Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Epic Motorcycle Journey

So junior high/high school friend/college roommate Jake and his now wife Laura-Dawn got married this last weekend just outside San Francisco; and I trekked down there on my motorcycle. It was more than a trip, it was an adventure, an ordeal, and fantastic. It's almost like it's a story (a really long one), The Motorcycle Diaries meets The Hangover.

The Trip
It was an awesome wedding, and except for the officiant who almost dropped one (or both?) of the rings in the pool, it seemed to go off without a hitch. There were bagpipes, an old high school substitute teacher, and a dreadlocked Appalachian moonshiner who played some mean blues on his guitar. There was a photo booth, that produced among many, many photos, a few gems I'll show you later. Jake and LD, I'm sure you were paying by the image for those, we probably cost you a pile of dough, but I think the results are totally worth it ;)

For a little context on the ride, I decided to take my motorcycle down there alone since it would be cheaper and I wanted to take a trip anyway. I decided to leave Washington on Thursday, Oct 18th and leave California on Sunday, Oct 21st. At the end of January 2011, I rode up from Phoenix to Fresno for the new year and froze in a freak winter storm. This year I wanted to be prepared, so I bought an electric pants liner, electric jacket, waterproof overjacket, and a fog-free insert for my helmet which worked (mostly) flawlessly. I already had waterproof pants, and my waterproof mining boots. I didn't get around to ordering everything until it was almost too late, but I got everything I needed... or so I thought, but more on that later.


I started out Thursday after work and finally got on the road at 7:00pm, and wouldn't you believe it, it started to rain right as I was leaving. Except for an accident along the I-5 that occurred a little while before I reached that point, it was fairly uneventful. It didn't stop raining until after I stopped in Portland around 2:00am where I spent the night at The Capitol Hill Motel.

You'll note that there are no images of their rooms on that site, and at $67 for the night it was a bit pricey for what I got. It was clearly an older place that had never been renovated.

My neighbor wanted to talk as I was unloading the bike, but I managed to head inside before I got stuck chatting too long. The bed was bed bug free, and comfortable enough and after closing the bathroom door to keep the loglo out, I slept well.


When my alarm went off at 8:00am, I packed up and got back on the road. My bike needed gas every 160 miles or so, and I still had quite a few hours left to travel through Oregon. If you've never driven around in Oregon, you may not know they have a law on the books that requires gas station attendants to pump your gas for you. Well, on a motorcycle it works a little different. They take care of the payment part for you (taking your card and punching your zip code into the pump), and then hand you the pump handle to do it yourself, which they may then supervise or not, depending on how busy they are.

Now you have to consider that I'm quite a sight in my full getup, and I'm also trekking down to San Francisco from Seattle. So the most memorable encounters with these gas station attendants were in Oregon, where they were necessarily involved. On that note, the first Oregonian attendant was a guy who took a long look at the bike and I and did this subtle head shake that I read as "nope." I asked him: "Not for you?" To which he replied: "Nope. I considered truck driving for a while until there was a big pileup out here (pointing to the interstate in front of the station)." Thinking about his response as I drove off left, I knew riding was exactly what I wanted to be doing right now. Not to denigrate the guy's job, because it's an honest and safe one, but I couldn't help but think:

Quote: Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on the shore and merely existed.
Well, that's why he's a gas station attendant.
I crossed into California and at some point after noon I passed a biker. Originally I just waved, but then I realized it was another blue V-Strom (I have an 07 DL650 V-Strom), then went to an enthusiastic wave and thumbs up as he was taking an exit ramp. I figured he was a local, but it's always cool when you run across someone else riding a bike like yours. It was about 2:45pm when I pulled over at a rest stop in front of Mount Shasta for about 15 minutes to stretch out.

My Bike in front of Mount Shasta
Just as I was getting ready to leave, I see that same biker from earlier ride up and park next to me. We chatted a little bit about our bikes, and what I'd done to mine (a lot) versus his fairly stock one (although he had the 1000cc version while mine is a 650cc). Getting around to jobs, he tells me he works for the RCMP. That's right, a Canadian Mountie. He was heading down to Cabo San Lucas on vacation, and even had to wait for the same accident in Tacoma that I passed earlier Thursday night.

Since we needed gas at roughly the same intervals and drove at similar speeds, we decided to ride together for a while. It was pretty cool until I lost him a little over an hour later near Redding. I tried waiting for him, but I imagine he had to stop for some reason or another, and I never saw him again. That's a shame, but it was okay since we were parting ways in a few hours anyway. Douglas, I hope you're enjoying some cervezas and sun. Keep the rubber side down.

Now there's not really a good way to get across from I-5 where I was, to the US101 where I needed to be. My choices were basically take SR20/SR29/etc or some other route that looked longer on my phone. I've never actually driven that route, so it didn't even occur to me it looked like the picture below, and it's not obvious until you really zoom in, because those are extremely sharp turns. If you ever see a sign in California that warns about sharp turns, and has some absurdly low speed limit, trust me when I say those signs are not exaggerating. I'm sure it would have been a lot more fun on good road tires in the day time, but at night on knobbies (off-road tires), it was most disconcerting.

The winding CA SR-29.
I should point out that I'd seen animal crossing signs for deer, bears, and elk; none of which did I encounter. Shortly after leaving the relative safety of the interstate, I passed a coyote standing on the side of the road like he was just waiting for a bus. Suffice to say, my eyes were rather more peeled for the rest of the night.

Let me tell you something else that wasn't immediately obvious until I got there: There's no signal out there. I was about an hour away from my destination, my friends Jeff and Talitha's house in Sebastopol, CA when I noticed two things: My phone was no longer calling out directions to me over my bluetooth headset, and none of the signs made it particularly clear that I was going the right direction. I was pretty sure I was in the right place, but had no way to verify, so I kept going. Next time, I'm bringing my handheld GPS loaded with all the highways... just in case.

I managed to get to Santa Rosa and only went the wrong direction once for about a mile or two, so overall not bad. I checked my directions again in Santa Rosa, since my phone still wasn't communicating with my headset properly. I checked the next few turns, and with a little more luck than I originally realized, I made it to Jeff and Talitha's around 11:00pm or so. I pulled into the little dirt parking lot, turned off the bike, and hopped off for a good long stretch.

I headed up the path to their house, up the hill, knocked on the door and nobody answered. The house was dark, but I was sure I was in the right place since there was a package out front with Jeff's name on it and their place is rather distinctive. I had last talked them about 30-45 minutes prior, so I couldn't figure out what was up. I pulled out my phone and noticed: It's dead, Jim. Well, at least I had a charger in my luggage and there was a plug on the wall. So I walked down the rather steep hill, and rode my motorcycle up this time rather than carry all my luggage up there by hand. It was pretty sweet, but I'm the only one who saw it. My bike complained the whole time because I had some problems with my chain, but more on that later.

Now that I had some battery life, I had to contend with the horrible reception up there. If I left my phone sitting on the ground untouched, two bars. If I went anywhere near it, zero bars. So after half an hour of trying to get hold of Jeff I managed a couple bars and received a message saying they were going out to pick up a rental car and run some quick errands, but that was an hour ago. I decided to head on in since I figured they wouldn't care, and managed to get a few bars of signal down the hill to get a voicemail to Jeff and receive a message telling me to go inside and relax, so I did just that.

Turns out the reason that they were gone so long is the guy at the rental car place was being a colossal dick and they almost didn't get a car. Their van is presently out of commission after being T-boned in an accident. In the end, Talitha's inner mediator strongly encouraged them to relinquish a car and they were off. We picked up some munchies for the road and headed off to Pleasanton, CA where the wedding was going to be tomorrow. We'd picked up some Patron earlier since Talitha has never had a good Tequila, she opted for Silver over Reposado and Anejo. Once we were finally settled in the hotel, we looked at the time and figured we should head to bed. We enjoyed our symbolic tequila shot for the night in our plastic cups, and went to sleep. Their rental Volkswagen Jetta wagon had bluetooth and seat warmers, which were a welcome change of pace, and one of my favorite parts of the trip. Seat warmers are apparently one of life's simple pleasures.

We'd planned on just grabbing a room at a Motel 6, but there was a dog show and comic convention in town and most everything was booked. Most everything except the $300/night Four Points Sheraton that we managed to snag for $110 at 2:00am.


The wedding itself was fun. It was held in the backyard of Laura-Dawn's childhood home. There was merriment and much rejoicing. I think it was Jake's uncle who played the bag pipes in full Scottish Highland regalia. They had a great ceremony where they both looked happy, relieved, and nervous all at once. We're all very happy for them!
Jake and Laura-Dawn's Kiss
Mr. and Mrs. Wells
At the reception, Jake's cousin, the one with ankle-length dreadlocks (wrapped up for formality), who's apparently a moonshiner and lives in the boonies in the Appalachian mountains, played some really good guitar and won an encore from the guests. There was also a "Party Booth":
A picture of pictures of pictures.

Later, we got together with some folks at our hotel room (different hotel) for drinks and Chipotle, and managed to polish off the rest of our Patron and almost entire bottle of vodka, plus beer and cider between the six of us. There were shots in little red solo-style cups. We tried to get Jake and Laura-Dawn to come over, but they couldn't get hold of us and missed it. We still had fun, and the towels wrapped around the smoke alarms worked great (plus it was mostly blown out the window). We hung out until around midnight and crashed, I'm sure we were all tired.


We left Pleasanton Sunday morning; picked up some food and headed back to Sebastopol where I left the bike. We were all much more lively after some good sleep and chatted about topics ranging from GPS navigation and naviguessing, MBTI types and how accurate our descriptions are, politics and culture. The seat warmers were fully engaged and our butts toasty; Talitha and I anyway, Jeff took one for the team and rode in the back the whole time, which did not have the same amenities.

Once we returned, I took another look at my bike to figure out why it'd been making the ungodly noises it had been. I noticed it was missing rollers on a few links.  I tightened the chain and adjusted my rear wheel alignment. It would probably get me home safely, but it sounded horrible and was definitely done for.

Goodbyes were said, preparations were made, then I got underway. I decided to take the US-101, since I probably couldn't navigate via road signs back to the I-5 via CA-29/CA-20. I'd heard it was a pretty ride, but rather twisty, boy was that right, but it was still better than the alternative, and it wasn't so twisty that is lost it's fun. I started practicing my weight shifting early in the day as I drove through low rolling hills, past rocky cliff faces and giant redwoods with awesome weather to boot. I was starting to approach the ocean and stopped for gas in Eureka.

I was about to get under way and it started to rain. I hopped off the bike, put on my rain jacket, and left. I don't think it really stopped raining until I got home. I was talking to the attendant at another gas station about my bike, he'd been looking at the V-Strom lately. So far everyone I've talked to who knows about the bike agrees it's hideously ugly, but we all love it anyway. I received many compliments as I stopped for gas and at rest stops throughout the trip.

Riding up the US-101 and US-199 at dusk/night in the rain was at some points amazing, and at other points disconcerting. The weight shifting I practiced in the morning was very helpful for an awful lot of twists and turns later that night. The US-101 runs right next to the coastline, so on my left I had crashing waves, light mist that I'd occasionally (and sometimes not so occasionally) drive through, and variously light to heavy rain. The smells were amazing - salt air, wet everything, pine sap, fireplaces... one of the best parts of riding is that you fully experience the trip. In a car, you experience an artificial environment and observe the trip as it passes you by. The wedding aside, which was a fun event all on it's own, it was an incredible experience. It was not without it's woes, but I never would have experienced the good sides of it without at least some of the bad.

Speaking of the bad, I started to get awfully cold when the rain started coming down pretty relentlessly with temperatures in the low 40s. I pulled over at a random gas station and put on every long sleeve garment I had with me:
  • Thermal base layer
  • Two long sleeve shirts.
  • The liner from my coat.
  • Motorcycle jacket
  • Motorcycle rain jacket
  • Motorcycle airbag jacket
  • Also, my pants
  • Electric pants liner
  • Overpants
While I was stopped, I discovered that the whole time I thought my electric pants had been working, they actually needed a power splitter, which I didn't have, and wasn't going to get anytime soon. While I was stopped, I alternated between my pants and jacket as I thawed out. Then I proceeded to alternate between the two on the road. In retrospect, I might have been better off letting my legs be cold and warming my torso instead, but I stopped often to thaw out, which is why it took me nearly twenty hours to get home. I spent three extra hours thawing out, stretching, and drinking energy drinks to stay awake. That last part mostly worked until just outside Portland, then I had to work a lot harder for a lot less results.

Let's just say I think I spent the vast majority of the extra time, and misery on the freeways between Portland and Seattle. It was cold outside, and I had cooled down cumulatively over the trip, so I was miserably cold, it had rained hard the whole time, I was very tired physically and mentally, my anti-fog visor was having trouble keeping up, and it seemed like every driver (a few truckers especially) were being a massively inconsiderate douches. Retrospectively, I probably should have stopped between California and Oregon, but  I was ready to be home as soon as possible.


By the time I got home, the sun had come up and I was getting my second wind. I made it home safely and took a hot shower. We had some Indian, which really hit the spot, and I actually stayed up until about 2:45pm when I went to bed and had the most epic sleep of my life. I have never been so happy to be home, but I'm still glad I did it. Except maybe that last bit, that was pretty much all bad. Next time I'll make it a two-day trip.

I actually felt pretty good, but I looked like hell.
I may have been pretty heavily medicated when this picture was taken.

TL;DR - Too long; didn't read.

It was an epic adventure and you'll never know just how epic until you read it.


Unknown said...

Dude, that was a epic trip brotha!. Thanks for writing it all out for us all to enjoy. Next time make it a two day trip! and get that splitter for your pants lol. Was good seeing you man and hopefully soon we can make a road trip up to see you and Stacey.

Anonymous said...

Awesome moto adventure! If you ever get to Northern California again, be sure to ride Cal-36 from Red Bluff to Eureka, which is the most fun road in the state, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Blogger has intercepted another of my identities for that post. It's Malcolm in Scottsdale.