Monday, February 29, 2016


…make that “endearing…”

The Avenue of the Giants was once US 101, winding through Humboldt County’s majestic and humbling redwoods.  Now, it’s the old road.  About thirty miles in length, it had been the sole artery – outside the ever-present Eel River – serving the lumber and small farming communities of the area; bergs bypassed when progress gave us a new 101.  Today, it is easy to miss those little points of history as we efficiently travel north or south, rocketing through the stands and groves as if it were just any old forest.

Yet, finding that old road and spending a day exploring, hiking, listening to the whispers of the woods, proves to be a day well spent.

The “Avenue” offers many places to pull out …

… and many trails to explore.

We can be dwarfed by the massive trees …

… and easily miss the subtle beauty resting on the forest floor.

Heads up: Your pictures won’t do justice.

Due to our modern day need for speed, those quaint farming and logging communities are stuck with a lousy choice: either find happiness (and a living) in service to of those of us who’ve found the old road or simply die becoming a historic place name with no ‘there’ remaining.

I’d purchased gas here once, a while back.  No longer.

This rig used to haul produce between some point A and market, I suppose.

Perhaps this one, too?

Maybe from a farmstead like this one?

But the attraction – the profits – would always come from the standing timber.

Before the commercial logging boom of the 19th century, the coast was covered with redwoods from Big Sur to the Oregon border.  What once accounted for 2.4 billion acres of old growth forest had, by the end of the 20th century been reduced to a mere 120,000 acres.

More would be gone had the Texas financier who succeeded in a hostile takeover of Scotia’s once-sustainably managed Pacific Lumber Company been able to cash in on the old growth remaining on the company’s land holdings back in ’65 by cutting 'em all down.

Cal State Humboldt archive
 What, one must wonder, is the legacy of the man who plunders, pollutes and renders intractable harm simply so he can die with stacks of money in his account?

Thankfully, the forest is dotted and laced with groves and trails commemorating those with the wisdom and tenacity to protect the grandeur of it all.  Isn’t our collective heritage better served by folks like these?

These folks understood something.  Something about place.

Something about balance.

Something about beauty.

A day wandering through the forests and glades along the Avenue of the Giants will linger for quite some time.  As, one hopes, will the forests.


Notes and Resources:

Here is an on-line guide to the Avenue of the Giants:

Regarding the Humboldt Redwoods State Park:

The Save the Redwoods League has taken the forefront in preserving our north coast forests.  Here’s a little bit about their history:

The “Profit Above All Else” mentality some may decry isn’t something particularly new.  Here’s a piece about the corporate raider who, in a hostile takeover, wrested the historic Pacific Lumber Company from a sustainable, responsible operation (I recall touring the mill back in the 60s) to a poster child for short term profits and bald faced greed:

Need a place to stay while visiting the area?  Want to step back in history for an evening or two?  Check out: Be forewarned: You may never want to return to the present…

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, February 28, 2016


…while up in Redwood country…

About 35 years ago when I left Chico to pursue my career in education elsewhere, my dad began writing a (really bad, sorry Dad) novel centered on a character not unlike his younger son.  The boy had left town to become a sheriff’s deputy in a far-flung northern California county.  At one point, the boy-deputy was investigating some crime or other occurring at a place called Ishi Pishi Falls, a name I was sure Dad had concocted on his own.

The other day, at a grocery store in Garberville, California, a bottle of red boasted fruit from a ranch of exactly that name.  How could Dad’s younger son resist?


Tasting Note:  Briceland Vineyards sourced fruit for this substantial Bordeaux Blend from a dry farmed hillside above the hamlet of Orleans off CA 96 along the Klamath River – a locale which could legitimately claim to be in a “far flung northern California county.”  We enjoyed this wine with some rustic French bread and a selection of Humboldt County cheeses, but we believe it will pair nicely with grilled lamb, roast duck or a hearty winter's stew.  Better find a second bottle…

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, February 27, 2016


A journey back to the earliest days of road travel

With the advent of the automobile almost a century ago, the opportunity for folks to explore the nation grew exponentially.  No longer would a trip to Yellowstone or Yosemite involve securing camping tarps to buckboards and locking down the homestead for three or four months.  Crude emigrant trails became rustic roads that would evolve into concreted (and numbered) highways.  The spectacular red rock country of Utah would be but a few days’ drive from almost anywhere.  Likewise the Grand Canyon and the Tetons, the Great Lakes and the Great Smokies.  And California’s redwoods.

(c) Benbow Inn
In those early days, lodging may still have been strapped to the Hupmobile’s bonnet or pulled behind as an early travel trailer.  But soon, enterprising folks dotted the west with elegant hostelries offering sophisticated accommodations and fine dining in some of the most remote corners of our land. 

Over time, things would continue to evolve and routes like the old US 40 over Donner Pass would become Interstate 80 and those elegant inns would fall into disrepair as motel chains with numerals in their names offered much less for much less.

Still, some of the grand hotels of the early twentieth century still stand – a few refurbished to reassume their former glory.

How many times had I cruised north on US 101 passing the Benbow Exit just south of Garberville and said to myself, “I’ve gottta check that out?”  The answer?  Too many.

A period neon sign pokes through the trees where US 101 crosses the south fork of the Eel River.  The sign simply says “Benbow Inn” and is laced with an arrow pointing toward a 20s era hotel perched on a flat above the confluence of the south fork and its east branch tributary.  It’s easy to fly by the exit.  Try not to.

Designed by Albert Farr, a Julia Morgan contemporary, and completed in 1926, the Benbow Hotel became a popular wayside for those traveling the new Redwood Highway between San Francisco and Eureka.  (Ms. Morgan designed and built her little haven just down stream – tours are available.)

Entering the heavily timbered lobby, we are informed that tea and scones are offered: “Please relax and the bell will carry your bags to your room.”  Glancing through the shadows of the vast room, simple pleasures and ornate works combine to beckon the road weary to rest: soft chairs, a welcoming fire, and that tea.

A great and elegant dining room affords views of the river and a bridge.  A varied and inviting menu complements those views, as does an extensive, multinational wine list.  The service from staff recalls the earlier era as well.  With the first sip of a north coast Pinot, we downshifted into a relaxation mode that wouldn’t leave us even two days later as we departed.

Across the historic lobby is an even-on-a-February-Thursday hoppin’ saloon with a large selection of spirits and warm vibe.  Stepping out onto the patio with a little nip of really good hooch, it is easy to imagine yourself engaged in conversation with Spencer Tracy, Alan Ladd or even Herbert Hoover or Eleanor Roosevelt as a full moon dances across the waters only a few yards away.

Early on, energy for the enterprise was provided by a small hydroelectric facility built just below the confluence.  A concrete, steel and wooden structure tamed this small section of the Eel.  The pool backed up both the south fork and the tributary forming what became known as Benbow Lake.

Likewise in 1931, a modern rock and concrete bridge spanned the becalmed east branch, it’s lovely arch accenting the stream view from the terraced hillside upon which the old hotel sits.  Just add a canoe and, say, a Mountie. (Yes, Nelson Eddy once stayed here.)

The desk clerk shares directions to interesting walks in and near the grounds adding, “This is one of those places where you could do absolutely nothing for a few days and not feel at all guilty about it.”

Indeed: the comfortable, historic rooms, the crackling fire in the lobby, the manicured grounds edging a whispering Eel River – it takes little imagination to feel you’ve shucked your 1920s duster, taking a break from the old redwood highway, and if you never got back on that highway, it’d be more than okay to stay right here.



The historic hydro dam was breached about a decade ago owing to both fishery and seismic concerns.  It is scheduled to be imploded sometime during the summer of 2016.  Understandable, but too bad.  The relic, as it sits now, is a fitting testament to the ingenuity of those pioneers of tourism early last century.  The dam site is a short walk from the Inn.

A fine day may be spent enjoying the redwood groves and trails along the famed Avenue of the Giants, about a dozen miles north on US 101, using the Inn as a home base.  Sojourning so is highly recommended.

The Benbow Inn website contains details about the old gal’s colorful history and its impact on the region.  Accommodations. Prices and menus are listed.  It may be accessed at:

© 2106
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, February 12, 2016


It had been a week since the big Triumph took up residence in my garage.  It was to be an unseasonably warm February day – unseasonable weather is common this time of year – and I had a few errands to conduct.

The first errand:  My daughter had owned a bike for about six weeks a few years back.  Just enough to give her “street cred” when recommending a road.  “Have you gone out Sweetwater Springs yet?” she asked.  That was good enough for me.

Sweetwater Springs is an historic district off Westside Road a few miles west of Healdsburg.  The pavement is about two-and-a-half paces wide and is maintained – in some spots. 

Spring grasses sprout bright green mantling the rolling hills.  I’ve left behind the verdant vineyards of the Russian River Valley and entered cattle country.  A committee of two greets me, first posing, then approaching nearer.  Whistling at them through my full-face Shoei avails nothing so I waste little time in motoring off.

Atop the next grade rests a barn cooperatively built decades ago, I image.  I snap the picture you may have regarded at the top of this post.

A mile or so further, a sign warns that the road is going to get narrow and steep.  A ten mile-per-hour pace is suggested.  From the pastureland I’ve wound down into the course of a small stream which provides the perfect environment for a stand of redwoods.

Another two miles on, I find myself departing the now and entering the past.  I discover why they call this the “Historic” Sweetwater Springs area.

The second errand:  I am compelled to see how the beautiful new mount tackles the scenic, sweeping curves of California’s State Route 1.  Quite favorably, I discover. 

The torquey 1700cc engine almost convinces me that the only gear I really need from the tranny on this road is third.  And the seat!  The motorcycling press unabashedly uses superlatives to describe its comfort.  I don’t much care for superlatives, but after several hours on this saddle this day, I believe their enthusiasm is more than justified.

A small cluster of modest abodes rests east of the highway on a bluff north of Bodega Bay.  A sign indicates one of these is on the market.  And I’d love to have the ocean lull me to sleep through an open window of my very own.  Did I say the place is modest?

The view down the street is spectacular.  Ocean beaches and publicly maintained trails atop bluffs are literally moments away.  I’d easily find a way give $199K for this fixer! 

I stopped and nabbed a flyer.  I did suggest about two hundred grand didn’t I?  Good, because $699K seems a bit steep.  I’d have to give up a number of really bad habits to make ends meet at such a price.  Like wine, whiskey, eating and purchasing a new motorcycle now and then.

The third errand:  North of Jenner is a switchback turn with a wide gravel apron I call Portrait Point.  No one else does, but I do.  This is because every motorcycle I own (and some I don’t own) have their portraits taken here with, as a backdrop, a sinuous Highway One carving its path above the Pacific’s rocky shoals.

Archive:  The aforementioned daughter's Duc.

Current event

The fourth errand:  A loop through the early springtime palette of the Russian River Valley will always make my to-do list.  The historic Hop Kiln winery (recently purchased by a bigger outfit) maintains a rustic tasting room in what may once have been a facility built to support a different industry.  The grounds are beautiful and warrant a stop.

The low late-winter sun affords an interesting dance between light and shadow, accentuated by the mustard vintners grow between the lines of grapes – the mustard to be mulched under supplying nutrition and moisture retention to the vines as their fruit develops.

My list of errands complete, I return home with little to show for my efforts but a grin that may take some time to fade.  All-in-all, a good day.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, February 1, 2016


And now for something COMPLETELY different

The autumn of my motorcycling career is about ten years off, but creaky joints tell me it’s coming.  Tossing my leg over the high seat of the dual sport equipped with panniers, on some mornings, is, at best, problematic.  And the scrunched seating position of the roadster is good for decreasing lengths of journey.  These two statements, of course, are blatant excuses.  Both the BMW and the Moto Guzzi are fabulous machines engineered for the long haul, eye catching and dependable. 

I just wanted something different.

Enter the Triumph Thunderbird.  Triumph introduced the Thunderbird model in the early ‘50s.  Purportedly for the American market, Triumph bored their standard 500cc motor to 650ccs.   Marlon Brando rode a T-bird in the 1953 classic “The Wild One.” A derivative the 650 engine became the backbone for Triumph’s signature Bonneville line.  Every kid I knew back then lusted after a Bonne.  But Honda came out with a 750cc four-cylinder bike.  Cheaper and faster, the 750-Four almost single-handedly crushed the British motorcycle industry.  BSA died.  So did Norton.  And in 1983, Triumph went into receivership and was shuttered.

The marque was revived in the mid-90s and Triumph was reintroduced to the US market.  Fast forward to 2016 and Triumph is again making motorcycles bearing some the old company’s most venerated models: the Speed Twin, the Sprint, the Tiger, the Trophy, the Rocket III (borrowed from BSA) and, yes, the Bonneville.  In 1994 the T-bird came ashore as a 900cc triple and was later discontinued.  Then, a few years back, Triumph reintroduced the Thunderbird as a big-bore cruiser.

And that’s what rests in my garage now.

The good folks at Santa Rosa BMW/Triumph made me an offer I could not refuse on a brand new last years T-bird.  I’d been eyeballing its long, low line and, a couple of times, dropped by the dealer to nestle my butt in its glorious seat and heft its eight hundred pounds to an upright position.  I’d sit on the thing, peer over the Plexiglas windscreen and sub-vocalize the roar of its massive 1700cc engine.  (My beloved ’71 Volkswagen had 1500ccs.)  Finally, because I wanted to reduce my motorcycle stable from two steeds to one, I took a test ride.  A quarter of a mile off the dealer’s lot, I knew this would be a change I’d be happy to make.

The Triumph Thunderbird is different from any motorcycle I’ve ever owned.  The folks at Triumph weren’t particularly interested in paring weight, nor did they scrimp on the chrome.  The exhaust note is deeper and mellower than what I’ve ridden before.  The thing turns heads when I’m cruising through town (as did the Guzzi) and those fellow riders on that big American bike offer their signature low-five as we pass (not that that matters.)

The first full day of ownership found me making a 120-mile loop from the Alexander Valley, over the Hopland Grade, into recently fire-ravaged Middletown.  With a twist of the throttle on the on-ramp, the bike’s torque feels as if someone has placed a hand in the small of your back and is pushing you and doesn’t want to stop.  On the “motorway” - as we Brits often refer to it - the T-Bird strums at a low gait while clipping along at seventy.  Then I engage the heel shifter – another something new for me – and click it into high gear.  The windblast over the windshield will take some getting used to, as because of my 6’ 4” height, my head is well above the bubble of still air.

The Hopland Grade, California State Route 175, is a combination of sweeping turns and tight twisting challenges as the road climbs to a crest offering views of the Russian River drainage as well as the Clear Lake basin.  On a crystal clear day, few vistas can beat it.  The bike likes sweeping turns on good pavement but I find it is less intuitive than my former BMW when the going gets tight.  Perhaps I am not one with the machine yet.

Dropping into Lakeport, I catch CA 29 and head to Middletown where, thankfully, my favorite coffee spot survived last year’s devastating fire.  Sipping some Joe on the sidewalk back of where the T-Bird is parked, two riders, heading north, eye the machine, flip a u-turn and pull in next to it for a chat.  One fellow, on a Triumph Speed Triple, comments that the Santa Rosa dealership is the best ever.  “I bought my first bike from them in the nineties and keep going back for more.”

CA 29 winds precipitously down to Calistoga, some seventeen miles south.  The big Triumph rushes through the straights and curves in a wide-ranging third gear, but I have to muscle it around when the highway becomes a series of tight corkscrews as it drops into the Napa Valley.  Again, probably due to my inexperience on the thing.  North on CA 128 the road is ideal for the T-Bird.  At fifty-five, the exhaust note is symphonic, the wind noise just right and I find myself able to enjoy coursing through the winter vineyards and gorgeous oak crowned hills.  Am I becoming one with the machine?

The first tank of regular petrol returned about 44 miles per gallon and as I park the big boy in my garage I walk away thinking that there’ll be some compromises in getting down to this bike for my one bike, but none of them are bad.  Just different.  I also think to myself, “I hope tomorrow is sunny.”


Note:  Santa Rosa BMW / Triumph is a small, family owned shop staffed by folks who take great strides to ensure you are satisfied.  They maintain a nice inventory of some beautiful bikes.  They regularly organize rides along scenic Sonoma County roadways. Know that two shop dogs will greet you in the parking lot with a demand that you rub their ears and say hello.  A visit is well worth your time.  Located in Windsor, CA (just north of Santa Rosa) you should check ‘em out at: or

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press