Sunday, October 6, 2019


…another lesser-traveled route…

The songs of US 101 south of Eureka include the wailing tires of log trucks, loaded with redwood, heading north to mills and lumber trucks, packed with finished product, heading south.  The raw material is of much smaller diameter than forty or fifty years ago and the milled lumber seems not nearly as red.  Still, a bit of me feels good that the industry has somewhat of a pulse while a too-small sliver of the old growth is preserved.  I guess there’s something a little reassuring in the whining of the wheels of the big rigs running either direction.

Speaking of old-growth: there’s a grove of that old-growth I want to visit, one I haven’t ventured through in a long time.

After a night at the Historic Eureka Inn, I detour off the main highway into Victorian Ferndale in search of a cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee.  Main Street is nearly vacant early this Saturday and I window shop down one side – intrigued by a wrought iron metals studio – cross and wander back the other way.  

The occasional automobile parked at the curb and the lack of cobblestone streeting is all that reminds me I’ve not somehow slipped back in time to 1890.  At the end of the street, a sign points to Mattole Road, a route I’d once traveled with my dad in a ’71 Volkswagen.  The thirty-plus miles looping over golden foothills and out to the coast and back will be a pleasant little adventure.

And, according to my map, I can enter that redwood grove through the back door.

Mattole Road is an historic route that winds around and over Wildcat ridge and through a couple of stream courses.  It is one of those roads that occasionally sees maintenance whether that maintenance manifests itself as 110 yards of new pavement or mile upon mile of broken surface dotted with pothole patches.  Then there are those stretches of no pavement at all where I’m glad Enrico, the Yamaha’s suspension can absorb the washboard.  Having dumped a similar-sized BMW under similar conditions and owing to the fact that nobody knows I’ve added this detour to my itinerary, I pussy-foot my way across.

Payoff is one of those wonderful moments when after cresting a ridge, the Pacific can be seen lapping the sand and rocks of a distant beach.

Corkscrewing this way and that, I pass through Capetown, California – population not many – and pause for a snapshot of an old schoolhouse: one that reminds me that people once did and still do live out this way.

Up and over a rise and down to the ocean, Mattole Road parallels a roiling and turbid Pacific.  Strong and relentless onshore winds buffet the big Yamaha just as it did my li’l VW nearly fifty years ago.  I stop for a picture down the coast and wonder if those winds ever shut themselves off.

The rugged beach along this five-mile stretch of ocean’s edge is littered with drifted logs and lumber, but surprisingly little litter.  I suppose the remote nature of this rocky shore limit family picnics and the incessant breeze limits getting a hook in the water.  As the road curls east and back toward the hills, I stop for a view I might not see for another fifty years.  The sea stack in the distance shows how far I’ve come.

Twenty minutes further on, I wheel through Petrolia. A couple of miles from this place, or so says the plaque, oil was discovered for the first time in California.  A company dubbing itself “Union” extracted the goo, loaded it onto schooners and shipped it to a San Francisco that would later thrive, in part, because of this source of energy.

A mile further, a directional arrow points toward the Point Gorda lighthouse.  Always ready to bag another lighthouse or fire lookout or vista point, I head west.  Perhaps I’ll catch a glimpse of Cape Mendocino, the lower 48’s furthest point west.  The inviting road slips through some golden-leaved black oaks but quickly turns from pavement to gravel.  I tiptoe across a dry ford.  Yards from the ocean, the route splits with the left fork climbing a steep, pebbly stretch up to where, I suppose, the Point Gorda lighthouse is perched.  Weighing discretion and valor and the mass of Enrico, the Yamaha, I decide that since I’m off-itinerary I’d better not make this climb.

Back on Mattole Road, I rumble over the busted tarmac to the top of the western-most ridge of the Coast Range, through  Honeydew – gateway to the Kings Range National Conservation Area – into and out of countless creeks and draws. Rounding a bend, I find I’ve entered the Humboldt Redwoods State Park through that back door.  

Redwoods don’t grow right at the coastline, in general.  Something about the wind or the moisture or the saline air keeps the tiny seeds from germinating and becoming the tallest living things on earth.  But inland a bit, where the climate just so, clusters of these giants form what might best be described as cathedrals.  Sunlight filters in as if through green stained glass.  The floor is carpeted with reddish-brown needles.  A ribbon of pavement is swept clean by passing traffic looking much like the aisle that separates pews for parishioners.

I pull to the side.  After an arduous two hours finding this back door, I dismount, doff my helmet and wade though sword ferns in search of an ancient windfall where I will sit.  

There’s a kind of music here.  The songs of the redwood grove are different from the whine or the wail of the forest being freighted away on the back of a Peterbilt or a KW.  I sit and absorb the cool air and the muted mid-day light.  At first, I hear nothing.  Then come the whispers: nothing really discernable like the chorus of a sacred hymn, but something that will follow me all the rest of the way home.

I’m in no hurry to leave.

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

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