Saturday, May 8, 2010

Yosemite and America's loneliest highway

We last found Flanman arriving a day early in Marin County, Calif., specifically at Jan Jensen's and Rick Scripture's house in Novato. I was editor of the Marin Independent Journal for almost three years beginning in 1984, before I came to Honolulu -- so this was my old stomping ground.

After a tasty dinner, I posted to the blog and crashed. Next morning, I found a cycle shop in downtown Novato that serviced all makes, but mostly dirt bikes, and bought three quarts of Motul 10W40 synthetic -- two for the crankcase and one to top off from time to time on the road. The KLR needs a taste every thousand miles or so. It was time for an oil change.

I suppose I could have gone to NAPA and found some oil for less, but you gotta keep these little bike shops alive. Nobody at NAPA's going to call to say he'll take the clutch cable off his own bike to keep you on the road (well, maybe there is, but it's unlikely). At the Novato shop the younger half of a father-son team was on the phone with someone looking for a custom T-Bar handlebar for his Harley.

"What the hell is he thinkin'?" asked the dad. "Tell him to hold the line and I'll just s--t him a pair."

Rick dug up a plastic gallon bottle and, after slicing the top off it, I drained the oil that had kept things spinning since Austin, Texas into it and added the new stuff. Then, I was off for a ride up to Petaluma, where I used to live, and out to West Marin to enjoy some of the old roads where I used to bicycle back in the days when I was really in shape.

25 years ago I used to ride a bicycle out Petaluma's D Street into West Marin passing Union School, which is still holding classes.

D Street in Petaluma winds its way all the way to Point Reyes Station on the coast. About three miles from town it climbs through a series of switchbacks over what we used to call "Cheese Factory Hill." For months, I tried to climb that hill on my bike three or four afternoons a week, gradually getting higher and higher before calling it quits.

The day I finally made it to the top, I knew I didn't have enough left in the tank to make it back over the crest if I went down the other side. So, I just paused at the top, gasping for air and listening to my pulse pound, and then coasted home. But the Rouge et Noire cheese factory still represents some good memories. I stopped in and bought some brie for that night's pupu. They gave me a free brie -- a surprise two-for-one.

The goal was to get over "Cheese Factory Hill" to the Blanc et Noir cheese store and the picnic area by this pond.

That night Jay and Janet Silverberg came over for dinner and we spend the evening getting caught up and reminiscing about the old days at the IJ.

We got together with old Marin IJ friends Jay Silverberg, Jan Jensen and Janet Silverberg.

Thursday, May 6, I said goodby to Jan and Rick and hit the road for Yosemite.

In the morning, Rick gave me some route advice and I set off for Yosemite, out Hwy. 37 to Vallejo, across the Sacramento Delta and Central Valley to the Sierra foothills. The further east I went, the more interesting the riding became and the countryside changed from heavy-duty agriculture, to rolling pastures, to steep and rugged hills.

On the road to Yosemite, I found a wind farm with hundreds of wind turbines -- most of which weren't moving.

Yosemite takes your breath away. You ride into the park without a sign of the valley until you reach the first overlook and suddenly you see the entire expanse: granite cliffs, waterfalls, Merced River, Half Dome -- it's amazing. Click on any of these images to see a larger version.

My first glimpse of Yosemite Valley was breathtaking.

I rubbernecked my way down into and around the valley and found camping was available only in a walk-in, primitive campground -- but it was right in the valley where Ansel Adams made pictures that made him a celebrity. Bring a camera and, if the weather's good, you can do as well or better -- picture-wise. I set up camp, went to the park general store to pick up something to eat and turned in early.

Half Dome is the centerpiece rising above the end of the valley.

Visitors spot waterfalls ringing the valley.

Bridal Veil Falls crashes off a granite cliff into the Merced River.

I got moving early next morning so I could take some more photos. The budding trees in the valley were backlit, the water in the pond was still, the Bridal Veil Falls were roaring. I followed the road down to the southern park gate, passing the turn-off to the Tioga Pass. I really wanted to take that road over the Sierras to Mono Lake and Death Valley -- but there was still eight to 12 feet of snow blocking the road.

In the morning, the cliffs rose above a Yosemite Vally pond.

Trees backlit by morning sun are reflected in a pool.

Thanks to snow, there were only three routes open out of California: I-80 from Sacramento to Reno, US 50 from Placerville to South Lake Tahoe and I-40 from Needles to Las Vegas. I chose US 50 and called ahead to warn Herb and Yvonne Van Vlack, old friends who moved from Makakilo to Fallon, Nev. about five years ago to be closer to family, giving up a little single-wall bungalow for a 2,200 square foot, four-bedroom hacienda on an acre of land with a three-car garage.

Herb sailed to Hawaii from Seattle with Mary and me back in 1989 in our 37-foot ketch and did a refit of the boat about five years later. He and Yvonne have been practically part of our family for 20 years.

Heading north to the US 50 pass into Nevada, the road took me through Angels Camp, scene of the annual Calaveras County Jumping Frog Contest.

A motorcyclist's fantasy, Highway 49 winds its way north along the Sierra foothills.

Near the top of the US 50 pass, there was still lots of snow.

I came around a turn at almost 8,000 feet and there was Lake Tahoe.

The twisty ride up Hwy. 49 through the foothills to Placerville was a highlight -- a truly great motorcycle road -- and the climb up US 50 along the American River was an eye-opener. Toward the top, houses were still heaped with drifted snow, but the highway was clear and dry and I reached South Lake Tahoe about 6 p.m., called Herb and got directions, staying on US 50 through Carson City, the state capital.

Nevada takes some getting used to. The sign in downtown Carson City directing visitors to the governor's mansion was next to another advertising a casino as "The Loosest Slots in Town." Turning north toward Fallon, I rode miles of straight highway flanked by miles of nothing but brown dirt. "What have Herb and Yvonne got themselves into?" I thought.

Tahoe was still looking cold.

Old Hawaii friends Yvonne and Herb Van Vlack took me to lunch in Fallon, Nev.

Herb checks out the KLR after we pulled the gas tank and changed the spark plug.

Happily, Fallon is a garden spot compared to the approach from Carson City. It has trees, bushes and even an occasional irrigated postage stamp of lawn. I arrived about 7 p.m. and had a drink and went for pizza with Herb. Yvonne was working late at the local hospital, but we had a chance to chat in the morning and at lunch.

Herb and I worked on the bike a bit next day. We took the seat and tank off so we could get at the spark plug and swapped it out for a new one. Then Herb took the bike for a spin. Happy Herb.

Then we went to the hospital, picked up Yvonne and went to lunch at a nice local restaurant before I took off for parts east. Herb and I spent some time with a road atlas and he gave me some advice on which routes to take. Then, I was off on US 50 -- the so-called "Loneliest Road in America" -- which has lots of five- to 15-mile stretches of straight roads across the desert followed by climbs over mountain passes –- mostly between 6,500 and 7,500 feet.

The temperature dropped but, thanks to a couple of cans of Red Bull, I made it safely to Ely -– a big mining town in eastern Nevada. Next, I’ll head south to Zion and Bryce National Parks in Utah before swinging northeast to Moab, Utah.

East of Fallon, the road to Austin, Nev. seeks a pass through the mountains.

The sign "Open Range" means watch out for critters on the highway.

US 50 stayed dry and sunny, though there was plenty of snow on the horizon.

A busy moment on the "Loneliest Road in America," US 50.

It's been a busy week: Marin County to Yosemite to Lake Tahoe to Ely, Nevada. Next, I'm headed to Utah: Zion, Bryce and Moab.


  1. Do me a favor... when you update... don't change this one... just add a new blog on top so I don't miss anything. Your pix are spectacular! You are sort of wiping the moss off my backside! Cut it out! j

  2. I am soooooooo jealous! (well, other than that Highway 50 piece - that was the long highway I was talking about). Keep enjoying. Giovanni and I will see you soon!