PACIFIC COAST TOUR: The Pacific Northwest
by Douglas Chasar
So far our journey has carried us through the blistering desert of Arizona and Southern California into the Cleveland National Forest and the asphalt jungle of Los Angeles. From LA we take the Pacific Coast Highway further north to San Francisco venturing off the planned route once or twice only to be rewarded with beautiful roads and spectacular scenery.

Day 3 - San Francisco to Brookings, OR

We begin the third day of our trip up the Pacific Coast Highway with a hurried continental breakfast compliments of the Hotel Prescott in downtown San Francisco. While Wendy dresses and readies herself for another day in the saddle, I walk to the parking garage to see about my malfunctioning vest: Knowing the air will only grow colder as we ride north, I feel the heated garment will become a necessity before the day is out. With little in the way of tools, I have to rely on the miniature tool kit stashed under the seat of my bike. As soon as I pull the seat off to access the tool kit I notice the leads for the vest are improperly connected to the battery - the result of a hasty alternator replacement a week earlier - and correct the mistake. The quick fix has us on the road in no time.

Little traffic populates the streets as we leave downtown San Francisco. One or two turns and we make it back to the highway. Several signs guide us as we approach the Golden Gate Bridge, and before we have been in the saddle 30 minutes we stop for a brief photo op. The view at the foot of the bridge is picturesque with the immense structure towering in the background, Alcatraz Island shrouded in mist in the San Francisco Bay. Another tourist passes by and offers to take our picture. Without hesitation, I hand over the camera and gather Wendy for a pose. Photos captured, we mount the Valkyrie and continue north.

Before long a sign informs me to veer right to catch Highway 1 and return to the coast. In the far left lane, I have no chance to maneuver through traffic and miss the exit. Continuing on Highway 101, I keep my eyes peeled for another route to the coast as we travel further and further inland. In San Rafael I decide to exit the highway. Consulting the atlas, we discover we can either go back 15 miles or continue 30 miles north on Highway 101 catching Highway 116 to the coast.

Deciding to take Highway 116 we reach the exit in no time. This scenic route swings back and fourth winding through Sonoma County. Vineyards line the road, golden in the morning sun. As we travel through Sebastopol and Forestville, vineyards give way to tall stands of evergreen and oak. We rarely top 40 mph among the twisting roads, but several courteous drivers pull over allowing us to pass. Once again the air chills as we approach the coast, and I am thankful to have remedied my heated vest's malfunction.

The coast greets us with the same spectacular scenery of the day before. Hairpins and hills climb up the rocky cliffs giving us a view of the ocean's blue waves crashing into white foam below. Twists and turns wind in and out of the forested landscape. We spend another two hours in the saddle before we must stop for fuel in Ft. Bragg where the air is chilly despite clear skies. We take the opportunity to lounge in the sun soaking up warmth before we continue while working some blood into our backsides. After several minutes we decide it's time to head out.

We begin climbing again faced with a meandering road snaking its way up the coastal range. The winding road seems to go on for hours, but the ride is so fantastic I can't help feeling I could keep it up forever. About thirty miles north of Ft. Bragg the highway turns inland and the air warms to an extremely comfortable level. Fifteen miles later, in Leggett, Highway 1 comes to an end, intersecting with Highway 101, which continues north in a series of wide sweeping arcs tracing their way through the redwoods of Humbolt County. Reaching Eureka, Wendy and I decide to take a break and visit the Lost Coast Brewing Company. We order some food while sampling a few handcrafted ales, Wendy orders a dark, robust 8-ball Stout and I enjoy the well-hopped Lost Coast Pale Ale. As we eat, we relate our travel stories to the bartender and a few patrons who caught sight of my Valkyrie in the parking lot. Wrapping up our tales, I chase my snack with a double black espresso for a quick boost before we load up with a couple brews to go and head out for the last leg of the day's ride.

Late in the afternoon, the sun begins its descent towards the western horizon. The water sparkles and shimmers with a million points of light. We approach the Redwood National Park. Enormous evergreens line the highway as it cuts through the forest. Constantly aware of elk, I keep one eye focused in the darkness off to the side while the other searches around blind corners and crests in the road. Occasional beams of light cut through the canopy causing my eyes to adjust between light and shadow. Though anxious to reach our destination, caution forces me to ride at a more moderate pace. At times, however, the highway stretches into a long straight line with excellent visibility, so I take advantage and open the throttle. Crossing the California/Oregon border is a milestone. Within 20 miles we reach Brookings, Oregon completing a total of 429 miles in 11 hours.

Day 4 - A day of Rest

In Brookins we spend a full day recovering from three days of hard riding while preparing for the next leg of the trip taking us to Marysville, Washington 35 miles north of Seattle. I take the time to wash the Valkyrie scrubbing away bugs and road grit of the last fifteen hundred miles reminiscing on the long road behind us anticipating the travel yet to come. Tomorrow's ride brings us another five hundred miles before we turn around and head home. For now I'm content sitting on the deck with Wendy at my side taking in the clean ocean air, watching hawks spiral over treetops.

Day 5 - Brookings, OR to Marysville, WA

Well rested, we awake before first light. Bundled up and as ready for the cold coastal air as we'll be, we leave Brookings just after 6:00 am. Mostly small rural towns line the coast as we cut through the icy fog. Logging trucks and a number of commuters keep us from riding at top speed, but considering the low visibility I'm not complaining. Breaks in the wooded terrain reveal Harris Beach, Cape Ferello, and Cape Sebastion, their calm tides obscured by the morning's gray mist. Bridges of concrete and steel arch their way across the Rouge and Elk Rivers. Light construction along the highway impedes our progress from time to time, but the delay is insignificant compared to the day of travel we have planned.

Shaded by trees and shrouded in morning fog, the highway remains cold. By the time we reach Bandon, Wendy and I are both decidedly numb. We consider taking Highway 42S east where the inland temperature is warmer, though I reject the idea since Highway 42 will force us to backtrack several miles. I want to ride as much of the coast as possible. Stopping for fuel in Coos Bay, the gas station attendant helps convince me to take Highway 38 in Reedsport east to I-5. Shuddering and chilled to the bone I acquiesce. After all, the fog is hiding the scenic coast and the dim morning light does no justice to the magnificent scenery of the past few days. We find a convenience store and spend nearly an hour thawing out with coffee and hot chocolate before continuing to Reedsport.

Once the warmth soaks into our bones, we hit the road. Twenty-five miles from Coos Bay, we turn east onto Highway 38 and it's not long before we have to pull off the highway again. Concerned, Wendy asks why we're stopping. "Look," I say, pointing at a herd of elk grazing on the side of the road. Several other cars have stopped to take in the majestic creatures. A few elk look up from feeding, curious as to what the humans are up to before bowing back down to the emerald field. After snapping a few photos, Wendy and I stand back enjoying our "moment of Zen," before continuing east on Highway 38.

After seeing the elk my spirit is renewed, aided by the growing warmth and the clear sky breaking through the haze. Highway 38 meanders along the Umpqua River, which cuts back and forth through a forested landscape broken by wide, open fields and populated with the occasional farmhouse. An hour or so passes as I loose myself in the tranquil ride. At Elkton, the highway strays from the river, continuing to Drain then intersecting with I-5 in Curtin.

I-5 is a major interstate stretching from San Diego to the Canadian border. It's the fastest and most direct route north from southern California, but it is also the most congested and unspectacular. However, after hours of slow highway riding, I look forward to eating up some miles. After a quick stop for gas in Eugene, we rush north. I fight the boredom calculating fuel economy distance and time while passing as much traffic as possible. Trucks, RV's and passenger cars are no match for my bike, but I have to keep reminding myself of speed limits. We're in and out of Salem in no time, stopping again for gas in Portland. Unfortunately, a four-gallon tank only goes so far at high speed.

In Washington, I-5 doesn't change much from the Oregon stretch, though, I really can't complain. Deep evergreen forests occasionally line the interstate, in contrast to the brown rocky landscape and dull urban canyons I am used to. Though not as chilly as the coast, the northern latitude remains cool under a warm sun shining through a clear blue sky. The snow capped peak of Mt Rainier looms on the horizon. As we burn up the interstate, we burn through our gas and find ourselves making another fuel stop in Olympia. Settling down to get a bite for ourselves, we relax before making the last leg of our journey for the day.

Less than 60 miles from Olympia, the Seattle skyline fills our view. Though hoping to beat traffic, we end up downtown as evening commuters begin their ride home. Saddle weary after a day of riding we find ourselves creeping along and eager to be off the road. Somehow, though, I shrug off the congested highway. It must be the northern air. Otherwise the tranquil moment watching the elk graze and the easy ride along the Umpqua River must have lifted my spirits to breathtaking heights. Or perhaps I simply left all my worries at home. As our ride north reaches its end, I don't care what the reason is. What's important is that I'm here now with my beloved wife, who's sharing in my life's second greatest passion…riding.

Today brought us another 532 miles in 11.5 hours. Our total since leaving Arizona is 1979 miles in 45.5 hours spanning a total of five days. Not quite an Iron Butt ride, but certainly enough to test the endurance of all but the most hearty of riders.

Before we turn around and head home, though, we spend another day of leisure in Washington, brewery hopping with our good friend Ken and his wife Carol. Referred to as "hop country," the Pacific Northwest offers some of the finest hand crafted brews in the world and I plan to take advantage while here. Following our beer run, the next day takes us south and west through evergreen forests and along the Oregon coast. We then continue south leaving the coast behind, riding inland through wine country and Napa Valley, but not before a desperate search for some new rubber. With the Pacific Coast in our rearview, the final leg of our journey traces the long, grueling road back to Arizona.

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

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