Why ‘Reka?: Nine times out of 10, when you tell someone you’re going to Eureka (hopefully, you’ll never have to say “I’m going to Eureka” more than 10 times in your life) they figure you’re probably talking Yreka, the humble piss-stop town off of I-5 North on the way to Oregon. But true scions of Northern California know that Eureka with a “eu” is a very, very different place than Yreka. The word Eureka is greek for “I have found it,” but a lot’s changed since the time someone was excited to find Eureka. The gold that gave it it’s name ran out a long time ago, and the other two rape-able natural resources that have kept Eureka from becoming a complete waste of time and space, timber and fish, are both quickly heading that way too. In fact the only things that Eureka seems to have in abundance these days is weed and crazy ass homeless people, and not necessarily in that order.
299: 90% percent of what sucks about Eureka is trying to get there. From these parts, unless you want to be a complete idiot and go the long way on Highway 20 over to 101, pretty much the only route to Eureka is to go up the I-5 to Redding, then take Highway 299. Coincidentally, 299 is almost the exact number of times you’ll feel like you are on the brink of death while driving this stretch of road. If you don’t get in a head-on collision and die a fiery death or puke your guts out, you win the game. Hardly anyone ever wins the game. Even the roadside monuments seem to acknowledge the sheer hopelessness of the journey. Striking west from Redding, the first historical monument you pass is the foreboding sounding “Pioneer Baby’s Grave.” As you continue onwards, the highway clean-up sign typically sponsored by the local chapter of Clampers or Soroptomists, were instead dedicated in memory of such luminaries as “Burt Pickle” and “Critter.” Interspersed were numerous other ad hoc roadside memorials for the countless car crashes and hitchhiker murders that doubtlessly occur annually on this forlorn stretch of highway.
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire: And as if that wasn’t enough, it just so happens that the day of our ascent through the southern boundary of the Trinity Alps was timed perfectly to meet head on with the numerous forest fires burning in the area. As we lurched past Weaverville, even the recirculating air-conditioner could not repel the campfire stench, and ash wafted like snowflakes from the sky. Unlike the valley though, we soon saw firsthand the source of this lung-searing noxiousness, as fires burned unchecked mere meters off the highway. Burning tree limbs tumbled down hillsides, turning the already precarious highway into a lifesized game of Donkey Kong. More incredible were the onlookers assembled at every vista point and rest stop, not to be satiated by merely taking in the smoke and fire provided by nature, instead adding their own contribution to the vile suspension by enjoying a cigarette. Now that’s dedication! Even as we finally reached the ocean at Arcata, where the smoke could not overcome the ocean breeze, the danger did not subside: driving along the edge of Humboldt Bay, signs lined the road warning motorists to be on the lookout for tsunamis, such as the one in 1964 that killed 11 people and shot 20 foot waves over the harbor in neighboring Crescent City.
You Got a Problem?: And finally, we were there, pulling into Eureka proper, ready to see the sights. I was expecting a Victorian throwback, a village awash in storied sea captain history and antique beauty. Instead it was as if the entire population of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District was transplanted into Oroville, then moved a few hundred miles to the northwest on to an old parking lot bordered by an algae clogged harbor. We stopped at the first bar we saw, and got out. There was a severed cat’s tail on the ground. Bad first impression. But hey, maybe the locals were alright. A dirt caked old man in sweat pants cruised up holding a thick club-like tree branch in one hand and an oversized Dandelion looking flower in the other. He looked at me and asked, rather forcibly “You Got a Problem?!” and I realized that yes, I did have a problem. I was in Eureka.