Category Archives: motorcycles

10 days out West

[this was written back in May.. things got crazy and I am just posting it now. -mj]

I somehow managed to convince B to drive 1700 miles to lake Tahoe with me and then ride to the West coast from there. I decided to move a motorcycle that’s been living in the middle of the country to Santa Cruz, CA where close friends H, N and their daughter M have recently relocated. The riding and weather out here are amazing–well worth the storage fees.

The plan was to load the motorcycle into a rental truck, drive 1700 miles to Lake Tahoe and then ride to Santa Cruz. So we rented a Penske, loaded the motorcycle and hit the interstate. We decided on a three day trip: first to Santa Fe, NM, then Vegas and finally stopping in South Lake Tahoe, CA for a rest and to drop off the truck.

Santa Fe is a very quiet town in the off season. We stayed at the La Honda, a historic inn in the center of town. It was not expensive and reasonably well appointed. Santa Fe architecture is unique: mostly earth colored stucco, flat roofs, rounded corners, inset windows and doors. It presumably dates back to the original Native American inhabitants. It makes for a very unique looking town. The town itself is mostly a vacation destination, quiet in the off season. Most of the draw seems to be restaurants and a seemingly endless Native American art market.

Vegas is exactly as I imagined it but a little worse. We stayed at the Luxor, the huge pyramid on the strip. It was not expensive and the staff were genuinely nice. Our first room was clearly used. After a 10 minute wait we were issued a clean room. Our key stopped working. After another 10 minute wait we were issued new keys. The Luxor is huge, full of smoke and just about everyone inside is visibly drunk. We joked with the staff about a clearly drunk patron as he staggered away from the desk: “I believe that man is drunk.” “Most everyone here is” she responded without a hint of sarcasm.

Vegas is only cheap if you’re gambling. We crossed the gaming floor 8 or so times in the course of the night, were were offered comps at least 4 of those times. We had drinks at the bar in the middle of the floor. It was stylish and the waitresses weren’t wearing much but drinks were $12. We decided to hit the strip to have dinner around 9. Just about nothing was open.. Just a few overpriced restaurants in a mall and the mediocre noodle place in the Borgata.

I would characterize Vegas as an overpriced frat party owned and orchestrated by a few huge corporations to amuse a demographic that doesn’t know any better or worse actually finds it entertaining.. That is all assuming you don’t gamble, don’t have ready access to markets with high end restaurants or shopping where you live. On the way out we drove through the old strip and immediately regretted not staying there. It has a more authentic feel: in many ways frozen from a time before corporations owned Vegas. The old strip is frozen aging 50s and 60s glamor.

The Hoover Dam, on the way into Vegas is absolutely worth seeing. It’s really magnificent to just drive through. I’m sure the tour is worthwhile.. it just didn’t fit into our schedule.

In Tahoe we checked into the Inn By the Lake in South Lake Tahoe. We never made it to the top of the lake but I understand the South is more low-end. South Lake Tahoe, CA reminded me of small mountain towns in PA. It was definitely vacation oriented but focused on low cost non-chain motels than high end resorts.

The Nevada-California border cuts through the lake. With a few exceptions there are wedding chapels on the Nevada side right up to the California border. We noticed a few on the California side and asked about them at the hotel. A few are apparently grandfathered from a time when on-the-spot marriage was legal in California.

Northern California: wrap-up

Coming home on Day 3 was a mostly highway run from San Franscisco to highway 17 in San Jose down to Santa Cruz. Northern California is fabulous for motorcycle commuting: all the highways have HOV lanes and motorcycles are allowed to use them. This includes the on-ramps as well as the highways themselves. Motorcycle commuting is very common there: you see many practical bikes such as SVs and dual sports, many with top boxes. You are allowed to “share” lanes–basically ride in between cars when they’re stopped or below a certain speed. Of note here is that the cars seldom pull in front of you and seem to never exhibit aggressive behavior toward motorcyclists. This alone makes me want to live in Northern California badly.

Route 17 is a twisty, mountains version of the Schuylkill Expressway–fast moving, crowded with no run-off. I live and ride in Philadelphia so I fit right in. Missing was only erratic lane changes by car with no regard to contents of the drivers blind spot: just like home but less deadly.

Day 4 found me stitching together some of the most beautiful and in some cases terrifying roads the Santa Cruz mountains have to offer. I paid for a subscription to and tied together most of his recommended roads in the area as an extended route from Santa Cruz to Palo Alto to visit B at her hotel. I won’t disclose the roads as he really deserves the small fee. He’s done his homework not just on the Santa Cruz mountains but throughout Northern California.

Day 5 was B’s introduction to packing everything you have with you into motorcycle luggage that is just slightly smaller than the contents. This included her case books: basically a summary of key cases in her first year of practice that she must present at her oral exams. She’s a trooper. We rode some Pashnit-recommended roads out of Palo Alto, took Skyline Blvd to Alice’s for lunch and then La Honda road out to Route 1. A brief and slightly-too-sandy stop at one of the many beautiful beaches along 1 and on to Santa Cruz for dinner with H & N at a family seafood restaurant on the pier.

Saturday and Sunday involved shopping, killer tacos, napping and cooking at H & N’s. And early morning run up highway 17 (B: once again a trooper) and many hours on planes and we were back in Philadelphia in time to unpack and get to bed at a decent hour.

All in all a great first vacation in 6 years.

Central and Northern California: days 2 and 3

Tuesday I rode from a cheap ($39.99!) Motel 6 to Laguna Seca and then headed to route 1 which I took down the coast past the Hearst castle, east on 46 and then up 101 to Santa Cruz to visit my friends who live here.

Laguna Seca has beautiful if rustic camp sites with the best view I’ve seen at a campground. Not much was going on but it was fun to see the facility and say that I’d been there.

Route 1 is an unbelievably beautiful road. I am not sure I’ve ever seen scenery like it. And it’s relentless. I rode about 125 miles down the coast and it was just one cliff with bright blue water washing up on the rocks after another.. It is interspersed with beautiful suspension bridges and views of the road snaking down the coast.

I stopped in Big Sur for breakfast and had some excellent if overpriced pancakes and bacon. Big Sur, as h pointed out on the phone, is populated with old hippies running little grocery stores for the tourists. It’s actually exactly what I would expect.

Nacimiento-Fergusson road was closed due to fire but I rode it anyway and have to tell you is scared me to death.. there’s no guardrail and it snakes relentlessly up into the mountains with sheer drop-offs that overlook route 1 and of course the ocean. The scenery is beautiful. I basically rode until i saw the fire and then gingerly turned the ST1300 around and headed back down.

ST1300: We have a love hate relationship. It’s unreasonably big which in itself I can live with but combined with top heavy it leaves me terrified to move it around or come to a stop quickly. Combined with the snatchiest throttle I’ve experienced on a motorcycle our relationship is somewhat tenuous. Day 3 is finding me a little more comfortable but there’s no way I’d buy one.. give me a CBR600 with soft bags any day.

Among the highlights was a visit to the Hearst Castle: the private home of William Randolph Hearst.. it’s unbelievable. He imported architectural artifacts from all over the world: statues, doors, ceilings, archways, on and on. I will post photos shortly but I can’t begin to explain the beauty of the place. The only thing that comes close is maybe the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, PA but for different reasons.. It’s *much* more fabulous than the Mercer Museum.

I had a chance to see zebras on the estate: leftovers from Heart’s private zoo: once the largest in the world.

Day 3 was a ride up route 9 to skyline boulevard: easily the finest motorcycle roads I’ve ridden. I continued on to route 1 over the Golden Gate bridge up to Stinson Beach.

The stretch of 1 above San Francisco is unbelievable: crazy curvy, no guardrail but very well maintained.

More tomorrow..

Central and Northern California: day 1

The plan: rent a motorcycle in silicon valley, see Northern and Central CA on two wheels, visit h and n, close friends who have just moved to Santa Cruz, meet b in Palo Alto after her board training course ends on Friday.

I flew in yesterday at 2pm, s of Bay Area Performance picked me up and turned over a clean ST1300 to me after a little paperwork and some discussion about routes. I headed down the street to drop off b’s gear at her hotel and rode 100 miles to Salinas, CA, near the northern part of my route.

I stumbled onto Alice’s Restaurant on my way out of town at the intersection of 84 and 35. The food was decent: they seem to specialize in burgers named after motorcycles. It’s definitely a burger joint and the parking lot is a bit of a challenge in the pitch dark on a new, heavy touring motorcycle.

On the advice of the waitress I took 84 to route 1 South. The Pacific Coast Highway is fast and beautiful at night on a Monday… There was very little traffic but some highway patrol. I got to Salinas and the Zumo handily found me a Motel 6 in a not-too-shady part of town.

This morning I woke up at 5am.. it’s 8am back home. More on today when it’s over: it’s light and Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd, the Hearst Castle and the Mission trail await.