The Premiere Class of Racing Back in the States
VValentino Rossi, arguably the greatest motorcycle racer the world has ever seen, at least so far, would be racing for the first time in the United States in MotoGP. Rossi would be racing against the greatest of the great when top-tier roadracing returned to California in July 2005. Mazda, Laguna Seca Raceway, near Monterey would host the event and we, in Utah, were only two days riding away.
In the past when we had gone to California, we had loaded the bikes into trailers to save expensive tires from murderously straight Nevada highway system. This year, however, we would be riding. We were to all meet up on Wednesday, July 6 th at the McDonalds just off I-80, at the exit to Tooele. Eric and Dawn were already at the Chevron station and after gas, headed over to get our Mickey-D's breakfast when my phone rang. Dale, a few weeks early, had a few MSF trainer bikes stolen and they were recovered this morning. So, instead of riding out with us, Dale was going to have to remain behind to collect the bikes and fill out all the requisite paperwork.
No sooner had we sat down to our scalding hot coffees and McGriddles, we received a call from Dwight, the final attendee on the trip and an MSF instructor. Once we assembled, and after Eric tried to spill his coffee on me, we got on the bikes and started our westward progress. It was early enough that the summer heat had not reached any heights and we were able to still ride in our heavier leather jackets. High-altitude clouds were filtering morning sunlight, keeping things even cooler as we started out on the horribly straight Interstate-80.
Two hours later, after riding past the wavering heat of the salt-flats, we pulled into Wendover for fuel and a quick call to Dale to see how his bike recovery was going. Apparently it was going well; six of the eight bikes had been recovered, including the most valuable bikes taken. He was also about to hit the road and would likely only be about three hours behind us, so we'd decided to take a more sedate pace allowing him to make up time.
Wendover is most notorious for the WWII air force base in the 1940's. Notable because it is the place where the Enola Gay was housed. The old, derelict hangers are still there, as is the runway. The abandoned facility has been seen in many blockbuster movies such as Independence Day, The Hulk and Terminator 3 for example. The airport was recently renovated to bring in gamblers to what is now merely a Nevada border gambling spot. However, rumors abound regarding current, top-secret military stuff still taking place.
We left Wendover heading south on Nevada Highway 93. No sooner had we left Wendover in our mirrors but a Nevada Highway Patrol car was perched, in the center of the road, silhouetted against the horizon. It felt like a scene from a Mad Max movie. Desolate, empty road and a lone vehicle standing guard at the horizon. We didn't know what to do, so we rode on. The cop starts driving towards us in our lane. So we pull off, and he keeps going. So we started going again. But then a lone pickup comes along and tells us to pull off the road.
Was there an accident? We had no idea what was going on until a large lorry came into view with, what appeared to be a derelict compression chamber, wide enough to take up the better part of two lanes. Why anybody would salvage such a rusted hulk of old equipment was beyond us, but this is Wendover and one never knows what could be taking place out here.
From there, we rode south through a gently sweeping mountain pass. It was two hours before we stopped again in the town of Ely where we filled up the tanks. Ely is where we would be connecting with highway 50, designated the loneliest road in America, and make our final push west towards California. But it was still early and the westward push was going to be long and drawn out.
Ely (pronounced Eee-Lee) is a relatively new city as far as Nevada Cities go, initially established as a Pony Express stop in the 1870's, it evolved into a major train stop in the early 1900's when mining became profitable. Now, Ely's biggest tourist attraction is a “Ghost Train.” A restored Nevada Northern Railway engine that takes tourists on small excursions along the historic railways in the area.
We had no interest in a train ride through Ely, so we started out on Highway 50 where we were greeted with some of the day's best riding. A series of five or six sweepers rounded us through a mountain pass before dumping us back onto roads that disappeared into the distance without a single corner or bend in sight.
Oddly, despite its miserable motorcycle riding, Nevada is the most mountainous state in the Union. While mountains are relatively close together, they are also extraordinarily steep and not conducive to canyon roads. Instead, engineers have chosen to place routes around the mountains whenever possible.
About an hour later, we needed a stop and Eureka looked to be the most hospitable place we'd seen that day. A silver discovery in the 1860's founded Eureka and today it is the best preserved of the historic Nevada mining towns. Main Street still looks like it probably did 70 years or more ago – with the exception of the two lane tarmac road that runs through the center of town.
The lovely Kris getting ready to head back into the Nevada heat.
We stopped at a café/diner for lunch and left the bikes on the street in front of a hitchin' post, as it were, and went inside to get away from the heat. Burgers were the order of the day as we looked past the “fresh seafood” section of the menu and opted for beef instead. We sat on vinyl covered, steel frame chairs at a Formica table where the wood grain had long since been rubbed off. The food was mediocre, but the waiter was friendly.
But we were ready to get back on the road to get all this straight-road riding over with. The next stretch of Highway 50 has been called by more than one vehicle testing publication, the “high speed desert test facility”. I don't know of any longer or straighter section of road in the United States.
By about the time we were ready to gouge our eyes out with a rusty ice-pick to avoid having to endure the desolation and boredom much longer the road started to climb steeply over a sharp mountain pass, then descend just as abruptly, through as series of uncharacteristically sharp corners before ending in a climax known as Austin, Nevada.
Austin is what you would think of as a living ghost town. It was officially discovered by W. H. Talbott's horse in 1862. Yep, his horse. Talbott was riding through the area when his horse is claimed to have kicked up a piece of quartz containing both gold and silver. Talbott staked his claim and one year later over 10,000 people called Austin, Nevada home. For the history buff, Austin is worth a trip because many of the towns original structures still stand, giving the town that eerie ghost town feel. If you don't much care for history, Austin has little to offer. We sat in front of the town's only gas station and rehydrated when a most interesting thing pulled in for gas.
A red 600cc Helix scooter, pulling a trailer and piloted by an older gentleman sporting a neatly trimmed beard and penny-loafers, pulled in for gas. The URL alaskabikerun.com was pasted across his windshield. More astonishing, to us anyway, was his road-partner, Patrick, who pulled in on a Suzuki GZ250, the same bike we use as trainer bikes. The AlaskaBikeRun.com 2005 trip log makes an obscure reference to us:
At a Nevada gas stop, many bikers were amazed at Patrick Henry's 250cc Suzuki bravely chugging its way from Tennessee to Alaska. He is getting gas mileage in the high 60s while I am getting the mid 40s which is great because of pulling a trailer and constant head winds.
That must have been us doting about the 40k miles he'd racked up on his little bike. Obviously with a sense of humor, we appreciated Patrick's irony of a West Coast Choppers sticker he'd affixed to the luggage on the back of his bike. We would continue to leap-frog past these two for the rest of the day.
Leaving the ghost town of Austin behind, we chose to abandon Highway 50 for a short excursion over Highway 722 that looked as thought it would take us through a small corner of National Forest. Typically, National Forest roads tend to be the most enjoyable for motorcycles because they are less improved than major routes, and therefore, tend to contain a few more corners. Highway 722 turned into Highway 2 unexpectedly, and after another series of irritatingly straight sections of road, treated us to a traffic free blast through a 3-miles series of extremely tight and technical corners. These twists and turns in the road were much harder to navigate than I would have thought, probably because our speeds for the entire day had been – uhm – pretty fast, and now we had to slow down into the 30's to get the bikes around the corners.
Back onto Highway 50, the day's heat grew to its zenith and I was getting utterly sick and tired of these heinous straight roads. Riding was nothing more than enduring the heat while trying to find a comfortable position on the bike. I never knew there were so many variations to just sitting on a motorcycle.
As we neared Fallon, a Navy training helicopter circled over us as we rode past empty flats that looked even drearier than the famous salt flats of Utah and had us wondering why on earth is there a Navy base in Fallon, Nevada? Funny you should ask.
In June, 1942 the Navy began construction of a small air station southeast of town, and Fallon's economy jumped. The station was closed in 1946, but reopened during the Korean War. In 1958 it was dedicated to Lt. Cdr. Bruce Van Voorhis, a Navy pilot from Fallon awarded the Medal of Honor. The 14,000-ft. runway is the Navy's longest.
It is also one of the busiest now. The Navy uses the air space over a big part of the country to the east to train pilots in combat techniques and has made the region uninhabitable. Oil and fuel spills, as well as bomb drops, have accumulated enormous environmental damage. And at the same time, the base has expanded its activities (and its payroll) with accompanying benefit to the local economy.”
Fallon was a much bigger town that we'd thought it would be, probably because the aforementioned Navy base. Even though there seems to be some local unrest caused by the environmental damage, it is hard to imagine the desolate area being used for much else.
But Fallon was hot! Extremely hot and we huddled in the gas-station awning shade for any kind of relief. Dwight said that he saw a sign that claimed 113-degrees. That's hot! Even drinking ice-cold water by the half-liter, the ice-cold water would be warm and tepid before we could drink to the bottom of the clear, plastic bottle.
Now, though, only 60-some miles remained between us and Carson City, the scheduled stop for the night. But, oh it was hot. The only relief came from riding next to a small body of water, Lahontan State Recreation Area, and a huge cloud that drifted in and blocked the sun that had been in our faces since 1pm, all of us commented later about how delighful that cloud was, even Dawn took a picture of it. When we all arrived in Carson City, every one of us made mention to that fantastic cloud that provided shade for our eyes and a brief relief from the scorching heat. But we had done it; crossed the vile Nevada desert. Less than 600 miles of sheer boredom, and the worst part was that in five days time we would have to do it again. It was a bleak cloud hanging over the vacation.
We unpacked into our rooms and walked over to a Round Table Pizza when Dale called from a gas station less than a block away. By traveling at sub-light speeds, and never stopping for more than a tank of gas, half a Kit-Kat candy bar and a bottle of water, he had caught up with us.
The next morning we awoke knowing that today we would have many more enjoyable roads before us than the day before. But rather than ride up into Lake Tahoe and deal with the traffic and congestion that always surrounds the huge lake in the mountains, we rode due south on Highway 50, at least until it turned into 395, another ruler-straight road that took us to Highway 88 and finally into California.
Highway 88 eventually becomes a wonderful road as it nears the National Forest, but we soon made a right turn onto Highway 89 taking us into Markleville Station for a pre-planned breakfast. After eating we continued along Highway 89 over an enchanting mountain pass that wanders back towards the east and eventually overlooks Nevada in the wavering distance. We turned south again onto Highway 395 until we made a right turn onto Highway 108, a personal favorite. Highway 108 is also known as Sonora Pass and offers some of the most ruggedly paved road I've ever found. We've done this road several times now, but its undulating and twisting tarmac is a sheer joyride.
We stopped at the top of Sonora Pass , because it is obligatory. One cannot merely pass this place without stopping at the top to revel in how much fun the road is, and to note how the signs placed at the top have differing elevation numbers.
The morning was still early and we proceeded down Sonora Pass , dropping down the other side, there is almost immediately more vegetation as we were now riding on the western slope where more rain is collected. As we rode we came upon a pack of BMW's who appeared to be on tour hosted by a company such as Eidelweiss. I was shocked and dismayed as one of the tour leaders, riding in the rear pulled out, mid corner in front of Dwight, who was riding directly in front of me. A real bone-headed move that had me steaming for several miles.
The farther we dropped, the less intense the road grew and soon we were riding through heavily forested sweeping corners. The dark black tarmac was new and smooth allowing for wonderful riding. We stopped briefly at Donnell Lake , where we looked straight down into a narrow gorge where the small-ish reservoir lived remote and virtually untouched in a state with one of the densest populations in the country.
Sonora Pass then falls into a narrow canyon and flows down, with the river, into the small community of Sonora . As we reached the first stop light, Eric, who was directly behind me and Kris, started honking his horn frantically and we noticed his shifter linkage laying on the ground beneath his left footpeg. I thought Honda's didn't break? He pulled to the side of the road to look for the missing bolt. I imagined looking for and finding a bolt after two days of riding was a serious long shot, so I rode down the road to catch up with Dale and Dwight on their matching FZ-1's. Just before I caught up with them, I spied a Napa Auto Parts store and proceeded back to the shop to purchase the bolts that I'd guessed had fallen out of Eric's bike.
By the time I'd made the purchase, Eric had ridden down and met up with Dale and Dwight. He had, astonishingly, found the bolt lying in the intersection. Good thing, because I was dead wrong about the missing fastener. I'd thought it was a small 8mm spline retainer bolt where in fact, the bolt was a huge headed thing that holds the shifter arm onto the rearset, just below the footpeg. Had he not found the specialty bolt, a makeshift fix would have been difficult.
But now we were near a Shell gas station and a Burger King, so it was a good time to stop for fuel and food. The more hungry of us grabbed burgers while the less hungry were content with gas station snackages. We laid in the shady grass with our boots off and discussed the road we'd just traveled and the planned route.
On the map, we'd spied a series of small county roads that were a more direct route and would navigate around some of the larger towns as we were heading south. A series of smaller routes with names like Tuolumne Road , Algerine Wards Ferry Way and Wards Ferry Road took us over paved roads no bigger than most cites paved jogging trails. We dropped down into a deep ravine that housed a distant vein of Don Pedro Reservoir and crossed over a decaying concrete bridge adorned with decades of slogans expressed with spray paint. Extreme grades worked brakes, throttle, clutch and forearms into tingling frenzies while stress of potential oncoming traffic frayed nerves and we found ourselves, once again, on a road with paint depicting two distinct lanes of traffic.
Highway 120 crosses back to Nevada and we turned west until we met up with Highway 49. Highway 49 runs the western foothill of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and holds some brilliant riding and very little traffic. We turned west again on Bear Valley Road that traipses to the west and down into the heat infested Sacramento Valley . Homitos Road carried us south to Highway 140 that carted us all the way into the busting community of Merced where we gassed up and prepared to cross the worst of the Sacramento valley.
In Merced , looking for Highway 59 south, Dale, who continually teases me about using a GPS, got disoriented. Riding through town, trying to have a converse with a truck driver for directions, eventually pulled into a gas station, we followed Dale obediently. All the while I watched as we rode past Highway 59, then turned the wrong direction, then once we turned the right way, Dale pulled off the gas station. I zipped around the group and next to Dale, “This way!” I shouted and rode back onto the street, then followed the GPS until we had found our route. Ha!
Dale back in the lead, we followed an endless parade of passenger cars and agricultural trucks traveling south. As we neared Sandy Mush Road (what a great name for a road), traffic ground to an unexpected halt requiring a few moments of MSF training put into practice. We all did a real-world demonstration of “Stopping in the Shortest Distance” and safely averted danger.
Soon, Highway 59 ended abruptly and we on-ramped to Highway 152 heading west, into the waning sunlight. A four-lane-doldrum of a road, we squinted into the sun. As we rode directly towards the Pacific Ocean , mist and humidity finally visible as the air was growing acutely hazy. Through the town of Los Banos we continued on 152. We were approaching San Luis Reservoir where it has always been extraordinarily windy, but the first welcome breath of cooler coastal temperatures. Additionally, as we neared San Luis Reservoir the intense sunlight was softened by the humidity in the air.
We had hoped to stop briefly in Hollister to visit the Corbin plant, but we'd spent too much time riding and the Corbin doors were closed and locked. We stopped to put on warmer jackets as we were finally close enough to the coast to feel the humid bite when traveling at speed – the best condition for motorcycling. We retraced our steps back to Highway 152 then continued west until we reached Highway 101 and rode south towards Salinas .
The Motel 6 in Salina's was the base point for all the Hawk-list gatherings taking place during the week and I'd hoped to ride back there at some point to match faces to names. I'd been a member of the Hawk GT list for a couple years and had yet to meet a single member in person. I paid close attention and spied the Motel 6 just off the highway as we roared south.
The closer we got to Monterey the more motorcycles we saw; motorcycles by the thousands and most of them full-dress sportbikes of every size shape and color. Excitement was in the air, many motorcyclists had traveled much farther than we had and a large number of car drivers were motorcyclists from around the country and around the world in their rental cars, here to see the first American MotoGP race in ten years.
South of Salina's we put tires to Highway 68, Monterey Road, which travels directly passed Laguna Seca Raceway and eventually right into Monterey proper. Just before we were to arrive at the track, we made a brisk left turn onto Laureles Grade Road that gyrates its way over a small mountain towards Carmel Junction.
Returning to Carmel Junction was almost like returning home. The last time we'd visited had been magical for me. My very first world class motorcycle event and I was saddened that this trip was not holding the same excitement as the first time. However, for Kris it was different, she was more excited than I. She'd been a Rossi fan since he was riding 125cc class and had been wearing his replica helmet since before most Americans had a clue as to who he was.
We checked into our Hotel where the petrol-head proprietor took special care of us. Dale is a long time customer and has a long-standing rapport with the owner. Standing in the hotel office put me at awe. Porsche racing prints hung densely on three walls while the fourth wall, overlooking his desk, was stacked desk-top to ceiling with small brown, Dewey-Decimal-card sized drawers. When I asked about their contents I was informed that they held every guest's name since the 1950's. Wow! So close to Laguna Seca, I could only imagine the names that might be scrawled on those 3x5 cards.
Once we unloaded the bikes and settled in, we rallied up and walked down the street for dinner at the same restaurant we'd eaten at four years ago. It looked exactly the same and we sat in amongst the western trinkets and cowboy boots nailed to the walls and ceiling while we sipped margarita's and digested our evening meal.
We had ridden hard to arrive a day earlier than originally planned. We awoke Friday morning ready to visit the track and enjoy the first practice day the racers would get; the first time many of these racers had ever put seen the American race track famous for its plummeting corkscrew corner. We donned gear and rode down to a nearby strip mall that features a fantastic coffee shop that offers the best yogurt parfaits on the planet. The parking lot was an event in and of itself. Three stunning, ridden and rare, early 70's Ducati's were the highlight of the scene of race-amped-riders milling about bench racing and talking bikes.
Looking over the three Ducati's, each in a varied state of restoration, I was impressed by the least likely of the three. A Pantah 750 looked like it had just come off the showroom floor and a 750-Gt sat tiredly on its side stand, but a slightly ratty, but definitely ridden 750 SuperSport was the star in my eyes. The newest model of the three, I believe it was a 1978, showed both its age and its mileage. Clean, but not without scuffs, scrapes and a few cracks, the bike was like a piece of history. Talking with the original owner I decided that a showpiece cannot hold a candle to a well maintained, but ridden example of the same bike. Every scratch had a story and every modification had a purpose. I loved it and I found it most interesting. Eric called it “a little bit ratty” but had the same feelings as I did.
Breakfast downed and helmets donned, we were ready to cross over Laureles Grade to the track. Our tickets were placed in easy to grab locations as we headed north to the track. Seemingly endless streams of bikes were all around us as we all slid in a motorized ballet through the twisting curves of the road. The air was electric with anticipation as I followed the group, watching my beloved wife arc her Monster delicately and expertly around the corners, up and over, down the other side to a red light, where we all sat, waiting to turn left. The track was now only moments away and sounds of bellowing 4-stroke engines drifted on the cool morning air. It was a motorcycle fanatic's dream land.
Not 500 meters after we turned left we were in the midst of a sea of orange cones, Dale in the lead, turned past the cones and began riding up towards the track. Cars tend to clog the steep climb to the track, but they also leave enough room for motorcycles to slip up between and on either side of the cars. Its fun to watch all the motorcycles filter past the four-wheeled vehicles. At the gate, we are moved to the right where half a dozen guys in bright vests were using handheld scanners to read everyone's ticket. Over the lip and down into the track area we proceeded.
A couple on VFR's adorned with dozens of Washington MSF stickers were refusing to lane split and were preventing anyone from getting past them, creating a bit of congestion. I made it up directly behind the couple, the car behind them backed off and let me next to them and I began to explain to the lead rider “Just split, its okay, just go” He shook his head at me repeatedly so I continued “No really, look behind you everyone wants you to ‘split' ahead.” He looked behind him and saw the clog of motorcycles with volunteers motioning him to move forward. He looked back at me and shook his head again, so I just rode past him and down into the parking area.
Once we were off the bikes and got the helmets and gear locked down we excitedly wandered into the track. A sea of bikes was already parked around us and we continued to get distracted by the rarest ones parked outside the gate, but we forced ourselves onward. First order of business was to b-line it to the official souvenir shop to purchase official t-shirts for Gordon, who practically gave us his tickets in trade for a MotoGP t-shirt (we bought him two) as well as a t-shirt for my Harley-riding dad. The line was miserably long so Dwight and I held place while the rest of the gang wandered into the vendor tents. Within 10 minutes Eric had purchased a new Belstaff riding jacket.
While in line, GP practice session began. From my vantage point I could only see the tops of helmets skim past while the ear-splitting roar of the new four-strokes pierced ear-drums. Nobody said these things were this loud. You could tell whenever Nicky Hayden or Valentino Rossi rode past because the crowd would erupt into cheers. It was virtually impossible to contain myself while standing in line.
Two scantily clad ladies strolled by in skimpy, sultry police outfits, complete with fishnet stocking, thigh-high, platform-heels and police caps. Kris shocked me when she flagged them down, “Excuse me” she yelled out. They turned to look and Kris motioned to Dwight and said “Our friend here has been very bad”. Dwight's face dropped but he readily and willing posed for a quick photo with the bare-midriff ladies.
After that, we perused more vendor tents, while popping track side to watch the world's greatest racers careen around Laguna Seca raceway. Dawn was beside herself with excitement at the chance of getting to see Valentino and we got separated from Eric more than once while he happily used his brand new camera to try to get shots of the racers as they zoomed past on the other side of the chain-link fencing.
The girls immediately found the ladies gear tents and promptly purchased sexy cami's and tank adorned with the number 46 or “The Doctor”. Dawn even bought a Rossi ball-cap. Dwight with his official bright MotoGP cap became our reference point. Because Dwight is well over 6-feet tall (where the rest of us live in 5 and half foot land) he was easy to spot – even more so with his green hat.
Dale had made prior arrangements to meet his grandparents for a late lunch and peeled off after the first practice session to meet up with them while we were left to wander about until near lunch-time. By then we had made it to most of the vendor tents including Ducati Island and a set of Paul Smarts. We were now growing hungry. Food inside the event was relatively affordable, but all of us wanted to spend some time riding while we were on the coast.
MadMaps.com was handing out abbreviated maps of day rides in the area. One of the day rides would take us south on Carmel Valley Road to Arroyo Seco Road and into Greenfield . From there the map said to ride south on the 101 until Jolon Road where we would cross through a brief corner of Hunter Liggett Military Reservation to Nacimiento-Fergusson Road that would take us back to the coast where we would ride north though Big Sur and back to Monterey where we planned on visiting Cannery Row for dinner. It sounded perfect and we all agreed that it would be a fantastic way to spend the afternoon.
We left the track and immediately rode west on Monterey Road until we found a gas station and a Quizno's. We sat down to enjoy a light lunch before we rode back to the hotel to gear up for the ride. Standing outside the Quizno's a woman driving a gold Corolla excitedly asked Kris “Is that a Ducati? My daughter really wants a Ducati!” Turns out she was one of the primary marketing people responsible for promoting the event and was very excited to get our impressions thus far. We were happy to answer all of her questions.
After lunch we ran back over Laureles Grade to Carmel Junction, changed clothes and began riding south on Carmel Valley Road. At first it was a wonderfully smooth, twisting road that was wrought with small elevation changes, giving the road a classic roller-coaster feel. There was a lot of motorcycle traffic and I was shocked more than once to tip into a blind corner only to discover an overly enthusiastic rider full-on in my lane. The fear of a head-on collision dampened the pace a bit so that I could compensate for all the moronic riders thinking themselves the next great MotoGP racer, but the road was still great fun. The farther we got from Carmel and the closer we got to Greenfield the worst the road got. Narrower and in a decreasingly sad state of disrepair the road became a bumpy challenge.
Once to Greenfield , however, we were to take Highway 101 south. Almost immediately I recognized the area from a year ago when Eric and Dawn, Kris and I had ridden through this area. I was surprised how close this was to Monterey because we had ridden south for several hours before coming north to this point, almost a full days worth or riding to get us an hour away from Carmel . It was mildly ironic. But now I was looking for the exit to Jolon Road . It was still early afternoon and traffic was mild save for the plethora of motorcycles heading the opposite direction as we. Bikes of every flavor imaginable were a constant. Once onto Jolon Road I immediately recognized it from the previous year and felt confident of where we were headed.
A year ago, we took this route looking for a Mission for Dawn to visit. We got there to discover the Mission had closed for the day, but this was the same route and the same turn-off. Only this time the gate that grants access to Hunter Liggett Military Reservation was crowded with a maze of concrete barriers and several law enforcement officers of county, state and military levels. The London bombings had happened only two days ago. A handful of motorcyclists were pulled off at the gate, helmets off and were showing paperwork to the officer. So we did the same.
The officer was looking to see valid driver's licenses, current state registration documentation and insurance documents. Kris and I only had licenses to satisfy the officer. He wanted to see insurance documentation detailing the bikes information on the individual form. The insurance card that Kris and I each carried next to our license was not adequate. Additionally, the monster has no good place to carry paperwork and since the Triple had only barely been reassembled, both bikes registration forms were sitting comfortably on the workbench at home, roughly 867 miles away. Eric was in the same boat as we were. He had left his documentation in the bikes luggage sitting on the hotel room floor. Only Dwight was prepared with all his paperwork neatly stored together in a white billfold. In an attempt to appease him, I showed him my federal I.D. and made sure to mention that I was a federal employee.
The officer scowled. “It's a $570 fine for not having proof of insurance and a $380 fine for not having proof of registration. Because you are on a federal military installation, the paperwork that you have is not going to work.” I can only imagine the look of shock on our faces. If he chose to ticket us, Kris and I would be facing almost a $2000 fine! The officer paused and looked us over, the looked at the line forming behind us.
“Okay,” he said. “I'm not going to ticket you guys, but I'm also going to ask that turn around and find another way back to Monterey .” Happy to avoid the fines, we thanked the officer profusely and promptly turned back, putting the base behind us. But now we had to make a decision. We could return the way we came, alleviating the opportunity to ride the coast, or ride south other 80-miles, or so, to Paso Robles, then ride west to coast, thereby doubling the distance we'd planned on. Unanimously we all thought the longer would be the better route. It was still early, and since four of us had been on this route a year ago, we figured that it was a fast road and we should be able to make really good time.
We raced south past the grasses that had already cured to a brilliant golden hue, contrasted to green trees that dolloped the round hills. It was here that I made one of the biggest mistakes of my riding life. I was thinking of too many things at once. I had noticed the next corner had a 25mph advisory sign and picked my breaking spot and line, then returned to thinking; South on Nacimiento Lake Drive to Paso Robles, then south on Highway 101 to Highway 46, Green Valley Road to Cambria. Its 3pm now, that's about 90-some miles, then up the coast, that'll be about another 100 miles, that's 200 miles or so. Four-hours of riding --- Lets see, if its about 3pm now…
The next thing I knew I was halfway through the corner, still going 75 mph! I panicked… Instead of just turning my head and going for the corner, I proceeded to straighten the bike up brake hard towards the edge of the road. Just past the edge of the tarmac, there was a small shoulder and a 70-foot drop-off. I knew I could stop before the edge of the road and traffic had been really light. But as soon as I got on the brakes a gray Honda Civic was coming the other direction, and I heard their Civic's brakes kick on and heard the tires moan. I knew I was in real trouble. I continued to brake all the way to the white line, with only about 6 more inches of tarmac, I eased off the brakes and turned the bike sharply to the right and proceeded to ride on the gravel shoulder. I watched as Kris, then Dwight as they roared past me through the corner, the car sped past me going the other direction narrowly missing me. (I dared not look at the car driver) That was close! Riding distracted – bad! Unscathed except for a severe case of kicking myself, I got back on the road, actually paying attention to what I was doing and vowed not to make that mistake again.
Onward we rode until we reached Paso Robles where we stopped for gas. My foul up was the major topic of discussion. Dwight retold his side of the story; “I saw you go into that corner pretty fast and thought to myself I hope he knows what he's doing – that corner looks pretty tight then you were on the other side of the road.” Kris really put me back in line. “Dave,” she said, “you are riding terrible. You're breaking too much, even breaking for small animals! And why didn't you just turn your head and go through the corner? You're not following your own advice!” She was right, I was riding terrible. Utterly and deservingly berated and my riding priorities realigned we returned to the road. Onto highway 101 for less than a mile, we took the exit to Highway 46. We didn't take this rode last time, but riding it now, I wish we had. It was an enjoyable sweeping road that took us to the tops of the mountains affording an astounding view of the Pacific Ocean to the west of us.
Fast moving clouds were racing inland and the waning sunlight was draping stunning, golden light and shadows across the landscape, accentuating the golden shades of the cured grasses. Traffic was light and the temperatures dropped dramatically until we arrived at the coast and it became downright freezing. I stopped in Cambria to close the vents on my jacket and clean my faceshield while Kris ran in and purchased a pink hoodie to wear under her jacket.
The sunlight had disappeared, hidden on the other side of the thick coastal mist. Everything was getting wet and the ride north would be chilly. Daylight was getting scarce so we headed out. Within a few moments we were riding past the Hearst Castle perched on the hilltop to the east, but north of us, we could see the heavy cloud bank moving inland. It suddenly grew dark and my faceshield clouded up with moisture, truly clouding my vision. With no other option, I took my gloved hand and wiped the shield clean. It worked great and for the next 30-seconds I could see again; until the mist clouded the faceshield with moisture again.
The road dipped and climbed over and through small ravines while twisting around others. The route stayed as close to the coast as possible but the mist prevented us from seeing much scenery. A few miles later, the mist thinned out and looking to the ocean where the view was miraculous. The edge of the cloudbanks ended abruptly a mile out and orange sunlight spilled onto the ocean waves, blue sky with stretched white clouds was visible in the distance. It was mesmerizing.
Because of incidents earlier in the day, I was refocusing my riding. Concentrating on my lines and my entry speed and as a result I had smoothed out and was actually having more fun than I had previously during the trip.
At the last stop, hunger was becoming a problem, particularly for Dwight who prefers to eat smaller meals more frequently. As the road climbed up the mountain, leaving craggy, cliffs between us and the ocean, I spied the Whale Watchers Café and decided that it would be a fine place for a bowl of steaming hot clam chowder.
We parked in front and wandered in to be informed that inside dining would be an hour wait, but patio dining was available now. We rambled to the patio and proceeded to get the staff to help us drag a working heater near our table. Once the heater was lit we cowered under the awning absorbing any warmth we could while we sipped hot coffee and waited for our chowder.
The staff was ultra-friendly, but overworked and five bowls of clam chowder and coffees took the better part of an hour. I sadly watched as the remaining light faded into twilight. Motorcycles continued to race north, until dusk approached, traffic suddenly stopped. Apparently locals choose not to ride Highway 1 in the dark, but now we would be forced into it.
Still south of the famous Big Sur and the Bixby Bridge , we still had a ways to go before reaching Monterey . I took up lead and chased the northern horizon, trying to take advantage of the last of the days light. It wasn't long before we were cloaked in darkness. No streetlights and thick mist prevented any moonlight assistance in our pilgrimage. The black asphalt was brand new, furthering the feeling of being surrounded by darkness. The only light, aside from our headlights was the gleaming orange dots of light being reflected back at us from the centerline reflectors. As it grew darker and we rounded our way through tree covered corners and around craggy coastline road, the feeling of flight became more intense. With no sense of scenery or surroundings, our only visual input were the orange spots of light bouncing back towards our headlights.
It was cold and the farther we rode, the colder it got. My GPS, now powered by the bike, was lit-up and provided the only sense of progress. As we neared Monterey , traffic increased and soon we found ourselves at a gas station on the corner of Highway 1 and Carmel Valley Road . I pulled into the gas station to make sure we were on the correct road then led the group east toward Carmel Junction. We were exhausted.
However, we wanted to get to the track early the next day, and awoke to an traditional California morning where morning sunlight hid behind low hanging mist. Dragging ourselves out of bed, we wandered down to the same breakfast nook for coffee, oatmeal and more yogurt parfaits. Fewer bikes adorned the parking lot which hastened our progress back to the track. After taking on Laureles Grade again, we wound our way past the auto-traffic to the front gate, where we were told to go to the right to park, so we rode right, then told we'd have to park to the left, so we made u-turns and rode the left, told no at two lots only half filled with bikes until we were forced to park a good mile away from the track in a crowded and steep, dusty field. A bit frustrated by all the conflicting information, we parked where we could and began our hike to the track.
On the way down, Dale was able to procure a pit pass for a reasonable price, double face value. The GP guys were about to qualify so he hurried our way towards the infamous corkscrew and several nearby corners, enjoying seeing the riders from several differing vantage points. After qualifying it was back to the vendor tents for more shopping before finding ourselves on Ducati Island where we enjoyed an authentic Italian lunch. Sharing the pit pass, along with a borrowed pit pass from Utah MSF instructor “Shorty” we eventually found ourselves hanging out near the jumbotron to watching the AMA races take place.
As the days racing wound down, we decided to all head down to Cannery Row to see all the cool motorcycle parked up and down the historic Monterey street. Find our way out was trying, but a great illustration on how lane splitting should be legalized across the nation. The motorcycles would all move forward on whatever strip of tarmac that was available to them, quickly alleviating the traffic pressure on the roads. I've never before seen so much traffic dissipate so quickly and soon we found ourselves a few miles north of Monterey . We quickly gassed up the bikes and headed south on Highway 101 until we reached town and rode straight to Cannery Row, with Dale making an abrupt right turn, abandoning Dwight on the wrong road. Once we reached Cannery row we parked in front of an enormous Mexican Restaurant as most of the street parking was already taken up by droves of bikes. There we waited for Dwight to find us.
While we waited I proceeded to change my brake pads. I'd noticed just before leaving that one of my front pads was alarmingly thin. Nobody in Salt Lake had a set for me, but the Galfer vender did. So, in the parking lot, with a pair of pliers, a pocket knife and an Allen-wrench I swapped my pads out, much to the dismay of the rest of the group. Brake pads need to be broken in by city driving and my thought was that we still had a good day and a half of city riding that could be used to bed the pads in before venturing home.
After a concerned rider approached and asked if I had been in an accident, Dwight reappeared, only mildly miffed, handling the “ditching incident” with a good deal of humor. Reunited, we began wandering west towards the larger crowds. The last time we'd attended, Cannery Row was one of the highlights. The varieties of bikes, from the common to the rare to the gray market imports was like walking through a living motorcycle history lesson. Then, I had a hard time pulling myself away. Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey were signing autographs and the mood was electric. This year it was starkly different. A new element had arrived. Bikers.
Unlike the Hell's Angel biker familiar to Americana culture, this new breed of biker seems to have stemmed from the movie Biker Boys instead of Easy Rider. Wearing various patches on black vests and riding elongated Hayabusa's and ZX-12's, chromed and/or polished to the hilt, some with hand tooled etching throughout and some with expensive custom paint were the majority of the attendees. The mood was much more like Sturgis with gangs of, mostly minorities, wearing their various patches scowled and stared each-other up and down Cannery Row. Instead of being fun and light, the mood was tense and uncomfortable. I had never seen this element of motorcycling before. It truly felt like a scene from the lame Hollywood movie. Kris and I both wandered around in dismay.
We were not the only ones to notice. I watched as other sport riders walked in, watched as their faces changed to show bewilderment, then watched as they returned to their bikes and rode away. After trying to catch a few covert photos with my camera phone, we too retreated to our bikes and left Cannery Row behind us in search of an evening meal. Finding a little place at Fisherman's Wharf, we sat down to some fantastic Fish ‘N Chips before walking across the parking lot to attend a Robb Report motorcycle auction that we had been invited to.
A smattering of classic bikes adorned a pedestal in the center of the first room, everything from vintage Harleys to an actual NC750, Oval Piston Honda. The next room over, the auction was taking place and I was dismayed to find everything from actual GP race bikes, of varying vintages, to a 97 Triumph Daytona and a Honda 929. However, sitting amidst most of these average bikes was a Ghezzi-Brian Moto-Guzzi. The first one I'd ever seen in the flesh, and it was amazing! Fighting total fatigue, Eric and I insisted that we wait to see what it sold for. We were shocked when a winning bid of just over $10,000 took the pristine and stunning bike home.
Sunday was the last day of track time and rather than wake up early, we rose late. It had been a hard week with either long days of riding, late nights or both. I noticed that Kris right muffler didn't look quite right. A nut had fallen from the bolt that holds the pipe onto the bike. Amazingly some of the bolt and fancy washers and spacers were still in place. I borrowed a strip of fabric Velcro and hastily put the pipe back into place, but Kris and I decided to ride to the track, two-up on the Triple until a more permanent solution could be found.
By the time we visited our breakfast nook and got to the track it was nearing 9am . Only this time, someone must have said something about yesterdays parking confusion, we were allowed to park just outside turn two. We entered the event premises and made our last perusal of the vender tents. Shorty was going to loan us his pit passes one last time and I'd arranged to meet up with him just as Yamaha started handing out free tennis caps. Kris caught up with me just in time to get her own cap and Eric and Dawn weren't far behind and able to get a set as well.
Suzuki must have seen the ruckus and began handing out full-on baseball caps of their own, so Kris and I raced over to the Suzuki tent and got some Zuk hats. Honda, not to be outdone, began handing out bandanas (?) and really cheap nylon ball caps. We should have wandered past the Kawasaki tent to see if they were giving away anything, but Kawasaki green has never been my color.
With enough Pit Passes for four, Eric, Dawn, Kris and I took to the pit area for the first time. Eric was happily snapping photo's of everything that moved, while I was trying to get to the MotoGP pits as the racers were probably starting to move in preparation for the race. Nicky Hayden walked right in front of me and the crowds started to accumulate out of nowhere. Eric was still several paces behind us taking photos of the desolate Team Michael Jordon truck. I raced back to get him and ran back into the MotoGP pit area just in time to see huge crowds press in around Rossi's pit area. I pushed forward and stumbled right into Eddie Lawson. Kris, thinking fast, grabbed her new Yamaha cap and handed to the famous racer for a signature. Dawn did the same.
The MotoGP girls were all standing around under their umbrellas. They were all very pretty and very attractive girls but they looked truly miserable in the tight fitting plastic body-suits while men clamored around them to get photos. Shorty had wanted his pit passes back and Dale and Dwight had yet to see the pit area, so we left the excitement behind and returned to rally up with the FZ-1 boys.
Eric, Dawn, Kris and I grabbed a quick bite to eat, a new pair of sunglasses for Kris and a few bucks from the ATM machine before procuring a spot on the hill overlooking turn two to watch the main event. We arrived at our site early and endured the sun and stale air while we waited for the race to start and for Dwight and Dale to meet up with us.
The main event was somewhat disappointing. Rossi had spent the better part of the week complaining about how dangerous Laguna Seca Raceway is, but it was clear that riders who had raced here before had the advantage. Hayden and Colin Edwards took a very clear and concise first and second place, leaving Rossi to pick up a mediocre third. Additionally, the racers set into their final standings relatively early in the race and it soon became a GP parade. Practice was just as entertaining. As soon as the race was over, the crowd started to head back to the vendor tents, while we decided it would be a great time to head back to the hotel for a dip in the pool. We were all tired, and we had all gotten our fill of racetrack life after three days pushing our way through the intense crowds of race fans.
The nicest part about leaving early was the lack of traffic. We were asked to leave by a different route, heading straight west from the events center and were rewarded with the most amazing view of Monterey we'd ever seen, overlooking the town from atop the small mountain range out into the ocean. It was a perfectly clear day and visibility was limited by ones eyesight.
Back at the hotel, we donned our swimsuits and found ourselves at the pool, where dipping into the cool water was amazingly refreshing. Procuring some heavy zip-ties from the maintenance man, I'd fastened Kris muffler back to the bike as good as could be expected. But it wasn't long before we found ourselves in need of the evening meal. Sherlock Holmes was in order, so we prepared for dinner, and got on the bikes for a quick ride back to the coast and the plucky English eatery. We'd eaten here the last time we visited Laguna Seca and had vowed to come back and make it a tradition. Tucked away and hard to find, it's a great restaurant owned by a charming older British woman who is happy to banter and chat with customers.
We all met up with Shorty, his brother and father and enjoyed a pleasant meal. The idea was to, after dinner, do an abbreviated ride to get in a few more corners before darkness ended the day. But on our way out I noticed Kris right muffler bouncing around quite a bit after surmounting a sharp bump, the entire canister looked like it was about to fall off. I promptly got in front and got her to pull over. I happened to have a few zip ties in my possession and quickly re-zip-tied the can to the bike, using a different method to hold everything in place in addition to using two more zip-ties.
But the ride had gone on without us, so we rode back to the hotel and began packing things up in preparation for tomorrows departure. Morning came too fast, but would hold some of the best riding, as well as the longest day of riding, for the entire trip. We loaded the bikes back up and I snapped a few photos that I hoped would be artsy before we headed down, once more, to the breakfast shop for one more Carmel Valley yogurt parfait and latte.
Returning would basically be a repeat route, retracing our footsteps back to Nevada and it all began with one last dash over Laureles Grade. The top of the Grade rose above a heavy morning mist that clung to the valley floors and gave us the feeling of riding at a much higher altitude than we actually were, but then we had to drop down into the icy, cold mist. We made a right turn onto Monterey Road and proceeded to drone across the Sacramento Valley before it got to hot. After a two brief stops for gas, and a brief stop for bolts to replace the zip-ties on Kris Monster, we arrived at the eastern edge, and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in a very uneventful fashion. But now the good riding had begun. Riding north along Highway 49, passed Sonora , we chose Highway 4 as the route of choice to head towards Lake Tahoe . We'd only been on Highway 4 once before, and that attempt was dampened by a heavy rain-shower near the top.
No sooner had we passed through Angels Camp, we started climbing out of the heat. We decided we needed to eat. I was getting increasingly hungry and was ready to stage a coup when Dale pulled into the town of Meadowmont for an authentic Mexican lunch. It was here that we began talking with a couple at the next table who had visited Utah on many occasions. They summed up Utah drivers so eloquently that it must be repeated. “Utahn's are so nice,” they said, then paused “until they get into their car's….” Truer words were never spoken. Seems whenever we leave the confines of the Utah and the Zion curtain, drivers become decidedly more considerate, at least on back roads.
It was also during lunch that I was shocked to learn the days riding plans. I had been expecting that we would stop in Carson City for the night, but apparently the rest of the group had resolved to return via Interstate-80, spending the night in Winnemucca. Apparently I was absent, or more likely, not paying any attention when this discussion took place. I had thought we were near the end of the days riding, but an additional 300 miles still lay before us, and it was already 3pm .
With a renewed sense of urgency we returned to the road. Highway 4 was pure glee. As we neared the crest, the road narrowed to a single lane of swiveling tarmac, thrashing its way between enormous trees, boulders and small mountain lakes. We stopped to enjoy the panoramic view from the summit and then stopped again to take in a the view of a lily-pad encrusted lake featuring the most picturesque rock building perched on a rock outcropping on the far side.
After digesting the view, we continued east, dropping down the back side of the Sierra Nevada's until we turned north on Highway 89 where we stopped again for a brief break in Markleville Station. It was getting hot, but our planned route would take up back up to Lake Tahoe where temperatures would, hopefully, be much cooler. It was here that we decided to refer to this ride as the “Sweat and Shiver” ride because of the intense heat, frigid cold and nothing in-between we'd endured over the past few days. After Eric showed us how to do a few stripper moves, much to our disgust (except Dawn, who was delighted by the manly-flesh show), we continued north on Highway 89.
We turned left onto Highway 88/89 that backtracked to the west before me made another right turn, heading north on Highway 89. Highway 89 took us to Lake Tahoe , where without so much as slowing for anything more than traffic and a few stoplights, we proceeded to ride around the eastern edge of the lake on Highway 50. Crossing back into Nevada , the road grew to a sweeping four-lane thoroughfare until we veered to the left onto Highway 28, a smaller route brimming with both delightful corners and old-folks who sometimes reach speeds as fast as 7mph, but only in the straight sections. At least the view was great.
We stopped for gas at a Conoco living on an intersection with Highway 431. A Starbucks was across the street, so after the bikes were brimming with high-octane, we proceeded to fuel up with our own form of octane – triple-shot boosts. Resting in cushy chairs we recharged for the next, and likely, the final push of the day. Winnemucca lay almost 200 miles away.
With the sun drooping, we started on Highway 431 north. Dale had driven this road earlier in the year for the first time and vowed to come back and ride it on a motorcycle. And my, oh my, what a rewarding road. Virtually not traffic slowed our forward progress as we rounded the seemingly endless 300-degree sweeping corners that arced their way to the summit and back down the other side. The sides of our tires were getting constant workouts as continued to bank the bikes hard to the left, and then hard to right only to throw them back to the left again before the road dropped us off on Highway 395 just outside Reno . Highway 431 is another great motorcycle road that should not be missed if one is riding in the area. Map
From here, it was nothing more than endless interstate. We rode north on 395 until we ramped onto Interstate 80 east with the dwindling sun at our backs. The evening light grew flat as we raced east into the oncoming darkness. Gradated sky blurred from blue, dark amethyst, deep vermilion orange and eventually gray. Soon we were left with only darkness and the constant splatter of bugs being slaughtered against our face shields. As the miles racked up and gas dwindled we stopped briefly in Lovelock for fresh petrol. We stored our dark lenses, stretched our legs, scoured the exo-skeletal death from or visors and began, once more, into the darkness.
As we rode, the temperatures finally dropped proving much needed relief. Suddenly I felt recharged and started contemplating riding through the night. I felt invincible and what better way to view the dreary Nevada route than in the dark? Thoughts of riding until the sun returned in the eastern sky entertained me for the 100 miles that lay between Lovelock and Winnemucca. The original plan had been to spend the night in Winnemucca so I knew we would be stopping. With more bugs than can be imagined crusting the front profiles of all of us, we topped with gas once more. I announced my plan to the gang. Kris and Dale and were game, Dwight was impartial but Eric and Dawn weren't feeling up to it. One should never feel pressured into riding, so we all agreed to bed down for the night. Two rooms at the Motel 6 were procured and we headed out to find food.
Dale and Dwight wandered off to a nearby casino while Eric, Dawn, Kris and I thought gas station junk-food would be the perfect way to end the very long day or riding. Amazingly, in Winnemucca gas stations, one can only purchase really cheap, nasty beer. Resigned to drinking low grade brews, we stocked up on chocolatey treats and salty snacks and headed back to the hotel where only a smattering of the food choices were consumed before we all fell into a comatose sleep. I desperately wanted to wake up early so we could ride back to Salt Lake in the morning's cooler temperatures, so I set a wake up call for "freakin-early."
Rising before the sun crested the mountain line; we packed up and loaded the bikes one last time. Only 350 miles remained between us and Salt Lake . Less than half the distance we covered the previous day. Eric noticed a small frog hopelessly trying to escape the chlorinated pool. To the rescue, I jumped the locked gate and retrieved the amphibian from the caustic environment. Gingerly I toted him back into the hotel room where I gently rinsed the chemicals from its skin.
Frogs drink and breathe through their skin and don't usually swallow water like we do. Instead they absorb most of the moisture they need through their skin. Frogs also rely on getting extra oxygen (in addition to what they get from their lungs) from the water by absorbing it through their skin. Because frogs get breathe through their skin, they need to take care of their it or they might suffocate. Knowing this, I feared his dip in the pool could be lethal.
When I felt content that I'd rinsed as much chlorine as possible (chlorine was used extensively as a chemical weapon by the Germans in WWI. It causes a burning sensation in the throat and chest pains, resulting in a painful, suffocating death – a fate not fit for a frog), I looked for a suitable relocation to my little green friend and promptly toted it across the street to a well watered and very moist looking cemetery wrought with small puddles of clear water. Spying a dog nearby, I tried to carefully place the green amphibian near some large bushes. Nearing its new home, the little frog that so willingly climbed into my hand leapt forth and landed squarely on a small pad on concrete, hitting abruptly with an audible slap and a bounce. Despondent that I may have caused more harm than what I had rescued it from, I gingerly moved to pick it up. Again it crawled into my hand without any prodding and I moved it the rest of the way to the dense vegetation. I sure hope it survived the fall. Eric tried to reassure my by saying that frogs jump all the time, “he's probably accustomed to such falls.” I sure hope so.
Still worrying over the harm I may have caused during my rescue attempt, we continued riding east, only instead of afternoon heat, we were greeted with pleasantly cool morning air. We rode a mere 125 miles to Elko were we stopped at a Casino for a buffet breakfast. One of the nastiest in recent memory – we lingered longer than we should have before gassing up and setting out once again. A mere 100 miles later, as the days heat started to grow to oppressive heights, we stopped one last time in Wendover. Gassing up, we went our separate ways. Dale would remain behind to win some greenbacks in a nearby casino, Dwight raced back to Ogden , while Eric, Dawn, Kris and I motored the final 125 miles home under the suns tyrannical heat. Utterly exhausted, we arrived home by noon and, without so much as unloading the bikes, staggered into the house and took a much deserved shower and fitful nap.