After going to the STN National Meet in Montrose, CO, it was now time to head home. This is my journey from Colorado to Seattle.
Day 9 – 61 miles
We didn’t go anywhere today. Doug’s ride to Utah took more out of him than he previously thought so we decided to relax in Moab and let him rest up for a bit. We packed up the bikes and headed to a motel in town so that we could be closer to the amenities that Moab had to offer. Moab is a very nice place with plenty of stores to browse and restaurants to chose from. I bought some heat-appropriate clothing and Doug got a haircut; it was a very relaxing day. But not too relaxing. We were mere miles from Arches National Park and I didn’t want to miss my chance of seeing it. Doug chose to stay at the motel while I hopped on the GS about an hour before sunset and took off up the road. The park was fairly empty of people, with most of the ones there already pulled off into vista lots or the campground. I rode down every side road, taking it all in from the back of the bike. I almost took the short hike to the Natural Arch, but when I considered the lingering heat and the setting sun, I decided that enough pictures had been taken of it that I didn’t need to add mine to the collection. I toyed with the idea of exploring the “4 x 4 Only” road that veered off of the main road, but the impending rain to the west told me that the ruts I saw in the dried mud would become snares for my tires in the blink of an eye. It turned out to be a wise choice, as about 20 minutes later the skies opened up and the rains fell. A spider web of lightning streaked across the sky and the rain came down in sheets, with a strong wind blowing it (and me) across the road in a haphazard fashion. Fortunately I was already on my way out of the park by the time the rain started so it was a brief ride back to the motel where I got off the bike, the ‘Stitch dripping wet but me feeling comfy and dry inside.
Arches National Park
Scenery in Arches National Park
Riding through the park
Day 10 – 336 miles
We were finally ready to hit the road. The morning was cool and we pointed the bikes south from Moab down Route 191. The landscape was wide open, with more and more frequent mesas and “monument” type formations. There were occasional arches and the colours of the rocks varied from tan to red to pink. We stopped by the rock formation that gives Mexican Hat its name and decided to take the dirt road that leads to the base of the rocks and down to the river. I was completely fascinated by the ancient folded rocks that make up the banks of the San Juan River and the stark contrast of the green growth and the harsh red rocks. We took some pictures of ourselves and the bikes and the “Mexican Hat” itself before continuing to the town proper. As we were heading back to the paved road from the dirt roads we were playing on we saw that a tour bus had stopped to give its passengers a chance to get out and take pictures of the Mexican Hat rocks. A few of the photographers were apparently quite taken in by the sight we presented: two renegade off-road riders that appeared out of nowhere. We kicked up dust as they focused their cameras on us and quite a few lenses panned along as we rode past them and headed off into the distance. By the time we reached Mexican Hat it was lunchtime. Doug knew of a great little place to eat near the bridge over the San Juan that served some native dishes. Mmmmm, fry bread. It had been years since I’d had any!
Hitting the red earth of Utah
Side road near Mexican Hat
Exploring the area near Mexican Hat
The river provides moisture for growth
Looking back at our bikes
Doug shows us why it’s called “Mexican Hat”
After lunch we made a stop at Goosenecks. Doug had asked if I wanted to continue south to Monument Valley, but after looking at the haze in the sky I decided that I would be disappointed with any pictures that I took and that I was seeing plenty of amazing things as it was. Like Goosenecks! Those oxbow rivers that I loved so much in Colorado just got bigger and deeper. I could see tiny little splashes of colour on the river. Doug informed me that they were river rafters – amazing. The sheer size and depth of this section of the river is hard to fathom, and nearly impossible to photograph.
Goosenecks State Park
Muddy waters of the San Juan
From Goosenecks we headed towards Moki Dugway (sometimes spelled Mokee Dugway – even the state couldn’t be consistent in their signage) The Moki Dugway is a three-mile section of dirt and gravel road that somehow traverses up the side of a mesa. I couldn’t see the road at all as I approached the mesa and it was impossible to try and figure out how I going to climb up the side of this cliff in just three miles on a road that is not apparent. I couldn’t even see the road when I was at the base of the mesa. But oh what a road it is! It twists and turns in a torturous route up the side of this mesa, climbing 1,100’ to the overlook at the top. The turns are tight and posted at 5mph, which, when you’re running on gravel roads, you take at 5mph. We met a couple of guys on a Dakar and a Trans Alp at one turn who were traveling together and they took a picture for us before we continued up on our way to the top. While the top of the mesa was just what one would expect, I was still surprised. I’m used to mountains that go up and then down, but to climb up a road like the Dugway and then come out onto a large flat plain – it just seemed weird. There was all sorts of vegetation along the way that precluded viewing anything of any distance, but it was interesting to look at nonetheless and a pleasure to see the variety of shades of green and textures after the relative lack of growth below the mesa.
The Moki Dugway road climbs this mesa
About 2/3 of the way up
Tight gravel corners
Overall, a very easy road to climb
More to climb
The well-stickered sign
Route 95 follows the White Canyon, so named for the bands of white rocks that abounded on both sides of the road, and provides continuous long, fast sweepers. Once again my preconception of Utah being full of nothing but flat and straight roads was shattered. It was a pleasure to drop down through some rough red rocks into a canyon that opened up to the wide plains above the very beginnings of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Recreation Area. I was amazed at the level of the lake! In fact, if someone hadn’t told me otherwise, I would have assumed that this was just a river meandering through the ravines of Utah. Doug and I stopped at the Marina at Hite for an ice cream sandwich and to ask about the lake level. The gentleman working the store said that poor (read: no) snow pack for the last six years was causing the water levels to drop precipitously. Later, Doug pointed to a rock that he swam out to the last time he was here – and it was 30’ above the current water level. We left Hite, crossed the bridge to the other side of the canyon and quickly climbed to the top of a high mesa. From there we were able to look down on the marina and the “lake”. In the distance I could see the concrete pad that had been placed for easy boat launching and how it was at least 50’ above the waterline, leaving boats stranded literally high and dry. A vivid green belt of growth had taken over where the lake edge used to be and lent a surreal beauty to this otherwise desolate looking scene.
Heading toward Glen Canyon
Rising out of Glen Canyon
Low water marks at the marina
More signs of the receding water levels
Overlooking the canyon
We turned our GSs to the west and headed for our next adventure: Capitol Reef National Park. The ride there was pleasant, following the Fremont River and passing through infrequent, small towns. The temperatures were pleasant, although stopping for any length of time became unbearable in our ‘Stitches, so we just kept on riding. The day was full of mid- to high-speed sweepers, excellent pavement and very little traffic. It was a pleasure to keep my new tires round as the GS met each successive curve with equal aplomb. Just before the town of Fruita Doug decided to get a closer look at the river that a side road apparently led to. We rode carefully down this rutted dirt road and were rewarded with a lush and quiet valley of greenness where the river had bent into a gentle curve, leaving a fertile crescent to the side. The water was warm but not very well suited for swimming. We poked around the underbrush and found some rusty hinges from an old shack of some sort, remnants of an era gone by. Then the fun started! The road we had come across had passed through a sandy patch of a dried up riverbed. It had startled both of us, but we had made it through. Now we had to re-cross it to get back to the main road. Doug went first, and by the time I put my gloves on and came around the corner I found him standing next to his bike, with the bike resting peacefully on its side. I made it next to him and we lifted the bike up into its proper position after snapping a photo of the downed bike for fun. No harm to either bike or rider, as the sand – while causing the fall, also cushioned it. Doug got back on the bike and plowed his way through the rest of the sand and onto the hard packed dirt beyond. I chose my line carefully and gently rolled on the throttle, easing the heavy bike through the soft sand and hoping that the front end wouldn’t wash out. It didn’t, and I was now on solid ground with Doug. We got back to the main road and continued on our way.
While I realize that I was wrong about my preconception that Utah would be flat and desert-like, I have to admit that Dixie National Forest completely floored me. Nothing but thick green pine trees and white aspen for miles. The road curved aggressively between stands of trees, giving me more of a workout in the corners than I had had in days. The fear of deer was always upon me, knowing that it was a similar type of forest that produced the deer that took out the German rider in Colorado, but I gamely stuck it out and tried to keep up with Doug. By the time we exited Dixie NF it was getting late again. We chose to stay in Boulder, UT (“Gateway to the Grand Staircase”) and found a nice little place to stay and a tasty restaurant for vittles. Over dinner we looked at our maps and saw a gray squiggle!! The road was called Hell’s Backbone and would completely cut out the Grand Staircase Escalante, but our sense of adventure was high after our earlier off road escapade. But then we thought about the fact that it was 44 miles of unknown road conditions and that it would be hot and uncomfortable if we had to pick up our bikes every few miles. We decided to forgo Hell’s Backbone and instead stick to the pavement. We retired for the evening with the stars shining brightly in the sky.
Side trip along the way
Ripples in the river
Sand, the arch nemesis
Capitol Reef National Park
Stone formations of Capitol Reef
Dixie National Forest
Dixie National Forest
Day 11 – 277 miles
We loaded up the bikes and set off towards Grand Staircase Escalante. Both of our heads swiveled to look at the turn off to Hell’s Backbone, but we kept on going. A few miles later Doug pulled over. “Do you want to try it?” “Yes!!” We turned the bikes around and soon were riding on a well-maintained gravel road. And to add to the sense of adventure, the map indicated that this road would skirt completely around Box Death Hollow. What great names! The road wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared, although the gravel was a little looser than I would have like. We started out in green lowlands and rode past a couple of ranches before we gained elevation and views. Hell’s Backbone follows a ridge line, but it’s not terribly obvious until you get to the one-lane bridge that crosses over a deep ravine at the top. The views were astounding, as was the absolute lack of any sign of humanity. None. We saw one dirt biker heading down just as we started coming up, but we hadn’t seen a soul since then, and there was no evidence of civilization other than the road we were on. We spent quite some time at the bridge taking pictures and just plain “taking it in” before getting back on the bikes and finishing our loop around Box Death Hollow. There were a few side roads off of the main road, most of them evidently trail head access roads. We had to stop at one that was signed “Upper Death Access” – who could make it any easier? Eventually the road started to lose elevation and we found ourselves coming down long, fairly straight descents and the next thing I knew we were in Escalante. What a great adventure! It was neat to see something that we knew very few others had seen. We rewarded ourselves with some tasty sandwiches from the local eatery before continuing on to Bryce Canyon. As Doug & I sat in Ruby’s parking lot just outside of Bryce at 4pm we discussed what we wanted to see and what our options were. The north rim of the Grand Canyon was tantalizingly close, but we wouldn’t be able to do that and Bryce Canyon. I chose the Grand Canyon. We hopped back on the bikes and headed to Arizona.
Heading up to Hell’s Backbone
We’re going up there
Looking around at the top of the pass
Bridge at the top (visible in “We’re going up there” picture)
“Upper Death Access”
Heading for Escalante
Lunch in Escalante
The first few miles in Arizona were flat and fairly uninspiring. I could see the Vermillion Cliffs in the distance, but they were hazy and I was not impressed. But soon the road rose into the Kaibob National Forest and gave me plenty of twists and turns. I was leading this time and it was Doug’s turn to keep up with me. At Jacob Lake we turned south onto Route 67 and were rewarded with some amazing greenery that I didn’t think could exist in Arizona. A vast meadow surrounded by trees and carpeted with purple flowers became the focus of my fascination. We followed a most excellent road through the park, dispatching the occasional tourist with ease while still taking in the grandeur around us. The forest was dry pine with wide-open spaces beneath the high branches, giving it a magical park-like appearance. As I led us from corner to corner, mile after mile, I was taken by surprise when I looked off to the left and saw – nothing! There was the Grand Canyon! We had reached the North Rim Visitor’s Center and the terminus of the road. We performed some creative parking in the full lot and squeezed our bikes into a corner. Taking our cameras we first stopped at the Visitor’s Center to see if they had any room in the Lodge. Not surprising, they didn’t. The campground was also full. This meant at least a 17-mile ride back to the Kaibob Lodge and taking the chance that they had room. But in the meantime we were at the Grand Canyon with less than an hour’s worth of daylight. The canyons were filling with shadows but the setting sun illuminated higher points, giving dramatic contrast of color and texture. We stood and stared for a long time. The cafeteria at the Lodge was open and it was late, so we grabbed a bite to eat before searching out accommodations for the evening. Leaving behind the beautiful Lodge, the cozy looking cabins and the spectacular scenery was difficult, but I didn’t want to sleep under my bike that night. The road out of the park was just as much fun going out as it was coming in, except now there were deer. Lots of deer. We arrived at Kaibob Lodge in the dark and were disappointed to learn that they were full and would allow no camping on their grounds. However, the clerk informed us that we were in the middle of a National Forest, where anyone can camp for free, anywhere beyond 100’ of the nearest road. She pointed out a road 2 miles back that many people camped off of and we were soon back on the bikes. The road was a well-maintained dirt road and we quickly secured a well-used empty campsite to put up our tents. Even at 8,000’ it wasn’t cold and the stars were brighter and closer than I’d ever seen them before. It was a good spot.
Heading for Bryce Canyon
As close as we got to the famous hoodoos
The entrance to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon at dusk
I’ve seen more impressive pictures
Still worth seeing, though!
The Lodge at the North Rim
Cabins for rent
Camping permitted 200′ from the main road
So that’s where we camped
Day 12 </strong– 339 miles
I woke to the sound of gentle raindrops on the tent, smiled to myself and snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag. The birds were out in full force and provided a beautiful melody that all alarm clocks should endeavor to imitate. The rain was sporadic and sparse and didn’t hinder our packing of the tents and gear and before long we were back at the Kaibob for a rather uninspired breakfast. The woman in charge of the continental type meal kept referring to the food items by ending them with an “O”, as in “there are plenty of cere-o’s, (cereal) and bayg-o’s” (bagels)– Doug and I chuckled for a long time at that.
Coming back into Utah from Arizona I wanted to stop for some pictures of the red and pink rocks along the side of the road. I pulled off onto a side road and then saw that the side road had a side road – how perfect! I zipped down the red dirt road, somehow managed to power my way through the sand that surprised me at the bottom of a dip and parked the bike at the top of the next rise. Doug gamely followed me but gave me a serious questioning look as he parked the bike. We took some pictures, mused over an ancient outhouse and then prepared to leave. I pointed my bike back down into the sandy wash and after riding about 10 yards promptly fell over in the sand at the bottom. Doug called out, asking if I was ok. When I replied that yes, I was fine he said “Good, I’m going to take a picture!”. After the photo shoot he helped me get the GS upright again and we were back on the pavement in a matter of minutes.
Minor detour to check them out more closely
The bikes on the sandy path
Another view of the rocks
A relic from another time
Doug snaps a photos – Whoops!
It didn’t take long to get to Zion National Park from there. In fact, another one of the things that surprised me about Utah is how close everything is to each other. No sooner did I leave one Monument or National Park then I was approaching the next one. Either that or my perception of time is skewed because I’m simply enjoying all the time I’m spending on the back of the bike. Zion is amazing. This is a place where I would have to park the bike and spend 2 or 3 days hiking around in order to fully appreciate the vast beauty that is there.
As we exited out the west gate of the park it started to rain again. Apparently quite a storm system was sweeping through the West and we kept running into bits and pieces of it. We stopped for refreshments in Virgin, UT and here I pulled out my secret Heat Beating weapon. It’s a quilted vest made specifically to hold water. I soaked it thoroughly and put it on under my ‘Stitch. As the air flowed through the vents in my gear it pulled the water out of the vest, creating a sort of swamp cooler air conditioner. As long as I maintained speeds above 40mph I had enough air flowing over me to keep me cool.
Wet roads in Zion
Views in Zion
Riding through St George, UT I could see the smoke from the forest fires that I had heard about on the news the other night. They were close enough to close the Interstate itself a couple of days ago. I saw at least five individual fires along the route to Las Vegas, and none of them looked like fun to fight in the heat of the desert. How do they do it? The Interstate was dull, with no variety and not much to look at. It dropped down into Arizona before crossing the Nevada state line, with very little changing to let me know that we were anywhere different. Las Vegas was visible from miles away and in the late afternoon heat it did not appeal to me at all, although I did enjoy looking at the fantastic structures and marveling that this place existed at all. As we finally crawled our way out of the other side of the city, the sheer number of cookie-cutter subdivisions that were being built struck me. Who would want to live here and why? It was 104 degrees in Vegas and it wasn’t even the first week of July. The only greenness that I saw was the artificially induced growth of palm trees in yards and boulevards. Ah, to each his own.
I had discovered the “flying squirrel” riding position. In order to fully take advantage of the vents and cooling vest I had to raise my elbows up and lean slightly forward. I also lifted my fingers from the grips over the hand guards to allow the air to pass through the perforated leather between the fingers. This allowed a maximum amount of air to flow through the ‘Stitch and my gloves and cool me off, but I also imagined that I looked fairly silly, like a flying squirrel preparing to land on a nearby tree. Oh well – I wasn’t out there for a fashion show.
Eventually Doug and I arrived in Pahrump, NV (apparently not home of anything in particular) and eventually found a much-needed air-conditioned hotel. After refreshing showers we walked to a nearby steakhouse, had a hearty and tasty meal and then wandered along the main strip of Pahrump. Not terribly interesting at all, but there was a Walgreen’s where I was able to buy some sundries that I needed. We made plans to leave early the next morning to avoid most of the heat, for our goal was to cross through Death Valley and into California.
Day 13 – 381 miles
The morning was cool, but I could tell that it wouldn’t take long for the sun to start baking the pavement again. We packed up the bikes and headed south to Shoshone, Ca. I wanted to check out a sign I had seen for “Dante’s View” – how could I resist? – and it was at the southern end of the Valley. Besides, I wanted to see more of it than just riding east to west through the center of the Park. From Shoshone the road was a fun roller coaster of dips and rises and unmarked corners. We crested Salsberry Pass (elev. 3,315’) and then dropped down to Jubilee Pass (elev. 1,280’), all the time surrounded by nothing but barren rocks, pitiful vegetation and views that went on for miles. We passed a small dirt side road that proclaimed it to be Dante’s Road, but I stupidly didn’t stop for a picture. I felt that I would wait for the View instead. We passed very little traffic and appreciated the rolling landscape as the road followed the east side of the valley. As we neared Badwater (elev. –282’) we saw our first few vehicles. The not-entirely accurate thermometer on my bike registered around 112 degrees, which I deemed close enough, if not a little low. I was wearing my full gear and still taking advantage of the Flying Squirrel posture with Cooling Vest air-conditioning. The salt flats were incredible, looking more like out-of-place snowfields in this impossibly dry and hot climate. At Furnace Creek we were lucky enough to be the last patrons admitted for the breakfast buffet before they closed the doors in preparation for their lunch buffet. This selection of food vastly overshadowed the measly “O’s” offered to us at Kaibob and we gorged ourselves on fresh fruit, sausages, French toast, orange juice and coffee. Mmmm, it was truly an oasis in the desert. After our feast we stopped by the Visitor’s Center. Furnace Creek is home of the famous “20 Mule Team Borax” ads that you may remember from years gone by. Large talc and borate veins were the region’s economy until the early 20th century. There is a ghost town that we wanted to visit but it was on a 14-mile dirt road and we were curious as to the condition of the road. The helpful ranger said that she did not advise us to take the road, despite our having dual sport motorcycles. She said that even high-clearance 4 x 4s have trouble getting through and the surface included dirt, gravel, sand and rocks. I could deal with any of it except the sand – that’s a GS Killer for sure. Disappointed, I then asked her about the road to Dante’s View. She apologized and said that due to recent storms the road had been washed out. Imagine that: a place that gets less than 2” of rain a year just had a storm that took out the road to the only real stop I had wanted to make. The injustice of it all: I’ll just have to go back someday. Besides, there are a lot of other roads that look like they may lead to interesting places, and the vast history of mining in the area is very interesting to me and would be worth checking out some other time.
Riding north from Ashford Junctions
Looking back along the valley
Alki lake bed
Extensive lake bed
A bad photo of the Sea Level sign
Leaving the valley behind
Leaving Death Valley is just as impressive as entering it, as you’re fully aware of the deep depression in the earth as you make your way up and out of it. I looked in my mirrors and could see the other side of the Valley, with the Amargosa Range flanking it to the east as I crested the Panamint Range on the west. The temperatures dropped to a more tolerable mid-90s range and bit by bit the vegetation returned to the landscape. Not much changed in our surroundings as we entered California until I noticed snow on the horizon. And there were mountains under that snow. I commented to Doug that I felt bad for the pioneers. I couldn’t imagine coming all the way across the plains, somehow surviving Death Valley only to be faced with a wall of rock and snow. How depressing! As it turned out, we weren’t ready to cross those mountains just yet. First we had to head north, through Lone Pine and Bishop, the road running parallel to the range. The further north we got, the more beautiful and colorful the scenery became. The trees were taller, the grasses thicker and greener, the mountains sported snowy shawls and there were crystal blue lakes dotting the landscape. We rode past Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks (we didn’t stop, so I’ll have to come back there too, someday) and on past Mammoth Lakes and Mono Lake. I confess that Mono Lake did not impress me. When seen on a map it looks like it should be some picturesque setting, like Crater Lake in Oregon but on a much grander scale. Instead it looked like an over-sized puddle waiting to dry up on the next hot day. Route 395, which we had been on since Lone Pine, was one step down from being an Interstate and we were able to cover a lot of ground quickly. I really wanted to see Yosemite, but it was late in the day and I didn’t want to have to rush through it.
Still climbing out the valley
Doug gets a photo of me
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The long, straight road
Getting a photo of the sign on the way out
The mountains west of Panamint Springs
Instead, Doug and I decided to check out Bodie State Historical Park that is just north of Yosemite. I had heard about Bodie from a fellow STNer and it sounded intriguing. It is a ghost town from the mining days of the late 1800s that is being held in a state of “arrested decay”, meaning that the park will do what it has to in order to maintain what is there and leaving things as they were found. At one time there were over 10,000 inhabitants in Bodie, but due to successive fires only 10% of the town’s structures remain. The town is about 13 miles off the main road, with the last 3 miles being good gravel, and we arrived about an hour before the park closed. We really need to time our days a little better. We spent our time poking around in still-furnished houses, checking out what people left behind and what Mother Nature was doing to it. Ours were the last vehicles to leave the parking lot as we headed back into modern civilization to look for lodging for the night. We didn’t have to go far: the Virginia Creek Settlement campground / cabins / wagons / motel / restaurant was just a short hop up the road and we easily found a nice place to pitch our tents and then relaxed with an enjoyable dinner. It was a very nice place to stay and I slept very well.
Heading for Bodie
The buildings of Bodie
Main Street of Bodie
Many buildings scattered around the area
Taking a ride
Well-made pool table
Our tent site at Virginia Creek
Cabins and wagons are also available
Day 14 – 280 miles
Doug had to be back in Victoria on Saturday, but I still had four days left to get home. After we stowed our gear back on our bikes we had a long casual breakfast and said our goodbyes. He would ride north while I would return south, this time stopping at Yosemite and whatever else caught my fancy. The day did not start well, with Doug’s bike mysteriously falling over and almost taking out my bike with it. Then at my first gas stop I found the prices to be astronomical – $3.23/gal for 89! After grudgingly paying the bill I realized that two blocks down the street was a station with “normal” prices. What was Chevron trying to do? I turned west onto Route 120 and crossed over Tioga Pass (elev. 9,945’) that had opened less than a week prior and was now clear of snow. The scenery was spectacular! As I rode through the pass and then on and down into Yosemite Valley there was always something to catch my eye. From massive barren rocks to tiny clumps of colorful wildflowers tucked alongside the road there was beauty to behold wherever I looked. Many side roads were closed (presumably due to snow, although I saw very little from the road) and traffic was surprisingly light. The road descended into the Valley and I got my first glimpse of the massive waterfalls that grace this area. Bridalveil Falls was the first, and in the distance I could also see Vernal and Nevada Falls. At least that’s what I think I saw – it’s hard to tell. Traffic became a nightmare as I entered the valley and neared El Capitan. The heat also became oppressive and no amount of Flying Squirrels would help me at the pace I was stuck at. I finally decided to take a break and read my book by the Yosemite River. I locked the ‘Stitch to the bike, grabbed some sunflower seeds, my water bottle and my book and proceeded to find a quiet corner to cool off in. Mosquitoes immediately consumed me. I had used all of my bug spray and had let Doug take home the can that he bought for us to use previously. My foul temper returned and I stalked back to the bike, put everything away, strapped the gear to the back of the bike and headed for the Visitor’s Center in relatively naked squid-like fashion. After what seemed like hours of rolling through traffic and the parking lots I found a shaded corner for my bike, locked everything up (again) and attempted to find the Visitor’s Center or some place to buy some insect repellent. Apparently my brain was fried by this time because by the time I found the store I realized that I had left my money on the bike. I was not about to make the round trip back to the store, so I gave up (again) and retreated back to the bike to leave Yosemite. I took some pictures before I left, but feel somewhat cheated in my visit. I would like to return under better circumstances and take the time to fully appreciate the beauty of this jewel-filled park. I geared up fully, mounted the bike and headed out of the park, heading south towards Wawona. It was still early, so I decided to explore from the comfort of my saddle and took the 16-mile turnoff for Glacier Point. This was much better! The elevation cooled me off considerably and because this was a one-way in/out road, not as many casual drive-by tourists bothered with it. The road twisted around a bit and there was little traffic to get in my way. The views from the point itself were fantastic, and I could see Half Dome and Vernal & Nevada Falls, as well as many other peaks and promontories.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
The road cuts into the canyon wall
Yosemite National Park
View from behind Half Dome
View from behind Half Dome
Eventually I had seen all I could see from Glacier Point. I headed back down to Route 41 which was just as much fun on the way down as it was on the way up. The same goes for Route 41 towards Wawona and Fish Camp. As long as there was no traffic in front of me this road was ideal: excellent corners, decent pavement and no surprises. I was disappointed when it finally exited out near Oakhurst and became hot and oppressive again, as well as flat and comparatively straight. Or at least that’s what I thought until I approached Mariposa, CA. From here until about Sonora the roads just rocked! Always a bend in the road, rarely a car in front of me, good pavement, and beautiful California scenery was with me the entire way. Since I had gotten such a late start to the day, and pissed around so much in Yosemite, I didn’t get very far today. I thought that finding a nice campsite in Angels Camp along the shores of New Melones Lake would be nice. Boy, was I wrong. The state park/campground is called “Glory Hole Recreation Area”. I should have kept on riding, but I was getting a headache and it was getting dark. The ranger waved me into the park and I found a campsite (more like a dustbowl) to pitch my tent in. I was literally about to crawl into my tent for the night when the park hosts (or whatever you call them) hailed me from their charming electric golf cart. They proceeded to ask me stupid questions, such as “is this your bike?” It appeared that I should have paid a $16 camping fee within the first 30 minutes of entering the park and I had also parked the bike in the wrong stall – or set the tent up in the wrong site, but I wasn’t about to move the tent. Of course I didn’t have $16 on me, only my last $20. The hosts naturally didn’t have any change and suggested that I either “tip” the ranger or ride back into town, approximately 5 miles on a dark twisty road, and get the funds I needed. My headache hadn’t gone away, the showers were locked, the neighboring campers were having quite the party and I was not in the mood for any of this. I grudgingly walked to the registration board (easily missed in the dusk when I pulled in) and filled out almost no information. In fact, I considered not leaving them anything, figuring that they wouldn’t check before I left in the morning. But wanting to avoid trouble at the same time, I stuffed my $20 bill into the envelope and swore as I shoved it into the box. I started up the GS, gunned it a bit as I rode it the 50’ around the lot to park in “my” spot that I had just paid for and finally crawled into my tent.
New Melones Lake
Day 15 – 88 miles
It had been hot and humid that night and the sun came up early to glare down on my unsheltered tent. My camping neighbors were fishermen, so they were up and making noise with their boat and gear. My mood from the previous day had not abated. I shoved my dirty and dusty tent into the dry bag, donned my gear and left the park in a hurry. If I had a big, nasty sounding bike instead of my subtle BMW I might have been tempted to let everyone in the park know that I was leaving. As it was, I was just happy to be going.
From Angels Camp it was a quick ride to Sacramento. I tried to take some back roads but found myself going in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go, so I retreated to the state routes and numbered roadways. I had been invited by another STNer (Bobby) to come to his house for a BBQ that evening and I knew that it wouldn’t take me long to get there so I meandered my way across the state. I saw Lake Berryessa on the map and recalled hearing great things about it for motorcycling so I pointed my GS in that direction. The lake was very nice, nestled among the golden hills of a baking California summer. The road was nice as well, but I felt compelled to keep my speeds down as it appeared to be a touristy area and this was 4th of July weekend, after all. I had just masterfully passed an obstinate pick-up towing a boat when I decided to stop for a photo. I hate when that happens, as you know that you’re just going to have to pass him again a few miles down the road. After I took a few pictures I then looked around. I realized that I had stopped at a turnoff to another road, read the sign and figured “What the heck – let’s see where it leads”. I had all day to get to the other side of the mountains to the west and I felt like exploring. I had chosen Pope Canyon Road and I followed it aimlessly through vineyards, along dark ravines and around lazy sweeping corners. I came to a “T” (not a “Y” like they have in Wyoming) and chose the most likely route only to find myself not at all where I thought I should end up. But the countryside was still pleasant, the traffic nonexistent and the day not yet unbearably warm. I meandered some more when I stumbled upon Calistoga, CA and knew where I was and how to get to Bobby’s old house. I had tried to call him a couple of times from the road to get his new address but for a myriad of reasons I couldn’t get through. I decided to go to his workplace and ask his co-workers. It didn’t take long to get from Calistoga to Healdsburg and I found the firehouse (Bobby’s a fireman) with no problem. What I did not find, however, was anyone at the firehouse who was readily available to help me. The day was getting hotter and I didn’t want to lose my patience and good mood that had returned with my pleasant ride that morning. I walked over to the nearby drugstore and asked to use their phone, which they readily allowed. I got through to Bobby on the first try and he gave me some very good directions. I could see by my map that I could take some back roads to his house, but by now it had been over two days without a shower, it was unbearably hot and I was a little tired of riding around. I followed the directions to head north on Route 101 to Hopland. Even though I was taking the most direct route, it was still a very beautiful way to go and I wasn’t unhappy about the side roads that I was neglecting. It didn’t take long to find Bobby’s house, where he invited me into the cool air of his house, I shed my gear and hopped in the shower as soon as I could politely break away from the conversation.
Human once again after my shower, the evening went by quickly and smoothly, with various friends and family stopping by for a tasty BBQ and beverages and some motorcycle racing on the telly. As fun as it was, it was with great anticipation that I curled up on the couch later that night for good night’s sleep.
Lake Berryessa waterfowl
Day 16 – 182 miles
The advantage of not having a planned route is that it’s so easy to change plans. And routes. In this instance I merely changed my plan, as the roads in northern California are pretty much all excellent but I had staked out my claim on the route I intended on taking. But back to the plans at hand. The plan from the previous night was for Jim, Cynthia, Chick, Bobby and I to ride up to Eureka together to visit two more STNer’s, Gil and Becky and crash their party with fellow STNer Stefan and his wife Lyle. However when I woke up in the morning no one other than Bobby was up. I dressed, packed up the bike and sat on the couch. Bobby was playing a video game. The house was quiet. The day was getting warmer the longer I sat here. I finally told him that I was going to hit the road, quite possibly heading past Eureka and on to Medford, where I had another friend expecting a visit from me. Bobby chuckled and agreed that I should head out. I decided to simply continue to follow Route 101 all the way into Eureka instead of playing around on the back roads. If I were to get to Medford today I’d need all the time I could get. I bid farewell to Bobby, thanked him for his hospitality and motored aimlessly around his neighborhood until I found the street I had been looking for and headed for the highway.
Gil and Becky were expecting me, so I was a bit surprised when no one answered the door of their house. I knocked a second time and had just walked around to the garage to see if their bikes were home when they pulled up, engines roaring and tires squealing! Well, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but the timing was quite good. They were just returning from breakfast with Stefan and Lyle and were happy to see me. We went inside and stood around talking for a bit and the subject of the BBQ that evening came up. I had stated that I was shooting for Medford, OR that day, but they invited me to stay for the BBQ. It didn’t really matter to me if I saw my friend that night or the next day. Hindering my thoughtful hosts in their daily activities was my concern, as we still had five hours to kill before the BBQ would even think of starting. They gently insisted and I easily agreed to stay. We went out for a lovely lunch followed by some mad shopping sprees at the local markets. These people are mad, I tell you! They play weird games at the grocery store. We finally returned to their house where I helped prepare dessert and a little bit of dinner. Eventually Stefan and Lyle showed up, as well as a couple of STNers from Bobby’s house the previous night. It was to be a full STN house for dinner that night. After dinner the other STNers returned to their campsite in Fortuna while I retired to the STN Guest Room for a very comfortable and restful night’s sleep.
Gil and Becky in their house
Gil cooks up a great chicken!
Day 17 – 699 miles
I was on the road by 8:30 the next day and was eagerly anticipating my run up Route 96, my favorite road in northern California. Even the brief stretch of Route 299 to the turn off at Willow Creek was a delight. The roads were surprisingly empty for a Holiday weekend; perhaps I was too early to get caught by the sleepyheads that would come through later. The weather was very cooperative, shunning the morning fog and rain that I usually find when leaving Eureka for home. I could attempt to describe Route 96 from Willow Creek to Happy Camp and then on to Yreka, but no amount of words can fully convey the sense of freedom and pleasure I get from these 145 miles of corners, bends, twists and turns. The road surface is always good, the views are always spectacular, the temperature is always perfect and the traffic almost nonexistent. Each time I turn the bike in for a corner I know that there will be another one waiting for me. There are sections of the road where the painted lines weave back and forth, causing the GS to flick from one side to the other in rapid succession. I am by no means a fast rider, nor do I usually demand high performance from my bikes, but this road lets me ride at a quick yet comfortable pace. I am sometimes pushing myself in the tight turns etched into the rock wall of the canyon while other times I am letting the bike fall in gracefully through a well cambered, perfect radius corner, all the time the pavement is following the snake-like progress of the Klamath River. The road is tucked into the wide canyon of the river, sometimes running deep alongside the water’s edge, other times coming up for air and soaring above the rushing rapids. I could ride this road all day. But each day must end and I eventually came to the end of Nirvana. It is called Yreka. From here on I was to be regulated to Interstates and slab. It was a short jump into Oregon and Medford wasn’t far after crossing the state line. I had called my friend from Eureka to let him know when I’d be through and he was home waiting for me. We sat outside in the sunshine and caught up on each other’s activities and current interests. Planning on making it home that day, I kept the visit short and after an hour or so we said our good-byes and I was once again heading north on I-5.
The only good thing about I-5 in Oregon is the Grant Pass region. After that the road becomes a straight arrow of concrete that tortures motorcyclists. I made a quick stop in Eugene to check out a bike that Bobby was hoping to buy and after deeming it “worthy” I returned, once again, to the slab. The range on the GS is both a blessing and a curse. Because I don’t need to stop for fuel, I don’t stop for anything. I find myself riding, pushing myself to just go a little further, to make it to the next town. When I get to the next town I keep going and start the mantra all over. I hadn’t eaten yet that day, not since the BBQ of the previous evening, in fact, and I felt that I should probably eat eventually. I waited until I got into Washington State and stopped at a café I had been to before. I’m sure that the waitress thought I was a complete pig, as I devoured my food almost as quickly as she brought it to the table. I didn’t wait around after I was done: I paid my bill and was soon heading north again.
Normally I’m a cool weather person and anything over 80 has me complaining about the heat. But having spent so much time in 90 and 100+ degree weather I found that the Puget Sound’s balmy 75 degrees was just too cold for my liking. I stopped at a rest area, donned my heated jacket and made embarrassing happy noises in my helmet as the heat radiated throughout my gear. If I was going to push to be home tonight then I might as well be comfortable doing it. Mile after mile passed under my wheels and I rolled into my garage at 10:30 that night. 14 ½ hours had past since leaving Eureka but with a couple of stops thrown in to break up the monotony. All four cats were home, my roommate had recently cleaned the house and I still had one more day of vacation left to exploit.
It was a fabulous trip and I still can’t believe how much I was able to see and experience in that short amount of time. The weather may not have cooperated the entire time, but each time it changed I was ready for it. The bike preformed superbly, as did my gear. My riding companions were excellent. All in all, the entire trip was a success. Now I must start planning the next one.