North Coast Loop

After a glorious ride down the Sierra Nevadas, I was ready for a bit more. I spent the middle of the week catching up on life here in the Bay Area and wanted to get one more ride in on my staycation.

Larry, a buddy of mine, lives up north on the coast in a lovely small town. Motorcyclists may know it as the town that sits at intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 20: Fort Bragg. Life kept me in the Bay Area for most of the day on Friday, which meant US-101 most of the way there.

US-101 gets a bad rap as a motorcycle road. Here in the Bay Area, it’s awful. Once north of Cloverdale, however, it’s a charming stretch of pavement. Its four lanes travel the contours of the coastal mountain range balancing scenic interest and speed. US-101 is an order of magnitude better than Interstate 5 crossing the Central Valley.

I made one long jump from my house up to Ukiah, maximizing daylight with autumn’s short days chasing the setting sun. After I pulled into town and got gas, a somewhat ominous message popped up from Anel on my phone:

Stay Safe! Urgh, you’ve got the toughest road ahead in the dark!  😭 🤦🏼‍♀️

This part of Highway 20 is a 35 mile twisty stretch of pavement that winds its way through deep redwood country. It’s a fantastic, technical ride with lots of elevation changes, tight turns, and beautiful scenery. At night, however, it was a bigger bite than I really wanted to chew.

US-101 is very much a known quantity. It’s an easy ride with its four lanes and reasonably good pavement. My other alternate was Highway 128 out of Cloverdale, which would’ve doubled the distance in the twisties in exchange for an easier time in the twisties. I made the call to maximize daylight and distance going with a Highway 20 crossing. Maybe it’s a call back to Zac Brown and his “Highway 20 Ride.”

Highway 20 was slow going with its dark turns, creeping fog, and cool air. What really surprised me was the locals. I’d look n my rearview mirror and see a tiny pinprick light. I go around the turn and then see two bright headlights right on my tail. The locals know the road and can fly down it. I wasn’t a local. Turnouts didn’t seem near frequent enough, and it just threw me off my game. Highway 20 was one tough ride.

Kickstand in Fort Bragg came right on time as literally 15 minutes later the skies opened up and it started to rain!

Friday night’s rainstorm totally changed the weather landscape. Highs in the 80s quickly became highs barely reaching the 50s. I wanted to do a little more exploring and give Highway 20 another run for its money. I felt defeated last night. The cards were stacked against me, but I had a much better chance for success in the daylight!

Today I wanted to try one of the passes between the coast and the inland valleys that was not one of the major highways. Today it was Branscomb Road. Branscomb Road surprisingly goes through Branscomb – the only town on the road.

California’s Highway 1 is truly a state treasure. I love being on the bike following the contours of the coastal landscape. The highway did not disappoint!

Branscomb Road climbs from the coast up to about 2000 feet before cresting. There’s a bunch of graffiti art spray-painted at the crest of the highway all over the roadway. It contains everything from local art all the way up to “F*&# Trump!”

By the time I got the Laytonville, the day was starting to wear thin. It slipped my mind that the sun sets much earlier in the mountains, and the cool of the late afternoon was beginning to envelop the whole landscape. As I arrived in Willits, I was clearly riding the afternoon’s coattails.

Highway 20 was going to again prove to be a fun challenge. While it was light outside, the occasional bend would toss bright sunlight into my face when the sun poked out from the mountains. It also was cold. I’d forgotten my heat troller back at the house and didn’t have any easy way to stay warm. It was just 35 miles, right? The ride was better, for sure. I didn’t, however, think I nailed it. I’m not going to concede defeat readily, but it definitely wasn’t an outstanding performance. Highway 20: 2, Dan: 0.

Once back at the house, Larry and I had some time to really catch up. I’ve known Larry for just over a decade. He was one of the first guys I met on my journey out. Life has changed significantly for both of us in the past ten years. We both have had a few career changes. He moved up north. I moved out east. I’ve appreciated our friendship as it’s developed over time. We both extend each other good counsel when it’s warranted and good laughs when they’re needed.

While we were watching the news Saturday night, CBS called the election for Joe Biden. It was an empowering moment for me. Biden wasn’t my first pick in the primaries by a long shot. I was moved that change was coming for America. I was tired of being the antecedent for the “radical left.” I was tired of being the scapegoat for who I choose to love. I was tired of living through his war on California. Tears started to flow as the anchor talked through the reality of Biden’s win. Change was coming to America, and that is a beautiful thing.

Saturday:

My staycation is nearing its close. I had one more day on the road to bring this trip to its conclusion. Having been beaten down by Highway 20 twice, I opted for something else, continuing on the theme of passes between the coast and the inland valleys that were not significant highways.

I wanted to hug the coast today. I enjoyed that part of my ride yesterday. It was warmer also out on the ocean. Several valleys dipped into the high 20s this morning, and I just wasn’t ready to be that cold. The coast by 10 AM was in the low 50s.

The Beemer was just about out of gas as I rolled into the town of Abilon. Every time I come to the small towns, I’m always reminded of the economic principle of supply and demand. Gas here is about a dollar more expensive than I would expect in the Bay Area but far cheaper than the extortionist pricing in Death Valley. Gas was a bit cheaper in Mendocino, but that gas station only has regular gas and is full serve. This gas station had the premium fuel that the GS required.

Today’s pass crossing is Mountain View Road. What’s interesting about Mountain View Road is that the pavement quality degrades as you ride east. Many of the passes in this part of the state have beautiful eastern climbs and crummy western descents. Mountain View Road was the exact opposite.
As I started climbing up the western slope of Mountain View Road, it started getting chilly. Chily became cold. Cold became freezing. At 45° at the top of the pass, the heated gear went on. As I made the descent into the inland valley, it didn’t get warmer – that was a big surprise. I was hoping for a little bit of relief in the noontime sun. Maybe it is time for some new heated gear.

Mountain View Road faded into Highway 128 in the town of Boonville. After a few miles on Highway 128, I remembered how much I genuinely love this road. The pavement is excellent! The turns are honest! The traffic today was in my favor! Highway 128 was everything Highway 20 was not for me this weekend.

Large, black clouds were on the horizon as I rolled into Windsor. As I pulled off the freeway, the rain began to coat my face shield.

I wanted some reprieve. I didn’t want a long slog in the rain after a cold two days. I made another stop at a friend’s house to say hello. We always like to catch up and talk about bikes in the latest happening in each other’s lives. He and his partner were baking this afternoon. What came out of the oven? Bacon fat biscuits with pepperoni in the middle! That is like bacon in three forms! I don’t think there could be a higher homage to bacon than a baked bacon biscuit. Wow.

With some culinary delight in my stomach, the rest of the trip down the freeway proved uneventful. The rain had passed, and I rolled in just as the sun was dipping below the horizon. All was good in the house and ready for a celebratory Coke in the evening!

Sunday:

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