California

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Pictures at the end…

We’re camping tonight just at the edge of Death Valley, the weather is mild enough to sit outside after dark and use the time to catch up on the blog. That’s all there is to do here actually other than sit and listen to distant camper’s conversations. Needless to say there is no WiFi or phone signal here but it hasn’t stopped the elderly woman a few tents over from searching for her ‘Android’  she is sure she brought it into the tent but can’t find it, the husband is helping now I’m sure they’ll find it soon. This is nothing compared to the drama going on over at the tent spot to the left. From the darkness I’ve listened to a five minute moan from the husband to the wife about how he can’t wait to get back to civilization away from this rubbish food and finally order a good quality hotdog. He went into a very detailed description of the perfect hotdog and now I feel hungry too. Ok, back to motorbike travel stuff.

We drove through a section of Death Valley today, officially now we’re out of it as far as the map is concerned but the scenery and environment is exactly the same. Speaking of the scenery, it is the most impressive scenery I’ve seen on the trip so far. It might have something to do with the fact that I have never been in a desert before but still it is absolutely breathtaking. It’s pretty cool to think that right now I’m sitting on my fold out camping chair on the bottom of an ancient ocean writing this.

It’s not a standard sand covered desert but here and there you can see huge dunes in the distance. They’re often labeled recreation areas, which are areas where people can bring their quad bikes or dune buggies and rip around for a small fee. After passing a few we decided to turn off the main road and check out one of these areas. We had to drive offroad for a few miles to reach the dunes but weren’t disappointed when we got there. They were an impressive sight, so impressive that I didn’t notice the road under us had gradually turned into deeper sand and the bike did what all overloaded adventure bikes at slow speeds in sand do, it dug in and flopped on its side. No injuries or damage as we were driving quite slowly, it was just an inconvenience. Heavy lifting in Death Valley heat is not the ideal pastime either but luckily two guys came our way from different directions who had seen me drop the bike, one was in a truck and the other on a quad. We had it up in no time and the two of us were on the way again. As we drove back out to join the main road I kind of felt like I’d been spanked by the dunes for being over ambitious as I watched them stare me down and mock me through my rear view mirror.

It is more or less two weeks ago that we were in Oregon visiting the Spruce Goose at Evergreen Aviation Centre. The day after that we joined the 101 coastal highway in Oregon and continued our trip south towards California. The Oregon coastline reminded me a lot of the coastline of the West of Ireland from the Dingle peninsula southwards. In fact to best describe the drive along the Pacific coastal highway in the USA to Europeans I would say imagine driving on a road hugging the coast starting on the west coast of Ireland in Dingle and driving continuously south around to Cork then jump over to Northern France and keep going all the way along the coast until the Algarve in Portugal. Oregon has a section of dunes, just like the ones you see in Bordeaux, the area of California known as Big Sur is extremely similar to parts of Portugal especially the lower part of the country in the Aljezur area.

All that is just to give an idea of what it’s like to ride the 101 and 1 in general. The fact is that Europe doesn’t have a road hugging the coast for the distance that the Pacific highway does so to ride it was an experience we’ll never forget. Also in keeping with our experiences up to now we met some great people along the way too.

About an hour into our day we randomly decided to stop in Bandon Oregon and walk down to the harbor to check it out. We ended up talking to Ray and his friend Rich along with Ray’s son and brother who were crab fishing from one of the jetties, they ended up inviting us to eat their catch with them later that evening so we checked into the same guesthouse and took them up on their offer. It’s one of the perks of not having to stick to a set schedule. Later that evening Ray showed us how to dismantle a crab, pointing out what to eat and what not to eat. It was interesting but I found out I don’t really like to eat crab, Franziska however couldn’t be dragged away from the crab feast.

We burnt rubber the next day riding away from a rainstorm and soon enough we entered California. Things changed almost immediately, most noticeably a sales tax was being added to everything but more importantly the climate changed, warm and dry… finally!

Over the next days we rode through various towns and scenic routes, one of which was the Avenue of the Giants where we saw some Redwoods up close which were quite impressive. We opted to leave the coastal highway and head inland just before San Francisco to drive through the Sonoma and Napa Valley regions where most of California’s wine production takes place. When we arrived in San Fransico we looked up Jeff who we had met in Ontario months before. We ended up staying with him, his wife Tracy, and daughter Sam for two nights. During breakfast on the first morning we met Tracy’s mother who told me how much she liked to watch the Inspector Morse series but was disappointed now because she had watched them all. I told her to check out Inspector Wexford of Ruth Rendell Mysteries and David Jason in A Touch of Frost. The next day she had a spring in her step and told me that she’d downloaded the entire Ruth Rendell series last night and couldn’t wait to get stuck into it.

We did the tourist thing in San Francisco including meeting Stefan a friend of mine for dinner in Chinatown. On our departure day Jeff joined us for a ride up to Alice’s Restaurant on Skyline Boulevard in the hills west of San Jose which is a hot spot for Californian bikers. People approached us asking how the hell we found it, we just told them “the best way”, by asking a local. A quick detour through Silicon Valley and we spent the night in Santa Cruz.

Next we headed down highway 1 again right along the coast through Big Sur, epic scenery and curving roads ensued for the rest of that day until we stopped to find a campsite. Like always we could have stopped anywhere but we ended up at a restaurant where I got talking to an interesting guy called Geary who teaches people how to perform Shiatsu massage on Horses. He joined us for dinner and we talked about non horse related subjects. After we finished he said we could stay at his ranch if we wanted but that it was about 10 miles inland and off-road to get there (he was on a Suzuki V-Strom which was parked outside). Due to the fact it was late and the sun was setting I opted out of the 10 mile drive as it would have been dark soon and I didn’t know the road. As a conciliation Geary showed us a nice spot to camp around the corner which was only about one mile off-road inland, we followed him and got our tent up just in time before darkness set in. Although the site was good and free! It was hard to get any sleep mainly because of the wind, all night it felt like there were four guys on each corner of the tent shaking it in unison. But also because when we unpacked the camping gear we found one of the sleeping bags was soaking wet. We had no idea how this happened but we were left with one sleeping bag that night. All I had was my inflatable pillow, I blew it up and lay down, 30 seconds later my head was touching the ground. My pillow had a hole it. No pillow now either, typical. Took me 4 days to find a replacement.

Fast forward to Los Angeles. Los Angeles traffic is suicidal, 40% of people are either texting or talking on their phone at the same time as driving. That’s not an exaggeration. At one stage I had to pull over on the highway and stop to let the engine cool down because it was overheating in 30 degrees Celsius heat in a traffic jam caused by a crash and probably by somebody not paying attention to what they were doing. After driving roughly 15,000km so far through North America I can safely say that LA drivers pay the least attention to what’s going on around them. Other than that we enjoyed LA, we stayed one night in Santa Monica, checked out the beaches and Hollywood before getting the hell out of there and riding for the desert.

Edit

Obviously I couldn’t upload this out in the desert because I had no connection but I can now because we’re in Las Vegas! We’ve decided to take a few days “off” and treat ourselves to a nice hotel room. We rode here via the Old Spanish Trail and visited the China Ranch along the way.

Next: We’ll be heading East / North East. We’d like to visit it Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley before ending up in Albuquerque New Mexico. Not sure in what order we’ll do them but we’ll figure it out along the way.

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Leaving the China Ranch and heading back to the Old Spanish Trail

Click to enlarge