Western States Ride - Part 4

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Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - I-90


Western States Ride - Part 4

The ride home

...continued from Part 3

By Colleen First

Day 13 – 381 miles
The morning was cool, but I could tell that it wouldn't take long for the sun to start baking the pavement again. We packed up the bikes and headed south to Shoshone, California. I wanted to check out a sign I had seen for "Dante's View" – how could I resist? – and it was at the southern end of the Valley. Besides, I wanted to see more of it than just riding east to west through the center of the park. From Shoshone, the road was a fun roller coaster of dips and rises and unmarked corners.

We crested Salsberry Pass and then dropped down to Jubilee Pass, all the time surrounded by nothing but barren rocks, pitiful vegetation and views that went on for miles. We passed a small dirt side road that proclaimed it to be Dante's Road, but I stupidly didn't stop for a picture. I felt that I would wait for the View instead. We passed very little traffic and appreciated the rolling landscape as the road followed the east side of the valley. As we neared Badwater (elev. –282') we saw our first few vehicles. The not-entirely accurate thermometer on my bike registered around 112 degrees, which I deemed close enough, if not a little low. I was wearing my full gear and still taking advantage of the Flying Squirrel posture with cooling vest air-conditioning. The salt flats were incredible, looking more like out-of-place snowfields in this impossibly dry and hot climate.

At Furnace Creek we were lucky enough to be the last patrons admitted for the breakfast buffet before they closed the doors in preparation for their lunch buffet. This selection of food vastly overshadowed the measly "O's" offered to us at Kaibob and we gorged ourselves on fresh fruit, sausages, French toast, orange juice and coffee. Mmmm, it was truly an oasis in the desert. After our feast we stopped by the Visitor's Center. Furnace Creek is home of the famous "20 Mule Team Borax" ads that you may remember from years gone by. Large talc and borate veins were the region's economy until the early 20th century.

There is a ghost town that we wanted to visit but it was on a 14-mile dirt road and we were curious as to the condition of the road. The helpful ranger said that she did not advise us to take the road, despite our having dual sport motorcycles. She said that even high-clearance 4 x 4s have trouble getting through and the surface included dirt, gravel, sand and rocks. I could deal with any of it except the sand – that's a GS Killer for sure. Disappointed, I then asked her about the road to Dante's View. She apologized and said that due to recent storms the road had been washed out. Imagine that: a place that gets less than 2" of rain a year just had a storm that took out the road to the only real stop I had wanted to make. The injustice of it all: I'll just have to go back someday. Besides, there are a lot of other roads that look like they may lead to interesting places, and the vast history of mining in the area is very interesting to me and would be worth checking out some other time.

Leaving Death Valley is just as impressive as entering it, as you're fully aware of the deep depression in the earth as you make your way up and out of it. I looked in my mirrors and could see the other side of the Valley, with the Amargosa Range flanking it to the east as I crested the Panamint Range on the west. The temperatures dropped to a more tolerable mid-90s range and bit by bit the vegetation returned to the landscape. Not much changed in our surroundings as we entered California until I noticed snow on the horizon. And there were mountains under that snow. I commented to Doug that I felt bad for the pioneers. I couldn't imagine coming all the way across the plains, somehow surviving Death Valley only to be faced with a wall of rock and snow. How depressing! As it turned out, we weren't ready to cross those mountains just yet. First we had to head north, through Lone Pine and Bishop, the road running parallel to the range. The further north we got, the more beautiful and colorful the scenery became. The trees were taller, the grasses thicker and greener, the mountains sported snowy shawls and there were crystal blue lakes dotting the landscape.

We rode past Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks (we didn't stop, so I'll have to come back there too, someday) and on past Mammoth Lakes and Mono Lake. I confess that Mono Lake did not impress me. When seen on a map it looks like it should be some picturesque setting, like Crater Lake in Oregon but on a much grander scale. Instead it looked like an oversized puddle waiting to dry up on the next hot day. Route 395, which we had been on since Lone Pine, was one step down from being an Interstate and we were able to cover a lot of ground quickly. I really wanted to see Yosemite, but it was late in the day and I didn't want to have to rush through it. Instead, Doug and I decided to check out Bodie State Historical Park that lies just north of Yosemite.

I had heard about Bodie from a fellow STNer and it sounded intriguing. It's a ghost town from the mining days of the late 1800s that is being held in a state of "arrested decay," meaning that the park will do what it has to in order to maintain what is there and leaving things as they were found. At one time there were over 10,000 inhabitants in Bodie, but due to successive fires only 10% of the town's structures remain. The town is about 13 miles off the main road, with the last 3 miles being good gravel, and we arrived about an hour before the park closed. We really need to time our days a little better. We spent our time poking around in still-furnished houses, checking out what people left behind and what Mother Nature was doing to it. Ours were the last vehicles to leave the parking lot as we headed back into modern civilization to look for lodging for the night. We didn't have to go far: the Virginia Creek Settlement campground / cabins / wagons / motel / restaurant was just a short hop up the road and we easily found a nice place to pitch our tents and then relaxed with an enjoyable dinner. It was a very nice place to stay and I slept very well.

Day 14 – 280 miles
Doug had to be back in Victoria on Saturday, but I still had four days left to get home. After we stowed our gear back on our bikes we had a long casual breakfast and said our goodbyes. He would ride north while I would return south, this time stopping at Yosemite and whatever else caught my fancy. The day did not start well, with Doug's bike mysteriously falling over and almost taking out my bike with it. Then at my first gas stop I found the prices to be astronomical – $3.23/gal for 89! After grudgingly paying the bill I realized that two blocks down the street was a station with "normal" prices. What was Chevron trying to do? I turned west onto Route 120 and crossed over Tioga Pass that had opened less than a week prior and was now clear of snow. The scenery was spectacular!

As I rode through the pass and then on and down into Yosemite Valley there was always something to catch my eye. From massive barren rocks to tiny clumps of colorful wildflowers tucked alongside the road there was beauty to behold wherever I looked. Many side roads were closed (presumably due to snow, although I saw very little from the road) and traffic was surprisingly light. The road descended into the Valley and I got my first glimpse of the massive waterfalls that grace this area. Bridalveil Falls was the first, and in the distance I could also see Vernal and Nevada Falls. At least that's what I think I saw – it's hard to tell.

Traffic became a nightmare as I entered the valley and neared El Capitan. The heat also became oppressive and no amount of Flying Squirrels would help me at the pace I was stuck at. I finally decided to take a break and read my book by the Yosemite River. I locked the 'Stitch to the bike, grabbed some sunflower seeds, my water bottle and my book and proceeded to find a quiet corner to cool off in. Mosquitoes immediately attacked me. I had used all of my bug spray and had let Doug take home the can that he bought for us to use previously. My foul temper returned and I stalked back to the bike, put everything away, strapped the gear to the back of the bike and headed for the Visitor's Center in relatively naked squid-like fashion.

After what seemed like hours of rolling through traffic and the parking lots I found a shaded corner for my bike, locked everything up (again) and attempted to find the Visitor's Center or some place to buy some insect repellent. Apparently my brain was fried by this time because by the time I found the store I realized that I had left my money on the bike. I was not about to make the round trip back to the store, so I gave up (again) and retreated back to the bike to leave Yosemite. I took some pictures before I left, but feel somewhat cheated in my visit. I would like to return under better circumstances and take the time to fully appreciate the beauty of this jewel-filled park. I geared up fully, mounted the bike and headed out of the park, heading south towards Wawona. It was still early, so I decided to explore from the comfort of my saddle and took the 16-mile turnoff for Glacier Point. This was much better! The elevation cooled me off considerably and because this was a one-way in/out road, not as many casual drive-by tourists bothered with it. The road twisted around a bit and there was little traffic to get in my way. The views from the point itself were fantastic, and I could see Half Dome and Vernal and Nevada Falls, as well as many other peaks and promontories.

Eventually I had seen all I could see from Glacier Point. I headed back down to Route 41 which was just as much fun on the way down as it was on the way up. The same goes for Route 41 towards Wawona and Fish Camp. As long as there was no traffic in front of me this road was ideal: excellent corners, decent pavement and no surprises. I was disappointed when it finally exited out near Oakhurst and became hot and oppressive again, as well as flat and comparatively straight. Or at least that's what I thought until I approached Mariposa, California. From here until about Sonora, the roads just rocked! Always a bend in the road, rarely a car in front of me, good pavement and beautiful California scenery was with me the entire way. Since I had gotten such a late start to the day, and pissed around so much in Yosemite, I didn't get very far. I thought that finding a nice campsite in Angels Camp along the shores of New Melones Lake would be nice.

Boy, was I wrong. The state park/campground is called "Glory Hole Recreation Area." I should have kept on riding, but I was getting a headache and it was getting dark. The ranger waved me into the park and I found a campsite (more like a dustbowl) to pitch my tent in. I was literally about to crawl into my tent for the night when the park hosts (or whatever you call them) hailed me from their charming electric golf cart. They proceeded to ask me stupid questions, such as "is this your bike?" It appeared that I should have paid a $16 camping fee within the first 30 minutes of entering the park and I had also parked the bike in the wrong stall – or set the tent up in the wrong site, but I wasn't about to move the tent. Of course I didn't have $16 on me, only my last $20. The hosts naturally didn't have any change and suggested that I either "tip" the ranger or ride back into town, approximately 5 miles on a dark twisty road, and get the funds I needed. My headache hadn't gone away, the showers were locked, the neighboring campers were having quite the party and I was not in the mood for any of this. I grudgingly walked to the registration board (easily missed in the dusk when I pulled in) and filled out almost no information. In fact, I considered not leaving them anything, figuring that they wouldn't check before I left in the morning. But wanting to avoid trouble at the same time, I stuffed my $20 bill into the envelope and swore as I shoved it into the box. I started up the GS, gunned it a bit as I rode it the 50' around the lot to park in "my" spot that I had just paid for and finally crawled into my tent.

Day 15 – 88 miles
It had been hot and humid that night and the sun came up early to glare down on my unsheltered tent. My camping neighbors were fishermen, so they were up and making noise with their boat and gear. My mood from the previous day had not abated. I shoved my dirty and dusty tent into the dry bag, donned my gear and left the park in a hurry. If I had a big, nasty sounding bike instead of my subtle BMW I might have been tempted to let everyone in the park know that I was leaving. As it was, I was just happy to be going.

From Angels Camp it was a quick ride to Sacramento. I tried to take some back roads but found myself going in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go, so I retreated to the state routes and numbered roadways. I had been invited by another STNer (Bobby) to come to his house for a BBQ that evening and I knew that it wouldn't take me long to get there so I meandered my way across the state. I saw Lake Berryessa on the map and recalled hearing great things about it for motorcycling so I pointed my GS in that direction. The lake was very nice, nestled among the golden hills of a baking California summer. The road was nice as well, but I felt compelled to keep my speeds down as it appeared to be a touristy area and this was 4th of July weekend, after all. I had just masterfully passed an obstinate pick-up towing a boat when I decided to stop for a photo. I hate when that happens, as you know that you're just going to have to pass him again a few miles down the road. After I took a few pictures I then looked around. I realized that I had stopped at a turnoff to another road, read the sign and figured "What the heck – let's see where it leads." I had all day to get to the other side of the mountains to the west and I felt like exploring.

I had chosen Pope Canyon Road and I followed it aimlessly through vineyards, along dark ravines and around lazy sweeping corners. I came to a "T" (not a "Y" like they have in Wyoming) and chose the most likely route only to find myself not at all where I thought I should end up. But the countryside was still pleasant, the traffic nonexistent and the day not yet unbearably warm. I meandered some more when I stumbled upon Calistoga, California and knew where I was and how to get to Bobby's old house. I had tried to call him a couple of times from the road to get his new address but for a myriad of reasons I couldn't get through. I decided to go to his workplace and ask his co-workers. It didn't take long to get from Calistoga to Healdsburg and I found the firehouse (Bobby's a fireman) with no problem.

What I did not find, however, was anyone at the firehouse who was readily available to help me. The day was getting hotter and I didn't want to lose my patience and good mood that had returned with my pleasant ride that morning. I walked over to the nearby drugstore and asked to use their phone, which they readily allowed. I got through to Bobby on the first try and he gave me some very good directions. I could see by my map that I could take some back roads to his house, but by now it had been over two days without a shower, it was unbearably hot and I was a little tired of riding around. I followed the directions to head north on Route 101 to Hopland. Even though I was taking the most direct route, it was still a very beautiful way to go and I wasn't unhappy about the side roads that I was neglecting. It didn't take long to find Bobby's place, where he invited me into the cool air of his house; I shed my gear and hopped in the shower as soon as I could politely break away from the conversation.

Human once again after my shower, the evening went by quickly and smoothly, with various friends and family stopping by for a tasty BBQ and beverages and some motorcycle racing on the telly. As fun as it was, it was with great anticipation that I curled up on the couch later that night for good night's sleep.

Day 16 – 182 miles
The advantage of not having a planned route is that it's so easy to change plans. And routes. In this instance I merely changed my plan, as the roads in northern California are pretty much all excellent but I had staked out my claim on the route I intended on taking. But back to the plans at hand. The plan from the previous night was for Jim, Cynthia, Chick, Bobby and I to ride up to Eureka together to visit two more STNer's, Gil and Becky and crash their party with fellow STNer Stefan and his wife Lyle. However when I woke up in the morning no one other than Bobby was up. I dressed, packed up the bike and sat on the couch. Bobby was playing a video game. The house was quiet. The day was getting warmer the longer I sat here. I finally told him that I was going to hit the road, quite possibly heading past Eureka and on to Medford, where I had another friend expecting a visit from me. Bobby chuckled and agreed that I should head out. I decided to simply continue to follow Route 101 all the way into Eureka instead of playing around on the back roads. If I were to get to Medford today I'd need all the time I could get. I bid farewell to Bobby, thanked him for his hospitality and motored aimlessly around his neighborhood until I found my way out and headed for the highway.

Gil and Becky were expecting me, so I was a bit surprised when no one answered the door of their house. I knocked a second time and had just walked around to the garage to see if their bikes were home when they pulled up, engines roaring and tires squealing! Well, maybe it wasn't quite that dramatic, but the timing was quite good. They were just returning from breakfast with Stefan and Lyle and were happy to see me. We went inside and stood around talking for a bit and the subject of the BBQ that evening came up. I had stated that I was shooting for Medford, Oregon that day, but they invited me to stay for the BBQ. It didn't really matter to me if I saw my friend that night or the next day. Hindering my thoughtful hosts in their daily activities was my concern, as we still had five hours to kill before the BBQ would even think of starting. They gently insisted and I easily agreed to stay. We went out for a lovely lunch followed by some mad shopping sprees at the local markets. These people are mad, I tell you! They play weird games at the grocery store. We finally returned to their house where I helped prepare dessert and a little bit of dinner. Eventually Stefan and Lyle showed up, as well as a couple of STNers from Bobby's house the previous night. It was to be a full STN house for dinner that night. After dinner the other STNers returned to their campsite in Fortuna while I retired to the STN Guest Room for a very comfortable and restful night's sleep.

Day 17 – 699 miles
I was on the road by 8:30 the next day and was eagerly anticipating my run up Route 96, my favorite road in northern California. Even the brief stretch of Route 299 to the turn off at Willow Creek was a delight. The roads were surprisingly empty for a holiday weekend; perhaps I was too early to get caught by the sleepyheads that would come through later. The weather was very cooperative, shunning the morning fog and rain that I usually find when leaving Eureka for home. I could attempt to describe Route 96 from Willow Creek to Happy Camp and then on to Yreka, but no amount of words can fully convey the sense of freedom and pleasure I get from these 145 miles of corners, bends, twists and turns. The road surface is always good, the views are always spectacular, the temperature is always perfect and the traffic almost nonexistent. Each time I turn the bike in for a corner I know that there will be another one waiting for me. There are sections of the road where the painted lines weave back and forth, causing the GS to flick from one side to the other in rapid succession. I am by no means a fast rider, nor do I usually demand high performance from my bikes, but this road lets me ride at a quick yet comfortable pace. I sometimes pushed myself in the tight turns etched into the rock wall of the canyon while other times I let the bike fall in gracefully through a well cambered, perfect radius corner, all the time the pavement followed the snake-like progress of the Klamath River.

The road is tucked into the wide canyon of the river, sometimes running deep alongside the water's edge, other times coming up for air and soaring above the rushing rapids. I could ride this road all day. But each day must end and I eventually came to the end of Nirvana. It is called Yreka. From here on I was to be regulated to Interstates and slab. It was a short jump into Oregon, and Medford wasn't far after crossing the state line. I had called my friend from Eureka to let him know when I'd be through and he was home waiting for me. We sat outside in the sunshine and caught up on each other's activities and current interests. Planning on making it home that day, I kept the visit short and after an hour or so we said our good-byes and I was once again heading north on I-5.

The only good thing about I-5 in Oregon is the Grant Pass region. After that the road becomes a straight arrow of concrete that tortures motorcyclists. I made a quick stop in Eugene to check out a bike that Bobby was hoping to buy and after deeming it "worthy" I returned, once again, to the slab. The range on the GS is both a blessing and a curse. Because I don't need to stop for fuel, I don't stop for anything. I find myself riding, pushing myself to just go a little further, to make it to the next town. When I get to the next town I keep going and start the mantra all over. I hadn't eaten yet that day, not since the BBQ of the previous evening, in fact, and I felt that I should probably eat eventually. I waited until I got into Washington state and stopped at a café I had been to before. I'm sure that the waitress thought I was a complete pig, as I devoured my food almost as quickly as she brought it to the table. I didn't wait around after I was done: I paid my bill and was soon heading north again.

Normally I'm a cool weather person and anything over 80 has me complaining about the heat. But having spent so much time in 90 and 100+ degree weather I found that the Puget Sound's balmy 75 degrees was just too cold for my liking. I stopped at a rest area, donned my heated jacket and made embarrassing happy noises in my helmet as the heat radiated throughout my gear. If I was going to push to be home tonight then I might as well be comfortable doing it. Mile after mile passed under my wheels and I rolled into my garage at 10:30 that night. 14 ½ hours had past since leaving Eureka with but a couple of stops thrown in to break up the monotony. All four cats were home, my roommate had recently cleaned the house and I still had one more day of vacation left to exploit.

It was a fabulous trip and I still can't believe how much I was able to see and experience in that short amount of time. The weather may not have cooperated the entire time, but each time it changed I was ready for it. The bike preformed superbly, as did my gear. My riding companions were excellent. All in all, the entire trip was a success. Now I must start planning the next one.

March 2007


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