Friday, November 15, 2019


…I’m afraid we’re gonna be doin’ more and more of this
‘ridin’ through burn zones,’ folks…

I was due for some whole-bean coffee and my roastery of choice is a scenic 30 miles away on California’s State Route 128.  Coincidentally, most of the distance between home and Calistoga was shut down two weeks ago as the ravenous 77,000-acre Kincade fire swept across the area.  I’m not a lookee-loo and I don’t like to take snapshots of other folks’ tragedies, but I did slip a camera into my jacket before Enrico (the Yamaha) and I headed off to find some java.

Our rainy season has been getting shorter with the good riding season longer.  But along with that extended good weather comes tinder dry foothills and woodlands and massive wind driven fires that didn’t used to occur.  As a result, this year, the Kincade fire ran several miles, dancing across the hilltops of the Mayacamas and sneaking downstream into drainages toward the floor of the Alexander Valley.  The bad news is much.  Homes were lost – but in the case of the Kincade, no lives –  businesses were disrupted, and air quality for a week or so was awful.  The worse news is that this is undoubtedly going to happen again.

Overcast when I departed at noon and around sixty degrees, I should have dressed better.  Not a meteorologist, my thinking was this: It hasn’t rained since about last March.  Why would it rain today?

Halfway to my destination, the overcast gave way to mist; the mist to light rain.  Caution.  Seven months of dust and automotive drippings – and now soot – when mixed with the tiniest bit of moisture forms an invisible slurry, one bent on tossing the unsuspecting or careless rider off his or her bike and on to his or her keister or clavicle.  I’ve done the busted clavicle thing and don’t want to do it again. 

Plus, I’m wearing my favorite Fox Creek leather jacket – not waterproof but smells great when wet – and I  don’t want to scuff it up.  I’m happy to pull over and let hurried folks in more stable four-wheeled vehicles pass.

Contrasting that sweet moist leather-jacket smell, the first rain after any fire produces an acrid aroma recalling the witches-on-broomsticks embers and wicked flames that had blown through the region.  Remnants of what burned is now reduced to carbon that is dissolving and returning to its rightful home: the soil.  Ashes to ashes comes to mind for a mile or two.

I stop for a moment at one of those disrupted businesses.  

The historic buildings of the Soda Rock Winery have been rendered to rubble – rubble framed by the surviving sculpture of a wild boar.  

Also surviving is the time-honored wine country concept of hospitality - or, at least, marketing. A makeshift tasting venue is set up in front of the barn.  

I pass on tasting but purchase a couple of bottles of Cab based upon the recommendation of a fellow wearing a new-looking Triumph t-shirt who, I figured, had done some tasting on my behalf.  

[Our perfunctory motorcycle conversation ends like this: “No, I don’t own a Triumph, but I’d like to move up to a Tiger 800…”  when the woman with him suggested, “But you already have a motorcycle!”]

A brief detour up Geysers Road takes me toward the source of the conflagration.  From a higher vantage point, it is clear that the fire, riding 80 mile per hour winds, raced through the dry woodlands, but that in most instances, when it approached the margin of a vineyard, it was somehow quelled.  

5,500 firefighters – now off to Southern California, or, perhaps, Australia – may have played a hand in that.  

Deciding not to tempt fate on newly slickened roads, I head home.  Satisfied.  An operating tenet of the Church of the Open Road is that any favorite route taken on a different day is a different ride.  CA 128 is a favorite ride I’ve enjoyed many, many times.  But today was different, indeed.

A couple of pounds of dark roast and a couple of nice bottles of Cabernet will serve as both reminders and rewards for an already rewarding ride.

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

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