Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Mendocino County, California

My new best friend rides something called a “Big Dog.”  Up until recently, I always thought a big dog was the Great Dane named “Queenie” that lived down the street when I was a kid.  No.  A Big Dog is a chopper.

“S and S engine?” I asked.  I know just enough about choppers to be marginally conversant.  (The same could be said for my knowledge of the NBA, NFL and husbandry, as well.)
“Yeah,” he said with a grin. The friendship was struck.
How fate thrust us together for ten minutes is of no regard, but this Fort Bragg-based conversation ended with a recommendation that I take Branscomb Road, north of town, east to 101. “Can’t take it on the Big Dog, it doesn’t handle the curves all that well, but I've been out there before.  A lot.”   

On my last trip north of Fort Bragg, about the time the road winds inland for a 30 mile run over to 101, I found myself behind an Itasca 32-footer pulling a Macgregor fishing boat.  The set up was driven by a fellow who must have thought “turn out” had something to do with voting and since it wasn’t an election day, no need for him stop and let folks by. 

Coastal Cottage - Mendocino County
This morning on the leg of California 1 between Fort Bragg and Westport, the fog had crept back off the coast offering views all the way to Asia had the earth been flat.  Faint wisps of moisture clung to the highest reaches of the hills to the east.  Westport flanks SR 1 about 18 miles north.  The quaint village makes me wish I hadn’t tanked up on coffee as a cup of Joe on the porch of the inn certainly seemed like a good way to knock off a half hour.

The Branscomb Road turn-off lies about two miles north of town.  The road traces DeHaven Creek for a little bit and then climbs steeply to the top of the ridge.  Pavement is not great as I’m sure the Mendocino County road crew more eagerly serves larger populations than those who might live out this way.  At points I find myself dumping the bike into second and even first gear negotiating the twisting climb through sun-streaked redwood shadows to the top.   
Pacific Ocean on the horizon
A pause affords a final shot of the Pacific a mile and a half the way the crow flies but about four on the odometer.

Once over the summit, the road widens and the twisties become a bit less radical.  Elevation drops rather quickly into the drainage of some other creek.  The floor of the little valley provides homesteads for tiny farms, small herds and a bit of cash crop commerce, one might suspect.  The cool moisture of the coast has given way to a warmer clime.  It is a pleasant chug through an environment that appears to have changed little in the past 80 years or so.  Derelict logging equipment can be seen here and there, encrusted in weeds, portending a story of what must have been better days for at least one industry.

The little berg of Branscomb proves this point.  A relatively modern mill lays idle.  Weeds poke through the paved drives and parking areas.  Large racks that look like they may have been aluminum once probably sorted or dried lumber.  A few stacks of logs rest on the other side of the yard.  Clearly they weren’t cut yesterday.   
Downtown Branscomb
Downtown boasts an all-in-one old time country mercantile, single pump, post office and, I think, community hall.  Across the way, a park of mobile homes is clustered.  The Laytonville Unified School District runs a pre-school for the tykes of the area, but school-aged youngsters appear to be bussed further inland.

A couple of nice looking properties sort for sale signs, but it is not clear what one might do to make payments on such places.  Admiral William Standley Redwood State Recreation Area is nearby.  I wonder whether, given its locale and small gate, the park will survive the cuts.

Thirty minutes further on: Laytonville and US 101.  Laytonville is bigger than it appears from the highway, but the economic times have not been just to the community.  Nicely paved streets, cute houses – many well-kept – provide a bit of civilization in this remote quarter of the redwoods.  I noted that, near the high school, a bus yard is home to dozens of school buses.  From this I assumed that a yellow bus frequents every little road in the area at least twice a day.  Oh!  The expense of free education.  (In the days before cable and well before satellite TV, I’d applied to teach in this region.  The superintendent warned me that I’d better like to read a lot.)

Branscomb Road is a nice alternative to being stuck behind a motor home on State Route 1.  Traveling from west to east, one can’t help but be carried through eras of logging and ranching, booming and busting.  At Laytonville you can either head north to Eureka, south to the city or further east over Forest Road 7 past the fabled Simpson Camp of yore.  When I see that guy on the Big Dog again, I’ll be sure to thank him for the tip.


Today’s Route:  From Fort Bragg, SR 1 north to two miles beyond Westport.  Right on Branscomb Road, 32 miles.  Arrive at Laytonville and US 101.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, July 27, 2012


…from the great Colorado auto tour of 2012…

Not my choice
The Harley roared up from the west and wheeled into the vast asphalt expanse.  We’d arrived only moments before, exiting our rented Lincoln MKX (not my choice) and were setting up a posed shot at a sign marking the continental divide.  An upslope wind sliced through our garb and if wind has thought, this one thought, “I’ve reached the summit. What do I do now?”  At 11,000 plus feet in elevation, teeth chattered. 
The rider dismounted his Harley, removed some heavy riding gloves and motioned to me and my little Panasonic camera.  I handed it to him.
“Vhere?” he asked, tipping the visor on his Schuberth Helmet.
I pointed to the chrome button that controlled the shutter.
“Gud,” he said.
Monarch Pass - a "high point" of the trip
We, my wife, myself, and the couple traveling with us, posed.  The photo(s) were snapped.
“Where are you riding from?” was asked.
He pointed west on US 50. 
“Where you headed?”
He pointed east.
Rapid fire, more questions ensued.  We all know the ones.            
Finally, he waved his hand, removed the Schuberth and said, “I can undahstand you vhen you speak schowly.  Not mit that machine gun style you use.” 
He looked me directly in the eye.
His accent was thickly Germanic.  White, close-cropped hair covered his head, but his beard appeared to have months of growth. His road-worn FL-something-er-other was beautiful and clearly lovingly maintained.
“The Harley,” my buddy asked, “Why?”
“I’ve had it for twenty-five years,” he said.  “I shipped it here from home for this journey.  Wouldn’t ride anything else.”
Motioning to my pal, I said: “He just bought himself a Guzzi.”
The German rider looked at me, then at my compadre.  Then he said: “German.  Italian,” raising one, then another finger: “Vun. Two.”  He paused.
We waited a long moment, and then he said, “Shit,” as a big grin broke over his face – a universal sign that, as motorcyclists, we were all brothers whether we hailed from Berkeley, Bainbridge Island, Boston or Bonn.
I chose, however, not to admit I had one each German and Italian in my garage at home.

Little chance his kin will access the blog
“Can I get a picture for you?” I asked, changing the topic and speaking slowly, per his request.  I reached for the huge Canon he’d pulled from nowhere.
“No!  No!” he replied as if with some degree of urgency.  “No pictures of my face.”  He stroked his beard.  “I vant it to be a bit of a surprise for them vhen I return home.”

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Customer (making conversation): 
So what’s the principal difference between
 the Ducati Multi Strada and the BMW GS Adventure?

Well, when you dump the Duc on a back road somewhere,
it’ll be about fifteen hundred bucks. 
When you dump the Beemer, it’ll be just another story.

The ride started about 7:15 in the morning.  “I’ll be back by about 4:00,” I said to my wife, “or I’ll phone you…”

About 4:15, twenty miles of dirt/gravel and about 80 additional miles of state highway from home, I ventured into a ridge of gravel pushed just right of my tire lane by months of prior traffic.  Touching the rear brake was exactly the wrong thing to do.  I had this thought about 100 times in the eight-tenths of a second it took me to go down.

The big GS had slipped out from under me once before, but that time I was riding with a buddy.  This time I found myself wondering, How’m I gonna get this big boy back on its feet?

Slithering out from under the carcass, I punched “home” on my cell.  Nationwide coverage my butt!  Removing helmet, gloves and jacket and setting them on a nearby hunk of granite, I took inventory of self.  Outside of an elevated pulse, everything seemed to be in order.  And in a few moments, the pulse thing subsided.

Last time I went down, I wished I’da taken a picture.  I removed my Panasonic from the little case it hung from on my hip.  Pushing power, I found the thing wouldn’t open.  I shook the little camera.  In the still mountain air, I heard it rattle.  It’d never rattled before.

After a thirty-five minute wait for a Samaritan of good nature to pass by – and another stab at the cell phone – I determined that no one was likely to be coming along this remote section of Humbug Road.  It would be up to me to right the behemoth and get back on the road.  I extended the side stand and promised myself that the big BMW didn’t actually weigh an eyelash under six hundred pounds.  Back straight, bent at knees, grabbing the down side of the handlebar, I did my best impression of Alexi the Soviet lifter who’d broken some five hundred records in his career back in the 70s.   

To my surprise, after the first six inches, the beast actually felt lighter.  Light enough for me to balance it on its two wheels for a little assessment prior to gently letting it rest on the side stand.

The right hand fog lamp lay on the road like some electronic Humpty Dumpty.  And the King’s men weren’t going to show up.

The crash hardware on the GSA did its job well.  No scratches to bodywork – and more importantly, no damage to working parts or frame.  Seventeen miles up the road: pavement.  Twelve miles further: cell coverage.

The conversation:  “You’re where?  Where’s that?”  I was where I’d told her I’d be.

In the two hours it took to get from Stirling City to my suburban Placer County home, much coursed through my brain.  Among the many conclusions I drew, the most sinister was that I was lucky.

Here are the behavior changes I at which I arrived:

1            I will continue to ride in the woods alone because I like to.
2            I will write down the proposed route I am expecting to take and leave it on the kitchen counter.  I may deviate from the route, but at least someone will have written record of my general where-abouts.
3            I will pack an additional bottle of water that will go unused as long as the bike is on two wheels.  A bag of beef jerky, too.
4            I will look into one of the global positioning beacons that are available at places like REI for when I’m out of cell phone range.
5            I have purchased a one-year membership in “Cal-Star,” the local helicopter ambulance service.  Forty-five bucks for me and five more for the family.  (I was advised by the sales guy at the local BMW store: “You can pay 25 grand for a helicopter ride you won’t enjoy, or you can get Cal Star and use the 25 grand to buy another new bike from me.”
6            I will pack the camera (now a Nikon) in the tank bag and not wear it on my belt.  You never know when another “Kodak moment” such as this one will happen.
7            I will practice filling a plugged tire with my new tire patch kit (even though this incident didn’t involve a flat.)
8            I will understand that I can never fully assess the conditions that might cause a spill but I sure can learn from each mishap or – better yet – near-miss.
9            I am a fool to depend on luck.


The trip during which this mishap occurred – and it was truly a lovely trip! – may be viewed at: http://thechurchoftheopenroad.blogspot.com/2012/07/humbug-humboldt-summit-loop.html

CALSTAR critical care can be accessed at: www.calstar.org  They have reciprocal agreements with Medi-Vac outfits covering most of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and bits of Montana, Utah and Nevada.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, July 16, 2012


Butte and Plumas County’s historic transition
between the Sierra and the Cascade

About forty-five years ago, my first motor vehicle was a Honda Trail 90.  Living in a small northern California town, more than a few poorly graded roads provided playground for me and my little machine.  Early on, a loop I discovered carried me from Butte County, into Plumas and back to Butte on countless miles of rocky dirt roads.

Last week, I revisited.

The Skyway leads from Chico, California, on the floor of the Sacramento Valley, to Butte Meadows, way up in the hinterland divide between the Sierra and the Cascade.  The first 12 miles is the main route from Chico to Paradise (above the fog but below the snow.)  The Skyway threads through country once occupied by northern Maidu, 49ers, lumbermen, and now, retirees.   

A pleasant stop is at DeSabla, a small PG&E reservoir fed by flumes built a century ago by the timber industry.  The flumes in the area make for good hiking – scenic and level.

Three or four years ago, a rangeland fire swept across the Paradise Ridge.  Primary evacuation down the Skyway was cut off, as was a parallel route down Pentz Road to Oroville.  Nervous residents took to their Buicks and headed northeast on the Skyway.  Beyond Stirling City and Inskip, the road turns to a playground for Jeepers but a death trap for oil pans on those Buicks.   
In response to the fire, the Feds funded the paving of the route from Inskip to Butte Meadows, providing a safety valve for future such occurrences.
The job is half done.  It should be completed by November of 2012, although locals seem to feel that’s a bit optimistic.  Where the Humbug Road spits off to the east, we are warned that the Skyway is closed. 

Humbug Road, the story goes, gets its name from a shyster who gathered disconsolate miners at what’s now about 9th and Main in Chico and charged each a toll to lead them to a pristine valley where the creeks were lined in gold.  “Jest put yer hands in an’ scoop it up!”  More later…

Along the current route, vestiges of those early days may be seen in the random rough-hewn cabin that has stood 150 blistering summers and frigid winters.  We don’t build houses this way any more.

Remnants lay strewn in the high country meadows.  I expect the miner who owned one of these was livin' high on the hog.

Up the way is a lake I remember from my Trail 90 days.  We’d circumnavigated this pool on a Forest Service Road who’s last alpha-numeric designation was “X.”  Little did we know this meant ‘dead end.’  To hasten our return, we decided to run our little tiddlers straight across what appeared to be a dry lake bottom.  Twenty yards out, the crust gave way and early day biking buddy John left a nearly new size 9 Converse All Star to fossilize in the mud; riding the forty-plus-mile distance home to Chico on a 55cc motorbike with a bare right foot.

At Humbug Summit, we pass from Butte into Plumas County. 

Signs weather winters, wildlife and/or shotguns poorly, thus the demarcation is painted on the bark of the nearest Douglas fir.

In everyone’s life there is a place that one supposes heaven matches.  For me, this will always be Humbug Valley.  Perhaps six miles east of the summit, the rugged road has been graded and graveled, becoming a pleasant ride into the broad high Sierran pasture. 

The area has been peopled since before time.

A huge white house was built late in the 1800s that, I was relieved to see, still stands.  I kept thinking that the next hundred yards would afford the perfect picture, but with each spin of the wheel, the massive structure simply faded behind the stand of Ponderosa pine. 

An informative plaque indicates that the origins of Humbug Valley might differ a bit from the myth promulgated by the historians back in Chico.

A soda spring bubbles from a fissure on the east side of the valley along Yellow Creek.  Used to be that the locals provided cone shaped paper cups for passers-by enjoyment.  None today.

The cruise into Chester involves a few more miles of nicely maintained forest route followed by six miles of high-speed activity on two state highways.  Lunch would be at the Pine Shack Frosty.  Decades ago, the proprietors there promised “Your meal free if Mount Lassen erupts while ordering.”  Volcanic activity in the area is pretty cyclical.  With this visit, said signs had been removed.  Like the Mayans of yore, somebody, I’m sure, has something figured out.

Humboldt Road crosses back over the Sierra-Cascade Crest about seven Pacific-Crest-Trail miles north of Humbug.  It, too, is nicely maintained on the Plumas side.

Ruffa Ranch is one of those high country enclaves that the romantic in me suggests would be a grand place to run cattle, pan gold and hang with Maureen O’Hara.
I could pluck a fresh bloom for her every day.

But, as in all John Wayne westerns, trouble would lurk not far away.  Humboldt Road passes directly under “Robber’s Roost,” just before crossing into Butte County.  Some say the legendary Black Bart frequented this outcrop.

Down the hill on the Butte County side, we find pavement and enjoy the run into Jonesville.  The hotel here is in private hands, but the community is organizing fundraisers to refurbish the historic stage stop. 

A bit further on, we wind along Butte Creek and into Butte Meadows.  The Outpost is a well-known watering hole and a destination for those seeking one of the best Chili Burgers on the planet.

South from Butte Meadows on the Skyway (when open) one returns to Paradise.  West, Humboldt Road joins State Route 32 that curls down the hill to Chico.

Forty-five years had passed, but nothing much had changed.  The ride felt very good.

Today’s Route:  From Chico at SR 99: east on the Skyway through Paradise, Magalia, Paradise Pines, DeSabla, Stirling City (named for the Stirling, Ohio, where the boilers had been manufactured that ran the area steam donkeys), Inskip and toward Butte Meadows.  Right (east) on Humbug Road over the summit, into the valley and out to Lake Almanor.  [Route numbers on the Lassen National Forest can change their designation based upon whether the road is graveled, graded or primitive.*  On this tour, expect to experience all three.]  North on SR 89; east on SR 36 to Chester.  Return:  West on 36; south on 89; east on USFS Rd 309 about a mile; right on USFS Rd 308 (Humboldt Road) tracing Butt Creek through Ruffa Ranch and Robber’s Roost to Humboldt Summit.  Continue west to Jonesville, Butte Meadows and either Paradise (south) or Chico (south west).

*Resource:  Carry this map – Lassen National Forest © 2008, US Forest Service.  Ten bucks very well spent.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, July 9, 2012


…from the great Colorado auto tour of 2012…

We’d come in for a simple cup of coffee while “the girls” engaged in their morning constitutional.  The menu in the coffee house was one of those huge black boards littered with item after item – breakfast lunch and snack – calligraphed in colorful if distracting chalk, including eats and coffee drinks I have no desire of ever trying.  Without an eyelid or two full of caffeine, it was futile to try to make sense of the big board.  All I wanted was coffee.

As I ordered, the missy behind the counter extracted a dozen hand-coiled rolls from an oven.

“Cinnamon?” I asked.

“Uh huh.”

I looked the counter girl up and down, my gaze resting on…
…the tray of freshly baked goods.  I guess I wanted more than simply coffee.

The confection arrived still warm and nicely iced with what appeared to be a cream cheese based glaze.  Forgetting I’d determined to photograph the cinnamon rolls consumed on this quest, I immediately plied the fork.  Beneath the baked crust, the breadstuff was delightfully flaky with a hint of saltiness balancing that sweet cream cheese glaze. 
Inside each curl, the light dusting of cinnamon grew a bit more intense as I found the soft, warm and slightly doughy center.  Throughout this exploration, I sipped a nice Italian Roast afforded me from an institutional Bunn coffee urn.

As the end became apparent, I slowed my consumption, reminding myself that these are moments to savor.  As I type, a single bite remains on the plate.  It will serve as my reward for finishing this review.


Other Gunnison Attractions:

Western State College (of Colorado) – nice place for a stroll; nice place to study.

Ol’ Miner Steakhouse – Four (4!) fine high country steak dinners with superbly prepared veges and taters, and a nice bottle of California red, all for a hundred bucks!  Welcome to the west.

The Gunnison Pioneer Museum – great collection of antique farm and mining equipment, two relocated one-room schoolhouses and some preserved motive power and rolling stock from the old days of narrow gauge.

Some of the collection:

Rebuilt Denver and Rio Grande Station and Water Tower
Checking out the narrow gauge steam loco

Accommodations inside the caboose
A barn holds 40+ antique or simply old autos.  Each with a local story.
Antique tractors dot the greens...
...most appear ready fire over and provide another day's work.
Two schoolhouses have been moved to the property.  Check out the glasswork on this one.
Worksheets!  The bane of every child's existence!
Info on the Gunnison / Crested Butte Pioneer Museum:  http://www.gunnisoncrestedbutte.com/activity/pioneer-museum

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, July 7, 2012


…from the great Colorado auto tour of 2012…

Buena Vista, CO Town Hall
The daily 2:00 PM thunderstorm had just swept into town.  I’d stood with our party and predicted as follows: “In about a minute in a half, we’ll be soaked.”  I missed it by forty-five seconds.

Each with a fish taco on a Chinet paper plate balanced on our laps, sitting in the plush, leather accommodations of the rented Lincoln MKX (not my choice) we watched the shower cleanse the streets of Buena Vista, Colorado and the drama unfold.

Back step to Town Hall
No matter how small the berg, constabularies in most towns seem to employ Ford Crown Victorias as their patrol cars of choice.  The smaller and more remote the village, the more whiskers on the car.  BV’s Crown Vic looked collectable were it not for the crease in the right rear fender and the salt rust forming beneath the car on the side I saw.  Its siren whooped, however, as it had been installed only yesterday and it was the bellow of that siren that got our attention initially.  Through the thick veil of rainfall, the cruiser was in pursuit of the suspect on Main.

The Saloon
Citizens in Buena Vista helped.  Two young maidens, who’d been enjoying the cloudburst, clad in cut-offs and string-bikini tops joined the chase, as did a young twenty-something on a bicycle.

The suspect was described as a middle-aged golden retriever, perhaps golden lab, clearly guilty of cavorting about town sans leash. 

We pulled away from our parking slot and monitored the fray.

The Picture Show
The girls seemed to be having the best time of things – next to the dog.  They whistled and hooted and clapped their hands, crouching on one knee cooing and coaxing.  Dog waggled to within an arm-and-a-half length and then bolted.  The lad on the bicycle circled, perhaps more interested in the knit tops the girls were wearing than the stray dog.  No blame assayed here.

The cop had parked the Crown Vic catty-wompus in an intersection and was now in foot pursuit armed with one of those long handled loop things that you lasso over the neck of the offending party – if you get close enough.
Tracks thru town
 A well-travelled state highway bisects town.  Visibility was, at best, limited.  The dog was headed for the highway.  The young ladies sprinted after him, their gleeful hoots now sounding more desperate.  Bike boy flashed past.  The officer hotfooted back to his vehicle.  A Coors Beer truck – Coors is big in these parts – pulled in front of us, blocking the view.  Blinded, we waited for the light to change and the traffic to clear.

Two cycles later we were heading south on the state route.

Dog had safely crossed; girls stranded on the other side.  Loping down the street, he looked over his shoulder and appeared to be laughing as only dogs can do.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press