Sport-Touring.net San Simeon Trip: April 23-25, 2006
I left Cupertino on Thursday just before noon. My first stop was in the Artichoke Alley of Hwy 1, in between Santa Cruz and Monterey. This is the Artichoke Capital of the World -- even Marilyn Monroe got her start here as Artichoke Queen of 1947. Maybe these happy little fellas are hoping for such stardom, too?
Tourist season is ramping up for these little produce stops, and I met a couple of carloads of interesting people. I exchanged trip stories with a couple of older guys in one car while their dog barked excitedly and the driver's sister (also named Carolyn) went inside to buy -- you guessed it -- artichokes. Carolyn was visiting from Chicago and used to ride a motorcycle...now she rides high-powered snowmobiles. ;) Can't fault her for that!
South of Monterey, Hwy 1 finally sticks to the coastline. I've passed this particular sign a dozen times but have never before stopped for it -- it's my desktop photo now. ;)
The weather cooperated for my jaunt down Hwy 1, which made me a very happy motorcyclist indeed. The ice plants were flowering alongside the road -- I think they're beautiful. They were originally planted to keep the sand dunes stable, and they just took off in the California climate. Ice plants are also known as Hottentot figs, which amuses me greatly for no particular reason.
For some reason, my Midwestern brain gets a huge kick out of seeing cows in un-cowlike situations, like, say, with the ocean. Some of the most beautiful scenery on earth and....cows? A confusing combination.
I stopped a little ways down Hwy 1 to have a picnic lunch of the strawberries and trail mix I'd bought at the artichoke stand. Life was good.
Just south of Lucia was some slide damage that had closed Highway 1 for a few days prior to my trip. All the rain this winter made for some pretty extreme scenery -- neon green hills and ragged rock faces. Many of the cliffs abutting Hwy 1 had netting over the rocks to prevent further slide damage. Patches of the road were also completely bereft of pavement....you'd be zipping along down the road at the safe and legal speed limit, when suddenly there's be a neon orange "pavement ends" sign and -- PLOP! -- onto the Alaska Highway-worth construction gravel you'd be.
In this photo, you can really see how a lot of the slide damage wasn't necessarily stuff falling down onto the road, but literally the road falling away down the other side as the cliff continues down to the ocean. Mother Nature wants her cliffsides in the ocean, and she doesn't really care that man thought it'd be pretty to build a coastal road there. ;)
As always, I stopped to see the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas. Stephanie and I were last there at the end of January, when the pups were newborns -- now they're being weaned and are starting to display their adult coloration. This was also the start of the female molting season (which lasts until May or June, when the bulls return from sea).
I arrived at the San Simeon Lodge with enough time to have a beer and download the day's photos before my SoCal compatriots arrived. We exchanged arrival stories and downed some more beer at the San Simeon Bar and Grill before making it an early night.
The cast of characters: Jerry (jjones-lg), Chuck (iPASOu), Erin (Brian's niece), Brian (n2q), Nelson (nsalas), Jim (CAtourist), Tony (cal_tony), and Jordan (Rogue_Biker)
Jordan woke us all up at the ass crack of dawn on Friday morning, bull whip cracking and barking into a megaphone. Well, OK, no, not really. But we did all meet for breakfast at 8 to have eggs and toast and lots and lots of coffee. This, by the way, is firmly why I believe that Peter doesn't enjoy touring -- he doesn't like coffee. I think you HAVE to like coffee to be a sport-tourer.
It was a cloudy grey morning as we crossed the Santa Lucia foothills via Hwy 46 from Cambria. I tried to take some photos with my RAM mount, but quickly realized that the camera mount arm that worked for the SVS doesn't work for the Z -- the windshield bisected the photos and screwed up the focus. Another item for the wish list!
I did get this one shot, though the focus is screwed up:
Once we got inland of the Santa Lucias, the weather improved dramatically. Nelson and I made a photo stop along Klau Mine Road to photograph one of the infinite number of tiny mountain wineries that dot this area.
It's fun for me to think about what sort of landscape backgrounds the Z will look good against. By the time I sold the SVS, I knew instinctively where to stop to really highlight the deep red...the Z's bright blue is polar opposite.
Just down the road, it turned out that everyone had stopped for a stretch/photo op along Chimney Rock Road. It really was a glorious day, and I can't recall a single rider that wasn't smiling and laughing and happy about the ride. It's really a blessing to ride with such positive and happy people.
Jim (CAtourist), Tony (cal_tony), Jerry (jjones-lg):
The panoramas are too wide to post to the blog, but here's a good one of the Chimney Rock group stop.
One of the things that I really loved about this weekend was that it was my first real riding trip on the Z, and it was like getting to know a new friend. Steph and I rode to Solvang less than a month after I got the Z, of course, but we mostly took freeways and the weather was shitty, so there wasn't an opportunity to spend all day in the saddle. The backroads of the Santa Lucias really gave me my first inkling that yes, I think the Z and I are going to get along just fine. It really loves the same kinds of roads I do -- anything from 25mph to 70mph, the swoopier the better. Fortunately, that's what sport-touring (and sport-touring.net!) is all about, and that's what we enjoyed all day on Friday.
Lake Nacimiento provided another nice photo opportunity to prove that you really can't take STN'ers anywhere at all:
The day continued on, and twisty road led to twisty road. A pit stop in Lockwood led to the last recorded sighting of my license plate, which vibrated off the bike somewhere along G14 or Hwy 101. Today I wrote my $32 check to the DMV for my replacement plate. Oops.
By the time we made a rest stop along G16 (Carmel Valley Road), I was grumpy and tired and my contact was bugging the shit out of me. For some reason, everyone else on the ride wound up with a photo of me bent over the Z mirror, poking at my eyeball. Nice! I'm so cool.
I felt better after slamming some trail mix; the road was very narrow and very twisty, which required an awful lot of concentration for being so close to lunchtime (in actuality, it was past lunchtime -- around 1pm, if I remember correctly, and we were still 60 swoopy miles from our lunch stop).
We finally did stop for lunch at the Big Sur River Inn, back on Hwy 1. This is Peter's and my favorite place to eat along this stretch of the highway, and I was really glad to see that it didn't disappoint for my STN friends. The burgers are really good -- I wasn't that hungry, so I instead had a cup of soup (excellent) and a tri-trip skewer appetizer (also excellent). We sat inside because it was misting a little, but the back porch is very comfortable too and has neat river views. Highly recommended!
Jim (CAtourist) and I spent the rest of the way down Hwy 1 riding at approximately the same speed, which was a lot of fun. The other guys took off pretty quickly after we all got stuck behind a slow-moving Fucko Who Knew No Turnout, but Jim and I had bad timing and were stuck longer. As a result, we wound up behind the group a little bit, but that wound up being really fun. Jim was ahead of me, but I stayed on his tail the whole time (er, hopefully not TOO on his tail, now that I think about it...) and we had so much fun swooping and flicking our bikes along the coastlines. Jim has a Honda ST1300, which is one of those bikes that I'll have in my next life, y'know, when I have the 34" inseam.
We caught up with the rest of the group an hour or so later at Ragged Point.
Naturally, we stopped again for the elephant seals (some of the riders had never been to Piedras Blancas!! The horror!). They were kinda stinky on Friday so we didn't stay long...I guess the wind was blowing in a tourist-unfriendly direction. Whew!
This was our last stop with the whole group, as Brian was continuing on to his niece's house and Tony was returning to his house. We tortured some poor tourist into taking our group photo to commemorate the day.
Jordan (Rogue_Biker), me, Jerry (jjones-lg), Brian (n2q), Tony (cal_tony), Jim (CAtourist), Nelson (nsalas) at Piedras Blancas:
Friday night, we hung out in the San Simeon Bar again and chowed down on appetizers while a local band called Rough House played. Jim and I sang along to the Jimmy Buffet tunes, much to the amusement (I'm guessing it was amusement) of the rest of the group. There was much Firestone beer, and life was good.
The day's route (243 miles):
On Saturday, our benevolent leader Jordan let us sleep in until 8:30! A gift from the heavens. ;)
One member of our breakfast club didn't get quite so much sleep, though...Jim (TheExplorer) had ridden down from the Bay Area at 4:30 that morning to join us in San Simeon for breakfast. Now THERE'S a sport-tourer!
We started out in one big group, heading east once more along Hwy 46. No one was in a big hurry to get back home, so the pace was relaxed, and we stopped for photos a couple of times. I got a kick out of off-roading through a muddy dirt/gravel lot to push the Z right up to a cliff edge for a photo...even though I've only put 800 miles on the XT, it's improved my confidence for sport-touring by 500%. Rutted gravel lots don't phase me at all anymore.
Again, the panorama's too wide, but here's what the hills along Hwy 46 looked like.
This time, instead of turning onto Vineyard Dr, we continued on Hwy 46 all the way into Paso Robles and beyond. The road straightens out and turns to farmland well before reaching the tiny community of Cholame, whose claim to fame is being along the road where James Dean was killed on September 30, 1955.
Because I have a horrible addiction to touristy shit, I encouraged the guys to make the James Dean memorial our last stop as a group.
Dean was killed along this stretch of Hwy 46, about 900 yards from the memorial, when 23-year-old Cal Poly student Don Turnupspeed (yes, seriously) crossed into Dean's lane while turning onto Hwy 41. Both Turnupspeed and Dean's passenger, mechanic Rolf Wuetherich, survived the accident with relatively minor injuries.
The memorial itself is a pretty interesting -- it was built in Japan at the bequest of Dean fan Seita Ohnishi and was transferred to Cholame in 1977. I thought it sad how the memorial has since deteriorated and has been vandalized....
We leave our SoCal compatriots now, here at the James Dean memorial, with waves and hugs and well-wishes. Hopefully I'll see most of them in May at the West Coast Regional Meet...hint hint hint. ;)
So now there are two.
Jim (TheExplorer) led us out of Cholame on the creatively-named Cholame Road, which leads directly northwest to Parkfield. I can't remember the last time I had so much silly fun. Cholame Road starts out as a bumpy, potholey farm road with no traffic in either direction as far as the eye can see. We rode slowly, around 40mph, just enjoying the day.
I decided to try taking some pictures by holding the camera -- something I've never done before because the RAM mount always worked on the SVS -- which cracked me up considerably. There was something very very stupid (and thus very very freeing) about rooting around in the tankbag for the camera at 40mph while on this back farm road and holding the camera all over shooting photo after photo without being able to see the viewfinder at all.
We rolled into Parkfield just about at lunchtime -- perfect timing for a stop at the Parkfield Café.
Parkfield is the home of The Parkfield Experiment, a scientific attempt to predict earthquakes. In April 1985, the earthquake prediction was announced to the public that there was a 90% chance of a 5.5-6.0 quake between 1985 and 1993 -- the much-heralded quake in Parkfield finally arrived on September 28 2004. In geologic time, the prediction wasn't too far off!
Incidentally, as well as being a great history/tourist nerd stop, the Parkfield Cafe has really great cheeseburgers. It's also the southern terminus of Parkfield Grade Road, a 20-mile dirt road that just begs to be ridden on the XT. I'm really hoping to bring Peter here sometime this summer with our dualsports and stay overnight at the Parkfield Inn.
After lunch, Jim and I headed southwest almost back to Paso Robles, to the tiny town of San Miguel for gas. We rode along Vineyard Canyon Road, which was every bit as pretty as it sounds -- more neon green rolling hills, lazy sweeping turns, and nonexistant traffic. Jim's normally a bit of a speed demon (I can hear a couple STNers snorting at that from here) but he was in a mellow mood, so the two of us maintained a consistent pace together through the foothills.
I did a little more one-handed photography, though I almost gave myself a heart attack at one point when a looming curve forced me to downshift while still holding the camera in my left hand. When I realized my brain was actually having trouble deciding whether to save myself or the camera in case of emergency, I decided it was time to put the camera back in the tankbag. ;)
From San Miguel, we hopped on Indian Valley Road, which becomes Peach Tree Road. I'd been on these roads before, when Peter and I rode to Paso Robles in May 05 (waahhh, the weather was way better in those photos ;) ).
Jim and I took a "butt break" along the side of Indian Valley for a while. It was almost impossibly quiet, the only noises the occasional shuffling of a nearby cow or the screeching tires of the psychotic mail lady. I swear we saw her get air through a turn as she screamed past us, clearly not even entertaining the idea of potential oncoming traffic.
Peach Tree Road abuts Highway 25, which takes us out of the Santa Lucia coastal range and into the Gabilans. I've ridden through parts of the Gablians on the XT, so they have a special place in my heart...Jim made sure to point out when we passed the intersection of La Gloria Road, which was, of course, utterly impassable because of all the range cattle lying in the middle of the road. Ah, La Gloria and your disconcerting cows!
All too soon, we were back in civilization along Hwy 25, and we stopped for a commemorative caffeinated drink at a Starbucks in Gilroy (remember that Jim had been up since 4:30 that morning and had put on at least 400 miles already...). We chatted for a while, then sadly suited up and went our separate ways.
I got home around 6:15pm, with 680 more happy miles on the Z. :)
Saturday's route (254 miles):
The entire route: