The Baja 1000
Though there was no official mention of Bell Springs Road on the news the past couple of days, ever since a rockslide shut down Highway 101, word got out. You can bypass 101 by using BSR and coming out at Garberville. Before the 1.7-mile-long stretch of new highway was opened in October of 2009, over the South Fork Eel River just north of Leggett, this used to be business as usual.
Old-timers know that Bell Springs Road came first. I still find square nails along the road when Gluten-Free Mama and I walk, as we have been doing since 1985, evidence that wagons and stage coaches were the first vehicles to operate on our country road.
We are more than five miles up the Bell. In a typical 45-morning walk up to Blue Rock and back, at any point in time, we might encounter one vehicle, maybe two or three, but any more than that, and something must be up. Therefore, when we can see (and hear) a steady parade of all shapes, sizes and colors of motor transportation, streaming along our road, we know Highway 101 is closed.
There are two types of citified drivers: those who travel at five miles an hour and are welded to the center of the road, and those who are rocking the Baja 1000. Both are clueless and create unnecessary stress.
Telephone Ray said it best when he messaged me on f/b, “Well, Mark, with 101 closed, you should get some great views of city crazies tryin’ Bell Springs Road!!” Note, the words “city crazies” are his, but they could easily have been mine. Or fiends, maniacs, nuts, and all so blissfully (from their perspective) anonymous.
If you think folks do radical things on the well-patrolled highway, imagine what it is like five miles up a wash-board, dirt road, where there are No Rules. What I mean is that there is a long-standing protocol in effect with unwritten rules, but only for the locals. For the locos, it’s No Fear.
On the one hand you have the less-hearty, those already paranoid they are going to plunge 500 feet to their deaths, if they venture too close to one side of the road. They are equally petrified they will be accosted by Mad Max from the rear, and Evel Knievel from the front.
Stage Center-Road, five miles an hour, both hands clutching the steering wheel, white-knuckle-special.
My family and I first came up to the Bell in the winter of 1974-75, pursuing our goal of acquiring land as a community effort. We bought our parcels in 1975 so I have been navigating this road for 42 years. Since the first time I ever drove the road, after buying my twenty acres, I have always simply considered the five miles to be an extended driveway.
How much time could possibly be shaved off of a fifteen-minute-commute, by driving Dale Earnhardt-style? I figured out all those years ago that mellow is as mellow does. If someone approaches me from the rear, I will pull over every time as soon as I can safely do so, which does not take very long on a mostly deserted dirt road.
Stop de car on de right side of de road. Pause. Whoosh! Move along.
Folks who are in a hurry are not a welcome presence on one’s rear bumper, but to impede them is not only rude, it is unsafe. The same non-rules that apply in driving the road, are apt to apply when it comes to road rage.
Hey, if RR can occur in a Safeway aisle, it can occur on a deserted dirt road, where there is no po-po, until after the fact. By then it is too late.
As we made the round-trip journey to the ‘Ville yesterday, having already planned a recycling run, we had to contend with this road hazard. When I say we, I mean, of course, GF Mama, who has the most even temperament for a driver I have ever seen. Nothing fazes her.
Almost nothing, I should say, when I remember that fish-tailing, chromed behemoth, accelerating right at us, the driver anonymously concealed by the fact that in taking evasive action, who had time to look closely at anything, except maybe death?
Jerk-faces, scoffing at sanity in the face of their joy at finally getting to do what they always wanted to: play with trucks on bumpy roads, and see who can outdo whom.
“It’s only fifteen minutes each way,” I suggest optimistically.
And then I put on my headphones, prop my book up in front of my eyes, and leave the driving to GF Mama.