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PACIFIC COAST TOUR: The Long Road Home
by Douglas Chasar
It's been six days since we left Glendale, Arizona under a sky heavy with clouds representative of the desert monsoon. We've ridden the back roads of southern California following Hwy 76 through the Cleveland National Forest, traced the Pacific Coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco to the small harbor community of Brookings, Oregon, meandering back and forth through the Santa Lucia Range and Sonoma County, finally reaching our destination of Marysville, Washington, north of Seattle. Four of the days were spent in the saddle averaging over 500 miles and 11 hours each. The sixth day has been another day of rest and over-indulgence in microbrews, smoked salmon and homemade apple pie...Now it's time to turn around and head home.

With a tinge of sadness we say goodbye to our friends in Washington, unsure whether the feeling is brought from leaving their company or knowing our adventure is half over. Ironically, clear skies have followed us through northern California, Oregon and Washington, notorious for an abundance of rain, but the morning we leave Marysville, a layer of clouds obscures the sun. The dull light does nothing to improve my spirits.

Day 7 - Marysville, WA to Brookings, OR

After strapping our luggage to the Valkyrie, we accept the inevitable and hit the road. As we approach Seattle, the weekday traffic increases congesting I-5. I take advantage of the HOV lane and hurry past the morning commuters. As one after another four wheelers race up to my rear, I continue to accelerate in an attempt to stay ahead of traffic. Before long I'm riding at nearly 90mph.

Focusing my attention a half mile or so ahead, I notice a car stopped and off to the left of my lane. I assume it's a crippled vehicle and slow down for safety. No sooner do I pass the white Crown Victoria than the blue strobes flare to life. I pull over to the right of the interstate and beg Wendy for forgiveness once we stop. Clocked at 78 mph in a 70 mile an hour zone, I don't have the heart to tell the officer I was doing closer to 90. Once the formality of providing my license, registration and proof of insurance is past, and the citation issued, I fold the little blue slip of paper, stash my wallet and shrug to Wendy in a wordless apology before continuing to Olympia where we'll stop for gas.

At the fuel stop Wendy and I decide to veer off the interstate and head back toward the coast. After an uneventful trek along Highways 8 and 12, we reach Highway 101, which cuts through acres of Douglas fir in third generation re-growth. By now, the sun has burned through the morning's dismal clouds and the forest lining the highway reflects brilliant evergreen. My leaden mood, brought on by the gray morning and the run in with Washington's finest, lifts instantly. I open my helmet's visor and take in the warming air, throwing my feet up on my highway pegs, continuing at a casual pace.

Several hours after riding through Seattle, we are nearing the Washington-Oregon border represented by the Columbia River. As we approach, the bridge linking the two states comes into view. In the distance the bridge doesn't look much different from some of the others we have seen on this trip. As we get closer, the span of the bridge becomes evident but still doesn't prepare me for the amazement I feel as I tick off, one, two then three plus miles before exiting the bridge in Astoria, Oregon.

Leaving Washington's evergreen highway, we enter the forested coastline of northern Oregon. The riding is what I have come to expect; Highway 101 meanders through Clatsop and Tillamook counties bordered on the west by crystal blue water and deep green mountains to the east. Several small coastal towns populate the highway slowing our progress, but, so far, we are in no hurry. About twenty miles north of Lincoln City we enter the Suislaw National Forest where the highway wonderfully twists and turns through the coastal range. Just outside of Lincoln City we stop to enjoy the breathtaking view of the coastline from above. Wild blackberries cover the slopes of our scenic outlook and it's all I can do to keep Wendy from climbing over the wall and nibbling to her hearts content.

Continuing south from Lincoln City we reach Newport in under an hour. The sun is halfway between its zenith and the western horizon, and we wonder if we'll make it to Brookings before nightfall. The chance is unlikely, but we press on regardless. The highway remains much the same as we ride through South Beach, Seal Rock, Waldsport and Florence. Reaching the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, we pass Reedsport and Highway 38, which took us inland on our ride north.

By the time we reach Coos Bay, the sun has touched the horizon and the air is taking on the evening's chill. Wendy and I tighten our leathers and nurse a hot chocolate before completing the last leg of the day's ride. With less than 100 miles to go, we should be home in no time. Slow speeds and the growing dark of night demolish my estimate, and hours later we are still far from our destination. A thick fog settles with full dark adding to the ominous feeling. We can no longer see the coast and even the road is concealed just several hundred feet ahead. As the cold sinks in, my anxiety of the poor riding conditions conflict with my anticipation to be off the road for the night.

When we reach Gold Beach, the streetlights in the small town help to diminish my anxiety, but we still have another 25-30 miles before we reach Brookings. The time seems to drag the closer we get. I'm constantly keeping an eye out for wildlife concealed by the fog. After spending 13 hours on the road and covering a total of 564 miles, we finally enter Brookings and navigate the residential neighborhoods before reaching our destination for the day, where we're greeted with warm hugs and welcome despite the late hour.

Day 8 - A day at the beach

Today, Wendy and I will have one more relaxing day before we continue to Arizona. What better way to relax than to take off your shoes and walk barefoot squeezing warm sand between your toes? Sitting on a rock outcrop soaking in the sun, listening to the waves crashing, all the trials of our journey melt away, leaving nothing but pleasant memories.

Back at the house, I go over the Valkyrie again, checking fluid levels and air pressure. I then notice the tread on my rear tire. Rather, the lack thereof. After two thousand miles along the coast my rear tire finally decided to give. I was hoping to get another thousand or so, which would bring us home, before needing to find new rubber, but my luck isn't in. In the small town of Brookings, there isn't much in the way of auto repair shops not to mention motorcycle repair. Following an Internet search of nearby motorcycle dealerships, a brief perusal of the local yellow pages and a few phone calls, I find my only hope is at least 100 miles away. Late in the evening, I am unable to contact anyone to make sure they have a tire that will fit my bike, so I have a choice: Ride south to Eureka or north to Coos Bay. Unwilling to backtrack another 100 miles, I opt for Eureka.

Day 9 - Brookings, OR to Napa Valley

Once again we start off in the frigid morning air of the northern Pacific coast. The sun will not reach the eastern horizon for about another hour, but in order to make good time, we have to leave as early as possible and hope the service shop will be open. Thick fog rolls in from the ocean as the early sun begins to warm its surface. The haze along with shade from tall redwoods keeps us chilled as we cautiously hurry south hoping what tread my tire has remaining will carry us safely. Again we find ourselves nearly frozen stiff by the time we reach our destination.

The streets of Eureka are silent and empty. We slowly cruise the main strip, consulting the map I printed the night before. When we find the shop I'm pleasantly surprised it is open, but shortly after find they don't have a tire that will fit my Valkyrie. However, there is hope yet. About 100 miles east there is a Honda dealership in Redding. Hopefully, my tire will last long enough.

Backtracking north 10 miles to Arcata, we catch Highway 299. Twenty miles from the coast we reach the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and the air warms considerably. The highway climbs and winds through the mountains before it begins tracing the Trinity River. Having found yet another inadvertent back road detour, I raise the visor of my helmet and enjoy the ride. Surrounded by picturesque beauty, I decide to pull off the road to snap a photo. I slow down, but as the bike leaves the asphalt, its forward momentum drags us through loose gravel towards the edge that will drop us fifty feet to the Trinity River below. My heart jumps into my throat as I ease off the brake and try to regain control to no avail. I lean the bike slightly hoping to set it down before it carries us over the edge. Blood surges in my ears as more than one expletive shouts in my mind. I can only think of Wendy and the poor judgement I've used. Thankfully, the bike comes to a rest only a few feet from the edge.

With a whack on the shoulder, Wendy asks what happened, why did I pull off the road. I point to the blue water cascading through the green mountains, rocks braking the surface into white. "I wanted to take a picture," I admit, thinking it's a pretty lame excuse for nearly getting our necks broken. With another whack on the shoulder she steps off the bike, so I can back it away from the edge more easily. Safely back on the blacktop, I dig out my camera and snap the photo. The picture turned out as good as I'd hoped, but I still wonder if it was worth the risk.

As we ride east, the forested mountain landscape changes into rolling hills carpeted with dry grass and ironwood. In Redding, the midday temperature is at least in the 90's. The full July sun is beating down on us, and we are both wearing three layers of clothes beneath our leathers. We pull into a convenience store and immediately begin shedding our long sleeves before going inside to ask for directions. "The Honda dealership is five miles straight ahead, then take a left once you pass the interstate." Sounds easy enough, and in no time we're rolling into the parking lot, but we still don't know if they have a tire for my bike. It turns out they do have a tire, so I ask how soon it can be installed, and the exchange goes something like this: "Let's see...you're nearly two thousand miles from home. The nearest dealership is a hundred miles away and doesn't have your tire. You're on a timeline, and your tire is beginning to show the belt through the rubber. You might want to turn your head and cough while we have you where we want you."

Having the tire replaced takes nearly three hours, keeping us in Redding until mid afternoon. We still have over two hundred miles before reaching Napa. Needless to say, I was lucky to leave with my skin in tack. Wendy nearly rode out with her own VTX, and I couldn't blame her after the stunt along the Trinity river. With my new tire, brakes, oil, filter and air cleaner, I was raring to go.

We jump onto I-5 heading south. As we ride though rolling hills of brown grass, scorched in some areas likely by the cigarette butt of a careless smoker, we eat up the road at 70 mph. Long, straight and boring, the uneventful ride is punctuated with only one fuel stop. We approach Highway 32, which will take us to Chico, home of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (great beer, excellent calamari), but I regretfully pass the exit. We'll have to save the visit for another time.

Within another twenty minutes or so we reach Williams and the Highway 20 exit. Stuck behind a caravan of trucks and RV's, I miss the opportunity to test the new rubber at high speeds around the slow sweeping curves. I'm beginning to think we have seen the last of good riding for this trip. Taking the Highway 53 exit before reaching Clear Lake, my suspicions deepen as traffic increases. Long shadows streak the landscape as we continue south. Rounding a corner we top a hill and all of Napa Valley is spread out before us, gentle rolling hills in all shades of green are cut by rows and rows of vintner's stock. We enter a tree-lined section of highway and begin to descend. The twisting road gives us the one last taste I have been hoping for as I swing the bike back and forth scraping my pegs through dappled light. The new rubber holds just fine and we're in the valley before we know it. I'm tempted to turn around and sample the twists again, but the sun is now touching the horizon, and we still need to find a hotel.

Within the valley, I don't find the vineyards as spectacular as seeing them spread out below, and the twilight does nothing to shatter the illusion. A number of tasting rooms populate the highway, but it's late in the day and Wendy and I are not up to a tour, so we continue through Napa Valley. Though several bed and breakfasts advertise vacancies, we pass them up following the signs stating Napa is still 15 miles away. Before long, however, we pass a sign telling us we've just left Napa Valley, so it seems Napa and Napa Valley are geographically separate.

We finally make it to Napa, stopping for gas and asking directions to a nearby hotel. With the information provided, we make our way downtown. Finding a quaint little motel offering covered parking for the bike, we check in, unload our luggage and make our way upstairs. Our leathers, road grime and jangling chains earn disapproving stares from one or two couples with their noses in the air, but we've learned to ignore such prejudices towards bikers. After washing up and settling in, we make our way to Downtown Joe's, the brewery we passed on our way in. A stout for Wendy and couple American pale ales for me wash away the tension of the day. Today brought us 470 miles in 12 hours not including our three-hour delay. Tomorrow will be our longest haul yet.

Day 10 - Napa to Glendale, AZ

We wake with the sun the next morning. Skipping breakfast, Wendy and I dress and load up the Valkyrie, but not before I slather on a fist full of sun block. With the gooey white lotion practically dripping off my arms and face I squish into my leather jacket which is now splattered and smeared with myriad insect species from up and down the Pacific coast.

The air is cool as we hit the road, the sun, only twice its height above the horizon, ineffective as a heat source. A light mist spreads itself over Napa's vineyards. Highways 12 and 29 take us through Vallejo to I-780. Connecting with I-680 we pass Concord, Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek. Industrial compounds line the highway as we make our way to I-580 then to I-5 which takes us further south. By the time we reach I-5 we need to stop for gas. The temperature has reached the upper 80's, but we keep our leathers on.

Aside from the growing intensity of the heat, the next hundred miles are as uneventful as they can be. When we stop for gas again, the day has risen to something just short of the century mark. At this point we lose the leather, and I breakfast on a quart of water.

Somewhere between our last fuel stop and Highway 46, I decide to take I-40 rather than I-10 to Arizona hoping the northern route will keep us a little cooler.

Through Wasco, along Highway 46 we intersect with Highway 99 and stop in Bakerfield for fuel once more. In the severe heat, I've taken to soaking myself from head to toe with whatever hose I can find oblivious to the strange looks I receive, though, every stitch of clothing is usually dry within five minutes. Taking Highway 58 towards Barstow, we pass Tehachapi marveling at the windmills prickling the horizon. Passing through the mountains brings us into the rain shadow responsible for the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. The lack of moisture is evident with the absence of any vegetation.

It seems like hours pass with the sun beating down on us before we make it to Barstow where we'll need to stop for fuel once again. I see no signs of a gas station as we ride through the small town. Passing an exit I see what I am looking for, but it's too late. I continue, hoping to see another, but miles pass before a sign informs me there are no services for the next 50 miles. We've already ridden on reserve for about 15 miles and on average I can get 30 before going completely dry. We passed the gas station 20 miles back. Doing the math, a wild rush of anxiety floods over me. We actually have no choice but to head back, and if I have to walk a few miles with a gas can so be it. I'm not thrilled about the prospect of leaving Wendy alone to cook in July's afternoon sun, but as I said I have no choice. Pulling off to the side of the road, I tell Wendy as much.

There are no exits allowing me to turn around within five miles. When we finally head back towards Barstow, I ride as conservatively as possible, keeping the RPM's low and my speed around 50 mph. We hit 30 miles on reserve and my panic level jumps, edging up with every additional mile. We then reach 35, then 40, and 45...46...47...48. The gas station is in view and we make it to the exit. Forced to stop at a light, we wait...and wait...and wait for what seems like forever. At least if the bike runs dry now it won't be far to push, though sunburned and the temperature well into the 100's, I'm not looking forward to the exertion. The light turns green and we continue towards our salvation. Rolling the bike up to the pump, the engine idle drops and sputters before falling silent. You can imagine what's going through my mind. Sometimes my luck plays itself in strange ways.

Filling the tank then gulping a few quarts of water and Gatorade, and stashing a few in the saddlebags, we get back on the interstate. We're now on I-40 heading east, and with renewed spirit and determination I twist the accelerator. We eat up the road stopping for gas one more time before we get to Highway 95 in Needles and head south.

Highway 95 is a two-lane road between Needles and Blythe, characterized by nearly 100 miles of dips and curves. I would otherwise enjoy this stretch of highway aside from being road weary, and burnt to a crisp despite my liberal use of sun block. By the time we reach Blythe, we've been on the road over 12 hours. The sun is well on its way toward the western horizon, and I can't believe we're still in California, though only a few miles will bring us to Arizona.

Crossing into the Grand Canyon State, I consider taking off my helmet, but find it's actually insulating against the heat and protecting from the constant blast of wind, so I leave it on. The decision turns out a blessing, as we make our way into the state and the monsoon clouds roll in. Raindrops sting as they pelt my sun burned arms and neck. Traffic is a long string of recreational vehicles including trucks and SUV's towing boats and sandrails, RV's and typical motorists in sedans full of kids. Full night descends well before we near Buckeye, still almost an hour from home.

When we finally roll into our driveway, open the garage and pull in, it has been 15 hours since we left Napa and we have covered 836 miles. Our entire trip took 10 days with seven spent in the saddle totaling 86 hours. The Valkyrie has carried us nearly two thousand miles up the coast and back adding 3849 miles to my odometer. Exhausted, Wendy and I stumble into the house neglecting our luggage until the next morning.

I've enjoyed relating this adventure almost as much as I enjoyed living it, and I want to thank Rumble magazine and its readers for allowing me to share it over the past several issues. I would also like to give thanks to Jeff, Shelly, and Isabella Koper, Diana and Pete Chasar (a.k.a. Mom and Dad), and Ken and Carol Kolasinski, for putting us up and providing warmth and friendship along the way. But most of all I want to give an extra special thanks to my wife, Wendy, who not only endured the hardships and aggravations, but was by my side sharing all the pleasurable memories.

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



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