Change for a Year

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16 Days Solo in the Western USA – Days 8-10

Days 8-10: California, Dinner with Strangers, and a Pacific Sunset

Miles ridden: 953; Money Spent: $142

Riding can be a solitary experience, but having a motorcycle also makes you part of a community. That’s how I’d come to spend the night, 3000 miles from home, at a complete stranger’s house. They opened their home and welcomed me simply because I was a fellow rider.

Highway 395 towards Lakeview gave a stunning view of dried up lake beds, which shone a pure white in the distance, with green shrubs in the foreground and mountains against the horizon. It was also my first twisting road along a body of water. I wasn’t disappointed.

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The curves were fantastic, growing tighter traveling west, and they were banked, with each curve dropping you down slightly and pushing the bike through, almost like a roller coaster–drop, push, swoop through the turn.

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Then after 50 miles of pleasant swooping s-turns, the road came out along a canyon, carving it’s way along the edge in an intense series of non-stop 20-30 mph curves, all of them with the same design. Drop, push, swoop–back and forth–jam on the brakes, lean, accelerate  drop down, swoop through.

Repeat. For miles and miles and miles. Too much fun.

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The thing about the west coast, especially northern California, pick any road and it’s breathtaking, though Gil would later tell me that 96 is one of his favorites, so maybe I got a little lucky. It’s also gorgeous.

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I’d been on curvy roads before, but not like this, not with over 100 miles of nonstop curves. I kept it above 50 the entire stretch, just scrubbing off speed through some of the corners by dragging the rear before shooting out the other side.

Nearly out of gas, I stopped at Happy Camp, a tiny little town tucked along the Klamath River–96 runs along it the whole way, occasionally a bridge crossing over the river and plunging the road from canyon carving into dark green forests. I walked into a local diner–five tables, a couple kids and the waitress–to find out if they had a station.

“Just down the street across from Bigfoot.”

Got to love small town directions.

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That night I met Gil and Becky, getting a warm hug and welcome to the west coast. “How’s it feel? You’re halfway there.” They were both sweet and charming, and Becky, playing an excellent hostess, got me squared away with some cold water and a hot meal. They posed for the camera (“In our pajamas?” they ask. “Don’t worry, it’s only going on the internet,” I tell them.)

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I got a free bed, my own bathroom, and much needed place to relax at the halfway point. The only requirements were signing the guestbook and getting my mugshot posted on the wall with all the other riders who’ve shared their home.

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The west coast is nice.

*****

Twisting my arm (“You should stay a day or two.” Me: “Okay.”), Gil and Becky managed to talk me into taking a rest stop before my return leg. I’d skipped the redwood forest in my rush to get to Eureka, and Gil had a route that would take me right to the Avenue of the Giants. It was only 100 miles, and I’d get a chance to capture what I’d thought had slipped through my fingers.

Going through the forests, with the trees towering above and blocking out the sun, is such a relaxing experience.

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And what would a trip to the redwood forests be without the photo next to the cross section.

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And next to a tree.

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When Gil got home we used some of his oil to give the ZZR a much needed oil change. Becky made dinner, portabella mushroom burgers, and I poured over maps, trying not to think about the fact that my budget isn’t doing so well.

We chatted for a bit, laughing at my pronunciation of Wis-con-sin. We talked motorcycles and stuck throttles, the dangers of throttle rockers and the various types of waves (Gil goes for the Ronald McDonald, five-fingered shake).

Tomorrow would be the Pacific Coast Highway, which Gil boldly proclaimed, “the best motorcycle road in the world.”

*****

When I left Gil and Becky’s the spark for the trip–the Pacific Ocean and Highway 1–was finally within reach.

The sky was overcast the whole way from Eureka, a cool, dull sky that seemed to threaten rain the whole way, but it never came, and in Leggett at the green number one California sign, I gassed up and got prepared for the Mecca of motorcycle roads.

I left the bike roaring at high RPM’s (silly, considering the $3.99 a gallon I paid in Leggett), getting into a nice rhythm, pushing hard to lean the bike then twisting the throttle and roaring the engine to pull through the s-curves, slingshoting through each slow 10-15 mph U-turn.

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After plunging for half an hour through dark green forest the road straightens out, going through towns and running along the coast. The rain still threatened to break through, but the slower pace allowed me to take in, for the first time, the Pacific Ocean.

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Once out of the towns and along the coast, the road is simply fantastic, cutting in and out along the streams and rocks that lined the ocean.

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At the first beach I had to hop off and touch the ocean. It’s like looking at the edge of the world, and the distant fog and overcast skies melted the horizon a bit, making the ocean seem even more endless.

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There’s an odd thing about taking a motorcycle trip. Just before leaving, late into the night at my friend’s wedding, his dad comes over to me, talking about my trip and telling me his wife was envious.

“That takes balls,” he said.

But I was only a credit card and two very long days from home. Looking at ocean, the water is so wide you can see the curve of the earth. Setting sail over that edge to see what’s on the other side–that takes balls.

The sun started to burn away the dull gray skies, and, driving south, the views only improved.

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Highway 1, which probably is the perfect motorcycle road, has a little something for everyone–starting tight and twisty through the forest, breaking out into ocean views, plunging you back in, carving up the coastline and going through oceanfront towns, then climbing up and up and going down and down, it’s a primer in everything to love about riding.

I set up shop in Bodega Bay, paying the $25 camping fee at the state park so I could watch the sunset and not have to drive through the night.

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On the beach, sitting on a log and staring into the sun, a cool wind blew in, growing colder and colder as the sun set, turning my hands to ice and my cheeks a bright red.

A surfer, there trying to teach a girl, swam in the ocean, and the sun, bright in the distance, began to fall.

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The roar of the ocean and the whistle of the wind drowned out the conversation, though a muffled sound of conversation and laughter occasionally came off the ocean. It truly was peaceful.

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The sky darkened. The sun vanished. The others, a man on the beach with his wife, another playing with his dog, and the surfers who’d laughter I’d heard faintly began to leave, making their way towards their cars and towards home.

I sat on the beach, the frigid air blowing harder from the black ocean. My time had come, the goal was complete and in the morning I’d head east–towards home.

———-

The whole trip:
Days 1-3Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and the Badlands
Days 4-5Wyoming, Dinosaurs, and Yellowstone
Days 6-7Yellowstone, Idaho, and Oregon
Days 8-10: California, Dinner with Strangers, and a Pacific Sunset
Days 11-13San Francisco, Yosemite, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon
Days 14-16Utah, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, and Home

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