California Uber Alles
I had many reasons to head south for the long weekend, the most mundane of them was to pick up an exhaust for the KLR that I won on ebay. I thought that it would be more fun (and challenging) to see if that exhaust could make its way from Irvine, CA to Seattle, WA via motorcycle. But the best reason for this ride was to visit my California friends. I know some very dear and wonderful people there and was looking forward to the opportunity to see them again.
February 12 – 18, 2008
Total Miles: 2,057 miles, 5 days
Seattle, WA – Mountain View, CA
The day started off cold but dry. There was a light frost on the garbage cans I had set out early in anticipation of my departure and the sky was a dull – but clear – blue. Considering the weather prospects of the Pacific Northwest in February I had lucked out. The bike was already packed but had to be re-packed as I realized that the combination of the tank panniers and the rear bag left me no room to put my knees. I moved the tank panniers to the saddlebag position and was soon on my way.
The goal was to visit friends in Eureka (Gil & Becky) and San Francisco (Dan, Carolyn & Peter), pick up an exhaust muffler I had won on e-bay and enjoy some excellent riding. Plans had been made to meet with various people along the way and now it was just up to me to get there.
Barbie gets ready to ride
Traffic through Seattle and the I-5 corridor southward was surprisingly light for a weekday morning. Perhaps Valentine’s Day had kept everyone home, making breakfast in bed for their loved ones? Whatever the reasoning, I enjoyed the watching the sun climb into the sky over Mt Rainier, the clouds hovering low but not ominous looking and the lack of traffic on the roads.
It was two hours later that I decided to stop for something to eat. I had passed through the major metropolitan areas of the I-5 corridor and now it was just a matter of watching the open fields pass by as I made my way south. I stopped in Woodland, WA and my choice for breakfast left a lot to be desired, despite the promising sign and classic booths. The service turned out to be almost unbearably slow and the food uninspiring. Two gentlemen at a table near mine were in awe that I was so far from home (two hours!!!) and even more amazed that I was going all the way to San Francisco – by myself, no less. I chuckled as I took my boots off to let my toes warm up.
I crossed the Columbia River and was pleased that I had missed the rush hour traffic through Portland. The temperature was rising and I was no longer bitterly cold. The KLR has a very limited electrical output (despite an upgraded stator) and I was hesitant to turn up the heated jacket very far. And I also discovered heated glove liners are not as warm as heated gloves. Better to learn this on borrowed gear than after shelling out the dough, but it would have been better without a five-day trip in front of me.
Hawks abounded in the nearby trees and two bald eagles stoically watched over the fields in the sunshine. I witnessed a falcon dive into the grass, hunting a meal, but rising back up with empty talons. Sheep were more plentiful than I recalled ever seeing, grazing peacefully in rich, verdant pastures. It was a pleasant day to be on the bike and I was still pleased at my good fortune in regard to the weather.
I thought I was pretty clever in preparing for this ride. The last time I had taken a long distance ride on the KLR my knees were killing me by the time I got home. This time would be different: I fixed a bamboo pole across the top of the tool tube on my bike and secured it with hose clamps. I could now stretch out my feet in front of me, resting my heels on the pole. But to my dismay the hose clamps gave up before I could even get through Oregon and I was left with the original foot positions that I normally have.
Eventually the ruler-straight line of I-5 gave way to gentle curves as the mountains approached. It was a quick transition and I was soon flying past laboring semis as the road gained elevation. I railed around the corners, relishing the forces on the bike and the steep lean angles. As long as no one was tracking my speed, it would be a great trip. The increased speed, however, was wrecking havoc on my fuel mileage and instead of enjoying at least 260 miles before hitting reserve; I had to flip the petcock at only 238. Speed has its price in many ways.
I’ve reached the Pacific Ocean!
The Oregon cops were apparently getting donuts because I made it all the way to the California border without interference. The border was marked with a casual line painted across the road and the road celebrated with a higher speed limit. Soon I was enjoying the dank depths of Jedediah Smith Redwoods, the road tightening as it wound around the base of the massive trees. But I had underestimated my fuel range and now instead of watching the scenery I was watching my mileage.
Another reason to take it easy on this curve
Hey baby, nice rack
I stopped at the first gas station I could find and filled up, knowing that I could now make it to Eureka, my stop for the night, easily on this tank. Now it was time to hit the coast and enjoy the blue of the Pacific Ocean. The weather was calm and the waves crashed gently along the shoreline. I was making good time and felt that I could spare a moment to shoot a few of the Roosevelt Elk herd that is reside along this stretch. They were right up by the road and made for easy targets with my new camera. After a few too many pictures I once again headed south, the miles taking longer and longer to cover the closer I got to my destination.
Becky and Gil live in a lovely house right in Eureka and were expecting me between 5:30 and 6:00. It was 6:10 and Becky was just getting out of her car. Perfect timing. We went inside and dinner was waiting for us, the good Dr Gil having prepared it with perfect timing. I suspect that they did not anticipate my joining them for dinner (I had indicated that I would eat on the road) but they graciously shared what food they had anyway. I love these people
Gil enjoys his gift
Kipper snuggling on the couch
I wasn’t scheduled to meet my friend Dan until 12:30 the next day in Willits, so leaving at 9:00 that morning would give me plenty of time to make the trip. I passed by the Avenue of the Giants, the Chandelier drive-thru tree and Confusion Hill, hoping to visit some of them on the return trip on Sunday. Pulling into Willits I located Ardella’s, a wonderful small-town restaurant famous for its homemade soups and full platters of delicious food. This is where I would meet Dan for lunch and with almost perfect timing, he was there within 10 minutes.
The first leg of our return to San Francisco was to head west from Willits over Hwy 20 to the Pacific Coast. Dan had recently taken up the sport of motorcycling and was still relatively new at it, having less than 1,000 miles on his first bike when we met for lunch. The road was fortunately not heavily traveled at this time of day and we were able to dally, giving Dan ample time to get used to the tight corners. We traveled through thick stands of fat redwood trees, the road shadowed by their mass, enjoying the lush greenery surrounding us. About a third of the way along we began to search for a side road that would dive to the southwest and out to the coast, However we didn’t know the name of the road, nor precisely where it was, and we ended up missing it as we soon found ourselves on the coast, dazzled by brilliant sunshine.
A vista point just south of Eureka, CA
Barbie’s hair is getting a little messy
“Realignment” of 101 = fewer fun corners
More bridge supports in the making
Meeting Dan for lunch in Willits
Hitting the ocean again after riding on Hwy 20 out of Willits
Just because you’re on the coast does not mean that you can actually get to the coast. It took us a number of trips down side roads before we found access to the sandy beaches and crashing waves. We parked the bikes and took some time to wander the shoreline and watch a surfer try his luck.
We followed 101 down the coast until we reached 128, where we turned off for a delightful road that slips back inland at a rakish southeasterly direction. The route started off grandly through a massive stance of redwoods, which we got to inspect closely as we waited in line at a construction site just a few miles later. But it was a pleasant place to wait and the time passed quickly before we were once again on our way. The landscape opened up both in regard to the greenery along the road as well as the hills themselves. We moved from close, steep slopes to open rolling hills. Trees dotted the slopes over still-green grass and this scene eventually gave way to acres of vineyards and wineries. A brief break in Boonville was our last real stop before our final push down Hwy 1 into the city of San Francisco.
We did make one quick stop to check out my taillight. Dan had made a comment on how little I brake in the corners and while I generally don’t brake a lot, I was surprised when we tested it to find that neither the brake light nor the running light were operational. After changing out the bulb to no effect I took a closer look and discovered that the plug under the rear fender had come undone and would not stay together. Not wanting to deal with this in a gas station parking lot we agreed that I’d just be “extra cautious” for the reminder of the ride.
And the remainder of the ride seemed to take forever. Traffic was not too bad, other than some fun lane splitting near Santa Rosa (it’s worth moving to California for that benefit alone!) but even after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in the dark it was another 45 minutes before we pulled the bikes into the parking lot at Dan’s apartment. I was pretty tired by now, after the 11 hours on the road from Thursday in addition to today’s ride, and I was only too happy to hop into the car with Dan for our next adventure: hockey!
Carolyn’s team was slated to play a game that night and we had agreed to come and watch. Unfortunately there wasn’t time for dinner beforehand, but the promise of hot food at the rink was sufficient to get us there on time. Fortunately the game was interesting enough that I didn’t mind too much the fact that the rink never did open their kitchen. Carolyn scored two goals and her team won 3-0. It was with a great sense of celebration that we all went out afterwards for hot wings.
Early on 128 heading inland
Heading east on 128
Carolyn made two goals that night! (she’s the one in the white jersey)
I was supposed to stay with Carolyn and her husband Peter for both nights in San Francisco, but the logistics of having the car and none of my gear weren’t working out. We changed plans and I went back with Dan to stay on his couch, promising to stay with Carolyn the next night. This ended up working out well, as the next morning Dan and I took off for “parts unknown”, guided only by directions scribbled out by Carolyn the previous night. The directions led us to Mt Madonna, a beautiful area near Morgan Hill. Pastoral hills, large stables and oversized mansions became the norm as we left the sprawl of the city. The sun was pleasant and after a winter in Seattle, I was thrilled to be riding in warm and dry conditions. I could get used to this, too.
When we reached the turnoff for Mt Madonna we found ourselves on a deliciously narrow, steep and rutted road. Finally we had found some dirt and it was thoroughly enjoyed by us both. We did snicker as we passed a Dodge Charger struggling along, wondering what he thought he was doing on a road like this. We also passed a couple of forest rangers but they merely smiled at us so apparently we were fully allowed to be where we were. One never knows just where Carolyn will send us.
At the top of Mt Madonna the dirt road ended at what Carolyn described as “a big ass tree” and she was not kidding. It was a cedar tree with an amazing girth and healthy broad branches. We took silly pictures and enjoyed the peace and quiet as I reattached my tool tube onto the front of my bike. The hose clamps were not doing their job very well on this trip, but zip ties once again prevailed.
Heading up Mt Madonna (sorry for the blurry photo)
Looking back down; lots of elevation gain
Dan greets the Big Ass Tree
Whatever could the tree be saying?
Dan’s hiding to the left of the trunk
Even though the route up Mt Madonna was very short, less than 2 miles, we weren’t done with the dirt. Carolyn had given us the secret to accessing even more dirt roads, namely Summit Dr. The paved road we were on wended its way gently along a densely forested ridge line, populated on both sides by bizarre and secretive looking houses and even a Buddhist retreat. But then the signs appeared – the ones that said “PRIVATE” and “NO TRESPASSING” – the ones that we were directed to ride right past. And after those signs we found over 10 miles of well-groomed dirt roads, infrequent houses and the occasional motorcyclist. Elevation gain gave us a hazy but expansive view of the Pacific as well as an increase in temperature. I forgot how hot it could get in full gear but I didn’t mind – it sure beat freezing my toes off.
Looking across from Summit Dr
A view from Summit Dr
Looking at the ocean. Sort of.
We had gotten a late start to the day and by the time we hit the pavement again we decided that it was probably for the best that we not seek out the remaining stretch of dirt road but instead head to Carolyn and Peter’s house in Cupertino. Neither of us had eaten all day and the promise of sushi was a great enticement to stop riding. It wasn’t far to Cupertino and despite the GPS we still took a lovely tour of the neighborhood before we finally found their actual house. Theirs was easy to pick out once were on their street, however, as the garage door was open and it was packed full of motorcycles.
Reattaching a wire under the KLR
It turned out that Carolyn and Peter were hungry as well so we left almost immediately to go to Midori, their favorite sushi spot. The employees there knew Carolyn and Peter and greeted them enthusiastically. Meals were ordered, sake was poured and I spilled my soup. The food was delicious and the company couldn’t have been better. In celebration of my visit, one of the managers brought out a second bottle of sake and proceeded to have a shot or two with us. Everyone there was very pleasant and I had a great time.
Dinner at Midori’s
Carolyn and I have some sake
The next morning was Sunday and marked my last day in San Francisco. My friends had made arrangements to ride to Eureka with me and spend the night at Gil and Becky’s house, with each of us heading to our respective homes on Monday. Our group of four went to Bobbi’s Coffee Shop for a quick meal before starting the day’s ride up to Eureka. The eternal ride through the city was compounded by a closed lane and backed up traffic. I experience traffic like this in Seattle, but at least here I could split lanes if I was so inclined. But we weren’t inclined as there was no reason to hurry today. We crossed the bridge and then rolled north on Hwy 1 through Santa Rosa and on to Willits, everyone taking the ride at their own pace and enjoying another pleasant day in the sunshine.
Gil had spoken well of Ardella’s and Dan and I were suitably impressed by the food and service on the way south that we made the effort to stop there again on the way north. Fortunately we didn’t notice the “CLOSED” sign in the window until after we had walked inside. Apparently they closed at 2pm and it was 2:05. We lucked out: Laurey remembered Dan and I from Friday’s visit and was quick to greet us and make us feel welcome. Sunday’s menu is “brunch only” but the limited menu was anything but limited. We all ordered something different and everyone loved their meal. Gil hadn’t steered us wrong when he recommended this place.
Gas stop along 101
Lunch (again) are Ardella’s
From Willits it was just a quick three hours to Eureka, including a stop at Confusion Hill. Carolyn has a penchant for the bizarre and unusual and this fit the bill. We acted goofy and silly and generally made fools of ourselves as we played with golf balls that roll uphill and steps to walk on the walls. After playing around and taking pictures we were once again on the bikes. The remainder of Hwy 1 rolled by pleasantly but it was getting chilly and dark by the time we rolled up to the front door of Gil and Becky’s house.
Conditions had changed since I had last been here: Becky had caught a nasty bug and was down for the count. Gil did a stellar job of trying to make up for Becky’s absence and fed us a wonderful jambalaya dinner and rich creamy ice cream. It was late again before we all took to our beds but the next morning was a lazy one. We had decided to leave around 9am and due to my complete mis-reading of the clock, I was up an hour earlier than I needed to be. I used the time to wake everyone else up and we all sat around for a leisurely breakfast of bagels and juice. The dance of gearing up is always a good one and Gil watched us struggling into our gear with amusement. Even Becky came out for a brief appearance to see us off before shuffling back to her bedroom.
Outside “Confusion Hill” on Hwy 101
Carolyn’s feet are floating away!
Watch the ball roll uphill!
Happy guests at Gil &a Becky’s house
Gil resting comfortably with his Scotch
Dan & I at Becky and Gil’s
I watched Dan, Carolyn and Peter take off for their return south and then said a last good bye to Gil before turning my bike north. I had my choice of retracing my steps back to Grants Pass via the coast, or taking a more delectable route inland on my favorite road, 96 to Yreka. I had all day to get home so I chose the slightly longer but much more rewarding inland route; I was not disappointed. A dense cloud lay low over the land as I turned inland from 101 to 299 and the road was intermittently damp. I was concerned about the high level of sand in the wet corners, but my pace was restricted more so by the number of cars on the road than anything else. It was with relief that I entered Willow Creek, as the skies cleared and the traffic continued east while I was about to jump north.
I stopped frequently for pictures, hoping to capture the beauty of this stretch of road for others to appreciate. The sign declares that it is 145 miles to Yreka and I knew that there were only three towns that I would have to slow down for. Some day I’ll count the number of curves, but for now I was here purely to enjoy myself. I had entered heaven.
The road follows the Klamath River, mimicking every twist and bend, changing elevation almost as frequently as the river changed direction. The sky was a clear blue and there was still some remnant snow in the mountains, but for the most part the hillsides were green with dense forests. Traffic was non-existent; the only other vehicle on the road for the first two hours was a snowplow that pulled off before I could even catch up to it. As the miles passed under my wheels the snow became more prevalent along the sides of the road and soon I was riding past mounds of dirty snow, rotting on the shoulders. But the road surface itself was always clear and until the last few miles, dry and clean.
Mile 7 of Highway 96. Only 138 more miles to go!
Construction site along Hwy 96 – a long light but no traffic
Mile 30. Only 108 more to go!
Highway 96 following the beautiful Kalamth River
Looking down at the Kalamth River
Mile 76. Only 69 more to go!
Warm sunshine and dry roads
Ready for more!
Finding more snow as I go
Lingering snow adds a bit of contrast
Old wooden bridge
Swinging in the breeze
Did I mention the beauty of the area?
Four hours later I reached I-5. But this wasn’t the I-5 of northern Oregon; this was still a highway in the mountains. I picked up the pace a bit and was soon flying over Siskiyou Pass, feeling the temperature change as I crossed over into Oregon and dropped down into the small valley before attacking Grants Pass, the last bit of fun before Eugene and arrow-straight roads.
It was now well after 2pm and other than a gas stop in Willow Creek I hadn’t taken any time off the saddle. But the bike was desperate for fuel and I was looking forward to filling my own tank. The first convenient gas was at Quines Creek, a little stop in the middle of nowhere with not much to offer. Or so I thought. As I filled up the tank I asked the station attendant if the restaurant next door, “Heaven on Earth”, was any good. He said that it was and that the bakery was especially good. The fact that his mom is a baker there might have something to do with his opinion, but it turned out to be accurate. I parked the KLR in front of the restaurant, an ancient-looking timber structure, and wondered just how good could it be? I walked through the front door and immediately knew why they had chosen this name: the smells that wafted across the air currents were pure ambrosia. Fresh homemade cinnamon rolls had just been pulled out of the oven and set to rest on a well-used wood-fired stone stove. Nearby trays boasted fresh-made pastries while trestle tables were loaded with cakes and cookies. Free samples were offered but I was distracted by the hostess as she walked up to me. She pointed to the pass-through to the kitchen where I saw another tray, this one loaded with light, flaky-looking pastries. But they weren’t pastries – they were fresh homemade chicken potpies. Without even looking at the menu I agreed to have one and I was not disappointed. The crust was just as splendid as it looked, the gravy was not too heavy and the chef had not skimped on the chicken and vegetable cuts. I was full before I finished it, but I couldn’t stop eating. You can bet that I’ll be back the next time I ride through.
Two o’clock – it’s lunch time at Heaven
Fresh baked cinnamon buns anyone?
Oh my, this was the best chicken pot pie I had ever eaten
Unfortunately that was the last highlight of my trip. The road became dull, the sun set slowly behind the coastal range and I made my way north in the increasingly cold darkness. It took me 12 and half hours to get home this time and I cursed the last four of those hours quite vehemently. But the good points of the trip far outweighed any negative thoughts I might have had and I knew that I’d be back again.