Thursday, September 6, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 23

"Homeward bound
I wish I was
Homeward bound
Home, where my thought's escaping
Home, where my music's playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me"

Chorus to Homeward Bound, by Simon & Garfunkel

Twenty three days, and nearly 6,700 miles, later...I'm home. All of a sudden my body aches in ways I wasn't aware it was aching. I feel weary in ways I didn't realize I felt weary. The end of the journey seems to have opened the floodgates to the effects of travel.

As I crossed the border back into Michigan, at about 4:30PM, my thoughts turned to reflection on the travels of the past 16 months. I've ridden almost 23,000 miles and I've got plans to ride a couple thousand more before the snow flies. I've ridden to the east coast and I've ridden to the west. I've ridden in sunshine, wind, rain, extreme heat and not quite extreme cold. I've seen mountains, valleys, gorges, plains, deserts, ranges, oceans, rivers, lakes, short, I've seen more of America than most people will see in their entire lives. On more than one occasion, I've been told that my travels have raised the "jealousy" factor among some of my fellow riders, a sentiment I can certainly understand.

However, truth be told, I'd give back every vista, every scenic view, every stunning panorama, every inspiring moment, every sunrise and sunset...every mile...just to go to work at 7:00AM, spend 8 to 10 hours stressed to the max, and then come home to kiss my wife, pick my little girl up, and kiss her cheeks and nose while tickling her and listening to her squeal with delight because daddy's home...

...sorry if that's a Debbie Downer moment there. It's just what I've been thinking about for the past few hours. Either way, it's good to be home, such as it is.

Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 22

Has it really only been three weeks since I left home? Seems like I've been gone for a long time and seen a whole lot of these great United States.

The past 4 days on I-80 have gone by pretty fast...sometimes literally. Now that I'm back in the eastern half of the country, things will probably slow down just a little bit. I don't think the speed limit tops 70 between here and home...I'll miss you 75.

I rode 555 miles today, according to my odometer, and took no pictures. If you want to see what I saw, just scroll back to days 4 and 5. Replace any wheat you see with corn. You get the idea. I wanted to take one of the welcome to Iowa sign, but it's in the middle of a bridge over I-80, not the greatest place for me to play tourist.

Even though it was a long day of riding, there were plenty of positives:
  • The sun shone all day.
  • Gas is cheaper in Nebraska.
  • I met an old friend, from high school, for dinner.
  • I'm only 530 miles from home.
There were a few negatives, too:
  • The wind was brutal through most of Nebraska, especially for the first couple hours. It was blowing hard out of the north or north west. This was the worst day for wind I've had on the entire ride. I didn't expect that to happen in Nebraska.
  • My fuel usage has seen a sharp increase. I had one tank of gas today where I only got 30MPG. I'm guessing I've lost any and all benefit from heading "downhill" and/or having a westerly tailwind. Four straight days of running hard and fast while getting 37 to 40MPG's was fun, but the fun appears to be over. Now that I'm "back east" and will have to slow down, it should creep back up into the mid 30's while on the highway.
  • I got sprayed with cow pee. I have long wondered what happens when a cow pees while being transported in a cattle carrier on the highway. I wonder no more. There was a construction zone about 200 miles into the ride. A westbound rig had a load of bovine in the back. I saw the mist shooting out the side of the truck just a mere second before we passed each other. I didn't get drenched, just "misted" quite nicely. I stopped for gas in Grand Island and tried washing much as I'm ready to hit the hay tonight, I'm even more ready to take a shower. I'm trying to decide if getting sprayed with cow pee ranks higher or lower than seeing a naked man walking through San Francisco. I can wash cow pee off, I can't erase what I saw there.
Tomorrow is likely my last day on the road for this adventure. I'm too close to home to want to try and break the last 530 miles up into more than 1 day. Going 555 today let's me know I should be able to make it home quite easily, even with plenty of stops for gas and water.

Tomorrow is another day and another road (and hopefully a lot less cow pee.) :)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 21

I'm not really on the west coast I? For that matter, I really spent most of this trip not on the west coast...oh, well, it was the destination. :)

I pulled out of Green River, Wyoming, at 8:00AM this morning. It was cold. Colder than what I probably should have been riding in. Even with my leather coat and a sweatshirt on, I was cold. I shook it off because I knew that every mile I rode east was another little bit warmer. Southwest Wyoming might get cold at night, but it can warm up pretty fast. I knew it was supposed to be 90ish by the time I got to Cheyenne, so I figured I had plenty of time to warm up later.

Two things I've noticed in the past couple days:
1.) They take snow fencing seriously out here. Back home they'll string up that orange plastic drift fence in the worst spots and call it good. If they're really feeling like working, they'll put up the wooden slat fences. Our here, they build wall sized fences to control the drift. Of course, these mammoth fences can get overwhelmed. There are devices in place to shut I-80 down at almost every town, if the snow gets too bad.
Snow fence, about 10 feet tall, I 'spect
 2.) When they decide to divert traffic from one side of the highway to the other, they just plop cones down the center line, at least that's what I ran into in two looooong stretches in Wyoming. When I first drove through it I thought, "wow, they're really putting a lot of faith in humanity to expect those cones to keep traffic in the correct lanes." However, the longer I drove in it, the more I saw how stupid it is that when they do this back home they takes days, sometimes weeks, constructing temporary concrete barriers down the middle of the roadway. Seriously, we drive on 2 lane highways and other streets, without any cones or barriers in the middle of the road, all the time! Why does the state of Michigan waste so much time and money putting those dumb concrete barriers up? I can't imagine they're any good for the pavement or concrete we're driving on and putting them in place is a slow and costly process. Out here they plop down 10 miles of cones in a day and call it good. The cones are mostly there just to remind you that you're driving against opposing traffic and you need to stay in your lane. It's simple, really.  Maybe that's the's makes too much's asking drivers to think for themselves instead of treating them like sheep. Baa-aaa-aaa-aaa!

I reached the continental divide, at some point. I jokingly thought to myself that it would all be downhill from there. Nope, at one point I remember an elevation sign that read almost 9,000 feet farther down the road.

It's all down hill from here!
It's really funny how the landscape really does kind of change very quickly out here. Especially right along the state lines. The terrain change from California to Nevada was a noticeable change. The change from Nevada to Utah was a noticeable change. The shift from Utah to Wyoming was also a noticeable change. About 25 miles east of Cheyenne, Wyoming, you can tell another change, and another state, is coming. You're booking down I-80 and a hill raises up and begins looming out in the distance in front of you. It almost looks like an earthen wave. As you approach it, you start wondering if it's going to be the last hill you'll ever see. You can't see anything beyond it, and the land leading up to it is relatively flat.  The road heads up little, then it heads down, and there you are, on the other side of the hill and in Nebraska. To be fair, it's not nearly as dramatic as the shift from in some of the other states. Nebraska certainly gets "flatter" than Wyoming, but it's not a pancake. There are plenty of rolling hills and even a few beautiful rocky outcroppings.

Lucky #13
Every since I got into Wyoming, I've been trying to figure out what to call the landscape. It's not prairie. It's not mountains. There are valleys and gorges, but it's not just those, either. Then, out of the blue, it hit me. "Home, home on the range. Where the deer and the antelope play..." It's the range. This is the range! This is where they grow my hamburgers! I finally felt like I had some context for what I was looking at...the antelope should have been a dead give away. No, I didn't take any pictures of the antelope. They seemed to stay away from the road and up on top of whatever hill they might be grazing on.

While traveling this highway hasn't always been enthralling, it does seem to be a great way to get from one side of the country to the other. I hate to admit it, but there were plenty of times today when I looked down at my speedometer, only to find I was cruising along at about 90 to 95. There's just very little landscape to help you keep your speed in check...and even less traffic. There were often times today when I could see a mile in front and a mile behind me and I wasn't fighting anyone for space on the road, if there was even anyone on the road with me. The strong wind blowing out of the west certainly didn't help slow me down, either. When I filled up my gas tank in Cheyenne, I'd ridden almost 160 miles on 4 gallons of about 2 hours. Riding that fast back home would drop my MPG's down to about 32 miles per gallon...that must have been some tail wind...or maybe I just finally started going downhill. :)

Last bit for today...I promise. I experienced two temperature shifts today that were totally unexpected. I was about 50 miles out of Green River when the first one occurred. I was cruising right along, and plenty cold, when I topped at small rise in the highway and felt an immediate increase of probably 5 degrees in the temperature. It went from being cold to being cool, in an instant. The next change came about 15 miles west of Cheyenne. I was surprised that it was cool enough out that I was still riding comfortably with my coat and a sweatshirt on. That all changed when I topped another small rise in the highway. It went from being cool to being hot in less than 2 miles. Not just take the sweatshirt off hot, it was take the sweatshirt and the coat off kinda hot. That's a pretty dramatic shift from being comfortable in them. I'm even pretty sure it was an actual temperature shift and not menopause, just in case you were wondering. I'm used to having stuff like that happen as I approach a large body of water, especially on an hot day. You'll be riding along and the temperature will drop 10 degrees in a mater of a just a mile or two. I've never had that kind of shift happen out in "the middle of nowhere" especially when it didn't seem like there was that big of a change in elevation taking place. Weird. That's all.

Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)

Monday, September 3, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 20

I thought the Nevada desert was bad...and then I rounded a corner, started down a hill, and the landscape got white...OK, not white but there was a lot of white mixed in with the brown. I didn't need a map to tell me I was getting close to the Utah state line. You can see the Bonneville Salt Flats before you get to the last town in Nevada. I'm not sure if it rained there recently, or if they flood it on purpose, but there was a lot of water covering the flats along the highway. Not deep water, mind you, just a few inches. There wasn't a ripple on the water, the surface was like a mirror. In the water, closest to the highway, you could still see the tire tracks from people who had been off-roading (or even drifted off the road) beneath the surface. I-80, through this stretch, is just about straight as an arrow...for almost 50 miles. It's so straight they have to put up signs reminding people not to go to sleep while they're driving.
Welcome to state #11
The salt flats also have a unique "scent." It almost smells like the ocean...but without the fish. It's a very clean salt smell, almost like a saltwater pool, if you've ever experienced one of those.
I-80 east, about 15 miles into the flats
Looking east, mountains and clouds mirrored in the water
Looking west, a lot like looking east
I took a Photosynth panorama of the salt flats and even the app I use for that had a hard time with it. There's very little for it to use to line things up other than the road and the raid road tracks to the south.

I stopped for lunch east of Salt Lake City...I'm not sure I've ever been on an interstate through a major city that was as unique as I-80 through SLC. I wanted to eat lunch in Salt Lake City...but traveling along I-80 there were no signs indicating what restaurants or gas stations might be available at any given exit, and, the way the highway is constructed, you really can't "see" what's going on in town. So I just kept going. I was 225 miles into my day and didn't feel like exploring. The Park City exit was a little more inviting. The only downside was it was about 2:00PM and everybody who was heading home after their Labor Day weekend festivities was stopping for gas and a bite to eat.

Once you get to SLC, you also leave the "flat" desert behind. Things get rocky, and there's a touch of green, too. It stays that way right into Wyoming.

Northeast Utah, it gets kinda pretty up here

Welcome to state #12
Just a different perspective...I wasn't tall enough to eliminate the fence
I don't want people to think I hate Nevada and Utah, I'm just not planning on riding my motorcycle through that way e...v...e...r again. The best thing I can say about I-80 from Reno to SLC is that I survived it. That doesn't mean it isn't beautiful. There is a great beauty in the sparse desolation that defines this part of the country. I might be able to drive through here some time, I just don't want to ride a motorcycle through it again.

Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 19

Too much...that's what I think of the decision to try to ride nearly 500 miles was just too much. Yes, I could have ridden more, probably several hundred more. If I had really wanted to push it, I probably could have ridden 800 and been in bed by midnight...but that would have just sucked. As it was, 500 turns out to be more than I want to do in a day. Plans have been changed and it shouldn't be an issue between here and home.

To keep things short and sweet, the ride out of San Francisco was foggy. It was only 8:30AM and I was well north and east of the bay when I finally rode out of the fog. Sacramento was 60 miles up the road so that's where I stopped for gas. I had to stop 60 miles later to take a picture of the Sierra's and to take my sweatshirt off...moving away from the coast has it's consequences and one of them is heat. The Sierra range is what I would call forested desert. There are lots of green pines covering the mountains, but that's really about it. Not much else seems to be growing there, other than some short scrub brush.

Once you hit the California/Nevada border, the scenery goes through an almost immediate and radical change. You're still traveling through a rolling mountain range...but it's like they told the trees they had to stop growing at the border. One minute you're trucking along through a pine forest and the next minute there's nothing...just barren hills....and I think that's pretty much what Nevada is, barren hills. I know there are a few spectacular resort areas, but when I looked at a map of the terrain of Nevada this evening, I'm under the impression that 99% of the state looks just like these two pictures here.

The up side to this kind of travel is that the speed limit on I-80, after Reno, is 75MPH. No one goes 75. Most people were going at least 80, and no one cared if you were going 85. After Reno, the traffic thins out to almost nothing. So, I flat-footed it across the desert as quickly as I felt I could. I left Reno at about 1:30PM and I was at my hotel in Elko at 5:40PM. It's about 290 miles from Reno to Elko...and I stopped for about 20 minutes for gas and a drink in do the math.

I've shortened my plans to about 400 miles for tomorrow, we'll see if that makes the day more tolerable. Planning on hitting the road bright and early again...for me it will be bright and early...Hopefully I can break it into four 100 mile sections with half of those before lunch (and before the temperature breaches 85.)

Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 18

Today is the end of the beginning...or the beginning of the end...or maybe that's tomorrow....

It's my last night in California and on the west coast. Tomorrow morning I hang a big left and start heading east, towards home. It will be mostly interstate riding, as I'd like to be home by the weekend. Unless things have changed drastically since the last time I rode on the interstate...I don't expect the next 4 or 5 days to be all that exciting.

If you're ever in Gualala, I'd highly recommend staying at the Surf Motel. It's a small place and the owner is involved in the whole operation. He was taking reservations, making breakfast, taking guests pictures on the beach, and I even walked out this morning to find a towel draped over the seat of Black Max so that it wouldn't get covered with dew during the night. That, my friends, is service. The facilities aren't high end, and I was glad the young couple in the room next to me was watching a ball game and not on their honeymoon...I'm assuming bear with me, but the service was what you'd expect from a place that cost a whole lot more than this one did.

The weather was perfect as I got on the road. Partly cloudy with bursts of warm sunshine bathing the coast is gold. That didn't last long. I was only a few miles south of town when the clouds pushed in, the "fog" came back, and what was once stunning was now just kinda pretty.
Rocky coast

Trees, fog, and grass...appropriately blurry
Not sure what I'm trying to accomplish with the blur
Black Max, pushing that fog back
I did get to see a few things today that were worth mentioning. In all the time I've spent on the coast, I haven't seen seals out "sunbathing." I got to see some today. :)
Seals, buzzards, and seagulls...sharing the beach
I also had one of those moments during the ride where I figure people can only have one of two possible reactions. I was scooting right along when I came around a bend in the road and had what for me was the "wheeeeee-I-get-to-ride-that-and-it's-going-to-be-so-fun" moment. I could see the road twisting down into a valley and coming out far in the distance on the other side. The following picture just doesn't do it justice...and for the record, I think the only other response to this type of road is probably "I-hope-I-have-a-clean-pair-of-underwear-in-my-bag." had to have been there
Here's the "flat" version of what that looks like
There's a point where California 1 strays from the coast, and that's where I got caught with my pants down. Not literally, duh, figuratively. If I could complain about one thing here in Cali, it's that your road signs kinda suck. They're not very big and they are often too close to the intersections to be of much help. They almost got me yesterday at the junction where 1 meets up with 128. If you're not really paying close attention (i.e. rubbernecking at all the cool scenery you don't get back home) you'll drive past the intersection where 1 make a right hand turn and the road you're on turns into 128. I was about 1 mile up the road before I realized I was following a river inland and I was sure 1 didn't follow any rivers inland on that part of the ride. An easy mistake to correct. Today it was almost the same deal. California 1 takes a right hand turn and if you go straight you're on Valley Ford Rd. It's sneaky, really, and I can't imagine I'm the only idiot that's made that mistake. As 1 veered away from the coast, it also moved away from the clouds and things warmed up to almost 60 degrees. Once I realized I was on the wrong road, I decided it didn't matter. I was enjoying the sunshine and the California farm country. I'll just have to see the rest of California 1 some other time (not that I was going to see the whole thing anyway.)

Before I knew it I was on US-101 and headed toward San Francisco. Because I'd left Gualala before 9:30AM, was cutting about 15 miles off my route, and making much better time than I would have on the coast, I knew I'd need to fill in some time before heading to my hotel. No better way to get to see a city than to visit all its Apple stores. :) This added about 50 miles and several hours to my riding schedule. Even on a holiday weekend, San Francisco is a big city and the streets are just packed. My first real introduction to the city was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. I'll be honest, I like the Mackinaw Bridge better from a "view" perspective. Golden gate allows foot and bike traffic along the elevated sidewalks on either side of the bridge. The down side is that it really impedes your view of the water and the city while you're driving over it...I guess that could be a good thing or a bad thing.

After disembarking from the bridge, I followed California 1 back into the city and began my travels over the streets of San Francisco. I somehow managed to find a way around town that kept me traveling in the opposite direction of about 75% of the traffic. It always seemed like the direction I was going was relatively light while the other side of the road was usually backed up. You do know San Francisco is built on some hills, right? I got a good dose of it heading to the Apple store on Chestnut street and from there to the one down on Stockton. My route took me north on Divisadero Street which, between Geary and Lombard, goes UP and then DOWN at a very steep incline. I did that hill from north to south while taking Gough street down toward downtown.

I also got to see something today that I'm not sure I've ever all my travels. A completely naked man walking down the street. I guess he wasn't completely naked...he had a nice pair of boots and some colorful socks on and he was also wearing a stocking cap. But other than that...he was decked out it his birthday suit. From the even distribution of his tan, I'd have to guess this was not a one time event. In all honesty, it's the west coast...I expect to see things I wouldn't normally see at home when I'm here...I did not expect to see that.

If you ever decide to drive down, or up, the PCH, here's a piece of advice...don't bother taking your phone if you've got AT&T. There was a stretch of at least 60 miles where I had no phone service at all. More bars in more places my patootie. That little message in the upper left corner of my phone screen haunted for most of my travel on the PCH.

And so, this feels like the end. If anything exciting happens while I'm making the 2,300 mile trip home, I'll be sure to share it; but, I'm not really expecting much. Guess that means I'll be honestly surprised when I do see something cool.

Day 18, a little over 150 miles
Almost 4,300 miles in the bag and 2,300 left until I get to sleep in my own bed
You can pretty much take a ruler and draw a line from point O to point A and that's how I'll be going home. My only regret on this trip is that I left 5 days late. It made me feel a little rushed in getting down the coast so that I could get back in time for the ART167 class I'm sitting in on at Spring Arbor University this fall. Having an extra 2 days to get down the coast would have allowed for more off highway exploring and I could have had 3 days to visit Yellowstone. C'est la vie. There's always next summer. :)

Tomorrow is another day and another road (I-80 to be exact.) :)

Friday, August 31, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 17

The Pacific Coast Highway...when I first left home, this slice of highway was the whole reason for the trip. I've found other reasons as I've left the miles of asphalt behind me...but this one still remained.

It was cold, foggy, damp, and overcast when I left Eureka this morning. It never rained, but there were often times when my face mask had condensation on it and my pant legs were damp. This kind of fog pushes the humidity up to near 100% and it's hard to avoid getting damp, even if it's not raining.

The Humbolt Redwoods State Park was not far down the road. If you've been here before, you know that the Avenue of the Giants is the best way to see the park. It intersects with US-101 about a half dozen times over the full length of the road and gives drivers plenty of opportunities to get out and explore to their hearts content. One upside for me was that this pulled me away from the coast and it warmed up just a bit and the damp fog didn't reach this far inland. I was able to take 2 of my best Photosynth panoramas at the park, if I do say so myself. :)

Tall trees
Yes, I was really there
Black Max looking great in nature
Not sure if someone has been sleeping here or not
If you've never been out here to see the redwoods...put it on your bucket list. If your bucket list only has things like sky diving, bungee jumping, and swimming with sharks on it, this might seem a little boring to you...but these trees really are an awesome spectacle to behold. If you come with your family, pack a cooler, take your time, and thoroughly enjoy the forest and what it has to offer.

When I finally got back on 101, the sun was shining and it had warmed up quite a bit. I was almost wishing I had not switched from my leather gloves to my mittens, fortunately they convert to fingerless gloves on the fly. It wasn't too far and I reached the junction of California 1 and US-101. It was time to head back to the coast.

I'm not sure I've ever ridden 20 tougher miles of road. For one, as soon as I reached the top of the mountains and started down to the coast the temperature began to drop...significantly, at least it felt significant. For another, it's twist and turn and curve and twist and turn and curve and get the idea. It would be very easy to overestimate your riding skills and end up plummeting down the side of the mountain. I believe it's happened more than once on this stretch of road. To top it off, the cool temperatures meant I was back under overcast skies and that damp coastal "fog."
This doesn't do the true nature of the road any justice
I've never been more relieved to come around a curve and see nothing in front of me...aside from the ocean. Not that the shoreline of California 1 is an easy road to ride, but it does offer relief from the twisties that the mountain passage didn't.
California 1 beneath my feet, view to the north
California 1, north end of the shoreline highway, view to the south

The overcast skies were constant. I'm not even sure it was really clouds. I think the cold temperatures and ocean breeze just cause a dense humid fog to pile up along the coast. It's a couple hundred feet thick and just hangs about 100 feet or so off the ground. As long as it hangs there, like a blanket hovering over the landscape, it's really not that bad.  After I stopped in Fort Bragg, the blanket fell and the fog made me think the last 40 miles of my ride were going to be a whole lot like the first 40 in terms of the weather conditions. I was about 15 miles north of Gualala and the fog finally lifted, but the overcast skies stayed.

About 15 miles north of Gualala, California
The weather redeemed itself when I was about 3 miles north of Gualala...the clouds parted and the sun gave me my best look at California's coast.

From the path behind the Surf Motel
More Surf Motel scenery

I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for a significant dose of sunshine tomorrow. The PCH is a beautiful highway, no matter what, but a little sunshine doesn't hurt. :)

Sunset from behind the Surf Motel
On a different note...are Labor Day weekend gas prices this high everywhere, or is this just a coastal California thing?

I rode exactly 200 miles today. It doesn't seem like that should take 8 hours, but it does when you're being a tourist and also dealing with a couple hundred 15MPH curves. :)
200 miles of trees and twists
4,145 miles...only a few more to go and then it's time to head home. :(
Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)