Alternate Title: The Solo Adventure that was Never Solo
On Friday, I couldn't wait to peel out of work. One last appointment at 1pm, and even he could sense my impatience. I had posted earlier asking for advice on a solo trip through the Mendocino National Forest, with mixed replies. A little bit of doom and gloom about the weather, but mostly just general "don't go alone" advice. In spite of it all, I decided to forge ahead. After all, I could manage the risk, as long as I didn't cross anything I wasn't willing to go back over if I had to backtrack to get out, and I have good camping gear if I had to just park it and wait.
After finally shuffling my last appointment out of the office, I hit the road. From Fremont, it was just slab up this afternoon. I had originally intended to go up Berryessa/Knoxville Road to Reiff Road but with the flooded 0 ton bridge and the closed gates, I decided to simply get up to the cache creek area to camp. 680 had light traffic, and the temperatures were in the low 60's. Perfect riding. Weather was supposed to hold off until Sunday and I was using the slab time to let go of the week and get ready for the upcoming adventure.
Turning north onto 505, I remarked internally on my good luck - just as I turned off 80, I glanced down from the flyover to see the traffic on 80E coming to a standstill. 505 is long, flat, and boring. Counting down the miles on the GPS until my turn onto 16. A quick stop for gas in Winters (the last gas station I could find on the map), and then up 16. It occurred to me partway that Cache Creek Casino was likely to have gas, since it was a big casino in the middle of nowhere. I pulled in to top off (0.5 gallons, hardly worth it), and ran into this group:
Left to Right: Geoff, Lisa, and Ron
We chatted for a bit - they had just come from the direction I was headed, they had made a day trip out of checking out the fire damage at Stonyford.
Lisa said that she might like an F8GS, especially after she learned that it was probably about 100 lbs lighter than her current R1200GS, but once she tried sitting on mine, the high-jump she had to do to hop aboard seemed to abolish that idea quickly. We said our goodbyes and good lucks, and exchanged cards so we could meet up again.
A short jaunt up the road found me at the Cache Creek Campground. I checked in with the park hostand bought a couple of bundles of firewood.
Yet another benefit of driving the pickup truck of the two wheeled world:
One of the benefits of being a winter camper is your choice of spots. The view from mine was amazing, overlooking Cache Creek:
The warnings I got from the park host were for real. The next morning, the temperature gauge on the GS read 30F (after the sun had been out for a bit). Suddenly, the effort of hauling my larger 0-degree sleeping bag seemed well worth it. I had been nice and toasty all night.
I decided to break camp slowly, to give the roads a little time to warm up. I've never ridden around ice, and I didn't relish the idea. I didn't actually hit the road until 9. By then, the ice on the bike was flowing off into little puddles, so I figured the roads would be fine.
A couple of miles up 16, I ran into the intersection of 20, and immediately jumped on Bear Creek Rd. I was initially dissapointed - a well groomed hardpack path that basically paralleled 20. Nonetheless, I aired down and got ready to hit the dirt.
However, as soon as the trail turned right, it departed 20 and instantly got more interesting. I parked the bike and put the kickstand down to get a picture. As I was removing the camera, the bikes kickstand punched through the dirt and 500 lbs of bike fell against me. I caught it, pulled it up, and moved it to more solid ground, but the weight of the bike reminded me of the last friend who helped me lift the GS up and instantly remarked "screw that bike". It's great for carrying camping gear but there's no denying that the GS is a huge bike offroad.
After some great stretches of 60 mph hardpack dirt/gravel, I came to a bridge. I took a picture of the bike:
Then, decided to try out the timer on my camera. After all - this was going to be just me, out alone, so I wanted some pictures of me, too...
However, as I was messing around with the timer, I saw another couple of headlights coming down the road behind me. I started to move the bike to the side of the bridge, just in time to realize that it was a bike. Not just any bike, it was *my* bike. And then, another appeared. Just like that, 3 identical bikes on the same middle of nowhere bridge.
Left to right: Me, Layne, Steve
They were riding with a couple of other people. This is their whole group:
And then, I realized that I recognized those super-handguard things on the G650X. This was ridejpride, who had given me advice and current conditions in my advrider thread a few days back. It truly is a small world. His son was aboard a Yamaha WR250R which looked like a fun steed. When I asked him about it later, he said he had nothing to compare it to. For a first bike, he rode that thing like a champ.
I decided to stick with these guys, at least as long as I could keep up, and until I got to my turn off. Since I'm not typically a fast rider, they almost immediately gapped me by quite a distance. However, I quickly caught up with them again. They had stopped (and I joined them) to watch a herd of cattle being rustled down the road.
One of the cows got scared (our bikes, maybe?) and bolted off through a fence. Luckily, it didn't bolt directly into any of us or the bikes. The ranch-hand doing the herding didn't seem to be very pro motorcycle and I imagine he wouldn't have had much empathy.
After the cows had passed, we remounted our bikes and sped off down the way. After a few fast stretches, I was on my own again. I turned onto Bartlett Springs Rd, back to my solo mode. After climbing some switchbacks in the dirt, I came upon the group again. Apparently, they had decided I was a part of the group and show me the way through, at least until my planned departure to Twin Valley Rd. We stopped again at the base of the M5, which had probably 20 inches of water - more than I wanted to cross on my own, if I had to turn back for some reason. I decided to stay with the group for today.
It turned out to be a good thing and led to some real adventure. As we climbed, I stopped to take a picture. This is where I would have had to turn around if I was solo. Ice wasn't quite in the game plan. At the next stop, I mentioned that I had been sliding on some of the ice, and heard murmurs of agreement.
As it turned out, the ice got worse and worse as we climbed. Often the whole road was covered with a thick layer of ice. Steady throttle hand and just letting the bike wander where it wanted to seemed to keep everything in line. Then I came upon Steve who had to stop in a slippery section. I stormed past him to the right, trying to find a patch of dirt to stop in.
Steve had to come to a stop because it turned out a little front wheel drive car had gotten in over their heads and almost departed the trail.
So now, Steve was stuck in slippery stuff. He managed to get the bike moving, but just as quickly:
We all jumped off and gave Steve a hand hauling the bike out of the ditch, and across the trail to the dirt patch I had stopped in. However, all of us standing around caused this gentleman (riding through separately), to come to stop in the same slick spot as Steve.
He tried to get going but he had about as much traction as, well... as a motorcycle on ice. We hauled the KTM across the trail as well to the dirt patch and then everyone headed up and around the car with minimal amounts of slippage.
From there, we started descend out of the icy part.
From there, the ice got better - mostly patches that we could ride around. We started descending back into town and the dirt was nice, with a little mud here and there, just for fun.
Although our time in the ice had stretched us beyond the 1pm closing of the "Country Kitchen" that we wanted to go to, we all headed down to Lower Lake to get a little fuel at the Carl's Jr. I was lagging on the freeway sections, thinking of my poor tires with their just over 20PSI being run down the highway at 65-70mph.
As we ate, we all exchanged information so that we could get in contact again. I thanked the group for letting me tag along and ridejpride for his expertise in the area.
From here, I headed over to a gas station to gas up and air up, since pulling out my little compressor seemed like a lot of work. I then started to head down 175 to my camping ground for the night at Lake Mendocino, noting that the ominous gray clouds had started to drizzle, just a little.
Then, it happened quickly. Full on downpour in 40 degree weather. With my visor fogging, I had to keep trading between no vision with a fogged visor and being able to see when I flipped it up but getting stinging rain all over my face. It became apparent I wasn't going to make the 30 mile trek to my campground and even if I did, the idea of getting holed up in my sleeping bag at 4pm to avoid the downpour didn't sound like much fun. Desperate, I pulled over and punched up "nearest lodging" in the old moving map. I came up with the "Anchorage Inn" in Lakeport, so I dialed it in and rode cautiously into town.
I checked in and unloaded the gear off of the drenched bike.
I then pulled on some dry clothes and headed across the street to Renee's cafe. After a hearty chicken fried steak, I asked the waitress where the best place to get a beer was. She responded that a few blocks down was the Clearlake Club. Pulling my sweatshirt tight around me, I hiked down the street, looking quite the mess, soaked to the bone with my pants tucked into my dirt bike boots.
This bar was difficult to describe. With a rowdy, profane crowd (my kind of people :) ), a built in stripper pole, and some old timers that looked like they might be permanent residents of the bar, I sat down and ordered a drink. After a few rounds, a gentleman sat down, fascinated with my Kindle. As we got to talking, it turned out he had ridden some old Triumphs and BSA's back in the day. He no longer rode, but he wished me luck in my travels.
On the right is the bartender, on the left the former rider.
As I lay in the hotel room, watching a bit of garbage tv, I couldn't help but wish I was out camping. It was so much more fulfilling to be sitting around the campfire than the glow of the TV. I had to remind myself that most likely I would be laying in a sleeping bag, reading my book in a damp tent.
The next morning, I set out without any plan whatsoever. I picked a squiggly line on the GPS and took off. It was beautiful.
Which seemed to be a consistent theme for the weekend.
I tiptoed through the twisty, sandy, and icy mountain pass. The beautiful views were my reward.
Once I hit 101, I decided to head south for a bit. However, the drone of the highway quickly seemed lacking, so I pulled off to have a fantastic cup of coffee and pick a route in Cloverdale
I picked another squiggly road that turned out to be the famous "Skaggs Springs Rd", which I have never ridden. I set off down the road. I decided that since I was getting hungry, I would pull off somewhere scenic and make one of my freeze dried meals. Starting down Skaggs, I pulled off at the "Lake Sonoma Overlook", where I ran into these two bikers.
Bill on the Left and Dane on the right
We chatted for a bit about bikes. They had both started riding earlier this year and their next big adventure was to ride to "Street Vibrations" in Reno. I admired their polished chrome and mean sounding engines as they checked out the mud-soaked GS. They told me they were headed down to eat the best burger in the area. I couldn't resist the thought of that. I asked if they minded company and they graciously invited me to invade on their lunch plans. We rode down into Healdsburg to a place called the "Healdsburger". They weren't lying about it being the best burger in the land. I highly recommend the Buffalo Bacon Burger with Bleu Cheese. We chatted for a bit before exchanging information and then they headed off into the distance.
With a full belly, exhaustion building, and the thought of getting home to see my little ones, I decided to forgo the twisty routes I had planned and just truck it down 101 to the Richmond bridge and home via 880. With minimal traffic, the GS ate up the miles easily and the boredom of the slab gave me some time to reflect on the weekend. This was, without question, one of the best motorcycle trips I've ever taken. With new challenges, new friends, and some unexpected surprises, I pulled into the garage feeling better about life in general .
And here's one last picture of the loaded bike, because, as I read recently: "If you can walk away from your bike without looking back longingly, you bought the wrong one."