Wind and rain were forecast for the high desert elevations so I slowly worked my way south through the Mojave Desert by way of Tehachapi Pass and into the hotter Colorado Desert. The scent of creosote bush carried on the damp air and ocotillo, yucca and palo verde struggled along in the deep arroyos. The agricultural density of the Coachella Valley in the form of citrus, palm and grape is due solely to irrigation and the industrious efforts of many laborers. The divide is stark between the green and verdant valley and the land east of the irrigation canal supplied mostly by the Colorado River. Near Mecca, a shortcut slices up a Box Canyon toward Joshua Tree N.P. passing through BLM and BIA land. It is a rugged and dry terrain with intricate slot canyons and sandy washes begging for an afternoon of exploration. Having found a haven of free camping, exploration and access to nearby Mercado and Pananderia, I was set for a week. The weather grew warmer with each passing day until I was shirtless in the sun contemplating my water supply. After a cold ride down from Washington and some chilly and windy mornings working down to here, I had finally met the warmth in winter I had been searching for.
I camped at KCL Ranch Campground this time around, mistakenly not driving up to Selby Campground. I had confused the two. Introducing myself to the other campers in the loop, I was invited over to Gypsy and Bry-Dog's site for a drink. The two travelers were of Choctaw relation and heading south from Oregon for warmer weather in SoCal. Gusty winds blew from the SE and their 8 man tent looked more like a spinnaker than shelter. The wind blew the tinny tunes of Jerry Garcia emitting from a cell phone in a cup out onto the great darkening expanse. Sipping rum and cokes, we shared stories of travel, places to see in the future and those left behind.
Heading south down the coast, I enjoyed getting off the hectic highway in favor of more relaxing back roads toward the Salinas River Valley. This growing region offers a year round season and is rich in flavorful and affordable produce. The roadside stands were almost unbelievable in the quantity and variety of produce. Loading up my bag with local fruit and vegetables, I was shocked when the total was less than $5!
The recent storm walloped the Big Sur area with torrential downpours that led to rockslides tumbling down the precarious cliffs. Loose boulders unexpectedly greeted me around each bend and I used the ample pull-offs to allow the hurried traffic to speed past. Nearing Monterrey, a flashing sign announced "CA-1 Closed - South Big Sur". The only other way to get south from here is to head inland and up the Carmel Valley's twisty and much cooler interior roads. I pondered this sign but quickly it was behind me and I plowed on into the late afternoon with hope that maybe I could get around. The sun set somewhere to the west casting an ochre hue over the low clouds. Sea otters frolicked in the angry surf and I enjoyed the view for a moment, not entirely sure if I'd be coming back through this way with the road closed.
The many campgrounds and high-end seaside resorts lining the road advertised camping and lodging for the weary traveler but yet I pushed on as the cover of night fell. Bands of rain blew in from the sea as I fueled up in Big Sur and plodded on southward into the darkness. It wasn't that I hadn't searched for a possible stealth camping site, just that this stretch of California is mostly private and there are very few possible locations to wild camp. Ahead, the orange flashing roadblock stopped me in my tracks. "Slide Area - Road Closed" alternated on the portable billboard where other discouraged drivers stopped and made three point turns to head back to Carmel and around. Noticing lights ahead in the woods, I waited and was surprised when a car heading northbound emerged from behind the cones and pressed on. Perhaps the road was indeed open? Deciding that I could at least find a stealth spot ahead, I went around the cones and drove 3 miles into the wet and winding darkness without passing a single vehicle or house. My handling felt unusually squishy and unresponsive but I chalked it up to a worn out front wheel bearing, besides, I had more pressing issues at hand. I began to shiver with the rain seeping into my gloves and down my helmet into my neck. A wall of white fog enshrouded the road and I crawled along at 5 mph wiping the inside of my visor and the outside of my visor to provide a small window of visibility. What the hell was I thinking riding into the darkness and danger like this? I told my Dad I wouldn't do stupid shit like this and yet here I was, a victim of my own circumstance. Would the police write me a ticket for going around a barricade? I turned around and headed back to the roadblock where a new string of drivers were negotiating the possibilities.
A man signaled for me to come over and in the halflight of headlights, scribbled on a piece of paper and held it out. Realizing he was mute, I gestured that I wasn't sure if it was open. For some reason, I told him to follow me and I set off back up the hill into the night with a late model Toyota Camry hot on my tail, some unlikely pathfinder in this world of darkness and fog. Slowly La Tortuga, climbed the canyons and weaved around boulders which had tumbled into the highway. For miles I squinted into the darkness, hampered by the glare of his headlights only feet behind me. I'd never find a stealth camping spot with a tail-end Charlie. On a long grade, I waved him past and he smiled and honked, taking the lead and quickly disappearing into the night. Not long after, I saw a closed turn off with a concrete barricade, went around it and uncovered a clearing with pine shelter from the wind and rain. It was all I needed and room to set up my new REI Quarter Dome 1 tent for the first time. As I eased into my new fabric house, I felt giddy at my comfort in this wet and cold night. Come morning, there was more rock slide to deal with but for now I was warm, safe and dry at last.
The sun broke through the clouds and over the 3000ft peaks of Big Sur, revealing a cool but sunny day ahead. Feeling something wrong with my rear tire, I pulled over and found a sharp point of glass impaled in the center of my tread. No wonder I was having such difficulty in traction in that dark and wet night from hell, I had a flat tire! I quickly patched it, reinflated the rear and was on my way with the shimmy and spongy feeling completely gone. Damn it feels good to fix things and be back in the twisties again. The sun shone bright on me and I set the GPS for Southern California.
A cool and wet weather system was slated to move in to the California coast so I enjoyed the sunny weather while it lasted. With darkness setting in and rain sprinkling the visor, I pulled in to an abandoned service station north of Point Reyes Station, drove the Ruckus past the broken door hanging by one hinge and into my quarters for the night. Wind and rain drove hard but I was pleasantly snug in my sleeping bag beneath the aging roof. Overnight, the guttural yelps and whines of sea lions in the nearby Tomales Bay kept me sleeping with one eye open. It wasn't until morning that I realized there was not a dying drunk behind the building.
During my last visit to the Bay Area, I met Dave and Candy who live on their sailboat Seair in San Rafael. They were kind enough to offer me a visit despite Candy's recovery from a cold. In the warm cabin of their ship, we recalled stories and spent two days relaxing, sipping tea and heading out for delicious local grub. The incessant storm hammered on the deck and hatches overhead and my mind strayed the the little Ruckus parked outside in the pouring storm. I hope nothing gets compromised from all the water.
Later the following day, I set off for downtown San Francisco with darkness setting in as I rode through Sausalito. The rain picked up and with a 25 mph headwind, I eased my way onto the 101. The iconic cables of the Golden Gate Bridge stretched skyward to dissapear in the dense clouds and darkness of night. The mighty scooter struggled to keep 35 mph as city buses, cabs and impatient drivers hurriedly passed me on the poorly lit span. The headwind kept my speed limited yet I gained a short bump in speed as I crested the rise and started downhill toward San Francisco. Slippery metal grates hummed beneath my feet and the steering felt squishy and unresponsive. It was a great relief as I crossed the toll booth and snuck my way through behind another car, making the first right toward the Presidio. Phew.
I met up with Lex, a friend of a friend, who had offered up his vacant apartment in downtown to me. The conversation with him and his girlfriend over pizza was enjoyable and we departed into the night, a small key in my hand to unlock a studio apartment where I'd take the most needed shower I've had in a while! The rain continued through the night and I was happy again to have a roof over my head. Thanks Lex! In the morning, my alarm sounded before sunrise and I packed my gear, prepared a breakfast of pooridge and coffee then set out into the awakening city headed ever south and west.
The numb fingers and cold toes from the frosty Oregon morning seemed to melt away as my 10" wheels rolled over the California state line. Groves of Redwoods stretching skyward crowded the narrow roadway when meandering off the 101. Passing through Crescent City and south along the coast, I reminisced over past trips through this spectacular terrain, helping fix a cyclists' deraileur on a steep climb in 2014, meeting German cyclist Daniel after he was hit by a drugged driver, seeing my first old growth redwood here in 2009. I imagine the ghost of a tire tread in the wet pavement, my own.
The weather mostly cooperated and I enjoyed high temperatures in the 50's and steadily climbing when the sun shone. The density of a Redwood forest lends a comforting feeling as my feet bounce on the thick layer of needles and decomposing limbs and my eyes reach skyward, distant and blue beyond the dark green needles. The creek of frogs emantes from a small puddle created in the base of a fallen leviathan, Various fungii grow along the moss-lined trail and a banana slug eases it's way across the path. High overhead, the rapid fire knock of a Pileated woodpecker breaks the stillness and is quickly abosrbed among the deep-set bark, soft floor and overarching canopy. These ancient giants hold a special place in my heart, a humbling appreciation for their enduring grandeur and their harmony with the land. The grey-green Eel River flows on endlessly to the sea only to return again on a later day.
I'm sitting on the bank of the Eel River writing in my journal and sipping cowboy coffee from my scratched and dented steel cup when I have that feeling I'm being watched. Glancing around, nothing immediately appears but I've just got that feeling. In a few minutes, a short man emerges from the woodline and walks along the cruncing smooth stones toward where I'm standing. I holler a greeting and put away my journal, sure I won't get much more writing done. He doesn't speak English and communicates he is from Korea. We work out a short conversation with lots of smiles and gestures. He appreciates having his photo taken and I smile at the foreign characters on the camera screen. A small crowd emerges and we walk back into the grove to meet his family, visiting their Uncle (pictures below in a green jacket) for the first time in the USA. Seoul must feel so far away in this remarkable forest. I introduce myself to the uncle, who smiles and asks if that is my scooter by the trailhead. The young girls chatter with their mother as we turn and continue back to the trailhead. The uncle walks slowly with a cane, stopping often to rest his legs. Although his stride may be short, all I can think of is how I spend the day walking and moving everywhere too damn fast. The depth of his conversation regarding the comforting majesty of this special place and his frequent returns impresses me. Back at the scooter, he tells the family about my trip in Korean and everyone smiles and is cheerful at the ridiculous milk jug handguards. I wish I had something to give the young daughters...Oh! I have a handmade American Flag cross stitched by woman and sold by her daughter with the desire to know where the flags end up. It was given to me by Tracy and I've had it strapped to the Ruckus for over 5k miles. The surprise and joy in her eyes and the smiling approval of the family made it feel right. I bid my goodbyes and slowly eased onto the wet pavement south through the tunnel of old growth trees.
Up in the King Range, the roads can be quite steep, potholed and washboarded. The Ruckus commenced rattling and knocking with a greater and greater violence but I figured it was just my centerstand spring going out on me again. I climbed up steep grades, often at only 10 mph, providing ample time to observe the surrounding characteristics of Humboldt County, or HUMCO as stenciled on the many road hazard signs. Climbing from the cool and shaded redwoods, the King's Peak Rd runs the last ridge to the west before the forest falls off into the Pacific Ocean. The air grows warmer in this microclimate where heat rises and the warmth and humidity of the sea allows for various species of flora and fauna to thrive that otherwise don't exist miles away. The oak forests and comforting smaller deciduous trees felt snug and familiar to my east-coast eyes. It would be a comfortable night in the hammock and a campsite with a fire ring sure was a nice addition.
In the morning, I packed up and didn't even make it out of the campground before I knew something was wrong with La Tortuga. At the turn off from the road, I pulled over and was shocked to see my exhaust wearing down the dipstick with both bolts missing. This has happened to me before and I suspect it is how my exhaust weld broke the first time. Rummaging through my toolbag, I uncovered a bolt that would barely fit with two or three light twists into the distant threads. It may hold. Throwing a bungee chord onto the rear fender support, I get it rigged up and set out onto the rough dirt road. By the time I reached the pavement four miles away, the bolt was long gone and I was back where I started. Fortunately zipties came into service and I got it to a running condition. Down into Shelter Cove I rode, on a hunch that the General Store may have what I need in this remote coastal community. They didn't have the specific item for sale but an employee ld me to the back room and handed me the nuts and bolts bin. My lego-trained eye immediately scanned the various sized nuts and bolts and picked out one that was the right pitch M8X1.25. Like the last bolt, it just barely reached the threads so I assumed the last one had worked out the outter few threads from the engine case. I bought a banana and thanked them for the free bolt. Turning back uphill, it only held in for about a mile and a half before also rattling loose. Back to the zip-ties. Redway was a long 35 miles with the precipitous terrain and steaming thickly piled patches of loose tar patch. The small black chunks adhered to the fender and one on the footboard. Soon the hum of my muffler began to deepen and I recalled my climb from San Rafael up through Nicasio where I first broke my muffler in half. The sound grew louder so I pulled over and confirmed my suspicions that my new exhaust with less that 8k miles on it was now also broken. Loctite is the kryptonite to Murphy's Law but I never seem to learn my lesson.
In Redway, I limb into Humboldt Motorsports with a hoseclamp around a cut up beer can serving to hold the expansion chamber to the header. Elegant, I know... After an introduction and display of the issue, an employee offers to weld it up for me as a permanent solution instead of half-assing it with hose clamps and exhaust rap as I had suggested. Although the later makes the rear wheel easier to remove, it isn't as stable for backpressure and engine performance. The exhaust is quickly removed and within minutes sparks began to fly as my exhaust returned to it's previous shape with a much improved weld. That is clearly a weak spot in the design although the pipe is only as big as my pinky. They had the spare bolts I needed to replace it, complete with 12mm head (I hate those 13mm Ace Hardware heads!). Black spray paint stuck to my hand as I clumsily grabbed the pipe while reinstalling it on the bike. As expected it started up and purred again nice and quiet. They didn't ask for payment and were quite happy to chat for a bit despite my offering to pay them. I'll be sure to order parts here on my next trip north in April.
With the bike repaired and much of the day spent in the endeavor, I head back to the coast, arriving at the Sinkyone Wilderness Area just near sunset. The road descends nearly 3000 feet in 3.5 miles of rutted and high-clearance required trail. The temperature changes dramatically as I descend and the stiff breeze blows heavy from the west. In a meadow ahead I spot the silhouettes of Roosevelt Elk, grazing at sunset. Everything once again had come together in another spectacular day on the road.
There is a tunnel of trees that took my breath away many years ago. Each time I return, I cannot help but stop to photograph this amazing spot. The sea spray often leads to dramatic lighting and sunbeams here and today was a banner day. Following CA-1, I wind my way down the coast with the Bay Area as a destination. Following will be a post about the Bay Area visit and my continued sojurn southward. I'm currently in LA updating this blog and fixing up the scooter so bear with me as we play "catch up".
It has been a productive few months in Bay Center, WA. I was fortunate enough to get some riding in, a hike and even a short ride on a sailboat up in Port Townsend. While visiting, I learned much about drywall, insulation, demolition and structural repair. There were many days spent indoors with a dusk mask and protective clothing, which wasn't really so bad. The weather has been abundantly rainy and cold so the idea began to form to head south to Baja for a few months. I took few pictures over these months, spending more time reading, and working than photographing.
On Christmas Eve, after an oil change and general inspection, I packed up the Ruckus and started south from Washington. A sheen of ice hid in the shadows and soon the fog obliterated all visibility. I made it as far as Yachats on the first night, shivering most of the way. Christmas morning brought freezing temperatures and ice again, a theme that would continue for a few days until I finally reached California. The glimpses of sunshine and breaks in the weather really helped to brighten my outlook though. While taking a break for coffee at a closed Myrtlewood Gift Shop, the owners came out and offered me a biscuit and coffee. "Merry Christmas" they said, and prepared to head to church. I felt bad for stopping on what was actually their front stoop but they seemed more than happy to make me a cup of coffee and chat briefly. Firendly folk abound in Oregon.
After a cold couple days, I made it through Brookings, OR and smiled at the outlook of a few sunny days and highs in the 50's. The idea of stopping in the sunshine out of the wind and just sitting on a rock till I warmed up seemed more and more appealing as the ride wore on. Next up, California!
In May 2014 I quit my job to ride a Honda Ruckus over 55'000 mi and counting. Wild camping most nights and cooking most of my own meals, I keep the costs low and the landscape changing.