I’m the runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb, hurtling down Interstate 5 on a big black motorcycle hellbent for the Pacific Ocean, girlfriend tucked in behind me, hands tight on my hips as we try to put as much distance as possible between us and the annual summer roast-a-thon otherwise known as Shasta County.
It’s early in the morning on Wednesday, July 7, and we’re fleeing the burn, headed south on my BMW GS1150 to Monterey for that coming weekend’s World Superbike races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I twist the throttle and the flat boxer twin between my legs hums like a Predator drone, propelling man, woman and 150 pounds of camping gear down the highway at 85 mph.
We’ve got everything we need to make our last stand in Laguna: tent, tent poles, tent pegs, tarp, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, camp stove, fuel, water filter, mess kit, first aid kit, tool kit, dehydrated food and fishing poles. I keep a steady hand on the throttle and point us in the general direction of the Golden Gate Bridge.
At Williams we bank right off the I-5 super-slab and follow State Highway 20 west toward Clear Lake, carving through the coastal range mountains on precisely-engineered curves considered among the best motorcycling roads on the planet. The heat’s still on our necks but we’re catching our rhythm now, leaning left then right through wide, sweeping turns that cut through the tawny, undulating hills.
Occasionally she taps my leg to warn we’re going too fast or that we’re leaned too far over. Otherwise we’re with our own thoughts or in my case not thinking at all.
We turn south before the lake and pass through the Middletown area, where last summer 76,000 acres and 2000 structures, including homes, businesses, barns, sheds, and the Harbin Hot Springs nudist resort, burned to the ground during a late summer heatwave. Much of it remains scorched-earth wasteland.
The heat shadows us through Calistoga, Santa Rosa and Petaluma all the way up the steep Waldo Grade on Highway 101, until we round the shoulder of the Marin Headlands and the fierce ocean wind that always lurks around the corner here catches our profile like a sail and nearly blows us into the center divider.
I counter-steer our reluctant 1000-pound water buffalo against the wind, gun the motor, roar through the Robin Williams Tunnel and descend on to the Golden Gate Bridge.
We cross the bridge and merge onto 19th Avenue and proceed south across the city, through Golden Gate Park and into the Sunset District, where my youngest brother has made his home for the past 30 years.
It’s only 69 degrees here, my brother likes to complain any time we remind him how hot it is in Shasta County. They always try to take us to their favorite vegan restaurant when we visit, but we can’t bare the idea of heading into the wilderness without eating animal flesh and talk them into going to The Pizza Place on Noriega instead. The Meathead pizza, featuring pepperoni, ham, salami and sausage, is fortifying.
We spend the night in the cozy Art Deco Ocean Park Motel. Built in 1937, right around the same time completion of a coastal highway linking San Francisco and Los Angeles began in earnest, it’s considered San Francisco’s first motel. The San Francisco Zoo is right across the street.
THURSDAY, JULY 7
The Sunset District is quiet when we awake, and a gray, gritty mist falls as we continue south on State Highway 1 the next morning in moderate traffic beneath an overcast sky. As we round the big bend that descends to Pacifica the wind joins us again, blowing inland across the slate sea, whipping sand off the beach into our face shields.
The fog lifts and the traffic clears as we emerge from the Tom Lantos Tunnels and streak across the bluffs toward Santa Cruz. We pass a couple on a Harley-Davidson Road King and begin collecting more motorcyclists in Santa Cruz, race fans filtering in from the Bay Area on cruisers, sport bikes and baggers, most riding solo but a few riding two-up like us. There’s enough of us to form a small pack as we surge southward toward Monterey.
Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway is located six miles inland from Monterey, situated in a 542-acre bowl of land that once served as a bombing range for the U.S. Army. I’ve been coming to the motorcycle races for years here and know the way well. We arrive at the main gate ahead of the pack, wind our way up a short entrance road then descend into the bowl where the legendary 2.2 mile, 11-turn road course encircles two large hills. We climb to the top of the largest one, Fox Hill, where only motorcyclists are permitted to camp.
There are only a half-dozen riders ahead of us; we’re the first couple. The wind howls across the top of the hill, rippling tents, kicking up dust, hindering our set-up. I find myself silently cursing the gale, even though it’s the only thing keeping the valley heat at bay. It’s been over 100 degrees more than one time at the races and it’s not a pleasant experience.
What took hours to figure out loading comes off in seconds, the motorcycle’s suspension decompressing as it’s unburdened, sighing in relief. We pick a spot between three stunted oak trees that partially block the wind and in less than 10 minutes, our two-person dome tent has joined the other mushrooms popping up all over Fox Hill.
We spend the rest of the evening scoping out new arrivals. The group of riders next to us has grown to more than 20, and have come from as far away as Canada and Michigan. Many of them are riding so-called adventure bikes like my BMW, dual purpose motorcycles fitted with big-bore multi-cylinder engines and long travel suspension capable of traveling long distances on street or dirt.
My Beemer’s getting a little long in the tooth and I eye the newer KTMs, Ducatis, BMWs and even a brand-spanking new Honda Africa Twin with envy. They’re bristling with the latest electronic technology in traction control, anti-lock brakes and engine mapping. I console myself with the knowledge my bike helped define the adventure genre and will soon be a classic.
Cars are forbidden on Fox Hill, so it’s a shocker when we’re blinded by the headlights of a rental SUV that pulls to a stop in front of our tent. Out pop a couple, a dark-haired handsome hipster wearing skinny jeans and his fair-haired paramour. My girlfriend recognizes that it’s 23-year-old WSBK star Mark Van Der Mark from the Netherlands. He prances gayly around the hilltop while his girlfriend snaps photos with her cell phone.
Van Der Mark is American rider Nicky Hayden’s teammate on the factory Honda squad. Hayden, 34, is a former MotoGP world champion in his first season of WSBK. He’s the only American racing in the class this weekend and most of the fans on hand will be rooting for him.
I intercept Van Der Mark, shake his hand and welcome him to California. He eyes the tents around us suspiciously and is surprised when I tell him yes, they let people camp here. I wish him good luck and tell him to say hello to Nicky for me.
FRIDAY JULY 8
Friday morning, all the good spots on the top of Fox Hill are taken and the new arrivals are spreading out down the hillside. One group has set up directly behind the porta-potties, which provide an excellent block for the inevitable afternoon wind, if you don’t mind spending the weekend listening to people do their business.
I break out the single-burner backpacking stove and boil water for coffee and breakfast. The group of guys right next to us are playing with their camping toys, too. Titanium camp stools, tables and a two-burner stove the size of your palm. One guy breaks out a coffee grinder and an espresso machine and everyone oohs and ahs over how good the coffee is. Three-quarters of the group fire up their bikes and pursue breakfast in Monterey.
I look down my nose as I sip my instant. This is motorcycle camping. I boil some more water, pour it into a pouch of dehydrated scrambled eggs and bacon, seal the pouch and wait 10 minutes. The eggs taste like cardboard and have the texture of carpet backing, but I can hear the riders revving their engines in the paddock a half-mile away from where I’m standing, and that’s the price you have to pay to watch the first practice session of the weekend.
World Superbike, WSBK, is a production-based international racing series. Next to the MotoGP series, which uses faster and more exotic factory prototype machines, WSBK is the most popular motorcycle road racing series in the world. Competitors race motorcycles based on the 1000cc inline four-cylinder sport bikes sold to the general public by Aprilia, BMW, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha, as well as 1200cc V-twins manufactured by Ducati, KTM and Aprilia. The bikes may look just like the ones on the showroom floor, but their engines and suspension systems are highly modified.
WSBK is joined this weekend by MotoAmerica, the production-based racing series in the United States. In addition to the superbikes, racers in this series also compete on smaller 600cc and 390cc machines. With MotoAmerica riders providing support, there’s a solid weekend of practice sessions, qualifying sessions and races, and they’re the first riders out of the gate when practice begins at 8:30 a.m.
From the top of the hill a half-mile away, I can see the front straight and the blind uphill kink that is Laguna Seca’s treacherous Turn 1. Cresting the top, the racers look like miniature horsemen about to fly off the track any second. Watching a world superbike rip up Laguna’s front straight into Turn 1 at more than 140 mph is one of the great sights in motor racing.
It looks impossible, like they should be thrown from from their mounts—sometimes they are!—but somehow they remain on board and cognizant enough to squeeze the brakes and rail Turn 2, the Andretti hairpin, named after famed Formula 1 and IndyCar champion Mario Andretti.
The difference in many a Laguna Seca race victory has been determined by who can go through Turn 1 the fastest on the last lap. Leave the throttle on long as possible over the hump, don’t run wide at the hairpin and the race is yours, as long as you can hold your competitors off for the remaining nine corners.
Turns 3, 4 and 5 are laid out right before me, then the track disappears around the side Fox Hill. Turns, 6, 7, 8 and 9—Turn 8 is the infamous corkscrew—are out of sight behind both hills, but I can watch the action on the Jumbotron on top of the scoring tower. Looking to the right, I can see Turns 10 and 11, where the riders emerge from behind the hillside. Turn 11 is another corner where races have been won and lost. So basically I can see the entire track by just stepping out my front door.
I walk around the hillside to Turn 6 and catch the first crash of the day. I see it and then a split-second later I hear it, a muffled scream, a scrape of metal and a loud “oof!” has man and machine land in the gravel trap. You never hear the sounds on TV. The rider gets up and limps away as the course marshals retrieve the bike. The MC announces the rider’s name over the PA system. Awkward.
I walk up the hill to camp where my girlfriend is waiting for me to make her instant coffee. She passes on the remaining bacon and eggs. We pack up the camera, the water, a blanket and some energy bars and begin trudging toward the corkscrew, down Fox Hill and then up the steep hill on the backside of the course, where just on the other side spectators are already gathering for WSBK’s first practice session.
We sit at the bottom of the corkscrew, right up next to the fence, so no one can cut in front of us. The corkscrew towers over us like an asphalt waterfall. In the distance, there’s a rushing torrent of superbike engines gunning their way up the hill toward the corkscrew’s blind lefthand entry. Then current WSBK world champion Jonathan Rea pops into view and sluices down the waterfall, absolutely shredding the righthand apex at the bottom, louder than a sonic boom, a slash of Kawasaki racing green followed by a cascading herd of equally loud and nasty superbikes.
Less than a minute-and-a-half later they come roaring through the corkscrew again. It’s bone-rattling, like being shot out of a canon, and I can only imagine what it’s like being on the bike.
We’re getting into the racing groove now, which at Laguna Seca mainly involves lots and lots of walking. From the corkscrew, we hike a half-mile to the paddock, set across from the main grandstands, where fans are free to stroll around and watch the mechanics working on the bikes. We stake out the food court, where hot dogs are going for $8 a pop and pizza for $10 a slice. We determine bratwurst with sauerkraut washed down with 1066 Pale Ale is the best deal.
The paddock and food court take up about half of the racetrack’s infield; the other half is occupied by motorcycling industry vendors hawking motorcycles, helmets, leathers, boots, gloves, t-shirts and other riding gear. Ducati Island, with all of the Italian marque’s new models on display as well as exotic, rare personal bikes brought in by private owners, is always a popular attraction. All four Japanese factories are present with their latest models. The best part is the people watching, as the Bay Area’s multicultural motorcycling community always turns up at Laguna Seca in force.
No one’s talking about politics. Just motorcyclists, male and more than a few females, displaying their allegiance to brand or rider with a ball cap or a t-shirt or even a tattoo, crowding into stalls to purchase safety equipment endorsed by their champion, ogling the new bikes and the scantily-clad umbrella girls. It’s a collision between commerce and community and proves the old racing adage, what wins on Sunday sells on Monday.
After hiking back and forth between Fox Hill, the corkscrew and the paddock area all day we’re ravenous, so after the last practice we get on the bike and head to what used to be Monterey’s best-kept secret, Fish House. It’s still doesn’t have a website, but the word’s out, and there’s a 30-minute line at 5:30, which we circumvent by dining at the bar.
There’s nothing really fancy about the place, just old school Italian-style family dining. Sitting at the bar gives us ready access to oysters on the half-shell, which grow so big in Monterey I nearly choke on the first one as it slides reluctantly down my throat.
We both order specials. My halibut is a white marble slab thick as my wrist, pan-fried in butter, garlic and capers to perfection. My girlfriend’s seafood pasta special is a nest of homemade fettuccine studded with shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels and roasted artichoke hearts smothered in cream sauce. By the time I finish and look up, she’s got nothing but a scallop left. It’s pretty good.
There’s a fire burning on Fox Hill when we get back to camp. They’re down the hill from us, silhouettes of lanky young men holding bottles seen through flickering flames and heard boasting of prowess at this, that and the other. I’ve seen this kind of stuff get out of hand in the past, and it almost does when some night-crawler comes creeping back on his bike and starts screaming for everyone to start up the bikes and test those rev limiters.
No one does.
SATURDAY, JULY 9
I wake up Saturday morning surprisingly refreshed. I boil some coffee, walk down the hill and watch WSBK free practice 3. By noon, Kawasaki teammates Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea, the most dominant riders of the past three seasons and bitter rivals, have the course wired, as they qualify first and second for the race while we watch from the corkscrew.
The Aruba Ducatis of Davies and Italian teammate Davide Giugliano, who crashed heavily at Laguna Seca last year, injuring his spine and nearly ending his career, are close behind. The V-Twin Ducatis and the inline fours most of the other riders are on, including Rea and Sykes, provide a study in contrasts, and it’s turning out to be a classic showdown between the two marques. American Nicky Hayden on the underpowered Honda is a hopeful sixth.
Sure enough WSBK race 1 turns out to be a Kawasaki-Ducati showdown with spectacular results as first Davies falls passing Rea for the lead at the top of corkscrew, followed by Giugliano crashing out attempting to overtake Rea. The Ducatis appear to have superior grunt but can’t seem to get the corner turned. Nicky Hayden capitalizes big time, finishing third and taking a podium at his home race during his very first WSBK season.
The last race of the day is the KTM RC Cup, which I watch from home base. It’s late in the afternoon, there’s a wicked crosswind blowing across the back straight leading up to the corkscrew, and I sympathize with the 390cc single engines plowing up the hill, neutralized by gravity, aerodynamics and the wind. We’ll be making a similar pace when we head up the coast tomorrow. I’m beginning to dread the wind almost as much as the heat.
That night a fire burns once again on Fox Hill. Once again a late-arriving nightcrawler creepily calls for a test of all rev limiters. Once again, no one takes him up on the offer. Which is cool, because a bike hitting its rev limiter sounds a bit like a gatling gun, especially in the middle of the night.
SUNDAY, JULY 10
By Sunday morning, the WSBK pros have figured out victory depends on, once again, who has the balls to hold the throttle on longest through the uphill blind first turn kink.
Rea has been doing the double—winning both races of the weekend—all season and looks good until his ultra-reliable Kawasaki breaks down for the first time this year. On a ride of redemption, Giugliano pushes Tom Sykes to the limit, repeatedly showing him the front wheel through Turn 1, only to run wide at the Andretti hairpin. Coming back from a broken spine, second place isn’t so bad, and he pumps his fists on the cool-down lap. Chaz Davies stays on board for third.
Yoshimura Suzuki’s Tony Elias tries to pull the first corner move in both MotoAmerica superbike races and runs wide at the Andretti hairpin multiple times. Roseville’s Cameron Beaubier wins race 1 for Graves Yamaha and teammate Josh Hayes takes race 2. We’re already packed up as I watch the last race from the top of Fox Hill.
We could have stayed an extra night at the track, but I’d booked us a campsite at Half Moon Bay State Beach, 60 miles north, to get a head start on our journey up the coast. I fight the cross breeze coming in from the ocean the whole way. The Green Tortoise hippy travel bus is parked at the campsite when we arrive.
An Indian couple offer to help pitch our tent. We’ve got it down by now and decline. After it’s set up, they admit they just wanted to see how it was done, since they had failed setting up their own.
We fall asleep to the sound of ocean waves lapping Half Moon Bay and men speaking in German.
MONDAY, JULY 11
In the morning, we are awakened by the same voices speaking in German. They’re hippie German tourists from the Green Tortoise, camped in our spot, preparing to conduct a podcast on fracking, apparently. “Think globally, act locally,” one of them begins, and I tell them to go act locally somewhere else. They claim it’s their space, but leave when we mention reservations.
We get out of the tent to go to the bathroom, and there’s a huge line, because the German podcasters have occupied one of the only working restrooms.
There’s at least 8 of them in there, in various states of undress and distress revealed by the door that flies open every 15 seconds thanks to their furious bathing activities. An older guy with a beard approaches me as I’m carrying luggage out to the bike. “Trade you rides,” he says, eyeing the Beemer. He’s driving the Green Tortoise. “No thanks,” I grin.
We pull in to the Half Moon Bay Starbucks, plug into the wifi for the first time in five days and learn that the flags on the government buildings are flying at half-mast because five cops were murdered by a sniper during a Dallas Black Lives Matter protest last Thursday, while we we were on the road. We turn the wifi off and hit the highway again.
The traffic heading into San Francisco is horrible as expected for a Monday morning, but we’re on a motorcycle and we make short thrift of it, and soon we’re crossing the Golden Gate bridge and carving our way toward Stinson Beach. The weather is perfect for a quick swim, but we’ve got ground to cover.
We wind our way up Highway 1, across the western edge of Marin and then Sonoma County, along the Point Reyes National Seashore, Tomales Bay and acres and acres of good bottom land. Mesmerized, I’m not thinking about anything at all when we pull into Lucas Wharf at Bodega Bay just after noon. We split orders of refreshing mango ceviche and hearty clam chowder, then push north to Salt Point State Park.
There’s a certain rhythm to this stretch of road running from Bodega Bay to Fort Bragg known as the Coast Highway. We follow the jagged shoreline, blasting across the tops of sandstone cliffs on well-maintained pavement, my eyes forward, looking into the next corner, the Beemer throbbing in the sweet spot as we bank left then right then left through gentle fourth gear sweepers.
The smooth sailing is inevitably interrupted by blind 90 degree corners that shoot inland as the road traces the shoreline. We spiral down through a series of sharp switchbacks, I bang a downshift on each corner until I get to the bottom and run out of gears. We’re going so slow and we’re leaned over so far I could reach out and touch the pavement if I only I could let go of the handlebars and it really feels like we’re going to tip over this time for sure.
I feather the throttle and yank the handlebars—sometimes it takes two yanks if the wind is blowing—and we come around, straighten up, and surge up the hill to the next blind 90 degree corner, around which awaits more of the same described above, for miles and miles and miles and miles.
We’ve got the rhythm of the road again, and as the fear and adrenaline wear off, I settle in, appreciating the fast sweepers and gorgeous views when they’re available, accepting the fact that with the load we’re carrying, downshifting is the only option for the tight corners. There will be no playing Nicky Hayden today.
The wind blows fiercely as we cross the Russian River near Jenner, whipping sand against our face shields as we counter steer up the coast. There’s not a cloud in the sky and the air is raw and salty. Waves pound the rocky shoreline, the wind shapes everything it touches, probing the chinks in our armor, worming its way in, relentless as Shasta County heat.
It’s late afternoon when we roll into Salt Point State Park for a two-day stay. The wind roars through the Gerstle Cove campground as it has for eons, the bent yet towering Bishop pines above us creak and groan against the relentless pressure.
My girlfriend is in the camping groove. Despite the stiff breeze, she’s practically got the tent sent up before I can take my helmet off. We’re becoming an autonomous team.
After everything’s unloaded and in its proper place, I boil some water, add it to a pouch of dehydrated beef stew, seal the bag, wait 20 minutes and cross myself. Turns out to be the best beef stew we’ve ever had, which is what people always say when they’re camping, except this time it might be true.
The wind dies down at night and we build our first campfire of the trip. We stare into the flames, listen to the woods settle down, and talk about the trip so far. The campsite is full but there’s not a peep out of our neighbors.
She says it feels like we could keep going on forever. We’ve certainly gone farther before, all the way up the coast to Canada one time, the Beemer laden down then even more than it is now. Who knows? The way things are going in this country, Canada sounds better every day.
TUESDAY, JULY 12
Theoretically, we could go on forever, foraging for mushrooms and fishing up and down the coast with the rods and reels we’ve brought along. Anticipating throwing a line off the rocky coast at Salt Point, I’ve been openly fantasizing about catching a 5-pound lingcod, stabbing it in the eye with my camp knife and frying it up with salt, pepper and olive oil over the camp stove.
In the morning we backtrack two miles on Highway 1 to the Ocean Grove Store. The eyes of the guy behind the counter widen when I ask him where the best place to fish from shore is. He says Gerstle Cove is the best place, just make sure to stay south of marine reserve. But there’s a problem. Time and the outgoing tide are not on our side. Plus the wind. He shakes his head. We better get out there now.
He sees that we’re determined, concedes that we might get lucky and hook a rock fish, and lays out the bait and tackle to do it: Two six-packs of No. 4 hooks with leaders and a one-pound box of frozen squid. Plus a pint of Jack Daniels. For the wind.
A steep, well-worn trail threads its way through the thick Bishop pines till we emerge in a grassy meadow at the bottom and the wind off the ocean slams us is the face. The Gerstle Cove State Marine Reserve is a quarter-mile north and a worthy attraction with its concentration of sea anemones, sea urchins, abalone and kelp beds. We head the opposite direction, wind at our backs.
We skitter across the tops of sandstone rock formations honeycombed by centuries of battering gales, scanning the rocky shore below for likely fishing spots we can climb down to. We hike a mile down the coast until we find a large tidal pool with a rocky outcrop blocking the wind from the north. About 20 seals have beaten us to the spot, fat, sated, basking in the sun on the rocks.
We climb down through sandblasted boulders and set our gear down on a flat sandstone slab just above the high water mark overlooking the tidal pool. It’s about 50 yards in diameter, 20 feet deep and filled with kelp that sways gently back and forth in frothy, turbulent but surprisingly clear water. It churns in from the channel through a gap in the mussel-encrusted rocks on the seaward side of the pool. The concave swell of the channel says the tide is still going out.
Six hours ago all of this was underwater. Now it’s possible to step from rock to rock to the seaward edge of the pool and cast a line out into the deeper channel.
The frozen box of squid is thawing out nicely. I set both poles up with drop-shot rigs so the bait will float about four feet off the bottom. I pry one out and it stares at me with frozen black eyes like Cthulhu. I cut the hood from the head and tentacles and slice it into four inch-long slices of white meat and bait our hooks.
Water sucks and sloshes between the rocks occasionally erupting in fits of gritty spray as I make my way to the channel. It’s cold but invigorating. I reach the top of the flat rock I’ve been aiming for and look across the channel at the seals basking on the other side.
I open the bale, hook the line with my index finger, cock the pole back with its hefty load of Cthulhu and lead, and fling a perfect, high arcing cast toward the center of the channel and then watch helplessly as first a gust of wind then an incoming wave sweep my line right into the rocks. I immediately begin reeling but it’s too late. I’m hung up and I lose the entire rig on the very first cast.
I contemplate the meaning of the phrase “it’s time to fish or cut bait” on the journey back to the tackle box. My girlfriend dangles a line in the tidal pool. Her bait, a tender morsel of white squid meat suspended four feet off the bottom, sways back and forth in the current. If I was a fish, I’d take it.
I have better luck with my second cast which plunks down in the middle of the channel and sinks to the bottom. I crank the reel, tighten the line and feel the sinker sliding across the bottom in rhythm with the rise and fall of the channel. I let it sit a few minutes then reel it in a little bit at a time, dragging across the bottom until my bait emerges intact.
No bites, but I’m fishing, therefore I’m a fisherman. I cast back out for another run through the channel.
It goes on like this all afternoon until a sneaker wave bashes my rock, showering me with spray and signaling the incoming tide. I join my girlfriend fishing the tidal pool, which is beginning to fill back up. We see mussels, crabs, a few sea anemones but no fish of any size. They’re bound to come once the water crests the top of the pool but the sun is going down and we won’t be able to find our way back in the dark.
The wind slams directly in our faces, the hardest so far, and I trudge back to camp in lead boots. It’s a relief when the trail enters the Bishop pines and the wind is completely cut off by the bent creaking trunks that arc overhead like a cathedral. We grind out the last steep yards of the trail bathed in golden-pink light filtering through the canopy.
Back at camp, I boil some water, pour some in the pouch of our last dehydrated dinner, Pad Thai, and wait 20 minutes. We share a fork and devour the reconstituted meal out of the bag.
It’s the best ever, too.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 12
In the morning my girlfriend packs the tent up for the last time and we head north toward Eureka on Highway 1, where a king-sized suite with in-room Jacuzzi awaits us at the Best Western Bayshore Inn.
We’re one with the road now and float dreamily over windblown, grassy bluffs, arcing through the sweepers, plowing slowly but surely through the tighter switchbacks, catching and blazing by motor homes and other stragglers in the passing lanes, somehow arriving at the construction zones right when the light turns green every time.
Just past Point Arena we enter a long banked sweeping corner that goes on and on and on so long I start laughing inside my helmet. After we’ve rounded the bend I pull over. The ocean and the sun seem like they’re on the wrong side to me. I’ve completely lost my sense of direction.
We hadn’t passed any road signs, so my girlfriend suggests we continue in the same direction. I shake my head, pretend like the ocean and the sun are on their correct sides, and around the next corner everything feels normal again.
Highway 1 cuts inland just after Rockport and we begin winding up the first hillock of one of several coastal mountains between here and Highway 101, 20 miles away in Leggett. We pass a couple on an older Kawasaki Concourse plodding along through the woods then a pair of couples on Harleys parked in a mountaintop turn-out.
Several seconds later I discover why they’re parked when I’m blasted by a curtain of heat. They were taking off their leathers. The heat is back on again.
It’s not the bad, bad heat, the Shasta County heat that melts your brain and makes you forget who you are. It’s just a taste of it, the first we’ve had in several days, and I shudder a little inside. I know what’s coming. It’s inevitable. You can’t beat the heat forever.
We gear down when we reach Legget and Highway 101, stop for refreshments in Garberville a few miles up the road and then continue our push northward, through the redwoods, breezing by the little traffic that’s on the road, knowing that once 101 turns toward the coast and Eureka we’ll leave the heat behind again, twisting the throttle a little harder to get us there sooner. We pick up the ocean breeze at Scotia and sail into the sleepy seaside city of Eureka.
We don’t see much of Eureka besides the inside of our room and Shamus T. Bones, the seafood and steakhouse next door across the parking lot. The joint is packed for a Wednesday, there’s a good selection of local beer on tap, and Humboldt Bay oysters turn out to be much smaller and, when broiled with pesto and Parmesan, more delicate than their Monterey cousins. We wolf down a barbecue combination plate, sip beer and wine and watch the sun set over Humboldt Bay through Shamus T. Bones’ screened picture-window.
We spend the rest of the time sleeping in an ultra-plush kingsize bed and bubbling our aches and pains away in the Jacuzzi, which as advertised is big enough for two.
THURSDAY, JULY 12
We check out right at noon and soon we’re booming east toward Redding on 299. We’re 20 miles in when we run into a solid wall of heat just outside Willow Creek. We stop at Gonzalez Mexican Restaurant for fish tacos and a chicken tamale. We walk around the block to the China Flat Museum, where the curator informs us that the Bigfoot sitings map on the wall is out of date, because there have been many additional sitings since the map was made.
She points us to the local swimming hole on the Trinity River a quarter-mile away but when we get there it seems everybody in town has decided to go for a swim and there isn’t a speck of shade. We get back on 299 and continue east, searching in vain for a road to get down to the river until we come to the Francis B. Matthew’s Rest Area.
There’s no road down to the river but there’s picnic tables and plenty of shade. We pull into the back of the lot, remove our gear and kick back under a tree, pondering our dilemma.
We could turn around and head back to the coast for a few days, we’ve got no pressing issues at home. We could explore the Lost Coast. We could push on up to Oregon. But we can’t keep going forever. Sooner or later, we’d have to come back. You can’t beat the heat if you live in Shasta County.
It’s the kind of heat that makes you want to move on, relocate to somewhere, anywhere, along the northern California coast we’ve just traveled, where the wind is as inevitable as our apocalyptic summers. Somewhere like Eureka, the Sunset District or Monterey. Anywhere but the god-damned hellhole of a valley to which we’re returning.
I wonder how long I’d make it in one of those places before I started complaining about the weather. It’s overcast all the time. I’ve seen what the wind can do to the landscape. How would it shape me?
A 40-foot land yacht sails into the harbor and parks in the back by us. A silver-haired woman emerges with a Rottweiler in need of relief. Then a German Shepherd. Her silver-haired husband exits using a wheelchair ramp. I figure they’re maybe 25 years older than me. They look like they’ve been on the road forever.
I wonder if wrestling the motor home around mountain roads is any easier than our fully-loaded bike.
We hang out in the rest area until 5 p.m., then do the only thing we can do.
We get on the bike and head home.