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THE LONG WAY AROUND
by Douglas Chasar
My wife and I plan to attend an annual trade show in Long Beach dictating our destination. The decision is mine, however--with Wendy's approval--to determine how we get there. We have the option to ride the direct route, following I-10 west until we reach the Los Angeles area. Otherwise, we can take an alternative route catching some scenery along the way. We decide on the more scenic route.

The first part of our trip starts out rather ordinary. We take Loop 101 south to I-10. Following I-10 west beyond Buckeye we veer south on Highway 85. The sun creeps over the horizon spilling golden light across the landscape. The remaining chill in the air stings my exposed face, but I forge on waiting for the day to grow warm. We reach I-8 and head west burning up the road as the sun climbs.

We make a quick stop in Yuma to fuel up, donning our helmets before entering the Golden State. Riding through the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area, catching glimpses of the wind swept Sand Hills always inspires a sense of awe. Beyond the sand dunes, the interstate becomes rather unremarkable until we reach Ocotillo where we begin climbing. Long curves carry us up as high as 4000 feet. Thankful we haven't shed our warm riding gear from earlier in the morning, the elevation brings a chill to the rushing wind. Descents following climbs and curves persevere as the road through the mountain proceeds to Alpine, a small town outside San Diego.

For some time, I've had a desire to ride the Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to Seattle. I plan to get my feet wet with this trip riding from San Diego to Long Beach along historic Highway 1. As we peruse our road atlas to determine the best course to the coast, a local rider pulls up offering his suggestion, the fellowship of riders does indeed transcend boundaries drawn on a map.

Upon reaching the coast, the sea air fills my helmet, I open my visor to take it in. From the corner of my eye I see deep blue waves breaking into white foam as they curl up on the shore. I decide to pull into a public parking lot for a break and a chance to dabble in the Pacific Ocean for a few minutes. Climbing back in the saddle we continue north.

Until now I imagine the PCH simaler to what you always see in car commercials, a long sweeping highway among rocky cliffs and sandy beaches constantly beaten by the tide. I imagine an open road where I can lean back and open the throttle, winding my way up the coast. To my disappointment, I'm traveling on anything but an open road. The experience feels like riding through downtown Scottsdale between 3-6pm on a Friday afternoon only it lasts for over 60 miles. A traffic light stands about every other block. You can't move along at a steady pace to catch all the greens. I feel I'm stopping at every light.

Though my hope for an easy ride along the coastal landscape crumbles, I make the best of the path I've taken. I'm filled with the sense of the coastal community as I ride past pedestrians filtering in and out of shops lining the highway. Cyclers, skaters, joggers and power walkers move at varying speeds up and down the street. Beachcombers, up-and-comers and Hollywood hopefuls share the sidewalk, keeping stride with their individual motivations. The sweet aroma of garlic and basil greets my nose from Italian kitchens. Good ol' American diners provide the familiar flavor of meat grilled over an open flame. Thai, Chinese, Greek and Arabic restaurants add to the richness of the culture.

After hours of stop-and-go traffic traveling an average of 30mph, we make it to Long Beach finding our hotel. Following a ten-hour day in the saddle, we decide to walk around to find something to eat. Similar to Mill Ave. in Tempe, Pine Ave. in downtown Long Beach hosts a number of restaurants and bars with enough variety to suit all tastes. Hungering for seafood, we find ourselves propped on stools at the bar of King's Fish House. Wendy chooses the crab cocktail. I opt for calamari. We wash the food down with a few microbrews from northern California then find our way back to the hotel.

The next morning we attend the trade show as planned, making one or two new business acquaintances. Following the show brings us to the shorefront near the convention center. A number of restaurants and shops line the shore, but I feel drawn to the Yard House, a pub which boasts the "world's largest selection of draft beer." Indeed I find several favorites; Arrogant Bastard Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Rouge Dead Guy Ale, North Coast Red Seal Ale, etc. The morning has grown beyond noon, so we decide to eat something light for lunch ordering a simple appetizer of grilled chicken nachos. A few minutes later the waitress carries a plate weighted down with a huge pile of chips, chicken, cheese, beans and guacamole. So much for eating light. The long walk back to the hotel justifies our indulgence.

Forever in search of a better beer, we seek the Belmont Brewing Company. The brewery can be found in the Belmont Shores area only a few miles from our hotel. With Wendy keeping her eyes peeled, I cruise up and down the busy shopping district. We find nothing. After several failed attempts doubling back, we end up finding a phone to call for directions. The sea produces thick fog as we ride to the brewery. By the time we reach our destination, downtown Long Beach becomes enveloped in a heavy haze. A few other bikes are parked outside the brewery, so we roll up parking beside them. BBC's Top Sail amber and Long Beach Crude, a dark stout, make the search for the brewery worthwhile. Riding back to the hotel, the fog produces a semi opaque film I'm constantly wiping from my helmet's visor. The evening ends with Wendy and me making plans for the return trip to Arizona.

Once again we have the option to ride the direct route, east on I-10 until we reach Phoenix, or we can plan on a scenic tour taking us home. Once again we choose scenery over speed.

The following morning we find the passage of time has done nothing to dissipate the fog. If anything, the moisture in the air has become more dense. After a few minutes north on I-710, we reach Highway 91 and ride east. The fog doesn't let up. In fact, it thickens. At this point I can't see more than 500 feet ahead. I'm riding at 65mph and the few other drivers on the road are passing me on both sides. Taillights disappear almost instantly in the fog. My visor clouds with moisture, so I lift it to help see. I'm wearing glasses under my visor, which collect a haze in a matter of seconds. I lower my visor only to realize the inside is now all fogged up. I'm virtually blind. I decide now is a good time to pull over. Cars speed past left and right. I have to ride without a visor or glasses in order to see the road. We're finally off the highway. The fog hasn't lifted and I have no idea where I am. I can't see any signs, buildings or landmarks. At least I have a chance to clear my lenses.

After getting lost in the fog looking for gas, we decide the fog isn't going to lift any time soon and try the highway. We no sooner get up to speed then penetrate the grounded cloud. A bright warm sun greets us drying the moisture from my visor in a matter of minutes. Traffic seems light with virtually endless visibility, so I open the throttle. We eat up the road cruising past miles of rolling, emerald hills.

Just outside Corona we reach our exit and head south on I-15. The view and the landscape remain picturesque. We travel through the towns of Lake Elsinore, Murrieta and Temecula before turning onto Highway 76, which takes us further south and east. As soon as we leave the interstate I know we are in for a treat. Twisting roads lined with citrus groves immediately greet us as we pull onto the highway. A few other bikes navigate the bends and curves with familiar ease indicating I'm not the first to discover the beauty of Highway 76 in southern California. The tangy fragrance of orange blossoms filters its way into my helmet reminding me to open the visor and enjoy the ride. Grass lined roads sweep back and forth climbing through verdant mountains. Along the way cafés and diners populate the roadside allowing travelers a break for a warm meal or a hot cup of coffee. We continue without stopping.

Eventually, we reach Julian, an historic gold mining town which turned to agriculture following a decade long gold rush in the 1800's. Several bikes line the main strip reminding me of Jerome in Arizona. We now have another option: Continue south on Highway 79, which leads to I-8, or take Highway 78 and head east. Feeling adventuresome, we take 78 east. According to the road atlas I have been consulting, Highway 78 through Ocotillo Wells is a scenic drive. It turns out Ocotillo Wells is scenic only if your idea of scenic is brown, brittle grass and dry, desert sand. Otherwise, we should have continued south where Highway 79 meets up with I-8 in Pine Valley east of Alpine.

Though I make one or two bad route choices on this trip, I don't think either can spoil my appetite for taking the long way around. Anyone who rides in Arizona will tell you the back way to Prescott is the only way. I'd have to say the same is true with regards to Long Beach, the Los Angeles area or any number of scenic back roads. You may have to spend a few extra hours in the saddle to reach your final destination, but it's well worth the effort.

Ride safe, ride often...hell, just ride! - dpc



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