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California road trip, San Francisco to San Diego via the Pacific Coast Highway and Joshua Tree National Park – April 2015

As usual, I had business in America, this time in San Diego and Orlando. After around 25-30 years it was also now time I brushed up on the Pacific Coast Highway, but there was also a gap in my knowledge of the California/Nevada border area, so I needed to see more of the desert, either Death Valley or Joshua Tree National Park. Both Mark and Brian agreed to join me and hire some motorbikes. There was some constraint at the start of the trip, as the family had a charity cycle around Goodwood Motor Racing Race Circuit planned for the previous Sunday. So an acceptable route was cooked up between us and squeezed into the few midweek days prior to the conference I am involved in. I suspect it was only Brian who was actually listening to the specifics of the route, Mark was just happy to join us. Brian pulled out at the last minute due to redundancy, so it was just the two of us.


It was the usual start at Heathrow, with Mark trying to out-eat the Virgin Club House, I came in as his guest. On the plane, he was travelling in Premium Economy and I was with the riff-raff, so quite a calm start to the trip, despite a brief visit down my end, which annoyed the cart-wheeling flight attendant, who soon managed to shoo him off. A ten-hour respite for me then, the calm before the storm?

On arrival in SFO, there was a massive immigration line that went off into the distance. They called for ESTA holders to join another line, which I couldn’t do as I have a visa, but off Mark went on his little legs. It was a new set-up, with the equivalent of self-check-in machines that seemed quite slick. It took me a half hour longer, which had old grumpy sat by our cases waiting for me, with an encouraging text sent every 5 mins to help speed me up! Sod’s law, as usual, I was sent off for a secondary inspection and went into a room with about 20 other dubious travellers. FYI- my passport was cloned in 1989, so I am usually stopped for questions. As expected, the news was not well received by my calm and sophisticated international travel companion, so he jumped in a taxi heading for the hotel, to calm down and investigate the bar, while I anxiously sat trying to read. I waited an hour and then had the usual sub-minute interview, “when were you refused entry?’ My usual reply “I have never been refused, someone cloned my passport” and with a nod of his head and a couple of entries in his computer I left. So off I went to try and find my case with a couple of other weirdo types also wandering around the carousels, then at the next Customs line, an Indian couple managed to ram the customs officer with their trolley, with cases tumbling down on top of her, which meant another delay waiting for another grumpy official.

I jumped in a taxi and called Mark who had just arrived at the hotel which HE had booked for us, he was at this point rather distraught with the devastating news that the bar was closed on Monday! The hotel was located in The Tender Loin District, not an area to be walking around at night. They managed to locate a sister hotel near Union Sq that had a room, but it meant I had to share a twin room with him, something I had vowed about 30 years ago, to never do again!

On arrival in the city centre, the reckless Eritrean driver and I swept past Mark, then suffered minutes of frustration trying to do a U-turn under the shadow of a large no U-turn sign. With the meter charging past 60 dollars we finally and anxiously swung by the ‘dry’ Phoenix Hotel, which I must say looked rather Rock n’ Roll, with a huge rock band tour bus taking up the car park. Mark jumped in and we went to the alternative hotel. The Rex was a very pleasant old SFO hotel, just off Union Sq. The timing was just right for us to have a complimentary glass of wine in their bar. The hotel was a pleasant mid-range property and in a good location, so is a very useful addition to my list of SFO hotel options, a pleasant side-effect of moving.

Prior to the trip, as an alternative to strapping empty bags to the back of the bikes, Mark ingeniously suggested we send them with DHL/ FedEx by road to San Diego. Although not quite the bobby bargain originally proposed back in Blighty, there was a convenient shop next door that, a) took the cases b) provided plenty of punters for Mark to discuss the up-and-coming Mayweather/ Pacquiao fight, which turned out to be the recurring theme of the trip. C0 and for USD$40 promised they would be in SD within 2 days. We left them half-full of gear and headed off to an old-timer diner for a burger and then to bed. Mark felt the night was still young, despite the 8-hour time difference and aimed for a bar, off to discuss the boxing match with as many locals as possible.

He returned to the room I know not when, but proceeded to snore very loudly, so in went my motorcycling earplugs. They seemed to work exceptionally well, as it was Mark who had to wake me at 0545 hrs with the fire alarms going off.

Not actually sure how long they had been going off, as, by the time we stumbled down to the lobby, the street was full of fire trucks and flashing lights. Due to the lack of smoke, it was all very exciting for most of us, but not so the down-and-out that was still sleeping on the sidewalk, laid on a flattened cardboard box over the hot air vent from the hotel, he was a couple of foot from the massive Le France ladder truck (had a Corgi version of this 35 yrs ago) with the firemen walking around him.

Only a couple of guests were in dressing gowns and PJs, and most of us had thrown on clothes. After a few minutes we were told it was a false alarm and plodded back up the 12 flights of stairs to our sixth-floor room, stomp moan, stomp grumble, stomp wheeze. So this had us up nice and early to get ready for our trip down the Pacific Coast Highway later today and should have given us a good start, but…….

So after our early start, off we went to an ‘old school’ traditional diner just off Union Square for huge plates of steaming corn beef hash-n-eggs with stacks of toast, smashing and a perfect start to the day. We then returned to the room, where Mark began his shower ritual, the last act of this, I was blamed for suggesting Mark pack his shirts a particular way. Old grumpy was so upset by the fact that he couldn’t fit it all in his panniers, that he forgot all his trip’s paperwork, only remembering this far too late to pick them up. He he!

At Eagle Rider they seem to take a blooming age to check us in, not surprisingly this had Mark a trifle upset, the pressure was building, added to the earlier loss of paperwork and perhaps a bit over-tired, (poor little lamb). So he was ripe for a winding up. I had been processed first and came outside to see two bikes, one black and one red, I knew he would hate the red one, he had seen them in the depot earlier and suggest that the ‘gay’ red one was mine. Indeed mine turned out to be the red one, which was a super match with my jacket, a perfectly coordinated outfit.

The chap running through the safety checks was a nice bloke and was agreeable to help wind Mark up. So I left him to mess with Stumpy’s head a little, going through all the points on my bike as if it was his, it was quite a few grumpy minutes before Mark finally found the panniers full of my stuff and realised that game that had been played. Despite the fire bells getting us up at 0545 hrs, we still didn’t manage to get on the road until 1040 hrs, this 5-hour gap set an unfortunate pattern for the rest of the trip.

The I-280 was advised as being a much nicer ride out of town than the regular freeway 101 that runs past SFO airport. Once out of the initial fog, it was a nice flowing road with plenty of fast curves and little traffic, a great stretch to re-familiarise ourselves with the Harley Davidson Street Glides. It was a wonderful feeling being back on them, with the thump of their engines. I was impressed at the general speed of the traffic, most vehicles were 70- 85 on roads with 65 posted, oh how liberal the Californians are, so we too cruised comfortably at 80 mph, which was just below the buffeting barrier for us. We turned right, heading toward the coast and got glimpses of the sunshine and the sea in the distance as we aimed towards Santa Cruz. When we ended up at the seaside, it was blooming cold with low clouds, so after a couple of hours, we needed to stop for coffee having both started to shiver. I had my red and black mesh hot weather jacket with me in anticipation of the desert, plus as many layers as I could fit under it to keep warm. Inevitably our resident coffee critic lectured the baristas on just how much milk should be in the cup for a ‘Leyshon flat white’. On getting back to the bikes, Mark drew out and thrust forth with his ‘selfie stick’, what a man, the impression of the well ‘ard leather-clad biker instantly evaporated, but it did give us some good shots.

The next stop was Monterey Airport, where Mr L had fond memories of his first tuna melt 16 years ago. This was on his first cross-country solo flight, with two others and an instructor they flew in on separate planes, then ate the fabled tuna melts overlooking their aircraft parked below. It was strange at first to walk through the airport terminal. Then bizarrely finding that there was a geriatric birthday party going on in the coffee shop! The waitress was clearly not that happy that the 20+ old ladies all wanted separate checks. The eagerly anticipated sandwiches were pleasant, but nothing special and the venue was pretty naff really, but it kept him happy.

On leaving we seemed to upset a few locals by squeezing the bikes down the side of the car park barriers so as to not pay. For those that don’t ride, it’s something all bikers are required to do, part of the ‘Biker’s Law’. The sun appeared as we left, we aimed for a quick drive through Monterey so I could get a feel for Cannery Row. It reinforced with me what a bizarre episode it was eating in an airport restaurant, given the dozens of characterful seafood places we could have visited not 5 mins up the road, I clearly still needed reminding of the irrational aspects of travelling with Stumpy. Monterey looked like a smashing place to spend some time in, I had always assumed Carmel would have been the nicer and more quaint place to stay. I had stayed in Carmel about 30 years before, but never visited Monterey, I see now it has plenty of character.

It was coming on for 1500 hrs having fuelled up and annoyed Monterrey before we started the run down the Pacific Coast highway. All rather late in the day for the highlight of the trip! Straight away it was great and as it went on, there was less and less traffic, with more and more sunshine. Mark saw the sign that stated ‘tight curves for the next 166 miles’, a shame we didn’t get a photo of it.

We pulled over for some photos at a couple of points, there is a memorable one of me in front of my bike, but the angle of the sun was reflecting off the red pannier and shining through my legs, giving the impressive impression of a bright red member dangling between my legs. The weather was now very bright, but with a crisp breeze and some beautifully choreographed wispy clouds, it could not have been nicer for riding or for photos.

The bikes were getting photographed as much as the scenery by others, especially by a number of oriental tourists and I must say they did look smashing (bikes not tourists). We made sure we took off with the bikes at full chat, what a lovely roar they make. Most of the time there was no traffic, and we overtook the odd car easily, plenty of power so didn’t need long stretches of road to do this. Despite most curves posted as 25 or 35 mph, the Street Glides hold their weight low down, so with a pleasing rhythm swing in and out beautifully at 40-50 mph. Just loved the roads on the section down to Big Sur, I had forgotten how the mountains reach right down to the sea’s edge. I was surprised to see a couple of fuel stations here, so it wasn’t that desperate to have fuelled up at the top. The bikes appeared to have done 300 miles on a tank and a quarter that first day.

Around 1700 hrs, shoulder blades and backs now started to protest, so we stopped at a gas station just before San Simeon for a drink. However, in manoeuvring and reversing my bike the worst happened, I slipped on gravel and felt the bike gradually beginning to lean over at nearly 45 degrees, so in that split second, I realised I could just about hold it, but wouldn’t be able to get it upright, to do anything more it would wrench my back. So I had to sit it down on its side, gently does it and a glide will sit on the pannier bottoms and front crash bars. Oh the shame when I realised Stumpy has seen me! I managed to just about right it, but without the help of a few passers-by who ignored my plight, the miserable sods. My almost-a-‘Camel Back’ is a godsend on this type of ride, as I can constantly sip water, so didn’t need to buy a drink as Mark did, but the 15 min rest was appreciated. Off we then set with trepidation, having now had enough riding, but still had a good 80 miles to go before Pismo Beach. When the road ran nearer the water’s edge, we got the occasional whiffs of the sea and seaweed, something I doubt you would get in a car.

I wish we had stopped at the bay full of elephant seals, there were hundreds of them, but boy did they pong even as we flew past. I was trying to signal to Mark how many miles until the next turn, by holding up my fingers to denote the miles, but all this succeeded in doing, was to piss him off, it was clearly too complicated for him, and he assumed it was showing how many miles to Pismo. The last 40 miles were boring, flat and rather a trial, having left 7+ hours before.

I was aware the motel I booked was probably going to have a lot of character but had a nice position sitting right on the beach edge. Naturally, as soon as I told Mark it was called the Sea Gypsy, there were some derogatory remarks and negative predictions about its quality. Frankly, after that long ride, I didn’t care, but we were cheered up, it looked suitably funky and very 1970’s to match the name. The receptionist was very nice, a little younger than us, but made up with probably thicker paint work than on the Harleys.

The rooms were probably timeshares, as on the doors there were plaques saying, this is the holiday home of so and so The decor was a throwback to seventies sophistication, lots of dark wood effect Formica, gravy-coloured sofas and tufted dark brown wool carpets. There was much hilarity from the next room when someone discovered the requirement to pull down the Murphy Bed from the wall to sleep on. It was about 1900 hrs or later and the sun was beginning to set, it was a beautiful evening. Just the bleat of the motel’s three goats being worried by some children which broke the calm. I had my fingers firmly crossed in the hope they were not going to be left outside my balcony all night, thankfully they were not (both the goats and the children!).

It was a considerably shorter walk along the sand to the town centre than a detour along the back roads, but you would have thought the prospect of sand in your shoes to be life-threatening, it was 200 yards of hilarious moans and groans from the child accompanying me. The bar we heading towards, was described by an old couple giving us directions, as having a fearsome reputation, can you guess whose eyes lit up on receiving this news? I must admit the Country and Western dancing going on was something I would have preferred to avoid, but it was not really a sinister joint. After a few beers, we relaxed and were recalling our triumphant journey that day.

Mark remarked that before we road it, as the Pacific Coast Highway was so well known, he assumed it probably wasn’t going to be that spectacular, but now loved the ride and it was far better than he ever imagined. I enjoyed it very much too. The time was now coming on for nine thirty and obvious Mark wasn’t going to bother with food, sticking with various fluids instead. I left him so I could find something to eat. It was a nice town with quite a number of restaurants and cafés but they were all shut by now, I was directed to a Family Entertainment Centre, which we would call a snooker hall with a multitude of electronic games, there must have been over 50 tables, it was like a hanger, with a pizza oven in the corner. It was actually a good pizza. I returned to find a very tipsy Mark chatting away outside the bar to anyone in earshot and about the forthcoming boxing match. It was too late for me, so I left him to head for my bed, deadbeat, with the prospect and adventure of the Murphy Bed to contend with.

Once again I was faced with the logistical nightmare of Mark wanting to eat first and then come back back to his room for a shower, in theory, this should be a simple affair, but with Olympian levels of dithering, it means that both pre and post breakfast gets extended out of all proportion to a normal persons start of the day. This morning was no exception, an 0800 hrs wake up, became a 1020 hrs departure! Very frustrating. Breakfast was at a recommended old-fashioned ‘Mom n Pop’ diner, Mark chose to go Mexican and was presented to his dismay with the most revolting-looking plate covered in various grey shades of slop. By all reports, the culinary experience was no improvement on the visual experience. It was sad considering he didn’t eat the previous night either!

On this type of trip, I would normally have suggested that after Pismo you head south the two hundred miles to Santa Monica, with a lunch stop at Santa Barbara. I was anxious to visit Joshua Tree National Park, but it would have meant a left turn at Santa Monica and a long and horrid slog through LA’s freeways. It would mean traversing the full width of the city, made much worse by being on bikes and in the rush hour The route we therefore planned, was to head away from the coast, up and over the coastal mountains, here there seemed to be a very small twisty road that would link up with the main freeway, which comes down the Central Valley from SFO to LA. We would then travel down it a short way, turn left again going east, linking up a couple of long 60-mile straight roads to our next overnight stop at the town of 29 Palms, on Joshua Tree National Park’s northern edge. It is also a US Marine base, so probably not a centre of California culture.

It was midmorning before we had fuelled up and headed east away from the coast. Mark very kindly left the gas station a present of his fuel cap, which we discovered over two hundred miles later, but its absence didn’t seem to be spotted when we said goodbye to our trusty steeds on finally dropping them off in San Diego. These bikes have the filler cap covered by a second large locking chrome dish, it rode OK despite this and at no point on the trip did he explode into a huge ball of flame. After a short ride on the main road out of Pismo, we headed east, up and into the mountains and some of the best biking roads I’ve ever been on. These snaked through deep honey-coloured barren canyons, the curves interspersed enough with straights and wide enough to enable the bikes to be cranked well over, enabling them to be taken easily at 70 mph. The great road surfaces and next to no traffic added to the pleasure, it was terrific adrenalin-pumping stuff and it went on and on for 60-odd miles. A jeep with obviously a knowledgeable local had barged ahead when we had first left the freeway off-ramp, but catch up we did after 20 mins, he having been stopped by the CHP. We cruised past grinning at the knowledge it was unlikely there was going to be another Police Cruiser on this remote road, so gleefully after the next bend, we charged ahead chuckling.

Once out of the mountains we came to a more rural area, a valley with beautiful mountains off in the distance. At this point after two days of jiggering around, it had loosened the nut that held my visor onto my open-face helmet. Leaving me with an uncooperative visor flapping and crashing around my face. I pulled over and thankfully was able to use the helmet’s ‘stop nut’ to fix it. Talking of stop nuts, Mark and I pulled over a little further on at New Cuyama, for him to get a drink.

So parked the bikes in the shade of a couple of Palm trees, only to find the tiniest insects coming down from the palm trees and making a good meal out of Mark’s neck. We still had a little way to travel on this road. It was more of the main road, going past lots of massive fields that stretched as far as the eye could see. In the distance we saw a huge truck charging across a field toward our road, it looked like one of those on the Paris Dakar rally, with a ‘rooster tail’ and a huge dust cloud trailing behind and way up in the air. He must have been spreading fertiliser and had already done a run-up and down this field, because we went past just before he reached the field’s edge but my face was stung by the sand/ dust/grit. At our next stop, I found this gunk had jammed up into a line of paste along my hairline. After a quarter of an hour, we turned right off the main road to a lane, which on Google maps, just looked like an interesting squiggle, I had not appreciated it was a small road that would take us up and over Pine Mountain, so to our delightful surprise it was an interesting contrast to the earlier morning’s big canyon corners, these were short sharp twisty country roads, which reminded me of last year’s trip over the mountains in Northern Spain. Strangely we passed an MG Midget with a rubber bumper, the same eighties vintage as my first sports car, plus 3 motorbikes, but these were all we came across on this 30-mile stretch.

We stopped a couple of times at some amazing views of the desert valley and mountains beyond, not sure what we were looking at. At one point the hillside grass behind our bikes was being blown one way, then another, it looked like it was dancing. Some of the roads were along mountain tops, following a ridge line that danced around rocky outcrops and rock slides are an obvious regular occurrence. There was lots of gravel and rock on the tarmac, which was quite disconcerting at times, both of us tip-toed through these corners and tying to avoid turns when under these overhangs with the marble-like gravel surface.

Midway along one stretch, Mark was much slower than I and so I slowed down, I decided to pull over and see if he wanted to lead and perhaps as the road was quiet, also take a short video clip of the bikes charging past. Stupidly I pulled over onto the gravel, but this was at quite an angle and not as flat as it seemed, so for the second time on this trip and at zero mph, I shamefully slid sideways and went down on my side. Mark pulled up with fanfare of laughter. There was no way I was going to budge it, the gravel was like marbles and the handlebars were slightly lower down the slope than the bike. I wondered why Mark had not leapt to my assistance and turned around to find him charmingly taking a photo of me. At this point I dawned on me, the legend of dropping my bike twice would live forever, now with photo evidence too, there was no return and no defence. We rather struggled to get it upright, but couldn’t hold it on this slight slope, the bike is darn heavy. I tried to start it, but being still in gear it leapt forward giving us both a shock, after much sweating and swearing, having lost all of Mark’s very limited patience, we did finally get going. The road wound through a charming hillside town called Pine Valley Club, which we both liked the look of, lots of very smart houses on the canyon edge and lots of trees, smashing, probably millionaires weekend retreats.

Popping out of the forest, the rest of that day’s journey was then almost flat. We zigged down the freeway and then headed east again, on stretches of completely straight roads, very boring and uncomfortable, the of only things of note were the power lines and telephone poles lining both sides of the road. Despite a distinct lack of civilisation, we eventually found a Starbucks for Mark’s obligatory coffee and I had my first Subway, this was at about 1500 hrs, so we relaxed for three-quarters of an hour. The following leg was again massively long with dead boring, dead straight roads, it was flat and very agricultural. These sections are around 60 miles each, so just under one uncomfortable hour per leg. To relax my shoulders, I try to use the pillion pegs, which bring my knees up around the tank like a horse racing jockey, it changes the angle of my back and posture.

Without any pre-planning, we stumbled across the fabled Route 66, although we only travelled a few hundred yards on it. It was only memorable as this was the one traffic jam we suffered during the whole trip. It was 15-20 mins, while we roasted in the stifling heat that came bouncing off the jet black tarmac.

Having left the forest it was all rather a trial, which continued all through the afternoon and early evening, it was the low point of the whole trip. For the last hour, the roads were dead quiet and a bit more twisty, we hammered along all at an almost constant 80 mph. As they say in the motorcycling world we ‘made good progress’, but it was getting hotter and hotter, the bike’s outside air temp gauge was over 100 and riding in this was like opening a fan oven’s door. By far the most tiring leg of the trip.

Brian was originally going to do the trip with us but had to pull out when he was made redundant. I had booked an unusual place in 29 Palms with the best-rated restaurant and bar in town but cancelled with Brain’s veto as he wanted a cheaper option. The sat nav found this cheaper option that we had booked, but it turned out to be hidden in a residential area and was too far to walk to find a place to eat /drink and had no facilities. So at about 1900 hrs we left and headed back to the main strip to find the bars and restaurants, of which there were a few. We spotted a motel on the edge of town and Mark’s radar across the street from a bar, this was the now fabled Motel 29 Palms, it was a rather knackered 1950s vintage building. Despite this, it looked clean-ish and was significantly half the price of the previous place, so having been shown acceptable rooms each and as it was for one night only, we sealed the deal with the French lady owner and stayed.

A pattern was emerging and Mark expressed no desire to eat, so I headed off to an Italian restaurant for a simple lasagne but wasn’t quite expecting the monster on a plate that arrived at my table. As Adrian described this culinary villain, it was a heart attack on a plate, as a novelty no doubt, it included half a dozen extra meatballs in an ocean of tomato sauce. I was over-hungry so ate much of it, but soon regretted it.

By the time I found a very pissed Mark, I was feeling a bit sick and didn’t fancy drinking. I was immediately introduced to a pool-playing lady sitting at the bar, who at Mark’s insistence showed me a tattoo of her dead daughter and then proclaimed herself to be bisexual. Quite unprompted she then produced photographic evidence as proof, a generous gesture but quite unwarranted. By 10 pm everyone had left, so I headed off to bed too, Mark at some point went to the gas station for water. The morning interrogation found there to have been an X files type situation, as he seems to have lost a few hours between going to the gas station and getting back to his bedroom, a desert mystery.

Up at 8 am again and off to Denny’s across the road, this time for French toast, yum, yum! On our return, while Mark resumed his toilet, I remarked to the Madame that my a/c didn’t work last night, it thankfully was not too stuffy. It turned out it wasn’t plugged into the socket outside my room. Mark found this hilarious as it seemed his a/c had been working fine. Clearly, this news and a good shower had blossomed into a boisterous mood for him, so as I paced up and down the veranda waiting to go, he decided to entertain me further, having announced he needed to revisit the loo before we set off. Mark then proceeded to scream as if he was giving birth, which he may well have been of sorts. The Madame who I was chatting to, was most distressed with the wailing and thought him in need of medical assistance. I assured her it was for my benefit only and under no circumstances should I react to the drama unfolding, she was very uncomfortable and clearly not wholly convinced. On Mark’s reappearance, she quietly muttered something to me about acting like a small child, which I hope she was referring to Mark and not my cavalier attitude to his possibly harrowing medical condition. Despite her having the motel ‘up for sale’, I very much doubt we would be able to stay here again.

When we did finally leave, a few hundred yards up the road was a gas station, which as usual was a rather stressful experience, most pumps having a credit card machine that was foiled by our British Post Codes. To solve the problem, this usually involved us going inside and having to predict to the miserable attendant just how much fuel we wanted, pay for it and get a refund after we had fuelled up the bike. In most cases, the refund was a couple of dollars, which we sometimes didn’t bother having to line up again for. At this gas station, there was a CanAm trike parked, it looks like a modern motorbike but with two front wheels. We had a good chat with the older fella, as one of these would be perfect for James to follow us on in the future. After fuelling up it was spookily again 1115 hrs before we left the gas station, it was Mark’s personal best, a full 3 hours after getting up! I’ll never complain again about my family’s tardy departures. By this time it was blooming hot, as we crossed the road from the gas station and went straight into the park. Having paid our surprisingly reasonable five dollars to enter, it was obvious this was going to be a good leg of the trip.

The road surface was fantastic and had lots of nice curves. It is a very photogenic place, with not surprisingly lots of Joshua Trees, looking like overgrown cacti, but actually massive Yukkas. Every now and again there were huge piles of yellow rounded granite boulders, which are so attractively arranged, they just invite a scramble up them. To complete the picture there were some nice wispy clouds. As ever, hardly any cars around and the odd one we came across was soon dispatched. The image on the right is Skull Rock.

Rather than heading through from top to bottom, Mark had surprisingly and cheerfully agreed to make a side trip twenty miles into the park to a key viewing point, the carrot on the stick was that we should be able to look down on the San Andreas Fault So we took the side road and headed west, along some of the best roads we had travelled, hardly a straight stretch, it was Harley Heaven. En route we made a few photo-stops, a very enjoyable ride and the viewpoint didn’t disappoint, it was well

Us with the San Andreas Fault in the valley beyond.

worth the 40-mile round trip. We went towards the WC in the car park before heading off, but it was swarming with hundreds and hundreds of wasps, not only was the cubicle a swirling mass of angry black and yellow, but they were all around the outside too, so we smartly shifted back to the beautifully arranged bikes, which looked dead smart in the sunshine and had attracted a small audience of snappers.

We then had a great drive, going back east through to the park’s main junction and then turning right heading south. This was a long stretch that took an hour and a half and was even better, it’s got to be the best single road I’ve ever ridden (yes I know I keep saying that) this is a steep-ish downhill leg through the wide Wilson Canyon towards Cottonwood Spring. The Tarmac was an unusual grey colour and dead grippy, it zig-zagged constantly and is the nearest I’ve come to feeling like skiing a downhill slalom on a motorbike, by constantly swinging the bike back and forth in an enjoyable rhythm, I’ve never had such a large grin. Not sure how long it actually was, something like 20 mins perhaps? Towards the bottom of the park, it was getting hotter and hotter, the air temp gauge was showing over 100 again. Once out of the park, we needed to stop for me to work out what the sat nav was trying to say, which gave us the opportunity to whoop it up and jabber on about what we had just ridden.

Having crossed the freeway we took what seemed just a link road on the map, to connect with the town of Mecca and cut off a corner. It was strange and looked like the road had been dug down into the dust. It was straight, but the roadway went and up and down with a few strange elongated dips that were gentle enough to compress the suspension but not get you into orbit as they levelled out. The road wasn’t that wide, so was a little uncomfortable as we dispatched the one and only car on the road. I wasn’t looking forward to much more as it was super hot and us not quite being able to keep up to our usual 70 mph, which normally gave us a good cooling draft, the 25 miles were going to be a trial and we have been riding on and off now for three hours. However- it soon changed, as we came down into a twisty river bed, set in a thin, matt grey-coloured rocky gorge, rather sinister, not perhaps the place to be when a flash flood came through. Again it was a great section and all rather strange, with some tight turns around rocky outcrops. Out we popped into a very fertile area at the top end of the man-made Salton Sea and to the town of Mecca, passing huge fields with what looked like big hated Mexican pickers getting out their cars parked along the field’s edges. The sat nav lead us to a deliciously cool Starbucks around 3 pm. Then having been interrogated by a couple originally from Kent, surfed the wifi and scoffed, we once again opened the oven door (101 degrees in old money) and headed down the freeway along the side of the Salton Sea going south again.

The real estate prices, advertised by the water edge, were $6000 an acre. It was not a pleasant leg of the journey, it was busy with traffic travelling faster than us, plus a bit of a crosswind, but thankful it was only 30 miles before we had to turn west and head into the desert proper, towards Borrego Springs. I had ridden this area the previous October with Uriah, a charming Canadian who just happens to be hiring a bike then too and was a nice bike buddy for the day.
As soon as we had turned, the road deteriorated into a very rough pitted surface with lots of gravel that was shaking the blazes out of us. We could only do what seemed like a crawl of 20-25 mph and a 4×4 overtook us and charged off in front and to our dismay, it disappeared out of sight. I couldn’t believe this was a proper official road it was in such a bad state. After a while, the scenery became a moonscape of undulating terrain and there were signs saying beware of all-terrain vehicle activity area, which must be the reason for the broken road surface. We could spot up the steep hillsides, specifically marked-out runs and bumps as you would find in a snow park. It continued for about 15 mins, but was so rough it seemed like an hour to us, the ride was so bumpy our vision was blurred. Thankfully I was unaware of Marks’s no doubt boisterous views of this. I was also half expecting to see some pumped-up 4×4 vehicles on the hills, but we didn’t, another deserted part of California.

An image, but not ours, of the desert around Borrego Springs

Then suddenly going uphill it stopped and smooth tarmac appeared, phew! What a relief. The scenery changed again with the road going up and down and in and out, sharp grey rocky canyons and up and over craggy hilltop humps, just like riding a rollercoaster. With a sense of relief we ‘ made good progress’. Thankfully with its flashing lights, we had a good warning of a California Highway Patrol that had stopped the 4×4 that had pulled away from us earlier. So we tootled by and with the knowledge of our reprieve, as this was probably again the only patrol car on that road. We soon reached our optimum cruising speed and snaked our way across the crazy desert once again. It was deadly hot, like a hair dryer on full heat. It had taken us about an hour to Borrego Springs, we pulled over for Mark to have a quick drink of water and discuss the ride.

As we had a quarter tank left of fuel, we didn’t top up and headed off up and out of the desert, climbing up and over the mountains to a lush green area near the old gold rush town of Julian. I had deliberately chosen the route having enjoyed it with Uriah last October. Despite all the fantastic roads in the last two days, this was just as invigorating with the combo of steep uphill sections and very sharp curves, the road occasionally hugging the edge of cliffs with only a small wall and big drop beyond, which spooked Mark. We had pushed it rather and after this half an hour leg and at full throttle, the tanks were down to empty as we pulled into Julian’s gas station, we stopped exhausted and with a sigh of relief.

Having finished one top-up, we went in search of another top-up for us, with anticipation as Julien is the Apple Pie Capital of California. It’s a quaint town with old wooden boardwalks and verandas, it has quite a cowboy feel to it. Which suited Mark as he’s been practising the walk for years, either that or it’s his Farmer Giles? We found a quaint shop and ordered our slice of pie and ice cream. Typically Californian, we couldn’t use the WC as it wasn’t designated as a disabled suitable restroom, I described in detail Mark’s problems and ailments, I even showed them his worn-out Brentford Nylons truss, but they would not relent, but did give Mark a quarter to open the door at the town hall’s loo across the road. My apple and boysenberry pie was yummy.

We had agreed to forget the extra two-hour loop that would have us hugging the Mexican Border, perhaps that was something to do with the threat of me singing ‘Guantanamera’ for two more hours? My Garman Sat Nav offered both a straight road to San Diego which Uriah and I had travelled, it was one lane with too much traffic hindering overtaking with our baggers, or the alternative, some more twisties to the freeway and then straight on to SD, which would take 15 mins longer. Mark wanted the former so off we went following the box’s instructions, in what seemed an odd direction. After 10 mins it dawned on me that it was taking us down the second twisties and freeway option. There was no turning back, or no turning point, certainly not enough room to do a three-point turn and especially not with my history of dropping the bike on this trip. Having had a nice break and pie in my belly I was well in the groove for this ride and once again no traffic, I don’t think Mark was too pissed off with it either. Being finally near civilisation, there was thankfully some non-Country and Western radio stations to tune into. Knowing this was the last enjoyable stretch I had a cracking time, with the boom box blaring. For me it was the perfect finale as we swung in and out the turns on our way down the wooded canyon.

The freeway was ok until we got nearer the city, then the traffic was rather aggressive. Once in Downtown SD, we had to do a bit of stop-start, seeming to catch every red light, but the sidewalk wildlife was entertaining, sunglasses were steaming up, and the bikes are dead hot in this type of traffic. Arrived at the hotel to be told that apart from leaving the bikes on the street, valet parking was the only option, but actually, we would have to park them ourselves and be charged USD35 each for the pleasure. In the end, they had it wrong and charged us USD15 which was much more acceptable and so drove them into an underground garage in an apartment building across the road. Having both bought a few years back some Harley pannier liner bags, it’s very slick, no packing or unpacking is needed, you just grab the straps and lift them out and take them to your room.

After a few refreshing beers, we headed to Seersucker, perhaps a rather too-hip-for-us restaurant, which we no doubt stood out like a sore thumb if it wasn’t for our distinguished and brutish British charm. The place was rocking, the music was throbbing and the tables oozing with very young and clearly very wealthy girls, dressed up to the nines. What they must they made of us with our sunburnt red noses glowing at them? We were very content, weary and happy with the last few day’s adventure. I has also been a great reminder for me of the charms of the PC Hwy and introduced me to another significant National Park, both valuable for when I return to the Fleet Street office.

The next morning the sat nav took us on a wearisome trip off and on freeways to San Diego’s Eagle Rider depot. The bikes got checked over and thankfully no comment was made concerning any missing fuel caps or the scratches to the underside of my bike’s left pannier! The two ladies check-in us back in, and did say how much nicer the red bike looked, clearly ladies of taste, well I think they did. When Brian had to cancel, Mark amended his booking and was left with a credit, planning to buy a few goodies at their shop to use it up, but they said no, as SFO had the money and they were a franchise. So Eeyore was not happy.

The bikes were faultless and our love affair with Harley Davidson Street and Road Glides (when in America) continues, the mileage I think was around 900 miles, managing roughly a tank and a bit each day, which is incredible given that we were always making steady progress. In the past, I had taken my full-face helmet and found the buffeting with the Street Glide’s cut-down screens too blurring above 75, but with an open face, the airflow seemed perfect for me, perhaps an advantage of being a short arse? I also found in the past a problem with the intense sunlight acting as a greenhouse through the visor, I was much happier this trip swapping between sunglasses and goggles. I had bought on the web a £2 plastic bar mount for my US sat nav, it has a ball bracket (oo-er) to snap into, but it didn’t exactly snap-in, but it held it on ok, although the screen swiftly settled into a 45-degree angle with the bike’s vibrations. I had also purchased an anti-glare screen which helped, but it was still a bit of a struggle at times, especially when the sun was low and in traffic, when I kept needing to refer to it, hence a couple of missed turns, but no major problems. Mark and I both have Kevlar-lined jeans, summer-vented gloves and short boots. I have an armoured mesh jacket and Mark a perforated leather Harley Davidson jacket, which we both feel cool enough when at speed and crucially safe in. I would say for me the best investment I’ve made was some time ago with Black’s cheaper version of a Camel Back, to keep me full hydrated. I will often buy a big bottle of water the previous night and keep the pack in the fridge overnight, then at a lunch stop refill it with chilled water. I had not considered shipping our bags before and that made a massive difference to the logistics, a good idea from Mark. The one-way drop-off fee for the bike rental was just under 300 dollars, which gave us a much more enjoyable and longer route than having to return them to SFO.

As you will gather, it was a memorable three days ride, with a huge variety of roads and spectacular scenery, plus some great company. Mark and I seemed to get on well, despite our differing choice of evening nourishment. I am very fortunate to have a companion on this type of adventure, that is willing to jump on board with what I would like to see.
One of the best trips yet and by a long shot.

Andrew Bourne, May 2015