Sport-Touring.net West Coast Regional Meet 2005
Since I'd done the Lost Coast last year, and Peter'd never been up this way before, the natural choice for a day trip seemed to be the 299/3/36 loop. While looking at the map set out at the Eel River Brewery on Friday night, though, we noticed that the group doing that loop was meeting at Denny's at 8am. Yikes! A different group, consisting at that time of Chris (Thatman) and Ariana (Aplejax), was meeting at 9am to do a subset of the loop in addition to a neat-sounding backroad called South Fork Mountain Road. A Google search resulted in good reviews of the road, so we decided to join up.
9am rolled around and Peter and I piled into a booth at Denny's with Chris and Ariana. Colleen (DantesDame) and Doug (Zarly) soon appeared, too, followed by Kurt (kurtw) and his friend Dave. Chris told us the story of his recent track day adventures (naturally, his first big wipe-out was right in front of the grandstand, with front-row seats for his wife and both parents!). The eight of us finished up breakfast, gassed up, collected cameras, and were off!
The first part of the trip was along Highway 36 from Fortuna to Mad River. A gorgeous section of road, marred only by Fucko, the Man Who Knew No Turnout. Dave finally got around him in a straightaway, but Kurt and I were stuck behind him for what seemed an eternity. Whimper. Eventually, Fucko turned off the road and Kurt and I caught with the others at a vista point.
We stopped in beautiful downtown Mad River for gas and a potty stop. As far as I could tell, the town consists of a burger stand and a bar/gas station (always a winning combination). Keeping with the fine naming conventions of the area, Mad River was named by the same exploring party that traded the broken frying pan for eels (I seriously wonder who got the better end of the deal there) back in Eel River. This time, the group leader took his sweet time in determining the latitude of mouth of the river; the party grew restless and took off without him. Apparently, the leader grabbed up his stuff, ran after the canoe, and waded in after the rest of the group, swearing a blue streak at them the whole while. Hence, Mad River. It's a good thing that I don't name things, or most towns off of motorcycling roads would be called Fuckoville or Usetheturnoutland or something.
About a block east of beautiful downtown Mad River, we found the turn-off for Forest Service Road 1. Later in the day, we discovered that this wasn't actually the road that Chris and Ariana meant to take (more on that later), but we didn't know that at the time and so we headed north. The road started out normal -- one-lane, barely, sure, but definitely smooth and clear and swoopy. Couple of cattle guards here or a pothole there, but nothing to really write up in a trip report, if you know what I mean. I took pictures and appreciated the scenery.
And then, things started to get weird. A wet road, a cluster of pine needles. I never lost traction, but it was definitely the sort of riding in which you very deliberately slow down a few miles per hour and start to actually pay attention to the road. Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic, but the road was so narrow that I never really wanted to assume that there wouldn't be a pickup truck grill around the next corner. At this point, though, the riding was still mostly easy. It was the sort of riding I love: goat trail-y roads, narrow, interesting but not impossible. Probably about 30mph in the corners. I was near the back and came around one uphill corner to find the gang pulled over to the side of the road for photos. There wasn't even really a shoulder, but heck, there wasn't any traffic so we all mostly parked in the street.
We continued on. We couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 miles north of Highway 36 when we first saw snow. We'd heard that the snowpack was still low, due to the huge amounts of rain that California got over the winter and spring, but it wasn't even that cold! Heck, we weren't even that far up! But snow there was, lining the roads: trace amounts at first, then more and more until we were very clearly riding through a snowplow track. I couldn't help giggling in my helmet -- here I was, full leathers over just a T-shirt and long-sleeved shirt, not even cold, riding through snow! Doing three impossible things before lunch always makes me giddy. Fortunately, Colleen stopped just ahead of me to take some pictures, so I got to jump around and be silly and even have a snowball fight.
Not too much later, we hit the snowpack. There was no getting around it. The snowplow clearly went as far as the intersection of Forest Service Road 1 and South Fork Mountain Road, and no further. Chris scouted the area a little but it was unanimous - we had to turn around. We all hung out for a while -- no one really wanted to turn back, but what could we do? We could drink snow water, and eat Doug's turkey jerky (and perhaps eventually even Doug himself), but we probably wouldn't survive until the snow melted. So, we'd have to go back to South Fork Mountain Road. Which, as it turned out, was where Chris and Ariana had actually wanted to be the entire time.
South Fork Mountain Road was more of the same, but a little clearer than Forest Service Road 1 (if I remember correctly). Still pine needles and snow in patches, but I never felt out of control or worried that I was going to lose traction. I mean, I wouldn't race anyone through there, but it was still a fun twisty little mountain road. The snow gradually tapered off a mile or so off of Highway 36 and, soon, we were pulling into a lookout point right at Hwy 36 and South Fork Mountain Road.
This was a pretty neat vista point -- in addition to gorgeous scenery (sort of a given in those parts), the lookout area had informational signs with a little map of the nearby roads, plus an explanation of which mountains in front of us were which. As a history/geography nerd, I can really appreciate that. Turns out we were standing on South Fork Mountain, which boasts the longest continuous ridge in the continental US (46 miles long). The mountain peaks in front of us were the Lassics -- Red and Black Lassic, respectively -- supposedly named after Chief Lassik, the last leader of a local Athabascan tribe. An interesting side note: Athabascan is a group of related Native languages, not a particular tribe. Its speakers lived all the way from the American Southwest (New Mexico, Arizona, up the California coast) to the interior of Alaska. The Hupa, Navajo, and Apache tribes are probably America's most famous Athabascan tribes.
Anyway, we puttered about the vista point for a while, eating cookies made by Dave's 93-year-old grandma (thanks, Dave's grandma!). Doug rolled down the hill a little bit and came staggering back up looking as though he suddenly remembered why people past age 5 or so don't generally roll down hills. It was determined that we'd return to Mad River for burgers.
The Mad River burger stand made surprisingly good burgers and we all ate happily while poring over maps. It was only 2pm; far too early to go back to Fortuna. We decided to split up -- Colleen, Doug, Chris, and Ariana headed towards some more back roads; Peter, Dave, Kurt, and I went for the rest of the 36/3/299 loop. Peter figured he'd heard so much about it that it'd be a shame to miss out since we were so close...we did some math and figured that we could get to Eureka by 6:30 or so. Not a problem.
There's not actually much to say about this famous loop that hasn't been said -- and probably by me -- a million times. Highway 36 to 3 is fantastic -- lots of sweepers, nothing too tight or too technical, so you're free to practice your lines and just have a ball. It was pretty lightly trafficked, too; always a plus. We stopped for gas in Hayfork, off of Highway 3, and met up with a group of dual-sporters out for the day. Kurt and I saw them again later on 3, just past Hayfork Summit, when we stopped for pictures -- I got a good one of their group rounding a corner.
We'd warned Dave and Peter ahead of time that we might be stopping for pictures, so those guys waited up for us at the 3/299 intersection before Weaverville. If I'm remembering correctly, this was my first time on this westernmost section of 299. It was pretty fun -- more of the same wonderful sweepers and curves and scenery and bright blue skies. The only downside came towards the middle, when we were all getting a little tired anyway, when we ended up two cars behind one of Trinity County's finest. We ended up following the cop for something like 40 miles before he finally turned off, and by that point, we were close enough to the coast that traffic had picked up. Ah well. The scenery was still gorgeous and the sane speeds let us admire the North Fork and Mad Rivers.
We were pretty tired by the time we got to Gil's (Dr. Gil) and Becky's (Beck-Zuki) house around 6:30 (right on time!). Unfortunately, the BBQ had started at 5:30, so there wasn't much food left. Peter and I had a beer and pounded back some really good garlic bread before going out to mingle with our fellow biker scum. How many times can I say that all the ST.n'ers are awesome? Y'all are going to start thinking I'm on the payroll. But no, really, we had a great time. We talked to too many people to call out individually (plus, I'll forget someone and then I'm the asshole) and drooled on lots of sport-touring bikes. Peter liked looking at all the farkle that people have added; I think he's gotten some ideas. *grins*
Sadly, since we'd arrived late, by the time we'd schmoozed and drooled and had the group photo taken, there wasn't really any food left. We hadn't eaten since the burger at Mad River (about 6 hours previous), so we hopped back on our bikes and went back to Fortuna. We ditched the bike clothes, washed up a little bit, and walked back to the Eel River Brewery. Karl (katzke) and Jim (FJ_mahn) were already there, so we joined them and ordered up some frosty beverage. More and more STn'ers staggered in...Gary (twist), Sean (elseanno), Ken (ksann) and his friend Kristen...soon we had pretty much commandeered the whole half of the room. We ate and drank and bullshitted and had a pretty darn good time.
And then it was off to bed.