A Winter’s Journey
Sometimes winter can be a time of relaxation and rejuvenation. Other times it’s just downright boring. I had a pleasant surprise when I was offered a chance to spice up my winter with an unexpected motorcycle trip.
December 8th ~ 12th, 2006
Total Miles: 1,120, 3 days
Irvine, CA to Seattle, WA
Like all good adventures, this one started out as a surprise. A guy I never met called to ask if I would be interested in riding his 1999 BMW RTP from Irvine, CA to Seattle, WA. To say that I would be happy to help him out would be an understatement. But just how does one fall into such a situation? Let me back up…
My sister Linda owns a cruise travel agency and had booked a family Thanksgiving cruise for clients residing in Irvine, CA. Ron and Rosemary would be sailing in the Caribbean with their two sons, Scott and Chris, Sara, and possibly Chris’ friend Phill. Closer to departure, Phill made the decision to not take the cruise, instead he would be flying from LAX to New York, picking up a BMW 1100RTP and riding it cross country back to LA. With his sister in South Carolina to visit, he mentioned to Linda that he ‘might be coming through Tennessee and could maybe stop and say hi’. Linda emailed back a recommendation to take in Deal’s Gap prior to heading into Nashville, with an offer to stay with her and husband during his journey west. Phill arrived ten days later, meeting them for the first time. During a great three day visit, Linda mentioned her motorcycle-crazy sister…telling him of my rides and adventures. Phill (jokingly?) asked if she thought I would be interested in riding the RTP from Irvine (where he would meet up with Ron and family), to Seattle. Coincidentally, we use Mick, the same mechanic on our bikes. One thing lead to another and within two weeks I found myself on a plane heading to the land of oranges and Mickey Mouse.
I left from work on Friday afternoon, taking public transportation to the airport. That wasn’t as bad as it sounds: 35 minute ride (same as a car), no stress of traffic, on time, didn’t have to park the car, no bothering others for a ride; all that for $1.25. Somehow I managed to fit my Roadcrafter, boots, gloves, clothes, overnight kit and some miscellaneous stuff into two bags and a helmet bag. I was early for my flight and settled in with my most recent moto magazine until it was time to board. There was nothing special about the flight down, other than watching the city lights filter though the clouds and seeing some spotlights tracing arcs across the sky. Two and half hours later I was in Irvine. Ron was planning on meeting me at the airport, and true to his word, he was standing in baggage claim with a “Dante’s Dame” sign held up for me to see. What a nice guy! It didn’t take long for my checked bag to slide down the ramp and we were soon wandering around the parking lot, looking for Ron’s car. One level change later we saw the flashers on the car blinking at us and we were soon on our way to Ron and Rosemary’s house, where the aptly named Time Machine awaited my arrival.
Seattle International Airport
Ron met me in Orange County
It was with genuine warmth that Rosemary greeted me at the door. The two of them made me feel at home as they plied me with dinner, news and stories. Ron showed me the bike I was to ride to Seattle: a 1999 BMW 1100 RTP, with the “P” designating it as a police bike. I was to ride the bike approximately 20 miles to a friend’s house for the night and then leave with him first thing in the morning for a ride north with some friends. I transferred my things onto the bike, put on my gear and rolled the bike out onto the driveway. The bike started right up and as I was letting the engine warm up I notice a distinctive lack of lights. Neither the headlight nor taillight was lit. I shut the bike down and played with the many switches on the bike, figuring that one of them had to turn things on. No luck there, so next we pulled the seat to check the fuses. They all looked good. I was stumped. My friend Robert, however, is really good with BMWs, so I gave him a call. He made a couple of suggestions, which I either had already checked or couldn’t follow through with. He was stumped. He did however suggest that I take the bike to the local BMW dealer (Irv Seaver) and have them give it a look. Worse case scenario would be that my ride north would be during daylight hours only.
Saturday morning I was up and out the door before 8am. Irv Seaver’s was just down the road and I hoped to be there early enough for them to squeeze the bike in before they really got started on their “real” customers. I found the shop without any problems and was immediately helped by a service tech (who’s name I completely missed). He wasn’t sure what he could do for me, but wrote up a service ticket and said he’d take a look. I gave him a ridiculously low ceiling to work with, knowing that the bike was being brought to Seattle specifically to have a mechanic go through it from front to rear. While I was waiting I found myself ogling over the old BMW bikes that were decorating the shop. Hanging from the ceiling, sealed in glass cases, supporting Christmas packages and teddy bears; the eye candy was everywhere! I took pictures, wandered around a bit and chatted with one of the sales guys. I considered buying a throttle rocker but didn’t want the new Velcro style, so I passed. I should have bought it.
Another customer’s bike
BMWs are everywhere!
That’s not a sidecar, its a functional boat!
Eventually the service tech came out and said that they went through the fuses and bulbs and could find nothing wrong. The next step would be to start pulling body panels and that would be at least two hours. I thanked him, but said that I would just ride the bike as it was. They were kind enough not to charge me for the inspection that they did and I was back on the road. It was the wrong road, but at least I was going somewhere. Not knowing just where exactly that might be was of little consequence. I eventually turned around and asked directions. I suspect that the U-turn I made might have been illegal if anyone in authority had seen it. But then again, my bike looked like it had authority.
Irv Seaver’s fascinating shop
Taking the RTP for a quick check
Now I was really on the road. I fled north towards 210, keeping well out of LA but still not able to avoid the smog. Traffic was light, the roads were good and the air was as warm as it was going to get. I would have thought that with the winds I was experiencing that the smog would have blown away, but I could see that this is a perpetual condition of living in this area.
I left the city behind and was now heading north on I-5. The pavement wound its way up through Los Padres National Forest and past Pyramid Lake. There was a hint of blue skies and I was feeling very pleased with myself. There I was on this big, mean police bike, all-black official-looking gear, light colored helmet; I was looking pretty good! Then I caught sight of my shadow and saw that my ponytail was fluttering wildly out from under my helmet. So much for appearances.
Low clouds and high winds
I didn’t really have much of plan for the day. I was supposed to stay with Carolyn, a friend who lives just south of San Francisco. I could take my time to get there, as it was only 350 miles away. But I never had the chance to explore Southern California before, so I decided to at least take the slightly more scenic 101 instead of I-5. I checked my map and saw that SR 46 would cut over nicely and drop me right off onto 101. I took the exit and plodded along, the wind keeping the RT at a nice lean angle. The original plans called for the group of motorcyclists to ride back roads and have lunch in Parkfield. I didn’t know exactly where Parkfield was, but when looking at the clock on the RT I realized that if I was anywhere near there, then I could probably catch the guys as they were finishing up their lunch. Not more than two miles later I saw a homemade sign on the side of the road that said “Parkfield 15 Miles”. I stopped as quickly as I could, studied the road. I wasn’t sure if it was a road or just a ranch’s driveway. But 15 miles isn’t that far; I had to go check it out. Sure enough, 15 miles later there is the sign for Parkfield, right across the San Andrea Fault. Cool! I made a note to take pictures on the way back, as I didn’t want to miss the guys if they were still here. I passed another sign: “Population 18” Ah, this would be good! And then, nestled among the half dozen buildings that make up Parkfield, was a colorful group of sport bikes. I had found them!
Parkfield Cafe in earthquake country
I found the guys!
San Andreas Fault
Looking north along the fault
The gang had barely sat down for lunch – what timing! I joined them for lunch and then I said that I would head out with them. I told Robert that my headlights were still causing me a problem and he said that he’d think about a solution. Meanwhile, the ride entailed a nearby dirt road. It was just 10 miles, not much at all, and with good dirt. Everyone agreed to it and we headed for the end of the pavement. There was a warning sign that the road was impassable during wet weather, but the rain shower that passed over during lunch could hardly be considered “wet weather”. The bikes started out at a good pace on the hard dirt at the bottom, but that quickly changed as the road surface changed. The dirt became a slurry of slippery mud. Speeds dropped and feet shot out as outriggers guarding against a fall. I played the throttle gently, staying off the brakes and letting my arms hang loose instead of fighting the front wheel. There were nine of us, with three bikes ahead of me, two bikes with me and three bikes behind me. After about 3 ½ miles of mud, elevation gain, switchbacks and wind we stopped to regroup. We were missing the last three. We figured that one of them had dropped a bike and they would be along shortly. That’s when one rider came up the road alone. He said that the other two riders were turning back. Did anyone else want to go back? The word was there was still another 6 miles to go, and they wouldn’t be easy miles. I chose to go back down the hill, if only because Robert was down there and I felt that I should probably stick with him for this ride. Another rider, Clint on his Bandit 1200, also agreed to return to the bottom. The rest of the riders would push on, and we’d all meet up at the hotel in Monterrey.
Clint and I turned our bikes around and headed downhill. Neither of our bikes was designed for this, with too much weight and slick street tires, but we took it easy and made our way down. I felt good about keeping the bike upright, even though the rear tire was often sliding downhill next to me. I thought it was my imagination that the wind actually pushed me sideways in the mud, but Clint confirmed that it did the same thing to his bike as well. Without mishap, Clint and I reached the pavement, where we found Robert and Wayne waiting for us. We told them what the rest of the group was doing and then made our own plans. We would hit some nice back roads that would take us to San Miguel. After fueling up we’d jog up 101 for a bit until finding a canyon road that would bring us into Monterrey from the backside. All of that changed when we got to San Miguel.
Southern California countryside
Dirt + rain = mud
Very slick back road
Watching the others catch up
Deciding if we will continue
Short-lived sun break
The Time Machine having a great time
The ride there was spectacular. The roads were almost dry and the sun was out and low on the horizon, blinding us as we crested small rises. The scenery was great and I would have stopped for pictures if I had been on my own. Traffic was light and the road twisted and turned and rose and fell with the topography. Clint led a great pace and it was with some sadness that we reached San Miguel. While fueling the bikes Robert said that he had an idea that would provide headlights on the RT. Since there was obviously a missed connection somewhere, he would bypass the bike’s wiring and just wire the bulb directly. He would run the wires into the accessory plug outlet. This would deprive me of any way to use my heated gear, but it would give me light. I preferred the light.
Robert was pretty amazing with his parts and tools selection and it wasn’t long before the headlight test worked. I had light! We buttoned the bike back up, put tools away and then the headlight went out. It had shorted and blown a fuse. The problem now was two-fold: the top case latch wouldn’t open and it was getting darker (and wetter) by the minute. We agreed that I would follow two bikes, have one behind me, and just “ride blind” up 101. We could fight with the bike later that night, in the well-lit and dry parking garage of the hotel.
It started to rain in earnest as we made our way north on 101. The sun finally gave up and I found myself studying the taillight in front of me, as well as the botdots that lit up with the other bikes’ headlights. Then I realized that not only did I not have a headlight or taillight, but that the fuse that blew also took out my turn signals and the instrument cluster was dark. And much to my chagrin, it also disabled the adjustable windscreen, leaving it in full “sport” (ie “wet”) position. The only thing that was functioning was the gear indicator panel and the heated grips. Ah, thank goodness for the heated grips!
We pulled off at one point and the guys decided that the weather conditions were not ideal for the canyon ride and that we’d just continue to ride north on 101. It was pouring by now and I relied on my companions for their guidance. It was 120 miles later that we pulled into Monterrey and the relative dryness of the parking garage. I was more than happy to ditch my gear and get a hot shower. After a hot meal at the Mexican restaurant across the street Robert and I went back to the bike and fiddled with the top case, eventually just pulling the hinge pins to get inside. Robert figured out what caused the short and made plans to fix the wiring in the morning. Right now it was late after a very long and demanding day.
Robert takes a stab at fixing the headlight
Bedded down for the night
As promised, Robert was up at 6am to finish up the RT’s wiring. I packed up my things and after a tasty continental breakfast with the group, we all geared up for a photo down on Cannery Row. A couple of shots later, some goodbyes and then I was off for San Francisco!
Cannery Row, Monterrey
The coast of Monterrey
I rode up 1, following the coast and enjoying the intermittent rain. I had full use of the adjustable windscreen and could signal my lane changes with ease. The bike’s paint scheme lent an air of authority and I took advantage of it, sitting in the left lane and watching the cars in front of me move over as I approached. I could get used to this. The coast was being hit by crashing waves and the wind was keeping me on my toes as I wound my way along the edge of the continent. Dramatic lighting played across the landscape as clouds morphed overhead. A rainbow emerged briefly, giving a burst of color to an otherwise gray sky. This was good riding!
Coast near Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Pigeon Point Lighthouse
High waves at Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Reflected sun at Pigeon Point Lighthouse
The RTP, waiting for me
California in winter
I had been in contact with Carolyn, first telling her that I wouldn’t be able to meet her for lunch on Saturday, then letting her know that I wouldn’t be staying with her Saturday night. But I really wanted to see her, so when I reach Half Moon Bay I gave her a call. She was only 30 minutes away, so she threw on her gear, jumped on her GS and met me at an English pub called Cameron’s. It was good to see her, and we talked for an hour over some hot pub food. But I had miles to cover, and she had a hockey game to play. We rode together for about ½ mile before she turned off for home and I headed for San Francisco.
Lunch at Camerons
Carolyn’s GS and the RT
My destination for the day was actually Eureka, but I had to go over the Golden Gate Bridge to get there. The sacrifices of riding, I know. Traffic wasn’t too bad going through the city and I felt comfortable on the RT. Surprisingly, it was rather clear going over the bridge and the wind wasn’t a problem. I intended to take a picture of the bridge from the other side (the side that’s up on the hill) but I couldn’t find the road to get there. I already had a picture from when I was there in ’03 and quite honestly, things hadn’t changed much. I kept on going. Because I wanted to get as much enjoyment out of this adventure as possible, I thought I’d stick to the coast for a little while longer, joining 101 once it was past Santa Rosa. I meandered through some small roads, twisty heavily as they made their way to the coast. It was slow going for me, as the corners were sharp, wet and full of tree debris. The high winds and heavy rains were taking their toll, and not just on the trees. As I approached the coast I saw the sign proclaiming a detour. Ten miles up the coast there was probably a landslide, as the road was closed to thru traffic. If I had a good map I could have seen that I could sneak back inland at Stinson Beach, but I didn’t know that. Instead I retreated back the way I came, wandered aimlessly through Mill Valley, and eventually hooked back up with 101. It was time to let the Time Machine do its thing.
The rains were not persistent, but they never fully left me alone. Even if it wasn’t actively precipitating, the roads were wet and cars and trucks kicked up spray. Although 101 is a highway, it’s anything but dull. Beautiful countryside, changing landscapes, slowly curving bends all blend together to make this a fun way to get somewhere fast. But I was getting sore. The RT was set up for a shorter person and my knees were killing me. I also would have appreciated the heated gear, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. I stopped in Willits to give Gil and Becky a call. They were my next destination for the night and I was looking forward to spending time with them. I really wanted to get there early so that we could all kick back and relax for the evening. Therefore I was completely deflated when Gil told me over the phone that it was at least a 3 ½ – 4 hour ride from where I was. I didn’t want it to be that long! I wanted to be in Eureka now! I sighed, put my gear back on and got back on the road. The road gets tight and slow just past Leggett, giving me reason to slow down some more. It was also getting darker by now, which meant that I couldn’t see my instrument clusters again (this was apparently on the same circuit as the head and tail lights). I settled into a comfortable pace, slowing down only for the rain and the sharper curves. At one point after the twists of Leggett I checked my gauges under some interchange lights and saw that I was doing 80mph. Regardless, I was comfortable with the speed and kept on going. None too soon I arrived in Eureka, much to the surprise of Gil and Becky. It had taken me only 2 ½ hours to make the trip. I unpacked the bike as Gil and Becky peppered me with questions, all while inviting me to make myself at home.
North on 101 past Santa Rosa
North on 101 past Santa Rosa
The three of us spent a relaxing evening together, just as I had hoped. The next morning Gil had to drop Becky off at the airport, but was back in time to see me off at 8am. I had been concerned about the possibility of snow on this leg of the trip, but that looked like it wouldn’t be a problem now. Instead there were high winds and continued rain to contend with. Instead of going up the coast and into Oregon further north, I’d just sneak in over Grants Pass and take the safe, but boring-as-hell route up I-5.
Gil seeing me off
As I rode up 101 towards Crescent City I was again amazed by the size of the surf and the strength of the wind. Fortunately it was predominately a tail wind so it didn’t interfere with my riding very much and if anything, it gave the bike’s gas mileage a boost. I took some videos of the waves and the wind, which was the first time I have used this feature on my camera.
Coastal waves near Crescent City
The road near Crescent City
Another look at the coast
A quick stop in Crescent City to fuel up and then it was back on the road, just in time for it to dive inland and go through Smith River Nat. Rec. Area. Beautiful tall redwoods shade tightly twisting roads as they make their way towards the Coastal Range. The road takes turns in going in and out of the trees, but the rain was always there, along with the wind. I was lucky that it wasn’t very cold, generally between 40 and 50 degrees for the entire northern half of the trip. The headlight bypass was working perfectly and I felt much safer knowing that it was there, alerting other vehicles to my presence. I still didn’t have a tail light, but like I said to one person “I’ll be going so fast no one will ever have the chance to come up behind me.”
199 in Smith River
Hanging out in the rain
Fun roads, even when wet
I almost caught it in full light
Another rainbow made its appearance as I approached the Oregon border but playfully disappeared even as I pulled out my camera. I snapped a picture anyway, just because I had already gone through that much effort I thought I should at least try to catch it. The road through Grants Pass is almost intolerably slow, but I managed to get through the city and onto I-5. I was thinking of eating something, as the bagel I had that morning was a long time past. Instead, I shot up over the various passes that make up what people generally refer to as “Grants Pass”. The rain was getting harder now and my feet were beginning to feel chilled. I thought wistfully of a nice warm diner, a plate of hot food and me putting on another layer of socks. That’s when I came to the sign for Wolf Creek. I wasn’t going to stop, but I saw that it was an historic building and I thought that sounded splendid. I took the exit, meandered past the gas station and found the Wolf Creek Inn. It was closed, but no matter: I was actually looking for the Wolf Creek Deli and Grill. I rode the entire two block radius of Wolf Creek without finding the Deli and Grill. Disappointed, I headed back for I-5 only to find that there was no northbound on ramp from this end of town. I’d have to ride back through to get out of town. That’s when I noticed out of the corner of my eye the Deli and Grill; it was part of the gas station. It was nothing like what I had imagined, but it was there, the rain was coming down hard and it couldn’t be that bad, could it?
It was actually quite tasty, for a gas station grill. I put on another pair of socks while I waited for my food and astounded a customer when I told him that I was quite dry and comfortable on the bike. I love my gear. After eating my fill I geared back up and slogged back out to the bike and then to I-5. There was nothing more to do at this point than point the bike north and wake up when I got close to Portland.
They weren’t all that fun
Relief to go?
The RT has a cruise control on it, and I took this time to play with that feature. I found it somewhat useful, but only on very flat sections. Hills would cause the bike to drop its speed quickly and any downhill meant that I was soon flying along at “extra legal” speeds. But it was something to do to pass the time.
Oregon – still raining
Hood ornament at the truck stop
This would be the last night of my trip. I suppose I could have finished it up that night, arriving in Seattle around 9pm after 12 hours on the road and in the rain. But I didn’t have to; another friend, this time in Beaverton, OR had invited me to stay with him and his wife for the night. I gladly made my way through evening traffic to find him and his wife waiting for me, the smell of authentic Cuban cooking emanating from the kitchen. Galo and Elena (my host and hostess for the evening) were very accommodating and I really enjoyed the stories that they had to tell. It felt like midnight when I finally excused myself to go to bed and was surprised when I saw that it was only 10pm. It had been a tiring few days.
The next morning Galo had already left for work and I was able to sleep in until 8 o’clock. Elena saw me off, inviting me to come back again. I meet the nicest people because of my motorcycling.
Galo watching the news
Morning rush hour in Portland was almost over, but still slow in getting out of the city. The weather the previous night had been very stormy so I was surprised to see that it had calmed down considerably. The rain had even tapered off for a while, not starting up again for another hour. This would be the last leg of my trip: just a quick three hours up the interstate with nothing to distract me from the blue sky that was peaking out from behind the clouds.
I don’t think that I could make a living moving bikes for other people, but it sure was a fun addition to my winter schedule!