This month, my sweetie had the chance of a lifetime: an all-expenses-paid 10-day trip to Ghana to help out a rural community. And me? I had two weeks of unsupervised playtime!
Then my manager announced that he was going to France for two weeks, and that I would be minding the shop while he was out. At the exact same time.
Just like that, my plans for a 10-day, 1,700 miles solo trip through the Southwest evaporated like so much spilled gasoline on I-5. The best I could muster was a weekend trip. I'm not the type to roll over, so I said screw it, I've always wanted to see Big Sur, let's do this! Just me and the bike and a tarp. Let's go say hi to the sea otters.
Then I mentioned it to my brother, who dropped everything and said "let's go!"
Then Walter, Jeremy and Elizabeth said the same thing, and just like that we had a trip planned. It was completely typical for this gang- the emails flew thick and fast, everyone contradicted each other, agreed that they'd come to an agreement, but not what it was, and who was bringing what again and when were we leaving until Elizabeth said "Hey, I haven't been following, can you summarize?"
Yes. Easy: five bikes, five riders. Oakland to Santa Cruz through the hills (collecting Walter in San Francisco on the way), meet Wayli in Santa Cruz, then PCH to Big Sur, and then back somehow, route TBD. I've gotta tent, everyone bring some sort of food and a sleeping bag, we'll sort the rest out as we go. Easy. Real easy. Right...
In the spirit of adventure, we brought together the weirdest group of bikes we could find. To wit:
-Elizabeth's Ninja 250. Light, quick, with huge saddlebags.
-My Vulcan 500. The ninja's big brother in a cruiser frame. Just for good measure, it was making a weird clicking noise from the upper engine area, and one exhaust header was inexplicably turning blue. I wasn't worried though- I'd recently rebuilt the seat and molded it perfectly to my buttocks. I was prepared.
-Wayli's 15 year old Nighthawk 250 with a bit of heater hose for an exhaust crossover and a beer carton oil gasket. Highly reliable, as long as you have a torque wrench handy.
-Walters Burgman 650. A scooter the size of an aircraft carrier. Walter stuffed a sleeping bag, mat, change of clothes, a six pack of beer, curry, rabbit stew and a god damn mousse cake into this thing with no visible luggage beyond a top box.
-Jeremy's Yamaha R6. A true superbike snorting out 108 fuel-injected fly-by-wire horsepower at its massive rear tire. It had zero storage, so his only luggage was a sleeping bag and mat bungied to the tail, and a backpack with some clean shorts. On that bike, I'd need them too!
In short, no matter what roads we encountered, we'd have at least one clown on the wrong bike. Conditions were perfect for adventure. Jeremy rode from Fresno up to Oakland on Friday afternoon. We had burgers and a beer, and proceeded to terrorize Safeway for last-minute supplies. Mostly Cliff bars and veggie dogs for yours truly.
The next morning, we met up with Elizabeth at my place, did final oil-chain-tire checks, strapped some extra gear on for good measure, fired up the bikes, and rode 50 yards to the gas station.
Here we are, loaded and ready to go.
Everyone poured in the go juice, and Jeremy's bike wouldn't start.
The one bike that I was utterly incapable of fixing even a little bit went whirrawhirrawhirra. Off came the gloves, the helmet, the jacket, the trip was already over and we hadn't even started yet. I was already seeing the two of us staying home and dealing with this as everyone else rode off on MY trip.
What the hell, one last ditch effort- "want me to push it?" Pure bravado. This was new territory to Jeremy, and I'd never push started a fuel injected bike. Would that even work? It sounded really dead. I had visions of the last time I tried to push start an automatic car and ended up with a Mercedes in a ditch with its bumper wrapped around a tree. He wasn't so sure. Come on, I argued "they used to start race bikes like this all the time!" We gave it a shove and va-va-voom! The haughty bitch roared to life like it was finally go time!
Gloves, helmet, jacket, fire, go, go, go before something else breaks!
Wait, hang on, ear plugs! Gotta protect those musician ears. Then across the Bay Bridge in hellish traffic, off in San Francisco, get lost because it's San Francisco and that's what you do there, find Walter's house, knock on the door and hugs all around. Walter hadn't packed yet, on account of bringing fresh food, so we hung around for a bit and cracked nervous jokes about the Yamaha not starting, but it went no problem. Probably just a dead battery, right? Right. There's no reason a new battery can't die in 50 yards, right? Right. We had riding to do.
But first, back to a gas station- Walter hadn't gassed-and-tired yet.
Come on, Walter!
Heavily laden bikes. L-R: Elizabeth's Nighthawk, my Vulcan and Jeremy's temperamental R6.
I'll spare you the details, but let's just say that for a freeway, 280 ain't a bad ride. Rolling hills, gorgeous forests on both sides, and this is still in San Francisco! Then off on 92 and creeping through bumper-to-bumper traffic toward Halfmoon Bay.
But we had a secret- we weren't going to Halfmoon Bay. We turned left on Skyline and rode that infamous road straight down the voluptuous spine of the California Coast Range, past Alice's Restaurant (we didn't stop), to Highway 9 and dropped down to toward Santa Cruz. It was glorious. Tight turns, big swoops, sunshine, and a few peg-scraping u-turns. We stopped at the parking lot at the junction for a snack and some water, and Elizabeth spotted a young man with a new Triumph sport bike something-or-other and went over to chat. The hot dog vender was out, people were picnicking, a lot of bikes were out and about, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say we were veritably soaked in that wonderful glee of having well and truly started an adventure. Then down 9 into the serious twisties. Both Skyline and 9 have well-deserved reputations as great motorcycle roads, but the the real highlights came later.
Round about halfway down 9, I got the first inkling that my fancy new seat may not be so fancy after all. I had done a lot of the re-sculpting with yoga mat, and after 45 minutes or so in the saddle it was starting to compress and the underlying shape of the seat pan was making itself noticed. Especially a sort of rise smack in the middle of it. Whatever it wasn't bad, I could scoot around on it enough to keep things reasonably comfortable.
We hit Santa Cruz, and went straight to the local taquria to chow, regroup, and wait for Wayli who was finishing up some business in Oakland before howling down 880 and across the notoriously treacherous Highway 17. Its turns are banked out, not in, and it routinely murders cars, but he made it.
Happy smiles! Leg 1 was survived and the glory of world-class riding still percolated through our bones.