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7,500 Miles – A 19-Day 18-State Motorcycle Trip (Part 2)

Written by  January 1, 2013

Another cold early morning start as we follow the Colorado River on its westward route. The vistas are what you’d expect from this canyon--grand. Ignoring the signs, Tom climbs over the fence so he can pose precariously on the edge cliff with a big fearless ground squirrel that is perched there. Hwy 64 takes us south out of the park to Williams. We head west on I-40 for about 25 miles then jump off on Route 66 which turns out to be a very worthwhile detour. At Peach Springs we pause for lunch and there is another group of bikes there from France who are in the US following the famous Route 66.

At Kingman we’re forced back on I-44 for another 45 miles then it’s on to the London Bridge in Lake Havasu. The temperature is getting to be in the low 100s and at Parker Arizona we take Hwy 62 west into California. I know why California is broke. A few miles into that state we come to a road construction block. We sit there in the 103°F blistering sun and wait for the pilot car to return so we can take our turn through the construction zone. After about 15 minutes which seemed like hours the pilot car arrives and we follow him for a few miles down the perfectly fine road when he pulls over at the orange cones at the other end of the construction zone and lets us continue on our way. There was no construction, no equipment, no workers, and the road was in fine shape. These guys were getting paid just to impede traffic.

One of our goals was to stop at many of the national parks, so at Twentynine Palms we drop south into Joshua Tree National Park where we set up camp at the very nice Jumbo Rocks campground. Looking back on the trip as a whole, I’m really impressed with this area. The terrain, camping facilities, although no showers, and just general overview left me quite impressed that I have never been here before. The rocks are rough and footing is pretty secure as I climb up above our camp site for a picture. The Joshua trees remind me of scarecrows with their multiple tangled arms stretching out at weird angles.

We were planning on going into San Diego to meet up with a friend of Tom’s, but to save some time we decided to head north to Sequoia National Forest and avoid all the traffic and congestion associated with the southern California metro area. I’m concerned about the heat as we skirt the western edge of the Mojave Desert on Hwy 247 as it was 103°F yesterday, but today it is a very nice ride with temperatures only in the 70s. There are signs cautioning us to watch out for dust storms, but today everything is enjoyable.

At Kernville California we stop for fuel, and in the parking lot there is a BBQ wagon where we buy a couple of pounds of smoked tri-tip for our supper. As a disclaimer I have never ridden the Tail of the Dragon but the others have and the opinion is that this highway is every bit the Tail’s equal. The next hundred miles or so has us making never-ending turns and hairpins as we wind our way up to Sequoia through some awesome scenery with very little traffic. You always hear bikers speaking about the great twisty roads, but after today I’ve had enough and hope for a little stretch of straight highway. We did stop and make the 4/10 mile hike to see the General Sherman Tree, which is the world’s largest tree and 109 feet in circumference at the ground. Leaving Springville we take CRJ37 which looks more like someone’s asphalt driveway only narrower as it winds through some beautiful, hilly ranch/farming areas with no traffic on it. This is a nice calming piece of roadway to finish out a day’s ride.

Our campground at Potwisha has steel bear-proof boxes that you are required to put any food or otherwise smelly items in. I’m thinking of climbing in there myself as there have been no showers since we left Sedonia. The campground did have a sink, so a sponge bath felt pretty darn good. When we arrive at the campground we’re all hungry. We get out the brisket wrapped in foil we purchased earlier and placed it on top of the hot engine to warm up, only to find out they had screwed up the order and given us someone else’s sandwich. A little beef jerky and some nuts were my supper. It seems that often on this trip we have no phone service, and here I can’t even get any radio, AM or FM.

The outside edges of my tires are getting their share of the work load as it’s more never-ending twisties as we make our way north through Kings Canyon National Park . Highway 180 to Fresno gives my arms a rest and then it is north on Hwy 41 to Yosemite National Park. Arriving at the gate to the park we see a sign that all the campgrounds are full, so we backtrack a few miles and find a campground that isn’t all that great but works. We take a geo-friendly bath in a nearby ice cold stream and have ham steaks, potatoes, corn, salad, and Fosters beer for supper.

The tall cold dew-soaked grass has everything wet, and it is 38°F as we pack up for today’s ride. The park entrance booth is not yet manned so we drive in without paying, not that it matters because we all have park passes. Then more left turns followed by immediate right turns leads us to El Capitan’s spectacular views. From here we head west out of the park via Hwy 120 as we make our way across California to the coast and the infamous Highway 1. There was a sensational section of Hwy 120 that was new asphalt as it skirted the side of the mountain with big sweeping turns. It was a real pleasure to ride this section of road.

We took Hwy 49 north to San Andreas where we turned west on Hwy 12 passing through a myriad of small towns and many grape vines in the Napa Valley, but we didn’t stop to sample any of their wines. Head and side winds took their toll on us as we wandered back and forth in our lane with the buffeting blows. The KOA in Petaluma was a welcome sight and they had nice hot showers for a change. My routine is to remove my riding pants and coat, enter the shower and wash my tee-shirt, underwear and socks and then me. Hang these out to dry and all is good to go the next morning.

We weren’t lost but didn’t know exactly where we were as we headed to the coast. We ended up on some side streets of this one town we passed through. It was obviously an artsy neighborhood as each house had some sort of interesting creative sculpture in their yard. They had everything from Batman, fire trucks, and gargoyles as well as animals and aliens of every description. I wish we would have stopped for pictures of some of them. Finally we found Hwy 116 and it took us on an interesting route that followed the Russian River to the coastal town of Jenner where we stopped at a little wood hippie coffee shop and had coffee and Danish. We were now on Highway 1 north of San Francisco. It is a cool 60°F and cloudy with the sun peeking through every once in a while. The traffic was light as we meandered up the coast taking in the ocean views of waves breaking on the beaches and rocks below on our left.

These little coastal towns are loaded with wood hippies, not that I mean any disrespect, it is just a different culture than what I’m used to. There are a lot of creative structures along the route. We take a short side trip at Point Arena to get a look at the light house there. We stop at a little café and I get a $12 hamburger. Ouch! The highway turns inland a few miles north of Fort Bragg as it winds through the heavily forested hills. Coming around yet another curve we are greeted by orange cones and the flashing lights of a sheriff’s car. Seems the views and speed of a lone biker on BMW R1200RT got the better of him, and he missed a turn, his bike plummeting about 100 feet down a ravine. Luckily he got off at the top and reports were that he wasn’t hurt badly. Surprisingly his bike didn’t look that bad either as it hung from the hook of the tow truck.

A few miles further near Leggett, Dave is about out of gas. Luckily there is a station there and he fills up with what, at the time, was some pretty high-priced gas. Now is as good a time as any to talk about Blair’s BMW 1200 GS. Blair never seems to need gas. Turns out he has fabricated a really cool luggage rack that just happens to also be a fuel tank that is piped directly into his fuel system. It seems he can go days without refueling, but I’d guess he can go something like 500 miles which on the remote back roads we’ve been traveling on is a definite plus. This thing is awesome.

After filling up we go a couple of miles down the road and drive through the Chandelier Tree. This is a definite touristy thing to do and another item off my bucket list that I didn’t know I needed to do. From here we’re on four-lane Hwy 101 and it is getting late and cold and looks like rain. We decide to get a hotel in Eureka and walk next door to a Chinese restaurant for supper. This is another opportunity to wash my clothes in the shower and charge all my electronic stuff.

We get a late start as one of us still has a job, and it required a four-hour conference call, but finally we’re on the road covered in a cold, humid, 50°F haze that hugs the coast. A couple of hours later we are surrounded by huge redwood trees as we pass through Redwood National Park. At Crescent City we get off Highway 1 and turn our intentions inland on Hwy 199. At Grants Pass Oregon the Rouge River becomes a comrade for about the next 100 miles. One of our goals was to visit Crater Lake but as we pass by, the entrance the road still has about 4 feet of snow on it. North of Crater Lake we travel down the highway lined with pine trees and remnants of winter’s snow still piled up along the route. Highway 97 takes us north through more pine forests all the way to Bend where we will spend the night at my brother’s house. We arrive there around 8:00 PM and are greeted with hot showers, cold drinks and a pasta dinner.

From Bend we continue north through Redmond and take Hwy 26 and cross the Columbia River at Portland. Just across the river Hwy 14 hugs Columbia River Gorge on its eastward trek and we do the same until we cross back into Oregon and pick up Interstate 84 and head southeast towards Salt Lake City. We wanted to go on to Yellowstone, but reports of snow sent us further south. It is now our 16th day on the road, and for a change we are headed closer to home instead of farther away. Stopping in Boise, Tom gets his oil changed and the dealer lends him a bike so we ride into town for lunch. Dave and Blair have to be home back east on the 21st, so we split into two groups and say our goodbyes as they plan to take the quickest route being the interstate system back while Tom and I plan to take the more scenic route. We were on the freeway and kicking some mileage ass as when we camped in Coalville, Utah that night and I showed our average speed was 67 mph for the day.

Highway 40 takes us east across Utah and into Colorado while passing through several small towns with that western feel about them. Red tail lights on this mostly deserted highway bring us to a quick stop. Tom says he hit something in the road, and the dent in his front rim and the mark on his sidewall would lead even the most inept CSI team to confirm his statement. He’s really lucky he didn’t blow the tire. We stop at Dinosaur National Monument and tour the remains of some really old big creatures. Glancing at the horizon we come to the realization that we are about to get wet. Turns out we dodged most of the rain and only got into a few light showers as we pass through Craig, Steamboat, and Rabbit Ears Pass. Highway 9 takes us to Dillon and on into Denver with rain still looming in the sky, and we have to work to get a hotel room because of some concerts and other venues going on in town have them all filled up.

The hotel room TV is tuned to the weather channel and it looks like rain all 611 miles to home. At 8:45 we can’t put it off any longer. We are going to get wet and it is 48°F. About an hour east of Denver we pick up Hwy 36 at Byers and who do we find there at the gas station but Blair and Dave. Just like old times. Hwy 36 is has little traffic but it is cold, rainy and the wind gusts from the left are severe. These miserable riding conditions make my shoulders ache, but we press onward, and it is about at the Colorado/Kansas border that it finally got a little warmer and quit raining. After 12 hours on the road we are arrive at my house to find my wife there with a strange black male that has moved in with her. Turns out she got us a black lab puppy while I was gone.

This 19-day 7,500 mile trip is over for me, but the others have miles to go before they sleep.