West Coast Regional Meet IV
Once more it was time to head south to meet up with my STN friends in Fortuna, CA. And once again, I had a loosely formed plan of the roads I would take, the friends I would ride with and what I’d do in between. And as always, everything worked out perfectly!
May 18-21, 2007
Total Miles: 1,478
Seattle – Fortuna, CA- Seattle
Once again I was to join up with my motorcycle brethren and sistern (?) in Fortuna, CA for a weekend of joyful festivities and excellent road riding. It’s only 602 miles as the crow flies, but who wants to fly with a crow?? So I packed up the GS and lit out of work a couple of hours early that Thursday in a futile attempt to avoid the traffic south of Seattle. Apparently a few thousand of my neighbors had the same idea as traffic was almost at a standstill for a good portion of the route. But it wasn’t too long before I was heading for Portland and Galo’s house, where I would meet other STNers and spend the night.
It was an uneventful ride to Portland and as I got closer I realized that I really didn’t know where I was going. My GPS insisted that Galo’s street didn’t exist, so I stopped to check a map and borrow a cell phone for the call. I was on the right track and found myself in his driveway and pulling off my helmet just a few minutes later.
Dinner and friends were waiting for me. Cuban-style pork and a table surrounded by friends both new and old greeted me as I took a seat. Conversation filled the room until one by one, others left for the night. Chris (Req) and I would stay the night with Galo and his lovely wife Elena, meeting up with the others in the morning for our push south to Fortuna.
Morning came early and we left the house by 8am. A quick jaunt down I-5 to the first rest area led us to the rest of our crew from the previous night. The six of us worked our way south, passed the open and not-so-interesting countryside of Oregon. I had asked if we could stop at the BMW shop in Eugene, as I had forgotten the plug that would allow me to use my heated jacket and the group had agreed. It was a nice break from the highway even though I was feeling guilty about the lost time on the road. Soon enough we were back on the highway and still heading south.
Rest area south of Portland
Not bad for an Interstate rest area
I suggested stopping for breakfast in Sutherlin and found the same restaurant I had visited on my way through back in ’04. The burger prices had gone up a bit, but the portions were still good and tasty. Everyone seemed happy with what they had gotten, although it was a shame to see so much uneaten food left behind.
Digger Don’s in Sutherlin, OR
Individualism at it’s finest
From Sutherlin we headed south (!) to Grants Pass, our last fuel stop before crossing the border into California and the twisty roads that lay in wait for us. At this time I made it a point to suggest that we ride our own ride and meet up in Willow Creek. This would eliminate any pressure of trying to keep in contact with each other, something that I wasn’t too sure of as I didn’t know the riding levels of most of the riders I was with. We all agreed and got back on I-5 to head south (!) once again. But at the turn off for 96 the gates were opened and the games began. Damon was on his VFR and immediately rolled on the throttle. I gamely kept up behind him on the GS with Galo in my mirrors on his Sprint. I lost sight of anyone else at that point, keeping Damon in view being my primary objective. His pace was fast, pushing me ever-so-slightly to keep up with him. It was a good time, with me hauling the GS through the corners, losing sight of Damon as he pulled away from me on a straight but catching him again on the next set of corners. Galo’s headlight kept me company in my mirrors for a few miles but then it ceased to exist. I kept after Damon.
Then a couple of ill-placed horse trailers got between us and I knew that Damon was long gone. I have the racing gene of a Greyhound: if I can see my quarry I’ll fight hard to keep up. But once it’s out of sight then the desire to race is gone and I’m left to my own devices. Not to say that I slowed down that much. I didn’t push it as hard in the corners with Damon gone but I was intent on wearing off the nubblies on the edges of my new tires so I cranked the GS over pretty hard as I met corner after corner.
As I rolled into Happy Camp I saw Damon fueling up and stopped to check in with him. He said that he was going to wait for the others to show up and suggest that they fuel up here, as the mileage to Willow Creek was much further than I had estimated. I agreed and said that I’d continue along 96 myself. You can imagine my surprise when not too many miles later his headlight appeared in my mirrors. I waved him on by but declined the chase. I was having a good time pushing my way through the eternal corners of this road. Over 150 miles of constant corners – I was actually getting tired of the flick-flick from side to side by the time I rolled into Willow Creek. Damon and I waited for the rest of the group to arrive and when they did, we took a few minutes’ break before tackling the last couple of legs to Fortuna. The first leg was 299 – a non-technical and very enjoyable stretch of road that leads to the coast. And from the coast we hopped on 101 south to Fortuna.
It was still early in the evening when we rolled into the Eel River Brewery but the STN party had already begun. The evening was spent saying hi to old friends and meeting new ones. It was late when I got back on the bike and took the short ride up to Eureka, where I would spend the next two nights with Gil and Becky.
Dr. Gil making tomorrow’s beans
The washing of the ‘stitch
The charming garage of Gil and Becky
The next morning is when people usually ride the local roads, endeavoring to ride 36 again, or the Lost Coast, or whatever else tickles their fancy. For me there would be no riding. I wanted to spend the day with Gil and Becky, and any other riders who happened by their house to partake in the succulent BBQ that they had prepared. So instead of railing through corners (again) I cleaned off deck chairs, sliced rolls and helped set up tables in the yard. And best of all, I got a chance to enjoy a relaxed visit with Gil and Becky, as well as Chris (vitaminC) and Doug (Zarly) who had stayed around that morning to relax.
The first riders showed up around noon and they kept on coming until 4:30, when there was a reverse flow as they left the house to head back to Fortuna and the Brewery. The household finally left as well and went back to the brewery to socialize with the rest of the STNers yet again. Another late night of conversation and merriment ensued.
1. Hmmm – I can flatfoot the GS!
2. Here comes Becky…
3. “Hi Becky. Um, I was just testing it for size…”
Bikes at Gil and Becky’s house
Eel River Brewery burger
Sunday morning dawned clear and sunny, but by the time Chris (vitaminC) packed up his bike to leave the clouds had blown in from the coast and put an edge to the air. Chris (Req) and I were going to head north for home while Doug would go south to visit friends near Yosemite. Gil and Becky would stay home and clean up their house.
Getting ready to leave on Sunday
Chris and I followed the coast up 101 to the turn off at 299. I was looking forward to riding this section of road again, but this time it would be cut short. Chris had agreed to do some exploration and test out some unknown roads with me. This included a cutoff called the Redwood Hwy that branched north before crossing the second pass on 299. The turnoff was well-marked but still caught me by surprise. Chris somehow managed to pull in behind me and we found ourselves on nice, unlined pavement that wound its way through tree-covered hillsides. The road dropped down into a valley where the pastures were lush with spring grasses. I had left Chris behind and waited for him here, taking his picture as he caught up and passed me. It had only been 4 miles since the turn off 299 and I wondered why no one else had exclaimed about this road before. Then around the next corner I saw the reason: the pavement ended and became gravel.
Heading off onto the Redwood Hwy
Dropping down into the valley
Waiting for Chris
Farm on the valley floor
Here comes Chris!
Chris was on a V-Strom 1000 and I was on my GS1150. You couldn’t ask for better bikes for a road like this. Chris was new to dirt riding, however, so we took an easy pace as the road ascended from the valley floor. I would stop often and catch photos of Chris as he zipped by and then race to catch up with him. I was having a great time as the road narrowed to one lane and twitched back and forth as it gained elevation. The trees gave glimpses of the view of green mountainsides and deep ravines that surrounded us. The clouds were heavy and would occasionally splatter my visor with moisture, but it was more effective at keeping the dust down than impeding the riding.
It was 22 miles until we reached pavement again and those 22 miles of dirt were every bit of fun that I had hoped it would be. The road was constantly rising or falling, twisting or turning, and always in great shape. Chris did a great job on his V-Strom (despite having the wrong tires for this terrain) and my GS was a blast. It was with mixed emotions that we emerged onto 96 at the town of Hoopa. I didn’t want to leave the dirt behind, but I also knew that I’d enjoy retracing my steps up 96 to the next planned detour.
Let’s go to Hoopa!
Chris on Bair Rd to Hoopa
Climbing back up out of the valley
Misty skies to keep the dust down
Up, up, we go!
I had to endure this for miles
C’mon Chris, slide the rear tire around!
Coming back down from the ridge
Cloudy and cool – and beautiful as always
The drier side of the mountain
Chris gets a shot of me catching up
Chris and I flew along 96 to Weitchpec, where we stopped to trade bikes for a stretch. I was curious how his V-Strom handled and he was curious about the BMW. While we were making the trade, Cale (Cale Kat, another STNer) pulled in on his bike. He was heading north as well and asked if he could tag along when he heard about the route that Chris and I were planning on taking. I had no idea of the road that we were going to turn off on and told Cale as much. It could be paved, dirt or closed for all I knew. He was game and the three of us took off for Somes Bar and the Salmon River Rd turnoff.
Route 96 is the perfect opportunity to check out the V-Strom and I had no reservations in leaving Chris and Cale behind as I explored the power of the Suzuki motor. I pulled it through corners and kept the same speed as I would have the GS. It’s a good bike, but a far different animal than my BMW.
I reached the turn off for the Salmon River Rd with just enough time to park the Strom, pull of my helmet and pretend to be asleep by the signpost by the time Chris and Cale pulled up. We cracked a few jokes, Chris and I compared notes on the bikes while Cale ate his lunch and then we were ready to tackle the second “unknown” of the day.
The road started out innocently enough. It was almost two lanes wide and closely followed the Salmon River. On one side was the stone face of the mountain that had been carved for the road and on the other side was a flowing river. I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the road and led the group on a merry little run along the river, always mindful of the fist-size rocks that periodically littered the surface, even thought they were easy enough to navigate around and never presented a problem.
We came upon a large gathering of pick up trucks, trailers and vans and I realized that this must be a very popular place for river rafters to put in/take out. And at the same time of this realization the road changed dramatically. So dramatically that I thought I had somehow missed the main road and took a side road instead. While still paved, this stretch of road resembled the first section perfectly with one change: it had been miniaturized. Whereas before we were dealing with a full two lanes of travel surface, we were now regulated to a single lane of pavement. This in of itself wasn’t a problem, but the road still continued to hug open rock walls and an ever-deepening ravine, all the time presenting blind corners and tree-shaded bends. The occasional parked vehicle let me realize that this was also not a completely unused road and that I would have to be vigilant as I rounded each bend.
Checking out an “unknown” road
Narrow paved road
One lane and lots of blind corners
Miles of this, too
Sometimes the road moved downhill
Sign that warns of “Slide Ahead” – about 30′ down the hill
Thankfully, not too much traffic on this road
We stopped for photos often through this stretch, each of us taken with the narrowness of the road, the steepness of the drop off and the beauty of the surroundings. The river was running full and there was a green-tinted hue in its clarity. At one point I saw a sign that had tumbled down the embankment, lodged in the brush about 30’ below me. I could barely make out the words “Slide Ahead” on its surface.
Looking down to the Salmon River
Nope, still not tired of the roads
South Fork of the Salmon River
Eventually we passed through the town of Forks of Salmon, not even disrupting the half a dozen locals who were sitting near their trucks at the side of the road. The road branched here and I kept to the southern route, through Cecilville and then to Callahan. I had considered the other route but heard that it was unpaved and some (good) riders had dumped their bikes going down a particularly steep section. This was not the time to play games with dirt roads, so we kept to the pavement and looked for Cecilville.
Not much changed after Forks of Salmon. The road continued to be narrow, paved and hug the rock face. The river was always our companion and it was just a matter of how far down it was. There was virtually no traffic on this road, and the two vehicles I did meet were fortunately on a fairly straight section and not one of the blind corners. There were four cruisers heading in the other direction, but they kept to their side and we kept to ours, an easy wave between us.
I had planned to stop in Cecilville to regroup but when I thought that the town would be just around the next corner, and then rounded the next corner, I realized that I had just ridden through the town. So I kept on riding.
Stopping for pictures
Flora taking over
Heading out of Cecilville
South Fork of the Salmon River
A bridge I’d rather not have to cross
The road after Cecilville
Propping up the roadbed
The road cuts its way across the mountainside
It wasn’t too far past Cecilville that the road started to get wider. Just a little bit here and there, and a little straighter, and the plants were taking on the drier aspects of east-facing mountain slopes. But then, quite suddenly, the pavement was fresh. Fat lines delineated my side of the road. It was perfect.
The three of us took turns, leapfrogging each other as one would stop for photos while the others went by. I estimated about 30 miles of uninterrupted beauty here. Not a single driveway or vehicle to mar the perfection. Fat wide sweepers near the top that gradually constricted into tighter radius corners as we descended into the valley. Views from the top showed us where we were headed and we were not disappointed. This entire road was an unexpected bonus and I was grinning from ear to ear.
At the valley floor sits the town of Callahan. I’m not sure what keeps Callahan going. There is a building with a post office in it, a neglected building marked “Grange”, the boarded up Callahan Ranch Station Hotel and a general store. A few trucks were parked near the store and as I parked the bike I could hear the sounds of musical instruments being tuned. I was hoping to get gas here but I could see that wouldn’t be an option. A second-place choice would be to get some food, as it was already 3pm and Chris and I hadn’t eaten since leaving Eureka at 10 that morning. As Chris, Cale and I wondered what sort of food they might have in the store we heard the first stirrings of music. There was a live swing band inside and they were kicking out some good tunes. I would have really enjoyed sitting in the sun and soaking in the music while eating, but there was nothing to eat in Callahan. So we left behind the musicians in search of fuel for us and our bikes.
Almost 30 miles of uninterrupted beauty
Coming down the mountain
Original stage station of the Oregon Trail (1853)
Instead of taking the 3 north to Yreka I decided to take a chance on my fuel level and explore the canyon road that leads into Gazelle. I hadn’t filled up my tank since Willow Creek on Friday and I knew that the gas level was getting extremely low. But it was worth the chance: Gazelle canyon was very picturesque and the gentle curves of the road lent themselves well to the curves of my new tires. Chris and Cale also appeared to enjoy the detour, but I was happy to fill up my bike at the next stop I saw in Gazelle.
From here Cale went his own way while Chris and I stuck to I-5 and headed north. We still hadn’t eaten that day and thought that food would be a good idea. We pulled off at Medford and I spied a place I had eaten at previously and, not remembering anything bad about it, suggested that we stop. While the food was ok, it wasn’t worth remembering for the next time I went through Medford and Chris and I packed up to continue north. We had no destination for the night. My only thought was to get far enough north tonight to allow for an easy day tomorrow.
A couple of riders had praised the virtue of Rt 227, a rural road that cuts behind the mountains east of I-5. The daylight was fading and Chris had only his dark visor on, but we gauged the mileage and the time and figured that we could make it back to I-5 before it got too dark for him to see the road. And it was a road worth taking. While Chris and I felt spoiled because we had just taken some fantastic roads down in California, roads that went on for more miles and had more turns and better scenery, we somehow managed to enjoy ourselves on this little stretch. The pavement was periodically wet from passing showers but the weather held for us and we bombed our way through the trees, ever mindful of the warning of deer that we had been given.
Eventually the sunlight retreated behind the hills and the clouds and Chris dropped the pace down a notch to better match his level of vision. It was with welcome relief that we rolled into Cayonville and saw that the Leisure Inn had a vacancy. We rented a room, left the bikes sitting outside the lobby doors and settled in for the night.
Cozy room in Cayonville
Bikes ready to leave in the morning
Yes, that is our motel room door
The next morning was relaxed, waking up around 8am and on the road by 9. I attempted to take us off I-5 for a little bit longer, and was only mildly successful. I took a wrong turn that then dumped us back on the highway. I asked Chris if he’d like to continue to hunt down the elusive back roads but he confessed that he was leery of such an undertaking. His idle level was fluctuating and there was a mysterious oil stain beneath his bike and he preferred to stick to the known roads and ready help if it was needed. Thinking of getting home well before dark I thought that was a great idea and we droned north, pass the same towns that torment me every time I roll through the I-5 corridor.
Quick stop in Oakland, OR
Step aside, let the man-go through
We called another Chris (Cheez) when we neared Olympia and made arrangements to stop for a late lunch, having once again ridden most of the day without eating. This is the way I like to travel and was surprised that Chris did as well. But by the time we stopped it was after 3:30 and I was mentally tired as well as getting a little bit hungry. A protracted stop would be a welcome diversion, and even more welcome with the other Chris’ company. We had a tasty meal and talked about upcoming rides before Chris and I got back on the bikes for the last stretch north.
I feared the worse for traffic, as it was 4:30 in Olympia and we’d be passing through the same congestion points that I endured on the way down just a few days ago. But surprisingly the traffic was (relatively) light and Chris and I made good time. I got to my exit, waved farewell to Chris as he continued north and then I rode the last uneventful couple of miles to my house, noting that I was getting home at the same time I would have if I had gone to work that day. A bad day on the bike beats a good day at work, but a good day on the bike beats everything else.
Gassing up near Salem, OR
Cheez meets us for lunch in Tumwater, WA
Chris and I, looking tough -sort of