In Search of the Holy Grail (of Northern California) or How to (un)Plan a Trip
Let me start by saying that this trip was worth the wait. I've been trying to take a trip to Northern California to ride some of their roads for 3 years now. Something always happens & the trip falls through. Typically it's a lack of planning. What made the trip happen this time was...a lack of planning. Ok, so that's not ENTIRELY true. This year was different.
Spincycle & I had started to plan for this trip back in January when WSBK tickets went on sale for Laguna Seca. Fortunately we didn't get the tickets as early as we had hoped because we both decided that tickets plus hotel plus fuel plus food would be too expensive for both of us. Instead we decided to turn it into the trip I had always hoped for. We were going to ride down to Northern California & check out some of their more popular motorcycling roads. As we got closer to summer, a few factors got in the way & Spincycle wouldn't be able to make the trip. At that point, I thought another year was going to go by without the NorCal trip I had been hoping to take for so long. While camped out at Rally in the Gorge, I was talking about how I was going to miss the trip another year due to unforeseen circumstances & not wanting to take the trip by myself. That's when Rick piped up, "Hey...I'll go. That sounds like fun." So we set out to (un)plan the 2013 Northern California Tour (aka the 2013 Ride Hard 'Till You Hit Construction Ride -- or the 2013 Too Cold on the Coast and Too Hot Inland Ride).
What do I mean by (un)plan? We set a date and then started talking about the ride itself. We both agreed that it would be more fun if we didn't have any set plans, but rather stop & camp wherever we are at the end of the day. Mostly we were really happy with this method, even though it does have a few problems. Our problems with the method mostly involved finding campgrounds that had tent sites with power. With all of the gadgets we were carrying with us (phones, intercoms, etc) & the weakish battery on Grace (one of my mistresses), we decided it would be best to have power at the site. I actually think that the next time I go, I'll make sure I have a better battery so we aren't so dependent on power. For this trip however, we had to stay at KOA two nights & a hotel one night so we'd have power. Ok, we didn't HAVE to stay at the hotel. More on that later.
About 2 weeks before we left, we got another surprise, this time from nvoelsch. He had apparently talked his wife into letting him join us for the first few days of the trip and I'm sure glad he did. He set about trying to figure out some loose routes that would maximize his 3 days with us.
Over the next few posts, I'll do my best to tell you the story of my greatest, most fun trip to date. Stay tuned.
Next: Day 1 - Only 100 Miles of Riding, but 111 Stairs of Misery
We had decided to leave for the trip after work on Day 1 & only make it to Lakeside, OR where nvoelsch has a cabin. So naturally, I spent the previous evening packing the bike up. Well, not exactly. I packed part of it up & while grabbing the top bag to start packing it up, I smelled that unmistakable smell of ammonia. Yep...Jada (my cat) is pissed about something (see what I did there?). I hosed it off, but still couldn't get all of the smell, so I decided to leave it for the evening & clean it out with neutralizer in the morning.
Day 1 was was like most days. I woke up and Luke (my dog) & I went walking. Upon arriving back at my house, I took the neutralizer to the dry bag & left it hanging to dry in the back yard. Anyone with cats will understand when I say that cleaning cat piss out of anything isn't easy, and this dry bag was no different. I got most of it, but when opening & closing it, I got the most faint aroma of ammonia. Oh well...it'll make a great story! :puke1 Then I went to work...slaving away at my day job & using my lunch break to pack the rest of the bike up. I counted down the hours until 5 o'clock when I could sign out, gear up & get the hell outta Dodge. Finally it arrived. I took off for the gas station & then to meet Rick & nvoelsch at nvoelsch's house.
We sat around long enough for nvoelsch to get his bike out of the garage and take a few pictures. Then we headed out...toward Florence, OR. This part of the ride was pretty uneventful. Seriously, we were just trying to get to Lakeside before it got too terribly late.
They had both been telling me about the hike to get to the cabin from the road, but I didn't believe it. Not until I got there anyway. nvoelsch walks over to the top of the stairs & with a flip of a switch, the entire staircase was lit up. I couldn't get a good picture that night, but I took one the next morning. This is what I went up & down a total of 5 times...getting my luggage off the bike & then back on it.
Holy crap...it's true. There really ARE 111 stairs. And let me tell you, carrying a week's worth of camping/motorcycling gear up & down this stair case was no easy feat. Rick even said it, "at least you're still getting your workout even if you can't walk your normal 2 miles." Yeah, I would've rather walked 2 miles of mostly flat terrain than this torture.
Now...what made these stairs all worth it was nvoelsch's provisions inside the cabin. The refrigerator was mostly full (not with food) & his book of cocktail recipes would keep us busy for quite some time.
I opened my dry bag to pull out my maps, and sure enough...faint angry kitty aroma. This week is going to be fun. Over drinks, we started looking at maps. nvoelsch pitched his loose routes to us & we agreed that it was a good idea. Tomorrow would be a long day, so we all stumbled to bed around midnight.
Day 1 Route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/3421312
Next: Day 2 - The Attack of Electrical Gremlins
I'll warn you now. Go make yourself some lunch. Day 2 was a long day, a lot happened & this installment of my ride report is verbose. Don't say I didn't warn you. Seriously...I'll wait. Go get some food
Back? Got some lunch? Ok, let's continue.
Not a bad way to start the day. Fortunately nvoelsch was hospitable enough to whip up some blueberry pancakes for all of us. Now...I don't normally eat breakfast, but today was different. I REALLY needed something in my tummy before we continued on our fantastic voyage. We all showered, ate breakfast, geared up & started packing anything we had unpacked (you guessed it...Jada was going to make sure I thought of her every single day). That's when I remembered the staircase. Oh well...I'll consider it a workout my doctor would be proud of.
After packing the luggage back on the bike & getting it all secured & ready for travel, I had the thought that the last time I checked my air pressures, it was warm & sunny. Today...was not. Rick heard me mumbling about my pressure gauge being in one of my saddle bags, requiring me to unsecure everything that I had so neatly strapped to the bike. That's when he offered to let me use his gauge since it was in his tank bag. He'd even let me use his handy air pump. Hey, it's even got an SAE connector so I can power it off my Battery Tender pigtail. Perfect! So I set about checking the pressure in my...whoa...4 lbs. low! Yep, we're going down the coast today, so it's not getting any warmer. Let's just hook this pump up & turn it on...POP! Aww shit. I blew a fuse somewhere. I turned the key on to see if I had power to the rest of the bike & I did. Looks like I popped the fuse in the pigtail. Know what that means?! I have to pull EVERYTHING off the bike to get under the seat. Fortunately Rick ALSO had spare fuses. I finally get under the seat, pull the fuse & it's a 3A. Smallest one Rick has is a 10A. Not having any gadgets that would pull more than 5A, I decide it's a fine replacement. Fast forward several minutes & I've got my bike back together, luggage strapped on & tires at the proper pressure. We're finally on the road...at 9:30. So much for trying to get an early start.
We set off, down the coast...the cloudy, dreary, cold, damp coast. With a quick jaunt up Langlois Mountain Road out of Langlois, OR & back...we continued on. The weather was unfortunate, because there are some really nice views on the Oregon Coast. Port Orford is one of them. But today...meh...not nearly as nice as the last time I was there.
We stop, take a few pictures & get back on the road. Again...not much to report except anyone that had grip warmers was using them. Then we stop in Brookings for fuel & spot this nice "little" gem.
That's what you think it is. It's one of the Dakar Rally trucks. From what we could tell, it was from Germany. What they were doing in Oregon, I'll never know, but it was pretty cool to see one up close.
We continue on, taking a detour through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It's the first of many drives through the Redwoods this week. I've got video, but it wasn't all that great. Not really tight & rainy. Back on US 101...man...I can't wait to get inland a bit.
Finally, we get a reprieve from the weather when we get to Arcata & head inland over CA 299 (Trinity Highway). I'm pretty sure Grace was secretly snickering the rest of the day, seeing all the references to her younger, sexier sister & knowing she was on this trip with me instead. CA 299 is a GREAT road. Lots of high speed sweepers, lots of passing lanes & we saw very few LEOs. It's a good thing too, because we had to try REALLY hard to stay ahead of the cages that just HAD to be in front of any traffic they saw, even if it meant holding them up when the passing lane disappeared & the curves got tighter. I'm not particularly proud of how fast I was riding, but I had fun, no one got hurt & no one got any awards. When we got to Willow Creek, CA to stop for fuel, I thought it best to check my tire pressures again since the temperature had risen about 30°. Sure enough...I was 4 lbs. over the recommended pressures in both tires. No wonder the shoulders of my tires were all shiny & looking like they may have melted a little. I have to say, I was kinda proud of what my tires looked like...even if it was due to the pressures being a little high.
Fueled up, watered down, done visiting with a guy from Texas on a 2 month journey that had been behind us for much of the Oregon Coast & having eaten some snacks, we head toward Weaverville, CA. There we'll hook up with CA 3 & head for Trinity Lake. It's 5:30 already, so we should get a move on. Remember? I don't want to setup camp in the dark. Shortly after Weaverville on CA 3, it starts looking like dusk. Unfortunately, we can't really go any faster because this stretch of highway had the most dense population of deer I had ever seen. And shit...now it's getting dark. That's when Rick & I notice in our mirrors that nvoelsch's headlight was pretty dim. He had mentioned some sort of electrical problem where the bike would stop putting out a charge intermittently. This isn't good. We're pretty much in the middle of nowhere. So we slow down, trying to keep him in sight, give him something to aim for & decide that we just can't stop until we get to where we're camping for fear that he wouldn't be able to get it started again. About 5 minutes later, we see it bright again. Huh, ok...whatever...let's just get to camp. I was in the lead looking for a campground that would have food since none of us had eaten since lunch in Crescent City. I must've passed 376 campgrounds before we ended up in Coffee Creek. There was a sign advertising a campground so I turned off. That's when Rick noticed the little Pizza Pub across the street. Well, it's already dark so let's get some food before they close & ask them about camping.
Yeah, Rick really looked like that. We were all ragged & ready to setup camp. Notice how dark it is. Yeah, so much for setting up camp in the daylight. At some point, one of us asked our server if she knew much about the camping situation around here...explaining that we had heard about a campground across the street. She says, "yeah, my parents own it." Awesome! We get more information, finish our dinner & head over.
When we get there, we meet the nicest guy, Willy. He lets us all camp in the same site for only $15. Best part is, every site has power. GREAT! We pick out a site, Rick & I leave our headlights on & hurry to get tents pitched. As I finish pitching mine, I look back & Grace's headlights aren't nearly as blinding as they should be. Shit...I should have replaced that 5 year old battery before leaving on the trip. After trying unsuccessfully to start Grace, nvoelsch says, "don't worry. I brought my battery charger with me!" He goes to the power post & finds out that "power in every site" meant RV power in every site. Ok, he still says not to worry, he brought jumper cables. HA! Two bikes are having a hard time starting (yeah, Rick's battery went really low too) & we're going to depend on the guy with the electrical gremlins to get us started in the morning? Oh, cruel fate. nvolesch gets his bike started & suggests that I ride it up to Willy's & see if he's got an RV->110V pigtail that we can borrow. It was a long shot, but he was really nice before. Maybe we'll get lucky. Sure enough, Willy has one & let's us borrow it free of charge.
Ever ride a motorcycle in the dark without a headlight? I hadn't either, but the utility truck's charging system was acting up again & I had to ride back to our site with no lights. Finally I get back to camp, we hook the utility truck up to the charger, Rick got his bike running & I'm actually able to start mine. We don't leave them running long as it's pretty late & we don't want to piss off the neighbors. I'll hook mine up to the charger tomorrow morning. With camp setup & the bikes put to bed, we sit at the table for a bit, discuss the day & go over some loose plans for tomorrow. I think it was around midnight when we all headed off to our respective tents & fell asleep.
How was lunch? Aren't you glad I stopped you & suggested getting food before telling my tale?
Day 2 Route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/3421322
Next: Day 3 - CA 3 and COWS!!!
That vehicle looks to be a MAN and it's probably just a bunch of overlanding Euros who own it.
Nothing to do with Dakar, just some tourists like you.
Back to the report. I did it again. I just can't get out of storytelling mode. I've decided that my goal isn't necessarily to tell y'all about our trip & keep you entertained. Rather, I'm recording our trip while I can still remember the details. If you're entertained & still reading, thank you. Please enjoy. But really, I'm just having fun writing this ride report & reliving one of the most awesome weeks I've ever had. Go make another sandwich, I'll be here when you get back.
Much like most days, I awoke after everyone else. In fact, nvoelsch had already showered. Looks like we're gonna get a late-ish start again today. Speaking of showers, it was then that I realized that I had forgotten to pack one very important item. Suddenly, the voice of Towelie was in my head, reminding me, "Don't forget to bring a towel!"
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Well, I had forgotten & we're pretty much in the middle of nowhere so I can't just buy one. There's a thing about necessity...you'll always find a way. As it turns out, a t-shirt makes a pretty good towel when necessary.
After showering I head back to camp & start packing up. Cue the obligatory camp site photo.
We take the charger off of the utility truck & put it on Grace, just so I can get a little charge on her while we pack up camp. Finally...around 9:30 am, we get going. We stopped at Willy's to return his RV->110V adapter & have a 10 minute conversation with him. I'm pretty sure he doesn't see very many people out there because conversations with him were never short, but he was very friendly & hospitable. He even gave us a recommendation for a road we should take while we're in the area. More on that later.
We started the day continuing northbound on CA 3, having noticed a squiggly section of the road on our maps. Sure enough, we get to Scott Mountain a few minutes later & were immediately greeted with the kind of road that makes my heart flutter.
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Now THAT'S how you start the day! There were a couple corners that made me glad I ride triples. There's nothing like being surprised with the tightness of a corner, rolling WAY off the throttle, not changing gears & being able to pull out of the corner like a tractor.
At the top we pause for a break, taking in the cool mountain air & taking a few pictures. It really was a beautiful morning.
After our break, we keep heading north on CA 3 toward Yreka. I take the lead & we head down the hill. It's a lot less twisty on this side of the mountain, so we're able to pick up the speed a bit more. While trucking down the hill, all my training & practice paid off. I found myself in a situation requiring some emergency braking in the middle of a corner. Turns out, I'm pretty good at it.
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Giving a few final revs of the engine so they didn't dart out in front of Rick & nvoelsch, we were on our way again. We made a quick stop in Yreka at the local Wally World to pick up a few things (including a towel) & then headed toward CA 96. The first part of CA 96, from Yreka to Happy Camp, was great. Lots of high speed sweepers & very light traffic...except of that one logging truck. :rofl It was fun, but I didn't get any video or photos of that section. We stop in Happy Camp at a grocery store to find out where we can eat in town. It was a very small town so we didn't have a lot of options. The thing about motorcycle touring is that everyone wants to talk to you, to get just a bit of your story & sometimes give you road recommendations. This stop was no different. The guy in the grocery store recommends a place to eat & suggests that we take a road that heads north out of town & over to CA 199. Unfortunately, today we couldn't do that, but we mentally noted his road. We will, however take his recommendation on good eats in town.
While we're eating, a guy comes up to us & asks if we know anything about the motorcycle on the side of the road west of town. We reply that we don't, but that a group of riders just left as we were pulling up. After finishing our meal, we continue on toward Willow Creek. About 10 miles out of town we come across this.
Go ahead dude...praying is all fine & dandy, but I'd like to suggest learning how to ride. There you have it...an abandoned motorcycle, oil all over the road & clearly it's all fresh.
Now...I haven't mentioned it yet, but we were in contact with SamEyeHam (a friend of ours from Portland) the day before, trying to meet up & ride with him for a bit. He finally calls me to warn us about the oil in the road. Apparently he had hooked up with this group & rode with them for a bit when this guy crashes. I guess things were going well when, for whatever reason, these guys picked up the pace & one bites the dust. Anyway...weird way for us to cross paths with Sam. We never did see him.
So we take our pictures & continue on. Shortly after the wreckage we come across a section of CA 96 that made my heart flutter again. While it's bumpy & the surface isn't all that great, the configuration of this piece of road was awesome, moderately tight & we were really able to get a good rhythm going.
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Just before Orleans, we get stopped by a flagger. They were crawling all over Norther California while we were there. While we were stopped, nvoelsch looked over to the hillside & found out why we were stopped...and it wasn't construction.
That's not a cloud. Apparently there's been a fire burning there since early July. After sitting there for about 10 or 15 minutes, the pilot car came by & were were on our way again. We roll into Willow Creek finally & head west on CA 299 back toward Eureka. This run across the pass wasn't nearly as fun as the first. Lots of traffic, no one using the turn outs & no one passing quick enough in the passing zones for us to get by. Pretty uncharacteristic of Northern California. Eventually we stop at Berry Summit & take in the sights.
Realizing it's 5:30 pm & we've still got a lot of road to cover before stopping for the night, we get going. We roll into Eureka & stop at the local Big KMart to look for an RV->110V adapter just in case we need one. When we pull up, we hardly had enough time to dismount before a guy in a wheelchair was there trying to hit us up for money. I have to admit, his technique was good. First striking up a conversation & trying to relate to us as Oregonians...then going in for the kill. Back on 299, I had accidentally left the camera rolling, so I actually got it on film.
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We also saw this car in the parking lot that had obviously been there a while. All of the windows were busted out, the trunk was wide open & the mirrors had been knocked off. Eureka really is a weird place.
As it was pretty close to dark, we decide to check into a KOA for the convenience, the power & the lighting. This way, even though we're setting up camp late, we'll still have light to do it.
Yep, that's the utility truck on the battery charger again. After setting up camp, we head into town for dinner. This time at Lost Coast Brewery.
While at dinner, Rick decides to try one of the beers & the server suggested a few fruit flavored beers, bringing the tangerine & watermelon to Rick to try. He can't decide which one so she suggests that she can mix them, calling it "Twatermelon." That got quite a few laughs from us for the rest of the trip.
After dinner, we headed back to camp & settled in for the night. Unfortunately the couple staying two sites away didn't settle in until much later. Gotta love KOA. Right next to the freeway, crawling with boisterous children & a couple having sex (not quietly, mind you) until late into the night. Fortunately, being on a motorcycle trip, we had our earplugs handy.
Day 3 Route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/3421325
Next: Day 4 - Some people REALLY don't want you to pass
You must have been on 299 on some cop holiday or something because I always seem to see plenty of CHP's ticketing people. I've been lucky but I have a radar detector that lets me know there's one around.
Anyway.... Nice ride and write-up.
Ah...KOA. Rick & I had decided that the reason they use 'K' to spell camping is the same reason we use a 'K' to spell imitation crab. That's not to say that it was all bad. It was lighting to setup camp, a place to sleep & a place to plug in our gadgets (and one motorcycle). And you can't beat going to sleep to the sounds of nature...you know...the couple two sites down "enjoying" nature. What's better than that? Waking up to the sounds of nature too. Yep, they were at it again in the morning. Wild rabbits, I tell you. With that, we started to move around & start breaking camp.
Having broken camp, we started looking for a place in Eureka to buy an RV->110V adapter in case we needed one on the rest of the trip. nvoelsch had graciously offered to pay for it & let us borrow it, since he had a use for one at home. A quick stop at Harbor Freight produced what we were looking for, so we headed to get breakfast. nvoelsch would be leaving us today & heading north, back to his cabin for a night & then back home. We decide on the Village Pantry, a nice little breakfast place, not unlike Ye Olde Pancake House in Eugene. The food is great, the service is just as good & while we were there, another traveler on a DL650 came in for some food & hot coffee. As you'd expect, we strike up a conversation. Apparently he's on a ride from Southern California up to Salem to see his father. He's taking 2 weeks to get there. He said he was hitting every great motorcycle road in between. While we're talking to him, he tells us about the website that he runs. It's the Candy Butt Association, a site poking fun at the Iron Butt Association (which he is a member of...along with a bunch of his own members). It's basically a site where people can share stories of long trips that happen over long periods of time, rather than 11,000 miles in 48 hours.
After breakfast, the three of us head outside, say our goodbyes & head in opposite directions. Rick & I heading south while nvoelsch heads north.
Let me give you a little history before I tell you more about why we're headed where we are. The Hungarian & I got married on the 23rd of September last year & had planned on taking a huge honeymoon trip to the Caribbean in the spring. So that we didn't feel like we had the wedding & then went right back to work, we took a practice honeymoon to San Francisco since I had never been. On our way back from San Francisco, we stopped in Napa Valley to visit her favorite winery (more on that later). Having stayed a night in Calistoga, CA, The Hungarian & I looked for a way to get back to I-5 & found CA 29. The really fun section of CA 29, while not all that long, is REALLY fun. Beautiful pavement, lots of passing lanes & lots of tight corners. I almost made The Hungarian sick when we went through in the Civic. Ever since then, I've wanted to ride that road on one of the motorcycles.
Fast forward to the (un)planning phase of the trip, I had told Rick & nvoelsch that CA 29 is one of the roads that I HAD to check off my list while we were down there. The only problem was, the more I talked about how great is, the more I felt like maybe I was playing it up to Rick too much. Fortunately, he was unconcerned with going so far out of our way to hit it & just going along with the flow. You know...he's not at work, he's not at home & he's on two wheels. He really didn't care where we went. He was just happy to be riding for a week straight.
Fast forward now to today, Day 4. We had decided that now would be a good time to head down to Napa Valley. Besides, CA 1 was one of the roads we wanted to hit & that'd take us closer to my ultimate goal of CA 29. So onward!
We headed down US 101 to the Avenue of the Giants (CA 254). When we get there, we're greeted with one of the more scenic roads on our trip. It really is amazing to ride among these majestic giants. And seeing the cars & motorcycles among them really give you perspective to just how big they are. It's a beautiful ride, that's for sure.
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At the end of CA 254, we take a break & shed a few layers. It had been cold & damp on the coast (ya think?) and CA 254 had gotten us out of that & into the warmer, sunnier weather.
The trip down US 101 to CA 1 was uneventful, it's mostly freeway the whole way, but when we got there...we were greeted with one of the twistiest roads we had ridden. Yeah, this one made my heart flutter too.
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It was great until we got behind some traffic (and eventual construction...imagine that). We ended up behind a couple of cars that were intent on preventing us from passing them..at all costs. I was glad I had the camera rolling, because I had gotten around one of them & then realized I'd be stupid to try & pass the next one. They're lucky they didn't kill someone. I have no idea why some people drive like this to keep motorcyclists behind them. It just doesn't make sense to me. If I get around you, you won't see me again & everyone is happy. Anyway, take a look. This driver REALLY didn't want me in front of them.
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Rick could tell how frustrated I was getting & once we got through the construction section he pulled off & said it was time to take a break. He was right...there was no reason for me to get to upset. Let's pull over, calm down...grab a bite to eat & let traffic get ahead of us a bit. I can't say it enough, Rick. Thank you for being the cooler head & pulling me over. I can't tell you how much I (and most likely The Hungarian as well) appreciate this.
I'm really glad we stopped...it was smooth sailing the rest of the way. Below is a video of the second part of CA 1. Yeah...two VERY long parts (and I cut out quite a bit). This is an awesome road...one not to be passed up. I know y'all aren't watching the entire length of these videos, they're pretty boring to sit through the whole thing. But on this one, when you're ready to turn it off, fast forward to about 5:30. This is what it's like to emerge from the woods & end up on the coast. It was one of my favorite views of the entire trip.
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Having rested & taken some pictures, we were on our way. We stopped for fuel in Fort Bragg & decided to head inland so we'd get to Napa Valley before it got too late. This is where (un)planning gets fun. We hadn't decided when we'd head inland & hadn't even looked at possible routes along the way. After a consult with Google Maps on my phone, I decide on CA 128. It runs diagonally southeast across Western California, right into Cloverdale, not very far from our goal of St. Helena (for the winery) and Calistoga (for CA 29). Not far into CA 128 we run into more construction. Seriously, I'm pretty sure there wasn't a road that we were on that DIDN'T have construction closing one lane. Since we were set on not getting frustrated with traffic & taking a cue from Rick's earlier stop, I decided to pull over after getting through the lane closure to take a break. So we take a few pictures & goof off a bit.
Once we get underway again, the road gets really twisty. Part of me wishes I had gotten video, because this road was an AWESOME surprise. This (un)planning strategy REALLY works. It's unfortunate though, we ended up behind a brontosaurus & a line of cars too long to try & pass. I don't fault any of the vehicles in front of us, there wasn't even a place big enough for Rick & I to pull off & wait. It's unfortunate too...that road was money. Coming down off the hill, we stop again...to let my nerves chill out & to look for a place to camp. I make a number of calls & none of the campgrounds have tent sites with power. Fortunately there's a KOA right there in Cloverdale. Whatever...it's convenient. I'm not afraid of KOAs...even after last night.
We head to the KOA & we're surprised when we see the freeway retreat into the distance in our mirrors (we had to cross under US 101 to get there). There's a KOA out here away from the freeway? No way! Sure enough, we start climbing a hill on a fairly twisty road & we're still 4 miles away. This is a KOA like no other! Finally, we reach the top, get checked in & go find our campsite. I didn't get a picture that night, but here's one I took the next morning.
Our campsite looked out over Napa Valley. It really was beautiful. There was no one in the site to the north of us & the site to the south was no less than 10 or 15 yards away. This was going to be my best KOA experience ever. After setting up camp, we head to the front office to ask about food in town. The women there recommended Ruth McGowan's Brewpub. So we gather up our maps & head back down to Cloverdale. The weather is so nice, we opt to sit outside so we can spread the maps across the table & discuss tomorrow's route. After dinner we head to the store across the street, grab some adult beverages & head back up the hill. Finally for the first time on the trip, we're able to unpack our camp chairs. We set them up looking out over the valley, enjoy sitting under the stars & appreciate the weather. Once our drinks are done, we head to our tents & turn in. It's been a great day with the first of our many surprise routes.
Day 4 Route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/3421326
Next: The race track in Napa Valley & another surprise route.
>"They're lucky they didn't kill someone. I have no idea why some people drive like this to keep motorcyclists behind them. It just doesn't make sense to me."
I.E. Someone who 'thinks' they can drive.
Photo Below. A guy from Blue Lake was killed near that spot on 96 about a year and half ago.
The section from Witchepec to Hoopa is really, really, good, but watch out
there is not much room to run out of line.
Indian Valley road from Happy Camp to hwy 199 is good too.
Great road, up to a snow-park then down to 199.
Enjoying your RR.
On Day 5, I rolled out of my tent & yawned, stretching my arms as wide as I could. Today is the day. The day I finally get to ride CA 29. I've been waiting almost a year to come back to Napa Valley & ride this road. Lately though, I've been second guessing my memory of it. Is it really as good as I remember? I'm going to be disappointed if I've been working it up in my head all this time & it turns out to be a dud. Whatever, Rick's right. Even if it is, yesterday was fantastic. Getting here was a blast, surely getting back further north will be just as good. Besides...we're not at work, we're on two wheels & we're having a great time seeing new country. Life can't get much better.
We quickly pack up camp & head out. Over dinner last night, I had convinced Rick to go down to St. Helena with me to visit The Hungarian's favorite winery, V. Sattui, to grab a couple bottles of Gamay Rouge (her absolute favorite wine in the world) & have them shipped home. So we headed south. Fortunately we only have to be on US 101 for about 10 minutes, then we'd be back on CA 128 heading for Calistoga/St. Helena. This road was very much like the roads around Corvallis/Albany, deep in the Willamette Valley. They're mostly straight with occasional 90° corners. I didn't figure I'd enjoy this leg very much, but there's something to be said about scenery sometimes. We were riding among what seemed like endless vineyards. And on a day like today, it was a beautiful sight.
After a little over an hour of riding amongst the vineyards, we arrived in St. Helena. I almost lost Rick after he got stopped by a light & I didn't notice because I can't see anything in my mirrors except my bags. I pull into V. Sattui & look behind me, expecting to see Rick. He's not there. In fact, he's not even in the parking lot. Hoping that he's still in range, I call him up on our G9 units. Right after I push the button, I see Rick ride right past the entrance to the parking lot. I'm too far in for him to see me. Now...anyone that uses the intercom feature of the G9s knows how long it takes to start a call. This time was no different. In fact, it felt like an eternity. I just know that he'll soon be out of range & I'll have to go chase him down. Finally, I hear the familiar beep & the sound of the wind in my speakers. I don't waste any time, quickly & authoritatively saying, "TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND! YOU PASSED IT!" Fortunately I got those first few words out before he went out of range. Let me just say, anyone that complains about the distance at which these things work know not what the speak of. I've been impressed with them on more than one occasion. I headed back out to the entrance so he'd see me. Finally he makes it to the winery, we dismount & head in.
Having been here before, I walk right in & up to the tasting counter. I immediately tell the guy behind the counter that I'd like to purchase two bottles of Gamay Rouge & have them shipped to Oregon. That's when he drops the bomb. They have a 6 bottle minimum for shipped orders. Dammit...that's going to be a problem. You see, V. Sattui isn't the cheapest winery. The last time we went, we spent about $250 on wine to take home. Knowing the state of my credit card after paying for our honeymoon and then taking a couple week long trips over the summer, my heart sank. I really wanted to surprise her. That's when the guy tells me that they're offering a 15% discount for mix & match cases. After mulling it over in my head for a while, I decide to bite the bullet & ship a case home. Besides, if I send her a case of wine from V. Sattui, I'm pretty much guaranteeing that I'll be able to take this trip again sometime. I kind of surprise the guy when I rattle off 6 bottles of wine because I already know what we like there. He finally points me to the registers & I place my order. Fortunately the price tag was less than I had originally thought, so I counted myself lucky. The Hungarian is going to get a nice little anniversary present & I can't wait to see her open it. https://d26ya5yqg8yyvs.cloudfront.net/icon10.gif After placing my order, we head back outside, jump on the bikes & stop at the entrance for a picture.
I take a quick minute to post it on The Hungarian's Facebook page. I explain that unfortunately there was a 6 bottle minimum on shipped wine & that I couldn't afford to get her any. https://d26ya5yqg8yyvs.cloudfront.net/naughty.gif She later received that package after we returned from our anniversary trip to the coast. I gained major points with her that day.
We head up the road a bit & stop for lunch at Gott's Roadside. Rick had seen it when we came into town & recounted seeing it on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, so we stopped & had a burger. It was a pretty good burger too. The garlic fries & strawberry shake weren't bad either. The only drawback to this lunch was the price tag. I paid $23 for those 3 items. Oh well, it's a cool place. I'm glad we went.
After lunch, we head north to Calistoga. CA 29...here we come! Finally we arrive at the beginning of the fun part of CA 29. We pull over in one of the last straight stretches to get our cameras ready & recording, then continue on.
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We were stopped again by construction, but using our pull over & wait strategy, we had a lot of clear road. When we ended up behind traffic again at the end Rick calls me up on the intercom saying how much he liked the road. I'm glad too, because it WAS everything I had remembered it being. While it's not very long, it's littered with 25 MPH corners & passing zones with some of the most beautiful pavement. It's hard not to feel like you're on a race track. I can't wait to go back again.
Continuing on we follow a route in the Destination Highways book & take CA 175 up to Kelseyville where we had planned to take CA 29 to CA 20, hit US 101 & head back to Eureka. While stopped for a break in Middletown though, we decided instead to take CA 175 west out of Kelseyville just be cause it looked squiggly on the map. We were really glad we did.
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Once again, we had been surprised by a road that we might have missed if we had planned too much or felt like we had to stick to current plans. Well, since we had such great luck with surprise roads, we decided to take a recommendation from SamEyeHam. The day before he had asked us if we had taken CA 20 from Fort Bragg into Napa Valley. I told him we hadn't, that we had taken CA 128 instead. He urged us to do it while we were down there, but I didn't think we'd be able to since we were going to run out of time trying to get to Eureka. It was then that Rick & I discussed our plans & he came up with a great idea. Let's just plan on staying at a hotel tonight so that we can take CA 20 & then head up CA 1 back to Eureka. What? Splurge on a night in a hotel in exchange for more squiggly roads instead of freeway? Done deal! So we spend about 45 minutes on US 101 until we get to Willits & head west on CA 20. Even though this one didn't look very squiggly on the map, it definitely didn't let us down. Beyond that, it was Sunday & we're headed to the coast while 95% of the traffic was headed back home from a weekend at the coast. We had very little traffic. Thank you SamEyeHam for urging us to do it.
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Now we're 3 for 3. Route diversions are really starting to be fun. Needing a rest, we stop at McKerricher State Park for a bit & take a few pictures.
After a few minutes, we continue on up CA 1 until right before we enter the really twisty section. We see a group of three motorcyclists looking like they're trying to fix one of them, so we stop. Apparently these guys were all from the UK & had rented bikes to ride some of the roads. The one they were looking at was a Ducati Diavel. They were asking us if we knew how to fix a bike that was stuck in gear. We admitted that we didn't as I looked at the bike. It had obviously been crashed. Good luck getting your deposit back. They take off toward Fort Bragg, running on fumes & stuck in 3rd gear. We take a few pictures & get ready for our second run on CA 1 this trip.
CA 1 was fantastic...again. I'm glad we've decided to divert our route so that we can take it again. Traffic was relatively light & we had a pretty decent run. The rest of the ride that day was pretty uneventful. We intersect up with US 101 again & take the freeway the rest of the way to Eureka where we stopped at a handful of hotels before decided on the Clarion, just a few blocks from Lost Coast Brewery. We unload the bikes, get changed & walk down to the brewery where we grab dinner after waiting a ridiculous about of time for someone to take our order. After dinner, we head back to the hotel, relax for a bit & discuss tomorrow's route before turning in for the night. Another awesome day of riding. I'm starting to wish I had two weeks to do this trip.
Day 5 Route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/3421328
Next: The Holy Grail of Northern California
If you've made it this far, I know you're enjoying the story. Thank you for sticking with me this long, we're almost done. Five days down & two to go. My apologies for this installment. It kind of jumps around with fractured thoughts. I wrote it in short pieces as I was taking care of things around the house. Without further ado, grab a sandwich & get comfortable.
Day 6 was not your typical day on the Northern California coast. It was sunny & warm. One reason we were looking forward to staying in a hotel was so we didn't have to be cold & damp in our tents. Of course, the one night we stay in a hotel, it's actually beautiful outside. Cue obligatory "camp site" photo.
Another reason for thinking that a hotel would be a good idea was that hopefully, since we didn't have to break camp, we'd get an earlier start. So much for that. By the time we woke up, showered, got in our gear, went down to take advantage of the breakfast provided & got the bikes loaded up, I think it was around 10:30 or 11:00 am. It was the latest start we had gotten all week. Oh well, fortunately our planned route today was pretty short. We had planned to take CA 36 to CA 3 & head back up to Coffee Creek to stay another night at Coffee Creek Campground. That would put us in a good place to start our journey home the next day. Besides, we liked Coffee Creek Campground better than any other place we had stayed all week.
After getting everything loaded up (including our bellies) we head down US 101 toward Fortuna, the western end of the Holy Grail of Northern California, CA 36. If you haven't heard about CA 36, it's known for a sign on one end warning of curvy road conditions for the next 140 miles. Getting a picture of you and/or your bike in front of this sign is a rite of passage for any motorcyclist with a sense of adventure & an addiction to the twisties. Ever since I had first seen a picture of it years ago, I've wanted to make the trip down to check out this legend. Now...I didn't know which end of the road it was on, and since we hadn't planned on going all the way into Red Bluff, I was hoping it was on the western end. About 10 - 15 miles of looking at every sign, hoping to see it, I realized that we were on the wrong end. About that time, Rick & I pull off to take a break & let some more construction traffic get ahead of us.
While stopped, he & I discuss the sign situation & what we want to do about it. At this point, I figure I'm so close & have been wanting this picture for so long. I can't go home without finding this sign. We'll just have to go on into Red Bluff. Damn, our lives really do suck. First world problems, right? Of course, our outlook on (un)planning is still alive & well & we decide that we can take the extra time. Best part of this is that we will now be able to ride the entire length of CA 36...and part of it twice! :clap So we head off...ready to see what CA 36 has in store for us.
The funny thing is that Rick was complaining about his disappointment in the road. So far, it's just not what he expected. But whatever, we're not at work & we're on two wheels. It wasn't long until he had changed his mind.
See...the thing about CA 36 is that it can be categorized into three very distinct sections. The first 1/3rd of it was littered with high speed sweepers. Nothing terribly sharp, but none of it was straight either. I like to call this western section "The Speedway." It was particularly difficult to keep a reasonable speed. It was just so much fun & it wasn't hard to find a good rhythm. Numerous times, we'd realize that we were going faster than a cop would be happy about, had we passed one & had to back off a little bit. As I said, even Rick had changed his tune with regard to his initial opinion.
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At some point, the road turns into some of the tightest corners, winding through the mountains. I call this middle section "The Switchbacks." Our speed through this section was much slower, but the rhythm here was great as well. Think McKenzie Pass(OR 242), only less traffic & MUCH longer.
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At the end of The Switchbacks, Rick & I stopped in the great metropolis of Platina for a restroom break, some snacks & something to drink.
Because we had decided to go all the way into Red Bluff & our day got extended by a few hours, we considered this stop our lunch break to save us some time. A couple of breakfast bars & something to drink later, we continue on. This last section of CA 36 was completely different than the last two, but no less fun. It consisted of shorter, but faster elevation changes. Seriously, there were times when you had to slow down coming over a crest because the road looked like it just plain disappeared on the other side. There were even a few times when at least my front tire left the pavement going over some of these crests. It took a great deal of concentration to navigate what we affectionatly called "The Roller Coaster." After The Roller Coaster, we rolled into Red Bluff looking for fuel. Finding it, we filled up, went inside for something to drink & sat in the shade for a few minutes. After posting a few pictures on Facebook bragging about what we had just done, we got back on the bikes & headed back over CA 36, looking for the famous sign. Not very far after turning on the highway we spot it. Finally, after all these years, I'm here. I've found it. So we pull up & take a metric shit-ton of pictures. These are just a few.
Alright, we've sufficiently wasted too much time & it was hotter than blue blazes out there. It was time to continue on. This time over The Roller Coaster, I decided to turn the camera on. I'm glad I did. Even though you can't see my front tire, you can tell the time or two that it left the pavement. As if the pictures of the sign weren't enough, this section of road made me really glad we decided to go all the way into Red Bluff.
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After going over The Roller Coaster & part of The Switchbacks for a second time, we turn right on CA 3 & head back up to Coffee Creek. I didn't get any video & I don't have any pictures of this leg, but suffice it to say, CA 3 is a great road...and it's FULL of deer. Rick has video of two deer darting out between us as we ride by. Seriously, if you ever find yourself on a motorcycle on this highway...keep your eyes peeled. They're all over the place.
Finally we arrive in Coffee Creek, just in time for dinner. One problem, the pizza joint looks closed. Dammit, I've been looking forward to that pizza & a beer or two all day. At this point, we're just hoping there's ANYWHERE that we can buy some food. After a not-so-quick conversation with Coffee Creek Willy (again, VERY nice guy, but conversations with him are never short) we find out that the Coffee Creek Country Store should be open. So we pick out a site, setup camp & walk down the road looking for the store, crossing our fingers. Sure enough, we find it & it's open. We find a number of things that would pass for "dinner." Chips, queso dip, lunch meat, crackers, cheese, the works. Oh, we also grabbed a few adult beverages. Our timing is pretty good as it's dark when we get back to camp. We lay our meal out, grab a few lights, open a couple beers & spread the maps out on the table. Over "dinner" we decide to take a couple of recommendations from folks that we've talked to & try out a few roads we didn't even know about until locals told us about them. It'll be a long day, but not nearly the longest either of us has ridden before. Once we have our day planned, we look through my mini-US atlas & recount stories of places we've lived, places we've ridden & places we've been.
Around 11 pm or midnight, after a six pack of beer, "dinner" & some good conversation, we finally turn in. Tomorrow's gonna be a long day. We'll need to get some sleep. Just one final anecdote. When Rick crawls into his tent, I can hear him mumbling about something. "Hey Rick, what's wrong" I say. He replies, "I must not've gotten my air mattress aired up all the way." I hear him air it up with lung power & crawl into his sleeping bag. I plug in my phone & settle into my sleeping bag, thinking about the day we had. CA 36 is worth every bit of it's hype.
Day 6 Route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/3421330
Next: The Return, The End of the Trail
Alrighty folks. Here we are. The home stretch. RickRick, nvoelsch & I have seen all kinds of things, ridden all kinds of roads & brushed with disaster a time or two. Now it's time to wrap all this up & let you go about your merry way, hopefully planning you're trip to Northern California. Because really, it's totally worth it. This is the most fun I've had on two wheels in my entire life. I'll not forget this trip for a very long time & I hope to go down there again soon. So let's do it. Here's the story of the final day of our trip.
I woke up on Day 7 surprisingly refreshed. It was the earliest I had gotten up & moving around the entire trip. Unfortunately I woke up with a little depression. This is how traveling has been for me since I was a young child. I always take a few days to relax & disconnect from the stresses of work & real life, finally hitting my stride with my trip on the second or third day. This goes for visiting family out of state, camping out in the wilderness & extended motorcycle trips. On the last few days of any trip I start thinking about work & real life again. It's an unfavorable personality trait I picked up from my father. I just couldn't help thinking over the past few days how great it would've been to have two weeks to be away from it all & enjoy the open, twisty road. Quickly I realize what I'm doing to myself & push those thoughts out of my mind. I know the plans we've made for today & I can't wait to see these roads that the locals have recommended to us. They're roads that none of us had even considered. None of us knew the conditions & only had what the locals had said to go on. Today was a great day for an adventure.
Shortly after I wake up & start moving around, I hear RickRick groaning. So as perky as I can, I say to him, "Goooooooood morning, Rick! It's a beautiful day & we've got some exciting roads ahead of us! How'd you sleep?!" To which he grumbles, "Not well at all. Around midnight I woke up on the ground. I guess I have a hole in my air mattress. I slept on the ground all night." I'm a bit of an asshole, so I couldn't help chuckling a little bit. Hearing this makes me really glad that I've not tried to make tent camping too comfortable. It's things like this that can really ruin a trip. I was just happy for him that it didn't happen until the last night. I'd really have felt badly for him if this had happened during the first few nights of the trip. That's enough to ruin the rest of the ride for someone. Fortunately he could see the humor in it as well & didn't get too pissed about my chuckling. I think he may have even laughed at himself a bit.
We both roll out of our tents, shower & start packing up. It's funny how in the beginning of the trip, I was constantly packing things up & then having to unstrap everything just to put something in the saddle bags that I had forgotten. Sometimes it happened two or three times during one packing event. By the 7th day I had it down like a science. It didn't take long to get everything strapped to the bike & ready to go. The best part was, by 8:45 we were packed & ready to go. This would be our earliest start all week. And it didn't take nvoelsch shuffling us along.
We decide to ride up to Coffee Creek Willy's to say goodbye. Yeah, we knew it would take some time, but we didn't care. He's a good guy & he has a lot of knowledge of the area. Of course, he asks if we've taken his road recommendation that he had given us the first night we stayed. We told him that we hadn't, but that's why we were here. There are two roads that we want to check out based on recommendations from locals. He asks about the other one & agrees that we should check it out. About 10 minutes later, we were on our way, heading back north on CA 3 for some of the tightest twisties that we had ridden on the entire trip. We get to do them again, this time with some knowledge of the road.
The ride over Scott Mountain was just as fun this time as the first time. This time there was no traffic. I don't think we came across a single car going the same direction we were. Being that it was Tuesday, we weren't surprised. On the other side, I start looking for Coffee Creek Willy's recommendation, Cecilville-Callahan Road. It connects CA 3 with CA 96 at Salmon River. He's really talked up this road, the twists & turns, and the spectacular views. We can't wait to see it. Finally I see the sign pointing toward Cecilville, CA & we hang a left. The first part was awesome. Wide lanes, centerline & littered with sweepers & tight turns alike. I didn't get any video of this stretch of the road because I was quickly running out of space on the GoPro & wanted to save it for anything more interesting that we may come across. Don't get me wrong, the road was great, but it didn't really stand out. Somewhere up the hill, the two lane road narrows & the centerline disappears. Shortly after that we roll up on Cecilville. I'm really surprised that this place had a name & a dot on the map. It was clear to us that these people didn't want to be found. I think the best way I can describe it is that it was like rolling up on the small village in the beginning of the movie Deliverance. I kept looking around, wondering if I'd see anyone, hoping I wouldn't. My fear is that if we stopped, we'd end up in this situation.
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Seriously, had I not already known that the movie was set & filmed in Northern Georgia, someone could've told me it had been Cecilville & I would've believed them. It seemed very anti-government, anti-establishment, & very remote. Fortunately we didn't see a soul & continued on. Quite a few miles past Cecilville, we stopped to take in the scenery. It was really beautiful around here. The road followed along a shallow canyon, with awesome views of the Salmon River. The pictures really don't do it any justice.
Having rested & sufficiently taken in the sights, we moved on, hoping WE weren't found by the residents of Cecilville. Coffee Creek Willy was right. Even despite our opinions of Cecilville & running across an apparently long abandoned minivan at an intersection for a side road, this was a beautiful road. It wasn't the high speed kind of road that we've been sticking to all week, but it had something different to offer.
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At some point down the road, we get stopped by a flagger with a USFS Wildland Fire crew. He explains that we should take it easy as there were fire trucks on this one lane road. Sure enough, not long after we talk to him, we ride through an area that had recently burned. This was an experience I didn't think I'd ever have. The best part is, this road had turned into a glorified goat trail. We called each other up on the intercom & agreed that it was like all of the videos of riding narrow roads along the mountains of South America. The road was wet, the surface was in dismal condition & in places, the side of the road was crumbling into the canyon below us. I did my best to push thoughts of horrible scenarios out of my mind.
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Finally we reach the bottom & stop to take a break.
All in all, I'm really glad we had taken Coffee Creek Willy's recommendation. If you have a chance to take Cecilville-Callahan/Salmon River Road, do it. It's a side of California that I didn't know existed.
From there, we hit CA 96 & headed north, back toward Happy Camp. The second local road recommendation we were to take today was given to us by the guy in the grocery store in Happy Camp on Day 3. He had suggested that we take Grayback Road/NF-48 north out of Happy Camp. It would intersect with CA 199 & we could take that up to Grant's Pants, OR (the locals call it Grants Pass) & hit I-5 for a bit to make up some time. Now...I haven't mentioned this yet, but today was the first day on our trip that we had encountered rain. So far it was manageable. We were getting wet, but with the heated grips & dry stretches every once in a while, we weren't getting soaked. Grayback Road/NF-48 was a different story. We start climbing the hill & in no time, we end up in the clouds. What started out as a slight drizzle quickly turned into what felt like a downpour. Beyond that, we were quickly climbing in elevation, so the weather was getting MUCH colder. Because we hadn't been getting soaked & it hadn't been all that cold, we never stopped to don our rain gear. We were both still in our summer gear, perforated leathers, vented leather gloves & vented sport boots. I was soaked, it was colder than a witch's tit in a brass bra & water was starting to run down the inside of my face shield. I could barely see the road & I was miserable. This was by far the worst part of the trip. I even got to the point where I noticed that the mile markers were counting down so I kept an eye on them, knowing that soon we'd be off this God damned mountain. Finally, we drop down out of the clouds & the downpour turns back into drizzle which ultimately goes away around the time we hit CA 199. Alright, I'm not having fun anymore. Let's high tail it back home.
Having been cold, wet & miserable on the mountain, we decide to stop in Cave Junction, OR for a quick stop for provisions. As we're outside snacking & taking in some fluids, we notice the sign in front of the building beside us.
I don't even want to know what they put in the food there. Cave Junction is a really weird place. It's time to go. We mount our motorcycles & head due north on CA 199 for Grant's Pants. Finally we arrive there & take I-5 north, trying to make up some time & get home before it gets too late. We had wanted to take the exit for Curtain, OR & finish the trip on Territorial Highway, but decided to stay on I-5 because we both needed fuel to make it the rest of the way & there really isn't any fuel near Curtain. After a quick stop for fuel & to rest, we continue on our way. That's when we found this awesome, secret road.
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Ok, it's not secret to everyone, but I don't like advertising it a whole lot. Consider it something like my favorite fishing hole. It was fitting that we finish our trip on my favorite road. Finally, we were back to our home stomping grounds. After intersecting with Territorial Highway, we head north into Eugene & split ways on Beltline Highway. RickRick going to visit nvoelsch & me heading home. It's been one hell of a trip. A trip that I won't ever forget. It's been my greatest adventure to date & I can't wait to do it again.
I hope you've enjoyed my story. It was fun telling it & getting to relive one of the best weeks of my life. If I wasn't addicted to motorcycle adventures after my Rally in the Gorge trip, it had certainly sunk in with this one. I clocked 2,057 miles again, just a month after having ridden 2,061 miles.
Day 7 Route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/3421333
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