The Planned, Un-Planned Motorcycle Trip
by: Jessica Haggett
How'd we get here:
What do you do when your best friend asks if you want to go to Born Free next week? You say yes. What do you do when your friend sends you the proposed route, and instead of taking 4 days and 1,500 miles to do the trip, the route consists of 8 days and 2,800 miles? You still say yes.
This is how our planned, un-planned motorcycle trip through Northern California all began. I personally, am a details person. A planner. AKA, a type A personally, who wants all the information up front. My best friend Red on the other hand flies by the seat of her pants, figures everything out last minute, and somehow still survives bless her heart.
But I was greatly in need of an adventure so I strategically packed for hot weather, cold weather, rain, and whatever else I could think of. We were going to be doing a combination of motorcycle camping and cheap hotels.
Day 1: a whole lotta highway
The first day we wanted to book it from Salt Lake City to Lake Tahoe (600 miles), which for me was going to be the most amount of miles i'd ever put down in a day. I knew I could do it because i'm on a much bigger bike now (Harley-Davidson Low Rider S) that's more equipped for longer trips, but still was nervous. I went to the HD dealership a couple days before and got highway pegs, a USB phone charger that works off my battery, an extra sissy bar luggage bag, and a phone holder that mounts to my handle bars.
It was long, straight, boring, and Red ran out of gas on three different occasions. I guess when she said she could only go 115 miles on a tank, she meant it. Feeling very accomplished, we finished the day off with some Tacos + Tequilla and got to stay with a friend who lives in Tahoe.
Day 2: oil leaks and twisties
We woke up in Tahoe and decided to go to the lake for a few hours. We weren't in any sort of hurry, and had planned this trip in such a way so we wouldn't be. Finally we decided to pack up and headed out at about 2pm. The road from Tahoe to Redding was surprisingly beautiful, we found ourself on tree lined roads and unexpected twisties. We finally made it to Redding, California and met our friend Kim who had ridden down to meet us from Vancouver, BC, Canada. The sun was setting and we were in a grocery store parking lot looking for nearby camp sites.
We found one about 20 miles up the mountain, and decided to head there. I was especially nervous because this is deer country and riding at night can be so dangerous. You just can't see the shoulder of the road, and i'm always extra paranoid i'm going to hit a deer... so I was lagging about 5 miles behind the other two, white knuckling it. Once I get in my head it can be pretty hard to relax. Finally, after one failed attempt at finding a camp site, we got lucky and found an empty spot at the second campsite. We set up camp at about 11pm, then talked around the fire 'till about 2am, then cuddled up in our hammocks and went to sleep. And when I say cuddled, I mean cuddled, Kim forgot her sleeping bag, so her and Red had to sleep in the same hammock. Whoops! When we woke up, this is what we saw (yes I used my sleeping pad as a floatie).
Day 3: 10x more twisties + the Redwoods
We woke up, looked at a map, chose the twistiest rode that would get us to the Avenue of the Giants and sent it west. What I didn't realize is that it would be 200 miles of 15mph turns. It was EXHAUSTING guys. Really fun, but mostly exhausting. After about 150 miles we came over a bridge and saw the most magical looking river about 100 ft below us. Naturally, we all pulled over for a dip. After swimming for an hour or so we got back on the road and headed to the coast. Turns out the west side of the mountains were WAY COLDER than the east. The temp dropped to about 40 degrees with 100% humidity. We bundled up and kept on to the Redwoods.
I went from wearing a t-shirt, to 4 jackets. At the grocery store we stopped at, the cashier said it was probably going to rain... which was bad news because we were sleeping in hammocks. I bought a tarp in case we had to string it above us. Being cold is one thing, but being cold and wet, no thanks!
As the sun started to set, we entered The Avenue of the Giants. It was one of the most beautiful sites I had ever seen. As you entered the tree's, it felt like you were entering a dark tunnel, with giant tree's hundreds of feet tall all around you. There was just a sliver of light shining down where the road parted the tree's. Have you ever seen Fern Gully? I imagine this was the real-life version of Fern Gully. It no longer mattered what was sore, or how cold or tired I was; I was feeling the turns on the smooth road, and could hear the hum of my engine in the empty and silent park.
Day 4: PCH or bust
The goal for today was to ride the coast. We were starting on the PCH from a place people call "the lost coast" because you're on HWY 1, but you can't actually see the coast yet. It's about 50 miles of super technical 15 mph, blind turns, with random dirt piles that you have to dodge. Red lost her front brake in one turn and almost went into the hill, but did a little foot dab and made it out ok. It actually was one of the most beautiful roads I think i've been on. It almost felt like the jungle in Costa Rica, just crazy thick tree's everywhere and the road paves a tunnel through it all.
We finally came around a corner and there it was, the ocean. We rode along cliffs that were hundreds of feet high, and dropped down into the roaring ocean, splashing up against massive rocks sticking out everywhere. Have you ever been to Cannon Beach? You know, the beach in Oregon with those big rocks everyone and their mom has a photo in front of? It was like that x 10, and for a hundred miles. I couldn't believe for such breathtaking views it was so desolate. There was nothing out there except maybe a house every 20 miles.
We rode another 100 miles of the PCH and made it to a little surf town called Gualala. By this time we were completely exhausted, and totally numb. We planned to make it past San Francisco which looking back is actually comical because we weren't even close and were SO delirious by the time we made it to Gualala. We found some incredible sea food and got a cute little ocean side hotel for the night.
Day 5: highway 5 or literal hell?
I had planned to meet up with The OC and Long Beach Litas Friday night, and since we thought we'd make it to SF, that would have been fine, but since we were about 150 miles from SF, it was going to be cutting it close. We had 511 miles to Long Beach, so we decided to take Highway 5. We figured it was a straight shot and that it would be fastest. What we didn't consider was that it was going to be a literal firey death on Highway 5. Thats all i'm going to say about that, but i'm 99% sure we all got heat stroke.
The first chance we got, we got OFF highway 5 and took some back roads. By this time I had told the Long Beach and OC Litas I wasn't going to make it. The sun was starting to set and we had 100 miles to Ventura through Ojai canyon (highway 33). Normally this would have been very daunting to me, you know, the deer thing. It was dark, and we had 100 miles of a somewhat technical canyon to do, but oddly enough after everything we had been through that day I was having a blast. Blaring my music through my Sena with the warm canyon air, feeling every turn. We finally made it to Ventura, met up with some good friends and finished a bottle of tequilla.
Day 6: time to lay low
We decided to lay low at a friends house in Venture for the day.
Day 7: did we come for Born Free? I can't remember
It's Sunday morning, the last day of Born Free, and since that was our original goal, we were REALLY gonna try to make it. We packed up our bikes for the gazillionth time and booked it to Irvine. We ended up making it for the last two hours of the show and had a pretty rad time. Got to see some friends and see some custom chopper builds. I honestly don't have a ton to say about this because this wasn't really the reason I came on this trip. I came for the route before Born Free, and Born Free was really just a little bonus at the end.
Day 8: Mexico or home?
Monday morning comes, Red and Kim are headed to Mexico, but i've had work piling up all week, so I decide it's time for me to book it home. It's 700 miles home through the Valley of Fire, and Death Valley with temps at about 107 degrees. Normally I would easily split up this trip into two days, but I was feeling ambitious and wanted to see how far I could push myself. I got on the road at 7am and made it to SLC by 7pm. 700 miles in 12 hours was definitely a record for me and I arrived home feeling very proud.
Life on the road is definitely pretty crazy. There are way too many ups and downs to even describe but I think that's why I love it so much. I find myself feeling nostalgic when i'm not on the road, and aching for another adventure.