Tuesday, December 31, 2019


...I seen ‘um!..  

One October back in 1983 or ’84, I was completing my first extended motorcycle road trip on a spanking new BMW R65 – my first really high-quality vehicle of any type.  Leaving Eureka in the late afternoon, I figured I’d take California’s state route 299 across to Redding and shoot down I-5 and route 99 to Chico where I lived at the time.

When on a motorcycle, three conditions are troubling, even to the experienced rider which, at the time, I was not: light rain, lengthening dusks and a newly chip-sealed roadway.  Chip sealing is when they lay crushed gravel over fresh oil to prevent the original pavement from cracking.  The loose gravel makes it hard to control a two-wheeler even on the best of days.

A few miles east of US 101 on 299, a light rain began to fall.  Shortly after whatever that first or second summit is called, I came across the dreaded chip seal just as the dusk began to gather.  My planned 55- to 60-mile-per-hour cruise along the Trinity River deteriorated to a white-knuckled 25-mile-per-hour crawl through the inkiness of an October nightfall.  I wound over ridges foreign to me and into canyons which may have had no bottom.  Illuminated briefly – menacingly – in the sweeping throw of the headlight: sinister pines and firs that lurking over the twisting pavement and naked rocky outcrops rising from of the gloom at the highway’s edge.  And cliffs!  I was certain there were cliffs.  And voids!  Dark voids!  Deep ones!  After a time, my nerves – or, perhaps, my good sense – got the best of me. I wanted to press on; but didn’t want to risk crashing my German motorrad masterpiece.  If I did, who would find me in the fog-cloaked, dreary darkness?  And if so, when?  My palms turned wet and cold, and it wasn’t from the rainfall.  

The roadside federal campground was gated, but I slipped in.  The same authority who wouldn’t see me had I crashed into the canyon, wouldn’t see me sacked out here.  Setting the Beemer on her side stand, I pulled my tent from the tail rack, fumbled around to find a flat spot to set the thing, wrestled it out of its bag and into position and crawled in.  Given the circumstance, I was far too wound up to fall asleep.  Lightly, however, to the lullaby-like rush of the nearby Trinity, I probably dozed.

Sometime in the night, I was stirred by a scritch-scritching noise outside the tent and the irregular light thumps of something impacting the tent’s fabric.  I found the flashlight I’d stuffed in my boot for safe keeping and poked my head out.  The rain had abated.  I arced the weak flashlight beam side to side and then in circles, finding I’d pitched my tent beneath an ancient oak. All was still save for a shadowy, subtle movement partially hidden by the trunk.  Tracing the trunk’s height, the light’s dimming glow flashed across two huge greenish-golden disks simmering perhaps six feet – maybe seven – from the ground.  I trained the light on those glowing disks.  I figured they were eyes – eyes of some nocturnal mammal – but I had no idea what beast these might belong to.  A bobcat?  Ringtail?  Raccoon?  Sas… Sasqua… BIGFOOT!?!

I ducked my head back inside the tent and zipped the flimsy opening shut, like that was going to do me any good.  Eyelids pinned open, I sure as hell wasn’t going to be able to sleep now.  So, I lay in my sleeping bag with a pounding heart drowning out any river’s lullaby, looking at maps – I hadn’t packed a book – until my flashlight battery died.

The next morning dawned clear and cold.  I briefly inspected the area near the base of the old oak for signs of the previous evening’s scritchy-scritch and light pelting thumps.  Perhaps a footprint?  No.  Nothing but duff – aromatic from the previous night’s drizzle – but still, just undisturbed, not-recently-stepped-upon duff.  There was little to do but shrug and pack up. Collapsing the tent, I noted a small assemblage of acorns collected against one side where they’d seemed to have rolled off the fabric.  

I mounted the Beemer and made my way back through the gate and onto 299 East.  About a quarter mile from where I’d pulled into the campground, the chip sealing project ended.  

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Church of the Open Road Press

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