Monday, October 31, 2011

1400 Miles Around California on a Kawasaki KLR650 - Part 1

After a couple of years of saying “I'm going to do this” and a handful of false starts, I finally forced myself to get off my ass and go ride this KLR for the express purpose for which it was purchased – adventure riding, or at least something resembling that.

The “plan” was five-six days and about 2000 miles around California along with a slight detour into Oregon. The existence of a time buffer and lack of set destinations, theoretically, would make it easier -- ah, the dreams of the uninitiated.

Day 1: Long Beach to Monterey
Familiar Ground

Things started going weird from the start. Originally, I was going to take my XR1200. Unfortunately, it needed to get its initial service first and as I ended up being too lazy to take it in, the KLR had to make do as a stand-in. I ended up being really glad that I'd ended up on it instead of the XR for several reasons – greater range, some semblance of wind protection and heated grips.

Lunch with a Daihatsu-driving friend
Now, LA might be infamous for its traffic, but what nobody mentions is that it largely clears up past 9 am for approximately 2-3 hours. I leave around 10 thanks to prep time and sloth and head directly for PCH since there's no good reason to sit on the 405/101 to and through the San Fernando Valley unless you have to. The original planned called for a pass by Vandenberg AFB to the northeast of Santa Barbara, but lunch plans in Atascadero resulted in the first detour of the trip just 3 hours in.

After consuming a rather large carne asada burrito, I headed straight for the nearest coast-bound road, which happened to be state route 41 – this trip’s first encounter with the twisties. It ends in Morro Bay and runs partially through the northeastern tip of Los Padres National Forest. After all that time on the 101, it was a welcome reprieve, especially since PCH wouldn’t get twisty until well past San Simeon and Hearst Castle.

I’d been on the Morro Bay to Monterey stretch of PCH several times before, but never on two wheels. The experience was familiar, yet different due to all of the additional sensory perceptions. Being solo and having plenty of time to spare also allowed me to pull over to take pictures all I wanted. At one turnout was a beach filled with elephant seals sunbathing in the sand as small birds wandered between the lard-filled sea mammals. Periodically, one of the seals would flip some sand into the air. It was pretty cool to watch. A couple of hours later, I turned out to watch the sunset, which was quite spectacular. In fact, it was easily one of the most memorable sunsets I’d ever seen.

Things got dicey shortly thereafter. Not only did it get pitch black, the road got twistier, the air got colder, and I approached Point Sur -- one of the windiest stretches of the coast -- while being nowhere near close to a decent campsite or a reasonably-priced motel. Wind plus darkness meant slow going, which resulted in me being “that guy” that was holding up traffic, though I would pull over whenever I could. I have no idea how long I was on this stretch, but it sucked. Somewhere along the way, closer to Carmel, I paid entirely too much money for gas, as I was running low. I powered through for a bit longer until I got to Monterey, where I overpaid for a room at a Comfort Inn motel because, quite frankly, I was dead tired and didn’t feel like riding around looking for a Motel 6 or something similarly cheap. Dinner ended up being some Jack in the Box and a couple cans of PBR.

Outside Hearst Castle

Elephant Seals!

Just about dark...


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  2. I always wanted to do something like this. Can't wait to read part 2...