Mike spent his formative years documenting the Hollywood of the Doobie Brothers and Kim Fowley, the Hollywood of long, white nights and sun-bleached acid trips, of worn out cults and Pontiac Fieros. He was there, man: in it all, rubbing elbows in the black-lit green rooms of post-revolutionary excess. He reveled, he imbibed, and then at some point he gave it up, packed up camp and dislocated himself to the nowhere-ness of no place in Northern California. Since his arrival at the Mythical State of Jefferson (MSOJ), Mike’s personality has merged with the local culture—or maybe the culture, the heart of the place, was always there. Maybe he just needed to brush off the plasticized chrysalis accreted during his years spent in Los Angeles.
“I’ve only had to pull a knife on someone once. I was on acid in Hollywood and this creep who had been following me around all night followed me into the bathroom of some club. I turned to him, ‘What the fuck do you want man?’ brandishing my knife like a fucking haunted lantern. Whatever he wanted before he didn’t want any more and without a word he turned and walked away.”
– MIKE CHERNEY
Mike carries a knife with him, always. I haven’t watched him sleep; I am not that kind of creep and on our ride we didn’t spend a lot of time on shuteye. I assume he just tapes the thing to his body with some sort of low-adhesive masking tape or that silky medical stuff, or maybe he just tucks it into his armpit. Whatever nocturnal management process he has established, the white light of his blade is always with him. It’s not a Crocodile Dundee deal, nothing with hidden matches, the ability to divine water, or find the magnetic North Pole. It’s just one of those foldable things that men with beards in their 20s ands 30s have begun to wear while taking perfectly fine pictures of their well made camp coffee.
He has a goatee, is in his 60s, and as we climbed the murderous hills at the north end of the Emerald Triangle Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity Counties form the triangle, far and away the United States’ largest marijuana-growing area. I wondered why he carried the blade. Showmanship, habit, or was he just better prepared? Would a little pocketknife be effective if we stumbled upon a cartel’s growing operation? If you tell people you are going into the backcountry of Northern California, everyone from my mother to a telemarketer trying to sell me effective lawn watering systems will warn you about the THC-derived dangers that exist there. Men from Mexican cartels shuttled in at night with only a couple cases of beans, armed to the teeth with assault rifles and a fear of familial reprisal should anything happen to the crop. Or blasted-out locals with a murderous history and discount consciousness stalking the hills, just waiting to eradicate us future polymer-wearing, nutbutt adventurers who happen to stumble upon their operations. I mean, what’s a 3” blade in the world of high velocity automatic rifles? Throughout our ride his trusty blade was clipped to his right hip, inside of his bike shorts, between the black stretch lycra and his base layer. A pair of blue suspenders, oxidized from a history of effort, still managed to hold his chamois in place. He said he needed to get a set of bibs like ours. Then again if he really cared, he would have them already.
There is something in this sentiment echoed in the social landscape of the State of Jefferson, a laissez-faire approach to the necessary, a well-enough-will-do approach to getting by.
Maybe this comes from the region’s deep connection to mining, a process that works strictly by subtraction, the stripping away of surfeit. Or maybe it’s because this region lacks the velocity of humanity needed to motivate anything more than what’s necessary, or maybe it’s the weed or the idea of weed. Not that everyone here is stoned, the weed is well hidden and the style is less steal-your-face and more real tree. It’s just an expected way of life. Marijuana has long been the principal export and economic foundation of this little part of the world.
Mike made the plan. We were to ride around 250 miles on desolate byways and little-used dirt roads through the Klamath National Forest. Our route started in Fort Jones, California and ended Ashland, Oregon—only 30,000 feet +/- of climbing in between. Things were looking good, as in difficult, as in this was going to be a shit ton of climbing with a good amount of miles and the very real probability of triple digit temperatures. The route wasn’t fully tested; we were guinea pigging, hoping to end up back home with a good story. Mike had only ridden sections of the route, though he had scouted the rest by car to go along with his efforts to gather the word of wayward locals, directions from weather-worn road signs, and geographical information based on decades-old topographic maps. We were aiming to ride straight through, sleep where we collapsed and swim in as many places as possible. The route would climb mountains, follow rivers, visit communes, and test the fitness and resolve of our little flight of riders. We were riding in the Mythical State of Jefferson. Centrally located along the West Coast of North America and comprising vast areas of Northern California and Southern Oregon, it is Bigfoot country, weed country, Lemurian country; a sparsely populated region of under-appreciated natural beauty. The region is rife with river valleys that cut through sheaves of tectonic pilings created by millennia of volcanic unrest. The hills are steep and the valleys deep. This scarified terrain limits access and attracts rugged individuals seeking permanent escape: libertarian ranchers, libertarian bartenders, and libertarian mailmen shoot the shit with idealistic hippie dropouts at the local convenient store. Seasonal pot harvesters purchase cases of beer from sixth-generation travel lodge owners. Prospectors travel the skeins of rivers in search of the final remnants of Sutter’s promise22An employee of German immigrant John Sutter’s, James W. Marshall, made the first discovery of gold in California while building Sutter’s Mill—a saw mill that never milled anything—in Coloma, California near the area that is now the state capitol Sacramento.and wile away their free time enjoying Eskimo Pies on the shaded porch of an isolated mercantile.
Time didn’t completely forget about this area, it just checks in periodically.