exists between two of such common genetics. The bikes may be the thread.

On grand occasion, I ride with a buddy. He comes to California, rents a bike and off we ride. As recently as a week ago, we toured some of Northern California’s best motorcycle routes, any one of which would make for a memorable and challenging journey. We did about eight “of which” in five days. Like those long ago adventures racing along the railroad track, each day ended with recountments of how great it was and comparisons of the same scene witnessed through different eyes.

Recently, correspondents to the blog or to one of the conversation websites I’ve joined (Pashnit or Wild Goose), have encouraged me to hook in with a ride they have planned. I participated in my first charity poker run at the behest of a Wild Goose rider from the Stockton area and thoroughly enjoyed the day. All of a sudden I found myself with about 1400 new best friends. I need to pledge to do more riding with others perhaps simply to share the experience or perhaps to enjoy similar passions as experienced by others.

STILL, RIDING SOLO will be the thing I love to do most on a bike. The independence. The freedom. The whimsy. The call of the wild. And that spiritual thing.

I’ll continue to pack a good map. And I’ll continue to leave some sort of itinerary with loved ones along with the note, “If you don’t hear from me in three or four days, follow this general route and look skyward for the circling buzzards.”


Riding buddy from Washington State has found great success in renting from Adventure Touring in Santa Rosa, California. At Charles M. Schulz Airport, the very cordial and accommodating owner, Mike, has located his business where it is easily accessed by out-of-towners.  His collection of nearly new BMW GSs is always in top-notch condition.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, September 23, 2011


Part of the North Coast – Volcanic Legacy tour

McCloud River RR Snowplow
IN TIMES DIFFERENT FROM OUR OWN, industry was thought glorious. Rails spanning the vast, arid reaches beyond the hundredth meridian conquered the west. Grasslands became range ridden by romantic figures on horseback. Minerals scratched from the ground funded our government. And felling an endless supply of trees provided materials for our expansion and growth.

During this cavalcade, crossroads became towns, towns became cities and honest people worked hard to create a future for themselves and their families and a future for America.

But industry suffers from cycles of boom and bust. Nearly as quickly as Bodie, California sprung from the hills east of the Bridgeport Valley, it turned to dust when gold’s allure faded. Similarly, the coastal town of Greenwood, only eleven hours north of the bay by sea, is remembered by only a few black and white photos of the timber harvest that occurred there. Platina died (I’ve just been told) when the platinum played out. For Cherokee, it was diamonds. Beldon’s knell came when the Feather River Railroad (the old WP) punched further up the canyon.

Some towns retooled. Others did not.

ON MULTI-DAY ROAD TRIP, we spent the night in McCloud, California. The McCloud Hotel served as the boarding house for school marms and for single men working the mill. The current owners have spared no expense in converting the building into an elegant hostelry. Common areas invite guests to mingle. Rooms range from simple singles to beautiful suites. Each is outfitted with period antiques. A stout and hearty breakfast is included.

Across the street, the depot for the defunct McCloud River Railroad tours rests. Several passenger cars patiently wait for the wail of a steam whistle. A rail switch is choked with weeds.

Walking around, it soon becomes apparent that the entire town is watched over by Mount Shasta, the second highest promontory in the state. Water from her aquifer nourishes the community and, according to the young lady at the front desk, no one in town pays for its consumption.

The streets are rolled up early
A small collection of businesses occupies another refurbished company building. Treading its boardwalk, once passes a café, candy store, general mercantile and another inn.

McCloud was, indeed, a company town. Blocks are filled with period houses of common design. Some are year-round residences; some are summer get-aways.

TAKING A LITTLE MORE TIME before departure in the morning, we toured around, discovering McCloud to be bigger than the area immediately adjacent to the hotel. Out toward the mill, we stumbled across the graveyard of the McCloud River Railroad. Soft Cushion boxcars – some cut apart for salvage – rust.

A maintenance of way car used for hauling ballast stands as if frozen in the sepia-tone of an earlier era.

An old caboose rests next to a water tower…

…and another one invites our curious inspection.

It is easy to picture a twenty-four hour cacophony coming from this yard during the heyday of Shasta lumbering.

The mill is closed. Last operated by California Cedar Products, I stop for a picture of the grand old lady…

…and poke my camera through an open door to snap a hollow, sad picture of the mill’s vast, vacant interior.  Somewhere in there I'm sure, echo the sounds of by-gone days and lost industry.  I holster the camera and wait...

NO WATER IS MORE PURE than that which flows from beneath Mount Shasta. A short while ago, a large multi-national approached the citizenry about putting a water bottling plant on or near the old mill site. The corporation would bring needed jobs to an economically struggling area utilizing an infrastructure in place from former industries. After much debate, we are told by the woman at the front desk, townsfolk rejected the plan asking, if we get our water for free, why should we allow you bottle it and then sell it to us?

Why indeed?

The company found a willing supply in Sacramento.

INDUSTRY IS STILL GLORIOUS, but it has changed. While, in America, we still are the most productive people on the planet, success is no longer measured by the number of ore cars that rumble down the right-of-way, or the board feet of lumber milled at a plant, or even the number of Chevrolets rolling off an assembly line back in Flint, Michigan.

Now, while we still manufacture cars and farm equipment and the hardware that tools industry itself, we also bottle drinking water, make films, build semi-conductors and push information around from place to place. We are less dependent on digging holes in the ground or chopping down great swaths of forest. We don’t need to. Consumer products, it seems, come mainly from elsewhere. We down that bottled water and ingest that information in a quickened lifestyle that would seem dizzying to the industrialists of yore. And we seem okay with it.

Still it’s nice to slow down and look back. It’s good to recognize the labor that went before – the labor that built the foundations upon which we now operate. And it’s welcome to find a place like McCloud or Greenwood or Bodie to simply sit quietly and reflect on it all.

(c) U C Davis
On a clear night at the base of Mount Shasta, if you listen hard, you can hear the faint clatter of steam driven locomotives and lumber mills and the muted, ghostly voices of the timber fellers and railroad men – chiseling the future we now enjoy.



The McCloud Hotel may be visited on line at  Better, however, that one visits in person!

For more information on the McCloud River Railroad, visit:

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, September 22, 2011


No place on earth is home to such scenic wonder
and is visited by roads engineered with such grace.

More evidence that God must,
in her leisure time,
ride a motorcycle.

The Vaca Hills west of Winters, CA

STATE ROUTE 128 climbs across California’s Coast Range beginning in the Sacramento Valley at Winters and ending on the rugged California Coast below Fort Bragg.

Monticello Dam
Along its route one passes through the arid rain shadow of the Vaca Hills, past what used to be the Monticello Valley (now inundated by Lake Berryessa)...

Dry Creek area vineyard
 ...among vineyards of the Napa, Alexander and Anderson Valleys...

Where angels may be heard on occasion

...finally tunneling through redwoods before achieving the coast.

STEWARTS POINT SKAGGS SPRINGS ROAD offers an alternative route to the Pacific. Heading west from US 101 at Healdsburg, this secondary road explores the Dry Creek wine-growing region…

Escaping the Tule fog
…before rising to capture of view of Lake Sonoma.

Historic Haupt Creek Bridge
From there, it skips from ridge top to ridge top, plunging into and out of tiny stream courses that have worked for eons to sculpt the Coast Range. Within the last two hundred yards, the road emerges from the redwoods to afford the rider a heart-stopping glimpse of the ocean.


Near Caspar (Google Img.)
STATE ROUTE 1 is legendary. So much so that people fly in from all over the world just to ride or drive its winding course, absorb lungfuls of fresh maritime air…

Coastal California
…view the sea chewing away the ancient cliffs and stop for rest or refreshment in any of a number of quaint, rustic shoreline villages.

Farming the north coast
The route seethes with history from the ancient Pomo, the failed attempts of Russian settlement, the glory days of redwood lumbering and the boom and bust cycles of the salmon industry.

Light plays in the redwoods (Google Img.)
US 101, north of Leggett picks up the state route’s theme, coursing through parks of towering redwoods where echoes of siren songs can still be heard if one simply gets off and listens. The play of mid-day light through the ancients creates kaleidoscopic colors that change with each turn of the highway.

Coastal cooling
Further north, through the area’s capital, Eureka, the seashore’s moderate climate underpins the unique and delicate ecology where the Coastal Redwoods thrive...

Old PalCo mill at Scotia

...and air conditions the old mills where these giants had been harvested and transformed into fencing, decking and trim.

US 199 departs a fog-blanketed coast at Smith River and quickly climbs north of the Trinities…

Crossing into Oregon (Google Img.)
…passes through the Randy Collier tunnel under Hazel View Summit and enters Oregon. Tiny towns dot the route – somewhere the lunch spots don’t open until nearly noon and premium gas for the bike is unavailable. Out of the groves of sequoia, forests transition to yellow pine and the rocky pastures provide forage for deer and cattle.

Indian Creek Road
A SECONDARY ROAD leads south out of O’Brien, twisting and switch backing over the Siskiyous. The Rogue-River Siskiyou National Forest management has chip sealed the road ensuring its longevity for a season or two longer, but tempering the degree to which one enters the inviting turns. At the summit, views stretch southward over range after range of rugged territory.


Happy Camp (Google Img.)
Winding down into Happy Camp it is easy to see why these remote reaches of forestland burn so readily and often. Steep. Rugged. Difficult to access. And full of forest tinder.

Rt 96 in the Klamath Canyon
STATE ROUTE 96 traces the Klamath River in through the depths of its canyon. The late summer water is emerald green and the hillsides deep, dry golden. The cool temperatures of the coast and the high country are long gone as the thermometer reads mid-nineties.

Crossing the Shasta River
At I-5, an alternate highway, State Route 263 (perhaps the old 99) slips through a canyon, and just before Yreka crests to afford a breath taking view of Shasta.

Mount Shasta from McCloud
STATE ROUTE 89 begins in Mount Shasta City and may prove to be the best motorcycling road in the entire state. After departing McCloud, the struggling once-lumber town...

Burney Falls
…the highway rifles straight through tall forests of buckskin pine, the floors of which are neatly manicured to reduce fire damage potential. 30 miles on it swings south past Burney Falls, through the placid pasturelands of the Hat Creek Valley…

Mount Lassen over Hat Creek Meadow
…thence through Lassen Park and then off to explore the high country of the Sierra.

High meadows near Mineral, CA (Google Img)
STATE ROUTE 36 is joined east of Mineral. Traveling west we descend through the cinder-soils and fir forests into the land of Ishi, the last North American stone-age man.

Ancient Cinder Cone near Red Bluff (Google Img.)
The road is chiseled across ancient mud floes and through small lush valleys supporting small acreages of irrigated pasture. A fifteen-mile stretch of hardpan leads down to the northern Sacramento Valley where I-5 is accessed for a quick blast north to Redding.

Platina.  All of it.
36 IS AGAIN PICKED UP at Platina, former lumbering transshipment point and one-time platinum mining berg – hence the name, at least according to the young woman working the watering hole there.

The highway immediately climbs over several ranges finally descending into the course of the Mad and Van Duzen Rivers. No real food or gas until Fortuna out by the coast, but the turns are luscious and one never knows when the next curve over a ridge will afford a view that you’d stop for if you weren’t having such fun in the saddle.

Looking east on 128
 Approaching the coast, again we tour cathedrals of redwoods. Road noise slips away to be replaced by that soft choral siren song of the ancients.

Noyo Harbor
 THE LOOP IS COMPLETED by heading south on 101 to Leggett and following 1 back to Fort Bragg. This time we take 128 east and enjoy a final few miles along the Navarro River and its attendant redwood groves.

West end of Berryessa
A “shortcut” through the Seventh Day Adventist community of Angwin adds an additional 80 minutes to an already too-long, too-hot final day. The west shore of Lake Berryessa appears where my mental compass said it shouldn’t have been.

Winters Main Street
But a twenty-minute stop in Winters allows enough energy regeneration for a charge across the valley to home.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press