19 Aug 2012

Bikes and stuff on the road in California and Oregon

Having just spent a couple of weeks on the road (in a car, admittedly) in Northern California and Oregon, here are a few observations and images related to my favourite mode of transport: the motorcycle.

1). I dearly wish that I had done these roads, and this trip, on a bike. Most of the roads I drove on, up and down the coast and through the redwood forests, between San Francisco and Portland, would have been even more enjoyable on a motorcycle. For the most part these roads are well signaled, sometimes with superb surfaces (although variable) and with great scenery. I would add that the vast majority of car drivers here are attentive, and that bikers seem welcome in most places.

2). With roads like this (I mean the twisty ones along which I have been driving for most of the time), I am surprised that about 80% of the bikes that I have seen on the road have been Harleys, and usually big ones with lots of heavy baggage added on, and sometimes even trailers. I am not a great fan of HD's, as they seem like noisy 2-wheeled tractors to me, although naturally any bike is better than none. But here I am just thinking about suitability to the roads. They just seem far too heavy and unwieldy for the job of riding roads like the superb Highway 1 and many sections of 101, as well as the crossroads that link them. I think that the American fascination with the Harley goes hand-in-hand with addiction to other big heavy things like SUV's and monstrous 4-wheel drive pick-ups.

3). Most of the other bikes seen along the highways have been BMWs of various descriptions, mostly recent GS's, well laden too. But also the occasional classic and modified variety, like this 750, seen parked in Healdsburg.

BMW's are far better for these roads for sure, but I saw very few sports bikes (where are the Ducatis?). I did see the occasional KTM, like this one, parked outside a cinema in a place called Point Arena.

4). Talking about Point Arena, which is on the coastline along Highway 1, just south of the much smarter Mendocino, I woke up there one morning, wondering where were all the motorcycle shops, and stumbled upon this sign:

And, a couple of doors down the street, I found this place:

Which opened a little later to reval this lovely Ducati SS, amongst others nice things (a beautiful touring Ducati S3, a Triumph Tiger 500, and other goodies).

The Zen House, which naturally practices the art of motorcycle maintenance on all 2-wheelers but with a preference for older European machines, belongs to David Harris, a former architect and also Ducati dealer in San Diego. Not only does he practise what Robert Pirsig preached (oh dear, I can see God creeping in here and I didn't mean that!), he clearly also epitomises what Robert Crawford laid out in his excellent and more recent book that I once enthusiastically reviewed here.

Harris has his own website, which is: www.TheZenHouse.net

Because of places like this, I would liked to have spent more time in and around Point Arena, which appears somewhat run-down, is totally unpretentious, and yet has facilities that many much larger places do not have, such is the cinema below that shows current release movies and using, for the moment, an old-style projector

5).In a country with a fairly recent history, anything over about 30 years old tends to get dubbed "historical". If it has survived that long, it often gets carefully restored, and sometimes creatively modified, like this beautiful low-rider car on what must be a 1940's coupé base (don't know enough about cars to identify it further). It looks like something out of a strip-cartoon. The detail work is equally impressive and, on the whole, sober.

6). And bikers? Well, I didn't really get the opportunity to talk to many, apart from this very friendly guy who stayed in the next-door room in a motel in Grants Pass. He said that he liked his big 6-cylinder Triumph and had been running it for 6 years. His lady friend was on a Can-Am 3-wheeler, of which I saw a few.

18 Aug 2012

Lucky musical dip at Indian Lake Resort on Clear Lake California

When you are travelling and are prepared to improvise, you can get very lucky sometimes. For example, there is a well hidden little motel, really just a collection of cabins for fishermen and families on holiday, bunched around a small bay on the vast Clear Lake in northern California. 

The place, like a few others around the USA, is called Indian Lake Resort, and it lies on Highway 20, just west of the fairly dreary resort town of Clearlake Oaks, on the northside of what is California's largest natural lake. Looks ordinary? Well, it feels like paradise after a day on the road!

Shooting from the wheel along Highway 5, with Burney Mountain and its clouds in the background

And then down that long dusty road cross country

Having been driving most of the day down from Oregon, first on Highway 5, then branching out, through some degree of boredom, onto little roads that sometimes became dirt tracks and, on occasion, ceased to exist after a while, finally getting through a recently extinguished fire zone onto Highway 20 heading west, I was about ready for anything that might have a bed in it. The first motel on this vast lake looked a bit too roadside and boring. The next one, on the lakeside, was apparently being refurbished by Indians (from India!), but we sort of hit gold with the 3rd one, called, like many others around this country, the Indian Lake Resort.  

As I walked into the compound under the shade of drooping oak trees, with the sun going down to my right, I could hear fiddle and accordeon music coming up from a pontoon on the lakeside. It sounded good and the place felt peaceful and friendly. In the office, Tony Benevento greeted me and, after a discussion on how to convert miles to kilometers, quickly said that we could have the recently refurbished suite cabin for a night at a special rate and that there was food and a concert all for free in the package, since his place does this every Thursday, with different groups playing. Tonight was a folk group. I settled readily for such a deal, especially given that the place also has the excellent San Franciscan Anchor beer.

Tony, it transpired, is himself a musician, loves (amongst other stuff) blues music and is about to return to Italy, the country of his ancestors, for the first time in his life for a  holiday. We got talking and the next morning he kindly set up a quick tour of some local wineries, about which more in another article to come. 

After eating, I listened to the musicians until the light faded on the lake and they packed up. They played all kinds of things and there were some quite magical moments with a set of Irish dance numbers in whch the 2 lady fiddlers excelled. I had to tie my feet down! Early the next morning, I watched the sun rise over the lake and read the astute and sometimes scathing observations of Italo Calvino on his first visit to the USA in the late 1950's. 

Want to go there? Here are the connections:
Indian Beach Resort, 9945 East Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks, CA 95423
tel: 707 998 3760

15 Aug 2012

Robert Parker is in the Portland Museum of Modern Art

I have a lot to say about Portland, which is a fine and interesting city with at least 2 magnificent museums: the Museum of Art and the Historical Society Museum, about each of which I will speak later in more detail. I must say that I find the museums I have seen so far on the US quite exemplary, with knowledgeable, friendly and welcoming staff, excellent viewing conditions, well laid-out and lit exhibitions, both permanent and temporary, and all due credit given to donators and sponsors. And you can take photographs almost anywhere, provided you avoid using flash.

But today I have a little scoop for you. I have finally found the real Robert Parker! (bit of a house joke for the wine community). Here he is, sitting in the Portland (Oregon) Museum of Art and looking a bit tired. It is interesting to note that his brother-in-law has a winery in Oregon, called Beaux Frères. I have yet to taste any wines from there. Here is a closer look at the man....

The artist describes him as a dishwasher, which may be a career the great man has adopted, but of which I was not aware.

14 Aug 2012

California to Oregon: things seen

No particular theme today, just a sketchbook if things seen and places visited, in various places between Eureka in Northern California, and Portland in Oregon along Highway 101 and Highway 5. Much more to come, I can assure you !

In a fairly ordinary, hippy-like café (oh we're sooo organic!) on the market square of Arcata, on the other side of the bay from Eureka, my last port of call. This is an ironical wink at the legal service at Champagne Veuve Clicquot, a company for which I worked for 7 years and which relentlessly pursued people like the producers of this sign.

Stopped over in  a beautiful but run-down little place called Port Orford, with a spectacular bay (see next photographs) and booked into a seedy little motel with this car as a neighbour. Not sure what it is and it was gone the next morning when I went out to run on the beach at 6.30. Nice colour, nice shape.

Battle Rock, at Port Orford, Oregon

Looking south from Port Orford

My zen sculpture on the beach at Port Orford

Not always land of the free, and not always land of the spelling either

Red Fish, probably the best restaurant for at least 100 miles around, reasonably sophisticated, with excellent service and a very fine wine list. It overlooks the bay and is associated with an adjacent art gallery. It also lies just across Highway 101 from the motel mentioned where I stayed. Land of contrasts!

The best breakfast I have had so far was here, at Lloyds, in the fishing port (and minor tourist trap) of Bandon. Get there early on a Sunday so that the shops are shut! And watch the waves....

I'm moving inland...

13 Aug 2012

The road to Eureka

From Mendocino to Eureka, the road dips in and out of the mist according to the whims of the weather and the topography. The ocean, when it decides to reveal itself, lifting its misty skirts in a constant game of "now you see me, now you don't", is spectacular and the coastline frequently indented, usually rocky and looking dangerous. 

The other natural glory of this part of the world is of course the redwood forests. As Highway 1 winds its spectacularly tortuous way inland to join up with 101 at the virtual village of Leggett, these forests become increasingly dominant. Many of them are now protected in a multiplicity of National and State parks. The cathedrals formed by the often giant trees make for impressive havens of peace while providing gloriously soft air. They are also totally litter-free (the fine for littering in California is 1000$), and very well set out for the visitor, who may be greeted by washbowls in redwood, as below.

Steinbeck got it pretty much right...

Inland one finds rivers and, in some parts, lakes. And so the opportunity for those on the road to polish off their bottle of Big House Red left over from yesterday's picnic and maybe fish a bit...

Further up on Highway 101, which forms a much faster route than the old and lovely Highway 1, one runs into Humbolt County and gradually closes in again on the Pacific. The port of Eureka lies at that junction, on the southern side of Arcata Bay with its counterpart, the rather over-hippy/hip Arcata, on the northern side. Taking a sidestep a block or two west of the 101 in Eureka one discovers a town that has retained its 19th century style in many ways. And with a few surprises as well in some shop windows.

And with no less than 3 theatres, including this one, curiously decked-out to look like the Arc de Triomphe and held up (perhaps literally) by a bank.

Eureka also boasts a wine bar, called Wine Sport, and an excellent, trendy and recently opened beer bar, called "The Local".

Check the beer list on skateboards. And most of the customers (90% male) seemed to be wearing beards. Local fashion I suppose. Good beers anyway.

And bikes? Tried really hard to see anything that was not a huge Harley, often fully decked-out with armchair seats and often trailors to go. Found this Buell, probably the only proper motorcycle ever produced by Harley! Of course the idiots in charge of the HD dinosoar factory have ceased production of the Buell.  

And so back to the (probably haunted) Eagle House Hotel, which has to be one of the strangest places in which I have ever spent a night. Interesting though.... thought I saw Anthony Perkins in a corridor.

12 Aug 2012


Easter Island? No, this is in Mendocino, now a genteel little coastal resort on the Californian coast about 3 hours north of San Francisco (by the fast route). It seems to be a haven for folks with some ressources. But it has what must have been a tough and very different past in the logging days, and this is a post left over from the cable winching system used to carry those logs out to ships anchored in the bay beyond.

When you take a walk around today's neat, peaceful, and manicured village of Mendocino, it is quite hard to imagine that it must have been a rough old place back in the 19th century when its function was getting logs, cut from the redwood forests behind and up river, out to sea and ships that could take them to places where they were needed for building. Today, there is a well-stocked wine shop, at least two sophisticated restaurants, and, alongside, various bars and other places to cater to all tastes and pockets. But the place remains, mainly, genteel.

Houses like the one above, perched not far from the edge of steep cliffs, could equally be sited on the north-east coast of the US, around Cape Cod, and most of them have preserved, somewhat artfully, their nostalgic charm. Although the US had long since been a nation independant from the English parent, this architectural period that takes up all of the second half of the 19th century is strangely, and, it seems, proudly, referred to here as "Victorian" in brochures and other documents.

The hotel in which we stayed (photo above) looks to me like something out of a decor for a western, but inside it is indeed heavily "Victorian" and dark, almost to the point of caricature. When I walked in to ask for a room, there was even, in mid August, an artificial fire burning in a chimney that reminded me of the one I had in my student days in London!  The bedrooms were truly out of a western, with small doors leading off a narrow corridor, shared bathrooms across the corridor (they didn't stretch it to metal tubs) and narrow beds with iron headers. Thought Clint Eastwood would be in there. And they call these rooms "European". In fact the place is very comfortable and I think I prefer it to the rather chintzy bed & breakfast establishments around Mendocino that may well cost about the same and don't give the same service. I'll take a traditional hotel anytime. 

Many houses in Mendocino are remarkably sober in both design and materials, almost to the point of quaker-like austerity. I took the colour out of the above photograph, but the small bush you can see on the left in front of the house was actually a startlingly bue hyndrangea. Looked great in the morning mist as I came back from a run along the headpoint cliffs. 

You have to accept mist and fog to live here, as it seems to be the order of things most mornings, at least until the land warms up sufficiently to disperse it, which may not be until midday. As the very helpful man in the hotel told me, "you have 50% chance of being in fog here".

It could well be that the beauty of the gardens in Mendocino (and indeed all along the North-West coast) owe something to the moisture-laden air, although I suppose you need to take care about the effect of the salt air on some plants.The Mendocino Post Office is a good example:

Nostalgia for past times seems to play a growing part in many people's lives in what is known as the Western World. One can see it it shops, in cloths, in buildings and in some of the vehicles around. Actually I would link it, in these cases, to aesthetics, as I find such vehicles as the one below so much more pleasing to the eye than those garish and bulky trucks that so many people drive over here. Do you really need a huge 4-wheel drive thingie a mile long unless you are a construction worker working in the country?

And there are places to go in Mendocino if you want something different from the refined and expensive and are not particularly into plant therapy, zen whatsit and holistic medicine! Such as Dick's Place, right next to the Mendocino Hotel and on the waterfront which is also Main Street. We all use our own forms of therapy I suppose.