Friday, 19 July 2013

Day 8 - Highway 1 Adventure

I awoke this morning with a stinking headache. Sitting up drinking around the forest fire pit with a bunch of Aussie students was having it's revenge. The weather in Big Sur was sunny and warm but almost as soon as I got onto the road I descended into thick cold fog. This was really not helping the hang over. I drove into Carmel (home to Clint Eastwood) and took a tour around Scenic Drive. They named that right before heading into Monterey for lunch. Even a burger and fries could not fix the head! As I headed towards Santa Cruz (California's answer to Blackpool) there were the odd breaks in the fog but nothing much.

As I entered Santa Cruz the fuel warning light came on with the trip  showing 125 miles so I guess the guy at the rental centre was right - do not attempt to exceed 130 miles on a tank. A short visit to Santa Cruz's famous boardwalks and it was off north again towards Half Moon Bay.

I stopped off at the beach where this had all begun over 13 years ago. Let me explain. In June 1990 I first came over to Northern California on a business trip. Having landed in SFO around lunch time and keen to see a bit of the place before I was incarcerated in a hotel for a conference for a week I headed not for my hotel but towards the coast at Half Moon Bay. I then drove down the coast towards Santa Cruz on a beautiful sunny afternoon (not at all like today) and stopped at a beach to watch some surfers. In those days I was more of a surfer than a biker having got rid of the bike a few years earlier due to it's inability to be able to transport kayaks. While I sat there I saw groups of motorcyclists on the road behind the beach and thought that looks fun, maybe one day that might be me. In that second the germ of a dream was formed that would grow over the coming years. In the years in between I have been back to Silicon Valley many many times both for business and holiday in fact at one point I calculated I had spent over a year of my life here in 1, 2 or 4 week bursts but I had never made the opportunity to follow the dream but the dream had still lingered and grown. Now here I was living the dream and let me tell you compared to the reality the dream sucked and reality rocked. My only problem now is how the hell to I top this?

Finally I pulled off the coast road and headed in land out of the fog and back to my friends place that has been base camp for the adventure. I stopped briefly at Alice's on 84 and Skyline Boulevard, Silicon Valley's biker cafe, for a cup of tea. Finally after a week of riding someone came up to me and commented on the fact that I was riding a Harley Davidson wearing a Triumph leather jacket. Apart from the fact that it was the best suited jacket that I have for the weather conditions that I encountered it was also a way to push the brand. I was informed that Triumph were the motorcycle of choice for the "young hipsters" in California. Triumph Owners club take note. My two teenage daughters take a different note.

Finally I arrived back at base camp for deserved swim and a few cold beers. Tired, aching but smiling like an idiot.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Day 7 - Highway 1 Adventure

Woke this morning to another morning mist that was starting to burn off. Starting from just south of Santa Barbara todays ride would start with about 130 miles of motorway driving on 101 before peeling off and heading up what is the best part of the road without a doubt through Big Sur.

I have driven more motorway miles this trip than I have done at home in probably the last 4 years but I have to say that this stretch of 101 has some spectacular scenery that makes the boredom of motorway riding somehow bearable. For the first 50 miles or so the road hugs the coast and offers scenes of the ocean and beaches to one side and the mountains to the other. Then the road turns inland through a gorge and into the mountains. For at least part of the route HW1, 101 and El Camino Real are one and the same.

Having left the motorway i am now on HW1 for real. A short stop for lunch at an excellent Deli, even one of the locals at a nearby table said that is the king of all sandwiches, I was heading back up the coast towards Big Sur.

Then I saw "Elephant Seal Viista" and pulled in thinking this was just the name of the viewing point. Oh No. Basking on the beach below the car park were Elephant Seals. No something you see everyday by the side of the road at home. As I pulled out of here I lost one of my visor mounts so I am now fully open faced. Why did I not bring the spare from home from the last time this happened?

As I wound up the coast road the Harley really started to come into it's own again. This trip was always about me, the bike and the road and on day 4 me and the bike had fallen out, partly due to me making some bad decisions about the road but now we were friends again. Then the penny dropped. It was a cruiser. The Legend is classed as a cruiser, the Rocket III was definitely a cruiser and the America that i had hired in Provence was a cruiser. The road I was on like and alpine mountain road with it's twists and turns and stunning scenery was my kind of road and a cruiser was my kind of bike. The only problem was that this was not the best cruiser I had ever ridden in fact it was the worst. Harley may have invented the cruiser but in my humble opinion they have been passed years ago in their own space.

Anyway time for fuel. Shit the fuel stop I was planning to use is out of fuel now a dilemma. The sign says nearest fuel 12 miles south (back where I have come from) or 40 miles north. The trip  is reading 103 miles and the man at the rental show had said repeatedly not to exceed 130 miles on a tank. Should I risk it or should I go back over 12 miles of the winding road I have just ridden? You decide all I will say is that technically I have driven part of this road 4 times smiling all the way. Being a week day there was less traffic on the road and so more fun to be had. The cars and RVs even pulled over to let me pass and with me and the bike back on speaking terms wow what a ride. Finally to my over night in Big Sur, a lodge recommended by a friend, in the woods. Perfect except for the fact that it is tinged with a little sadness that the trip is nearing it's end.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Day 6 - Highway 1 Adventure

Yesterday was a rest day n San Diego. A chance to chill out, explore San Diego a little and repair my aching muscles. A short ride around San Diego bay (60 miles) was the limit of the riding. I the bar in the evening I meet a guy from Milwaukee who used to work for Harley When I told him what I was doing he asked if I was riding a BMW and when i told him what I was riding he asked why. "Well I am riding HW1 in the US surely that should be done on a Harley?". "Hell no a Harley is OK for posing but if you are touring you need a BMW."

Anyway to todays ride. After a 6.30am wake-up call from my neighbours plumbing I was on the road early. I chose to ride most of the way to and through LA on the freeway. Frankly I need to cover some miles and the navigation was easier. In the cooler morning temperatures the freeway was more bearable than on the way down. A couple of hold ups meant some considerable filtering. The concentration required was draining as the temperatures rose. You should see what a queue it creates when you take a 5 lane freeway down to 1 lane. Drivers here have the same distracts as at home but this is coupled with a culture that in an accident the driver at the rear is to blame so I only need to take notice of what is in front of me makes filtering very risky. Anyway around noon i saw a sign for Sunset Boulevard which I knew would take me back to the coast road (eventually) via the famous Beverley Hills area. After a good view of how the other half live and a minor brush with a car while filtering (foot board on tyre) I was back on the coast between Santa Monica and Malibu. Now reaching the hottest part of the day the sea breeze was most welcome. As you enter Malibu the sign says something like "Welcome to Malibu - over 27 miles of silver sand beaches". Once again the American's have to do it bigger but it IS spectacular.

After  brief lunch stop the road starts to head inland to rejoin 101. A short stretch of the old road and the beach side is lined for miles (literally 10 plus miles) of RVs parked up. Looks like a gypsy invasion and occupation. And finally I roll into my hotel for the night with plenty of time for a swim, only problem is as much I try I can't get more than 4 strokes into and length! The hotel is a rather eccentric building with a beautiful central courtyard.

I have added more photos to the flickr stream which is linked to from here.

Tomorrow I head back into Northern California and frankly the best biking stretch of the road.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

TVV_Pinky's photostream

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Day 4 - Highway 1 Adventure

Today was the longest days ride in both time and distance. Google maps said to was just shy of 300 miles and would take just under 6 hours by my chosen route. That proved  to be a massive under estimate.

The first section of the route was on HWY 101. Now I know HWY 101 as the road from San Francisco to San Jose through the heart of Silicon Valley and to say that this road is dull and un-attractive is being very kind to it. Not so for the section from Santa Maria to Santa Barbara. To start with it winds though the hills past before it  drops through a gorge and turns left along the coast heading south to Santa Barbara. Along this stretch it is possible to find sections of the old Pacific Coast Highway but mostly you end up dragged back onto 101, or I did.

A detour through the suburbs of Santa Barbara showed up some of the most extravagant mansions I think i have ever seen as well as the beach front at Santa Barbara. This looks spectacular but is just the warm up act for what follows. I finally managed to relocate the PCH somewhere between Santa Barbara and Santa Monica for the run through Malibu. Wow what a beach. The joke in England is that rthe USA have to do everything bigger than the rest of the world - burgers, buildings, RVs, people, you name it - well this beach certain proves that, as does much of the rest of the trip. Finally I start to enter LA. Now confident of my navigation strategy, keep the ocean on your right hand side, I decide to ver of route following a sign for Venice Beach. The last time I was here I am sure you could drive along the water front but not any more it seems. This was the start of getting very lost. Having lost the ocean I decided to head away from the ocean until I crossed the PCH again. After an hour of getting no where but stuck in traffic in the heat in all my bike gear I decided to jump on a nearby freeway. I soon found myself heading back to Santa Barbara. Not what I wanted so a quick exit to U-turn and oh shiit there is no on ramp  southbound. At this point I decided to stop for fuel and ask directions. Fimally back on the freeway heading in the right direction. Although there is no signs to tell you so bikes appear to be allowed (or tolerated) in  the car share lanes. At least the 2 motorcycle cops that passed my in the car share lane did not appear to want to pull me over. Well done MAG USA.

Finally a sign for PCH again and a chance to get off the crowded freeway and on more interesting roads but after about 1/2 and hour I am lost again and hunting for the freeway. Once again I join in the wrong direction and need to make a U-turn. I am sure that stories will pass into folklore in LA of the mad englishman on a motorbike touring the city asking for directions to San Diego. Finally after about 3 hours I start to exit LA.

About 1/2 way from LA to San Diego I manage to relocate PCH and more interesting roads. My hotel in San Diego is located on PCH so what could be easier than just cruising up to it but no somehow I miss a turn and end up on the city's by pass in a traffic jam. Finally after consulting a couple of car drivers in the jam I turn off and head for what I am told is downtown. Man I wish I spoke Spanish at this point. I finally locate Old Town and know that i am close. Following the cycle route signs for downtown I manage a couple of circuits of the Old Town and attempt to go the wrong way down a 5 lane oneway street. Finally a sign for PCH now you are talking but as usual I discover I am heading in the wrong direct back out of town. A quick U-turn and I am back on course and finally cruise into my hotel at 7pm after a gruelling 10 your ride with no real breaks.

Every fibre of my body aches and I  have come to hate the constant un-ending vibration from the Harley.Thank god that I had planned the next day as a rest day. A chance to relax by the pool and loosen up before I start to do the whole thing in reverse. In the hotel car park that eveningI spy a Ducati  Moto Strada with Puerto Rica plates and start to wonder if he will consider a swap. I am sure the rental company will not mind the upgrade!

Before I came on this trip I had many prejudices about Harleys now I have none - just facts born of much experience. The ride position is good for touring although if I owned one I would fit highway pegs for a change of position occasionally, the cornering is better than I expected, the luggage space is good and it certainly looks the part BUT the seat is uncomfortable (only saved by the Airhawk 2 that I brought with me) the noise is unbearable and the vibration crippling. This is all made worse by the fact the only way I can get the thing to pull is in what I would consider impossibly low revs. Since I have learnt that however the fuel consumption has improved significantly! Will I be trading in my Triumphs for a Harley on my return? You have to be joking. Would I rent a Harley again in the USA? Possibly, but not for any journey of any serious length. Sorry Eamon.

Day 3 - Highway 1 Adventure

Left Monterey this morning to start the Journey with a ride along 17 Mile Drive past the Lone Cypress only to be told by the man on the toll booth that motorcycles were not allowed on the road. Come on MAG USA what the hell is happening here.

As you leave Carmel on hW1 a sign warns of "hills and bends for 76 miles" as a biker this makes you grin but you have no idea of what is about to follow. Some of the most spectacular and beautiful scenery I have ever encountered as the road winds it's way along the cliffs balancing between the mountains and the ocean. Words can not describe how beautiful it actually is. The only draw back is having to spend virtually the entire route looking out for drivers who are spending more time looking at the view than the road and their driving and who keep dabbing the brakes for no reason what so ever.

Finally you wind out of the hills into a flat open plain and start to pull away from the coast and after a short trip down 101 I arrive at my overnight stop of Santa Maria. After a short and most welcome swim I head for a beer at O'Sullivan's bar. As I enter there are a group of 3 locals huddled at the end of a very long bar. OK I will either be ignored or welcomed into the group. After a very short while it was clear that it was option 2 and a fun evening followed of chat, beer and banter followed which is why this post was delayed.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Day 2 - Highway 1 - Big Adventure

Wow what a day. Warm sunshine all day with a cool sea breeze, perfect riding conditions. Started the day with a ride up to Golden Gate Bridge, in my mind the start of the ride. Traffic into the city was pretty heavy and filtering on such a large bike was tough. Finally crossed the bridge which was as ever shrouded in a thin fog. A few photos and then turn around and cross the bridge again to start the ride proper.

The second you leave Daly City and hit the coast the spectacular views start. Hills, cliffs, beaches and surf. The road winds it's way along hugging the coast. Lunch stop between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz and a last chance to meet up with Paul and June (my hosts and base camp for the trip). Then it was on to Santa Cruz and the famous boardwalks.

The road from Santa Cruz to Monterey is less of a biking road and is dual carriage way for much of it's length but still has some great views in places. First overnight stop in Monterery.

I think that I am finally starting to get the hang of the Harley and managed a few respectable overtakes today. The trick seems  to be the opposite of ever other bike I have ever ridden. The approach appears to be to drop up a gear, get the engining running at what feels like virtual stall and then apply a massive fistful of right hand and after a pretty short lag it starts to pull. I also have the airhawk seat cushion installed which makes the seat a world better. Am I now in love with my Harley? Absolutely not but I am beginning to understand it better and I can see us becoming good friends over the comming week.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Day 1 - Highway 1 Adventure

From many years now (over 20) I have harboured a desire to ride the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) in California. Well finally it is going to happen. I flew over yesterday and I collected the rental bike and had a short run (90 miles) around the local area to get the hand of the roads and the bike. still having a few problems with remembering when I pull off what side of the road to ride on but I am sure that will come with time. Tomorrow I set of for real. I have worked out a packing strategy to get all of the gear on the bike and I have most of the hotels pre-booked before I left England.