It was hot.
How hot was it?
So hot that my wife actually left the thermostat alone.
So hot that Trump started believing in global warming.
So hot that ice cream trucks caught fire.
I left home, near Vancouver, and met up with my buddy Al (the dreaded Darkness on CMG) at the American border. After a painless, “Morning, how long ya going to be in the US? A week? Seeya,” border crossing, we were on Interstate 5 heading south.
To avoid the congestion and life-threatening morning traffic around Seattle, we veered west on Route 20 to a ferry crossing at Port Townsend, which would take us to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Interesting — the ferry voyage cost $4.50 and a coffee at the snack bar was three bucks.
Not only did we bypass the drama of Seattle rush hour, the 160 km down the peninsula consists of hundreds of curves, wonderful pavement, great coastal scenery and very little traffic. As we progressed southward away from the coast and into central Oregon, it warmed up and the afternoon temp of 30 degrees C was an indicator of what was to come.
Once out of Oregon and into California, a key waypoint was Yreka (pronounced Why-reeka), a town that owes its roots to the Gold Rush. Mark Twain himself said the odd name comes from one of the miners reading a sign that was posted backwards in the BAKERY, with the “B” hidden. It read “YREKA” and the name stuck.
The twisty 175 km of California Highway 3 from Yreka through the mountains to Weaverville is two-wheeled heaven. Caution is required though because it’s narrow, with no guardrails or shoulder, and if you go off the road, the only way you’re coming out is with a toe tag.
When we stopped in Weaverville for lunch, the temperature had reached 38 C, or the magic 100 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale. The 150 km of Highway 299 over to the coast was worth it, although the temperature dropped to a chilly 13 degrees on the coast in Arcata.
The only “almost” close call was when a deer jumped out of a ditch, head-faked me three or four times and then bounded away to join the other local Radicalized Bambi Jihadists. Damn rats with hooves.
It’s construction season across North America and the Destination Avoidance Crews were out in full force. In California it’s not an issue because motorcycles just move to the head of the line — how very civilized. Imagine, not having to suck car and diesel fumes at the back of the line while cooking in your riding apparel.
The Pacific Coast Highway (a.k.a. PCH or Highway 1) is nice and scenic but in the summer, it’s plugged with tourists and RVs so the next best choice was Highway 101. It’s not exactly a freeway but a reasonable choice as it alternates from divided highway to twisty two-lane, some of it through scenic sheltered groves of giant California redwoods. Even the four-lane parts have miles of fast, sweeping turns.
Both bikes were fairly compatible for performance and fuel range, which is a huge help when touring together. My Triumph Tiger 1050 goes on reserve with an indicated 80 km left on the tank, Al’s BMW R1100S hits reserve a little earlier but we both were filling up at around the 325-340 km mark. Bikes and riders were a good match for traveling together. We like to ride briskly but not stupid, both motorcycles handle well (even with luggage), and they’re comfortable enough for seven- to eight-hour days in the saddle.
There was no easy way to avoid the traffic disaster that’s the San Francisco Bay area, but because California allows lane splitting and filtering, we got through it quickly and safely, arriving at our hotel in Marina (conveniently located 15 kilometres from Monterey and 25 kilometres from the Laguna Seca Racetrack) in the early afternoon.
At the races
Laguna Seca (translates to “Dry Lake”), is at the bottom of a large depression with very few trees and in the summer, spectators lay claim to the shady spots early and defend them vigorously. The temperature wasn’t too bad for that time of year — 30 to 32 C — but if you’re standing around in the merciless sun all day, it does get tiring. On Saturday, I was soaking my T-shirt in the washroom sink, then wearing it as a “poor man’s air conditioner.”
I think the bloom is off the rose for me as far as spectating at race tracks go. The World Superbike guys are amazingly talented and I can sure appreciate how hard they’re riding but honestly, I’d rather watch it on TV where I can see what’s happening on other parts of the track.
The World Super Bike round was combined with a Moto America championship event and the top riders in that series are really fast as well.
JD Beach and Garrett Gerlach were turning 1:26 flat on their 600s around the 3.6 km facility, and front straight top speeds were 140 mph (225 km/h). The WSB guys were into the 1:22s with trap speeds of 158 (254 km/h). Imagine how hard Beach and Gerlach were riding to be less than four seconds behind when they’re down 18 mph and don’t have the acceleration of the Big Guns.
The top WSB riders were braking into Turn 2 at the same place the KTM390 Cup bikes were, and the KTMs were barely cracking 100 mph (160 km/h).
Wandering through the paddock, the amount of money spent is mind boggling. Closest to pit lane are the WSB teams’ shipping containers that are completely self-contained, air-conditioned shops. The top Moto America teams are next, with huge tractor-trailers and large awnings shading the bikes and riders. Furthest down the paddock pecking order are the privateers: small motorhomes or vans with one or two EZ Up canopies for themselves, their friends and their bikes.
I saw Roger Hayden signing autographs and it must’ve been tough on him getting endless, “sorry about your brother” comments or, “win this one for Nicky.” I know the fans mean well but geez…
The track itself is beautiful with perfect pavement, but the organizers are worse than the Canadian Superbike series for dragging things along with only four races on the entire Sunday program.
The vendor area was huge but there weren’t many bargains. I did pick up a set of “stay cool” underwear for 25 bucks, though — less than the price of an official Laguna T-shirt.
Leaving the track on Sunday, we avoided heading north on the coast as traffic was horrible. Going through San Francisco and Oakland was a no-go for the same reason, which meant inland and heat. We figured it wouldn’t be too bad, as Sunday at the track was 33 C with a nice breeze.
We figured wrong. An hour away, near Hollister, it was 40 C and then it got hotter all the way to Stockton, where we saw 42 C for a couple of hours and it actually touched 44 for a stretch. Geez, did we somehow get transported to the Sahara or some other furnace-like hellhole? Living on the West Coast for two years, I’ve become accustomed to coolish conditions and was feeling very wilted when we checked into the hotel that night near Lodi. “Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again.”
The next morning, it was a pleasant 26 C as we steered north towards what promised to be more great roads through northern California and then up into eastern Oregon. Heading up past Oroville, the next leg was to take us through Lassen Volcanic Natural Park but when we got to the turn-off (after suffering a couple of hours of interminable construction delays), it was closed. With no explanation. Great.
We had two options. Backtrack through another two hours of construction crap or head west, through Red Bluff, Redding and the Central Valley Commemorative Toaster Oven. Ugh.
Red Bluff and Redding it was, and they were both 42 C. But before we got out of the mountains, there was a bit more construction so we asked the flagman if he knew why the road to Lassen was closed. “Yep, it’s snowed in,” he told us. And this was July.
Finally, we headed back to cooler, higher elevations and stayed that night in Shasta City, where 14,179-foot, snow-capped Mount Shasta dominates the landscape. The central valley might be a desert wasteland but the mountainous areas of California are simply spectacular.
The next day, we explored some interesting roads in Oregon (Highway 20 west from Sisters is another five-star motorcycle route), stayed the last night in Salem and retraced Hwy. 101 north through the Olympic Peninsula, to the Pacific Border Crossing and home.
After seven days in the southern sauna, it was great to be back to the cool and green of coastal BC, although there was the usual shock after my first fill-up on Canadian soil. During the entire trip south, I could never shoehorn more than 13 US dollars worth of 91 octane into the Tiger’s tank. First fill up here? Twenty-two bucks.
Welcome home, open your wallet.