Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Wild Coast, Part 2

Day Three.

Having "slept in" until 7:15 am, it was already light out when we woke up and began packing. I was happy to see that my fears about somebody stealing or harming the BMW during the night were apparently unfounded. After topping off the 4.4 gallon gas tank (a frequent chore, since that equals 175 miles range when fully loaded, 2-up) and taking a few wrong turns in finding an onramp to US-101, we were headed southward by 8:15. My original plan was to take US-101 to Salinas and then jump over to Monterey for the day's main course, Route 1 through the Big Sur area. Unlike the roads I'd been on further north, I knew this stretch of coastline fairly well, and was looking forward to riding it on motorbike for the first time. I wanted to have enough time to enjoy it without worrying about arriving at my destination after dark for the third straight night.

Alas, my curiosity and dislike of freeways teamed up to prompt me to abandon the plan in a snap decision. I saw the sign for Route 92 to Half Moon Bay and decided to take it, having flown into Half Moon Bay but never driven Route 1 between there and Monterey. It turned out to be a nice ride, not jaw-droppingly scenic like later portions of Route 1 but laid back and certainly a big improvement on stark freeway views. Riding without the benefit of chaps or riding boots, Dawn was grateful for a respite from the icy blast of morning air at 70 mph.

We stopped for donuts in Santa Cruz and gas in Carmel, and were off on the fabled road to Big Sur by 11am. Having been on this section of Route 1 a number of times, I recognized the landmarks, yet the road itself felt unfamiliar. I recalled it being slower, twistier, and in poorer condition. Another trick of memory, recent improvements, or the entirely different experience of riding it on two wheels? Before the road was the means of getting from one scenic splendor to the next, now a primary attraction in its own right. I found myself getting into the rhythm of the road again, and I could feel Dawn right there with me, leaning when I leaned, anticipating each move and bracing accordingly. The K100 has been noted for being a superior 2-up bike; I'd even say it handles better with the extra weight.

Around a left-hand bend, another panoramic vista unfolds; I roll on the throttle to accelerate into the straightaway, upshift, reaching 60 mph, ease off the throttle, pick my line into the upcoming series of curves - a sharp u-turn followed by a fast s-turn -- brake lightly, downshift, shift my weight to the right of the saddle and the right footpeg, right knee outward, left knee flush with the tank - lean hard now, feeling the G-forces press me down in the saddle, straining to keep my head up and eyes out around the curve, slowly bringing the throttle up. Hit it hard now out of the curve, snap from right edge to left and then back to the right, accelerating all the time, feeling the engine's stabilizing power and listening to the exhaust's animal-like howl echoing off the cliffsides. It's just as well that nobody can see the stupid grin that's permanently stuck on my face right now. There's a turnout just ahead where I remember taking photos on our first excursion up this road seven years ago; I pull over, stop the engine, and take off my helmet. I look back at Dawn, and my concern over her comfort level with this type of riding evaporates as she pulls off her helmet. She's wearing the same silly kid-in-a-candy-store grin I am.

And so it went. We picked up a pair of fellow tourers on KTM's with panniers, who we led through a long series of chicanes like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, each copying our every move. We pulled over to let a guy in a Porsche pass, and another on a sport bike. They both rocketed past and were soon out of sight. In reality we weren't going that fast, just fast enough to be a fun challenge on a 24-year old touring bike with full saddlebags and two adults. I tried to always give myself enough margin for safe braking if an unexpected obstacle should appear, as happened several times. Rough roads on the southern end of the scenic stretch slowed us considerably. Still, the eighty miles were over altogether too quickly. Dawn and I agreed that it was the highlight of the trip.

The sky had been almost clear in San Francisco but grew progressively cloudy south of Monterey. By San Simeon it was completely overcast, and a little blustery and cold as well. We rejoined US-101 in San Luis Obispo, and stayed on it until Oxnard. From previous experience I knew that the section of Route 1 from Pismo Beach to Las Cruces is neither coastal nor that scenic. I saw an In-N-Out at Santa Maria and had to stop; it's been a good two years since my last fix. The Double-Doubles and fries warmed us and cheered us up and we were underway soon thereafter.

After a few fast downhill sweepers through Gaviota Pass, we broke out into glorious sunshine as Highway 101 turned eastward along the coast. It felt a good ten degrees warmer on this side of the mountains. I got my first taste of SoCal freeway driving in five years on the long stretch through Santa Barbara, its suburbs, and into Ventura, and was more than happy to exit the freeway in Oxnard. By now the sun was setting in the western sky, covering the Santa Monica Mountains with the same beautiful golden hue that bathes all my favorite SoCal memories. From Oxnard it was a quick ten miles to our destination for the night on Route 1, here more popularly known as the Pacific Coast Highway. It was still twilight when we pulled into Point Mugu State Park, where we pitched our tent on the beach.

By the time we made camp, it was dark, windy, and cold. My flashlight had got turned on in the saddlebag at some point during the day and the batteries were dead; we not brought matches to light a campfire thanks to TSA carry-on restrictions; and while we were still full from In-N-Out, I felt such an excellent day deserved to be capped off with an adult beverage on the beach. So we hopped back on the bike, sans bags, and backtracked to Oxnard to gas up and buy the requisite supplies. A number of wrong turns and minor traffic incidents later, we returned to camp with batteries that turned out to be the wrong size, a BIC lighter that proved insufficient for the task of lighting a fire in windy conditions, and a bottle of wine that I thought was screw-topped but was actually corked. The last foible merited a chuckle because it's the exact mistake I made on the night I proposed to Dawn on a beach much like this one twenty miles down the road, and my solution in the absence of a corkscrew now was the same as it was then: push the cork into the bottle with a long screwdriver and pinch myself at my luck in finding a girl willing to swill corky wine from the bottle on a beach with me like a homeless wino. We finished the bottle together while shivering in our tent and drifted off to the crash of waves on the beach, feeling oddly at home.

Day Four.

The temperature got down to 45 degrees during the night. I regarded that as positively toasty and slept well; Dawn froze and slept very fitfully. We rose shortly after the sun and took our time breaking camp. I strolled down to the water to snap some photos of a gorgeous sunburst to the east. By pure chance, my little brother Steve's band was touring Southern California at the same time we were there, so we set up plans to meet in Huntington Beach for breakfast. Once we repacked the bags and loaded the bike, we headed toward Malibu on a familiar stretch of the PCH. Dawn and I used to drive it often when we lived in LA. I proposed to her one dark, rainy night seven years ago on a deserted strand of Topanga Beach east of Malibu.

All of our short visit to LA was like this: everything we saw seemed very familiar and imbued with memories, but in an oddly distant way, as when recalling brief fragments of half-submerged dreams. The effect was unsettling. Was it really so long ago we called this place home? No, only five years. We weren't here that long, though, and we knew it was likely temporary. I enjoyed living in LA well enough (Dawn wasn't so charitable in her assessment) but formed no lasting attachment to it as I did to Portland. Much has happened in our lives since then, and much has changed. LA has changed too - new buildings downtown, more construction on Palos Verdes despite fresh evidence that the whole works is slowly sliding into the ocean - and it is mostly empty of the friends we knew when we lived here. Their lives too, have moved beyond the sun-scorched mountains that hem this fantastic apparition of the plain, this ephemeral city of transients and transplants.

I had forgotten the vast scale of LA. We picked our way through the little beach communities we used to frequent - Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo - and were in Torrance when my brother called from Huntington Beach. I said we'd be there in twenty minutes. Forty-five minutes later (including a long stretch blasting along the twelve-lane 405 freeway at 85 mph) we finally got to the end of Beach Boulevard, which was at least twice as long as I remember it. Brunch at Ruby's on the pier with Steve and the band - oh, those malts! - then off on some of our favorite drives, around Palos Verdes and up to the Griffith Park Observatory. We blew off our planned 3pm and 6pm flights for the long ride out to Ontario to watch Steve's band (Hyland) play and then the longer, faster, and colder ride back to LAX to catch the midnight redeye flight to Minneapolis. Incredibly, we put 300 miles on the bike in one day in LA.

I left my faithful mount under cover on the top floor of a parking garage at LAX, noting at the last minute a significant drip of brake fluid from the rear master cylinder. That will have to be attended to before my next leg to Dallas, tentatively planned for mid-January. The trip to diagnose and repair the brake problem will have to be squeezed into one of my two-day-off blocks before then, and if I'm lucky the fix will be quick-and-easy enough to allow for a run up Mount Wilson or Azusa Canyon Road.

Mileage Totals:
Day 1 - 260
Day 2 - 560
Day 3 - 430
Day 4 - 300
Total Leg - 1550
Total Trip - 4150
Remaining - 5950


amulbunny said...

Glad you had a safe trip down the coast. Were you on the Peninsula before or after the fire? Lit up so much we could see it from here in HHR.
I've lived in Torrance, Hermosa, and Redondo most of my adult life. Totally different mindset from the rest of the basin.
The bunny husband worked at NBVC at Pt Mugu for 4 years. Good memories up there.
Hope the bike will be safe for the long run at LAX.
Love the pictures.

Sam said...

Haha, uhh, fire? I was there Sunday. Hope some stray sparks from my exhaust pipe didn't find anything flammable!

If I were going to live in LA again - and I could afford it - I think I'd live in Redondo. The lack of easy freeway access has a bit of an insulating effect, I think.

Nicole said...

What a fantastic account. One day I'd like to take a similar trip down the CA coast. I am particularly fond of the Ventura/Oxnard/Hueneme/ Mugu/Camarillo area. My in-laws have a beach condo across the street from the ocean, and that's where Taylor and I went on our honeymoon. We try to get back to the condo a few times a year, most recently in August this year.

Despite the traffic and urban sprawl, there really is something magical to me about the Los Angeles area. Whether I drive the long stretch of I-15 from SLC, or I fly in to ONT or feels like I'm coming home. PDX feels the same way to me too, where I lived for 13 years.