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Roadside Attraction

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Driving to Labor Day destinations amid traffic and road construction can really try one's patience. So just imagine the lucky drivers who unknowingly happened upon the Four Corners Bake Sale in Whale Gulch last weekend. Instead of rounding the bend and finding more dizziness-inducing roads, they found a welcoming committee of Whale Gulch locals offering homemade cherry cheesecake and still-warm apple pie.

The bake sale, an annual fundraiser supporting the Whale Gulch Volunteer Fire Company, sets up shop at the intersection of Briceland and Usal Roads, a position marked by streamers of blue, yellow and red flags. This cat's cradle of colorful triangles also showcased the Jamaican flag, the California State flag, the "Don't Tread on Me" flag and even the Jolly Roger. If the bright flair and the shockingly realistic dummy dressed as a fireperson weren't enough to stop the average tourist, the assertive locals jumping in front of the vehicle would. (I experienced this as I was leaving, and was only allowed safe passage because I had already donated money, eaten one bite-size cupcake and a scrumptious piece of pie.)

Amazingly, this two-day event usually raises between $5,000 and $6,000, which, says Blue Graham, the fire company's chief, pays for the insurance, fuel and supplies for the entire year. The location of the bake sale is key, as they can catch members of the community going about their daily business as well as tourists heading toward the Sinkyone Wilderness. For the tired dune-buggy drivers and motorcycle clubs riding rough down Usal road, the bake sale is a welcome site where they can indulge in food, drink and community chatter. They can even buy T-shirts and hoodies with the fire company logo.

"Everyone in the community seems to be a member," Graham jokes, although the team is actually made up of about 15 to 20 volunteers.

Graham took over as chief about five months ago and says the volunteer fire company plays an important role in the community. Surrounded by wilderness and BLM land, it is the first responder in any emergency.

"We've searched out everything from lost mushroom hunters to plane crashes," retired member Curtis Sherman remarked, "although a lot of those crashes were wild goose chases."

The bottom line, it seems, is that the nearby BLM and Shelter Cove fire departments usually rely on the Whale Gulch squad to get to local fires first. There's just too much terrain to cover. In fact, the Shelter Cove and Whale Gulch fire departments have a mutual relationship where each helps the other out in fiery times of crisis.

"We just want to get them out quick, before any damage is done," says Graham. And in this region of the North Coast, where the climate is a little hotter and the foliage a little thicker, there is the potential for a lot of damage.

Clearly, the bake sale funds a worthy cause. Make no mistake, however. This is no ordinary bake sale. On Saturday, the "party" goes all night, and community members bring their stand-up basses, drums and guitars for a local jam session. Many of the people I talked to on Sunday had spent the night at the bake sale — which, keep in mind, is basically at an intersection in the middle of nowhere. Either Whale Gulch has some dedicated members, or that was one rockin' party. I'd guess it was a little bit of both. One thing I know for sure: I got my five bucks worth. The apple pie nearly brought me to tears.

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