The journey begins...

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CALIFORNIA - PART 1

10/13/2007 PM

 As we entered California Highway 1 felt like an expressway.  We stopped in Crescent City for information about Redwood National Forest and took time to eat a picnic lunch while sitting on a park bench overlooking the bay with Battery Lighthouse just up the road.  Locals were out in strong numbers – walking their dogs, riding bikes and lounging in the park.  The sounds of seagulls filled the air.  The weather had finally become warm and we stripped off the outer layers of our riding gear as the sun beat down upon us. 

The road turned inland again through Del Norte Coast Redwoods National State Park.  In the late afternoon, we stopped at the first touristy drive-thru tree.  The booth collecting the $2 fee was closed, so we took it upon ourselves to continue up the short driveway to the tree.  After quickly snapping a few photos, we carried on along the freeway.  There were only a few other vehicles on the highway as evening set in and we began to look for a place to camp for the night. After stopping at 2 overpriced RV parks (over $30 a night!) we purchased fuel in Trinidad where we began to notice more homeless hippies and people asking for money.  A friendly camp host at another expensive RV park referred us to Clam Beach, further up the highway.  The campground was a small municipal beachside campground with campsites nestled between short shrubs in the sand for the more affordable price of $10.  Although it was priced right, the other occupants left a bit to be desired.  In the parking lot there was an old beat up van that was the full-time home of a couple of vagrants.  The overwhelming stench of body odor and smoke drifting from the van was completely disgusting.  The other campers overwhelmingly kept to themselves and the aura of the place was generally depressing.  Unfortunately we must sometimes endure these circumstances while trying to travel on a budget…

10/14/2007

We were grateful to leave gloomy Clam Beach behind as we carried on along the freeway that was Highway 1.  We stopped to use the Internet at a Best Western before walking over to Carl Jr. for breakfast.  The equivalent franchise on the east coast is called Hardee’s and has the best fast food breakfast around, so we were hoping that Carl Jr. would be the same.  We were disappointed that the breakfast menu was quite limited and nothing at all like Hardee’s. 

Darren’s motorcycle had begun to burn oil at a ridiculous rate.  We stopped at an auto parts store in Eureka to purchase more oil where we had a conversation with a friendly fellow motorcyclist in an SUV.  The weather was overcast and we were back on the expressway for a while – longing for something to break the monotony of the day. 

It came with the Avenue of the Giants, an alternate route from the expressway of Highway 1 that leads through the redwood forests of northern California.  This is a 31-mile world-famous scenic drive along ‘old Highway 101, which parallels the expressway through the redwood groves.  It is widely considered the most impressive display of these giant trees in the world.  The Humboldt Redwoods State Park surrounds the Avenue of the Giants and contains the largest remaining stand of the virgin redwoods on earth. 

The weather quickly became better as we rode among the massive trees.  The tall trees branched out high over the roadway and put the forest in a dark red shadow.  Red pine needles covered the roadside.  There were several touristy attractions incorporating the trees – including a log home created from one single log.  Hiking and nature trails with interpretive signage lead through the groves at numerous pull-outs along the roadway. 

We stopped at the Shrine drive-thru tree, which I found exceptionally unique because the hole through the tree was originally created by an ancient fire.  It is told that American Indians used the tree as a natural shelter when traveling through the area during annual pilgrimages.  We were about to bypass the opportunity to see this ancient landmark when we were approached by the attendant of the entry pay station.  He was a KLR owner who was collecting photos of KLR travelers and let us into the tourist attraction for free.  As we rode our bikes through the tree’s passageway, I was reminiscing about the photograph in my memory of my mother’s childhood trip with her parents at this very spot. 

We continued south back to Highway 101, which was still a non-descript freeway of vehicles until we reached Leggett and took the western fork to continue the coastal route of Highway 1.  The roadway became very curvy and quite challenging.  It was a beautiful scenic ride that would qualify as a classic ride for all motorcyclists who long for twisties. It was an exceptional 24 miles of switchbacks through gorgeous forests.  The roadway finally opened up to views of the Pacific Ocean before we camped at the Westport-Union State Beach.  Our campsite was perfect with unbelievable views of the sea.  It was the completely opposite to our stay in Clam Beach the night before – a place of tranquil beauty and relaxation as the sound of the waves crashed onto the cliffs below us.  We spent the evening drinking wine and listening to music by the sea.

After we had retired to the ten, lat into the night, Darren crawled out to use the restroom.  As he was urinating he heard a rustling in the bushes in front of him and thought to himself that we must have left a plastic bag outside.  Without his glasses, he leaned down (still urinating) with the intention of picking up the garbage and realized he was reaching toward a very unhappy skunk.  The animal was obviously unhappy to be in the line of fire of Darren’s urination.  Darren, realizing he was in the skunk‘s own line of fire, quickly removed himself from the situation before returning to the tent!

10/15/2007

It was raining when we woke in the morning.  We hid inside the tent until the rain turned into a light mist just long enough for us to pack up to leave.  We stopped briefly in Fort Bragg before continuing our ride south along the Pacific Coast Highway.  The rain had made the roadway quite dangerous.  There were more oil spots along this roadway than any we had ever seen.  It must be from all the years of hippie driving their old beaten Volkswagens along this classic trail.  The tires felt very slippery on the curves – especially Darren’s worn front tire.  The oily, curvy road ducked in and out of the redwoods and eucalyptus trees – making it very scenic.  On a dry day I can imagine this would be another fantastic motorbike route.  We stopped in Point Arena to have lunch at a small café called El Burrito. 

The weather cleared up as we continued south on Highway 1, although portions of the road was still wet.  The small towns of Anchor Bay, Gualala and Stewarts Point were all tiny, quaint communities small schoolhouses and main streets lined with oak trees that reached over the highway to create a natural tunnel.  In Jenner, we turned east toward Santa Rosa, letting our GPS guide us along smaller roads over the tall hills.  Most of these roads were less maintained than the major tourist routes we have been traveling lately and were patched with asphalt, narrow and very curvy.  We passed by small homesteads surrounded by the forests and small homegrown vegetable gardens.  Coming around a wide, long curve, we found ourselves confronted with the eastbound expressway of Highway 12 leading to Santa Rosa. 

Pete, a fellow motorcyclist, had contacted us by email who invited us to spend an evening at his home in Santa Rosa.  He had heard about our journey through chance encounters with other motorcyclists we had met and found our website.  He is also the owner of Bulldog Machine and offered to help us with any maintenance that needed to be done.  It is always amazing how fate can put people together! 

Passing into the boundaries of Santa Rosa, we stopped to use a payphone at a gas station.  As we dismounted the motorbikes, it appeared that we were interrupting a drug deal that was being transacted behind the gas station.  The hoodlums looked more disturbed by our appearance there than we were by their dealings.  After making plans to meet up with Pete, we made our way to a motorbike shop to pick up some supplies for our planned maintenance.  Unfortunately the shop we planned to visit was closed on Mondays, but we were lucky to find a CycleGear open nearby where we were able to purchase everything we needed.  Darren, realizing his front tire would not make it to Ventura, asked the staff if they had any ‘throw-offs’ – slightly used tires that other customers did not want and the shop could not sell.  Although they had a few that were acceptable, the attendance went the extra mile for us by calling a friend he knew who had an almost new tire that he did not want.  It was a Metzler Sahara, approximately a $70 value, with only 500 miles on it – at no cost to us!  Once again the generosity of others had gone far beyond our expectations! 

Pete arrived at the CycleGear on his BMW F650 Dakar and escorted us back to his home, where his wife served us a healthy soup and salad meal, followed by baked apples – yum!  One great thing about traveling through California – the food here is exceptional!  Most Californians value their fresh produce and life to cook tasty, healthy meals (often organic), which is quite different from the standards of the southeast where everything is battered and fried!  After a much-needed shower and taking care of our laundry, we enjoyed a good nights rest.

10/16/2007

We woke early to pack up and follow Pete to his machine shop – Bulldog Machine – in Vallejo.  On the way, he led us through the famous Napa Valley – passing vineyard after vineyard with rows and rows of vines in various shades of brilliant autumn colors. The smell of the sweet grapes so overwhelmed by senses that my throat felt choked by them.  We passed by many well-known wineries with mansions and signs pointing to their tasting rooms.  There are a few reasons we chose not to travel more through the wine regions of California.  First of all, we couldn’t enjoy the tastings without concern for our safety while riding the motorbikes.  Second, we both really love the sea.  Third, the wineries of this area actually charge a fee for tasting their wines – a practice that is less common in Australia and many other places in the world. 

Bulldog Machine is located in an industrial area that was once used to serviced military marine vessels.  In one of the many huge hangers of the industrial park, the machine shop shared space with a few other tenants, including a manufacturer of earthquake-proof pilings for bridges and buildings.  Darren rode his bike into the warehouse and went to work - changing the oil, sparkplugs and front tire on his bike before changing the oil on mine.  A talented welder did some more work on my sidestand – which, because my bike is lowered, has always caused me problems.  Now it works perfectly!  What a relief! 

While Darren slaved over the bike maintenance, I found a quiet space to conduct a bit of website maintenance.  We spent most of the day at he shop and really appreciated the hospitality and assistance that Pete extended to us.  We both wish him well in his future motorcycle adventures. 

Vallejo was not far from San Francisco, where we planned to meet up with Geoff – the motorcycle traveler we had met and camped with in Fairbanks, Alaska.  Immersion into the big-city traffic near rush hour was quite hectic and stressful, but we were looking forward to seeing our new friend again.   Darren has been to San Francisco twice before and I have visited here once.  We have both always enjoyed the spirit and culture of the city and were looking forward to being there again.  Passing through the toll of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was especially nerve-racking as the lanes merge together with little warning.  Views from the bridge over the city of San Francisco, Treasure Island and of the Golden Gate Bridge were exceptional.  It is times like this when I wish we had a helmet camera! 

Geoff’s apartment was in an area of San Francisco known as Noe Valley.  It was a short ride navigating very steep hills of the busy streets of the inner city.  Geoff and his wife, Adriana, ushered us into the cute, comfortable home on the top floor of an old row-house – typical of many San Francisco homes.  Adriana is an excellent cook and after an appetizer of cheese and wine, fed us a hearty meal of fresh salad, mashed potatoes and baked chicken.  Once again, we thoroughly enjoyed the benefits of eating in California’s organic food culture.  After a late night enjoying the hospitality of Geoff’s cigars and bourbon, we settled into the most comfortable inflatable bed I have ever experienced.

 10/17/2007

Unfortunately Geoff had to go to work, but Adriana was free for most of the day and offered to show us around the city.  Each of our previous visits to San Francisco were unguided, so it was really great to have a local to accompany us!  After a healthy fruit, yogurt and granola breakfast, we loaded into her car and rode over to Castro – the homosexual-dominated area of the city.  We walked along the rainbow flag lined streets with shops and bars named with clever gay euphemisms.  Darren was careful not to pause on the sidewalk near any of the many gay-oriented sex shops with their displays of adult toys and scantily-clad men.  This is definitely the most in-your-face display of homosexuality in the United States, which makes it an interesting and unique place to visit. 

Adriana then drove us to a local lookout spot called Tank Hill – named after a now-removed water tank that once dominated the hilltop.  Now it is just a great place to get a fantastic view of the city and surrounding bay from its rocky summit.  We stopped at a Thai restaurant for lunch and then drove down to the panhandle of Golden Gate Park.  Walking through the park, it was easy to see the appeal of its different areas – hippie hill held a small collection of funky peace-lovers playing bongo drums, dancing and drugging on the weekends.  Further into the park, we walked along the well-manicured paths toward the conservatory – an indoor garden that was currently featuring carnivorous plants.  We didn’t pay to enter the exhibit. 

Geoff was able to leave work a bit early to join us, so we returned to their home to meet him.  Adriana spoiled us again by making a Lebanese dish of rice and lamb with cinnamon – a very tasty and interesting family recipe she had grown up with.  Unfortunately she had to retire early for the evening to prepare for work in the morning, but Geoff agreed to show us a night on the town.  Walking through the mission district, the Hispanic area of the city, we visited a biker bar that played lots of heavy metal music over a large patio with rows and rows of picnic tables.  This biker bar was not for motorcyclists – it was for bicyclists and was a regular hangout for bike messengers – a common job in San Francisco.  After a few drinks, we moved on to a few other bars – mostly playing loud music that required us to yell at one another and serving a very diverse crowd of people.  It was quite late when we began to walk toward Geoff’s neighborhood.  We were struck by the sounds of a live jazz band behind the doors of a small pub.  Looking through the red-tinted round windows of the doors, we were drawn inside for one last drink as this band finished their final set of the evening.  While sitting in the pub, we realized it was after midnight and officially Darren’s birthday!  We held a quick toast to celebrate. 

Unfortunately the buses stop operating past midnight and the walk was simply too far for us to imagine, so we hailed a taxi to take us back to the apartment.  It was past 2am when we returned, but it had been a fabulous day and a fun evening exploring one of our favorite cities.  We always enjoy San Francisco and truly appreciate Geoff and Adriana’s efforts to show us around – especially considering that Geoff had to get up for work at 7:30am the next morning! 


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