Recently returned from a 9-day semi-planned motorcycle/camping trip. I’ll be filling this post in with photos and details as time permits, but I wanted to get some of the details recorded before my memory fades. The route pictured above is a general approximation of my itinerary – the software used will only accept 25 stops, so some abbreviations were made.
I’m not a huge fan of camping and riding for hours on end on a superslab is not my idea of a fun time.
So, the question arises, “Why bother?”
It’s a fair question, and one that anyone contemplating a trip like this should ask before they set out.
To be honest, in my case, I didn’t think about it too much. My inspiration was actually the opening of the movie Resident Evil 3 where you see Milla Jovovich cruising around the Mojave on a BMW tourer, looking for survivors and dispatching zombies with a variety of firearms. I thought, “That looks like fun! Let’s see, all I need is a motorcycle, a couple of .45s, a Mossberg Compact Cruiser and… a tent.”
Fast forward a few years and I have the bike and the tent, but I never found a pair of thigh holsters or a shotgun scabbard I was comfy with. No matter, I think zombies are out of season this time of year anyway.
I’m happy to report that despite having nearly no idea of what I was getting into, I managed to enjoy both the journey and many of the destinations. With the aid of Clement Salvadori’s Motorcycle Journeys Through California and Baja I was able to locate some of the world’s most exhilarating motorcycle roads.
Here are ten of them that I remember in the order of awesomeness:
1) Armstrong Woods – about 6 feet wide with impossible grade hairpins, loose gravel and eventually dirt. After I completed this one without dumping, I declared myself a newb no longer.
2) Stewarts Point Road. Runs from the Coast to Healdsburg. 47 miles of twisty, sometimes super twisty, only saw 4 cars, none in my direction. Lake Sonoma towards the civilized end.
3) Joy Road, Mountain View Road, River Road, Bodega Highway – all in Sonoma County. Joy was well named – like Space Mountain on a motorcycle. Almost got killed taking a picture on Mountain View when a guy rounded a hairpin and barely missed me. No more pictures on that road.
4) California 33 through lower Los Padres. Super twisty, steep, etc,
5) Kanan Dume and Mulholland, Malibu.
6) Route 180 to “Road’s End” in Kings Canyon National Park. Stunning. Twisty. Gorgeous.
7) Route 120 over Tioga Pass (Yosemite National Park)
8 ) Route 128 from Cloverdale to Albion (Redwood highway). Passes through Booneville and Philo.
9) California 1 – still hard to beat, especially above San Fran.
10) Rte 395 – Not a nice road but hotter than hell and windy as hell and if it doesn’t kill you will make you stronger (and sore.)
Other than King’s Canyon, at which I had planned to camp with my riding buddy, Dan Martin (he ultimately was only able to ride out with me on the first day due to work complications), I hadn’t really mapped out any destinations beforehand. I settled for a few places I wouldn’t exactly call vacation slide worthy (Flying Flags RV Park in Buellton, Casa De Fruta in Hollister) but I also had some great improvisational finds. Here’s a few:
1) Paul Dimmick Campground, Redwood Highway. Just happened to be driving past this place. It seemed familiar – might have been here before on an RV trip. Pretty much abandoned Thursday, although many people had left stuff to secure a site for the weekend. Small creek running through the back of the campsite. One drawback was Rt 128 truck traffic going past but this dropped off considerably after dark.
2) Guerneville, CA on the Russian River. Watched the canoers go by from my campsite. A really great area if you are looking to escape suburbia but still want to eat in a nice restaurant.
3) Bodega Bay and Bodega. This area is one of the most picturesque and laid back areas I have ever seen. When I came through town there were dozens of artists with easels set up everywhere, each painting some aspect of Bodega. Very authentically beautiful and seemingly immune from the franchisification of America. Liked it so much I went back again in September!
4) Grant’s Grove, King’s Canyon National Park. There’s a short circular hike through the grove I had all to myself early Tuesday morning. One of the largest Seqouias, biggest stump, Tree As Mess Hall, early logging cabins. Stunning views of gigantic trees and some great on-the-ground history.
5) King’s River, Cedar Grove, King’s Canyon National Park. Rode down from Grant’s Grove in the early morning. Managed to catch the sun peeking over a hilltop. The water is crystal clear and was moving at a pretty good clip. Did a seven and a half mile loop in from here where I encountered a firelady (watching an in progress inferno on the mountain opposite) and my first backcountry bear (smallish, cute, fast.)
6) Sonoma Lake. This is at the terminus of an exhilarating ride in from the Pacific Coast over (mostly) Stewart’s Point Road. It was pretty damn hot there, I took advantage of a nicely situated rest area/vista point to reassemble my wits and plan my next stop.
7) Half Dome, Yosemite. Not much I can add to what has already been written about Yosemite. This is a view from Olmsted Point on the eastern side of Tioga Pass (CA 120.)
8) Point Arenas. I rode out to the lighthouse. If I remember correctly, this is the western most point in the continental United States. There are signs that said something to the effect, “Next stop, Honolulu.” As with many of my side adventures, I was alone on the access road and the sole visitor to the lighthouse that morning.
9) Inyo National Forest – this is at the Eastern gate to Yosemite. As you can see, some very nice views and a superb road to enjoy them from.
10) Healdsburg – touristy, yes, but not too touristy. In the middle of Sonoma Wine Country and an excellent hub for many super-scenic rides.