April 25 California Cycle Trip

Earlier this month I went on a great 9-day motorcycle camping trip in which I was joined by my brother Eric, best friend Dick Scott and his son, Austin. Margie remained at the RV so that she could continue to visit with her younger daughter Lara and her family, as reported in the last travelogue.

Having rushed to complete our 2004 Federal income tax return the night before, I departed on Tuesday morning, April 5th, on my BMW motorcycle heading for the town of Oakhurst, which is about 15 miles south of Yosemite National Park. Based on other long cycle rides in the past, I had not expected to make the 400 miles to Oakhurst in one day, but was pleasantly surprised to arrive there around 5 PM without being too bushed. Of course, it helped that most of the trip was on Interstate 5 and then Highway 99, both of which were high speed and easy to drive. It turns out that California drivers routinely add about 15 mph to the posted speed limit on the freeways (outside of towns), so I was doing 80 mph most of the way from Chula Vista to Fresno. That's pretty breezy on a cycle without a wind screen, but my full-face helmet and a good tuck position made it possible to do it in reasonable comfort, especially as the weather was dry and not too cold.

Fully outfitted and ready to leave the RV
Since I expected to do plenty of camping in the week ahead, I opted to take a motel room that first night in Oakhurst, and had plenty of time to kill the next morning while awaiting Eric's noon arrival from Aptos on his Harley Road King. He showed up exactly on time at the El Cid Mexican restaurant (a place we had discovered on a similar cycle trip last June that included Keith), and together we started north toward Yosemite where we were to rendezvous with Dick and Austin at 1 PM. However, within 10 miles we discovered that there had been an accident on the road ahead of us which had the road closed for at least two hours. This forced us to turn back and drive around to the western entrance to Yosemite through Mariposa, so it was about 2:30 before we got to the Visitor Center where we were to meet Dick and Austin. Eric and I were not entirely surprised to discover that we'd still beaten Dick and Austin, who eventually showed up around 3 on their Harleys.

With several hours of daylight left, we first secured a campsite at the Upper Pines campground (very near the eastern end of Yosemite Valley), and then the four of us rode back to a spot where we could walk close to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. From there we could see both the Lower and Upper falls, which were truly magnificent with lots of water in them because of all the rain and snow in the Sierra Nevada range this winter. There we got a friendly stranger to take a picture of the four of us with the Lower falls in the background. Since it's hard to pack cooking gear on a motorcycle, we usually pick a campsite for the night that's not too far (10-20 miles) from a place where we can get a meal and provisions (beer and firewood, etc.) for an evening around the campfire. That evening we ate dinner at Camp Curry and returned to our site in time to set up camp before dark. Dick and Eric put up tents, but Austin and I (being real men) chose to sleep under the stars. Later that evening, as we sat around the campfire telling stories (some of which were even true), we heard a great clamor from several nearby campers who warned us that a bear was in the area. We never actually saw the bear, but were glad that we'd followed the Ranger's advice and had secured all our food stuffs (and even our toiletries) in the bear-proof cache for the night.

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls

Riley, Eric, Austin and Dick in front of Lower Yosemite Falls

The next morning we broke camp and drove out of Yosemite to the NNW, planning to return to Dick's home for the night. This route took us above 6000 feet, and there was plenty of snow along the sides of the road when we stopped to get gas for the bikes. Before we got going again it started to snow, which was lovely and no problem as we were all well dressed for the cold. However, before long we dropped down below the freezing level and the snow turned to a very chilly rain which soaked those of us (yeah, you guessed it, the "real" men, Austin and me) without the sense to have put on our rain gear at the gas stop. Happily, the cafe at Groveland was toasty and had plenty of space for us to hang our coats, gloves, thermal pants, etc., to dry while we ate a warm meal. We were mostly rain-free for the rest of the ride back to Dick's place, except for the last 30 miles or so, where the sky really opened up and hit us with heavy rain and hail (together with a free light show from the lightning). But within half an hour of getting to Dick's home, he had the living room warm from the wood-burning stove and the hot tub heated up, so all but Eric (who had showered instead) took up residence in the hot tub.

The next day, Friday, was rainy off and on, so we opted not to ride that day. Instead, after hanging out at Dick's for a few hours we all climbed into his Toyota 4Runner and he took us "geocaching," which was a new experience for us. Geocaching is done by first placing a small container somewhere outdoors, noting its exact location with a GPS unit, and then posting that location (along with a description of what's in the container) on the Internet. There are many such caches hidden throughout the country, and Dick had already found a few in his area on past expeditions. We looked for perhaps 7 or 8 that day, and found 4 of them, as I recall. Austin had the best luck locating them, and we all had fun tromping around the hillsides looking in nooks of trees or under rocks for the containers. Among other small items, each container had a small piece of paper and a pencil stub so that people could log their finding the container. Mostly, it was fun to roam the back roads and see places off the beaten path that one might never think to explore. Dick and Earin's home in Penn Valley (in the foothills of the Sierras about 50 miles NNE of Sacramento) is located in a beautiful area with lots of great back roads that are especially enjoyable on a cycle because of the numerous curves and panoramic views.

The weather cleared up on Saturday so the four of us took off on our cycles and headed south on Highway 49 (definitely not a freeway) and then went east up into a National Forest where we found a fine camping place. As before, we had a campfire, but all the wood we collected to add to our charcoal was pretty wet (the ground was moist with water from recent snow melt), and so didn't burn well. We all stood around the campfire trying to get warm, but without much luck. Still, we had a good time, and certainly enjoyed the view and the privacy. The next day we headed back to Dick's place, again enjoying immensely the curvy roads on the way home.

Happy campers
On Monday we decided on a day ride up to La Porte, a town fairly high in the mountains about 40 miles NNE of Penn Valley. There we found a neat cafe where the owner, a fan of Philadelphia, served us some excellent cheese steak sandwiches, and told us that we were practically the first cyclists to arrive since last Fall. The State doesn't plow the road past La Porte, so we had to drive just outside of town to get to the effective end of the road, where we got a good shot of all the residual snow.

End of the road above La Porte, CA
Tuesday morning Eric and I left for his home in Aptos, where I spent the night. During my time in Aptos I got to see Wendy (Eric's former wife), and their kids, Lindsey and Tyler, all of whom looked happy and healthy. On Wednesday morning I started south along the coast through Monterey, down Highway 1 past San Simeon (where I saw the usual Elephant Seals), and on to a National Forest campground just east of Morro Bay.

Tyler & Wendy

Kiya and Lindsey

Typical coast of California along Highway 1

No, they're not dead--just lazy

Finally, on Thursday, I made the last leg down the coast to Oxnard, then inland through the San Fernando Valley and on down Interstate 5 to Chula Vista. The only "excitement" that last day was when, in the west end of the San Fernando Valley, I tried to take a back road (Mulholland Drive) that turned into dirt and was eventually blocked completely. On my way back out I hit a patch of sand doing about 20 mph and lost control so that the bike did a full 180, fell on the left side and then rebounded over to the right side, pinning my foot under the bike. It took me a minute to extract myself from beneath the bike, and then another couple of minutes of straining to get the damn thing back upright. The case protector on the left side was ripped off and the shift lever on the same side was broken. Happily, the saddle bags protected the rear turn signals, so all I had to do was collect the broken pieces, straighten out the mirrors, dust myself off, and ride away. I've still got a few scrapes and bruises from the incident, and had to spend some money to get replacement parts, but count myself lucky, given how much worse it could have been.

Despite the spill on the last day, the motorcycle trip and company were delightful, and I hope to do another motorcycle trip this fall (hopefully with Margie along), after we return from Alaska.

Love to all,

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