From Oregon to the "Lost Coast" of Northern California
(Horizons Unlimited 2010 California meeting)

August 2010

 

I had a list of goals for my first year of owning and riding my own motorcycle:
  • Be comfortable going over 45 miles an hour
  • Ride for at least 30 minutes on an interstate
  • Ride at least 1500 miles
  • Ride to another state
  • Do an all-day (at least seven hours) ride
  • Go camping on my own motorcycle
I thought it would take a full year to meet all those goals. But I had met those first four goals by July -- within eight months! That left just the last two.

We left on August 18 to travel to Petrolia, California, the "Lost Coast", for our first Horizons Unlimited Motorcycle Travelers Meeting. It was a two-day trip down and another two-day trip back. Camping the whole way. On my own motorcycle...

Horizons Unlimited is a company that is focused on people who travel internationally by motorcycle. We have been to a lot of meetings for this particular tribe of people -- the infamous Tesch-Travel-Treffen by the even more infamous Bernd Tesch (whom I so adore), the FAT-Meeting 2007 (Friends of the Africa Twin) in Germany (which is probably the best organized meeting EVER), and, ofcourse, Tynda's Burning Moto Man in Oregon by Gail and Eric, which I consider our true welcome-to-Oregon. Stefan has been to even more without me. But we had never made it to a Horizons Unlimited Motorcycle Travellers Meeting, largely because they happened when we already had travel plans somewhere else. We were determined to make this one!

I was way nervous. Oh-so-nervous. To be going such a long distance, much of it on an interstate, with a bike carrying luggage (something I'd never done before)... yikes! But if I want to become a motorcycle traveler on my own motorcycle, I have to start somewhere.

We headed out before 10 a.m., with Albi out walking with the dog sitter and unaware of our departure. We had to take I5 for most of the day, which wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be, in terms of traffic or stupid drivers; everyone was surprisingly courteous - perhaps they just couldn't miss me in my oh-so-bright safety vest? We stop a lot while traveling, at least every hour; it keeps us sharp and hydrated. We just aren't into the whole iron butt thing; we're into enjoying the ride and the things that come along the way.

At Grants Pass, Oregon, after too many hours on the interstate, we left the highway, drove through town and headed down US Highway 199, the Redwood Highway. It was oh-so-lovely! I got to cross into California, my third state by a motorcycle of my own! The border office there, which ensures no one imports plants, plant material, dirt or bugs into the state, waved us right through, confirming Stefan's theory that smugglers need to just pretend they are international motorcycle travelers in order to avoid border checks. 199 is a gorgeous road, so beautiful it woke me right up after I was feeling worn down by the interstate.

We snaked our way through Six Rivers National Forest and a sliver of Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park (don't you just LOVE the name Jedediah?!), then hit 101 and drove into Crescent City -- a kind of sad city, actually. We parked illegally (because it was the only shade in the parking lot), picked up a few groceries, and then continued on down 101. It was around 6 p.m. when we got to Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and I decided it was time to stop. So we turned into the campground. While checking in, I heard the accent of the guy in front of us and asked if he was German. And, no surprise, he was. He and his wife are from Cologne and were touring various Western states, starting in Wyoming. The camp host put us next to each other, and I think they really enjoyed being able to talk to someone from Germany living in the USA (that would be Stefan).

Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park is nestled amid the giant redwoods. It's expensive to stay, for a state park, but in my mind, the money goes to a fantastic "cause", so I'm willing to pay it. The fallen tree needles muffle so much sound in the camp grounds, and there's at least a bit of shrubbery or fallen trees to make you feel like your camp site is your own. Flush toilets are always a plus! We put up the tent, I set up the rest of camp while Stefan serviced the bikes (checking oil, spraying the chains, etc.), and after we cooked, we had to move everything into the bear box, not only to keep out bears, but all other various critters.

We had three little kids sit on the massive redwood tree next to us and tell us various details about this and that while they watched us pack up. They had a lot to share. We headed back out of the park to 101, and stopped to take a few photos of the fogged-in coast line. 101 was really lovely for a while, but then turned into a four-lane highway and was quite boring. We lunched in Trinidad at the Bay Eatery & Gallery -- great chowder, but they kind of freak out over a crowd, and the woman who runs the place is kind of a crank (the rest of the staff were really nice).

Past the town of Loleta, we took 211 over to Ferndale, and what a surprise -- Ferndale is lovely! It's all these Victorian houses and Old West-style buildings. We absolutely fell in love with it! I went into the local grocery looking for beer, and picked up Loast Coast Downtown Brown on a whim, and we fell in love with it! Very tasty. The town had very few people walking around, which made picture-taking easy. At the liquor store, I commented to the guy at the counter how beautiful his town is, and he said, "Yeah, it is nice. But it's pretty crowded today, with the county fair going on." So, if that's what it looks like crowded, what's it like when it's dead? We needed gas, and were told the gas station was right in the middle of town, just two blocks away, "You drove right by it!" But we'd been looking for a gas station and hadn't seen anything. The person added, "Just look for the big gas tank." And, so, indeed, we found it...

Stefan was intrigued by the Danish Hall and Portuguese Hall in town; you see a lot of these kinds of ethnic-community-halls out here, just as you used to see them a lot on the East Coast (most have been torn down). Most are no longer clubs only for a particular ethnicity, but have retained their original building names - reminders that the USA as most of us know it was built by IMMIGRANTS.

Little did I know what was in store for me after Ferndale... we drove through town and then took a road to the left that looked like it went straight up - Mattole Road, the road to Petrolia. We went up and up and up, and the road was dreadful, pocked with holes and patched everywhere else, and often becoming too narrow for two-lanes. There was rarely a center line. I was chanting in my head, I can do this, I can do this. After probably 15 minutes I looked down and realized by regular odometer, my trip odometer and my MPH gauge were broken; I had no idea how fast I was going nor how far I'd gone. Because the road was largely only going up, there was no where to stop -- stopping on a hill is hard, starting on a hill is, at times, still impossible for me. The road and landscape was largely deserted, but once in a while, a huge truck would come from the other direction and I would think, wow, I hate this!

   
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I'll upload photos of my own top box as soon as we find a rack to fit my motorcycle!

 
On and and up and up we pushed. We stopped maybe twice, at small points that were flat and had a place to pull to the side of the road, and I thought, okay, as long as it doesn't get worse, I can do this. And the Fates said, oh, did she just say "as long as it doesn't get worse"?!? And they laughed and laughed and laughed. Shortly thereafter the road started descending. We passed a sign that warned of a rough road, and I'm like, what the hell do you call the road for the last 10 miles?! And then we came to the gravel. We couldn't see how long it went, so I just had to take a deep breath and go. And the gravel didn't last as long as I feared, and turned out not at all to the worst part, because then came the dramatic hairpin switchbacks and a dip in the road you would have to see to believe. I stopped at the top of the dip and just stared at it. Stefan was enjoying the dramatic views of the ocean and I was imagining my dramatic crash on that dip. Stefan did his best at some words of encouragement and down I went. After the dip, he zoomed ahead of me to enjoy the bumpy twists and turns, reaching the bottom and the coast and smoking a cigarette as he watched me slowly, slowly, slowly inch my way down.

Once I reached the bottom, I pulled over behind him and tried to calm down. I was completely drained. I wasn't expecting a Romanian road at this point in my motorcycle traveling experience. The picture is not staged; this is really me, having a moment.

We zoomed on, passing a few quite picturesque ranches and got to a a place near the shore. Stefan stopped to take more pictures and I just stood there continuing to collect my thoughts. A guy from Nevada on a KLR and obviously on his way to the same place had passed us just before the dip, then we had passed him while he stopped for photos. Now he stopped by us to make sure we were okay.

We came to the tiny town of Petrolia, and I felt my heart sink when we passed right through. I saw a sign for Honey Dew in 15 and thought, I cannot do another 15 miles of this. Turned out we weren't going all the way to Honey Dew: we reached the Mattole Grange hall, with a vast field beginning to fill up with tents and motorcycles. I have never been so happy to see a destination in my life! We drove to a place near the picnic tables, parked the bikes and headed inside the Grange Hall to check-in.

We ended up camping next to or near really, really great folks that made the entire rally worthwhile for us. Three were from the Los Angeles area -- well, actually, two of them were orginally from England, one of them now being a chef at a swanky hotel in L.A. who did a great workshop on camp cooking. They turned me around from whining about the treacherous ride in to Petrolia to bragging about it: "Oh, yeah, you all came in on your fancy schmancy dual sports, I did it on a STREET bike!" Actually, I can't tell you how many guys congratulated me for riding my own bike. I so appreciated how genuinely encouraging they were. And I was also taken aback at how many people wanted to wax nostalgic about Honda Nighthawks! I'm used to Stefan's oh-so-rare Africa Twin getting all the attention, not my almost-30-year-old major-oil-eatin' beast! I thought I would have the oldest bike there, but a guy showed up on the second day on a 1979 Yamaha -- and he was riding two-up with his partner!

Two guys next to us were riding Buells. One of them worked for Harley Davidson for many, many years and said he would never own nor ride a Harley ever again because of how they screwed up the whole Buell thing, and we had a long talk about the future of Harley. I have to say, those Buells were lovely bikes and those owners were crazy about them! One of them announced loudly to our camping area, "I hope you all know that this is the clothing optional area!" And we all laughed...

The second day, a guy came in on a gorgeous, brand new KTM. He was telling a guy that he had had a BMW GS (I don't remember which one), a Kawasaki KLR650 and now the KTM, and was saying what dual sport was best for where or what. He finished and I said, "Yeah, but you haven't had one of these" and pointed to Stefan's Africa Twin. And he looked over, his face softened, his eyes glazed over, and he said, "Oh, wow, and Africa Twin...." Stefan gets that a lot. There were a couple of Triumph Tigers, lots of BMW GSs, two or three KTMs, and just a few street bikes. But the dominant bike was the Kawasaki KLR650 -- there were more of those than anything. I love the KLR650s, and they are really affordable, but they are too high for me -- I don't think they could be lowered enough. So I'm sticking to my dream of either a Triumph Scrambler (which would still have to be lowered a bit) or a BMW GS 650 (which I think would be fine as is, but could most definitely be lowered for me). But that's probably two years away... and only if I ever get a job...

There are three ways to get from the other side of the mountains to the Lost Coast, and after hearing that one of those ways was even worse than what we came in on, we tried the shortest option for a ride around on Friday, which thankfully turned out to be the smoothest and easiest - but still a challenge (the bridge is pretty but not easy!). I road on the back of Stefan's bike for this day trip instead of taking my own bike -- I wanted to see the road before I drove it myself. The road dropped us into the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which was beyond lovely. We took a short hike that started from the Bull Creek trailhead and through several trees that fell naturally, as well as by the Giant Tree. We stopped by the trail head on our way home as well for a bathroom break and talked with a park ranger, and noticed a great deal of smoke far up in the canopy -- not sure where the forest fire was, but I took it as a sign to move on!

We also toured the Avenue of the Giants which... isn't as nice as Humboldt Redwoods State Park, IMO. The Avenue of the Giants is really commercialized. It wasn't a total waste of time, please don't get me wrong - plus, Stefan got to drive through a redwood tree at Myers Flat. But if you are looking for those peaceful wow-look-at-that-huge-tree moments, visit Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

We stopped at the grocery for some food to cook that night and the next morning and headed back. We bought the HU Saturday supper and Sunday breakfast, and it was most definitely worth the expense: the food was excellent.

So, what did I think of the event itself? I thought the location was perfect and that, along with the other attendees, made the event totally worth going. The setting is remote and beautiful, the rides in and out definitely fit the audience, the Grange Hall facilities are fine (there are showers next door in the county park/camp site), the food was way better than we expected (though we didn't eat every meal provided by organizers - we also ate food we brought), there were plenty of picnic tables, and the other attendees were just fabulous -- wonderful to spend time with them! All of that alone made the trip worth while.

The presentations were hit and miss: some people seemed to think they were presenting to a group of people who had never traveled internationally, yet almost everyone I talked to already had experience and were looking for ideas for new routes to take or new places to go or something to think about. Some of the presenters didn't seem to realize that the focus of the talk was on giving us -- fellow motorcycle travelers -- solid advice for a particular country or kind of traveling. I got a little tired of the "spiritual" references, the lofty statements that everyone is basically good and that all risks are exaggerated, etc.; people who are raped and/or killed tend not to make presentations at Horizons Unlimited or post to the Thorn Tree. I also got tired of the no-need-to-plan comments, or the comments that planning somehow made the travel less authentic -- there is not a thing in the world wrong with planning before you go on a trip, so long as you don't stay so rigid or focused that you miss opportunities as they arise.

I don't believe any one kind of traveler is better or more authentic than any other. Horizons Unlimited organizers -- or at least many of their presenters -- seem to think that international motorcycle travelers are only those who take at least an entire year off to travel, take back roads, camp or stay with families, avoid planning and go to the most remote places possible. But international motorcycle travelers are also people who stay on tarmac and tour Western Europe and spend some time planning before they take off. They are people who sometimes choose to stay in hotels. They are people who may travel just a few weeks in a foreign country. I was worried that some people interested in international travel were thinking, wow, I can't take a year off and go to Mongolia, so I guess this isn't for me.

The women's only "session" is really just a short chat. It's a nice short chat. It was a somewhat informative chat. It was nice to get to know the other women riders and travelers there, which made the rest of the rally even friendlier. But a real session would have been good as well - a set of particular topics or techniques or activities just for women who travel by motorcycle. Even just one activity just for us. That said, I had a major re-affirming moment during the women-only chat, when two women started talking about family members who used these words to describe their focus on international travel: "disrespectful", "irresponsible", "frivolous" and "offensive." I nearly fell over: I had most of those words thrown at me by a family member just last year regarding making travel a fundamental value in and focus of our lives! I thought I was the only one that had been on the other end of such a tirade! They, too, have family members who never, ever asked anything about their travels (I got asked more about Afghanistan while at this rally than I ever have back in Kentucky). That chat, as well as the entire rally, reminded me that Stefan and I are far from alone in our own "family values." I even got to do a plug for my dear friends, the Lee Family, who took an entire year off and went around the world back in 2001-2002 (and yes, Gail, everyone was awed that you did it as an entire family!).

Again, when I say hit and miss, I mean it; some of the sessions were also definitely hits. The biggest thing that was missing was a session on riding techniques through challenging scenarios, like sand or high water.

A favorite moment: when one of the presenters, who I had learned was from Lexington, was explaining where to hit someone who is attacking you, and a woman said, "How do you know all this?" She said it was from a self-defense class she worked on, but I added, "We're from Kentucky. We are born with this kind of knowledge." The organizers never walked around the camp site meeting people, they stayed isolated inside the building most of the time, and when I made a comment about ADVRider, one of them snapped at me, "We are not ADV Riders!" In short - not very friendly people. I understand Horizons Unlimited is a for-profit business, but does that mean you get rid of the community feel of such an event? I'm just glad many of the attendees were so much more friendly, accessible and supportive than the Horizons Unlimited owners.

All that said, it's a nice rally, and it was most definitely worth going to. Not sure if we will go to another one -- it would depend on the workshop offerings and how sure-of-a-thing they were (they had a few cancellations at this meeting), but we are very glad we went to this one, and we highly recommend it if you have never been to one. It was a great time, we met great people, it was beautiful, and we know things we didn't know before.

Saturday night, I could not find my cell phone. There was no cell phone reception, but I had wanted to turn on my phone to input some numbers. I looked all over, and did everything but kick myself over losing it.

We left early Sunday, heading up the much easier way out from Honeydew. It was still a challenge, but now that I had been over it twice on the back of Stefan's bike, and now that he'd given me lots of advice on how to handle the hills and not ride my break, I approached it with a very different attitude than the road from Ferndale. I would love to celebrate that ride out, but couldn't, because near the summit, there was a gorgeous black lab mix laying in the road, looking asleep -- but he was dead. I was so outraged that the person who hit the dog hadn't bothered to stop and move his body. Once we could pull over, we did, and I cried and cried and cried and cried...

We took 101 North back through Eureka, but took state highway 299 for a bit, then switched to State Route 96, which follows the Trinity and Klamath Rivers in Northern California. Some of the views are spectacular, and all of it is at least interesting. Quoting the Wikipedia entry, "most of the route it goes through the Karuk Tribal Reservation, the Yurok Tribal Reservation, and the Hoopa Tribal Reservation. Over half of the length is the Bigfoot Scenic Byway, passing through 'the region boasting the most sightings of Bigfoot of anywhere in the country' according to the National Scenic Byways Program." It was the best ride of the whole trip. Absolutely amazing. We stopped at the Fort Goff camp site, which is a TINY campground (just five sites) right on the side of the road, but with the Klamath River masked any car or truck noise in the night. Stefan drove our motorcycles down into our camp site, which is a no-no-, but we didn't want them to be visible from the road. The next morning, as I got ready to pack my sleeping bag, I reached inside to see if there was a sock at the bottom -- which is often the case. So I reached in -- and pulled out my cell phone. WHATEVER. We barely got out in time before the road construction equipment from a nearby work site would have blocked us in entirely.

In an hour we were at I5, which we took the rest of the way home. More than 300 miles in one day. YUCK. But, it was the only way to get home in time. Only major trauma was me almost running out of gas at the busiest time of the day on I5, with no shade at all (but, luckily it didn't happen). The gusting winds were not good times. Some of the summits were scary, and though I was faster than the semi trucks and RVs on these both on the way up and down, most traffic -- and Stefan -- were far faster. But one of the things that has been repeated to me again and again, and which I firmly believe, is that you have to ride your own ride; don't ever try to keep up with people who are going faster than you feel comfortable doing. Yes, you need to push yourself as a new rider, but you also need to stay safe!

So, all my milestones for my first year of motorcycle riding are done. I'm going to have to come up with some new ones! In addition to hitting all my first-year milestones, I'm feeling way, way better about my riding abilities and even about my motorcycle itself, which I had started to get really down on because of how much we paid for it versus the money I've had to sink into it and how much oil it burns. Now, I'm feeling great about this bike; it's been a perfect first bike for me!

Pictures from this adventure.

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Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing --
without comments, I start to think I'm talking to cyberair.

Also see:
What makes a great motorcycle rally (& rallies I have attended)

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