The Head Ride, Part II

by Denis Rouse

Rider magazine’s founder and first publisher weighs in from a recent introspective road trip. Part II of II.

When we last left you we said we think Paul’s going to be fine. We were right. He’s recovering nicely from his wife of 16 years leaving him abruptly the same period his father died, from “throwing him under a bus” as he puts it, and then she moving into his dead father’s house located way up north in that little farm town on the vast golden plains of Saskatchewan where Paul and the little woman visited often during their time together, a place she loved so well, Paul has said, that she hated to return home to Redding. Knowing the contemporary civic hell of Redding as your writer does, he empathizes with her fully in that regard. For some caustic detail about Redding you may wish to recall, see The Head Ride I.

Anyway, another ride seemed in order. The grand mountainous wilderness that stretches west of Redding all the way to the Pacific Ocean, coursing the drainages of great rivers like the Trinity and the Klamath that eventually spill into the sea, seemed like a reasonable venue for “The Head Ride II.” The roads are some of Paul’s favorites, like the twisty devil that hides under the oaks and soars atop the ridges between Redding and Platina known as County Road 16, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Another rider accompanying Paul and your writer on this “another ride” requires mention at the outset. Call him Wayne. That’s not his real name. He has requested anonymity because Wayne labors arduously for a major bank in Southern California managing investment portfolios for people who have way too much money, and much of the foregoing would perhaps not be fruitful insofar as his career path with an obdurately conservative institution is concerned. But hey. This is a motorcycle ride, hardly a pivot point of western civilization, and in any endeavor worth its salt, writing especially, isn’t honesty rather important? If you disagree with that I suggest you return to your TV or your morning newspaper website. Wayne’s involvement here seemed relevant on a number of fronts, the main one being Wayne is the most positive, optimistic human being I’ve ever met. He would find fruit in an armed robbery. So such a person, I reasoned, would provide counter balance to Paul’s cynical negativity which has, let us say, been exacerbated by his wife’s flying the coop in the manner in which she did. Wayne (who is of interesting Mexican/Irish descent that would have fascinated James Joyce) is well into his second marriage with two children resultant from his current union about which he speaks ebulliently. His first marriage involved a Latina woman that he characterizes in so many words as having been too hot to last. Does he speak negatively about her? Never. Does he speak ruefully about her? Always, and as the French say, vive le difference. In any event I figured Wayne would provide thoughtful conversation with thrice-married Paul on the subject of women folk, and perhaps palliate his harsh attitudes on this and other matters, and the two of them share overriding passion about motorcycling, and both are superb riders, and both are mechanically expert enough to restore an old machine into showroom perfection. Ah, these are ties that bind the most disparate souls.

Head Ride Riders
The great trees of Grizzly Creek in regal silence overlording puny bipeds and their ridiculous toys.

We are an unusual triumvirate: Paul leads on his surgically immaculate 70-horsepower ultra-au currant Suzuki SV 650, a midsize V-twin crotch rocket that’s like, say, Gail Sayers negotiating a defensive backfield compared to how Larry Csonka would do it, which is to say bigger isn’t always better. If Paul were riding his other bike, a superbike, a GSX-R750, I believe he wouldn’t have been as adroit on the snakers as he was on the SV. There’s a life lesson here somewhere. Wayne follows Paul unerringly, always, right on Paul’s rear tire, atop his borrowed retro 1989 Honda NT 650 Hawk, a V-twin like Paul’s SV but much less au currant with 20 less horsepower and not nearly the suspension sophistication, but no matter, Wayne always followed Paul through the corners, so many of them disturbingly blind, always close enough to Paul’s rear tire, to elicit comment eventually from Paul that “Wayne can ride.” This from Paul is equivalent to The Medal of Moto-Honor, the Iron Cross of Motodom. The last time he complimented me he said, “You look healthy. Are you?” I am always coming in third, me on my Teutonic BMW R 1200 GS, a dual-purpose machine that’s great off the pavement, and a damn fine road bike as well that could easily keep up with the rice burners in the corners if being negotiated by a less chronologically challenged and fearful rider than your writer who has paid the price in the past trying to keep Mike Hailwood wannabe friends of his in sight. At an overlook at a summit on Highway 36 with a sweeping staggering coastal range view of purple mountains’ majesty, I see Paul and Wayne have paused, waiting for me. Kind and sensitive Paul, in compassionate attempt to alleviate any discomfort he thinks I might feel that I’m lagging behind, says “Hey, we just got here, really.” What was his wife thinking when she left? That she’s going to find a better man? Got news for you, you little Canadian cheerleader, lots a luck. As we BS at the overlook in pulls a Hyundai beater with a father and his young son and his son’s friend. They’re from Vermont. His shirtless son’s pants are down around the crack of his butt and he’s got a winged tattoo between his shoulder blades, but overall they seem OK. They’ve been road tripping around the north state, we converse amiably; father offers something like “Wow, California’s really changed.” I think but don’t say, Very astute of you to notice brah, I was just thinking the same thing myself.

Hayfork, California – As we’re fueling up and anticipating breakfast in this old historic Trinity County logging and mining community where marijuana cultivation is apparently now the driving enterprise, the three of us are aware of some very weird vibes extant. A young woman gassing up a truck in the next bay in the station is an attractive pubescent lady, maybe she was even the Hayfork High prom queen I think as I observe her tanned clean-cut loveliness. Then I look at the sullen hirsute young man waiting at the wheel of the truck she’s fueling and I think, whoa, dear, do your parents know you’re enjoined with an untidy suspiciously gaunt gentleman tatted up to his chin who could double for Charlie Manson in a biopic on the subject of messing with the minds of impressionable young people? But of course this question would be highly inappropriate. A better one might be articulated loudly by Reverend Billy in the Hayfork Community Park, “Do you good citizens realize what the hypocrisy relative to marijuana legalization, regulation and taxing efforts is costing this violence-prone country of ours that is teetering as we speak on the precipice of fascism? No. Well then I suggest re-reading certain texts by George Santayana wherein he observed that ignorance of history dooms the ignorant to repeating it. “What’s the big fuss about? I’m just giving people what they want”. – Al Capone. Here’s John Prine on the pot debate: “When I woke up this morning things were looking bad. Seemed like total silence was the only friend I had. A bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down, and won. It was about twelve o’clock before I realized I was having no fun. Now but fortunately I have the key to escape reality, and you may see me tonight with an illegal smile. It don’t cost very much but it lasts a long while. Won’t you please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone, I’m just trying to have me some fun”. Me, I’m not going to weigh in on it. I think the appalling burgeoning state-wide sprawl of environmentally destructive vineyard monoculture being lorded over by nice people with way too much money is a much more pernicious problem.

Author and Paul
Paul feeling better thanks to co-rider Doctor Schmendrick consoling him here on a bank of the Klamath River.

One of the great things about a motorcycle ride is that the task of keeping the rubber side down when aggressively negotiating a seductive stretch of road requires so much focus that the rider’s mind simply must not wander into any attention at all on other matters, especially the negative ones aforementioned. A pragmatic ex-cop friend with whom I’ve ridden many miles in the past, who told me once he thought trying to police human vice was a colossal waste of time and money, used to refer to a good motorcycle trip as a cerebral douche. Such is certainly the case on the series of high-speed sweepers that grace an extended particularly exhilarating section of Highway 36 between Forest Glen and Bridgeville, the latter an abbreviated little hamlet on a bank of the Van Duzen River where we pause for an added benefit, the solace and bounty of nature providing fresh sugar pill blackberries we pick and pop into our mouth from a huge tangle of vines growing here. Bridgeville (pop 25) is notable for being the first town to be put up for auction on eBay. It sold originally for $7 million, a price that included three cows, eight houses and a post office. Not far down the road as it makes its way down to the sea, to Humboldt Bay where we plan to lodge for the night, is another venue that always for me makes the woes of the world seem far away because particularly from the seat of a motorcycle the stunning arboreal corridor of Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park, the ancient towering trees, the haunting light and shadow, the suddenly cool damp fecund organic scent of a great forest, of great life that has endured all the tumult of a half of a millennium of white man’s time here without a scratch, fills me with a kind of hope. Due thanks here of course are owed to Owen R. Cheatham, the founder of Georgia-Pacific Corporation who had the values and the prescience to protect this magnificent grove of giants in perpetuity, which I hope means forever in these situational ethical times in which we live.

After a fine seafood dinner at Café Waterfront located in Old Town, Eureka, in a 19th-century wooden building that once, according to a brass plaque on the wall, housed a brothel upstairs, we find our trio strolling back to our sumptuous lodgings for the night at Motel 6. Along the way I glance up a side street at an evening view of the impressively towering spire of a church piercing the fading sky, Saint Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church. I suggest we take a closer look, including inside if the doors aren’t locked, and it turns out they’re not so we enter and gaze at the rows of vacant pews and at the altar beyond and at the vastness of the stone silent interior of a house of worship lit low, bathed in spectral amber light, a faint scent of incense, not another soul present. The three of us fill a spiritual spectrum: Wayne is a devout Catholic, says he’s a believer because “I’ve been blessed so much.” Paul is a confirmed atheist he says because “If I believe in a Creator it cancels everything else I believe devoutly about science and reason.” Me, I suppose I’m an agnostic Jew, my bar mitzvah was a personal tragedy from which I’m still not fully recovered but you’re going to have to wait for my novel for that event to be told in detail. Don’t hold your breath.

Morning brings its blessings, a bracing 30-mile ride up the serpentine course of Highway 299W to the beautiful mountain hamlet of Willow Creek where, believe it or not, in an unlikely location within the store of the Chevron Station is a Mexican food establishment, the Aztec Grill, where everything is made from scratch. The salsa, the tortillas, the refritos, the ladies make everything like they prepare it at home, and the aroma of carne asada sizzling there drives a man wild. Order from a huge menu bannered above the counter and then take your piled-high plate outside to a comfortable patio and marvel that what you’re inhaling at a Humboldt County gas station in the wilds rivals the best street fare you’ve ever had in Mexico City–the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives guy would freak. Sadly though here, 50 percent Mexican Wayne’s tummy is a bit on the blink, so while Paul and I gorge ourselves he busies himself over at a mechanic’s shop on a street behind the station seeking to borrow a multimeter to diagnose why his Honda battery is dying a slow death. The proprietor of the shop trusts Wayne to leave with the instrument. He utilizes it to diagnose and correct a faulty connection and returns it to the man along with several dead presidents to accentuate his gratitude for being trusted, trust apparently not being a quality to which he is accustomed where he lives and works in Southern California’s teeming (shudder) Orange County. On this subject Paul refers to as “looking after” the bikes, Wayne has not failed to notice that Paul is constantly checking the critical areas of his Suzuki; the tires, potential leaks, the chain especially get his regular attention, and there was a hint of chiding from Wayne when Paul went for a wrench earlier this morning to adjust his chain tension. While Paul was absent, Wayne nudged the chain on Paul’s bike with the toe of his boot, looked at me with a mildly wry smile and said something to the effect “The man’s obsessed, the chain’s fine.” Next time we’re together I’m going to ask Paul to clue-in Wayne about his experiences as a commercial pilot and master airplane mechanic, about how his probity “looking after” airplanes has saved many lives including on an occasion or two his own.

From Willow Creek Highway 97 plunges north through the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation and traces the sinuous course of the Trinity and then the Klamath River for more than a hundred miles. Like all great river roads it affords an exhilarating motorcycle ride but a challenging one because one’s eyes must not stray from the road despite the pull of the surrounding dramatic beauty; of the roaring whitewater rushing in the gorges and cascading around huge boulders, of the deep pools and swirling eddies glinting silver under the summer sun, of the sandy bars and beaches that seem to beg to park one’s machine and remove one’s helmet and leathers, and boldly immerse one’s hot sweaty body into the cold freshet for instant and rather wonderful relief. This we do at last in the Scott River after we make the right turn at Hamburg on our southward route to the small farming and ranching burg of Etna in a gorgeous green valley sheltered by the Siskiyous and named after that river. Turns out to be a terrific evening quartered at the cozy clean Etna Motel in a town that feels more like a hideaway from the frenzy of these crazy times, where one wouldn’t be surprised to see Mayberry’s Sheriff Andy, Deputy Barney and Floyd the barber strolling down the boardwalk. Accentuating that feeling is a “big problem” we overhear here, that Mary’s goat has wandered off and needs to be rounded up. Right next door to the motel is Bob’s Ranch House where I can report to you first hand that the fried chicken rivals the best my grandmother used to turn out, and the waitress there, Sarah is her name, is an efficient, friendly statuesque beauty who has dealt blackjack at a casino in her past employment so it’s useless to try to BS her even a little bit, even though we tried our best in that regard.

Riding south on Highway 3 through the mountain majesty of the Trinity Alps Wilderness, coursing the river and the shorelines of the cobalt blue gems known collectively as the Trinity and Lewiston Lakes, it becomes clear Paul knew of what he spoke when he said he was saving the most beautiful segment of this moto tour for the last. When we pull into the historic once gold-fevered mining town of Lewiston for a final breakfast at the Mountain Valley Grill, Wayne enters the restaurant ahead of Paul and I who are finishing fueling up at a nearby station. When we arrive Wayne says disappointingly that he’s been told we’re too late for breakfast, but with that barely out of his mouth the waitress comes bounding out the door of the place and says good naturedly, “Come on in boys, I’ll make you breakfast if that fool of a cook won’t.” Needless to say, it was a fine one. A great world it is up here, great country, great people who haven’t forgotten that to be kind is to be human, to be alive in the best true sense of the word. Late that afternoon Wayne and I say our good-byes and our thanks to Paul at his house in Redding for his leadership and camaraderie on a memorable scoot. Then Wayne follows me east on Highway 299 through a riverine canyon and over two mountain ranges to overnight with me here at home in Big Valley for a short course in alfalfa farming and for a restful respite before heading south back to the fray.


The Head Ride I



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