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. :)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 16

I can feel "home" getting closer. Certainly not in terms of distance, more in terms of the longing to be there. Now that I've been on the road for over 2 weeks, I'm beginning to recognize a small voice in the back of my head that is saying, "soon." I'm hoping that I've timed things correctly, that two more days down the coast won't push me past the point of wishing I was already on my way back. It's one of those things that's hard to gauge.

The drive down to Eureka, CA, from Coos Bay, OR, is another beautiful piece of highway. You'd think I'd be sick of all the beauty by now...but I'm not. :) I did take a couple of trips away from US-101 today. Short diversions from the highway, not that they highway is bad, but the diversions are good. I started my day heading away from the highway and taking a couple of twisty turny local/logging roads towards the coast and then back towards the highway. If you like riding in straight lines, these kinds of roads aren't for you. Most of the time you can't see more than 25 to 100 yards of road out in front of you. It's not fast riding...but it's not slow riding either. I managed to scrape my highway pegs a couple times.
Cape Arago Hwy, Seven Devils Rd & Beaver Hill Rd back to US-101
The view from Seven Devils Road
It was also nice to start my day away from the normal traffic. It's not horrible on 101 up here during the week, but there are still other cars to deal with, some of whom do not have the time or patience to deal with those who want to do the speed limit while gawking at the sights. In my travels down the coast, I have come across more than a couple cars driving slow enough to be considered impeding traffic. Most people who want to sight see pull off in the provided turn-outs to let those who wish to get moving do so. Likewise, I've only come across a few drivers who felt it was necessary to tailgate while waiting for someone to use a turnout. You find turds at both end of the spectrum, fortunately there haven't been too many of them floating in the pool this week. :)

I took the opportunity to divert away from the coast again just north of Gold Beach. A twisty drive up into the mountains was another great exercise in road management. I'm sure there are tons of opportunities to ride roads like these along this route, I'm glad I took two of them today. This second one took me over two one lane bridges. The first was just a short little span over a small creek. The second was a much longer span, nearly 100 feet high over the river; I had to take it to get to the road on the other side that would take me back to 101.
Great place to practice putting your bike through a few curves
My last "diversion" was the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It's not so much a diversion as an opportunity to get up close and personal with these coastal giants. The redwoods are awesome. I remember my first experience ever driving in them, it was at night. Sara and I had flown into San Francisco on a Friday evening and had made hotel reservations up in Eureka for the night. I had not realize that Eureka was a good 4+ hour drive from San Francisco. Our flight hadn't gotten in until 9:00PM. We were traveling up US-101 and all of a sudden my headlights crossed a huge tree trunk right next to the road as we rounded a curve. When I say huge, I mean it was probably 8 to 10 feet in diameter. When I say next to the road, I don't mean it was 10 to 12 feet off the the side of the highway, I mean the little white line on the side of the road curved a little back toward the center to make room for the base of the tree. It was super eerie seeing something that big and only being about to see about 10 to 12 feet of it that was in my headlights. I remember that it got really dark as we continued into the forest. It was so dark, we eventually pulled over, just to make sure the world hadn't ended. Upon getting out of the car we looked straight up and could see a small ribbon of stars and moonlight far up in the sky, between the tree tops. Seeing these trees in the daylight is just awesome.

Coastal fog drifting through the tree tops as I wait at a construction stop
Port Orford

Cape Sebastion State Park

State #8 on the trip
One of the things that has been interesting to see on this trip is the coastal fog. It can hang over parts of the highway for the whole day. The temperature on the coast has been about 60 degrees most of the last 2 days and the colder air has caused a lot of fog to drift in off the water. It's been sunny, and, as long as you're just walking about, a t-shirt is OK; however, as soon as I get moving down the road, I've been glad to have my sweatshirt on and warm gloves to wear.

It's hard to believe that I'll be in San Francisco on Saturday. As much as home may be starting to call, it hardly seems like its that close to having to turn eastward and eat up the highway to get back there. Classes at Spring Arbor University are starting this week. I'm going to be sitting in on ART167 so that I have some idea of what I'm doing when it comes time to judge artwork in a few short months for The Cole Color Award and the Sara J Cole Memorial Portrait Award in the spring. I'm trying to get back so that I don't miss more than a class or two.
Day 16, another 240 miles or so
3,900+ and counting
Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)

Addendum @ 9:13PM Pacific

I had two GREAT meals today. I stopped for a late lunch in Brookings, Oregon, at about 2:00PM and Yelp showed me a little pub just down the street from where I was getting gas. Although parking is a bit of a challenge, if you're ever in Brookings and want a place to eat, I can heartily recommend The Vista Pub. Small and simple menu, nothing extravagant, but they are obviously good at what they've chosen to do. I liked it so much I wrote a review.

The second meal was my dinner at the the Brick and Fire Bistro in Eureka, California. Another great find on Yelp. I only got to eat there because I was dinning alone. The place is small and it was packed. They take reservations, so if you're going to go, it would probably be a good idea to make one, especially if you're not alone and want a table. I have a feeling their menu changes pretty regularly, but again, it's a simple menu with only a few options and they probably do them all well. The bartender brought me some bread when I sat down. A couple of pieces of a blueberry Parmesan bread and a couple pieces of an herbal poppy seed with oil and balsamic on the side. I had an appetizer of stuffed figs and apricots. They were stuffed with goat cheese and nuts, then wrapped in pancetta before being roasted in the brick oven which is where anything that required baking was cooked. For my entry, I went with one of their pizza. The whole meal just exploded with flavor.

I've been on the road for 16 days now and, with the exceptions of the meals I've eaten with family, these have been the best two places I've been to...without equal and without question. I've been staying away from fast food and chains as much as possible, but the food at the small town cafes I've been eating at has been good at best and "bland" at worst. So, a great day of riding was topped off with a great day of eating, too. :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 15

Having a couple days "off" was just what the doctor ordered. Huge thanks to my Aunt Kay and Uncle Jim for housing me for 3 nights. I was great to spend time with you, as always!

I hit the road at about 10:30AM this morning. I wasn't in a rush, didn't need to be, and it wouldn't have mattered if I had been. There's just no rushing to or from the Oregon coast. :) If you're from "back east" like me, you tend to think of cities like Portland and Seattle as coastal cities. The reality is, they're really not on the coast. Getting to the Pacific from either of them can take anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes, or more. Just thought I should clear that up...mostly as a reminder to myself. Besides the distance, there's enough traffic that they almost don't even need to post a speed limit. You have to work around a lot of other people to draw any attention to yourself if the police are around.

The ride from Canby to Lincoln City was a great trip through the foothills, back up through the coastal range, and then down to the coast. It was a little over 90 miles, took a little over 2 hours, and I only got rained on for a few minutes up in the mountains...gotta love that 20% chance of rain. I stopped for a quick bite to eat and got back on the road.

As expected, the Oregon coast offers plenty of beautiful views and beaches. If you wanted to take a slow family vacation down the coast, it would be pretty easy to fill up a couple of weeks with all the different state parks and visitor attractions. Of course, this trip is mostly about the ride, so most of the tourist stuff barely registers on my radar as I move from one small town to the next. I did stop pretty regularly to take in the scenic vistas and grab a couple pictures of some of the various beach locations.

Depoe Bay, north
Depoe Bay, south...and foggy

Seal Rock
Seal Rock

Cooks Chasm

North end of Oregon Dunes
I mentioned, in an earlier post, that I realized, about a week into the ride, that many portions of this trip are through places that Sara and I had visited together during our marriage. One of my stops today was Depoe Bay. I recognized it, as I drove into town, because of the sea wall the shops of the city overlook. We were here in 2004. I stopped, sat on the wall for a while and did my best to remember. I also rode past the beaches where we sat and watched the seals play and where Jim and Joshua flew kites in the stiff ocean breeze. Good days, good memories. As I experience them, I realize it's OK to enjoy them, to cherish them, to keep them...and OK to look forward to making memories on my own, and possibly someday with someone else. No matter how that feels, I guess it's growth.

Only 218 miles today, but lots of stops...over 7 hours of travel time
Nearly 3,700 miles so far
 Thursday brings the redwoods, the coastal giants. I'm looking forward to seeing them again.

Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 14

I didn't ride a single mile today and it was good. :) I spent the day be chauffeured around by my uncle. We ran up to Beaverton to pick up a luggage rack for Black Max which is going to make the rest of this trip a little more secure in terms of packing. Then headed to the big and tall shop down the road to pick up a new pair of jeans. I managed to rip mine last night...looks like they'll be shorts when I get home.

We ended up southeast of Portland and on a waterfall expedition...and ran into fire.

At first we thought they were forest fires; but, after driving around trying to get a good look at them, we finally figured out they were burning off the wheat fields after the harvest. There's a possibility that one could have been a small forest fire. When we did check out one of the waterfalls, the smoke smelled more like burning wood than the times we could clearly tell it was burning wheat.

Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)

Monday, August 27, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 13

Having a day off has been nice. No long ride...just resting and relaxing...sort of.

I did ride about 50 miles today. Not really a big deal. Just hit 3 more Apple stores in the Portland area. See my previous post from last Friday for more info on why I'd do that. :)

Bridgeport VillageWashington SquarePioneer Place
Other than that, I went to the movies, ate lunch at The Cheesecake Factory, and dinner at Thai Dish. Looking forward to another quiet day and spending time with family tomorrow.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 12

It's not hard for me to imagine that any trip that involves a lot of travel, and lasts for more than a few days, is bound to have at least one day that just sucks. Today might have been that day for me...only time will truly tell.

I woke up to cloudy skies and rain hovering offshore, over the Pacific. The forecast for the area indicated that any rain should be moving out by about 11:30AM and there would only be a 20% chance of rain after that. I'm flexible, so I waited. I listened to the morning service from the Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church. I showered. I packed. I took my time getting ready and it was only 10:30AM. It still hadn't rained in Hoquiam…and really didn't look like it would. I decided to head out for a late breakfast, figuring by the time I was done eating any threat of rain would surely have passed.

I got out my trusty smart phone and started searching for places that would have brunch or breakfast. The first one that caught my eye was a place called The Blue Bacon Restaurant and Lounge. WHAT!? Any place that had the word BACON in the name of the restaurant had to fantastic. It was just a few miles down the road so I packed up and headed out. I quickly learned that BEACON and BACON look really similar on my phone screen. The Blue BEACON Restaurant and Lounge was what I found…and it was clearly a dive. I decided to risk it. I'll spare you the details…it's sufficient to let you know the omelette was not the best I've ever hard, nor was it the worst I've ever had. The texas toast was slathered in real butter and was delicious. If you're ever in the Hoquiam area and feeling adventurous…and maybe a little lucky…feel free to stop in at the Blue Beacon…their bacon was actually pretty good.

By the time I got back to Black Max, it was about 12:05PM…and it was almost sprinkling. Just enough to be noticeable. Bugger. I hit the road and it actually didn't do much more than spit at me all the way from Hoquiam down to the state line…and that's when the coastal highway turned on me. You would think that after 7 years of riding a motorcycle, I would have come to understand that a 20% chance of rain means you're bound to get rain. If there was a 20% chance of something good falling out of the sky, like gold coins or puppies, nothing would ever happen. But with rain and a motorcycle, 20% might as well be 100%.

Just after 2:00PM, as I rounded the bend where 101 meets the Columbia River as it dumps into the Pacific, the coastal "drizzle" started. It's not really rain, it's not really mist. It's just wet…which, I guess, makes it rain. To make it more fun, traffic was backed up on the bridge heading into Astoria, Oregon. So, I inched along, damp and disheartened. If I'd had my wits about me, I'd have read the signs at the end of the bridge, put my liberal arts education to good use, and taken US-30 out of Astoria and directly to Portland. Instead, I took 101 all the way down to Tillamook. A ride that normally should have only taken about 90 minutes. It took almost 3 hours…and it "rained" the entire time. Traveling 101 when it's raining would probably have been bad enough. It was cold, only about 60 degrees, and the wind was blowing pretty fiercely on the parts of the highway that actually got close enough to the coast where you could see the ocean. The kicker is that it was Sunday. The day when everyone who headed to the coast for the weekend was now heading home. That's why traffic was backed up over the bridge. That's why the normal 3 minute trip through Seaside took almost 30 minutes. By the time I got to Tillamook, I had been sitting on Black Max for almost 4 hours without a break.

My original plan had been to stay on 101 all the way down to Lincoln City and then head east to Canby, to my aunt and uncle's place. The decision to take a left on 6 and head east early was not a difficult one to make.

The ride up through the Tillamook National Forest actually redeemed the day. The rain quit almost as soon as I moved away from the coast and within a few miles I was out of the danger zone. Highway 6, through the forest, is a beautiful ride. The only thing that could have made it better would have been to have the sun shining…but after 3 hours of rain, I wasn't going to complain about the dry conditions even if it was overcast. I somehow managed to find a break in traffic and the first 30 miles of the ride were spectacular. I had the mountain highway practically to myself. It was only as I was exiting the National Forest that traffic once again picked up and stayed heavy all the way to Canby.

As I rode out of the Oregon Coast Range, the overcast skies lightened and the air temperature had warmed up to around 75. By the time I got to Portland I was almost dry.

If it hadn't been for the rain today, I'd have probably actually been a little disappointed that the coastal highway doesn't really run along the shore up here. It's coastal in the sense that you're near the coast. There are only a few places where you actually get to ride close enough to the shore to see the ocean. However, having the forest between the highway and the ocean helped protect me from the wind and even some of the rain. So I welcomed those tall trees anytime I was riding through them. The ride through the Tillamook National Forest was definitely the silver lining in what could have been a completely miserable day.

I'll be hanging around Canby until Wednesday, when I'll head back to the coast…crossing my fingers and hoping for sunshine. :)

The route I planned
The route I took

3,424 miles...just a few more to go
Tomorrow is another day and another road (just not a very long one.) :)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 11

3,092...miles. That's how many miles I rode, from Jackson, Michigan, before I finally saw the Pacific Ocean...
Pacific Ocean west of the Olympic National Forest, northwest coast of Washington.

...but that didn't happen until 4:30PM and almost 220 miles into today's ride.

Those of you with any mapping skills might note that it's only about 80 miles from Tacoma to Hoquiam, where I'm spending the night tonight. Of course, that's if you drive directly over via The 5, Washington 8, and US-12 (the same one that goes just south of's a small world.) I choose to get to Hoquiam via The 5 and The 101...which makes it nearly 305 miles. A small difference.
80 miles vs 305 miles...pick your poison. :)
3,174 miles so far and I still have to get home. :)
Taking the 101 around the peninsula that houses the Olympic National Park and the Olympic National Forest is a treat. You spend most of the day with the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in your sight. It's a long ride, but a great one for a motorcycle. Lots of sections of winding curves and twists both through the foothills and along the different bodies of water you'll travel near.

The ride north goes through the eastern foothills of the mountains and follows the fjord known as Hood Canal for quite a distance. You eventually turn westward and end up in Port Angeles, which is about the halfway point of the journey I made. It's a big enough town that you can find some decent food and plenty of places to get gas. I was a little disappointed to find that the restaurants I wanted to try didn't open until dinner time...settled for some decent Chinese instead.
Hood Canal, home of Octopus Hole
As you leave Port Angeles, you also leave the more populated section of the ride. There are several small towns on the western half of the peninsula, but far fewer than the eastern half. The most significant town on the western part of the route is Forks, Washington, which turns out is where the Twilight books are set. Plenty of Twilight buy-in as you drive through town. I saw stores selling Twilight themed native art and even a place selling Twilight firewood. If there's a buck to be made...

The western half also has some of the twistier roads. Riding around Crescent Lake was a lot of fun, especially when I could put myself in the gaps between the groups of cars.

Crescent Lake in Olympic National Park

Crystal clear waters

By the time I got down to the coast, I was ready for it. This was one of the prime objectives of the trip, traveling the coastal highways. As road followed the terrain down, the trees and other vegetation started to get more "coastal", and the temperature started to drop. I held my breath at every curve waiting to see if this would be the one where the ocean would come into view. Eventually, you know you're getting near because you can see daylight through the forest. The temperature drops even more. The road takes a turn to the south and there it is...glistening at you through the trees...the Pacific. Admittedly, the northern coastal highways aren't going to offer the most scenic views, but they are nice. You're mostly up on the cliffs, with the beach a hundred feet or more below you. There are often trees between the road and the edge of the cliff, which means you'll only get your best views where the cliffs have eroded back toward the road and the trees are no longer in the way. I'll have three more days of riding the 101 before I get down to the Pacific Coast Highway in California, and I'll have  a few days in the middle of those two while I visit with my aunt and uncle outside of Portland.

As fun as today's ride was, I also came to realize a couple of other things. First, there's just no way I can fit all the things I want to see into the time I have left. I've decided I'm just going to have to skip the trip up to Yellowstone after I'm done along the coast. I'd only have 2 days to see the park and I think it deserves more attention than that. The silver lining is this gives me a reason to come back out this way some other time...but maybe in a car...or on a plane. :)

The other thing I realized is that some parts of this trip really may be part of the "saying goodbye" process. As I sat on the edge of the cliff, warming myself in the afternoon sun, watching the seals play in the surf, I remembered Sara was with me the last time I walked on our nation's western shore. We were together and happy. I'm going to be riding by the beach where that memory lives in about four days. We saw the redwoods together about 13 years ago, I'll be there next week. It occurs to me that many of the places I've ridden in the past year have those memory ties...and there are getting to be fewer and fewer of them. Maybe subconsciously, I'm letting go by visiting, on my own, the locations/trips/places we enjoyed together. The memories being stirred on this trip are happy ones, yet painful to relive. I know that by now I shouldn't be surprised at the power and quickness of grief...but I sometimes am, caught unaware when I least expect it.

Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)