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.

 

Stayin Alive

Project 2012: Day 261

Day Eight

After the “Hike or Bike” mixup last night, even though we paid so much more than the campsite fee, we decided to avoid the discussion and leave early. 7am in fact.

Which meant that we were above the fog. Literally a silver lining on the metaphorical cloud of our adventurous mishaps. I so love Serendipity.

As we dropped through the fog layer, the temperature dropped about 30F in a mile. Glad I left the thermal liner in. It was seriously chilly at the coast

Sunday Bikers

Much like the Royal National Park south of Sydney, or the Old Pacific north, the PCH is a favourite haunt for bikers on a Sunday morning. We must’ve passed about 20 sports bikes, riders all leather clad, zooming at insane speeds through the fog. I guess they know this road.

One of them overtook a car, on a blind curve, in the fog, right opposite Al in front of me. He was back in his lane about 1 sec before colliding (so plenty of time) but both he and the car were hooting. I’m not sure who got the biggest fright. The driver or me. I had nowhere to go, and skid marks to prove it.

Gratuitous Tourism

Next thing I knew, we were on the Golden Gate bridge. At least I think it was, the fog was about head height, so there wasn’t much bridge to see. But we’ll take another check for the bucket list, riding a motorbike over the Golden Gate.

Of course we had to stop for the photo opps, so dropped down to the “Warming Hut” only to find a marathon on in the city. More on that later.

The bridge, even in fog, is spectacular, and certainly rivals the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Scale is to be seen to be believed. Then there’s also Alcatraz off to the right, and downtown in the distance.

Hello to Old & Goodbye to New

I finally caught up with Peter Roosakos, after 2 days of trying to sync. We were going to have breakfast together, but the marathon meant all roads to the watefront cafes were closed.

This meant we got the scenic tour of the city, trying to find a secure park for the insecure bikes. Either San Francisco has a lot of homeless people, or I was especially sensitive to them. My bright red duffel bag, stuffed with camping and clothing goodies was particularly vulnerable to simply unstrapping and carrying away.

After about 40 mins of trying to hook up, Al decided he was going to push on. He needed to make LA for Monday, so was planning to head about halfway down the coast. As I was hooked up for a night in Santa Cruz, the day was mine to fritter in SF.

So after 4 days of camping, couch surfing, dining, riding, photos, videos, and sharing a bunch of laughs. My new good friend, Al the mad Virginian, and I parted ways. I still reckon he snores louder though.

Pete and I then parked my bike, parked his Lotus Elise, which promptly broke down. So we humped all my luggage about a (very long) mile to his car, and filled it up. To the brim.

For a second day running I had breakfast at lunchtime. Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs (& cheese & potatoes). So much for losing weight before the family arrives.

Pier 23 is very much like Watson’s or Double Bay. Full of well to-do yuppies, watching the sailboats in the harbour. Perfect!

Golden Gate Take Two

Besides the fog, my helmet camera batteries were flat, so I totally missed video of riding across the bridge. Given the fog had mostly lifted, and I’d taken receipt of new contour batteries, it was time to rectify that.

So across the bridge I went again – North, loop, then Southbound. Then just continued on Route 1 towards Santa Cruz.

This was not riding. Just bumper to bumper traffic getting out of the city, for about an hour.

Then it was on the edge of the cliffs again for more great riding. Seriously I don’t know how you could live here and not have a motorbike.

Santa Cruz

What a great little town (pop ~100k) The wharf, the boardwalk. A real surfer & student town. The sun was shining as I decompressed along the wharf, taking in the seals, seagulls, and locals.

My second scare, pretty much on the whole trip, was entirely my fault. I was stopped at the lights in the middle lane, and suddenly thought I should be turning right. So I checked my mirror, indicator on, and pulled out to the right. This white pickup who was behind a truck behind me had the same thought about 5 seconds before me, and was accelerating up the inside lane as I pulled out. He ducked right, I stopped, and we missed each other by a ball hair.

Seriously, the first head check I’ve missed in 2 years of riding, and 2,000 miles on this trip, and there’s a car there. Rule #1, look with the Mark 1 eyeball before maneouvering. Phew. Not making that mistake again.

Then it was over to meet my next friend, and ADVRider host for the evening, Paul. Another great guy, Paramedic, Fire Fighter, and motorcyclist. Not to mention adventurer.

Paul has travelled the world. Literally. On a bicycle. The next time you consider “glamping” for a taste of life, think about cycling from, oh, say Darwin to Sydney…

…after South-East Asia.

As all my hosts in this fabulous country, he is super-friendly, kind, and hospitable. As a fellow adventurer, Paul knew just what I needed (shower, laundry, beer, food, and conversation) and supplied in bucket loads. We went into town, to an Irish pub, Rosie’s for a great dinner, and they even checked my ID (not without some prompting, mind)

Our conversation was varied and interesting. Of course we avoided all the taboo subjects that can lead to arguments: Politics, sex, and religion. 🙂 Not.

And in the morning, there was Power, WiFi, Eggs, Toast, Tea (!!!), & clean dry clothes.

Awesome.

I love camping, but after 8 hours in the saddle, a mattress is most welcome.

 

 

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.