Sport-Touring.net San Simeon Trip: April 20-22, 2007
Another April, another trip to San Simeon!
The West Coast Regional Meet is the favorite springtime ride for most Californian Sport-Touring.neters, but I've always been partial to our annual little Highway 1 jaunt. It's an easygoing three day weekend that's always full of great people, great roads, and great beer. My kind of event!
This year, the Bay Area riders met up with the SoCal group for lunch at Bullwacker's Restaurant in Monterey. None of us had been there before, but it advertised great fish 'n' chips and was centrally located on Cannery Row.
Jordan (Rogue), Steve (Asphalt Carver), Gary (twist), and Andrew (Nny) soon arrived and we got down to business. The fish 'n' chips were adequate, but they weren't the best anyone had ever had. Next year we'll try the place across the street which also advertised the "best fish 'n' chips in town!".
Me, Gary, Steve, Jordan, Andrew:
In Monterey, I also managed to get my first ticket on the motorcycle ever....a parking ticket. The meter guy was driving away in his little go-kart not half a block away when I went out to refeed the meter. *shakes fist at sky* Curse you, punctual Monterey parking cop!
Jordan and Steve managed to lose us Bay Area peeps not 2 miles out of Monterey as they zipped ahead of a poky car as soon as we got onto Highway 1. Being from Southern California, they must have been so excited to be out of traffic gridlock that they split and launched up into warp speeds as soon as the opportunity presented itself....or else maybe their American Iron (well, American Plastic...they both had Buells) didn't want to be seen with our European engineering.
At any rate, it wound up being we three Bay Area riders hanging out together for the 70 miles down the coast to San Simeon. There's not a lot to say about Highway 1 that hasn't been said -- and probably by me in past San Simeon ride reports. The F was perfect for this segment; I tried to keep the RPMs up and it handled perfectly around the higher speed sweepers. Many of the turnouts on Hwy 1 are also gravel and muddy this time of year, so I was already happy to have my Mefo dualsport tires.
The ubiquitous Big Creek Bridge picture...I should start a TypePad photo album for all of my Big Creek Bridge motorcycle shots:
At one point, Gary and I decided to park our Beemers in a big puddle. Andrew asked "Why are you parking in a puddle?" and Gary replied in his deadpan Russian accent, "Because there is a puddle for us to park in."
We stopped a little farther down Highway 1 for some photos and a butt break, and I noticed there was a little access road leading from the vista point down under the highway. There were also bathrooms down there, which was fast becoming a priority for me, so the three of us remounted and rode down to the beach.
Oddly, there were lots of people down there. So many, in fact, that there were no parking spots left. We blocked in a car and when the owner walked over, I asked him if he was planning on moving soon. "Oh no, honey," he grinned, "I'm not moving ANYWHERE." "Right on," I said, not yet catching on.
Funny, all these people seemed really happy. And mellow.
I finally clued in as I walked up to the bathroom and a large man with a bushy red beard brushed past me. He smiled and said, "Happy 4/20, man!" Aha! "You too, dude," I wished him.
Gary walks past one group of celebrators:
Andrew photographing the beach:
I remained happily mellow for about 10 miles after some deep breaths at the rest stop, when we got behind the Oregon Fucko Who Knew No Turnout. I'm beginning to think it's a conspiracy. I have been stuck behind slow Oregon drivers -- often in white cars -- in three different states and two countries now. Every time we would get back out on the highway after a photo stop, we'd catch up with this jerk. By the end of the day, he was literally waving at us when he saw us in his rearview mirror. Yes, hi, asshole, they're called turnouts. Know them; love them.
Farther down Hwy 1, we stopped for the obligatory elephant seal photos at Piedras Blancas. It seemed like there were fewer seals this year than in past years. I guess it ebbs and flows though, and this particular rookery is relatively new. I was surprised to learn that the first seals started showing up here as recently as 1990; the first recorded birth at Piedras Blancas wasn't until 1992. Since the seals have a life expectancy of about 20 years, we might be seeing those first pups as parents now.
Back at San Simeon, Andrew and I settled into our shared room at the Orchid Inn while Gary checked in across the street at Motel 6. We all walked back up to the San Simeon Lodge, where we met the rest of the gang and started in on our first round of Firestones. A Mexican restaurant provided both the evening dinner and the entertainment in the form of a spectacular sunset.
Andrew, Steve, Gary, Jordan, Tony:
After dinner we returned to the San Simeon Lodge, where Rough House was playing once again. For the second year in a row, they made me very happy by playing Jimmy Buffett. Beer, rockabilly, and fellow motorcyclists....life is good.
Day 2: San Simeon Dual Sport Loop: 146 miles
Santa Rosa Creek Road! Just south of Cambria, it's the jumping off point for many of my central coast adventures. It's also one of the few roads that I can really measure my riding progress on as I gain experience and ability over the years.
From Santa Rosa Creek, our little group of Tony, Andrew, Gary, and I turned north onto Cypress Mountain Drive to begin the dualsport portion of the trip. It made me very happy that I was able to find other suckers willing to hit the dirt. ;)
It should be pointed out perhaps that any accolades I may feel I deserve for dualsporting on this trip are completely overshadowed by the accomplishments of my peers. Gary rode his heavy BMW R1200GS with Tourance tires, Tony had supermoto tires on his DRZ SM, and Andrew wins first prize for offroading for the first time on stock street tires. I felt rather like Fred Astaire...sure, I might be doing something cool, but my partner is doing the same thing backwards and in high heels.
Back to Cypress Mountain Drive. We passed a few wineries and ranch driveways but, for the most part, it's a desolate road winding up into the Santa Lucia Mountains. The initial ascent is pretty steep and could be treacherous if muddy, but we had a clear day and the views were wonderful.
A friendly laborador came bounding out of nowhere while we were bullshitting at the top of the hill. She pounced around and played and jumped and drooled and was clearly ecstatic to see people. I'm pretty sure she would have run away with Andrew if given the chance. She led us down Cypress Mountain Drive for about a mile, running along with her tongue flapping in the wind, looking back to make sure her new friends were still with her.
Sadly, I was only able to get this blurry picture of her.
Farther along Cypress Mountain Drive is Klau Mine, an abandoned mercury mine (1868-1970) that is now a federal Superfund site. We made sure to stop and roll around on the ground and eat some of the soil hoping to glow in the dark.
I took some pictures once we were back on Cypress Mountain Drive but the mercury exposure must have somehow enlarged my fingers to gargantuan proportions as they make special guest appearances in all of those shots. It's like the hand of god reaching down for Gary as he rides.
We regrouped on Chimney Rock Road, where the pavement began again for the next segment of our ride. For those following along at home, we took Chimney Rock to Nacimiento Lake Drive, where we stopped for our annual "park in the no parking zone" photos.
Vineyards off of Chimney Rock Road:
We stopped at the Bee Rock Store for lunch. It's a fun little place with decent pizza and outdoor patio seating (only a port-a-potty though, if you care about such things) and a little daschund named Peanut.
The weather was so nice that I even busted out my "I *heart* Manatees!" hat. I predict everyone will be wearing them in the future.
We finished up at the Bee Rock Store and continued on Interlake Road towards Fort Hunter Liggett...
The fort, named for the WWI General Hunter Liggett (1857 – 1935), is primarily a training center for field maneuvers and live fire exercises. The area in general has a fascinating history that I won't bore anyone with right now, but suffice it to say that a few Google searches will bring up stories of haunted missions, ancient pictographs, buried treasure, and more. This was my first time there and I'll definitely go back to spend more time history-hunting.
Entering Fort Hunter Liggett requires a driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance at this checkpoint:
Nacimiento-Fergusson Road bisects the military reservation from the checkpoint to the coast. It's the only east-west road that connects Hwy 1 and Hwy 101 over the Santa Lucia Mountains between Big Sur and Cambria. In the east, it meanders easily through open fields (often dotted with tanks) but ascends quickly and becomes a series of tight turns amongst moss-covered cliffs.
Nacimiento-Fergusson Road continues west all the way to Highway 1, but we took a detour -- the 15-mile unpaved South Coast Ridge Road that straddles the Santa Lucias and separates Fort Hunter Liggett from the Los Padres National Forest.
Most of South Coast Ridge Road looks more or less like this. It's well-packed dirt (again with the "we were there when it was dry" caveat), pretty smooth, and narrow. We encountered a couple of oncoming cars, fortunately in the rare wider sections. There are some parts of South Coast Ridge Road where you can't even consider worrying about oncoming cars because, really, where would you go? Off the cliff?
Everyone says hello!
My guidebook says the road is "mildly steep in places", leaving me idly curious as to what they would consider just plain steep. Even standing on the pegs with my head over the bars, there were a couple of uphills that had me pegging the throttle and hoping I wasn't about to flip over backwards onto Tony. ;) The highest elevation on the ridge is just about 3000', but it seems like it gets there pretty darn quickly.
Not a steep section:
To add to the fun, South Coast Ridge Road also gets really rocky. That was fun to come up on. Nothing like a super steep ascent covered in big rocks to get the blood pumping! Gary was a superstar leader and picked really good lines; it was pretty easy to follow him through the tough parts. I don't have any pictures of the hard areas because I was too busy shitting myself, but here are a couple more from easier areas:
Why must I look like a pudgy 12-year-old boy in my helmets?
The last section of road before Hwy 1 is actually Willow Creek-Los Burros Road, not that there's a street sign or anything. According to Tony, we "turn left at the tractor", but it seemed to me we went straight at the tractor, so probably it's a good thing I was in the back.
Willow Creek-Los Burros Road winding down to the coast:
This section is much wider, as you can tell, and a nice hard packed sand. It's a relaxing ride down an easy grade with a few sweepers tossed in to keep things interesting.
Partway back down Highway 1, the F650GS rolled over 10k miles...granted, only 5k of them by me, but it's still a motorcycle birthday. ;)
Back at the ranch, by which I mean the bar, we were met by the good Dr Gil! He was on his way south from his home in Eureka on a 10-day trip to San Filipe, Mexico. We got him ready for "south of the border" food by going back to the Mexican restaurant in San Simeon. ;)
STN representin', yo:
There was some beer, a bit of bullshitting, more beer, and perhaps some more. We bar hopped from the San Simeon Lodge to the Mexican place over to the Orchid Inn and across to the Motel 6 bar. The night life is rife in San Simeon on a Saturday night, let me tell you. We were finally chased away from our beers and scotch and off to bed by horrific karaoke at the Motel 6 bar.
Day 3: San Simeon - Cupertino: 245 miles
Dr Gil left us on Sunday morning, to head south to the land of señoritas, cerveza, and federales.
The mighty Guzzi rode with Andrew and I for the couple of miles down to Cambria, where we peeled off for gas and the good doctor continued on into the sunset...or, well, the 10am shoreline mists, at any rate.
We were down to just Andrew and I now, as Gary had turned north on Highway 1 to ride directly back to the Bay Area.
Andrew and I were jonesing to hit some nice inland backroads, so I led us east on Highway 46 to Paso Robles (no pics this year, sadly, as it was so foggy that visibility was limited to the slow ass RV in front of us) and then northeast to Parkfield for lunch.
My shoulder was starting to really bug me once we got to Vineyard Canyon Road, so I pulled over at a neat-looking barn to rest, pop some ibuprofen, and take some photos.
I don't have any idea what causes the nerve damage to flare up on some rides but not on others, but it was really bad on Sunday. My whole arm goes heavy and numb and I have to ride really slowly as the reaction time with my left arm is non-existent. Fortunately, the rest helped and the remainder of Vineyard Canyon Road was without incident.
Andrew was finding shell casings all day, it was a little disconcerting.
We pulled into Parkfield right at lunchtime. The lady at the Parkfield Cafe recognized me (uhoh) and chatted with us about bikes as she brought our nutritious lunches, complete with root beer float for me. When asked about the road condition, she warned us away from riding Parkfield Grade. "We've had a half inch of rain," she said, "I wouldn't go up there on the bikes."
Her warning fresh in our ears, we saddled up and headed....to Parkfield Grade. What could possibly go wrong?
The first couple of miles out of Parkfield are paved and easygoing. When the pavement ended we thought, "hey, this isn't so bad. A little bumpy, but it's only about 5 miles long. No problem." We agreed to keep going up the mountain.
Things started to quickly go downhill on our uphill. The bumpy dry mud became more and more damp and soon had morphed completely into bumpy wet mud. There had been enough truck traffic recently to form ruts in the road, but not enough to smooth the mud back down, so we had to ride slowly and take wide sweeping lines in order to hit the ruts perpendicular in the corners.
The road is also pretty heavily cambered towards the inside of turns, so we had to be careful when entering a turn not to go too closely to the cliff wall or the back tire would wash out and get stuck. I only made that mistake once. ;) Thanks again to Andrew who got on my F650GS and used his magical tall person inseam to walk the bike out of that particular mud trap. ;) ;)
Around this time, we noticed that our traction was really not what it once was. My Mefos weren't a huge improvement over Andrew's tires when they looked like this:
Just when we thought things couldn't get any more fun, the bumpy wet mud became flat glassy snotty slick mud. Mmm, wet clay. Nothing like riding up a road that feels like god sneezed all over it.
By this point, Andrew was stopping every 500 yards or so to scrape the mud out from under his front fender with a stick he'd found along the side of the road. He'd scrape out the mud, stow the stick in his gear, ride 500 yards, lather, rinse, repeat. He wound up removing the fender entirely a bit further up the road, which seemed to make a huge difference for him.
For my part, I'd given up trying to "ride" on the snot and was instead paddling the bike as much as I could while going about 7 mph. Any slower and I'd get stuck, but any faster and I'd fishtail all over the place. I couldn't really stand on the pegs because so much mud had glopped onto my boots that anytime I put my feet on the pegs, they'd slide right off. Scraping mud off the boots lasted for .0001 seconds before the next glop surgically adhered itself. It was really a great time.
So, yeah, it was slow going. We stopped and rested and scraped off mud and went a little farther then stopped and rested and scraped off mud. The weather and views were beautiful, though, and we both did have a lot of fun. Or perhaps that laughter was hysteria. You never know.
Andrew contemplates the remains of the last rider to try Parkfield Grade after the rains:
Miraculously, I stayed up the whole time up the road, but I firmly credit the Beemer and the Mefos instead of any particular skill on my part. Andrew only went down once -- amazing, in my opinion, given his street tires -- and agreed to let me take a photo after I asked if he was OK. ;)
The STN dualsport pose!
After what seemed like forever but was actually only about 2 hours, we hit the Fresno county line, where Parkfield Grade is paved again. I have never been so happy to see a sign saying "Fresno" in my life.
Look! No mud!
The rest of the ride home was pretty uneventful. The paved section of Parkfield Grade had spectacular scenery as always, and we rode at a spirited pace because, well, we could! Our bikes pooped mud for the rest of the day, which was always fun...I'd come around a corner just as Andrew hit a pothole or something and suddenly there'd be a chunk of mud coming right at me.
In one corner, I saw a little creature run off the road as Andrew passed, so I slowed down, only to find two big badgers on the side of the road! Taking their picture must have angered them, as the bottom one puffed up and said "HUPHHUPHHUPH!!!!" at me before running away. Sorry, badgers!
I was actually pretty surprised to see badgers; I had no idea they were local animals. It turns out a badger sighting is pretty rare indeed as populations have dramatically declined over the past century in California. The region in which we saw them (western Fresno county) is pretty much the only area of California left that has badgers, and they're considered a "Species of Special Concern".
Anyway, post-badger, we hopped on Hwy 198 to Hwy 101 and then slabbed it home. Aside from an expectedly artsy fartsy photo op at a gas station in Salinas, the rest of the evening was uneventful and I made it home in time to go out for sushi with Peter.