Monday, July 28, 2008

2008 VELOCETTE SUMMER RALLY - The Ride, Part 1

Monday morning began with a rider's brief at 8:30am, to discuss the protocol for using the Chase Truck (keep ahead of it!), and make a few points about tricky intersections and recommended detours, such as the Drive-Thru Tree and Mike Cook's barn.

The ride looped south of Benbow to the coast via Highway 1, veering inland on Hwy 20 at Fort Bragg, going north to Branscomb Road, then heading to Hwy 1 again to loop back northwards. The stretch of Hwy 1 between Leggett and the sea is well-known among motorcyclist for being fast, well-paved, and well-banked for 20 miles over the low coastal hills; a real pleasure on two wheels at any speed, so it seemed best to traverse in two directions.

Feedback from riders at the end of the day was excellent, but I have no photos, as I was sitting in the parking lot of Benbow trying to sort out a major clutch issue on my 1960 Venom Clubman, which revealed a magneto issue (successfully sorted). The clutch defeated me after three complete teardowns and rebuilds - I switched to a belt drive kit a year and 100 miles prior, but on reactivating the bike after last year's disastrous high-siding front brake lockup, found that all grip on the clutch vanished instantly when kickstarting the engine. The same thing happened after the following three rebuilds, and I am still vexed. Luckily (well, I had an inkling) I had brought a backup machine, my '66 Norton Atlas, which proved absolutely trouble-free on the trip, although in need of some attention to the brakes.

So let's roll on to Tuesday; morning dawned foggy and cool, which is typical for summer near the northern coast, but many riders had scant warm clothing and were well chilled from our ride through the Avenue of the Giants. I think the redwoods are especially spooky and majestic on grey days, and really enjoyed a modest pace through this sanctuary of gigantic trees, stopping often to explore the odd little tourist spots. The Chimney Tree was a living tree which was completely hollow from bottom to top - which happens on occasion when fires attack the groves. Many redwoods have hollows at the bottom, but as the living part of the tree is under the bark, the trees can live indefinitely in this condition, although they are more vulnerable to collapse without their solid core. Drive-Thru Trees are made this way as well, and yes there are several in the area.

Note the scale of my Norton beside one of the larger trees - 350' is pretty damn tall. The older trees have no branches for the first 100' or more, and create a high canopy, in which unique animal species thrive - most never come down to the ground.

Ironically, the first town after exiting the Avenue is Scotia, home of the Pacific Lumber Company, which was bound and determined to cut the last of the old-growth trees until just this year, when a deal was finally hammered out to purchase the last unprotected stand of old trees. The lumber mill is pretty quiet these days although still functioning, albeit at a small percentage of its capacity. The mill is over a mile long in total, but most buildings are empty. The photo shows that some wood is still being harvested - second and third growth trees from the hinterlands. Demand for redwood is still strong, as it's excellent for outdoor decks and fencing, but all woods are becoming expensive to cull and mill these days.

The town of Scotia also houses a Museum of Logging, which is built entirely of redwood in the manner of a classic Greek temple! The columns as you can see are tree trunks with bark attached to mimic the fluting of marble columns. The local movie house is similarly a temple to the redwood, and the town has a beautiful Inn as well. It was a good place to stop and warm up, as temperature still hovered in the low 60's. The Museum housed artifacts and photographs of the glory days of the logging town, with trees taking two men up to two weeks EACH to fell by hand - that's how big they were. I've worked in many Victorian houses in SF which have Old Growth redwood panelling, and it catches the light like mahogany, with black zebra striping perpendicular to the grain - this is called 'curly' redwood, and is absolutely gorgeous. Apparently only trees which were a couple of THOUSAND years old produced such wood. The mind boggles.

The next town on our trek towards the Lost Coast was Ferndale, an oasis of Victorian architecture in a very damp clime. The lumber mills and other natural riches made for a very wealthy citizenry, and the area boomed during the early years of the 20th century. Nowadays the industries are gone, but the lovely old buildings bring new riches from tourism. Hot chocolate was on everyone's agenda, as we were all chilled by noon, although there were hints of blue over the ocean, and that was where we were heading.

The Mattole Road from Ferndale is the only paved road on the Lost Coast, so called as it's the only stretch of California coastline which has no real road access. The Mattole only touches the actual coastline for 5 miles or so before turning inland, and the southern part of the Lost Coast has only a dirt road and is little explored by tourists. The area was almost unknown until fairly recently, when motorcycle websites extolled the fascinating remoteness of the area and diversity of microclimates along the 50 miles of paved road. The first climate is the Cloud Forest, which is almost always shrouded in a mist, making for spectacular moss growth on the trees (see pic with green Spooky Tree). The actual tarmac is in awful condition, and our riders on rigid-frame machines had a tough job of keeping both wheels in line over some of the worst potholes and road heaves. Still, the profusion of greenery and wildflowers help ease the pain and drama of the hundreds of tight bends as we ascended the coastal hills to arrive at - a sunny seacoast! And nary a car to be seen, as was the case for most of the day. This photo of the coastline gives an idea of how remote the area feels - not much of any sign of civilization for 30 miles or so, when we arrived at the little town of Petrolia.

Petrolia is so named as the site of the very first oil wells in California, established in 1865, the very end of our Civil War. The oil was transported by ship to San Francisco to be refined there, probably as a cheap alternative to whale oil. No doubt the oil was simply seeping from the ground, as it was in other parts of the state later on, and of course in Saudi Arabia too! Easy to find in those early days, not so easy nowadays.

Petrolia (and why not Gasolia? or just Olia?) still has a few wells nearby, but is mostly a cattle ranching town, consisting of a church, a store, a hamburger stand, and a graveyard. Gotta love the pictographic hamburger sign, for the illiterate hungry. And yes, you can get petrol in Petrolia, which these local ranch women had come for, as all of the dwelling in the area are 'off the grid' and must make their own power. Lots of solar and wind power generators are hidden in the hills, as well as a lot of marijuana plantations. After seeing these two ranchers, several of our party expressed a desire to take up ranching themselves. They seemed to take the undivided attention of 60 leatherclad men with a sense of humor.

The remainder of the ride was warm and bumpy and twisty, and we hied back to the Benbow to shower off dust from several dirt sections, and have a cold beer. Day 2 was a success by most accounts, although I heard dramatically different interpretations of Mattole Road.
Bill Getty, owner of JRC Engineering and a rider for 40 years or so, felt that the day's ride had been one of the finest of his whole life (his mount was a '65 Venom).
Pete Young, riding his '38 MSS with sidecar, said he would be happy never to see the Mattole Road again in his life, unless it is re-paved.

1 comment:

M. D. Vaden of Oregon said...

Nice blog. Stumbled upon it doing a Google search for something.

The Scotia museum is interesting to know about. I'll be sure to look for that next time I visit. Noticed a photo on Google Earth with a motorcycle - maybe one of your group.

Mattole Road - lol. I don't ride anymore. But remember the road well. Don't want to take my trailer on it for a while.


M. D. Vaden of Oregon