This and the post next week describe two days of travel that made an impact on me. Again I was alone but this time meeting friends along the way. It takes us from western Nevada to north West California and then Portland, Oregon. Reliving these days makes me even tired thinking about them, but the scenery I saw makes me want to go back some day and spend some more time just enjoying the sights.
It started in Nevada. I awoke at Hack’s place in Fallon, and the day proceeded from there. The actual distance wasn’t as great as some other days, but the amount of traveling filled all the hours till past sundown. Our goodbyes were a little sad; hack and I had become friends on the message board, and it was a real reunion the first time we met. Our two days together are best told in another story, for this one we’re headed north and west.
After leaving hack’s I headed west to Carson City and Lake Tahoe. The change is soon dramatic as one points the bike away from the morning sun on Hwy 50, a highway that spans the entire country and even passes through O’Fallon, Illinois, my at the time home. First is desert as much of Nevada; Fallon is considered an oasis with some agriculture, and then in the distance mountains can be seen. On those mountains are windy roads and trees – quite the change from the rest of the state. I was excited to see those two towns having of course heard of them my entire life. Carson City wasn’t much change from the high desert further east, but the road made great sweeping curves of double lanes, easy travel for a motorcycle not in too big of a hurry. Cars fell behind as my power to weight ratio dominated; the bike easily maintained the speed limit without so much as breaking a sweat.
Upon arriving in Tahoe I realized why the city is such a famous place. No where in all my travels had I seen a lake so still, so beautiful. There was snow on top of the mountains; green tree lined shores, and clear blue water that ran for as far as one can see. A tour bus of elderly gamblers led me to an exquisite overlook nice enough to snap a few photos. I even remember dodging the sight of everyone to go talk to nature. Every where you turned there was the wonder of natural beauty. Only once back on the road did I see the Casinos and city that make this local famous. Alas, there was no time to stay, and I had already won money in Vegas just over a week before, so ride on. Before the lake was out of sight the sign for entering California was once again at my back, and I made the long meandering track down the west side of the Sierras.
If you’ve ever been there you’ll most likely remember that this area of the country carries a smell with it, one that is very distinct. The Red Woods I think put out an aroma that can only be described as that of artichoke, although people before have disagreed with me. Anyway, I enjoyed the smell, and it reminded me how close I was to nature and how far away from home. Only California smells like that. Not knowing exactly where I was headed, and without too much care, I followed the steady path downhill till a sign locating Folsom County, California piqued my attention. A quick glance at the map said that an ess shaped road would lead me in a favorable direction through valleys and past the prison of lore. For the first time that day I was headed north and passing through expensive countryside still colored from the leaves of winter past.
The prison didn’t come to fruition. I was on the wrong windy road and missed in entirely. That letdown and the local traffic humbled my speed to a moderate pace unlike that of the mountain passes earlier. Eventually the road left me off at an interstate, and I was back traveling again westerly. Another member of IntruderAlert and his brother were expecting me, and after a quick call to notify them of my position I was back on the road. The three of us and some friends of theirs met up for a hamburger, and we chatted like people that had known each other for a long time.
Mike, or Cali-Rider at most people know him was a nice guy and fun to talk to. After a too short break he offered to accompany me north and show me the ways around big highway riding. Now we were deep into Central Valley where the roads were flat and straight, but there were still sights to see, and I recall one large hill coming from no where protruding well above the terrain. Mike rode as far as he could and wished me a safe journey before turning around. I was really happy to meet him, and his big grin as he rode that day is still burned into my memory. With the warm feeling of making a new friend I once again was the solo rider on a journey to who knows where. My only plan was to go see the coastal Red Woods, the tallest trees in the world. Little did I know how far the ride would be.
The Central Valley of California is quite an odd place. From within you can see both sides surrounded by mountains. On the west is the coastal range, blocking all the oceanic rain and cool air from blowing over, and on the east the Sierras, an impressive range with snowy tops and grand changes in elevation. The Valley itself is very flat, very dry, and very hot. Dust blows all around you, and only places well irrigated grow crops – of course, however, they are some of the best crops in the world. After some driving one might see in the distance not one, but two, very large shield volcanoes, ones that tower above anything else visible. These giants reach heights of 14000 feet and more and can be seen from a long way away. It was a strange sensation to see glaciers, some just to my right, and others straight ahead a hundred miles or so, while I was bathing in 100+ degree heat.
Finally it was a rest break to refill the bike and my hydration. I took longer than normal expecting to be not far from my destination and already exhausted from the heat and miles. The girl at the counter had no idea where Eureka, Ca was, and estimated that the coast was only 45 minutes away. Good news to me. Someone else working there helped me explain that Eureka was the largest city on the coast in the North West, and he told me it was really an hour away. This is when I realize, learned rather, that people in California have absolutely no sense of time, distance, nor velocity. This was the third time I was duped by locals with no knowledge of their surroundings. Once earlier I had asked a woman how far it was to San Francisco, and she said a few hours, but the smell of the city was blowing past her nose. Another time cost me too when the person that should know didn’t. Between the girl and the man at this gas station they could have added their estimated times and doubled it, and they might have been close. On the map it was hard to tell, this part of California isn’t too wide, and I was already halfway across. But looks can be and often are deceiving; the road that headed west from Redding, the town I was just south of, was completely curves, the entire way. So a road that looked like 45 miles might have ended up more like 100, and in fact it was a lot more.
I wound my way through the mountains, once again taken back by their beauty. Forests and mountains both exist in Texas, but not at the same time. The combination always draws my attention and envy. The scenery and overlooks could draw a person to spend a lifetime in that part of the world, but as always I was just a visitor passing through. Towards the bottom of my reserve tank I began to worry. The next town was listed as farther away than I expected to be able to make, and I stopped to ask for help. A couple on a motorcycle enjoying a view of the river running past couldn’t spare any fuel but said there was indeed a gas station in the direction I was headed – if I could only make it. And make it I did, but just barely; my small Intruder gas tank made it once again; it had never left me stranded, even though it was mighty close an occasion or two before.
The day was nearly all behind me now, and I still hadn’t made Eureka or even the coast. I really wanted to catch one more pacific sunset, and only the longest days in summer could have made that happen. It was mid July now, and even as the sun got low on the horizon I wished for more daylight. Finally I felt the cool moist air only an ocean can bring, and I debated finding a campsite or a hotel in town. Eureka was south of where I wanted to be but not by much. I still don’t know why, but I chose the hotel, and learned a hard lesson about reservations. Upon arriving I found out that a Corvette convention was in town and all the hotel rooms were booked. Only one room on a dirty motel was available, and it was more than I wanted to pay. So heading north with the last throws of daylight I cursed myself for being to lackadaisical and debated what to do next. Supposedly there were some cabins not far in my direction, if only I could make it.
Finally I did, but had they been any farther only my headlight would have given clue of their existence. I rolled in, this time willing to pay anything for a bed. I didn’t even really get a good look at where I was. All I knew was that the day had taken its toll, and I was soon to be in bed. There was no phone in my room, and I only had tuna and crackers to eat, so it wasn’t the luxury I had seen in Vegas not even the wonders of camping in the Grand Canyon or they big black sky of the Petrified Forest. It was just a small room without a phone, and I had lost my cell just days before – not that there would have been a signal anyway. Tired beyond belief I found a pay phone in the bar and shouted over the noise to Sharon where I was and that everything was ok. If I had a beer that night I don’t remember, and it would not have helped me sleep any better. It may have been the second longest travel day of my life; only the drive from Vermont to Columbus, OH lasted longer. The miles put it about 10th place, but sheer time wears more than distance. Even the roughness of a cheap comforter and springy bed couldn’t keep me awake. The next thing I knew it was morning.
Come back next week for the continuation and even a travel mishap that never escapes the memory.