California – 101 & 1 – Motorcycle Camping

With dreams of Coastal California – Big Sur, San Francisco, and Yosemite … I hit the road out of San Diego towards “Smell-A”; instant traffic on 5N. My mind goes to the last, and best, hour of sleep I got by rolling over at 6am. No time for ‘what ifs’….. This is by first big trip on the BMW R1150GS and naturally I have concerns about preparedness, mechanical, getting crushed by mindless twits who are posting on Twitter while on the road… now seems like a good time to practice splitting lanes. HA!  The run up middle and make time up I-5; not too bad after the initial cluster of San Diego morning traffic. The 73 toll road is a favorite short cut to bypass some of the shallow hole in our collective souls that degrades humanity into super consumers and resides on the southern coast of California. The 73 never had traffic, rarely has police, and only costs a few bucks. Well worth avoiding the mess on the 405. They removed the toll stations, I gather portions of the warning about huge fines as I rip past at 90mph, summary – one has 48 hours to pay the fee on-line or they will plunder your booty (account)  ($300 fine – so I make a note to self, ‘hit TollRoads website and register’ *done the next day*).
The long slog and hard fought miles were worth it but have left me tired. Time for a rest in a little coastal town, Carpinteria, looking for something bad to eat quickly. The quaint little town is a historical district/tourist trap that I have not time for but without a plan I point the bike at the coast and just wandered looking for places near the beach to grab a bite. Something interesting. Something uniquely Carpinteria…. Found a burger joint called “The Spot”.
The Spot is near the beach (which makes it a good spot in my estimation), has just a dirt lot in the back for parking, and a deck in the front for eating;  determining that those met my stringent criteria the bike went strangely quiet. This is the first big rest since leaving San Diego. The young guy at the burger joint was really excited to see me. With his cooking apron on he came out to meet and to ask about the bike. He wanted to know everything. After I talk to him for a few minutes I asked him what is good hoping to change subjects to food and he said the burgers are the best. So I drop my gear, plug the phone in, ordered a double bacon cheeseburger with grilled onions and a chocolate shake. (Faaaaaatty!) After scarfing down the burger to regenerate enthusiasm enough to be polite; I talk to the cook again and told him my plan for the whole trip. Now he is even more excited; another convert (or convict… as the ADV guys call their members inmates!).  I wander back out to the bike and find my way back to the 101 to finish a long slog north again.
Central Valley, scrub oak, couple cows, 80 MPH endurance effort. With a sore back and callused butt, I did stop in Los Alamos for gas and it was probably the only time I will ever go there. . . I did go inside and picked up a coconut water which was the only thing that fit the mood. A quick case study of sugary drinks in any gas station should be enough to convince anyone that the pervasive larden-ing of America is not reversible. Best and brightest behind the counter *sigh* if they only had kitchen magnets in view I could leave without talking to the guy and gal manning the counter. Hoped to add magnet to the collection on the freezer; fail.
Back on the 101 and it was another endurance run all the way up to Big Sur. The twists of the road as the fat Beemer and I climbed along the cliff, the fog had rolled in, the smell of seaweed hung in the fog, the dampness started to collect on the bike and my jacket.
All these together made the ride fun but nerve racking. One small mistake and you have cliff on one side and mountains with occasional drop off into streams on other. It was only about 4 pm but started to cool off quite a bit. Service dropped in and out so GPS on the phone was not as reliable and I was starting to get concerned about missing the sign to Plaskett Creek Campground. The wide butt pachyderm of a bike was hungry for gas so next station is a must. Also prudent, because I wasn’t really sure when I would see a gas station again. $7/gal gas;  check…. I think about a fuel truck winding up that same road and suddenly I was OK with $7/gal gas.
The pumps are not really part of a larger gas station but there is a bakery where I asked the toothless skinny middle age crackhead, who finally came to the counter, and was very very chatty ‘where’s Plaskett Campground from here?’  I think she might have been sweet on me, gross,  she informed me after our 6 minute long conversation (relativity is real… felt like an hour) that Plaskett Campground was only a couple of miles up the road and there was a big sign – couldn’t miss it. After an awkward, ‘good bye’ to my new girlfriend I got back on the road. A few miles on my new sweetheart was right; I saw the sign easily. Big brown sign, yellow letters. CAMPGROUND FULL *awwwww poop sticks!* is something that I did not say to myself in my helmet.  I decided finding a site at this time of evening would be a pain so might as well ask the campground host if they had any additional sites or  any ideas about where I might be able to go primitive. She was very nice and let me know there was still ‘group camping’ available in group section 3. I do the happy dance (I really do this). She tells me I might have to camp with other people but its around the corner, around, over there, take a left, go right…*sigh*, yea sure….figure it out, got it.
I pulled into group 3, park the bike, took off my helmet, and found 2 old guys sitting at the picnic table drinking beers. I introduce myself and ask if they mind if I join them. They respond back in heavy Slavic accents, “…but of course”, And offer me a beer. I think this is going to work out just fine(!). I like old people anyway… but old European guys with free beer!! I get unloaded and find trees that I think I might be able to use the hammock. We all sit around swap stories in joking laugh and have a good time the 2 older guys are from Czech Republic and are now US citizens, have been for many years, but are retired and traveling. It did not matter that they only had gravy and rice and MGD… it was the best!
After the great evening drinking, laughing, eating their food hanging out, swapping stories, I crashed for the night.
Fog rolled stayed in all night and everything was soaking wet in the morning. In the morning a Spanish guy was camped near us in the grass in a bivvy bag.


Well rested and feeling sociable I started talking to him to get his story. He flew his bike to the US from Spain. Rode across the US then up to Alaska. He had plans to ship the bike to Vietnam. He canceled that plan after learning it would be $6000 from Alaska to Vietnam. So he rode his bike back down to California and was headed to LA to ship the bike to Vietnam. Turns out it is only $2000 to ship a bike from LA to Vietnam, … HA! Sweet. I have lost track of this awesome person so if you know where he is blogging send it over in teh comments!
Quick re-hydrated breakfast off the camp stove then back on the road. Its still pretty early. Thankfully traffic is not bad, none in fact, and this stretch of world famous highway is known for Sunday minivan drivers… the worst! The fog had lifted a little bit so I can see some of the beautiful coastline which is what Big Sur is famous for anyway.


I’ll take what I can get… even partial views through the clouds look really cool.

 I enjoy the drive and force myself to stop to get a few pictures. The animals had been misinformed that fog makes them invincible. As the pachyderm  slowly wound through foggy corners we nearly kissed a duck and deer as they scampered across the road in front of me (separate incidents as these two don’t normally hang out together). This is my first incident with a deer and won’t be the last on this trip. I had been reading about Big Sur Bakery and have been known to eat… so I had to stop to see what all the fuss was about. It is a cute place. I decided, quite stupidly actually, to park off to the right and behind the store where workers are loading/unloading a truck. This meant I was right next to the dumpster where I would be tortured by flies. I have had some incidents with flies in the past…. not a fan. Let us pretend the flies did not ruin this for me. The place is really neat and you will find something there you like. On that day I was rather spartan so black coffee and a couple of plain croissants to go… they hit the spot.
Back on the road with a fuller belly and a couple croissants to share with friends.  The landscape opens up, the coastline falls to meet the ocean… a sweet lighthouse that will wait for another trip, some Navy buildings that certainly are from WWII era, and the mountains fall away as you leave Big Sur into Monterrey.  Monterrey, artichoke fields, and agricultural lands for days. Really cool to finally see it finally. 25 years after reading John Steinbeck’s books; this was a place like so many other that I had always wanted to see first hand. The field workers busy with a general hustle and bustle along the road. The edges of all of the fields lined with farm trucks loaded with boxes for market or equipment.
The recipients of my extra buns in the bag were a Navy buddy and his (then) girlfriend in Sausalito; I had arranged lodging on their luxurious air mattress. Coming down the hill into San Francisco is the most treacherous bit of road this whole trip. Narrow roads, twisty, down hill, packed with cars wandering in and out of lanes, all doing 80+…Scary.  Shaken, tired from dodging cars, I decide again to stop for gas/rest. This is where I had my first unintentional off road incident. Back to the down hill slalom of cars… I  exited hot onto an off ramp labeled 25 mph. I know now that 25 means don’t be in 5th gear. At the time I was tired and the sign might as well have been in Chinese. *Note to self – stop sooner and more often*  Hitting the o ff ramp hot, tired, and sore, bad decisions were going to be made. I went up the embankment about 20 or 30 feet into the low ground cover before I was able to give some gas and turn it back down the berm back onto the road, hopping the curb. Certainly someone saw this event and thought to themselves, “that is why we cannot have nice things” or “what a jerk”. Meanwhile behind my face shield I am making the best Corky face I have…Because my pants were not completely filled from the traffic battle I guess I subconsciously needed to finish the job. There are many lessons learned from this incident about judgement and care but what I really noted was how the GS does really good in thick mulch and ice plant… good to know. HA!
Filled the tank, emptied my shorts, also needed to drain the other tank but just as I turn towards the building the older Indian guy running the station saw me coming. A complete dick move… he rushed (literally ran (!) around the corner while looking at me) to get the bathroom before i could. I’m thinking about an old Indian guy wrecking house on what is probably only a step above a Tijuana outhouse anyway… No way I’m waiting. I pissed on the wall behind the gas station. I win.
Back on the road,  through the stop and go in down town San Francisco. Careful to not get stuck in the trolley car tracks. I cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. A short but amazing ride across the bridge while standing up so I can gawk better. The open air and the hum of the bike is really the best way to cross. First exit, about a 100 feet after the end of the bridge, Sausalito. Hidden key is right where we discussed (since they are gone to a wedding for a couple days) and let myself in, water, beer, rest, food in that order.
Feet up on the deck in the sun…This is why we are alive.
My friends had gone to a wedding to wish some sorry sap good luck and left me a key so I am without schedule and off for a ride. My plan was to head out to Muir Woods and explore some of the redwood forest North Sausalito. I get on the 101 and there is mass traffic. Lots of families, minivans and generally just tools packing the road for as-far-as the eye can see. Not safe to filter between lanes because the traffic is very unpredictable and roads narrow. Bumper to bumper. Finally I give up and decide to go another way.  I run a little bit further North deciding to take surface streets and bump into place called the Broken Drum Brewery.
Well I am hungry and it is lunch time besides maybe I can pick up a growler for my buddy…scratch that maybe I’ll share. End up having a good burger and talking to one of the local bar flies and bartender while I’m there. The bartender informed me that Metallica lives nearby and sometimes can be found walking around on the streets. Neat but I have better things to do than wander looking for aged rockers. Finished my burger, grab my growler, back to the house for some more relaxing and beer. Because of the great success the afternoon before …. I spent the afternoon sitting on the deck relaxing in the sun watching the sailboats in San Francisco harbor.
The Blue Angels flying formations all over the bay. Demonstrations for Fleet Week. My friends return and it decided that he should make pizza (Josh’s a chef) while the rest of us drink on the porch. We drink, eat, and do not solve any of the worlds problems, all caught up on how awesome of people we are,  then pass out on the couch.
No ride day: Plan for Sunday is to rinse the cat poop out of my mouth, kill the troll that is jack hammering, be exposed to sunlight as little as possible, and pick up some wine in Napa. We get going in the morning towards Napa. Stopped at a farmers market on the way. We all pig out on some sticky buns filled with pulled pork and other random things to quell the uneasiness in our bellies. My buddy introduces me to a new hot sauce called Lucky Dog, good stuff.I can never get enough ‘sting ring’ and eat a lot of hot sauce with the plan of suffering the next day while riding Yosemite. I bought a couple bottles to go and still order it online to this day.  I pick up a jar of pickled beet juice which lasts me three days and is fantastic and settling the maladies that come with living like a 20 year old Navy kid when you are pushing 40.
Back to the mission… have a wine shipment to pick up. The deal is that we get free ‘tasting’ (aka glug glug). I’m just along for the ride *glug glug* oh and did I mention the free wine? Before we booze we decided we should eat again. A really ‘talked up’ restaurant (Bouchon) and I have high expectations.
Expectations usually lead to disappointment and this is no different First off, another run in with flies (!). We are inside but the doors are opening and closing too much as they service the patios. Second, the menu is nearly incomprehensible, even in my state of near sobriety I could hardly figure it out. Prices are fairly cheap. I suspect that maybe if I just order something I’ll learn how to be happy with it. We order 3 apps to share: the escargot, the duck compote, and marrow. Food turns out to be a stunning….just okay. Not worth the cost or hype. Josh gets french onion soup. It is pretty good but too salty, it has probably cooked down while no one watched it. Steph gets crab croquettes and they are just mildly better than a fried crab cake or hush-puppy; so quite terrible actually. I get roast leg of lamb which includes 3 or 4 medallions of shank perfectly cooked. Even though everything is perfect in my dish it was served on a bean pile which didn’t work too well. The beans are good, the lamb was good, they just did not go together. So for a bill, 160 dollars and all of us were slightly disappointed at what was supposed to be a fantastic restaurant.
Feeling a bit like we had been duped… we make our way to the first vineyard to drink away our hard feelings. Interesting note… Eshcol Building at Trefethen Family Vineyards was severely damaged in the recent earthquake. What a shame. It dates back to 1886 and though plain in decor it is amazing that they built such a barn in the 1880s. The winery had placed gigantic iron I-beam trusses in a ring to shore up the building. I asked the gentleman pouring if they plan to fix the building, he said, “they absolutely would”. I bought a bottle “to help with their efforts” and have found something at this vineyard to be happy about besides free wine.
On to the next vineyard to pick up the final shipment. More wine, lots of aggrandizing descriptions about the uniqueness of this wine, how you can taste the … GULP!  I shake my glass at the guy pouring. He laughs and he sees that I could care less about subtle notes of …. GULP!!!! … The young man really did seem to know his stuff. The troll was no longer jack-hammering but a new problem had emerged as I was drunk again and feeling rambunctious. Thankfully we made it back to their place without too many incidents. Stephanie and I begged for short ribs and squash au grautin. So our pet chef, after hardly a complaint graciously conceded and got to work. His beautiful lady and I assisted with roast beets and dressed them with vinaigrette make the most excellent salad.
Morning routine: Reveille!! Coffee!!  Stephanie and I bid Josh goodbye. He has to work early. I took my time drinking more coffee than the whole bean output of Puerto Rico. Mildly invigorated, I packed up all the gear and prep the bike to leave. I have that mixed feeling of excitement and sorrow. We lag and linger over another coffee. Finally, we both commit that we should be on to the chores of the day. I need to make a couple hundred miles of hard and beautiful riding. She needs to make her masters (bosses and/or clients) happy.
One should always be sure to stretch before long rides. There are many articles and discussions on this topic. Experts at every gas station and blog will confirm …. Always a good idea to stretch.  I end up pulling something in my lower back. This is not the normal pull from an all night romp or softball game. I spend the whole day writhing in pain while smiling through mountain passes… wincing. The feeling of Mike Tyson doing delicate operations on my kidneys as only he knows how… as I ride up through Yosemite. Pain and beauty often come together…
Through Oakland without being molested, robbed, or run off the road. I have heard a lot of good things about it gentrifying and the BMWs and Volvos on the freeway confirm. Over the Richmond Bridge was amazing but also uneventful. The air was still crisp but warming up quickly. Visibility was excellent so there were views across to the city.  I looked back across the bay at the Golden Gate bridge. From this distance it looks fake.
I had plenty of time to disappear into my head and work out things that are destine to become incurable mental illness or dementia. The first part of the day ticks by unceremoniously. Stockton for gas, no incidents, no delays, everything is going very well considering the railroad spikes being driven into my lower back by Dr. Tyson.  As I come into Merced I  recognize some of Anne’s (an ex-girlfriend but still friend) Grandfather’s neighborhood. Strange I should remember this area. I only have been here once and there are fruit orchards for miles in all directions….. Fruit stands down both sides of the road. Honestly, it looks like any one of a billion roads in the Central Valley. I’m extremely tempted to stop and buy something. But I don’t. I know there is still a long haul up the hill towards Pinecrest,  over Sonora Pass, and realize that I’m going to go right past Strawberry (right next to Anne’s family cabin).
I guess it’s time for ice cream and picture and make Anne jealous at her desk. Ha!
Sonora Pass; what an amazing ride! I cannot say enough about going through this pass, the twistys, amazing amazing amazing.  I did ride for about 20 miles with a couple guys on Harleys and they seemed nice and content to let me stay at the back of the pack through the foothills. It is fun to ride with somebody for change. As I get up and over the hill I see a gentleman on a motorcycle stopped off of the road.  I stop to see if he is alright but also to rest and talk. He lives in the area, just out for an afternoon ride, he tells me that some of the area I’m about to go through is the best road and scenery in the area. He was right.
Second and third gear for most of the twistys white knuckles and fighting happily to keep my eyes on the road. I see a few deer crossing the road; this time they are plenty far away so I didn’t make Hershey Kisses in my shorts. Up and up and up 7000, 8000, 9000, 10,000, finally crested.  I think must be at the pass and I come around the corner and realize you’re still another set of mountains. Second and third gear up and up and up. As I clear the pass and begin my descent the sign says 18 percent grade next 70 miles. Awesome! Around the corner I see the same older gentleman is sitting there on his bike with this camera. He stopped to take a picture so I did the same for another rest. He’s walking out the cliff/wedge to take a picture. I grab some water and my crappy old S3 cellphone so I have a camera to get a picture too.  I tell him I plan on camping down in Onion Valley tonight. But I am worried about making it as I’d like to setup camp while there is still some daylight and it is getting late already. He tips me off to what will end up being one of my favorite camping spots in the Sierras. Tom’s Place; it’s just south past Mammoth Mountain on 395. It will save me nearly 2 hours of running up and down the hill into Onion Valley as well as being able to stop earlier. I am conflicted because Onion Valley is on my list of places I desperately want to camp… I decide I can always check out Onion Valley on another trip.

I get to Tom’s Place a little early and of course go the wrong direction. So wandering down back roads looking for the campground I started thinking I might end up just pitching somewhere off the side of the road. Frustrated and again tired. Turn the pachyderm around to head back out  … not even 250 feet down the road. I had passed it twice. Doh! Beautiful aspens and pine trees dot the small valley.

Babbling brook right behind an empty camp spot. My camp spot now! The campground is mostly empty. Set up only takes a few minutes.
Some quick pictures while the light is still good. I rehydrate some Mountain Home Spaghetti, cooking is not the word one can use with this stuff, which I sprinkle with the Lucky Dog hot sauce… More sting ring please! I am sitting next to the bike with no fire. the light blue band on the horizon is losing the last hold on the sky. An owl flies in over me and sits in the big pine. I try in vain to get a picture with my floodlight. Guess the owl is just for me. If you want to see owls you’ll have to go yourself. Finally, settle in as it starts to get chilly. Hoping to get an early start in the morning and continue down to San Diego. Final thought about not trying to make it to Onion Valley…. so glad I did not try for Onion Valley. Tom’s Place is a great place.
Woke up about 345am in the hammock… COLD. All the layers of clothes (everything I have) and -20 mummy bag at 7200 feet are not enough in the High Sierra valley for October. I know if I get out of the hammock it will be colder so I do some reading and writing on the tablet  while still curled up in the hammock and sleeping bag. This was not a dangerous cold… just too cold to sleep. At about 630am I decided I should get up and start moving around to warm up. Bathroom break “Hey, the bathrooms are heated?!”  I giggle about someone making the survival decision and camping out it the campground shitter. 🙂
Hot food to warm my bones; my hands barely work enough to fire up the camp stove to heat some hot water for oatmeal. I clean up the gear, pack the hammock and bag back into the motorcycle panniers, get all the food and toiletries out of the bear box, and hit the road about 715. 20141013_180216The sun is just breaking over the mountains when I hit the road. At this point I’m SO happy to have heated hand grips but they are still not enough with my cheap Amazon provided light mesh and carbon fiber gloves. As I cross one valley and drop into another  the inside of my hands are toasty while the outsides freeze….  I’ve since purchased better and warmer gloves.
Running low on fuel since Tom’s…with gas instructions from the Campground Host about 2 miles back (uphill) or 15 miles forward (downhill).   I committed to going down hill 15 miles and feel like I just made it to the station to fill up. Before leaving Tom’s Place I dumped my emergency fuel bottle into the tank but was still worried about making it to a gas station. Elevation and temperatures have both changed.  I’d say it warmed up to the 50’s.  It was a long boring day down the 395 South. I slogged past the turn off to Death Valley (on the list) I saw what looked like F18’s crossing the valley at full speed. Me flying at low altitude — them flying at low altitude. I tip my wing (flagged the bike to break up boredom) to them and surely go unnoticed. They were too far off to tell specifics but moving fast across the dessert; both of us. Po-dunk desert town-after-town. Closer and closer to San Diego. What a relief to hit interstate 15, carpool lane, 805…. Crushing miles easily I arrived home with no fan fare around 2pm.
Extremely anticlimactic, I know; laundry, beer, and sat on the patio watching the sun set over Mexican Islands. I thought, “Tomorrow is my birthday and I’ll be riding desk”. Back to the office to day dream about the next adventure vacation or solo trip.

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