I woke up, staring at a yellow roof far too close to my face, slightly achey, but perfectly refreshed. For those of you just joining us, I was on an 11-day tour, mostly couch-surfing my way from Los Angeles to Seattle and back, on a route mostly chosen for where I could score a free place to crash for the night, every single night of the trip. My morning in Benbow Lake State Park was far from a typical camping-trip experience. Riding pal Bill Sanders had sprung for the pricey campsite alongside the beautiful Benbow Lake, nestled in the mountains alongside US-101 near Garberville, California. Both Bill and I are telecommuters, and Bill's Sprint mobile internet hub had us wirelessly wired to the "real world" way out there in the boonies.
Bill had a conference call that morning, so after taking care of my electronic obligations, I did a little hiking around the campground, fascinated by the blood-red manzanita trees and moss-covered oaks. A little chill hung in the air on our glorious June morning, which was perfect for a little physical exertion. Neither of us had deemed bulky cooking equipment worth the precious space in our saddlebags, so we both ate some of our road snack food during our morning in camp.
Bill is literally an Eagle Scout, so he had some very-well-thought-out items in his kit like a Jet Hot ministove with which we made coffee, as well as some surprisingly yummy hot hiking rations. But we saved our real appetite for a trip to town where we ate a satisfying and bountiful meal at Garberville's Waterwheel restaurant just up the street. After that we had a stint on US-101, known in these parts as the Redwood Highway. Sure, it's a major four-lane route complete with semis, but in this sparsely populated corner of California, it's smooth paving, magnificent scenery, and rolling hills that made for a fun ride. Thirty-odd miles later we were back on twisting two-lane CA-36.
It starts twisting through the Redwood and Fir forests of Shasta-Trinity National Forests, runs alongside a river for a bit, and exits into rolling and dry ranchland on the interior side, running east and a little south to Red Bluff. The road's renown with NorCal motorcyclists is obvious at the Wildwood Store about 2/3 the way down, which has a vintage bike mounted atop the sign, about 15 feet off of the ground.
I collaborated on planning the first half of this two-day segment of my ride up the California coast, but for the second half, I merely gave Bill my parameters: to make Portland that night. While it may be relaxing to let others take the reins and help plan your life for you, it's also a good idea to at least glance over their shoulders at their proposed routes to make sure they're doable on your schedule.
As it was, instead of taking one of the many curvaceous roads leading north or northeast toward my destination, CA-36 took us east and a little south, so by our 5 p.m. arrival in Red Bluff, I was no closer to Portland than I was when I woke that morning. I was still about 450 miles of pure interstate hell away; my least favorite kind of touring.
Determined not to spoil my spotless (to that point) three-night record of couches and campgrounds, I turned the burly Triumph Rocket III north and buried the throttle. Blasting through the blazing heat of inland NorCal to hit the Cascades as soon as possible, I started to think I might pull this off (albeit sometime near 2 a.m.). But it was not to be. The sun went down and the sky opened up, I was tired, and really didn't feel like putting up a new tent in the dark and rain. So I gave up and settled into a Motel 6 in Grant's Pass, Oregon.