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My Top of CA ride

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Planning for a ride is always part of the fun. Our route from the Bay Area to Redding included a lot of secondary highways including 16 and 36. The idea was to have a fun route of medium length so we had plenty of enthusiasm left for the main ride on the next day. It was a fine route and a good plan.


Restaurant breakfasts before starting a ride frustrate me. I know others consider it a fine way to start but I figure I can eat anytime and I’d much rather eat something as fast as I can and RIDE! Anyway, three excited riders, me, Dave Dodds (Trapdoor) and Jim Skaggs (jimskaggs) met in Pleasanton CA for breakfast. The company was terrific, the food was good and it didn’t take all that long.


Then our ride started with a very windy 100 miles of dull freeway. We weren’t sure if we would be meeting up with Richard Laethem at a junction. We were early, the winds were blowing pretty hard where we stopped and we couldn’t get Richard on the cell phone. He had said he was a 50/50 to show up for the ride so we left messages on his cell that we would try to meet up with him later down the road and we continued on.


Highway 16 is a blast. It is a short ride along a canyon river. If it were longer, it would be a famous riding destination.


Richard caught up with us a couple hours later on 101. I’ll bet Richard is a good poker player. He did a fine imitation of a novice rider when he introduced himself. He told us he “just past 1,000 miles on his RT”, that he recently purchased the bike and hadn’t been riding for many years. His manner was humble and I was concerned that we were going to ride the fun and challenging 36 and might have a true novice rider with us but my concerns were unfounded. Richard is a fine rider and doesn’t ride like he has ever been away from the sport.


16 is exciting for as long as it lasts and 101 North of Willits is a fun road for a major highway, but the real ride started at 36. The fun however was short lived and ended suddenly.


After passing the junction of 36 and 3 we were still on 36 going East. I asked everyone over the FRS radios if we had all 4 riders. Dave and I had FRS’s and the other two were using listen-only setups. I was checking to see if anyone took the wrong turn. Dave answered saying all 4 were past the junction, then he re-keyed his mike and in an all too serious tone said “Jim is not with us, he was behind me a second ago.” Dave’s transmission came with a terrible feeling. We weren’t more than a mile or two past the junction and there was no place to turn off, stop and no reason to either. I started saying to myself “I hope it is a flat tire, I hope it is a flat tire.” It wasn’t.


We slowed to a walking pace in hopes that we’d see Jim motor around the turn and we could be on our way. A car came up on us quickly, frantically waving and telling Dave that Jim was down. I can still hear Dave’s transmission, “Jim is down! Jim is down!” as we were turning around.


I had never seen anyone who had seriously crashed a street bike before. It was a chilling sight. Jim was taking a sweeping left turn, and left the right side of the road and almost immediately hit an embankment. The accident sent Jim flying. He was 20 feet in front of his bike laying on the white line on his back on the right side of the road.


Myself, Dave and Richard pulled over and immediately started trying to slow any oncoming traffic. This was a very good thing. Jim was in front of his bike as far off the road as possible (the embankment went almost all the way to the white line) but this was a blind turn on both sides and a relatively fast turn, a 40 mph turn for most RT riders. Jim was very vulnerable laying there. Several times before we had a chance to extend the warning area, a car came barreling around the turn and jammed on their brakes as they saw us waving. Had Jim been riding alone and this happened he would have had no choice but to get himself all the way off the other side of the road and darn quickly.


Later Jim told me that he first came to rest in the middle of the road and rolled over several times to reach the side of the road where we found him. Incredible.


I went first to Jim’s bike and turned off the ignition. Then I went up to Jim and was very relieved to see that he was conscious. He had his right glove off and informed me that he had a compound fracture of his hand. He raised it up and showed me. His thumb was badly broken. He seemed perfectly lucid. I thought that was amazing. He told me “everything works” and that his ankle hurt, his lower back hurt. He also said he was hot and sweating.


At one point Jim closed his eyes. That bugged me. I told him “keep your eyes open, keep talking.” I thought it best not to remove his helmet, not move him, and not let him close his eyes. I guess that was what everyone there was thinking and that’s what we did.


People amazed me. Nearly everyone stopped to try to help. We were sending people away that wanted to help. Locals up there don’t just drive by an accident. We sent several people off with instructions to call 911 as soon as they could find a cell phone signal or another phone. Richard headed East on 36 to contact those at Ken’s in Redding and decide what more to do for Jim if anything, and to ask the group about the best way to deal with Jim’s bike.


The EMT’s arrived quickly considering how far out in the country we were. I think they were there in 45-60 minutes. I was completely impressed with the two paramedics. They were kind, professional, very skilled and showed fine judgment. Everything I watched and everything they said impressed me. If I ever need medical help I hope those two, or two just like them come to my aid.


The paramedics removed Jim’s helmet with great care, stabilized his neck, put him on a backboard and loaded him into the aid truck. I asked if I could follow the truck and they encouraged me to do so.


I am so impressed with the work EMT’s like these folks do. We are very fortunate to live in communities that have people like them.


Following that truck was depressing. For the first half hour they had the lights turned on full in the back of the truck where Jim was and I watched them clean and bandage his hand, hook him up to an IV and do several other things. I could see everything through the back windows of the truck as we motored down the road. The ride to Red Bluff took about 90 minutes but it seemed to take forever. After a half hour the paramedics were done treating Jim and they turned down the lights in the truck. I thought the dim lights looked like a hospital room at night.


Jim was taken to St. Elizabeth’s in Red Bluff. I made a couple of calls to Jim’s family and tried to help out with his belongings. I did what I could but it wasn’t much.


Jim was soon transferred to Mercy Hospital in Redding, a very fine looking facility indeed. It is a very large and serious looking facility for the size of community it serves. It says “Level II Trauma Center” on the outside. I knew Jim needed help and that these folks knew everything they needed to know. As it turned out I just missed Dave and Rich. I talked very briefly to Jim and noted that he seemed in very good spirits.


When I left the hospital I didn’t feel like riding or visiting or even going home. Here I was about to meet with people I think the world of, ride in some of the most beautiful country anywhere and I felt zero joy or enthusiasm. I couldn’t imagine that changing very much by morning but I decided to put off any decision about the main ride until morning.


Ken had told me to go into his house and find a certain place to sleep if everyone was sleeping already. At 12:30 a.m. they were and I did. That ended a long and difficult day.


I woke very early, 5:00 I think. I always do when I’m going on a big ride. I did my morning chores and made my way outside before 6:00. A rooster was crowing and animals were stirring everywhere. I’ve never lived in “the country” so it all looked interesting and different.


My mood was entirely different from several hours before. I knew I should go on the ride. I’m a rider and accidents will happen. It is a difficult part of the picture, but I’m still a rider. It was an easy decision.


Then a black cow walks across Ken’s front yard. Large animal. Where was it supposed to be? Could that be Ken’s? Aren’t cows supposed to have fences? That didn’t look right to a suburban guy like me. Later Charlotte was barely surprised and said “In our yard? Again?” and she just shook her head a little. I guess if you live in the country you just put up with the occasional misguided bovine. Ken just said “That’s not MY cow.”


I did ride. I did see scenery that few who live in California ever see. I was around great people all day long. But, I never got my act together. I didn’t ride very well. I was preoccupied. I was just going through the motions. I didn’t feel bad but my normal enthusiasm never came online. The whole day was necessary therapy. Riding is like that. I find that it is the answer for a great many things. Bad day at work, take a ride. Have a difficult decision to make, ride. Tension piling up on you, what else? Ride.


I would wander into turns in the wrong gear, I’d forget to rev the motor. I’d neglect a decent line through a turn and on and on. Things improved a great deal half way through the ride when I started riding behind Dave Dodds. I enjoy his riding style very much and following him put me much more in my normal groove. Dave was obviously enjoying himself on the ride and some of that rubbed off too, I started feeling it again.


Let me tell you, the area between Redding and the coast is so beautiful it defies description. Awesome mountains, rugged clear green rivers, expansive vistas, canyons, terrific roads, secluded settlements, a different way of life, a land dominated by trees, these were the things I saw. This is a land not fully tamed by roads, homes, large towns and “infrastructure”. I had been on some of these roads but this was different. This time I saw the beauty, I saw the awesomeness of the land.


I think this area is as beautiful as any place I have ever seen. What a privilege it was to go on this ride. People don’t get to see this stuff and we do!


One road that took everyone to Forks of Salmon was spectacular even by the standards of the area. It was a paved windy narrow road that clung to the side of a steep mountain that dropped away to the ragging river hundreds of feet below. In many spots you could see the river way down there but you couldn’t see any of the downhill shoulder or any of the mountain below. It was just road and fast moving water way down there. In many spots the earth below the asphalt had eroded and a bit of the asphalt was totally unsupported. I don’t think a child could stand on it without it crumbling. But you would have to be crazy to ride that close to the downhill edge of the road so it was no hazard. That whole stretch of road was stunningly spectacular.


The group was so large that the stops were frequent and long. That was cool. Great people make stopping well worth it. There were a couple of places I wished I could have stopped and talked to a local or two. One place with maybe 50 people, a tiny settlement far from anywhere “modern”, had two old guys in overalls sitting on a porch in front of their trailer home in rocking chairs. What a sight they were. I almost expected to see a old Coonhound right next to them with big floppy ears and a guttural moan for a bark. I would have loved to talk to those two for a spell.


There are so many ways to live your life. I’ll bet those two were just fine with the way they were living theirs.


I was so out of rhythm that when the group stopped for a photo opportunity of Mt. Shasta I asked Greg Haverkamp why were stopping and he just pointed East. I had ridden up to a perfect vista of the towering Mt. Shasta, turned my bike straight at it, parked, got off and didn’t even see it. “Oh yeah, OK. A huge snow covered volcano that looks like it is across the street. I see.” That in a nutshell is how my day went.


Back at the Wood ranch after the ride there was a magnificent Lasagna dinner, Pumpkin Pie, bench racing and tall tales. What fun. If you’ve done that kind of thing with bmwsporttouring.com people you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t you’re new or you’re completely nuts.


This night I slept on a top bunk. Dave Dodds was in the lower bunk. There was a window inches from my face that overlooked Ken’s yard. There is no truth to the rumor that I woke up screaming out that window for a medic to get forward and fix a wounded G.I. in the movie Saving Private Ryan. Just because I can tell you what every inch of the bombed out building looked like and where the sniper was that was doing all the damage doesn’t prove a thing. I wasn’t going to say anything but it was Dave. Sorry Dave but I can’t cover for you any longer…


Dave and I live in the same town and before the weekend we had planned to ride home on a different route from the route the main group rode, 36 to Fortuna. The plan was to ride parallel to I-5 along the foot of the coastal mountains. Stonyford is the best known berg on that route. The idea was to wind down the weekend with some slow touring, some genuine sightseeing. Neither of us had ridden this area before. What a great idea this turned out to be! The area was at its peak of beauty. There was green carpet of grass everywhere. Dave said the route reminded him of Old California, the way things were when he was a kid. It sure seemed like that.


We stopped and talked to a guy that looked like a genuine ranch hand. He was fixin’ a fence. After he gave us some directions he told us of his old Suzuki GS1100 and his dirt bike racing. This guy was pure Americana. People are what make a ride memorable.


We stopped at one shop and talked to an old couple that owned the store. The man said “yeah it looks nice around here now but don’t blink because it only looks that way a few weeks a year.” The couple had a tiny dog that cracked me up. Mangy doesn’t even come close to describing the 16 year old pooch. Neither does cranky. The couple said they hadn’t petted the dog in 16 years and they hardly ever brush him or even touch him. They were kindly people that for some odd reason loved this dog. It wasn’t them, it was the dog. He wanted to live out his years without being touched and hated any such attention. Even the local vet didn’t want to see this dog but this couple just kept taking care of him. Amazing.


We ate lunch at the only restaurant/bar in Stonyford. The place looked like the town social center, smelled of smoke and had a TV every 10 feet tuned to a NASCAR race. Before a ride I recommend slamming your food down and hitting the road but when you’re on the road finding a bit of local culture when you need to eat is the way to go. It puts color to the towns and bergs we travel through.


I was about to declare this route the best kept secret in California when it turned nasty. There’s a stretch of road just North of Highway 20 going toward Stonyford that we decided to ride. It started of with bone jarring pavement that I didn’t realize was the good part of the road. The “bad” part was dirt and gravel. 19 miles of it. Took me at least an hour and a half and wore me out bad. I have never concentrated so hard in my life.


Riding in the dirt has always left me injured and miserable, and that was riding dirt bikes. I do not understand how bikes go through the dirt, how they go downhill or how to compensate when they start to slide or encounter obstacles. I have never successfully gone down a steep hill in the dirt. I’ve tried it dozens of times and have crashed dozens of times. One time I crashed a Honda 500 single 11 times going down a half-mile trail on Monitor pass. The trail was hard packed clay, very slick, very steep with 180 degree switchbacks. At the bottom I was beat up and the bike had a hole in the crankcase and was about to seize its cylinder. Not fun.


Here is where my tip over in the snow the week before really paid off. I casually, presumptively rode my bike in the snow and the bike went “bonk”. No damage but the incident really sobered me up. I shouldn’t take casual chances with my RT. It seems that my adventurous spirit must be balanced with at least some common sense. Also I figured out that my bike is heavy, which I did not fully appreciate before lifting my bike out of the snow.


When I got into the dirt I was fully aware I didn’t know what I was doing. I also knew it wouldn’t take much to put me in a situation that I wouldn’t know how to compensate for, so I rode very carefully, 10-12 mph the whole way. It was agony. Every once in awhile I’d hit some gravel and the bike would start to shimmy. It felt like riding in the snow and look how that turned out. I still think that I could have been in trouble if I had hit a pothole or tried to go down too steep of a hill.


By the time I was done I was doing much better. I felt exhilaration and accomplishment as I finally hit pavement again. Wonderful, beautiful, God given pavement. This was by far my most positive experience riding in the dirt. Wooo hooo!


I now know that I need to learn the basics of dirt bike riding. I also know I will have to learn a huge amount more than that if I am going to try the 500 mile dirt/mud road to Prudhoe Bay someday which is a goal of mine. Right now I just don’t know what I’m doing.


The reward for making it to the end of the dirt road was another blast down 16. Just as fun this time and the end of the real ride. The rest of the ride home Dave and I wiled away the freeway miles going over the weekend, the good and the bad. Mostly good.


I can’t be the only person that thinks Top of California should be an annual event. It is too good to only do once.


There were great people, great places and new things to experience. This is what riding is all about. How silly it is to reduce riding to a horsepower to weight game or to think that the amount of chrome on your bike is the highlight of your sport. Riding is about people, places and experiences, and finding out what is inside your spirit.


Next for me is a bit of a break. I’ve spent so many weekends riding that I’m behind on my bike maintenance and other things I need to do. I want to learn to do my own tires and fuel filter and to do a GOOD throttle body sync, which I haven’t done yet. These too are part of riding. I learn, I do new things, I function better as a rider. It won’t be a long break and I’ll still ride most every day.


Then Torrey!!!!! I can’t wait.

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Great report. Thanks for sharing with us

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" Riding is about people, places and experiences, and finding out what is inside your spirit."


You are absolutely right. It's also about speed a little. tongue.gif


Great write up of a wonderful trip outside of Jim's go down. How is he? So a dirt bike is now in your future or a dual sport? Thanks for taking us along. wink.gif

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Great write-up, Cory.


One thing you might look into...The MSF is doing Dirt Bike school: http://www.msf-usa.org/pages/dirtbikeschool/index2.html


Sounds like a good way to get some dirt time in a low-pressure environment.


Personally, I think dirt experience is great and would really help lots of riders. If nothing else, it allows you to experience marginal traction on a bike that will not set you back $5,000 if you tip it over at 2mph. smile.gif Plus...dirt bikes are just FUN!


Torrey...Torrey...Torrey...Torrey...Torrey. smile.gif

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I was so out of rhythm that when the group stopped for a photo opportunity of Mt. Shasta I asked Greg Haverkamp why were stopping and he just pointed East. I had ridden up to a perfect vista of the towering Mt. Shasta, turned my bike straight at it, parked, got off and didn?t even see it. ?Oh yeah, OK. A huge snow covered volcano that looks like it is across the street. I see.? That in a nutshell is how my day went.


I too often miss the sights along the way. And when I'm on roads like we rode over the weekend, I miss a whole lot more than usual. It was a great view, and lots of people snapped photos. Rich captured it here. I saw Sam taking some video, and there must have been 10 other cameras.


I sometimes get frustrated by the stops, but Cory makes some excellent points above. It could be a lot worse than being out with a group that is anxious to chat about what's just been covered.


I'm glad you had a good ride back, Cory. I know things were a bit hard after Friday night, and Hwy 36, especially, did not seem appealing. But what a hoot for the rest of us, anyway. smile.gif


I'm still spending my days remembering the ride.



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