I woke up early to the sound of waves crashing on the beach. It doesn’t get better than that. But peering out of my tent the weather is chilly and overcast, it is still early May but I thought it would be warmer than this. And I’m staring to have some doubts about my choice to head for Northern California. The general route plan that I developed yesterday was to head all the way up the coast and then back down to Yosemite through the Sierra Nevada mountains. But when I look at the map – Norther California is MASSIVE, and I have only got a fraction of the way. And the temperature is making me think that south might be a better idea, or at very least warmer. And I would quite like to see LA and the desert. It’s a tricky decision, but eventually I decide to head back the way I came. So I set off worrying that I am arseing up the trip of a lifetime already.
I set off down the road, and the road is epic even second time round. And then praise be, the sun comes out. I arrive in Point Reyes Station, and stop at the Pine Cone Diner on 4th Street for one of those coronary inducing american breakfasts with five kinds of carbohydrates. Two very dignified older ladies stop to talk about the bike, and it turns out they had biker boyfriends in their youth. They tell me stories of riding pillion on gravel trails in Big Sur and I make notes on their tips for places to see.
Back on the bike feeling great. Funny how food does that to you. I take a detour at Bolinas Lagoon to see the ‘loveliest fishing village’ as recommend by the ladies – and as I am signalling to turn I spot a Patrol car in the bushes. I would definitely have been over the speed limit if I hadn’t been turning off. Thank you ladies.
Bolinas is delightful. I rode mountain Bikes in the 90’s and back then my bike of choice was Marin (named after Marin County – which was the epicentre of the new sport). All the different bikes were named for places in the County – Bolinas Ridge, Muirwoods, Pine Mountain. I found I was ticking off these obscure cultural references. A will be doing quite a bit more of that as this trip goes on.
Next stop Muirwoods – a famous grove of Sequoia (Giant Redwood) trees. Ever since Return of the Jedi in 1983 (filmed in Northern California) I’ve wanted to see one of these beautiful trees. And good Lord – I was not disappointed. Steinbeck said of them “they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.” It feels like waking with Dinosaurs, and one of the most unforgettable parts of my trip. Oh and also there is a creepy scene in Vertigo set there. Bonus points.
It is early afternoon now and I’m almost back at the Golden Gate Bridge. I stop to fuel up for the first time – and have to work out how US petrol stations work. They don’t like UK credit cards, so you have to go into the kiosk – pay up front, fill up and then go back for them to refund what you didn’t use. Pain in the arse. Eventually I started to carry cash – go in hand over $20 (gas is really cheap) and just fill up that much. Much less hassle.
I ride over the Golden Gate Bridge again, and can’t help but whooping. Tourist going nuts too. Hanging out of windows, standing up out of sunroofs. Very entertaining. Oh – you have to pay for there bridge heading in this direction. The opposite of the severn Bridge – it is free heading north and you pay on your way back south. I did it online later – which was a hassle. Probably better to stop at a kiosk in the lay-by on the south side and pay there.
I skirt down the west side of San Fransisco, and jump on Route 101 for a short section, and then spot the turn off for the Pacific coast Highway – US Route 1 South. And all of a sudden the city is behind you and it is perfect twisting tarmac, cliff top views, wild beaches covered in driftwood, huge crashing waves. So much beauty, and yet hard to stop and take pictures, because it keeps getting better round the next corner.
I ride and ride, turn after turn, beach after beach. There is hardly any traffic. Throwing the bike into corners, accelerating hard out of them. The GSWC has this brilliant grunty power, it never lacks oomph. The engine noise is a treat. And I’m just beginning to explore what it can do.
Eventually after something like 100 breathless miles I start to descend – it is warmer and I see signs for Santa Cruz. It is supposed to be a great little town, but I am conscious of being nearly 2 days in and having covered hardly any of the ground I want to. So I set the SatNav on my phone and ask it to take me to one of my tick list destinations. Salinas. Home of John Steinbeck.
If you have read his work, you will have any number of associations with this place – but most famously it is the setting of East of Eden. You can literally follow the high street from location to location in the book. There is a museum, and the house where Steinbeck lived and worked. But you know what – unless you are a big fan – give this a miss. I was underwhelmed. It is a slightly crap town in the middle of endless farmland. It reminded me of Norfolk. Still I did my tour, took my pictures and moved on.
I needed to find somewhere to stay for the night, and another place made famous by Steinbeck is Monterey. Now this is more like it – Monterey is a bit special, a beautiful bay backed by pine clad hills. I saw Sea otters – a mum teaching a baby otter to swim. Just lovely, and it feels noticeably warmer too. Also I spotted a Campsite on the hill called Veterans Memorial Park. Which turned out to be brilliant. No frills, but reasonably priced, quiet pitches and hot showers and a friendly and helpful park ranger. Can’t ask for more than that.
I start to think about food – but first the sun is setting, and I am almost as far west as I will be all trip. So I head out to Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific grove. And there is a huge crowd of people there to watch. It is like the sunset is the greatest show on earth – everybody heads out here to watch it. And we are not disappointed. The sun slowly descends into the Pacific – there is no land was of any size for nearly 10,000 mile. Literally next stop Japan. I take picture after picture. And then eventually the sun is gone, and everyone climbs into their cars and goes home.
Finally I really need food. I spot signs for Cannery Row (another Steinbeck reference) which is basically a street of fish canning factories turned into a Steinbeck tourist attraction. It is fine — Ed Ricketts actual western Pacific Laboratory is there, and I found a Chowder restaurant I had some crazy fish soup in a bread roll and browsed the internet on their wifi (and payed my Golden Gate Bridge Toll), and started to plan tomorrow. Good day. But I need to cover more miles tomorrow.