Short Hollister Loop: April 24, 2005

Since Peter is a darling and recently bought us a wonderful beater Toyota pickup, I thought it’d be a good idea to do a short practice “hauling the
Serow somewhere” trip. My original plan was to drive down to Bitterwater, about 90 miles away, then do some riding south of there. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep well at all the night before and woke up feeling exhausted. I decided last minute to drive to Hollister instead (about 50 miles from home) and do a much shorter loop. One of the best things about riding solo is that I can be as flexible as I need to be. ;)

I got the bike loaded into the truck without incident, even given my lack of caffeine. The ramps went in after the bike and felt secure with two bungee cords per ramp. I loaded the cab with both pairs of textile pants (I didn’t know what the weather would be like); my motocross helmet, boots, and googles; gloves; a packed bag lunch; my GPS, iPod, and camera…you know, the bare essentials.

When I got to Hollister, I found a nice side street to park on for the day. My seat-of-the-pants formula for finding truck parking worked perfectly: find somewhere off a main road so it’s easy to find later, keep it residential enough that no one’s likely to break into the truck, give yourself enough room to set up the ramps. I unloaded the bike, got the ramps back into the truck, then changed clothes in the cab (one of those times I was glad I’m short!). I ended up wearing the waterproof pants — though I removed the winter liner — because I wasn’t convinced it wouldn’t drizzle. The GPS went onto the Serow, the packed lunch and camera moved into the tankbag…and I was ready to go!

Well, first things first…I needed gas. I headed to San Juan Bautista on Highway 156, figuring I’d find a gas station. No. I found “Historic San Juan Bautista,” complete with every craft store I could ever hope to find…but no gas. I finally found a tiny 76 station just before the intersection with Hwy 101. So now I know that I can get at least 111 miles on reserve….After filling up, I backtracked a couple of miles to Salinas Road.

Salinas Road, whose name changes to San Juan Grade a few miles in when you cross into Monterey County, is a beautiful ribbon of paved twisies. The road condition alternates from patches to perfectly smooth…it would be just as much fun on a sportsbike. This road leads over the northern end of the Gabilan Range, the central of three parallel coastal ranges (the Santa Cruz Mountains are to the north and the Santa Lucia Range is to the south). This time of year, the Gabilans are strikingly bright green.

Unfortunately, all good things must end, and San Juan Grade Road ends near Salinas, at the very northern end of the Salinas Valley. I turned southeast on Old Stage Road and started into the valley. I’ll be flat-out honest — this isn’t a very interesting road. It’s typical valley: flat, straight, boring. It seemed to take forever to reach Gonzales, a small town with a surprisingly complicated street layout considering its size. I got more lost in Gonzales than I have in, say, Chicago. I pulled into a Beacon gas station to think about lunch; coincidentally, there was a full burrito joint inside the gas station. Normally, that may be an invitation for gastronomical distress, but everyone inside the restaurant was Hispanic and, besides, the burritos smelled really good. I decided to chance it and was rewarded — a very yummy lunch indeed.

After lunch came the expected highlight of the day: Gloria Road. I mean, c’mon! How can you go wrong??

The first part of Gloria passes huge expanses of vineyards. Gonzales prides itself in being “The Wine Capital of Monterey County” and here’s where they get that idea. ;)

The road stays paved as it re-enters the Gabilan Range foothills. As the vineyards started to give way to farmlands and empty fields, some awesome purple wildflowers started popping up along the roadside. There was a great field right at the intersection with Camphora Gloria Road, so I pulled over to photograph the flowers. Unfortunately, the road was crested…I couldn’t get my sidestand down! Weebling and flailing, I wobbled around trying to stay upright and find level ground. I started to feel eyes on me and I looked up to find the spectator…only to find that the cows in the field across the street were taking interest in my plight and were slowly — but surely — lumbering over to the fence to watch. Within a minute or so, every single cow in the field was at the fence, staring at me. Cows in the back were climbing over other cows to get a better view. Creeeeeepy. Cows should not be so focused.

Shortly after The World’s Most Disconcerting Cows, the road turns to dirt.

I headed steadily upwards into the Gabilans on this wonderful one-lane dirt road. Oncoming traffic — all pickups — was very considerate; no one was going very quickly and both of us would pull as close to the side as possible in order to the let the other pass. This is very obviously an industrial road; no tourists here.

Once again, the wildflowers along the side of the road were amazing. Bright yellows, oranges, and reds made a great contrast with the great mountainsides in the distance.

The road itself is technically easy — good thing, since the views are so fantastic! It’d rained a couple of days previously, so the dirt was packed but not rutted. It was a nice 2nd gear section for the XT.Here’s an awesome panoramic that’s just too wide for this page, sadly…

In what seemed like a heartbeat, I was cresting the Gabilans right at the Monterey-San Benito County Line. Gloria Road inexplicably changes names to La Gloria Road here (does that seem a little silly to anyone else?) but keeps up the fantastic scenery. As the hills wind back down into foothills, the farmland reappears — this time, with a little twist. Range cattle.

I came around a turn to find this bull right in the middle of the road. I couldn’t get around him; I had to come to a complete stop. And thus we were at an impasse. The bull wanted me out of the road. I wanted him out of the road. Neither of us particularly wanted to be the one to yield. He looked at me. I looked at him.

I weighed my options: I could honk. I could rev the engine. It seemed likely that either would result in the bull getting angry or flat-out ignoring me…neither of which I particularly wanted. And so we waited. He wandered to the side to nibble some grass, so I started to go past…only to have him literally jump into the air and run back out into the road. Sigh. Even the white cow to my left started taking interest, and would turn her head to stare at me, then the bull, then back at me.

Eventually the bull wandered off the road far enough that I felt comfortable passing. Fortunately, the rest of the cows and bulls I encountered stayed on the shoulder.

The road twists and winds some more, staying mostly level. It’s mostly packed gravel and hard dirt now; grey instead of the tans and browns up in the Gabilans. The wildflowers were out in full bloom again: splashes of color in nearby fields.

Longhorn cattle roam freely in this area, so watch your speed in the turns (like you really had a choice, what with the dirt and gravel and all).

As La Gloria makes its final approach towards Highway 25, the scenery took a sudden turn to the odd for a half-mile or so…suddenly, instead of open farmlands and twisty roads, I was riding in a little glen; an ethereal little scene. Willows bowed over the road, flowers became all purple and deep blue and white. A creek ran silently alongside the road. I fully expected Tolkein-esque elves to arrive on horseback from behind these pointy trees.

And then, bam! Just as soon as I entered the little fantasy fairyland, it was gone, replaced by a rough rock road that gave just a few more roller-coaster twists and winds before spitting me out onto Hwy 25. The last time I was on a rock road like this was on the SVS in Alaska — I admit that it’s much more fun on a dual-sport. ;)

Once on Hwy 25, it was a quick 20-mile jaunt back up to Hollister. 50mph felt extravagently fast (not helped by the fact that I’d forgotten my earplugs) and so I kept my eye on my mirrors and took my time getting back to the truck. Incidentally, one of the smartest things I did was to mark a GPS waypoint at the truck, so that once I got onto 25, I could just say “Find my truck”. The GPS said, “Oh, OK” and led me right to it.

Back at the truck, I repeated the morning’s unloading events in reverse. First, I parked the Serow behind the truck, climbed inside the cab, and changed clothes. Next, I emptied the tankbag contents into the backpack in the truck. Finally, I lowered the tailgate, set up the ramps, got the bike in, and secured everything down. I took my sweet time, figuring that rushing would result in forgetting something, especially given that I was pretty tired by this point.

It was a nice easy drive back home from Hollister. I was glad I’d done a shorter day than originally planned — it was an experiment, after all, and I really had learned a lot (for one, I learned that our truck needs cup holders for soda cans…).

Trip stats (motorcycle riding only; the truck driving isn’t included):

Trip odometer: 87.9 miles

Max speed: 58.4 mph

Moving average: 30.7 mph

Moving time: 2 hours, 51 minutes

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