Monday, August 7, 2017

Riding To Happy Camp

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Stopped at the abandoned mercantile. It was bustling with activity on my visit 10 years earlier.
Since I began riding my own motorcycle, I've felt a great urgency to ride to Happy Camp, CA. I've only been to this remote mining town once before, to attend my Aunt Marcia's funeral in 2007. I knew I would return one day, answering the pang in my heart to see her final resting place.

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Marcia's Graduation photo
Marcia and I have always had a great deal in common. She and her husband Bill raised 3 boys and lived in my hometown of Fontana, CA. They moved into an RV when Bill retired and started new careers, gold mining and selling crafts. But after 43 years of marriage, Marcia divorced Bill and moved to Alaska to marry a man she met online. She was a writer, a web developer and an adventurer. I have always admired Marcia, even when she did things that everyone in our family thought were crazy.

Marcia was very timid, humble and conventional. She didn't learn to drive until she was nearly 60-years-old because learning made her so anxious she would quit. But after her divorce it was as if she had broken the shell she had built around her and she became amazingly brave.

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My Mom Suzi, my Grandmother Dora and my Aunt Marcia
In 2003 she was diagnosed with lung cancer and returned to Happy Camp to live the rest of her days. We wrote long letters to one another during her final 4 years and we came to know one another intimately. She shared things with me that no one else knew and I'll keep her private stories in my heart forever.


When Steve and I came to Crescent City, CA I was determined to ride to Happy Camp, which is only 85 miles away. But the ride intimidated me because it's over a rather serious mountain range. I invited Steve to ride with me but he wasn't much interested. I invited my friend Charleyn, who lives in nearby Brookings, OR. Charleyn and her husband Chad have a 2-year-old and most of their free time is spent close to home. So after 6 weeks of procrastinating, I set out to ride alone.

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Stopped in O'Brien for a break.
I left Crescent City, CA and took Route 199 for 46 miles to O'brien, OR. Just west of O'brien is Waldo Road. This well-maintained, two-lane road goes by many names, but most locals just call it Happy Camp Road. The first 10 miles of this 38 miles stretch are in Oregon and near the summit the asphalt is spray painted with the Cali/Oregon border.

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Near the summit in the Klamath National Forest
Happy Camp Road was a thrill to ride! In 38 miles I saw only 7 vehicles. The asphalt is in amazingly great condition, but has the usual road hazards of wildlife, gravel and road kill. Cutting through the Siskiyou Forest on the Oregon side and then the Klamath National Forest on the California side makes for spectacular scenery. The twisties are tight with numerous decreasing radius turns.

The Google Map tells the tale
Once the twists tightened, I could feel my anxiety rising. I'm accustomed to following Steve, so when faced with a challenging road, I start questioning my skill. So I slowed down and decided to relax and enjoy the scenery.

As I came upon one short straightaway, a doe stepped out in the road before me. I wasn't going fast, so I slowed down and kept my distance. She stopped and we locked eyes. She was gentle, unafraid and utterly beautiful. I felt an amazing sense of peace and connection with the forest in that moment.

I continued the ride and arrived in Happy Camp tired, hungry and happy. After I fueled up, grabbed a bite and a cold drink, I headed to the cemetery. It was hot and humid in the valley, as well as full of smoke from a nearby forest fire. The town had changed so dramatically over the last 10 years. Many of the businesses were boarded up and I saw quite a few homes abandoned. When the real estate bubble burst in 2008, this town was hit hard.
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I was so grateful to arrive!
The cemetery gates were locked up and it appeared as if there wasn't a caretaker anymore. I walked around the side and found a broken gate, so I went in. I knew Marcia was buried high upon the hill, so I set out on the climb.

Then I saw another doe. She was standing off to the left, lazily eating the grass. She looked up at me and we both stood still for a long time. She slowly climbed the hill, stopping to nibble along the way. Something told me to follow her. Sure enough, she had been standing at Marcia's grave!

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As I sat beside her headstone I felt relieved. For a few moments I remembered her laugh, her voice and her smile and I felt really good. I guess I had expected to feel sad when I saw her headstone for the first time, but I didn't. It had taken so long for me to finally get back there and it was such a challenging ride, all I could feel was accomplishment and relief.

I'm glad I took the ride and I'm really glad I ended up doing it alone. Although I didn't feel the way I had anticipated when I arrived, I was fine with it. It was just something I needed to do for myself.

I'm sure Marcia was there with me and I'm sure she is proud of the adventurous woman I've become!

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I was pooped when I stopped in O'brien on my way back to Crescent City
We're on another Road Pickle! We hope to find great breweries, tacos, steak and biscuits with gravy, as well as some roadside oddities along the way. If you don't want to miss a thing, join us by subscribing to our vlog on YouTube. I PROMISE you'll see some cool stuff!

And don't forget about my book, Rude Biker Chick, Lessons From My Daddy. Click below for more information.


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3 comments:

  1. I am glad you made it back to Happy Camp. I've never ridden up there but friends rave about the twisties.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Brandy. You know, you have so many great roads in Oregon. But I really would highly suggest this ride. I loved the solitude.

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  2. Such a fantastic story and it brought back memories of my ride to find my dads resting place in Salisbury Connecticut. Sash.... Yes you must get out on your own now and again. It's good for the soul. Hugs!

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About Sash


People call me "Sash" because I'm a former beauty queen in my old home town. My father used to ride in an MC which got me interested in the culture. After my last divorce I said "goodbye" to Susie Homemaker and became the rude biker chick I always felt inside. (Read more...)