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The 51st State of Jefferson

©By Sam Taylor

A riding buddy and I were chatting at the Art and Music Festival being held in Benbow, CA.  The festival was situated alongside the Eel River, serendipitously next to the Benbow Inn.  It was a beautiful, warm-but-not-too-hot Sunday afternoon.  All around us was tie-dye, art, music, beer, oysters, and hemp.  Lots of “hemp”.  Yep, tons ‘o “hemp”.

Anyway, I said to Steve, “you know, there’s just something about this area that makes me feel good, makes me feel right.  And it’s not the hemp”.  Steve agreed and added, “in fact, every place we’ve been on this trip the folks have been pleasant, the weather perfect, the crowds non-existent, the motorcycling excellent.  I can see why people would like it here.”

This from the guy who got the speeding ticket.

Actually, even the officer who bagged Steve flying down CA 199 at no doubt near triple digits was a good guy, and only wrote him for 10 over the limit.  Try finding a Captain Nice like that in Marin County.  The officer was just in it for the sport, after 6 or so other riders had flushed the snake, so to speak.

The North Coast Ride was designed to take a group of motorcyclists through America's 51st state, the State of Jefferson.  Though more a state of mind than an actual entity, the idea for splitting off counties from Northern California and Southern Oregon has been around since at least the early 1940s.  Back then, residents of these counties felt they were getting too little attention (roads, schools, bridges) from their respective state governments.  Times have changed, and now the counties feel they're getting too much attention (rules, regulations, taxes).

We started Friday morning at the Denny's in Cordelia.  Well, not exactly we.  One of the flock decided to start his own ride at the Denny’s in Corte Madera.  Cordelia, Corte Madera, what’s the difference?  When I got the cell-phone message 3 hours later along the lines of “where IS everybody?” I knew that we’d be seeing this sheep a little late that day.

To continue, most of us began in Cordelia.  A fine day it was, too.  We angled up Wooden Valley Road and CA 121 through Moskovite Corners, down CA along Putah Creek, then up CA 16 (in gloriously un-hot form that day, I must say), and east on CA 20.  Then we tried to take a "shortcut" along the Leesville Road, as we tried last year.

Memo to ride-leaders:  The sign at the beginning of the Leesville road says it’s closed.  Believe the sign.  The bridge is so far gone I’m not sure it’ll ever be repaired, and the side road that looks like a way out is just on the OTHER side of the offending gap.

So we made a quick detour and settled for the Maxwell-Sites road, which is not really settling as it is a fine alternative into Stonyford.  There we rested and gassed up.

Soon we were on our way to Red Bluff for lunch.  If you followed the map I'd lovingly prepared, you enjoyed the pavement-challenged quality of the Paskenta Road.  Two Scouts did the dirty work. The rest of us were far enough behind to simply turn around when they came back shaking their heads. After a quick switch to Plan B, we made it in to Red Bluff.  We acquired a Papa John’s for  lunch.

Lo and behold, our little lost sheep pulled in, along with a few other stragglers from other parts of the state.  I began to believe in a higher power:  we were all assembled.

In a way, here’s where the trip really begins, though you can’t say the first part is exactly tame.  Yet there’s something exciting about CA 36, and it’s not just the first blind downhill right-hander just when lunch has sent you halfway to Siestaville.  Nor is it the generous tar-snake application.  Nor the gravel deployed strategically in every shadowy apex.  No, it’s that 36 is the gateway to Trinity County, population 8,000 people, stop-lights, zero

The ride into Weaverville was fantastic, and we arrived early at the 49er Motel.  This threw the owner off a bit as “his wife had gone down to Redding”.  Why this was bad remains a mystery, and he was not specific as to how long she would be away.  So this Cornell School of Hospitality grad proceeded to confuse the massive and unusual paperwork that accompanies checking in (when you’ve had the rooming list for a week) while the gang sat around the parking lot and drank beer.  Oh, the pain.

Meanwhile one of the crew stripped to the waist like a locomotive engineer and adjusted his new Fox shocks, while the rest of us looked on, sipped some suds, and gave solid management advice.

Then we sauntered down to The Diggins, that fine establishment with the swinging wood doors, so that the female members of the group could become acquainted with about 5 of the nicest teeth in town, all proudly if haphazardly assembled in the mouth of one loquacious local who took a shine to any woman within sight.  After that interlude, we moved next door to the La Grange for a what most locals believe is the best dinner in town.

The next morning we were up bright and early so as to enjoy the romp into Callahan, population about 60 swallows.  As this was to be a short day, we stopped and smelled the roses a bit.  One or two of our miscreants tried to break into the town's bank, but it had been out of business for some time--110 years or so.

The day turned out to be not quite so short when, continuing a theme, we saw the sign “Bridge out from June 14-August 30” on the Scott Bar road.

Another memo to ride-leaders: CalTrans road condition folks are very specific thinkers.  I’d called on the 11th (a Friday) and they said all roads were okay.  They neglected to tell me that on the 14th (Monday) they were knocking down a bridge. Thanks for the heads-up.

Plan B (or it it "C" now?) turned out to be outstanding as we bombed up and over to Yreka, then down the Shasta River gorge into--the joy!--the Klamath River Highway, CA 96 (referred to on AAA maps as "The State of Jefferson Scenic Byway).  If there’s a better 60 mile stretch of sweep in either California or Jefferson, please tell me where it is.

Following an excellent recommendation of a few lost riders from years past, we had lunch at the Indian River Café in Happy Camp.  How this fine establishment manages to stay in business with its huge menu is totally beyond me, Happy Camp not exactly being Paris.  In fact, if one of our Ducatis had not been reparable (electrical problems) it would have been a very, very lonely time in its owner's life.  Again, smiles from heaven, and he was mobile again.

Then there was the wonderful proprietress of the café.  She offered to call the cardlock gas manager so he would open the pumps, as many of our number had thirsty machinery and the only gas station in town was most definitely not a Happy Camper, another victim of tank replacement legislation.  So after a leisurely re-fueling (the cardlock manager kept mumbling to himself, “don’t worry, I’ve got nothing to do and no place to go”, true words, indeed), we continued over the Siskyous into O’Brien, Oregon.  Great road, but not one you would want to travel alone at night unless you like getting a little air.

We sped down 199 where Steve got his ticket and the a couple found religion after being run off the road into the LEFT shoulder at highway speeds.  Only the consummate skill of this mighty road-warrior kept the mother ship from biting Oregon dirt.  We landed in Brookings Harbor, Oregon for the night’s stay, with enough time for a swim or walk along the beach.  The Best Western Beachfront Inn was a huge hit, with wonderful rooms, all with ocean views.  Plus, remarkably for the Oregon coast, you could actually see the ocean as the weather afforded more superb cooperation.

Sunday we headed down US 101.  Most of us; one couple enjoyed Brookings Harbor so much I think they’re still there.

I have no problems with 101 out of Crescent City--it twists and winds through the redwoods as well as any two-laner.  We did divert along the Klamath Coast Trail (the sign said Road but let’s be honest here, I didn’t see much asphalt).  A few Dust Queens ("but I just washed the bike!") stayed on 101.  They were repaid for their finickyness when they tried to explore some more dirt trails along the way (we sent one of the riders back into the dark woods to find them and he never came out.  We’re putting his picture on milk cartons.)  Dirt is still a way of life in the North Coast.

We blew through Ferndale, noting that the old Ferndale Hotel looks to be slimmer and trimmer but back in business.  Then we bumped along the Lost Coast road and all of its 12% grades and ruts and gravel.  The fantastic weather and views made up for any poor road conditions, however, and it only took about 2 hours to make the loop.  After speeding through redwoods in a fashion to make ILM envious (better special effects), we made the jaunt to the Benbow Inn.

Luckily, we arrived early and were able to enjoy the luxury of the Inn.  The meal was very fine, service great, and the outdoor setting along the creek relaxing.  Most importantly, the camaraderie was superb: to my mind,  the perfect cap to a glorious ride.  Speaking of the perfect cap, whoever left me that lovely Weaverville hat on my bike Monday morning, thanks--I was touched.

Monday did come very early and as each was on his own, I spent a little extra time in Benbow after a stupendous breakfast.  The 200-mile ride home became a 300-mile excursion when I opted to cut over to the coast because I needed a little cool air to soothe my furrowed brow.  Lunch in Spendocino was very nice, thank you.  Other riders returned to the real world.

As for myself, I became blue when nearing the Sonoma County line, as if I were saying farewell to a good friend who’d been marvelously hospitable.  My usual “homing pigeon” instinct did not cut in at all this time:  I most assuredly wanted to head north again.

Anybody want to come along?

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