I peeled out of Redding at 8am and made a beeline for the twisties...anything but the slab has been my mantra for the last nine days of riding. My goal for the day was to make it south of San Francisco and maybe get some drone footage at the Golden Gate Bridge. It would be a tall order given the distance and the significantly slower pace if I followed my mantra.
The first stop (gas notwithstanding) would be the Drive-Thru Tree near Leggett, California. My route would take me east to west across SR-36, about 215 miles with four hours of intense climbs, dives, wide-sweeping, and super-tight horseshoe turns. Hester's clutch and brakes were working overtime and the bike ran spectacularly. There were a few construction stops along the way. At the first one, I wanted to see the extent of the line as all I could see was a seemingly endless line of transport trucks and all I could think of was how long it would take me to pick them off one at a time as they crept through the curves ahead. I decided to launch Icarus, my drone and fly up to get a peek. Turns out, the line was not that long beyond what I could see from ground level and the pilot truck leading the oncoming traffic towards our line was still a few miles away. There were also two motorcycles in front of the first transport truck. I recovered and stowed Icarus, started Hester, and rode in the left lane past all the tucks to the front of the line next to the other bikes. When the pilot truck arrived, the driver just waved us bikes on by him, but he led the trucks. The two sport bikes in front of me disappeared like rockets, leaving Heater and I in their dust. I crept up to a respectable pace, especially given that I was towing a 320 pound trailer. In fact, I marveled at how well Hester and Pearl handled as I glanced in the rearview mirror for a spot check.
Flash back to last week. I hadn't intended to disclose the following because at the time, it didn't appear to be terribly consequential. Somewhere in Wyoming on a stretch of very rough road that had sharp transitions between pavement sections that jolted me, Hester, and Pearl every few hundred feet, the stress became more than Pearl's clamshell top could bear with the 13-pound solar panel affixed to it. When I stopped for the night, I noticed some cracks in the clamshell where the solar panel attached. It occurred to me that I would soon be presented with opportunities to overcome engineering challenges. I decided to add a layer of security and ratchet-strapped the panel in place. This was the day after I lost Pearl's license plate. I shrugged it off and motored on through the much nicer roads of Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and finally into California last night - with the panel securely in place. Then today, while on the next segment of SR-36 after the first construction stop, I glanced back just in time to see what appeared to be a giant black domino flipping end-over-end in the air high above the road. For an instant, I thought the Monolith from 2001, A Apace Odyssey had come to earth from Jupiter's moon IO and was chasing me. It seemed to be flying, and then in a gust of wind, my solar panel took a dive off the edge of the road and disappeared in the canyon below. I thought to myself, "well, shit", grabbed a handful of throttle, and motored on. I assessed the situation at my next gas stop; not that there was much to assess. My power generation source was gone. The panel only cost me $85 shipped, so the loss wasn't financially monumental. But, I had been proud of my design and it was a topic of conversation with other motorists anytime I stopped. I already have ideas for improvements, but honestly, I was starting to feel like Clark Griswold as my carefully thought-out vacation plans were unraveling.
I know the tree is a cliche tourist spot, but Hester needed her picture taken there. I would soon learn that she (and I) will both need reminders of the good times we've had together over the last eleven years. I paid the $5 motorcycle entry fee and waited patiently for the vehicles in front of me to do the obligatory stop in the tunnel for photos. The park was full of people, cars, trucks, campers, and motorcycles. At $10 per car and $15 per RV, plus the gift shop intake, this place is making a fortune every day. The other guests were friendly, taking photos for each other, smiling, and appeared generally happy. Kids were going crazy running among the tree sculptures and burning energy stored up from their long ride in. It was good to see people out and about again and enjoying life. Many saw the Texas flag affixed to my luggage rack and asked if I rode all the way from Texas. I just smiled and nodded thinking to myself, how else would I have gotten here?
I saddled up and rode out of the tree park with an aim on finally getting to the Pacific Coast Highway (PC1). This is a leg of the trip which I had been looking forward to, second only to the Shark Week event itself. The ride from the park to the coast was a short burst of curves in deep woods among insanely tall redwood trees that eventually dumped me out of darkness and into the bright light of the wide open coast. I found myself staring down at the pacific ocean along jagged cliffs at the beach far below. I thought to myself, this measured up. As I rode along PC1, my enthusiasm waned in the constant traffic pile-ups and among the endless line of campers and RVs. I wouldn't reach San Francisco until midnight at this pace. I decided to peel off PC1 and glancing at my maps, found a great-looking stretch of twisty road that would take me inland, but continue southward. SR-128 would prove to be every bit as extensive and challenging as was SR-36. The difference was I had behind the bars for hundreds of miles already today.
|Hester & Shrug on the PC1|
A mile or two off of PC1 and about five miles south of Mendocino, SR-128 gave way to the thick redwood and pine trees of the Jackson State Forest. The canopy was so tall, it seemed you could build a skyscraper in the forest and despite it being mid day, it was almost dark. The canopy towering above was so dense that I actually had to raise the tinted goggles in my helmet. Then at times, just for a flash, there would be a break in the canopy wherein the road was suddenly awash with bright sunshine beams, revealing stark contrasts between the road, its striping, the trees, and other foliage. And then in an instant, it would be blackened out again. This sequence repeated itself numerous times in such rapid succession that my eyes and my brain were having a difficult time keeping up. It was like a great strobe light had been deployed and I was convinced that an epileptic would have gone into a seizure on the spot. Like SR-36 earlier in the day, SR-128 did not disappoint. I was constantly reminding myself to loosen the grip on my handlebars and to breathe. I had changed all of my brake pads and flushed/refilled my brake lines prior to leaving Texas, but seven-hours of constantly pounding the brakes, plus the previous nine days' travel had a real effect on their responsiveness and I found that I was increasingly relying on motor compression to manage my speed in the tight corners. I decided that I would peel off the road at the next town to give Hester and myself a much needed respite from a full day of battling curves. The GPS indicated that the town of Cloverdale was less than a mile away.
Clark Griswold to Evel Knievel
Suddenly as I climbed out of a tight right corner, I reached for the rear brake so I could upright the bike, decelerate, and prepare to dive into the next corner. My foot went all the way to the floorboard. I feathered the clutch and tried to gingerly apply some front brake as Hester's front wheel augured into some loose dirt and over the bars I went head first into the blacktop road. I actually saw Hester's headlights in front of me, albeit upside down. I don't think I was moving that fast, but the amount of time it took me to stop rolling seemed infinite. My vision was a cacophony light dark light dark light dark as my body repeatedly rolled, completely out of control. It's strange the things that come to mind in situations like these. I remember clearly thinking to myself am I ever going to stop? In a flash, I saw Hester continuing along the road, weaving side to side as the handlebars slapped to the left and to the right. She finally slammed down hard on her right side and miraculously bounced back up and u-turned into the trailer before stopping in an almost upright position. As I laid face down in the road I began to take stock of myself. Fingers, arms, feet, legs, and neck...everything seemed to function. I crawled to my knees and finally stood upright as other drivers ran up to me. An Indian man (dot, not feather) was the first to reach me and exclaimed "You're alive!" "Yeah, I think so", I responded. I began retrieving my phone, backpack, and other items that had been thrown off of in the crash and then approached the bike. With the help of others, I righted Hester and she started right up. That was a good sign. Then, I detached the trailer, pointed it and Hester down the road, and then reattached. As I mounted up, one of the drivers said "Dude! What are you doing? Do you even know what just happened to you?" I told him that I needed to see if the bike was rideable and I would find out as I made my way to the next gas station. I was fueled by adrenaline and a seemingly inane sense of urgency to make it right...now! This is a mode I get into whenever I find myself in the midst of trauma. I've been this way as long as I remember. Solve the problem now. Emote later. But I digress. I rounded the next corner and limped into a gas station. The irony was not lost on me that I was less than a mile away from the straight, flat CA-101 highway when I crashed.
|Hester at Rest After the Crash|
At the gas station, I gingerly dismounted and tried my best to not look like an invalid. This was apparently the first gas station for miles and as such, was full of vehicles refilling after a long drive or perhaps topping off before one. With the make it right mindset being primary, secondary is look normal. Normal. You know, like a guy wearing deeply scratched leather head to toe in 100 degree heat on a bright red Harley pulling a trailer with holes torn through its roof. I was miserable and as I filled Hester's tank, I pondered where I should go next and how I was going to make it there. By this point, my left hand looked like a surgeon's glove that had been inflated and tied into a knot. I'm pretty sure I've broken the left two metacarpal bones. I can articulate my fingers, but actuating Hester's clutch is excruciating. As I removed my helmet, I realized I may have broken my right collarbone. It hurts like hell, there's a bump that wasn't there before, and there isn't a matching one on the other side. My right knee at the tibia is really swollen and stiff, but I can support myself and walk. Other than that, I was golden.
I decided to forego the trip to San Francisco and Yosemite and instead try to make it to Lake Tahoe; a 250 mile, 4.5 hour ride. My GPS indicated I could be there by 10:00pm, which was doable - even in my condition. However, my GPS failed to account for California rush hour traffic. I was boiling in my seat as I struggled to keep Hester vertical while crawling along the freeway at 2mph. The heat rising up from the road combined with the heat from Hester's 110 cubic inch motor and with the sun itself formed a perfect caloric synergy and I found myself wishing I was back in the cool fog of PC1. Hester's temperature gauge was pegged at 120 degrees F. I don't think the actual temperature was that hot, but when combined with the road reflection and engine heat, it could have been. The truth is, Harley temperature gauges are about as accurate as Dr. Fauchi's mood ring. But hot is hot and a Shrug sandwich was cooking...and I was the meat.
The traffic finally broke and I was riding at speed. I opted to not use the cruise control in favor of forcing myself think and participate in my speed control...anything to remain alert. I rolled into Placerville for gas and decided I should try to find a room in Lake Tahoe. I called and confirmed my suspicion that the Shark Week host hotel was booked solid and rather than manually try every property, called the IBM travel desk and convinced an agent to do an instant city-wide availability search for me. I instantly learned there wasn't an empty room in the city. I am of the mindset that bad news is always best delivered fast and I was in no mood to continue to search aimlessly. My ace in the hole was my Diamond status with Hilton hotels. I fired up the Hilton app on my phone and found a room for points only thirty miles away (albeit in the opposite direction I had been traveling) in Sacramento. I left the station, backtracked to a Hampton Inn, checked in, unloaded as little as possible from the trailer, and limped to my room to lick my wounds and assess my options. I'll spend Saturday and Saturday night at the Hampton and make my way to Lake Tahoe on Sunday, as planned. My plan is to park the bike and just enjoy the company of my friends as they come and go. If I feel up to it, I'll ride. If not, I'll convalesce and try to heal up for the 1,700 mile ride on Friday with a plan to arrive home Saturday evening.
|ATG ATT - All The Gear All The Time!|
This is why you wear it!