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Traversing the road less traveled

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POSTED September 15, 2010 2:12 a.m.
Anyone that has driven the Chico-to-Red Bluff section of Highway 99 is aware of the asphalt’s multiple personalities.

The bland strips split by oversized oleanders most locals are used to dissolves into a road with character. It intersects under the shade of trees, crosses sloughs with water that looks at least a little free and carves through towns that seem to be content staying a few decades back.

It’s not the fastest way north, but it’s different.

Though it’s hot, the windows are down to let culture in and let out a little more of the lingering funk of 5,000 miles, 50 days fishing and half a dozen camping trips since June.

I didn’t really get around to cleaning the truck knowing there would be more road trips like this, instead I took out dirty cold-weather gear and replaced it with clean, warm stuff. Important gear stays: emergency coffee, batteries, blanket, a bowl, hand warmers, gloves, matches, back up fly reel, books and assorted tools.

Country music seems appropriate, so I turn it up above the wind and stick my elbow out to assume the true good-living posture.

It’s no Pacific Coast Highway, but at least it’s lined with interests other than green signs reminding you of how much more stale earth you must endure.

Perhaps is the eastern location that pins drivers on the edge of the dramatic Sierra and it’s at last partly green, rather than the Tracy to the Grapevine stretch that exiles motorists to rolling hills of yellow that seem dirty, parched and void of the flattering adjectives that modify waterless spots in the Southwest. Whatever it is, I almost don’t mind the drive north to where the valley is pinched shut. Mt. Shasta appears to be an innocuous cloud until the severe base comes in to view, and the puffy white becomes lingering ice and snow.

It’s a sign I’m almost there, though large mountains in the distance don’t get big quickly and staring at it is worse than waiting on pots of water to bubble, but there is no other direction to look without forfeiting safety.

Before too long, I am at The Fly Shop in Redding, carefully picking over patterns that look like good liars. Every few minutes I am approached by another employee, not with the urgency of a new guy wanting to impress his boss by pestering each customer, but rather a fellow fisherman that knows the longer I am inside looking at flies, the less time I have to use those flies that day.

If he were me, he’d want to be on the water, so he tries to get me there as soon as possible. So I don’t mind.

I talk Alaska with one of the guys. He gives me a catalog highlighted with fly-fishing adventures to the Bahamas and Patagonia which makes me laugh.
“I’m a teacher; I can’t even afford to look at those places.”

He smiles and delicately insists. I take it, pay for my nymphs and head to the lower Sacramento, which is so far north than the lower Sacramento near the town of Sacramento it is almost comical, but who cares, right?

As I stand just off the shore, picking through my fly-box, I notice black widow spiders hanging like chimpanzees, not looking to bite, but attack and eat me. They are everywhere.

My immediate thought is that there are not enough bugs to support the obesity problem in this population, but I also notice there are no small birds around.

I drift nymphs and flies where fish should be, but catch none, and begin wishing I had a drift boat.

It would certainly make the trip home eventful, and I’d only have to see Interstate 5 from a distance.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail
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