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The California Coast and Eastern Sierra...Late April 2019


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My wife had taken our daughter and grandchildren to Capitola, a lovely resort on the California coast near Santa Cruz. On the day before our grandchildren's 2019 Easter break was to be over and they would return home, I took the RT from our home near Sacramento to join them. Once there we lounged on the beach in the warm April sun, told stories and jokes over a pizza dinner and I told them of my new motorcycling theory. It goes like this: A touring bike has to be great in a lot of conditions...rain, heat, long days, twisting roads and in the wind. My theory was about how to test a bike for windy conditions and had to do with my choice to take the RT through the Altamont Pass on my way to Capitola. The Altamont you see is home to one of our state's gigantic wind farms. So I theorized that the best way to test a bikes wind stability was to take it up a winding road with spinning propellers on each side. And, spinning they were! The wind pushed the bike around, just like the cars beside me, but the RT held it's own and stayed planted as I leaned left and right to make wind corrections. When I finished telling the kids my story, they proclaimed that they had been cursed with the dumbest grandfather in history and handed me another slice of pepperoni pizza.


The next morning, our daughter headed home with the kids and my wife and I took the RT south on the coastal route, California Highway 1...the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Before long we were through Monterey and cruising through Carmel by the Sea where Clint Eastwood was once the mayor. Then the road begins to feel as though you are riding on the back of a snake that is taking you from one scene to another. Waves crashing onto the shore, rocks grouped in the middle of the sea that look like gardens and ships out on the horizon as they make their way north to the Golden Gate. The weather was spectacular and the color of the water was reminiscent of the Italian and French Rivieras. If you've never ridden the PCH, you should know that you won't be alone. The traffic speed is always that of the slowest coastal visitor who, like you will be taking in the sights. But, a little patience pays as either that slow car or you pull off to a vista area for a photo or two. A word about the RT here. It is made for this. Even though we were two-up and loaded with warm and cold weather gear it easily torqued through every tight, twisting turn regardless of how steep the grade was.


A couple of hours on the snake and William Randolf Hearst's Castle at San Simeon came into view high upon a mountain ridge. We've visited it before so we chose not to stop on this trip. But if you haven't it's highly recommended. This is where Hearst, the newspaper magnate entertained Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Clark Gable and Gretta Garbo to name but a few. You must park not far from the highway and take a shuttle up the mountain. The road straightens quite a bit here, but the beauty of the Pacific Ocean is still right beside you. 7 miles from San Simeon, is the Piedras Blancas Rookery. In April, the rookery can be home to 17,000 Elephant Seals. There's all kinds of hanky panky going on here if you're interested...mating, birthing, molting. Everyone knows the seals mate, right? But who the hell knew that seals molt. What a mess! The mass of large bodies on the sandy beach of the rookery is stunning. It looks like thousands of sausages laid out for display!


We arrived in Santa Barbara around 4:30 p.m. after having done a 50 mile stretch of California Highway 101. We checked into our hotel and headed for dinner at Finney's Crafthouse, our favorite. It's burgers and beer, but both are just the best! Santa Barbara is a beautiful town that's tucked between the ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains. It is home to a University of California campus and has a lively night life. But, for us, night life ends long before that of the younger crowd begins, so we enjoy walking along the coast and perhaps a jaunt out onto the touristic Stern's Wharf.


The next day would take us about 325 miles from the coast to the high desert on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We left on Highway 101 south, and jumped on Highway 126 after taking in a lovely stretch of the Ventura coast. Highway 126 is a gem. It's pretty much straight line riding, but the lush coast gives way to barren mountains, lemon orchards and vineyards. Our ride along 126 was filled with the scent from the lemon trees and of the views of workers in the fields as they cared for the food that we'll soon be eating.


In the past, we have crossed Interstate 5 and gone through Santa Clarita to connect to Hwy 14 and out to the desert. On this day though, I got onto I-5 for 10 miles and then got onto Hwy 14. It's about 7 miles longer but avoids all of the stop signs and lights of Santa Clarita. 14 is a classic desert highway as it makes it's way through Lancaster, Palmdale and then Mojave. After Mojave, 14 took us through the small Red Rock Canyon State Park. Small but mighty as they say... We take our time here so that we can enjoy the spectacular canyon and it's colorful rock walls.


Beyond Red Rock Canyon, Highway 14 merges with what I consider to be the United States north/south “Mother Road”...Highway 395. On the western side of the Sierra Nevada lie a range of foothills that slowly take you to the mountain crests. On the eastern side however, these mountains show their majesty by screaming out of the desert floor to elevations of over 14,000 feet. Highway 395 follows the range and the first sight of the snow capped peaks let's you know that you aren't in Kansas any longer Toto. Hwy. 395 carried us past Hwy. 190 which drops to Death Valley, through Lone Pine, Independence and into our destination in Bishop. If you are interested in the arts, Bishop is where photographers Galen and Barara Rowell lived and operated the Mountain Light Gallery. The Rowells were tragically killed in a plane crash in 2002, but the gallery lived on until 2017.


So, do you like Chinese food? We do and highly recommend the Imperial Gourmet restaurant. If we could find a place like that in our neighborhood, we'd be it's most frequent customers. Do you like high mountain scenery? We like that too and a walk around Bishop always fills us up.


Leaving Bishop and heading north on Hwy 395 took us through the very best of the Sierra's scenery. Immediately we climbed the steep ramp like Sherwin Summit and when we passed Crowley Lake we looked up to see Mammoth Mountain, the home to the Mammoth Lakes Ski area. Deadman's Summit was next only to be followed by Conway Summit. All of these are steep long ascents and the RT flattened them out admirably.


The hits just keep coming on Hwy. 395. We followed the road as it took us by Mono Lake, the turn to Yosemite Park (snow closure) and up the range of the Sierra with it's gorgeous views all of the way into Reno, Nevada where we jumped on Interstate 80 which would take us back over the Sierra and into the Sacramento Valley to our home. Why I-80 instead of one of the other routes? It was because we had snow in the mountains last week and as I planned the trip I had concerns about lingering ice in the shaded curves of our smaller mountain roads.


The winter here in California has been a drought buster. There is more snow in our mountains than I have seen in many, many years. If you want to enjoy this splendor and have the time and accessibility (meaning that you don't have to ride out from New York) I think that it would be a shame to miss this. We're having classic California weather...we had snow last week and we hit 92 degrees before getting home yesterday. So, this won't last. Fire 'em up!




Cannery Row of John Steinbeck fame in Monterey, California


Morro Rock-IMG_4558 copy.jpg

Morro Bay and Morro Rock along California's PCH



So, my wife looks at this closely and proclaims: "LOOK!  That's the second horse's ass that I've seen on your motorcycle seat!"  BTW, that mountain in the distance with

the spires on the left is Mount Whitney, the highest in the contiguous United States.



OK, so it's only my opinion, but I think she's the best pillion ever!  Look at all of that snow!!!  And, in April!!!

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8 hours ago, RPondaRoad said:

If you've never ridden the PCH, you should know that you won't be alone. The traffic speed is always that of the slowest coastal visitor who, like you will be taking in the sights.


One time heading south on 1, my buddy and I got stuck for a while behind a car that came to a full stop in the southbound lane at every left curve, to admire and photograph the view!  With no way to see around the corner, we couldn't pass, and it took five or six times before we finally found a chance to get around.


On another trip, there was fog over the ocean, rendering it invisible, but at one of the higher points the sun was shining down onto the road through the fog, and it seemed we were riding through a glowing silver tunnel!  Magical!

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Danny caddyshack Noonan

Nice story and photos!  It took me a couple of rides to get to really appreciate the east slope.  Sort of a forest for, and in, the trees person until then always preferring the west slope due to temperatures.  The colors of the rock and how they change is pretty amazing.  Now in Utah, it is harder to find the blue hues.

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12 hours ago, longjohn said:

Fine writing sir. The pics look nice but I think they'll shine on my desktop when I get home.   Great job. 

You're welcome to put the images on your desktop.  Thanks for your comment.


3 hours ago, Danny caddyshack Noonan said:

Nice story and photos!  It took me a couple of rides to get to really appreciate the east slope.  Sort of a forest for, and in, the trees person until then always preferring the west slope due to temperatures.  The colors of the rock and how they change is pretty amazing.  Now in Utah, it is harder to find the blue hues.

I like the open feel of the Eastern Sierra with the high mountains on one side of the road and the open desert on the other.  In spring, the temperatures can be chilly as you indicate.  We had heated gear on as we crossed the summits in the morning.  But once the elevation dropped the temps rose and I rode in a mesh touring suit.  In the late spring and summer months though, the western side of the mountains that border the Sacramento Valley are in the high 90's to 100's while Highway 395 is cooler.  Thanks to you too for commenting.  

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