This morning we are exploring some of the most incredible riding yet. Highway one does not disappoint, despite its larger than life reputation. The curves on this section are unusually tight, which the Yamaha WR loves. It’s also slow going which is safer and fun. We glide past guard rails that hang over plummeting cliffs to the ocean. In some spots the guardrails disappear entirely and it’s up to you to focus on the road or the view without becoming part of either.
We come around a turn and see a mash of motorcycles, parts littered across the road. A man with torn jeans sits dazed on the guardrail while his friends help him. His bike is squished into the guardrail. We pull over and Samantha grabs our first aid kit. He seems a little stunned but ok overall. His main injuries seem to be on his face where a full face helmet would have come in handy. I hope our competition motocross pants would hold up better than his shredded jeans. We get out of the way as the ambulance arrives. He’ll be fine but it casts a pall on the day. Short of driving off the cliff or head on into someone this is a safe road. Crowded, distracting and windy certainly but slow and without trucks.
We limp along making excuses in our minds. I imagine all his mistakes, ones I certainly wouldn’t make, I righteously tell myself. Blame the victim, horrible. Perhaps he was hot rodding with his friends, something we see a lot. I felt the same urge when we rode with our friend Jason from Telluride to Moab. “Riding with you makes me want to show off” I said while we ate lunch on the side of the trail. He was quiet for a moment, then said, “yeah, don’t show off.”
And with that the whole idea seemed silly and I abandoned it. A younger me might not have been able to resist the temptation.
I don’t believe we are immune from risk but we do have a riding philosophy that helps our odds. Slow, cautious, alert, well rested and well fed. We carefully choose our roads. This entire trip, mostly rural dirt roads, had been planned partly for its safety. We also wear lots of gear. Knee pads, hip pads, reflective motorcycle jackets with built in shoulder, elbow, and back pads, gloves and knee high motocross boots. My bright, neon orange, full face helmet makes me look like a pumpkin but there is statistically proven research on this. Samantha’s flying pink pony tails are fun but also increase visibility. When it rains we don brightly colored rain jackets.
The two most common accidents are cars turning left in front of an oncoming motorcycle or pulling out in front of a motorcycle. “I just didnt see you,” they say as if riders somehow disguise themselves on purpose. I almost pulled out in front of a biker once. He was wearing a road grey jacket, a black helmet and a black bike. He camouflaged himself to match the road and it worked. It also helped me understand the challenges of visibility from a car driver’s perspective. When we ride we assume no one sees us. I used to ride my bicycle at night with no lights. It’s an interesting experience, ghosting through the busy streets of Boulder, Colorado. Every car will pull out in front of you, cars behind will run you down. I hopped sidewalks to safety, slowed to let cars pull in front of me, never knowing I was there. When riding a motorcycle I never forget this game.
Eventually the road turns inland through dairy pastures and then out onto a great bay. Motorcycles and exotic cars fill the street as we pass seafood restaurants and oyster shacks. Along the bay folks gather in oyster shell lots at the edge of the lagoon and laugh in the afternoon sun. We ride through the town of Marin where there is some kind of festival. Rolling along at balancing speed we yield to children and bicycles. People seem happy, the sun is shining. It’s a warm Sunday afternoon in California.
We want to stop everywhere and do everything but we made a reservation, something unusual for us, and we are already resenting the obligation. We also want to get there before dark. So we keep going, along the edge of Tomales Bay, through the little town of Stinson Beach and into Mount Tamalpais State Park. The road turns inland again at Muir Beach and goes mad with turns. They are so tight and twisting and pitched up and down it’s as if the road had been working itself into a frenzy and this is the climax. Tighter, steeper, it feels as if we are riding complete circles. Then an odd thing happens, the road fills with cars. We don’t know where they come from, an endless line of Audis, Porches, Mercedes and Lexus. We pull over to check the GPS and there is no possible way to rejoin the fray. Finally someone takes pity and lets us into the parade. A girl on a road bike flys by on the shoulder, hmm tempting, but we are in a foreign land and only marginally legal. Florida plates, random drivers licenses from other states, Samantha’s from a U.S. territory. The bureaucratic shrapnel of a transient life.
The traffic gets thicker and thicker but the road never straightens out. We lean and glide through one after another. The upright super moto riding position is great fun as the soft motocross suspension compresses and then bounds up and into the next turn. I play with cornering techniques, leaning into the turn with the bike and my knee out, but the best technique for the WR is to drop the bike underneath me and keep my shoulders square to the road, motocross style. This style is also a great benefit for the loose gravel, sand, uneven pavement and all the other hazards this funny little road throws at you.
I feel lost in this land. We should be in a park but then there are houses and endless traffic. I am having trouble making sense of it all. Suddenly we emerge into a little town. We roll through and find ourselves climbing the on ramp to highway 101, highway one’s evil twin, fat with Sunday traffic heading into San Francisco. Ah well, we twist the throttle, merge, and then take the next exit. Now on the other side of the river of cars. “Whoa, that sucked!” I yell to Samantha through our helmets. She agrees. We are having trouble acclimating. We have just emerged from some of the most rural places in America. Highway one was manageable, a nice transition, but this is too much for us.
We see a market and stop on a whim. The supermarket is packed with Californians picking out wines and gourmet cheeses, bunches of flowers spill from buckets, everything is thoughtfully raised, conscientiously grown, kindly treated, organic and perfect. Vegetables are stacked in bounteous piles, fruits glow in oranges and reds. We know the hostel has a kitchen and decide to have a feast. Nothing is planned, we exist in a whimsical world of chance and fortune. The mad Sunday traffic pushed us onto a freeway which dumped us here. And so it is. I don’t even know what town we’re in. We get goat cheese, kale, tomatoes, sweet peas, cucumber, book choy, fresh spinach raviolis and fresh tomato sauce. I feel like a sailor back from sea. We want to buy so much more but it wouldn’t fit on the bikes. As it is we have to stack our nets to ridiculous heights.
It’s getting dark, folks are strolling the sidewalks, or sitting tableside on the boulevard. On the far side of the street are marinas and the familiar view of masts gently swaying. Beyond is the great San Fancisco bay. As we climb the steep hill out of town we glimpse the Golden Gate Bridge, glowing in evening sun, steaming fog behind. It’s been an incredible day of ocean and cliff and then the pulsing energy and cornucopia of a city. I feel like we’ve made it. Tomorrow we will brave the bridge and dive into the fray.
San Francisco was just a whimsical whisp of an idea and now it sits in glass and steel a leap across the bay. Pointlessly riding for nowhere but the next view, the next turn, and then in spite of that, getting somewhere, makes for a kind of easy traveling. Entire cities appear as a pleasant surprise, “Well whaddya know, San Francisco!”