Wednesday, October 30, 2013


The Auburn State Recreation Area boasts a complicated web of trails scored into the rocky canyon that, at one time, would be inundated by the Auburn Dam.  The Stagecoach Trail leaves the ridge top near Russell Road splitting about two-tenths of a mile into an upper and lower Stagecoach.   

We typically take the upper for a distance, then, break down into the canyon on a series of marked deer paths and dry stream courses, twisting along the wall of the North Fork to the abutment of the Foresthill Bridge, then link up with Lower Stagecoach for a steady climb back to the top.

For the past two years, a restoration of the 730-foot high Foresthill Bridge finds hikers, when rounding a final bend down by the river, nearly deafened by a cacophony metallic sounds – hammering, sawing, pinging – the soundtrack of engineering moving from paper to product.   

Music to some, but to Jax-the-Dog, our 12-year-old Aussie mix, this is yet one more example of something that’s somehow out to get her.  (Her list includes thunder, the cat, cars passing on the street, and my utterances when this computer malfunctions.)

Off-leash, because I’d forgotten this detail this day, I turned to whistle her near as I rounded the bend, but she was nowhere to be found.  My mind flashed on the Cowardly Lion’s response when first encountering the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  

Brother Tim and I immediately started one of those search and rescue operations often televised on the Weather Channel – although there was no category 5 hurricane in the canyon this day – wading through tickets of poison oak and ducking under unbending stickery oak branches and past abandoned homeless encampments.

After forty minutes, we had to call off the search.  We'd be losing daylight in about six hours.  A mile-and-a-half from the parking area, our best hope was that someone would find her, discover she was chipped, we’d get a call and all would be well.

Still, on our return, Tim took an uncharted high route and I retraced our steps, calling “Jax! Jaxie!” every ten to fifteen seconds or so.

Halfway back through the maze of trails and brush, my call returned three sharp reports.  Across the draw, on an open spot of the trail, the black and white Aussie had stopped, recognized something through her aging ears or glassy eyes and came racing my way.

I bent down to offer a welcome rub of her ears and she licked me with a too-familiar fetid tongue but, this time, I didn’t pull away.  Clipping her leash I told her how she’d damned near broke my heart and how it would be broke again when I had to tell her mom and how, most of all – another of her nemesii – Edward-the-Lab-Mix’s heart would be broke for having lost his favorite chase-n-chew toy.  In fact, I talked gently with her all the way back up the trail, pausing occasionally to run my fingers through her fur and scratch her neck. 

Once back in the pickup, her time-honed malodorous breath filled the cabin and I sorta wished I’da left her on the trail.

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


In the final week of September, 2013, the nation was shocked to see helmet cam video of a group of sport-bike riders horsing around on New York City streets, jamming traffic, running through lights and generally acting like morons.  When a rider purposely stopped short in front of a Range Rover SUV and was bumped, co-riders swarmed the driver, with wife and child on board.  His only avenue for escape appeared to be gunning his vehicle forward and running over a rider.  The ensuing chase lasted only a few minutes; ending with the father dragged from the vehicle, beaten and slashed, again, all taped on helmet cam.

Opinion alert:  These guys give chain-wielding motorcycle gangs a bad name.

California’s State Route 128 is a gem of a motorcycle road.  It winds west from Winters, California, traversing the Coast Range, dipping into and out of vineyard-laced valleys and ending up tunneling through redwoods before it ends at the Pacific Ocean.  I enjoy it as often as possible either on the BMW or the Guzzi.  Yee haaa!

But sometimes, I find myself driving my Nissan Frontier.  Knowing how exhilarating the sweeping turns are, when a motorcycle approaches from the rear, I find the nearest safe spot to give way.  (A lot of car drivers do this for me when they see me a safe distance behind.)  Such was the case three days ago when, a lime green Kawasaki Ninja ZX suddenly was on my rear bumper.  Behind him was another rider straddling some iron.  Bicyclists on this section of road prompted me to be hesitant about slipping toward the shoulder, but as the impatient Kawi-man began to pass, I found a nook and pulled aside.

A quarter mile ahead, a small Honda SUV was coursing through the curves.  In a flash, the Kawi rider was on his bumper.  The road had become more challenging with tighter turns and less accessible shoulder.  At a left-sweeping curve, minute or so on, the SUV driver found a tiny section of gravel, and, a rate of speed to fast for the maneuver, pulled onto the shoulder allowing the biker to pass.  Dust and gravel spit from all four of the Honda’s wheels as he stopped the thing just short of a forested slope.  A glance in passing told me he was clearly upset – maybe scared.

And why not?

Borrowing a phrase from H. Rap Brown:  Bullying is as American as cherry pie.

Some of our colleagues who ride two-wheelers are our own worst enemies.  Aggressive behavior may be fueled by a love of dipping into that next twisty turn or may simply be a knot-head with too much testosterone in his blood supply.  In either event, to the automobile driver it feels like intimidation – bullying – and it might make the driver less sensitive to – or less concerned about – the motorcyclists with whom he shares the road.  Then we, those who ride bikes, lose.

Up the road that day, I stopped in Calistoga to let the dogs stretch their legs.  As my wife and I were engaged in a little window shopping, I saw the green Ninja ZX parked next to the big iron, engines ticking as they cooled.  Neither pilot was around or I’d have struck up a conversation as folks do when they see a cool bike.  Taking a Church of the Open Road business card from my wallet, I penned the following on the back:  Nice scoot, but please try to display more patience and better road manners when you ride.  Thanks!  And be safe.

My wife asked what I was doing.  “If we don’t call people on their bad behavior, they’ll keep doing it,” I said.  “Seems to me that if I can get this guy to think twice about how others see him, he’ll be safer and we all won’t pay the price for his stupidity.”  She advised: “The guy could get on your website and, I don’t know, mess things up.”  Big deal, I thought, my website’s pretty messed up to begin with, but as discretion is the better part of valor, I instead gently slipped a blank calling card under the passenger strap on his seat. 

Maybe he’ll access the site and read this.

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press