Way Out West – California Dreaming 2008
Hello, San Francisco
We arrived in San Francisco on Wednesday morning after having had the most fitful sleep the night before. You would think that being up half the night and a 7:00 am flight would be a recipe for sleep on the 6+ hour plane ride, but it was not to be. I don’t know if it was my own adrenalin, fear of flying, excitement for the adventure that lay ahead that kept me awake on that flight or what it was. But, I sat there for the better part of six hours wondering what was in store for me when we touched down and made our way out in to the California sun.
“How was your trip?” people ask. I don’t usually know how to answer that to properly do justice to the experience. I could say it was 40 different things and answer the question correctly, but not fully. Now as I type this, I think that the best I can say is that it was… life. It was amazing, it sucked, it was fun. It was easy, hard, hot and cold. It was too long and not long enough. I was happy to be away but missed home with every ounce of my being. It was indeed a slice full of life.
Wednesday June 11, 2008 New York to San Francisco, Ca
Let’s get the pre-requisite tourist landmarks out of the way Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39. They’re all here, they’re all touristy and I loved them all.
We pulled up to our hotel in Japantown sometime around lunchtime on Wednesday. Although leaving New York so early was hard, I was thankful to have the entire afternoon to do a quick tour of the city since we’d really only be spending 24 hours there.
Hotel Tomo had a neat vibe with its great murals, fun décor and Godzilla movies playing in the lobby.
We unpacked some of our things and headed off on foot, huffing and puffing my chubbles up those famous hills for the first time to where? Why, Fisherman’s Wharf, of course. Where else would a tourist go right away? 😀
There actually was a method to my madness. A few days earlier I had found a place called “Scootcar,” that offered rentals of 50cc scooter based buggies in which you could tootle around the city. Since we’d be on 2 wheels for the following 9 days, it seemed like a brilliant idea. But, like most of my brilliant ideas… brilliant it wasn’t.
To say that a 50cc baseball carrying two people, drum brakes and San Francisco’s hills aren’t exactly the perfect marriage would be a bit of an understatement. I played navigator while Kenny dislocated his hip pressing the brake pedal to the floor to try to keep us from careening into traffic.
Of course one of our destinations in the death defying Scootcar was Lombard Street’s crooked-est section. I won’t lie. I feared for my life.
This beautiful piece by glass artist Dale Chihuly was perched in the courtyard of The Legion of Honor.
I found San Francisco to feel less like a “big” city and more like an outer-lying borough of a large city. It’s very sprawling but the buildings feel kind of low with beautiful neighborhood pockets that are a feast for the eyes. I would definitely like to go back again and spend some time exploring all that the city seems to have to offer outside of its outright tourist venues. I’d love to just walk the streets, look at the gorgeous Victorians and just feel the cities’ energy. It’s very beautiful.
I try to see love everywhere. Ice cream drip heart~
San Francisco to San Luis Obispo
Thursday June 12, 2008 – San Francisco to San Luis Obispo
We were at the rental place promptly at 9:00 to pick up our bikes for the next 9 days. The three of us were outfitted with BMW R1150Rs.
Before I got to know my girl more intimately, I must say that the thought of riding something that appeared to be so big, heavy and wide with its sidebags seemed a little, I don’t know… like I’d feel like a fish out of water? But, as the miles ticked on my pack mule proved to be a pussycat. She was generally well behaved and did as she was told. What more can you ask for?
For our first day of riding, we pretty much set the day up to be a leisurely roll down the coast. We’re from as far east as you can go in the US, now we’d be as far west. I wanted to take my time and watch the waves rolling in.
It was very exciting to see the coast after having seen it on television for years and years. Carmel, Big Sur, Morro Rock – the Bixby Creek Bridge; each of them visual icons for me and each just gorgeous. Every curve, every turn – opened up to a vista more beautiful than the last.
We ended our day in San Luis Obispo. It was so exciting to talk about what we’d just seen over dinner. This was the first time riding the coast for all three of us.
San Luis Obispo to Bakersfield
Friday June 13, 2008 – San Luis Obispo to Bakersfield
We rolled out of SLO and headed towards route 33 where we would be meeting up with Ed in Ojai. He was heading up from SoCal to meet us.
Taft, California was once named Moron. You could smell the oil in the air as we rolled by the creepy oilfields. It was a strange site to watch the fields of derricks as their heads went, up and down, up and down like birds pecking at the ground.
Heading south on 33 from the Taft area was fun. The road snaked along through the mountains twisting and turning. In a surreal moment we saw a fleet of about 5 or 6 “covered” cars going through what must have been a road test.
Gentleman that he is, Ed took us to the Rockstore. I guess that’s like someone wanting to visit the Empire State Building in NYC. He tried to tell us he never goes there, but not 5 minutes after we arrived we hear… “Hey, Ed..” 😆
He shuttled us around hill and dale. One of the highlights of the day was an awesome ride through Angeles Crest where we stopped for lunch at Newcomb’s Ranch.
We cruised through tiny mountain roads that wriggled along the landscape like a rattlesnake.
We stopped off to figure out where we were were, where we might want to go and how much daylight we had to work with. As we stood looking out at the mountains, the hills reminded me of the edge of a pie crust.
We swung in to Bakersfield to see a muffler man Indian and ended up staying there for the night. Not the most scenic town in the world, but our hotel was clean and cool.
Our first day of riding with Ed along was excellent. Great scenery, roads, and company.
Bakersfield to North Fork
Saturday June 14, 2008 – Bakersfield to North Fork
I guess Kenny’s zipper didn’t have the tensile strength to hold back the sheer force of his manaconda. It ended up blowing out, so before heading out for the day, we had to make a pitstop at Cyclegear to get him a new pair of pants.
Our first leg of the day took us to Caliente Bodfish Road heading towards Lake Isabella. It was a beautiful rural road that carved it’s way through dry, golden sand hills.
As we came down out of the hills, we passed through Lake Isabella on our way towards Sequoia National Park.
As we entered the park, I kept looking at the trees and thinking, ‘Yea, they are pretty big.’ It isn’t until you enter the Giant Forest until you really begin to get an understanding of just what a BIG tree is.
If you’ve never seen a giant Sequoia, you have no frame of reference of what to expect. Photos and video could never do justice the feeling of being amongst them. If a tree is worthy of a name like General Sherman or Sentinel, it’s pretty special.
We spent some time in the park, checking out the trees and just lallygagging. We rode north until the sun was just about down and found ourselves in a pinch between national parks on the weekend. EVERYTHING was booked. Except one place. It was the worst motel I’ve stayed in to date. Beggars can’t be choosers so we shacked up at the South Fork motel in North Fork.
Caution – Bear Crossing
I will be the first to admit that I will say things like, ‘Oh, bears are so cool. I’d love to see a bear!’ In passing these comments are meaningless but when you really consider seeing a bear close up, you just might feel entirely different about it.
When we were riding through Sequoia National Park I made it clear to Kenny that I needed a little space from the group. When you’re used to doing things on your own, stopping and starting a train of people can feel a little claustrophobic at times. With that, off I went on my own. The gang still behind me but out of sight, I slowly moved along up the road towards the Giant Forest Museum feasting on the wonder of my surroundings.
As the road climbed and rounded a curve in my left peripheral vision I saw something brown bound out of the foliage. Given my limited scope of animal exposure, I had assumed in that split second that it was a deer. I came to an abrupt, shaking stop in the middle of the the uneven road and nearly dropped my motorcycle. My arms had instantly gone to jelly. Standing there momentarily was a small bear. It was about 20 feet away from me. I was stunned and completely startled. My auto-piloting brain was frightened.
The bear didn’t really think much of me and didn’t linger. It scurried its way up the banking on the right side of the road and slowed its gate to a meandering stroll. I could see a green tag on its ear as it turned around to look at me. I sat shaking in the middle of the road. Kenny pulled up along side of me and I pointed to the bear and he was able to grab a quick shot with his camera.
Its not a perfect shot – but its enough to say ‘look what I saw!’ My first bear. And in hindsight… hopefully my last from that close up.
North Fork to Lee Vining
Sunday June 15, 2008 – North Fork to Lee Vining
Our night at the South Fork was interesting. The motel owner actually gave us our money back as soon as we walked in the room and flipped on the air conditioner. When we turned the juice on, it started a loud howling screeeech!!! that sounded like a car with bad power steering. I nearly peed in my pants laughing. So, while the motel was shall we say “rustic,” it was free. There’s always a silver lining.
With the sun on the ride, the four of us headed off towards Yosemite, where we spent our day.
The massive scale and beauty of everything in Yosemite really made me feel like a speck. Amazing.
Yosemite marked one of those moments in time where you almost have to pinch yourself that you are seeing what you’re seeing.
We exited the park on 108 which dropped us down through the Tioga Pass. At it’s base we found a motel in Lee Vining. The four of us: Kenny, Greg and I shared a nice meal at of all places “Nicely’s”. We also found time to a hug a grizzly bear and took a ride down to check out the Tufa on the lake.
Shortly after, we wished sad farewell to Novos who bravely faced a 400 mile slab ride back home. He’d already spent more time with us that he’d planned.
I think I missed him before his Aprilia was even out of sight.
Lee Vining to Klamath Falls, Oregon
Monday June 16, 2008 – Lee Vining to Klamath Falls, Oregon
Waving goodbye to Lee Vining, we headed north on 395 towards Bridgeport, California. Not far from Lake Mono, I saw a sign for “Bodie.” Seeing as how I might never pass that way again, I made the executive decision that we were going to stop and check the place out.
Bodie, California is a Ghost town. Literally.
After leaving Bodie, we hopped across the Sonora Pass which at nearly 10,000 ft elevation, was nice and cool. The road offered great, twisty riding and beautiful mountain scenery.
As we climbed down out of the mountains, the heat began to settle in. It was hot, hot, hot. We pulled off at a gas station to get a drink and I went in to full-blown meltdown wobbler mode. I’d had it. I hit the wall with the heat and the slow pace. Kenny donned his fire retardant suit and slowly talked me down off the ledge until I slowly began to return to my right mind.
After my cranky meltdown, we determined that we had to make tracks towards Klamath Falls, Oregon on the slab if we wanted to squeeze Crater Lake in. It became apparent that if we didn’t, we’d never make it. I was not happy about that. The next couple hundred hot highway miles sucked.
Klamath Falls, Or. to Crescent City, Ca.
Tuesday June 17, 2008 – Klamath Falls, Or to Crescent City, Ca.
We left our surprisingly plush and unexpected 2 room suite in Klamath Falls on Tuesday morning, heading north to Crater Lake National Park. A good night’s sleep realigned my brain and I was happy to be on the road again.
We stopped off along the road to take in the scenery and talk with some cows who stood on the other side of the fence chewing. It was a gorgeous morning; cool and clear.
Crater Lake has been on my life’s to-do list for what seems like forever. In my previously mentioned heat-induced emotional breakdown, I was nearly ready to skip Crater Lake rather than sit on the toe-roasting boxer twin for 200 miles of slab. Sometimes I could probably use a good shake to knock some sense in to me.
As Greg, Kenny and I sat on the wall that rimmed the lake, I was thankful that I was encouraged to keep moving forward that day in the gas station.
The way that the sunshine sparkled off the sapphire blue water looked like a layer of static hovering. It was like one of those magic eye posters.
Unfortunately, though it was June there was 55 inches of snow still standing around the lake’s ring road. This meant that we were unable to go all the way around the lake.
Crater lake marked the northern most section of our route. This was a bittersweet moment. I’d made it to see this place that danced across my imagination, but it was also the turnaround point of or trip. We were no longer on the upslope.
Heading southwest, we worked our way down the coast. We found a place to stay in Crescent City for the night.
Crescent City to Mount Shasta City
Wednesday June 18, 2008 – Crescent City to Mount Shasta City
Heading south from Crescent City on 101, we moved through the big trees. There was a layer of fog that seems to hang in their tops. It created a very soft, surreal feeling in the woods.
Of course we had to stop in Klamath to see Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox at the roadside gem The Trees of Mystery. Kenny rubbed Babe’s giant blue balls for good luck. And wouldn’t you know it? We had good luck for the rest of the trip.
We left route 101, and headed east into the mountains. We traveled along small canyon roads towards the town of Forks of Salmon. The turns just kept coming and coming and coming. The dry, narrow road edges falling away in some places. We didn’t see any other cars or bikes.
Heading towards Cecilville we were really in the middle of nowhere and nearly out of gas. A quick look at the GPS said that the nearest gas was just a few more miles ahead. This time relying on the GPS let us down. There was gas here. About 3 years prior.
Kenny and Greg walked up the road to a cluster of houses to see if they could by gas from whomever lived there. I stayed back with the bikes, wondering if they would be coming back or if some crazed lunatic would be heading down the road in their place. This overactive imagination of mine can really get the better of me sometimes. I was relieved to see them heading back down the road with a full gas can.
Thankfully we were back in business and continued east heading towards Gazelle, Weed and on to Mount Shasta City where we stayed for the night.
California Dreaming: Mount Shasta City to Willits
Thursday June 19, 2008 – Mount Shasta City to Willits
We left Mount Shasta City early on Thursday morning with the intent of stopping in the city of Redding so that I could visit a bridge built by one of my favorite architects; The Sundial Bridge by Santiago Calatrava.
While I was standing in the visitors center reading through the travel brochures for the area, I happened to pick up a pamphlet that listed scenic motorcycle rides of the area in it. With no further plan for the day, I figured – What the hell – and suggested we give the ride a try.
The route took us out along Route 36 heading back towards the coast and the city of Eureka. It was FANTASTIC!
Kenny must have done a really good job on babe’s balls because our luck continued with another paper directing us down through Ferndale and on to Matole Rd. to enjoy the Lost Coast.
Our travels took us to Willits as night fell. We pulled in to a motel in the dark, covered in night time bugs. It was a most spectacular day of riding.
Willits to San Francisco
June 20, 2008 – Willits to San Francisco
There was a little bit of a sting to leaving Willits. This was our final day of riding in California. We had to be back in San Francisco to return our rental bikes by dinner time. Though another beautiful day of riding along the serpentine tarmac of the coast lay ahead, the ride was tinged with the sadness of knowing that the trip we had been dreaming of for so long was nearly finished.
We headed west towards Fort Bragg and began our easy-going meander down the coast.
We stopped along the way, enjoying the views and visiting the lighthouses at both Point Cabrillo and Point Arena and having a bite to eat in Mendocino. Onward we went, heading back to where we’d started from in San Francisco.
When we rode inland off the coast, the heat felt like a punch to the gut. One minute we were cruising along in the mild air of the coastline and then WHAMMO!, it was H-O-T. We’d passed a bank sign while making a pit stop that read 114°.
I saw Greg put on his signal and move to the shoulder. Flat tire! The sun and the heat were merciless while we were standing there on the side of the highway. It felt every bit of that 114 degrees we’d seen earlier and then some. Thankfully, this roadside repair was done in jig time using the fabulously small and flexible Slime compressor and a Stop & Go Tire plugging kit.
The irony of getting a flat at the Lucky Drive exit was not lost on me 🙂
With Greg’s tire plugged, each of us was hot and admittedly cranky but we were back on our way. The big red bridge though beautiful was like a dagger in my heart. Our ride was over. In what seemed to be the blink of an eye, we were pulling our bikes back in to the garage at Dubbleju.
How could 9 days have passed so quickly?