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Olympia, WA to Riverside, CA 

Via the Coast Highway 

The Ride from Olympia, WA to Riverside, CA was done over the five days of June 20 - 24, 2000. I rode a 1999 jet black Honda Valkyrie Tourer (a.k.a., somewhat indelicately, 'The Fat Lady') and have found its handling and comfort to be Just Dandy. Although we all know red bikes are faster, my butt's here to tell you the black ones are more comfortable. Gas mileage leaves a bit to be desired when the throttle is screwed into the Fun Zone too often (and you're buying 92 octane). Oh, and you shouldn't mind a bit of gear whine between 50 and 60 mph: the bike is whisper quiet at 75 .

Sometimes at gas stops, people would come over to comment on The Fat Lady. Since I wear earplugs, I had to decide: should I remove my gloves, take off my sunglasses, take off the helmet (full-face), and then pull out the earplugs so as to actually talk to this person, or just smile, nod my head and say "Yeah, man. Thanks. Right on, man. Absolutely. Take it easy, man." And since I took the logos off the tank and hard bags (looks cleaner and is easier to polish), a question I have gotten more than once (and I am not making this up) is: "What kind of Harley is that ?" Surprise: "It's a Honda Harley".

Overall, it was an outstanding ride, but there are a few things I would do differently next time to avoid some unnecessary expense, wasted time, tedium and aggravation (not that there was much of that). I have noted these things below in my account of the trip. A good travel guide here is Motorcycle Journeys Through California by Clement Salvadori (or is it Salvador Clementi ? I keep getting it mixed up). This valuable resource can be ordered from Whitehorse Press.

Day 1: 6/20 Olympia to Newport OR

After a quick sprint down I-5 from Olympia to Longview, cross the Columbia River (Lewis and Clark bridge) over to OR, and take Hwy 30 to Astoria. Avoid taking I-5 through Portland: the traffic can be unpredictably congested and slow, just like Seattle. In Astoria, head down the coast highway. You can get chilly, wet weather anytime of the year here; this day was just a tad foggy and cool in the early morning. Temperatures stayed cool throughout the day and full leathers were in order. Traffic was light, and the scenery and road were outstanding. There always seems to be some road repair going on, but delays were short and no very bad road surfaces were encountered.

I am not inclined to camp; as a former Forest Service employee, I have already done the wet/cold/dirty/hungry/tired in-a-smelly-sleeping-bag gig, thankyouverymuch. Instead, I prefer to look for cheap motels, and the cheaper the better, as in: where the manager hands you a baseball bat and says, "Por las cucarachas, Senor." As long as it has a shower and a bed, and is quiet, I'm content. Usually this can be had for under $40, depending on where you are. But not always: sometimes it's your wallet that goes over the high-side.

Cheap lodging was, however, available in Newport OR - I stayed at the Summer Wind motel (on the main drag) for 28$. This day's 260 miles (approx) took about seven hours total time (including stops). To some riders, this may not seem like a very ambitious days' ride, but I like to take it easy. I have found that after about 7 hours on the road, my powers of observation and judgment decline noticeably, especially after 4:00 pm. Being tired and in rush-hour traffic with failing daylight is just not my idea of fun. The long days were yet to come, and were usually due to bad judgment or planning.

Day 2: 6/21 Newport, OR to Fortuna, CA

335 miles Total time - 9 hours. The coast road offers an engaging mix of straight stretches and twisty hills. There are legs through cool tree-lined corridors, and sunny open stretches on the exposed coast, where the view of beaches and rock formations is outstanding. Eureka, CA is a small city on Humboldt Bay, offering all sorts of amenities, but I prefer peace, quiet, and convenient/cheap lodging, so I continued South for about 15 miles to the small town of Fortuna. Following the main street of Fortuna, look for the Six Rivers Motel on the left: $32/night; simple, but quiet. Within a 5-minute walk of the motel is a school athletic field (for jogging) and a shopping center with a supermarket. The usual collection of diners and fast-food outlets is also available.

For long tours, one must confront the issue of food. A steady diet of Road Chow will rapidly do nasty things to your waistline, and possibly get you a lecture from a cardiologist. Instead of Greaseburger Outlet, take a trip to the grocery store. There you can get cheaper, healthier stuff you can eat while sitting in your underwear in front of the motel room T.V. (check the Weather Channel). And you won't have to leave a tip. I prefer bagels or pitas, canned vegetables, fruit, low-fat yogurt and deli chicken breast or canned fish, for example. And a cold can of Foster's Bitter goes down real easy after a day in the saddle. Carry eating utensils and a can opener (and corkscrew) in your saddle bags. Don't forget toothpicks.

Day 3: 6/22 Fortuna, CA to Novato, CA via Cape Mendocino

320 miles in 11 � hours. From Fortuna, I headed back North a couple of miles to Ferndale, and the start of the so-called "Lost Coast" drive, which takes you out along spectacular Cape Mendocino via the towns of Petrolia and Honeydew. This leg was truly eye-poppingly gorgeous, but meant 3� hours of hard slogging, mostly in second gear - it was tiring, and the rough road tried its best to beat me and The Fat Lady to death. The initial stretch from Ferndale was very foggy and chilly in the early morning. The view was obstructed by fog a lot during the hilly first half of the leg, but when it cleared, and you hit the coast, the view was fantastic. Sun beams came through patchy clouds, illuminating virtually deserted stretches of rocky coastline backed by green hills. The road, and life, were now good. A handful of lucky ranchers live here, but there's no hopping down to a corner market if you run out of Miller's, Bubba. There was no traffic between Ferndale and Meyers Flat, except the occasional local (who always seemed in a hurry).

Despite the great scenery, I would think twice before repeating the "Lost Coast" leg because the road was so bad. And, an air-cooled motor might not like the crawlingly slow speeds (necessary to avoid major internal injuries) on this road. I arrived via Honeydew at Meyers Flat (Hwy 101) at 11:00 am in time for lunch. From there, the "Avenue of the Giants" was dark and twisty beneath the vertically distant canopy of ancient redwoods. This road offers a good alternative to the high-speed traffic of nearby Hwy 101. Heading back towards the coast, from Meyers Flat to Leggett was enjoyable, but traffic was often heavy with few places to pass; better just to relax and go with the flow for a while.

Leggett, CA to Point Reyes

This leg serves up a generous helping of fun, beautiful coast riding. Although the road is excellent and the scenery terrific, it's clear that you're in a region dominated mainly by tourism. A lot of the traffic seems to be well-heeled middle and upper-middle class tourists, and of course, the locals (identified, presumably, by their penchant for driving like the proverbial bats out of hell). But the scenery is, after all, terrific, and there are many interesting things to see on this leg of the trip. The roads are what some might call "challenging": steep and twisty, but with good surfaces. While this is true sport bike territory, The Fat Lady handled like a ballerina.

Lodging is very expensive. If you are planning to find a motel on this leg, then consider stopping in Point Arena. The one motel I checked there charges $56 plus tax, but prices get much worse as you continue south. By the Point Reyes/Petaluma/Novato area, lodging was near $100, if you could find a vacancy. Apparently, lodging in Sonoma and Mendocino counties is very tight, for reasons that are not totally clear, but undoubtedly have to do with supply and demand.

Call me a wimp, but by 6:30 PM, I was so tired I was ready to crawl into a ditch. At the first of the two motels on the strip in Novato, the young counter clerk chirped "Sorry, no vacancy. Have a nice day." Further down the road, the whiskey-voiced manager at the Novato Days Inn ($99) said, between drags on her cigarette, that the No Vacancy situation's mainly due to the NASCAR race track nearby at Sears Point. The high-rollers, fast-laners and fat-cats that flock in for the races apparently have no shortage of spare cash. I was physically unable to ride any further. I slumped over the counter, twitching and whimpering pathetically, and begged for a room. There was one chance left: a possible reservation no-show (7:00 PM deadline). So the manager regaled me with motel industry equivalents of Tales From The Crypt until the clock struck 7:00 PM exactly, and then she handed me the room key. Whew.

While entering Petaluma around 6:30 pm, I had noted extremely heavy rush-hour traffic crawling by on northbound Hwy 101, apparently commuters from the San Francisco area. Keep these thoughts when heading into the Bay Area, NEXT TIME: plan to start this leg near Garberville, CA and skip the Cape Mendocino "Lost Coast" leg. Plan to stay in Point Arena that night. The next day, plan to get south of the Bay Area. And do not ride through downtown San Francisco.

Day 4: 6/23 The Chichi Coast I: Novato to San Luis Obispo

290 miles in 8 hours. San Francisco -- Urban Adventure # 1, or: " Map ? Don't Need No Stinkin' Map." Just blunder along Hwy 101 into downtown San Francisco. Next, somehow survive the seemingly endless and treacherous beat from one stoplight to the next in dense and crawling traffic. Finally, stumble onto the freeway heading South. Then promptly commit the next howler: exit into Daly City, thinking (?): "I could find Hwy 1 by simply heading West". Duh. Anyone who has lived in Seattle should know better. I soon found myself in a maze of gritty industrial zone back-streets. Cost: about � hour travel time, and 6 months' life expectancy.

NEXT TIME: avoid downtown San Francisco (and no, Junior, they don't call it "'Frisco"). Instead, just North of the overrated "City by the Bay", take Hwy 580 south, then 80/280 to Pacifica. Do not take any Daly City exits. Follow the freeway signs to Pacifica and Hwy 1. Also, consider skipping the coast leg from San Francisco to Monterey by going inland. There was much traffic and little scenery on this leg; the stretch around Santa Cruz seemed particularly tedious. But the leg from Monterey to San Simeon must not be missed ! Be sure to gas up in Monterey; gas is very expensive along the coast, especially around Big Sur, where at one point I paid $3/gal. for 92 octane. Can you say "Transcendental Meditation" while keeping a straight face ?

Lodging in San Luis Obispo (a college town) was again very costly: The El Toro Motel (dumpy, next to a noisy freeway exit) was $98. Vamanos, Caballeros, and don't step in the "El Toro". This was again annoying, because in my Pacific Northwest ramblings, I have almost always been able to find a motel for under $40, and quite often for under $30. And am I hallucinating, or does motel management attract more than its share of immigrant proprietors? During my tours this summer, I encountered managers from Mexico, Poland, and India (or Pakistan ? - I was afraid to ask). Oh, and South Carolina. The managers were always pleasant and helpful (if their English wasn't perfect). And notably, I have yet to encounter any anti-biker sentiment. I always try to minimize the mess I make in the rooms, and do not use any of the motel linens to clean my bike (this usually ruins same by staining). Also, when departing in the morning, I walk the bike out of earshot before firing it up, not that The Fat Lady is loud - she prefers producing power over noise.

Day 5 6/24: (Chichi Coast II): San Luis Obispo to Santa Monica CA and on across greater L.A. to Riverside

313 miles in 7 hours. The leg from Oxard to Malibu was great, but Malibu to Santa Monica was very congested - lots of beach action, low-riders, and scantily-clad SYTs (keep your eyes on the road, Bubba). At this point, I decided not to risk any more hot, slow, heavy coast traffic, so I got on the Santa Monica freeway (I-10). The ride from Santa Monica to Riverside was your typical white-knuckle, high-speed freeway scream. The Fat Lady was really in her element here: plenty of torque for shutting down the muscle cars. NEXT TIME: near Leo Carillo State Beach (just North of Malibu ), take the Sequit Canyon road to Mulholland drive inland, and go North around greater Los Angeles via the San Gabriel mountains. Pop Quiz: Who was Leo Carillo ?

After a layover in Riverside/Moreno Valley, I headed North via Las Vegas to Billings MT. But that's another tour.

Rich Ganns

 


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