A view north from where California Highway 1 heads inland and leaves the coast behind.

Riding the West Coast (Day 2)

My second day (and first full day) of riding north along the west coast, something I hadn’t done in 20 years.

My day started in a motel in Fort Bragg with me checking the weather. As is typical for this time of year, there would be a foggy coastal overcast keeping the temperatures in the low 60ºF range at best. That meant that I would don a long sleeve shirt as my base layer for the first time during this trip. (Remember, it’s been hot.) I would then add a flannel over that.

Splitting the distance between Fort Bragg, CA and Aberdeen, WA, gives me (basically) equal distances to cover today and tomorrow if I hope to get to my desired region in time to arrive at the Par-Tay at a good time on Friday. That split dictates a target for the day: Coos Bay, OR.

The offerings at the continental breakfast at the motel were uninspiring, so I skipped breakfast, packed the Nightowl, and pointed the handlebars north on California Highway 1.

The Top of CA1

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, CA1 (Coast Highway, Shoreline Highway, etc.) is not a road to ride to get somewhere fast. Even if you ride CA1 in a spirited (or even aggressive) fashion, you’ll do well to average 30mph in some regions.

CA1 north of Fort Bragg is a little less of a winding challenge, but it still has plenty of corners to keep you on your toes. It stays close to the Pacific, giving you ample opportunities to pull out the camera and take a photo or two. With the coastal overcast, an offshore breeze kicking up the waves, and the low fog/clouds flowing into the forested mountains near the shore, the day had a moody feel. I was enjoying the views early in the ride when Traffic‘s song Can’t Find My Way Home played into my helmet, setting the vibe for the first stretch of the day.

A cove just north of the mouth of the Ten Mile River.

I continued to ride casually, only engaging a more spirited mindset when the highway threw me a decent set of curves. I stopped for photos here and there, but the overcast and ever-present mist/fog provided some challenges. The misty chill was bad enough that I was using both the heated grips and seat on the Nightowl. My back and upper arms were still getting chilly, but the extra heat prevented me from breaking down and getting out my Gerbing jacket liner.

Eventually, I reached the point where CA1 leaves the coastline and turns inland for about 20 miles to eventually terminate at US101. This stretch of road, a rising and falling tangled mess of tight curves on narrow lanes is an absolute thrill to ride in a sedate fashion. Naturally, I wanted to have a bit more fun than that. Ridden at a spirited pace, the road becomes a love affair with a demanding mistress: she’ll love you, she’ll kill you, but she’ll never bore you.

There are tree trunks that encroach into the edge of the lane. There are corners that are off camber. There are corners who’s road surface is so grooved that it tries to steer the Bike as you’re in heavy lean. After I traversed the first of several ranges of hills, I apparently broke out of the overcast because sunlight now shown through the heavy forest canopy. This created the dreaded strobing effect as you travel through patches of brightness and darkness as you traverse the roadway; it can make depth perception a challenge. Just when I thought I’d seen all of CA1’s tricks, I had to grab a manly handful of brake to some to a halt so I could ask permission for a bull elk to let me by.

A bull elk grazes next to the road along the northern woodland region of California Highway 1.

Yup. Not boring.

I was pretty pleased at how I was able to coax the Nightowl through this obstacle course at a pretty good pace. (A later check of the chicken strips on my tires found them to be severely depleted.) Of course, this when I was feeling good about myself, I did a mid-corner fly-by with a guy on a enduro/adventure bike flying around the corners much faster than I was. (Sigh) There’s always someone out there better than you.

You know you’ve found a great riding road when it can give you a heart attack in one moment and an orgasm in the next. The north forested terminus of California Highway 1 certainly fits that bill.

US101 in the Sun

Having broken out into the sun, the ride along US101 was quite pleasurable. Instead of the never-ending Twisties of CA1, US101 offered sweepers that were fun to take at the 65mph speed limit (or even a little higher). Portions of US101 are four-lane divided. Some of those areas are even limited access. These qualities prevent you from getting stuck behind slow pokes for very long, even with all the sweeping curves that would make two-lane passing a challenge.

Well inland from the coast, you exchange views of the Pacific for views of forested mountain ranges and deep river valleys. It’s still quite pretty (as is much of Northern California). About the only downside is that there are more truckers on this road and they think it’s a blast to drive fast on curves roads too. It can be a bit daunting on some of the tighter two-lane portions of US101 when an oncoming tractor trailer comes flying around a 35mph corner towards you at 50mph. A glance at the driver often reveals a smile, so you know they’re having their fun too.

Continuing north, US101 meanders back towards the coastline near Eureka, CA. That’s about where I lost my sunshine for the rest of the day.

A Chillier US101

Entering a cloudy Eureka, CA, I decided to stop for lunch (it was just after noon) before I get chilled again. Riding through Eureka, I was nearly out the north end of town when I saw a sign for Sammy’s BBQ. That sounded good, so I found a space across three lanes of one-way northbound traffic so I could pull into the parking lot for Sammy’s. Implying that ambient coolness might be an indication of good food inside, I got a good vibe from the old Ford Thunderbird parked in front of the establishment.

An old Ford Thunderbird is pRked in front of Sammy’s BBQ, where I ate lunch.

I ordered Teriyaki chicken with sides of macaroni salad and French fries. As I waited, I pulled out the phone to check email, friend’s progress towards the Par-Tay, and see if there were any showers along my afternoon route (there wasn’t). The cook brought out my order and I dove in.

After lunch I continued north on US101 under the overcast skies and on towards Crescent City. Just north of Crescent City, CA199 will take you east to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, where they have kept a virgin grove of redwoods. I had taken a quick side trip to the park during my last visit in 1999, so I decided that I had plenty of time to take that side trip again.

Redwoods are just plain awesome. It’s not just that the trees are big. We have big oaks, elms, and white pines in Michigan, so I’ve seen big trees before. It’s just that the redwoods are so much larger, and so much taller. It’s not often that you see a tree trunk that has a diameter that is longer than your motorcycle.

The Nightowl in front of a redwood’s trunk in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

In addition to the trunk size, you add a soaring dimension of height. The height seems even more impressive because, as a conifer, the redwood doesn’t grow out as much at it grows up. That massive trunk extends forever into the sky until it is finally topped with a healthy tuft of needled branches. I’ve seen stands of old growth white pines; these redwoods must be taking steroids.

Yet another attempt to capture an entire redwood in a single frame. I need a wider angle lens.

I took a while to wander off on one of the grove trails and get some photos. I really need to find a way to give myself a dose of exposure to these areas more often.

The Foggy Oregon Coast

Immediately after I got my redwood fix, the coastal fog decided that it wanted to be closer to the ground. This added yet another dimension to the day’s ride since now most of the climbs over hills took you up into the fog bank. This was especially interesting when I crossed the Smith River just south of the Oregon border. The fog bank was low enough and thick enough that you couldn’t see anything below or across the bridge. It was as if the bridge was going out into nothing. Surreal.

Soon after the bridge to nowhere, which evidently went somewhere, I was welcomed to Oregon with a big sign at the roadside and big letters written right on the road surface.

While Oregon was welcoming, the thicker fog coverage wasn’t helping my ability to take nice photographs. I stopped a few times along the way and found a few decent shots, but a spectacular clear day would have been more impressive. Still, I don’t really mind the moody vibe. Sing it with me… Can’t find my way home.

The Nightowl watches the coastal fog flow into the mountainside forest near the mouth of Myers Creek.

The Evening

Much like yesterday in Fort Bragg, I was too chilled and lazy to pitch a tent. For the second night in a row, the Hotels.com app found me a relatively cheap room (for the Pacific coast). When I asked about local eating establishments, the helpful hotel clerk pointed me to Ciccarelli’s Restaurant for dinner. Luckily, the hotel WiFi in this establishment was in much better shape than the previous night, and I was able to upload also the day’s photos to the blog before I even left for dinner.

A short ride up the street took me to a parking spot right in front of Ciccarelli’s. The helpful waitress, Autumn, fixed me up a nice mug of hot chocolate (I never was a coffee guy) and noted the cook’s most prized accomplishments. I selected a stone oven baked pizza (Italian sausage, mushrooms and red onions) and a dessert of creme brûlée.

Tomorrow, I continue north towards Aberdeen, WA.

Gallery of the Day’s Photos

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