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California 2004

Motorcycle Sport Touring through Central and Southern California | July 2004

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The Stupid-Butt-Thing

IIt had been two years since Kris and I had any kind of vacation to speak of. Layoffs and job changes had ensured that we either had no money or no time off. Even now, as we hastily prepared for 10 days of leave, it was a result of Kris getting a new job and having to use all of her accrued vacation.

Eric and Dawn were coming along and Dawn had taken on the task of planning the route and agenda, nice because it freed up Kris and myself to get ready for the last minute holiday. I was deathly ill and had spent the four days of preparation sprawled out the couch playing Xbox.

Eric was coming by our house with his bike loaded in the back of his truck, ready to hook up to our trailer. We would load our bikes, return to his house, pick up Dawn and drive across the Nevada . The plan was to drive into the night to Winnemucca, about half-way across the desolate state, to give us time Saturday to ride around Lake Tahoe.

Eric is head of the sales department for coffee supply company, but Eric's boss, knowing that Eric had hoped to leave early and be gone for a full week, wanted to get the most out by giving him the duties of two delivery employees. Eric got to spend the day scrambling to cover the routes of two drivers in addition to his sales duties, meaning he didn't get to our house until after 7pm; three and a half hours later than we had planned.

But vacation was about to start, right? We loaded the trailer and headed towards his house. One of the few advantages of leaving so late was that commuter traffic had subsided. We soon arrived at Eric and Dawns house, loaded up the last of the gear and hit the road. Unfortunately, 100 miles into the drive Eric made a realization. He had been in such a rush getting off work late and leaving that he left his motorcycle key back at his house. After two hours of driving, almost to Nevada, we turned around and returned to Salt Lake.

Back in Salt Lake, again, it felt like everything was going wrong. We fetched the key and visited a late night coffee shop. Eric was feeling guilty and insisted on buying everyone their favorite caffeinated beverage. Certainly not needed.

We'd been driving for more than four hours but hadn't gotten anywhere. I was feeling terrible but was spared the return drive when I passed out in the back seat. I wasn't revived until we reached the Nevada border and filled up with gas. We made it as far as Elko, then stopped for the nite. A Harley-Davidson rally was in town, (oddly enough, my dad was attending). The only hotel we could find was the nicest in town, so we shared a room figuring if you divide the cost by two it wasn't that bad. And it was a very nice room – even with the half eaten chicken wings in the stairwell.

Photo: North Lake Tahoe

We awoke early Saturday morning and wandered down to the lobby for the complimentary continental breakfast. So when you add the cost of breakfast to the price of the room, divided by two, it was almost affordable. The argument held more humor than weight.

Wandered through the breakfast tables were a smattering of typical looking families mixed with black t-shirted, do-ragged Harley riders. It was an odd mix. I was not feeling much better but decided a quick walk down the street to spot my dad would help. I didn't find him among the drones of Harley riders, all wearing the black t-shirt, black boots and bandana uniform. We stopped for a cup of coffee before returning to the delights of I-80.

Once in Tahoe, we drove straight to the condo where we would moor the truck and trailer. We proceeded to shift our gear to the back of the bikes. The couple (in-laws of the brother-in-law of a friend of ours) was not at home so we proceeded gingerly and tried to think of alternatives, just in case. When the gracious hosts returned from their golf game, we were instantly reassured by their warm welcome. We were invited in, offered cold drinks and access to the private swimming pool. However, we felt bad that we didn't have more time to socialize. The pollen from the spring-time pine trees was wreaking havoc on Dawns allergies forcing a prompt departure.

4pm: We were on the bikes and thumbed the magic starter buttons, bringing them to life after more than 24 hours of anticipation. Gingerly we pulled out; the vacation had finally and officially started. We opted to wander the back side of the lake, towards the KOA. We had never been on the back-side of the lake, and it was a comfortable way to start out. Touristy, wandering roads follow the shoreline through a smattering of small communities with names like Dollar Point and Meeks Bay, all trying to elbow their position onto the limited shore-line. We stopped at Emerald Bay to drink the spectacular view, snap a few photos to get things started before continuing to South Lake Tahoe for dinner.

When Kris and I had come through here on our way to Laguna Seca in 2001, we had a fantastic dinner at a small outdoor burger/brew pub and I was confident that I would be able to find it again. While I had remembered my toothbrush, I had neglected to bring my swim trunks and I distinctly remembered that the pub was neighbor to a swimsuit-based store. Swimming pools sounded divine and I hoped the KOA we reserved for the evening would accommodate.

Photo: KAO in Lake Tahoe

Things were starting to look up. I was able to ride directly to our dinner spot, procure swim trunks and a grab a desireable table on the patio. Dinner was fantastic but we were anxious to go set up camp, so we paid the tab and headed south on 89 towards the KOA. It looked great, and the host was extremely friendly, promising to have put us in the best spot the facility had to offer. Unfortunately, the campground was nestled directly on a small tributary of Lake Tahoe and on a severe slope, forcing the roads to be extremely steep with tight corners littered with eroded gravel. Not one campsite featured even a single blade of grass.

The site we were promised was fantastic, but it was so steep and so full of deep, fluffy, dust that it would be almost impossible for us to safely get the bikes into and out of the site without risking a major tip-over. Visions of a loaded bike toppling into the adjacent river encouraged an alternative location. We took a less attractive site that was not so steep and had enough gravel to mitigate the flour-like dust. We unpacked and set up the tents with the aspiration of making it to the pool before it closed in 20 minutes. We soon gave up when we learned that the pool was unheated and frigid cold. Instead we purchased wine (from the KOA gift shop! Isn't California great) and opted to sip chilled Chardonnay in the flickering light of our citronella candles that were doing a pathetic job of keeping the mosquitoes at bay. At least the West Nile virus hadn't found its way to California … yet.

Photo: day 2 of riding

Sunday morning we awoke West Nile Virus free and promptly dashed to the showers before the morning rush. We packed up the bikes, trying to keep things as clean as possible despite the dust that was finding its way into everything. As we packed up, the discussion of donuts came up. It was unanimously decided that California has the best donuts. Kris had not had the opportunity to compare California donuts so we decided that breakfast would be donuts and coffee.

We rode back to Lake Tahoe and found a strip mall with a quaint donut shop. The little shop had the best Bear Claws known to man! They were even shaped like a bear's claw. And let's not talk too much about the cream filled donuts. Utah donut shops need to learn the California definition of “filled”!

Heading directly south on Highway 89 over Luther Pass towards Woodfords then a right turn towards Markleeville the tourist traffic surrounding the popular lake seemed to disperse, leaving us with desolate roads. The strangest part was the absence of RV's, normally clogging the back roads like a fat in the arteries of Atkins dieters. The rarity of the RV was pleasant and over the next 100 miles we were not forced to slow to sub-speed-limit rates and stare blankly at the ornately painted, stupid RV names like Cruise Master, American Dream and Land Yacht (is that supposed to be a good name?). RV's would continue to be rare throughout the trip. Dismissing good fortune, we guessed it was a result of the higher gas prices. At least there is one thing good about increased fuel costs.

As we zipped over Monitor Pass towards Topaz, we encountered the first of the “California Drivers” that so many people seem to complain about. This would be the appropriate time to officially thank all those drivers who so graciously allowed us to pass. On practically every canyon/twisty road, most locals would simply use a pullout or slow down on straight-aways to allow us to safely pass. Combined with legal lane splitting and we are plucking the proverbial bugs from our teeth.

photo: day 2 - the top of sonora pass

We linked up with 385 and rode south along the eastern foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains until we hooked up with one of our favorite roads, Sonora Pass, aka; highway 108. We were greeted to this extremely technical road with a huge yellow sign warning large and heavy vehicles to find another route. The sign promised light traffic and, for the rest of the trip, became a friendly announcement for good roads.

Unlike Utah, where many of the roads seem to have been bulldozed straight through the world, 108 wandered over every undulation and contour, around rocks and trees, following the path of the adjacent stream. The road felt like a part of the landscape and less of an intrusion upon it. Best of all, it made for some fantastic riding.

photo: day 2 - coming down the other side

Sonora Pass is one of the routes mountain men and settlers used to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains . It's also the epicenter of the stomping ground for the real-live character, (John) Grizzly Adams who, after failing to make his fortune with gold, began catching and training bears and then selling them to zoos and private collectors. He became a well-known figure in America when he took his bears to New York City and later became involved in Phineas T. Barnum's American Museum before he died in 1860, more than 100 years before the prime-time TV character.

We stopped in, what I think is, the small town of “Cold Springs”, “Spring Gap” or “Strawberry” although, I cannot be certain. But every other motorcyclist seemed to be stopping in the same place for the staples of sport tourers; gas, water, ice cream and energy drinks.

photo: day 2- coming down the other side

After the pleasant stop, we continued towards the town of Sonora. Sonora first earned notoriety as the center of the 1840's gold rush and then again when Mark Twain wrote The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County while living just outside of Sonora in the elegantly named town of Jackass Hill. For the most part, Sonora has survived by being a mining town until more recent times as tourism appears to be taking over.

We linked up with highway 49, another favorite road that serpentines its way along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Then we headed north through Angels Camp before going straight west on Highway 12. Much to my delight, the lower elevation was already rearing is head. The engine on the triple was accelerating with rapidness that I was unaccustomed to. I found myself giggling through 60mph wheelies while cresting sharp hills, an activity that is virtually impossible in Utah, 4000 feet higher in elevation.

photo: highway 49

Once on Highway 12, unfortunately, most of the days good roads were behind us and we were left with the flat, hot drone across the Sacramento Valley towards Lodi (pronounced low-die), Rio Vista and eventually into the Napa Valley and Sonoma for the evening. However, once we got to Fairfield, traffic got really heavy and we partook in our first venture of lane splitting for two exits. As we hopped off the interstate, the scenery changed considerably to what was distinctly, wine country.

Vineyards were draped over the rolling hills adorned with cured grasses (it was only June 20th) creating a gentle beige background to the evenly spaced rows of green vines. Picturesque Chateau's perched on the hilltops and signs advertising wine tasting varied from elegant wood carvings to hand-painted plywood. This being our first venture into the land of vino, I was surprised by how agricultural the area was. As soon as we dropped off the main roads, leaving the Sunday afternoon traffic to scurry back to work, we were left with good old fashioned farming vehicles drudging to finish the days work before the sun set.

The first vineyard was planted in the Sonoma Valley in 1857 by a Hungarian Count who was summoned to the area by General Vallejo to help him with his vineyards of Mission style grapes.  The vineyards were purchased from Vallejo's brother and planted on 18 acres in one year.  Sonoma Valley is now home to dozens of wineries, and the Hungarians favorite vintage, Zinfandel, is the most prevalent variety in California. Neighboring regions include Napa Valley, Alexander Valley, and Russian River Valley. The Sonoma Valley comprises the center of the United States' winemaking industry because of rich soil from some prehistoric volcanic activity in the area. Another reason wine does so well is due to a favored micro-climate in the coastal California landscape; basking in the sun and cooled by the ocean breezes results in the wine's sweetness. 

photo: riding into Sonoma

We rolled into Sonoma and I found a town that met all my expectations. The quaint settlement was centered on a courtyard that had evolved into a park bordered by Spanish mission inspired architecture, housing a smattering of galleries, café's and restaurants.

We decided to eat at a fancy looking joint that offered a great view; the bikes sedately resting on their side stands. The waiter came out with menu's and made recommendations at the family style restaurant. We ordered four entrée's, an appetizer and a bottle of house Cabernet Sauvignon.

Each entrée was in the neighborhood of $15 to $20 and we were shocked to see them come out a few minutes later, barely big enough for four small bites. Not what we were expecting. To top it off, they were not even good. We were not looking for a Denny's stuff-and-bloat sized meal, but this was silly. Combined with the pompous waiter, we skipped desert, paid the tab, left a small tip and were on our way. We walked down the street to another restaurant to order coffee and desserts and were treated to reasonable prices, reasonable portion size and excellent service. I wish I could remember the names of the restaurants to warn any travelers who may also be in the area near supper time but at least I have a photo. Avoid the restaurant behind the bikes.

photo: the town of sonoma

After eating our dessert, we headed back to our unmolested bikes and were greeted by a San Franciscan, originally from Hong Kong, who was beside himself with excitement about the Speed Triple. Apparently he was a former Hawk GT owner who recently upgraded to an S3. He was equally stammered when he learned that we were on the road from Utah and didn't seem to be any less impressed when we told him the bikes rode on a trailer through the hardest part.

We would be staying in Sugarloaf Ridge Campground and it was a few miles away yet. The evening was warm as we rode north in the dwindling, soft, orange light. Passing closed wine-tasting rooms and desolate vineyards until we turned right on Taylor Lane, climbing over 1500 feet in elevation to the campground. We were welcomed by cooling temperatures and gentle relief from the day's heat. We arrived just as it started to get dark, to set up camp. We were pretty wiped, so we skipped wine and cheese and headed straight for bed.

Monday morning, we arose to a typical California coastal morning; look to the sky to see clear blue, mist filling every depression. We packed up camp in the dappled morning light and headed back to Sonoma to find some vineyards. After breakfast we dropped off the main road and started riding roads that were the equivalent of paved goat trails with names like Trinity Road and Dry Creek Road that zigged and zagged over the hills and between the countless vineyards. Brilliant riding!

Photo: hess collection

Our first stop was the Hess Collection vineyard, our first taste of a California Vineyard. Hess leases the land for the vines from a nearby mission, which sounds very quaint. But what we found was too much pomp and spectacle for our taste. The ritzy, polished and exquisite exterior was matched by its interior featuring a three-level modern art museum that came across as more eerie than artistic. Wine tasting was $20 a glass. We left and decided to visit the Mission on the top of the hill. The serenity of the Mission was a contradiction to the vanity of the nearby visitor's center. Skip the Hess Collection.

Heading towards Napa

We left and headed into the town of Napa. It was a severe disappointment. The town, with bustling streets, Wal-Mart's and Checker Auto Parts on every corner, is much larger than we expected. Everything was commercialized and exploited. Sonoma, if you are considering a visit, should not be missed while Napa should be avoided. However, a local informed us that if one is looking for local color, the Silverado Trail should not be missed. We heeded the advice and went straight to the localized vineyards. Signs of wine labels that we'd never heard of were everywhere. We stopped first at Hagafen cellars, a kosher wine meaning “fruit of the vine”.

photo: dave at Hagafen Cellars

The exceptionally personable staff chatted with us while we tasted the made-with-love vintages. We were learning a lot about wine, such as; while Merlot is very popular, it is rare to get a Merlot that can compete with a Cabernet Sauvignon. I was also learning that I had yet to taste a wine that I did not like. With every sip when I would pronounce to the room “ooh, this is good! ” Eric asked about other vineyard not to miss. A list was drawn up, a few phone calls made and we were advised to first, backtrack a block or so.

photo: van der hayden vineyards

We did and I thought we had made a mistake. There was no elegant tasting room in sight. Plastic lawn chairs stacked under a portable awning protecting several round folding tables from the weather. The concrete was cracked and degrading. Yellow hoses wandered across the driveway. A yellow Wino Way sign featuring a drunk, crawling stick figure, was nailed to a tree that overhung the awning. A home-made wagon with oversize tires and dirt stained cushions sat next to a stack of toppled orange safety cones and a well-used dolly. A sign planted in a bucket pointed to the “tasting room.”

I was ready to turn around and leave; thankfully we stuck around for a few minutes longer. The lady at Hagafen had called ahead to the stocky, five and half foot tall, bearded man with pleated khaki's, a red Hawaiian shirt and a well-worn bucket hat. As soon as we were off the bike he announced sharply, “This way”. Obediently we followed him into a tiny, threadbare room.

photo: Van Der Hayeden vinyards

The white paint was hardly white at all, darkened where hands regularly came into contact. Photographs, magazine and newspaper stories were stuck to the wall with silver thumb tacks. Hand written signs asking for customer compliance were taped to the counter and a small oak trophy case held everything from a stack of awards to bottled insects. Faded boxes and bottles filled the windowsill and a thick layer of dust glazed everything. Welcome to Van Der Heyden Vineyards, and meet the vintner himself.

This was not a large scale operation. This man was taking time out of his day to walk us through his wines. He filled every sip with cute stories and articulate information on how wine is grown and processed, flavored with colorful opinions on his craft.

photo: dave and kris at a vineyard

Living in the Bay Area, this eccentric Dutchman started growing a few vines in his yard making them into wine in his spare time. For fun, he took them to a few tasting competitions where he won several awards, year-after-year. So he quit his job and sold everything he had, bought a few acres in Napa Valley and went into production full-time. Eventually, he quit going to tasting competitions because it took too much time, and he didn't need competitions to know his wine was good. In his own words, he didn't need a “fancy medal” to prove anything. One taste and you'll agree. His wine is fantastic.

During all this, he repeatedly mentioned his Late Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon. I did not understand the significance, so Van Der Heyden explained. Traditionally Cabernet Sauvignon is harvested in August or September, before frosts can destroy an entire crop. He waits until as late as December before harvesting; which is a huge risk. The chance for destruction and the loss of the entire crop increases but the sugar levels change in the grape. If a late harvest is successful, which is only every few years at best, the result is unquestionably, the best Cabernet Sauvignon imaginable!

photo: eric and dawn at lunch

After Van Der Heyden, everything else paled, we visited one more vineyard and quickly gave up. We, instead opted for a fitful lunch before moving on. We found a quaint French restaurant, drank lots of water and planned our route towards the coast.

photo: trinity road in wine country

We tacked back to Trinity Road, passed Coppola vineyard while looking for Bennett Valley Road that would take us into Santa Rosa. Tight technical riding left all three of us in first gear for most of the way as the liter bikes jostled along tight roads. Eric and I were jealous of Kris' smaller and lighter Monster which seemed right at home on the tiny European-inspired roads. Eric proved his salt, leaving Kris and I far behind while he, two up with double the luggage, left us in his wake. Out of Santa Rosa we found Guerneville Road, a long straight, four-lane highway that would take us, after looking straight into the setting sun, to highway 116, which ran us over the last mountain pass before arriving at highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean. After the better part of the day spent in first gear the fast sweepers of 116 were a challenge. Mostly because three or four sweepers would be followed by a second gear, 20mph corner destroying all rhythm. But the asphalt was smooth and the traffic was light, so there was no balking by any of us.

The warmth of wine country faded into the humid chill of the coast with mist, even this late in the afternoon, clinging to the shadows. We passed Guernerville and I had to slow to look at the homes that seemed to be stacked into an enormous stand of Giant Redwood trees. If it weren't for the few derelict cars parked in front of the homes, I would have thought I was dropped into a scene from some fantasy novel with elves, fairies and trolls. The view combined with the soft, warm, low light of the setting sun was completely unearthly.

coastal riding

But the coast was calling. I could smell the salt and feel my gloves getting tacky on the handgrips. Highway 116 joined highway 1 just south of Jenner. I could not remember the town of Jenner, but Kris and I had stayed in Bodega Bay, so I knew there would be accommodations. We stopped at the intersection to confirm it would be better to go south to Bodega Bay instead of north to Jenner. Within a few miles, I rounded a corner and the landscape disappeared. My facesheild was filled with the view of the Pacific Ocean. Misty clouds clung to the shore, limiting visibility. An icy wind blew off the water, pushing enormous waves into the jagged rocks standing against the tide, defiantly keeping their chins out of the water.

The day was waning we felt an urgency to find the evenings accommodations. The wind and razor sharp chill in the air ensured that we would not be sleeping in a tent that night. We raced southward as the icy ocean wind blew onto the coastline; severe contrast to the high 90's we were experiencing only a few hours ago.

photo: kris riding the pacific coast highway

The road was just as I remembered, repetitive corners suspended on craggy cliffs overlooking the ocean. Occasional swells in the road caused by the soil sloughing toward the ocean, provided opportunities for high-speed, sea-level wheelies. It was fantastic riding. Extremely cold, but fantastic! The moist, cool air sharpened the sensations, even my teeth felt cold in my mouth. The sun was drifting towards the horizon and low hanging clouds charging into land after crossing the pacific. Had the clouds, only a few days before, been floating over the far east of China and Japan?

We arrived in Bodega Bay, where Hitchcock filmed his classic horror movie The Birds. I rode directly to the Bodega Coast Inn, right on Highway 1. We raced out of the wind and into the lobby to be greeted with a warm smile and fresh cookies. I was needlessly worried about vacancy as tourist season wouldn't start until early July. Unfortunately, the hot tub was not yet open. Much to the credit of the Bodega Coast Inn, we coerced the concierge to give us one room to share at a discounted price. And to be extra nice, she gave us the suite complete with an in-room hot tub – heart shaped no less! She also loaned us a VHS copy of the birds to watch in our room. This is twice we've received excellent service at the Bodega Coast Inn and would recommend them to anyone!

photo: kris and the heart shaped hot-tub

Lunch wasn't too long ago, but warm Chowder (properly pronounced Chaw-Dah) was irresistible. Despite being summer solstice (June 21 st – the longest day of the year) it felt late despite Mickey's little hand only pointing to the six. We unloaded the bikes, grabbed our warmest clothing and hoofed it north to the Inn at the Tides – Bay View Restaurant offering a full bar and a panoramic view of the Bay. The place was packed, but warm. We sat at the bar and ordered up the only warm alcoholic beverages that we knew of – we were walking by the way – and awaited our table. We got seats facing into the setting sun diffused by low-hanging clouds. We sat and watched the fishing boats bounce against the pier just outside the window. The fresh chowder was great and the cheesecake that followed was even better. We ate the last of cheesecake and sipped the last of our coffee as the sun dipped below the horizon on its way back towards winter.

Tuesday morning we awoke to another crisp, clear day. The morning haze was slowly retreating back into the ocean and the relentless wind continued its attack on the weathered walls of the hotel. We reluctantly packed after our complimentary continental breakfast and continued south on Highway 1. Traffic was non-existent and I lost all self-control and broke out to a very brisk pace. In a rare moment, Kris and I left Eric and Dawn in our mirrors after a few lucky passes. I love the flow of highway 1 as it follows the shoreline and I could see myself very happy with living somewhere on this inspired stretch of asphalt. Stunning scenery and pristine asphalt.

We didn't get too far before we stopped in the quaint town of Point Reyes for a breakfast snack. We would soon be riding through the megalopolis of the San Francisco Bay Area. The plan was to just ride the Golden Gate Bridge and continue south towards Half Moon Bay where we would turn inland to catch Highway 35 and Highway 9 to Santa Cruz .

Photo: eric and dawn at the golden gate bridge

Before we reached the Golden Gate Bridge , I exited into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and onto Conzelman Road which affords a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco universally printed on post cards and posters. We wandered up onto the mountain ledge road that overlooked a hazy San Francisco , bustling with traffic and congestion. The low hanging clouds battled for land, flying directly over our heads at a frighteningly fast pace. Alcatraz Island and all the other famous sights around San Francisco were visible. We pulled off and sat on the benches while we watched a small sail boat sail out to just underneath the expanse of the orange bridge before tacking back into the safety of San Francisco Bay .

photo: Triumph Speed Triple at the golden gate bridge

After gorging ourselves on the view we headed back down into the myriad of the city. We crossed the bridge and paid our toll ($5.00 per vehicle – Ouch) and headed out. Kris and I were in the lead and hesitated to wait for Eric and Dawn to pay. I was to the left and unaware that the exit to stay on Highway 1 was immediately after the toll booth. I missed the exit and so we rode to the Pier, executed a U-turn, and got back onto the 101. But here is where I got real confused. The sign's were counting down the distance to the exit to Highway 1-south, but made no attempt to warn how abrupt the exit was. The exit snuck up on me and I realized it wasn't a traditional sweeping exit, but a 70-to-20mph, ultra-tight, bumpy exit that banked right then left to dive under 101 heading south. I was in the center, having just passed a slow-moving vehicle, saw the exit, changed lanes and dove onto the exit. Kris, right behind me, didn't have the time to make the quick lane change and exit. I watched her fly by in my rear-view mirror, immediately aware that I had just ditched my wife.

I felt awful, but figured the best thing to do would be to find a safe place to stop and wait. Fortunately Eric and Dawn were directly behind and Kris and I was confident that everything would be okay, but expected an angry and upset spouse when we eventually reunited.

photo: dave being punished for bad leadership

I found my safe place on a main street, parked and proceeded to wait for them to catch up. I set a time limit and began to watch daily San Francisco life take place on the corner of Park Presidio Blvd and California Street . Meanwhile, Eric, Dawn and Kris rallied up, turned around and started circling the area looking for me, expecting me to do the same. After about 45 minutes, we all gave up and continued south, hoping to rally up together when congestion dissipated. We eventually met up again just North of Half Moon Bay. Hanging my head in shame, I promptly took my place at the back of the group and allowed Eric to safely lead us to a late lunch.

We stopped, just outside of town, at Cameron's Pub where I was repeatedly and deservingly teased for my actions. I will, however, be eternally grateful for what was, easily, the best Fish and Chips us honkey's from Utah had ever enjoyed. The delight of good fish and chips put everyone back into a good mood. Plus the service was top-shelf. It was a nice way to unwind from the stress of the last few hours.

photo: alices restaurant

After lunch we hopped onto Highway 92 that led us up Highway 35, known as Skyline Blvd. Skyline is an amazing road that follows the ridgeline, parallel to highway 1, canopied by dense trees, views of the ocean as rare as they are brief. As we rode we climbed sharply to the sky. Within a few miles from Half Moon Bay, we had left all the traffic behind us and were left alone on fantastic tarmac. The clouds, coming off the ocean were racing overhead and as we climbed, I soon felt as though I should duck to keep from hitting my head as we encroached upon the ceiling of clouds. As we neared a mere 800 feet of elevation, we were riding though thick clouds. It's hard to express the delight that comes with this fantastic riding. It feels so different from our arid home of Utah that the unfamiliarity is as engrossing as the beauty. Skyline Blvd eventually intersects with highway 84, where we stopped at the famous Alice's Restaurant for coffee and pie. We sat on top of the brown picnic tables, neatly organized on the deck. They provided warmth from the bottom while the sun provided warmth from the top. Not even our best riding gear and electric vents could ricochet all of the humidity and chill in the air while we rode.

photo:  Resistance is futile

From there we dropped down towards Santa Cruz . I've dreamt of this next section of road ever since Kris and I first discovered it in 2001. I can imagine no road more perfectly suited to motorcycling. Arching banked corners slalom through thick stands of titanic trees. Small neighborhoods of fortunate souls speckled the journey back to reality. Their presence, however jealous I was of them, was a sad distraction from the amazing riding and stunning views. Halfway into Santa Cruz, a fire engine pulled out in front of us. I have never considered myself an ambulance chaser, but I soon became frustrated that the lights-flashing, sirens wailing, fire engine was slowing me down! Once we dropped into Santa Cruz , the road was lugubriously over and we were left with flat, open, well traveled roads that outline the contour of Monterey Bay towards Monterey and Pacific Grove , where we planned to spend the next two nights. The sun reclined into late afternoon and commuter traffic disbanded as we watched our shadows stretch out towards the east while the bikes hummed southwards towards evening.

Once in Monterey, excitement returned as we followed out noses towards Cannery Row and eventually found the Borg's Ocean Front Motel, delightfully located right on the coast. If the name didn't seal the deal, their ultra-affordable prices did. I quickly hopped off the bike and snapped a photo of the S3's license plate bracket in the foreground and the hotel sign in the background. I've always thought the S3 looked Star Trek, Borg-esque. Triumph must have thought the same thing as the first magazine ads proclaimed “Resistance is Futile” in big, black, bold lettering.

We unloaded the bags into our shared hotel room and tucked the bikes in for the night. The motorcycle boots were lobbed off into the enormous closet that, amazingly, swallowed all of our gear. We donned our walking shoes and set out into the evening to find a light supper and see the sights in the warm, evening light. We had eaten so much in the past few hours, with Fish N' Chips in Half Moon Bay , then Pie and Ice Cream at Alice 's, we didn't need much sustenance to find contentment.

We wandered inland, up 17 th Street , passed delightful small, historic homes, towards Lighthouse Avenue where we found a small shop that sold all assortments of alcoholic beverages. We purchased a few bottles of wine, some cheese and bread and retreated to our hotel with our new treasures, just as the sun dissolved into the western Ocean. Immediately outside the front door of the hotel, Pacific Grove Marine Gardens Park skirts the boundary between town and ocean. We climbed the wall and dropped down onto a ledge that overlook the rocky beach a few feet below. Here we sat while we killed two bottles of wine and discussed the excellence of our journey so far.

We started Wednesday morning by wandering back up to Lighthouse Avenue where we found a Laundromat and a coffee shop, located conveniently across the street from each other. While drinking warm caffinated beverages, the soils of our journey were washed away on the other side of the road. The goal of the day was to go hit a bucket of balls at the driving range of the famous Pebble Beach golf course in memory of Kris' father, a devout golfer, who had passed away only a few weeks earlier. Then we planned to meander through the world-famous Monterey Aquarium; find a good dinner, hopefully with fresh seafood, to end the day.

photo: no motorcycles allowed on 17-mile-drive

By the time laundry was done and breakfast finished, we returned to the bikes and leisurely wound our way across the Monterey peninsula, stopping for some play time on the beach – poking sea creatures with sticks – just kidding, then towards Pebble Beach and 17-Mile Drive. We knew that motorcycles are strictly forbidden from 17-Mile Drive , but we have never found out why. From what I did learn, however, it has been closed to motorcycles since, rumor has it, the 50's or 60's when the Oakland based Hell-Angels were running rampant with their “loud pipes save lives” muffler-less big twins. In an attempt to glean some credible information regarding why motorcycles are not allowed on this spectacular stretch of coastal highway, I contacted the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau ( MCCVB) and got this informative response.

Pebble Beach has their reasons for no motorcycles allowed on the 17 mile drive and they do not share that with everyone.  You would have to contact them at (831) 647-7500 for the reason.

Based on the fact, that all the rumors point to the closure being caused by “loud” motorcycles, one would hope they would change their regulation to “noise ordinance strictly enforced” from the over-simplified, “no motorcycles allowed” policy. One could argue that this regulation is discriminatory until you look deep enough and learn that it is, shockingly, not discrimination because motorcycles are not a federally listed protected class. “ the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. ” However, I now have the17-Mile-Drive issue to argue with all the “loud pipes save lives” folks by stating that loud pipes do not save lives, they cost rights.

photo: kris at the monestary

We rounded the peninsula looking for the gate to the golf course. One of the brochures in the hotel insinuated that the course was walking distance from the south gate of 17-Mile-Drive. We wandered through downtown Carmel , past the myriad of art galleries, to the south gate and saw the discrete white sign reminding us that “motorcycles are not allowed”. Eric pulled up to the booth to ask how far to the golf course. We were informed that it was about three miles to the course and that there was no way we would be allowed to take our bikes in. In clear defeat, we turned around. Eric and Kris backed up, I circled past the gate to turn around to avoid reverse. I half expected the rent-a-cop pull his 9mm on me when I did.

photo: Kris and dawn at the monestary

Instead we wandered back out, past the plethora of Art Galleries . We happened to be coming through while local legislation was initiating control over the number and quality of art galleries that could be in the small, coastal town. “ with a glut of art in the idyllic seaside village -- about four out of 10 businesses [out of a total of about 300] are art galleries -- the Carmel City Council is taking action to prevent new galleries from springing up .” Most of the locals we talked to were thrilled by this new rule because they said its getting increasingly difficult to find places to eat. However, the local newspaper didn't seem so happy. Monterey Herald Art Gallery Story.

We happened, on our way out from behind the curtain of art galleries, to find the Monterey Mission, a highlight for Dawn who loves to peruse these historic catholic treasures. After the grace and serenity of the mission, we returned to the Borg Motel and wandered over to Cannery Row where we began our exploration of the Monterey Bay Aquarium . Worth every penny of the admission price, we spent hours taking hundreds of blurry and dark photographs of unusual and amazing sea creatures. The sharks were a big hit, mostly among the kids who were constantly asking parents “where's the sharks” but we were sorely disappointed that no whales were to be found.

photo: eric enjoying a chardonnay at the end of the day

By the time we exited, the day was starting to fade. We wandered along Cannery Row, declining frivolous purchases of fleece jackets and local t-shirts, instead opting for some more wine and chocolaty-treats. We returned to our hotel and killed a bottle while we waited for a taxi-cab to take us to a sea-food restaurant, recommended to us by more than one local. For all the time's we had visited the California coast, we had yet to experience darn-good seafood and were determined to end that sad trend. We were not disappointed although the precursory bottle of wine prevented me from remember the name or the location.

cute cottage

 

photo: dave sips his coffee the

Thursday morning we returned to Carmel for breakfast at the cutest little cottage imaginable. The roof was made to be wavy and every corner was rounded to eccentric shapes. The atmosphere was fun enough to overshadow the marginal food.

bixby bridge

Returning to the road, we embarked upon the infamous Big Sur; a stretch of California coast that I had always regretted not riding because of all the glamorous photographs that grace local postcards. The most famous image is of the sweeping Bixby Bridge tying two sections of dramatic road together, while clutching the craggy terrain. Built in 1931 at a cost of less than $200,000, this dramatic, 714 foot long bridge is an amazing addition to the scenery. Unlike so many American routes where the world is demolished out of the way, Highway 1 through Big Sur and the five bridges, including the Bixby Bridge , manage to become an integral part of the world they pass through.

photo: eric and dawn on the Pacific Coast highway

Big Sur should not be called boring, but it did fail to meet our expectations. We had always heard of Big Sur being the piece de resistance, the crown jewel of highway 1. But it wasn't. Compared to the much more dramatic northern coastal highway, Big Sur was bland by comparison. Big Sur is also where we saw the majority of big-rig RV's and camper trailers. Which, for the most part, it just fine as the road is much better suited to their lumbering inabilities, but for a motorcycle, we were quickly missing the technical brilliance of the northern coast. It was still the coast, and it was still vacation, so there was little complaining despite the repeated comparisons between south-highway 1 and north-highway 1. Traffic was pretty light, even for a mid-week excursion, and despite the many stories we'd been told of bumper-to-bumper traffic, we were able to skirt along nicely. The vast majority of traffic was politely using turn-outs.

photo: big sur

According to the map there were a number of lighthouses along the way we hoped to tour, but every one was closed for some various reasons. As we neared Sam Simeon and the Hearst Castle , the road became tragically straight. I noticed that hundreds of cars were pulled off into a dirt parking lot on the side of the road. Bored and disappointed I stopped to see what the ruckus was. We happened at the imaginatively named Sea Lion Cove, and you guessed it, sea lions crowded the beach. A few photographs later we returned to our southward journey. We thought it would be fun to stop at the Hearst Castle , until we learned that it would take the better part of the day to ride the tour bus up to the ridge-line location and even then we would only see a small portion of the facility.

photo: Dave entering a corner on G14

Originally we had planned to ride the coast all the way to Santa Barbara before cutting inland, which in retrospect would have been better than the alternative we choose. When we reached Morro Bay , we decided to turn inland to find a few missions begin our return to Lake Tahoe . From Morro Bay we jumped onto an ultra-tight, ultra-bumpy, highway 41 that went directly inland towards Atascadero . By the time we had come 10 miles inland, the temperatures began to soar as we'd left the cool, coastal climate behind us. In Atascadero we sauntered north on the 101 to Paso Robles until we found G14, that ran north, parallel but inland, from highway 1. We turned left onto G18, then north again towards Jolon.

We were looking for another Mission for Dawn, just north of Jolon. By the time we found it, the doors had already closed for the evening. Pressing on as the day began to dwindle; we passed through Greenfield and into Soledad where another Mission was located. As we arrived they had just closed. Dawn was clearly discouraged at having missed the elements of the trip that she had dearly wanted to visit. Additionally, we were only about an hour away from where we begin that morning, Monterey Bay . And to add insult to injury, these G-roads that I had heard so much about were not much fun at all. It was hot, the scenery was boring and the roads were mostly straight and in a poor state of repair. The G-road that I was thinking of was actually G16, and it was getting too late to find and ride it. Besides, it would take us right back to Carmel . It was nearing six, but thanks to the recent summer solstice, we had several hours of daylight to take us further. The AMA motorcycle, map said there was a series of recommended roads that would take us into the infernal hot, Sacramento Valley , but at least these roads were supposed to be good motorcycle roads.

photo: narrow roads can be exciting

Using my GPS, we stayed off the bland highway 101 and dashed down the smaller G15 farming road that stayed closer to the natural terrain towards King City . G15 provided more cornering opportunities, even if they were mere gently arcs. Just north of King City we turned northwest on G13 and found ourselves on a series of roads that I will never wish to find again, nor will I ever wish to ride them again. Mostly following my nose, I led the group of us through the freakiest terrain I have ever been through. Completely desolate save for a few homes with particle board nailed to the window frames, preventing any unwanted observation, and late model sedans parked in the driveways, I could only speculate these to be remote meth-labs. I could imagine them to be nothing else and the mood of the area supported my paranoia.

The roads were awful. Unpredictable, bumpy and peppered with mounds of sand, forward progress was arduous. Gas started to become an issue and a breakdown or unexpected stop was the last thing I wanted to face. We had not seen a single other moving vehicle or living mammal since leaving King City. A handpainted sheed of plywood, nailed to a tree advertised "Rodeo's -- by appointment only". The highlight was passing through some, who-knows-where town that consisted of seven homes and a dappled yellow dingo sleeping lazily on the faded and flaking yellow line. The young dog awoke from his nap to quizzically watch us ride past and into the distance. Never once barking or getting up, I have never seen any animal look more confused. It was enough comic relief to make the rest of the road, at least endurable.

The day was nearing its end as we finally arrived in Coalinga and began looking for a place to stay. We were all cooked and stopped at a small hotel on the north side of town. Eric went in to ask about rates while I went looking for a restroom. I had to pass a small educational seminar taking place in the conference room. An older woman was giving fashion advice to a room full of attentive ladies, many of whom taking copious notes. Disinterested I only heard a smattering of the advice being dolled out. “Remember ladies, we don't want to wear pink with red. And if we do wear more than one item of pink, the shades should match. However, it is best to wear pink with shades such as gray or white.” The audience nodded in agreement. (I'm not making this up).

Based on Eric's observations of the font desk and the aroma permeating from the restroom we decided to press on, just a bit further. We were near I-5 and we should have some more options. The sun nestled down stretching the long, forlorn shadows into dusk. We found the freeway, and turned south for one exit to find an enormous feed lot and a nearby desert oasis. Harris Ranch and Restaurant featured the nicest amenities we would experience for the duration of our trip. An enormous swimming pool (the first of the trip) and an amazing Rib-Eye steak were about the only things that could have relieved the stress of the last few hours of riding.

Photo: leaving for more riding

We awoke to a delightfully cool, clear Friday morning; contrast to the morning before where we awoke to soothing coastal fog and mist. With still two days between us and our starting point, we decided to head south, towards Bakersfield to hit a few Sierra-Nevada mountain routes, recommended by the AMA map. Blurring down I-5 we tried to go as fast as we could without drawing too much attention from California Highway Patrol. Bakersfield was oppressively hot and I couldn't imagine it in August. We stopped at Target for a few necessities before finding highway 178 to Isabella Lake . We were crossing the southern tip of the Sequoia National Forest and the southern most portion of the enormous Sierra-Nevada range.

photo: east of bakersfield

The road was fantastic, but crowded as we followed the Kern River along steep, rocky walls towards the lake. Weekend traffic heading to cooler temperatures forced us to a sloth-like pace. When most of the traffic peeled off to their weekend getaway parking spots, our forward process increased. We stopped briefly in the speck of a town, Weldon, at a dilapidated Chevron. A large sign hung over the gas pumps, boldly ordering in all caps “No Motorbikes”. Unexpectedly, the sign was no reflection of the proprietors of the little gas station. Salt of the earth they were; Kris had to pry me away from the talkative couple behind the counter who told many stories about forest fires, local motorcyclists and pretty scenery. The sign, by the way, was intended for local kids on either dirt bikes or pocket bikes, who have caused a few accidents through their erratic driving and excessive speeds.

photo: Kris heading into the desert

We continued east through high desert cactus. The road crested the ridge and began its descent and we were afforded a spectacular view of China Lake , the Naval Weapons Center and Death Valley in the background, which is nothing more than empty, hot, featureless desert. Elevation plummeted down to the valley floor, and within a few minutes we were suffering triple digit temperatures. We turned north on highway 395; an engineers-ruler-straight section of road that continues all the way to Lake Tahoe . We, however, would turn west again in only a few miles.

photo: smoke on the horizon

Riding through the heat, we could see the next road in the distance and to the left. It was a narrow band of black running straight up the face of the mountain. Despite the absence of a road number or name, it was there. The AMA map said it was (and claimed it was paved the entire way). We turned left onto the nameless and started to climb and climb fast. The road was amazingly steep. It was also brand new. No lines, white or yellow, just fresh black asphalt, the sun not yet fading it to gray. Out of place, white concrete curbs marked the border between road and mountain. We reached the crest, some 2000 feet above the valley floor and the road degraded to porous tarmac. Still mostly smooth, we were able to ride at a brisk pace through the fire scorched, skeletal remains of trees. Off into the distance an enormous plume of smoke from a distant wildfire, stabbed straight up into the sky. Fire season had already begun.

photo: recently burned forest

Just when we thought we could go no higher, the road climbed into a grove of Giant Sequoias. Their enormity is humbling. Scale is confused by tree trunks that challenge the size of small homes. This was an unexpected delight, to find such a remote place of beauty. Aside from a few Forest Service vehicles, we'd seen no one. The farther we went, the worse the road got. Tree roots and frost swells had done years of damage, eroding the road to a crackled series of sharp wrinkles and potholes. We had returned to riding in first and second gear as we navigated all the irregularities, pine cones, dirt, tree-bark and pine needles. When we neared the ridge line, the world to the west opened up below us. We had entered into another section of forest that had recently been burned, probably less than a year previous. The road was a long series of repeating switchbacks down the mountain and several miles could be seen at once. The condition was beginning to improve, but the lack of vegetation from the recent fire had caused increased runoff, piling dirt and debris onto large portions of the road, seemingly preferring tight, blind corners. Our forward progress continued to be relatively sedate.

photo: california wildfires leave their mark

According to the map, the next town would be the remote Johnsondale. Battered from the rigors of riding the bumpy roads, we anxiously looked forward to a break. We pulled into a sea of parked RV's and a couple of log-cabin style buildings, painted a nasty brown, housed a restaurant and store. Thinking this would be a decent place to stop for the evening, joy leapt to our hearts only to be dashed again as we learned that everything had closed at 6pm . A mere 15 minutes ago. Were it not for the owner approaching and informing us of this, and his clear reluctance to admit three motorcycles, we would have persisted. But based on the situation, we thought it best to continue.

photo: dappled sunlight

Eventually we found ourselves on M56 which is an amazing piece of road. Maybe just because it was such a marvelous improvement from the road we had left behind. Much wider with actual paint on the road to differentiate lanes, the tarmac was wicked-smooth. The road gently descended into endless groves of sequoia trees. Late afternoon light sparkled across our facesheilds as we rode through shafts of light, combing through the trees. I was in the lead, Kris a little way behind me and Eric just behind Kris. We were in thick shadows when I noticed flickering in my rear view mirror – something obstructing the headlights behind me. I looked back and saw a deer rush across the road, between Kris and myself.

What I'd witnessed was worse than I had realized. According to Kris, a deer ran across the road immediately after I'd passed. Knowing that where there's one, there's usually another, she started braking. She was proved right when a second deer ran halfway into her lane, saw her and stopped. The deer looked back from where it came, then onwards towards the first deer as Kris implemented years of MSF instructor training, stopping in the shortest distance possible. At the last second, as she came upon the deer she heard a high pitched wail and the bike jolted. She barked at herself for locking the front tire, but the deer was nowhere to be found, so she eased off the brakes and accelerated away from the moment. Eric and Dawn saw the whole thing. At the moment when Kris thought she'd locked the front tire, she'd actually came into contact with the deer's rear quarter spinning the deer off the road with a broken leg or hip; the high-pitched wail was actually the deer.

Kris was, understandably, very shaken. Her speeds dropped off almost immediately. We slowed the pace down quite a bit until we all got our composure back. Kris, to her credit, performed amazingly well. So many riders, in the same situation, panic and lock the brakes, typically crashing before they come into contact with the deer. It was also a really good reminder to the value of continual practice. As instructors we perform hundreds of “panic stops” every summer for students so the muscles know what to do even without instruction from our brain.

photo: Kris riding towards the evening

The next 100 miles of riding was the highlight for me. The road, M56, became uniformly smooth and extremely predictable. Continually downhill, the road had three variations of the same technical turn, repeated hundreds of times, switch-backing down the mountain towards Porterville. The day was nearing its end and the light was warm and golden with shafts of light punching through the thick trees creating horizontal golden bars crossing the road. I soon fell into an amusing rhythm, playing with the predictability of the road by trying new techniques to make each corner as efficient and flawless as I could. I was in utopia. Had the day not been so close to an end, I would have very much liked to have filled up with gas, rode back up to the top, just so I could ride down again. Hopefully, we'll return someday to enjoy the road again. I can only imagine how much better it would be when familiarity would improve my competence.

photo: Dawn gets artsy

We stumbled into Cedar Slope. A hotel was just off the road with a hand-written “vacancy” sign in the window that separated battered folding chairs and tables covered with plastic, red and white gingham tablecloths from the outside world. Rooms were a mere $120 a night. The place was a dive and the help very unfriendly. We asked for a substantial discount and were promptly turned down. We discussed it for a moment, but decided it best to continue on. A few miles later we found ourselves in Camp Nelson claiming to have a campground and restaurant. A quick left turn and a long driveway lead us to a small diner/bar swelling with locals. The menu consisted of popcorn and beer. We did that once in Jackson Hole and decided to continue. We found the campground occupied with more freaky characters and big, mangy dogs than we cared to meet in a remote campground in Southern California. We circled the small lot, passed the garbage strewn across the well maintained grass while gaunt, ill-kept characters intently watched us through campfire smoke, then left.

Kris rallies a corner

We dropped into Springville to find ourselves in the midst of the annual town celebration. Hippies, hemp and patchouli oil overwhelmed the small community with a local band playing 70's rock on the tennis courts in the town park. All the local accommodations were full. Our riding was beginning to show the raggedness of fatigue. Stopping was becoming increasingly urgent. We continued to Porterville through blindingly thick clouds of bugs and found an Economy Inn with reasonable rates. A quick trip to the nearby “Denny's” style family dive/restaurant eased our grumbling stomachs before we found our pillows for the evening.

Photo: Kris heading up towards Sequoia National Park

Saturday would be our last day of the vacation and our moods were a bit lower. We also had a lot of miles to cover. But today would reveal the best riding of the vacation as we planned to skirt through a few national parks. In order to find a place to stay the night before we had to pass up, what looked to be a delightfully twisty J37, but rather than backtrack to catch it, we rode north towards Lindsay and Exeter on small agricultural roads clogged with 2-ton trucks hauling produce.

photo: on the edge of forever?

In Lemoncove, where lemon trees fill the scenery, we started east into the mountains again, using highway 198. On the map, the road looked great, but in reality it's a major route to Sequoia and Kings Peak National Park and consequently, pretty wide and mostly straight. Just passed Three Rivers we reached the entrance gate where, much to my surprise, the pretty girl in the Park Service campaign hat charged us the bicycle rate (rather than the automobile rate) for each motorcycle, cutting the cost of entering in half. Thanks!

photo: the group shot!

The road was fun, but the scenery anticlimactic as we climbed into the mountains again. I found myself behind a white Toyota Camry piloted by a skilled driver. I was doing everything I could to keep up with him. It was refreshing to follow a capable car driver who traveled extremely fast, but never once crossed the yellow center-line. The biggest benefit of chasing him up the technical roads was that other vehicles would immediately pull off for him, allowing us to all travel at a very fun pace. He pulled off near the top, just as we entered into the giant trees.

Sexy girl riding a Ducati Monster

At this point, we had no interest in riding fast anymore as our surroundings were ethereal. Towering to the sky and reaching back into history, we were twinkling guests, here for an immeasurably short time. I found, what I thought to be, an exceptionally large tree near a pullout and stopped for a photo and a moment to ponder. Within a mile, however, the trees were near-double the size of the one we'd just visited, but time was our enemy today, and we could not afford another stop. As we exited the park, a prescribed fire was taking place. Small flames crawled along through the underbrush, filling the air with light smoke, adding to the spiritual atmosphere. I hope to return to this place again, when I can spend the proper amount of time. But such is the evil paradox of motorcycle vacations, balancing distances traveled with time spent to enjoy treasures found.

Westward again, we returned to the heat of the Sacramento Valley , just passed Dunlap we veered north onto more nameless county roads recommended by the AMA map. Denuded of traffic and people, we moved unimpeded over amazing roads that undulated through the golden hills that lean up against the larger Sierra Nevada Mountains . We circumnavigated a small lake, that I believe to have been Pine Flat Reservoir, before going north on what I assumed was highway 168. More fantastic, serpentine roads coiled through thickets of trees and circumnavigated rounded knolls as we passed the towns of Tollhouse, Auberry and culminating in North Fork where we stopped to wax the chains and stretch our legs for a bit at a huge pullout on the side of the road.

california riding

We continued north towards Bass Lake where the road, I think was Malum Ridge Road , corkscrewed and twined down in elevation. Pavement was pristine and barren. We rode at our own pace, slowing only for one rare California Highway Patrol car. We stopped in Bass Lake for fuel, snacks and fluid. Smatterings of motorcycles were already there, gassing and munching while we took our break. Heavy-set men in stained tank-tops, driving ratty four-wheel-drives popped in while filling their tanks and gianormous gulp's of soda. The station featured a small, private back patio where we found ourselves invited to sip coffee and eat our pre-packaged, trans-fatty pastries while we chatted with the owners. The warm air blew into the shade of the trees, cooling our skin while we savored the last day of riding.

photo: dave riding toward yosemite

Our next stop was Yosemite National Park . We would cross the park along highway 120 on our way east, returning to highway 395 that would take us north to Lake Tahoe . Begrudgingly, we left the shaded patio and continued on our way. As we neared Yosemite , traffic increased and it became clear that the best riding of the day was now behind us. We were left with 35mph speeds and distracted drivers trying to take in the grandeur of the most visited National Park in the country while piloting two-tons (or more) of metal along twisty roads. We stopped briefly for the few final photos snapped during the last hours of our holiday; El Capitan was the backdrop.

photo: a rare photo of dawn

Once onto Highway 120, traffic thinned and we amplified our pace, chasing the final rays of sunlight as their reach shrunk from to the east. A park ranger emerged over the horizon while we were more than 20mph over the posted limit. We got on the brakes hard, and I watched the rangers brake lights come on after he passed us. His left turn signal flashed orange once, and then canceled as the brake lights went blank and he continued along. One time when we openly deserved a speeding ticket and we were, fortunately passed over, we firmly believe should be attributed to the naked bikes we were riding. Had we been on the flashy red and yellow twins, we feel certain, we would have been ticketed. Naked bikes rule!

photo: awesome california scenery

Dawn took a few last photographs as we left the park behind us, descending towards Moon Lake and the tiny, gas-station based town of Lee Vining . We stopped to remove our dark lenses and add a few more layers to combat the distinct chill that came from our increased elevation and onset darkness. We rode north into the waning light as the cold amplified and the world grew dark.

By the time we arrived at the KOA, where we began our adventure eight days earlier, it was pitch black. Almost two hours of riding in near darkness, endlessly scanning for wildlife after riding all day long had taken its toll. We were all near exhaustion. We had a reserved site at the KOA; unfortunately, it was a different site than our first one. Riding exhausted, on the extremely steep and slippery campground roads was a challenge. I was riding with a flashlight in my hand, desperately trying to see the number placards that identified our site. I found it and turned down a sharply angled hill towards it. By the time I arrived at the site I heard a commotion behind me. I left the site and rode back around to see Kris and her Monster lying on the ground with an enormous F-350 glaring lights over the scene.

Apparently the pickup had come nose to nose with Kris and refused to move, forcing Kris and Eric to retreat on funky, angled, slippery, crumbly asphalt. Had I known the situation when I arrived, I fear my reaction towards the ignorant pick-up driver may have become inappropriate. By the time I'd learned what happened he had long since gone. Fortunately, the luggage had averted any substantial damage. The bike was no worse for the wear save a minor scratch on the exhaust pipe and the ball breaking off the brake lever. We set up tent and collapsed into lethargy.

photo: leaving the vacation behind

Sunday morning, all that remained was a quick trip back to North Lake Tahoe to collect the truck and trailer then head back to Salt Lake . We haphazardly crammed everything into our luggage, as they would not have to travel far. We rode to a nearby Starbucks Coffee and, sitting on the sidewalk that doubled as the patio, savored our Latte's and scones while recapping the events of the past week. Despite the disappointments and problems with the trip, me dealing with sickness for the better part, Eric forgetting his keys, Dawn missing the missions, Kris hitting a deer and getting knocked over, getting separated in San Francisco, finding as many terrible roads as good ones, it was still hard to end a vacation. But we were baked and had little energy left anyway. A day spent driving the 600 miles home was almost appealing. Well, not really. Can't we stay just a few more days?

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