California or bust (part 1)
September 9th 2007 a new adventure begins...
This trip will be just Paul and I, riding a VFR800 and 1200 Bandit.
We're both ready as are the bikes.
The route has been layed out.
We just need the launch date to roll around.....and good weather.
Lady luck is not smiling on us just yet.
Paul works on an island and they plan to pave the only air strip they have about the time he needs to fly here.
We are a go for launch, the adventure begins 9/9/07.
Projected to be around 9,000 miles and 20 days.
**At the end of each day I will include Paul's 'back seat' account of the day's ride.**
Paul arrives from Miami, we catch up on old times and finalize our plans.
"Riding in South Florida is a real drag, so my riding trips always start with one thought in my mind “get the hell out of Miami as fast as possible.” To avoid rain, heat and people, I took off before 5 AM for what should have been a 280 mile trip to Serp’s place in Tampa. I made great time up I-75 where my memory and laziness failed me. I didn’t pack any maps for the trip since Serp was playing route-master and map-boy and I couldn’t remember if he lived off of I-75 or I-275. Instead of buying a map or asking for direction, I did what most men would do: I mentally tossed a coin and lost. When I ran into Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, I knew that I was well North of Serp’s place. When I stopped to top off the fuel, I called Serp hoping that he would actually answer and got directions on how to go farther north, make a u-turn and find 275 South. The extra mileage meant a 320 mile day.
The only amusing anecdote was while talking to Serp’s wife on the phone, who was shocked that at 8:45 AM I was already North of their house, I hear a gleeful little Frenchman chanting in the background “Somebody was speeding. Somebody was speeding.” Sure, I was exceeding the posted limit slightly, but I wasn’t hauling serious ass. That’s when Serp reminded me that we had a put taller, narrower tire on the rear of the bike for this trip so that my speedometer, which normally was 10% optimistic, was really dead on. So that, for example only, when I was doing 95 mph and thinking I was doing 85 mph, I was really doing 95. The ticket gods smiled on me: I didn’t see a single law enforcement officer."
We pull out of the driveway at first light headed for a gas station to meet up with a friend who will ride the morning with us.
We get to the station a little early and wait over conversation of the upcoming journey..
Then the dreaded sound every motorcyclist knows makes itself known, a helmet hitting the ground.
His Chatter Box bracket is cracked but operational for the time being.
We wait past the appointed meet time and no one shows, I would later find out he’s on time but waiting at the wrong location.
We’re burning daylight and decide to motor on.
The day gets to 97°f and we welcome the air conditioning in the Subway for lunch in Cairo, GA.
The end of our day sees us in Tuscaloosa, AL.
A good start, with 604 miles behind us we settle into the Master’s Inn for the night.
"Right off the bat I dropped my helmet and cracked the bracket which mounts my Chatterbox. Bah. I crossed my fingers that it would last the day as I kept my eye peeled for some JB Weld at our gas stops. Cracked bracket? No problem. I’ll just JB Weld the entire bracket to the side of my helmet. Worked perfectly!
Not much to say about doing “travel days” in the Southeast. You’re trying to churn out high mileage days to get out of the boring roads and into the “candy store” as Mr. Surfer names the twisty goodness that is the Rockies and western states. It was a hot (96F), mainly boring (except for some decent sweepers on GA39), bug-splattering, road-kill-dodging ride with quite a few LEOs around for spice. We did reach Climax though. Yes, the highlight of my day was going through a town called Climax. I had a monologue in my head complete with Peter Griffin voice. “Oh God, we’re nearing climax” at the 3 miles to go sign. “Oh yes, oh yes, climax” when entering city limits. “Climax wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be” when looking around at the Podunk-ness that is Climax.
I’m pretty sure Serp doesn’t need this insight into my riding thoughts."
As would become my morning routine, I make my special coffee to go with a fruit bar while Paul gets all his ducks in a row.
We roll on with an eye to the sky knowing we have to cross a front sometime today.
As we approach Memphis I wanted to cut over on a country road parallel to the interstate that would land us on the far side of the city so as not to get bogged down in traffic.
The road was where the map said it was but the number was wrong, it’s going the right way so we took it exiting off by a sign stating Memphis 11 miles.
It turned out to be a nice country road with turns and elevation changes but it seemed a lot farther than I thought it should be so after a time I stopped and asked a local for directions.
Turns out I was going in the right direction but on the wrong road. We finally get to the interstate in question after 45 miles and as soon as we get on there’s a sign for Memphis 32 miles.
It was worth it.
Just into Arkansas we find the front but I delay stopping for rain gear, you never know when the road will turn away from the rain cell.
Alas it wasn’t meant to be and faced with a curtain of rain we pull over and get into our rain gear…almost in time.
All geared up and ready to go save for one little problem, Suzi is leaned over too far and I can’t right her by myself with the load she's carrying.
Paul is quick to lend a hand once he stops laughing.
We ride in and out of rain for 2 hours then it’s just overcast the rest of the way to Mountain Grove, MO where we find out the Best Western is no more.
After a 518 mile day the Travel Lodge will do just fine.
I rush to the hotel because it appears the rain will start up anytime and in the process we get separated at a red light.
I didn’t know he had not heard the directions and the Chatter boxes were off since the earplugs were out for the short ride to the hotel but as I finished checking us in he shows up and all ends well.
I pull up under the overhang as the rain starts and just my luck the rain gutter has a leak right on top of my bike.
"It was another hot travel day with some scattered rain. Serp decided to take a shortcut to get us into Memphis. We had 11 miles until we hit Memphis when we turned off to take the shortcut. After 45 minutes of riding we had 32 miles until we hit Memphis. This is pretty standard when you travel with Serp. 11 miles becomes 32 miles. Another “50 miles or so” becomes 150 miles. You get used to it.
While Serp got directions to our hotel that night (which I didn’t catch, so I got lost and had to get a local to escort me to the hotel), I got info on the local eateries. Asking the cashier at the gas station where some good places to eat were, she recommended the “Golden Dragon” restaurant which was right in front of our hotel. Cool. I asked her what the best dish on the menu was; “cheeseburgers” was her reply. Really? Cheeseburgers? From the name I thought Golden Dragon would be a Chinese restaurant. “Oh, it is a Chinese restaurant. Chinese food and cheeseburgers. Get the onion rings too, they’re pretty good.”
This is why I bring packs of Ramen noodles with me."
We wake to a beautifully crisp day, it’s 58°f with a cloudless blue sky and a cricket in the bathroom.
The French believe it’s good luck to sleep with a cricket in the house.
Out of Mountain grove has us in some nice twisties right off, just a taste of the “candy store” to come.
In Camdenton we see signs that 9/11 hasn’t been forgotten.
At lunchtime the local smoke filled restaurant has us eating from our packs.
A hungry stray dog happened by so I shared some of my special jerky with him. I guess it was a little too spicy for him as he took on a rabid look salivating and pacing the sidewalk but that didn't stop him from coming back for more.
Later at a gas stop in a small town the cashier steps out and yells to her friend a block away that she needs to see her.
Picking up on the name as she approaches I say “Hi Kristy!”
Bewildered she says “you know me?”
“Suuuure, you must have been this tall last time I saw you” I said holding my hand about 3 feet off the ground.
"What's your name?"
"George, George Peppard"
After a short exchange about her family she rushes in to see what her friend wants, there had to be some interesting conversation at the dinner table that night.
We get to Lincoln, NE after 500 miles and the best ride yet.
"Today was the first really enjoyable day of riding after three mediocre days in the southeast. Serp gave this day 3 out of 4 stars if I remember correctly as we rode the Ozark Mountains. How can you not like beginning your day needing to wear nothing but some fleece under your riding jacket before heading out for 150 miles of fast sweepers right off the bat?
I love the idyllic scenery of the mid-west. The rolling hills peppered with quaint farm houses. It’s the smell of animal crap I can do without. And the smoke-filled restaurants. Seeing Serp dodging pheasants spooked by our high speed passage is a plus though.
Today’s funny was all Serp. After the cashier at a gas stop stood at the front door and yelled at her friend down the block, her friend came by the gas station. It took a lot of effort to stifle my laughing as Serp got the girl to believe that he was a long lost friend of the family. The crowning achievement was when she asked Serp what his name was. “George” he replied, “George Peppard.” "
The morning was pleasantly cool with not a cloud in the sky as we started out. The countryside opened up allowing a better traveling speed. My radar detector would keep our fat out of the fire a couple of times this day.
Into South Dakota on hwy 18 is what you might call “Busa territory”
As it often does in the plains the wind kicked up something fierce causing us to ride with a lean in a straight line. From time to time a butte would block the wind then on the other side the wind would slam us into a lean again.
It turns out that if you hit a sparrow at 120 mph there’s not much left.
On the plus side I didn’t connect with the kamikaze pheasants of the area, one even tried to race me on foot before veering off the road.
Marvin kept watch on Paul the whole time.
Arriving in Hot Springs, SD after a fast 529 miles we hold up at the Inn on the River offering a modern-medieval look.
"A day of rolling sweepers, more pheasant dodging by Serp and his hitting a bird at 100+ is how we started our day. It was a day of “supersonic travel” according to my notes and while it was warm (97F in Hot Springs) we’re expecting cooler temps tomorrow and into the week.
Some constructive criticism for our four wheeled driving brethren: stop driving with your ego. When you drive a very large SUV do not try to keep up with sport bikes at 130 mph. The corners get ugly for you. For the driver of the 1980’s Camaro: when your car is already belching oil from the exhaust, do not try to keep up with sport bikes at 130 mph. The blow to your ego is better than the blown engine you suffered. Thus ends today’s lesson."
By now I’ve adopted another morning ritual, getting off the centerstand
Once again we have clear blue skies and just a little colder at 46°f. We cross a short section of Wyoming before getting into Montana. Looking down hwy 212 it promises to be another high-speed day.
We burn up a good portion of a tank at triple digit speeds and arrived in Broadus, MT in time for lunch.
This is a small cattle town and we’re expecting to eat from our packs again but Paul saw some hand painted signs for a restaurant called The Judge’s Chambers.
It turned out to be an oasis of delight in the middle of a Podunk town.
The house used to be owned by the local judge in years passed and was scheduled for demolition before it was saved and turned into a restaurant.
We were lucky because they run a farm and are only open 3 days a week starting on the day we showed up.
The ambiance was exquisite with classical music overhead and the food just danced on the pallet. I had the 5-cheese tortellini, Paul had the sautéed chicken with sundried tomatoes in a light cream sauce, The soup, wild rice and chicken in a cream of celery base. The meal was topped off with warm, fresh herb bread and a couple of slices of chocolate cake to go.
The chef was a woman who had traveled Europe and collected recipes along the way.
Once we passed Billings, MT we dialed it up and made up for the long lunch we took.Montana has a heavy deer population. They are everywhere.They graze along the roadside in packs of 10 to 15 and barely looked up when we went past. We did see a few crossing the road up ahead of us and from the occasional carcass some don’t make it. We kept a sharp eye out for them but luck played a big part in keeping them out of the way. Nearing the end of the day we turned west to stare into the setting sun. We only had 16 miles to go to get to the stopover town of Lewistown, MT and I wanted to get there before the sun got low enough to touch the road making it impossible to see.With the sun just over the brow of my helmet and Paul on my taillight we were lopping along at a comfortable 100 mph when we passed a police truck, as luck would have it he wasn’t in the vehicle at the time and we didn’t stick around to contemplate the reason. We found a room at the B&B Motel where Paul wasted no time diving into his chocolate cake which seemed to rejuvenated him after our 537 mile day.
"Travelling into the west you realize how much faster people drive than in the east. On the wide open plains of Montana, for example, you can pass a cop at 90 and not have him blink (the 100+ we were doing before we tagged the brakes may have had him raise an eyebrow). In Florida, 90 mph will have cops salivating three counties away. Speaking of riding fast, I was following along behind a semi that I was trying to pass meant I couldn’t swerve out of the way of the deer corpse. Have you ever jumped a deer corpse at 75 mph? Entertaining stuff, which would have been ugly if the deer hadn’t been semi-flattened into a nice ramp. Just a little puckered reminder to maintain clear line of sight on the road when following another vehicle.
The down side to the west is all of the tourists. Coming up fast on a slow moving mini-van (with the elderly couple from Florida of course) with the personalized license plate “2TURTLS” was an indication of just how much passing we’ll be doing in the next few weeks.
The highlight of the day was lunch at the Judge’s Chambers in Broadus, MT. Unexpectedly stumbling on a great restaurant in the middle of Nowhere, MT led to the best meal of the trip. Five cheese tortellini for Serp, sautéed chicken with sundried tomatoes in a light cream sauce for me. The soup, wild rice and chicken in a cream of celery base, was outstanding. The meal was topped off with warm, fresh herb bread and a couple of slices of chocolate cake to go."
We get up to colder temperatures, 34°f.
It’s another triple digit travel day with clear blue skies.
Shortly after we get under way Paul tells me on the radio,
“If I get frost bite Aileen will be pissed at you”
I informed him that the chill factor doesn’t count, it actually has to be below freezing for frost bite to be a concern.
10 minutes later we dip into a valley where the temps drop to 28°f
It sure is nice having an electric vest.
Being so far in the backcountry we once again eat lunch from our packs, what has become known as the “Sinclair lunch”
We get to Browning, MT but didn’t see a motel worth it’s salt so we backtracked to Cut Bank, MT and settled into the Super 8 where they offered privileged parking..
We’re only 44 miles from Canada so we decide to run the 75 miles to Cardston, Canada for dinner.
The border guard got real suspicious when we told him we were coming to Canada for the food and he took over 30 minutes checking out our passports. Finally satisfied we were on our way.
Canada has some nice speed limits, notice it doesn’t specify km so we kept it at 90 mph like the solid citizens we are.
In Cardston we rode through town just to see the choices and settled on a pizza & ice ream joint. It turned out to be more American than anything we saw in the states boasting a 50’s theme atmosphere.
Back in the US we were starting to loose the light so we stepped it up and ran across a couple of valleys at 140 mph making it back to the hotel right at sunset.
All in all a good 449 mile day.
"Good morning, welcome to Big Sky Freeze-Your-Ass-Off Country.
It was 34F when we rode out this morning. I normally only see those temperatures on the freezer thermometer. As we rode out the VFR was showing 32F and Serp and I rode along debating just what it would take for me to get frost bite. I was assured that getting frost bite required actual freezing temperatures and not wind chill temperatures, but that I could get hypothermia. It then dropped down to 28F which meant I was a candidate for both. This was the first instance of what I will call the “Serp Effect.” The Serp Effect is simple: every time I ask Serp a question relating to our upcoming day’s ride he would lie about how bad it would actually be.
Today’s tidbits not writing about: We did some max speeds runs today out of sheer boredom. I picked up the first rock of the trip to bring back to my wife (she collects rocks from our travels and we don’t have a Canadian rock, eh). A drunken Blackfoot kept bugging me for $1 (or “with $5 [he] could get a sandwich”). What they call “pepperoni” in Canada tastes like a slightly spicy fried bologna. So we had fried bologna pizza in Cardston, Alberta, Canada. More dodging of deer and pheasants kept us on our toes."
The chill was back in the air but nothing we couldn’t handle.
The hotel didn’t have a cart so I had my porter bring out my gear
Loaded we head west for the Highway to the Sun. On the way is a nice curvy road but this is open range and cattle can be found everywhere. We stopped once to wait for the bovine to get off the road and we saw a calf with an identity disorder. He was perched up a cliff on a small rock mountain goat style. At the entrance we paid our $12 park fee and motored on camera ready.The scenery is as good as I remember it.
The traffic is insane and probably the reason why there were no animals about like the last time I past through here save for this coyote and he looked like he was leaving town
Past the park we had lunch at the Sinclair dinner then started the trek south.Around mid-afternoon I would pick up another bird, this one leaving a blood trail on my shifter.
Idaho was next and just before Lolo’s Pass is one of my favorite signs
In Grangeville, ID we get a room at the Super 8 after a 485 mile day of sight seeing and take care of mounting laundry. An hour later after checking on the laundry Paul walks in and says,"Somebody likes you" holding up Suzi's ignition key. It seems one of the patrons found it in the washer and left it on top of the machine, DOH!
"Today begins entry into the “candy store” as we leave the Great Plains and head into mountain country. The first stop on today’s tour was Glacier National Park. The natural beauty of the area cannot be captured in photos, although I felt the effect was diluted by the assembly line of cars which crawled its way through the park. I like my nature devoid of people. We stopped for a brief photo shoot at the “Winding Road Next 77 Miles” sign and I must say I had expected tighter twisties. I was hoping for a 77 mile long Dragon but winding described the road perfectly. Mentally I had expected gnarly. No matter, still a great road to ride on. You know those websites that build a cartoon image of you? Where you get an avatar that looks like a Simpsons character? I saw the reverse today. One of the employees at the McDonalds where we stopped for lunch was Meg Griffin. Not the womanly Meg Griffin but the “call me Ron” manly Meg Griffin from the Stewie movie. Right, not that funny but it was a slow day."
Day~8 We have a long day ahead of us so I get Paul up an hour earlier. We hit the road and run some nice sweepers through Hell’s Canyon
Running a steep downhill I spot the a shot and pull over to the shoulder braking hard so as not to pass up the shot. The shoulder’s right side is a different color and looks like old asphalt but turns out to be gravel and I lock the front tire unceremoniously. I get the bike stopped without incident much to Paul’s amusement.
Past Ontario, ID. the land flattens out and we dial it up.
In Central Oregon I stop to record the tranquility and soak in the primal beauty then I catch the rare 130 mph insect not native to this area
After refueling in Christmas Valley, OR we make our way to Crater Lake. On the way there are some rain cells with visible rain trails but as luck would have it the road just happened to curve around them so all we got was the cooling effect. At the park entrance we pay the $5 entry fee then spot the rest rooms.
At the entrance to the lake road is the need for a sign that testifies to the stupidity of some people.
We take the long way around the rim. The sky is overcast and it's a shame because Paul’s doesn’t get to experience the beauty of the lake in sunlight.
As the sun sets the temperature drop rapidly so we get one more shot then get off the mountain.
We make our way to Medford, OR and get a room at the Red Lion Inn. With a fast 638 mile day behind us we kick back and enjoy a couple of Paul’s fine cigars.
"The day started with twisties and then straightened out into sweepers before tightening up for more twisties. The sweepers had me concentrating very hard on a single thing “mind the cow poop!” Open range means cattle. Ever had to dodge very large, very wet and slippery looking cow pies while leaned over in sweepers at 110 mph? Fun stuff; give it a try. Other than dodging cattle and their fragrant leavings, today didn’t see a single pucker moment for me. Serp almost lost it when he locked up the front end on gravel that looked like pavement. But a low pucker factor during my riding day. The Serp Effect was strong today. I packed away my cold weather gear since Serp promised me that we were done with the worst of the cold weather since we were heading south into warmer climates. Later that day I was freezing my ass off at 26*F riding under overcast skies and scattered showers through Crater Lake National Park. Either because of it being late in the day, or because of the miserable looking weather, the park was nearly empty which allowed me to appreciate its beauty without sucking the fumes of a few dozen RVs. Serp miscalculated slightly and had us riding in circles looking for decent hotels. We passed a dozen that I really didn’t like the looks of before stopping at the best of the worst. On a positive note, Serp’s miscalculations meant we would arrive at Al’s in California a day early."
Day~9 Another perfect weather day but Paul starts out by dropping his helmet again and this time the bracket is toast. We get directions to a local Radio Shack but it’s in a mall that won’t open until 10AM. We jump on the interstate and find a Radio Shack a few miles down that has what he needs to pipe music into his helmet.
Into California and what I call "The Candy Store". A collection of gnarly twisty roads I just can't get enough of. We start with hwy 96, it winds along a river with picturesque beauty.
In Weitchpec, CA we stop for fuel and a quick pack lunch when one of the local women starts a conversation with me,
“Where are the women?”
“No women, they couldn’t handle a trip like this”
“You need to get yourself an Indian woman”
And she smiles at me proudly showing off the 3 teeth she has left. Next we jump on hwy 299 and start enjoying fast tight sweepers. With a good rhythm going I dive into a blind left hairpin and right at the apex I lock eyes with CHP. I brake causing Paul to brake and just after he gets out of my sight my detector goes off and I know he got Paul but not for much. We motor on thinking we’re in the clear until he shows back up behind us a couple of miles later, BUSTED!. We get pulled over.
He was also a rider and gave us a safety lecture about diving into blind turns then said,
"If you wick it up on the straights a little I won't mind, but take it easy in the turns"
He let us go with a verbal warning. A short ways down we turned onto hwy 3, this road is sweet.
Next came hwy 36. This road starts out nice and curvy as we head west and toward the end it’s just sick. I was laughing hard enough to fog up my visor. The road gets narrow, gnarly twisty and elevations changes bordering on drop offs
We pull in to Fortuna, CA after an exhausting 373 miles.
"The day started out annoying. I dropped my @!#$%#^#&#*# helmet again only this time I shattered the Chatterbox itself instead of the bracket. The bracket was still firmly JB Welded to my helmet. I mulled over my options: try to find a motorcycle dealer who stocked Chatterboxes? Call Al and have one ordered for next day delivery to his place that I’ll pick up when we arrive? Serp then remembered that a standard PS2 cable can be used to connect the chatterbox to the helmet speakers so we went in search of a Radio Shack. $16 later for a keyboard extension cable (PS2 Male to Female) and a roll of electrical tape and I was good to go. The Chatterbox bracket is now JB Welded to my helmet, there’s a beige keyboard cable running from my helmet to my tankbag where I’m storing the Chatterbox which has its battery held in place with a rubber band and some electrical tape after the battery cover tabs were broken in the drop. Ugly, but at least I have music again. Music blasting in my helmet and the tunes are set for the twisties. Mmmmmmm, twisties. CA 36 and CA 3 are great fun. The CHP who nabbed us gave us a safety lecture about our lean angles in blind turns and sent us on our way. We promised that we would be careful because, when you come upon the unexpected in a turn, you never know if you’ll make it. To use his words,
“sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t.” Serp and I stuck to that promise for a good three or four miles. We did slow it down some for the 24 miles of “Loose Gravel, Fresh Oil” that we had to ride through. A motorcyclist’s favorite signs: Loose Gravel, Fresh Oil. We topped our day with Serp flirting with a woman at a gas station. She told Serp that she needed an “Indian Woman” who, it was implied, was hearty enough for motorcycle touring. She definitely was hearty, or as Serp put it, had “a face like a well beaten rug.”
Day~10 Yet another perfect weather day to start. We take the Avenue of the Giants.
Not too much farther we come to the drive-through tree.
Done playing tourist we get back on the curvy road and make tracks for the coast. Arriving at the coast completes a mission for Paul, he has now made a coast to coast ride.
After every good curvy section of road Paul would check the nub status on his tires and after 5,000 miles and countless curves there was 1 nub that just wouldn’t go away. The pocket knife made short work of it.
We rode the PCH for a while then turned inland at Fort Bragg. It seems that every other miles was another construction zone and made for a lot of time sitting in traffic.
Once past the masses we gained altitude, lost degrees and sunlight. A few days earlier I lost my low beam so I used my auxiliary lights and high beam to try and spot the evening deer. we arrived at the Holiday Inn after a 432 mile day, not bad for playing tourist and waiting in traffic jams all day.
"We had a good morning riding and a good evening of riding (hello CA 49) with a shit middle of a dozen road closings for construction. It’s always funny how the ending of a day makes the entire day. So long as you end the day grinning all of the time you spent sweating your ass off sitting in construction traffic quickly fades from memory. Riding in the dark, stopping Serp from riding past our turn-off, freezing my ass off hoping that a deer doesn’t spoil my day are only memories now. Why was today so good? It was good because my goal has been met: I rode from Atlantic to Pacific (Coast Highway). Forget the Drive-Through Tree, the Avenue of the Giants, and the Coastal Redwoods. I finally finished my coast-to-coast trip. Of course with the excitement done, I need a rest. A couple days off at Al’s is going to be great. This will be funny to no one but Serp: When leaving the hotel today, I closed the elevator door on the way out. Good times. Good times."
Day~11 We leave a little later since it will be a short day, we’re going to visit with friends in the San Jose area. Passing around Lake Tahoe is nice but would be better if the traffic and construction would go away fortunately we saw none of the fires shown on the news lately.
Past the lake we get to hwy 4. In all the places I’ve ridden in this country this is the best road. A perfect motorcycling road with gnarly near vertical switchbacks and serious elevation changes. Any road warranting a warning is a good one.
Down off Ebbetts Pass we leave the mountains behind and stop in Oakdale, CA for a pizza lunch.
To get to San Jose the easy way we decide on the super slab. 80 miles from our destination we run into a dust storm so fierce we missed an exit because we couldn’t see the big green sign until we were right under it. After going a few miles around we were back on track and eventually made it to Al & Mabel’s place after 314 miles.
"We entered the dreaded population center today. Traffic, congestion and wonderfully twisty bits of road wasted behind lines of slow moving cars. We had our first good meal in a while at a pizza joint in Oakdale so that my belly was full when we got lost in a sandstorm and started doing u-turns around the freeways of San Jose. I’m like a little kid, I get cranky when I’m not fed. Only luck kept us from getting lost since the maps printed from Map Point didn’t resemble reality, but we made it to Al’s successfully."
Day~12 Expecting rain which never came we decided on a rest day to catch up on laundry and do a little maintenance. We did an oil and filter change then Paul watches as we replaced his brake pads. I replaced my headlight bulb and pulled my front calipers off to inspect the pads…ummm maybe I should have packed the spare set after all. It seems canyon carving a loaded bike is detrimental to pad life. Bah, they should be fine. My chain has some slack and it gets tighten. The rest of the day is spent drinking wine and playing motorcycle racing on the game box.
"No riding today as we did various maintenance tasks on the bikes. Chain cleaning and adjusting, oil changes, air filter changes, and brake jobs. I stood there and looked pretty while Serp and Al did all the work. I can deal with that arrangement.
"Day~13 Our last day to visit we get Al to play tour guide with his race prepped VFR800. He takes us down some very bumpy but fun goat trails.
Along the way we pass the Gardian.
Next we end up at an overlook of the San Francisco Bay area.
Done with the sightseeing we stop at Alice’s Restaurant for lunch
On the way home we pass by the park to view a sectioned redwood with date tags.
Paul wanted to cook an Italian dinner that night so we head back to the house after a fun filled 172 miles.
"Al played tour guide and took us across every pine needle strewn, single lane, bumpy ass goat trail in the area. Serp thinks this is what started his fork seal leaking. Oh well, the roads weren’t perfect but the friends and riding were. Thanks for playing host Popo."
Day~14 It was time to get back on the road. Al was going to escort us part way so we didn’t get turned around before exiting the metropolis. A group photo with our host was in order.
Paul is a natural with little Nicholas, Aileen should give him a dozen to play with.
It’s raining as we start out so everything is weather proofed and we’re in rain gear. A short ways from town Al bids us farewell and turns back. The rain is light, it’s the tail end of the front we’re planning to follow back across the country. The rain stops, skies clear and the gear comes off. Almost to Yosemite we spot another rain front so back into rain gear…it would not be enough. It was raining hard enough that the lady in the guard shack didn’t bother charging us the $10 entry fee, we motored on. As we climbed up in altitude the temperature started dropping, the cold gear is packed away and what we have is good to around 50°f…it would not be enough. Riding along I noticed that the bike felt loose if I rode in the center of the lane then I realize it was slush, the ground was freezing up.The temperature dropped to 26°f and we had freezing rain mixed with light snow.
My hands got so cold one of my fingers went numb. A normal person would have stopped and warmed up and I did think of it but the longer we stayed on the mountain the worst it was going to get, we’d gone too far to turn around so the only thing to do was to keep going. At one point I stopped to get a picture at a pull-off area and Paul kept going, later the reverse was true and I was back in the lead. The snow increased.
Knowing Paul had never dealt with anything like this I stopped to check on him. By now there was 2 inches of snow covering ice. Paul tried to stop but both his wheels locked up. He let go of the brakes and dropped both feet to the ground for a classic Flintstone stop. He started sliding 10 feet behind me, nearly collided with my bike and slid 30 feet past me. I informed him that the best thing to do was to get off the mountain asap, we rode on. Holding to 25 mph keeping a neutral throttle, no brakes or lateral loads we rode for 15 miles on curvy downhill ice roads. I kept looking back thinking, “Paul, don’t fall, don’t stop” Finally dropping in altitude the snow stopped and we could see the results.
Off the mountain but still above 6,000 feet we stopped at a restaurant for lunch and some hot chocolate. Down in the plains looking back we could see it was the right choice to keep moving.
The end of our day would see us in Lone Pine, CA after a very entertaining 392 miles where we kicked back with a couple of cigars to rehash the day's ride.
"Today’s was full of the Serp Effect starting first thing in the morning. Me:
“Good morning Serp, it will be good to get rolling again after a few days off. What do you think about the satellite images? Will we hit rain today?”
Serp: “Maybe 50%, I think we’ll be okay once we get out of San Jose.”
When we open the door to leave it’s already raining. Al rode along in the rain with us for a bit before turning back once he made sure we wouldn’t get lost on the expressways again. (Al is a better man that I am. I would have taken one look at the rain, thought about my wife and a warm bed back upstairs and flipped my guests off as they left without me.) Around lunch time we left the rain behind and stopped for gas under blue skies and sunshine. It was then that The Serp Effect kicks into high gear.
Me: “Serp, you think we’re done with the rain?”
Serp: (looking towards Yosemite) “Yep, should be all done and clear for our ride through Yosemite.
Two hours later we’re stopping to put our rain gear on.
Me: “Serp, you think we should put on some cold weather gear too?”
Serp: “Nope, should be warm enough without it.”
It’s raining steadily as we motor into Yosemite and start climbing into the mountains. We looked so pitiful all laden down and soaking wet that the ranger at the entrance gate didn’t even charge us the park entry fee. We start gaining altitude and my face shield and glasses start to fog up. Mentally I’m cursing Serp, “no fucking rain” he said, we’ll it is raining and I’m dodging fallen rock in the road. If I keep fogging up I won’t see the rock in the road that gets me. He’ll probably save the fucking thing and give it to Aileen as a gift. We climb higher and the rain is getting heavier. There’s water pooling in the tire grooves on the road and I see Serp switch to riding on the raised hump between the tire grooves so I follow suit. The road is relatively straight, but I keep wobbling off into the tire grooves. I’m wondering what the hell is wrong with me that I can’t even ride a straight line. It wasn’t until we came to a turn that I started sliding and realized that the center of the road was frozen.I’m cursing Serp harder. Fucking Serp has me riding on ice. Black-fucking-ice. First rain, now fucking ice. On we motor as I slow down a touch in case more of the road starts icing. Serp’s pulling farther and farther ahead but I’m not comfortable picking up the pace. A few miles later I see the rain is getting heavier. Holy shit, that rain’s coming in at an awfully steep angle, is the wind blowing that hard? I don’t feel it blowing. Check the trees, no sign of strong winds but I see ice building up on the sides of the hills. I catch a few juicy things on my face shield. Splat, splat, splat. What the fuck? I wipe it away. Splat, splat, splat. What the fuck? Oh Jesus Fucking Christ. That’s snow. That fucking Serp has me riding in snow. I am going to kick that fucker’s ass. (I curse a lot when I’m angry.) The fog on the inside of my face shield is turning to ice. With ice on the inside and snow on the outside, I can’t see anything. Every 30 seconds I flip my shield up, scrape the lower two inches of both sides of the shield with my thumb and forefinger and slap the shield back down because that snow hurts when it hits your face. After a few minutes of this my glasses are covered in snow so I have to stop and take them off. Since I was stopped, I went ahead and snapped a few pictures. Pictures don’t do it justice because after I started riding again it began snowing harder so that it became unsafe to stop. Now I’m riding blind without glasses and a visor coated in ice. This is about the time I started finding it all funny. I can’t see, I don’t know where Serp is, I’m riding in a snow storm without cold weather gear, I’m caked in snow, I’m sliding all over the road and laughing my ass off inside my helmet. Even the tunes were right – Dave Matthews. Listening to “So Damn Lucky” when riding in snow is a perfect match. At least I found out where Serp was as he passed me while I was taking pictures. I knew Serp was ok because I could see his tire tracks in the snow. Tire tracks? Cool, Serp’s still upright. I see him pulled over at a turn off on the side of the road so I decided to stop. It was a textbook stop, right out of the MSF Beginning Rider’s Manual. Roll smoothly off the gas, apply even pressure to the brakes, lock front wheel, release brakes, wobble like a Weeble, nearly take out your buddy on his bike, stop wobbling, take both feet off of the pegs and drag them in the snow on the ground to stop. We waited there while the urine froze in my pants until a car came by and we followed in the melted snow of the tire tracks until we came out of the snow and stopped for a bite and some hot chocolate.
Me: “That was totally fucked up. You think we’re done with the snow for now you asshole?”
Serp: “We should be good to go. No more snow.”
Me: “What the fuck is that on my seat? Oh fucking A. No more snow? Fuck you Serp, its fucking started snowing.”
The day ended with us trying to actually find a hotel in Lone Pine that had vacancies. Ramen noodles never tasted so good."
Day~15 The plan was to cross Death Valley first thing in the morning after the cold front passed through so we wouldn’t have to deal with triple digit temperatures, the plan worked. We woke to clear blue skies and cool temperatures.
Fully fueled we depart for the Valley
In the cool 70° morning we head in.
In the center of Death Valley we're below sea level.
There's an odd collection of sand dunes nearby that seem out of place.
The story continues as part 2.......