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Heading north out of SF we cross the iconic golden gate bridge.  I remember crossing this a kid, sitting in the back of our Volkswagen Westfalia camper.

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One last chance to say bye to San Fran, one of my favorite cities.

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I actually prefer the ride north of San Fran over the south coast along Big Sur.  The weather is a bit cooler, scenery just as stunning and half the traffic.  The weather was contrasting with periods of heavy fog and clear sunny blue skies. So far it was a perfect day.
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For some reason I love stopping at crazy roadside attractions like this.

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The day was ending and the sun was heading down.  The Pacific Coast highway takes a turn inland towards Leggett and connects with the 101.  This stretch is a windy road through the redwood trees.  It was completely back out, and the stars filled the sky.  The road was damp and fill of leaves and other rain forrest related debris, but the ride was amazing, one of the best stretches of the trip.  We pull over at the junction to 101 and reflect on the amazing ride we just had.  We had about an hour ride to Eureka where we had planned on staying for the night.

This map of the road inland does not do it justice, but shows just how twisty it is:

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Ryan pulls out and merges on the 101, it was late and there was little to no traffic out.  I pull in my clutch, put the bike in first and as im easing the clutch out i head a pop and the bike lurches into first gear.  I grab at the clutch and its completely limp – the clutch cable snapped.  I’m not stuck in first gear with no functioning clutch.  If I stop the bike its going to stall and I’ll be dead in the water.  With light traffic and being in the middle of nowhere I decide to hammer the bike into the higher gears and just try to ride the rest of the night without a clutch.

About 10 minutes into this we pass a desolate gas station with a refueling truck pulling out on the highway.  I slow down and try to gear down behind him but im forced to crawl to a stop and the bike stalls.  Its completely back out and im stuck.  I pop the bike into neutral and push it over the the now closed gas station.  All the lights are off and no one is around.  I wait about 10 mintues for Ryan to come back after he figured I was no longer behind him.

I see where the cable snapped and try to tie it together and make a manual clutch, but it just doesn’t feel safe and doesn’t seem to work.  In the end we decide to push the bike behind the gas station, leave it there for the night and double into Leggett for the night.  As we push the bike behind the gas station we are confronted by an angry supervisor who runs the gas station and the small attached campground.  He agrees to let us leave the bike there (like he had a choice) and said it “should” be there in the morning.

We double into town, grab a room at the local motel and crash for the night.  I start to worry if I will be able to find a repair or parts shop in such a remote area, and hope this doesnt cause us to miss the upcoming wedding.

The ride into San Fran passed along the coast, through Monterrey and Santa Cruz.  It was a great ride in and we made some miles as we were planning on meeting up with Ryan’s girlfriend and some of her friends who were in town for a wedding.  We parked at bikes at a nice hotel that we had booked right downtown and settled in for a couple days.

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Alcatraz in the distance

Years ago Ash and I stayed at the Fairmont, perfect location in the center of the city.

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I’d say San Francisco is the best riding city in North America.  Riding around San Francisco is sweet.  The roads are really build for smaller transportation and motorcycles are ideal.  Big hills, big rolling humps and lots of slow moving traffic with open spaces for bikes.  Motorcycle parking is everywhere and very cheap, at the time I paid around 25 cents for an hour.  A nice change from more ‘redneck’ cities like Calgary where parking is reserved for large trucks and hummers.

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It was also Laundry Day!  We did a quick laundry run so we didn’t smell like dead bugs, sweat and motor oil, before heading out for the night.

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Dirty laundry neatly disguised as a cool motorcycle pannier

 

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Ry with his not so cool plastic garbage, er, laundry bag

 

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None of my laundry was worth stealing so we took off for a bit, came back grabbed our now clean laundry and got ready to head out for the night.  We met up with some friends and ended up trying to catch the end of a Bob Sinclar show at a great bar down by the warehouse district.  Good night.

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Sketchy ATM

Sketchy ATM

Chinatown

Chinatown

I ended up losing a bet at one of the bars we were at and had to go get a ‘free’ chair massage by creepy massage guy in the corner – so akward.

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Still buddies even after 8,000ish Km

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We left LA in the late morning realizing we would be fighting traffic all the way through the city.  The traffic was at a slow crawl by the time we made it to Malibu all lanes at a standstill.  In California its legal to split lanes, but with wide saddlebags we were both a bit hesitant until a guy with a loud Harley basted by us splitting lanes.  He had wide ape hanger bars and highway pegs and was likely wider than our bikes, so we quickly pulled out behind him and followed as he paved the way.

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Finally we get out of the city and hit the curvy mountainous road towards San Francisco.  One of the areas we were really looking forward to was Big Sur, the coastal road between LA and San Francisco and its legendary views.  The views did not disappoint and the weather was perfect, however, it was the start of a long weekend and traffic was steady, yet busy.

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We rolled into San Simeon as the sun was setting.  Because it was the long weekend all the hotels and motels were booked.  We didnt want to ride one of the most scenic highways in the world in the dark so we started to get desperate to find a place.  One bed and breakfast had one last room available – great, although it was $300 a night – doh, and it happened to be the honeymoon suite.  I was starting to get visuals of dumb and dumber.

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We decided to keep looking and by this time it was pitch black.  I thought we should just sleep on the beach, but  a biker that stopped to chat with us said we could easily get a ticket for that.  Finally we found a motel that totally gouged us, but we paid and knew we would get good sleep in preparation for the ride up Big Sur the following day.

Woke up late feeling really fuzzy, so we got a late start to the day.  The plan was to head into LA and go out one night there, maybe meet up with some of my friends from when I was working there.

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The ride to LA is pretty easy, we went along the Pacific Coast highway and stopped a lot along the way.  Through Laguna Beach I had a kid loose control of his skateboard and hit the side of my front tire as I rode past at 60kph, could have been bad if it was a few seconds earlier.

We got into LA as the sun as setting and went of for some beers and food in Redondo Beach.

Redondo Beach

Redondo Beach

Sunsets in LA are the best, rumors have it the smog makes them more orange then other places.  Ryan and I would usually stop our bikes and take a break as the sun went down, we were joking how we have watched more sunsets together than with our respective girlfriends.

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Woke up and packed out bikes.  The night before we had tried to hide Ryan’s shiny bike behind the green pig.

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Had a great breakfast burrito, which included a Cockroach skittering across the floor.  The guy at the table beside us stomped on it and splattered it on the tile floor, yet it kept wiggling around through the course of our breakfast.

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The road up to Tiajuana passed a number of dustbowl towns.  I can only imagine how lively they get on Friday nights.

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We had heard about an old fishing vessel that had run aground and wrecked off the pacific coast in the 70s.  It was still there to be seen.  We found out the location and took some dirt roads to get to the coast.  It was fogged in and make the rusted out vessel that much more impressive.

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We took a toll road to make fast time getting to Tijuana (TJ). The toll road was smooth and fast, until it merged with the main highway which was bumper to bumper with old beaters and transport trucks.

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I had always wanted to check Tijuana out, it has quite the reputation and I thought exploring in the day would be safe enough.

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As we got lost in TJ it became apparent this isnt the best place to be riding around exploring.  We ended up in a shanty town area that was built on two sides of a ravine.  I didnt stop to take pictures, but for the first time in our trip felt unsafe.  I read another bikers blog years ago who travelled around for 5 years in some very impoverished areas.  His advice was that when your senses tell your something isnt right, its best to just listen to them, better safe then an incident.  I stopped and talked to Ryan, we both agreed it would be best to blast through TJ and get stateside.

The border was a complete mess, 8 lanes of bumper to bumper traffic funneling into the border area.  It was unbelievably hot and guys were walking through the lines trying to sell fruit, water and junk food.

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The crossing was pretty easy with Canadian passports, and San Diego was a quick ride from the border.  We grabbed a place downtown in Gaslamp district.  I had stayed there before for work and it was walking distance to a lot of good restaurants and clubs for evening festivities.

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We dumped our gear , went out for some food and ended up at the Strip Club.  The Strip Club is not a ‘gentleman’s club’, but a steak house where they provide the meat and your grill it yourself with a cold beer in hand.  Great place and highly recommended, although you leave smelling like you live in a smokehouse.

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After steaks we went out in Gaslamp which turned into a pretty late night.  Even ended up with a CD from one of the local buskers, his tunes didn’t sound as awesome the next day, but he was actually pretty talented.

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Gaslamp District in San Diego

 

 

Day 14, the furthest day in the saddle.  Its easy to do when the roads are in great shape, visibility clear and no traffic.  I’m not a speed demon, which is obvious when riding a KLR.  My bike tops out at 160kph (on the speedo) which is actually closer to 145-150 on the more accurate GPS.  In hindsight I should have geared down the KLR before leaving by putting a taller front sprocket on.  This would help keep RPMs down and fuel consumption lower when traveling at high speeds.  There was one stretch of highway in the desert that I tucked into the bike and had the throttle wide open for about half an hour.  After a while it started feeling slow cruising at 150, and especially compared to the speeds Ryan’s bike could reach in comparison.  The consequence of this speed indulgence was the KLR was burning oil as fast as I could fill it back up.

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The great thing was gas was relatively cheap, although far between fillings.  At one gas station I decided to push my bike to the side after filling up.  I grabbed the handle bars with the bike not running and started pushing the bike, while jogging beside it.  Once I got some momentum I jumped up on the side peg to coast to the end of the lot.  As I did my one foot clicked down on the gear shifter, the gear engaged and the bike screeched to a stop and started to fall over to the side opposite from me.  I grabbed the handlebar and tried to prevent it from dumping, but there was no way I could hold the bike from falling and it whip-lashed me over in high-side style on to my back.  Ryan and the attendants heard the crash and all looked over.  I could see a WTF look on Ry’s face, and the attendants ran over to help me pick up the bike as I got up with nothing more than a bruised ego.

Government run gas stations

Government run gas stations

Cool cacti

Cool cacti

In the late afternoon dark black clouds formed off to the east.  We tried to pick up the pace to avoid the imminent desert storm which can turn sections of the highway into raging rivers.  Instead of building bridges over rivers that are dry 99% of the time, they build the road down into the bed of the river then back up the other side.  We never saw any water, but I suspect it may cause a few hour delay as you wait for the river to subside.

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In an attempt to prevent Baja from becoming a drug trafficking route, the military has setup periodic military checkpoints.  Most of the time you approach, they see you are a tourist in a motorcycle and wave you on.  Occasionally they are bored and want to stop you to ask about your motorcycle, how much it costs and how fast it goes are the two most popular questions.  Unlike Ryan’s bike, the KLR gets very little attention and my responses are usually “its cheap and its slow”.  Almost always as you are diving off they want to see you do a wheely.  Its tough to push past peer pressure when a whole group of macho military personnel are chanting “wheely” whey holding their clinched up fists up as if to hold handlebars and twisting their wrists.  Sometimes I’ll pop a little wheely, but I was never good at stunting and with a loaded up 500 pound bike I wasnt really in the mood to dump the bike while showing off.

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This character was straight faced and all business until we started talking motorcycles, by the end we were joking around and he graciously posed for a photo.  As a kid I always admired the adventurist side of the army and thought it would be ‘cool’ to one day be out in a remote lands exploring with the latest technology in hand.  It was probably the Hollywood heroes that glorified war and made it ‘cool’ , however as I grew older the thought of my job being responsible for taking, not saving lives turned me off pretty quickly.

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Most of the military personnel speak enough English to hold a basic ‘where are you going’ conversation.  One checkpoint we pulled into had a bit different vibe.  They pulled us over and told us to get off our bikes.  None of the crew spoke English and they started grilling us in Spanish.  The main guy was rattling questions at us as his subordinates stood behind straight faced.  We could recognize words like Marajuana, cocania, drugas etc.., knowing they were asking if we had any drugs we started answering every question with ‘no’.

Questions started coming faster and faster and both Ryan and I stood there shaking our heads saying ‘No, no, no’.  It wasnt until I noticed one of of the military crew fighting to hold a straight face before bursting out in laughter.  I stop answering and say “No entiendo, Sólo un picito español” (I dont understand, only speak a little Spanish).  The guys stops and stares at us before saying in perfect, no accent English: “I know I was just messing with you guys, go ahead” and they whole crew bursts out laughing.  Ryan and I join in with nervous laughter, and after getting over the initial shock of the incident couldnt stop laughing about it myself.  It must get so boring at those stations in the desert, I’m sure I’d do the same thing.

It was hot out and we were burning through water.  It was not uncommon to drink a liter of water every hour, never once stopping to take a leak.

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The art of drinking without removing your helmet

As the day went on a we were approaching a section that would have long stretches between fuel stops.  We knew where gas was available based on the way down.  Unless I needed to fuel up I liked keeping my tank as low as possible, kept a lot top weight off the bike.  However, I misjudged our wide open throttle riding and as the day closed on us I found myself hitting reserve much earlier than I had anticipated.  We were about 100 km from El Rosario (the finish for the day and the next gas stop) and my bike hit reserve.  I knew i could stretch about 50km with regular riding, maybe 70 if I took it easy, but no way could I get 100.  With that in the back of my mind we just moved forward.  Just as the day was closing we came over a long switchback hill climb and my bike cut out – totally out of gas.

The spot the fuel ran dry

The spot the fuel ran dry

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We debate siphoning fuel from Ryan’s bike, however, its better to have one bike that can make it to a station than two bike run dry.  We decide that I would wait while Ryan makes the 40km run into El Rosario.  He left and the sun went down.  I had not seen any cars go by and it felt a bit eery.  In the desert once the sun goes down it gets really dark, really fast.  The night was pitch black and i was out in the middle of Baja alone with no transportation, I’ve seen horror movies start this way.

After about an hour and a half Ry made it back with two water bottles of gas – back in business and lesson learned.

Salvation

Salvation

We made it back to El Rosario, a town that celebrates its Baja 1000 tradition, found a great little place to crash (sleep), and went out for a few cervezas and tacos before calling it the longest day.

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Wall of Fame

 

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Getting back on the bike felt good.  It was great to have some time to unwind in Cabo, but I was glad to get moving again.  Heading back up Baja was more about making miles, I was already looking forward to California and the Pacific coast highway.

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One of the frequently discovered abandoned buildings that litter the trans baja highway.

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Military base, surprisingly they let us get pretty close and take pictures.

 

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The only disappointment in Baja was the ever present litter that was sprawled along many of the highway stretches.  A few times I would take dirt trails leading off into the desert to see where they went.  I would find piles of rubbish as trucks would presumably drive a few hundred meters off the highway and dump their load of trash.  I would not describe Canada’s environmental track record as stellar, having ridden trails in Alberta that cut through clear-cut forests, strip mined mountains and oil spewing drilling digs.  Regardless it was disappointing to see the disrespect of such a beautiful landscape.

Ubiquitous Trash

Ubiquitous Trash

The highway also has it fair share of small Catholic churches.  A few years back my friend John was riding in a remote area of Baja and had a fall, almost sliding off the edge of a cliff. Although not religious, he stopped at the next roadside church for a quick thank you.

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Although we were back tracking much of the way, it gave us time to check out and explore more of what we had blasted by on the way down.  What was expected to be a long boring trek back ended up being some of the best riding of the trip.  The highways are empty in south Baja, the roads smooth, the weather perfect and the scenery stunning.

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After 3 days in Cabo I was starting to feel a bit pickled.  We had been off our bikes for a few days, deciding to walk into town at night rather than risk (our lives) drinking and driving.  I was actually getting a bit squirrelly to get back on the road so the timing was perfect.

We spend the last day hanging around and getting our bikes washed and ready to hit the road the next day.

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Cruise line in town

Cruise line in town

 

Since a kid I always liked Desert Art, tacky or not.

Since a kid I always liked Desert Art, tacky or not.

 

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I went out to find a carwash and found a place. There was a large lineup and a whole team of guys that come out to shine your car.  My bike is an ugly pig to begin with and it was a mess so I just wanted to wash it myself.  A worker sees me and flags me to come to the front of the line.  I sheepishly agree and a whole crew of guys descends on the green pig.  Scrubbing oil and bugs from every crevasse. I think the was was around $3 and I tipped a few bucks – I’m sure they talk about the gingo who paid $5 to have his motorcycle washed, but for me it was money well spent.

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So shiny you can hardly stare at it