Sean's West Coast Road Trip: Part 1A few weeks back, I decided time was ripe for a road trip. Seattle sounded as good a destination as any, so I...
A few weeks back, I decided time was ripe for a road trip. Seattle sounded as good a destination as any, so I filled up Honda's new Gold Wing F6B with camping gear and headed up the coast.
The original plan had us riding up to the California/Oregon border to camp amongst the redwoods, but since the last few “maybess” would probably become “nos,” I knew I’d be better off trying to ride and see more and spend less time sitting around a campsite for days by myself. My little brother moved to Seattle a year ago and had recently become single and it seemed like the obvious choice. I floated the idea to Honda and some gear companies for supplies (gear reviews coming shortly), spent a week or so looking at maps and campsites and Yelp reviews and letting various friends and family know I’d be in their city for a few hours or a night, packed up and I was off.
Day 1 – Los Angeles to Monterey
I had been hearing about this burger stand in Van Nuys for a while now (I’m a huge burger fan), but the problem is they are only open Monday through Friday from 8:30-4:00. Seeing as how I am very rarely in Van Nuys from 8:30-4:00, I knew this would be a convenient chance to try it, even if it was only 9:00am.
Bill has been making hamburgers out of this shack for 30 or 40 years and knows what he’s doing (let’s just say, I wasn’t the only guy there eating a burger at that hour). We got to talking a bit as his son rode motorcycles and he liked the Goldwing. He tried to find a picture of his son and bike and when he couldn’t, I said I’d be back and he could show it to me then to which he replied, “I know you’ll be back. Anyone who likes hamburgers comes back.” Bill was right, I’ll definitely go back.
The first two days were my big “see everyone I know” days so feel free to skip these sections if they bore you. Part of the beauty of a good road trip are stops like these, minutes or hours sharing coffee, wine, or whiskey with people you probably don’t see under normal circumstances and who don’t live near you. My next stop was in Ventura to see It’s Better In The Wind creator and friend Scott Toepfer. He made fun of my spaceship and spacesuit, I made fun of his Harley, and we made plans for future road trips. He’s a super talented guy I get to work with, with some regularity and who I get to see when bike stuff brings us together, but it was awesome to spend some time talking about the stuff you don’t get to in those situations. We grabbed a quick tea and I was on my way; finally, it was starting to feel like and adventure. Mostly because of the tea.
Hwy 1 North of San Luis Opisbo
From Ventura I rode the 101 to San Luis where I stopped for lunch and then got on HWY 1 headed towards Big Sur. The Goldwing was finally in its element, away from the slow city roads and traffic.
I am a big fan of the original Goldwing and was a little bummed upon packing that I hadn’t gone with it instead, but I was suddenly very happy with the way things worked out and to be on the F6B. That mini wind screen stays completely out of your vision and puts the wind right at the top of your shoulders.
The 1 from San Luis Obispo goes from pretty to prettier as you get farther north and I was finally able to stop thinking about fuel stops or destinations or who I was going to see and just got lost in the scenery. Through Big Sur the road gets pretty twisty, but the F6B was completely up to the challenge. Obviously it’s a lot of weight and you have to show it some respect when entering corners, but it was a blast to ride through all those twisty roads, slowing only to take in the view.
San Simeon Sea Lion Beach
I stopped for a few photos and, each time I did, the F6B brought a lot of attention and questions. One guy had just seen it for the first time at a show in Chicago and was really excited to spot it in the wild. Another Harley guy didn’t know what it was but said it really reminded him of a Harley bagger because of the general lines of the bike. I have been on lots of bike trips, but no other bike screams both “I’m probably on an awesome trip” and “I’m probably a really nice and approachable guy” like this thing. Sure, the Kriegas strapped to it probably helped with the trip part, but I was genuinely surprised how people just made a beeline for me when I parked.
Entering Big Sur
My first day ended in Monterey at my grandparent’s house. My grandparents are amazing and grandpa told me stories about smoking “dope” with Willie Nelson and my grandma started laughing until she swore she was about to pee her pants (wouldn’t be the first time this happened from laughing) and then said she never liked dope, but really liked the harder stuff when she was younger. As most nights end with this part of my family, we drank wine until the early morning hours when grandpa nods off and interrupts your conversations with his snoring which signals it’s bedtime. For those of you coming to Laguna Seca, they rent one of the family properties out for the event and we’ll try and do a night with them, just make sure you tell grandpa you drive an American car.
Day 2 – Monterey to Alameda
Day 2 was my big family day so I’ll keep it brief. Woke up and got on the road (after a mini photo shoot with my very proud grandmother and 30 warnings to be careful) and headed to Santa Cruz to see my dad. Lunch with him and a nice walk around his new neighborhood and I was back on the road to beat traffic to the bay area. Got to Alameda early afternoon and got to spend time with my littlest brother and sister and step mom, who I hadn’t seen in far too long. Was a beautiful visit that no one but my family would be interested to read about and I won’t subject you to that.
Day 3 – Alameda to California/Oregon border
With my family stuff out of the way, it was time to turn this into an adventure. I had two perfect days of sunshine, which ended abruptly as soon as I got across the bridge and into Marin County. Through Petaluma, I headed straight for the coast as I had planned. It was only misty and the roads were dry and I would have been able to make great time if the road hadn’t been so photo worthy. I stayed along the coast for a while until it got so wet and misty that I couldn’t see well. I decided I had already seen enough of the coast the past 2 days and that morning and I had already been on the road for a few hours and I needed to get some miles done. I don’t terribly mind riding in the rain, but riding in a heavy mist on slow windy roads that keep the water on your visor from being blown off and your mind on wondering how close you are to breaking traction isn’t all that fun.
Just North of Point Reyes
Feeling defeated for breaking from my “ride the coast all the way to Seattle” plan, I made my way to Highway 101 by way of Highway 116 through Guerneville. Highway 116, at least that day, felt like riding though Scotland which I was quite pleased about. The mist was thinning out but provided a nice backdrop for the sweeping hills and long haired cattle and the road felt far shorter than it actually was.
I’ve learned that one thing I have a really hard time with on a motorcycle is keeping my thoughts off of numbers. I think about how many miles I’ve ridden, how many miles I have left, my gas mileage, my gas mileage compared to my previous tank, if I hit the quarter tank mark at more miles this tank than last, how many miles I’ve covered since the last time I looked down at the odometer, and how many of my usual rides would fit into how many miles I have left.
If the above annoys you, I can promise that it annoys me more. Not only that, it makes the time pass SO slowly. Unfortunately, this is where my mind goes when I’m on a trip when left idle. Luckily, the route I was on was always evolving into some new scenery and, when I would normally glance at my odometer every 5 miles, I was now glancing down every 80-120. The time and miles just flew, which I mention only as a testament to how beautiful this ride is and as encouragement that you try and experience it for yourself.
I saw signs that Highway 101 was approaching and strengthened my resolve that giving up on the coast for sitting on a stupid freeway was the right thing to do, that I had to get some miles done if I was going to make it to where I wanted to camp. What I didn’t know was that the 101 in Northern California was, while entirely different, just as beautiful as any road I had been on thus far.
Miles and miles of fast, sweeping curves and trees that just kept getting bigger and bigger. When I saw the sign for a tree you could drive through, I knew I couldn’t pass it up and gladly paid 5 bucks for my photo op. It was a mile later I saw the signs for a few other touristy spots that I got bummed I didn’t have more time. I was already way behind schedule and decided I would just have to return (anyone want in on round 2?).
Avenue of the Giants
I hit the coast again in Eureka and found fuel and began to think about where I was going to stay for the night. The idea of camping in the rain this early in the trip didn't sound like fun, so I took to Yelp to find spots farther inland. A review about one spot being across from a super weird and cool diner was all I had to read before I was on my way up Highway 299 to connect to Highway 96 and to the site I found in Orleans, California as the sun started to set. Highway 299 took me up and over some mountain range near Blue Lake and through elevation changes that brought me in and out of 13th Warrior like mist. By this point it was quite dark and the road had an eery feel like the road could only lead to The Cabin in the Woods or something. The road took far longer than I thought and it wasn’t until about 10:30 when I pulled into the campsite. The diner was closed and the campsite had not even opened for the season, so I found a spot in the back and set up a tent and climbed in; hoping I wouldn’t be woken by someone during the night or early morning hours demanding money.
Day 4 – Orleans to Portland
I woke up bright and early and was quite pleased I hadn’t been yelled at, but decided not to push my luck and get packed up and out, not to mention that going without dinner the night before left me real hungry. I found a route that looked like I wouldn’t have to retrace the long way I used to cut over by taking Bald Hills Road across the Redwood National Park. As I began down it I came across signs saying it was 50 or so miles to Orick, where it hit Hwy 101, and I began to get excited at the idea of food and coffee (and assumed that by having an official sign, the road must be a legitimate route).
Campsite in Orleans
The first 20 miles were absolutely beautiful as I followed one of the rivers through the Six Rivers National Forest. There was just enough mist to make everything seem almost magical until I came across a sign that said “caution: pavement ends in 50 feet.” I honestly couldn’t tell you why I kept going, whether it was the hunger or the super twisty road I’d just ridden up in first gear that I had no desire to ride back down, or just the thought of retracing my steps 100 miles south just to get back to where I headed inland from the night before, but at this point I barely considered stopping and charged on. How bad could it be?
Six Rivers National Forest
Turns out that, while scary, it wasn’t all that bad. As Wes pointed out in his review of the F6B, this bike is a lot of things; however dirt bike is not one of them. The road I was on quickly turned from muddy road to just straight mud, but I found that by keeping it in 2nd gear and going real slow I could get through it. The engine on that thing is so good that, even with RPMs as low as I had them, the bike never shuddered or gave me any drama; it just kept on going. The only time I actually got worried was when I came to this clearing that put me somewhere above the mist and I decided I had to risk stopping and taking a picture. The kickstand sank into the mud a little more than I was prepared for and I suddenly found myself questioning how I could have ever thought it was worth leaning a 900lb bike over in the mud on a deserted road for a stupid picture.
Luckily, the mud held.
Bald Hills Road
An hour and 15 miles later, I was back on glorious pavement riding back down into the Redwood forest. I far prefer going up to downhill in general, and with the wet roads and my now muddy tires I barely noticed the scenery as I thought about what a shame it would be to crash on an empty stomach. Highway 101 came like the finish line of a marathon and within 20 minutes, I was in Crescent City deciding which shitty diner would be the best. If you were following me on Instagram through all of this, you saw I was trying to eat at least one burger a day and all I can say is that Apple Peddler’s was so bad it made me wonder why I liked hamburgers in the first place. The coffee was hot and the room was dry and I was happy regardless and I sat for far too long until I started to get strange looks from the other, non-space suit wearing, patrons.
Glad to be back on paved ground
Back outside, a guy had just ridden in from Coos Bay and told me that the weather along the coast was terrible and I decided I’d had enough excitement and pushed my luck enough for one day. I had ridden 12 hours the day before and, since I had never been to Portland, was excited to get to in an explore the city so I opted to take Hwy 199 to connect to the I-5 in Grants Pass. As with the rest of the other small highways connecting the coast and major freeways, Highway 199 was beautiful and held my attention which made getting on the mind numbing and cop filled I-5 that much harder. 178 miles and 13 speed traps later, I was pulling up to a Hostel in Portland.
Originally I had planned to stay with friends, but since everyone I know in the Pacific Northwest decided to have a baby immediately following my trip, things got complicated (did I mention Scott’s first son was born a few days after I visited him?). My friends who I was supposed to stay with called early in the day and said everything was fine but they were putting his wife on bed rest and her mom was flying out and that I could stay if I wanted to, but it would be cramped. I felt bad being a distraction but still wanted to stay in the city somewhere and a hostel was the same price as a campsite, so it seemed like a good idea.
Portland is a really cool city and I had an awesome time exploring it on foot for the afternoon and evening. The Rogue Ales brewery had some awesome beers and good food and the guy running the place was super friendly and pointed me in the direction of other cool stuff close by. I wandered around the city and stopped into a few neat watering holes and wished I had more time to spend there, but I was tired and the booze put me to sleep.
Day 5 – Portland to Seattle
I was up fairly early, but after making a TON of noise taking my space suit off when arriving at the hostel, I decided to give my new roommates a break and grab breakfast before packing up. There are tons of coffee shops and cafés around the city and it seemed like I’d have a pretty hard time failing at that so I found one and went for a walk. As the resident hipster here for RideApart, I can admit that one thing I hate about hipster culture is the way we drink coffee. There are so many things to be snobbish about, but it seems like we try to be the most snobbish about the things that matter the least and that it’s somehow better to charge more for less. This coffee shop was delicious, but I got bored when the girl tried to tell me where the beans were from and bummed when my bill was $10 for a pastry and cappuccino.
See See Coffee & Motorcycles
Back at the Hostel I packed up and was ready to go, but after drinking all 4 ounces of my cappuccino, I was left wanting when I remembered See See was in Portland and knew I would have kicked myself if I had gone through Portland and forgotten to stop in. Their shop was super cool (no surprise) and they had posters all over the place advertising different events with drawings of all different kinds of bikes on them which made me like the place even more. The coffee was delicious (but my chocolate croissant sucked) and I was on my way.
Seattle is only 180 miles from Portland and the ride was quick and boring. I was well into the second Hunger Games book through my Sena SMH10 by this point though and the miles passed as quickly as one could hope. My brother lives in a neighborhood called Capitol Hill which is filled with some of the best food and coolest bars I’ve ever been to and he, his 11 month lab, "Magnum" and I spent the following 4 days camping, exploring the city, and trying to squeeze as many meals into my girlish body as humanly possible.