February brought about cold temperatures across the United States, but not so much on the west coast. In southern California, we are plagued with nearly perfect weather 95 percent of the year, and much of that good fortune extends up toward central and northern California. Along the coast, our statesman to the north experience moderate amounts of cold, rain, and fog year round, but never arctic like conditions like those in the Midwest and East Coast. Here in California, motorcycle riding is a year round luxury. Upon my recent return home to Los Angeles, I had a handful of free time and the chance to travel on a whim.
So, I packed up my gear, charged my camera batteries, pulled out a paper map and decided to tackle a bucket list item that has stagnated on it or a while now: Embark upon a long-haul motorcycle adventure along the Pacific Coast.
I had made plans months earlier to attend The One Motorcycle Show and see a number of friends and colleagues, but now that I was home in LA, I jumped at the chance to cancel my flight and ride north. My journey from Los Angeles to Portland and back would mark the longest solo motorcycle trip I've done—I was excited.
I hope this story inspires you to carve out a little time and go on your own adventure. As for a first go on something like this, I think it went pretty damn well.
A Word to the Wise for Any Solo Trip
Plan your route. Stick to it, but also be keenly aware of alternate routes to get you where you’re going. Always have a paper map and religiously check weather reports along your route. Remember you are a motorcyclist riding in the elements, so proceed and prepare accordingly. Also, let friends and family know where you plan to be.
In my case, I prepared for two likely elements I could run into during this trip: rain and cold. Because I was to remain very close to the coastline for my whole trip and at a low altitude, I knew I would not encounter snow or ice.
Getting the Right Gear for your Trip
First, look at your motorcycle. With some common sense and logic ask yourself: What bags can I put on the back of this thing? There are a variety of luggage systems for all the different motorcycles out there, and at times it can be nauseating and complicated to figure out. Back to common sense, my advice is stick with simplicity whenever possible.
Dry bags are awesome and protect your gear from the elements, plus they are relatively affordable. My two main bags for this trip consisted of a 90L Redverz dry bag and a 38L Twisted Throttle DrySpec dry bag. Coupled with a few Rok Straps for the Redverz bag and the supplied universal mounting software for the Twisted Throttle Rigid DrySpec bag, I managed an amazing luggage system for under $260 that performed PERFECTLY for the whole trip. You can't beat the pirce—it's nothing compared to the use you will get out of it in the years to come.
The CB1100 DLX loaded up for 10 day of adventure
Above is all the gear I packed onto my bike before and after. This can be done in an unlimited number of ways but this is how I did it:
The 90L Redverez bag housed all of my camping equipment, supplies, and items not needed for throughout each day of riding. All heavy items should also be loaded in the bottom bag to ensure balance and stability (again, common sense).
Redverez 90L Contents
Tent, compressed sleeping bag, inflatable sleeping pad, dehydrated food, stove and fuel, utensils, dishware, extra cinch straps, hatchet, extra pair of boots with a couple pairs socks inside the boots, medical kit, medications, matches, spare flashlights….
Twisted Throttle Rigid 38L Dry Bag Contents
Clothes, secondary camera equipment, snacks, tool bag, tire puncture kit, flashlight.
Strapped tripod, water canteen, and spare fuel canister outside of dry bags with straps.
Bungie net used to strap down my backback to the top of the Twisted Throttle DrySpec bag.
Clothing can take up a lot of space so the key thing is pack as minimally as possible. Wear the same clothes as much as possible and accept that you will be grubby by the end of your trip. To minimize stink and potential itchiness, invest in merino wool base layers and undergarments. Anything that touches your skin should be 100 percent merino wool. Merino wool is a magical fabric that repels odor and does an excellent job at regulating and insulating body heat.
Also, think in layers: Merino wool base layer, insulated middle layers, motorcycle armor (pants and jacket), and a rain suit that fits over everything. With a clothing setup like this, you can be sure to stay comfortable in most climate's warm to cold.
The Trip and Route
Each ride day consisted of 8-10 hours of saddle time, so it was critical to get going at first light and get off the road when the sun went down. I would stress to anyone and everyone planning a route like this to never ride at night—bad things happen at night.
Day One - Santa Monica, CA to Novato, CA (484 Miles)
The first day was one of the longest days in the trip; however, it was necessary due to the need to arrive in Portland for the One Motorcycle Show. Leaving Santa Monica at 6am, I had 451 miles of highway in front of me with my destination being in Novato—a city just north of San Francisco in Marin County. I had done this drive in a car in just under six hours, but on a motorcycle that whole equation changes. Stops are more frequent, the need to eat and drink is more important, and the need to recognize fatigue becomes a real issue.
Starting point. Santa Monica, CA
Ninety-two miles into my journey, my stomach advised me it was time to eat. I found myself in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara just off on Milpas Ave. I stopped in at one of my favorite breakfast spots in the city to enjoy a bowl of the “The Best Damn Oatmeal” and a cup of coffee. Sitting on the curb enjoying my meal, I was approached by a young man named Arlo on a bicycle that commented on my bike and asked where I was headed. I kindly replied by telling him was on my way to Portland and he said he was too.
Enjoying a bowl of "The Best Damn Oatmeal" at The Shop
Arlo and his bike in Santa Barbara
Naturally, I was intrigued as he was on a bicycle, so I asked him where he started out his journey. He told me he started his trip in Boston….BOSTON! Intrigue gave way to astonishment and I did a proverbial double take.
“What? Boston? Ok, hold on, back-up. Tell me how you ended up here in Santa Barbara,” I asked.
Arlo took me through his story and it was unbelievable. At 21 years of age and with nothing but a bicycle, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and a couple pairs of clothes, he started out in Boston and cycled down the east coast through New York, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia. He hopped on a train and ended up in San Diego where he biked up to LA and back, then proceeded north to the moment in time that was our encounter in Santa Barbara. I'm sure there aren't too many kids these days embarking upon grand adventures similar to what Arlo is experiencing, but for their sake, I think they should.
Taking a break along the 101
I pushed on from Santa Barbara along the 101 passing through central California and into the Bay Area. Rush hour traffic became thick around San Francisco (as one would expect), but good ol’ lane splitting kept me from sitting still, and I made it through the city with very little time added to my planned route.
As I was passing over the Golden Gate Bridge, dusk quickly set in and I needed a quick break before reaching my final destination in Novato. There was no better vantage point than a rest stop overlooking San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco
Twenty more minutes on the bike and my day was complete. Mike Kumelis, a fellow motorcycle buddy, and his family graciously hosted me for the evening. Mike, in addition to being an avid adventure motorcycle rider, is also the owner and vintner of Mantra Winery in Sonoma County. After 10 hours of riding with no windscreen, my body was beaten and exhausted. There was simply nothing better than sitting around the dining room table, conversing with these amazing individuals, drinking some AMAZING wine, and enjoying a home cooked meal.
Enjoying a glass of wine at the end of a long day of riding
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Day Two - Novato to Sunset Bay Beach, OR (461 miles)
I woke up the next morning aiming to leave Mike’s at 7am, but that turned out closer to getting on the road at 9am. This was partially due to overwhelming soreness and a mild hangover from all the wine I imbibed at dinner—it was simply too good not to enjoy. Mike’s wife made a fantastic greasy breakfast, which helped me get back to neutral around the time I had to swing a leg over my steed.
From this point on in my journey, I was in unknown territory. I've traveled all around the state of California, but never in the north region of the bay area. To be able to experience this for the first time on a motorcycle journey was the icing on the cake. I soon was enveloped in a swath of Douglas-Fir, Cedar, Redwood, and Pine. The smell and sight of these trees transported me to a far off place in my mind and the crisp clean air reminded me I was venturing into an area sparsely populated by humans.
The day was remarkable—around every bend was a vast vista to gaze upon, a corridor of asphalt and nature, and quaint shops and local establishments to explore. I would have stopped every couple of miles, but there was ground to cover and only so much daylight in reserve.
The 101 north of Novato.
When I lived in Atlanta I frequented an amazing coffee shop in Grant Park called Octane Coffee and Bar. The ambiance and service is second to none and I'm convinced that they make the best vanilla latte that has parsed my lips. I posted such a cliché photograph on my instagram feed a couple months ago and received a comment from The Black Lightning Motorcycle Cafe in Eureka, CA. They touted that they made a latte of equal measure. Because I have a sick obsession for the perfect cup of coffee and could never pass up such a challenge, I planned my route north to include a lunch break at this fine establishment.
Outside the Black Lightning Motorcycle Cafe
Located in the small coastal town of Eureka, The Black Motorcycle Cafe is owned and operated by Jeff and Cassandra Hesseltine. Established in October of 2013, the Black Lightning Motorcycle Cafe initially sought to become a community service garage, but evolved—out of necessity—into a premier cafe and destination for both local and traveling motorcyclists. Jeff grew up with a deep love of motorcycles and spent years riding dirt bikes on his family farm in Lodi, CA, and over time, his passion for motorcycling guided his decision to create the cafe.
I arrived in Eureka around noon and parked my bike just outside the cafe in the motorcycles only parking spaces. Upon entering the cafe, I was greeted by Sarah, a lovely young woman with piercing blue eyes and a “light up the room” smile. I inquired with her if Jeff or Cassandra were available, but unfortunately they were in the process of leaving town for the weekend. A bit disappointed, I focused my attention toward quelling my hunger so I went ahead and ordered the Black Lighting Breakfast Sandwich and a vanilla latte. The sandwich was hand’s down one of the best breakfast sandwiches I’ve enjoyed in a very long time. It was quite tasty and very filling.
Inside the Black Lighting Motorcycle Cafe
I spoke with Sarah for a short while, and serendipitously Jeff and Cassandra stopped in before heading out on their week vacation. I spent a little time speaking with them both about the shop and motorcycles before pressing on toward Coos Bay.
Leah and Sarah. Baristas at the Black Lightning Motorcycle Cafe
Back on the bike, I soon came to the California-Oregon border. My first thought upon entering Oregon was I would no longer be able to split lanes. This made me sad, but said sadness quickly departed my thoughts as I came around a bend and was treated to a simply majestic view of a craggy coastline with rolling fog.
Crossing the border. I had to remind myself that I was no longer allowed to split lanes.
I had expected cold and rainy weather on this trip, but thankfully I didn't encounter rain. Cold weather, on the other hand, had became a real issue once in Oregon and I was kicking myself hard for not having any heated gear or heated grips. I unfortunately had no other option other than to push through and get to where I was going.
Darkness began to fall and the last 15 miles into Coos Bay was definitely starting to take its toll on my physical being, so I stopped into a 7-11 to warm up and grab a cup of coffee. After a quick break, I pressed on 10 miles west to a campground in Sunset Bay that I reserved a couple days before leaving Los Angeles. Located on the Oregon coast, Sunset Bay Beach State Park offers travelers huts and camp spots at a pretty cheap rate. I pitched camp, got comfy in my tent, broke in on some dehydrated food, and made dinner before knocking out for the night.
Oregon's beautiful coastline
Cooking dinner at the Sunset Bay Beach Campground
Day Three Coo’s Bay to Portland, OR (231 miles)
I woke up at 8am to the sound of crashing waves and cool temps. After making some breakfast and breaking down camp, I loaded up my gear and bundled up hoping the weather would warm up.
Breakfast at Sunset Bay Beach campground.
I was back on the road around 9:45am. I exited the campgrounds and was instantly greeted by a postcard view of Sunset Bay. Because I arrived under the veil of darkness, I had no idea this picturesque landscape existed. In Oregon, interstate 101 becomes the de facto coastal highway. It hugs the coastline closely and affords travelers with a plethora of magnificent views around every bend. Such spectacular visual beauty allowed me to ignore the numbness in my fingertips for the rest of my ride into Portland.
One of many coves along Sunset Bay Beach
Filling up before hitting the road for the day
A happy pup at the gas station
Always pack paper maps. ALWAYS.
One of many rivers in Oregon along the 101
I could have stayed on the 101 all the way along the coast, but could not afford the time to ride it all the way north. I cut over to the I-5 courtesy of highway 126 and arrived in Portland just before the sun went down. he next three days would be spent enjoying the good company of friends and experiencing The One Motorcycle Show.
Which you can read about here.
Words and Photos by Sam Bendall // @livemotofoto