Monday, July 27, 2015


…the Subaru’s third big adventure…

Long-time readers will know that a place called Simpson Camp holds a special place in my childhood heart.  On my to-do list has been to share this distant locale with my wife of nearly thirty years.  Recently, taking the long way home, I did just that.

State Route 162 heads west out of Willows to the defunct lumber berg of Elk Creek.  The store there burned a year ago, but the gent who owns the place has been visiting daily cleaning up with the dream of reopening the place, or so reports the matron running the town’s café/gas station/inn.  The old guy was a much younger guy 40 years ago when he frequented the wholesale house of my employ to pick up salables for his remote grocery.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t drop in for a Coke and some Corn Nuts.

Grindstone Canyon is a long and deep valley carved by its namesake creek.  Fires regularly race through this barren, rocky and dry landscape, usually with little impact other than to refresh the scant soils.

Back in ’53, however, efforts to quell one had devastating results for one nearly forgotten crew.

Up the road we pause to let Edward out of his Subaru to stretch his legs…

…little knowing that coiled and lurking in the grass would be…

It’s a long forty miles from Willows up a windy CA162.  The pavement ends at Alder Springs where the route enters the Mendocino National Forest and is known as Forest Road 7.  Much more nicely graded than I recall, the Subaru Forester seems to relish the gravel and the curves.

Most folks who fly through Glenn County on I-5 must think the parish is little more than a string of impoverished towns in the bottomlands along the west side Sacramento River.  But on its path to Mendocino Pass, SR162/FR7 climbs to over 6500 feet passing through forests and meadows rivaling those in the Sierra. 

After some connoitering and reconnoitering, we found the spur road that leads to Simpson Camp.  Fifty years ago, Dad’s hiking buddy, Zibe Simpson, marked the turn-off with a red bandana tied to a roadside shrub.

The last time I’d visited the area in 2010, the road into the site was eroded and impassable.  Knowing this, we parked the Sube at the top of the ridge and walked down the glade. 

Down the hill quite a distance, a copse of firs juts into the meadow.  The sight of this stand brought a familiar stir to my innards.  

 We hiked through knee-high mule’s ear... 

...successors of the very one’s Zibe’s boxer, Jovanna lazed in back in the 60s…

…until we came upon a handcrafted sign nailed high in a fir.  (I know the story behind that sign.)

This was where we’d camped some 50 years earlier, although the official Forest Service sign had been removed, according to the ranger in Covelo, “to not attract folks who might damage the archaeological remnants.”   

I remember that Zibe showed us where to find arrowheads.  I remember that there used to be an old Wedgewood stove standing beneath these trees.

Looking from under the shade of the firs, I found where our old Coleman canvas tent had been erected…

…and the ring of stone that once confined a campfire that held off the gathering dusk… 

…a fire around which Zibe Simpson told stories of running sheep up this way in the summer months, herding them with Model A Fords and picking off coyotes intent on thinning the flock.

I remember falling asleep, fifty years ago, with a cool evening breeze washing over my face, dreaming of tending sheep on this pleasant hillside thinking no place on earth could be better.

Not much is left of Simpson Camp: just the fire ring, Zibe’s hand-made replacement sign and the memories. 

After an hour or so of exploration, my wife and I (with Edward the lab-mix), hiked back up the hill.  I’m not sure she came away knowing what all of my excitement was about, but a part of me was reminded that few places on earth could be better.

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Tidbit Number 2

Perhaps the most magnificent interface of land and sea is just a pleasant day’s jaunt from our new Sonoma County digs.

Monterey’s Big Sur Coast offers exhilarating roadways with sweeping turns carved above a rugged shoreline occasionally tunneling through groves of eons-old redwoods.

Mornings may be shrouded in a gray blanket of moisture.

While afternoon views across the Pacific are often accompanied by howling winds off the sea and each turn offers a new expansive view.

The route is dotted with campgrounds, modest general stores, motels, curio shops and galleries.  We found a VRBO rental and home-based there for a couple of days.

Accesses to beach, grasslands and forestlands are plentiful, but you’ll pay a modest fee for their support. 

Still, it’s good to get off the saddle and discover the little things that are often lost to panoramas. 

The history of the on-going collision between the North American and Pacific plates predates humankind.  (We’re west of the San Andreas rift.)

But humankind has left our share of markings.

Sometimes functional.

Sometimes beautiful.

Sometimes simply odd.

Sad to say that in nearly fifty years of motorcycling, this was my first two-wheeled visit along this section of Highway 1. 

On this trip, we did not travel further south past Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park toward Lucia, San Simeon and Harmony. 

Perhaps this is why – along with this magnificent section of coastline – God created the term “Bucket List.”

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Old habits die hard while new ones are worth an embrace.  Relocated to new digs, I’m now within an easy day’s ride of Eureka, an historic and scenic city on California’s north coast.  Over the years, several trips up US 101 find me landing in this lumber/fishing town for the evening.  Three businesses up that way always successfully wrest some dough from my wallet.

The Historic Eureka Inn: I walked into the Eureka Inn years ago and was immediately overwhelmed by the aroma of history clinging to the darkened redwood beams crossing the massive great-room lobby.   
A fixture on the US registry of historic places, paintings of those who’ve overnighted here hang from the walls.  After shedding gear, I make my way down to the lobby to sit on a leather couch in front of a substantial fireplace.  At any moment, I expect to hear Teddy Roosevelt ask if the other end of the seat is taken.

“No,” I’d reply and we'd spend an hour or two with a whiskey or two discussing the difficulty of preserving the area’s ancient redwoods while the lumber barons seek to mow them down in an effort to rebuild San Francisco.

Café Waterfront:  Five blocks north and down the hill from the Inn is Eureka’s historic waterfront.  Moored here is a north coast fishing fleet and ghosts of the lumber scows TR warned me about earlier in the afternoon.

Several plain and fancy eateries live in Eureka’s historic district.  On a Monday evening, a while back, I’d wandered in to the Café Waterfront around 7:00 to find the only seat one at the bar next to an older gent who was nursing a glass of red wine.   

“Charles” was happy to have my company.  As I enjoyed some tender scampi swimming in a garlic sauce and a glass of Honig Sauv Blanc, my bar-mate shared about this being “date night” for him and his wife, who couldn’t make it this evening.  “It’s happening more and more frequently,” he said, admitting that is was difficult to get the folks at the memory care facility to let him take her for the evening.

On a recent visit to this elegant, yet rustic piece of waterfront history, I was informed that Charlie’s wife had finally passed, but that Charlie is still a regular on Monday.  It was a Thursday.  Unspoken was the word family.  I was sorry I’d missed him.

After scampi and that Honig white, I stroll the wooden wharf watching a purple dusk settle over a gently rolling fishing fleet, all the while accompanied by a soundtrack of the clanging of distant buoys and the doleful cries of circling gulls.

"Hey, kid..."
Back at the Eureka Inn:  Hiking back up the hill, I discover Bogey stayed here.  An oil of his image hangs next to an antique lift. 

Across the lobby, the Inn’s “gin-joint” is a buzz of activity.  I wander in for a splash of Bourbon, served by a crazy Russian named Sasha ready to enjoy some tinny piano music from a player named Sam.  If I play my cards right, perhaps Ilsa Lund will appear from the shadows to steal Bogey’s (and my) heart this evening.

Alas, it was “Open Mic Comedy Nite,” which more accurately might have simply been called “Open Mic Nite.”  But, the Knob Creek was good and the barmaid kind enough to ensure I received a full eight bucks worth.

Rooms at the Inn have recently been refreshed.  Beds are comfortable, carpet plush and periodesque, plumbing works and sleep advances easily.

The Black Lightning Motorcycle Café is a new attraction to the area.  Located on the northbound one-way that US 101 becomes, the view through the window is of a line of vintage two-wheelers back-dropped by racks of clothing, helmets and gear. 

Once inside, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee competes with the storied collection of bikes and gear for your reason to hang out – perhaps until the fog clears.  Owner Jeff offers a nice breakfast and lunch menu – plus beer and/or wine, if you’re ending up your day. 

He is interested in what you’re riding and where you’ve been.  He has thoughts about area don’t-miss roads and believes that word of mouth is probably his best form of advertisement.  Consider this, that, Jeff.

A short, pleasant walk from the Inn, the Black Lightning is the new habit I’ve formed when staying in Eureka.

There are plenty of wonderful roads spoking from Eureka’s hub:  The Avenue of the Giants to the south; Mattole Road along the Pacific shore to the west and south...

world class CA 36 east to Red Bluff (out of Fortuna); sweeping CA 299 to Redding and beyond; and US 101 along a craggy route north to Crescent City and the Oregon Coast.

One could spend weeks home-basing here.  Or a lifetime.


Notes and Links:

The Black Lightning Motorcycle Café: Check this site regularly for special events Jeff plans for the greater two-wheeled community.

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, July 4, 2015


A product review

As my spouse-and-life-partner joined me in retirement, our financial advisor counseled us: “Now is the time for you two to really enjoy the life you’ve earned.  If you want to travel, travel.  If you need to upgrade a vehicle to maximize those travels, do it.”

We began thinking about the functions required of a retirement vehicle and whether our current fleet would meet those needs.  The Nissan pickup is a powerful workhorse that will go anywhere if you don’t mind hauling your gear in the open bed.  The Honda Civic is a great commute car but nobody’s commuting any more.  Historically, the best memories had been made in a primitive Isuzu Trooper II (lotsa room, lousy power) and a Jeep Wrangler (lotsa power, lousy room.) 

Mentally, we drew up a list of important factors for whatever might ferry us into and through the next step.  Among them:

·      Reliability,
·      Fuel economy,
·      Versatility,
·      Comfort,
·      Bells and whistles, and
·      If we decided to get down to just one car, what car might meet our future needs?

At the nexus of these six considerations, we found the 2015 Subaru Forester.

Six weeks and about 3,000 miles into ownership, and with its first adventure under its belt, here are some pictures and impressions.

The Sube is quieter on the highway than the Honda (not a fair comparison because the vehicles are designed for different purposes) and it returns 28.9 miles per gallon which is on a par with the Honda.

We never feel the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) shift.

The “tall wagon” architecture of the vehicle where occupants sit up higher provides a welcome commanding view of the road.

The ride is taut and the leather seats are firm.  The seating position accommodates my 34-inch inseam and cranky knees, so a four-hour stretch is not at all taxing.

The six year old Honda has a more user-friendly "infotainment" system but the Forester came equipped with “Eye-Sight” technology.  It lets us know when we’ve drifted out of a lane – or if we change lanes without using the signals.  When cruise control is activated, eye sight adjusts the car’s speed to maintain a safe distance behind the vehicle in front.  (Other brands probably have this, but this feature is a first for us and it seems very cool.)

We packed a week’s worth of stuff into the Sube and headed for Pinecrest Lake and Sonora Pass.  Heading across a 102-degree Sacramento Valley, the interior remained cool although the black dashboard seemed to absorb and reflect some heat.

Freeway joints were slightly noticeable.

Once in the foothills, the car eagerly handled curves and competently tackled rises and falls although the 2.5 liter boxer engine does make it known that it is pulling a hill.

On a side trip, a steep, deeply rutted road led us to a promontory.  The X-mode feature (a button you push to lock the CVT transmission in a low band) allowed the car to creep into and over and out of dips, roots and rocks – reminiscent of Dad’s ’69 Toyota FJ 40.   

With an 8.7-inch ground clearance, we never scraped bottom.

Subaru at this point in time, doesn’t make a slew of different cars.  They essentially have one basic engine design with three variations, a couple of transmissions across all model lines and offer nice option packages within each of the models they sell.  Like Moto Guzzi on the motorcycle side of my life (one basic engine design, three models with variants) Subaru appears to have found a niche, striving to refine and perfect their offerings within that smaller realm. 

So far?  Great car.  Most important: my spouse-and-life-partner loves it.  While I enjoy and will continue my adventures on the motorcycle(s), I’m looking forward to adventuring in the ’15 Forester with her.  My fervent wish is that she’ll let me drive it - at least occasionally.

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press