Thursday, December 22, 2016


 a holiday tale for 2016

I never met Amos but here’s what I’ve been told...

About seventeen years ago, and both recently retired, Amos and his wife moved to their brand new home.  Perhaps it was their first brand new home.  A pleasant place – just this side of heaven – its fresh stucco painted white and its sizeable back yard sloping up to a green belt, shaded by an ancient, pre-subdivision black oak that seemed to cascade stubbornly hard-to-rake leaves heavily late in the fall.  Amos maintained the house with paint and polish, and the yard, planting and replanting flowering shrubs and annuals, ensuring adequate water and mulch.  The result?  A bit of springtime stretching into sultry summers and many evenings watching moonrise while enjoying the warmth of lovingly caressed hands.  Come November, he’d rake those leaves.

At some point, Amos’s wife passed.  I’m not sure how long they were married, but I know that if my wife passed, I’d consider folding my tents and calling it a life.  Clearly I’m not Amos.

Amos turned to the community in which he lived staying active at the lodge on various boards and councils and bocce tournaments. He kept his aging fingers on the pulse of his little way station ‘just this side of heaven.’  He organized transportation for those who couldn’t otherwise make an appointment or, perhaps, shop in 30-mile distant Santa Rosa.  He participated in a kind of meals on wheels – maybe he started it – wherein those laid low by an illness or a loss had something hot delivered until order was restored in their lives.  A fixture in the community, I picture him on morning walks greeting and being greeted by whomever else was out. I suspect that both handshakes and hugs were common.  That’s the way it is in a community.

Perhaps a dozen years into Amos’s time in the neighborhood, circumstances turned the way circumstances do.  Gradually, Amos transitioned from being the support to being provided for.  Instead of driving people in to town, he found himself being driven.  Instead of preparing meals for the infirm, meals began coming his way.  I have no knowledge of how Amos felt about his freedom to assist being replaced by his need for assistance.  I do know – people have told me – that folks signed up to take him places and bring him food.  There was a waiting list.

One June, a few years back, Amos became housebound.  In late autumn, as leaves rained off that old black oak and scuttled down the back yard slope, someone – family, I suppose – decided that caregivers should be employed to assist twenty-four hours a day.  Because the following is part of what paid elder care does, many aides spent hours listening to records or watching television or swapping stories with Amos – or reading or dosing off while he rested – waiting for the moment when he needed assistance to the bathroom or help with nourishment.

At the same time, Amos’s focus during those days turned to ensuring the comfort and caring as much as he could for those whose charge was to care for him: MTV rather than college football; frozen pizza rather than chicken soup.  Or so it was reported.

This I was also told:  It was December 24th, Christmas Eve, four years ago.  Shift change happened around 2:00 PM.  His afternoon assistant was a young mother who lived on the other side of town.  She had two toddlers, each probably bubbling with the anticipation and excitement that only that night’s visit from Saint Nick could bring.

Around five, the young mom began to stir in the kitchen, preparing Amos’s evening meal, when he called to her from the guest bedroom where his hospital bed was set.  “Julia (I’m making up the name) Julia, come here.”

I suppose Julia came right to his side.  “¿Está bien, Amos?”

“I’ll be fine, just fine,” he said.  “But you.  It’s a special night and you have two little ones at home.”

Están con su papá. Son bien.”

“They should be with their mother.”

No puedo. Mi turno no… no…

I picture him raising a tired hand and, with a bluing finger pointing for emphasis: “Usted será.  You will.  Now please go on home for this evening.  Gracias.”

In the ensuing moments, surely with many conflicting thoughts racing though the young mother-caregiver’s mind, the front door quietly clicked closed as, in the dusk of this special night – Christmas Eve – ‘Julia’ headed back across town.

In Amos’s Little village, emergency service response is, at most, three-and-a-half to four minutes from phone call to arrival.

Amos called 911 shortly after that door clicked shut.

Medics did not revive him.

How do I know all this?  Through a fiduciary, we purchased Amos’s house.  Over the past couple of years, countless neighbors have shared their stories, often reminiscing about a handshake or a hug.  Two – maybe three – have spoken about that Christmas Eve.  Others have asked if we knew Amos personally.

I’m beginning to think I can answer, “Yes.”

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Opening a Church of the Open Road discussion

It has been over a month since our great land began the “smooth transition of power,” no matter how unsmooth the process appears this time around.  In those weeks, the awful rancor of the 2016 election has done anything but abate.  Although seemingly magnified now, it is a given that with the upcoming change in administration, some people will benefit and some people will – how do we say this? – benefit less.  Some folks will enjoy gains in wealth and security and personal satisfaction, some won’t.  That, it can be argued, is the normal result of any election. 

But our reaction has been anything but normal.  Or civil.  Fans of the president-elect still clamor for his opponent’s incarceration while foes of the outcome cry for some sort of postponement in the Electoral College process until all the facts are known about out-of-country influences in the campaign(s). These and other doubts, misgivings and finger-pointings are manifested on social media as a mélange of marginally literate tweets and/or barely factual Facebook memes designed to create sides and accentuate differences rather than bridge those differences.  The incoming administration appears to distrust the CIA, the CIA and the FBI struggle to look at the same evidence and arrive at the same conclusion, Congress refuses to take any action that might involve compromise or bipartisanship, while the person on the street has difficulty differentiating between news and outright lies cloaked as news. Meanwhile, no one is receiving the answers they want to hear to the questions they are asking.  The populace seems mired to its axles in the mucky aftermath of campaigns based less upon policy and issues and the better angels in us all, than in flashpoints of innuendo, character assassination and generally nasty behavior.  The result?  A country not moving forward.

Lee Iacocca, in a series of ads for Chrysler in 1992 said, “You either lead, follow, or get out of the way.”  [Actually that quote belongs to Thomas Paine and/or General George Patton.] One can only imagine that power brokers in other corners of the world, seeing our raucous disarray, might be of the opinion that the United States is about to tumble into that “get out of the way” posture.  Not an enviable position for the country that used to be the envy of all others.

So here comes the question:

Viewed through a lens framed by these words…

…form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…

What positive actions can each of us take, rising above the currents of distrust and anger, to move us forward again as a country? 

The continued gnashing of teeth won’t get the job done.


A request:  The Church of the Open Road invites your response and you can do it in the comment section of this blog post, even though you may need to go through that “Captcha” authentication process.  Please do.  If you choose to respond on Facebook, where you may have first discovered a link to this post, know that I would like your permission to copy any comment you make* into the comment section of the blog.  That way, we’ll actually have a discussion.  [*You will show up as “anonymous.”]


What prompted all this?  A buddy of mine and I have been sharing our  - let’s call ‘em “concerns” – about the recent unfolding of events.  Apparently, he’d been having similar discussions with others when his daughter – perhaps growing weary of his bitching and whining, as, I know, many of my family members are – said, “We may be very unhappy with the outcome (of the election) but having repeated discussions of worry and consternation will not help.  We need to change the discussion and start talking about what is most important and then define the actions we need to take with respect to that which we deem most important.”  To which I would add:  “And then act.”

With the help of some “Church of the Open Road” community members such as you, perhaps we’ll begin to formulate a refined discussion and begin to move things forward, lifting ourselves out of the muck, mire and gloom and into a brighter tomorrow.

Thanks, in advance, for your thoughts and participation.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, December 12, 2016


Part of the Pinnacles, Carrizo Plain,
Central Coast Range Tour

On a tour of the central portion of California’s Coast Range, I ran into a wanderer.  An unsung, historic one.

Turning left off of CA 166 onto Cottonwood Canyon Road just west of Cuyama, history-geography-trail-guide John recounts the story of Nancy Kelsey, the first American woman to cross the plains and the Sierra into California in 1841.   

Married at age 17 to Benjamin Kelsey she endured the hardships of the continental crossing, carrying a baby in her arms, because she said, the hardships of the journey would surely be less than those of a life without the man she loved.

The man she loved would turn out to be a prolific killer of the native population.  On CA 20 just west of Clear Lake, a historic marker tells of the Bloody Island encounter.  Ben Kelsey had a hand in that.  On the southwestern shores of that lake one finds the little berg of Kelseyville.  Named for him.  But there’s a Kelsey in El Dorado County between Placerville and Georgetown also named for him.  In Eureka, history tells us the Kelseys were turned away because area fathers enjoyed productive and compatible relations with the natives and they didn’t need Ben and his ilk to “fix” anything.

Between traveling into both Mexico and Oregon territory, the Kelseys found themselves in Monterey during that pivotal time in which Americans wrested control of California from the Mexican government.  There, Nancy Kelsey (some say, perhaps with others) was tapped to create the new republic’s first Bear Flag.  Arguably, she was the Betsy Ross of our state.

Ben died in 1888 and Nancy moved to the remote parts of Santa Barbara County we were exploring this day.

A few miles south on Cottonwood Canyon Road, a derelict firewagon tells us we've arrived at the Sleepy Creek Ranch...

...a wonderful off-the-grid B&B run by archaeologist Bonnie Goller.  

She graciously allows us to visit Mrs. Kelsey’s final resting place on a shaded bank over-looking a dry arroyo.  Not a bad place to spend eternity, I’m thinking.

Upon our return to the ranch house, Ms. Goller shares a bit of the research she has conducted into the life of her nearby resident.  We find that Nancy Kelsey actually lived two canyons over in (you guessed it) Kelsey Canyon.  She gave birth to eight children, many who were prolific in that regard themselves. 

Curiously, etched into a concrete slab next to Nancy’s grave is the surname Clanton.  It seems one of Kelsey’s daughters married a brother of son of Ike Clanton, the gunslinger killed at the OK Corral in Tombstone in the famous dustup involving Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.  Small world.

But the true greatness of Nancy Kelsey's life and legacy - like most women - had much less to do with whom she married than who she was.   

Her adventures are briefly recounted on a plaque placed near her grave by the Oregon-California Trials Association. 

(Grab a tissue then click the photo to enlarge, please.)   

Nancy Kelsey died in 1896, asking only that she be buried in a "real coffin, not something scrapped up with old boards."  Fittingly, she rests in the most sublime of places with Bonnie Goller caring for both her and her legacy.


A few websites provide insight into her remarkable life:

Details on the Sleepy Creek Ranch – book and evening or two!:


The more I travel throughout the west, the more I can trick myself into believing that there were actually very few Americans that actually settled this vast and vacant space.  That few just moved around quite a bit.  It seems that everywhere I go, I run into an historic figure that I know from some place two, three, five, eight hundred miles distant.

Wheels are made for rollin', and mules are made to pack…*

Exhibit A:  John Bidwell, founder of my hometown in the middle of the northern Sacramento Valley.  Destined to become a member of the 39th Congress, he came across the arid west crossing the Sierra in 1841 with the consequential Bidwell – Bartleson Party, which included Ben and Nancy Kelsey.  A while back, while touring along the Sonoma Coast, I saw a familiar photo of Mr. Bidwell.  Seems he was hired by John Sutter to deconstruct Fort Ross, salvage the redwood to be repurposed at Sutter’s Mill along the American River – certainly a great distance from Chico.  I had no idea.

Mud can make you prisoner, and the plains can bake you dry…

Exhibit B:  Jean Baptist (Pomp) Charbonneau, son of Sacagawea.  As an infant he crossed the northern stretches of what would become our nation with Lewis and Clark.  Adopted by William Clark, he travelled to Europe, there to rub elbows with a German prince and the like.  Returning to the states in 1829, he worked as a guide reciting Shakespeare around campfires.  “Pompy” died at age 61 having been thrown from a horse into a river near Danner, Oregon as he sought fortune in the Idaho Mines.  Charbonneau research led me to the factoid that he spent about thirteen years running a way station on the North Fork of the American about walking distance from my house in Rocklin.

Home is made for comin' from, for dreams of goin' to…

Exhibit C:  William Canfield, a survivor of the Whitman massacre on eastern Washington’s Columbia Plateau in 1847.  A blacksmith back then, he hid in the rafters of his flaming shop until the avenging Cayuse figured all the white folks were dead.  Canfield snuck away (one or two others survived, as well) ending up in the Seattle or Portland area where he caught a steamer to San Francisco, later making his way up the Petaluma River; thence to now-nearby-to-me Sebastopol where he is buried in a cemetery bearing his name.

I was born under a wandrin' star.

In truth, there were many strong and hearty folks who wandered from place to place finally coming to this land, setting roots and creating the foundation for one of the world’s most culturally diverse and economically powerful entities ever.  Many of the heralded pioneers were men.  But far too many of our courageous pioneers were unheralded women.
* lyrics by Alan J Lerner

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, December 10, 2016


The Pinnacles, Carrizo Plain,
Central Coast Range Tour

Were they situated anywhere else in the world, California’s Coast Range would be considered both sublime and spectacular.  Mountain peaks rise over 7,000 feet and valleys ranging from verdant green to desert gold lace the north-south expanse.  Fortunately – or unfortunately – the Coast Range is a distant cousin of California’s higher and more majestic Sierra, thus often overlooked by travelers, birders, hikers, motorcycle enthusiasts and/or general adventure seekers. 

Having settled for a time in the Russian River Valley, exploration of the north-of-the-bay Coast Range has been a delight.  From the rugged Pacific coastline to the heights of Snow Mountain, roads, both paved and graded gravel have led me to the place names of cattle camps, logging sites, hot springs and way stations.  Mostly now abandoned.  Always, there is something new to discover or wonder about.  Always there is the romantic thought: What might it have been like to settle in the middle of this beautiful nowhere? Followed by: Where was the nearest grocery store?  Of course, there wasn’t a nearest grocery store.  Folks settling in these vacant and distant reaches in the late 1800s were on their own, farming, grazing and scratching out a life in a landscape where the average soul would simply wither.

Recently, an opportunity to explore the south-of-the-bay Coast Range presented itself.  The excuse was to follow the San Andreas Fault crisscrossing from the North American Plate to the Pacific Plate.  What I discovered was a delightful more-of-the-same.

Pinnacles National Park:  Perhaps as remote a National Park as any in the system, Pinnacles is a mere 20 miles off US 101 but a world away from it’s traffic, noise, commerce and general hubbub.  Centered on a unique geologic formation, this tiny park – until recently a national monument – is accessed by CA 146 from Soledad or CA 146 from CA 33, but 146 does not go through. 

My simplified understanding of California’s mountain geography developed in college where I learned that the Sierra is a tilted fault block, the Coast Ranges are essentially folded and all the volcanic stuff was in the Cascade Range roughly north of the Feather River.  Reality – brought about through travel – exposes a new truth: volcanic activity happens almost anywhere along the Pacific’s Ring of Fire.  Including the Pinnacles.

There is a small system of trails that link both stubs of CA 146.  In between, the 23 million-year-old remnants of volcanic activity have created weathered domes and, where seismic activity has broken things loose, caves than can, seasonally, be explored on foot.  Climbers climb, spelunkers spelunk, hikers investigate woodland canyons and campers camp under the watchful eyes of circling red tailed hawks; always on the lookout for rare and endangered red-legged frogs.

The Pinnacles deserved far more than the three hours we could commit to our visit.

Parkfield:  The San Andreas is strike-slip fault marking a six hundred mile stretch of the collision zone between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates.  A strike-slip fault is one where the activity moves laterally or horizontally rather than up and down.  Fence lines that were once straight, roadways that are cracked and now misaligned and bridges with bends in their steel railing all evidence strike-slip faults.

While, in general, the North American Plate is riding over the Pacific Plate, for reasons that escape my level of understanding, the land mass over the Pacific Plate is slipping northward while that over the North American Plate moves south.  Should this continue for another billion and a half years, the Giants and Dodgers will again be cross-town rivals and won’t that be great!

Parkfield is among the more seismically active spots on the west coast.  The USGS maintains a manned station to monitor activity along the fault.  And the little village makes the most of its rockin’ and rollin’ heritage inviting visitors to “be here when it happens.”

It didn’t happen while we were there, and the rustic little café happened to be closed at lunchtime, so we moved on, crossing over to the Pacific Plate, knowing we’d need to schedule a return to Parkfield if we truly wanted to get in on the action. 

Carrizo Plain National Monument:  The San Andreas Fault forms the eastern edge of the Carrizo Plain at the foot of the aptly named Temblor Range.  The partly paved – partly graded Soda Lake Road bisects the monument from northwest to southeast.  Accessing from Seven Mile Road off CA 58, the initial view is of dry ranchland and sage very reminiscent of the parched areas of Nevada east of Reno and Carson City. 

South on Soda Lake Road, we pass the entry point and the agricultural nature gives way to a dry plain that in March is carpeted with wildflowers.  December, however?  Not so much.   

The further into the monument we travel, the more it felt like we were somehow reversing time.  At the north end of the monument rests the road’s namesake lake, a low point where winter’s scarce rainfall collects and settles.  No outlet.  During the long, hot dry season, the water disappears leaving the largest alkali lakebed in all of California.

To the west, a promontory known as Painted Rock preserves petroglyphs from the area’s earliest inhabitants, the Chumash and Yokuts, among others.  For much of the year, permits are required to make the half-mile trek from parking to pre-history.  It seems that early in the 20th century, vandals had their way with these antiquities, and the rest of us must pay the price.

Further on, the visitor’s center provides insight into the plants and animals native to the plain.  Nearby, weathering farm implements from a hardscrabble era ending fifty years ago are displayed in a long rusty line against a backdrop of hills that seem older than time.

The closer you look, the Carrizo Plain management team suggests, the more you see.  At one point, my exploratory buddy took a phone call: there is cell service – no potable water – but cell service.  I hopped out of the big 4-Runner to simply hike down the middle of Soda Lake Road.  Within a few hundred yards, I was taken by the grand nothingness of it all – and all the little details otherwise missed by simply driving through. 

Here, the silence is so deep that, at sunrise or any other time of day, you can hear your own heartbeat just standing still. 

The whole thing – the horizon, the desolation, the history – was captivating.  I found myself thinking: What would it be like to settle in the middle of this beautiful nowhere?  Then: I wonder where the nearest grocery store is.

Enamored by this too-short visit to California’s Central Coast Range, I vow to return to spend more time exploring.  Although I’m concerned that there may never be enough time to fully grasp the vastness, remoteness and simple grandeur of this land so routinely overlooked by others.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, December 8, 2016


Part of the Pinnacles, Carrizo Plain,
Central Coast Range Tour

“There’s a gravesite I try to get to every time I come down this way.”  My explorer buddy John pointed at his iPhone and showed me the X labeled “grave” on the displayed topo-map.  “I know it’s out here somewhere.”

We were trundling over square-cornered dirt roads on the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley.  We squeezed along between the edge of a pistachio orchard and a barbed wire fence on a pair of ruts well suited for his Toyota 4-Runner.  Across the fence, a vast flat, dry surface sloped slightly toward the rise with some prominent sandstone outcrops.  Through an open gate, we followed the road, monitoring our position on his mobile devise.  With a degree of anticipation, we seemed to be moving closer to the X.  Shortly, however, our route curved west-southwest and the grave’s location slipped behind us on the display.

“Always seems to happen this way,” he said, cranking the 4-Runner around.

“Why would there be a grave marked on the map in this desolate edge of Kern County?” I asked.  “I mean, its like we’re in the middle of nowhere.”

In the late 1700s, a most vaunted north-south California route was the King’s Highway – El Camino Real.  It served as the link between the missions and presidios established by the Spaniards who settled California intent on cultivating its fertile coastal valleys and Christianizing those peoples who’d sparsely populated the region for millennia.  Coursing from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay and beyond to Sonoma, the Camino brought commerce and trade to the missions and ranchos and a degree to government oversight and security to the missionaries and ranchers.

Some folks, however, weren’t particularly enamored with all the scrutiny that security brought, and an alternate south/north trail from San Pedro to about present day Oakland provided an attractive alternative: El Camino Viejo.  Travelers followed a path across desolate playas and dry hills to get to where they were going.  Some made it.  Some did not.

Back toward the gate, we spotted a set of ruts splitting off in a northeasterly direction, dropping into and out of an arroyo.  I hopped out of the truck to connoiter a bit.  Parallel to our former route, another set of tracks, nearly covered in sage and cattle poop headed west.  The big Toyota eased across the range toward a rocky outcrop.

“Point of Rocks,” John said pointing through the windshield.  “That was a promontory along the old El Camino Viejo.  It’s what folks aimed for as they came from the south across Antelope Valley.”
We’d traversed about a quarter of a mile when the road bended north, skirting the edge of the hills just below the rock outcrops.  In the near distance we came across an ancient fenced rectangle measuring, perhaps, six feet by eight. 

Disembarking we approached the enclosure.  Six rough-hewn post were firmly planted in the ground and probably had been for well over a hundred years.  Some sort of greasewood plant grew inside bigger and more robust than any flora we’d seen out this way.  There was no marker. 

An examination of the set of topographic maps we both have on our devises did not indicate the presence of a string of graves along the presumed route of El Camino Viejo.  But, surely, just as history tells us happened during the next century along the Oregon Trail, there must be more.  Why were those sites left unmarked only to be lost?  Where might we learn about the soul who belonged to whatever lay beneath the greasewood and when or how or why this person’s completed journey ended here?  Why was this grave protected and not the others?  There must be others.

After some chin scratching, a few “I wonders” and a short hike to the top of a nearby rise where we could make out the northerly route of our alternate Camino, up toward Sunflower Valley and along the base of the Pyramid Hills, we returned to our vehicle content, knowing that a successful exploration may answer the question asked, but creates more questions to examine.  Such was today’s adventure.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, November 11, 2016


…a good news story…

Ukiah, California is an old-school town and in the heart of downtown Ukiah stands MacNab’s, an old-school haberdashery.  In business now for over seventy years, walking into MacNab’s is like walking into the past. 

I’d set the big T-bird on her side stand in MacNab’s free off-street parking, sauntered around the corner and walked in.  Pushing the door open rings a bell and immediately, though not directly related to the bell, all of the other senses are embraced.  First, there’s the aroma.  Like fine wine, it is layered: wool and denim with hints of leather and dust.  Then the sights: racks stuffed tightly with shirts, dungarees and jeans folded and stacked on shelves around the edge.  Belts near an aged checkout counter smack-dab in the middle of the store.  Figures are calculated on a working, antique Monroe with row upon row of numbered buttons and a right hand side lever that when pulled, crunches the math.  The transaction is handwritten on a pad from which the customer gets the original and the MacNab folks keep the carbon.

I was on the hunt for a khaki tan work shirt, sized large and tall.  If anyone were going to have what I was looking for, it’d be MacNab’s in Ukiah.  I explored the racks and rows of sardine-packed shirts working my way deeper into the dark recesses of the old store until I found the large-tall collection.  Knowing that if I came home with another plaid – my favorite color – I’d be sleeping with it in the garage, I found first one, then another, then another solid.  Greens.  Grays.  Navies.  And then, Khaki!  I glanced at the tags once, then twice to confirm the size.  Eureka!  My heart leapt as I fingered the shirt’s sleeve and began to pull it away from its brethren. 

At just that moment, a fellow, younger and shorter than myself, peered around the corner of the rack and asked politely, “Excuse me?”

I stopped wrestling with my quarry for a moment.  “Yes.”

“Is that your motorcycle outside?”

Uh oh, I thought.  This rube’s backed over it.  “Yes, it is.”

“Well it sure is beautiful.”


“How long’ve you had it?”

“Bought it in January.”

“It’s a Triumph.”

“Yes it is.”

Now this is the problem with the Thunderbird LT.  When you go stop to get gas, somebody’s going to ask you about it.  When you park it on the street, a passer-by will tell you his grandfather used to have a Triumph.  If you’re at the rest stop and you really need to pee, sure as shootin’, someone is going to mention Steve McQueen or Marlon Brando or their great Uncle Leo who used to own a Triumph.  “…or was it a BSA?”  Allow twenty minutes.

Such interludes don’t often happen often when I’m inside a retail establishment, but heck, this was MacNab’s.  And truth be told, I’m just proud enough of it – or vain enough – to enjoy the attention the big Triumph garners.

“My dad had a Bonneville that leaked oil a bit.  I rode it once when I was in high school,” the fellow continued.

“I think the build quality is much better now than back then.  I’m not expecting to leak much oil.”

“Dad didn’t know I’d took it to school.”

MacNab’s is never full of customers, but a tall fellow, about my size, bumped into me, excused himself and rustled through the rack finally pulling something off.

“I’ve had a few Harleys and some dirt bikes,” my new best buddy shared.  “Been off ‘em a while, but yours sure makes me want to get back into it.  Where’d you get it?”

I explained that I lived some thirty miles distant and that my closest motorcycle dealer actually sold both BMWs and Triumphs.  “The cruiser style is completely new to me.  Something different,” I said.

“That thing is beautiful.  What’d you have before?”

I explained my BMW and Guzzi history and my most recent ride and the seat’s comfort and the purr of the exhaust and on and on.

The conversation was pleasant, lasting the requisite twenty minutes, ending with, “Mind if I look at it some more in the lot?”

“Course not.”

As he left, I took a moment to reorient myself to the task at hand only to discover, to my horror, that the khaki tan long sleeve work shirt was gone.  Gone!

I checked and double-checked then resolved to settle for a different color.  I found something in gray.  A nice soft gray.  But not khaki.  Approaching the checkout, the proprietor asked, “Find everything, okay?”

“Well, I had my eye on a tan one, but somehow, I can’t seem to find it on the rack any longer.”

The clerk began to write my goods on the pad he kept at hand. “Big fella, just left with it.  All I got is what you see on the rack.” The clerk punched a few numbers into the antique calculator.

“This’ll be more than fine,” I said.

Completing the transaction, the counterman thanked me when, from behind the standing rack of denim overalls, someone asked, “Is that your bike out there?”


“I had me a 500 Tiger twin when I was a kid.  Got a minute to chat?”

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Day Four and Five of the Bend, Oregon
 October Fogged-Out Ride
(Next time we’ll do this in September!)

Rider magazine contributor Donya Carlson once offered: “The only thing better than a 500-mile day is two 250-mile days.”  To the extent that I’ve matured as a rider, I’ve grown to agree with her.  Except when after a week or so on the road, you start to smell the barn.  Smelling the barn is what the plough horse or the draft team does at the end of a day’s labor.  Release the harness and the animal makes for the stall and the straw and rest waiting therein.

Day four of our visit to Bend and its volcanic environs found us planning an up-n-back route on the vaunted Cascades Lake Highway. If the weather were to be anything like yesterday’s, the ride would be enchanting and the photography – what with razor-sharp peaks reflected in high country lakes – amazing.

But the day dawned with a thick drizzly overcast.  Our Internet friends in charge of predicting all things climatic suggested that by 11:00 AM, the low overcast should burn off.  We marked time and checked maps and salivated.  By the appointed hour, things had not improved, but the angels of our optimism suggested that conditions down the road might be better.  So we suited up, saddled up and proved those angels wrong. 

Years ago, bad timing found us riding the incomparable Selkirk Loop well after dark.  Tough to enjoy those world-class views with only a headlight.  Similarly, traveling the Cascade Lakes Highway in the fog is not only futile, but damned cold.  We were back home in and hour and ten minutes.  Perhaps tomorrow.

“Tomorrow” dawned much like what was now yesterday.  And a Pacific storm – a big one – was predicted for the next day.  So, at about 10:00 AM, I decided it was time to head for the barn.

With two layers under my new Fox Creek leather jacket and my rain suit easily accessible, I left Bend, heading south on US 97.  Perhaps I’ll make it as far south as Klamath Falls, maybe Weed, before my hands cripple up from the chilling windblast. 

Interesting note, here: although the fog was drippy enough that I considered stopping and pulling on the rain slicker, at speed, the windshield on the big Triumph T-bird directs the wind past the ends of the handlebars.  Nice surprise.  Hands functional.

Near Chemult, I stopped for fuel, spending the usual twenty minutes at the pump explaining to a local that, “Yes, Triumph has been reborn and they’ve been making motorcycles now for about twenty years.” 

“My daddy used to race a Triumph.  I think it was called a Bonneville,” replied the nearly my aged woman.

Continuing south on 97, with K Falls getting closer, I thought about how the lack of sunshine and the thick blanket of gray removed a dimension of pleasure from the ride.  Tomorrow was forecast to be worse, I knew.  Perhaps I’ll power through to Weed, or maybe Redding.

Six-point-three miles south of Chemult – I checked – the sun began to glare on the pavement and a mile further, the fog was gone.  Swatches of pine forest reached across the rich volcanic plain to the east and a rugged rim of peaks edged the western view. Soon, it felt like I’d put on too many layers.  A few miles south of Klamath Falls, I stopped for rest and to shed a sweatshirt.  And to have another conversation about the T-Bird: “Hey!  That’s not a Harley!” 
“No it’s not.” 
“Shore looks like a Harley.” 
“No, it doesn’t.”

Butte Valley, between Dorris and Weed is a lovely landscape of ranches and hay fields.  The mountains ringing the area make me wish I liked to backpack as I once did.  The rail line, which I’d traveled once at night, harkens back to the days when that was the most efficient and engaging mode of transport. Remove the pavement and the semis and the huge, red Massey-Fergusons working the fields and it could be a hundred years ago in this fertile high country of yesterdays.

Driving south, Mount Shasta comes into view welcoming me back to my home state.  

Just past the scenic pullout for the Queen of the Cascades, the Siskiyou County veterans have constructed a sculpture garden dedicated to those county residents who served.  Masterfully placed metalworks pay homage to the many roles of our military personnel – each of those roles calling upon the heroism many among us would not know we possessed until thrust into a particular – arguably untenable – circumstance.  Allow an hour.  Bring tissue.

But I didn’t stop.  I’d visited once before and the barn was smelling closer.  Maybe I’ll get to Redding and find a room.  Maybe some place a bit further south.

Travelling I-5 at eighty miles an hour is something built into the DNA of the big Triumph cruiser, I’m discovering.  Not severely impacted by crosswinds or passing big rigs, the Thunderbird is stable and true.  The seat is supremely comfortable.  It’s been five-and-a-half hours and I can’t remember fidgeting until just now.

South of Anderson, I fuel up, choosing a pump furthest from passers-by.  I want to see if I can make it to Williams.

It was five-forty when I made it to that little Colusa County berg and interchange.  Maybe two hours and change on CA 20 and I’m back at the barn… err… home.

Highway 20 is one I am beginning to know too well what with frequent trips through those mountains to visit an aging parent in Chico.  In the past couple of years, I’ve learned of her ins, her outs and her alternatives.

The Hopland Grade between Clear Lake and the Russian River is a bit of a shortcut, mileage wise.  CA route 175 twists and corkscrews. There are few wide spots, no designated turnouts and zero passing lanes.  It is steep and treacherous under the best of circumstances which would include daylight and dry pavement.

Smelling the barn causes compromise in reasonable thought.  An example would be traversing the Hopland Grade on a behemoth of a motorcycle in the dark – think Selkirk Loop – after eight hours in the saddle. Crossing gingerly was my plan, but that plan didn’t fit well with the driver in the aging Civic who, because I was lumbering along, thought flashing his brights in my rear view mirrors might hustle me to wick things up a bit.  It didn’t.  And it didn’t make the bad ride any more enjoyable.  Or safe.  I guessed right about a wide shoulder I thought existed just this side of the summit.   The decrepit Honda rocketed past as I promised to myself that I was never doing this again. 

Rider’s Ms. Carlson is most certainly correct about 250-mile days, but home felt particularly good after having done twice that.  A glass of wine and a hunk of cheese were all that I needed before retiring to the stall.  I was asleep long before I could reflect too much on the day’s adventure.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press