High desert drifter

Day 22 Thursday 25th July 2013 – Bend, OR to Meridian, ID

My target destination for the day was Boise, ID and for most the day I rode through the high desert. It’s a desolate place, except for the odd spots where thousands of gallons of water must be pumped to keep them green and grow crops. The landscape predominantly flat, and the roads straight and long, and sagebrush dominates.

From Oregon, July 2013
From Oregon, July 2013

I’d chosen the less direct Route 76 to take me into Idaho. It was getting real hot, and whilst beautiful, the long straights through the desert were becoming monotonous long before I crossed the state line.

From Oregon, July 2013
From Idaho, July 2013

At a rest break at Roman Station, I seemed to be attracting more critters. First one came to say Hi.

From Oregon, July 2013

And then mum and siblings turned up to.

From Oregon, July 2013

Once into Idaho, the landscape becomes rockier and more interesting as I climbed into the hills.

From Idaho, July 2013
From Idaho, July 2013
From Idaho, July 2013
From Idaho, July 2013

And then I was through the hills and dropping down into the valley as it opens out into cultivated lushness with cornfields irrigated by the Snake River – a river I would meet again.

From Idaho, July 2013

A green and pleasant land. The smell of fields of mint permeates the ride into Nampa.

From Idaho, July 2013

Idaho car licence plates always make me smile. Lots of states have slogans on their plates. California is the Golden State, Texas is the Lone Star State, Illinois is the Land of Lincoln. Idaho’s slogan is Famous Potatoes. Well I guess they’re proud of their potatoes.

On my way into Boise, I pulled off the freeway I’d now joined, and stopped at “that” burger place for an iced tea, but mainly wifi access to check out my lodging options for the evening.

I’d been keen to see Boise, every since James Joyce Soles, but like many of America’s bigger cities, the downtown area seemed to have only a few expensive hotels. All the cheap motels are out of town, just off the highway.

Much as I’d liked to have seen Boise, not for $200 a night. I opted instead to stay in Meridan – which I guess is a suburb of Boise. It was meant to have a decent biker bar, the Busted Shovel.

I couldn’t get a motel within walking distance, so I rode into town and parked outside. Aside from it’s logo, it didn’t seem like much of a biker bar. Outside the Trooper was the only bike, and inside in looked like a regular sports bar.

But it did serve cold beer and a decent Philly Steak sandwich. Unfortunately, before I left a group of what I’d describe in the UK as Townies came in and put some dreadful R&B shite on the jukebox. So much for biker bar.

As I’d ridden to the bar, I’d limited myself to just 2 of the smaller American pints (British pints are 20% bigger), but as I walked outside I regretted even that.

Across the street 3 cop cars were parked up. I just hoped they weren’t pulling everyone over to came out of the bar and got in or on a vehicle. Even though I wasn’t over the limit, I could just do without any official business with America’s Law Enforcement for whatever reason. Fortunately, that wasn’t their game, and I rode back to the motel unmolested.

 

Missed the turn

Day 21 Wednesday 24th July 2013 – Grants Pass, OR to Bend, OR

I was relieved to be starting a day without fog, and my hip was feeling a lot better. Today felt as if it was going to be a good day. The plan was to ride from Grants Pass to Eugene, by way of Crater Lake.

The ride up to Crater Lake reminded me of yesterday’s ride along the 199, riding along the canyons of the Rogue River, through long avenues of trees and with wooded mountains on the horizon.

From Oregon, July 2013
From Oregon, July 2013
From Oregon, July 2013
From Oregon, July 2013
From Oregon, July 2013

As I approached Crater Lake, I was climbing into the Cascades, with a mountain peak dominating the horizon for a long stretch of the 230.

From Oregon, July 2013

Crater Lake is in the Cascade range of volcanoes, which include Mount St Helens and Lassen Peak, both of which erupted in the last century. Crater Lake was formed when Mount Mazama erupted nearly 8,000 years ago and formed a deep caldera which filled, over time, with nearly 5 trillion gallons of rain and snowfall. It’s nearly 2,000 feet at its deepest and over 6 miles across. Today, it’s a wondrous blue lake with Wizard Island sitting to the east side of the lake. It is truly beautiful, and my photos don’t do the depth of colour in the lake justice.

From Oregon, July 2013
From Oregon, July 2013
From Oregon, July 2013

You can ride or drive right around the lake and I wasn’t the only biker to be riding that day. The Trooper made some friends.

From Oregon, July 2013

The critters were friendly too.

From Oregon, July 2013

In several of the National Parks I have visited, I have come across these brazen panhandlers. They are so un-timid, much like the grey squirrels in some of the inner city parks back home, who are so used to being given tidbits by passers-by, that they come strolling right up to you expecting a tasty handout. Alas I had nothing for this little fellow.

After Crater Lake, I had intended to take a left onto the 58 to take me to Eugene, but I must have been looking at something more interesting than road signs, because I sailed right past my exit and was heading to Bend. Bend was meant to be the following night’s destination. I just stayed in the road to Bend, it seemed as if it was meant to be, and that put me a day ahead of schedule again.

 

Getting into the groove

Day 20 Tuesday 23rd July 2013 – Fortuna, CA to Grants Pass, OR

When I ventured outside in the morning, it was foggy again. I expected this now, it was north Cali after all. But it is a shame because this really is a striking and beautiful part of the country, and the fog and the cold meant that I couldn’t really appreciate it fully. I am just thankful that I had visited here in 2011 and that the weather was better on that occasion. Although I distinctly remember riding over the state line from Oregon in 2011, and hitting a cold, fog then. I had to stop to pull out a fleece from my dry bags, if I recall collectively. Fortunately for me, the fog only lasted a day on that occasion and I was able to see the coast road and the redwoods in all their glory, and they were magnificent. That is why I had wanted to come back here on this trip.

The paradoxical thing is that without the fog, the redwoods wouldn’t be giant. The redwoods are adapted to get a big proportion of their water requirements from the fog, and those redwoods that grow above the fog line don’t grow anywhere near as big as their misty brothers.

Despite the fog dampening my enjoyment of the Californian coast on this trip, I really do recommend riding here. The roads are twisty and the scenery, when you can see it, is stunning. However, I’d recommend doing a modicum more research on the weather than I did, because apparently some months in the summer are notoriously bad for fog. It is much better at other times. If you manage to get here when there isn’t fog, you are in for a real treat.

I must confess to feeling a little down-heartened today, and not just because of the fog. My hip was still feeling really tender, and I just knew that those gear changes weren’t going to be fun. My original plan for this leg of the trip had been really ambitious – with a few miles under my belt in the last few weeks to remind me, way too ambitious.

I had planned on riding inland for a while from Fortuna, along Californian Route 36, then taking Route 3 north and looping back along Route 299. It’s meant to be a really good ride along a tight twisty road through the forest, and it had been recommended to me by a fellow blogger, Pat. With my hip feeling the way it did, I really thought I would struggle with a road that so many bikers would relish. The other problem was that the route I had planned was 370 miles. 370 miles of freeway riding in a day is relatively easy, but along a twister, where you’re braking for every corner, your average speed plummets, and 370 miles becomes a major undertaking.

If I planned this route again, I would split the ride into 2, with a day to do the 36/3/299 loop, before continuing north into Oregon. But I just didn’t feel capable of riding it right now, at least not with any enjoyment. I decided I would just cut my loses and continue north by the easiest route possible. Darn hip, but I guess you can’t always get what you want.

I wasn’t even sure what I had done to my hip. I wondered if rest would fix it. The problem was that all my route plans had been made in an effort to see as much as possible, so there were no rest days planned, at least no rest ’til Sturgis, where I was planning on spending 8 nights and could easily take a few days to just rest up. I hoped that just cutting back on the more challenging roads for now, might be enough. If I didn’t have the constant gear changes then hopefully my hip would get the rest it needed.

I would just have to live the 36 vicariously through the writing of others. The person that had recommended those roads to me is fellow motorcycle blogger Pat who has been doing a coast to coast trip across America for the last 5 years. He’s just got back on the road with his Bonnie for his 6th year. His blog, My Bonnie, is well worth checking out. I’m really hoping he makes it out to Sturgis this year, it would be great to meet him in person. Another motorcycle blogger I’ve been following before setting off for this trip is Jesse, his blog, TwoWheelin, is also worth taking a look at. Now, he is coming out to Sturgis and has said he will look me up at the Buffalo Chip when he arrives around the 5th August 2013. In fact, Sturgis this year could be a bit of a blogger’s fest as the BEANTOWN BIKERS are also heading in. They invited me to ride with them through Yellowstone and Beartooth Pass, but they are going to be riding through there several days later than me, and since I’ve already paid my $380 for my pass to the Chip, I wanted to make the most of the bands there. Still, they’ve said they’ll look out for the big yellow British licence plate and the kilt, and we’ll have a few beers. And not forgetting Ed, the Canadian I rode with for a few days in Oklamhoma and Texas, there should be plenty of people to ride and have a few beers with this year in Sturgis.

Much as I’m really looking forward to the 73rd Sturgis motorcycle rally, I had more immediate concerns. The cold and fog stayed with me all the way up the 101 to Crescent City. Unlike last time, on this occasion I really wasn’t sorry to leave the coast and California behind me.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

At Crescent City, I took the 199 inland heading toward Oregon and Grants Pass. Within a mile at most, the fog had gone and the temperature was steadily increasing.

US 199 turned out to be a great road – twisty in places, running through forest and along a river. I really enjoyed the ride, despite the occasional twinge in my hip.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

The only bad thing about riding this road was the grooved pavement. I don’t think we have this evil thing at home, at least I haven’t seen it. So for my readers back home, grooved pavement is pretty much what it says, some bright spark has cut grooves in the road (not the foot path).images

Apparently this improves traction and helps when dealing with heavy rain. They have statistics to prove that it reduces accidents, and it’s also meant to cut road noise. But on a bike it is a pain, the grooves generate a wobble which is unsettling even when going straight, but on this road they have put the grooved pavement only on sharp bends, when you least want a wobble. I wonder if their statistics are broken down by vehicle type, and whether it really reduces accidents for motorcycles.

From California, July 2013

So again I was slowing down and pulling over to let speeding cars through. And on this stretch they all seemed in a mighty hurry to get somewhere. I think it may be a Californian thing – driving very fast and very close to each other. As soon as I approached Los Angeles I began noticing it. And it was actually very noticeable when I crossed the state line into Oregon that the traffic seemed to be going at more moderate speeds, only 5 or 10 mph over the speed limit, and definitely leaving bigger gaps between cars. Oregon has the better, or at least safer drivers in my book.

The day’s ride may not have been everything that I originally planned, but I enjoyed it and it was more than enough for me for that day.

When I arrived in Grants Pass I went about scoping out a suitable watering hole and I found Cody’s Tavern, a good old fashioned dive bar – just my kind of place.

The bar was kind of quiet when I arrived, but it was only a Tuesday night. Still the jukebox was playing loudly. The girl working the bar was friendly, and kept singing along to nearly every track playing. It was really quite amusing hearing her belting out at top volume Puddle of Mudd’s “She (fucking) Hates Me”.

After I’d been there about an hour, I heard the familiar sound of a big V-twin parking up outside, and its rider came in and sat at the bar. I can’t remember his name now, it is one of my shortcomings. Unless I write it down, names have a habit of going into one ear and straight out the other. With groups of people there is a nearly zero percent chance of me remembering all the names. Anyway, I’m going to call him Jake, whether that was his name or not. Jake seemed quite envious of my trip to Sturgis. His boss was also a rider in the same club as Jake, but he’d taken dibs on Sturgis week, so Jake had to stay behind and mind the fort. His only consolation was he’d been allowed to take time off to go down to a bike rally in Reno, Nevada later in the year.

The jukebox had gone quiet, so I coughed up a few bucks, and amongst other things, I played a couple of Lynyrd Skynyrd tracks – Freebird and Simple Man. I hadn’t listened to them for a while and it was odd hearing them playing as I sat in a dive bar in the US, because these two songs – along with Metallica’s Wherever I May Roam – had inspired me at a low point in my life to do something different, to stop worrying about work and money, and to get out and live life right here, right now. They are in part responsible for the adventure I was now having. It seemed very appropriate that I would be seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd in Sturgis in just a few weeks time.

I just hope they turn up this time.

 

Among the giants

Day 19: Sunday 22nd July 2013 – Fort Bragg, CA to Fortuna, CA

The coast road yesterday had had a lot of curves to it, which meant a lot of gear changes. Judging those curves wasn’t helped by the fog, and more than once I’d found myself coming into a curve too fast, and having to brake and knock the gear down where I shouldn’t. By the end of the ride, I was getting uncomfortable tinges in the region of my left hip / groin. I’ve no idea what I did to cause it, but the gear changing was getting a wee bit tender. I woke up this morning and that region is now full on aching.

Undaunted by my ageing body’s protests, I loaded the Trooper and then cut inland, along Californian Highway 20 to rejoin the 101. The day in Fort Bragg had again started out foggy and I wasn’t at all sorry to be leaving that behind and coming inland.

From California, July 2013

Within a few miles the fog had cleared and the temperature was noticeably rising. This was much better. You really can have too much of a good thing, like cold and fog, even when you are not long out of riding in the desert.

California Highway 20 is twistier than I expected, and tree lined nearly all the way.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

I guess some bikers would feel challenged by those curves and want to push themselves to see how fast they could take them. Not me. If I wanted to ride hell bent for leather around bends, I’d have bought a metric sports bike. But I don’t. I have a cruiser because that is precisely what I want to do. Besides you can’t check out the scenery if the road is taking your entire attention.

From California, July 2013

That said, I did fee a bit of a wussy for the amount of times I pulled into turn-outs to let speeding cars pass through. I consoled myself with the assumed fact that these were locals who knew the road like the back of their hand. But at the end of the day, I was here for the scenery, not to prove a point.

From California, July 2013

I rejoined the main highway 101 at Willits and continued north along the intermittent dual carriageway. Even here I was getting overtaken on the corners, but by now I was gawping at the trees, man. I couldn’t wait to get off the freeway and in amongst them.

From California, July 2013

Before you reach the Avenue of the Giants, there is a sign-post for a drive thru tree at Leggett. There’s one than one drive thru redwood, but I didn’t go through one the last time I was here, so I pulled off, paid my $3 dollars and made sure I did this time.

From California, July 2013

Back on the 101, I finally saw the sign for the Avenue of the Giants information point and pulled over to take a look. The sign really didn’t tell me much other than to take the next exit, but as I pulled over to read it, there was a really dishevelled looking bicyclist, wearing at least 3 or 4 layers of dirty clothes in the, by now, 95F/35C heat. His nose was sunburnt raw. As fellow travellers on the road do, we exchanged words. His name was Talbot and he’d ridden his pedal cycle up from San Diego. His destination was up in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, where the Trooper had had his one major break down on our last adventure. That is a trip of around 1,800 miles and he’d already ridden over half of that on a bicycle! Respect dude, that’s hardcore! It makes my motorised journey of the last few weeks look like a drive around town.

Finally, I got into the Avenue of the Giants. This was one of the main reasons I had come back to the west coast, to be able to ride amongst these giants again. I’m not normally a tree hugger, but these majestic beasts just insist on it.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

Having come inland from the coast the temperature was already well up into the 90s on US-101, and yet it felt so cool and peaceful riding between lines and lines of these titans.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

I could have stayed all day among the giants, but I still needed to get to Fortuna by evening, so it was back on the 101 for me. Despite being on a freeway for much of the time, the scenery is still awesome along this stretch of the highway. I arrived in Fortuna feeling very fortunate that I had had the opportunity to see this magnificent trees for a second time.

 

Fog on the coast is mine, all mine

Day 18: Sunday 21st July 2013 – Fairfax, CA to Fort Bragg, CA

After saying all my farewells to Graham and Sarah, the Trooper and I were back on the road again. Sarah had been kind enough to plan a route for me, which took me through the wine country of Sonoma and Napa, before looping me back to Highway 1 at the exact same point as we had left it the day before.

It’s no exaggeration that this is wine country. Vineyard after vineyard follows vineyard, almost right into the city.

From California, July 2013

When I arrived in  Sonoma, I caught the tail end of a marathon that had been run between Napa and Sonoma, with a party in Sonoma Park in the middle of the city to celebrate the runners accomplishment.

From California, July 2013

I parked the Trooper up a side street, glad I had a bike as parking spaces were at a premium, and then ventured back to see what was going on in the park.

From California, July 2013

I’m not a big fan of crowds so I didn’t stay too long, but I couldn’t leave without a sample of the grape, which happened to be a fantastic Zinfandel. Only wish I could remember its name now.

The ride all the way from Sonoma, through Napa, and onto the coast is a real leisurely affair, riding past more and more vineyards.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

Much as I love riding, a small part of me wishes that I’d been on a bus tour, able to stop and sample at every tasting room I passed.

Closer to the coast, the ride gets a little more curvy as you follow the Russian River on its way to the Pacific Ocean.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

I rejoined Highway 1 just above Goat Rock beach and headed north without even stopping to say goodbye to the harbour seals.

From California, July 2013

The ride from there to Mendocino should have been excellent. Bendy roads and rugged coastal scenery. Unfortunately the fog struck pretty as soon as I had gone a mile up the coast, and continued for the rest of the day, just getting colder and colder.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

By the time I got to Mendocino, I was frozen top to toe, longing for this day’s ride to be over. Despite this, I rode into Mendocino and all the hotels looked as if they would have a hefty price tag.

Perhaps I wasn’t as frozen enough yet, as I carried onto Fort Bragg. By then I was, and I stopped at the first motel I came to, $120 be damned. I flipped the heating on, and didn’t even want a cold beer.

Even the sushi rocks

Day 17: Saturday 20th July 2013 – Fairfax, CA to Fairfax, CA

Both Graham and I lay in past 9am in our respective beds. Sarah was up early for yoga. She hadn’t partaken of the whisky last night.

Graham and Sarah had ideas with what to do with me for the day, and I let them take the lead and drive me wherever they saw fit. A day’s rest from riding was welcome. I ridden every day since Toronto over 2 weeks ago.

They took me out to the coast on what turned out to be Highway 1. We stopped for brunch at Point Reyes Station. Like many of the small towns we drove through, it was bustling with people. I hardly even consider the day of the week when I’m riding, but I guess it was Saturday and the city dwellers obviously head out-of-town and up the coast.

The farmer’s market at Point Reyes Station seemed to be doing good trade. I approved. I try to buy a lot of my food from farmer’s markets at home. I’d much rather give my cash to local farmers than some big conglomerate, and better still you know where your food is coming from. Anyone who doubts the wisdom of this should be strapped to a chair and forced to watch Food Inc on loop.

The Drake’s Bay area (named after Sir Francis Drake) is famous for its oysters, and the place we had brunch, the Station House Cafe, I had them two ways – barbecued, and breaded with eggs omelette-style. I may horrify oyster purists, but I actually prefer them cooked and sauced, although breading them was overkill. Eating oysters forced me to relate to Graham and Sarah an old story.

When I’d been working on a project in York some years back, I’d gone out to dinner with some colleagues. One of them was Todor, a great Bulgarian I had the pleasure to work with. Todor and I decided to split a seafood platter between us, which had oysters au natural in the shell. It was the first time Todor had eaten oysters and he asked how he should tackle them.

“Don’t think about it, just swallow” I said.

Some other wit at the table chipped in, “I bet that’s what you tell all the girls”.

Todor - second from the left

Todor – second from the left

Well, Todor tried but stumbled. In his Bulgarian accent with his mouth full of oyster (and if you don’t know any Bulgarians, just imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger with his mouth full and you won’t be a million miles away), he said, “Trevor, it’s too big. I can’t swallow”.

The rest of us at the table just cracked up with laughter, and poor Todor, to this day hasn’t been allowed to forget it. Sorry dude.

After brunch, we continued up the coast on Highway 1. We passed an oyster company along the route, and I’m not exaggerating much when I say that half of northern California seemed to be there. The place was rammed with cars and buses lining the road for a mile around it. Oysters sure are popular in these parts.

We didn’t stop for more oysters, but continued up to Goat Rock Beach and its harbour seals.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

And from the beach, I could see the road I would take tomorrow.

From California, July 2013

From Goat Rock beach, we took 101 back to Fairfax, stopping in San Rafael for some happy hour wine sampling at Sarah’s aunt’s music bar, Fenix.

From California, July 2013

That’s the San Rafael mission in the photo, not Sarah’s aunt’s place.

Then we went on to sushi. Even the sushi rocks in California.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

Best sushi I’ve ever had.

The night was rounded off with ice cream.

It was a great day and a well needed rest for me. Thanks to my fabulous hosts. You rock.

From California, July 2013

Good luck and best wishes for your wedding in October.