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!
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.
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.
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.
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
The Return, The End of the Trail