I woke up, staring at a yellow roof far too close to my face, slightly achey, but perfectly refreshed. For those of you just joining us, I was on an 11-day tour, mostly couch-surfing my way from Los Angeles to Seattle and back, on a route mostly chosen for where I could score a free place to crash for the night, every single night of the trip. My morning in Benbow Lake State Park was far from a typical camping-trip experience. Riding pal Bill Sanders had sprung for the pricey campsite alongside the beautiful Benbow Lake, nestled in the mountains alongside US-101 near Garberville, California. Both Bill and I are telecommuters, and Bill's Sprint mobile internet hub had us wirelessly wired to the "real world" way out there in the boonies.
Bill had a conference call that morning, so after taking care of my electronic obligations, I did a little hiking around the campground, fascinated by the blood-red manzanita trees and moss-covered oaks. A little chill hung in the air on our glorious June morning, which was perfect for a little physical exertion. Neither of us had deemed bulky cooking equipment worth the precious space in our saddlebags, so we both ate some of our road snack food during our morning in camp.
Bill is literally an Eagle Scout, so he had some very-well-thought-out items in his kit like a Jet Hot ministove with which we made coffee, as well as some surprisingly yummy hot hiking rations. But we saved our real appetite for a trip to town where we ate a satisfying and bountiful meal at Garberville's Waterwheel restaurant just up the street. After that we had a stint on US-101, known in these parts as the Redwood Highway. Sure, it's a major four-lane route complete with semis, but in this sparsely populated corner of California, it's smooth paving, magnificent scenery, and rolling hills that made for a fun ride. Thirty-odd miles later we were back on twisting two-lane CA-36.
It starts twisting through the Redwood and Fir forests of Shasta-Trinity National Forests, runs alongside a river for a bit, and exits into rolling and dry ranchland on the interior side, running east and a little south to Red Bluff. The road's renown with NorCal motorcyclists is obvious at the Wildwood Store about 2/3 the way down, which has a vintage bike mounted atop the sign, about 15 feet off of the ground.
I collaborated on planning the first half of this two-day segment of my ride up the California coast, but for the second half, I merely gave Bill my parameters: to make Portland that night. While it may be relaxing to let others take the reins and help plan your life for you, it's also a good idea to at least glance over their shoulders at their proposed routes to make sure they're doable on your schedule.
As it was, instead of taking one of the many curvaceous roads leading north or northeast toward my destination, CA-36 took us east and a little south, so by our 5 p.m. arrival in Red Bluff, I was no closer to Portland than I was when I woke that morning. I was still about 450 miles of pure interstate hell away; my least favorite kind of touring.
Determined not to spoil my spotless (to that point) three-night record of couches and campgrounds, I turned the burly Triumph Rocket III north and buried the throttle. Blasting through the blazing heat of inland NorCal to hit the Cascades as soon as possible, I started to think I might pull this off (albeit sometime near 2 a.m.). But it was not to be. The sun went down and the sky opened up, I was tired, and really didn't feel like putting up a new tent in the dark and rain. So I gave up and settled into a Motel 6 in Grant's Pass, Oregon.
Before the sun went down, I got my first glimpse of Mt. Shasta. I'd been down this road before, but it was snowing at the time, so I never got to see the majestic peak. The interstate circles around it, so on a clear day, its view and that of the smaller volcanoes of the area are spectacular. And how awesome is it that the second town over the border from Oregon is called Weed?
So the funny part is that my room, that would have slept two (or four if doubled up), cost roughly what a campsite had cost the night before. I woke refreshed, and hit the road. Despite being a day behind my original schedule, I had a lazy day planned: lunch in Eugene with a friend I'd met over the internet, dinner with a family in Vancouver, Washington, (just over the border from Portland) that I'd also gotten to know electronically, then a night with an old friend in Portland, where I'd staked out a full-on mattress for the night.
It occurred to me on that long slog up the middle of Oregon on I-5 that while I was mostly independent on this trip, traveling alone for long stretches, it's not like I was spending this time alone. On a trip with friends you mostly don't talk between gas stops, and have to coordinate movements with a number of other individuals. On the other hand, on my trip I was able to socialize with a number of friends, maintaining almost complete freedom between stops taking what roads I wanted when I wanted to. It was turning into one of the more satisfying trips I'd ever taken. In the past I'd only either ridden alone or with a group, not this odd and fun hybrid.
I was hanging with friends old and new that I wouldn't have had a chance to see otherwise-asphalt by day, reunions by night. They were happy and awed by the fact that I rode so far to come to their house and community. Usually on a long trip, tensions start to surface between the travelers, but on this trip with only myself as a constant companion, there was none of that (in case you can't tell, I love me some "me time"). I listen to my music as loud as I want without having to hit pause to let some bozo ask, "Is this where we turn left?" New people happily greeting you day after day is a nice feeling, and they are happy that you're safe and curious about your adventures.
I'm not saying this is the only way to go, but it's one that I think people should try out a little more often.
After a day in Oregon visiting Andy (Editor of MC Cruiser), I was off to Auburn, Washinton, to the house of Jeff Earle, organizer of the vintage bike ride I was destined to do that following weekend. Again, I just hastily pounded miles on the superslab, but both Oregon and Washington are blessed with beautiful rolling topography that makes even high-speed travel a joy. I arrived Thursday night, and like everywhere else on this trip, half the fun was visiting friends. Seattle itself is a cool town to roll around. It's very bike friendly with a lot of real enthusiasts, so I stopped by some shops to check out what they'd been building of late. Matt Adams of Redsoul took me for a ride with one of his custom choppers, and fed me Hawaiian food until I thought I'd burst. Huff Motorsports proprietor Steve Huff was running around busy as hell with his new location but had time to show me his balls. Ceramic bearings, that is.
Though it was far from my focus this trip, the big ride was just a day away. It would be a snowy, mountain-pass opening with a horde of vintage iron rumbling alongside. I couldn't wait.
Be a Mooch
The beauty of my couch surfing Pacific Coast trip is that you can do it yourself with a little networking and imagination. First off, my choices of route were limited to some extent by where I had connections, but thanks to the internet, my social network goes far beyond the traditional boundaries of work, school, family, neighborhood, and outlaw biker club. If you don't have an extended network, welcome to the 21st century. Thanks to general social sites like Facebook, I can keep up with a horde of distant relatives and former classmates that I wouldn't have otherwise had access to. And once you build even a modest network, you start connecting with your connections' connections. There are also online discussion groups where I scored a couple more connections as well. Once you've interacted with someone for long enough yakking about bikes, your favorite football team, or Paris Hilton's latest tape or arrest, they might as well be your next door neighbor.
For a more direct route, I dug up a site called couchsurfing.org that specifically connects people with other people all over the world who are looking for strangers to share their lives with. Risky? Possibly. But if we weren't willing to accept a little risk, we wouldn't ride motorcycles.
Packing for a Mooch Tour
I'm sure we all know how to effectively pack for a big trip, but there are some unique situations to take into account when relying on the generosity of others. For one, you have to think of accommodations for not just you but your bike as well. You also have to consider how far they are from you and how safe it is, since you're not quite as in control as you would be on a hotel or camping trip.
Obviously, saddlebag liners are a good idea, as they're self-contained and make for easy loading and unloading at stops. I actually did it without liners, strapping my overnight stuff to a Saddlemen Roller Sissybar Bag, which I could just unclip and roll away from the bike. I actually had nothing I needed at night on the bike. The saddlebags were filled with road items like snacks, drinks, rain gear, additional layers of warm clothes (including heated liners...mmmmm), helmet visors, tools, sunblock, and anything else for life between the lines. That way when I'm done for the day, I just lock it up and walk away.
If you pack lighter than me (as most do), you can use this same idea by packing one saddlebag liner with all your overnight stuff, and all of the road items in the other.