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Tuesday
Jul242007

West Coast Ride

Prepping for Ride

Prepping the bike, my gear and myself for west coast ride. Change engine, transmission, chaincase oil. Adjust suspension for extra load. Test everything I can think of. What to pack with limited space? How often will I camp versus motel? How many days do I want to travel before I have to visit a laundry? Do I really want to pack all this camera gear? (There’s something to be said for a simple point-and-shoot). And then there’s the unknown - weather, schedule, routes, destinations (ok, I know a few destinations). There will be stuff I should’ve packed, and stuff I should’ve left at home. Life.

Day 1 West Coast

Nice morning weather, packed bike, headed up Hwy 1 through Malibu, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo. At Morrow Bay, coastal fog and clouds…cold! At Ragged Point, north of San Simeon, the clouds broke, final 70 miles to Big Sur was beautiful. Set up camp, dinner at Nepenthe (best view in the world). It gets dark early when you’re camping under redwoods, so I turned in. Every so often, I go camping to remind myself that camping isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  No sleep! Between a too-thin inflatable mattress and an insomniac infant with healthy lungs in the next campsite…ah, the beauty of nature.

Day 2 West Coast

Yawn…it’s satisfying to pack up an entire campsite and have it fit on a motorcycle. It’s beautiful as I leave Big Sur. As I head up towards Carmel, major wind and clouds…it’s freezing! Rather than head inland where it’s warm, I’m bone-headed determined to stay on the coast. Carmel, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay - the scenery is beautiful, but I think hypothermia is setting in. Now over the Golden Gate, about 20 minutes north, and the sun breaks through! Warming in the sun like a lizard, I start to peel off the layers (five of them), and when I reach Ukiah, it’s broiling. (I opted to stay warm on I-101 rather than continue up Hwy 1). Begins to cool in the evening, enter Humboldt State Park - there’s six exits, so after two false starts, I find the exit for my campground. The sign says five miles, “rough road”. The pot holes have pot holes. Five miles of five miles per hour through beautiful redwoods later, I arrive at the campsite. Is there any food available? (All I have is two or three peanut butter cookies, left over from my breakfast and lunch of peanut butter cookies). No, nearest food is 20 miles back. Ok. So I ride through the campground, to find my campsite - a scorched piece of earth 50 yards from the trees, next to the garbage facility. And the site is sloped(!), which is really nice for tent camping. Ok, I can stay here, starve or beg other campsites for food (kids, don’t feed the animals). Hmmm…I motor back out, negotiate five miles of land mines, back to I-101. It’s cold, so I’ll layer up. Unfortunately, the zipper on my leather jacket has jammed (have you ever had the zipper below the zipper head-thing separate, so you can’t unzip?). The zipper is industrial strength. Ok, so I can’t layer up…I stuff a turtleneck-thing down the top of my jacket, and ride 40 teeth-chattering miles to Eureka, where I find a Best Western with one room left, for $169 (sir, it’s our king suite). Numbed from the cold, I’m just thankful for a warm room. I’m now standing in front of the mirror, with the heat full on, wondering if the fire department will have to cut me out from my jacket with the jaws of life. With feeling returning to my fingers, I eventually unzip the zipper, tooth by tooth. Then a shower to remove the dirt from my ears. Isn’t traveling by motorcycle glamorous?

Day 3 West Coast

Fine breakfast fare at the Best Western, head north up the coast. It’s foggy, clouded over and cold, but beautiful. I-101 eventually starts to weave in and out of the redwoods, incredibly beautiful, and very little traffic. Around the next quarter, a herd of elk grazing (they’re big animals), with huge antlers. I stop and photograph, and slowly approach the herd for close-ups. Nothing attracts a crowd like a photographer…soon, several SUV’s and RV’s stop, and their occupants scare the elk away. At Crescent City, take Hwy 199 (a stretch of road I’ve never taken before) and soon the sun breaks out again! When you’re cold, a patch of blue sky is incredibly uplifting. The road snakes up through the mountains adjacent to various rivers. Twisty mountain road, incredible scenery, sunshine and moderate temperatures…this is one of the reasons I ride - it’s just not the same in an automobile. Eventually hit Grant’s Pass, where I “slab” (in biker-speak, ’slab’ refers to a freeway, usually in a derogative tone) up I-5 to Portland, just in time to participate in Friday-evening rush-hour. Hot and dirty, I hug my sister and visiting niece and her sons, and shake hands with my brother-in-law. Shower, home-cooked dinner and great conversation. It’s been a good day!

Day 5 West Coast

After stopping in at Longview, WA, the town I grew up in, the sky opens up…I’m soaked…what’s with that? I’m optimistic that it’ll blow over soon, and it does. The rain precludes a visit to Mt. St. Helens today, so I head on up to Seattle [to stay the night with my brother and his wife], drying off with 75 mph I-5 wind. (Had a great day yesterday with my sister, her husband, my brother and my niece and her two boys).

Day 6 West Coast

Beautiful Seattle morning, take the Edmonds-Kingston ferry across the Puget Sound. My jacket zipper completely self-destructs, so I stop at a hardware store in Sequim, buy some web straps and plastic buckles, so when it gets cold, I snap the straps around my chest to keep my jacket shut. Very stylish. Not that riding is a fashion show… The Olympic Peninsula is beautiful, along with the weather. Crescent Lake, La Push Indian village on the coast, Hoh Rain Forest… I speak with an elderly gentleman, Gene, at the gas station in Forks. He moved to the area in 1928, starting driving a logging truck in 1947. Put more than one million miles on his last logging truck. He appears to be in better shape than many 60-year olds. ‘Hope I look like him in my 80’s. Incredibly white dentures (if those were his real teeth, Tom Cruise would be jealous). Stop at Lake Quinalt for the evening, stay on the lake. The room is pre-60’s rustic, but the view from the restaurant of the sunset over the lake is incredible (you’ll see photo’s when I return home). And they have a full bar, and make a decent Long Island Iced Tea (just what I needed after a day of no food). I sit at the edge of the lake as the sun goes down…what a contrast to urban life.

Day 7 West Coast

Watch fog creep across the lake as I eat breakfast in the same restaurant. The attorneys-just-retired-and-now-traveling couple from Las Vegas at the next table tell me about waterfalls further along the lake. Before the pavement runs out, I come across one and take some photos. As I head back along the lake towards the motel, I stop at the world’s largest Spruce tree (per the sign). It’s big. A warm sunny day, continue down the coast, then head inland towards Olympia for an unscheduled meeting with the attorney that’s helping settle mom’s estate. Scowls from the office staff as I stroll in wearing biker gear (this is a stick-up!) but even bikers can be charming so they dismantle the barricade to the attorney’s office. Then head east for Mt. Rainier (that name has a pleasant sound), ride up to Paradise, at 5,000 feet on the mountain (photos soon). Fantastic weather. Head back down towards Portland, where I’m staying at my sister’s tonight before heading to Bend and Crater Lake tomorrow. After a week in the saddle, mon derriere argues for a shorter trip than originally planned. I’m considering the suggestion.

Day 8 West Coast

Sunny, cool morning, head east from my sister’s house (no freeway) and I’m en route to Mt. Hood. Ride up to Timberline Lodge, a works project during the depression. Beautiful, huge timbers, vaguely remember skiing here (the slopes, not the lodge) as a kid. Amazingly, people are skiing today, this is one of the few year-round places to ski in the ‘States. To the south, Mt. Jefferson is visible, and the Three Sisters. Out of the mountains and onto the high dessert to Madras, Bend (now a very trendy place). A fire south of Mt. Jefferson shrouds the lower half of the mountain in smoke. Crater Lake, or rather the view from the rim, at 7,500’, is initially impressive, then fades rapidly as I circumnavigate the lake. Difficult to find an inspiring photo, take some shots regardless. Add 80 miles to my ride by exiting the park the way I entered, rather than take the southern exit. Ride through Klamath Falls (yawn) into California, partially circumnavigate Mt. Shasta, stay in the town of the same name. Really good meal at a family-owned Mexican restaurant, and excellent margaritas! The motel owner, an architect from India, designed and built the establishment, raised three children to become doctors and lawyers…who would’ve thought there was such $ to be made in running an independent motel!

Day 9 West Coast

Slept in this morning, didn’t depart until 9am. Great weather again. Take Hwy 89 through the Cascade Range. At tiny Old Station, I stop at the only store to buy some water and my first-ever can of Red Bull (I’m a bit sleepy). A few years ago, the owner moved with her family from a coastal community to run the store and adjacent B&B. It’s hard work, they’re snowed in during the winter, but she likes it, has pasture out back for her daughter’s horses. No regrets. Next is Lassen Volcanic National Park. Beautiful. Stop by a few streams and small lakes for photos. A deer eating near the road at 8,000’ ignores me as I ride by, then stop for photos. You can hike from the road summit to the peak, but I don’t recommend hiking in riding gear (from experience). Descend from the park, ride through various small towns, then into Truckee and Lake Tahoe. Stay in Kings Beach at a rustic ‘50’s motel, which they’re trying to convert into condo’s, eat down the road at Spindle Shanks, a nice restaurant. Eating at the bar, the bartender says she traveled the globe growing up (her father was in the military) and landed in Lake Tahoe to pursue year-round extreme sports. The guy next to me is a construction contractor, with a home 15 minutes from the lake, where he and his wife stay during the summer, and a home in Carmel. And I thought the money in software sales was good! A couple of well-crafted Long Island Iced Tea’s, and a long walk back to the motel/cabin, where I pull down the Murphy bed (which you can’t walk around when it’s down) and watch 30 minutes of CNN. Exciting!

Day 10 West Coast

Up early, then around the west end of the lake. There’s a Harley-Davidson store in South Lake Tahoe, just what I need, as I’d like to replace a burnt-out passing lamp on my bike. Park, remove gloves, helmet, goggles, ear plugs, dismount…and it’s a clothing-only (no parts) store…crap. H-D should put a no-parts-here sign on these stores. And no, I didn’t buy any clothing, so their strategy didn’t work this time. Up the Kingsbury Grade, down into the valley to Minden and Hwy 395 for the 400 miles to home. Those of you who’ve driven this know that some parts are scenic, but some parts… It’s ok through Mammoth Lakes, but it’s 101° at Bishop, same in Big Pine, 103° in Mojave, and the nice western gale that slaps me in the face from China Lake to Palmdale. Air conditioning looks pretty good right now, I’m just on the wrong side of the glass as I peer into the cars I’m passing. Traffic’s running 80 mph from Palmdale to I-5, so I make good time, and I don’t really have to slow down until I reach The Getty on I-405, not bad for Friday evening rush hour. Ahhh, home. Unpack the bike, trudge up the stairs, and a really long shower. Sun screen + heat + sweat + wind + vehicle exhaust + dirt + bugs, nicely mixed, likely aren’t good for one’s complexion. It’s nice to be home.

And yet I’ll be ready for another ride soon. Riding is not convenient, but it’s sometimes thrilling, and mostly fun. What did I learn this trip? Well, I’ve been reminded of some things:

It’s always good to see family. At least it’s true with my family, which makes me very fortunate.

When I ride, I’m too cold, too hot, or just right.

My exhaust pipe is too loud. I may be ready to trade some performance for a quieter ride. A sign of maturity, or just advancing age?

Regardless of how grimy/disgusting the bike gets during a ride, it always cleans up nicely afterward.

It’s exciting when I start out on a new ride. Every time.

Look for photos soon. This was my first trip with a digital SLR. It was inconvenient, having to stop, dismount the bike, unpack the camera every time I wanted to shoot. Prior, I just kept a point-and-shoot in my pocket, which was very convenient. Let’s hope the quality of the photos have improved!

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