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Old 11-08-2006, 09:32 PM   #1
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Parkfield, CA ride

Hi advrider folk...it's been a looong time since I posted anything, so I thought I'd come back and say hi (especially since I've been lurking a bunch lately).

But coming back and saying hi with nothing to say is cheesy, so here's a ride report from a dual sport ride I did last July. It was the first overnight trip I took on my Yamaha XT225. Hope you enjoy.

PS -- I hope the photos aren't too big. Let me know if so and I'll reduce the sizes.

---------------

escaping the bay area.
What can I say about escaping the Bay Area other than "then we turned right, then we turned onto this road, then that road?" Apparently, not much, because I had a couple of paragraphs already typed up when I realized that this first section was boring as hell.

The redeeming factor of the section was a little detour Jim led us through near Henry W. Coe State Park. We didn't actually go into the park; the roads within this largest state park in Northern California are open to hikers, horses, and bicyclists only. We did skirt the park, however, on Canada Road, a fun little narrow and twisty back road.

When we stopped along Canada, I parked the XT next to Gary's BMW R1200GS, prompting the guys to laugh and say "the XT is thinking that's what it'll be when it grows up!". Ah, but it was I who had the last laugh once the pavement ended and the road was steep and dusty....;)



From Canada Road until our lunch in Gonzales, the theme was definitely "farmland". The first bits of road in San Benito County's Highways 152 and 156 are lined with fields; some barren, some fruitful under the July sun. Signs for roadside stands promised fresh apricots and cherries, and the air smelled of strawberries.



For lunch, we stopped at my favorite little place in Gonzales: a Beacon gas station that also happens to house an amazingly good Mexican restaurant. Jim, Gary, and I happily chowed down on fresh burritos while Chris and Peter decided to take the gastonomically safer route to a neighboring Subway. Their loss! It is a personal goal of mine to someday speak enough Spanish to order my burrito in Gonzales. I feel like the world's whitest human walking in there, hearing all these locals musically order and chitchat, and I then I say "chicken burrito, please" like the Midwesterner I am. Sigh.



A sign next to the Beacon station proclaims Gonzales to be the "wine capital of Monterey County", and we could see why as we headed off towards our first dirt road of the day. Gloria Road follows acre after acre of vineyards as it heads up into the Gabilan mountain range.

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Old 11-08-2006, 09:33 PM   #2
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dirt in the gabilans.
The Gabilan Range is the middle of central California's three coastal ranges (to the north are the Santa Cruz Mountains; to the south are the Santa Lucias). Sometimes spelled "Gavilan" on older maps, these mountains are bordered on the east by the San Andreas Fault, and the range is probably best known for containing Pinnacles National Monument.

For me, though, the Gabilans are well-known for containing Gloria Road. After a few miles, the pavement ends, and we have our first dirt of the trip! I was last on Gloria Road in early spring, when the road was packed down and rutted from the winter rains. This time, though, everything was dusty and sandy. As my rear wheel spun out in a couple of corners, I sure missed the ruts and divots from the rainwater! I stayed upright (how, especially in one corner, I don't know), but Chris wasn't as lucky. Peter and then I came around a corner to find his KTM lying on its side in the sand. After making sure Chris was OK, I had him pose with his kill -- his first drop in the dirt!



It was pretty easy for the three of us to get the bike back up. Good thing, too, because a couple of turns later, Chris fell again (on the other side this time -- he had to be symmetrical!). Peter had already gone ahead, but Chris and I were able to right the bike alone. It was getting warm, and I'm sure Chris's second drop was directly connected to being shaken up by the first one. The first time I rode on dirt, I think I dropped my XT about four times in rapid succession before taking the hint...and a break. ;) Chris was smarter than I'd been and made sure he was hydrated and relaxed before getting back on the bike.



We found the rest of the group hiding in a shady spot a few more turns up, so we exchanged stories and took some more photos. It was getting warmer and warmer, so for the rest of the day, our group stops were done in the shade. ;)

I was behind Gary in the next section of Gloria, which was utterly unrecognizable to me. In the spring, this section was lined with wildflowers of every imaginable color and tall green grasses, and the road was grey and rocky. In summer, though, everything is dusty and barren: the road, the hills, the grasses. Everything.

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Old 11-08-2006, 09:39 PM   #3
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warming up and heading south.
Our brief paved section in between dirt roads was no disappointment -- I love the coloring in the Griswold Hills.



Soon we were on Old Hernandez Road, and back to dirt. I loved this little road, twisting along the San Benito River. Jim says that there's a water crossing here whenever it's not the middle of summer; sadly, of course, it was dried up when we went through. The road here is deserted and dry; more dust and barren farmlands. "No Hunting!" signs peppered the roadsides, and we saw plenty of cows, if no people.

It was really starting to warm up. I was glad to have my Camelbak.





We turned onto Los Gatos-Coalinga Road, a long paved road that would take us right into the town of Coalinga. The road name is unrelated to the town of Los Gatos in the Bay Area; rather, it likely refers to the Los Gatos Creek that runs through Coalinga. Many places in California are named after the Spanish word for "cat" -- in fact, the Santa Cruz Mountains that Peter and I ride through frequently were originally named Cuesta de los Gatos

Los Gatos-Coalinga Road is paved, but it's another of those twisty narrow backroads. There was slightly more traffic on this one than on the rest, by which I mean we might have seen three or four pickups instead of only one.







The closer we got to Coalinga, the hotter it got, and I was slowing down. I found myself spacing out through turns, target-fixating on anything that caught my eye along the roadside. I never made a wide turn or crossed the centerline, but I found myself slowing more and more to compensate for my brain farts. Peter stuck back with me for a little while, until finally I pulled over to eat some trail mix and try to shake it off a little bit. I tried to photograph an amazing 3" long beetle that was flying amongst the flowers, but the wind made it difficult to focus the camera properly.



I waved Peter on ahead and continued on my slow but steady drone down Los Gatos-Coalinga Road. Hotter and hotter; I got slower and slower. I passed the time by ticking off landmarks I passed: Hernandez Reservoir (so tempting to just say "screw it all" and dive in...), entrances to Clear Creek OHV Park, crossing into Fresno County.

I even found a historical marker; a Clampers plaque commemmorating "Benitoite", a new mineral species discovered in this valley in 1907. I need to find some of this; it sounds awesome. It's sapphire colored (just my type!) and flouresces under UV light. Benitoite in gem quality is only found in this area of California; it was declared the California state gem in 1985.





The landscape changes in the last few miles into Coalinga -- everything turns yellow. It was definitely desert scenery, which always makes me happy, and it rejuvenated me a bit. I stopped for photos a few times, even knowing I was way behind the rest of the group by this point, but I was smiling in my helmet. I love the desert.

I stopped for this horse farm just outside of Coalinga, and a man driving past -- one of the only cars I'd seen for at least an hour -- slowed to make sure I was OK. "Did you break down?" he called from inside his air-conditioned car. "Nope, just taking pictures," I said. I thanked him very sincerely, though...I'd find out later that it was 108F outside, and anyone broken down out there with no shade would be in a world of trouble very shortly. "Great," he said, "oh, your friends are waiting for you down the road!" I took that as my cue to stop photographing horses and get on my way.





Not terribly surprisingly, given its name, Coalinga started out as a coal town. Unlike most mining boom towns, though, it survived, and is this year celebrating its 100th birthday as an incorporated city. Now it's an oil town, bobbing oil wells dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see.



Coalinga resides in the optimistically named Pleasant Valley, but at over 100F, there wasn't much pleasant about it. Chris's KTM was acting wonky, too -- it died at the traffic light just before our gas station stop and would continue to run lean for the next day. I think I remember Chris saying that adjusting the idle screw the following day would solve the problem, but in Coalinga, it was a frustrating exercise for him to try to start the KTM.

Meanwhile, I decided there was only one way to beat the heat:



Highway 198 out of Coalinga was more beautiful than I'd remembered it. More desert scenery. I only stopped for one picture of some wild sunflowers but somehow still managed to get way behind everyone again.
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Old 11-08-2006, 09:44 PM   #4
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the home stretch.

Parkfield Grade starts out paved and then turns to dirt right around the summit, which is also, not coincidentally, the county line between Fresno (paved) and Monterey (unpaved). Jim was pretty upset, as the whole thing was unpaved in the not too distant past, but at least the gal at the Parkfield Cafe later assured us that Monterey County had no plans to ever pave the rest of the road.

Even the paved sections were stupendous; wide empty turns with amazing views of places with wonderful names like Deadman Canyon and Devil's Gate.



The group stopped near the summit in view of some cows grazing by a nearby pond. There were also these amazingly cool rocks, which I saw nowhere else along the road. It looked like shale, and broke off easily when Peter decided that motorcycling was too safe and that maybe he'd like to take up rock climbing. We all waited with our cameras at the ready, but he didn't wind up falling down the rock on his head.



Shortly thereafter, Parkfield Grade turns to dirt for its final descent down into Parkfield. Twisting through Pine Canyon, the road is nicely graded (i.e. interesting but not butt-clenchingly difficult), wide, and pretty smooth. I practiced my body positioning during the downhill twisties, an exercise that would come in handy the following day on Old Coast Road....

If there's ever a happier sight than dirt twisties heading down into a rural town that promises beer and a place to sleep, I don't want to know what it is.



Parkfield's claim to fame, of course, is its placement directly on top of the most active section of the San Andreas Fault. The fault, which runs through Parkfield as a dry creek bed, divides the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate. The Parkfield Experiment, started in 1985, is a long-term earthquake research project on the San Andreas that focuses on this tiny town in Monterey County. Historically, earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 or greater happen here every 22 years, though the latest one (September 28, 2004) ran 11 years behind schedule. Slacker.

Meanwhile, tourists like us are invited to "sleep here when it happens!" at the Parkfield Inn and "eat here when it happens!" at the Parkfield Cafe. Our hotel room was perfect for motorcyclists -- "the tool room"! Though Peter questioned hanging large, sharp, farm implements on the walls of a place that prides itself on its earthquakes...





We ate dinner, of course, at the Parkfield Cafe. The burgers are pretty good, but what really sets the Cafe apart is its homemade french fries. Those are damn good french fries. The Cafe also has a decent beer selection (I had an amber from a Gilroy brewery, which was pretty good), though Gary lamented their lack of Guinness. ;) Jim now highly recommends the ribs, which must have been good, because he wound up wearing as much as he ate by the end of the meal!





We wandered around a bit after dinner ("oh, you can take that outside, honey", said the waitress, eyeing my still half-full bottle of beer). For those looking for a real estate opportunity, these Sante Fe railroad cars on the edge of town were for sale for just around $100k ("retail permitting might prove difficult", cautioned the flyer). Another wild sunflower field grew just behind the train cars, which pleased me.





After our walk, we sat around a picnic table next to the Inn for a while, bullshitting and listening to the frogs and bats. It was an early night for everyone, and we went to bed, agreeing to leave by 8am the next morning.
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Old 11-08-2006, 09:51 PM   #5
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heading for the coast.
The alarm came much too early, as alarms always do. Peter and I were a bit distracted in getting packed because of a litter of feral kittens that were hopping around outside our window...we sat and watched them for a little while. They were at that adorable age where they trip on themselves and kinda bounce sideways when they try to run. :)

We eventually pried ourselves away from the kitties and got ready to go. The Parkfield Cafe doesn't open for breakfast until 9:30am, so we had to get an hour or so down the road before making a food stop. The Inn had a "continental breakfast" of sorts, in the sense that there was a kitchen area in the common room with a refrigerator; there was some bread and jam, but we all needed "real food" to face down another full day of riding. We made plans to ride southwest to Paso Robles and have breakfast there.



What's a trip to Parkfield without jumping on the fault line?? Peter and I decided to see if we couldn't trigger Parkfield's next Big One; (un?)fortunately, we weren't successful. Next time, maybe we'll have to get down into the dry creek bed itself. Clearly just jumping on a bridge spanning the fault line wasn't going to cut it.





Leaving Parkfield, we took Vineyard Canyon Road all the way southwest to San Miguel, where we picked up Hwy 101 south into Paso Robles. Vineyard Canyon Road is a paved-but-still-fun road that winds alongside a creek, over the Cholame Hills, and through -- you guessed it -- Vineyard Canyon. In addition to the region's ubiquitous grape vineyards and wineries, there are lots of olive oil vineyards and ranches along these roads.

We found another, more unsual, ranch too: llamas!





We arrived in Paso Robles shortly thereafter, and decided to have breakfast at Margie's Diner. I know I've eaten there before, but I couldn't place where. I think it might have been with some girlfriends on our way back from Arizona, but it's been driving me nuts. We had huge portions of omelettes, coffee, french toast, etc. A decent enough breakfast.

Chris peeled off from us after breakfast; he wanted to take Hwy 46 straight west to the coast and then home. We waved our goodbyes and all got back on the road.

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Old 11-08-2006, 09:56 PM   #6
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Nice report - I love Parkfield

You have inspired me to ride down and grab lunch next week.
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Old 11-08-2006, 09:57 PM   #7
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The remaining four of us headed west towards the coast, too, but we did a little diversion along Adelaida and Vineyard Roads before getting onto Highway 46. I really like this area just west of Paso Robles; it was my third time on these roads (in hindsight, I've been on them one time each per motorcycle I've owned...) and they always put a smile on my face. Green, lush, windy, low-trafficked...just plain nice motorcycle roads.

A hop, skip, and jump after getting onto Highway 46, we got off it again for Santa Rosa Creek Road. Now here's an XT-friendly "paved" road. ;) I'd done this one once before, too, on the SVS many many years ago (well, OK, only four years ago, but still). I remembered it as being painfully torn up, and I was pretty miserable as I spent the entire time staring at the road and then reprimanding myself for staring at the road. Santa Rosa Creek Road definitely fits with its namesake, St Rose of Lima -- severe penance, physical disfiguring, beds of stone and glass... The road was much more fun this time around, with both 60,000 more miles of riding experience and a dual-sport. ;)





A nice little elevation change; that's the same road there on the left:



The guys waited for me in a high school parking lot just outside of Cambria (ok, so I stop for a lot of photos...), Peter making his usual "I'm on a road trip" phone call to his parents. I think I have pictures from three separate trips now where he wound up calling home from the middle of nowhere...

Once we got onto Highway 1 to head north on the coast, the weather took a turn for the cold. I do learn a lot through motorcycle touring, and what I learned this weekend was that when it gets really super hot in the central valley (i.e. 108F in Coalinga on Saturday), it sucks in the fog along the coast (i.e. 60F and foggy on Highway 1 on Sunday).

On a streetbike ride, I'd be wearing my FirstGear Kilimanjaro jacket, so no problem: zip up the vents and I'm ready to keep riding. This time, though, I was in all mesh gear because I knew we'd be off-roading in the central valley. By the time we made it halfway up the coast, I was wearing my tank top, a T-shirt, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and my mesh jacket with waterproof liner, and I was still cold. I'd long ago swapped my mesh gloves for the leather streetriding ones, so that helped a bit, but Peter and I still jumped up and down and tried to warm up at each photo stop.

Look, ma! It's me at the ocean! I think I have these same photos from like 4000 different trips.



Life warmed up slightly as we rode into Big Sur. Peter and I got stuck behind the world's slowest humans, as is wont to happen along this section of Highway 1, but this time we just hung behind the cars. It's not like our 19 whopping horsepower would really zip past Aunt Martha in her Ford Excessive. Other than that, though, the XT did really well on the 75 miles of twisty, paved, Highway 1. I felt stable in the turns and comfortable at ambiant traffic pace, even with the stock knobby tires.

We stopped in Big Sur for food, but the first place we stopped had JUST closed the cafe. They literally put the "closed" sign up as we walked up to the door. Doh! So we continued up the road a titch to our old favorite, the Big Sur River Inn. We got a nice table outside, a jazz band was playing, and life was good.



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Old 11-08-2006, 10:01 PM   #8
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old coast road.
After lunch came the highlight of the whole day: Old Coast Road.

Old Coast Road starts out (from the south) in Andrew Molera State Park, the Big Sur region's largest state park. It also houses the Ventura Wildlife Society's Research and Education Center, which holds summer science education camps for kids as well as bald eagle monitoring, California condor reintroduction, and more.





The swiggly road off in the distance is where we were heading...





As you can see in the above photo, Old Coast Road took us through some forested areas as well as ridgetops. The redwood sections were my favorites; I like bouncing and bumping over tree roots and enjoying the variety of scenery that vegetation provides. It did cause some close calls with oncoming traffic, though; it's hard to see around turns in the redwood forests, and sometimes locals in pickups would come around a corner assuming no one would be oncoming. Luckily, no one was moving quickly, so it was easy for both parties to scurry to the sides to let the other pass.



After the redwoods came more ridgetops. In hindsight, it's hard to believe this section was only 10 miles long, given its varied scenery, terrain, and elevation. I could just ride this road back and forth all day and never get bored. We all stopped for photos a million and a half times, though I wasn't taking many as my camera's memory card was full. Doh! One advantage to streetbike riding -- I can put my laptop in the tailbag and download each day's photos at night. Fortunately, after our return, Peter bought me a great big huge memory card, so hopefully this won't happen again. ;)

Jim and Gary coming up a hill:



It was a really enjoyable section for me on the XT. I went wide on one turn when the elevation changed more rapidly than I was expecting, but other than that, my riding was pretty decent. I talked to myself a lot, reminding myself to weight the pegs or to stay off the clutch on steep descents (for some reason, I always want to squeeze in the clutch and coast, which doesn't work so well). All in all, I think I did pretty well and the XT did awesome. I think it's patiently waiting for my skill set to catch up with its competence. ;)

All too soon, we rounded a corner to see Bixby Bridge. Prior to its construction in 1932, Old Coast Road was the only way from Carmel to Big Sur, but now everyone naturally takes Highway 1.

A photo of the bridge under construction:



The Bixby Bridge is over 260 feet tall and over 700 feet long, and is the most photographed manmade object along the coastline. It's considered a symbol of man working with the environment; the other option for spanning Bixby Canyon involved cutting an 890-foot tunnel through the Santa Lucia Mountains that would route Highway 1 through Los Padres National Forest.





It was neat to see the bridge from a new angle (other than riding on top of it, as I've done a million times on Hwy 1). Even through the heavy fog, it's pretty spectacular.

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Old 11-08-2006, 10:04 PM   #9
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heading home.

The rest of our ride home was uneventful. Due to miscommunication, we missed Gary and Jim at the gas station/meet up spot (not surprisingly, Peter and I on our XTs were going more slowly than the other two), but hopefully we didn't cause them too much worry.

The ride home from Monterey was pretty hard for me, as we were doing freeway speeds in the cold and fog; the former is bad enough on the XT, but add the latter when I was only wearing mesh gear, and I was miserable. I was leading in this section, and I finally stopped at the Thistle Hut in Watsonville to jump around and thaw out. I literally couldn't feel my fingers. I bought and ate a pint of raspberries, put my cargo pants on over my mesh riding pants, and felt slightly better.



And that was pretty much our trip. It wound up being almost exactly 500 miles; not bad for two days on a little dualsport! I had no mechanical problems, no gas issues (or, more accurate, lack-of-gas issues), no problems whatsoever with the bike. It performed flawlessly on the freeway, paved backroads, and dirt/gravel roads.

The whole route in the context of the state of California:



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Old 11-08-2006, 10:15 PM   #10
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yeah!
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Old 11-08-2006, 10:21 PM   #11
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Great Post! Wonderful countryside.
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Old 11-08-2006, 11:58 PM   #12
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Thanks!

Thanks for the great ride report! I'm pleased to see you're riding the little dual-sports...riding the little bikes always seems to lead to better adventures and more fun.
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Old 11-09-2006, 01:57 AM   #13
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heading home.

The rest of our ride home was uneventful. Due to miscommunication, we missed Gary and Jim at the gas station/meet up spot (not surprisingly, Peter and I on our XTs were going more slowly than the other two), but hopefully we didn't cause them too much worry.

The ride home from Monterey was pretty hard for me, as we were doing freeway speeds in the cold and fog; the former is bad enough on the XT, but add the latter when I was only wearing mesh gear, and I was miserable. I was leading in this section, and I finally stopped at the Thistle Hut in Watsonville to jump around and thaw out. I literally couldn't feel my fingers. I bought and ate a pint of raspberries, put my cargo pants on over my mesh riding pants, and felt slightly better.



And that was pretty much our trip. It wound up being almost exactly 500 miles; not bad for two days on a little dualsport! I had no mechanical problems, no gas issues (or, more accurate, lack-of-gas issues), no problems whatsoever with the bike. It performed flawlessly on the freeway, paved backroads, and dirt/gravel roads.


The whole route in the context of the state of California:

'Poof',
Your trip reports continue to inspire!

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Old 11-09-2006, 09:20 AM   #14
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central coast

some of the best riding in cal.never get tired of that area!good report.
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Old 11-09-2006, 09:26 AM   #15
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Wow!! That's one humdinger of a ride report!! Thanks for posting
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