Fast and hot ride in northern California

I just got back from a six-day, 1,500 mile trip to northwestern California. This trip included a rather vigorous and hot run on the black-diamond route of highways 36, 3, and 299, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees at the mid-way point of Weaverville, California.

To start, I rode south through the eastern side of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, then cut across from Lebanon to Philomath for my first bio and gas break of the day. Highway 34 from Philomath through Alsea to Waldport was in fantastic shape and I practically had the road to myself. When I reached the coast in Waldport, it was time to add a layer under my Aerostich Roadcrafter to fend off the increased chill.

2012 Suzuki GSX-R 750

Shortly after, a rider on a Yamaha FJR1300 whizzed by me, then another. Because of numerous members of the Anti-Destination League restricting their forward progress, I caught up with them. Then the race was on. The lead rider was rather assertive and stayed ahead, while the second FJR pilot and I maintained a brisk but safer pace a few hundred yards behind. One by one, we passed slow cars when possible. I was impressed by how quick and nimble the FJR can be.

We eventually stopped at a gas station in Florence and chatted. Bruce and Dwayne were out on a day ride from Eugene and were still getting acquainted with their new-to-them FJRs. Bruce was a bit high-strung and ranted rather colorfully about slow cagers, especially those driving the Toyota Prius. We mutually wondered why people who drive them insist on going so slow.

I needed to keep moving on, so I said my goodbyes and continued southward. Soon I was in Coos Bay, checking into the Best Western and unloading my gear. Dinner was Hungarian goulash at the Blue Heron a few blocks away.

The next day was a sedate run down highway 101 into Fortuna. Dinner was great conversation, food and beer at the Eel River Brewing Company next door to my motel. After the carb-only breakfast provided by the motel and a protein bar, I left the next morning heading east on highway 36. My pace was moderate and the ride started out with mist on my face shield and damp roads. After 20 miles of riding inland away from the coastal weather, the pavement dried out and my pace quickened.

Rider and GSX-R750 on Highway 36

I got into Weaverville by 10:30, and after getting gas, I ate breakfast at The Nugget. After parking in front of the restaurant, I didn’t even have my helmet off before a gray-haired gentleman emerged and started chatting me up about my bike. Then he began to tell me all about the numerous fast bikes he’s ridden and owned over the years. He seemed rather proud of the fact that a BMW S1000RR seemed a bit slow for his tastes.

After a nice breakfast, I backtracked on highways 3 and 36 toward Fortuna. I stopped at Grizzly Creek Redwoods campground and got chatted up by a mechanical engineer named Marvin, who was visiting the area from Arizona, doing some soul searching about his career and where he wanted to call home.

Back in Fortuna, I gassed up, then headed north on highway 101 through Eureka before heading inland once again, this time to my friend Mark’s house in Kneeland. Mark and I had met by chance at The Nugget in Weaverville back in 2009, and have been friends ever since. He had just purchased a brand new 2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 so we spent a bit of time checking it out and talking about bikes in general.

On Wednesday, we met Mark’s friend, Jim, in Eureka. Jim was riding a Moto Guzzi Griso, Mark was on his new Strom, and I was on my GSX-R750. We rode into town and had coffee at the very cool Black Lightning Motorcycle Cafe. It was neat to see a write-up and pictures of the trip to Steens Mountain Mark, his wife Janice and I took back in 2010.

We then headed south on 101 to Fortuna before heading inland on highway 36. I was in the lead. Going past Grizzly Creek state park, three guys on BMW sport-touring bikes pulled out in front of us. One by one they pulled off and let us go past. Apparently our pace was a bit too fast for them.

By the time we reached Hayfork, the temperature was into the 90’s. We stopped for beverages and snacks, then began the really fun — and challenging — part of the trip, the section of highway 3 between Hayfork and Weaverville.

Mark led on his V-Strom, and although he was still breaking in his bike and didn’t want to get above 5,000 rpm, it took a fair bit of effort for me to keep up with him on the numerous 25 mph curves of highway 3. In the straights and faster curves, my Gixxer excelled and both the Strom and Griso had a hard time keeping up. But in the slower, tighter curves, the V-Strom excelled. I recall a few times when I was on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650, riding up the tail pipes of sport bikes in the tight twisties, and was reminded just how nimble the Strom really is.

We made it to Weaverville safe and happy, but knackered. The temperature had reached 100 degrees by the time we stopped for lunch at Trinideli. We went up to the Chevron after eating to get gas, and saw two guys on BMW GS’s hanging out. One of them came up to talk with us. They were on a big trip from Colorado and had gone through several break-downs. One bike’s fuel system had died and the throttle cable of the other had broken. They were waiting for a new part to get shipped overnight to a local repair shop.

We headed west on highway 299 and, although quick, we ran a more moderate pace due to the notoriously high law enforcement presence. We also got held up by slow cagers. California drivers tend to pull over and let you pass, even log truck drivers, but drivers from other states don’t seem to have a clue about this courtesy. We got stuck behind an ADL life member with North Carolina plates that refused to pull over and let the string of impatient cars stacked up behind him go past.

We stopped in Willow Creek and got some provisions from the local grocery store. I bet our sweaty and road-weary presence was quite a sight to the other customers. Our final stop for the night was Jim’s camp spot in a private RV park 25 minutes further down the road.

When we got up the next morning, we found fresh bear scat in two spots within 50 yards of our camp site. After breakfast, Mark and I took off on 299 west while Jim hung back to get some chores done on his camp site. At highway 101, I headed north while Mark headed south back toward his home in Kneeland.

My ride north was uneventful. Once I crossed the border into Oregon, I noticed a huge law enforcement presence along the highway. There were radar traps seemingly every five miles. Prior to that, however, my low fuel light began flashing and by the time I got into Crescent City, my reserve meter said I had only 5.2 miles to go before hitting empty. It took 3.48 gallons to fill my tank, making me wonder if my Gixxer has a 3.5 gallon tank; I had always thought it was 4.5 gallons.

I stopped in Bandon for lunch, then got into Coos Bay around 3 PM. The temperature there was 87 degrees, courtesy of hot east winds blowing down the coast range. Dinner was at Shark Bites in downtown Coos Bay, dungeness crab cakes and halibut fish tacos, with a nice Eola Hills chardonnay.

Friday, the last day of my trip, was intended to get home as efficiently as possible. That meant cutting inland on highway 38 from Reedsport to I-5, then boogying up the freeway to home. I was tired and was suffering from some kind of sinus infection or allergies or cold that developed the night before. But, I got home safely and with a big smile on my face. It was quite a ride.

Ride Report: Day 3, Loop to Weaverville

After another night of sleeping well, I started with the usual free continental breakfast provided by the Super 8, sans protein. It usually gives me enough energy to make it to Weaverville where I stop for a real meal.
Fortuna is on the south side of a string of cities, including Eureka and Arcata. Since I knew I’d be tired at the end of the day, I decided to ride north on 101 through those towns and do a clockwise loop, to get that city riding out of the way up front. When I would finish at the end of the day, I’d only have a mile of easy freeway riding before getting back to my motel.
The run north went quickly, including the big mess through Eureka at 30 mph. I then turned inland on highway 299. I got stuck in a line of cars slugging along behind a slow semi. California drivers seem to be really good at letting me pass, though, which is something I miss when traveling to other states.
I stopped in Willow Creek by 9 AM for gas and a protein drink. The temperature was already getting warm. The leg of 299 from Willow Creek to Weaverville seemed a lot shorter than I remembered. I usually travel the loop counter-clockwise so that may have had something to do with my new perception. 299 is scenic and has a few wonderful curvy sections, but there’s a lot more law enforcement present so speeds must be moderated at all times.
Before I knew it I reached Weaverville and it was already getting uncomfortably warm. I gassed up the bike, then stopped at the Trinideli for a tasty BLT. Plenty of bacon! The Trinideli was for sale, too. For only $129,000 you could own a thriving restaurant in a small, quaint town.
The next leg, highway 3 to Hayfork, is my favorite road, ever. And I’ve ridden close to 65,000 miles of roads. It is windy, has great sight lines, and the pavement is in pretty good shape. However, as with all things of great reward, this comes with great responsibility. You cannot ride beyond your abilities or the conditions on this road and you must be completely focused at all times. You can find gravel on the inside of curves, oncoming trucks that have crossed the center line, slow locals and RVs, and all sorts of critters including deer darting across the road in front of you.
But, if you survive all those hazards and make it to Hayfork, you probably have a huge grin on your face and adrenaline pumping through your veins. Running highway 3 is best from Weaverville to Hayfork because most of the curves are uphill and that makes it easier to modulate your speed using just the throttle. It also takes a lot of strain and weight off your wrists which occurs when braking on a downhill curve.
I rode this leg with moderate assertion without being reckless and yet the enjoyment level was as high as ever. I may have enjoyed it more because I didn’t have any pucker moments, either from riding too fast or from close calls. The temperature was high and that is also why I didn’t push it.
A few miles past Hayfork the road branches west onto highway 36 which runs all the way to Fortuna. I had to stop for construction up in the hills and pulled up next to a grey-haired gentleman on a V-Strom 1000 with a silver tank. We chatted for a bit, and being on the faster bike, he let me go on ahead once the construction delay was over.
The rest of 36 passed smoothly under my tires. I stopped in a shady spot on the outside of a curve in the slow, gnarly section just west of Dinsmore. This is a section of 36 that has no center stripe and has multiple 10 and 15 mph hairpins that demand full attention. I drank some water and cooled off for a few minutes, then continued onward. Soon I was back on the road and zooming through a fun stretch of redwoods near Grizzly Creek State Park. The air got noticeably cooler the closer I got to highway 101.
When I pulled into the 76 station behind my motel I saw a couple riding BMW 1200GSs and heard them speaking in a southern accent. I caught a glimpse of their Arkansas license plates and discovered why.

 

I took a quick shower and ran a load of laundry before dinner. I ate at the wonderful Eel River Brewery next door and in addition to a couple of pints of their fantastic beer, I also had a fantastic conversation with two local guys named Loren and Rusty.

Ride report June 2012: Day 3

Loop day, Fortuna, CA

The day was spent riding a 270 mile loop in the area. These are my favorite roads and are worth riding a long ways to experience if you’re not from the area. I headed inland, eastbound, on highway 36, then veered northeast on highway 3 from Hayfork to Weaverville. This section is gnarly and wicked and amazing on a motorcycle. It demands attention and offers a great reward to those who conquer it. In Weaverville I stopped at Trinideli for lunch. My friend, Mark, stopped by as he was driving home from Trinity Lake. After lunch, he drove on while I continued the loop by turning westbound on highway 299. Back on the coast, I turned inland and rode the narrow, winding road up to Mark’s home in the rural community of Kneeland. Mark and I had dinner and a lot of laughs, then I rode back down the hill to my motel in Fortuna.

The Big Loop

Wednesday, Mark rode his Kawasaki ZZR1200 while I rode my V-Strom down to Fortuna, then we headed inland on one of my favorite riding roads: Highway 36. It was overcast but traffic was light and the road seemed to be in relatively good condition. As we rode to the top of the first pass we had to slow down for construction, shrouded in clouds, but once we crested the pass we had sunshine the rest of the way. We stopped in Mad River, hoping to get a snack at the small store/cafe there, but it was closed. We continued onward to the junction with Highway 3, where we turned left and continued on to Hayfork.

The section of Highway 3 between Hayfork and Weaverville is difficult to describe in words, but anyone that rides it knows what I mean when I say it is absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, CalTrans decided to hock a loogie into that particular dish. The road was resurfaced with a slurry-seal and gravel kind of compound so riding was slow. As we dropped down the eastern slope of the pass the pavement was solid but there was lots of gravel in the corners. That leg of the trip was ridden safely but the fun was spoiled.

In Weaverville we stopped at the Trinideli for a fantastic turkey and bacon sandwich. It was getting warm so after we ate we changed our riding gear for better venting, fueled up, then continued northeast on Highway 3. Our goal was to check on Mark’s boat tied up on Trinity Lake. We got stuck behind a string of very slow cars in a construction zone and never really got past them until we got to Trinity Center, 30 miles up the road.

Mark’s boat was fine, and after chatting with the owners of the boat launch, we suited back up and headed back into Weaverville, this time with a bit less slow traffic. The curves were nice but soon we were back in town. To continue the loop, we headed east on Highway 299, the main road between I-5 and the coast. It was well into the 80’s by this point and the riding was intense. The curves on 299 are faster than 36 and have much better sight lines, so carving them up is definitely a faster affair. We had to pass several slow vehicles as well as some tractor trailers, but they were nice enough to use pull-outs to let us pass.

We stopped in Willow Creek for fuel and water, then rode onward. Once we crested the pass at Blue Lake the air temperature got noticeably cooler. We stopped at an empty weigh station and changed back into warmer gear, then continued into overcast Arcata. The road up to Kneeland was free of fog so we took those tight, bumpy turns at a quickened pace. My V-Strom kept right up with Mark’s ZZR1200 and when we got to his house, Mark commented on how well the V-Strom corners. By the time we got back we had ridden 315 miles.

During dinner, a female raccoon came up onto the deck and pressed her face against the window, looking for a treat. Mark threw some dry cat food into a bowl and set it on the deck table for her consumption. She chowed away, mere feet outside the window, looking at us with every bite. Eventually she had enough and probably heard something scary in the woods. She grabbed one more nibble to go, then left.

Living in the wild, wild west

The purpose of yesterday’s ride was to get as much of Highway 36 under my wheels as possible. I rode east from Fortuna inland all the way to Red Bluff, then backtracked halfway and cut north on Highway 3 to Weaverville where I stayed the night.

On the way back, about 10 miles east of the junction with Highways 3 and 36, the road is high elevation, narrow, and very curvy with lots of nearly shear drop-offs on one side and solid rock cliffs on the other. During one hairpin turn I scraped my foot peg, which isn’t necessarily a dangerous situation by itself — it was probably the sixth time on this trip — but it jolted my brain out of the zone and distracted me for several minutes.

Less than a half-mile later, the road curved to the left. It was a decreasing-radius turn, where it actually gets tighter as you get into it, and I hadn’t burned off enough speed beforehand. Normally you want to brake before the turn and not during. As the turn’s radius decreased I found myself drifting to the outside of the turn toward the narrow 6″ gravel shoulder and the drop off to my potential doom many hundreds of feet down beyond that.

I did my best to brake, which stands my bike upright slightly, and the front tire went into the gravel. Insert cliche about my life flashing before my eyes here. I had a brief second of tank-slapping (it’s a motorcycle phrase, look it up; it’s not good) and miraculously got back off the 6″ of gravel and back onto the pavement. I was literally inches away from falling to my probable death.

Needless to say I had to pull over soon after to clear my head.

I could have easily died or suffered severe injury, and my bike (and I) would have fallen for quite a while before hitting the bottom of the canyon below.

Motorcycling is an inherently dangerous activity, but so is driving a car. [Statistically, I’m twice as likely to die as a pedestrian than I am as a motorcyclist.] I survived the incident and learned several things from the experience.

If I scrape a peg or something else happens that breaks my concentration, I need to slow down or pull over until I can regain my focus. My bike is very capable of taking some seriously tight turns and when I found the turn’s radius decreasing I should have been more assertive and attacked into the turn, but because I was fearing another peg scraping, I slacked up and that is what sent me wide.

Normally riding near long drop offs and other hazards doesn’t phase me at all. I’m aware of the scenery around me as I ride but I don’t focus on it. I focus on the road. I’m also normally aware of my state of mind; when I’m in the zone I’m not afraid to push my bike’s limits a bit more than normal, and when I’m not in the zone I back off and ease up on the throttle.

It was a growth experience, and as the latin saying ‘Ad astra per aspera’ goes, (“to the stars through difficulties“) through adversity we grow.

I made it to Weaverville safely and checked into the Weaverville Hotel.

Weaverville Hotel
Weaverville Hotel

It was built in the late 1800’s and looks like something you’d see in a western movie. The hosts are super nice and really made sure I was comfortable. Shortly after getting unpacked I went next door to the New York Saloon for a cold beer. When I asked the bar lady what she had on tap, she said, “Coors Light and Bud.”

(Anyone that knows me is well aware of my views on those brands of libations. “People that drink Coors Light don’t really like the taste of beer, they just like to pee a lot.”)

I asked if she had any micro-brews, and she pointed behind me at a Sierra Nevada sign hanging on the rough-cut wall. “I can’t pronounce it, but we have that.” She couldn’t pronounce ‘Sierra Nevada’? WTF? The beer was cold and she even asked if I wanted a glass, however, so she gets points for effort.

Dinner was at the La Grange Cafe across the street. I had a glass of local gevurtztraminer that was a bit too sweet so I switched to a reisling from the same winery — much better. It went very well with my hazelnut-encrusted halibut. Mesha was a great waitress, too. She gets her name from the biblical character, Meshak. Her brother is named Shadrak. Her father was apparently disappointed she wasn’t a boy and made her name more feminine by taking off the trailing “K”. It was a fantastic meal in a very quaint and wonderful little town.

I slept well and had an early breakfast at the Nugget, where I dined the previous Sunday on my way south, then headed west on 299 before cutting north on Highway 96.

96 follows the Klamath River and is very scenic; I highly recommend the route. When I got to Happy Camp I located the only gas station in town, a card-lock self-service station that offered a single pump available to the general public. There was a half-dozen guys on sport bikes filling up when I pulled in. One guy asked, “Where ya headed?”

“Grants Pass, the twisty way,” I said.

“Us, too!” he said.

I let them zoom ahead of me after we were all fueled up, knowing they’d just have to pass me as soon as we got out of town.

Cave Junction came along soon enough and I pulled over at the Dairy Queen for a chicken sandwich for lunch. It was noon and I knew I’d be arriving at my motel in Grants Pass way too early. That happens to me a lot on my trips because I get started too early in the morning.

As predicted, my room wasn’t ready when I got to the Super 8 in Grants Pass so I asked my GPS to tell me where the nearest park was so I could find a shady spot and take a nap. An hour later I was checked into my room.