Thursday, July 31, 2008

2008 VELOCETTE SUMMER RALLY - The Ride, Part 2

After two 'loop' days which ended up back at the Benbow, Wednesday we ventured deeper into the wild heart of California. Our first challenge was Alderpoint Road, which heads northeast out of Garberville for 50 miles, eventually landing at Hwy 36. The surface is in very poor condition, and I think the locals prefer it thus, as it keeps tourists at bay - and motorcycle speeds distinctly down.

Barring the bumps, Alderpoint rewards exploration with breathtaking views of the inland Coastal Range, and passes through two tiny hamlets which haven't seem much progress in 40 years. The houses in Blocksburg are very close to the road, common in extremely rural areas, as the road used to be a horse trail. The first time I rode through here, perhaps 20 years ago, a laundry line fluttered white sheets from a house, while a girl of 8 or 9 wearing an old-fashioned gingham dress was spinning around in the sun, and I wondered if I was glimpsing a previous century.

But, we had come this way to visit Mike Cook as well, and completely inundated him and Bonnie with visitors. Mike was happy to have a task at hand, as Pete's '38 MSS had broken a sidecar strut - too many bumps! Being used to taking care of his own motorcycles, Mike had everything on hand needed to re-tube and weld up the break, and Pete's bike was soon repaired.

We had another casualty of the 'road disintegration blues', Bill Getty's Venom began to handle strangely a few miles after leaving Alderpoint Rd, and on stopping for lunch in Mad River, was mildly amused to find his frame had a 3" gap between the headstock and front downtube! By luck, the local towing company, headquarted several feet from the Mad River cafe (see pix below), was owned by a drag-racing enthusiast who built his own chassis, and was also well-equipped to repair the Venom frame. This took a bit more time than Pete's sidecar tube, as quite a few parts had to be removed from the bike to access the frame. The details of the fix are painful - the lower tubes were pried apart using blocks of wood and a jack, then a smaller tube was pounded into the headstock lug, slipped into the lower frame tube, and pinned at the top with a bolt, and spot welded at the bottom through holes in the tube. The new inner couldn't simply be welded to the headstock as Velocette frames are pinned, then hearth-brazed together ('sif-bronze welding'); thus there is brass contamination on the lugs and tubing where they join.

Bill and riding buddy Mark Hoyer (of Cycle World - this year without a press entourage) didn't leave Mad River until 9:30pm - and it was still a 3.5 hour ride to Etna, our destination. Their journey must have been epic - riding in the dark over 150 miles of relentlessly twisty mountain roads, using Lucas 6v headlamps. Cojones. The only saving grace, according to Mark - he couldn't see the deer coming, so didn't have time to be scared when they continually leapt across his path!

Hwy 36 began a stretch of true motorcyclists paradise, with smooth paving and 170 miles of beautiful bends. Our speed was kept down a bit when we began to encounter smoke soon after Mad River, which eventually became so thick it reduced visibility for riding quickly. Several large forest fires were growing near our path, but fortunately not near enough to close the roads - yet. The town of Hayfork, on Hwy 3, was particularly smoky, and the outskirts were being evacuated soon after we left. We almost lost one of our members, Kevin B, as he had a near-fatal encounter with a bee, as he's deadly allergic. Fortunately, he was stung just a few hundred yards from an ambulance depot, and was only unconscious for a few minutes...! As his wife Melissa was driving our chase truck, by 7pm I began to worry that it was so late, and was lucky to reach her by cell. 'Don't worry, we're just leaving the emergency room' was not reassuring! I felt like a mother hen all evening, until the last of the flock arrived at 12:30am. Luckily Kim and Kimberly felt like staying up late and drinking, so I wasn't waiting alone.

How do you feed 70 hungry motorcyclists in the tiny town of Etna, on the night when the local restaurant is closed? Call 1.800.Norlene. Not only did she cook for all of us, the food was excellent - her famous 'garbage can' turkey and beef, plus several salads etc, it was terrific - thanks again Norlene. Afterwards, there was plenty of time to tell lies about the day's adventures, like this gang of old friends. A keg of Gold Ale (delicious - not as hoppy as the usual CA microbrew, but malty like English beers) from the Etna Brewing Company made for a relaxing evening.

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