The burgers were good, but the rest of the scene was pretty weird. This was my first clue I wasn’t in Plumas anymore. Humboldt County is very different from the way I remembered it. ~Bud de Tocqueville
Last July, I rode my motorcycle with a friend on the back from Plumas to the California coast in Humboldt County via Highway 36.
In the town of Mad River, about 50 miles from the coast in the coastal mountains, we stopped for a late lunch at a burger stand along the highway.
While waiting for our orders, I noticed that there were a lot of young males just sort of hanging out who were speaking various languages—none Spanish. At first it puzzled me because it seemed out of place for the area, but then it became obvious that they were there to work on pot plantations as cheap labor.
While eating, I walked around to the side of the stand to look at a bulletin board. Fairly typical stuff until I noticed a poster with a headline that read, “Missing” with four photos of young Asian males in their twenties. The poster also had the words, “last seen at this location about 30 days ago.” It reminded me of what I see out in front of the post office in Quincy, posters for missing dogs and cats, except these were people. Creepy.
Throughout our trip, I saw an inordinate amount of young, mostly white males with beards, sunglasses and trucker hats, driving new-looking and very expensive large pickups. At least half of these vehicles were towing trailers, mostly with either water tanks or fertilizer bags. Most of the trucks were lifted and driven aggressively. I was tailgated frequently by these “work trucks.”
Another thing I noticed about Humboldt County were the unsightly tall wooden fences and or chain-link fences with green netting blocking the view of plants. They were nearly everywhere we went. Rural blight. Certain areas along the highway had a very strong pot smell—especially obvious while on a motorcycle.
During our second day on the coast and on the way back from the beach we were trying to get to back to the 101, which I could see about a mile to the east. We were not way out in the woods where I would be cautious. I turned on a road that appeared to head straight there. It started as a two-lane road, but narrowed after a bit.
After about a quarter of a mile, I realized I’d made a mistake and I was looking to turn around. Three dogs—one of which was a huge pit bull—came flying out of a driveway on my left. I quickly accelerated ahead of them before they were able to get close and hoped I’d never see them again when we dead-ended 400 yards or so later at an old county dump site. I felt sick knowing we were going to have to face the big pit bull again.
Chicken with a pit bull
As I turned around, the two smaller dogs came at us aggressively, but backed down pretty quick when they saw my bike coming at them. The pit bull was different; he was all business. He stayed back about 100 yards or so and waited for us, standing right in the middle of this narrow single lane road. There was vegetation on both sides, I had nowhere to go but straight at him.
When we got within about 50 ft of the pit bull, he came at us in a full sprint right down the center of the road. I gunned the bike and was prepared to hit him square if he didn’t move out of my way. It was a game of chicken. At the very last second he dodged my front tire with only inches to spare as we passed each other at about 30 mph. If we’d hit him, most likely we’d have gone down, but there was no other option—this dog was out to kill.
As we went by the driveway, the owner of the dogs was standing there like nothing happened. Welcome to Humboldt County. Yee-haw!
During our stay, we talked with many of the locals. We quickly learned from conversations that you don’t casually go meandering down small country roads around here, and they were not talking just about miles deep into the backcountry way away from the towns. It’s sketchy at best and downright dangerous at worst. Doing this is liable to get you mauled or shot.
Whole new Humboldt vibe
I hadn’t spent time in Humboldt County in over 30 years. This last visit was a real eye opener. I have fond memories of camping all over Humboldt County in the 70s. It’s clear to me that the cannabis industry has changed the area significantly. While it is still quite beautiful, it has a very different vibe today.
It’s obvious that for some in Humboldt County, commercial cannabis has been very lucrative. For certain local businesses, I’m sure it’s been good also.
For me, I would never trade what we have in Plumas County for the economic gain of a certain percentage of residents—especially if it ends up looking anything like what I witnessed in Humboldt.
~Plumas resident who wishes to remain anonymous
Image by Annette Teng