Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 335: Changing Seasons ....

It's been an 'Up & Down' kind of week, mostly up and down ladders because the house building has reached the roofing stage. Not too shabby for three guys in 8 weeks, but more of that later. Anyway, I was over in Ukiah last weekend, another excuse to ride 'California 253' but I also needed to visit a proper bank. My Nationwide ATM card was twice declined here at the gas station in Boonville and the automated advice was ... 'Please contact your card provider'. Well, the card didn't work in Ukiah either so I had no alternative but to telephone Nationwide in England. Nationwide confirmed that my ATM Card had indeed been declined in both Boonville and Ukiah and they asked if I'd received their letter. Of course I hadn't received their letter, I left England on the 10th of August .... "No".....  "Well Sir, in order to improve our services for the benefit of members, we've provided all of our members with replacement ATM cards and cancelled all existing cards". "I'm in California, my improved replacement ATM card isin  England ...... and I'm really not feeling those lovely new benefits".   

With my financial predicament temporarily resolved, I turned my attention to fixing my Dell laptop computer. A little while ago the 'Windows Defender' icon started appearing and I thought very little about it. It's an anti-virus program and I figured that it'd arrived in some under-the-radar Windows update.  Sadly, although it looked like 'Windows Defender', it is in fact a naughty little virus that's proving very difficult to remove. At first it was just annoying, but now it's taken over my entire PC. I can't open any applications and it's embedded itself so deeply that I can't even manually kill the bloody thing. It's disabled my existing anti-virus software and wont let me access anything within 'Task Manager' or 'Registry' where the root of the problem lurks. Eventually I'll find a way to kill it, but until then there'll be no photographs in the posts.

As for the house build, well as I mentioned above we've just reached the roof stage. It's a 'Barn Roof' with a 'Clearstory' for additional light, but just as we'd completed the short roof-line, the rains came .... and then they just kept on coming. The house currently looks like a weirdly shaped blue wedding cake with blue tarps covering the roof, but at least it's keeping the internals dry. Or at least it was keeping it dry until today. The rain is getting heavier and the tarps are beginning to stretch creating a line of small swimming pools across the roof. Sadly, swimming pools were never part of the original design and we're currently running relays up to the property to empty them. That's not such good news for my brother but for me it does have certain benefits. Before the rains came the 5 mile road up to the house used to be a mixture of sand and gravel, but now it's just a slippery winding mess. That's not so much fun in a Ford F150 pick-up truck ...... but on a KLR 650 it's an absolute joy .... so I'm off to empty the pools 

Post 334: Highway to Heaven .....

It’s Sunday morning and I have a plan. I had a plan yesterday, but that plan rudely unravelled when I realised that I’d left home without my wallet. It wasn’t all bad news though. Heading back to a warm bed in Boonville meant riding ‘The Redwood Highway’ at dusk which is something that I’d never done before. When darkens falls the road seems different, more magical and involving. I wont try to describe it, it’s just something that you really need to experience for yourself.
Today I’m heading south, though for some strange reason here they call it ‘East’, on California 128. Through the Yorkville Highlands and then swing right onto Fish Rock Road. I’ve no idea what a ‘Fish Rock’ is, but somebody’s taken the time to name a road after it and so I’ll take time to ride it. The map tells me that it’ll take me along almost thirty miles of switchback bends before bringing me out onto the Pacific Coast Highway. It turns out to be a fun road that flicks between forests of tall redwoods and spruces. The giant trees are heavy with dew and shedding a deep carpet of bright orange needles onto the road. The sun‘s low and long shards of sunlight flash across the road between shadows. Under tyre it’s butt clenchingly slippery but the bike just seems to get on with it. A pair of young deer dart across the road a few yards in front of me. Except it’s not the road. It’s a forest logging track obstructed by a fallen log gate. The road veers right and I’ve misread the vanishing point. A million bike miles and I’m still making fundamental mistakes. Look where I need to be going and resist the natural instinct to brake. All of my weight on the inside footpeg, a handful of gas at the apex and put all of my faith in Continental Twinduro tyres. It takes all of the road, and a little bit more, but I exit the turn with another life lost and a mental memo to stop being such a prick.

After ten miles, a yellow sign announces the end of the tarmac but unlike my dodgy roadmap, the sign didn’t lie. Fish Rock Road becomes Fish Rock Dirt Track and I’m thankful that I’m riding the KLR and not the Tiger. The track climbs and falls past occasional vineyards and homesteads that are discreetly set back from the road. The KLR doesn’t seem to mind what’s under it’s knobbly tyres, it just seems to get on with whatever I ask it to do. Twenty miles along this road and I haven’t encountered another single vehicle. Then cresting a dusty brow the Pacific Ocean comes into view and the road begins falling towards it.

On a cliff above the breaking waves, I drink a pint of hot coffee. I’d bought the coffee five miles earlier in the town of Gualala and two things surprise me. Firstly, after five glorious miles on the Pacific Coast Highway the cup’s still at least half full and secondly, it’s proper coffee. It seems that normal unmolested coffee is something of a rarity in these parts. Coffee vendors here seem to have a penchant for adding additional unwanted flavours like vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon or mermaid nipples, but I drink coffee because I like the taste of coffee. If I want to taste vanilla, I’ll buy myself an ice cream.

I take my time drinking the coffee, partly because of the wonderful surroundings and partly because I know exactly what’s coming next. At Stewart’s Point, I turn right onto Skragg’s Spring Road. I’ve ridden this road before on the Triumph Tiger and in my humble opinion, after ten fun filled miles of interesting road, it turns into the best fast riding road in the world.

I’m heading West towards Sonoma Lake and the city of Cloverdale. I stop to take photographs at the end of Annapolis Road and then again above the creek at the base of the valley. I’m ten miles along Skragg’s Spring Road and the real fun is about to begin.

Imagine if the young designers at ‘EA Sports’ had designed the perfect riding road for Playstation IV, then this would be it. As the forests give way to rolling sunburnt meadows the road widens and starts to climb. I pass a group of sportsbike that are preparing to pull out of a lay-by and throw them a handsome wave. It’s mostly Harley’s with lots of chrome and Goldwing’s with lots of luggage around here and seeing a group of R1’s, Ninja’s and Fireblade’s is really quite unusual.

I tip the KLR into the first right hand corner and my fifteen mile smile begins. The constant double yellow lines in the centre of the road mark every beautiful bend and the double thickness Armco barriers at either side will correct any minor mistakes, probably permanently. The tarmac is reasonably new and the turns just keep on coming. Sometimes rising, sometimes falling, but always turning. Both cheeks of my arse seldom touch the seat at the same time and my left foot tap dances on the gear pedal. Flicking from left to right or from right to left, I catch glimpses of the chasing bikes in the mirrors that I really ought to clean. They’re not getting any closer but it’s hard work staying ahead of them.

Five miles in and although the sportsbikes still haven’t caught me, the KLR’s really starting to protest. The engine’s fine but the soft suspension must be getting a little warm and the bike shakes it’s head and arse at the same timeon every turn. Maybe it’s not the suspension but the sand tyres? Continental Twinduro’s are fantastic in the mud and dirt but they’ve got the profile of a smiling hillbilly and are probably not suitable for fast tarmac. Also, In the back of my mind I can remember somebody once telling me that fast road riding with mousses instead of inner tubes was not a good thing to do, but it’s too late now and at least I wont get a puncture.

With a pair of mirrors that still show nothing but grime, the road begins to drop sharply towards Sonoma Lake and the valley floor. Going mostly uphill the KLR had been fine but on the downhill second half of the road, I realise that the brakes are really quite rubbish. Or maybe like the suspension, tyres and mousses, they’re just a little bit too hot. In the interests of self preservation and with some respect for the fragility of the above mentioned cycle parts, I back off the throttle and allow both of my cheeks to rest firmly on the saddle. A few minutes later I here the unmistakable sound of race cans behind me and turn my head to see the pack of sportsbikes grinning like Cheshire Cats and raising their thumbs behind me. The road’s straight as we approach the entrance to Sonoma Lake and I notice the rear end of a large black sedan with white doors poking out from the side of the road. To the side of the car is the rear end of a Highway Patrol officer who we’ve rudely interrupted whilst taking a piss in the bushes.

At the first junction I turn right without stopping and then indicate to turn left at the next. Suddenly the dirt on my mirrors seems to have vanished and as clear as day behind me is the patrol car. No flashing lights. He’s just keeping a regular distance behind me and of course, the sportsbikes have already buggered off into the distance and left me alone to face the music. I pass the road sign, ’Cloverdale, Population 1280, Altitude 333 feet’ but judging by the constant smell of marijuana the whole town must be an awful lot higher than that. Perhaps the police officer will leave me alone and chase the dope growers instead ?

Post 333: Highway Heaven .....

“Your listening to Trading Time on K-ZXY & Z .. local public radio for the Mendocino area ….. and on the line next is Jeremiah from up in Comptche”

“Hi Jeremiah ….. what would like to sell, buy or trade today?”

“Howdy … it‘s a great show you‘ve got goin here“

“Well thank you Jeremiah … so what have you got for us today?”

“Well first I’ve good an old Chevy Truck, it’s a real fixer-up-er …. good engine but no transmission ….yep … just needs a new tranny and it’s a real goer …. but it’s free to anybody who can haul it off of my backyard numbers 408-871 .. if I‘m out…. leave a message”

‘”That sounds great Jeremiah …. a free-cycle truck out in Comptche for anybody with the know-how to fix it …… and do you have anything else to trade today?”

“Well yeah ….. sort of …. I’ve got meat-cats .. Lots of meat-cats … $20 for breeders and $15 for fryers”

“Oh …. are meat-cats a breed of chicken?”

“No …. they’re meat-cats …. cats for eating … real good eating”

“Oh … Oh .. But I think that’s illegal … even here ….. Next caller please”

Boonville’s a great place. Maybe I’ve said that before, but it’s true. If Boonville was a wine and I was Oz Clarke off the telly, then I’d probably be getting hints of aging hippy and early morning redwood. I can see why the hippies flocked her in the 60’s and 70’s and I can also fully understand why they stayed on in the hills long after the music had stopped playing. Nowadays they’re more concerned with food miles and ecology than they are about free love and LSD, but it just goes to show that old hippies never die, they change causes and chemicals. Boonville is like a comfort blanket made by your favourite Grandmother and you only notice it’s qualities when it’s gone. The good news is that leaving Boonville going East means riding ’California 253’. In my case, I actually got to ride it four times but only because my aging brother forgot to pick up the papers for the Kawasaki and I had to return for them. It’s a mighty fine road to ride on any bike, but the bad news is that the road terminates in the city of Ukiah. I get the feeling that ’California 253’ isn’t the only thing that terminates in Ukiah, it’s just that sort of place. I wouldn’t say that the staff at Ukiah DMV (department of motor vehicles) were rude or unfriendly, because that would actually be a compliment. Enough of the dissing, because after two pointless visits and one successful one, the Kawasaki KLR 650 is now road legal and sporting a natty little Californian license plate. In the UK the police fine bikers for having small license plates but here in California they actually issue them …. mai pen rai

No more dodging the local sheriff and his able deputy, I’m legal and free. A full tank of petrol, tent on the back, a cool bag full of cold beer and I’m off. At the end of Ornbaun Road, current home of my brother and his family, yours for $500,000, turn right directly onto Mount View Road. It’s a beautiful thing. Climbing all of the time on beautiful tarmac, the road seems to snake and coil forever. The redwoods cast flickering shadows across the surface and it really feels like the giant trees are actually moving. For a glorious twenty-five miles an unbroken parallel line of yellow spaghetti tells you exactly where each and every bend is taking you. Never are both cheeks in the saddle at the same time, right, left and right again. It’s a never ending smile of a road that reminds me just why I ride a bike.

Just as I begin hoping that this road will never end, I crest a rise and get a birds eye view of the Pacific Open. Like a tweeker running for his next fix of crystal meth, I turn right onto ’California 1’. How can any road or any coastline be so amazingly beautiful? If there is a God then I’ll probably forgive him or her for most of the crap that’s happening around the world because this is simply amazing. I’ve been here before, several times, but you can never get bored on a road like this ….. engage first gear and disengage reason.

The Pacific Ocean changes colour as dramatically as the temperature drops and rises between fog and sunshine. The morning sunshine persuaded me to leave my riding jacket at home but here along the coast I’m wishing that I’d brought it with me. It’s bloody freezing but who cares, I’m Hunter S Thompson heading down to Big Sur and nothing can take away my smile.

What’s the point in trying to write words to describe how this road feels? It’s an impossible task, so just look at the pictures and turn green with envy ….

As night begins to fall, I turn back onto ‘California 128’ and the Redwood Highway. I love the giant redwoods and the snake of brand new tarmac that runs between them. It’s cold and I really wish that I’d brought my riding jacket with me. Not because of the cold, but foolishly because it has my wallet in it. I’ve got no money to camp for the night …… so I guess I’ll just have to keep on riding … mai pen rai

Post 332: A Day in the Life ....

The cockerel rises at 6am and that’s still an unholy hour before dawn. He rules the roost and I guess if he’s awake then he believes that everybody else should be up and about their own business too. The cockerel has at least two dozen needy hens to service so I guess that his ‘Business’ is quite self-explanatory and the number of small chicks recently seen running about the garden suggests that he’s really quite good at it. But then again, if all I had to do all day was crap, eat and screw, then I guess I’d love being on top of my game too …. mai pen rai

It seems that by the time I’ve brewed my second pot of strong coffee the cockerel has stopped calling. Everybody’s usually awake by then so I guess he’s just saving his strength and preparing to get busy with his ladies. When it’s light enough to walk outside without treading onto anything that might try to kill me, it’s time to feed the animals. A bale of alfalfa hay for the highland cows and the one long-legged lamb that they seem to have adopted. I hope they’re not attached to the nameless lamb because I honestly can’t see him making it past Thanks Giving, at least not with all of it’s delicious legs in place. We feed the animals and they feed us. Watermelon, the oldest of the cows, it heavily pregnant and should really have given birth to her latest calf a few weeks ago. Each morning I’m supposed to check her vulva for progress. But hell, I’m supposed to do a lot of things that I manage to avoid actually doing and life still seems to go on. Then, it’s two scoops of corn for the hens, half of whom now seem to be smiling, and a bucket of apples and corn for the wild pigs. One, two three. Overnight, none of them seem to have escaped through the hog wire and it’s time for me to head on up along Peachland Road to the building site on Lone Tree Ridge.

The Kawasaki starts at the first press of the button but coughs and splutters for a few minutes before I’m confident that it’s really alive. It’s wheezes like an iron lung on two wheels, but it’s a 1999 model and in human years that makes it well past middle-age. I can’t see the stars and that means that the fog has rolled in from the coast. It’s cold and it’s damp but the rising sun gives a special hue to the light and it’s really quite magical. The mist is like a thick insulating cloak that keeps every sound close to it’s source and I can here every single protest from the aging bike‘s engine. A little way along the road, just past the home with suspiciously high and well maintained fencing, the rich and acrid smell of skunk is overpowering. I’ve noticed exactly the same smell every morning for the past month and unless there‘s one very nervous skunk in the area, the smell is probably from a crop of ‘Mendocino Skunk‘ rather than any unfortunate mammal. Due to an unusually cool and wet Spring, this seasons marijuana harvest is late, but from the smell of things around here supply is about ready to equal demand. The liberal living people of the San Francisco Bay area can probably breath a heavy sigh of relief, help is on it‘s way. A shortage of supply has apparently resulted in higher prices but the stink of skunk suggests that there’s about to be a little fiscal easing for it‘s users. It’s probably not what Obama has in mind when he talks about ’Stimulus Packages’, but each to their own … mai pen rai

Turning away from Highway 128, the cattle grid clatters beneath the knobbly tyres and the tarmac gives way to dirt. The mist has dampened the ground and settled the dust making me look like less of a knob as I let the bike slide and pretend that I’m really in control. London commuters whine about standing up on the journey to work, but here in Mendocino County, I absolutely love it. For five glorious miles, the track snakes, climbs and falls between forests alternating between ancient oaks and even older giant redwoods. Every now and again the growing daylight floods onto the track and the forest gives way to vineyards. Three miles up this magnificent track, sometimes four but occasionally two, the bike breaks free of the cloud and the temperature instantly rises. I take a little time to look back down the steep hills and stare at the thick white blanket of cloud that rests over the people in the Valley. It hugs them like a ten-tog duvet and in company with the tallest redwood trees, I feel privileged to be above it. Beyond the clouds the dawn light is painting the sky the colour of ripened peaches and it seems that the sun is chasing the still perfectly visible moon away from it’s territory. It’s a sight that I never grow bored with but staring time is limited. I’ve got a house to help build and the coolness of the morning is the best and only time to work.

Higher in the hills a flock of turkey vultures is circling above some freshly fallen meal. I can’t see exactly what it is but I suspect that last night the hunters have been up in the hills and killing wild animals for fun. Hunting for food I can understand, but they shouldn’t call it ‘Sport’ until every deer is armed with a rifle and taught how to shoot back at the dudes wearing the big hats. Then you can call it a proper sport and I’d probably pay good money to watch it.

At around 7am, I turn the combination to unlock the gate and ride the final hundred yards up to the building site. It’s already quite warm, the air is still and silent but the serenity is about to change. Because this not just any building site, this is an American building site and all tools are powered not by humans but by electricity and compressed air. I rip the temporary generator into life and for the next eight hours of my day, I get to play with some of the biggest power tools that I’ve ever seen. If Carlsberg made building sites, then this would certainly be one of them ….. mai pen rai