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Journey Through the Giants

September 1, 2013

The Journey through the Giants was an assault of the senses and the emotions.  The sights, the roads, the smells (road kill, sage, skunk, peaches, dill, ocean, pine, cedar, smoke, chocolate chip cookies, salt), the movement, the fear, the elation.  The weather was almost without fault as were the roads.  All of this was the experience of the Journey Through the Giants.  Northern California is indeed a perfect place to ride a motorcycle!

Scramblers arrived in Lake Tahoe in a variety of ways—almost the club’s version of Trains, Planes and Automobiles.  George rode in from the caves of Utah that he now calls home; Bill, Roger, and Wade had an eventful trip across the mountains, trailering their bikes all the way; Peter drove down from Oregon with another trailer with bikes for Barry, Ann, and himself; the rest of the group flew out with their bikes delivered efficiently to Sparks, NV.  Late on the evening of July 21st, the majority of the group was in South Lake Tahoe, enjoying the scenery, the weather, and ready for a group dinner at Camp Richardson.

Early the next morning, after many enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Heidi’s, the group began the first leg of the trip, landing in Yosemite National Park.  Ann and Barry, however, took the long way that day, picking up Ann’s new bike back in Reno.  The road led us past eerie Mono Lake, into the park through the northeast entrance, passing Tuolumne Meadows as we snaked across the northern part of the park and worked our way to the valley floor.  Many Scramblers chose to ride into Yosemite Village and view the incredible sights of El Capitan and Half Dome.  The traffic is always congested in that area, though, so not many lingered in there.  The wonderful curvy roads south of Yosemite Valley, though, were a great way to end the first day, as was the beautiful Tenaya Lodge, which was our home for the next two nights. 

The Tenaya Lodge proved to be a luxurious respite for the start of the trip.  Those who chose not to ride on the rest day had a variety of choices, including hiking around the area and the many amenities of the lodge.  For those that ventured back onto the roads, the curves began immediately outside the entrance to the lodge and didn’t stop. 

Many Scramblers rode back into the park and were rewarded by the breathtaking view from atop Glacier Point.  The pictures never do it justice…the view was well worth the ride, even the hairpin turns on narrow roads that started right when the view began to get really distracting.  It appears that a lone wolf likes to stand along the road to Glacier Point to watch the traffic go by.  There was more than one report of this wolf sighting by riders who reached that point across a wide span of time.  This day marked the beginning of quite a list of animal sightings:  besides the wolf, animals mentioned included deer, elk, bear, coyote, whales (or maybe, not), snakes, and one very brave, panini-eating squirrel.  The giant trees in the Mariposa Grove were another must-see in the park.

July 24th found us leaving Yosemite by some of the favorite roads of the trip.  It was a long day of riding, especially when the temperatures rose to the upper 90’s, with nearly 300 miles to cover.  The route followed the Gold Rush Trail, leaving the Sierras for the Cascades, and ended in the foothills overlooking California’s Central Valley.  Route 49 meandered through some old Gold Rush towns at the lower elevations, but the real joy of the day was the long road through bald mountains with lovely sweeping and switchback turns.  Even after the multitude of curves in Yosemite, this road was exhilarating and challenging.  The wide-sweeping view called to us, but the roads demanded our attention for many miles.  We were all grateful to finally reach Paradise—pretty much a misnomer—and the cool relief of the world’s smallest hotel pool. 

Paradise is located atop a wide ridge that has deep canyons on both sides.  It was an unusual ride up to the ridge from the valley floor with the sheer drop and the view of another ridge across the canyon.  Trivia buffs would be interested to know that scenes from Gone with the Wind were filmed somewhere in Paradise, although it’s hard to imagine where. 

Thursday ended with high temperatures again, but the bulk of the day was spent in the higher elevations, riding through the beautiful and desolate Shasta-Trinity National Forest and climbing the volcano that is Lassen Volcanic National Park.   Seriously beautiful.   Even though it was the end of July, there were some remaining areas with snow in the park.  At all times the vistas were gorgeous.  The sky was clear and the air was cool and clean.  There are always interesting names for locations in our national parks, and Lassen is no exception with Bumpass Hell as a popular stopping point.  This area boasts some geothermal activity on a much smaller scale to Yellowstone, and Bumpass Hell is one of most spectacular.  Seeing it does require a hike, though, so we were limited to reading about it…and really enjoying the name.

Shortly after leaving Lassen, one could sometimes spot lofty Mt. Shasta through the trees.  Its snow and glacier-covered, majestic peak is visible for many miles before entering the town at its base.  This mountain, reportedly, can be seen from the valley floor from as far as 140 miles away.   After reaching The Mount Shasta Resort, where we stayed in vacation houses on the lake across from the resort’s golf course, all we wanted were showers, food, and drink.  Fortunately, the lodge had a restaurant within walking distance, so we settled down there for a fun and relaxing evening.  Our group was now complete, as we welcomed Bud and Crystal who joined the ride in Mt. Shasta after a long ride from Reno.

The next day, Friday, was another riding day with many memorable parts.  After a blast up I-5 to put some miles behind us, we left the interstate at Weed to enter the Siskiyou National Forest and follow the Klamath River and the Bigfoot Scenic Byway.  The road along the river was just perfect with its wide sweeping curves that allowed riders to dance with their bikes.  This was a very remote part of California!  We were in the State of Jefferson, if you talk to many residents of this part of California and part of southern Oregon, which is the proposed fifty-first state.  Several failed secession attempts have been made to date. 

There was definitely a different feel to this part of the state, almost creepy in its isolation.  This feeling was keenly felt in the town of Happy Camp, the little town with a huge statue of Sasquatch.  Rumor had it that the general store had Sasquatch specimens, whatever that means.  Getting gas in Happy Camp was an “ask for directions” venture, since there was no obvious sign for the station and it was entirely unattended.  The feeling that we shouldn’t be there lasted long after leaving the gas station.

The route from Happy Camp, north into Oregon, and west to the Pacific Coast was another favorite on the trip.  The first leg was another climb up the mountains with tight curves for miles.  If you happened to stop for a rest in this area, you might have been surprised to find wild blackberries along the road, perfect for a midday treat.  There were very few other vehicles on this road, if any, until crossing the Oregon border and heading west for the coast. 

It was here that we first experienced the grandeur of the Pacific Coast redwood forests as we joined the Redwood Highway, the name for many of the roads we would travel during the middle part of this ride.  The roads often narrow to move between two trees and they gently curve under the dense canopy of shade.  One feels insignificant by comparison with these giants and awed by the beauty and silence.  Through the forest we skirted the border between Oregon and California, emerging on the Pacific Coast north of Klamath.  There was definitely a cold breeze blowing inland off the Pacific, so we bundled up and clung to the ocean roads and headed south through the first of many tsunami zones along the coast. 

We were unprepared for the lovely stay in Requa at the Requa Inn.  Most of the Scramblers stayed in the hotel itself, which had a welcoming public area on the first floor.  Five Scramblers—Howard, Sue, Adam, and Ritt and Anne journeyed up the hill, a very steep hill, to stay at a house overlooking the ocean.  Once up there, this group enjoyed a cold brew and some energetic whale spotting from the deck.  (There was much excitement about the whales for quite some time.  That is, until it was mentioned that the whales hadn’t moved…) 

Arrangements had been made for a pri fixe meal at the hotel.  Who knew that there was a gourmet chef on staff?  The meal was amazing!  Boasting ingredients that had been foraged nearby, the Scramblers were served a multi-course meal filled with unusual and delicious flavors.  Accompanying the meal was a tea that was sweet and soothing, a tea we will probably never taste again.  The Kempers and the LeFrancois were leaving the ride after this point, so it was lovely to have this last chance to dine together as a group.

Saturday’s ride was a short one for many Scramblers, just taking us down the coast to the tiny town of Ferndale.  Along the way, though, many chose to explore the wonders of the Redwoods National and State Parks.  There were also beautiful roads that led inland and curved back to the coast that could make for interesting riding.  The lodgings at Ferndale were at the Victorian Inn, an old hotel situated on a corner at the end of the interesting and beautiful downtown that included, among other things, shops for a haberdasher and a milliner.  We were made to feel very welcome at the Victorian Inn.  A picture of our parked bikes alongside the hotel was posted to the hotel website while we were staying there!  The first floor bar and dining room were frequent meeting spots during our two night stay.

The Lost Coast, oh my, the Lost Coast.  We were grateful for the light day of riding on Saturday once we faced Sunday’s ride.  The Lost Coast is a part of the Pacific coastline that was not included in Route 1 because it was too rugged.  This was our route for the day. 

The entrance to the Lost Coast was just blocks away from the Victorian Inn, but given the likelihood of dense fog early in the day, many chose to ride south along US101 and enter from the south after riding along the Avenue of the Giants.  This is a delightful stretch of road, similar in many ways to the Redwood Highway along the Oregon/California border.  Here, there is less traffic for the most part and the darkness is deeper.  Everything seems bigger along the Avenue of the Giants, except for the people. 

From this magical road, one enters the Lost Coast, first by climbing and then descending Catheys Peak from Panther Gap.  Somewhere along this part of the road, the State of California had ceased to make meaningful road repairs.  For about sixty miles, the Lost Coast road meanders up, down, over, around, and beyond…mountains, farmland, valleys, cliffs, beaches, and boulders.  The road is generally rough, often with huge sections of dirt and gravel.  There is one bridge crossing a stream that was really interesting by motorcycle.  It was a wooden bridge with the floor of the bridge consisting of boards that ran from side to side.  On top of these boards, though, were two twelve inch boards marking where the car tires should ride.  So, by motorcycle, one needed to stay on the twelve inch board for the length of the bridge.  Interesting.

Reaching the coast ramps up the difficulty factor with gale-force winds.  For the six mile stretch of road along the waterfront, there is no sign of life, with the exception of the very normal-looking house at about the midpoint.  This house is part of a ranch located along the coast part of the Lost Coast.  Just beyond, the road seems to go straight up and then take a more-than-hard-right to hug the ridge over the Bear River Valley; the ridge is called the Wall at this point.  There is no rest yet.  Once on the ridge, there is another twenty miles of narrow, curvy, deteriorating road along ranches and through forest before arriving suddenly back in Ferndale.  Scary, exciting, scary, exhilarating, scary, spectacular, scary, exhausting, scary, and very, very affirming.

Ferndale was a great place to connect with people, it seems.  Sue, Howard, and Adam visited with Dick Cogswell near Petrolia—Sue and Howard bought their current house from Dick, who moved to Petrolia to start a vineyard, the Lost Coast Vineyard.  While a quick visit, Dick’s house was unlike any other on the Lost Coast, they came away with three bottles of his wine which were shared with the group at dinner that night.   Bud and Crystal spent some time visiting with Marlene Gonstadt’s cousin, who stopped to see the Scramblers at the Inn.   Good times.

Monday took the Scramblers along more of the Redwood Highway, further down the coast, and then a bit inland to Boonville, a small town in Mendocino County known for its wine—chiefly Pinot Noir and sparkling wines—and apples.  Nestled in the Anderson Valley, the roads in and out of Boonville are exciting and beautiful.  Lodgings were at the beautiful and unique Boonville Hotel, a frame hotel with many outbuildings which together are the compound of the hotel.  The garden area was a natural gathering and relaxation place for the Scramblers during the afternoon and into the night. 

The group enjoyed dinner together in the outside dining area of the hotel with a wine tasting provided by the newly formed Lichen Winery.  The wines paired beautifully with the delicious food prepared by the Boonville Hotel chef.  Following dinner, the group gathered around the fire in the garden to roast marshmallows and unwind before retiring.

The next day was a day of choice for the Scramblers.  With all the beautiful roads in the area, some chose to ride.  Others opted for exploring Anderson Valley wine country via Vino Van.  This group visited three wineries:  Goldeneye, Toulouse, and Phillips Hill.  This was quite the range of offerings in the valley.  Goldeneye had an elegant tasting room with a lovely outdoor terrace where the Scramblers enjoyed their wines.  Toulouse was serving up the last of their 2008 wines, which were marred by the heavy smoke from the fires in the area that year, so not so enjoyable.  But, Phillips Hill was a Scrambler’s kind of tasting.  We sat as a group under huge shade trees next to the old apple dryer barn, with Toby, the winemaker, and his assistant, Natacha, treating us like old friends.  A very nice way to end our tour of the valley.

The next morning , after a Horn of Zeese, or cup of coffee in the Boontling language, we made ready for the start of our return to Lake Tahoe, which would take us two days of long riding.  Unfortunately, Howard’s bike, was dead.  A stalwart group of Scramblers all joined in on the effort to push start the bike, but were unsuccessful.  After about an hour of trying, some locals who lived on the main road offered the use of their charger.  At last, the bike started and we were on our way!

Leaving Boonville on CA253 doesn’t give sufficient time to warm up before the roads become challenging.  The coastal mountains rise quickly and are small enough to require frequent and tight turns.  After the first twenty miles, the roads were straightforward for most of the day, until joining CA70 and a lovely ride along the Feather River.  Following the night’s rest in Quincy, the group set out to finish the ride to South Lake Tahoe, this time riding down the west side of the lake.  Just after the overlook that boasts the best views of Emerald Bay, the road becomes an isthmus high above two bays of the lake for about 100 feet.  Strange to have sheer drop-offs on both sides! 

Back in South Lake Tahoe, Barry took some time to compute the trip statistics.  Voicing his pleasure with the roads, Barry estimated that the ride boasted approximately 30,650 curves; this figure was the result of multiplying the number of miles—2050—by the average number of turns in each mile—15.  Even if this seems a bit high, it certainly felt like 30,650 curves!  The mean temperature during the ten days was 66 degrees Fahrenheit, with a range from 29 degrees to 106 degrees.  Barry pointed out that the directions were not always straightforward—one turn was given as a left and should have been a right, and one sign, in particular, showed the road as a north route and a south route—how can that be!  In all, it was a fabulous trip with dear friends and great roads!

Scramblers on the trip:  Peter Bernacci, Wade Clement, Roger Ensminger, Bob & Christine Karr, Joe & Sharon Kemper and their two granddaughters, Ritt & Anna LeFrancois, George Matocha, Bud & Crystal Melto, Bill Milam, Adam Sarauskas, Howard & Sue Tiedt, and Barry & Ann Willey. 

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