The last week has been a full one, thus the long span of time between posts. More progress is being made on the interior of the van, which is deeply satisfying and makes it more like home every day. I had a realization this past weekend while having breakfast with my parents, which I’m still pondering and feeling into the ramifications. As I’d mentioned in an earlier post, I left the safety and stability of the Bay Area when I was 23 and moved onto Greenfield Ranch, living on a parcel that belonged to my now-ex-wife’s family. No one had lived there for more than a decade, and other than the roof over our heads, we had no real amenities to speak of. Over time, we were able (with the help of generous friends) to get ourselves hot running water, solar electricity, refrigeration, and a primitive cell phone that could only get reception when we drove up to the top of the hill. Going from living in the modern suburban world where everything was taken for granted, I got to experience starting over. Appreciating every single time we manifested an amenity that made life a little easier. I also had to adapt to the slow, quiet pace of life on the hill after living a life of suburban hustle and bustle. That’s a story unto itself, but let’s just say it took some serious adjustment and wasn’t always easy.
Even though the circumstances are quite different, I’m undertaking the same sort of journey. Leaving the support and comfort of an established home with its modern ease and jumping into something harder, weirder, and only happening because of my drive to make it so (and again, the gracious help of many friends). Every time I get something done with the van, life gets a little bit easier. And that makes me appreciate everything I have, way more than I did when I was living in a house.
A buddy and I had planned a little excursion to Tahoe when the weather got nice, but due to some unforeseen work issues, he had to bow out. I had the time blocked off, so I decided to take a trip on my own, not to Tahoe but northward into Humboldt, Trinity, Del Norte and Siskyu Counties. I wanted to see places I’d never been before, plus I’d always been curious about and fascinated by the pockets all over California that contain tiny little forgotten towns, ones that had their heyday back when mining or timber or ranching was at peak production in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but are now languishing, or at the very best transforming themselves into something more appealing to 21st century interests.
My first stop was Scotia, the town owned by the Pacific Lumber Company and at one time the largest employer in Humbodt County. When I first moved to the northlands, the battle over Headwaters Forest was in full swing, and PalCo’s corporate owner Maxxam was the chief villain in the fight to save the last of the old growth redwood trees. My then-wife and I attended the giant rally that took place in Stafford in the summer of ‘96, and driving up the freeway passing that spot brought back many memories. I pulled off the freeway and wound my way slowly through town. The giant lumber mills and warehouses are in a significant state of disrepair, and many of the facilities are falling apart due to disuse. There are some bright and shiny track homes lining the main street, and the market, hotel, theater and civic buildings look relatively new and well taken care of. I walked around and made some photos of some old buildings, but really wanted to wander the streets of the residential areas and take pictures of the houses. I figured that sort of activity wouldn’t be appreciated, so I stuck to the public spaces.
I kept north on the 101 through Eureka, then headed east on the 299 before jutting north on the 96 with a little town called Happy Camp as my first destination. I ambled alongside the Trinity River through the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation and the town of Hoopa, which, from the outside, looks as though it’s managed to escape the desolation and poverty so many other reservations suffer from. The land is beautiful and verdant, the houses modest and timeworn, but the school and community centers were spacious and new and full of activity. I did some research on the reservation when I got back to Ukiah and found that it’s definitely still experiencing the poverty that many reservations suffer under. I also know that a cursory drive-through won’t even begin to give me a real understanding of the place, but from what I saw this reservation has a lot going for it that others don’t.
I followed the 96 northeast through Weitchpec, Orleans and Somes Bar, where I found sporadic pockets of houses and settlements and an abundance of amazing scenery. I took my time, enjoying the beauty and solitude (I went for long stretches of time without passing a single car), and scoping all the possible spots I could come back to if I wanted to spend the night. I got to Happy Camp in the late afternoon, parked and took a walk around the old downtown. The place was busy with people, but many of the buildings in old town were vacant and falling into disrepair, though the surrounding houses were in pretty good shape. Happy Camp has many characteristics of a small town in the middle of nowhere, but it feels like a town that’s happy being in the middle of nowhere, as opposed to some places that appear to be sickly and dying of neglect. I could have stopped here for the day, but my urge to see more places pushed me on.
I drove through the Seiad Valley, still paralleling the Klamath River (as Hwy 96 does for most of its length) and looking for my cutoff to Scott River Road, which would take me off the highway and deeper into the wilderness. One thing I began to notice after getting through the Seiad Valley was the prevalence of a yellow flag with two X’s on it that hung from scores of doorways, fences and shop fronts. Later when I got back into cell range, I looked it up and found it to be the official flag of the State of Jefferson, the imaginary 51st state that hopes to break away from California and southern Oregon and become its own thing. I read up on it when I got back to Ukiah and it’s an interesting story.
I found my intended turnoff and headed towards Scotts Bar, which was a lonely and winding one-lane road cut into a steep hillside that wound along the Scott River. I get a surge of excitement (and a little bit of nervousness) when I veer off the known roadways into more isolated areas, and also find that my body relaxes and my senses open a bit more as well. Since the sun was already behind the mountains, I figured it was time to find somewhere to park for the night. Eventually I came across a “campground” that was really just a glorified pull-out with a couple of crude fire pits alongside a split log fence. But it was flat and no one else was there, so I pulled in and shut the engine off. I took a walk down the road, past a bridge that spanned the river and up a dirt road, feeling glad to stretch my legs a bit. Came back to my van to make some dinner, enjoy the solitude, then turned in early.
The next morning I was up early, getting myself fed and caffeinated before jumping into the van and heading up Scott River Road to join up with Hwy 3 running southwest through the cattle ranches and sprawling farms of Fort Jones and Greenview (where the snowy cap of Mount Shasta was visible in the distance), into the little town of Etna. This spot warranted a stop and walk around, and had a strange energetic draw for me. Not really sure why. Did my ambulation and resolved to come back here again at some point to spend a little more time.
Back in the van, I continued down the 3 heading towards Weaverville, where I planned to stop for a bit to do some laundry and have lunch. This was a town that seemed a bit depressed and forgotten about, though being an interloper I’m in no real position to say. Did my laundry and ate, then debated on my trajectory. Part of me wanted to spend more time exploring the little towns, maybe heading back north again instead of west back towards the coast as I’d been planning to do. Responsibilities back in Ukiah on Friday pulled me towards heading west though, and I made a slow mosey down the 3 towards the 36. I was surprised at how many campgrounds were still closed in the middle of May, especially since the weather was amazingly gorgeous. I stopped at one campground and parked the van at the top of the driveway before walking down to the Trinity River and jumping in for a quick (and cold) rinse-off.
Reinvigorated, I climbed back in the van and continued the drive, connecting with the 36 and veering west again towards the ocean. I passed a ton of little teeny tiny towns that seem to stay alive due to the proximity of fishing and river rafting industries. Oh, maybe people grow pot up there too. As the sun fell, I wound through the redwoods past Carlotta and Hydesville into Scotia, where I connected with the 101 heading south. I decided to pull off the freeway onto the Avenue of the Giants, hoping to find a secluded place to stop for the night. I found the perfect place, so after parking and making myself some dinner, I took a walk up the road making pictures of the huge trees and enjoying the cool coastal breeze and quiet. Around 9:30 or so, I was relaxing in my bed watching a movie when there was a loud pounding on my sliding door and a voice yelling “park ranger!”. It scared the shit out of me. I opened the door and was told by the awkward and nervous ranger that “camping” isn’t allowed alongside the road, so I had to move along. This was my first ever rousting by the powers-that-be, and wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Just a few miles down the road just outside the town of Myers Flat I found a pull-out that was plenty suitable, so there I stayed.
Even though I’d planned to get back to Ukiah, I found myself not wanting to do that at all. I wanted to keep exploring, maybe head out towards Covelo and drive out to the Mendocino National Forest or something. But responsibility beckoned, and I had to heed the call. I took care of my tasks, then headed down to my parents’ place for the weekend to work on the van. We had a pretty unproductive Saturday, but an exceedingly productive Sunday where we finished another cupboard, hung some bug nets over the sliding door, built some protection for the batteries, but failed at attempting to connect the propane to my new tabletop stove. The weekend ended and I came back up to SF to spend some time with Megan. She had some significant life stuff going on it felt good to be there for her. We had a pretty enjoyable couple of days together, then back to Ukiah I came, which is where I find myself now. Not a bad place to be, I suppose.