In September of 2011, Kenny and I left New York for a week of riding in California. Our 2008 trip there had been such a great time, it seemed that going back for more exploring would be a great way to burn some of those pesky unused vacation days. With time being the ultimate commodity, we opted to fly-rent-ride, once again.
Hello, San Francisco! Good to See You, Again.
Though our trip to California centered around motorcycle riding, we padded that time with a day up front and the tail end of the trip for hanging around in San Francisco. Our first visit in 2008 left such a great impression on both Kenny and I that we were very much looking forward to walking it’s streets again.
The city in many ways seems so “un-city like” when you compare it to a place like Manhattan. At least on the surface the frantic hustle just isn’t there. There is a laid back vibe that I love.
We stayed at Hotel Tomo in Japantown. I just love the feel and the decor. From the artwork on the walls and ceilings, the furnishings and cartoons playing in the lobby – this place is just my speed. I’m not a fan of fancy; fun is where it’s at.
Being a morning person means that when I am on the west coast, I’m up in the morning long before the sun rises. I quietly padded around the room and surfed the web while the rest of the world was still asleep. I sat around drinking coffee and considering all of the things we could do with our day of leisure. Everything pointed to what I like to do best: wander around and just see the city.
We left the hotel on foot and walked up to Haight street. Given the early hour, nothing was open. Aside from a few people who appeared to live in the park it was pretty much just the two of us peering in to closed shops. I’m not much of a shopper, so just looking through windows suited me fine.
We charged our batteries with some breakfast at Whole Foods and set off again on foot, walking towards Presidio Heights and into the Presidio. We strolled under the canopy of the Eucalyptus trees on Lover’s Lane.
California’s roads are so twisty, even the paths through the trees are serpentine!
By the time that we’d walked from our hotel in Japantown, to Haight Street, through the Presidio and on to Crissy Field, my feet started to protest a little. Perhaps walking so many miles in a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors wasn’t exactly brilliant. It wouldn’t be until later in the evening with a few more miles on their treads that I would realize just how dumb that would be.
We parked ourselves on the end of the jetty by the Golden Gate Yacht Club to rest our feet and listen to the sounds of the bay being piped through the tubes of the Wave Organ. On our way, I managed to find some love that someone else left behind. That made me smile just a little bit more.
In true tourist form, we continued our walk along the bay past Ghirardelli square, to Fisherman’s Wharf where we stopped for a bite to eat and a few cold ones and then on to the Embarcadero.
By the time we’d made it to Cupid’s Span we’d logged 14 miles on our Converse. My dogs were BARKIN’! They’d reached the point that I could no longer think about anything but the desire to stop walking. The soles of my feet felt like they were swollen with a layer of water.
We finally decided to give in and hail a cab. If you’ve walked San Francisco’s street you may in fact be snickering as you read the words “hail a cab.”
I’m a happy person. I would go so far as to say that it takes a lot to make me angry. We discovered on our walking tour that non-existent cabs in major tourist thoroughfares and empty cabs that drive right by are 2 things that will peg my freak-out meter into the red. It took us no less than 25 minutes to finally get a cab back to Japantown.
About 1 hours worth of time has been expunged from my memory surrounding this time frame as I recovered from my meltdown.
Between the jet-lag, the throbbing feet and the anticipation of getting our road trip underway the following morning, I was done for the day. Shortly after dinner I sank into the beautiful fluff of my Tomo pillows and slept the sleep of the righteous.
Hitting the Road
By the time blondie finally came to and began his usual morning scratch, I’d already put the room’s Keurig machine through it’s paces, read dozens of blog posts and chewed what was left of my fingernails. The breakfast of champions.
We had the hotel front desk call a cab for us and soon after were on our way to pick up our rental bikes. I must’ve had some residual tension about the inability to get a cab the day before. We weren’t a 1/4 of a mile away from the hotel when “why’s it so freakin’ hard to get a cab in this town,” swan-dived from my lips. The daggers in the rearview mirror didn’t go unnoticed, but I could tell that the driver did his best to be pleasant and conversational about it.
The answer, by the way? … there isn’t one.
When we pulled up to rental place we found our two Tiger 1050’s ready and waiting for us. All we had to do is cross a few T’s and dot a few I’s. Then we were free to drop our stuff into their Givi boxes.
I’d opted for only a top box and a tank bag on my Tiger. Kenny went for a set of side boxes and a tank bag. This decision would prove to be a Godsend a week later.
By 11:00am we set off for 7 days of riding aboard the 2 orange Triumphs.
The first few miles after pulling away felt tremendous. There was a palpable feeling that it was the beginning, the start of something great – it filled me up with a sense of infinite possibility. Do you know that feeling?
When you leave on a strange bike, there is a period of adjustment as you get to know each other. You learn about it’s power delivery, the feel of its suspension, the clamp of it’s brakes. It’s all new and adds to the excitement of a trip.
I’m glad to say that the Tiger and I got along famously right out of the gate. The familiar whirrr of the 1050 triple made me feel right at home.
Now, it was time to get the party started!
But first… a pit stop 🙂
Hello, Handsome! Hayward, California Muffler Man
You didn’t think we were going to go all the way to California and not stop and say ‘hello’ to some of the neighborhood Muffler Men, did you?
This guy was standing outside of a now belly-up business called Tyre Treds. Seeing the building vacant made me a little nervous that this Muff could go missing. I hope that whomever takes over the space appreciates the big guy and spiffs him up with a fresh coat of paint and patches the hole in his jeans.
With time marching on, Muffler Men often get updated and personalized. They sometimes get new accessories, new shirts, and hats and apparently colored contact lenses.
This big fella has pretty green eyes. And one… well…, let’s just say it’s on the lazy side. We kinda had that awkward moment where I wasn’t sure which eye to look in to while we were talking. You know what I’m sayin’, right?
But I loved him, wonky eye and all.
Mount Hamilton and Lick Observatory
What better way to give your new livery a test than with a winding road? As the sun rose higher in the sky, we made our way from the cool air of San Francisco to the golden hills of Route 130 to visit the Lick Observatory atop Mt. Hamilton.
If Wikipedia is to be believed, Route 130 is said to have 365 curves – one for each day of the year. Now, I don’t know if that is true but I can tell you that the road is indeed very twisty. It took twice as many minutes to travel the 20 or so miles from the west to the observatory.
In addition to its plethora of turns, the road is also quite bumpy in some spots. Major lumps and ripples crossed large sections of the road similar to frost heaves that we get in the Northeast.
A few of the dips in the road sent the Tiger’s too soft rear suspension a-bouncing. Hitting one of those on a firmly suspended sportbike would indeed give your naughty bits quite an unwelcome surprise or possibly dislodge your spleen.
The higher and higher we climbed, the closer to the sun we got. It was 409° when we finally made it to the summit. But the view was worth the sweat. The toasty rolling hills spread out before us whispering “…come closer… we’ve got secrets to share with you…”
Seaside Sandwiches in Big Sur
Do you think it would be possible to tire of looking at the Pacific Ocean from the seat of your motorcycle? I had plenty of time to ponder that question as we headed south on the PCH. My best guess was ‘no’.
This was our second time riding down the coast from San Francisco. Seeing the blue water crash against the craggy rocks was just as exciting as it had been the first time we made the trek.
Throughout our 200 mile coastal leg, we rode in and out of a silvery fog and back into bright blue skies. The air hung coolly, sending a chill across the knuckles of my summer gloves. It was a stark contrast from the blazing heat we’d come down out of at the Lick Observatory.
This day was a little extra special. It was Kenny’s birthday. Though I know he means it when he says he doesn’t want or need anything for his birthday, I always find it hard to really adhere to. Thankfully part of me took great pleasure in knowing that he was spending his day doing something that he loves, in a place that is dear to his heart.
I guess you could say that we celebrated the day with a special lunch.
We stopped off at the store at Lucia Lodge in Big Sur and each got a ham and cheese croissant. They were in the freezer cases and came in very un-glamorous plastic containers. We heated them up in the store’s well-worn microwave whose digital display numbers were no longer visible. I didn’t have really high hopes, but we were both quite hungry.
We took our lunch out back onto the deck and ate overlooking the water. There we were, just the two of us and the sound of rolling waves below. As it turned out, the sandwiches were delicious.
Now, I don’t know if they were really good in the own right or if they were sprinkled with magical sunshine dust that is only found on Highway 1, or if the birthday fairy came along and made a perfect moment for us. Whatever the case may have been, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
There is something really special about riding the Pacific Coast Highway. If you haven’t done it yet, you owe it to yourself. There are perfect moments just waiting to be had.
Chasing Lightning on Route 58
The following morning I woke up to the sound of a steady rain tapping against the window. I got out of bed to look out the window but it was still dark out. The only thing I could see were the circles made by the rain falling in the lighted swimming pool below.
The rain stopped while we stood outside packing up the bikes to get on our way but thunder rolled over the mountains to the east. Hoping for the best, we set off on Route 58.
The western side of 58 is really a nice ride. It isn’t the most technical road but there is something I like about riding its curves through the golden hills. There was a sense of peacefulness to it.
Well,.. except for the place where the people from the Hills Have Eyes apparently live. Kenny surmised that the shirts were trophies from all of the other hapless travelers that stopped on the road, never to be seen again. I didn’t really want to test out his theory so on we motored, continuing east.
The fields were so dry. There was a large section of land that stretched out, burned black from the roadway far up into the mountains. It was a dramatic contrast with one side of the road being bright yellow and the other black.
We kept skirting around the edge of a pretty nasty storm. As we rode on, it always seemed like it was always over the next hill. We watched as lightning danced from the clouds off to our right.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared to be out there in the lightning. There was no shelter, no place to wait it out. At best, we could turn around and go back the way we had just come to get away from the storm. As I mulled these things over, the road turned away from where the storm looked the darkest.
Then as we approached the town of McKittrick, the storm was right in front of us. Lightning began reaching down from the clouds and shaking hands with the ground.
My heart was thumping away in my chest as I slowed to a stop. What to do, what to do?
As we sat on the side of the road for a minute a tumbleweed rolled in front of us. It wasn’t waiting around to make any decisions, it was just getting the hell out of there… and so would we.
Rendezvous at the Big Shoe
When you’re on the road, it can be difficult to coordinate times and places to meet up with people. This is espcially true when you don’t have a set route or plan. Meetings require a bit of flexibility on everyone’s part.
Kenny and I called our dear friend Ed when we arrived in San Luis Obispo so that we could hook and do some riding together the following day. We decided that we were going to be heading towards the Sierras. Since Ed lives near LA, we thought Bakersfield would be a good central spot for us to meet. It would be a quick shot up the slab for him and a direct shot across Route 58 for us.
The big shoe is as good a place to meet as any, right? I thought so 🙂
After skirting the lightning storm on 58 and dodging the rain, we pulled in to town to find the familiar site of Ed’s RSV parked on the sidewalk next to the big shoe. I couldn’t park my bike fast enough to give him a hug. It was so good to see him. Love that guy 🙂
Golden Fields on Hot Springs Drive
The weather in California proved to be unpredictable. We went through cycles of sweating bullets to freezing cold over and over again.
The hottest weather we experienced was along the aptly named Hot Springs Drive around Porterville. The grassy hills were fried to a golden crisp with a garnish of a few green trees, the occasional boulder and four-legged beef to round out the plate.
Ed and Kenny – knowing me as they do – opted to keep their distance from me since the temperature had to be at least 300°. I become a viper once the thermometer edges over 85. Smart boys.
The valley landscape was so far removed from my everyday life. Its spartan look drew me right it. You could really do some good thinking out there.
During the course of the week I came to the realization that I am more of a rock person versus being a tree person. I love wide open landscapes or being above the tree line. With the exception of being among the Redwoods or Sequoias, I feel much more connected to rocky mountains or treeless rolling hills.
What does that say about me? Surely that has something to do with my psychological makeup.
The three of us were positively simmering in our gear. When the cows on the side of the road tried to use us as a salt lick, we decided that it was time to get back up into the cool of the mountains. Since we were in the neighborhood, taking a turn through Sequoia National Park seemed in order.
California Love: Sequoia National Park
As we climbed up into the mountains of Sequoia National Park, the temperature dropped sharply. We rode from Porterville and its scorched earth up into the park where the roads were wet and the air was cool.
It seemed that we’d once again skirted what must have been a soaking rain. The sun dipped lower in the sky and dampness clung to the air between the trees. It made me shiver as I rode along.
The closer we got to the Giant Forest Museum sent my mind reeling back to the moment in 2008 when I came close to hitting a black bear on the road. Some part of me was expecting to see another fuzzy buddy come traipsing through.
I only wish that I had the power to convey what it feels like to be amongst the red bark of the giant sequoias. Majestic just seems trite. Their ancient bodies are something more. They carry some ethereal spirit that I swear you can feel when you are in their presence.
Nighttime was hot on our heels. As we headed westward on the General’s Highway, we started to catch glimpses of a pink sunset through the trees. It was like a game of cat and mouse. Whenever I was in a place to get a good view, I was unable to stop and when I was able to stop, I couldn’t get a good view. Luck must’ve been on our sides though, because we came to a pullout with a great view for the last whisper of the daylight.
It was a fitting end to a great day of riding.
Finding Gold on California 49
Okay, I’m just going to apologize up front. You’re probably going to get a teensy-weensy bit of drool on your keyboard. A quick dab with a napkin oughta do it. It’ll be our little secret.
Sometimes what you don’t see on a road can set your imagination on fire. Two pieces of the same road doubling back on each other? It can only lead you to believe that they are sewn together with a hairpin kink. In the case of this picture on CA 49, you’d be right.
Wiggle wiggle wiggle.
And of course, sometimes what you do see…? Well, that can get your blood pumping too. As we descended into a valley heading towards Coulterville we were able to get a glimpse of the road we’d just ridden.
This portion of 49 reminded me of the Cherohala Skyway in some ways. It combined tight turns and flowing sets of curves that hugged the ridge of the mountains. All of them cradled by the backdrop of beautiful mountain vistas.
This stretch of road on the map:
Rain on the Sonora Pass
Hot, cold, hot, cold… that summed up the weather on our trip up to this point. As we rode higher up into the mountains on CA 108, heading towards the beautiful Sonora Pass we would finally press our luck with the rain.
I pulled over on a straightaway in a valley area to snap a quick photo. While stopped, several other riders stopped to let us know that it was raining and slightly icy at the summit of the pass ahead. With an elevation of over 9,600 feet it was really no surprise. We could see in the distance that the rain was gathering over the mountains where we were headed.
As we milled around on the side of the road donning our rain gear another bike came down from the mountain and sputtered to a stop. We asked him if he needed help but he said he was okay. The wobbly rider had taken a spill up on the pass. He was fine and his bike ultimately came back to life and away he went.
Though we’d been warned twice, we decided to move forward anyway. Cautiously.
It was hard to really tell if parts of the road were wet or if they were icy. If those other riders had never mentioned the word “ice” it probably wouldn’t have crossed my mind. I just kept telling myself to go slow and steady. Even though the conditions weren’t ideal, I still wanted to appreciate the experience of riding such a fantastic road.
As we made our way over the crest of the pass, the rain began to let up. But, we had other hazards to contend with. Cows. Of course.
As we dipped into the valley on the eastern side of CA 108, it was such a relief to see some sunshine and dry roads. We hooked into 395 and headed north, stopping for a bite to eat at Walker Burger in Coleville. We sat in the shady garden outside eating our burgers.
The wind began to really pick up. A wall of ferocious looking clouds were hot on our heels again. It seemed like the rain wasn’t done with us yet.
I think this may be the smallest post office I have seen yet. I guess there isn’t much of a building needed to support the 50 resident town of Topaz, California.
Isn’t it sweet?
Holy Hail on Monitor Pass
If at any point we thought the rain we’d run into on the Sonora Pass was going to be the toughest part of our day, we had another thing coming.
We watched the lightning striking and listened to the rumble of thunder echo between the peaks of the hills towards Monitor Pass. Was this payback for us skirting around the rain a few days prior? Was it finally time to cash in our rain chips?
The higher we climbed the more threatening the clouds became. We stopped at a pullout on CA 89 weighing our options. I asked two guys who had come down the pass what the conditions were like further up the road.
One of the guys said the road was covered in hail but if we stuck to the tire tracks that were already on the road, we should be fine. He sounded pretty easy going about the whole thing so we opted to continue up. How can you not trust a guy who rides attached to a poodle?
As we were about to pull away, a pickup truck stopped to tell us the road was covered in ice. ::sigh:: Maybe we’re just a bunch of idiots, but we kept moving forward.
I proceeded cautiously. Again it was difficult to tell if the fresh shiny black pavement was just wet or if it was icy. That is until the potential hazards became obvious.
Riding through the hail was just as poodleman had suggested. We stuck to the open tracks and were just fine. There was no sensation of the road being anything other than wet.
Apparently one of these guys didn’t do as well though. He came through before there were any tracks to ride in and wiped out. Some other riders were helping him get his bike back together to head down towards 395.
The rain and lightning seemed to hang stalled over CA 4. Sadly this was one of the routes I really wanted to ride. Taking stock of the situation, we’d been served several warnings that maybe we would be pushing our luck by heading into the brunt of this storm. With one more aggressive crack of thunder and a few bolts of lightning it became clear that was time to err on the side of caution.
With the afternoon light burning and a storm that we couldn’t shake we decided to make tracks for Lake Tahoe to get a room for the night. It was the smart thing to do. CA 4 would have to wait.
Heading North Through Lassen Volcanic Park
When we got up from our cozy slumber in Lake Tahoe it felt so good to look out the sliding door to find that the storm that had dogged us the day before had moved on.
Kenny, Ed and I had breakfast and took a walk around back of our hotel to get a look at the lake.
Lake Tahoe was very beautiful and the world was silent.
It was a bittersweet morning. Kenny and I would be continuing on without Ed from this point. Because he lives near LA, Tahoe was the northern-most point from which he’d be able to comfortably make it back home in one day’s ride.
Ed is a great riding companion. He’s game for anything, doesn’t whine or complain and he’s always good for a laugh. One went left and two went right. I missed him before his Aprilia was even out of sight.
With the sun sun shining down on us once again, Kenny and I set off towards Lassen Volcanic Park. Though I knew the name of the park, I really didn’t know very much about it.
When we entered from the south, rounded a corner and… WOW! It was beautiful.
The scale of the peaks and valleys was huge. There were snow capped mountains, sparse rock faces jutting out of the hills, rock gardens and for the first time throughout the trip, pockets of wild flowers growing. I couldn’t believe I’ve never heard much about such a beautiful park.
Have you been there?
I found this impressive cone laying on the side of the road in the Lassen National Forest.
Isn’t that something?
Our pace for the day was slow and steady. The two of us were pretty mellow all day, really. We didn’t stop for many pictures along the way as we gradually worked our way to Mount Shasta. Our goal was to get into a good position to pick up Route 96 just north of Yreka, the following morning.
We finished our day narrowly escaping another crazy thunderstorm that blackened the sky and chased away the rainbow that led us to our hotel.
I Think I May Have Opened Pandora’s Box
A picture taken by me of me taking a picture. My apologies if the Universe explodes somewhere around lunchtime.
During the trip, I found that I prefer to set the GoPro to picture mode rather than video mode. The picture quality is much better than pulling video stills and it is easier to pinpoint just the frames you want to keep and dump the rest.
I also found that there were some silly candid shots that get taken when you forget to stop the GoPro from shooting. I may have to save those for their own post like Is This Thing On? 🙂
Hat Creek Muffler Man
This handsome cowboy once stood in Dunsmuir, California but now calls Highway 89 in Hat Creek home.
Long and Lovely, California 96
From Mount Shasta, Kenny and I were headed for the most northern leg of our trip. We were going to pick up Highway 96 just north of Yreka (Y-reeka).
What lay in store for us was over 150 miles of smooth sailing. A hundred and fifty great miles on the same winding road? Only in California.
As the road rambled on further away from any major towns, it became impossible not to think about how people live in those remote places.
We stopped in to grab a drink when we saw the Seiad Valley post office and general store. They were flying a sign over the store with a double X on it. I didn’t know it at the time but apparently it represented a formally proposed State of Jefferson, which would have seceded California.
Mark that down under you learn something new every day.
It occurred to me that some riders, if they were not careful could really run in to trouble with gas not being readily available for long stretches on 96. There were many areas without cell signal and nowhere to walk to. They’d be kickin’ their breakdown old skool. We had a taste of that very thing on nearby Salmon River Road during our trip there in 2008.
Traffic on the road was very scarce but we did see a few other bikes along the way. We traded places with one group of about 6 riders a few times, each with a wave. Later on in the day we would run in to them again at a small store in Weitchpec and get a chance to talk.
We also had a chance to speak with a Canadian rider who was traveling solo on a new Tiger 800. It was a pretty sharp looking machine.
The three of us chuckled that we were all out doing the same thing – 3 Triumph riders with their GoPros running on 96. Kenny and I had ours helmet mounted and the Canadian rider had his mounted on his left pannier with a suction mount. Sadly when we pulled away from the stop, his GoPro went skittering across the road. He pulled off to pick it up only to watch it be run over by a car. 🙁
Highway 96 is a long, scenic stretch of road. The section we traveled was over 150 miles of sweeping turns that made their journey along the Klamath and Trinity Rivers. With good pavement and little to no traffic on much of it, Kenny said this was one of his favorite days of riding during the whole trip.
Aside from being a great road to ride, California Highway 96 also has a high number of reported Bigfoot sightings. The town of Happy Camp has a great statue to honor the wooly beast.
Bigfoot’s “hair” is actually made out of what appeared to be chain link fencing.
I know! Crazy, right?!
When I pulled in to the parking lot to get a better look at BF (we’re close like that), Kenny walked over to me and said, “Did you know this was here?” to which I smiled.
Before I could even say yes – he muttered “Why am I not surprised?”
The Icing on the Cake?
Looking down at your GPS to find that you are traveling south on the Bigfoot Scenic Byway.
Here It Is! The Greatest Road Sign In The World
Winding road next 140 miles. Can you say it with me? One hundred… forty… miles.
This gorgeous sign is found on Route 36 in Red Bluff, California.
A Symbol of Hope and Inspiration on California’s Route 36
Not only does California’s Route 36 boast beautiful riding and the world’s greatest road sign – it does so much more. It’s undulating roadway oozes hope from it’s very blacktop.
What the hell am I talking about?
Well, darlings – I’m so glad you asked.
Near Cottonwood, California where a dumpy, tan port-o-potty once stood – hope has sprung eternal in the form of…
A shoe tree.
Has there ever been a more poignant testament to the idea that you can rise up out of whatever shit you’ve come from to become something great?
No. No, I don’t think so.
From pee to shoe tree. From pooh to shoe. You too can become a butterfly; a phoenix, even! Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
- Where is Route 36’s Shoe Tree? View on Google Maps
Sweet Moments in Ferndale
Wednesday’s ride had Kenny and I traveling over a curvaceous stretch of California 36 from Red Bluff to the coast, where we stopped in Ferndale to have lunch.
When we pulled in to the beautiful Victorian town, I took a quick scan up and down the street and picked a place to eat. The winner was Poppa Joe’s.
When I opened the door and stepped inside, it was like walking through a portal to another time. Laid out like a typical olde tymey counter service lunchonette, I chose one of the tables in the rear corner so that we could get a good view of the place while we ate. Behind us were a few senior citizens playing cards at game tables. Straight-up saloon stuff.
Locals strolled in and out of Poppa Joe’s while we ate. Each time they did, the waitress or the lady who slung hash with love in her spatula addressed them by name. It did my heart good to be in a place that felt like a “real” piece of America; a place that hasn’t been sanitized for my protection. There was something that seemed long lost and pure in that place. Something you pray can withstand the crush of “progress” and just keep on keepin’ on.
After lunch, I stood on the curb next to my bike while Kenny was down the block. An older gentleman in a yellow pickup truck pulled up and parked in front of my bike. He got out of the truck, walked towards me smiling and asked where I was traveling from. From that opener – the next 10 minutes was like a song that summed up our lives as much as possible in that short amount of time.
He was a World War II veteran who moved around during the war but never lived anywhere other than that very town of Ferndale as a civillian. He told me about his children, asked about New York, and told me a little bit about what he did during the war. He asked where we were headed and agreed that taking Mattole Road would be a great choice.
And just like that,… we passed through each others lives.
I could have talked to him forever. The whole time we spoke he smiled with his eyes. That is the kind of smile that comes from the inside out and gives you a hug. In that small sliver of time, he made my day with his simple joyfulness. I can still see his face when I close my eyes.
Have you ever felt blessed to have met someone?
On Top of the World on Mattole Road
On the west end of town in Ferndale stands a gate with an arrow pointing towards Capetown and Petrolia. This is Mattole Road. If you’re curious enough to hook that turn and head up the little road with no line up the middle, you will be handsomely rewarded with treasure.
Now, you won’t get your reward all at once. Like the plot of a good book, it will make itself known with a slow build.
The narrow road begins with an ascent into the trees. In many places the road seems like it’s barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other. But it feels just right for a motorcycle.
The draw of the road, the landscape – they give the distinct sensation that you are somewhere else in the world. Can this possibly be the same California I grew up seeing on television?
Climbing gradually, you crest into golden rolling hills.
The road gently coerces you to slow down, to take your time and drink it. Save for a few lucky cows who have the greatest grazing place on Earth there doesn’t seem to be another soul around.
Before long, you will find yourself looking out to the edge of the world. The horizon line gets on its tippy-toes, peeks over the curve of the land and beckons you to come down to put your toes in the ocean.
Once there, you have the beach all to yourself. Now, if that isn’t a treasure, I don’t know what is.
This feeling of expanse, of freedom,.. this place – I cannot help but cherish it. This lost coast is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
When you head south on Mattole Road from Ferndale, if you stick with it all the way back to 101 you will enter a portion of the Humboldt Redwoods. When you do… wow.
There is a dampened silence amongst the giant trees. It seems like they carry with them a secret that they choose not to share. Are these really the Tolkien Ents?
While in California, Kenny and I spent a lot of time with out GoPro cameras set to photo mode. We varied the photo shooting time between 1 and 3 second intervals. Overall, I found that I much prefer having a lot of photos to sift through, rather than hours of yawn-worthy video.
What I also discovered is that invariably there will be some gems that get taken “by accident”. They seem to pop up often when you forget to turn the camera off while stopped somewhere.
If you click to enlarge it, you’ll see that I am in the lower right corner taking a photo with my camera. It gives you some idea of what it’s like to be amongst those big beautiful trees. Pretty cool, huh?
Sometimes… sometimes there are just no words that you can string together to properly convey your feelings.
I was on the side of the road taking a picture of the view when I saw Kenny raise his hands up as if to say, ‘Can you believe this? This is incredible!’ and just stand there for a minute. There was something sweet about the gesture. It was as if he was having such a great time that he had to say something but words failed him. I didn’t hear him make a sound.
Have you ever felt this way on a ride?
Recipe for Romance, Motorcycle-Style
When some girls talk of romance they refer to things like candle lit dinners, wine and roses. Not, me. I found the ultimate romantic moment on our California roadtrip.
This recipe serves 2 motorcyclists:
- Start with 2 motorcycles
- Add twisty roads
- Sprinkle with curves to taste
- Bake under the sun at 75 degrees for hours
The Inn at the Lost Coast sits on a bluff overlooking the ocean 20 miles west of route 1 in Shelter Cove, California.
When we pulled up to the Inn the late afternoon sun was warm and the breeze off of the ocean was blowing steadily. We walked up the stairs to our room on the third floor, put on our shorts, ordered a pizza and just sat around enjoying the view until the sun dipped below the horizon.
We slept with the balcony door open, listening to the waves crashing against the rocks below all night.
When we got up in the morning, part of me didn’t want to leave. I wished we could just stay put for one more day. Alas, the road was calling us to continue heading south.
The Inn of the Lost Coast
205 Wave Drive,
Shelter Cove, CA. 95589
The Kindness of Strangers: Mad Map Edition
When Kenny and I were heading south on California 96, we traded places with another group of riders along the route a few times. When we stopped in Weitchpec for gas, they were not long in pulling in behind us. An FJR came wheeling in to the lot and parked closest to us. The rider swung his leg over the bike, pulled off his helmet and… is that Donald Sutherland?
“Lee” was a kindly man. He had a gentle but enthusiastic demeanor and looked you in the eye as he spoke. He and his band of merry men were tearing up the backroads on the last leg of their yearly week-long sojourn. Like us, they were heading back to the Bay area.
He asked where we were from and what would bring us to of all places, tiny Weitchpec. So, I told him that we were from New York and that we were just kind of bumming around for the week. He gave me a big smile and a handshake and said, “Well… welcome to California.” He then said he had something for me and walked over to his motorcycle.
When he came back to me, he handed me a Mad Maps – Northern California map and said “Enjoy our state.” I thanked him with my whole heart and he waved it off with a smile saying, “Hey, we’re all scooter riders.”
After we went our separate ways, Lee stayed on my mind for the rest of the day. He didn’t have to give me his fancy map, or be kind or even say “Hello.” But, he did. Now and forever when I think of that day, that tiny gas station in the middle of nowhere; every time that I look at my new map – I will think of Lee.
I was taught a lesson in that exchange. A valuable one. What you do and what you say matters to people. Even if you never see them again.
Silly Sights Along the Way
Sometimes you’re just cruising along and then whammo! Something awesome crosses your path.
“I’m goin’ down to South Park, gonna have myself a time…”
Found at The Peg House – Leggett, Ca.
Unfortunately, you cannot get up close and personal with the Willits, California Muffler Man unless the rodeo is open. I had to peer through the fence at this rootin’ tootin’ cowpoke.
Handsome, isn’t he?
A Detour to Fort Bragg – Glass Beach
When Kenny and I pulled away from the Inn at the Lost Coast on Thursday morning, there stayed a piece of me. Spending the night, watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean will forever be in my heart as one of the most romantic, most perfect moments.
As our wheels climbed up the steep narrow road leaving Shelter Cove, though I knew it was impossible I wished we could just stay one more night and relive the perfection.
Our trip was taking us south again, back to San Francisco. It was to be our last full day of motorcycle riding in California. The day would have to have something great in store for me to keep my wheels moving.
And it did…
File Under: Everything I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned on the Internet
Weeks before we left for California, I happened to read a little tidbit of information on the web that stayed with me. Along the coast in Fort Bragg is what is known as a Glass Beach. Sounds dangerous, right? Rather than sharp shards of glass, the seaside is speckled with ocean-worn glass.
Glass Beach is a unique beach, not because nature made it that way, but because time and the pounding surf have corrected one of man’s mistakes.
Beginning in 1949, the area around Glass Beach became a public dump. It is hard to imagine this happening today, but back then people dumped all kinds of refuse straight into the ocean, including old cars, and their household garbage, which of course included lots of glass.
All along the shore, sparkling pieces of sea glass…
It’s pretty spectacular when you think that the ocean turned what was once a dumping ground in to a shining jewel. All it took was time and persistence.
When Disaster Strikes
So – why were we 2-up in this photo?
Well, I’ll tell you. But, let me preface this by saying I am not trying to bad-mouth anyone and not recommending a company be avoided. I am just telling the story from my point of view. It was a crap situation. Shit happens.
When Kenny and I rolled out of Shelter Cove, I felt a little melancholy because it was our last full day of riding our rental Triumph Tigers before they were due to be returned.
No surprise, the day started out beautifully. The weather was gorgeous, the sun was shining. You know, it was northern California.
The day’s route would have us following the coast towards Timber Cove where we would be staying for the night. We decided on a nice leasurely ride with plenty of time to stop and look at things throughout the day. I wanted to stop at the Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, zip inland to see a Muffler Man in Willits and to try to catch lighting in a bottle twice by having a lovely lunch in Mendocino. We did all of those things.
Kenny and I saddled up after having lunch in Mendocino and started to make our way south along Route 1 toward Timber Cove. About 10 miles south of town, I blew the right turn that follows Route 1 at the intersection of Routes 128 and 1. I slowed down and pulled a quick U-ey and started heading back for it. I looked in the mirror to see Kenny on the side of the road. He hadn’t made a u-turn yet. I slowed and waited… and he still didn’t move. Weird. I rode back to him and heard that his bike was not running.
He hit the starter button and the bike just made a whirrrrrr-chrp. It was a disengaged sound that made the little man who quietly pads around in your brain drinking coffee until there is an emergency hit the big red alarm button with gusto. ::whooooop::whooooop:::
Kenny pushed the bike down and across the road into a small turn out. He took off his helmet and began the process of trying to rationalize what could possibly be the problem. It seemed like the bike wasn’t getting any compression to turn over.
The time was about 2:30pm.
What did we know?
The bike had full electrics, lights, dashboard – check. The bike cut out when Kenny was on the gas going about 50mph. There hadn’t been any visible smoke at any time during the trip. Nothing was leaking. There hadn’t been any idiot lights on. The bike never had any trouble with hard starting or lazy cranking like a weakening battery.
When we left the rental shop, the agent made sure to go through the trouble of circling the telephone number to call should we need roadside assistance on our contract. So, that’s what we would do.
Unfortunately, we were in a spot that had no cell service. Kenny made the executive decision to have me ride back to Mendocino to call the rental place. He didn’t want me to stand on the side of the road alone with a dead bike to surely be eaten by a mountain lion. I’m far more meaty than he is. That boy is always thinkin’.
I tried to get as much information about what happened from Kenny to relay to the company and off I went. I watched Kenny fade in my mirror as I rode back to town to go about the business of calling in the trouble.
I parked across from a gas station, sat on the curb and called the rental desk. I did my best to explain the troubles we were having with as much detail as possible. I described how the bike cut out while Kenny was doing about 50mph, there was no smoke, all lights and the dash are working fine. When you hit the starter button, it made a whirrrrr-chrp sound like nothing is engaging to start the bike.
“Sounds like the battery.”
Now, I openly admit that don’t know much about mechanics – but I felt very strongly that it wasn’t the battery and said as much. The bike was lit up like a Christmas tree, died under power and there was that sound…
I know that it is difficult at best to make heads or tails of what is really happening to a motorcycle based on what someone is telling you over the telephone. So, I tried to be open to what they were suggesting.
Their First Suggestion:
Ride back to Kenny, take the battery out of my bike and try it in his bike. Then take the battery back out, button up my bike and ride 20 minutes back to Mendocino where I could get a cell signal and call them back to tell them if it worked. Then if that worked they would call someplace local to find a battery for me. Based on the time and my gut feeling that it really wasn’t a battery problem, I let them know that I wasn’t doing that.
I again pressed that it didn’t seem like a battery issue. The rental agent pressed back, based on my description of the events. They were going to talk more to their tech and asked if they could call me back.
So, I sat on the curb waiting for their call and wondering if Kenny had been abducted by Bigfoot. I kept the tiniest particle of hope in my heart that he would come wheeling in to town like Prince Charming but, he didn’t. Instead the clock just ticked… ticked… ticked… When you’re waiting for something, the time slows to to a glacial pace.
Their Second Suggestion:
When the shop called back, they again pushed that it sounded like a battery issue. They told me that they’d found a battery 10 miles north in Fort Bragg and asked me if I wanted to ride there, pick it up and bring it to Kenny to try it out. I reiterated that it didn’t seem like a battery problem and if I ride back to Fort Bragg, get this battery and it doesn’t fix the problem – the rental place will have closed and we’ll be futzing around in the quickly approaching dark on the side of the road. I wasn’t doing that.
Now, I wasn’t trying to be difficult but my gut was telling me it wasn’t the battery. I really just wanted them to come and get their dead bike. Unfortunately I got the distinct feeling that coming to get their dead bike was the last thing they wanted to do.
I suppose one of the things that really rubbed me wrong about the whole exchange is that it was just a matter of circumstance that we were two travelers together. If he was alone and had gotten a lift into town from a stranger, would they have asked him to thumb a ride to pick up a frickin’ battery in Fort Bragg to try out?
Third Suggestion – Mine:
I am all for trying to get yourself out of trouble but it was apparent to both Kenny and myself that we weren’t fixing whatever was wrong with his bike on the side of the road. I asked them to send someone to pick the bike up. I knew they were absolutely saving this as a last resort and I suppose I can’t blame them. But the reality was that it wasn’t our fault that the bike shit the bed.
They agreed to come and get the bike. I described where we were since I had a good indicator as I had just blown the turn for Route 1 at the intersection of 128 & 1.
They asked if they could call me back again. ..tick..tick..tick…
Based on where we were the rental agent said it would be about 5 hours before a flatbed would reach us. They mentioned that it would be ideal if we could wait with the bike but they would understand if we didn’t. If we were going to leave it, that we should lock it up and roll it to a safe place.
There was no way that we were going to be waiting 5 hours for a flatbed to pick it up. I told them we’d be putting all the luggage on my bike and continuing on 2-up and that we’d see them the following day when our rental time was up.
When I got back to Kenny, a little more than 2 hours had passed since I’d left him. He was on the side of the road, jacket off, luggage off the bike, pacing like a caged tiger. I relayed what went down on the phone and his first words were – “it isn’t the fucking battery.”
He then looked at me and said – you were gone so long, I started to wonder if something happened to you. I have no way of calling your phone, you couldn’t call me, I’m stuck here wondering. I hadn’t considered that angle but I could see his point. How romantic.
Do You Believe in Small Miracles?
In the grand scheme of things if we were going to run in to trouble, we really lucked out. When I thought about some of the remote northern areas we’d been in that also had no cell service, we really could’ve been a lot more “stuck” than we were there near Mendocino.
Not only that, but we were due to return the bikes the following day. We’d gotten nearly our full week completed.
And as it turned out because Kenny and I chose different luggage options, we were able to put all 3 Givi cases on my bike. We didn’t have to leave anything behind. He had chosen 2 sidebags and I opted for only the top box. Whew!
Now Comes the Terror – I am a Terrible Passenger
Kenny sat astride my Tiger. I was supposed to somehow get myself onto the back of it. Hmm. The Givi sidecases rendered the passenger pegs almost unusable. A graceful ballerina-like pivot up onto the pillion seat landing as softly as a butterfly would not be possible.
I made a few herky-jerky dance step motions trying to figure out just how I was going to hoist my elephantine self up there. Visions of me knocking us and the bike ass over tea kettle came flooding in. I can only assume that it was a swift fleet of invisible roadside ninjas that must’ve aided in my mount because I was up and we were still rubber-side down.
With one last glance back at the lame bike on the side of the road, off we went. We two on one Tiger. Poor Kenny had to put up with my nervous cringing and thigh tightening all the way.
In what could only be described as a colossal feat of strength, I managed to not shit my pants during the terrifying 65 mile ride to the Timber Cove Inn.
We made it in time to watch the sun set from our room’s patio.
Fast forward to the following morning when we pulled into the rental office. The dead Tiger was just being unloaded off of the flatbed and was wheeled into the garage when we rolled in. I got the distinct feeling that our arrival into the office was not nearly as friendly as it was when we’d arrived to head off on our journey a week prior.
Kenny again went over what happened with the bike when it died. The rental agent turned on the key and pressed the starter button. Whirrrrrr-chrp
“Yeah, that sounds like the battery. I’ve seen a dead battery do some strange things,” the rental agent said. Kenny just dropped the subject and we gathered our things and got ready to leave.
At this point, we were pretty much much left alone. We watched the tech wheel the bike back and take a few preliminary jabs at it and then plug it in to a diagnostic tool. And we two… just sat.
Finally, someone else said – “Do you need something else?”
Kenny said that he didn’t realize we were done and asked if we needed to sign anything to which we were told “Nope,” and they offered to call us a cab.
When we got in the cab, Kenny looked at me and said, “What the fuck was that? They sure weren’t as friendly as when we picked the bikes up. They made it seem like we did something wrong.” I quickly said, “Yea! I thought the same thing.” I guess it wasn’t my imagination.
I don’t know if they were pissed off that they had to go pick up the bike and eat the cost of that towing, were worried we were going to freak out or what – but it was a cold shoulder.
Whatever. We still managed 6 days of beautiful riding memories. They far outweighed the few bad hours.
For those of you still playing along at home – the bike lost its CCT and grenaded 2 valves.
California offers a motorcyclist a little bit of nirvana. We spent 7 days riding and covered somewhere in the ballpark of 3,000 miles. There were many moments of laughter, of wonder and awe at just how beautiful the world is. I left a little piece of my heart behind when we came home.