Touring the Pacific Coast Highway
on a Harley-Davidson Road King Classic
May 2009 - by Dave Shipton
I consider myself more of a boatie than a biker. I am most at home on the sea and have an affinity with the water. Still, the moment you press the run button and the starter motor whines, catching the 1800cc engine causing it to throb into life, has to be one of the purest, almost sensual sounds I know. An inner spirit is unleashed and thrust into being which is I think, the essence, magic of riding a Harley Davidson.
After wrapping up four days of conference in San Francisco I was keen to explore the much acclaimed United States West Coast and I figured what better way to see it than on a Harley. I had never ridden one before, my experience is on sport bikes, but somehow the road king cruiser seemed the right choice for the occasion.
So after some e-mailing to California Motorcycle Adventures here I was being introduced to the gleaming chrome and black beast hung low on its white walled tyres, a 2008 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic.
My plan was not to try and cover so much distance, rather explore the most popular stretch as far south as Morro Bay around 300 miles south of San Francisco. Ilene Mindich, travel agent at California Motorcycle Adventures, also recommended a ride home via the mountains and Californian desert would make a worthwhile round trip. I didn't book any hotels and departed on a Friday afternoon with a small bag of clothes, a suggested itinery and a head full of dreams and aspirations.
My first destination was Half Moon Bay, a short drive down the coast on a fairly easy stretch of highway and scenic mountain roads meandering down to the home of Mavericks, a legendary big wave location and a sleepy working marina that a friend had kept her boat in before crossing the pacific to Australia.
As the yellow ball of sun retired over the ocean to the west I parked myself down by one of the big steel pots at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. With the coal fire warming the evening chill I tucked into fish and chips downed with a locally brewed beer. The full moon rose behind the mountains and the band rocked on into the night, this was going to be one hell of a ride.
A hot coffee was top of agenda as I headed south the next morning.. Otherwise sane people covered head to toe in thick rubber sat out in water chilled by the arctic currents. The air refrigerated by the cold water also known as the Pacific Ocean rushed by my face. After my morning caffeine hit I headed south, the warmth of the sum a welcome relief on my hands. Soon the traffic thinned out leaving room to open out and appreciate the desolate coastline stretching before me. At pelican point I cranked up the i pod and left my singing to be blown away with the passing breeze, I felt alive and vibrant. I was living the dream. Cruising the west coast on a hog; surely it couldn't get any better than this.
All too soon I was in Santa Cruz. As I made my way to the northern tip and natural bridges it struck me how protected we were from the stiff N/W breeze that had followed me all the way down. It was warm and the surfers and kayakers paddled around in glassy water disrupted only by the kelp and elephant seals rising slowly with the gentle swell.
When planning the railway in the early eighteen hundreds they decided to build two separate, unlinked lines, one for the common folk to Santa Cruz, the other, for the well healed further south to Monterey and Carmel. Santa Cruz is home to a playground of amusement parks and roller coasters. It is also famous for it's massive pier- the boardwalk, included in various movies and a song from under it. Off course I had to sit under it and absorb it's words, still relevant today. Lunch was a clam chowder at the end of the pier.
After a pleasant couple of hours I continued south toward it's up market neighbor. The only notable stop was at a bar frequented by traveling bikers. In the heart of the artichoke country, I lined my bike up outside “The Whole Enchilada”, a small dark bar with every possible piece of wall and ceiling covered in one-dollar bills. I took a quick lap, pushing through the sea of leather and bandanas before deciding to hit the open road again.
The rest of the journey to Monterey was pretty uneventful and I was pleased to arrive and have a look around town including a trip out to the lighthouse and a fabulous tour of the foreshore. There was some outlets in the old fish cannery and the wharf was full of tourists but I'm guessing the locals didn't spend much time there so I went in search of their hang outs.
Heading out early I pulled into Carmel for my obligatory coffee and chat. This was going to be an exciting day. Everyone I had spoken to had raved about the one hundred odd miles of coast winding through the Big Sur National Park.
Carmel was indeed a beautiful and picturesque town with lovely architecture and well maintained seaside houses. The early morning sun cast a warm hue across the beach and swells as they came to rest on the sand. Early walkers lined the tide line with their trained dogs obediently following on their leads.
No sooner had I left Carmel than the magic began, a concrete bridge spanning a cove on the cliffs introduced a day of magnificent road that hug the coast line, mainly being cut out from the cliffs that rose majestically out of the ocean and towered high above. The bitumen undulated as it wound around the headlands leaving breathtaking views the whole way. I seemed to play leapfrog with other bikers and travelers stopping to take in the vista.
The only break from the coast was through the Big Sur town where the coast was swapped for towering pines and forest, its aroma as distinctive as the scenery. Somewhere in the bends I found myself deep in the seat and at one with the machine underneath me.
I also came across a beach literally covered with elephant seals. Covering themselves with sand to protect them selves from the sun, any movement meant trampling over the surrounding seals wallowing on the sandy shoreline.
San Simeon bay was another highlight. With a jetty originally build to bring in supplies and the hardware to build nearby Hearst Castle, an eccentric millionaire who wanted to replicate some of England’s castles.
Cayucos is another small coastal town just short of Morro Bay and prides itself on its quieter pace. I really enjoyed a late lunch and local beer sitting by the bar overlooking the sparkling bay. It was really noticeable by now the handshakes and language had changed dramatically since leaving San Fran and I enjoyed sitting and observing the interactions of the locals.
Still buzzing from my ride and bar experience I nudged my way the last 5 miles to Morro bay, another pretty harbour protected by a huge rock that dominates the landscape. A local band was gigging out on the waterfront and I couldn’t disguise my pleasure from such a fantastic day.
After a restful sleep I was up early churning with anticipation of the day ahead. Up till now I had no exact locations to find or destinations to meet. Today I had to leave the coast and take the road less traveled back to the bike shop. In reality I couldn’t even remember anything about the bike shop having left excited and pre occupied by the prospects ahead.
If the coast road was scenic and encouraged regular stops and photo opportunities highway 25 was a riders road. As the highway wound its way up into the hills and out into the desert, the road was relatively wide and visibility clear. It was warm and there was no fog that had routinely found its way across the coast. With almost no oncoming traffic it was the perfect road to just let the bike grip the road and feel the curves. There were no stops for photos, or slowing for RV’s, just a glorious ride home.
I did stop by the Pinnacles National Park for a walk and opportunity to stretch the legs with a hike out to the caves and have lunch, but basically it was just a sensational ride on a bike that was as comfortable to ride as the seat I was parked on.
The last hour found me on the 101(N), the freeway back to San Francisco. It wasn’t the 80-90 m/h I was doing that concerned me, it was the big utilities rushing by at about 110m/h I found daunting. I wasn’t in a hurry and to be honest wasn’t looking forward to either giving this magnificent Harley Road King back, or having to try and find the bike shop.
Eventually I did both and now as I reminisce over the trip of dreams I must thank the crew at California Motorcycle Adventures for a beautifully turned out bike and helpful service and attitude and all the friendly people who helped make this a trip of a lifetime.
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