June 17, 2005 GMT
Los Angeles to Santa Barbara

When I first laid eyes on the bike I had hired, I panicked—it was huge! Long, wide, heavy and low; totally different from my usual wheels, a 600 cc sports bike. I had a real crisis of confidence. I seriously doubted that I would be able to handle it. David must have seen this in my eyes, and he sent me off down the road on my own to give it a shot and get a feel of the bike. It turned out to be easier to handle than it looked and much less intimidating, once I got over the initial panic, so we loaded up and set off into the maelstrom that is Los Angeles traffic.

David and the beast

We had decided to ride through Hollywood Boulevard and see the Hollywood sign, cruise Sunset Boulevard and the Sunset Strip, cruise through Beverly Hills and then head out on Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. Easy to say and write, but less so in reality. First I had to roughly memorise the route (about 50 miles through Los Angeles, just to get to the Sunset Boulevard area!) and then take an unfamiliar bike, loaded up with our baggage and the two of us on unfamiliar roads with unfamiliar driving behaviour.

Well, we survived, and we made it to Hollywood Boulevard, complete with its Walk of Fame, Mann’s Chinese Theatre and all the classic sights. What we could not do was find a way through the maze of streets to get closer to the Hollywood sign. We tried, we spent about half an hour turning this way and that, following signs that promised to guide us there only to disappear at the next junction. In the end we gave up and settled for the one long-distance photo.

Hollywood sign

We found and cruised Sunset Boulevard and Sunset Strip. David got to see all the famous rock clubs, in daylight and as we rode past rather than anything closer but it was something. I was surprised by both Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard; they were much dingier than I had expected. I suppose I expected all the Hollywood glitz to be on show, but it looked like any business district thoroughfare and any big city (unless, like David, you knew the landmarks, like the Roxy Club). Maybe at night it would look more impressive.

Following Sunset Boulevard took us right through Beverly Hills and Bel Air, two of the swankiest residential districts. We took a few diversions through residential side roads in Beverly Hills, just to be nosy. On one of these, someone was having a big party and there were cars parked for miles up both sides of the road. Outside the party house there was a group of valets who take and park your car for you. The look of panic on their faces when we rolled around the corner on the bike was a sight to see—it looked like they thought we were coming for the party and they were going to have to park the bike!

Bel Air was less welcoming—most of the side roads were gated communities with signs suggesting they did not want to be bothered. So we didn’t bother them.
Eventually, we emerged from the solid urban sprawl that is Los Angeles onto the coast road. Names of places you hear about kept popping up, first Pacific Palisades, then Malibu. We stopped for a break at one of the public beaches, just to stretch our legs and take in the sights (and have a quick gawp at the millionaires’ play houses!).

These early stages of the trip were painfully hard work for me, and just as painful for David. The pillion seat on the bike was small and none too comfortable, and David needed a break every 45 minutes at the most. For me, the problem was the strangeness of the bike, so different to anything I had really ridden, the sheer weight of the thing and the riding position. On my bike, I just bend my knee to lift my foot onto the footpeg. On this bike I had to swing my leg forwards and upwards from the hip, with practically no knee bend. In the constant stop-start of traffic through the city I was doing this over and over again every few seconds, and the muscles at the front of my hip were in agony!

At least when we got out of town I didn’t have to do this exercise as often. But then it was a question of manhandling the mass of the bike (plus the two of us and our baggage). To put some numbers to it, my bike weights about 200 kg, this thing weighed 320 kg. With the two of us and our baggage we collectively weighed close to half a tonne! This meant it took much more effort to get it to stop, start and change direction. And the big problem was that I was fighting the bike, trying to get it to behave like my bike, rather than accepting the differences and working with them.

And all the stops we were making to rest and relieve our aches and pains meant we were not getting very far. I kept watching the trip meter, watching the miles creep up, fretting about how little progress we were making, rather than just enjoying the experience.

But we did have the fun of seeing a group of people on a beach being terrorised by a sea lion! We had stopped for a break and were looking out over a beach where a family were meandering around when we saw a dark shape ‘surfing’ towards the beach on a wave. The family on the beach were terrified, and ran away from the water. But all it was was a little sea lion, probably a youngster, who just seemed to want to play. It made our day.

We arrived at Santa Barbara, about 60 miles up the coast from the outskirts of Los Angeles, as the sun was setting, so we decided to call it a day and find something to eat and somewhere to stay.

Santa Barbara sea front -- beats Skegness!

We asked around and were pointed in the direction of Hotel State Street (on State Street, would you believe?), which, we were told, was probably the only place in town that would have rooms available. My guidebook to California mentioned the place as being OK and inexpensive, so that was a relief. But it turned out to be the third most expensive place we stayed in the whole time in the States (the most expensive being the hotel in Santa Monica) and also the worst for facilities—it had shared bathrooms! Still, it was somewhere to stay.

Santa Barbara is a beautiful spot, and we had an excellent dinner in a restaurant on the town pier over the Pacific. And they didn’t bat an eyelid when David ordered a beer (despite the minimum age for drinking in the USA being 21!).

Posted by Paul Neate at June 17, 2005 05:02 PM GMT

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