Travelogue: San Francisco and Surrounds by Motorcycle

It’s All Over

With some sadness, I handed the Triumph Tiger Explorer back to Dubbleju at 5pm local time. My ride here is over, and I don’t know when I’ll be back in California to ride.

There are few places in the world that offer the variety and quality of riding around San Francisco. Actually that’s probably not that true, there may be many. But that still doesn’t negate the awesome riding in this part of the world.

Friday saw me pick up the bike in what the weather channel assured was “100% Precipitation.” It was wet, grey, and cold. But given the bike rental was paid for, there wasn’t time to let a little discomfort get in the way of a great ride. First things first, head south to Palo Alto to check into my hotel, then up Old Page Mill Road to the 84 and the World Famous Alice’s Restaurant for lunch.

The 280 South is arguably a nicer higway than the 101 through Silicon Valley. Still, in the pouring rain, fairly strong winds, with limited visibility on a strange bike, it takes all your concentration to navigate and stay safe on this 8 – 12 lane road. Even having done this ride before, using the iPhone & Google Maps is critical. As in many developed parts of the world traffic flows at insane speeds, and you need to position yourself for a safe exit. Patience for ignorant drivers and last second lane changers is not very high.

The Mountains

From Palo Alto, head west on Page Mill Road, past Hewlett Packard Enterprise, under the 280 and you get into the Los Altos Hills. Then it’s all scrub forest with switchbacks and hairpins until Skyline Boulevard, where it changes to pine. Given the gloom, driving rain, and slippery roads, it was slow going. Very slow. Slow enough to let a couple of cars pass me. No point in pushing to the limit to come around a corner to debris or a puddle across the road.

Take a right and it’s about 6 or so quick miles with sweepers to the famous motorcycle watering hole, Alice’s Restaurant. Usually you can’t find a park with the hundreds of bikes there, although a 5pm on this sodden Friday it was cagers that made up the clientele. Mine was the solo bike. Alice’s makes The Old Road Cafe, and Pie in the Sky on the Old Pac outside Sydney look like roadside shacks. The restaurant has old world charm, friendly staff, and an awesome menu. They’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner until 9pm. If you’re here, on a bike, you have to go.

Actually, if you’re here, you have to go.

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Coming back in the dark, down the unlit, unguarded, Old Page Mill road reminded me a little of India. Nowhere near as rugged, or scary, or awe inspiring, but definitely requiring skill, effort and endurance.

South & West to Santa Cruz

Saturday looked promising, and as a good friend was in Santa Cruz surfing for the week-end before his work gig, that looked the best route for the day. Whilst there are motorways that will get you to Santa Cruz quickly, that wasn’t the point. So again up Old Page Mill road, straight into a rain shower. Doh. By the time I made it to the only bridge to stand under, it was almost not worth putting waterproofs on.

At the top of Page Mill, you turn left rather than right to take Skyline to SC. Filled with way too much overconfidence I was riding sans navigation. Only when finding myself on a single track path did I realise one of the inocuous turns way back led to my destination. A u-turn saw me on Bear Creek Road, which does eventually drop you onto the Santa Cruz highway. Of course not directly to the highway, so another 50/50 coin toss saw me riding up Montevina Road. Whilst this leads, pretty much nowhere, it winds up another mountain. Which makes it a fantastic ride, with spectacular views.

At the top of Page Mill, you turn left rather than right to take Skyline to SC. Filled with way too much overconfidence I was riding sans navigation. Only when finding myself on a single track path did I realise one of the inocuous turns way back led to my destination. A u-turn saw me on Bear Creek Road, which does eventually drop you onto the Santa Cruz highway. Of course not directly to the highway, so another 50/50 coin toss saw me riding up Montevina Road. Whilst this leads, pretty much nowhere, it winds up another mountain. Which makes it a fantastic ride, with spectacular views.

Any road that has no traffic, which by and large means little if any enforcement, good tar, and winds up or down a hill, is a good road.

Then it was on the 17 through Scott’s Valley into Santa Cruz. This is both a seaside, and university town. Although the weather meant that most of the beachfront was closed. There was a lone surfer in the water, which considering Dave didn’t answer my calls, I assumed was him. Seems I’m not the only mad nutter enjoying his passion in inclement weather.

You may get rain, but you also get rainbows
You may get rain, but you also get rainbows

PCH – California 1 South

If the PCH is meant to be spectacular sea vistas, and twisty cliff roads, south from San Francisco to Santa Cruz (or in my case returning north) is not that section. To be fair the road extends almost down the entire state, from Leggett in the North, to Dana Point, Orange County in the South – some 656 miles or over 1000 kms. In short, pretty far. Most of this route, with the possible exception of traversing metropolitan LA, is indeed spectacular. But this section would be what anywhere else in the world we’d call a motorway. I.e. Boring. Not entirely of course, but this was a 70-80 mph ride, adjacent to a spectacular sunset, back to the city.

Metropolitan San Francisco

On Saturday night I stayed at a hotel in the Marina, and of course I collected and returned the bike right on the other side of town. So traversing this city has become somewhat of a specialty.

As with most US cities, navigation is easy. Everything is always laid out in a grid, and the grid is labelled consistently. Invariably one of the sets of parallel streets is numbered, and the other named. The names will either be in alphabetical order, or follow a theme. But left, right, 4 blocks, left, left, right. Like I said, easy.

Traffic can be a nightmare. For a grid arranged city, they simply haven’t been able to phase lights intelligently. So 4 km’s across the city can take you 30 mins.

This in itself is pretty disconcerting. This afternoon my fuel, BT headset, iPhone, and time, all decided to race to empty. In rush hour traffic. There’s nothing like a little stress to end a great week-end of riding is there? No, there really isn’t. But it seems a theme of mine.

It doesn’t seem you can park bikes for free as in Sydney. Although I did see a number of bikes, back to the curb. Whether they park between cars, only outside of metred hours, or simply paid, I don’t know. There are 3 or so motorbike parking spots, but good luck finding a space. So I found a hotel with free parking and either Uber’ed or walked everywhere I needed/wanted to go whilst in the city.

PCH – California 1 North

Sunday. True to it’s name, was glorious. A late night with friends (3am) meant a late wake-up, breakfast at a cafe, then load the bike and head North towards Stinson Beach on the PCH.

Now that’s what I’m talking about.

First you have to traverse the Golden Gate Bridge. Which, let’s face it, is Awesome! At almost 2 kms (1966m to be exact) this is almost twice as long as that other awesome bridge to traverse, the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s 1.1km (or rather 1,149m) Other similarities are the speed limit, 45 mph or ~70 kph, and no-one drives the speed limit. However, this has much wider lanes, which in California you’re legally permitted to split.

Next is off at Tamalpais, some 3 or 4 junctions north of the bridge. Wind through the homesteads, and then open her up in the twisties.

You can either stick to CA-1, the PCH, which after a little forest breaks out onto the cliff, and hangs there all the way into Stinson. Or you can head right onto the Panoramic Highway. This is about equidistant, but a slightly slower route. It runs through state forest, and just one of those sublime roads to ride. On Sunday I returned this way. It was dry, and relatively traffic free, allowing me to swoop round corners on the big blue machine and accelerate out with a grin so large the Cheshire Cat would’ve been jealous.

On Monday, however, the SF fog rolled in, and it was spooky, cold, with water run-offs everywhere. Still better than the OPH north of Sydney.

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The PCH itself, is well, spectacular. Unguarded road extends to the cliff edge, overlooking the mighty Pacific ocean, not living up to its name, with a maelstrom of surf and rocks below.

Once past Stinson, the road to my northernmost stop, Port Reyes, turns in big sweepers through forest and farmland, and past a lake. Your speed opens up, and there is just enough cornering action to keep on the road.

I had Sunday lunch at the Farm House. Another themed restaurant, that is was probably never a farm house. Still the food is great, the ambience Americana, and that is precisely why we’re here.

Fin

And so, back to where it all started. I delivered the bike at precisely 5pm (thanks to lane splitting), checked it in, called an Uber, and rejoined corporate America.

So glad I made the effort…

…If you get the chance. If you have to come to SF for any reason. Check out these roads.

 

OMG!!

Project 2012: Day 260

Day Seven

The original itinerary was to head down to Fort Bragg from Eureka. But as that was only about 60 miles away, and Al & I’d spent a day playing in the Shasta’s we decided to try and push as far as San Francisco.

Will the Real World Famous Drive Through Tree Please Stand

First though, the obligatory, gratuitous tourist attraction of riding through trees. I know. But how often do you come across a tree you can ride through?

(Not the “Real”) World Famous Drive Through Tree

We saw a sign to the “World Famous Drive Through Tree” at Shrine, just south of the campground. They only opened at 9, and we didn’t have small enough change for the $4(!!!) per motorbike fee. So we waited.

This tree wasn’t exactly what we expected, neither did it look like any of the pictures we’d seen. Still we’d paid our money and got the video, photo (but not the t-shirt)

Next another ADVRider suggestion to head through Leggett onto Route 1. And you’ll never guess what’s at the little town of Leggett (pop 307). The Real World Famous Drive Through Tree. This one only costs $3 per motorbike, and you get a $1 rebate in the gift shop. Doh!

So set up the tripod again for the videos and photos. Only this time we were interrupted by about 8 Harley riders and three car loads of tourists. We didn’t get away until about 11am. So much for an early start.

To the Coast.

Time to start putting the C into the PCH, as we headed towards the coast from Leggett. Can I say that I’d rate this as the best bike road I’ve ridden if I hadn’t ridden the 99 to Spirit Lake in Mt St Helens, or the 299 to Weaverville, or the Newington B Drury Scenic Drive. Ok, ok, but this is a seriously good biking road.

It twists and turns through the forests. The only thing is the lack of shoulder, or guard. So you take a tight right hand turn, look down over your shoulder for hundreds of feet to the forest floor below. Scary. You definitely want to keep your line.

This is also the very first time on the trip I’ve come across an inconsiderate driver. We were stuck behind a Chevrolet Pickup for over half the ride, constantly creeping around corners, and braking at every opportunity. But would they pull over into the turn out? Not on your life. It got bad enough for us to stop for 10 minutes and allow them to head on so we could finish the ride at a decent speed.

We still caught up to them before the end. Eventually, we overtook on a relatively straight stretch of road.

You climb this crazy, twisty, scary mountain road through the forest, and suddenly you burst onto the coast. OMG!!

This is how I’d always imagined the PCH. High bluffs, amazing vista’s, twisty road. Here the Route 1 delivers. In spades.

My Kingdom for WiFi (and Power)

Although deciding to push on from Fort Bragg, it was time to stop for lunch. As I hadn’t charged my Bluetooth Headset in Astoria, it had died in the morning, leaving me music-less. Travesty, I know!

Also, the helmet cam batteries were flat. So we needed a place with WiFi to figure out accommodation in SF, and power for all the gadgets. I’ll save the long version. When you’re in Fort Bragg, get yourself to the Boatyard. Now this isn’t actually a boat yard. There are no boats, nor is it a yard, and it’s not anywhere near water. But it is a shopping centre, and the location of Dave’s Deli.

This establishment does have free WiFi. And power. And awesome food. So despite it being 12pm it was time for breakfast. In fact when the food came out OMG! (Again)

By the time I reach San Francisco

We left at about 2pm which meant we were constricting our available travel time to San Francisco. But the ride was just too awesome. The tar goes literally right to the edge of the bluff. I mean right to the edge. There is no shoulder. From the tar you drop hundreds of feet onto rocky surf or into forest.

This makes the ride very demanding, but the road is mostly smooth, and the limit 55mph.

Between the road, the traffic, and the delays, we were running very late. Eventually at Stinson Beach I called a stop. It was now gone 8pm, and dark. It turned out we were only 23 miles from SF, so we decided to push on.

2 miles later, in the pitch black, in fog, with virtually no road markers, and no guardrails, we turned back. It is just way too dangerous to ride this road at night. Time to find accommodation and a meal.

The meal was easy. The Sand Dollar Cocktail Bar and Restaurant sated out hunger admirably. Is it really a sin to have Gruyere Cheese, Bacon, and Avocado on a Burger? If so, forgive me Lord.

Accommodation was harder. But only slightly.

Google identified the Pontall Trail Campground in the Mount Tamalpais State Park, just 3.8 miles away. Awesome.

So we hightailed it up the mountain. Now about 10pm. To find this is a “walk in” campsite. i.e. you have to carry all your luggage from your vehicle, up the mountain. And it was about 87F up here too. Insane.

Then we discovered (after I’d found a small campsite) that all the campsites were full. By now we’d popped the $25 through the self registration window. Doh!

Still I wasn’t going anywhere else. Turns out the campsite I’d found was a “hike and bike” group site. Usually just $5 per person. As it was late, there was space, no one else was going to come, and we’d paid 2.5 times the rate, we pitched our tents and fell into a deep slumber. Well, judging by the snoring, Al did anyway.

He claims I speak in my sleep, and snore.

… I have no idea what he’s talking about.

 

 

Getting Close Now

Project 2012: Day 227

Update 1 – Planning

Travel

The planning phase for my Bucket List Ride, the Topdown Tour of the US 2012 is really starting to ramp up now. I’ve booked and paid for most of the bike rental. I pick up the bike in Seattle on 9th September from Motoquest. My flight is booked, as is the Vancouver to Seattle bus.

I’ve also paid for a return flight from Long Beach to Seattle for the 19th September, when Lucy and the girls fly in to the US.

Safety Gear

Because I’m riding alone, I wanted to ensure that people could track my progress, and that I have a way to call for help, or alert Emergency Authorities even if there is no cell signal. To this end I ordered a SPOT GPS Messenger, which does exactly that.

You can follow my progress on the page on this blog. I’ll also be testing it on my Black Dog Ride week-end that you can check out at http://blackdog.rog42.net. Feel free to sponsor me 🙂

The one frustration is that a device that costs just $99 in the USA (which is about AU$93) is charged at $200 here in Australia. “On Sale”

I also ordered a UTAG ICE Dog Tag. This is a USB device that carries all of my personal, identification, medical and emergency contact information. Along with insurance details. If I’m unconscious, I want to ensure that people can rapidly get the information they need to treat me. Especially insurance in the USA, not to mention my rare blood type.

This is a cool device that hangs around your neck, just like a dog tag, but plugs into any USB drive.

Home from Home

Camping

I’m planning to get off the beaten track, and at least half of my nights will be camping. Partly to minimise cost, but mostly because I actually enjoy getting out into nature, and the ride from Top to Bottom on this continent’s coast has some of the most spectacular nature in the world.

Now Air Canada is quite strict on their “1 bag 23kg” policy, so I’ve been researching light, strong, weather proof, compact, yet large enough, inexpensive tents. 🙂 No mean feat. Especially when this has to include my Helmet, and Riding gear.

After weeks of research, including building an Excel model, looking at tents both locally (more expensive, have to include in flight weight) and in the USA (less expensive, have to bring it back, potential warranty issues) I ended up finding a tent left over from the Aldi “Extreme Hiking and Mountaineering Sale”

Alloy poles, gear loft, alloy pegs, taped seams, bathtub groundsheet, 2 entrances, 2 vestibules, in a compression dry bag, at only 2.5kgs and just AU$70 – bargain. 🙂

Especially when you have 60 days to return it if not satisfied.

Now I’m doing the same with both sleeping bags, and hiking self inflating mattresses. I’m also looking at a dry bag for the camping gear on the back of the bike.

At the moment I’m unsure about cooking equipment, as I may just eat out all the time. I’d rather not spend too much time shopping at supermarkets.

Electronics

Another big issue is what to take in the way of electronics. On the one hand I don’t want to spend all my time editing, and posting etc. On the other this is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and I don’t want to leave the SLR at home and then get to experience a shot that I’ll never get the chance to see again.

Of course all of you get to live life vicariously through my lenses as well.

;

Suffice to say I’ll have:

  • Contour GPS Helmet Cam
  • iPhone 4S for most Instagram and Candid Shots
  • Canon 550D with twin lens for serious photography
  • All three of the above devices take HD video – but I may try and reclaim my Flip Camera from the friend I lent it to a year ago
  • For editing and Internet, I’m tossed between the iPad and the MacBookPro. I’m erring toward the iPad at the moment because of battery life, ease of charging, limited replacement cost should something happen to it, weight, and the limited functionality will minimise the time I’m messing around with electronics. Mostly this trip is about disconnecting.

To that end, I’ll be testing the iPad this week-end as well. If it works, I’ll leave the MacBook at home. I can pretty much do everything on the iPad and iPhone.

That’s it – I’m getting the riding gear together as well, but I’ll leave that for another update.

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