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Free Range: Hauntings

By Felicia Morgan

We have a new feature I’ve gotten myself pretty excited over since it’s right up my traveling bug alley. The Folded Map makes its debut in this edition and will offer some significant background information about a different city each month. Every now and then we’ll try to throw in a pub crawl or other relevant tidbits to make it easier for a rider to find biker-friendly places in the featured town. I decided to do a little research for a future issue and hit the backwater towns along the Sacramento River for a refresher course on riding the Delta. A Bay area friend rode up and we decided to get rooms for the night before we continued our exploration. We settled on the old Ryde Hotel in the tiny town by the same name, though I’d heard the place was haunted. We were given two keys and told that since we were the only guests registered, we’d have to let ourselves in the main door when we came back. As we saddled up, a creepy shriek pealed through the quiet afternoon. It took a minute to realize it was the neighborhood peacock. A shiver came over me as we left the parking lot to visit my favorite dives and I made a mental note to be sure to be back before dark.

Just up the road and across the bridge lies Walnut Grove, one of the oldest communities founded along the Sacramento River. The area, settled in 1850, oozes with cool history, becoming a major shipping port between San Francisco and Sacramento. Pear orchards and an asparagus packinghouse were established; both still contribute to the local way of life. The little community’s big claim to fame these days is when The Sons of Anarchy had an episode in season 4 that included Walnut Grove as its backdrop. From our perspective, it’s a stop by Tony’s that’s the best part of visiting here. Portuguese fare is whipped up by a young Mexican cook at the dive bar that’s owned by a warm and friendly Irish family. The place is said to have had a brothel upstairs where a $1 could buy a little time with a favored working gal, but these days the remodeled upstairs apartment is a monthly rental. Carey still tends bar during the days and the cruddy old couch that served as furniture through his parent’s college days still offers comfort by the fireplace in the dining room.

The next town over is Locke, a famous little burg circa 1915 that was built entirely by Chinese, for Chinese during a time when aliens were not allowed to own property. The town burned down twice, but many of the original buildings still stand and actually lean against each other in support. Bikers are drawn to Al the Wops, an old bar that sports creaky wooden floors and a listing bar that’s sinking into the floor. Back in the day, burnouts in the bar weren’t unheard of. Originally founded by Italian Al “the Wop” Adami, he was an over-the-top and the most recent owner, though he recently passed away unexpectedly. Richard “Bubba” Wall was a veritable stand up comic and working the room while slinging suds was his favorite pastime. It didn’t matter whether you were a resident, a regular or a just dropped a kickstand now and then, you were still treated like family and Bubba was sure to make you laugh. We were bummed to learn of Richard’s passing, but his wife still runs the place that’s a weekend destination for bikers who want to escape the rat race of the city and embrace the laid-back life along the levee.

The sun was getting low so we headed back to the hotel. Now, knowing a place is rumored to be haunted is quite different than actually experiencing said haunting, but we decided to embrace whatever the evening offered and settled into our adjoining rooms with a water closet separating us, which we decided to keep open. “Recon” went in search of bottled water, exploring the four-story building that was originally built in 1927 during the days of paddleboats and prohibition. There was originally a trapdoor leading to a tunnel under the levee so celebrities like Clark Gable and notable politicians from Sacramento could make their way from boats to the speakeasy unnoticed by the public. These days the tunnel is sealed but adds another layer of apprehension when considering an overnight in the historic hotel. I stayed upstairs writing while Recon gleefully let himself into the art deco appointed ground floor rooms armed with a flashlight. While his mission was unsuccessful, it was also uneventful and he was quietly snoring by 1 a.m. while I continued to write. Suddenly there was a loud bang, followed by a dragging sound that stopped at my room. The light from the hallway cast a shadow against what appeared to be two feet standing in front of my door. I held my breath for a few seconds and waited for the shadows to move. Instead, the stupid peacock screamed. The bang, drag sequence came again before the shadows simply disappeared. Terrified, I was frozen as this series was repeated several times over the next couple of hours. Recon never budged, I never got up to investigate. And I never slept a wink. Gads… the things I do for this job…

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