Monday, November 28, 2011


THE LEADING EDGE of December turned out to be a sixty-degree day. Whether or not this was a weather mirage – the Tule fog common to the area never showed up this morning – I would take advantage and ride smack into the middle of autumn. It was the GSA’s turn for a run so I saddled up and went looking for fall.

BEFORE RETURNING to motorcycling, I built a kayak from a kit. My Pygmy “Golden Eye” is light, stable, and maneuverable; plus, the mahogany plywood makes her a real looker.

(c) Pygmy Boats

John Lockwood; (c) Pygmy Boats
The story goes that John Lockwood, the developer of Pygmy Kayaks, was an outdoorsy sort who endured a tragic construction accident – one which left him with limited mobility from the waist down. Resourceful gentleman that he is, Mr. Lockwood used his computer savvy to create a lightweight vessel that proved to be quite seaworthy. He could return to the wilderness – sometimes for months at a stretch(!) – and along the way, so could many of the rest of us. The maiden voyage of my Pygmy Kayak was on Lake Clementine.

A LUSCIOUS SINGLE-LANE STRIP of pavement leads to Lake Clementine from Foresthill Road, east of Auburn, California. This day, the damp, shaded curves are blanketed in slick, fallen leaves, the likes of which I’d hope to photograph while still on their trees. A break in the forest cover affords a nice view of the North Fork Dam, a debris dam built in 1939 to mitigate the unnatural flow of mining detritus from 90 years prior. There being no outlet at the bottom of the dam, water simply fills the basin and cascades over the top. The good news for kayakers is that never do they find a “bathtub ring.” The area foliage always grows right down to the water’s edge.

Ample parking greets the boater or skier or fisherperson. I find an inopportune place and hike down to the boat ramp. While a couple is loading a pair of kayaks onto the roof of a Honda Pilot, I think about how little attention my Pygmy has received since I re-entered the realm of motorcycling.

A view from the dock offers a find view of the top of the North Fork Dam. The still water has that mirror-like quality that paddlers long for. The reflection of the south facing canyon wall is picture perfect.

Looking eastward, a small seasonal marina is located a few yards away. Just around the bend from that, I recall from a paddle trip some ten years back, is a maple with flaming red leaves. Somewhere I have a slide of the tree and its mirror image. Somewhere. Can’t get to it now without a boat.

Wandering about the parking areas, I do find some fall colors still clinging to a Freemont Cottonwood.

In a drier micro-environ, a red-berried Toyon invites pause.

WITH A BIT OF LATE AFTERNOON sunlight remaining, I wind back up the canyon wall and find a spot beyond the pool to peer into the depths of the North Fork Canyon.

Along the crest of the ridge, black oak leaves still hold, but with the next cold storm, surely will cover the pavement; ancient trees again waiting for a spring thaw and the promise of renewed life.

All in all, a satisfying ride for a day when normally one would only dream about the road. I head home thinking that I must rescue that beautiful mahogany craft from its sad and dusty mooring in my garage and, again, venture to the far reaches of Clementine.


Pygmy Boats – beautiful kayak kits that draw little water but many, many appreciative glances. If I can build one, believe me, anyone can! More details at

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Baby, it’s cold outside.
- Johnny Mercer

WHEN THE DAILY HIGH temps only rise to the 50 to 55 degree range, only the intrepid can be found enjoying the highways and back roads on two wheels.

Out state route 128 past Winters, there are few if any motorcyclists this day. The fifty-degree air slices through my layers. Every square centimeter of my being feels the chill – except for the middle finger on my right (throttle) hand which cannot feel anything at all and won’t until I stop for a cup of coffee at the café located junction of 128 and 121. Here I would thaw out the digit by simply placing it in the steaming coffee, until such time as I received feedback that feeling had returned.

A fellow in riding gear was finishing a burger and ordering a slab of apple pie. His V-Strom was parked outside, now with my GSA beside it.

The usual questions ensued. “Where you going?” “Where you out of?” “How long you been on the road?” “Any route recommendations?”

The gentleman told me that this was his third V-Strom. First one had been a 650. He wanted more power so after 40,000 miles, he traded for a 1000 model, which he summarily crashed after hitting a water hazard just up the road from this café. Opted for his current 650 since Suzuki wasn’t importing the bigger model. “It isn’t my only bike, however,” he confessed. This explained the Harley garb we wore while touring on the Japanese bike. “My Street Glide’s parked in the garage right now.”

I shared that I, too, had a second bike – a beautiful little black Guzzi.

He swallowed a bite of apple pie and washed it down with some coffee. “Kinda makes you sad, doesn’t it?”

I shook my head, unclear of his drift.

“The second bike.” He motioned with his fork. “Sitting at home and missing all this.”

I thought about the Breva isolated in my cold and darkened garage and nodded.

He said, “They know, you know.”

“Yep. I suppose they do.”

TEMPERATURES IN THAT LOW 50 range effect photos in a bad way. The pictures become non-existent. Inside the heavily insulated winter gloves, my hands are warm and my digits relatively mobile, with the exception of that one finger. I know that removing the gloves to fetch the camera will end with me slipping once-warm hands into once-warm-but-no-longer-warm gloves. Thus, rather than stop to record the flaming Big Leaf Maples or Black Oak leaves, or the row upon row of wine varietals – each changing hue consistent with their lineage and micro-location in the vineyard – I whisk by thinking perhaps I can resort to using words on a keyboard once I’ve found shelter for the evening.

Pictures would have been a good idea. My hands ultimately developed that chilled stiffness anyway, so I may as well have stopped now and then. By not doing so, I aligned no electrons to depict the rolling hills mostly covered in chemise, but blocked, in select places with cultivated vines. I didn’t pixilate the muted colors under a pewter blanket of cloud, nor the flaming cabernet, pinot and zin leaves against a deep azure sky where the sun had melted those clouds. I didn’t catch the remnant moisture from yesterday’s storm rising as mist aside a forested hill. I missed the golden English walnut leaves and the spare, spindly pear branches reaching skyward, already devoid of foliage; and the Victorian set back from the road in a cluster of pecans and mulberries; and the red barn with a corner of rusted corrugated roof peeling away. Also not photographed for posterity: the Great Blue standing at the edge of a gray pond; the placid water under a Napa River bridge; the small convention of geese gathered on some farmer’s front lawn; or the Spanish moss over the graceful curves of the still damp Silverado Trail. In general, of the elements that define the ride, none were captured.

I guess if I’d stopped for one photo op, I’da stopped for a bunch more. Darkness would have settled in and, along with that darkness, an even deeper cold. Maybe I’m just not intrepid enough to both ride and take snapshots.

OVER THE MEADOW and through the wine country, I would see and spend a couple of nights with granddaughter and her new seven-week-old brother. Perhaps I had reason to hurry. Perhaps not.

In any event: no pictures. At least, not of the ride this time.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


…there but for the grace of God…
Mom, circa: yesterday

TOY-RUN TRIP-UP: On this chilly November morn, a charitable group of cruiser riders were out collecting toys for the less fortunate. I saw hundreds of them roaring in the opposite direction from me on I-80 east of Sacramento. They looked a bit like lemmings. Normally, I wouldn’t make such a comparison, but between Greenback and Madison, one of them had veered into the concrete barrier of the center divide and I pictured three or four more may have followed. The stout concrete wall that divides east and westbound lanes provided no indication of impact – at least on my side of the freeway. In most any collision, I know, the concrete infrastructure wins.

Emergency crews were just arriving, gently pushing their fire trucks and meat wagons through a clump of fellow riders who were milling about the fast lane, undoubtedly shocked by the unfortunate incident. Further on, I noted a weaving CHP unit calming traffic upstream from the event. Very professional. Very practiced. Very it-happens-all-the-time.

When riding in a group, it seems too easy to concentrate solely on the rider in front of you rather than the whole picture. The incident reminded me that I was glad to be riding solo this day, as usually I do. Still, I had to offer a few words up for the individual(s) laying crumpled on the tarmac a few miles back.

ANTIQUES ROAD SHOW: Soon I found myself west of the Sacramento River. Fifteen or twenty minutes had elapsed and I was still flashing back on the difficulties the charity cruisers had experienced. Just west of Davis, I planned to route myself north on State Route 113 and cut west to Winters where I would pick up State Route 128. Ahead, a small flatbed truck occupied my lane. Ladened with a motley assortment of rusted relics appearing to be from the gold rush – a monitor nozzle, portions of a steam donkey, an ore cart, various rolls of wire – the overloaded vehicle should have been puttering along a lane or two further to his own right. Or, better yet, on the frontage road.

With the split for the 113 less than a mile ahead, I gave some thought to blasting past him on his right, a practice I cuss about when others do this. Instead, I opted for a legal and quick pass to his left knowing that if I timed things with care, I could ease into the exit lanes without cutting the old boy off. While passing, I noted the 80s era Ford, a three-quarter ton chassis with its pickup bed removed, was little more than a jalopy itself. The rusty load seemed loosely secured. The driver’s side window sported a large spider-web crack. The filmy windshield looked as if it hadn’t been seen Windex and a washrag since its last day at the showroom.

Goosing the big Beemer’s throttle, I allowed my fellow traveler adequate space before merging across his lane and onto my exit. A glance in my rearview mirror found a lashing dangling loose on the passenger side of the rig. And at that moment, some rusted component of our glorious gold rush history came crashing onto the freeway, rolling, spraying and skittering across I-80’s two right hand lanes.

I thought about the lemmings from twenty minutes back and realized I’d come within yards, seconds and one bad decision short of becoming one myself. The I realized: Luck of the draw being what it is, the rope on the left side could just as easily given way and, there’d I’d be, on the pavement, tangled up with history, waiting for the very professional, the very practiced, the very it-happens-all-the-time emergency crews to scrape up my sorry…

FINALLY, since loved ones may read this post, I won’t mention the cinder block sized chunk of slate that had broken free of the cut bank on route 128 during the previous night’s storm. It had positioned itself in my lane just beyond what should have been a delightful curve. Due to cold November temperatures and my desire to get to point B rather hurriedly, I eschewed my usual break at Monticello Dam. The sedimentary chunk was less than two miles further on, encircled by smaller bits of debris. Employing the Beemer’s ample antilock brakes, I slowed precipitously missing both the boxcar sized rock and the suicidal deer who happened to choose this moment to dart across the road a few yards beyond.

Oh, mom, I'll be a safe rider!
Me, to mom, circa 1970 
on the occasion 
of my purchase of
my first Trail 90 
as a teenager.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, November 19, 2011


… more purging of the pocket notebook…

I keep a notebook in my pocket while riding and gleaned from it these ten questions that came to mind while in the saddle going somewhere:

HOW LONG is an eon?

WHEN DID TOSSING litter out the window regain acceptance? [Corollary: When did leaving your shopping cart in the space next to where you parked become acceptable practice?]

WHAT DOES THIS FELLOW now know that the rest of us have yet to figure out?

WHY IS not being truthful all-of-the-sudden acceptable? [And to whom did Jesus lie?] [Corollary: If Rush can lie, why can’t I?]

A GUYS LIFTS a newspaper box, hauls it to a remote location, chisels open the coin box and retrieves a few quarters. What turns out to be his hourly rate?

WHEN SCIENCE CONFLICTS with Scripture, which one wins?

WHO ELECTED Grover Norquist to anything and why does anyone pay attention to him? [Corollary: Who elected Karl Rove?]

SPORTS ENCOURAGES development of character, we’re told. Specifically, what kind?”

UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES might bigger not be better?

HOW LONG did this oak live and how long it will stand as a monument to itself?

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Trying to shop locally in a corporate-consumer landscape…

SHOP LOCAL. Shop the independent. In the ‘burbs surrounding the greater Sacramento area, this is not easily accomplished. Near my neighborhood lies the greatest money vortex anywhere in these western United States. At the corner of Galleria Boulevard and Roseville Parkway rest three shopping complexes, each home to several large and small corporate outlets. Penneys. Macys. Nordstrom. Williams Sonoma. Pottery Barn. REI. Another Macys. Staples. PetSmart . Or is it PetCo? Barnes and Noble. Simply driving through the area, one feels money being sucked not from their wallets, but from their very pores. At least I do. A look at just two of these majors, Lowes and Home Depot, reveals that neither offers anything that can’t be found at the other. So with all the choice comes no real choice.

The number of locally owned independent booksellers has crashed over the past decade or so. Brought about by growth in big-box bookers like Barnes and Noble and the late Borders; and by the upswing in on-line retailers like Amazon, finding a locally owned bookshop is becoming nigh on impossible. As a frequent visitor to the Grass Valley / Nevada City area, a stroll down both of their main streets reveals one in each town. A trip to the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association website: reveals exactly where to find these holdouts from a less corporate time. Nearby Sacramento and Davis have a couple. Roseville and Rocklin have none. (Friends Susan and John Russel own one of the go-to businesses in all of Tuolumne County – The Mountain Bookshop.)

I GIVE NEW COPIES OF BOOKS I’ve recently read as gifts for others. Whether the recipients read them or simply pass them on is of no matter. In my mind, I’m keeping a writer alive and helping an independent bookseller. Since my proclivity is to hop on the motorcycle and head for the hills, I find most of my trade occurs at the Book Seller in Grass Valley. Here, the old downtown building is stacked high with all manner of books from best sellers to obscure titles to more from that author you thought you’d read all of. Browsing provides a respite from the rapid fire pace and traffic of the 21st century and the rather dim lighting and the closeness of the shelves makes everything feel warm and intimate. The big-box bookers attempt this but rarely succeed.

WHILE RETURNING from making my annual Christmas gift order, I began to wonder about other local businesses I frequent. Sadly, I could think of few. The local hardware store in Loomis closed a couple of years back, not because they were pushed out but because, after 47 years, the family’d had enough. There’s a nice fruit stand at the old packing shed in Loomis that I frequent when I think about it – a place with great actually-ripe produce. My cigar guy is local, as is a great roadside hamburger stand – also in and about Loomis. And I’ve found a haberdashery in Roseville that sells 501s, Pendletons, and products from Woolrich and Arrow (Geo. Custer wore their shirts) and Red Wing. All of the motorcycle shops I frequent that sell both bikes and gear are independent. With each transaction, I know some of my cash is going to a local guy who will, in turn, spend it locally.

But it’s tough to find an independent grocer in my area or a non-Seven-Eleven. My gas comes from Chevron, my sundries from Longs (headquarters in Walnut Creek before they became CVS), my major food purchases: Raleys (West Sacramento), my car tires: Les Schwab (LaPine, OR) – although independents are available for tires, my hardware: one of the local Ace franchisees.

I THINK I’VE FOUND that in city neighborhoods like the College Avenue area of Berkeley, the Sunset in SF, the Fabulous 40s in Sacramento and a block or two off Broadway in New York City, there are hole-in-the-wall independents that the locals walk to and patronize. Similarly, in those towns you’d live in if you’d didn’t live in the town you have to live in: towns like Grass Valley, Fort Bragg, Sonora, Healdsburg – there are hundreds of them – the market share is too small to support a big box. Thus patronizing the small businessman is just part of what the citizenry does. That is, until the math finally somehow works out for the big box. Then it is up to the people to continue to support the local guy, the guy who takes your money and turns it over in the community, or the local guy is lost. And with him, so goes the community itself.

MY GOAL is to someday move from the ‘burbs and, in writing this, I think I now know why. In communities where independent retailers thrive, so thrive those communities.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press



For Books:

The Book Seller (Grass Valley)

The Mountain Bookshop (Sonora)

For Eats:

Bankok City (Rocklin) - Great Thai with unique and special sauces.  Owner present at all times.  Sells only locally produced wines.

Blue Goose Produce (Loomis) - Locally grown fruits and vegetables in season; local jams and preserves; fresh bread from Auburn; sustainably raised beef and lamb; and pies!  In the packing sheds next to the tracks.  Very, very, very local.

La Fornaretta (Newcastle) - Fun Scilian cuisine.  Owner always present.  Ran into Paul Newman here a few years back.

Monte Vista Inn (Dutch Flat) - Located only a mile or so from where the Big Four signed Theodore Judah on to engineer the crossing of the Sierra by the Central Pacific.

Old Town Café (Grass Valley) on Mill Street - oldest continuously operating eatery in town.  Owner a wonderfully hard working guy who's always there.

Placer Grown (Placer County)

Taylors Drive-in (Loomis) on Taylor Road - No self-respecting hamburger joint would have a website.

For Goods:

Grace Jr. Gifts (Chico) on Fifth Street between Salem and Normal - unique to all the world.  Honest.

Richardson’s Men’s Wear (Roseville) at Roseville Square on Douglas Blvd. - Ask the owner what happened to the stuffed Golden Eagle that used to be in the window.

Tobacco Republic (Loomis)  Okay.  Maybe "goods" is the wrong word here.  Perhaps the best selection of cigars in all of the Sacramento area.

For Bikes and Gear:

A&S Powersports (Roseville)

Elk Grove Powersports (Elk Grove)

Good Times Motorcycles  (Sacramento area)

Ozzie’s BMW Center (Chico)

Roseville Yamaha (Roseville/Rocklin)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


The joys and disappointments of tubeless motorcycle tires

DON’T GET ME WRONG. I love how the Michelin Road Pilot II tires have fixed the handling on my Breva 1100. The little “Bee” came with Metzeler Roadtec Z-6s that had gone about half the distance between new and worn out. And the Zs were always my go-to choice on the BMWs I’d owned. Yet, on the Guzzi, these chattered unnervingly as I entered curves, prompting me to wonder about the geometry of the Breva.

New rubber and ready to roll!
At the recommendation of folks on the Wild Goose Chase Forum, I switched to the Road Pilots, and what a difference. The wonderful winding roads in our area invite frequent visits and those visits are made all the more enjoyable when one can concentrate on the environment just as much as the pavement. With my new Pilots I found that the Breva dives into the curves and pulls out confidently. I’m not afraid to goose the Goose a bit as the tractable qualities of the rear ask me to push my own limits. [Note: I’ll never have the fortitude to actually push the limits of the bike.]

Heading toward snowline!
Since putting the Michelins on the Guzzi, I find myself looking for excuses to ride the Breva, often leaving the BMW GSA (which sports Metzeler Tourances) simpering in the garage. I’ve enjoyed and re-enjoyed narrow strips of pavement through the Sacramento River Delta, the American and Yuba River complexes and, before the snow flew, up to the heights of the nearby Sierra – always returning home wishing there’d been a bit more daylight, a bit more time to not only relish the autumn colors and great roads, but the joyous physics of simply riding a great machine with really good rubber.

On Drum P'house Road
THEN… I’d run about four hundred miles on the Michelin’s when, coming out of the Bear River west of Drum Powerhouse, rounding a corner at a very conservative speed, a large piece of cardboard lay in the roadway. The conditions were damp, so rather than to try to avoid it, I simply drove across. A week later, I pulled the bike off the centerstand to find the rear tire squishing across the smooth concrete of my garage floor. Flat. I’d picked up a box staple somewhere, and I suspect it from that cardboard on the Drum Powerhouse Road. Damn!

EVERYTHING I’VE READ about tubeless tires says that once they’re punctured, a roadside fix is only temporary. I suppose this is because the those physics that are so enjoyable when things are going well, are so treacherous when things are not: the heat generated by the constant friction with the road; the twist and flex necessary to maintain control; the variable torques of acceleration and deceleration. A plug can get you to the shop, but an ignored plug can get you to the “news of record” in the local paper under the listing “traffic fatalities.”

So, the Breva sits in the garage now waiting for an appointment to put a new skin on the back hoop. A couple of hundred bucks later, I’ll be on her on the road exploring the river levees and canyons and oak woodlands of Northern California’s late autumn.

IN THE MEANTIME, I’ll enjoy some high-quality rides on the GSA, cranking her heated grips and soothing her neglected feelings...

Quick! Get the crime scene tape!

...and wondering where the heavy-duty box stapler came from that I found on the garage floor sitting next to the Beemer’s front wheel and pointed directly at the Breva.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Forester Gil Murray

DURING MY BRIEF TENURE as principal at Chester Elementary School I was, perhaps, the only person in town who had not been touched by Gil Murray. A year before I was appointed, Mr. Murray left home to assume the position listed in the plaque. Many, many somber days passed after he opened the Unabomber’s awful package in his office in Sacramento.

Gil was a Little League baseball coach, an ardent steward of the environment, and much loved in the community of Chester. I regret two things: That I never met the man and his untimely and uncalled for demise.

This little monument is located in Deer Creek Meadows on the old Lassen Trail a few yards west of Highway 32.

FITTING THAT WE SHOULD CONSIDER what we believe to be important and how we choose to express it.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press