MotoGP trip #2, Day 2
There may be better, more scenic roads to ride on somewhere on this earth, but I have no idea where they are, and if I never find them before I die, I'll be just fine. Today we headed north to Carmel and Big Sur; again, I had no real expectaions, and yet was completely blown away. That seems to be the normal state of affairs here.
We slept in a bit, until 10 or so, which was a mighty good thing since I was up until 5AM composing my last post. I'm not exactly the best typist in the world, but I give and I give, until it hurts, all for you guys. Seriously, this place is so amazing I hope I'm doing it justice here. I'll do the best I can.
So anyway, Nan and I again rode the R, while Sandy joined Hernan on the K bike. I know I dissed the Beemers just a tad yesterday, but they really are nice bikes. The R has a nice relaxed riding position, a big, dished, comfy Corbin saddle, and some wide-assed bars which provide plenty of leverage for jetting through the tight stuff. We probably saw hundreds, or even thousands, of bikes today. I'd say that roughly 50% of them were Japanese sporting tack, 20% or so were Ducatis (!- bestill my heart. Easy, Mopar.), probably 15% were Beemers, with the rest consisting of mostly motards, dp's, and various standards. As a group, Harleys actually seemed to represent the smallest slice of the pie. There was nothing cooler than hearing the Ducs whenever we were stopped; the singles also sounded kick-ass ripping around the corners. Still, I was maybe 3 or 4 hours into our ride when I realized that the R we were riding was perhaps ideal. The motor isn't really the smoothest or revviest mill, but it was more than torquey enough to lug up the hills and out of corners. Passing took a little forethought and planning, and the trans was a bit clunky in the lower gears, but I really had no complaints about the drivetrain. By far the only real gripe I have with the bike is the stupid turn signal controls. There is a button on either side; you press the left one to go left, and the right one to go right. Then, to cancel the signal, there is another button on the right side above and further inboard which you have to press. Sounds simple enough, but it's totally counterintuitive after 20 plus years of riding other bikes, plus, the one inch diameter bars make the switches a bitch to reach. Silly Bavarians, always doing things their own way. Other than that, though, the bike goes through the hills and curves better, and more comfortably, than I ever would have expected, especially with my better half on the back. Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe I'm just getting smart enough to realize how lucky I am, and be grateful for it. Thanks so much, Hernan and Sandy, for letting us ride your bike, not to even mention everything else.
We headed out of town around 11:00, taking the freeway south towards Carmel. This leg of the trip was by far the most pedestrian and least scenic, but it was perfect for getting the cobwebs out. The area just north of Laguna Seca is a bit interesting; it's a wide open and flat valley filled with farm fields, flanked by mountains off in the distance on 3 sides, with a wide expanse of the Pacific off to the west. The weather today was again perfect; I didn't see a single cloud until hours later, on the trip home. The ocean was just beautiful, a deep shade of blue, with a faint line of mist miles offshore blurring the demarcation between water and sky. The sights on land were both agricultural and industrial, with farm fields and a power plant. Like I said, not too pretty, but all we had to do was look left and see that water..
At this point, we encountered traffic congestion, and did our first lane splitting of the trip. I was really glad that we were able to ride for a full day yesterday before we took part in this little bit of insanity. When I came here last year, we were all of 15 minutes into our first ride when we came up on gridlock and started threading our way through traffic. Not only was I not familiar with the practice, I was also on the K bike, with saddlebags mounted, so it felt wi-i-i-de, especially compared to the Ducatis which Iím so accustomed to riding. I was pretty much scared shitless that I was going to bounce off of a semi with that thing. The R bike was much better as the bars are the widest thing on it, but it was still pretty close at times. I could feel Nan tensing up behind me, and kept reaching back and patting her leg to reassure her. Iím not so sure it did much good, though, since I was taking one of my hands off the controls to do it. Lane splitting isnít technically legal, but then, itís not illegal, either. Most of the cagers here seem to be pretty tolerant of it; some of them even move over to give you more room when they see you coming. Others, however, are obviously not at all happy when theyíre stuck in traffic and thereís a line of motorcycles streaming between the cars at 30 MPH. They donít actually pull in front of you, but they clearly move over just enough so that they think you canít get by. I looked right at a couple of these assbags, but they studiously avoided any sort of eye contact or acknowledgement, so it was all too evident what was going on. For a while, we were behind a guy on a Honda Goldwing who actually tapped on a few windows to get people to move over; but we moved away from him toot sweet. I sure wasnít comfortable with the thought of trying to get by someone who this guy had pissed off even more. We just took our time, finding openings when we could and trying not to tuck the front end on the Bottís dots. Nan even seemed a bit more relaxed after a little while. Iím sure a lot of people love the idea of (semi)legally cutting through stopped traffic, but it still makes me nervous as hell, especially when I realized that some of these people were actually on their cell phones. That was something I hadnít even considered before. Still, when in RomeÖ
The scenery improved dramatically when we reached Carmel. The town is situated in a smaller valley between mountains covered with greener foliage than the scrub covered hills further north. They were taller and steeper, too, going up at least a thousand feet or so. Again, to our right, the view would open up to provide vivid glimpses of cobalt blue water and sandy beaches. The houses here seemed a bit bigger and more upscale. I saw a lot of Spanish influence in the architecture, whereas further north the houses tend to date from the 70ís and consist mainly of wood covered frame structures. As we moved towards the south side of town, the road tightened up a bit while the house lots sort of spread out, with the neighborhoods sloping right down to the water. Very pretty.
As we drove out of Carmel, I glimpsed heaven, in the form of a sign which said ďCurves and hills, next 62 milesĒ. The Almighty probably wasnít too pleased with what happened in my pants, but I say religion is what you make of it. Whoever put up that sign wasnít kidding, though, because I have never in my life seen a road like this. I thought the cliffs and views yesterday were amazing, but they paled in comparison. Picture, if you will, mountains covered in varying shades of deep greens, reds, and browns rising up a thousand or so feet on one side of you, emerald green to azure blue water a thousand or so feet below you on the other, and a pale blue sky above you with nary a cloud in sight. Now picture a schizophrenically winding ribbon of 2 lane blacktop in front of you, cutting right through the sandy earth in places, with a few huge bridges spanning thousand foot deep gorges thrown in for kicks. I could practically hear Nan gasping in her helmet, not only at the view, but also in fear when she thought I took my eyes off the road for too long. Here, there were Armco barriers, but they couldnít have been more than 18 inches tall. If you screw up, the bike might stay on the road, but youíre flying away, baby, far, far away. At one point, we were literally looking straight down at least 1500 feet to the water. It gave me goosebumps, not because I was nervous, but because it was just so freaking awe inspiring. It was perfect. Even the traffic here was fine. There were plenty of cars, and even more bikes, but everyone drove exactly like people with actual brains should. The slower cars would immediately move over and allow you to pass, everyone and anyone on 2 wheels waved, birds sang, bees made honey, and all was right in the world. Heaven, indeed.
After a fashion, the road opened up a bit and moved away from the water, although it was still plenty entertaining. We came upon a fairly sizeable valley which again flattened out and gently sloped to the water. Here, the mountains were covered in drier vegetation, brown and yet still inconceivably beautifulI, like a Rodin sculpture fashioned from turds. There was also a cattle farm nestled in the hills here, with several head of cattle grazing on the land between us and the ocean. Iíve never seen cows grinning before, but I swear this was some happy fucking beef. I can only imagine how ecstatic the farmer who owns this land must be; if heís not, he needs to be thrown off one of his cliffs. I canít even begin to wrap my brain around what it would be like to live there; where do I sign up? Right. Iíll just keep dreaming..
Another fascinating thing about this place is how fast the scenery and the temperature change. You go around a bend in the road and the mercury drops, or in this case, goes up 15 degrees or more. We suddenly found ourselves in Big Sur, back in redwood groves, only this time, the trees were even bigger and closer to the road than before. Honestly, the bark starts where the blacktop ends. Here, there were tons of camps , inns, and lodges, with stopped motorists and bikers everywhere. There were also plenty of roadside stops and restaurants among the trees, and we stopped to have lunch at a cafe perched atop a cliff 800 feet above the ocean. We stayed for over an hour and a half as we were seriously zonked at this point. Talk about sensory overload. We finally dragged ourselves back to the bikes to go home. Of course, the return trip seemed only a fraction as long, even though we were now riding into a hellaciously strong and somewhat chilly headwind. We stopped a couple more times to take pictures, until Hernan finally couldnít deal with me standing so close to the edges of the cliffs to get the right shot.
So, back through Carmel we went, straight into heavy traffic congestion and at least another 10 miles of lane splitting. By now, though, weíre old pros at it, so it wasnít a big deal, although Nan felt guilty about it, and I tried really hard not to think about all the SUV drivers on their cell phones. We did get off the main highway and took the local farm roads home. It took longer, and they were pretty tame roads by local standards, but even these put anything we have in Illinois to shame by quite a long shot- a very fitting end to a completely incredible day. Itís now midnight local time, my brain is numb, and my ass is number still. Iím going to bed now, because tomorrow, we head to Laguna! So stay tuned, dudes and dudettes, same bat-time, same bat-channel. Oh yeah, I guess itís now ok for you to hate me, at least a little..
There will always be a better ride out there. It's not the bike that bends, it's the rider. There is no spoon.
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