Weekend Adventure in a 1960 Mercedes-Benz 
Type 190Db Ponton

Miles Whitmore / ascii@dod.net / Healdsburg, California / July 2, 2003

This past weekend, a friend of mine invited me to come up to the Lake Pillsbury / Eel River area to go swimming and camp for the night. Having nothing better to do, I got some supplies together, threw them in the trunk, grabbed a map and hit the road. It was in the high 90s when I set out with a careful eye on the temperature gauge. I had the windows rolled down and the wind vents open — who needs air conditioning? As I passed through Healdsburg and then Geyserville on California Route 101, I began to feel good about getting out of the house, away from computers, work, and all the stuff that makes my life boring. It was just me and my simple machine going into the wilderness.

It was around 6:00 p.m., so I stopped in Ukiah for some quick food. Hopped back on the 101 for a short time and then got off at the Highway 20 exit towards lake country. After a pretty steep grade and a few minutes, I was turning onto Potter Valley Road. Once I reached the incredibly small town of Potter Valley, I stopped at the corner store to pick up some more water and a little bit of beer. This was basically the last outpost of civilization for a while. The climb out of Potter Valley was incredibly steep and I had to start out in first gear, then the rest was in second gear, tractor style. Once I reached the top, I opted to take the twisty and steep way down — thinking it would be much more fun, which it was. I got to the bottom and crossed the bridge over the beautiful Eel River and then took the right-hand split of the road where it then turned into dirt. This was a surprise. Most sane people driving a 43 year old car probably would have turned around at this point but I forged on because I did not feel like going home after driving 80 miles to get to this point. The dirt road just kept going and going, and the grades got steeper, and the road got fairly rough at points, but overall, it was no worse than your typical California fire access road.

After about another two hours of driving on crazy, but incredibly beautiful, dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, I reached Bloody Rock Trail, where I was headed. My friend's cars were already there as they left much earlier in the day. I locked up the car, chocked the wheel because my emergency brake cable had just broken a few days earlier, and set off down the trail. When I arrived at Bloody Rock, it was still pretty light out, but when I entered the forest before the river, it was basically pitch black with no moon. I had a flashlight with me, so I kept it on for a little bit, but decided it would be best not to get lost in the woods where I had never been before, and hightailed it back to my car for the night. In this location, I could get exactly one FM radio station on the Grundig set that I like to carry with me, so I spent the night listening to cheesy '70s and '80s rock, and watched the stars from the front seat of the 190. It was a most relaxing evening indeed. To those who have never slept in a Ponton, it is ...umm... interesting. I think the front seat fully reclined, and adjusting it all the way back offered the most "comfort."

In the morning, I got up and made my way down the trail, met my friends, went swimming and got heading home by 1:00 p.m. Coming back was even more beautiful as I was not in a hurry, and could go even slower. All the dirt road travel was between 15 and 30 mph. The trip home was uneventful except for a stop at the Real Goods compound in Hopland (back on Route 101 again) to see if they had anything neat. They did, but I was not in a "spending money sort of mood" at that point. Once back home, the entire trip covered about (I am guessing) around 230 miles and I had used a half tank of fuel.

I am planning to go back and explore the many fire roads on my Honda Trail 90 as it will be a little better suited to the area than the 190 Ponton. I must say that the 190 performed flawlessly handing the dirt and getting pretty good traction up the many steep and somewhat rocky roads. It made me want to do rallye racing with the old car.

Miles Whitmore
July 2, 2003
1960 Mercedes-Benz Type 190Db
1980 Mercedes-Benz Type 300TD

Created: July 2, 2003 / Jeff Miller
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