Day 19: Bridgeville, CA to Lake Pillsbury, CA

Day 19: Bridgeville, CA to Lake Pillsbury, CA
Tuesday 9/27

Your broken record moment: Another chilly morning for man and dog. Lack of motivation to leave the tent permeates the crew.

The rain fly was damp from condensation so I took it down to the river where the sunlight reached the ground. Steam was coming off the river and would’ve been a great subject for a photographer with the talent to properly capture it. The best I could do was catch a few wisps.

We left the campground and stopped at a little store nearby to get gas and snacks. A guy who looked like Kid Rock left out in the sun a little too long gave Simon a piece of a Slim Jim so I figured he was agreeable enough to chat up.

I asked him if logging was the primary economy in the area. He said “Yes, and the other logging.” Assuming that most growers weren’t sticking to the Medical Marijuana Program limits, I asked him how the growers avoided hassles with the law. He said that unless other drugs or guns were involved, the police left the growers alone. His story would be corroborated shortly.

There was nothing noteworthy about the morning’s ride. Like yesterday, the roads were twisty, narrow, interspersed with gravel sections and used by loggers who drove like the devil had their balls in a vice. There were plenty of stretches in need of lovin’.

Along the way we transitioned from Humboldt County to Trinity County. As with Humboldt County, signs were prominently displayed everywhere: No Trespassing, No Hunting, No Fishing, Private Property, Keep Out, blah blah. We didn’t need the occasional skunky smell to remind us why owners were so protective of their land.

It was time for a snack break. Ironically, we pulled over by some gates with no signage. The gates did look shiny and new, so perhaps the signs were coming soon.

Within minutes of us stopping, a truck slowly went by and then pulled into the driveway. How strange was it that we had been riding for at least an hour without seeing a soul, but the minute we parked someone had to park near us? A young guy of about 25 got out and said hello. We greeted him back. He asked if we were taking a break, where we were coming from, where we were headed to… it was a mild interrogation that spurred Wayne to ask, “Do you live here?” The guy said it was his property, but that it was used for his business. I can’t recall if we asked him straight up what his business was, or if we had the decorum not to ask so as to avoid an awkward situation. However it happened, we all came to understand that his business was growing marijuana, even though that specific word nor any of its common euphemisms were ever used.

At first he was leery about discussing anything with us, but if someone with a story was willing to show us a fraction of an inch, we’d do our damndest to extract the entire mile. We could tell it was important to put him at ease so we told him how our adventure had brought us here and how we had smelled the scent of “industry” throughout Northern California. We made it clear that we passed no judgment on users or farmers; our only goal relative to pot was to not travel down a dirt road that would get us shot. After a bit more chit-chat he explained that folks around there were extremely cautious, but that we seemed cool* so he began to open up.

And so began our lesson in earnest about pot growing. He explained that Mendocino County and Trinity County had different rules (bearing in mind that cultivation was strictly for the Medical Marijuana Program). In Trinity County, if you owned at least 30 acres you could use a percentage of your land to grow as many pot plants as would fit. In Mendocino County, there was a limit on the number of plants (25?), but their canopies could be as ginormous as Miracle-Gro could make them. If you were growing anywhere near public view, you had to at least have a six-foot high fence (if the plants grew above that fence height it wasn’t an issue…other than everyone knowing what you were up to).

Some of the growers supplied the dispensaries while others preferred to sell through their own channels. I didn’t ask how a grower decided which way to go, but I’m assuming those who were inclined to nervousness where getting arrested was concerned or those without black market connections sold to the dispensaries. Our grower buddy may have thrown this out to justify the renegade farming: He said that Trinity County was the third poorest in all of California, and to grow was to survive. He also said that if the county was flattened out, it had as much area as the state of Texas — that’s some serious acreage.

It surprised me to hear him say that he was against the legal expansion of growing rights, and how it wouldn’t be of any benefit to the people already doing it. It made sense, though: Increasing opportunity would also increase bureaucracy. There’d be permits to get, inspections to endure, taxes to pay. Or worse, agribusinesses would come in and squeeze the little guy out. He said the community was happy with life the way it was. They were tight knit and looked out for each other. I suppose that might be a part of the reason why he was on us in minutes after we parked — we were probably on everyone’s radar along the entire length of that secretive backroad. Based on what Kid Rock told me this morning, I asked the guy if the cops really left the growers alone unless other drugs or guns were involved. He said that was pretty much accurate.

The conversation finished up with dogs. His sister, who has owned several Jack Russell Terriers, just got another JRT puppy so he was familiar with the breed and liked them. When we were deciding whether or not to take Simon on the trip, not once did we come up with the reason “He’ll butter up pot farmers,” but that turned out to be a great reason.

The guy unlocked his gate and disappeared into his property. We got back on our bikes and headed into Covelo for lunch. We bought a couple of sandwiches from the local market and ate under a small tree at the edge of the parking lot (man it was hot!), talking about whether or not we should start our own pot farm since it seemed like moderate work for excellent return. No decision was reached.

After lunch we took a scenic road through the Mendocino National Forest towards Lake Pillsbury. Even this burned out section was scenic in its own stark way. It also gave us the opportunity to see far into the distance so we stopped for a break.

In the late afternoon we could see our destination below (Hey, I just noticed Wayne is in the photo!).

Several of the campgrounds at Lake Pillsbury were closed for the winter, but Oak Flat campground remained open. The water had been shut off for winter so we were in dry camp mode. Oak Flat is the one campground at Lake Pillsbury that has direct access to OHV trails.

There were plenty of other campers there, owing partially to the fact that it was elk hunting season. Some campers we spoke with said that yesterday morning a couple of guys bagged one of the elks on the lake’s edge. I’m not a hunter and I don’t know what hunting protocol is, but shouldn’t you lose cool points for shooting an elk right outside of a campground where families are barbecuing and kids are horsing around? Isn’t that rather like fishing in a Koi pond with a gill net?

The sound of elk keening love songs — think of bassy cows with whistles stuck in their throats — went on through the night.


* “Cool” as in he finally decided that the DEA wouldn’t go so far as to pretend to be dualsporters dragging a dog around in a backpack just to nab pot growers. Or, he could tell we weren’t riding around looking for plants to steal (cuz they’re so easy to conceal on an already overloaded DRZ).


Day 19 overview: 148 miles

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