Beth Dixon: Day Fifteen

Saturday, Oct. 1

I got up when my alarm went off. Amazing. I caught up on my trip journal while eating breakfast. Godfrey paged me, so I called him back. All was about the same at home. John was doing well. Randy Davis was coming into town some time today, moving up to the San Jose area from San Diego. I'd left a key to my place with Godfrey for Randy, in case he needed a place to crash for a while.

I packed my saddlebags and took them down to the Duc. Saw a Harley in the parking lot ... on a trailer. I wanted to take a picture, but couldn't get up to my room for the camera before a couple got into the truck towing the trailer and drove off. I was ready to go, on this the last day (or so I thought) of my trip.

I headed south on I-5 and gassed up in Red Bluff. I knew there wouldn't be many places to get gas again until I hit the coast. I took 36 west, towards Platino, a 90-degree turn off of the I-5 business route into Red Bluff. Immediately, I stopped to wait for a rather long freight train.

The beginning of this route is quite fun. It reminded me a bit of Highway 128 from Albion to Cloverdale. Two lane, fairly narrow with little shoulder. Up and down over little rises and hills, lots of lefts and rights -- almost constant turning. Corners were posted for speeds from 40 to 25 mph. I was having a grand time. It was partly cloudy, but fairly warm. I was quite comfortable and was really enjoying myself.

A few corners had a sprinkling of gravel in them, but I didn't think much about it. I watched the road surface a little more carefully, but didn't slow down much. Remains of various road kills popped up here and there. The little bit of gravel in corners grew to a lot of gravel in corners. Sometimes dirt, water or mud was added for good measure. The gravel grew up -- rocks ranging from golf-ball sized to orange-sized sprung up. Blah.

I kept expecting road conditions to get better. Brad Turner and some others had ridden this road not long ago and had had a really wonderful time. None of the guys had mentioned poor road conditions. But instead of getting better, things got worse.

I began to get tired of "rock slide area" signs. I was climbing up the mountains, so corners stayed tight and some were blind. The road surface was constantly covered in gravel, mud or rock. Unless I followed the path a car's tires would take around a corner the rear would slide out on me. I rounded a corner to find...a construction zone.

They had removed all the pavement and were rebuilding the road bed. Heavy equipment was everywhere. Flaggers were stopping traffic on either side of the work area. Traffic was allowed through only once every hour. I had some time to wait, but couldn't get off the bike. I was parked on dirt and gravel, on the side of a hill. The downhill side was on the left of the bike. The Slut would have fallen over if I'd tried to set her on her sidestand. I couldn't back up because the "road" sloped up- hill in that direction (not that it would have actually helped) and there wasn't any place in front of me that would have helped either. I turned her off and waited, trying to be patient. I was severely behind schedule if I wanted to make it home today.

They sent out the water truck to wet down the area before they let traffic through. Wonderful. Wet soggy mud and gravel is _such_ an improvement over dry dirt and gravel. Yuck. They let traffic through from the other side first -- I waved at the guy on the BMW as he went passed, and he waved back. The two Harley riders ignored my wave. Twits. Now it was my turn.

There was only one pickup truck in front of me, but behind me was a motorhome followed by a string of vehicles. We started through the construction zone behind the pilot car. Easily two miles of rutted dirt, downhill. Moving construction equipment added that E ticket ride thrill factor. It wouldn't have been that bad if my clutch hand hadn't started to cramp up within the first half mile. The pilot car was traveling slowly, not wanting to let the traffic behind him get too spread out, I guess. The Duc was barely running above an idle. Maybe 15 mph. I was either coasting downhill, which was a little too slow, or had the clutch out in first, which was a little too fast. I alternated between the two, which wore out my left hand in short order. Guess I should squeeze a racquetball or something.

Once through the construction zone and back on pavement, I shook my left hand a bit and cursed Brad Turner for suggesting this route. Grrrrr. But after a half-dozen corners or so, the gravel cleared up. Now this was more like it. Much better to be able to really lay her over and head for an apex. I was tentative for the first few non- graveled corners, but then started to wick it up a bit. I came flying around one blind, uphill corner to find myself facing the ass end of a cow. Bossie was standing in the middle of my lane, and she didn't look like she was going to move any time soon. I waited for the oncoming car to go by, then cautiously motored by the cow. Silly beast.

I figured anything that could come up along this road already had, but I was wrong. The gravel was back. I found three pickups on my side of the road, using both sides of the yellow line, coming around a blind hairpin. Sheesh! If Brad had been anywhere close by, I would have thumped him one. This road would be really fun, once the road construction is finished and there's been enough travel on it to get the gravel off the road surface. However, the day I was riding 36 it was a royal pain in the ass. It took me four hours to ride 130 miles. I would either ride until late at night or not make it home until Sunday.

 Finally, I made it to 101 and headed south. I stopped almost immediately in Rio Dell to gas up the bike. Rio Dell is a speed trap. The road is posted at 25mph but could sustain a higher speed safely quite easily. There is always at least one local patrolcar on the main drag into town, equipped with a radar gun. While I paid for my gas, a young boy of maybe five years old came running up to me. "Are you a girl or a man?" he asked, embarrassing the hell out of his mother. "I'm a girl," I said. "Why?" Turns out this little boy thought only men could ride red sportbikes. I made lots of points with his sister when I told him "even girls" could ride them. :-)

I decided not to take the time to have lunch. Back onto 101 south, I rolled on the throttle aggressively, trying to make up some time. This part of 101 is big sweepers up and down hills. Great section of road and, at this time of year, there were now motorhomes to worry about. Most of the highway is four lanes, but it does narrow to a tighter, slower two-lane in some places. Regardless, there was little traffic and I kept The Slut up around the century mark for all but the tighter sections. Where 101 meets Highway 1, I took 1 towards Leggett and Fort Bragg.

This is a narrow, tight, two-lane road through the forested, coastal range. Almost every corner is posted, with suggested speeds ranging from 15 to 40mph. The 40mph signs are few and far between. It must have rained here within the last day or two,because there were small mudslides in some corners. The roadway was damp or wet in many places. It was shady under the trees, and a little bit chilly. I knew I wouldn't be able to make up any time on this stretch -- it's a challenge to ride it well even under ideal conditions. Some corners I did right, and others I didn't. When I'd mess up in a corner I'd give myself a little shake and concentrate harder on the next one. I was getting a little tired, and both of my hands were stiff. I figured it was a combination of overworking my left hand earlier, going through the construction zone, and it was getting chilly enough for my fingers to be a little stiff.

I really like this section of roadway. Maybe one day I'll be a good enough rider to do it really well, but there will be a lot of practice before that happens. Today, I was a little too tired and a little too chilly to really attack the road.

As I drew closer to the coast, I went from a little chilly to actually cold. Little wisps of fog drifted through the trees now and then. I didn't think much about it until I broke out of the trees along the coast to find fog so thick I could barely see. I hadn't expected it to be this foggy at 4:00 in the afternoon. I would have pulled over and stopped for the night along the coast, but couldn't see well enough to find the driveway even if I did see the sign for a hotel. It was awful. I was constantly wiping the water vapor off my faceshield so I could see at least the centerline just in front of me. I was pretty tense, but knew if I could get to Albion I could take 128 inland and the fog would dissipate. Getting to 128 was going to be the hard part.

After 40 miles of following the centerline through the fogbank, I was at the turnoff to 128 and gratefully took the left. In a quarter mile, I was out of the fog.

Highway 128 is a great road. It winds through forest near the coast, rolling grasslands and vineyardsfurther inland. Corners near the coast, and again in the last 15 miles before joining Highway 101, are tighter (signed at 25 to 30mph) than the turns in the middle of this stretch of roadway. I kept an eye out for bambi and really enjoyed myself for the first time all day. It was still light enough to see easily.

“ I really enjoy this stretch of road. It's one of my favorite rides. I had a grand time through here.”

The road was clear of gravel, even. During the summer, there are too many motorhomes and pickups towing boats, but this day there was little traffic.

I really enjoy this stretch of road. It's one of my favorite rides. I had a grand time through here. I'd already decided to spend the night in Cloverdale instead of trying to make it home, so I was close a shower and a beer. There's one section along 128 that is a series of lefts and rights grouped tightly together and signed for 25mph. Each corner is banked properly. I had a blast tossing The Slut into a left, then a right, then a left again. It was really fun to lay her over and roll on the throttle through the corner, come out the other side and immediately lay her over into the next turn. Just great!

I rolled into Cloverdale and stopped at my favorite little strip motel. The manager had changed since the last time I'd been there. I ended up with the same room I'd had on my last visit. The same dead car was parked near my room. I pulled the bike into a parking space and brought my luggage inside. I ordered a pizza and walked next door to the mini-mart for beer. A shower later I felt a bit better, if tired. I hadn't gotten very far in a solid eight hours of riding. Oh well, I had another day to make it home.

My pizza arrived. I had another beer with the pizza, lamenting that the hotel had been redecorated. The lime green and bright yellow plaid wallpaper had been replaced with something much less 1960s and much more tasteful. Damn. The price of a room would probably go up soon, too. I crashed into bed early, looking forward to getting home but not to the end of my vacation trip.

Sunday -- I find the Korbel champagne cellars on the final leg of my journey.


Get in your Inbox