Friday, February 28, 2014

Mattole Road via Motorcycle: Humboldt County, CA

mattole road motorcycle
Dark and stormy along Mattole Road.
Motorcycling in Humboldt County, California often conjures up images of highway US101 through Eureka. There's also SR36 and SR299 for riders who seek out fast twisties and smooth pavement.

But there's other options that criss-cross the mountainous regions to the west of US101, the kind of roads that make you run a slower speed and take you back to an America still stuck in an older, simpler way of life.

Mattole Road takes you through an area of Humboldt County known as "Lost Coast", a mostly natural and development-free area that was named such due to depopulation going back into the 1930s. Starting from the picturesque town of Ferndale, it rises up the mountain range, crosses over zig-zagged cattle range, and drops you down into a short-stretch of coastline that seemingly looks untouched by human hands. The road becomes dark and wet as it runs through thick canopies of evergreens. There are places where rays of sunshine manage to poke through and illuminate the mist. Finally, before reaching the other end, you're lost in the towering jungle of Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Twice I had done the 75 mile stretch of Mattole Road from its start at Ferndale and its end at Weott. The first time was in 2007 on my 2005 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic, but I went the opposite direction, starting in Weott.  The second time was in 2011 on my 2006 Honda ST1300, starting in Ferndale.

The entire length takes about 3 hours to complete.  But if you stop for photos and take a moment to soak in the zenfulness, allow for 5 hours tops.  I can't decide which is the better direction to go, both are equally as scenic and both will deliver you to towns with good eats and imbibements.

Mattole Road actually changes names to Bull Creek Road when you get into the tiny hamlet of Bull Creek, about 85% of the way through, inside the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.


The entire course is paved, becomes bumpy in places, but otherwise is fairly smooth. The elevation gains can be steep in places, and there are plenty of hairpin turns in the middle of those gains. If you want to take your dual sport bike, there are other roads that lead you to dirt which eventually take you back to pavement again.

The highest elevation you'll reach is about 2,500 feet.

Ferndale has managed to make a name for itself among fans of Victorian-style homes and country-cottage decorators. It's main street has been the backdrop of several movies and television shows, and was also recreated in Lego bricks at the Legoland amusement park in Carlsbad, CA.

The towns of Petrolia and Honeydew, which you'll pass through, has some small country stores for drink and food, but otherwise no gas and no lodging.

ferndale, ca motorcycle
2011, Riding through downtown Ferndale, CA

mattole road motorcycle
2011, Mattole Road by the coast

mattole road motorcycle
2011, Mattole Road by the coast

mattole road motorcycle
2007, Mattole Road by the coast

mattole road motorcycle
2007, Mattole Road by the coast.

mattole road motorcycle
2011, Mattole Road heading to Petrolia

mattole road motorcycle
2011, Mattole Road with sunbeams across wet roads

humboldt redwoods state park motorcycle
2007, Humbolt Redwoods State Park

petrolia, ca
2007, We stopped in Petrolia for a break, and my friend Doc found this kid wandering around barefoot.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Living in the Suburbs

motorcycles in carports
We've been spoiled it seems to have lived in the urban center of San Diego the past 2 1/2 years (minus the 6 months we were on Road Pickle). A week ago, Sash and I moved into our 3rd digs in the past 4 months, and our 4th home in San Diego overall, though not counting the two motels we spent 3 weeks in.

But this new place is located outside of the city center, further out into the suburban perimeter in the land of master-planned communities, where curvy, meandering Spanish-named parkways replace the grid pattern of Broadways and numbered streets. It's where you find tract homes, HOAs, and three-car garages. It's where dads burn firewood in their driveways and where moms host Princess House parties.

It's also the place where the nearest store and restaurant requires a two mile trek past homes and condominiums, requiring you to take a vehicle to get there. Sash and I were used to living in the city where you can walk to a store and crawl back home from the bar.

In the city, there's an energy of vibrance that fills the air, and somehow it just isn't here in the 'burbs.

But it's not to say that I don't like living here. On the contrary, I've spent many years in neighborhoods like this. It's just a different environment.

Everyone here is all about their personal lives, about decompressing and getting away from the madness of the city. By living several miles from their place of work, they've drawn a distinct boundary between their career and family. But in the city, people blend both business and personal together. There isn't a moment when they only work or only play, they do it all concurrently and they live life at a faster pace.

So when our minds were running full steam on a conference call in the comfy comfines of our downtown abode, it's like culture shock to be plucked into the air and dropped in between a Little League tryout and a lemonade stand. Suddenly, the sight of brace-faced kids in minivans and white button-down Mormons on bicycles, just doesn't make synapse with our neurons. It's as if the neighborhood is telling us to slow down and smell the caramel Frappuccino.

weekly work schedule
Earlier this afternoon, Sash put together a drawing board of our weekly work schedule, just to remind us that we still have work to do. Yeah, somehow, the slower pace of the suburbs has me forgetting about work in lieu of standing on our balcony to gaze at the lovely swimming pool and spa. In trying to acclimate ourselves to the land of tract homes and complexes, we find the slower, quieter pace to have a calming effect on our mood. We've made good use of the spa 3 times in the past 7 days, each with beer in hand, something we didn't do while living in the city.

And that's not so bad if your work ends on a specific time of day and can you drive several miles away from your office. But Sash and I work out of our home. And in the stuccoed environs of bedroom suburbia, the vibrant energy that used to power our fast-paced lifestyle is not there anymore.

So we're tasked with finding tools to help us get back on track. We're trying to define hours when we work and play.

Technically, we don't have to work in our home, we can always find a coffee shop nearby. But here in the suburbs, chatty teenagers make too much noise to concentrate.

But one can only afford the high-priced rent of the city for so long, unless you're willing to live in apartments of urine-stained sidewalks and iron-barred windows.  But because we're not, it's back to the propinquity of Home Depots, Applebees, and the gentle music of ice cream trucks.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Behind Every Strength is a Great Weakness

30th Street, North Park, San Diego
Even though Sash and I were thousands of miles from home during our six-month road trip across the United States last year, we had dozens of friends and family following along through our blog and social media. Along the way, we picked up more readers and before we knew it, we found ourselves in the middle of a tight community of friends and fellow riders.

And why? It's not like we're the first to spend six months riding motorcycles.  Others have done longer trips, in harsher environments.

Wendi was someone that Sash and I met a few years ago when were into our diet and exercise regimen.  We were all working out with a couple of retired Marine Corp drill sergeants who decided to open up a fitness boot camp to supplement their incomes working security at the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant.  Imagine doing push ups with R. Lee Ermey crouching down into your face and screaming "beach body, beach body!"

So fast forward to now.  We we're not as slender and athletic as we used to be, but we have new perspectives on life.

Of course, having just gotten rid of all of our unneccessities, shoved everything else into storage, and traveled across the States with what we could fit on our bikes, it really changed our thinking on how much comfort we find in our material things.

And for Wendi, who had stayed home all her life, she found she had lost her own comfort zone after a string of deaths in her family.

"I'm in my 40s now", she said.  "I'm not married, I don't have kids, and I still haven't traveled anywhere."

Sash, Wendi, and myself, at Sipz Fusion Cafe, North Park
Sash and I felt touched that she contacted us via Facebook and asked to join us for lunch in our neighborhood.  She had been marveling at the places we went to and the people we met, and wanted to do the same.  She took the hour drive south down to meet us.

"This May I'm going to Alaska", she told us.  "And then in August, I'm going to Spain!"

And the thing is that Sash and I each grew up feeling insignificant and unworthy.  Low self-esteem sets in when the people who are supposed to love you and the people you are supposed to love, constantly point out your failures and wonder why you couldn't be like others.  After so much of it, you end up believing it.

Sash has trouble understanding how she could have inspired other women.

But often behind every strength, there is a weakness powering it.

I've known for my entire motorcycle riding life I've wanted to leave everything behind and live on the road.  What motorcycle rider hasn't?  But yet, are we really just embarking on a great endeavor to distance ourselves from some perceived weakness?  Is there something we're trying to prove to ourselves, to others?  Do we over extend ourselves as a way to fetch praise?

Or is it really just so innocent as a desire to explore the great outdoors?

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Best Motorcycle Jackets

motorcycle jackets
Me and my trusty jacket at Lyons Valley Trading Post
Anytime I hear about new gear, something in me wants to check it out, just to see if there's something I really like. And if the prices are low enough, it starts the wheels moving in my head.

The fact is that I don't really need a new motorcycle jacket, I like the one I have. And I tend to be someone who prefers to hold on to something for years and years, letting it wear down and taking on the look as if it's been to Hell and back. I mean, I've had my boots now for 4 years. I had my summer gloves for 6 years until one of them ripped apart on Road Pickle. My winter gloves are 4 years old. Even my helmet is 4 years old.

My jacket, however, is barely a year old.

The new line of VikingCycle Jackets are priced quite low as far as motorcycle jackets go, and they all look really good, and all come with the functionality you'd expect. So, I get these wheels spinning in my head that says, "I could just buy one and it wouldn't be much out of my pocket", and "You never know, I might end up liking it more than the jacket I have now."

For someone who's learned to live with fewer and fewer things, I still struggle with the temptation to buy more.  Even if it's free stuff, I still have this other conscience that asks, "Am I arrogant to want more?"

But as it turns out, it's not the price, and not even the look or functionality that I consider.

The best motorcycle jackets, my experience tells me, are the one's that you've been wearing the past year or more. They've already stretched and softened to your body's unique shape. Your hands are already trained to go right where the pockets happen to be. You already know how to fold it the right way to use as a camping pillow. And better yet, they save you money from having to buy another.

For that matter, a brand new jacket has to be tighter than comfortable, just to stretch and reshape itself to match your unique shape and still prevent from inflating like a balloon down the road. I'm the kind of guy who'd rather not break-in a new jacket.

Even helmets are like that. When you buy one brand new, it's gotta be tight enough to give you a headache, just so that it compresses and reforms to the shape of your head and does it's job effectively when needed.  And why go through all that when the helmet you have is already perfect?

Otherwise, my jacket, helmet, boots, and gloves have been with me through the rain, hail, cold, heat, and bugs.  I like to think they've soaked up some of my spirit and soul from the tens of thousands of miles over the years, and that makes them a part of me.  I'd hate to keep them in a dark closet where they feel left behind while I ride my motorcycle with some other strange new set of gear.  I guess that's just something quirky about me.

But when you dedicate yourself to living with fewer things, you really do get attached to the few things you have.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Motorcycles Were Made for Saturdays

monkey paw brewery
Monkey Paw Brewery, 16th Street and F, East Village, San Diego
There's always something about a Saturday that makes a body feel a little slow. While it's just another rotation of the Earth and just another morning I wake up holding my head, there's a sense of relief that I can let down my guard without worrying about the world passing me by.

The footsteps of the guy who lives in the unit above seem to tread more slowly on this day of the week, while Sash comments about the aroma of an egg and sausage burrito I'm making in the kitchen. We don't have to tell each other that we hope to go out for the afternoon, it's an anticipation welling up inside us.

Whether it's the friendly chatter of neighbors across the street, or the distant echoes of a Johnny Cash comin' around, the sidewalks of a Saturday afternoon leads me a to place where I can rest my elbows with the work week's weary and take a moment to find a piece of my youth in its cracks.

Monkey Paw Brewery is just one of perhaps hundreds of craft breweries in San Diego County, but it happens to be one of my favorites. There's just an improvised way it adapted to a building that had been home to a dozen of other businesses over the decades. It's not cookie cutter or formula, it's San Diego's history you feel when you walk in, and then to your surprise there's craft beer on tap.

By 12:30pm, Sash and I finally decided to go there for the afternoon. After getting dressed, we warmed up the bikes and rode the few miles into the downtown to get there.

motorcycle san diego
Sash riding along I-5 through downtown San Diego on a Saturday
East Village has taken on the reputation of being home to San Diego's hipster crowd. It's the place of 20-something year old website developers, community college bohemians, and guys with handlebar mustaches. It was also where Sash and I called home for a year and a half before we took off on Road Pickle, except we were a little more up there in age.

Monkey Paw Brewery is right there in the middle of it.

And despite their otherwise non-existent electrical lighting, the place was illuminated with the haze of sunshine from its wide open windows. The chatter and crowd was significant enough to make me feel cradled in its arms as it nursed me to peace with a Double IPA.

Just as I began to tackle a basket of chicken wings sloshed with curry sauce, the guy seated next to me asked if they're spicy.  "No", I said.  "They're pretty mild".  Some time later, he had ordered the same wings.  Otherwise, I hadn't heard a word from him, and I imagine he thought the same thing.

But this was also the neighborhood where I roamed as a kid in the 1970s. Just a block away was the old boxing ring where my mom's boyfriend took me on Friday nights. About five blocks away was the bar where she tended in the evenings. About a mile away is the Naval hospital where my father worked as a corpsman. All of these things envelop me with their memories, whether they were happy or painful, and I hang on to them as if they're all I have left of my soul.

11th Street and Broadway. The location of Miho's Foxhole, a bar where my
mother once tended, is now a parking lot.
Motorcycles, as it turns out, were really made for Saturdays.

If I can't feel anything deep inside myself, I still feel Blackbird's heart and soul vibrating through every part of my body.  She knows I took my time warming her up today and she senses the lighter grip of her throttle. She knows that today is the day I need her most and knows to be a little more patient with me.

Giving her only minimal input, she takes me along downtown's shaded streets, past the same old buildings that were there when I was kid.  Around the corner and over the trolley tracks lies the smell of yesteryear's lost innocence waiting to take me back to something that I had lost along the way.

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Conquering Fear By Pushing to the Extremes

Part of the reason why most of us riders don't practice tight, slow speed turns, is the fear of dropping our bikes and doing damage.

But what if we practiced dropping our bikes? What if the first thing they told you to do at a motorcycle safety course is to stand up a motorcycle, with the engine off, and then put both feet on the pegs and let the bike fall over? What if you had to go 5 mph (8 kph), then throw the handlebars fully to the right, and fall off? What if you did this stuff over the entire afternoon?

You'd probably get bruised and exhausted. But assuming you had on full gear and pads on your knees, elbows and shoulders, you probably wouldn't hurt too bad. But you wouldn't be afraid of dropping the bike anymore.

Rory Anderson, another motorcycle blogger, who writes "The Awesome Blog", and who follows me on Google+, responded to my last article about "Riding a Motorcycle in the Cold", by posting a video of another rider taking a CB750 street bike to work along the snowy roads of Portland, OR...


At the 3:10 mark, he's at full speed, when the car in front of him throws on the brakes lights, and guess what happens?

So most of us are afraid to ride our motorcycles in the snow, largely because we don't want to drop our bikes, or take a slide and hurt ourselves.

But if you had on full gear like this guy, rationalized that the snow was just powder, and saw it as an opportunity to become a more experienced rider, then you would't be so quick to dismiss it.  You'd actually find a way to argue with the demon on your shoulder by saying, "Yes, but what if..."

And that's what a geek is.  It's someone who so fascinated with something, that they look at it from different angles, eager to learn everything about it, to where the fear can no longer hold them back.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Riding a Motorcycle in the Cold

cold cloudy motorcycle riding
Climbing one of the mountains along I-8 Eastbound
Riding the cold temperatures can be a bitch, but somehow I've been able to deal with it.

I mean, OK, I don't exactly get much opportunity to ride in very cold temperatures considering this is San Diego County.  It's not like  Minnesota or something.  Most of us riders here stay in the lower elevations where the coldest it gets is in the lower 40s.  And much of that area is in south east county, way out in the "Rez".

It's no wonder why the U.S. Government moved all the Indians out there. It's always cold, windy, mountainous, and the ground is full of rocks. White man can't really do much with it. Yet the natives managed to find a way to survive thanks to casinos and a State Law that gives them exclusivity on gambling.

And so when those of us in San Diego decide to head east into the warmer climates of the desert, we have to endure the miserable cold, windy, mountainous, and rocky netherparts of the Rez.

I watched the air temperature gauge on my Honda ST1300. As the elevation reached 4,000 feet along Interstate 8, and we got closer to the cloud layer, the numbers dropped. 50 degrees F. 46 degrees. 43 degrees. 41 degrees.

I looked in my mirrors for Sash to see if she was still behind me. Yup, she was. She'd actually pull up next to me a few times and gave an "OK" sign with her fingers. We had gotten through the coldest part of the trip, passing the Golden Acorn Casino, where all the windmills are.

It was 41 degrees F.  At 80mph, the wind made it feel like 20.


And then I realized Sash was wearing her summer gloves the whole time. I felt worried for her. Her fingers must have been aching.

Myself, I had on only my leather jacket and winter gloves. Otherwise, I was riding in t-shirt and jeans.

Unprepared? No, I expected it.  Crazy?  Yeah, a little.  Do I like to punish myself?  Actually, there's some of that too.

But much of it is my own demons.  It's the voices of my mother, father, kids I grew up with, and old co-workers, either writing me off as eccentric, telling me that I can't do it, or relegating me to the more remedial tasks.  I often overextend myself to other people just to get their praises.  These days I throw myself into the fire just to prove that it's all just demons.

My therapist says that it's a dissociative disorder.  That throughout my growing up, my mother insisting I keep my mouth shut and stop my whining over the threat of physical punishment, I learned to keep my feelings bottled up and hidden down deep.  I feared her anger, the swat of her stick and the solitary confinement of the closet, that I learned to remain in my intellect, cut off from my emotions.

riding motorcycle in the coldIt's the emotions that make the bitter cold so unbearable.  The more you whine and cry about it, the more traumatizing it becomes.  Granted, there's a temperature point where the body will go into shock.  But the mind can still overcome the pain in the process.

I intellectualize the cold by looking at the temperature gauge and know that it's still not cold enough for frostbite to set into my fingers.  That gives me confidence to push on despite the chilling ache in my hands. I tell myself that shivering like this will boost my metabolism and help me burn fat.

And in some strange twist, I now look forward to riding in the cold.  There's comfort in that old familiar feeling of solitude, staying in my head and removed from my heart, and some warped idea that I'll become a better man and burn a couple pounds of fat in the process.

By the time Sash and I got into the desert, we pulled into a Del Taco in El Centro for a quick bite. The temperature had risen to 70 degrees F. She pulled off her summer gloves and revealed a layer of thermal glove liners.

Ironically, I felt relieved, even if I wasn't feeling anything for myself.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Cowboys Who Become Bikers

bikers and cowboys
Me, Sash, and Brian, Pint House Bar &Grill, Yuma, AZ
Riding down from his camp near Quartzsite, AZ, a cowboy biker with a big bushy mustache took a roundabout way to meet us in Yuma. Brian Gore, the blogger behind Ribbon of Highway, met us at our hotel and then the three of us rode to The Pint House Bar & Grill in downtown.

Now focusing his time writing a series of Western novels under the starry skies of the Sonoran Desert, Brian told us stories of him roping stray cattle in the Santa Rita Mountains during his school days.

"If you managed to rope one of the cows, she'd take off running and pull you across the desert", he said in his cowboy-like voice. "I come walking back to camp with my saddle over my shoulder, and there's the gelding standing right there." he added. "Whatcha doing with that saddle over your shoulder?", one of the other guys told him. "Well if you knew my horse came back without me, why didn't you come looking for me?, Brian said.

It wasn't much money for the young buck, but somehow I figure money wasn't the point.

Somewhere along the way, after a detour through Vietnam, he took up riding motorcycles.

At one point, Brian ran a business as a leatherworker designing fancy leather goods, but gave it up for the more solitary, introspective craft of writing novels. But before all that, he rode Rodeo and worked in the mines.

In 2010, Brian and his wife sold off their ranch and took a three-year tour of the United States as RV Boondockers, pulling a camper and motorcycle with their pickup truck. They earned an income from book sales, ads on his blogs, and driving shuttles at NASCAR races. Today he and his wife own a store in Ft. Collins, CO, while he finds inspiration for his novels with howling coyotes and Saguaro cactus.

bikers yuma
Brian and Sash, downtown Yuma
I took an interest in talking to him about websites and Internet marketing since that's what I do for a living. But I also enjoyed hearing him explain the business of writing novels, since that's also something I'd like to do someday.

In fact, after spending the evening chatting with him, I come to realize that he and I are similar in that we just do whatever gets us by and keeps us in control of our lives. We didn't grow up mastering one single career path that we would ride to retirement. We just have faith in ourselves to survive and choose from the opportunities that come by.

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Hanging Out At The Bar After Work

hillcrest san diego
Riding through Hillcrest in San Diego at night
Around 5:30pm, every day, my thoughts usually switch from website design work to hitting up the local bars and downing a few beers. I don't work in an office where I'm with several other people, I work in my home (or my temporary home), and am often alone or with Sash.

If I don't get out at night and belly up to a bar, then I lose all interaction with other human beings.

And Sash and I have a lot of fun hanging out at bars after work. We get to know some of the regulars and the employees. Sash gets to be her fabulous sashy self, hamming it up with the folks, while I get to sit quietly at the bar and try the newest craft brews. We'll often play a round of bar trivia too.

And if you really think about it, my life is pretty simple. I work all day on my laptop, and then go hang out at the bar at night.  It also affords me the opportunity to ride my motorcycle, even if it's just a few miles of city streets in the dark.

But I do get tired of the routine. In fact, I don't do well with routine. I find it too routine. After awhile, I feel as if my life is passing me by, and I need to do something different. That's when my mind turns to getting out of town and going on a road trip.

hillcrest brewing
Beer and chicken wings at Hillcrest Brewing
In fact, as you're reading this, we've gotten out of Dodge and headed to Yuma, AZ for a few nights.  Yuma is not really much of a destination. It's kind of a dumpy town in fact. But it's a few hours ride away from San Diego, and it's in another state. And that's seem to suit me well.

Meanwhile, the bar I often hang out at is Hillcrest Brewing. It's located in the Hillcrest community of San Diego. If you know San Diego, then you know Hillcrest as having the highest concentration of homosexuals in the city. But it's really a very happy place. I guess that's why they call them gays. Hillcrest Brewing bill's itself as the world's first LGBT brewery.  I'm not sure why I hang out there, I'm pretty content to just squeeze on Sash. But it's just a very friendly place.

But while the urban center of San Diego is very liberal, the outer suburbs is very conservative. And it's just a coincidence that in a few weeks, Sash and I will be moving to those conservative suburbs from our comfy digs in the urban center.  It just worked out that way due to a referral from a friend and cheaper rent. It'll be too far of a ride to hang out with my homosexual friends in Hillcrest, and I guess I'll have to tip glass with white collar conservatives instead.

But that's OK, because the libertarian in me tends to agree with lower taxes and fewer regulations while being free to suck anything you want.

Of course, it's all just bar chatter.  But that's what I love about hanging out at the bar after work.  Good beer, friendly people, and bullshit.

Certainly nothing wrong with wishful thinking. But there's a lot of them in Hillcrest

hillcrest brewing motorcycles
Sash and I park our bikes by the back entrance to Hillcrest Brewing

riding motorcycle at night
Sash riding her motorcycle at night

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About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)