Not Dead Yet II: Still Not Dead!
Oct. 5, 2000
Fog doesn't "blanket the land" here either, in Northern California. It smothers the land, hiding all signs of life from the viewer. Overnight the temperature has dropped again, and the moisture is thick, so all in all, it's not a pleasant morning. I head south, eager for the Giant Redwoods. The owner of the KOA has told me about a dirt road leading into an area called "Stout Grove" that not too many people go to. It's inland some, and the fog lifts so that I can see the tops of the trees. These things are massive. Some have diameters of thirty feet. Diameters! Thirty feet! Mind! Can't! Handle! It! Stout Grove turns out to be very secluded but not difficult to reach at all. If you're ever in the Crescent City area, ask a local how to get there. It's worth it. I am awestruck by the size of these things. Not to many are taller than a hundred feet or so, as there seems to be some limit in this area. I know others are almost three hundred feet tall, and on the sides of mountains around here that go down into valleys, the trees stay the same height as those not down in the valley, so it appears once they reach the canopy top they stop growing. The canopy must grow collectively, apparently. Another interesting tidbit about the Redwoods is that they are basically an extinct species, once these still standing die. They have shrouded the ground so much from sunlight that their seedlings can not survive in the dim light. With the sprawling nature of the virus called humanity, there will never again be new Giant Redwood Forests.
Stout Grove contains many fallen trees, which are cool, and you're not supposed to climb on the fallen ones, but I can't resist. I climb on one that has a ten foot diameter, so I'm not that far above the ground, and I walk the length of its growth. It fell many decades ago, and the undergrowth seeks to reclaim it. Ferns and moss grow on the tree itself. There is an oddity to this one. It fell to one direction, and directly opposite the root system is another giant that fell in the other direction. If they were still upright, they would occupy the exact same ground. The best I can figure is that one was there first, it fell, and then another grew in almost the same location, and then it fell. If that's true, one of the two trees likely fell over a thousand years ago. I've always had a fondness for books that have forests as living organisms, like in The Hobbit and the Thomas Covenant series by Stephen Donaldson. Here in the timeless Giant Redwoods, the slow and thoughtful anthropomorphisms seem appropriate.
After a morning of climbing trees and putting a crick in my neck looking up, I head on south. That takes me back toward the shore and back to the fog. It is not lifting. I have to climb a range of high hills, and between the elevation and the fog, it is pretty damn cold. Later, I come out into bright sunshine in a valley, and damned if I'm not burning up from all the layers I have on. I have to stop and remove some. And then stop again to put them on when the road winds back to the coast and the cooler temperatures. Finally, after many hours of traveling, I come to Hwy 1, which will run me alongside the Pacific Ocean from here to San Diego. And after 10 miles of Hwy 1 I wonder if I will make it there in the next two days as I had thought. Talk about a winding road! Second and third gear, leaning the bike over, then back over the other way, this would be killer if it weren't for the 125 pounds of gear I'm keeping from falling off the bike. It gets later, and the sun sets behind the mountains I am riding through. Here and there I get to the ocean, which just brings me further into the fog. I stop at a gas station (the first one for 28 miles after getting on at the north end, better tank up before getting on 1, I didn't and it was close), and ask how far to St. Marguerite, my desired goal for the night. An hour and a half if I take the next road which will take me off Hwy 1 and put me inland. Longer if I don't. I look at the clock and see it is almost 6:30. The 28 miles took me almost an hour and a half. It is getting dark and the fog is getting thicker. Fourteen miles south there is a town called Fort Bragg. Alright, new destination.
Fourteen miles of extremely tough riding, that is. The fog is making me damp and playing havoc with my faceshield. I have an antifog screen on the inside, but it too is not able to keep up with this muck. I have to wipe the inside of my faceshield off in between turns, which isn't easy, because I'm always in a turn. The fog is making the road slick, too, and for the first time in my eight years of riding I lock up the front wheel trying to slow down for a turn that is sharper than I expected and slopes away to boot. If there had been oncoming traffic I wouldn't have made it. When the wheel locked up all I could do was keep going straight, regardless of what the road is doing.
By the time I make Fort Bragg it is dark, I'm cold and hungry, and I don't care what the motel rates are, I'm getting one. I'm in luck, though, as it is Thursday and I get a decent midweek rate. By this time the fog is so thick my glasses are getting misty when I walk to the store on the corner. Yeah, I'm riding on California's gorgeous Pacific coast. Too bad I've seen it for maybe five minutes today.
Oct. 6, 2000
I'm wore out from four straight days of riding, so even though I am ready at eight am, I relax and watch the movie "Fat Boy and Little Man," about the Los Alamos secret atom bomb effort, with Paul Newman and John Cusack. I leave at ten am, and I wonder how much those two hours of rest will cost me. South of town it's more twisting roads. And fog. Forecast calls for dropping temperatures and heavier fog. It's already around 52 degrees, so I'm not in a mood to hear that it is going to get colder. I take the next road that leads inland to Hwy 101, that same road I'd been traveling on since I left Mt. St. Helens. Out of the fog, into the frying pan. The sun is out, the temperatures are in the 70's, not too bad. It stays nice for a while, then I come into Santa Rosa. Traffic. Bumper to bumper. I won't bore you with details, as this will be a recurring theme in the two days to follow. I hope to make you as sick of traffic as I am. After I got through the worst of this mess, I stop for lunch, around 2:30pm, for about forty five minutes. I'm way late. I'll be hitting San Francisco in about an hour, not good, seeing how it is a Friday and that would make it rush hour.
As Hwy 101 wound back to the coast, to meet with Hwy 1 just north of SF, the temperatures dropped again. Over the mountains along the coast, I can see fog piling over the tops, spilling down the backsides, like a bad fifties B movie. I go to the SF Golden Gate Bridge overlook and try to get a picture, but guess what? It's foggy. I put on my leathers again and cross the bridge. Someone should mention somewhere at some point in time that the GGB is a toll bridge. Just in case you didn't know. I didn't. If one more person honks their horn at me while I'm digging under my leather chaps to get into my pocket to pay for that freakin' crossing, I'ma gonna break out a can of whoopass, Southern style. Past the bridge and it's downtown, immediately. I thought that perhaps the guy who kept slowing down to prevent me from getting on the road while leaving the overlook was just confused, but no, I'm pretty sure now he was doing it on purpose. At least, I know two other cars decided they were going to prevent me from making turns or changing lanes, and so I figure it must be some sort of regular thing. Traffic. Bumper to bumper. For many miles. Move five car lengths at a time, maybe get lucky and go through two lights at a time, then stop. They are not polite. Did I mention that lane splitting is legal in California, where the motorcycle can legally ride in the space between car lanes? Apparently the drivers of cars feel this also means that a motorcycle does not have the right to a full width of the lane. While I ignored the drivers that did it while I was moving, I had about had enough when someone did this to me while I was stopped at a light and over to the left side far enough that I could put my leg down on the curb instead of the road, which saves me a lot of effort lifting my leg back up under the weight of my tank bag. First the hood, then the doors, pushing by me slowly. I looked over at the driver, not with any malice or anything, but it was enough, as the woman looked up at me and kinda shrunk down in her seat, and just mouthed "hi", to which I nodded. She did not do it again at the next couple lights, and then she turned off.
Damn it, there's my turn off. No, this jackass is not going to let me over, he's just going to grin at me while keeping his car from letting me over before speeding off. Ah geees. Ok, that was only the turn off for Hwy 1. I can still follow Hwy 101 out of town and then cut over and come out around Monterey. I look to the west and I can see the wall of fog at the coast. Or maybe I just stay on Hwy 101. Oh well. Head on out of town. Hit Hwy 101, it speeds up, and I relax a bit. Then we hit the next town. Traffic. Bumper to bumper. Everyone leaving for the weekend. Get the hell out of town. Ah man. This is getting old. I'm tired, I want to get off my bike, and it's five miles an hour. I try to be patient. I leave that town, and the speed goes up, for a mile, maybe two. Then traffic. Standstill. Five lanes wide, it's not going anywhere. A motorcycle goes by, lane splitting. It is somewhere around five, maybe later. I want to get somewhere today. As far as I can tell, it has taken me two hours to go twenty miles. That's with no sightseeing, just trying to get a little farther down the road. Fuck it. I turn into the lane between two cars and go. Gees, this is not fun. I'm wide as hell, and at low speeds I wallow and weave from all the weight. And now I'm riding between cars that are maybe four or five feet apart and are being driven by people that want to get out of town too, except they see this every day. First and second gear, eyes shifting left and right constantly, sometimes they move over a bit, sometimes they move in a bit, just to be jerks. I get pinched on the left, forcing me to the right, and I feel my bag make contact with someone's rearview mirror. Too damn bad, you can try and catch me, 'cause I ain't stopping. In and out of cars and trucks, slipping back into a regular lane when traffic speed up to thirty or so in between towns, back into the netherlanes in the towns, and there are a lot of them. San Jose. Cupertino. Palo Alto. I don't even remember how many there were. Finally, with my back aching and my nerves about as frazzled as they can get, I leave the last of the traffic behind and pull off to find a gas station. None at this exit, get back on the freeway, get off at the next one. Dammit, still no gas. Alright, third time's a charm and I find gas at a town called Gilroy. I empty one tank and fill up another one.
While I am relaxing off to the side, reluctant to get back on the bike after three and a half hours to go forty five miles, I hear the sound of an engine spinning without catching. I look over and see a Porsche with the hood up and a young lady being helped by one of the store clerks. Ah, what the hell, I could use a diversion, so I walk over. She had just topped off and went to leave when it wouldn't start. Well, got to have fuel and got to have fire, so let's check the spark and make sure you've got fire. The clerk leaves to call a friend who is a Porsche mechanic. The car has fire. Must be a fuel problem. Hmm...a cutoff switch that needs to be reset? The car alarm system malfunctioning? The clerk comes back and says his friend says check the fuel pump fuse and the relays. There are two fuel pumps on a 1987 Porsche 911. Learn something new everyday. The clerk declares the fuse ok, and the lady suggests swapping the relays with other known good ones. A pretty good idea, I must say. Doesn't work. Nothing worked. Running out of ideas, she goes into the store to call her dad and a tow truck. I go back to the fuse panel. I look at the labels and locate the one that is for the fuel pumps. The wire running into the fuse panel is green from corrosion. Hmmm...possibly a loose connection. Better wiggle the fuse around and check. It falls apart in my fingers. Golly gee, we have a winner. I take the fuse inside and show the woman, who tells her dad what we've found. She doesn't have any spares, so the clerk and I are discussing using aluminum foil for a temporary fuse until she can get home, in Monterrey, only forty five minutes away, when she again suggests swapping out a known good one. Well, yeah, that would work, but that's not nearly as cool a fix. Seconds later I've replaced the fuel pump fuse with the seat heater fuse and the car is running again. I get a big hug that made the whole thing worthwhile (did I mention she was quite pretty?), and sincere thank you's, and then she drives off to Monterey, where I was supposed to be heading to but I wasn't sure because I didn't want to be on the coast on a Friday night trying to find affordable lodging. Somehow I never figured out the right way to ask for a place to crash, so I never brought it up.
I decide to stay on Hwy 101, instead of going to the coast. I can see the fog from here, and I figure the odds of watching the sun set were zero. Tomorrow will be more fog. The Pacific Coast Highway is supposed to be one of the great rides in this country, and I'll am doing is paying for the labor on a treat I'm not getting. The road is slow and twisty, and while a lot of fun for others, as loaded as I am it's miserable. Discouraged, depressed, and tired, I head down Hwy 101 as the day ends and night begins. Somewhere during the next few hours I rode parallel to a good part of California I had looked forward to seeing the whole trip, the grand finale to so many weeks of effort, gone in darkness and fog, fatigue shutting down my senses and filling me with a overwhelming desire to rest. Five straight days on the road, the longest stretch of the entire trip, and I have one more to go. If I had stayed along the coast I would not be this far south and I would have two or more days to go. The way to get through the fatigue I was feeling is to set goals, little steps that you can accomplish, never looking at the next step until you've done this one, just push a little farther, than a little more, and just a small bit more. In this case, the steps are towns, just another town I want to reach, then the next one, until I get to San Luis Opisbo, 110 miles from Gilroy. It's 9pm. I've had almost ten hours of seat time. I only vaguely recall having cereal and chocolate milk before falling asleep with a hockey game on tv.
Oct. 7, 2000
SLO is supposed to be a beautiful city, but I am long gone before the fog lifts. Today I make San Diego. I can still pick up Hwy 1 and ride it for a while along the coast, and even bypass Los Angeles. This I look forward to, and it helps me get past the crushing fatigue in my body, this being the sixth continuous day of riding. It is a nice ride, and I can see why some of the areas here get the mystique that they do. This road runs right through Malibu, surf center of the universe (at least, they think so). It is everything the tv shows and movies say it is. The most popular car? Porsche Boxster. One or two each and every block. Ripped surfer dudes hanging out by the side of the road, unloading boards for the waves down below. Hillside houses with amazing architecture overlooking a topaz blue ocean. It was cool. I just wish they had more gas stations. It is always funny how one tank feels like it is going to explode at the exact some time another one is about to run empty. I wish the one tank could use the contents of the other.
Well, I take a wrong turn and miss the rest of Hwy 1. I can turn back, but the road I turn on to has a sign that says "San Diego Freeway". I can not resist. I have not had lunch, everything aches, I just want this to be over. I take the 405 and wind around South Los Angeles, managing traffic with only a few miles of lane splitting, and then it is open road to San Juan Capistrano. I stop there for a King Size Snickers and gas and press on. For about thirty more miles the road is relatively clear, but traffic is fast. Too fast for my comfort, and I find myself feeling like I am being pushed out of the way. North of San Diego the traffic increases but the speed does not decrease. I am not comfortable with this, but I do my best to stay within the flow of traffic. Finally, after five weeks and one day, at 4pm, I pull into the driveway of my friends', The Jessups, and it is over.
Or is it? Something in me has changed. I did not find what I was looking for here in San Diego. The traffic is unreal. Everyone goes 80 miles an hour until someone wrecks and then no one goes anywhere for a long time, five lanes each direction competely stopped. The density of people is nothing like I have ever experienced before. The other times I was here it never bothered me, but now it does. Three million people in San Diego County, more than the population of South Carolina. It is always sunny. Every day. No mystery. No need to think of warm days in October as special, because it is always like this. But I find that I don't want this. And you know, I don't have to take this. Yes, I am giving up a high probability of a high paying job in the tehnology sector. Yes, I am giving up perfect days. But I make that choice freely, having seen what is here and what is inside of me and seeing that they don't fit together anymore. Tomorrow, Oct. 14, I head back up I-5 until I get to the Hwy 101 turn off for the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, because I am going back to Victoria, where even as I write this it is cool and rainy, where I have no job waiting for me, no legal way to work a business based in the country, and no way to afford where I want to live during the tourist season, but I am going back. Why? Because I can.
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