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An Englishman Rides To Boonville

October, 2008 — We’re still riding south on Highway 101. We haven’t traveled far enough south to make any climatic difference, but the mist of the past two days has disappeared and it feels as if we‘ve jumped into a different season. Yesterday, while riding in full leathers and boots for most of the day I’d been chilled to the bone, but today wearing just tee shirt and sandals, I’m burning like an Englishman in the sun.

At home I’d never dream of riding anywhere without full leathers and armor, but here in California it just feels like the most appropriate thing to do. Without realizing it, we‘ve entered California and my attitude to everything seems to have adjusted accordingly. There’d been no sign at the side of the road saying ‘Welcome’, the scenery hasn’t really changed and the road is just as spectacular as it had been back in Oregon. But, the people seem to be different. They look no different to the people in Oregon and Washington, but the wiring in their minds seems to be configured quite differently. They’re more open, they wave at us out on the road, they come over and talk to me every time we stop for a break and they seem to be aware of a world that exists outside of America.

At Trinidad Beach, I meet Jason, a surfer who drives an aging VW Camper and wears his ponytail comfortably. He calls me “Dude” and wants to know more about Russia. He wants to flame up a pipe and share some of his homegrown weed but today I’m riding, not smoking. He tells me that here in California growing marijuana is legal and if I obtain a letter from a ‘Dope Doctor’, I could grow an entire field of my own. I’m not sure if California really is that liberal or if Jason’s just teasing me, but as I don’t have a field then it doesn’t really matter. Jason loves California but doesn’t see it as being part of the USA. To him, California is an independent republic that’s divorced itself from the other 49 States and apparently for a dude like me, it’s the only place to hang. A Toyota pulls into the resting point behind us.

Troy and Ellen introduce themselves and for some reason insist on calling me Geoffrey. They also decline an introduction to Jason’s marijuana pipe but seem quite keen on introducing me to their God. Before long, another small crowd has gathered and plates of food are arriving from recreational vehicles that have quite clearly ignored the ‘No Overnight Parking’ signs. These folks all seem to be travelers and the questions that they ask are broad and quite worldly. As I recount tales of random meetings with various strangers in the middle of everywhere, I notice that Jason isn’t the only pipe smoker here. It’s really quite surreal, they’ll happily smoke marijuana in an open public space, but when I light a legal cigarette they silently make me feel like I’m a serial killer.

Before our arrival, these folks had all been strangers camping along the same short stretch of road, but now they’re sharing jokes like long lost friends. It’s nothing to do with me, I’m just the catalyst, but I think it has everything to do with being here in Northern California. Everybody just seems to be chilled and relaxed, less judgmental and certainly more world wise. I’m sure that a relaxed approach to the legality of dope has got something to do with that, but there’s got to be something more to it. I’d like to kill more time with these folks, but we should really get moving. We’ve been on the road since six this morning, the map that I’m using is useless and I’ve seriously underestimated the distance to Boonville.

An hour has passed, we’re fifty miles south of Trinidad Beach in the town of Leggett, Highway 101 has morphed into California Highway 1 and this is the actual road that Mom had referred to. This road is narrower now, it’s taking me through the giant redwood forests back towards the coast and the deep shadows of the trees has come as a welcome change in the burning heat of the day.

For 20-plus miles we head south towards Fort Bragg riding the most amazing stretch of road that I’ve ever ridden. I know that the story of Poor Circulation is littered with claims of a 'Best Road Ever,' and perhaps at the time of riding them each of those statements had been true, but today this little piece of utopia is simply beyond comparison. Here the tarmac is perfectly smooth and the direction is never straight. One moment I think that I'm back in the Black Forest of Germany, the next it's the Pass de Giovo into Italy and the next it's the beauty of the Adriatic Coast in Croatia. There’s a decision to be made at every bend; to continue enjoying the ride or to stop and capture the view with my camera, but the riding wins every time.

This road is ‘Special.’ It’s a road that has an abundance of ‘Quality.’ This very short stretch of a very long road features strongly in the final chapter of Robert Pirsig’s iconic book; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This is precisely where Phaedrus, a character who’d dedicated his life and sacrificed his sanity searching for ‘Quality,’ is finally satisfied and set free. I don’t pretend to understand Pirsig’s book about a journey towards awareness, and hopefully I won’t lose the remainder of my own sanity anytime soon, but if Phaedrus had been searching for ‘Quality’, then this is probably where he’d found it.

After the picture postcard town of Mendocino, we leave the main road and head down to the beach at Navarro. I love this wild beach where the sands are littered with the giant trunks of petrified trees that lay like randomly placed relics for as far as the eye can see. Over time, people have fashioned these ancient trees into amazing structures; play houses for kids, shelters from the burning sun and nests for young lovers.

I park the Tiger and brew more coffee. There are a few people on the beach but maybe they sense that for us this is a private place and respectfully keep their distance. Boonville is less than 20 miles to the south of here, but the urgency of the past two days has gone. We don’t want California Highway 1 to end, there’s no hurry and this is a place where we all want to spend a little time alone with our thoughts and memories.

Behind the beach are several camping pitches with honesty boxes for payment. The sites are all empty and I decide that it’s a good place to stay for us to spend out last night together under the stars. Tomorrow Dad will meet Alan and Torrey and his grandchildren Sam and Willow, but tonight it will be just the three of us. On Mom’s last day in Boonville she’d come here to Navarro Beach with the family. They’d played in the flotsam structures, jumped through the waves breaking on the shore, melted marshmallows on the open fire and watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean. When she’d spoken in hospital of her final holiday here in California, memories of that last day on this beach with her young grandchildren had been her fondest and it was a day that she’d wished could have been shared with Dad.

I’d woken late this morning and lingered until lunchtime. It wasn’t the moderate hangover that had slowed me, but the place. I’ll come back to Navarro Beach soon, along with Sam and Willow, but right now our target is Boonville. We leave the coastal road and turn inland on California 128. I’ve ridden this road before and no matter how familiar it becomes, it’s impossible to get bored with it. It winds through tall redwoods that border the road and would make England’s great oaks look like little more than twigs. They’re massive in both girth and height, but in parts they’re also missing, a result of historical logging and the more recent development of vineyards. We pass the first sign for Boonville and instead of picking up the pace I actually sow down.

For the first time on this journey my mind is been drawn to what will happen after Boonville. One hundred percent of my thoughts and ninety-nine percent of my planning have concentrated on getting us all to this place, and there’s no real plan for leaving it. Boonville will mark the end of one journey and the beginning of another entirely different one, but exactly what shape the next journey will take I really don’t know. People will no doubt ask about my plans, but I honestly don’t know what I’ll tell them. I’ll think of something before I leave here, but in the meantime, together we’ll keep enjoying the remaining part of this outward journey.

It’s the 1st of September 2008, the 134th day of the journey and we’ve finally arrived. Bay Creek Studio, 12831 Ornbaun Road, Boonville, California 95415; a two acre parcel of land and home for the past eight years to my brother Alan, sister in law Torrey and their two children Sam and Willow. To complete the inventory I should also add one family dog, three pigs all named George, two cows, two sheep, a pair of ducks, several chickens and now one Tiger its English rider and a pair of happy stowaways. The welcome is warm and emotional, the home coming meal fantastic, the fridge is filled with beer and Sam and Willow even seem to remember who I am. They should do, it’s only been nine months since I was last here, but what a nine months it’s been.

During those nine months an awful lot has happened and many things have changed, but on this amazingly wonderful day, the family are finally united in Boonville.

After dinner, Sam and Willow take me outside and reintroduce me to the animals, some that I remember and some that have arrived more recently. We feed organic hay to the cows and the two orphaned sheep that the kid’s have hand reared on bottles. The small garden gives us vegetables that we’ll eat tomorrow and the large chicken house two dozen eggs, some for breakfast and some to be exchanged at the Farmer’s Market for other locally grown produce.

At just seven years of age, Sam’s already a budding farmer. He shows me his growing crop of rather large rabbits. They’re beautifully playful and as he proudly tells me, a little too chewy for the barbeque but absolutely delicious in casseroles. They’re not totally self-sufficient here and Torrey explains that be so is the impossible dream. They still need money for mortgage payments, gasoline, telephone services and the like, but the more that they can produce and trade as a family team, the less time they have to spend working away from their homestead.

It’s a beautiful place on the edge of Boonville where together as a family they carve out a difficult lifestyle, but carve it they do. It’s a lifestyle that Mom had seen and had known that as a farmer, Dad would have appreciated and applauded. I look towards the Tiger and swear that I can see Dad smiling.

With Torrey, Sam and Willow sleeping soundly, Alan and I sit drinking another bottle of Anderson Valley pinot noir and wondering what to do next. On the table between us sits the special package that I’ve carried with me from England, and technically speaking it’s now been delivered to the intended recipient.

Ordinarily I’d accept a signature, make a telephone call to the office in London and then start riding home. However, the usual etiquette for courier deliveries clearly doesn’t apply here and neither of us knows what we ought to do next.

At some point in time the ashes of Mom and Dad and the earth from the farm will be scattered in the most appropriate place, but deciding upon the most appropriate time and place is something that we’ll do as a family when all of us are sober. In the meantime, we talk about the good old days and it’s strange how the events that as kids had made us cry the most, now make us laugh the loudest.

Growing up with four years between us we always seemed to view everything from opposing perspectives, but now that we’re parents ourselves we seem to be sharing the same rose tinted spectacles. We still don’t see eye to eye on everything but on one matter we’re in total agreement, we’ve had the best parents that this world could possibly have given us.

Mom and Dad have travelled with me through Europe, Asia and into North America. After narrowly escaping an agricultural Inspection in Seattle, they’d ridden together down The Pacific Coast Highway to be with the family that Dad had never met here in Boonville.

Mom’s two outstanding wishes have been granted, but perhaps not in the way that she would have imagined when she’d mentioned them to me a year ago in Ward 32 of Darlington’s Memorial Hospital.

From Geoff Thomas’s soon to be published book “Poor Circulation: ‘Ashes To Boonville’.” 

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