David’s 2015 California Ride – Part II
I had several intents for my time in California. Although Susan flew to Los Gatos just after I left home Friday morning, I would not see her until Tuesday evening. She spent the first two days with her sister Meghan and family, and then she and Meghan drove to Santa Barbara with nephew Sam to attend an orientation weekend for incoming UCSB frosh. Therefore I could devote at least two days to motorcycle exploration before Susan arrived and then spend the rest of the week with family. We are extremely fortunate that our daughter’s family and Meghan’s family live about a mile apart in Los Gatos.
For Monday I chose to ride down through Monterey and on to Big Sur… again. The reason for the “again” is that I did this ride at Christmas time in 1969.
In 1969, my first year of teaching, I opted to ride my new 1969 Honda 450 Street Scrambler to Berkeley to visit my brother George and his (then) wife Irene. Colleagues at school told me that this could not be done; that I would die trying to ride over Grants Pass in the Siskiyou Mountains in the 3rd week of December. I discounted this in my youthful idiocy and enthusiasm, and those two or so often closely aligned, aren’t they? After all, I’d never heard of the Siskiyou Mountains, so how bad could it be?
I also wanted to see Grants Pass. As a senior at the University of Minnesota I sent for a teaching job application from the Grants Pass school district. I’d never been there, but it looked like a nice place to live and teach from my extensive research in a road atlas. (!) When the application arrived it asked for a three page essay on why I wanted to be a teacher to be sent with the application. I thought that was a pretty stupid idea and rather condescending. So I tossed the application.
I rode the first day only to Portland with a fellow teacher who would stay with relatives there while I went on. I rode through Oregon all the next day in a drenching cold downpour, clad in the protective gear I had in 1969. Rubber boots, a ski parka, and a cheap rain suit and gloves. I spent most the day stopping every 50 miles or so to get a cup of hot cocoa and warm up. I made it over the pass and when I stopped at the next truck stop for more cocoa the radio announced that Grants Pass had just been closed due to the BLIZZARD that had blown up 15 minutes after I rode over it. Whew! Guess my friends had a point.
I stayed with George and Irene in their tiny rented apartment for a couple of days. Among the highlights were a tour of my brother’s chemistry lab where he was earning his doctorate, a drive by the headquarters of the Black Panthers, where very serious looking men with machine guns guarded the door, and watching my brother, who owned a small H-D “Pacer” two stroke, ride down the street on my Honda and come perilously close to dumping it when he turned it around. I also spent a day riding down the Monterey coastline on Highway 1.
Most will not recall, but in the fall of 1969 a new TV show debuted. “Then Came Bronson” told the story of a young man fed up with his job who chucked it all to take off and tour the country on his motorcycle. I could identify with that clearly, except for hating the job. I did not think much of his Harley Sportster with the “peanut” tank as a touring mount either, but that was solved in several episodes as the motorcycle turned into something else for the scene – like a two stroke dirt bike that won a hill climb!
Two of my fellow first year teachers had purchased new Honda 350 Scramblers. They were better athletes, but I had a better bike! One evening a week they would don their helmets and sit on two dining chairs turned backwards to watch the show! As a “veteran” motorcyclist of three years, I was above such silliness. 🙂
In any case, somewhere around Big Sur, I happened across a TV crew filming a scene for the show. What are the odds? I wanted to see if I could find that spot again. Good a reason as any for a ride…
On the way I took in another adventure that’s been waiting for several years. To get to Monterey from Los Gatos, you ride up and over on Highway 17 to Santa Cruz. Our daughter and family lived in Santa Cruz before moving to Los Gatos, and our son-in-law is on the UCSC staff. We had visited both families several times in the past, and whenever I drove 17 I’d always noted all these delicious-looking side roads that branched off and looked like great motorcycle opportunities. Now was the time to find out. I rode up 17 to a road called “Summit Road,” and turned off the highway. The exit curled around 180 degrees to a stop sign where I had a choice. “Left” felt good, so off I went, unburdened by maps or the knowledge of where I would end up – no use over thinking things.
The road was a delight, and soon I was in a heaven of a serpentine ribbon of aged asphalt arcing around trees and offering up sweeping views here and there, all the way to Monterey Bay. I stopped at one overlook and spent a blissful half an hour sitting in tall grass leaning against an embankment, smoking my pipe and taking in the sights and the cacophony of a lot of birds. A light breeze and temps in the high 70’s made things pretty much perfect. With patience, there were moments where you could hear nothing at all other than the birds. Idyllic.
I soon noticed that what traffic that did come by was markedly different. You could hear a car coming from some ways away, and the rpms were a lot higher. Occasionally there would be a squeal of rubber earning its keep.
This was obviously the sports car route from Monterey to Los Gatos or San Jose! I was treated to a parade of Porsches, Mercedes sports sedans, Miatas, and small hot hatches of various sorts, many of them trying pretty hard and some of them trying harder than the driver’s talent could keep up with.
Back on the bike, I made sure to adopt a “late apex” cornering technique, better to see if one of the enthusiasts made a mistake and came over the yellow line. And that is why the Range Rover missed me…
Eventually I came down the hill and rejoined Highway 1, and it was off to Monterey.
Things have changed since 1969. Even though this was a Monday, traffic was a hindrance. Once past Carmel and into the seriously beautiful parts of Highway 1 my progress was continually obstructed by tourist traffic. I remember a couple from Indiana trundling along the road at 25 mph. The speed limit is 45 mph, and soon Mr. and Mrs. Oblivious had a long line of cars behind them. Eventually an opening sufficient for a Speed Triple (about 60 yards) appeared, and I was off and away again.
I did not find the site of the TV crew in 1969, because I think I did not go far enough South, but I stopped several times to enjoy the scenery. And the people.
One radical difference from 1969 is that people now find a single person on a motorcycle to be a wonderful thing, and everyone wants to smile, offer a compliment, and chat for a bit. Having lived in a different world back then, where people occasionally tried to run you off the road (I have a good story about when that happened to me – actually two stories), this was much better.
Another goal was to run off and get lost on the Monterey Peninsula… again. Again with the “again”! I’d been here in 1997 for the Monterey Historics vintage sports car races with my friend Michael and his 1963 Porsche 356 Cabriolet. (I know – I lead a charmed life). The week before the Historics there was a convention for Porsche 356 owners, at that time the largest of its type ever held.
Part of that event was a road rally, and Michael and I were both pretty active in road rallies. He explained that he was a better navigator than I was, which was true, and therefore I would drive the 356 in the rally. Oh darn!
As a result, I spent a fabulous day drive a classic Porsche on winding back roads on the Monterey Peninsula, but since I was merely following Michael’s commands as to when to turn and when to speed up or slow down, I never actually had the faintest idea of where we were. There were something like 250 entrants, and we earned a 3rd place trophy. Some sleight of hand there, as they awarded three 1st place trophies, three for 2nd, and three for 3rd – tripling the number of people who could go back home and brag about their success. I don’t know which of the 3rd place trophies we actually earned, and if it was 7th , 8th, or 9th in reality, but we only finished that LOW because Michael’s protest was disallowed. He’d found a discrepancy in the way one of the directions had been written, as per the national rule book, and that cost us 14 seconds. Michael was a bit obsessive, you might say.
I just drove the car.
Another fond memory of that event. One of the days was spent in an enormous concours held on the fairway of a local luxury golf course, and there were over 300 Porsches of all descriptions, most of them 356 models, and most of them better than when they left the factory. There were also a selection of rare Porsche race cars, and even a perfectly restored Porsche tractor. Yes, they did make the for a short while. As we wandered about exclaiming over this and that we came across a red Speedster that was perfect in every way. Except for the license plate frame on the rear, which read “My other toy has tits.” Michael was aghast at the effrontery of this against all that was Porsche, but I offered “But if the owner is a lesbian, it’s pretty funny.” Michael had to agree with that, and we moved on.
In any case, it was now late in the afternoon, and the traffic and the people had worn me out, so I chose to leave the temptation of getting lost on the peninsula for next year, when I intend to do this trip again. Back to my daughter’s place to enjoy the pool!
On Tuesday I was off to Burlingame to visit “Preston’s Chocolates.” This is a candy and ice cream store that manufactures its own chocolate treats of incredible variety. On a visit there years ago my brother gave me a several hour tour, carefully explaining how he made each different kind of chocolate treat, from fudge to truffles to mint candies and on and on. Only day in my life where I (eventually) turned down an offer to try just one more kind. The ironies here abound. First of all, Preston’s Chocolates is well over 50 years old. The original owner was Art Preston – no relation. My brother lived in Palo Alto and used to send boxes of Preston’s Chocolates as Christmas gifts because of the fun of the family name on the box. As time passed he got to know Art well, and also got really interested in chocolate. Eventually he retired from a long career with an energy think tank firm, bought the company, and became the head candy maker. This was a fine use for his doctorate in chemical engineering! Another irony – as a child my brother was allergic to chocolate, and a small piece would give him a raging headache. As an adult candy maker he spent his entire day sampling his wares with no ill effects. Another irony, or perhaps an unfairness. My brother is now, and always has been – slim.
Eventually there was a divorce, and Irene got the company as part of the deal, so it was Irene went to see. I think very highly of Irene, and felt I owed her a lunch, at least. Last year she sent several dozen hand-made truffles to my son’s wedding rehearsal dinner as gifts for the guests. The truffles were sent in an insulated case wrapped in small boxes. Each box had a ribbon with Will and Alida’s names and the date. This blew me away, since Irene has not seen Will in over 30 years!
In any case, the quick ride to Burlingame turned out not to be very quick at all, due to California traffic, and that gave me another adventure – lane splitting! This is terrifying to watch when you’re in a rental car and others are slipping by on motorcycles. It is not that bad from the motorcycle seat. As a rookie, I only did it when traffic was stopped or nearly so, and almost always just in 1st gear. Often I was sort of half-splitting, using the spaces between cars and lanes to sort of wander back and forth. I saw other motorcyclists doing this with greater ease than I, but I noticed that most of the car drivers are used to this and actually use their mirrors and slide over to make more room. Interesting, but I don’t intend to make a habit of it.
Irene and I had a long and delicious lunch across the street at a small bistro owned by a Turkish family, and then I rode back to Los Gatos for more pool time. Susan arrived late that evening, so we were together again. Thursday and Friday would be “off the bike days” with friends and family, and I ready for that, as after 5 days of riding my wrists were sore.
The next few days were spent playing with Grandson Arthur, going to the park, going for walks, sitting in the sand watching the ocean waves roll in, and having a big family dinner at Meghan’s. Soon it was time to pack, as Saturday would dawn and bring with it the 3rd segment – up the coast!
Copyright 2015 David Preston