Thursday, October 11, 2007

Solo Motorcycle Trip from San Francisco to Vancouver

“Adventure Today” was a phrase on a bumper sticker with a picture of a cartoon dog sitting upright in a languid fashion. I had this bumper sticker on the rear window of my 1970 Volkswagen for years before I ever even rode a motorcycle and now I realize it is a motto I’ve been living up to ever since. After having a motorcycle since 2001, I bought my 2000 R1150GS when I traded in my R1100S in September of 2006. Right then and there I vowed to start planning my first big road trip (and a solo one at that) as I knew this GS was comfortable enough and mechanically sound enough that it would be my personal ‘magic carpet’ in my search of daily adventure.

Heading Out

On Memorial Day Weekend, 2007 I headed out from my hometown of Sausalito with a pretty light load of luggage after 6 months of planning. A month before departure, I sent an e-mail ‘blast’ to some 40 friends to request lodging connections on my route that I had roughly laid out. I was surprised that by the day of departure I had lined up some 13 nights of hosted evenings so that I only had 7 nights that I would be required to look for lodging at paying establishments! So away I went with only a duffle under a cargo net in addition to my top case and full side cases.

My First Day Escorts

The first day I had escorts with a colleague from work and his wife (Art + Claudia Yow) as well as another friend of theirs, Jimmy. They were on their Harleys and managed to get some nice photographs (even one of me going 70+mph on the freeway) as a send-off gift. They came with me as far as Willits, my first night’s stop. They turned around at the 4-mile dirt road that my GS was made for with a comment from Art “this is what separates the women from the boys”. I headed down the road into what can be described as beautiful scenery in farmland areas but you wouldn’t dare drive down someone’s driveway to ask directions. I found my friends’ Dave and Albert’s ‘weekend getaway’ home and was feeling pretty good about planning a light first day of riding with all the anticipation and nerves up until then.

Funky Fortuna and Kinetic Sculptures

The next morning dawned clear, sunny and cool and I looked forward to my first ‘solo day’ for a short hop up to Fortuna, CA from Willits. A very easy highway that is wide and no traffic for Memorial Day which surprised me. I was happy to get a bonus bit of entertainment in that I showed up in Ferndale during their World Famous Kinetic Sculpture Race and saw all kinds of creative crafts while enjoying a barbeque chicken lunch. I had never even known about this event but have since read a lot of stories, I had nothing but admiration for the creativity and functionality of these crafts. That evening in Fortuna I was able to stay with a ‘friend of a friend’ like many nights to come…. Dr. John and Jean Montgomery were kind enough to let me stay with them and even hosted a dinner party in order that I meet other “Fortunians”. They admitted the GS looked good parked in their front yard, this coming from someone who owned a gorgeous 356B Porsche…that amazing German Engineering!

Don't Need to Visit Cave Junction, OR

The trip progressed in a similar fashion with the days exhibiting some rhythm… up and out by 9 or 10 to take a leisurely ride to the next stop. Some of the memorable moments need elaboration. For example, in one short day from Crescent City California up the Highway 199 to Grants Pass, Oregon -- you can experience a temperature differential of about 40 degrees. After leaving the fog in Crescent City, I climbed up the 199 through the Smith River Recreation Area and by the time I got to Cave Junction… I was burning up. The town itself lends not much hospitality for stopping if on a bike -- it seems virtually treeless and no shade that I could see. The people are also not so welcoming but this is hard to describe here.

Oh Yes, There are Hills in Oregon

The planning of this trip included buying a few maps for the case, reading a few articles and off I went. I didn’t recall reading about/knowing about the Siskiyou Mountains on the I5 from Grants Pass to Roseburg. What an adventure taking those mountains with three-long tractor trailers going 70mph. That was not a relaxing day but I was thankful for the power of 1150cc engine and the overdrive to get past the trucks. By the time I reached my destination of Winston that day, I was peeling off the leathers and very happy to have a shower. The following day was much the same in that I was heading on the I5 to Portland and some accident had blocked traffic to a standstill. Moments like those where you find yourself sitting on a freeway without air conditioning, not moving and asking “how did I get here?” but if that was the low-point (and it was), I couldn’t complain. Needless to say, I was exceedingly impressed with the comfort and smoothness of the motorcycle.

Stopped on the Freeway in Tacoma

Tacoma traffic was another ‘not-so-enjoyable’ moment that I recall and for all future accounts will avoid whenever possible but that was balanced by the vision of Mercer Island in the distance as I crossed the floating bridge on the I90. When I showed up at Carl Bryants’ home (a colleague’s father and family home), I kept wondering how bad I must have looked upon arrival since Carl kept asking if I needed a shower. I just accepted the glass of wine and relaxed for an hour before doing anything, happy to not be moving! The next morning Carl gave me a thorough ‘lecture’ about the fact that I needed to slow down. I received the admonition that “it was all well and good that I was taking this circuitous trip of 20 days to Canada and back but it was complete lunacy that I wasn’t slowing down for a few days in any one place.” So I have to thank Carl for forcing me to consider slowing down enough to stay at the Yellow Point Lodge near Ladysmith, Vancouver Island . I took his prudent advice and booked a place there for three nights.

Orcas Island Here I Come

I bid goodbye to sensible Carl and headed toward Anacortes in order to catch a Washington State Ferry over to Orcas Island. Having researched the ferries, it was fantastic to learn of the ‘first on/first off’ rule about motorcycles. Going to the front of the line and waiting seemed like a fine proposition to me. I passed some enjoyable time talking to a Washington State Patrolman using his bomb sniffing dog to go down the line of cars. It was one of those all-too-common encounters of ‘motorcycle envy’ in that he knew all the details of my motorcycle and admired it. I then remarked “I know your story… you are married with young children and your wife doesn’t want you to ride.” He couldn’t believe my intuition! But it was written all over his face and so I concurred that it was a valiant sacrifice for the sake of a family (something I truly believe).

You Don't Know Me But Here I Am

On Orcas Island, I was greeted by Enid Granger in her van. Though I had never met Enid before, she was a reference from Art Yow (see earlier mention). She had me follow her the 11 miles to their home in East Sound. What luck to be hosted at this amazing location by a retired BART policewoman and her husband Fred and son Tom. The constant theme on this trip to date was how fortunate I felt to be received into a home (a virtual unknown) and treated like royalty! The Grangers took me to dinner and told me about their island and life on it. I was only too sorry I couldn’t stay longer. The following day marked one week since I had left SF and I wasn’t weary at all. I boarded the Ferry back to Anacortes and headed to Bellingham to see an old college friend Catherine and her family.

Show and Tell in Bellingham

In Bellingham I stayed for two nights. Perhaps one of the ‘highlights’ was being taken to the Cedar Tree Montessori school by my friend’s little girl Genevieve as “show and tell”. Now I know what it feels like to be a rock star! The photos from that time are some of my favorite from the trip. This is also the inception of the idea of carrying a Polly Pocket doll named Lucy Lockett with me for the remainder of the trip. Similar to the advertising campaign of the Travelocity world-traveling gnome, I suggested to Genevieve that I take her doll in my map case and photograph her in various picturesque locations along the way. She pronounced this a fine idea. Upon my return, I put all 18 photos of Lucy in glamorous locations with captions and sent her a photo album along with the original doll back to Washington. Her mother related to me that Genevieve was excited to receive the photos and promptly gave Lucy a thorough bath (I couldn’t remember that she was even dirty!).

Whizzing on Through Vancouver

My Vancouver experience was one of my ‘uh-oh’ moments. I headed to Vancouver with very little preparation. Everyone had told me up until then how I was going to love Vancouver, it was their favorite city! I had tried to get into the Sylvia Hotel and it was booked. This unnerved me so I felt I should ‘book in’ to some ‘budget accommodation’. I’m still laughing to think that by doing this on the Internet and booking ahead that I would expect anything other than a room in a questionable neighborhood? I showed up about 1pm at the “Patricia Hotel” in Vancouver. All I can say is that I’m sure the hotel itself is very nice inside but I was not about to park the motorcycle in the lot outside where many characters I would not have for tea at my home happened to be loitering outside and screaming obscenities at one another while under the influence of some kind of substance. I just kept riding through Vancouver until I got almost to the Lions Gate Bridge. I pulled over to cancel the reservation and kept motoring right on up to Horsehoe Bay and boarded the BC Ferry to Discovery Bay and Nanaimo, Vancouver Island.

Relaxing on Vancouver Island

I arrived with 10 minutes to spare before departure, scooted right up to the front and got on the ferry. Some other motorcyclist with Saskatchewan plates was next to me but my attempt to engage him in conversation met with a taciturn response so I left him alone. I tried to see myself from his perspective… some woman on a yellow BMW with a doll in her mapcase coming up to the front of the line only 10 minutes from departure. I probably wouldn’t want to speak to me either or perhaps he was just fatigued. The 1 hour and 45 minute ride to Discovery Bay was an optimum time to relax and make the preparation to the much anticipated Yellow Point Lodge. By 5pm I had arrived at YPL and checked in, getting my room assignment in the ‘barracks.’ I can’t say enough about this place as it is frozen in time -- the kind of place one dreams about but thinks it doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe I really did just go through a wormhole and I wasn’t even in this place at all! For $66/US a night, I got a clean private room on the water, three square meals a day and the unlimited use of their kayaks and mountain bikes on their 150 square mile property. Not to mention the amazing people (mostly Canadians) that I met as I dined in their lodge.

Places To Stay in the Future in Vancouver

My unwinding time at the Yellow Point Lodge was the perfect apex of my trip. From here I could head back in the Southern direction feeling complete. The proprietor of YPL (Richard Hill) even gave me a suggested route down Vancouver Island to Victoria and left me with a souvenir map as well. Canadians are so amazed and impressed by anything ‘pioneering’ so everywhere I went in Canada, I was warmly received and I literally had people shoving me their contact information and insisting I stay with them if ever I got back up to V.I. in the future. That was very touching and impressionable for me.

Those Straits of Juan de Fuca

In getting to Victoria, I headed to the Black Ball Transport Ferry (the MV Coho) and discovered due to the heightened security restriction… I had to be with my vehicle a whole 90 minutes before sailing time. Therefore I only had one hour to sightsee in Victoria before getting into a locked parking lot with US Customs Officials. There was no time to have tea at the famous Empress as I thought better of trying to rush a high tea. Instead I breezed through the wax museum which oddly resembles wax museums all over the world.

Relatives in Gardiner, WA

The MV Coho is a nice ferry with limited space so I can see why it would sell out and one would need a reservation. I had heard about the infamous Straight of Juan de Fuca and how I needed to tie down the motorcycle so it wouldn’t topple over. The day I crossed, it was really very tranquil. I arrived in Port Angeles on a Friday and started driving over to Gardiner, WA where I had a second cousin expecting my arrival. I had been there in 1972 but I was so young then I don’t remember much. I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at Dan and MaryLou Tatum’s home and saw the amazing new residence they had built on the water. Yet again I was treated like royalty for three nights and when it came time to leave, it wasn’t easy!

Can One Experience Oyster Toxicity From Eating Too Many?

My next route was to head down the Hoods Canal and over to the Pacific coast. I managed to do this in one day and encountered the only rain on my trip (surprisingly) in Olympia. After pulling off and donning the rain gear, it wasn’t too bad. I arrived in Seaside OR for the evening. The following day was a coastal haul to Bandon OR and it struck me as ironic that when riding the motorcycle, I wasn’t really enjoying the view. I was too busy trying to stay on the road to really look out at anything. Bandon was terrific and I found a perfect lodging for the evening. I also was able to eat my fifth oyster meal in a row and was a little concerned that perhaps I was going to have oyster toxicity if there ever was such a thing.

Yep, I'm a Girl Last Time I Checked

In Bandon I was waking up to my 17th morning on the trip. I was starting to get itchy to put bigger miles on that day and so I did with a trip from Bandon to Mendocino. This day also has one of my enjoyable memories in the morning in Port Orford, OR. I pulled into a cafĂ© to have breakfast when a little girl pulling her father toward me came running across the parking lot. She said “hi, hi hi…” and was waving frantically at me. I took off my helmet and greeted her and the response was “oooooooohhhhhhh, you’re a girl! Why are you riding a motorcycle?” Her father looked like he was becoming one with the pavement. I told her “because it’s fun and girls like to have fun too!”. Then she said, without further hesitation “I am FOUR” and she held up her four fingers. I only wish now I had taken a photo of her at that moment.

Kicking back in Mendo Town

I arrived in Mendocino at 6m of the 17th day and decided to put in for two days to recuperate from all the miles until then. Not many places quite as relaxing and reflective as that town and it’s always been one of my favorite spots. The following day I stayed with a friend in the development of Sea Ranch near Gualala. On my final day of the trip I headed to Bodega Bay where my ‘welcoming committee’ awaited me. These were the same three folks that saw me out on my first day. We met and had lunch and then motored to my home in Sausalito.

The Stats and I'm home, phew

After getting home that following few days I compiled my stats: 20 days, 2,625 miles and 55 gallons of gas. I wrote some thank you notes, posted my photos online, recognized my blessings, brought my bike in to the shop for the 36K tune up as it was now due for it. I hope to continue to take other trips as I realize that traveling on a motorcycle alone is anything but lonely; people are so amazing and helpful and informative. I am thankful for all the support and good friends I have and continue to make along the way.
{Link to Photos }


Michael P said...

Anna, I just loved reading about your motorcycle trip and your many adventures along the way.

Your friend,

M. Polkabla

Sojourner rides said...

Anna, I so enjoyed reading your trip reports! Very interesting! I also enjoyed your photos, especially anticipating where--and how--Lucy would materialize. You are so fortunate to have had 20 days for your trip! What a life!

Thanks for inviting me to your space--and linking to Sojourner!