Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 334: Highway to Heaven .....

It’s Sunday morning and I have a plan. I had a plan yesterday, but that plan rudely unravelled when I realised that I’d left home without my wallet. It wasn’t all bad news though. Heading back to a warm bed in Boonville meant riding ‘The Redwood Highway’ at dusk which is something that I’d never done before. When darkens falls the road seems different, more magical and involving. I wont try to describe it, it’s just something that you really need to experience for yourself.
Today I’m heading south, though for some strange reason here they call it ‘East’, on California 128. Through the Yorkville Highlands and then swing right onto Fish Rock Road. I’ve no idea what a ‘Fish Rock’ is, but somebody’s taken the time to name a road after it and so I’ll take time to ride it. The map tells me that it’ll take me along almost thirty miles of switchback bends before bringing me out onto the Pacific Coast Highway. It turns out to be a fun road that flicks between forests of tall redwoods and spruces. The giant trees are heavy with dew and shedding a deep carpet of bright orange needles onto the road. The sun‘s low and long shards of sunlight flash across the road between shadows. Under tyre it’s butt clenchingly slippery but the bike just seems to get on with it. A pair of young deer dart across the road a few yards in front of me. Except it’s not the road. It’s a forest logging track obstructed by a fallen log gate. The road veers right and I’ve misread the vanishing point. A million bike miles and I’m still making fundamental mistakes. Look where I need to be going and resist the natural instinct to brake. All of my weight on the inside footpeg, a handful of gas at the apex and put all of my faith in Continental Twinduro tyres. It takes all of the road, and a little bit more, but I exit the turn with another life lost and a mental memo to stop being such a prick.

After ten miles, a yellow sign announces the end of the tarmac but unlike my dodgy roadmap, the sign didn’t lie. Fish Rock Road becomes Fish Rock Dirt Track and I’m thankful that I’m riding the KLR and not the Tiger. The track climbs and falls past occasional vineyards and homesteads that are discreetly set back from the road. The KLR doesn’t seem to mind what’s under it’s knobbly tyres, it just seems to get on with whatever I ask it to do. Twenty miles along this road and I haven’t encountered another single vehicle. Then cresting a dusty brow the Pacific Ocean comes into view and the road begins falling towards it.

On a cliff above the breaking waves, I drink a pint of hot coffee. I’d bought the coffee five miles earlier in the town of Gualala and two things surprise me. Firstly, after five glorious miles on the Pacific Coast Highway the cup’s still at least half full and secondly, it’s proper coffee. It seems that normal unmolested coffee is something of a rarity in these parts. Coffee vendors here seem to have a penchant for adding additional unwanted flavours like vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon or mermaid nipples, but I drink coffee because I like the taste of coffee. If I want to taste vanilla, I’ll buy myself an ice cream.

I take my time drinking the coffee, partly because of the wonderful surroundings and partly because I know exactly what’s coming next. At Stewart’s Point, I turn right onto Skragg’s Spring Road. I’ve ridden this road before on the Triumph Tiger and in my humble opinion, after ten fun filled miles of interesting road, it turns into the best fast riding road in the world.

I’m heading West towards Sonoma Lake and the city of Cloverdale. I stop to take photographs at the end of Annapolis Road and then again above the creek at the base of the valley. I’m ten miles along Skragg’s Spring Road and the real fun is about to begin.

Imagine if the young designers at ‘EA Sports’ had designed the perfect riding road for Playstation IV, then this would be it. As the forests give way to rolling sunburnt meadows the road widens and starts to climb. I pass a group of sportsbike that are preparing to pull out of a lay-by and throw them a handsome wave. It’s mostly Harley’s with lots of chrome and Goldwing’s with lots of luggage around here and seeing a group of R1’s, Ninja’s and Fireblade’s is really quite unusual.

I tip the KLR into the first right hand corner and my fifteen mile smile begins. The constant double yellow lines in the centre of the road mark every beautiful bend and the double thickness Armco barriers at either side will correct any minor mistakes, probably permanently. The tarmac is reasonably new and the turns just keep on coming. Sometimes rising, sometimes falling, but always turning. Both cheeks of my arse seldom touch the seat at the same time and my left foot tap dances on the gear pedal. Flicking from left to right or from right to left, I catch glimpses of the chasing bikes in the mirrors that I really ought to clean. They’re not getting any closer but it’s hard work staying ahead of them.

Five miles in and although the sportsbikes still haven’t caught me, the KLR’s really starting to protest. The engine’s fine but the soft suspension must be getting a little warm and the bike shakes it’s head and arse at the same timeon every turn. Maybe it’s not the suspension but the sand tyres? Continental Twinduro’s are fantastic in the mud and dirt but they’ve got the profile of a smiling hillbilly and are probably not suitable for fast tarmac. Also, In the back of my mind I can remember somebody once telling me that fast road riding with mousses instead of inner tubes was not a good thing to do, but it’s too late now and at least I wont get a puncture.

With a pair of mirrors that still show nothing but grime, the road begins to drop sharply towards Sonoma Lake and the valley floor. Going mostly uphill the KLR had been fine but on the downhill second half of the road, I realise that the brakes are really quite rubbish. Or maybe like the suspension, tyres and mousses, they’re just a little bit too hot. In the interests of self preservation and with some respect for the fragility of the above mentioned cycle parts, I back off the throttle and allow both of my cheeks to rest firmly on the saddle. A few minutes later I here the unmistakable sound of race cans behind me and turn my head to see the pack of sportsbikes grinning like Cheshire Cats and raising their thumbs behind me. The road’s straight as we approach the entrance to Sonoma Lake and I notice the rear end of a large black sedan with white doors poking out from the side of the road. To the side of the car is the rear end of a Highway Patrol officer who we’ve rudely interrupted whilst taking a piss in the bushes.

At the first junction I turn right without stopping and then indicate to turn left at the next. Suddenly the dirt on my mirrors seems to have vanished and as clear as day behind me is the patrol car. No flashing lights. He’s just keeping a regular distance behind me and of course, the sportsbikes have already buggered off into the distance and left me alone to face the music. I pass the road sign, ’Cloverdale, Population 1280, Altitude 333 feet’ but judging by the constant smell of marijuana the whole town must be an awful lot higher than that. Perhaps the police officer will leave me alone and chase the dope growers instead ?

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