California (Part 2)
We exit off the highway to ride through the area where the giant Redwoods are, known as the Avenue of the Giants, its incredible to ride though this area with these huge trees.
Avenue of the Giants
These trees are much taller than the giant sequoia's that we looked at recently, but are not as wide, they are among the oldest living things on Earth.
To give you an idea of scale, you can actually drive a car through the splits in the base of some of the trees, or a bike..
The Shrine Tree
Not long after exiting the Avenue of the Giants, we found ourselves riding up a really steep two lane highway. The truck in front of us is struggling to haul its heavy load and I watch its twin stack exhaust pipes billow heavy black smoke.
Suddenly one exhaust stack throws out white smoke and I know instantly that this truck engine is in its death throws. I indicate left and tell Em my concern, then bang, the noise could be heard over our engine, as the internals of the big diesel rip themselves apart, forcing a large grapefruit sized lump of metal into the road, that then shot out from under the truck and under the vehicle in front of us. I look back in my mirror as the hazards come on on the truck as the driver tries to hold the rig on the incline, a close call.
A few miles down the road we turn off onto the start of the infamous Route 1, from our current location to the sea was about 16 miles of very, very twisty road. First gear switchback bends were made worse by a wet road and leaf litter and I think both Em and I were relieved when finally the Pacific coast came into view.
It doesnt take long to realise why Route 1 is such a mecca for bikers, or cars for that matter, the road is fun without being fast, enabling you to be able to take in the breathtaking scenery.
One drawback with the road is that it does take a while to get from A to B, meaning you have to plan ahead where you wish to stop. After passing Fort Bragg it wasnt long before we arrived at the town of Manchester, it was here that we put up the tent in the local KOA campground.
We ride into town and up and down Route 1 that evening trying to find somewhere to eat, but no luck, everywhere is baron and I think back to our Texas buddy who took the micky out of our cooking equipment "why do you Brits bring pots and pans, we have food!" really?, where the hell is it! We give up and once back at the campground, buy a microwave Chimichanga for supper.
We settle into the tent and play cards for a while before dropping off to sleep as it starts to rain. Its a bit chilly when I wake and its still dark outside, Em is still asleep and I lay there listening to the rain coming down. This is sunny California that is in the middle of a drought and its raining, really coming down too.
I must have dozed off, as when I wake up, Em is already awake "theres water under the tent, I can feel it" she was right, the campground was flooded and the water was running under the tent. Thankfully the tent was dry inside, we waited a while for the rain to ease off, but it didnt and not wishing to stay here another night with no food, I resign myself to getting packed up in the rain.
There's nothing better than starting the day in a tent in the rain...
Its still raining as we leave Manchester and continue south down Route 1 and grab a coffee in a nearby cafe, we decide against breakfast after accidentily viewing the kitchen. Another couple sitting behind us do the same.
The road continues to offer up some great views as it sweeps inland round switchbacks then back round to the sea again, only to return back inland at intervals. We have a 'moment' that morning involving a cattle grid covered in wet leaves and us turning at the same time, that will stop me from daydreaming on the back when I should be paying attention.
In the early afternoon, with the rain still hanging around, Route 1 turns into the 5 lane interstate 101, we pass through San Rafael and San Francisco is just around the corner. I know from looking at the map earlier, that our route takes us over the Golden Gate Bridge, but I had not told Emma. Instead, as we pick our way through the multi-lane traffic in the rain, I mention to Em to get the camara ready as we are about to go over the bridge, this lifts both of our spirits as it swings into view.
Golden Gate Bridge
Not two minutes after going over the bridge we spot our motel, one problem though, San Fran is just as you see it in "Bullit" and seems to be mostly one way streets. After a while we work out how to get back to the motel and after several detours arrive safetly in the motels car park.
This hotel is really odd with a central courtyard and the rooms around the sides. The hotel reception is a tiny box at the front of the building which you drive past to get into the courtyard.
After I try and fail to negotiate a discount, we finally get a room. Darren drives the bike in and we try to find the best place to park it. By now the Manager has come over and wants us to move it into a corner on the other side, which Darren is having none of. There are lots of 'south of the border' workmen around the hotel doing maintenence and new flooring. The Manager gets them to start moving around various drinks machines to create a space for the bike and we tuck her in safely.
The room is great, but on the second floor and there are no lifts, to make matters worse one stairwell is shut, so I end up having to do three trips to get all our gear to the room. Never mind, we are in Frisco!
That night we take a walk down the main street, San Fran has a great feel to it and we find a top Greek resturant. Em and I have a proper meal with a few glasses of wine, using our belated wedding anniversery as a good excuse to spoil ourselves for once.
With the theme from Bullit ringing in my ears, next morning we ride round the streets of Frisco as we head for the Fishermans Wharf area. After getting parked, we locked our jackets and lids to the bike and walked around the habour.
Its a lovely hot, sunny day as we try to get tickets for Alcatraz, no luck, these sell out weeks in advance, so we take a look around the harbours shops and attractions.
While we are walking around, I spot a Catermaran that is about to do a tour of the habour including Alcatraz and the bridge. Taking Em by suprise with my sponteneity, I say to her lets do it and two minutes later we are on board. For a minute we think we are part of just a handful of passengers, but then at the last minute a group of dance students and their tutors turn up, don't you just love giggling, up their own arses teenage girls?! At one point I think Em is going to throw one of them overboard as she has that glint in her eye..
The boat gets really close to Alcatraz island and we get a chance to see what it must have been like to be encarserated here.
The infamous Alcatraz
It feels really good to be doing something touristy and taking some time out from riding the bike. Em really likes being on the water so its good to see her enjoying herself.
The boat takes us under the bridge and I snap this arty shot.
Before too long its time to head back and we get a really good view of the streets of Frisco from the bay.
Back on dry land we return to the bike and start to ride out of town, no visit to San Fran would be complete without a picture of one of the historic street cars, so here it is.
Leaving San Francisco we head for Salinas, a town close to Monterey Bay, unusually for us we have actually booked a cheap motel in advance. As we get closer to the motel, Salinas looks like a very poor town, the main industry is agriculture, or to be more acurate Artichokes. This place is apparently the Artichoke capital of the World, we find the hotel which is very basic and dirty, but at least its cheap. Guess we won't be booking ahead again though.
After checking in we head into the town of Salinas to find some food. At this point all becomes clear as every sign and road name is in spanish, yes we were in little mexico... This is confirmed when we stop at the local Macdonalds (there really were no other restaurants) only to find we are the only english speaking people in there. Feeling a little awkward we head over to a nearby supermarket for some munchies (Darren is addicted to Jelly Beans) and as we go to pay the assistant is on the phone gabbing away en espanol. Darren says a perfect 'Ola' without thinking and the assistant asumes he is fluent and starts gabbing at him! We manage to work out how much the jelly beans are without looking stupid and head back to the motel.
Next day we leave Salinas and pick up Route 1 once more and head for Monterey on the coast.
We plan to go to the aquarium in Monterey, but on the way I notice a familiar sign in the road, "Lugana Seca Raceway" getting all excited I ask if Em would mind getting to the aquarium a bit later, giving us time to go and take a look at the racetrack. We then spend an hour just riding around the perimeter road that circles the track, rode into the paddock area and generally had a good nose around. There was no-one around to stop you which was great, and we watched some Mazda cars racing on the track for a while.
Having got to Monterey and parked up at the aquarium we take a few hours looking around the various displays, by far the most impressive fish on display was a Sunfish which was large and unusual. Sorry no pics as the you cant use flashes around the fish, as it scares the sharks!
Setting off again, we pass through Carmel, which is a lovely place with quaint shops 'english style' and beautiful houses spread out by the sea. Then onto Big Sur and the views are still spectacular as we continue down the coast.
Every village or town we come to seems to be going mad over "Octoberfest" or as we say Halloween. Everywhere you look there are pumpkins, lots of pumpkins.
Its slow going as the road is really twisty and I soon realise that we will probably have to ride in the dark to get to our campground. There really is no choice as accommodation along this stretch is limited. We pass San Simeon then head inland for a while until we reach Santa Magarita and sure enough it is dark as we pull into the campground.
On aproaching the office we realise that it is shut for the night, so we head back to the highway and book into a roadside motel, we hadn't covered many more miles than usual, but it had been a long day in the saddle and we collapsed into bed.
Luckily, as we leave the motel the next morning, we spot a great cafe and stop for breakfast and copius amounts of tea for Em and coffee for me. The owner of the cafe is really friendly and we chat with him for a while. We then headed back to the campsite, which is now open and book ourselves a cabin for two nights.
The plan is to use the cabin as a base for a few days, chiefly getting some laundry done, writing up some blogs and a little sight-seeing without having to worry about getting accommodation by a certain time.
That afternoon we get unpacked and I go over to the laundry for 3 hours giving Darren some space. It is a good 10 mins walk along the track and there is no one around. Nearing a corner I spot something on my side of the road. As I approach it looks like a toy spider, closer inspection reveals it is a tarantula about the size of my hand and dark grey with a ligher patch on it's body. It must have been dead and hit by a car but not squashed. I shudder and head on to the laundry.
Once there I quiz the girl in the office, saying I thought I just saw some kind of spider, but I must be wrong... 'You mean a tarantula' she replies without hesitation. Apparently there are loads this time of year, they aren't poisonous but they will bite you so steer clear of them. After finishing the laundry some 3 hours later I wander back passing well away from the spider. I get back to the cabin and tell Darren, who at first doesn't believe me. I show him it and he gives it a good look over saying 'it's definately dead, don't worry'.
By this time it is about 4.30pm and we could do with some snacks and drinks so Darren offers to head out in search of a supermarket. This leaves me in the cabin alone and I spend most of the time plugging holes in the walls with tissues and anything else I can find.
This turns out to be a nightmare for Darren as the supermarket is miles away and the roads back are rural and full of wildlife in the dark.
The next day we head out to visit Hearst castle. The building is famous for being very opulent but more for having been built by William Randolph Hearst who was a famous American multi-millionaire and Publisher at the beginning of the last centuary.
Hearst travelled all over Europe collecting things to put in or use on the construction of the castle - really a huge mansion built on a hill, by European standards it was a bit gareish, but the American tourists lapped it up.
The castle once had a zoo with wild animals in the grounds, countless lavishly furnished rooms, a beautiful outside pool and gardens and an amazing indoor pool or bath house with gold tiles amongst other things. In the car park before we leave a guy pulls up in an expensive car and asks us if he can take a picture of the bike - Darren is made up!
The route back to the campground takes us through the famous vineyards of Southern California, we dont stop but continue onto camp. Next day we pack up and are happy to be leaving this particular campsite.
Back on Route 1 we ride past Pismo Beach and Santa Maria then head inland into the hills for a while and look down on Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara Hills
Posted by Darren Homer at December 11, 2007 12:35 AM GMT
Out on the coast we can see the Channel Islands National Park in the distance, before we drop back down to the coast road. Again Route 1 becomes the superhighway that is the Interstate 101 into Los Angeles and we get our first taste of what rush hour into LA can be - all six lanes of it!