Tuesday, May 4, 2010

5,777 miles later, we went transcontinental

There are two blogs for this trip. There is the one you are reading and there is the one I write in my head as I ride down the road. If I could only make the one I post half as good, as interesting, as philosophical and illuminating as the endless conversation going on inside my helmet, this could be so much better.

The Mojave Desert isn't endless, but it seems that way. From Needles to Barstow is 145 miles. You ride across 50 miles of desert, climb a mountain ridge and ride down the other side to find another 50 miles of desert -- and then you do it again, and again.

We made a pit stop in Ludlow, Calif., halfway between Needles and Barstow -- also in the middle of a whole lot of nothing.

Eventually, we arrived in Hesperia -- a pleasant, high desert town full of national brands where I had a burger and fries at an In-N-Out Burger, a fast-food franchise where they say their emphasis is on quality but it seems to be on making as much noise as possible. Apparently, In-N-Out started as a drive through burger stand with two-way speakers to order food. Now they just shout at you over the counter.

Leaving Hesperia, there's a death-defying, corkscrew of a highway through Cajon Pass where I-15 plummets from 5,000 to 3,000 feet in just a few, ear-popping miles and delivers the cross-country traveller into the freeway grid of the Los Angeles Basin.

Lucky for me, I arrived on Saturday afternoon and traffic was light by L.A. standards. I kept one eye on the GPS and the other on the road where almost every car was doing 10 mph over the speed limit while even faster vehicles weaved through the horde rushing pell mell toward destiny. My goal was Redondo Beach, near the airport in the southern metro area.

Mary's cousin Heidi welcomed me to Redondo Beach, where the trip became officially transcontinental.

Heidi High, my wife Mary's cousin, greeted me at her waterfront condo on the Redondo Beach pier and marina and helped me unload and move in for the night at her sister Michelle's place in the same complex. Michelle and her fiance were out of town, so I had her apartment to myself for the night.

The milepost at the Redondo Harbor showed 2,461 miles to New York, but my odometer showed 5,777 from Ellsworth, Maine -- as the KLR flies.

Heidi was my camping gear consultant last year at the beginning of my motorcycle adventures. She'd insisted I not scrimp on tent or sleeping bag -- advice that served me well for nearly 12,000 miles.

A warm, sunny Saturday brought a crowd to the Redondo Beach pier.

Redondo Beach doesn't appear on area maps until you drill down into the detail. It's between Hermosa Beach and Torrance and is pleasantly landscaped, though dominated by a large power plant. On this Saturday afternoon the Redondo pier and marina had attracted hundreds of sun seekers out to enjoy the fishing, strolling, arcades and carnival rides, restaurants and each other.

Whatever these are, a fisherman on the Redondo pier was bringing them in three at a time.

Heidi took me to a Mexican bar and grill on the pier for a couple of beers, apologizing for the press of people. "I've never seen this place this busy," she said.

A couple of local guys who were several beers ahead of us, asked me to take their picture.

These California kind of guys greeted us at a Redondo pier watering hole and insisted we take their picture.

In return, they took one of us.

And Heidi captured this one of the Transcontinental Flanman.

It was never my goal to go coast to coast this trip. I was saving that for next time, perhaps. But the long straight roads and 75 mph speed limits accelerated my daily progress once I left Memphis. After Tennessee, every evening found me much further west than I'd planned.

This Saturday evening, Heidi and I went to a fish market on the Redondo pier and bought a nice piece of yellow tail, which we marinated and grilled on Michelle's barbecue and ate with a nice salad and a bottle of white wine. A perfect end to a day that began with many, many miles of desert.

A parking lot attendant in Malibu took our picture at the beach.

Sunday morning, I packed up to go north up the Pacific Coast Highway, the legendary California Highway 1. First, I had to get across Los Angeles to Malibu by freeway, a job that was much easier on Sunday morning than it would have been any other day. In Malibu, I stopped at a state beach. The parking lot attendant came trotting up, either to tell me I couldn't park where I was or to collect a fee. I told him I'd just arrived from Maine and asked him to take my picture, which he did happily. Just offshore, the Sunday morning dawn patrol sat on their boards waiting for a good wave to show up.

The surf at Malibu didn't meet Hawaii standards that Sunday morning.

Although Highway 1 starts in Malibu, the first stretch up the coast through Oxnard isn't spectacular. There are lots of beaches with memorable names, but the good stuff really doesn't show up until you reach Santa Barbara, a city with a lovely waterfront.

In Santa Barbara, the weather continued to be ideal ...

... and the ice plant was in full bloom.

I've been to Santa Barbara a couple of times before and I always get a good feeling about the place. It's like Savannah, Georgia -- a town I could picture myself living in and enjoying. A place with some history, lots of character and nice neighborhoods.

My goal on Sunday was to camp at Montana De Oro State Park, just north of San Luis Obispo. Heidi gave me a book on the best places for tent camping in Southern California and this park was on the list. Unfortunately, the ranger station hadn't officially opened yet for the season, a sign at the entrance said the campground was full. On further investigation, I found the camp sites were "primitive" and required hiking in with all your gear. Not wanting to leave the bike unattended in a remote parking lot, I decided to keep going north and ended up at Morro Bay State Park, just a few miles further north.

Morro Bay is a beachfront town of 10,000 people with a waterfront dominated by a huge and picturesque rock formation which sits at the entrance to the bay.

At Morro Bay, the gulls proved to be very friendly ...

... and were happy to pose for their close-ups.

This couple ignored the warning signs and sat out on the Morro Bay breakwater.

I pitched my tent on a campsite I shared with some subterranean critters that left piles of fresh, loose dirt here and there. Gophers? Burrowing rats? I don't know what they were, but I chose a piece of intact ground without mounds or holes for the tent. The camping fee was $35 -- a bit stiff, I thought since that's what I'd been paying at various motels, which had cable TV, heat, air conditioning and large, comfortable beds.

With the gear off the bike, I took a ride up CA41, a canyon road that followed a stream through steep hills to Atascadero, a pleasant city of 25,000 souls about 18 miles from Morro Bay. Coming back to the ocean front, I took the road out to the rock and took some pictures.

Morro Bay at sunset ...

... and the next morning at low tide.

Monday was another sunny day and I had the best of the Pacific Coast Highway ahead of me. My plan was to stop somewhere between Big Sur and Halfmoon Bay to camp for the night before crossing the Golden Gate into Marin County on Tuesday, where I'd meet old friends, from my Marin Independent Journal days, Jan Jensen and Jay Siverberg and their spouses Rick and Janet.

Hearst Castle commands a hilltop above San Simeon.

My first stop was at the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. It's worth exploring but I'd done exactly that back in the 1980s on a road trip with friends. So, I took a photo from the parking lot and kept going north.

The scenery along the Pacific Coast Highway was spectacular, whether with the KLR ...

... or without.

Every 20 miles or so, a flagman would stop traffic so workers could clear rock slides from the highway or reinforce the hillsides to prevent future slides. Despite the interuptions and a thin veil of haze, the coastline lived up to its reputation for rugged beauty and fun riding.

A typical section of Highway 1 winds along the coast.

Pulling back, here's that same section of road, this time with the cliffs and ocean.

It was about 1:30 p.m. when I reached Big Sur. I stopped at the gate to the state campground and talked to the ranger. I'd planned to camp here but the day was till young. He suggested I ride into the campground, take a look and decide whether I wanted to stay.

We stopped at Big Sur for a tour of the campground.

Set in a redwood grove, the campground was spectacular. I spent the better part of an hour puttering through the hundreds of campsites, mostly empty, and enjoying the ambiance. But the weather was too nice not to keep riding, so I headed out again, bound this time for Carmel and the Monterey Peninsula.

At Carmel, the chilly temperature couldn't keep people off the beach.

Blue sky, white surf, warm sand -- Carmel had it all.

Carmel is just too perfect. The stores are cozy and chic, the cottages are snug and picturesque, the sand is pure white, the ocean glittering blue. There's a famous 17-mile drive that starts in Carmel and winds along the gold-plated Monterey Peninsula, past Pebble Beach and Spyglass golf courses and the homes of the rich and famous. I rode to the toll gate, where a sign said the toll was $9.50 -- a bit steep, but I'd come all this way, right?

A chubby female in a black park ranger get-up emerged from the toll booth.

"Is there a senior rate?" I asked.

"Motorbikes are not allowed on The Drive," she said, making a face like she was sucking a lemon.

Banished from the 17-mile drive, the KLR enjoyed a stop in Carmel nevertheless.

So we headed northward again through the artichoke fields of Salinas toward Santa Cruz, Los Gatos and Half Moon Bay, hoping to find a campground along the way. There were several state parks, but they were all "Day Use," with no camping. So, we kept going and were soon on 19th Avenue making our way through Golden Gate Park and across the bridge into Marin County.

By 6 p.m., we'd crossed the Golden Gate and headed to meet friends in Novato.

You don't want to wear out your welcome, but as a guest you also don't want to show up a day early. I thought about trying to find a campground at Marin's Mount Tamalpais, but then figured, the heck with it. I called Jan and told her my story: Glorious day, longer ride than expected, here I am at the bridge, could go camp and arive tomorrow as planned, etc.

She said to come on up to Novato, they'd put a burger on the grill for me and there was a bottle of wine waiting to be shared.

Welcome to Marin.

1 comment:

  1. Since when did you and the Green Hornet become a 'we'? Did you realize you were referring to yourself in the plural? Or was there someone with you that you didn't mention? Must be fun going back to the best of California. The coastline is certainly spectacular. I bet it is fun on Greenie's back! j