Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Yosemite to Kernville

I got up and left Yosemite National Park as soon as I could. Needless to say I guess, if you read my last post you know I wasn't really digging Yosemite. A shame, because it was beautiful, just too many fucking people, cars, buses, and rangers... who're basically cops. I mean I know they're doing their job, a good job, an important job, but... it's kinda killed it. Well for me it has. I was looking forward to getting the fuck away from the masses again, and today I knew exactly where I was going...

Today I was headed south to re-ride a road we'd done as a group about 4 weeks ago now, but in the other direction (north). That ride had been amazing, a highlight of the trip so far, and I was excited about both the ride and the kinda country I knew I was headed back into.

To cover some ground quickly I took main highways/interstates for a bit. I took the 41 to Fresno, got lost for a bit, went to Starbucks again, and found my way onto the 99 south to Visalia. From Visalia I knew I could find the quaint little back road we'd taken a few weeks back by finding the gas station we'd stopped at on the 198 which would take you up to Sequoia National Park.

I found the gas station, and stopped for water and to take my jacket off. This was the hottest days riding so far. I don't know what the temperature was but it was nuts! Way hotter than anything I'd experienced before. It was sorta uncomfortable but whenever I thought about the weather I'd be heading home to (cold!) I felt good and enjoyed the fuck out of it. We never get to ride in t shirts at home!

I found my road – Yokohl Drive. A beautiful little twisty back road that runs along the foothills of the mountains, past golden grass farms and ranches. My photos above start here, on this road. I was in heaven, and the rest of this day was to be certainly one of the best most memorable rides (probably?) of my life.

I was headed for the Pierpoint Springs cafe/diner in the mountains that we'd stopped at with Nick last time. I took Yokohl Drive to Springville, and then hung a left onto the 190 that takes you up into the mountains. This road – the 190 up to Camp Nelson – is motorcycle gold. A winding up-hill road where the bends are super consistent so you kinda get a feel for them and can just start taking them faster and faster. Dangerous probably. But fucking fun! The DR handles like a dream on these kind of roads. I'm really surprised by it's ability to corner. You can just keep tipping it over, and it's also super forgiving. You go in too fast, hit the brakes, and it just sinks into the shocks and absorbs your mistake, popping you out of the corner right side up! Brilliant!

Anyway, after a great ride up to the diner, I ate a big lunch and congratulated myself for how many miles I'd done already that day by downing a couple of pints of some local beer. I reminded myself when I left to take it easy. I was now headed into the wooded mountains that we'd previously camped in with Nick. There are dirt roads leading off in every direction up here. I chose one at random and decided to just see where it went... it went and went and went, and then ended at what I guess was a sort of free campsite by a massive meadow that just appeared out of nowhere from the forest of big trees. I was stunned by this sight and spent time just looking at it. These meadows amaze me, the way the just appear within these massive forests. I always imagine I'll see a bear cavorting in the sun and grass?

Not having seen any signs of anyone for a long while now I decided I risk leaving the dirt road and heading out onto the meadow. Real naughty I know, but fuck it, after Yosemite I just wanted to get as far away from humanity as I could! I rode the length of the meadow and then up into the trees beyond it. It was easy riding up through the trees and I went for  quite a while like that, eventually stopping and thinking about setting up camp. I was pretty stoked to be really in the wild now, and I sat around for a while and drank another beer. I started to get paranoid though that if I did get busted by a ranger up here I'd be pretty screwed. I also started thinking about mountain lions and bears. I mucked about for ages, unpacked my bike, procrastinated for a bit, and then repacked the bike. I decided to head back to the dirt road and find an actual campground. Especially since I knew there was no one at the campgrounds in this area, it didn't seem like too bad a compromise.

Riding down the mountains now it was evening but I swear it was getting hotter. I'd been riding in a t shirt all day, and it I was sticky and disgusting, so when I came out next to (what I'm guessing was) the Kern River it was too tempting to get off the bike and go for a swim. Even though it was about 7pm I think. I found a great swimming hole – deep! – and jumped in. Man was this a relief! The sweat and dust of the days riding were gone and the cool mountain water made me wake up again. I felt quite rejuvenated, and then sorta just kept riding... past all the campgrounds... to the pub at Kernville. We'd stopped here, at the pub, on the way up too. The beers were good, the food was good, and the locals had seemed kinda cool. I decided I'd do the same – have some food, some beer, and then ride back up and find a campsite. However once at the bar I started yakking to a local girl and drank too much beer. Needless to say I didn't end up camping but crashed at the motels right next door to the pub!

What a fucking day. I hope I remember this one on my death-bed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Modesto to Yosemite National Park

I got up pretty early and rode quickly into Modesto thinking I'd get breakfast there. Once there though I decided I didn't really like it and that I'd find somewhere nicer and maybe smaller down the road. The downtown area of Modesto was pretty rough... like p-fueled barefoot pit-bull rough. I thought the road I wanted – the road I was already on, the 132 East – would just run through town. It didn't. And somehow I got lost. Again. I asked at gas stations and no one knew anything... again. So ended up at Starbucks on the outskirts of town using the wifi there to get my bearings again. Going to Starbucks or McDonalds to use wifi has become a real bloody habit. I did recently realize though that you can just sit outside and use it! Hence no need to buy anything. Genius!

Anyway I found the 132 again... called 'Yosemite Blvd' would you believe. Did I mention I'm on the way to Yosemite at this point? Yeah well, there you go. The road from Modesto to Waterford is pretty average, but once you're a wee way outta Waterford shit gets pretty good. Then you hit this really small cowboy kinda town called La Grange. It's cool. And then the road gets really really good. It'd also recently been resurfaced. There was hardly any traffic and it just rolls and turns through these beautiful prairie sort of landscapes, all ranches and golden grasses. Beautiful.

The 132 ends at Coulterville, which again is an old town, an old gold-mining town I think. It's mighty cool too and reminded me a lot of the TV show Deadwood. I thought I'd have to take the 49 up to the 120 to get into the Yosemite National Park, but the great lady at the info center in Coulterville pointed me up the hill to the J20, a beautiful little back road that takes you most of the way up and into the park.

After an amazing morning of riding I have to admit it was kind of a bummer to then be on the Yosemite road with all the attendant tourist traffic. I was pretty much wedged between cars for the rest of the ride down into the Yosemite Valley. It's stunning landscape, no doubt, but yeah just endless traffic... and it gets worse when you get into the valley proper. I felt like I was in the middle of LA or something. It seemed a bit nuts, and was certainly a buzz-kill. There's just people, cars, and buses everywhere. And when I stopped to try and take photos without cars in them, rangers would pop out of bushes and offer me stern warnings of infringement notices for parking outside of the official carparks. To be in such a devastatingly amazing landscape and to be so often clouted round the head by bureaucracy seemed amusingly ironic somehow, but was just depressing in the end. I had planned to have lunch at one of the food joints in the valley, but I ended up just wanting to get out of there as fast as I could.

I'd booked and paid for a campsite on my way into the park and I was now regretting it. My campsite was quite a ways from the valley floor though – Wawona – a good hours ride south but still in the park. I went to the Wawona store, bought some overpriced sandwich, and went to the campground to pitch my tent and drink some beer. That'd make me feel better. I was strangely pleased when I got to the campsite to find some people had left because they'd been "harassed" by a mountain lion and her two cubs the night before. Apparently mountain lions will try and get your kids and so some families had bailed. Fair enough I guess. Still there were too many people around for my liking. It reminded me of the night we spent in the campground at Malibu. Way too family oriented and not remote feeling enough. Also, like in Malibu, there were fucking boy scouts there. The scouts themselves I don't mind, but the older guys who're there 'guiding' them have done my head in every time. I can't stand them. They're total do-gooders, and vehemently Christian to boot. They say prayers before meals and that sort of thing and I can't help but feel offended and upset by the obvious brainwashing that's going on with these young kids. I went and drank some 40 ounce cans of beer in the woods and then went to bed listening for the mountain lion to come down into the campsite and kill her some boy scouts.

Wild animals are a real thing here. It's funny 'cause I guess it's just normal to everyone else, but I get a real kick out of it. I often photograph the signs that tell you what to do and what not to do around such animals. We don't have anything in NZ that'll kill you really, so yeah I find the bears, mountain lions, snakes, and whatever really fascinating. I wish you saw more of them actually... but there's more people than wildlife in Yosemite it seems.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Palo Alto to Patterson, CA

So having had a great day with Lisa in Palo Alto I left at about 4pm thinking I'd head to Yosemite. I had a quick look at the map and saw a road – Highway 130 east – that seemed to head there in a straight line... a shortcut I thought. Well not exactly. Not at all!

The 130 from San Jose to Patterson was certainly no shortcut, but it was one of the most amazing rides of this whole trip. This road even has it's own Wikipedia page, and if you look it up you'll see the first part of it at least is very popular with local motorcyclists. It starts off extremely twisty and rapidly climbing until you eventually get to an observatory at the top of what I think must be Mt Hamilton? Then dropping down the other side you head into these beautiful valleys. And it just carries on for aaaaaages. It's awesome. Beautiful and fun to ride, but it takes a lot longer than it looks like it might. I saw a bunch of wildlife on the road (deer, snakes, and goats), and a car accident – some chick had missed a tight corner. There was already a fire truck etc there, so I didn't stop.

Needless to say I didn't make it to Yosemite! I popped out the end of the magnificent HWY 130 to find the town of Patterson, which, given the beauty of what I'd ridden through, I thought might be a pretty cool town. It wasn't! It was pretty damn awful I'm sorry to say. So I hit the road for another few miles and pulled into an interstate truckstop kinda place. A shitty run-down old motel that only cost $40 for a night. I actually really liked this place. The lady there was nice, and it was kinda beautiful in a dilapidated way. It was pretty much dark by the time I got there. I took the photo in the morning.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

LA to Laguna Seca

So I'm, as usual, playing catch-up here. This is the start of my ride last week. First ride on my own since Malcolm and Joe left and I went to NYC for a couple of weeks. Fuck it felt good to be back on my bike and on the West Coast again! Sorry New York but I think our time is done now I've found California.

Anyway I left LA with grey skies above, but they soon gave way to clear blue and increasing heat. It got real hot by the time I got through the hills north of LA on the I5. I was trying to make it most of the way to Palo Alto as I had a meeting there with Lisa, my old MDes supervisor, at Stanford the next morning. So I had a bunch of miles to cover!

I turned onto the 46 off the I5 and headed for Paso Robles. It was good to be off the interstate! These bikes aren't great on that sorta road. The 46 was nice, but I was soon on the 101 headed north. A fast, full on, and windy ride for the next hour or so... until at Greenfield I turned off onto a road Tucker had told me about. A back road to Monterey, the G16 to the Carmel Valley.

This road was beautiful. Stunning even. I hardly saw another car, just twisty old forgotten two-lane blacktop through gorgeous countryside. I started to think this might be the best road of the whole trip? Only problem was it was so twisty it was taking a lotta time to cover much ground. I could tell I wasn't gonna get that close to Palo Alto tonight!

Before I'd left Tucker had suggested camping at Laguna Seca, the racetrack I've watched many a Moto GP on. I knew I was close and so thought I might look for it. Little did I know the G16, just past Carmel Valley township, pretty much spits you out at Laguna Seca!

Laguna Seca campground!? WTF? I never would have guessed you could just camp here. There was no racing on when I arrived, although I think there was the next day. I knew I was gonna have to get up super early to get to Palo Alto in time to meet Lisa though, so I didn't get too excited about being able to see any racing. Still it was pretty fucking cool to camp here, and wander around the outskirts of the track. It was cool being there when it was so dead. there was hardly anyone around and it had an 'air' to it, like something was about to happen (which no doubt, I guess, it was). I'd highly recommend stopping and camping here if you're passing this way. They have hot showers too! It costs $35, but that's sorta normal up around here, and hey it still beats a motel.