Thursday, July 24, 2008

Adventures in Moving, Part 2

I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again

--James Taylor

Where we turned around
French Hill Road, Del Norte County California
Taken 7/11/08

It will come as no surprise to anyone following the news that Northern California is on fire. 2008 is the worst fire year in recent history, and fires have burned from Big Sur to Mount Shasta. Before we left for California, our friend Norm asked if Mother’s house was in danger. I replied “no,” explaining that the coastal fires were further south and the northern fires were inland. That’s before we got to the Golden State and found ourselves stopped by a wildfire blocking the highway twenty some miles from home.

Mind you, that’s twenty miles by highway. If you care to fly with an old crow, the distance is much shorter between Gasquet and Smith River. A distance that is covered with lots of fuel to feed wildfires borne on the wind.

Friday evening, knowing we had only a few miles left to go, Kevin pulled out his Missoula Rural Fire ID card and we tried to talk our way past the barricades. This worked at first, but when we came to a line guarded by a California Highway Patrolman, we got no further. We were told that if we knew the back way, we could probably take the southern route over French Hill. Just don’t try the northern route, as that was probably in the line of the fire.

The northern route would have led us directly to Smith River (well, as directly as a mountain logging road can be), but as that was out, we tried French Hill. Now I’ve been all over these mountains, and have driven many of the back roads, but I’d never been on French Hill. There’s a first time for everything, isn’t there!

In one of the area’s great boondoggles, a road was constructed between Gasquet on US 199 and Orleans on California 96. This road has always been known as the GO Road for its two termini (Gasquet and Orleans). Construction of the road caused quite a bit of consternation amongst Native American and environmental circles, and a court battle ensued. Road construction continued while the courts deliberated, but finally a decision was handed down ending the road building. Today there is a northern end to the GO Road and a southern end, but there is also a seven-mile gap between the two. I can’t speak about the southern end—I’ve never been on it—but the northern end is a paved, two-lane highway that winds over twenty-five miles into the Siskiyou Mountains before it stops abruptly. To read more about the court cases, check out these sites: and A more lengthy discussion of the issues can be found at

The GO Road doesn’t actually start at Gasquet, but rather branches off the South Fork Road which follows, appropriately enough, the South Fork of the Smith River. As we were driving up French Hill, I wondered if this had been the original starting section of the infamous unfinished highway. We found ourselves all alone driving up a dirt logging road, without a clear idea where we were headed.

After about five miles, we met a vehicle heading down the mountain. The driver told us we were still on the right road (a road designated with the number 411). He suggested that if we continued on for another five miles, we would come to a T and if we then turned right, we would be on road 405. This road would take us down to the South Fork Road.

Well, the five miles turned into 9, but eventually we found ourselves at a T. Turning right we continued climbing until we came to the wide spot pictured above. At this point Kevin became quite concerned that we did not have enough fuel to get us off the mountain—whether we continued on or turned back. Even with the trailer empty, pulling it caused the Expedition’s miles per gallon to drop precipitously. Driving in low gear on a mountain dirt road used even more fuel.

Since we really had no idea how much further into the wilds we would have to drive, we turned back. From this location, looking south, we were able to spot the smoke plume from the Blue 2 fire in southern Del Norte County. This lightning caused fire started on June 20th and as of yesterday (7/23/08) was only 25% contained. For the fire incident report and a current update, go to

The Blue 2 Fire
Del Norte County, California
Taken 7/11/08

Traveling on a wing and a prayer, as it were, we got down the mountain and back to our friends’ home in Gasquet. Verizon has good cell service in the area, and I had called a Crescent City friend, Mike, to let someone know where we were in case we didn’t make it out of the hills. Mike had offered to bring us gas (as none was available in Gasquet), but just as we couldn’t get past the barricades, he would not have been able to either. Nor could I tell him just how to negotiate the back roads to bypass the fire lines.

As it turns out, our friends in Gasquet are farmers. They grow California’s number one cash crop. Too bad it isn’t legal. I won’t go into a discourse on drug use and abuse, but as a person who hates to take Advil, and won’t use illicit drugs, I have to say I find it extremely hypocritical of the US Government to name, by act of Congress, Bourbon as the national drink of the US while at the same time demonizing marijuana, its growers and users. (For more on Bourbon see National Bourbon Month )

Since our friends are operating outside the law, I will not use their real names. Let’s call them David and Doug. D&D had a friend stuck in Crescent City whom they needed to fetch. David was going to take Doug’s car and travel the back road. I volunteered to accompany him on the drive, provided he didn’t mind stopping in Crescent City to pick up Mike’s gas cans. He readily agreed as he was not looking forward to making the trip alone.

We headed out, once again driving up French Hill. We drove fourteen miles on road 411, then turned right onto road 405. All of this was now familiar to me. But we continued on 405 for an additional fourteen miles before reaching South Fork Road. At that point we were back on pavement, but over ten miles from US 199. Kevin and I would never have made it in the Expedition.

The view from Gasquet Airport
Gasquet, California
Taken 7/11/08

Once in Crescent City, we picked up Mike’s gas cans, picked up D&D’s friend who had been camped out in the Safeway parking lot for the past four hours, grabbed a quick bite at McDonald’s, filled the gas cans ($50 to fill three gas cans at $4.79/gallon), and headed back toward Gasquet. US 199 was still closed, so we turned off onto South Fork Road, then 405, finally 411, getting back to Gasquet five hours after we left. That’s right. It took us five hours to travel thirty miles.

Now here’s where it gets surreal. Fasten your seat belts and hold on. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. Understand that David smokes (tobacco) and Doug doesn’t. David was driving Doug’s car. Doug wasn’t along. All the while talking about how a careless smoker probably was responsible for the fire blocking 199, David was smoking, and holding the cigarette out the window, because Doug doesn’t want him to smoke in the car. OK. I can deal with that. On the way back, middle of the night, the bong comes out. So now we have a cigarette going, a bong being lit repeatedly, and gas fumes filling the car from the three gas cans in the back of the compact SUV. I kept up my Navajo mantra. “Today is a good day to die.”

The subject of marijuana economics came up. The expressed opinion of those in the know—two-thirds of those in the car—was that the fires were going to make a major impact on the availability of the merchandise. Much of California’s crop is grown outdoors in the forests. With the forests going up in smoke, so was the crop.

As an outsider, I asked what would happen should marijuana be legalized. The immediate answer was that Phillip Morris would take over the market, simultaneously providing an inferior product and putting the little guys out of business. There would, however, always be a market for quality goods. Ah, isn’t it always the case.

Back at the ranch, sleep was difficult. Between the strange bed, the fact that our two dogs were sharing a house with two other dogs, and the ever present worry about the nearby fire, this light sleeper tossed and turned—a lot. When Kevin woke me around 7:30, it felt as if I had just fallen deeply asleep.

Kevin said he’d heard traffic on the highway, and he figured the road was open. He was concerned that it would reclose, so we had to leave now. He’d already emptied the gas cans into the tank.

Yes it's one-lane and paved
Josephine County, Oregon
Taken 7/12/08

Out on the highway traffic was moving—right up to the barricades. Still no word on when the road might be opened. The problem was no longer the smoke that closed the road the night before. Now we had rocks and trees, loosened by the fire, falling across the road.

We made a U-turn, and headed back to Oregon. Filling the tank and our bellies in Cave Junction, we cut across to Merlin and the Rogue River, then followed the road across the mountains to Gold Beach. This is a one-lane logging road that has been paved. Don’t ask me why anyone would bother to pave a logging road. Plenty of other people had the same idea and we were constantly meeting traffic as we crossed the mountains.

Dropping down into Gold Beach, we hit US 101 and drove the final 40 miles to Smith River, arriving around 1:30. Our trip from Gasquet to Smith River, normally a half-hour drive, took six hours.

Emptying the house revealed that the walls would need to be painted if there was any hope of selling the place. While Kevin loaded the trailer, I painted the three bedrooms. Wednesday afternoon, we locked the doors and headed out. US 199 was finally open, with fire crews mopping up the remains of the fire.

"Just Married," "Out and Proud," Kalispell car dealer
What's not to love
Taken 7/16/08 in Portland, Oregon

We drove through to Portland where we spent the night. A car in the motel’s parking lot had “Just Married” painted on the back window. How nice, I thought. Then I saw the rainbow bumper sticker proclaiming “Out and Proud.” HOW NICE! I said again. Now that the California Supreme Court has ruled that gay people are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexuals, people from all over are heading to the chapel of love. Let’s all work together to keep the forces of hatred and ignorance from taking this away from us.


hotproof said...

After reading your last two postings, this unknown source quote came to mind: "An obstacle is often an unrecognized opportunity."

The opportunities were: you got to explore unfamiliar territory; you got to spend more time with your friends; you observed how giving & helpful your friends were; you learned new things thru this experience; etc.

Despite the obstacles, you & your friends achieved the goal, albeit some extra time involved. Fantastic!

One more quote, this one from T.S. Eliot: "We shall not cease from exploration. At the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time."

Thanks for sharing your experience in moving. I'm "moved" by your narrative writing talent.

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