Coasting My Way South in California
For a few different reasons I decided to head south and go riding with some of the California crew of STN. I flew into San Jose Thursday night and on Friday morning I met up with Dan at Carolyn and Peter’s house in Cupertino. There a bike was waiting for me to use while I was in town, generously offered by my friend Jim. It was time to explore the Pacific Coast south of Santa Cruz!
April 18 – 20, 2008
Total Miles: ~400 miles, 3 days
Mountain View, CA – San Simeon, CA
The bike I was to ride for the next three days was a ’91 KLR that had been ridden hard for most of its life. I christened it later in the ride as “Valdez”, in honor of the Exxon Valdez and the environmental damage it created. But more on that later…
It was Friday morning and the four of us were ready to ride. We had loaded a weekend’s worth of gear on our bikes, all of them looking studly in their off-road demeanor and hit the road. Ten minutes later we stopped for breakfast. This is the way to travel! Eventually we ate our fill from Bobbi’s Diner and hit the road for real. We dodged traffic southeast out of town on 17 and headed for the coast. It was a pleasant temperature but the wind picked up as we neared the coast, cooling me slightly. Carolyn pulled into the Thistle Hut fruit stand, draped enticingly with field-fresh strawberries and other tasty things to eat. As I pulled into the parking lot I stalled the KLR and when I hit the starter I was greeted with silence. Not a good sign from a KLR, as they only time they’re silent is when they’re not working. I coasted to a stop and got off the bike. Jim, always helpful, had mentioned to Peter that if the bike didn’t start then we should “jiggle some wires” near the instrument cluster. Dan walked over as I was jiggling wires and shortly we had a headlight again. Excellent. Confident that the bike would start when we came back we wandered off to buy some fresh fruit and take a little break.
After a few minutes, tender and sweet berries were stowed in the tank bag, gear was donned and the starter button pressed. Nothing. I repeated my actions and was again greeted with nothing. I leaned forward and checked to see that the headlight was lit but no, it was as dark and lifeless. I started to jiggle wires but to no avail. Eventually Carolyn, Peter and Dan wandered over to see what was going on. More hands reached in to jiggle wires. Nothing was working, so we took off the seat and checked fuses and more wires. Still no light. We started to contemplate our options. We threw out ideas good or bad, just to get them out there. We called Jim and left him a message to give us a call. We started an elaborate plan (using statistical logic patterns that I hadn’t seen since my college days!) of how to get back to the house and get a truck and a working bike and transport everyone and everything to San Simeon. We had nearly finalized things when Jim called. Apparently the battery had been giving him some trouble and he suggested that we try jumping the bike. Everyone rolled their eyes and declared that it would never work and was a waste of time. But the 10 minutes to try and jump the bike was a lot quicker than the multiple-hour logic plan we had come up with so we gave it a go. Much to everyone’s surprise, the KLR started. Ok, so we had a dead battery. A new plan was formed: we would ride to the next town, buy a new battery and a charger and get to San Simeon as directly as possible. All without me turning the bike off for the rest of the day. We could make it work.
A stop for fresh fruit along the way
Mmmm – field-fresh strawberries
Carolyn puts her best effort while Peter watches
Looking north along the Pacific Coast
Thanks to the miracle of GPS, a new battery was easy to find and I packed it and the charger onto the back of the KLR, the engine idly noisily in the parking lot of the Kragen Auto Parts store. Did I mention that Jim’s bike is about as subtle as a tractor at a Sunday Mass? We were on our way once again, heading south on the Pacific Coast Highway in the dull sun of a hazy morning.
I was trailing our little group as we wound our way along the coast. The little towns between Santa Cruz and Monterrey slipped behind us and now it was just the road and the ocean. And what an ocean it was! The winds were steady off the water and the sun played off the white waves as they crashed against the jutting rocks. Far below were sandy beaches devoid of any evidence of human activity. Flowers were carpeting the rough hillsides as the grasses swayed. I wanted a picture.
Our group rides well together and knows to expect random stops from others without having to stop as well, so I signaled my intentions and pulled off onto a gravely overlook Perfect. I struggled to put the KLR into neutral so that I could have both hands free to take my picture without cutting the engine. That’s when I wondered what would happen if I stalled the bike. Everyone else was now far ahead of me and wouldn’t miss me for quite some time, and there wasn’t much to do about starting the bike by myself. I voted against taking my hand off the clutch to pull out the camera and instead rolled on the throttle and back out onto the road. Sigh.
More miles went by and the coast undulated on my right. Sometimes the road was low and near the rolling surf but mostly it was high above, snaking its way along the convoluted shoreline. I saw another picturesque scene and reconsidered my hesitation on stopping. What the hell. I had never been here before, didn’t know when I’d be back and I was going to take some pictures! I pulled off, carefully slipped the shifter into neutral and gingerly let out the clutch. The bike continued it’s subtle racket as I pulled out my camera and composed my shot. Success. I popped back out on the road and had a grand time catching up to my friends, railing through the corners and pulling on the throttle of that poor abused bike. This was fun!
I eventually saw bikes in the distance and caught up, taking my place casually at the back as though nothing had happened. Ooo – but look! Another scenic shot! I stopped again, repeating the careful neutral placement and then the wild game of chase to make up time. This continued for quite some time, sometimes with the rest of the group already pulled off at a vista point. It was suggested more than once that I park the rattling KLR on the other side of the gravel pullout so as to maintain the peaceful nature of the landscape. I eventually acquiesced, feeling quite guilty.
Dan and I at one of many overlooks
A view on the “other side” of the road, looking east
North along the coast
Wide, empty beaches
Timed photo at another overlook
It was early in the evening when we neared San Simeon and Dan was in the lead along this languid stretch of coast. The mountains had moved back slightly and we were traversing a wide, fairly flat plain between the water and the hills. Carolyn and Peter pulled off at a well-marked vista spot and I chose to follow them. Dan kept on going, much to his dismay when he learned why we had pulled off. There, on the sandy beach were hundreds of elephant seals. They were sprawled out in the sunshine, most of them immobile and quite frankly, very dead looking. They resembled logs on the beach. But a couple of younger seals were moving about and some were flipping sand onto their backs. It was amazing to see their size and numbers. But the wind was blowing hard and Dan was somewhere ahead of me now, so I left Carolyn and Peter to take more pictures while I was off to play “catch up” again.
I found Dan just outside of the non-historic stretch of San Simeon and we pulled up to the motel together. Being this close to the room I took a chance and finally cut the engine on the KLR while I went in to get on my reservation. Good thing I was done for the day because the KLR didn’t start again.
Elephant seals on the beach
Resting in the warm sunshine
An afternoon spat among the seals
The sparring is over
That night we met up with more STN riders as they filtered in from points south, east and north. I don’t know how many of us there were, but I’d say that there were about a dozen of us at any given point in time. We were tortured by the fact that the two major bars on our side of the highway were proudly hosting “karaoke weekend!” so we scampered across the street to a quieter drinking and dining establishment for a fun dinner. Afterwards, still tormented by the sounds of wailing people, we bought our own liquor and hung out at the motel where most of the group was staying. Although true to form, the party scattered at a fairly early hour. And un-true to form, we had made plans the next day not to ride, but to tour Hearst Castle.
“Hearst Castle?!?!?! Cool!”
Celebrating the hot fudge sundae.
Dan and I installed our freshly charged battery into the KLR and were pleased when the bike fired up after the first long and painful clicks of the starter. But hey, at least it started! After a rather disorganized breakfast, a small group of us broke away and headed the few short miles north to the entrance to Hearst Castle. We had to wait quite a while for tour that could handle all of us but we passed the time by making fun of the various gifts offered for sale in the souvenir shop. I find it amusing that “gift” is German for “poison”. But I digress…
The tour bus pulled up, we got on and then we spent the next almost two hours following our guide around and listening to her spout of names that I think I was supposed to be impressed by, if I had only known whom they were. Mr. Hearst had gone through considerable effort to put together what is probably the most eclectic gathering of fine art outside of a museum. His taste ranged as wildly as his own travels and apparently his wallet was not hampered by thoughts of fiscal responsibility. And to think that we never even gained access to the main house.
Breakfast on Saturday morning
Goldbond and a radar detector – what more does one need?
One of the guest houses at Hearst Castle
A room in one of the guest houses
An original Egyptian sculpture
A fireplace in one of the rooms
Formal dining for many guests
The carved wood ceiling in the dining area
An ornate doorway to somewhere I couldn’t go
The indoor swimming pool (underneath the tennis courts, of course)
Complete with a 10′ diving platform visible on the right
After the tour our stomachs dictated that we head south to Cambria, a small town just south of San Simeon and have some lunch. During the meal we discussed riding options and Carolyn suggested that we take Santa Rosa Creek Rd. She described it as a “goat path”, a description I accept with a wide smile on my face. I really wanted to ride on some dirt but even though I didn’t know if this would be paved or not, it still sounded like fun. It turned out that just the four of us (Carolyn, Peter, Dan and I) would be taking this route, as others had their own ideas of fun. As I started up the motor after our lunch I got a resounding chorus of people noting the large plume of blue smoke coming from the tail pipe. Apparently the KLRs rings weren’t too happy and were greedily consuming oil at a rapid pace. No one wanted to ride behind me after that.
Santa Rosa Creek isn’t much of a creek, although I’m sure after a good winter storm the water levels can really rise. But today the flow was placid, almost non-existent, as we rode along its banks. The landscape was primarily pastoral, but with very few animals in sight. In fact, I didn’t see much of any agriculture along this stretch and wondered what use the land was put to. But regardless of its use, it was still beautiful. The road got progressively narrower until we were down to essentially one lane. The surface was rough and bounced the bike around as I took the corners. As usual, we took turns leading and stopping for pictures. The scenery was great and I was having a blast playing catch up. Then I came around a corner and found Dan standing next to his bike. Apparently he was almost stopped when the front wheel slipped out on the grassy edge and the bike fell over. There weren’t any pictures taken, so as we like to say: “It never happened”. But then about 10 minutes later Dan’s bike decided that it really did want to ride in the dirt and took a little detour off to the side. This one was a little harder on the landing and left more than a scratch on the bike. Other than the beginnings of a bruise, Dan was ok. After a moment to regroup, we were again on our way. Santa Rosa Creek Road was almost done with us at this point anyway and it was a quick but incredibly windy ride back over 46 to the coast and then back up Hwy 1 to San Simeon. After another night of hiding from the karaoke and tormenting the locals at a different restaurant it was a fairly early night to bed. The next day would be all day riding back to the bay area.
Along Santa Rosa Creek Road
Stopping along Santa Rosa Creek Road
Peter checking his cell coverage
Native landscaping (wisteria)
Me riding the Valdez
A view from Santa Rosa Creek Rd
Looking back down at the road
Here come Dan and Peter!
Dan’s bike really wanted to go off-road
Dan sucks down some water while making adjustments
The end of Santa Rosa Creek Road
Meeting up at the end of the day
A not-so-spectacular sunset
Chili, underage drinker
Dan makes sure that the margarita doesn’t go to waste
Carolyn and I, sharing some hilarious secret
Sunday morning dawned clear and bright and windless. Finally. We packed up our bikes and after a final group breakfast. The poor waitress had a hard time figuring out just what the cook was doing with the orders she gave him, as he apparently was preparing random plates of food. Regardless, the food was good and it was a long time in saying good-bye to my riding friends as they made their way out the door and to their bikes.
Eventually it was down to our original group of four and another rider, Jim. He would join us for our trek inland to explore different roads on the way home. It was a fairly uneventful ride east to 101 where a couple of STNers happened upon us at a gas stop. Jim, the owner of the bike I was on, was one of them and he knows the roads of this area better than most people know their commute to work. We immediately put him to work leading us through some beautiful and quiet countryside, following unlined back roads through the hills. We made our way steadily north, vaguely following the San Andreas Fault. But eventually all fun must come to an end and we hit the metropolis of Hollister. One by one, riders in our group peeled off to head home until we were down to our original foursome. Now it was just a matter of fighting traffic and the winds to get back to Cupertino, and then make a mad dash for the airport to return to Seattle. But I’ll be back.
Estero Bay from Hwy 42
A dried riverbed along Indian Valley Road
Wide open roads and scenic views
Dan, Carolyn and Peter
Dan waiting for me to finish taking pictures
Carolyn and Peter
More great riding inland
View along Hwy 25
Windmill along the road
San Andreas fault