Last week’s “last fling” was a false alarm: I didn’t have to start until the next week. That meant one more week’s worth of freedom to exploit. I decided to spend two days riding north to visit my friends Gil and Becky in Eureka. It would be a quick and easy day ride there, a fun night of conversation and jokes and then another quick trip back the next day. Perfect. Now if only the weather would cooperate.
October 30-31, 2008
Total Miles: 745 miles
Mountain View, CA to Eureka, CA
It had rained once since I moved to the Bay Area almost three months ago, and even then, that took place a night, as if it was ashamed. But now winter had moved in and it was promising to give me a good share of what I had been missing out on since leaving Seattle. A little rain never stopped me from riding and besides, once I got north of Santa Rosa the weather was sure to clear. It might even get warm!
I made my way through the city, enjoying the ability to filter at the traffic lights on my nimble KLR through downtown San Francisco. No toll on the northbound side of the Golden Gate Bridge to slow me down and the next thing I knew, I was shooting north through the highly developed cities that lined Hwy 101. I was in no hurry, as it’s a mere 5-6 hour drive up to Eureka, so I was planning on exploring some of the side roads that I had always seen on my way through. The first attempt was to follow the “Old Redwood Highway” as it paralleled the modern 101. But I kept losing it in little downtown areas, and the congestion thwarted any other progress I might have been making. I returned to 101 for a while longer until I decided to give the back roads another try. I’m not quite sure where I was, but I found a road called “Geysers Rd” so I was thinking that it would take me somewhere in the vicinity of Geyserville.
The road started out through some rustic and small farms but quickly spit me onto a one-lane and poorly graveled road. Perfect. The river was to my right and the slopes leading down to it showed their instability. Raw earth hung poised high above the water line, ready to slide at the slightest provocation. The road was narrow in parts – mostly the parts where either the downhill side had slide downstream or the uphill side was working its way down. But every once in a while the pavement cleared up and the yellow lines returned to mark my half of the surface. I opened up the KLR in these parts, enjoying the cool air and the high, overcast skies as I followed the river. I didn’t have a paper map in front of me and the GPS was not cooperating in giving me the big picture of where I was. The best landmark I could find was crossing the Geysers Road Historic Bridge, but that really didn’t help me pinpoint where I was at. Based on what I could tell from the land around me, it appeared that I was somehow riding south when I should have been going north. Despite having all day to get there, I didn’t really want to take all day to get there. I made the decision to turn around and return to 101 the only way I was sure I knew how. But now I knew the road and could take it with relative ease.
Late summer river cutting through soft earth
A smooth section of Geysers Road
Geysers Road Historic Bridge
Geysers Road Historic Bridge – simple construction
Rusting shacks on the other side of the river
Back on 101 I continued north to Ukiah where I stopped for a quick bite of lunch before continuing. The weather hadn’t changed: clouds were still chasing me and the temperature was as low as they were. The next planned detour was to take a road that would pass through Bell Springs and Harris – it was different than 101 and therefore on the list of “must do”. The turn off was well marked and immediately the dirt road took off up the hill and into the wilderness.
Bell Springs Rd, as it is noted on the map, was a well-groomed gravel road that wound its way through untamed fields and forests. Traffic was surprisingly brisk for such a desolate stretch of road. I saw a buck keeping watch over a couple of does, a very flattened skunk and a not-to-healthy looking opossum sitting by the side of the road. Farms were tucked off into the distance with no visible agriculture to support them. Much to my concern, the clouds to the south were looking darker and the wind was beginning to pick up. The last thing I needed was to traverse this section on wet and snotty roads. And the roads were getting worse. No longer wide, smooth groomed gravel, I was now picking my way over embedded rocks and through ruts and potholes, as well as twisting my way downhill. I kept an eye on the clouds but there wasn’t much I could do about them. I pressed on, wondering where I was in relation to the end of this stretch of road and I could return to the relatively safety of 101.
Before I could worry much more about the rain the gravel gave up and I was returned to pavement. And with the pavement came slightly more frequent farmsteads in the distance with long sinuous roads presumably leading to them. And the “No Trespassing/Hunting” signs became prolific, with one in particular catching my eye with the addition of “Patrolled for 4 miles”. I knew that Northern California was known for it’s less-than legal crops and I could only suspect that something illicit was going on behind that wire fence.
Leaving 101 behind
Bell Springs Road
An unhappy ‘possum
Farms along Bell Springs Road
’tis the season
One of two watchful does
More views under the cloud sky
Evidence of fire?
The town of New Harris confirmed this with its school bus, half a dozen parked pick ups and one store that proudly emphasized it’s “Garden supplies” on signs all over the place. I waited for the school bus to disgorge the students and then continued on my way. Despite the suspect employment along here, people I saw along this road were friendly and waved from behind their steering wheels. It was a welcome change from the usual anonymity I experience while on more common roads. The road conditions improved drastically from New Harris to 101, with sweeping corners, clean pavement and very little traffic. It didn’t take long for me to get back on the main highway north and work my way to Eureka.
Well-maintained section of the road
Dropping down over a ridge
Waiting for the kids to get off the bus
Yes – they have “garden supplies”!
Looking down at the road past New Harris
Mother and calf cross the road
Open landscapes and curving roads
One more detour along the Avenue of the Giants gave me some time to enjoy the Redwood trees that are native to this area only. But the skies were darkening with the late hour and photos deep under the heavy boughs of the trees, which meant that without a tripod, my photos would be dark and blurry (which they were).
I arrived in Eureka within the time slot I had given to my hosts and the three of us spent the evening enjoying a simple and tasty dinner followed up by stimulating conversation. I always enjoy the time I spend with Gil and Becky and this night was no different.
Avenue of the Giants
Another attempt at illustrating the massive trees
Here’s a big one!
Silly self-portrait (I finally remembered that I have a timer)
Becky had slipped out of the house early the next morning and I studied the weather forecast with Gil, trying to determine my best choice of return routes. Apparently there was a major storm moving in from the south that stretched all the way from the coast and inland to I-5. This was surprising, as the inland stretch of California was usually warmer and drier than the coast. My original plan had been to take Hwy 36 east to Red Bluff and then work my home south from there. But did I want to take this fabled stretch of road, for the first time, in the rain? My other option was to retreat back down 101. Like yesterday. But this time in the rain. What the hell – I’d take the new road and make due with whatever Mother Nature threw at me.
First stop was in Loleta. Gil had told me that there was a small cheese factory there and I was hoping to bring Dan something back from my travels. I found the perfect gift and packed it away in my tank bag. It was time to hit the motorcycling nirvana known simply has “36”.
I hadn’t progressed more than a couple of miles from 101 when the KLR gave an almost imperceptible sputter, rather like I was running low on fuel. Only then did I remember that I was supposed to fill up after I left Gil’s house but had gotten distracted with my cheese discovery. I reached down to verify that the petcock was in the “on” position only to find that it wasn’t – I was on reserve and sputtering. This was not good. I did a quick U-turn and managed to fumble my way back to 101 where there was, thankfully, I filling station here-to-fore unseen by me in my haste to pass through the area
Home of Loleta Cheese
The old creamery across the street – now for sale
Fields of cheese-making cows
Looking forward to riding in the rain!
Wet, pine needle covered roads
A view beneath the clouds
Once again I was on my way across 36, and this time I was prepared. The skies were heavy with clouds and the wind was strong from the south. Other riders of 36 spoke of the western end of 36 as being a “goat path” – rough, narrow and often unlined. I didn’t have too much time to worry about the appearance of the goat path (which wouldn’t happen for another 30 miles), as I was being hard-pressed to stay upright as it was. The road was wet, pine needles littered the surface and combined, they really made for a dicey surface. Highway 36 cut through a couple of small towns before rising sharply through heavily treed mountains. The rains were still at bay but the road was constantly wet. I worked my way up and over the mountains, slowly working my way around corners that increasingly became littered with rock debris and fallen leaves.
A bit of open and almost-dry roads
Logging on the hillsides
Hwy 36 just west of Forest Glen
First indications of the summer’s fires
The temperature dropped as I crested the pass just east of Wildwood (XXXXX) and the fog moved in. Visibility was spotty and the going was slow. I was thankful for my heated grips but wished that I had another layer on underneath my ‘stich. Every once in a while the road would open up and dry out and at those points I relished my journey.
From out of the fog I was soon seeing yellowed and dead trees. Only then did I remember that forest fires had hit the Trinity Alps area that I was riding through hard over the summer. The charred trees didn’t look all that bad, but little did I realize that this area was just the fringe of the real damage done. The elevation had dropped considerably and I was actually feeling a little bit warmer and the road were drier. I was enjoying the changing scenery around me, the vegetation reflecting the different moisture levels experienced on the western slopes of these mountains.
Behold the vast scenery!
More fires east of Wildwood
The devastation detracted from the road
Not much escaped the fires
Look closely to see the blacked swaths of death
Close to home
I was finally coming to the eastern end of this stretch of road. The fire evidence was devastating. Massive hillsides were blackened with stumps and twigs, barren of all greenery. The fires had swept along gullies and near homes and farms. It was amazing that anything was left.
For the first time on my trip, the sun was beginning to show. The landscape around me produced shadows that fell across the smooth dry pavement. The road itself was a treat to behold: the surface had been apparently laid over the raw earth with no engineering thoughts considered. Turns were willy-nilly through a wide, fertile valley and small hills and rises give the suspension a workout as I flew along this blissful stretch of road. This was a welcome relief from the previous three hours.
The vegetation changes east of Platina Road
Open and dry roads at last
Follow along a wide valley
The KLR, standing ready to roll
Dips and rises add a third dimension of riding fun
Empty and fun roads
When I hit I-5 in Red Bluff I was greeted with another form of torture: strong headwinds on the interstate. My shoulders, already stressed from the tension of the riding conditions on 36, screamed at me as they struggled to hold me up in the wind. I cursed the wind, the flat and featureless landscape and the shear length of this stretch of road. My GPS informed me that I would be on the interstate system for the next four hours. Was there no escape?
Technically yes, there was: Highway 20 would pull me west back over the mountains to 101, where I could then retrace my route home through the city. But one look at the clouds told me that I didn’t want to take any more chances with the weather. I couldn’t even see the tops of the range, buried as they were in the clouds. I felt lucky that I had thus far escaped any rain and I didn’t want to push my chances. Besides, if I went back to 101 then that meant that I would have to travel through the city at rush hour on a Friday. Not exactly my idea of fun.
I chose not to ride through those clouds
Fertile cropland along I-5
So I stuck to the east side interstate system and just buckled down behind my tiny windscreen. The miles ticked away slowly and eventually I was crossing a bridge and counting down the familiar landmarks as I neared home. It wasn’t too long before I had parked the KLR and I wasted no time in making myself comfortable in the hot tub.