Friday, August 03, 2007

Road Trip

I know what Hunter Thompson said, but the truth is still that when the going gets weird, it's best to leave town. I'm about to do just that, again, about which more later. But first some updates.

What happens on the roadtrip stays on the roadtrip - that's the rule, so if this report seems a bit skeletal, you know why. But I think there's probably enough low-level-clearance information available to keep folks entertained.

I've been wanting to ride a bike down to the Bay Area for, oh, three years. Even contemplated doing it on my GS450 back in the day, for one of the Lonely Planet author workshops in Oakland, but a wise counselor suggested I'd need all my internal organs in pristine, unrattled shape in order to properly destroy them at the workshop, which turned out to be true. It would've been a brutal ride home, my liver taking up both saddlebags, etc. So I waited and waited, and finally this summer a window opened up. Well, kind of. I was supposed to be dutifully whittling down my 250-page Seattle city guidebook into a 29-page section of a different guidebook. But how long could that take, really? I knew the coordinating author wasn't stressed about it, so I decided it would take two days and that those two days could follow a 10-day road trip, dang it. I owed my pals John and Sean a visit. I didn't get my big road trip last year thanks to mangled hand-knee combo (see gore pics). And once again I missed going to Sumpter with the fellas in May because I was in Sweden. So - carpe moto.

The timing was perfect, as two friends also wanted to ride down that week. The Italian Cowboy owed his Frisco friends a visit, and Jack was headed to Laguna Seca for the MotoGP. Jack's a pro at this road-trip thing and knew all the good roads, so we tailed him.

But first there was racing. It was Vintage Days at PIR, which meant four races for me (I think - it gets blurry after about a lap and a half). Made my fastest lap times ever, and on the last race of the weekend I only got lapped by the two fastest guys, as opposed to the usual lapped-by-half-the-grid thing. I do tend to place myself in the best possible spot for watching the end of the race. Plus, the innocent or optimistic might be persuaded to believe I came in third. Haha.

Anyway. Two long, hot days of racing, then one day of trip prep...we were set to leave for SF Tuesday morning. On Monday I went outside to find that the back tire of the Hawk was 100% flat. Oops! I feared the wrath of the Italian Cowboy, who was all in a rage to leave town that minute if not sooner and get as far from Portland as possible. "I wanna go NOW, Becky! I just wanna ride!" So, I hustled, finished whatever LP chapter I was on, threw together my packet of maps to mail to Oz, took a wee nap, packed in 10 minutes and zipped over to Vicious Cycle first thing Tuesday morning. And once again the World's Best Motorcycle Shop rescued me, the damsel in distress. Thanks, guys! Tire plugged, I zipped over to the meeting point, where precedent for the rest of the trip was about to be set: Jack & Becky enjoy three or four leisurely coffees, after which Italian Cowboy rolls up late in cloud of angst. Hooray! Time to go!

First day was kind of boring, straight down I-5 to vegan sandwiches in Eugene, then a mini-jag over to Drain (99 to 38 to 138, I believe) and back to the highway. I'm pretty sure we stayed in Grants Pass that night, but can't remember getting there. I know it was late when we rolled in, and we stayed at Motel 6 and had to eat at Denny's because everything else had closed. One beer each in a karaoke lounge, where we discovered that Grants Pass is the secret Capital of Karaoke. All the residents are rock stars. Tell your A&R peeps to check it out.

^ Requisite road-trip bike-porn shot.

Grants Pass also has a whole bunch of totally weird, large ceramic clothed-animal sculptures (mostly bears) decorating the city sidwalks. If you're into that sort of thing.

Next day we took 199 to Cave Junction and went up to the Oregon Caves National Monument. Did the tour, Cowboy enraged. ("I just wanna RIDE!") Found out about the Oregon Cavemen, who had parties in the caves during the '50s. They'd dress in fur, carry clubs, grunt at each other and drag their cavewomen around by the hair, while in the background DJs spun Thog rock by the Troglodytes, Randy Luck, Tommy Roe, Jerry Coulston and the Hollywood Argyles. (OK, I'm making that last part up. But how awesome would it be?) Anyway. The weight of so much rock overhead turned us primal - an uncharacteristic lust for cigarettes being the least dangerous urge our gang experienced - and we resolved to wear bear costumes for our next foray into the caverns of rage.

We continued south on 199, then turned off onto the road to Happy Camp. Very pretty. At HC we turned left onto 96, then did a smidge of 263 to Yreka (home of the famously nonexistent palindrome bakery), where we declared ourselves done for the day and found a hotel. Ten seconds later it started pouring rain. Sweet!

Yreka is a damned strange town. Cowboy had scouted around a bit, so after the ritual beer-and-pizza-devouring we wandered over to this place called the Jolley something something, identified by a neon skull and crossbones, at which point begins the section of this tale that is classified. Sorry. I can tell you that I saw the naked nether regions of more than one strange man, collected a brand-new alias by accident, almost got married, fended off Jaeger shots, met the nephew of someone famous and then forgot who the famous person was.

From Yreka we took Highway 3 all the way down to Weaverville and on until it met the 36, aka Becky's Favorite Road Ever. (And I didn't even know the half of it yet!) We took the awesome, awesome 36 to Fortuna, a creepy little town with a good Mexican restaurant on the main drag. Then we headed south, doing a tiny smidge of the very gorgeous but chaotically surfaced Lost Coast road before Jack took pity on our sportbike suspensions and we continued south along Avenue of the Giants (which parallels 5 and is much much nicer). Bypassing a number of likely hotels and petrol stations in Garberville, we continued to a mythical youth hostel we'd heard about in Leggett. Sources described it as "cool," which turned out to have been most likely a typo for "closed." There was no hostel, it was dark, I was out of gas and so was my bike. We called some hotels in Garberville but all seemed to be booked. Panic began to seize our heroine.

Luckily the Italian Cowboy had seen a likely-looking camp compound a few miles back. So he scouted us out a cabin, which turned out to be awesome. The Bear Room: bears everywhere. Huge bed. Outdoor kitchen. Beer at the shop. I drank half a beer and passed out in my clothes, happily.

Next day we did the drive-through tree, then took the excellent, curve-a-licious Hwy 1 to the coast and southward. Had breakfast/lunch in Fort Bragg, which to me is where it really started to feel like California. Maybe just because it was a coastal town but, unlike on the Oregon coast, the outdoors were room-temperature. And the diner had organic everything.

We rode south along 1 for a while, then branched off inland on the 128, which someone had told us was awesome. It was just average most of the way, but then suddenly toward the end it lived up to its rep - at my favorite part, it turned into the motorcycle equivalent of a black-diamond mogul run, say Mirage up at Monarch, a narrow, twisty line snaking tightly up the hill and back down the other side. Cool. Turned my legs to jelly.

That let us out at Cloverdale, where we hopped on the 101 for a bit, then hopped off at Healdsburg-ish and took a mystery road to Jenner to get back on Hwy 1. And that took us all the way into town, via the Golden Gate Bridge, which turned out to be Not At All Scary despite my worries. It was actually totally awesome - we hit it in perfect afternoon light, very romantic. Then Jack led us (quite sneakily) to Lombard, San Francisco's crookedest street, brick-paved and very steep. So the little Hawk is now in ten thousand Japanese tourist photos.

Following Jack partway, I motored over to the Mission District and found Sean's apartment. Success! Parked, changed, went out. John led us on a beer tour of the 'hood, then we climbed Bernal Heights Hill to see the view (and because, well, 50,000 squats in one day just didn't seem like quite enough exercise, you know?). We took the slide on the way down. Fun.

Next day we slept in, went to hipster breakfast joint, then drove around looking at the city. After all that riding, it was awesome just to be driven around. We checked out a bicycles-and-beer fest in Golden Gate Park, then the Presidio and Legion of Honor and various neighborhoods before meeting a friend of John's at the Parkside, which has a dreamy outdoor patio. Then we ate cheesesteaks, then the boys ate a second cheesesteak, then we took naps and watched a movie. Went out that night to Li-Po and the Buddha Bar, finishing at Ha-Ra's, home of my new favorite old-curmudgeon bartender, Karl. He's grouchy. "Didn't you see the sign on the door? We're closed," he growled when we walked in. Next day we drove out to Treasure Island, took some pix, and then met the Cowboy at the Zeitgeist for MotoGP. They wouldn't turn on the sound and it wasn't that great a race. We met my friend Tom (coolest guy on earth) at Vesuvio for beers, then crossed the street to Specs (coolest place on earth) for a few more. Tom pointed us to a good Italian restaurant, Capp's, so we had a huge dinner, dropped off John and went to Delirium for a bit, then back to Sean's. Later I found out the Cowboy was hanging with Devendra Banhart at Delirium one night. Didn't know who he was, though. Thought he was just some dude who looked like Jesus.

Next day (Monday) John and I split a six-pack at Dolores Park and admired the view. Some parts of it more than others. (See pic below.) We spent some time poking around in bookshops on Valencia, including the McSweeney's pirate shop, where John got mopped. Had beers and popcorn at Lucky 13, then went to Zeitgeist and met Jack and Cowboy to plan route home.

Highlight of the trip home was Stewart's Point Road, a mysterious and easily missed branch off Hwy 1 between Plantation and The Sea Ranch (whatever those are) that starts out looking like a badly maintained driveway and ends up in race-track heaven. I'd felt clumsy all morning and most of the afternoon, but this road made me feel COOL. Perfect orangey sunset lighting up this buttery road, perfectly proportioned corners you could take just as fast as you wanted to without a scrap of anxiety. It was epic. We stayed somewhere in Cloverdale, which I don't remember at all. Ate breakfast at the Owl Cafe, I think. Then went north on 128 and over to Hopland to connect to 175, which we'd heard was awesome. It was pretty good, but it led us into claustrophobic traffic and oppressive heat around Lakeport. We took some small road up to 20, then 20 across the lake (through Lucerne!), to Williams where we hit the 5 for an 80-mile slog up to Red Bluff. Ate lunch at a Mexican place in Red Bluff, and then hit the second half of Becky's Favorite Road Ever: 36. Yeay!

It was rad. Everyone should ride this road. And quick, too, because it looked as if they were about to flatten out its rollercoastery beauty. Major drag.

We took 36 all the way back to the coast, possibly foolish since it was 5pm when we started on it in Red Bluff. Oh well. Hit some serious fog along the way, which was COOL but scary (couldn't see ten feet, no exaggeration), and then it got dark and sort of, um, moist. Not exactly raining, because rain doesn't stick to your visor like this stuff did. I couldn't see a thing, so followed the Cowboy's taillight very slowly into Fortuna. Here we realized that we were of course hideously late for finding a hotel room, once again. Still creeped out by Fortuna, we decided to try Eureka. (While there, I got a text message from a friend asking where we were, and I got to reply, "Eureka!" Easily amused, I admit.) Anyway. We ended up plowing north up 101 to Arcata, where we found the very last room available that night for less than $300. It was small and icky and in a Motel 6 - smelled like a geriatric ashtray - but across the street was a food store that was still open at 11pm, so we stocked up, watched TV and passed out. Yeay!

Next morning, bagely breakfast in Arcata, foggy slog up 101, epic battles against the wind along the Oregon Coast, me plastered to tank in order to keep Hawk from flying away into the ocean... ate lunch somewhere, took 38 to Drain, got back on the 5 all the way up. Jack mildly injured in vicious Wasp Attack. Cowboy's bike overheated 10 miles out, jeopardizing our greatly anticipated homecoming beers at the Sandy Hut, but he limped it in and we got there safely and all was well.

One work day, and then, you guessed it, another 160 race. My bike crapped out of the first race, but I finished the second one, and am now - drumroll - a Graduated Novice. Which means: no more green shirt! Awesome.

More trip pix:

^ Becky on the Lost Coast Road, courtesy of Jack.

^ I'm pretty sure this was on 36.

^ Jack on the Lost Coast.

^ The drive-through tree near Leggett.

^ Interfering with the scenery on Highway 1, somewhere north of Fort Bragg.

^ Later along Hwy 1 - there's a point where it stretches out a bit and the scenery takes a turn for the bleakly cinematic. Fog machines, etc. Nice.

^ Italian Cowboy approaches the city.

^ Jack

^ Drew and JG at the Parkside.

^ Sean
View from Treasure Island.

^ Mission Dolores Park, tactfully excising crotch of nearly-naked sunbather dude from the frame. You can thank me later.


  1. Anonymous10:15 AM

    Yoo-Hoo is anyone home?
    Nice read here Becky. Well done. Thanks for the list of roads to try and ride on the way down to Californicator Central. The Italian cowboy needs to chill or return to Italy to experience patience there :) I did smile that the cowboy was asking for his needs to be met..."I just want to ride" Good for him.
    I am glad everyone had a good time and fond memories are to be shared by all. Good luck at the East Coast as well...still on for that?
    Congrats on the green vest removal and becoming a 100% racer gurl. Good for you. Oh, and Hello Becky's Mom, you must be so proud...
    I too want to go back to Sumpter next year perhaps?

    Cheers for now,
    Les S

  2. Anonymous11:27 AM

    Why is it that every time I read your blog (while I've been sitting in the office on a beautiful day, like Sunday), I get this overwhelming sense of rage and claustraphobia? Jealousy, perhaps? Yes, I think that might be it. Sounds like a lot of fun. Wish I coulda been there. I'll have to teach baby Clara how to RIDE!