Thursday, January 26, 2012


A TINY DIRT ROAD leads close to the point on the earth’s surface where California, Nevada and Oregon all come together. “The rest we’ll have to do on foot,” says buddy John, who points out on the Lake Annie Quadrangle exactly where the hike would start.

Fifty years ago, Dad stashed in his den an old musette bag chock full of United States Geological Survey maps, some seven-and-a-half minute versions, some fifteen. Some were more worn out that others, but each was neatly folded into quarters and stored in the Army surplus bag until their use was required. Dad planned hikes through the foothills northeast of Chico, chasing down Ishi using maps titled by the most prominent feature in their range: Panther Springs, Barkley Mountain, Onion Butte, Digger Pine Flat, Devils Parade Ground. These names proved not to be dominant on the landscape and seen for miles like Lassen Peak or Sutter Butte, rather they were tiny geographical or historic remnants chosen by USGS surveyors as prominent within a 30-or-so-square mile rectangle.

Perhaps it’s in my DNA but now I have my own attaché, full of quads. Some belonged to Dad, but some represent areas I’ve wished to explore: Mendocino Pass, Log Spring, Chico, Hamlin Canyon. I have dozens.

“WATCH THIS,” John says as he sweeps his index finger across the Annie Lake Quadrangle. The map moves eastward with his finger. It stops at its margin and an arrow appears. John taps the arrow and in a twinkling, the Barrel Springs Quad appears.


John and I both studied Geography back when universities were called colleges. Although we attended different campuses, we each recall using Leroy lettering pen sets to hand draft maps starting with merely a faint grid on a large sheet of paper. We both recall the terms township and range, although he remembers what they mean while I need some prompting. We “get” magnetic north and true north and we understand the difficulty of charting a spheroid planet on a flat surface. We both recall harassment about our chosen majors: “Geography? What are they gonna teach ya? How to fold a map?”

FOLDING MAPS NO LONGER. The Lake Annie Quad and the neighboring Barrel Springs Quad were stored on John’s i-Pad. For $7.99 he downloaded an application that allows access to every USGS quadrangle in the country. He demonstrated a download with the swipe of his finger and then a touch. In moments, Dad’s old Panther Springs Quad glowed. Deftly, John spread his thumb and forefinger and the map expanded. Boat Gunwale Creek, Avery Place, Stone Corral – all the places we visited walking in Ishi’s footsteps.

“Watch this,” he said again tapping an icon at the corner of the screen. In seconds, the quadrangle was replaced by a satellite image (via Google Maps, I’m thinking) of rugged Mill Creek Deer Creek haunts of North America’s last “wild Indian.”

“Lemme see that!” I grab the electronic pad from my buddy and fumble with it. I scroll westward into the heart of the Coast Range. Finding the Mendocino Pass Quadrangle, I tap the grid and download. I scroll further until I find section 17. Spreading my fingers, the map zooms. I touch the icon. In an instant an aerial view of a swale appears with roads clearly marked.

More of that spreading action and I view Simpson Camp, idyllic and favored spot of summers decades ago.


THOSE OF US WHO RIDE big Stelvios or GSAs into the backcountry, those of us who mountain bike, or hike or Jeep are foolish if we do not plan our adventures with care. Central to this planning must be a reliable map. Studying a sheet helps us with the unmarked intersection, the flow of watercourses, the promontories and peaks that may serve as guides and the quickest route back to pavement or gasoline. Call it orienting oneself.

On the road, like Dad did on the trail, I carry several paper versions of where I’m going to go. These are essential to ensuring that the adventure does not become too adventuresome. I don’t carry my i-Pad: no power source, no coverage and, until a couple of days ago, no maps.

(c) Topo Maps App
But about five minutes after buddy John and I bid farewell, I was at my desk, accessing i-Tunes and Since I did this I have revisited the Ishi Wilderness, the Yola Bollies of the Coast Range, and my favorite growing-up spots around Chico and Sonora. I have also plotted that trip to the northeastern corner of California – up in the Lake Annie Quad – and await the opportunity to hike in there.


© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Music, I feel, must be emotional first and intellectual second.
- Maurice Ravel

IT’S A MONDAY, January 16, and we’re all supposed to be celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Hours from home, with an emptying tank of gas, I leave “Noma” with the grandchildren and head to the local Chevron for a fill up. A tiny publicly supported FM station is replaying those words I’ve probably heard thirty or more times. Although not to the “I have a dream” sequence, I know who is talking and what is to come. My pulse quickens just a bit. I drive past the Chevron intent on listening to the speech in its entirety before I conduct business. I turn into a newer subdivision ostensibly to check out what might be for sale. Hours from grandkids is hours too far.

The speech builds. Through the scratched and aging recording, I think can tell the point where Dr. King famously deviates from whatever he’d prepared. His cadence tells tale. Printed, his phrases may have begun with “I have a dream;” but spoken, they end with it. Same with other phrases like: “Let freedom ring.”

Rapt again, I listen. In anticipation, my pulse has quickened a bit more. Circling out of the development, I pull into the Chevron station to the words “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!” (The irony of my stuffing a nozzle from “big-oil” into my gas tank is lost on me.)

Back in the Nissan after the fill up, I switch off the radio. I want to think about what I’ve just heard and savor the delivery. I wonder whether the message would have survived had Dr. King simply read his notes. Genius that he was, King composed notes. But when the time was right, he left them for some other dimension.

IT IS STILL MONDAY, January 16, and we are driving the many miles between the grandkids and home. Noma is snoozing upright in the seat next to me. I’ve switched FM stations to the Bay Area’s home of classical music. The woman controlling the turntable says, “You might want to turn up your volume a bit so you don’t miss the beginning.” Dutifully, I do so.

Having played concert tuba in an orchestra, I’ve probably heard or performed Ravel’s “Bolero” thirty times. I knew its sensual build long before Blake Edwards popularized it in the movie “10” during which he introduced all young men in the nation to Bo Derek. The snare’s tap-tappity-tap-tap-tappity-tappity-tap-tap sounds just like it did when the percussionist stood fifteen feet off to my right. My pulse quickens. I know what is going to happen. My part isn’t going to start for some time. The guys in the trombone section and I joke that we could go out and start a load of wash and still be back in time for our cue.

My hands tap the snare rhythm on the steering wheel, but the musical phrase doesn’t always begin on one. Sometimes the phrase begins a half-beat past one, and ends on one in some subsequent measure. Ravel establishes a cadence simply so he can deviate from it.

About fourteen minutes into the composition, my heart rate is elevated yet again. I’m doing 68 in the middle lane, Noma is still asleep next to me, but folks on either side are whisking by in the darkness, needing to go faster. I move to the right lane and prepare to sing the bass [bAse] line.

Following one early performance, a woman patron said to Ravel: “You’re a crazy man!” His response? “Oh. So you’ve listened to my music.”

AROUND DIXON, some twenty-five miles hence, I am still drumming on the wheel and humming Ravel’s work when I dawns on me: The Bolero is never over – and neither, I’m hoping as I drive along in the dark, is the dream.

I wonder whether Martin and Maurice’s paths have crossed in heaven.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


TOOLING AROUND on a mild January afternoon, I came across a community hall that, in an earlier life, served as a one-room schoolhouse in Western Placer County (California.) This got me thinking about the old one-room schoolhouses and how they were our first foray into public education. I began to compare the enormity of yesteryear – 17 to 30 kids ranging from six to sixteen all in one room – with the enormity of today. I was reminded that the teacher’s job has never been easy.

If I hadn't parked that blasted motorbike in the way, the discerning eye could see that the old Fruitvale schoolhouse had been added-on-to in order to accommodate an expanding population of kids from this rural area. Behind the porch is the original structure. To the left is one of the additions.

Back in the days before lawsuits and insurance riders, a rope flung over a stout oak limb and tied securely to a weathered old two-by served as a fine swing. Imagine the sample here tied with sisal, you know the stuff: the fibrous rope, that, when new, leaves painful tiny splinters in soft fleshy hands. Here modern nylon that works but never quite feels right has replaced the authentic.

Tarrying beneath that grand oak would come to a halt when one of the older boys – they didn't allow girls to do this – tugged on the (again sisal) rope, clanging the bell, alerting all that class was about to take up.

I imagine those who lingered by the rope swing a bit too long, or found a bit too much of interest on the long morning walk to school entered to regret their tardiness, back in the days when the board of education was a paddle.

A second wing was added at some point. Closed in the 50s, the old schoolhouse serves as a home base for Fruitvale area 4-Hers. In the foreground, someone has cut up some oak into rounds. One the opposite side of the schoolhouse, a shed houses bales of straw for some project or another. Peeking inside, a bunny is housed in a hutch near the rippled glass window in order to absorb some winter rays. Kids are still learning stuff – real stuff – at the old Fruitvale Schoolhouse.

ON TODAY’S OUTING, I’d already paused at the nearly forgotten site of Manzanita School. Long since razed, it leaves only a weathering concrete foundation located in the middle of a cemetery of the same name maybe four miles west of Fruitvale…

…accessed by taking the gravel Chamberlain Road east from state route 65 three miles north of Lincoln.

Positioned where it was, my imagination tells me that a Margaret Hamilton look-alike schoolmistress (think Wicked Witch of the East) could point out the window at the many, aging graves and pull back into line even the squirreliest of young male pupils - such as myself.

ON MY EVER-EXPANDING BUCKET LIST is to visit a few of these sites on those winter sojourns where the radius of exploration is limited by the drop in temperatures at the end of a very short day. Most of these intersections I think I know from “tooling around” on the Guzzi or the Beemer. I suspect that remnants of concrete or brick foundations – like that of Manzanita School – will serve as the only evidence that these little learning centers ever existed. More lasting, perhaps, must be the educational foundation provided by the school marms to each and every one of her rural charges, teaching them reading so they could understand the Constitution and the Bible; writing, so they could communicate in the days when “Twitter” was simply the melody a song bird carried; and arithmetic, so they could help with feed and fencing and cooking from scratch.

Foundations indeed.

NOTE: One-room schoolhouses dot our historic past. There’s a great hall off highway 16 in the Capay Valley (Yolo County, CA); one up on Table Mountain ay Cherokee (Butte County, CA) and another one up that way at Oregon City.

The Church of the Open Road invites you to comment on relics such as these found in your neck of the woods.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, January 14, 2012


PLAYING SANTA FOR MYSELF this most recent holiday season, I violated at least two rules I usually hold dear: A) I purchased something on-line rather than from a local dealer and 2) I purchased something simply because it looked so damned good.

Last summer, I bought a pair of Held Air Stream motorcycle gloves that I find myself wearing consistently on the GSA. They are comfortable, well constructed and seem durable. The nearest dealer carrying Held products is the BMW shop in Modesto, some ninety minutes south.

Viewing Held's line up of hand protection, I was taken by the look of their touring glove called the “Classic.” They seem to be a throwback to the days when gloves were made simply of leather – that stuff that comes from the hides of animals. Not available locally, not even from the guys in Modesto, I took the bait and purchased them directly from the US distributor. Back ordered from continent – they’re manufactured in Germany – the six-week wait was worth it.

No sooner had the Fed-Ex truck sped away than I was ripping through the packaging anticipating a test drive of these classic Classics.

Yet another dry January day
IN THE COMBINED MONTHS of December and January (2012) my area has received a scant .07 inches of precipitation. The valley fog has been held at bay and the days have been comfortably warm – in a rather uncomfortable way. No snow in the winter means a lot of bad things: poor water shipments to area growers, and a long and nasty fire season. The upside is the extended riding season. In the past month, I probably have 1,000 miles in the Held Classics.

The soft cowhide leather is supple and, well, glove soft. Tooling around on the Guzzi Breva, with hands exposed to the windblast, the gloves nicely protect my digits. Even with temps hovering around 50 degrees, I haven’t felt the need to pull out my thick, old winter gloves. The interior polyester-cotton fabric is soft and likely would serve to wick moisture, were it hot enough for my hands to produce any.

Not being a big fan of Velcro® (hook and loop style) closures, I appreciate the two position snaps at the wrist that secures the glove. I know they’re closed and they won’t blow open, although it is a bit cumbersome to snap the second one closed while wearing the first one; and with my Tour Master leather jacket, the closure seems to want to compete for that real estate at the end of my jacket sleeve.

Once I get ‘em situated however, extended days with the Held Classics are shear comfort. I never feel insulated from the controls and I’m not fumbling with switchgear. Plus, the combination of black leather on the palms and brown leather on the back looks really stylish to a sixty-year-old guy such as myself. (I almost want to keep them in the pickup for those days I know are coming where ice has glazed the windshield and the steering wheel feels as if it spent the night in the freezer.)

I like these gloves a lot and am almost willing to sacrifice the state’s agribusiness industry and the threat of wild fires for the extended riding time I enjoy in this product.


© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, January 12, 2012


A visit to Moto International in Seattle, Washington

B 1200 Sport
SIX OR EIGHT MONTHS AGO, the Moto Guzzi bug bit me. I’d ridden a beautiful bike known as a 1200 Sport at the Guzzi dealer nearest to me. (A nod, here, to the good folks over at Elk Grove Power Sports. Thanks!) Enamored by everything this bike presented except for the café-style bend-your-body-forward handlebars, I weighed whether, so set up, this would be the bike for me. I checked on-line forums, motorcycle reviews and finally contacted a dealer whose name kept coming up over and over.

In retrospect, my question about the handlebars on a B-1200 Guzzi was a very trivial thing. As with most motorcycles, aftermarket modifications and fixes are abundant and there would be a solution to this “problem.” Still, Dave Richardson, owner of Moto International in Seattle, Washington, returned my call and spent quite a while explaining to me the options I might pursue if I chose the 1200 Sport.

B 1100 Breva
As history played out, I found a used Guzzi, very similar to the beautiful Sport model, but one that came with handlebars more to my liking. And I bought it.

LAST WEEKEND, after a two hour stint with Southwest Airlines, I arrived in Seattle to celebrate a 60th with a friend. Knitted into our errands, I was afforded the opportunity to stop by Moto International. I wanted to thank Mr. Richardson for his advice and time. Living 800 miles away, I am certain that he knew the odds of me purchasing a bike from him were slim, but I think he saw me as a potential member of a community he is dedicated to serve.

Having visited MI’s website, I was eager to pour over the large selection of current and non-current Guzzis, and Dave has a ton of them. When he approached in his rather cozy showroom, we shook hands and I shared my gratitude for his previous call. Now a member of the community, our conversation moved to a question of oil weights recently raised on a Guzzi forum site I frequent. Within minutes, he gave me a primer on 10w60 synthetics and ran a page from his book “Guzziology” to save as a reference. Again he was going to make no money on this exchange.

MY VISIT LASTED ONLY TWENTY MINUTES. I had places to go and people to see in preparation for the friend’s 60th. But as I drove away, these thoughts circulated: Dave runs a small business carrying a very unique product in a very tough market. He probably grosses enough to pay for the small crew of very cordial fellows who work the parts counter and the service department, leaving something to support himself and his loved ones. So I suspect that the money-side bottom line is positive most years.

But there’s another bottom line: That one is being a member of a larger community. It is measured by how the business serves its customer base, as well as also those who may wander in – as I figuratively did over the phone that day. In MI’s case, the larger community includes folks who tear around the country with ear-to-ear grins because they ride a Moto Guzzi; and those of us wanna-bes. I further suspect, from the handshake and conversation, Mr. Richardson is also quite a contributor to his neck of the Seattle community because of his affability, his patience and his dedication to educating and helping others.

Successful small businesses have two bottom lines. One is financial, the other is more difficult to measure. But if the business is to remain successful, both are essential. In fact, they are inseparable.


Moto International:

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


TUCKED IN BEHIND A STARBUCKS and a Subway in the little strip mall adjacent to our neighborhood is one of those gems hidden because we’re too much in a hurry these days to actually look for it.

The corporate outlets – Chili’s, Olive Garden, Mimi’s, Chevy’s – would have us believe that their fare is authentic. And perhaps it is. But sitting at a table, being served by the owner who grew up somewhere in the same time zone as all of Thailand brings authenticity to a much more authentic level.

BANGKOK CITY, at the corner of Rocklin Road and Sierra College Boulevard (and just steps away from the house) is a place I do not frequent enough but frequent rather frequently. Initially, I dropped in because it was really local and I didn’t want to cook. Now I drop in because I want to be transported to a place I’ll likely never visit through the strength of the cuisine – the unique sauces, the varied noodles, the shrimp, the lamb, the chicken, the curry. And the gentle caress of the owner’s voice as she shares with us the evening’s specials.

Tonight, the owner and I visited about the rosemary bacon-wrapped pork chop I didn’t cook because I so desired what on her menu is listed at “Number 52.” We started with whatever Thai is for “pot stickers” accompanied with a soy and ginger based sauce, twenty of which would have been a meal. My spouse enjoyed a vegetarian delight with noodles concocted from beans. My shrimp dish came with just enough sweet chili to remind me how flavor can truly be enhanced when the chef is an artist at heart.

Bangkok City follows the Church of the Open Road’s encyclical about buying from the little local guy. The entire wine list is comprised of Placer County wines, some of which are served in few other places. The Fawn Ridge Old Vine – we purchased their last bottle this night – seemed as if it had been vinted simply to match tonight’s fare.

Throughout each of our visits we are constantly cared for by owners and wait staff that live locally. Our dollars go directly to them and circulate directly back to our community.

WALKING HOME FROM BANGKOK CITY for the umpteenth time, I knew what I’d consumed was far better than corporate: more authentic, fresher, tastier, a bit more adventuresome and a bit less pretentious. Though liking to cook, it felt really good to eat out this night.

All of which raises the question: What local eateries in your community are those hidden gems, often lost in the glare of corporate neon?


Thai: Bangkok City: 5050 Rocklin Road, Rocklin, CA, 916-632-9282.

Italian: La Fornaretta: 455 Main Street, Newcastle, CA, 916-663-1338 – Note: We ran into Paul Newman at this place shortly before the legend’s passing a few years back.

Also Italian: The Italian Cottage: 2234 Esplanade, Chico, CA 530-343-7000 – A Church of the Open Road favorite since it opened in about 1962.

Chinese: Frank Fats’s: At 8th and L in Sacramento, since 1939, the third house of the California Legislature. The “Church” ate with Jerry Brown there once, although he won’t remember.

Mexican: The Original Lorenzo’s, 3883 Taylor Road, Loomis, CA, 916-652-6218. Two words for you: “ta males.”

Also Mexican: La Hacienda, 2635 Esplande, Chico. A family favorite since 1957 when they were located on Nord Avenue at the creek. Just try to get their salad dressing recipe.

California Cuisine: The Diamondback Grill, Downtown Sonora, CA. We’d share the address, but then you’d miss the shops on Washington Street.

Breakfast: Putah Creek Café, 1 Main Street, Winters, CA, 530-795-2682. If you can find better breakfast sausage anywhere… Wait! You can’t find better breakfast sausage anywhere.

ALTHOUGH THIS LIST IS NOT DEFINITIVE, readers get the point. The hard-working local guy deserves our business – and then our repeat business.

The Church would welcome your suggestions for local eats. Please click on the comment section and bear with the funky sign-in procedure.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Perhaps the only conceivable upside to climate change…

MANY INDEPENDENT SCIENTISTS believe fervently that changes in weather patterns over time are the result of human activity. Industry scientists disagree. Either way, January 1, 2012 found the temperature hovering around April 1st levels and a mid-winter motorcycle ride was in order.

MOST OF THE ROADS in my area I’ve enjoyed; few I’ve enjoyed in January. Heading north on state route 49, I approach Grass Valley. Just one year ago, this little gold country town was blanketed in previously unrecorded amounts of freezing snow and ice. I remember watching people shush along town sidewalks to carry on commerce in the many independent businesses there. Today, there may as well be pansies planted in the flower boxes.

WINDING THROUGH TOWN, I find myself on the old Rough and Ready highway heading west toward a berg of the same name. A century and a half ago, folks in these parts had had just about enough and seceded from the union. Bloodlessly, they rejoined, perhaps when they discovered nobody was paying attention.

OUT PLEASANT VALLEY ROAD, a renamed section of the old Henness Pass Route, nee: Virginia Turnpike, one discovers a string of what used to be gold encampments along the course of the South Yuba. At Bridgeport, a covered bridge spans the river. Purported to be the longest in all the country, it is closed to pedestrian traffic due to structural concerns surrounding earthquakes, so for the time being, the span serves merely as historic eye candy for the passer-by. South Yuba River State Park is on California’s heartbreaking list of those slated for closure.

Nicely groomed trails and abandoned wagon roads course over these foothills and long the route of the Yuba – both upstream and down. In two months the flattened dry grass will yield to sweeping fields of lupine and poppy. I must make a note to return, if only to test this theory. There is adequate paved parking both inside and outside the park’s gate. A delightful reconstruction of an old Shell Gas Station and a tiny interpretive center invite some off-saddle exploration. When the park closes, one trembles at the thought of the place’s demise – and multiply that by 70 other parks, I am told.

UP THE ROAD A PIECE, the pavement angles through French Corral. One could speculate on the origins of this town’s name, but I’ll bet some guy name Pierre or Andre or maybe just “Frenchy” may have had something to do with a livery there. An historic marker indicates that the world’s first long distance telephone line linked French Corral with Bridgeport. The associated story tells us that during prohibition, the phone line was as a means to warn those upstream of the approach of revenuers. Students of area history dispute this claim, but as with the secession of Rough and Ready, it makes a good tale.

PLEASANT VALLEY ROAD continues through the temperate regions of Nevada and Yuba County intersecting with State Route 20 at Sweetland. A bar sits at the corner – one frequented on weekends by droves of riders on big vee-twins. I’ve not stopped in.

A DESCENDING SUN reminds me that I am, indeed, riding in January. The spring-like temperatures will not hold past dusk. Plus, it’s my night to cook. State Route 20 provides a pleasant run back across the South Fork, through Nevada City and Grass Valley and on the bottomland suburbs of Sacramento.

Regarding climate change? I’m not one who’d like to see our beautiful planet rendered into little more than a charred bit of puffed wheat, vacantly orbiting a sun none too quick to nova. I’d like us to regard our activities with a little more care and take every conceivable action to retard the overall warming of the place. Still, on a 68-degree mid-winter day, I’ll probably compromise my concerns and head out for a few hours on the bike enjoying dry pavement, sunny skies and those April-like temperatures. Call me selfish.

MORE PICTURES from the South Yuba River State Park:

View down the South Fork from one of many area hiking trails.

One of three or four plaques placed to provide details about the covered bridge.

Back in the day, one pump meant only one flavor of petrol.

Inside a restored barn, several examples of early transport - horse or ox-drawn - are preserved.

The "Virginia Turnpike" is also known as the old Henness Pass Route.

At the Kneebone family cemetery.

On the current circumstance surrounding the historic bridge.

Bitney Springs
TODAY’S ROUTE: State Route 49 north from Auburn to Grass Valley; exit Bennett Street left toward town; left on West Main which becomes Rough and Ready (R&R) Highway to R&R. Backtrack east on R&R Highway; left on Bitney Springs Road (a delightful section of pavement through small farms, pastures, and past the spring itself); right on Pleasant Valley Road to Bridgeport (South Yuba River State Park), French Corral, Birchville and Sweetland; right on State Route 20, return to Nevada City – Grass Valley.


California State Parks:

South Yuba River State Park Association:
Please check out the link to this important volunteer group.

This poor fella's on display at the visitor's center.

Regarding Rough and Ready seceding from the Union:

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press