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
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
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
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