Friday, August 16, 2019


…a glorious childhood haunt…

I wasn’t expected to show up.  Barbara was the last of the three great moms who cared for a bevy of neighborhood youngsters – myself included – in 1960s Chico.  The memorial gathering for her was to be held some four and a half hours away from Cloverdale.  But it was a summer weekend; Enrico, the Yamaha was due for a road trip; and the canyons and ridges, rocky outcrops and pristine lakes of Plumas County are to travel what whipped cream and a cherry is to a sundae. 

California’s highway 70 traces the rugged Feather River Canyon between Oroville and Quincy.  Pioneered by James Beckworth in the mid-1800s, it is the lowest of the Sierran crossings, though the last to see a railroad.  The highway and the old Western Pacific swap sides of the canyon as both routes pass small hydro facilities, historic whistle-stops and bergs all under gleaming granite cliffs and cool pine forests.

Bucks Lake, itself, is a high-country reservoir dotted with forest service cabins – a little known playground for residents of the northern Sacramento Valley and beyond.  

Kayaks and canoes co-exist with jet skis and fisher-boats while bald eagles and osprey circle above and black bear roam in the woods.  

The road I remember as graded dirt is now long-ago paved. Camping and day-use spots are abundant. The dam I once crossed on foot is now gated off.  I park nearby and walk back to the cabin I’d last visited decades ago.

Barbara, the neighborhood mom, had battled dementia for quite some time, but family made efforts to see that she would spend weekends at “the lake” almost until the end.  It was her happiest place.  

Looking out a picture window, I recalled splashing on the beach, the smell of Sea-n-Ski, sandwiches wrapped in wax paper washed down with Cragmont sodas, and my failure to master the sport of water skiing.  Barbara was laughing and splashing and skiing right along with all the kids.  Happiest place, indeed.

My return home would be a different route.  East of Quincy, a the LaPorte Road winds from Route 70, crossing a diminished Middle Fork of the Feather then climbs Buzzard Roost and Gibsonville Ridges, past the alpine head waters of the South Fork. Each turn offers another breathtaking view.  

August-spring wildflowers carpet the high, cool meadows and it feels as if I am riding through the ground floor of heaven.  

Further west, the LaPorte Road routes past historic mining and lumbering villages – some little more than place names.  Sixty miles on, I am driving through the dry, 95-degree grazing land of the Yuba foothills outside of Marysville, wishing I were back at Bucks Lake reveling in the cool breeze rising off the water.

The day before, when I had entered the cabin, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to identify the neighbor-kid-now-cabin-owner I hadn’t seen in perhaps forty years.  He stood and called me by name.  “Greg,” I said, a bit breathless from climbing the granite stairs to the house, “this still is among the most beautiful places in the world.”  Greg took my shoulders, turned me around to look out that picture window with the stunning view of water and forestlands crowned with fair-weather clouds.  Then he pointed to the hand painted sign above.  It read: “Welcome to the most beautiful place in all the world.” 

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, August 8, 2019


A tribute to teachers

Last February, while visiting New York, I slipped into a souvenir shop and picked up a Mets t-shirt off the sale table.  The other day, I was wearing it on the trail out behind our house when an on-coming hiker said, “Hey, we beat you guys last night.”

I looked down at the logo.  “I’m not… I’m… Well, I used to be…”

In 1960s Chico, everyone was either a Giants fan or a Dodgers fan.  I didn’t want to be an everybody, so when, in 1962, New York was granted an expansion franchise, I decided I’d pull for the new New York Metropolitans. Their uniforms were old school and even recalled the two teams that had departed five years before: blue coming from the old Brooklyn Dodgers and orange from the Giants.  

Fast forward seven years and I’m a senior in high school laboring all the while with cellar dwelling Mets.  Only once in their entire existence had they not finished last in National League East.  Occasionally, I’d wear a blue and orange sweater my mother had knitted – one with the word “Mets” scripted on the front and back, only backwards on the back so I could see it when I backed up to a mirror.  I suspect that my choice of this attire had much to do with my lack of dating prowess as a teen.

During that senior year, a young Mr. Ken Miller, was my Civics teacher (they taught Civics back then – and they still do, Frank Zappa).  Mr. Miller had, at one time, roomed with Tug McGraw.  Country heart-throb Tim, Tug’s son, probably hadn’t been born yet when Ken and Tug played for the Buffalo Bisons, the Mets’ AAA affiliate.  (Or maybe it was the Binghamton Mets in AA.) Tug, with his tick-tock wind-up would become a go-to reliever with a team former manager Casey Stengel called “Amazing.” 

Ken would go on to teach high school civics.

In late September, the Mets were locked in a grueling – and, yes, Amazing! – divisional race with their rivals the Chicago Cubs who had been in first place for 156 games.  With a week left to go, the Mets were a few games out of first but within striking distance and the Cubs’ gas tank was near empty.  That week, each day before first period, I snuck into Mr. Miller’s classroom and chalked a headline onto the board.  The next morning, whatever comment I written the day before would be dutifully erased by the night custodian.  The last Friday before the end of the season, I pulled on my sweater, snuck into the room and wrote: “Mets Cop 1st from Fading Cubs!” Mr. Miller looked from his desk – surprising me – and said, “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Met.”  Then he walked over to the board and scribbled the word “save” next to my headline. 

It was a good long time before that corner of the chalk board was erased.  Certainly, it was up there the night Tug McGraw and a bunch of Ken Miller’s former pals whooped it up on the pitcher’s mount at Shea after a decisive and historic game 5.  

I shipped the sweater off to the Mets organization because I knew I didn’t need it any longer, though I didn’t tell Mom. Tug McGraw went on to pitch for the Phillies and Ken, I think, moved from the classroom into administration.  

Since my encounter on the trail, I’ve thought about the ’69 Mets some, but I’ve thought a lot more about Ken Miller and the countless other Chico teachers who, in spite of my geekiness, helped me to become.

And as my teacher buddies enter the 2019-20 school year, I, again, offer my admiration and encouragement to the many who, like Ken Miller, will help our young people to become.

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


This one is not to be missed!

The task was daunting.  Ride my Yamaha Super Tenere from California to Red Lodge, Montana, cross the glorious Beartooth Pass and return home all within seven days.  Or…

...Rocky Mountain Motos is a new (circa 2019) Red Lodge outfit that rents motorcycles – but not Harleys or BMWs or any of a number of other major makes.  No, owner Richard Barnett has a half dozen new Royal Enfield Himalayans to let at a very reasonable price.  Intrigued, I e-mailed: “Would a 24.5 horsepower mount haul my 220+ pound carcass over an 11,000-foot pass?”  

“You’d be amazed.”

We’ll see.

Beartooth Pass is recognized as one of America’s great scenic motor-routes.  Having done it once on a GSA, I was eager accompany my riding buddy on his first ascent.  I picked up the black RE and took an orientation spin up out Montana Route 78 toward Roscoe.  Finding a graded, gravel secondary road, I tooled over washboards mightily impressed  with how effectively those bumps were absorbed by the little machine’s suspension.

Regaining pavement as I circled back toward Red Lodge, I opened the throttle and easily achieved 65+ miles per hour.  Then came a rise in the pavement.  Here I discovered that 410cc Royal Enfield will go 65 mph and it will go uphill, but it won’t necessarily do both at the same time.  At least, not when carting me around.  The true test would be tomorrow.

Montana Route 212 out of Red Lodge is a predominately uphill run for about 35 miles.  But it is not an autobahn speed route.  Guide books tell us to plan on at least three hours for the 63 miles from Red Lodge to Cooke City near Yellowstone’s northern gate.  I did some mental math.  I’ll do fine on the Himalayan.

The highway quickly climbs out of Rock Creek Canyon.  Looking west, the “U” shape of the valley below and sharp, saw-toothed aretes on the horizon verify the canyon’s rugged history of glaciation.  Carving the switchbacks up this canyon wall using only 1936 era prowess… er… dynamite, must have been a monumental effort.

Pausing at a viewpoint/rest stop about 18 miles in, I encounter my first “issue” with the Royal Enfield: everybody wants to ask me about it!  Even those on big V-twin cruisers.  I tell ‘em it’s a rental but that I’m really smitten with it.  

Then, just before I thumb the starter, I warn the crowd to stand back because “this thing’s gonna make a little noise.”  They cautiously back away as the motor putters to life.

The highway leads us through several forest zones from cottonwoods and oaks at the bottom to alpine meadows carpeted with July-spring wildflowers and blotched with snow.  From top of the Beartooth Plateau strings of paternoster lakes reveal where glaciers crept down the mountain pushing debris, then melted back, only to push down again, though not as far.  Four, five and even six icy ponds may be found in any of the canyons carved into the plateau.  

At the summit, a marvelous skyscape of fair-weather clouds is almost close enough to touch and although this isn’t Iowa (apologies to ‘Field of Dreams’ fans) it does feel a lot like heaven.

West of Beartooth rest the Absaroka Mountains, a collection of volcanic peaks and fields that invite further exploration.  At our feet, the highway (now in Wyoming) lays before us like a ribbon just torn from a holiday present, twisting past outcrops and shallow lakes and acres of green meadow grass that may never see summer.

Automobiles snake along, motorcycle rumbles are lifted by the breeze and every half-mile or so, there’s a turn out for pictures.

Lunch would be in Cooke City where I come across that same group of bikers from two hours before.  Sheetmetal workers, it turns out, from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Their boss, himself a rider, organizes an annual trip, stuffs a dozen motorcycles and a bunch of gear into the company semi and leads the group to someplace challenging and beautiful for a week.  I wanna work for that guy.

We have a choice for our return: take the Chief Joseph highway, Wyoming 296 to Cody and loop back to Red Lodge or retrace our steps over the pass.  Given that every road driven the other direction is a different experience, we head back over the pass.

The long descent from the summit is a relaxed unfolding of light and shadow, rock and wildflower and waves from oncoming riders.  The Royal Enfield hums along and I realize I’m having just as great an adventure on this little machine as I had on the big BMW years ago.

Pausing for a second time at the rest area, and again getting caught up in conversation, I find myself with two wishes: One, that this ride could go on forever and two, that a Royal Enfield Himalayan might one day end up in my garage.

Had I been amazed?

Boy Howdy!


Note:  Rocky Mountain Motos is run by enthusiast Richard Barnett.  Each in his collection of Royal Enfields runs flawlessly and possess all the power, nimbleness and durability needed to explore this section of the Rockies with confidence. Richard knows the area and can point customers in the right direction.  (There may be no wrong direction, come to think of it). If one is pressed for time – or even if one is not – the Himalayan experience is too good to pass up.  Check Rocky Mountain Motos out at

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press