Free Range Touring

Califorinia's Mountains, Passes and Coast

Henry d'Artagnan

July 2015

Kings Canyon
The Sierras
Lake Tahoe
The Lost Coast
The Golden Gate
Joshua Tree

This California odyssey started July 11; ten days on the road, hitting the passes, the coast and the roads in between.  Covering 3500 miles from start to finish, with a temperature range of 57 to 102.  Epic.

I'm on The Hammer: my 2011 Triple Black BMW R1200GS.  Comfortable, fast, willing.  New fluids and shoes, this will be the maiden run for Pirelli's new Scorpion IIs.  All the routes loaded into the Garmin, courtesy of, a truly easy to use process.  Betty the Bitch would throw about one hissy fit each day.

This was an all BMW caravan; the other two Musketeers choosing a wet head GS and a K12S as their weapons of choice.  We tried fitting swords, but they kept dragging on the ground…  All bikes freshly serviced and shod; Musketeers don't consider mechanical issues an "adventure."

Those that know me know that I plan.  All the time.  About everything.  Pour over the maps, research hotels, create alternate routes, check out the reviews.  I'm not a "wander around" guy…at least not yet.  I tell myself that once I retire and have more time, then I'll wander around.  But now, vacation time is precious, and needs to be spent wisely.  So I plan.  Did I mention that I plan?

So what's the plan, you ask?  Here we go….

Day One
Tucson to Ridgecrest

Out early, 6:30 am, to beat at least some of the heat.  There's not much to say about this leg of the trip; it is a transit day designed to get out of Dodge as painlessly as possible and put us in position for the good stuff.  Ridgecrest is a sad little town, not much going on.  The clerk at the hotel, a late 20s single mother of two, summed it up best:  "I gotta get outta here."  We did, early the next day.

Day Two
Ridgecrest to John Muir

Breakfast at the hotel, then we climb out of the desert and into the mountains.  Ahhhhh, cooler air, plants that won't kill you.  Roads that twist, turn and rock.  Past Isabella Lake, thru Kernville and along the river the fun really begins.

I had very high hopes for the John Muir Lodge…although in a beautiful setting, the lodge has almost no character.  It feels a bit like a cheap dorm; nothing like some of the other national park lodges.
Day Three
John Muir to Mariposa

Lakes and mountains today.  Pine Flat Lake, Shaver Lake, Huntington Lake; Sugar Pine, Fish Camp, ending in the very cute gold rush town of Mariposa.  Terrific Prospector's Brewing Company walking distance from the hotel, perfect end to a beautiful day.
Day Four
Mariposa to Lake Tahoe

Criss-crossing the Sierras and pass-baggin' all day.  Perfect weather and perfect pavement:  Tucson take a lesson…THIS is what pavement looks like:
And, it is attached to perfect scenery:
Lunch in the mountains.
Four wheels, two at a time.
We end in Lake Tahoe at the Adler Inn, a little hotel two blocks from the lake.
Lake Tahoe
Great dinner that night at the Blue Angel Cafe, breakfast the next morning at The Red Hut.
Day Five
Lake Tahoe to Red Bluff

This is where we meet Henry, the Free Range Chicken.  But first there are roads to ride.  And pie, this place has great pie.
See that Number 11 above?  Remember that number, it will become very important on Day Nine
Taking a break, rehydrating, relieving, relaxing.  Up the hill and out of the bushes walks Henry:
Henry likes peanuts, and was very happy to hang with his biker buddies.
The last part of the ride turned into an economy run because several gas stations were closed.  Good thing we all filled it to the brim…rolled into the station with 225 miles on the clock.
Day Six
Red Bluff to Crescent City

I was attacked by a black bear.  Ok, not attacked, but he made a full trot run across the road on a diagonal intercept course for me and The Hammer.  I mean full trot; both legs forward then back…I swear I could see teeth.  Pin the throttle and was thinking more power would be a REALLY good thing about now.  He passes behind me and Jon has to go full Brembo as the bear runs between us.  Got our attention.  No pictures, which is a good thing because every time I tell this story the bear gets bigger.  Soon it will be a grizzly.  Teeth.  There were teeth.  Big teeth.
The day ends at the Curly Redwood Lodge, a 50s retro-funky very cool motel with, wait for it, covered parking!!
Betty thru a fit today…instead of taking us up into Oregon, she routed us over to Klamath and 101 up the coast…had to back track the next morning…oh, well.  Still can't figure out why this happened b/c the correct route is loaded.  Random electrons, I suppose.

Day Seven
Crescent City to Fort Bragg
The Lost Coast

Mattole Road, the jewel in the crown.  I've done this twice before, both times south to north, this will be reversed today.  I have to say, it is even more spectacular north to south b/c you are up on the ridge with a view of The Lost Coast for a longer period of time.  Unfortunately, the pavement, especially on the northern section is pretty bad.  We've nicknamed David on the K12S "balls of steel."
Mattole Road ends in the Redwoods, joining with The Avenue of the Giants.
We end the day at the Beachcomber in Fort Bragg, with dinner at the North Coast Brewing Co tap room.
Day Eight
Fort Bragg to Cambria

This was going to be a death march.  400 miles all down Route 1.  Took us 13 hours, it WAS a long day, but totally (gratuitous California expression) worth it.  Stunning views, cloudy and misty to start, then bright sunshine and blue water.  Over the Golden Gate.  And lane splitting, which is oh so satisfying.  No pics; we were riding you know.

Ended in Cambria, where we shared the Bluebird Motel with the Morgan Club.
You can tell from the last shot that this is where the weather turns.  Up until now, nothing but blue sky and puffy clouds.  Overnight, however, there was a BIG ASS thunderstorm, with the lightning cracks seemingly happening inside the room.  The next day would be interesting…
Day Nine
Cambria to 29 Palms

Turning for home.  It was supposed to be a relatively easy day with the last of the real twisties as we rode thru the vineyards of Paso Robles, then an easy cruise into the desert and 29 Palms.  That was the plan anyway.  The reality was slightly different.  Remember that number 11?

The day dawns with scattered showers and distant thunder.  Weather guessers are saying scattered storms all along our route.  That's why they invented Gore-tex.  We have some breakfast, gas up and head out.

Maybe 30 minutes into the ride, the sky opens up.  Rain is chucking down, and there's lightning on the mountains directly on our path.  You can see, hear and FEEL it all.  My 'stitch is doing it's job perfectly, and this is actually fun as long as you take it reasonably slow.  There's running water across every road, the occasional washout and debris filled turn.  The vineyards look pretty; I'm sure even better in the sun.

We climb over the mountains and out of the weather, thankfully all still intact.  We're thinking, "that wasn't so bad, and now it's behind us."  Not quite.

This is where it turns really ugly:
As we're nearing 29 Palms, the traffic comes to a dead stop.  Lane splitting and shoulder riding takes us to the front of the traffic jam.  The road is closed in both directions, with sand, soil and stuff washed all across it.  Cops have it blocked off and there are multiple pieces of heavy machinery working to clear it.

We wait and sit in the rain. EXACTLY 11 MILES FROM THE HOTEL!
Two hours later (that's right) we're on our way.  At least it has stopped raining.
Day Ten
29 Palms to Tucson

After breakfast at a surprisingly nice Holiday Inn Express, we head to Joshua Tree.  Get about halfway thru the park and hit a Road Closed sign, followed by a locked gate, the result of yesterday's storm.
And no, it was not still raining, but my camera was still slightly wet from yesterday…it did eventually dry out and return to normal.

The Hammer at rest, finally! It was a very quick run from Gila Bend following a rabbit in a 7 series BMW sedan, which played directly into our homing instinct.
Many thanks to the other Musketeers who made every mile fun.  As always, though, it is great to get home.

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