June 20, 2013
We were now riding through the rolling grassland of cattle country, with the foothills of the Sierras slowly appearing through the haze, and beyond Mount Shasta, covered in snow even in June.
The sun was so bright that I had to check that my dark visor was actually flipped down, and my nether regions were beginning to wonder if Richard and Dr G would ever stop for a break.
At last, we pulled up outside a café in Redding for no other reason than the owner’s impressive collection of model aeroplanes hanging from the ceiling, and tucked into sandwiches the size of Belgium, but a lot more interesting.
Before long, we were riding through the foothills of the Sierras, with Mount Shasta in the distance covered in snow even in June.
Which is where it all started to go horribly wrong for Clancy and Allen.
With the mountains looming, they stopped at the express office in Redding and shipped their 50lb panniers on to Portland, bought cheap blankets in the General Merchandise store for camping, and got the owner of the harness shop to sew some canvas saddlebags for what kit they needed to get them over the mountains.
That sorted, they tanked up with more ice cream, fuel and oil, and set off late in the afternoon for the dreaded road that lay ahead.
They didn’t have long to wait: within a few miles out of Redding, they were climbing an endless succession of rocky grades with hairpin bends, then sliding down the other side to be greeted by small but lethal lakes full of boulders.
Often the road got so steep that they had to dismount and run beside the machines, and as they were sliding down one hair-raising slope with their back wheels locked, they came upon a young couple in a Cadillac stuck fast on a tree stump.
They got it free, but the hill was so steep the fuel couldn’t make it up to the carburettor, but not to be beaten, the resourceful Bob blew into the top of the fuel tank, his face slowly turning the colour of a beetroot, while the driver cranked the starter handle until the engine spluttered then fired into life and settled down into a steady rhythm.
The grateful couple gave the riders six eggs, a small can of baked beans, an even smaller can of condensed cream, a little bread, sugar and coffee, and a pail to cook it in, and since by now it was growing dark and they were still in the heart of the mountains, they found a grassy spot near a crystal stream, and while Clancy cooked up a feast in the pail, Bob made a bed of weeds and leaves between the Hendersons, they wrapped themselves in their blankets and, with strange sounds from the woods all around and lightning crackling overhead, finally fell asleep just before the grey light of dawn woke them again.
At 5am, tired and hungry, they fired up the Hendersons and set off on roads which, impossibly, were even worse than the day before.
A ferry carried them across the raging Pitt River, and halfway up the next mountain, Clancy’s Henderson ground to a halt with a dry and slipping clutch.
He greased it with oil from his tank, but the clutch was so worn and the track so steep that he could only push the Henderson up it in the fierce sun, stopping when he was so exhausted he couldn’t hold the bike upright and resting until he could try again.
It took him 20 attempts and two exhausting hours to get up that one hill, and there were a dozen more beyond.
“If ever a man was bitter against motorcycling, it was I and then,” he wept, so worn out with heat and exhaustion that he was close to flinging himself in despair onto the rocks below when a Good Samaritan with a two-horse team towed him up the last slope to find Bob, who had stormed ahead with his new 8hp machine, sitting cool and collected and full of wild strawberries.
Clancy, presumably too exhausted to strangle him, collapsed beside him and, when he had the strength to lift his head, realised for the first time the extraordinary beauty around them.
Silver waterfalls tinkled to the ravines far below, piney summits strode to the horizon, and in between, the so-called Pacific Highway threaded its way through the virgin wood.
They were further cheered by six miles of fairly good road, but it was only playing with them, for it soon returned to water, rocks, mud and hairpins, and they were exhausted as they staggered into the lumber town and summer resort of Dunsmuir.
A busy railroad hub back then, today it is a village of sleepy clapboard houses whose residents are slowly getting older and popping their clogs, and a solitary café where we tucked into ice cream on the verandah.
“Bought this place on a whim years ago,” said the owner. “Best way to get a minimum wage from maximum work.”