The first official stop sign on my bike trek. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Young, had lived across the road. She kicked me out for the year when she figured out my mother had forged my birth certificate. The cut off for first grade had been March 1st. I was born on the 3rd. It was a poor forgery. I was happy to return home. My mother, not so much.
“So, you are going out beyond the clouds this morning.” –Pop
I had planned to leave on my birthday, March 3. I liked the symbolism. But it was raining, and I had a few things left to do— like buy my bike. It wasn’t a big thing; I had owned several over the years. My first had been a one speed bike with coaster brakes and handle bars that would have made a laidback Hell’s Angel jealous. It was well-used. Some kid would have been proud to call it new back before World War II. My parents paid five bucks for it. The bike provided me with the freedom to zip around my home town and the surrounding countryside for several years until impending teenagehood suggested it wasn’t cool.
My Trek 520 cost a lot more. It was designed for touring. According to the company: “If you’re a committed touring cyclist looking for the utmost in comfort and durability to carry you to familiar destinations and unexplored vistas, 520 is your ride.” The ad went on to claim that the bike was “ultra-stable even when fully loaded.” Well, I was definitely headed for ‘unexplored vistas’ and ‘fully loaded’ for my trip meant close to 60 pounds of bike gear, camping equipment and books— plus Curt. It was a lot to ask of a bike.
A funny aside on Trek Bikes. The company once threatened to sue the American Lung Association for using the name “Bike Treks,” which was silly, to say the least. When I pointed out that I had trademarked the name two years before the company was created as The Sierra Trek, it became a question of who should be suing whom. The issue was quickly and quietly dropped.
I decided to begin and end my trip in Diamond Springs where I was raised, a small community 30 miles east of Sacramento on Highway 49. Here’s the opening paragraph in my bike journal:
The journey starts today, where so much of who I am started. That’s why I am here. That, and because my father is here and I wanted to spend some time with him.
As I wrote, Pop was out in the kitchen of his trailer meticulously preparing eggs and grumping because he hadn’t prepared everything the night before. At 84, he liked to have things just right. In fact, he had always wanted things to be done just right, maddenly so. Maybe it had come from his training as an electrician where he had once done something wrong and come in contact with a live, 11,000-volt high power line. Those type of lessons stick with you.
Pop in his 80s
I’d been visiting and sleeping on his couch for the past three days. It had been a good visit, as we relived his youth, and mine. He’d been born back at the end of the horse and buggy age and the beginning of the horseless carriage era. He’d seen a lot, but his favorite times were still when he was growing up in Iowa. I had heard the story many, many times. It was a well warn groove in his brain, to be remembered when everything else was forgotten. He was functioning well for his age, however, even though he had suffered a minor stroke. I treasured our time together.
Finally, after breakfast, I loaded my four panniers and a day pack I would be carrying. Pop came out to wish me a safe journey and take photos. He always carried a camera and was quite disgusted I didn’t. It was one of three complaints I heard regularly. The other two were that I wasn’t happily married and making little Mekemsons (lots of them), and that I had strayed from my Christian upbringing. Of the three, I am still convinced that he believed not taking photos was my greatest sin.
A solid hug sent me coasting down the hill from his trailer in the Diamond Manor Mobile Home Park, a bit teary eyed. I couldn’t be sure he would be around when I returned. My first pedal rotation at the bottom of the hill stopped halfway. “Damn,” I thought, climbing off my bike and almost falling over. I was ever so glad that no one had been present to watch. The problem was immediately apparent. I’d put my panniers on backwards, not a great start. I righted the wrong and began again— the first pedal of 10,000 miles.
Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” He was right, of course. The 46-year old Curtis of 1989 was a world apart from the 6-year old Curtis of 1949. And both were different from the Curtis of today. And yet you never totally escape from the home of your youth, and in ways, it always remains your ‘home.’ My first short day of bicycling was packed with memories. I’ll let photos tell the story. Pop would be tickled that Peggy and I are redriving the route— and even more pleased that we are carrying cameras.
I am rather amazed that the house I was raised in still stands, given that it was an early version of a manufactured home, prebuilt for a World War II army barracks. My room was on the far left.
Every few feet of bicycling brought back a memory. This sunken ground off of Main Street was a cave when I grew up. It included the crystal clear spring that gave Diamond its name. It had once provided water for Native Americans and later was a watering hole for 49ers passing through town. When a group of miners found a 25 pound gold nugget nearby, they decided to hang around and the town was founded.
Now it hosted a Tea Party sign. Thinking tea party led me to wonder if the Boston Tea Party or the Mad Hatters Tea Party in Alice and Wonderland provided the inspiration for the name. A crazy hatter who had inhaled too many mercury fumes and a March Hare who ineffectively threw tea cups willy-nilly at anyone and everyone seems to be a great model for much of today’s politics.
As I made my way down main street, I came to this barber shop. I’d had my hair cut there in the 40s and 50s! Even further back in time, it had served as a one room school house.
The old Diamond Hotel is just across the road from the barber shop. It had served good food when I was growing up and still does. Now days, like many old establishments along historic Highway 49, it claims to be haunted. Ghosts are good for business.
The Graveyard: I could write a book about it. It was just across the alley outside our back yard and dominated many of my early memories. In the day time it was an elaborate play pen. At night it became the dreaded home of dead people and ghosts.
It was a wild place covered with Heavenly Trees like these that served to hide the tombstones when we were young. They still lurk on the edge of the Graveyard, waiting to reclaim it. I prefer the wild look to the manicured look.
This old Incense Cedar dominated the Graveyard. It was probably planted in the 1850s. it’s lower limbs held a tree fort that Pop had built for my brother and me. He built it when he caught us trying to build a fort 60 feet up in the tree. Our big sport was racing each other to the top.
Flowers burst out all over the graveyard in spring, and provided many a bouquet for Mother, picked dutifully by yours truly. This lilac bush is still blooming away.
Our alley didn’t have a name at first. Then the County decided to name it Graveyard Alley. Mother gave Marshall and me our orders. “I won’t live on Graveyard Alley. Make the sign disappear. Don’t tell your father.” We did. The County put up another sign. It disappeared. Finally, the County decided to name it Georges Alley after the man who built it. We liked George. The sign stayed.
This beautiful old gold rush era building is about a 100 yards away from our house. The school was a block beyond it.
Tony Pavy lived just outside of Diamond on the road to El Dorado. As I cycled past it, I was reminded of the time he threatened to shoot me with a shotgun. We’d been hunting squirrels near his property when a bullet ricocheted and took out his pig. “Get my gun, Mama. They shot my pig!” he had screamed. We figured he wasn’t in much of a mood for an explanation and hightailed it. When the sheriff caught up with us later we had a good alibi.
Poor Red is long since dead but his Bar-B-Q restaurant lives on, an historic eatery from the 1940s well-known throughout Northern California. I consumed many a rib and Golden Cadillac there. I forget the ingredients of Golden Cadillacs but I do remember they tasted wonderful and after two, you didn’t care what was in them. Reds is in the small town of El Dorado, two miles outside of Diamond. I had turned left on my bike there and began making my way south.
The foothills of California are beautiful in the springtime. Shortly after this, Highway 49 begins its steep, curvy descent to the Consumes River. It was my first downhill.
I once organized a student strike so we could have a ditch day as seniors. I wasn’t expelled and we got the day. We held our party on the Consumnes River a couple of miles upstream from this photo. I had stopped for lunch at a small greasy spoon restaurant along the river on my bike trip and was kept company by a cat and a drunk. “You are fucking crazy,” the drunk had told me when he learned of my journey. Maybe.
This is an historic spot dead skunk spot. I was on my first ever official date. Mom, boyfriend, and Paula had taken me with them to dinner in Sutter Creek. On the way back, boyfriend and Mom had climbed in the back and insisted I drive home. “But I just got my learner’s permit last week,” I pointed out. Didn’t matter. I was just beginning to gain confidence when I ran over the skunk.
I made it 18.3 miles on day one and stopped at Old Well Motel and Cafe in Dry Creek. Old stories report that outlaws once buried thousands of dollars here. My plan for the next day was to make it 30 miles! The world had other plans…
A photo of the well. Another relic from the Gold Rush.
Peggy has volunteered to drive the whole trip so I can take photos and write notes. What a woman! Eeyore, another of our travel companions, peers out the back window. The world famous traveling Bone is seated up front.
NEXT BLOG: I will introduce Bone. You probably already know Eeyore.