Honda ST1300 Tour to Giant Sequoias,
Lake Tahoe, Shasta, Yosemite, Glacier Pt.
Two Weeks on a Honda ST1300 – 2500 miles by Mal & Mary – May/June 2010
Well the time had finally arrived and after our endless months of waiting we were finally in San Francisco to pick up our hire bike from California Motorcycle Adventures. This was our second motorcycle tour in the USA, the first one was in Arizona as part of an accompanied tour. After that trip I now felt a lot more confident and decided to go it alone, well with my ever willing wife and pillion, Mary. I gave Ilene a list of our ‘likes’ and ‘dis-likes’ and she planned an itinerary for us, with suggested routes and accommodation. I did not have any knowledge of California whatsoever and to have recommendations from bikers was a great help.
Ilene picked us up from the hotel and took us to the shop to hand over the bike, which was very quick as the bike was already prepared and ready to go. It was just a matter of transferring over all our luggage. We travelled from the United Kingdom with our own riding gear, including waterproofs, and as I rode the same bike back home (a Honda ST1300) I knew exactly what I could fit in and carry. I also brought along my Baglux tank bag. Ilene and her very helpful staff soon had us all sorted and ready to roll.
So, this was it, we were on the bike heading into the Santa Cruz Mountains, the sun was shining, the traffic was light and life was good. Our first stop was at Alice’s Restaurant on the way to the coast and the parking lot was already filling up with all kinds of motorcycles. From there it was the coast road up to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
The ride up the coast was very scenic and was going well until we hit the City and road works and just could not find the bridge. Sat nav to the rescue only to find we were just round the corner. A short stop at the bridge and on to the other side and onward to Muir Woods for a break amongst the coastal redwoods. Once on the other side the traffic lightened and on occasions it seemed like the road was made just for us. This was what we came for, sunshine, space, open good surfaced roads and views on every corner.
The plan was to ride North up route 1 as far as Arcata, staying overnight at Santa Rosa, Garberville and Arcata. This section went really well, although we did have a little rain and had to don the waterproofs. The coast road was a dream to ride with curves, bends, climbs and open sweepers. Best of all was the fact there was very little traffic and quite often no traffic!
The Humboldt Redwoods State Park was next up. Like most other travelers we had read about the giant redwoods and I thought to myself, “They are only trees. What is so special about them?” Well, as you ride into the Avenue of the Giants you look around and think the trees are quite big, but nothing special, but as you make progress you notice the width and height just keep increasing and increasing until you are in the land of the giants. They are truly awe inspiring and you will find yourself just gazing and thinking, “Wow.”
By coincidence this is best done on a motorcycle. There are plenty of places to stop for photo opportunities and you get a much better view when riding. Not so lucky for those in cars. This was truly amazing and if you have never seen the giant redwoods I would thoroughly recommend you do. Photographs just do not do it any justice, you have to see it to believe it. The picture below is of a fallen redwood with Mary stood posing. This gives you some perspective of the size. The bark is over 12” thick!
Ilene had promised the next section, the CA-299 or the Trinity River National Scenic Byway, was a spectacular motorcycle road! I thought what we had already done was spectacular so I started this section with a little apprehension wondering if it would be as described. All I can say is Ilene didn’t describe it quite well enough because it is an amazing road and truly spectacular! For a motorcyclist it has everything you want and it goes on for mile after mile. It is one of those roads that puts a huge smile on your face and that you never want to end. Even better the sun was shining for the best part of this day! We made it to Weaverville for our overnight stop, although I was very willing to turn around and do the 299 all over again in the opposite direction. The picture with the spiral stairs is one of the buildings on the main street in Weaverville. The stairs on the outside were designed to allow separate ownership of the ground and upper floor and access without having to go out back. A very nice little town with very friendly people, lovely accommodation and good food.
Our next destination was scheduled to be Mount Shasta, however the road was closed due to the snow so it was a bit of a reschedule and rides around the various lakes and dams in the area. Although this was quite a cold day the scenery was once again amazing. Overnight in Redding and then on to the McArthur Burney Falls memorial State Park, oh yes and we are still on the CA299, life is so good! The falls are not quite Niagara, but they are well worth a visit as they are quite spectacular in their own right.
Next stop through the Lassen National Park with the intention of riding across the summit on the park road at an elevation of 10457’. That was the plan and all was going well until about 20 miles from the road when the signs said the road was closed due to the snow. We stopped for lunch and the locals confirmed the road was indeed closed. Not as bad as it sounds because I got to ride a nice road the other way! So it was back up to the 44 or the Legacy Scenic Byway and then across another minor road, the Money Road. What a discovery! No traffic, good surface, good scenery and not for the first time on this trip, a feeling of remoteness. Overnight in CHESTER.
It is now June 4th and we are riding from Chester to Truckee and then down to Lake Tahoe to spend the night. We set off on the 89 and follow it all the way to Truckee. Once again a road full of vistas, lovely little towns and friendly people.
Our accommodation was just about on the state line with Nevada and the area was very busy with casinos and was by far the biggest and most active place we had stayed so far. During the evening we decide to change our plans for the next day and head straight for the Yosemite National Park and the Tioga Pass. Hang on though, what if it’s closed! I check on the internet and discover it is scheduled to open at 8am, subject to snow clearance and no more snow fall.
The following morning the sun is shining and we decide to try our luck. The road out of Tahoe, the 207, was once again another delight with a steady climb up the mountains and then down towards the 395 and lake Topaz. When I looked at the 395 on the map all I could think of was it looked a bit straight and boring. I was wrong and the majority was a pleasure to ride. The scenery was different, in that it was now semi desert and not forests and mountains. I find myself doing regular overtakes and suddenly realise this is the first time in almost a week I have encountered any real volume of traffic, and this is only due to one or two slow moving vehicles at the front causing a bit of a tailback. As soon as the opportunity comes I take it and I am soon at the front once more with a clear open road. It’s not long before we have to stop and shed some clothing as it is getting hot. In this picture of the lake you can see the 395 in the middle of the picture, then round to the right of the lake, round the bend and into the mountains again. There is a heaven!
Lake Topaz looks like any other lake when you see it on the map, but when you see it from the elevated heights of the 395 it does look amazing. As I am looking down at the lake in all its beauty I think of all the incredible sights we have already had the pleasure of sharing and think how can there be anything better. Is the rest of the trip going to be disappointing?
As we get closer to Yosemite I get a little worried. The signs at the roadside are saying Tioga Pass is shut. We decide to continue in the hope perhaps they have not reached this far and changed the signs to open. We reach the point of no return at the junction for the Senora Pass, which is open. Turn right and detour or carry on for Tioga. We carry on and to our relief the next sign says the pass is open.
Well we are at the Yosemite park entrance and we are greeted with the news that the pass is open and it is also free entry for the weekend. As we enter the park the landscape is suddenly transformed to snow capped mountains, frozen lakes, people skiing and some playing in the snow like it was the first time they had ever seen it. Despite the snow and the elevation (9657’) the sun is shining bright and I still have on my summer gear. The air is fresh and crisp.
We ride through the park and find ourselves stopping at regular intervals for spectacular vistas and photo opportunities, only to find another one round the next corner. We turn left and head along the New Big Oak Flat Road to get to our next stop at Mariposa. The road is still fairly quiet and we can only wonder what it must be like in the peak of the summer. We leave the park via the Arch Rock Entrance Station and we are happy, very happy. We have had a fantastic day, the sun has graced the sky all day, we have ridden on fantastic roads, seen fantastic scenery along the way and topped it all with the Yosemite National Park. Then the thought enters my mind, “we are coming back tomorrow!”
When we arrive in Mariposa the sun is really beating down and I am very hot. It’s straight to the accommodation, air con switched on and a shower before heading off for dinner.
The following morning the sun is shining again and we head off down the 49 towards Oakhurst and then the South Park Entrance. Once again we have a change of scenery and find lot’s of meadows and ranches then back to the forests. There is a bit more traffic today and the road in to the park has quite a lot of road works, so it is a bit stop and start. It doesn’t really matter because we know what is coming! Our first port of call is the Mariposa Grove and the Giant Sequoias. As we reach the entrance we are told the car park is already full, so we park up at the bottom, get changed in to shorts and catch the shuttle bus. The giant Sequoias are spectacular in their own right and different to the Giant Coastal Redwoods. As we are walking through the wood I am thinking about bears and lions, but the thing that startles us is the deer. They just popped out from behind the trees. Even though we were under the canopy of the trees it was still pretty warm and I couldn’t wait to get going, back in to the park once more. We set off again, this time heading for Glacier Point. The road was under repair on occasions and in other places it was very wet due to the snow melting and running across the road surface. I thought about turning round on a couple of occasions but continued on. It was the right decision because the views of the park from Glacier Point are simply amazing. Another hot day and another experience in an amazing place. As per the quote on the Park leaflet from John Muir, “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.”
Time to take a rain check and I realise it is now Monday June 7th, next stop Visalia, via the little mountain towns on route to the Sequoia National Park, and the General Sherman Tree. Once again we found ourselves doing a little detour and discovered some delightful roads. The sun was shining bright and the traffic was light. The scenery had changed yet again from the mountains of the Yosemite to rolling hills and meadows. Once in the Sequoia Park we discover it is all open and we are free to wander at will. Hardly any traffic at all, and still snow in places. We park up and change for the walk through the woods to see the General. So far during this trip my expectations have been exceeded. Is this going to be a let down or are we going to be faced with yet another wonderful sight. We make our way down the path looking at some big trees, wondering if this is the General, maybe not. Once you reach the General you know. It is one big tree, even one of the branches measures 7’ in diameter! Look at the people at the bottom of the picture! This will give you some perspective of the size! We hop on the free shuttle coach for the journey back to the bike as it is just so hot. What a good decision this turns out to be. The coach slows for a line of vehicles that seem to be abandoned at the side of the road and their occupants are all on foot with cameras clicking away. As we slowly drive by we suddenly see what all the fuss is about. About 30’- 40’ in to the woods and very visible to all is a big brown bear feeding away, seemingly oblivious to the crowds. Some look far to close for comfort. Sadly I don’t manage to get a shot of in time as the driver does not stop, although he did slow long enough for us all to see this wonderful sight. As we leave the park to continue our journey I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to do what we have done. And we still have a few days left! Can there be anything else?
Tuesday June 8th. Well the time has come to cross the central valley, which on the map looks pretty flat and boring. Still, we have to do this to get back over to the coast. We are heading for Monterey Bay for two nights so we can incorporate a whale watching trip with the Big Sur. As predicted the journey is long, flat and pretty much straight roads. So it is screen up and make some progress. However, we still find it interesting as we ride through the agricultural valley and try and count how many different products are grown here. There are endless rows of peach trees, oranges, apricots, cherries, pears, apples, nuts, vineyards and many more. They just go on for mile, after mile, after mile. Just to see something on this scale is an incredible sight. The traffic is fairly busy in the towns and on stretches of road.
As we approach Monterey Bay we are greeted by the coastal winds and to say there was a bit of a breeze would be an understatement. It was pleasant to be back on the Pacific coast again and the temperature was certainly cooler, although still pleasant. We get our accommodation sorted out and have a little walk about to get our bearings and check out where Mary needs to be dropped off in the morning for her whale watching trip at the Fisherman’s Wharf. My propensity to be sea sick prevents me from going on the trip, but hey, what will I do for 5 hours? Well, I have a motorbike, no luggage and no pillion! The next day I drop Mary off and wave goodbye. The bay area is just full of seals, everywhere you look. I have a very pleasant ride around the coast road, visit Carmel By The Sea and gaze at all the beautiful and very expensive houses. When I pick Mary up she is excited. She has seen dolphins surfing in the boats waves, and a few whales, including a blue whale, which was a surprise for the boat crew as they were not expecting to see this. Sadly she was so excited she did not manage to get any pictures. She did take some, but it was a case of now you see me, now you don’t.
Thursday 10th June. Today we head south out of Monterey to the Carmel Valley Rd, followed by the G16 and G14 Jolon Rd to Cambria for the night. The Carmel Valley is gentle rolling hills and Cyprus trees. No traffic at all for the first part of the journey and the weather started quite gloomy and wet, but as the day progressed it was left behind and once again it was sunshine and warmth. We drive through parts of the huge Hunter Liggett Military Reservation and lunch near Lake San Antonio. It’s hot and drinks and ice cream are the order of the day. We take our time at lunch and take in some rays and views, getting ready for the next stretch.
Cambria is a lovely, quiet out of the way type of place, away from the main road as such. In the picture to the right there is a restaurant that is very popular, which we discovered people travel a long way to sample the cuisine. I have to say the meal was pretty good. I can’t remember the name of the place, but it is the brown building on the left of the picture, just to the left of the pick up. I spend the rest of the night looking at the maps and our route for the following day. We are about to ride up the Pacific Coast Highway 1 through Big Sur and back to Mountain View.
Friday 11th June. Well this is really our last day with the bike as we will be returning it early in the morning. I’m trying not to think about it and think instead of the journey ahead. As we leave Cambria there is quite a bit of coastal mist and drizzle. I start wondering if this is going to spoil our last day of what should be spectacular views. As we progress along the coast the mist gradually lifts, the drizzle stops and the heat gets turned up. Much better.
I had read the road is narrow and tortuous and the pictures I had seen on the internet seemed to reflect this opinion. Equally it was also one of the roads that motorcycle books suggested was a ‘must ride’. As described the road certainly does hug the coast and occasionally heads inland slightly. What a road! The books are correct in every way. It is scenic just everywhere, vista stops abound. It rises and falls, twists and narrows, but most of all it just keeps on going. Traffic is light and there are one or two road works in operation for road widening and resurfacing. We have a chat with other bikers whilst we wait. It’s not long before we are off again. We come across a beach that is full of seals and sea lions, very impressive. Even more impressive was the fact the car park was almost empty. As in many other places we had visited during our tour we are amazed by the lack of traffic and people. Such beautiful sights and roads and almost all to ourselves.
We stop at Big Sur for lunch and Mary has a look through the small shops and stalls whilst I just sit in the shade and watch and listen to the bikes riding past or pulling in to the car park. I find myself thinking how grateful I am to have experienced this beautiful highway and just don’t want it to end. After lunch it is off again towards Monterey and then Santa Cruz, before heading inland. Time to say goodbye to the coast for now.
Almost make a big mistake and run out of petrol. It’s very hot and not the ideal time to be riding round a town looking for petrol, but fortunately we find somewhere just in time. Panic over and back on the road for the last part of our remarkable journey. The hotel at Mountain View is a very welcome sight. I dragged today out a bit and Mary was getting a bit uncomfortable. The heat made it a bit tiring and although it was a long day it was a day I will always remember for the absolutely wonderful views and roads. Made for the motorcyclist.
Saturday 12th, Sunday 13th and Monday 14th June. Up early and bike returned to Ilene. Everything goes smoothly and our biking gear is soon packed away. They give us a lift to the CALTRAN station and we catch the train to San Francisco, where we stay for a few days before our flight back to the UK.
Summary: Yes it is more expensive than a two week trip to Europe. However, you will have a great time, the majority of the roads are just superb and the traffic is so much lighter. If you stay away from the freeways and big Cities you can go long distances without even seeing another vehicle. The weather is more reliable and whilst we did have three or four days of light rain the rest of the time is was lovely sunshine. The people are friendly, the food is good and most of all you have space, so much space. If you’ve been thinking about doing a trip, stop thinking and start doing. You will not regret it. To Ilene and Scott, thanks for making this trip possible with your motorcycle and advice on routes and sights. We will be back one day!
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