Part 3: Fresno to Hollister - Night Bread RoadPanoche:
They say that it is an unincorporated area and not a town per se; the only thing that I saw was the Schoolhouse; I never saw the Panoche Inn which must be on the other approach to this rural confederation of farms. I say other approach because there are two ways to get to this place: County Highway “J1” via Belmont and Shields Avenues, or Panoche Road via the um… “Rancher’s Road”
made of hard compacted dirt for at least 15 miles; the way I came. No doubt J1 is paved, and this is certainly the way my pal came through, whereas my brother came across on the Rancher’s Road. I can tell you that within one mile of leaving the I-5 rest stop that I was regretting the choice to which new adjectives popped into my head to describe the experience every mile after cursed mile. Much of the road could be taken at 20-25 mph though and that wasn’t so terrible. However there were two uniquely nasty parts which I’ll describe in a moment. But first, allow me to explain the geology of what is unfolding at every turn on this strange road:
Except for the dry arid parts at the bottom of the Big Valley, farming is rigorous and prodigious all the way to the very edges of the foothills, east to west, from one side to the other. On the west side, there is very little hillside used; the ground is possibly used only for grazing range cattle. The physical features look to be heavily washed out at some period in the distant past with large alluvial aprons initiating higher up as ledges of former shores that had cut and eroded mountainsides. A great inland sea stood here more than once and in various shapes and forms, the most recent of which drained about ½ million years ago through what is now called the Carquinez Straits between the cities of Benicia and Martinez that separate Suisun Bay from San Francisco Bay. Before that time when the sea drained, water stood 750-1200 feet higher than my present position at the edge of the foothills. Today this is a nearly treeless expanse of grassland with occasional rocky outcroppings dotting where rare flash-flooding has exposed the tectonically active strata. There is no life here, not to the disconcerting eye, no cattle, no birds, and no trees. Yet in this stark reality, a picture of perfect desolation paints a beautiful landscape of amber, ocher, sandy-yellow hues against the backdrop of a nearly cloudless blue sky. My pal told me it reminded him of the backside of the Moon; I am in awe!
It doesn’t stay this way for long. The road follows the margins of the sinuous valley as it is opening to the southwest and is careful to avoid the bottom completely. The first nasty spot caught me off-guard as the road finished trending southward to the lowest latitude of the entire journey before turning northward and up a steady incline. However, within the space of a few hundred feet and a couple of tight twisty corners the road became cobbled washboard and very steep. Regardless of 2WD, my urban-assault Hookworms couldn’t grip in the crud and so I had to straddle-walk the bike up the last 100 feet of the hill. This is when the rear hub decided to cut out (Gawd I thought I had fixed that f@#ker!) I have the Brooke’s Saddle poking me just above the sacrum each time I pulse the throttle (a bruise that lingered for days afterwards) as I inch my way forward, cursing the lack of rear hub drive. At one point it crossed my mind to turn around; it was nearly impossible to continue forward in this heat and dust as any sort of powered-drive had me heading for the edge of the road! I stopped to rest and catch my breath; looking to my left I noticed an array of snake holes bored into the side of the road not one foot away: OFM!! Yeah, that’s it: I’m going to become night bread for snakes on this road! Git ye away from here! Push push push push push push… Come on you beast: Go!!!!
Did I say that I hates dirt roads?
Reaching the top of this local hill, I could see more – but none came near as close in steepness. The view now completely changed and out of that snaky gorge I had climbed onto a large triangular plain bounded by coastal inland mountains, the drain of which was now behind me. I wasn’t out of the woods yet though as there were some more sharply-cut washes to cross. The rocky firmness of the road slowly gave way to talc-like powdery margins that I deftly avoided. But the scenery though was remarkable: a broad open valley bordered by steep mountains, still grassy, yet the mountains to the west had their upper portions lightly forested with Oak and Pine; the visual transition between desert foothills and coastal forest in a few short miles. Off in the distance I could see the dots of settlement in the middle of the valley.
This was a large expanse to cross, and out in the middle of it - with no shade under the full heat of the sun, the mind begins to bake in the lone solitude. Other than driving, there just isn’t a whole lot for the mind to do if the scenery isn’t changing that fast or there’s no traffic to dodge, for not a single car had passed me. On stretches like this, I often recollect. Sometimes I’ll play a song in my head, or parts of a movie, maybe even a conversation. I wuz recalling them thar snake holes now, and how they could have come out and got me! ‘Night Bread Road’
, that’s what my buddy called it. I certainly don’t want to break down here: What if that happened, how would I survive? Well, let’s see… I am trained in the ways of a Boy Scout, so surviving till sunrise might not be difficult as long as I can make shelter. I gots food and drink, that’s not a problem. Really the only worry then is from being et by some critter, although most critters in these parts won’t eat me, but then… the evil ones could! Hmmm, let’s review my protection against evil creatures: I gots my trusty oak stake
; everyone should carry one. Where is it? Oh yeah, it’s very close; maybe take me a minute to fetch it. Wud my pal say about wooden stakes? Good for vampires
, yeah – that’s right; I’m all set if I comes across vampires – that’s important.
But wud about zombies
!?! Oh shite – I don’t have anything to protect me from zombies!
Ahh, but wait – my pal says that I could use the oak stake and jam it into the zombie’s eye socket and stir up the brains.
Ahh – good, that’ll work. OK, I gots protection against zombies too. Snakes, vampires, zombies… Night Bread Road; I don’t want to break down here…
This mantra runs in my pointy lil’ head for a while, mostly out of amusement and self-entertainment. And I am looking for snake holes just in case… when all of a sudden I drove past a monstrously large hole dug right into the side of the road! What sort of creature digs a hole the size… why it’s the size of a fat man’s thigh
! I kid you not: The size of a fat man’s thigh!!
Could it be a wolverine? No, wolverines don’t live in these parts. Wild boar then; nope – wild boar don’t like this kind of turf. Well, there’s no snake that I know of that makes a hole that big.
And as I am contemplating what could possibly or even accidentally create a hole that large… when I spotted another one, right there on the side of the road into the embankment – as large as a fat man’s thigh!! My gawd! It’s not a fluke
~ there are creatures boring holes as big as a fat man’s thigh into the road!! I can think of only one creature, one evil sinister nasty-arse perversely powerful creature able to dig holes like that: It has to be the Chupacabra!
OFM ~ I’m dead if I break down here! Night Bread Road!
And as I am thinking this, I drive past another hole the size of a fat man’s thigh on the other side of the road, and then another on the right, and another, and OFM – there’s one in the middle of the F@#king road
– right in the middle of the F@#king road as big as a fat man’s thigh!
I’ve driven into a nesting area, a brood of Chupacabras
right here in the middle of this gawd-aweful lunar scabland filled with holes as big as a fat man’s thigh; no wooden stake is gonna save my tender sore arse; Mo’ power! WOT WOT Git ye outta here! Yikes! Yikes! Night Bread Road! Chupacabra! Yikes!
The second nasty spot came not very long after this when the road became profoundly softer, powdery, and more difficult to steer. I came around a corner and here the road dropped down tightly to a low-water crossing of the only stream of water flowing within 20 miles - at maybe flowing at a gallon/second. It was one of those steep U-shaped down and outs where the bottom had been lined by brick & concrete of all things. Where the water flowed the brick was stained brown and green with slimy algae about 3-4 feet wide covered by depth of water less than a fingernail thick. Doe-eyed cows stood on the other side quietly observing my approach. Yeah, I could see the danger there – but right before that, and too late to correct for it was a patch of thick powdery dirt across the whole width of the road… and I couldn’t slow down fast enough. The bike plowed straight into 5 inches deep of this fluff and the front-end spilled out and the bike flopped straight onto the right side: POOF! A large cloud of dusty talc settles.
What a mess: So much for having a spiffy-clean ebike. No cows mooed, no scores were given.
Frustrated, I re-evaluated my crossing with the bike still in the dirt. Test the footing of the stream… very slimy.
Yeah, this could easily turn into a second crash if I’m not careful and I could wind up as a desiccated snack for the Chupacabra
: Back up, give it some room. I get the bike picked up, brushed off the worst of the dust, and pulled it around for a better shot. One chance; do it right: The front hub is barely touching the bricks and providing about 5 feet of traction before the slimy ooze. Mount the steed, take a deep breath, and I hit the f@#king throttle – but let off as I hit the water – allowing momentum to carry me forward and steering straight ahead…
Will I make it