Tuesday, September 27, 2016


New life comes from the old Peugeot

X-rays of my troubled right knee show the doctor that it isn’t quite time yet.  “Tone up the muscles.  Stretch.  Do some non-impactful exercises.  Go to the gym and ride the stationary bike.”

“I have a stationary bike,” I reply.  So I make a commitment to go out on the back patio and ride the thing ten to twenty minutes a day just after rising in the morning.  My commitment lasts less than a Middle Eastern cease-fire.  Why?  Boring.  The view of the back fence from the patio never changes.  I guess I’ll just settle for a bum knee.

Rummaging around my garage, I frequently move my old Peugeot ten-speed because it’s always in the way.  If I move it from in front of the shelves, it’s blocks the workbench.  If I move it away from the workbench, it blocks the door.  Some times I just lean it up against the side of the house.  If it weren’t for the sentimental value, I often think, I’d donate the damned thing to the nearest charity.

Then recently, as I’m rolling the bicycle out of my way to access a shelved box of nails or screws, an inkling inkles: Riding the old ten-speed around the neighborhood and into town, might be just as beneficial and non-impactful an exercise as cranking on the stationary bike for ten minutes at a time.  And the view would change.

I pump up the gum-walled tires and hop aboard. 

Our neighborhood is relatively flat, but on the Peugeot, even the slightest downhill is a rush.  With no more than about fifteen turns of the crank, I’m a mile from home passing the coffee bar, not breaking a sweat and my knee feels great! 

Three or four cyclists are there, outfitted in form-fitting pants, garish cycle-centric nylo-fiber shirts with big empty front and back pockets and velo-ads plastered all over them, and helmets. 

Even though my cargo shorts and ball cap headgear looks as if I just stepped off a road grader or out of a retirement neighborhood, I stop for a cup of dark roast.  One of the fellows says, “I used to have one of those,” pointing to the bike I’ve had since college.  After me not contributing to their conversation about their latest “run out to the coast (66 miles),” I mount up and head home. 

Did I say we lived in a relatively flat community?  The four-minute glide into town is a fifteen-minute grind back into the neighborhood.  Rusty in my use of the derailleur, the chain stutters and jerks as I search for the ratio that will allow me to pump my way back home.  I concentrate on staying on the seat as opposed to falling forward onto the steel crossbar that looks – from directly above – menacingly similar to one I painfully recall from a very early incident of my bicycling youth.  Finally, I reach our driveway, gently touching the toe of my shoe to the ground.  I wait there straddling the seat, while my breath catches up with me.  It seems it was about a block and a half behind on the final climb to the house.

Yet, the following day, I do it again, modifying my route and lengthening it a bit.  I want to check the construction progress on the new Renner gas station going in just south of town.  I decide to pick one gear and stay in it whether I’m whizzing along a flat stretch of road or pushing myself to get up the hill.  I don’t stop for coffee.  I do twenty minutes.

On the third day, I add a bit more and tackle the hill that fronts the Hamburger Ranch Barbecue joint.  I enjoy that becoming-familiar rush by coasting down the other side past storefronts and into town.

I’ve ridden the old Peugeot on a daily basis for longer than the most recent, ill-fated Syrian cease-fire lasted.  I’m up to between thirty and forty minutes, exploring neighborhoods and country roads, viewing hillside vineyards, paralleling the old railroad line and using the paved path next to the Russian River that we’ve walked many times. 

I’m packing my camera now.  The scenery is much better than the view of my back fence. 

The other day, I saw an old Ford Ferguson tractor rusting in somebody’s front yard.  It was like the one upon which I learned to drive.  

There’s a great “stairway to heaven” leading up to the oldest part of the town cemetery.  

And the Northwestern Pacific right-of-way has all manner of eighty-year-old railroad memorabilia and clutter. 

My knee is wrapped and on ice as I type.  And as I type, I plan tomorrow’s little itinerary. 

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


high point of my day

Seventy-five miles to the east, Mount Lassen rose in tiny blue splendor over the gray, smoggy haze of the North Valley.  By pivoting 180 degrees, I could make out a thin fogbank just off the California coast.  Lassen and the coast: two of my favorite and most inspirational places.  Standing atop Hull Mountain was sure to be the high point of my day.

Chatting with Jim, my new-to-me barber – I’m a relatively new resident of this town – he shared that growing up in Potter Valley, on hunting trips, a hike to the top of Hull Mountain made up for the fact that he rarely shot a buck.  “The view is 360 degrees of marvelous.”  He’d mentioned Lassen and the coast, but also talked about nearby Snow Mountain, highest point in the Coast Range and one of my dad’s favorite hikes; the Trinity Alps, due north; North and South Yolla Bolly Peaks, short of the Trinities and the place where, I imagine, Dad hikes toward eternity; and a number of other sites and promontories more or less meaningful to a kid who grew up in Chico. 

My bucket list had received yet another an addition.

Hull Mountain (6837’) is located near the Lake and Mendocino County line, twelve rocky miles north of the Lake Pillsbury airstrip at Gravelly Valley.  The closest pavement is at Lake Pillsbury, but getting to that tarmac involves twenty or so miles of graded gravel.  Don’t bring the Lexus.  No longer owning a dual-sport, and never quite competent enough on the one for my own comfort, Edward and I embarked on this journey in the trusty Nissan Frontier, although I’m sure this would be an adventuresome blast on a KLR or like motorbike.

As Mendocino Forest Road 1 ascends from the Pillsbury basin, we wind from oak woodlands trough a pine and fir belt.  Along the way, views unfold as the road zigzags in and out of creek drainages and across the spine of Coast Range.

Various campsites – I assume frequented by hunters – offer places to pause and take in the view.  As Pillsbury shrinks in the distance, the far rim of Clear Lake becomes visible on the horizon.

The canyons are deep and the ridges to the west seem infinite.  Distant trails and tracks make me wonder how you get to them and what you’d find if you took ‘em.  There is a nicely maintained, but strenuous trail from near the lake to the summit of Hull Mountain.  I used a knee-in-line-for-replacement excuse not to hike, thus I drove.

At one sweeping turn, a view to the immediate east-southeast affords a look at Snow Mountain.  Dad was about my age – maybe a little younger – when he and his hiking buddy first climbed it.  It became an annual trip for them and his knees were in far worse shape than mine.

Almost twelve miles to the tenth from the landing strip, a far more challenging road hangs a tight right and bumps, jostles and snakes to Hull’s summit.  The main road, M-1, would carry us to Windy Gap and the trailhead to the Yuki Wilderness and then, twenty miles on, to Mendocino Pass.

I parked at the base of the Jeep road and pretended I was Dad, even if it was only a few hundred yards to the top.

Several routes wind toward the summit.  Switch-backing from where I’d parked, I chose the most moderate route, one which circled around the east face of the mountain.  Those infinite canyons and ridges to the west?  They’re on the east side too.  Were one to draw a straight line across the Coast Range from the Sacramento Valley to the Pacific, this mountain would be almost mid way.

Near the top, the tangle of roads end.  A beaten and derelict steel stairway leads to foundational remains of what once was a fire lookout tower.  At the top of those stairs I am reminded that fire lookouts always have fabulous views.

Barber Jim was right.  There was Lassen.  Opposite, the coast with a rim of melting fog off shore. 

To the south: Lake Pillsbury and a bit more of Clear Lake – and Mount Konocti, sacred for centuries to the local Xa-Ben-Na-Po Band of Pomo Indians and one of the more impressive landmarks in Lake County.  North, indeed were the Yolla Bollys, but it was too hazy this day to make out the Trinities. 

Stumbling around up there, Edward and I found remnants of that old fire tower as well as myriad shell casings from those who likely collectively bagged more than a few nice sized bucks.  Unfortunately, the USGS benchmark for Hull Mountain had been purloined as a souvenir for somebody’s bookshelf.  Damn them.

Enjoying the clear freshness of the late September alpine air, we came across an area denizen sunning peacefully in a crevasse.   

I reined Edward close knowing that the nearest veterinarian would be three-and-a-half torturous hours away.  We hiked back down to the truck extra alert for any of this critter’s cousins.


Notes:  Here’s a link to an interesting blog highlighting special places in Northern California.  In this post, the author has taken that trail from down below to the summit of Hull Mountain, encountering some snow along the way.  Great commentary and a cool narrative video which proves to be much better than the photos I was able to grab. http://www.exploringnorcal.com/2011/02/hull-mountain-mendocino-national-forest.html

“Arturo’s been bad.”  There is limited (read: no) cell phone coverage in many reaches of the Coast Range.  Back down the road toward Potter Valley, I checked my messages, finding one.  A frustrated young voice reported:  “Hello Mr. (garbled).  I will be calling you on your other line to discuss with you Arturo’s bad behavior today in school. (click)  I don’t have an Arturo, but as a former school principal I’ve known several “Arturos.”  I thought about returning the young vice principal’s call to say, “Before you lower the boom on his dad, think of something positive about Arturo that you can share.  It’ll make things go easier for you.”  But I didn’t.


Today’s Route:  Lake Pillsbury may be accessed by following the signs from Upper Lake on CA 20 or through Potter Valley turning right at the store.  From Lake Pillsbury, travel north and then west through Gravelly Valley and the airstrip on forest road M-6.  About four miles east, turn left at the junction of M-1 continuing for about eight miles.  Return:  Retrace, or continue north on M-1 past the Yuki Wilderness Area Trailhead, Monkey Rock and Bald Mountain to the junction of FR 7 at Mendocino Pass.  From there, east will take you to Elk Creek and Willows (allow three hours); or west to Covelo, then south on CA 162 to US 101 north of Willits.

© 2106
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Eschewing our throw away society…
…sort of

Chatting in person with a Facebook friend over coffee, we lamented those things we used to own, but for some reason, have jettisoned.  Riding home on my 1970s era Peugeot ten-speed bicycle, I began an inventory of those few items I’d acquired long ago and still own.

In the 1960s, and for decades before that, the Fuller Brush man called on homes selling push brooms, potato whisks and all manner of items with bristles.  Monthly, he’d call on ours.  As a six- or seven-year-old, I’d long admired Dad’s tortoise shell Fuller branded hairbrush that was stowed in a drawer in his bureau.  Some days, when he was at work, I’d steal the thing for a moment and run it through my cowlicky, red hair.

Then one Christmas, early in that decade, one showed up for me: with my initials on it!

As a fourth grader in nasty old Mrs. Smith’s class, I became really interested in California history: two things in particular: the Gold Rush and the building of the transcontinental railroad.  Still shelved is my copy of Remi Nadeau’s Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of California which I used to pour over and plan trips if I ever became old enough to drive...

...and my copy of the first hard cover book I ever purchased: Oscar Lewis’s The Big Four.  Mom was a bit nonplussed that I would spend $4.95 on a book let alone one I’d probably never read, but read it I did.  
And when I, myself, spent seven years teaching fourth grade, both Nadeau’s volume and Lewis’s epic informed much of the history instruction I was able to provide.  I wonder if any of my little charges ever caught the gold bug or the train bug.

In 1970, for about 1800 bucks, I purchased my first car.  I’d always wanted an MG, but if any came available, they were always more than I could afford.  One day, a yellow 1967 Triumph Spitfire showed up on a Park Avenue used car lot.  Vowing to maintain it myself, on my way home from purchase, I stopped by Collier Hardware and picked up an expensive set of SK Wayne metric sockets.

I kept the yellow Spitfire about four months.  The socket set is still in my garage.  Never used it on that car.

At some point, early in my college years, my five-speed Raleigh bicycle got left out for an extended period of time and the rear hub gave up the ghost.  Too stupid to realize that repairing or replacing the hub was a simple task, especially if one had a set of SK sockets, I traded the old bike in for what, at the time, was supposedly the fastest bike available: a black Peugeot ten speed with dropped handlebars and Simplex Prestige gears.  I rode the thing to and from campus and around Bidwell Park until I moved to a more mountainous region where the roads were less welcoming and a mountain bike seemed more in order.  The ten-speed rested in a barn outside Chico for a couple of decades.  Fifteen years ago, I rescued it and it sat idle in my garage until our most recent move to a more bicycle-friendly community (read: fewer hills).  

A while back, when purchasing a new bicycle for my wife, I rode the Peugeot to our town’s only dealer who exclaimed:  “I used to sell those!  Those were the fastest bikes around!”

My Estwing hammer dates back to when I was building a shop out back of a house I’d owned in Chico.  You can buy the same hammer new today, but a new one would lack the patina and the history of mine: the shop, two sheds, fence repairs, school projects, roofing, more fence repairs, dog houses, decks, fence repairs.  

Hanging near the hammer is a substantial collection of relatively old tools, tools I acquired because I was engaged in some successful project or other.

And the definition of a successful project is something you’re working on that requires a trip to the hardware store in order to buy a new tool.

As a seventh grader, Charlie Van B, the Junior High band director, took one look at my overbite and suggested that, in part to correct that, I should learn to play the tuba.  The big round mouthpiece might help to push those bucky, upper teeth back into the normal range, he reasoned.  (Actually, he just needed a kid to play tuba, but no matter.)  I helped support the bottom of the band and the area youth symphony for six years, playing a big brass bass of one sort or another into college for a couple of semesters.  Then, the need for a job took away my ability to invest six hours weekly for only one unit of college credit.

A few years later, my wonderful sister-in-law, a successful music major, found herself teaching band at my old Junior High.  Up on a shelf in a dusty corner of the instrument room lay a derelict Pan American e-flat tuba, destined to be shipped off for salvage.  Somehow checking records, she found that she knew the kid who learned on this ancient axe back in 1967.

Now a noteworthy source of entertainment for my five-year-old grandson, it remains one of the most thoughtful Christmas presents I’ve ever received.

Rooting around through the house and garage, I found quite a few things that I’m too stubborn to be rid of:  A canoe paddle from my preteen days,

Dad’s spyglass that could never be held steady enough to actually see the moon’s craters,

A Bach mouthpiece from a different tuba,

The post hole digger - Did I mention fence repairs?

The manuscript of Dad's novel - unopened. 

Still, as life has evolved, I’ve off-loaded many items that may or may not have any value beyond simple nostalgia: 

*  The Remington Standard typewriter, circa 1914, that I’d purchased while working a televised fund raising auction - it was up for bid and I needed something for term papers.  I was certain it would do; 
*  The convertible oak typing desk built in the Chico State shops back in the thirties - a yard sale find and my first refinishing project; 
*  My first (and second) Honda Trail 90 - there are still several running around, but mine are both gone; 
*  My Kelty pack from 1965…

I regret the losses, foolishly, I suppose, but wonder, in our culture of consumption and plastic discardables and next-newer-and-better, what items might be procured today that will still be of value when that aforementioned grandson turns sixty.

© 2106
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

THIS PLACE I KNOW: a book recommendation

Georgia Heard, Candlewick Press: 2002, 2006, $17.

One of the darkest things a school principal must confront is the death of a student or the death of a student’s parent.  You can’t shake the fact that such tragedies put all that we do on a daily basis into a painful perspective.  Our education, our training – and almost always our words – fail us.

Shortly after the events of September 11th, 2001, Georgia Heard collected a dozen and a half children’s poems and worked with a similar number of children’s book illustrators to create a delightfully moving little collection called This Place I Know.  Her intent was to provide words of comfort to the children who lost so much on that tragic day.

I somehow stumbled across the book and purchased a personal copy.  Shortly thereafter, I received a call through my superintendent that the father of one of my students needed to see him for an important matter.  Could it wait until recess?  No.  It seems his mother was on a cruise ship vacation and, with handbag or purse missing, her body was found at the foot of a flight of stairs.  Dad needed to deliver the news.  He did so in the parking lot about fifty feet from my office door.  The boy crumpled as I watched helplessly.

That evening, I went home and reread my favorite poem from This Place I Know.  Then I read them all.  Within the week, I dropped by the student’s house and gave him the book.

Over the course of several years, I found myself giving copies to many kids, and in the case of students taken from us, to many classroom libraries.

I’ve been out of the business for six years now, but the import of that tiny volume lingers.

A couple of weeks ago, the headline in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat screamed: “Two children die after truck plunges into river.”  The elder child had just started second grade at a small, coastal school housing about 100 students K through 8. It's nearby.

I thought of the family, the teacher and the school principal and sought my volume of This Place I Know.  I needed to pass it forward. 

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, September 5, 2016


The Noyo Headlands Park:
A triumph of community

Family friends owned a little place north of Fort Bragg on Pudding Creek.  Twice or more times a year, we’d escape Chico’s summer heat by driving to the coast and hanging out with them.  We’d enjoy the sandy beach just steps from the redwood and cinderblock house.  It had a great view of the ocean and, as the sun set, a cracking fire was set in the red, funnel shaped fireplace next to which we’d drift off to sleep.  Daytime activities included that beach, and hiking north toward MacKerricher State Park, picnic loaded in a daypack or crossing the Haul Road trestle as a short cut to town, sharing that narrow bridge with frighteningly huge Georgia Pacific log trucks.  (There was a great five ‘n’ dime on Franklin Street – always a destination for a kid.)

A few hundred yards south of the bridge, an imposing gate and even more imposing signs warned our pre-teen curiosity against trespassing through the mill, a staple of the economy since the late 1800s.  We’d divert from the bluffs above Glass Beach and follow West Elm Street toward the busy main drag through town, California’s route 1.  Occasionally, before turning inland, we’d hook our fingers through the people-proof chain-link fence and wonder what the coastline looked like behind the mill.

Georgia Pacific – or whoever owned it at the time – shut down the plant about thirty years ago.  Many of the buildings fell into disrepair or were razed, and much of the equipment hauled off to be used elsewhere.  

But that fence remained, essentially cordoning off most of the coastline west of Fort Bragg’s downtown proper. 

Each of the many times I’ve cruised through Fort Bragg in those thirty-plus years, I’ve recalled my nine-year-old fingers gripping the galvanized fence wire and longing to see what was on the other side.

Now, through the collaborative efforts of the community, the Pomo Indians, the Coastal Conservancy and a host of volunteers, the hidden coastline has been lovingly opened for public exploration. 

The park has two main access points.  A wide, mostly-paved trail heads north from a parking area of Cypress Street, and south from Glass Beach at the other end of town.

That nasty, old fence, a remnant from my youth, has largely been removed. A small section of trail - perhaps only a few hundred yards - remains incomplete as volunteers work to remove some hazards left in the wake of the milling operations.

Numerous benches provide resting spots – each bench uniquely designed by an area artist and each providing a dramatic view of the coast and the nearby activity on the ocean: bobbing fishing boats momentarily lost behind swells; gulls gliding and screeching, rising and falling; migrating whales breaching…

Side trails allow one to venture out to once cloistered bluffs and down onto beaches formerly only accessed by boat. 

A redwood sheathed cabin, once located in front of the Safeway and formerly used to display the application of different cuts of wood milled by the company was purchased for a mere buck and moved to a site mid-way along the trail to serve as a modest interpretive center.  Plan on leaving a donation, because the park charges no fee.

Informational signs offer a bit of history along the way: of the landing strip that allowed the then Union Lumber Company execs to fly in from wherever; of the few buried in the cemetery over Noyo harbor…

…including, perhaps, the grave of the nefarious chap who squatted the mill on the sovereign lands – well, at least reservation lands – of the Pomo.  

Other signs tell of the symbiotic relationship that exists between the earthbound and the sea.

Strolling the cliffside trails on a warm and breezy September forenoon, I kept saying, “This is great.  This is great.”  

At the next bluff: “This is great.”  In response to a wave crashing and filling a tide pool amongst the sandstone and rocks:  “This is great!” 

My hiking colleagues that day probably thought I was addled, repeating myself so. 

But then, their childhood memories did not include nine-year-old fingers laced through a Cyclone fence wondering about what was on the other side – and wishing some day to see it.



And on the challenges in building this resource: http://www.noyoheadlands.org/

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press