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Saturday and the Grand Adventure

You may have noticed that the "How Racing Works" post didn't appear last night...  That's because - in the grand tradition of other contests I've been to - a day off turned into a grand adventure.  At previous contests I've wound up hiking canyons in Utah, exploring lakes, and touring Grand Coulee Dam. 

So when Chris turned to me Saturday and said "let's go for a drive" - I was in.  We gassed up, threw emergency and survival supplies in the car, got a quick lunch, and headed out shortly after noon.  The plan was to head down Hwy 96 and see how far we got towards the Redwood forest.  We'd scout a few emergency-landing locations, look at Happy Camp airport, and then maybe swing back through the Scott Valley (via Callahan or Etna - based on comments from Richard VanGrunsven about a winding mountain road in that area).

The trip started off well, cruising down the Klamath River valley out Hwy 96 (a small two-lane highway).  We made our way along picturesque dry scrub-and-grass mountains for 20-30 miles before the scenery suddenly shifted to evergreen and deciduous trees.  Cloudbase got lower, the slopes were more lush, and the smell in the air was gorgeous.  We eventually made it to Happy Camp (some 60 miles by road from Yreka), where we stopped to investigate the airport.  It looks to be used as a fire-base and emergency-evac location, perched up on the side of a hill.  But despite being aged, the pavement is in great shape and the runway is a good 60 feet wide (with no edge markers) and over 4000' long.  The only problem with Happy Camp?  That would be the wasp that I disturbred while parking the car.  I had the windows down and he decided to fly into the car and begin biting and stinging my forearm - elliciting a yell, a string of curse words, and a very quick exit from the car (after which I collected his dead body and drop-kicked it).

After Happy Camp we rocketed down the river valley past Somes Bar (where small twisty roads run back to the Scott Valley), and across several interesting and historic bridges across the Klamath.  We cruised past several indian towns, including Weitchpac.  As we drove down into Hoopa, we realized that the route we wanted to take was back at Weitchpac.  Fortunately the road between Hoop and Weitchpac was extremely tight and winding, so the extra miles were very fun to run a second time. :-)

Coming into Weitchpac, we cut over to "Route 196" - which seemed to be a state route.  But 1 mile out of town all lane markers and road paint disappeared...  The asphalt was in gorgeous shape and we cruised through sun-dappled forests for a few miles.  As we came to the river crossing, large roadwork signs warned us that the bridge was being replaced.  Nervously, we crossed a concrete-yet-still-somehow-very-long-and-rickety one-lane bridge, and drove on into the unknown.  We were bouyed by a sign for the town of Orick, some 32 miles away.  Again, the road was absolutely smooth and well-engineered; but there were no signs, no guardrails, no pavement markings of any kind.  Ferns and small trees grew right out over the edge of the road.  Cloudbase began to descend as we climbed our way up "Bald Hills Rd" - with tight curves and switchbacks of the kind that just begged for a rally car (though with no sightlines for checking oncoming traffic, I was forced to keep the speed down below 30mph).  We clawed our way up to 3000' (from 500'), and suddenly popped out along the top of the ridge - and inside the clouds.  Chris' theory is that the road was built for filming car commercials; and I really can't think of another reason - although I'd like to see it repurposed for an onroad WRC course!  The curves, camber, smooth pavement, beautiful treescapes, and absolute isolation were just a delight.

Out of nowhere, we passed a construction site for the Yurok Tribe cemetary; which on a sunny day will probably have STUNNING views of the river valleys below.  Other than that, there was no sign of civilization or habitation anywhere.  A few locked gates here and there hinted at powerline trails or perhaps old abandoned ranches - but nothing with any activity.  We skirted along the hilltops and all of a sudden we came to a sharp line in the road where the pavement just ENDED.  Hard-packed dirt carried on, and after a brief pause we both decided to press ahead on the still-smooth roadbed.

The dirt went on for nearly 10 miles, and we stopped occasionally to take photos of Live Oak groves, grassy slopes, and the grey cloud around us.  We passed two cars going the other direction, and my GPS claimed we were now skirting the backside of the Redwood National forest.  Sure enough, we finally came to an area of old chip-seal covered in a thick layer of gravel; which eventually transitioned to an old worn-out paved road.  Finally, we drove past some road-building equipment (no humans, though) and dropped down into the Redwood forest where a couple of scenic turnouts and park information signs lured us to brief stops (although the clouds were obscuring any good views, sadly).  We eventually parked at Lady Bird Johnson Grove, and walked part of the 1-mile nature trail there.  Lots of pictures were taken and we marveled at the giant trees, flowers, and all manner of small bugs and critters that make the Redwoods their home.

Chris was interested in getting photos of Mt Shasta from Lake Shasta (which I didn't think was possible, but I decided to go with it anyways) - so we hopped back in the car and went down to Hwy 101 and blasted south to McKinleyville / Arcata.  We gazed at the mist-laden lagoons and marshes and beaches, and chuckled at some surfers bobbing out in the grey nothingness.

Eventually we turned east on Hwy 299 and ran through the picturesque river valleys there, as the light slowly turned to darkness, with the occasional glow of a 3/4 moon peeking out around the heavy clouds.  There are far more people living along this highway, and (after many years since my last visit), I was surprised to find Weaverville looking good and busy with tourists and evening traffic!  Finally, we dropped down into Redding and found the rain that had been dumping on our soaring area all day.  Driving home through heavy showers and darkness was a bit "exciting" (since California freeways are never built to drain rainwater) - but at 11pm we finally pulled back into the hotel.  Exhausted, but with one more adventure under our belts! 

Lots of photos were taken, and will be posted later (sorry, looks like we're flying today so I have to run).  Here's our 450-mile route (click for more details):

Photo #9186 | Chris and Noel go dr

Today (Sunday) is looking sunny, but with lots of moisture and instability; so they're going to throw us up in the air when cloudbase gets high enough, and let us try to figure out how to stay up for 3 hours.  Should be interesting!


Posted: 7/1/2012 By: Noel Wade

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